In most times, a 7-3 road trip that included eight games on the West Coast would be seen as a great trip and a significant accomplishment. Indeed, we should be glad the Cardinals were able to do so well on that trip away from Busch, given there well-under-.500 record when they aren’t under the Arch (at least before they left). It was a good trip.
That said, this time of year, with the gap the Cardinals have to make up if they are going to play in October, any loss is a tough loss. The Cardinals could have won the game against the Brewers had Randal Grichuk‘s ball been half a foot farther. They could have won the game against the Giants if the bullpen could have gotten three outs (and you could argue how much goes to the bullpen and how much to Mike Matheny there). And they could have won the game against the Padres if….well, we’ll get there.
After the Cardinals got to within four of the division and two of the wild card, hope built up a little bit. And even though there are many, many reasons not to compare this team to 2011, it’s probably good to note that St. Louis occasionally saw the gap widen even in September of that season. Still, as we’ve said often about this team in the past, there is no margin for error going forward. They really can’t afford to lose on days where Chicago or Milwaukee or Colorado (depending on what race you are looking at) win. If they can play .700 ball the rest of the way, that would be 15-7 and get them to 87 wins. Even that might not be enough. (At least they only need 10 more wins for a plus .500 season.)
OK, we’ve got three games to recap, so let’s do it.
Tuesday (8-4 win)
Hero: Jose Martinez. Again, Martinez has surprised me so much this season. A double, two homers, and a walk in this one, accounting for four of the eight runs in one way or another. With Matt Carpenter out he’s been playing first (to the detriment of Luke Voit‘s playing time, unfortunately, but what are you going to do given his outfield defense), but if Carpenter returns they may have to decide if the offense overwhelms the defense.
Goat: Again, I’m not going to give a lot of grief to a guy making his major league debut, especially someone that really wasn’t expecting it, so Breyvic Valera‘s 0-4 is spared and we’ll go with Yadier Molina, who also went 0-4 but he did pick up an RBI.
Notes: Good night for Harrison Bader as well, smacking his third home run as one of his two hits. We’re starting to see a bit more of that power that he has shown in the minor leagues on the big stage. Of course, that doesn’t do anything to alleviate the outfield logjam. So far injuries are helping in that regard but at some point, everyone is going to probably be at full health and we’ll see what happens then.
Stephen Piscotty had a hit and two walks in this one. He played better this series–hitting .500 in the three games he started–and you do wonder if having his family there was a motivating factor. And, if it was, whether playing on a West Coast team would be better for him going forward. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Piscotty can improve and I expect he’ll bounce back a good bit next year anyway, no matter where he’s playing, but you can understand how the family issues would weigh on him and being closer to home could be a benefit.
Unfortunately, Michael Wacha‘s run of solid starts ended at one. This one wasn’t as bad as some others that he has had recently, but four runs in six innings to a team that’s not really a hitting team isn’t a great look. (Neither is the fact that two of them came on an absolute blast by Travis Wood, the opposing pitcher.) Joe Schwarz has a good piece up about the fact that he seems to be tipping his changeup, which is obviously a huge part of his arsenal. He did make it through six innings, which is something given how the game started, but having a significant cushion helped.
Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons pitched in the ninth of a four-run game. That probably tells you most of what you need to know about the problems folks have with Mike Matheny’s bullpen management.
Wednesday (3-1 win)
Hero: Stephen Piscotty. It looked like a game that was going to slip away from the Cardinals. (At least, I guess it did. I was well asleep before the late innings rolled around.) Instead, continuing to show that perhaps there’s hope for him yet, Piscotty cranked a two-run homer in the seventh that put the Cardinals on top. They’d add insurance an inning later, but that was a big home run for a team that wanted to make up ground since the Rockies had already lost. Lots of people are down on Piscotty this year and I understand why, but I think there’s a reason the Cards signed him to that contract.
Goat: Alex Mejia. 0-4 with four left on base and two double plays. That’s a rough night by any measure.
Notes: Jack Flaherty got the start in this one and did a little better than his first time out, though he still wasn’t quite dominant. One run in five innings is fine, but four walks is a little iffy. Kyle and I talked about this start in the bonus Meet Me at Musial that went up last night and he noted a lot of dissention between Carson Kelly (who started this game) and Flaherty about how to approach batters. I don’t know if that’s what it was or what, but what I saw it seemed like he was having trouble finishing hitters off. We’ll see how that adjusts next time out against the Reds on Tuesday.
