Once upon a time I was tied with the Cubs
But now I’m only falling apart
And there’s nothing I can do
A total eclipse of the Cards
Once upon a time there were arms in my life
But now there’s only Carlos and Luke
Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the Cards
All right, so it’s not quite that bad. However, given today’s celestial phenomenon, I believe every writer of all every stripe and field has to make some eclipse joke or reference, so I’m just getting mine out of the way. It’s not completely irrelevant, though. Just over a week ago, the Cardinals had an eight game winning streak and were in first place with the Cubs. Since then, very little has gone right. Whether it’s bullpen meltdowns, rough starts, or injured pitchers, the optimism and excitement we were dealing with even last Monday has dwindled very, very fast.
If the team was going to turn around, every now and then they’d need to get a win. They’d also really be served well by taking three of four from Pittsburgh while the Cubs were taking on a Blue Jays team that you didn’t expect to really challenge the divisional leaders. The latter was true–the Cubs swept the Jays–but the former, well, let’s take a look.
Thursday (11-7 win)
Hero: Dexter Fowler. Two for three, two walks, three runs, three RBI. Fowler’s two-run triple in the seventh brought the Cardinals all the way back from their early 5-1 deficit and gave them a lead they would not relinquish. Fowler said after the game that he really finally feels healthy and the results seem to indicate that. Not counting last night’s game, he’s hitting .441/.587/.824 in the 11 games (10 starts) he’s played since coming off the DL earlier in the month. While that will cool, obviously, if he can go forward with even three-quarters of those numbers it feels like the griping about Fowler that still occurs in some portions of the fan base will be significantly lessened. Not eliminated, because there are people that will complain and whine about anything, but lessened.
Goat: Adam Wainwright. I appreciate that Wainwright is the gutsy warrior that we’ve come to know and love. I know from first-hand experience that he can at least keep a team in a game with impaired stuff. I know that he always thinks he’s going to be the best option. Still, if things are bothering you that much, you’ve got to really consider the fact that maybe you aren’t the best option. Or the manager needs to make sure to lay it out for you, perhaps. Wainwright didn’t have the command he had against the Braves and so was unable to get outs with his lesser stuff. Three innings, seven hits, five runs, no strikeouts. If this had been earlier in the year, that would have been a death sentence for the Redbirds. Thankfully the offense has improved enough to give you a reasonable chance of coming back from a start like that, but continuing to put them in a hole is a terrible thing for a starter to be doing.
As you know, Wainwright went on the disabled list after this one and they are hopeful that he’s returning. (Waino’s also had some time to read up on some blogs, as Dr. Miles found out to his chagrin.) There’s hope that rest will be enough to get Wainwright back on the mound this season and perhaps it will. That said, if Uncle Charlie doesn’t have to have some sort of surgery this offseason, it’d be pretty surprising. Maybe if he does, he’ll be more like the Wainwright we saw over a stretch this summer, when he had a 3.29 ERA over six starts. Then again, you look at the game log and you see even in that stretch he had a game where he allowed six runs. Wainwright’s 2017 has been a model of fluctuation and even healthy it makes it difficult to know what 2018 would bring.
Notes: The bullpen did a fine job of covering the innings and keeping the club in the game, at least until Seung-hwan Oh pitched the ninth. Luke Weaver threw two scoreless innings and will move into the rotation for Wainwright, starting Wednesday’s game against the Padres. Sam Tuivailala had some issues, giving up three hits and two walks in an inning-plus, but worked around them (and Matthew Bowman came in to help him out in the seventh). Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons had the eighth, as he’s been doing more of late, and allowed his first hit of the month.
Oh, however, scuffled again. He gave up two singles and Mike Matheny then left him in to face the lefty Josh Bell, who already had a walk-off homer against him. We’ve talked and talked about how Oh really shouldn’t face lefties at all, but he wound up getting Bell out only to fall victim to an RBI double by David Freese. So if the righties are going to start clocking him as well, this is so dicey. After he hit Adam Frazier to load the bases, he got an RBI groundout and a flyout to end it. Nothing in that outing gave folks much confidence that Oh could reclaim the closer role. That doesn’t mean he won’t be out there at times, though.
Jedd Gyorko had three hits, including a home run in the second that got the Cards on the board. Between this and his blast on Sunday night, I’d like to say that Gyorko is coming around and getting back to what we’ve seen, but the numbers don’t show that yet. He’s hitting .180 (before Sunday) in August in general and that number isn’t much different over the past week. At least Matheny’s moved him out of the cleanup role, but it would really be good if Gyorko could find that gear he was in earlier in the season.
