If you are an optimistic sort, the series loss to the Padres wasn’t necessarily a season-killer. After all, when folks looked at this homestand, there was the idea that the Cardinals really needed to go at least 4-2 and with a sweep of the Rays, the Cards would have made that mark. So all they had to do was sweep Tampa Bay, who was hovering a little under .500 but still technically in the AL Wild Card race (because everyone is, apparently).
Instead, the Cards came within a couple of innings of being on the wrong side of a sweep. It may have been Players’ Weekend, but there was no home cooking here. Let’s go to the recaps.
Friday (7-3 loss)
Hero: Kolten Wong. It was a pretty tough game to find a Hero, what with no batter having more than one hit and the pitching either being ineffective or not vital, so we’ll go with Wonger, who cracked a solo homer in the fourth that capped the Cardinals scoring and brought them to within two at the time.
Goat: Michael Wacha. We spent some time after his last start wondering if it was due to returning after a rain delay or if Wacha was slipping back into bad results. There was no rain to spread blame to here and it continued a troubling pattern for Wacha. Since his shutout against the Mets in the middle of July, Wacha’s had seven starts and gone 2-4 with a 6.03 ERA and an .891 OPS against. He’s allowed seven homers in 34.1 innings. There have been some good games in that stretch, so it’s tough to really blame it all on being overused in that game, but in his last three starts it’s a 10.22 ERA, 1.143 OPS against (which includes a BAA of .414), and he’s gone just 12.1 innings while allowing four homers.
The problem with Wacha is that anytime he hits a rough patch, people start wondering about his health. There doesn’t seem to be anything relating to the shoulder that’s causing all this, at least not obviously or publicly stated, but you do wonder if it’s subtly influencing him. There’s also the fact that last year he sort of ran out of steam in July and August before being placed on the DL for a while. Even if he’s fully healthy now, the injury may have robbed him of some stamina. He had a good stretch for a while–his July ERA of 1.93 looks pretty out of place when you compare his monthly ERAs for 2017–but his August WHIP is over 2.
Of course, what’s the option? Like so many of these guys, even if they are ineffective, unless they are actually hurt, there’s nothing you can really do with them. It’s possible that maybe he could be a bullpen guy–in the first inning this year, he’s got a 1.12 ERA and a BAA of .193 and his second inning isn’t terrible either, plus batters are hitting .163 on his first 25 pitches. You have to wonder about his shoulder holding up and all that, plus there’s the infamous idea that John Mozeliak (or perhaps Michael Girsch now) doesn’t want to have that conversation with Wacha, but unless you are waving the white flag and giving up on this year (which is something that I think you could fairly do without insult), keeping Wacha in the rotation in playing with fire every time out and more likely than not getting burned.
Notes: Ryan Sherriff made his major league debut by throwing three scoreless innings. Sherriff hadn’t gone that long since May of 2016, so welcome to the big leagues, kid. You could argue that Mike Matheny shouldn’t have run a guy not used to going that deep out there that long, but it’s not like there were many other options given ineffectiveness and usage. I mean, Brett Cecil gave up two in the ninth to emphasize that point.
Cardinals got just five hits (and four walks) against mainly Jake Odorizzi, who left before the fourth inning was over. After that, the Rays bullpen (which, statistically, isn’t that superior to St. Louis’s) gave up two hits and nothing else in 5.1 innings of work. That must be nice.
Saturday (6-4 win)
Hero: Tommy Pham. I’m sorry, I couldn’t get that worked up about T.Pham sitting a little bit the night before this. Yes, he’s been the best player on the Cardinals most of the season. Yes, he’s a dynamic and talented guy. He was also in a 1-14 over his past five games and the Redbirds have 1,232,176 outfielders. You could argue that Jose Martinez should have gotten some time or whatever, you could argue that Matt Carpenter never has to sit even when there is a legit backup, but it doesn’t hurt for Pham to get a little mental break here and there. Pham was also 0-3 in this one (albeit with two walks) before making sure he was the Hero and cranking a two-run walkoff to win the ballgame.
Let me be clear, I don’t say any of that to downgrade Pham and he should be out there almost every day. With this roster construction, though, how do you keep everyone sharp? Thankfully–in a baseball sense–there have been things like Dexter Fowler being sick for a night to help relieve some congestion. (Carpenter being sick should have done that as well, moving Stephen Piscotty to first instead of Jedd Gyorko, but that apparently didn’t cross the manager’s mind.) We’ll see how often he’s out there down the stretch, but I’m still not ready to march over this outrage.
Goat: Stephen Piscotty. This isn’t any easy one because all the starters got a hit and the pitching was decent, as we’ll discuss, but Piscotty got just one hit, struck out once, and left three men on. It was a toss up between him and Randal Grichuk, who had a similar line but left just two men on base. Piscotty got off to a strong start after his return from Memphis, as players are wont to do, but seems to have slipped back into the muck as of late. It would seem that your outfield should regularly be Pham and Fowler and then see who out of Grichuk, Piscotty, and Martinez has the hot hand. We’ll see if that manifests itself going forward.
