A Giant Step Toward the Wild Card Race

We went through all the moves of the last few days in our earlier post, but now it’s time to catch up on all the activity that’s happened on the diamond.  It started out on a downer and there was a controversial loss out by the bay, but on the whole it’s been not too bad since we’ve last spoken.  We have Heroes and Goats to get to so let’s not waste any more time!

Wednesday (6-5 loss in Milwaukee)

Hero: Tommy Pham.  Pham cracked a two-run homer in the first and a two-run shot in the eighth, bookending the scoring for the Cardinals.  Unfortunately, he didn’t get a lot of help in his exploits.

Goat: Carlos Martinez.  When you need your big gun to step up and he instead allows six runs (three unearned, but some of that unearnedness came from his own error) he’s going to find himself in this spot.  Martinez had two bad innings, but they were bad enough for the loss.  He did strike out seven and walked none, but the walks goodness was counteracted by 10 hits by the Brewers.

Notes: Randal Grichuk really, REALLY should have been the Hero in this one.  With a solo home run already in the game, he stepped up with two outs in the ninth and a runner on and launched a ball to straight center field.  If it had gone half a foot farther or Keon Broxton, who’d been put into the game for defensive purposes, had been a step slower, Grichuk would have put the Cards on top going into the bottom of the ninth.  Whether they could have kept that lead or not is debatable, but at least they would have had the chance.  Instead, Broxton makes a dream play and the Brewers take the game.  Given that the Cards are now just 2.5 games behind Milwaukee in the wild card race, that was a huge catch.

(By the way, I know Pham after the game, when asked about whether that’s a play players dream of making, said “I make that play a lot.”  While Pham may make some excellent catches and he may have robbed a home run or two this season–I don’t specifically remember one, but he well may have–he’s never made a game-saving rob of a homer.  That was what the question was asking, not whether the catch was great but the whole situation around it was dream-worthy.)

The Cardinals got a total of five hits off of Chase Anderson and the Brewer bullpen, three of which left the ballpark.  Matt Carpenter did draw two walks, but the offense was pretty stifled here.  Which, as noted, has become a glaring issue.  If the Cardinals miss out on tying the Brewers for the wild card by one game, you can point to a lot of them during the year but this will be the most direct reason why they aren’t in the playoffs.

This was an early afternoon end of series game and it really felt like it.  Perhaps there was some lingering residue from the Mike Leake trade, which happened a few hours before the ballgame.  Or, you know, it could be the Brewers aren’t a bad team as well.

Thursday (5-2 win at San Francisco)

Hero: Randal Grichuk.  Again, this was a Grichuk-Pham buddy pic as an offense, with Pham going three for four with a double and two RBI and Grichuk tallying two hits, but one of his going out of the park in the second, giving the Cards an early 2-0 lead that held until they could pad it a bit late.  Grichuk is still feast or famine–he started five games in a row and hit .200 with three HR, but that was because he bookended a 4-12 stretch with two 0-fer games–but it’s nice to see when his bat gets going.

Goat: Paul DeJong.  0-5 with eight men left on base would have been huge had the pitching not been able to make that early lead stand up.  Games like that happen and DeJong has actually held up better than I expected over the long haul.  Since August 1, he’s hitting .290/.331/.511 in 30 starts.  He’s also not had a day off in a month, which might be why he’s hitting .185 on this road trip.  Or it’s just a slump.  Still, as tough as it is to not have his bat out of the lineup, a day off might not be the worst thing.  At least there are breaks in the schedule on the next two Mondays, so he’ll get those off if nothing else.

Notes: You know that I exchanged questions with our favorite Giants blog and while I’ve posted the answers I got from Craig, he also posted the answers to the couple he asked me, one of which asked how much blame folks put on Michael Wacha for the ending in 2014.  That was an interesting question to get since, as far as I know, nobody in the Cardinal fan base from the moments before Travis Ishikawa hit the home run to now has ever blamed Wacha for how that turned out.  I never really thought that some might think Wacha would get heat there.  Most other situations, the pitcher would have.

Anyway, that’s a tangent.  Wacha was Good Wacha in this one, giving up just one run on four hits and two walks in six innings.  It really isn’t necessarily indicative of a bounceback or anything from Wacha–the Giants offense is so weak–but it’s good to see.  Wacha’s next outing will be against the Padres, who are dead last in the majors in batting average and just a hair better than the last place Giants in OPS, so maybe these two starts will give him some momentum for good final push.

Mike Matheny used Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons in the eighth inning of this one up 5-1.  At the time, Lyons hadn’t pitched since Saturday so it was probably a good idea to get him out there and not have him get rusty, but as the rest of the weekend played out, it became a bit larger than expected.  The bullpen also took three pitchers to close down this game, as John Brebbia wound up giving up back-to-back doubles (the latter, to Brendan Crawford, should have been a home run–MLB admitted the next day they messed up with the replay) and got one out before Zach Duke came in to pitch to a lefty and then Seung-hwan Oh came in to pitch to a righty.  It worked out and it wasn’t entirely dramatic, but it was a lot of juggling for an inning that started out with such a cushion.