Tommy Pham went two-for-four with a home run, his first extra-base hit in quite some time. One of the more remarkable things about the run of success the Cards have had is that they did it without peak Tommy Pham. He was still contributing, but he wasn’t carrying the team like he was earlier in the year. If he gets hot while others are going, things could be very interesting.
Friday (11-10 win)
Hero: Paul DeJong. Three hits, including a solo homer in the third that made the game serious.
Goat: Mike Mayers. Let’s be clear, Mike Mayers has some talent. He wouldn’t have been in baseball this long without it, nor would the Cardinals have kept him around if there wasn’t at least something there. He’s thrown more innings than anyone else on a Memphis team that’s crushing everyone this season and done so with a 3.48 ERA. That said, it feels like whatever talent he has never is going to translate to anything in the big leagues. He’s got 10 innings in the big leagues now over two years. That’s seven appearances. In only one of those has he not been charged with a run, last year against Pittsburgh when he threw an inning against them. In those seven outings, he has that dismal first start where he gave up nine in an inning and a third, a one inning stint last season when he gave up six, and this game, when he gave up five runs (four earned) in less than a frame.
It all boils down to a 3.100 career WHIP and a 19.80 ERA, a mark that could be higher but he’s given up two unearned runs. Even the advanced metrics like FIP show him with an 11 mark. I don’t know how many more chances you give a guy before you conclude that there’s something in his stuff that doesn’t translate to the bigs, that he’s a Quad-A player. Maybe another team could get more out of him or have more opportunities in the big leagues for him to adjust, but it feels like we probably shouldn’t see him again as a Cardinal. Which means he’ll probably get the call when rosters expand.
Notes: When you have an 11-3 lead, you should not have the winning run on second base in the ninth inning. You really don’t want to see David Freese coming to the plate with the chance to win the game for his team. After Mayers’ meltdown, Brett Cecil stopped that bleeding, but Matthew Bowman opened up the wound again, getting the first guy out then walking two and hitting the third to load the bases. Zach Duke then came in to face Josh Bell, but he couldn’t do the LOOGY thing and walked Bell to force in a run. Matheny then went to Oh again for reasons that aren’t real clear, but there probably weren’t many great options. He could have gotten the Patron Pitcher, perhaps, but he’d already used most everyone else and, as much as we love Sam Tuivailala around here, that probably wasn’t the place to put him. And Oh, even though he danced on the line quite a bit, got the job done–a sacrifice fly from Freese and then, after an intentional walk to load the bases, a strikeout of Elias Diaz. Cardinal fans breathed for the first time in about an hour.
All this overshadowed a fine start from Carlos Martinez. He again struggled early, allowing solo homers in the first and second, but then settled in. A large lead will help with that, of course. Only four strikeouts in seven innings, which is a little low for Martinez, but the overall line was fine and you’ll win a lot of games with a pitcher doing that.
Offensively, it was another big day. Tommy Pham hit another homer, Matt Carpenter hit a three-run bomb that broke it open, and Randal Grichuk and Greg Garcia both had a couple of hits. While they couldn’t have saved any of these runs, the offensive exploits were pretty much done for the weekend.
Saturday (6-4 loss)
Hero: Jose Martinez. Two hits, including a home run in the ninth inning.
Goat: Carson Kelly. Kelly’s in a tough spot, of course, because he doesn’t play enough to get into a rhythm or have any way of adjusting at the plate, but in this one he went 0-4 with three strikeouts, including one to end the game with two runners on. I don’t know what the solution is for Kelly–there probably isn’t one for this year–but hopefully he’ll be able to adjust to the lesser playing time.
Notes: A tough outing for Michael Wacha, who allowed five runs in four innings. All of those did come in one frame, the second after Wacha had sat through a two hour rain delay. If the bullpen had been more rested or more effective, Matheny might have gone ahead and pulled Wacha when the rain came. (Given how clear it was, apparently, that there was going to be a delay, he could have done the old Tony La Russa trick of starting a reliever and then bringing in your starter after the delay.) With Wacha’s history of injury, having him sit and then restart might not have been the best thing, but I don’t think that played into anything here. More likely the rust and out of sorts from the delay led to it, as Wacha then threw two more innings that were pretty effective. And the delay might not have been the issue–Wacha might just have had an off-day–but given that complication it’s hard to draw any conclusions until perhaps next time out.