Notes: There was a lot of consternation over Mike Leake starting this one during the week. Even the Cardinals weren’t clear that he was going to take the ball until Thursday or Friday. Given Mozeliak’s comments, it came across as the coaching staff had asked if there was a better option and the front office decided that they didn’t want to start Jack Flaherty‘s clock or add him to the 40-man. (The rationale for not starting John Gant is a little less clear, given that he’s on the 40-man and no great prospect to worry about.) I wonder if the same decision would have been made had the Cards been within a game or two of the division lead instead of floundering around at 4.5 games out.
Leake rewarded the confidence, going seven innings and allowing four runs. They were all on home runs, which is disconcerting, and a two-run shot in the first immediately put the Cardinals in a hole, but given what Leake had been doing, this was a successful outing. There seems no doubt he’ll make his next start Friday against the Giants and then probably again Wednesday against the Padres, two teams that are not known for their offensive prowess. If those go the way that we expect, it feels like Leake will likely just make all the starts the rest of the year. If he struggles against either of these teams, the expanded rosters may allow for him to skip a start without issue.
Yadier Molina and Jedd Gyorko both had two hits in this one, with Molina driving in two runs on a double in the sixth and a single in the eighth. Gyorko followed that single with one of his own, but when he eventually rounded third he wound up pulling a hamstring, necessitating a DL stint. Luke Voit was called up, which means we’ll probably see a lot of Greg Garcia at third. Just another reason not to necessarily expect some September magic–Garcia’s usually good in small doses, but you don’t want him as a regular.
The Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons got the benefit of Pham’s heroics, picking up his second win of the season after striking out two in a scoreless inning of work. He’s gone 16.2 innings without allowing a run, dating back to before the All-Star Break. Eventually you’d expect he’ll get a shot at the ninth, even if it’s not a regular one, but given how pitchers that take the ninth have been this season, perhaps I’d like to see him stay away from what seems to be a cursed spot.
Sunday (3-2 loss in 10)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. His eighth-inning homer tied things up at two and set the stage for extra innings.
Goat: Stephen Piscotty. 0-4 with three strikeouts. I really don’t know why his success at Memphis didn’t continue. Maybe he would have slumped there as well, I don’t know. Whatever the case, he probably shouldn’t be in the starting lineup tonight by any measure.
Notes: It was a game of solo home runs. The problem was that the Rays hit three (two by Logan Morrison, including the eventual game-winner off of Sam Tuivailala) to the Cardinals’ two (Carpenter and Wong, who wound up doubling his season total in this series). There wasn’t much more offense, though Greg Garcia did wind up with three hits. He never wound up scoring, though.
Lance Lynn had a solid game, but it figures that FOX Sports Midwest would put up a graphic showing how his home run rate had decreased in the second half only to see him give up two longballs. Otherwise, it was another solid Lynn outing of seven innings and eight strikeouts. I’m still not on the re-sign Lynn bandwagon (again, only because of the circumstances around the team, nothing against him) but I don’t think I took into account his return from Tommy John when looking at the fact that many of his rate stats weren’t in line with his past history. When the second half is done, those numbers might be a more accurate comparison to his other seasons.
Matheny seems to have figured out that he can’t really trust his bullpen, pulling Seung-hwan Oh after a hit and a flyout, then making sure Zach Duke just faced the one batter (Duke retired the lefty this time). It’s just wrong, it feels like, to have to carry 13 pitchers and still not be confident that anyone is going to be successful, but that’s the way it is.
The Cubs somehow lost two of three to Philadelphia this weekend, meaning that the Cardinals yet again squandered a chance to make up some ground. They continue to seem tethered to the 4.5 games out mark no matter what anyone else does. (Though with the Cubs win last night, they now sit right at 5 out.) The Redbirds also slipped back to .500, meaning that they have to go 17-15 down the stretch to reach 82 wins. That’s reasonable, but you also have to factor in that they’ll be playing 19 of those 32 games left, including the next 10, on the road where they are six games under .500 for the year. West Coast trips, such as the one they’ll be going on after this two game set with Milwaukee, are always tough. 82 is going to be a battle, I think, and probably the only race we’ll be watching over the next five weeks.
That starts tonight in Milwaukee when Luke Weaver goes up against Matt Garza. Weaver faced the Brewers back at the beginning of the month, allowing two runs in 6.1 innings of work while compiling eight strikeouts. Garza, who is coming off a one-run, five-inning outing against the Giants, last saw St. Louis the night after Weaver’s start and gave up just one run in 4.2 innings. Garza hasn’t completed six innings since July 5, but the Brewer bullpen is fairly solid, especially with their trade deadline acquisition. The Cards can’t pass the Brewers even with a sweep but without it they are just marking time yet again.
If nothing else, it’s good to have a game tonight to watch. However, on the off day yesterday a group of us recorded a Star Wars podcast if you are interested!