Friday (11-6 win at San Francisco)

Hero: Stephen Piscotty.  I think, more than just about anyone, Piscotty needs to have a good couple of weeks going into the winter to kinda reset and get back to what we’ve been accustomed to in his short career.  A game like this surely helped and perhaps it was because he was in his stomping grounds and (I would assume) had some chance to see his family.  Three hits, including the capping two-run homer in the six-run ninth.  He also scored three runs.  It didn’t carry forward–he was 0-7 in the next two games–but it’s good to see the results are in there somewhere.

Goat: I can’t in good conscience (unless it’s just egregious) give the Goat to a rookie making his major league debut, so we’ll go with Matt Carpenter here.  With all the offense going along around him, Carpenter wound up 0-4 and left three men on base.  Obviously something is off again with Carp, as he sat the next two days, and while it’s not terribly noteworthy, given how much walks are a part of his game, he hasn’t had a multi-hit game since August 8.  Since that game, he’s hitting .181/.322/.319–yes, his OBP is greater than his slugging.  It may not be too surprising that the offense looked a little better with him out of the leadoff spot the last few days.

Notes: Jack Flaherty made his first big league start and had a great first inning before having his “welcome to the big leagues” moment in the second, when he gave up a single and a homer to start the frame and another run later on.  He gave up two more in the third before a perfect fourth ended his ninth.  The flashes were there–he struck out six in his four innings–but it’s not great when a weak lineup like the Giants gets after you.  Not that it means much of anything or that he’s going to be a flop by any means.  He knows what it’s like to pitch in the big leagues now and that comfort level should help him as he goes through the rest of the season in the rotation.  Like Wacha, he gets the Padres next time out so that should hopefully allow him to build on what he learned in this one.

Impressively, the bullpen held things in check while the offense came around.  John Gant, who was also called up this weekend and I totally forgot to mention that in our transactions post from this morning, pitched two scoreless frames.  Brett Cecil contributed a goose egg in his inning.  Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons came out for the eighth again in a 5-5 game and kept it that way.  Lyons was in line for the save once Kolten Wong singled in the tie-breaking run in the ninth, but as the offense continued to pile on (so great to see someone else’s bullpen melt down for a change, isn’t it?) he got pulled back and Sam Tuivailala took the ninth.  I’d have thought this would have been a great place for Sandy Alcantara to make his debut, but we had to wait a couple of days for that.

Offensively, Wong had two hits and two runs scored.  For the season, he’s hitting .271 with a .333 OBP in the leadoff slot.  That’s not as good as his overall numbers but he’s starting to look like he could develop into a reasonable alternative at the top of the lineup.  It’s been such a quietly good year for Wong and I look forward to talking about it when we do the Exit Interview series here in a month or so.

Two hits for Harrison Bader, including his first career home run, and two hits for DeJong and Yadier Molina as well.  If you took a game like this in a vacuum, you’d think that this was a solid team that never said die.  I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment of this squad but it’s nice to see that side of them sometimes.

Saturday (2-1 loss to San Francisco)

Hero: Lance Lynn.  Lynn allowed a base hit to the second batter he faced and then didn’t allow another one the rest of the way, throwing eight scoreless innings in the process.  He reached 101 pitches as he finished up the eighth and some games would have probably come out to start the ninth, but as we heard he also was dealing with a blister that had increased in severity so much that there was no way he could have thrown another inning.

Goat: You know I never put Mike Matheny here because he doesn’t play the game, but boy do I want to.  Instead, I guess I have to use that “leadoff batter breaks ties” rule that I have around here and go with Kolten Wong.  The entire team just mustered three hits–two by Dexter Fowler (who drove in Jose Martinez, who had the other hit, for the only run)–and a couple of walks.  Honestly, when you look at the offense, it wasn’t a game they deserved to win.  Jeff Samardzija is a fine pitcher, but he also has an ERA over 4.00.  He’s not unhittable.

Notes: All right, let’s look at the ninth and the tenth.  With Lynn unavailable, Matheny turned to the Patron Pitcher to try to get the last three outs.  It seems that Lyons might be getting these assignments more and more as the final month unfolds.  The only problem was, as you’ve been following along and seen, this was Lyons’s third day out there in a row.  While I think he might have gone in three straight games before, looking at his game log it was the first time this season he’d gone three straight days.  He’s also well over his career number of appearances, though being that he’s a former starter I don’t think that’s much of an issue.

With that kind of writeup, you’d think Lyons just blew it, but he didn’t.  He faced Hunter Pence first and got a ball hit almost right back to him.  It looked like he thought about trying to make a play on it, but decided to let the infielders have it.  Problem was there weren’t infielders where that ball went and it allowed Pence to start the inning with a single.  Joe Panik bunted him over and suddenly the tying run is on second with one out.

Now that’s a serious situation, especially with Buster Posey up, but Lyons has been your most reliable reliever over the second half.  Even when you factor in that Posey has an OPS closing in on 1.100 against lefties, you have Brandon Crawford (a lefty) and Pablo Sandoval (a switch-hitter that who is working on like an 0-30) coming up next.  I get that you aren’t excited about putting the go-ahead run on first, but I think I’d rather walk Posey and set up the double play possibility with Lyons facing a lefty in Crawford that OPSes .657 against those kind of pitchers this season than bring anyone else in.