Two hits also for Randal Grichuk here, who is having a pretty good August all in all. Grichuk is slashing .284/.324/.522 this month and while you’d always like to see him walk more, I think we can just come to terms with that not being part of Grichuk’s game. Remarkably, he’s hitting .305 since the All-Star Break. There’s still something to Grichuk and we shouldn’t just write him off. That said, if he could keep this up and build up his trade value, that might be the best possible situation for the Cardinals.
Josh Lucas made his major league debut, throwing two innings and giving up a pinch-hit homer to Jose Ozuna. Other than that, it went OK–a few too many hits, but he struck out two in his two innings of work and didn’t walk any. We’ve seen much worse from folks getting their first taste of the bigs. Or their seventh.
Sunday (6-3 loss)
Hero: Jedd Gyorko. Two hits, including a two-run homer which was most of the scoring.
Goat: Mike Leake. What to do with Mike Leake. Since somehow putting up seven scoreless innings against the Rockies, Leake has had five starts and has an ERA of 9.26 over those outings. He’s averaging 4.2 innings per start over that span, which either means he’s hurt or just supremely ineffective, something Tara and I discussed last night on Gateway. You almost hope that he is hurt, because at least there is some clarity there. You can put him on the disabled list and see who you want to use to fill the void, whether it’s a Jack Flaherty if you want to go for it or a John Gant if you just want to fill the innings. There’s a path that makes sense.
If he’s not hurt, though, what do you do? As much as folks would probably love to cut him, that’s not happening. There’s three more years of this deal, one that could be very ugly by the end of it if things don’t improve. (Ben from Talking About Birds is saying, “I TOLD YOU SO!” right about now.) You can’t really slide him into the bullpen, though perhaps that’s not completely crazy. Actually, never mind–he’s giving up a .302/.331/.491 line in his first 15 pitches, so that doesn’t seem to indicate that it is repeated exposure that’s the problem. Although that way he could avoid cleanup hitters, maybe. Guys hitting in the fourth spot have a 1.168 OPS against the Cardinal starter, which is just being blasted.
If you keep throwing Leake out there every fifth day, though, you are basically either challenging your offense or conceding every fifth game. Which you can do when you are 10 games out or, like the Giants, already officially eliminated. If you are going to even pretend to be in a race, though, you just can’t afford to do that. This coming week could be really interesting for the rotation as a whole.
Notes: While the Little League game was fun and it was great to see how the players interacted with the kids, there is an argument for not throwing a gimmick into a playoff race. I don’t think playing the game at the different stadium was really all that big of a deal, but there didn’t seem to be any reason to add a 26th man to the roster for this one. Stephen Piscotty was the Cardinals’ selection, even though it was apparently down to him and Magneuris Sierra, and he of course started off by batting second. He also got two hits, which is probably going to see him activated very soon, if not by Tuesday. Tara threw out the conjecture that you’d see Luke Voit return to Memphis and, as much as that’d crowd up the outfield carousel, I think that makes a world of sense. Letting Voit get back to some regular at bats and for him to enjoy the playoffs with the team that he helped get there lines up so well with what the Cardinals do that I’d now be hugely surprised if that wasn’t the move.
Yadier Molina continues his hitting ways, belting out three hits and scoring two of the three runs. There are many reasons that Kelly isn’t playing much, but the fact that Yadi keeps hitting keeps the uproar to a minimum. Kolten Wong was 1-4 but drove in the only non-Gyorko related run and is now hitting .309 on the season. We always felt if you left Wong alone, you’d see him produce and he’s quietly done that at the bottom of the order. There are a lot of issues for this team, but right now second base surely doesn’t seem like one of them.
With the loss, the Cardinals fall back to 3.5 games out, though they are just four games out now in the wild card. It just feels like no matter what they do, they really can’t get over that hump. As we pointed out on the show last night, when John Mozeliak had the big shakeup press conference, the Cardinals were 4.5 behind the Brewers. Now, two months plus later, they are 3.5 behind the Cubs. As the saying goes, if you aren’t the lead dog, the view never changes. The winning streak was nice, but they haven’t seemed to build on that, to take that push up the standings and hold that ground. Instead, they’ve pretty much given it right back. With the bullpen and rotation issues we’ve seen this week, it’s harder to see how they can climb that hill again.
Lance Lynn goes against Clayton Richard on Tuesday as the Padres come into town. The Padres are 14 games under .500 and shouldn’t be a threat, so the Cards have no excuse not to win this series (and a sweep would be really nice as well). The Cubs will be playing the Reds, so any slip against San Diego likely will cost ground in the race, though the Reds did beat the Cubs last week. Some key series are coming up and it’d be really nice to see some solid Cardinal baseball during this stretch!