Piscotty was the only person with multiple hits. Jose Martinez and Greg Garcia both had a hit and a walk. I guess you know your lineup is in trouble when Garcia is hitting sixth and it’s a legitimate sixth. (Kelly could have hit there, but given his lack of reps at the big league it’s kind of a tossup on who was better.)
Kudos to Ryan Sherriff who came into the game in relief of Flaherty and threw two scoreless innings, putting him in line for his first major league win. The Patron Pitcher Tyler Lyons made it a little interesting in the ninth (what is it about putting anyone out there for the 9th inning!) but locked down the save.
Thursday (3-0 loss)
Hero: How does a team wind up with three players with multiple hits and still get shut out? Eleven hits total and none of them crossed the plate. Part of the problem is that only one of them went for extra bases, which is why Paul DeJong gets the tag here with two hits including a double.
Goat: I think it has to be Seung-hwan Oh here. Granted, the offense hadn’t scored yet, but a 1-0 game going into the eighth seems much more doable than a 3-0 game. Zach Duke didn’t do his job, allowing a single to a lefty, but Oh got crushed for a home run from Wil Myers which padded out the lead. Honestly, I expected that to come a batter earlier, when Matheny inexplicably left Oh out there to face left-handed hitting Yangervis Solarte, but somehow Oh threaded that needle only to falter against Myers, who could have very easily been walked for the Cardinals to face Cory Spangenberg, who was 0-3 and, as a lefty, you could have brought in any number of other options, including the new guy Juan Nicasio, who has to be wondering by now just why the Cardinals made such a push for him.
Notes: Not using Nicasio at all in this sequence makes absolutely no sense. He’s no rookie, he’s dealt with pressure situations before. You don’t have to ease him into being a Cardinal. Even without that, though, why go to Oh? I can probably understand not running Sam Tuivailala out there (though the power arm part of his game would have been nice) and Sheriff and Lyons were probably unavailable. And Oh was rested, to be sure, not having pitched since Saturday and then only to one batter. Still, what makes you think this game isn’t going to go sideways if he gets in there?
Brett Cecil has done better of late and was rested. It’s honestly surprising Matheny didn’t turn to Matthew Bowman, who was also not used Wednesday. John Brebbia had pitched the night before but that was the first time in a few days and there’s no reason he couldn’t have gone on back-to-back days. There seemed to be other options, most notably the guy you just traded for that’s supposed to help shore up the bullpen. Don’t save him for a save situation that might not come, Mike.
Can’t fault Lance Lynn in this one. He struggled early, though a lot of that in the first seemed to come from Alex Mejia’s misplays. He got out of it with just one run and most of the time, you’d take that. Unfortunately, the offense has gotten to where it doesn’t have much desire, it seems, to put runs on the board for Lynn and he again struggled with every pitch being the difference between a win or a loss. It’s funny that early in his career, the team seemed to put up a lot of runs for Lynn. Not as much as he’s become the reliable veteran.
As noted, the Cardinals made a deal for Nicasio earlier in the week, sending Eli Alvarez to the Phillies. It was a bit of an odd deal since Alvarez was at least a somewhat-regarded prospect and Nicasio isn’t eligible for the postseason since he was acquired after August 31. It feels like the Cards were looking to free up 40-man space this winter and weren’t sure, for whatever reasons, that Alvarez should be taking one of those spots. Instead of letting him go with no return, at least this way they get a guy that (in theory) can help them stabilize the pen and win enough games to stay viable in the playoff hunt for as long as possible. Of course, he’s got to be used in a game to help out…..
St. Louis is done with everyone that isn’t a National League Central squad. The next 22 games will be against the division where they’ve played their worst baseball overall. To go 15-7 in this stretch, as we noted above, might be difficult, especially when nine of those games are on the road, where the Cardinals have also struggled. However, while it may be a cliche, you’ve got to really just take it one game at a time. Win tonight. Then win tomorrow. And so on and so forth. To do that, they’ll need another great game out of Luke Weaver and hope that they can do something with Trevor Williams. Williams blanked the Reds for seven innings in his last start but gave up eight runs in three innings against the Redbirds a couple of weeks ago. Let’s hope there’s more of that tonight!
If you are scoreboard watching, Chicago and Milwaukee face off (Jimmy Nelson vs. John Lackey) so the Cards can gain ground in at least one race tonight with a win. The Rockies and German Marquez go out to face the Dodgers and Yu Darvish, so you’d like to think LA could take that one and St. Louis could get back to two games out of the wild card. Gotta win first, though!