My guess is that Matheny had Lyons on a short rope because of the no rest thing, but I guess my feeling would have been if he was on that short of a rope, he shouldn’t have been out there, and if you didn’t trust anyone else, then stick with him.  Instead, Matheny went with Seung-hwan Oh to face Posey.  And while Posey did get the hit and drive in the run, you really can’t blame Oh there.  He got Posey 1-2 and then threw a pitch off the plate.  Posey was just able to stick out his bat and flip it into the outfield, tying the game up.  Oh was done and Ryan Sherriff came in to exploit the left-handedness of Crawford and the weakness of Sandoval to at least keep the game tied.

In the tenth, Fowler led off with a shot into the alley, leading to yet another triple in this series.  (There were more triples this weekend then I think most months of the season.)  So you have the go-ahead run on third with nobody out.  Fowler gets replaced because he hurt his hip going around the bases and Bader comes in to pinch-run.  Surely this will make that ninth inning stuff just a nuisance as they’ll score and win the game with a strong bottom of the frame, right?

If you actually believed that, you probably haven’t watched the 2017 Cardinals that often.  Molina grounded out to third, keeping Bader on the bag.  Then, with one out, the blasted contact play was put on, a play that I swear costs more runs than it provides.  Sure enough, Piscotty smoked one right at third and, since Bader was running, he was easy pickings for Sandoval to Posey.  Greg Garcia grounds out, we go to the 10th where Sherriff allows a home run to the first batter, and somehow a game that was all but won is lost.  We’ve seen it way too often this year but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating or painful to watch again.

Sunday (7-3 win in San Francisco)

Hero: Jose Martinez.  I need to eat a lot of crow about Martinez.  I never quite understood why he stayed on the 40-man roster when the club needed spots for folks like Allen Cordoba this offseason.  I’ve never expected that he’d really be that big of a contributor.  Martinez has definitely proven me wrong, becoming a very solid fourth outfielder and making the most of the opportunities that he gets.  He’s no fielder and he probably doesn’t need to be out there every day, but he probably should play more than he does and this outfield logjam isn’t helping him.  If a number of folks were cleared out and he was the clear #4 guy next year, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.  In this one, he went three for five, hitting his 11th home run of the season.  The other two hits were doubles.

Goat: The bottom part of the lineup went 0-10 so you could take your pick, but Kolten Wong gets it again because he was the only one of those guys not to take a walk.

Notes: Luke Weaver has been outstanding since taking over in the rotation for Adam Wainwright.  He just missed striking out 10 for the third straight start, going seven and allowing just four hits and two runs.  Joe Schwarz over at The Intrepid STL took a look at what Weaver is doing now that is making him so successful and there doesn’t seem to be any reason that it won’t continue.  The battle for the last couple of spots in the 2018 rotation is going to be interesting and it’s definitely not going to be limited to spring training next season.  No, that battle is beginning now and Weaver is doing all he can to make the best of it.  By this time next season you could have a rotation of Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Alex Reyes, and Luke Weaver.  Or maybe Jack Flaherty is in there instead of Wacha or Wainwright, depending on health.  Or Austin Gomber could be in that mix.  So many options, so much to watch.

One of those options was going to be Sandy Alcantara and still could be, though the Cardinals have currently shifted him to the bullpen.  Alcantara made his debut in this one up 7-2 and immediately was touched for a home run.  He masterfully struck out Buster Posey before allowing another hit and was removed to make sure things didn’t get out of hand.  Alcantara’s going to still need some polish and it would seem most likely that he’d be in Memphis next year, but it’s possible the club thinks of him as another Trevor Rosenthal in the making and let him learn the bullpen craft at the big league level in 2018.  Just another variable!

Bader had another homer in this one and is hitting .333 in his short big league career.  If he stays hot, the outfield logjam becomes that much more difficult to navigate.  Fowler being hurt could ease it for a bit, but when he’s back there are basically four players for one spot.  Good thing Mike Matheny is so noted for deft manipulation of depth at a position.

I doubt you are still here by this point–this thing has grown to over 3200 words, which is why I wanted to spread it out from the transactions talk we had this morning–but if you are, the Cardinals will be taking on the Padres here in an hour or so.  Matt Carpenter is back in the leadoff spot, Dexter Fowler is still out, and Jose Martinez is playing first.  It’s not the strongest lineup we’ve seen, but especially with Jedd Gyorko out it’s not the worst one either.  Carlos Martinez takes the hill against Luis Perdomo, who did a number on the Cardinals a week or so ago when the Padres were in St. Louis.  Hopefully Martinez can return the favor this time around!

Also, if you are looking to kill some time before the game or after, check out Allen and I talking on Meet Me at Musial or Tara and I chatting on Gateway to Baseball Heaven.  Plus Allen has done some detailed examining of the rest of the schedule for the contenders and I’d recommend checking that out as well.  And, of course, there are two more Greatest Cardinal Moment matchups to vote in!  We’ll be back tomorrow with a shorter post, hopefully about a solid win!

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