There was more hope and anticipation about the Cardinals last week than there probably had been since the beginning of the season or at least that winning streak in May. The team was 10-3 in September and within striking distance of both the division and the wildcard. Things seemed to be trending in the right direction and if they could just have a respectable showing in Wrigley Field the last two weeks of the season would be an exciting dash to the finish line.
There were three games. A sweep by the Cardinals and they were (depending on what Milwaukee did) in first place. While that was the best-case scenario, most folks knew that was going to be a tall order. Winning two of three would put St. Louis just a couple of games back, which given the fact that there were still four games to go between the two teams seemed a desirable outcome. Losing two of three would hurt, but still keep them within four games with 13 to play, seven of which were head to head against Chicago and Milwaukee. Just as long as they didn’t get swept, hope could endure.
So, in typical 2017 Cardinal fashion, they got swept.
The Cardinals aren’t eliminated and where there’s life there’s hope, but leaving Chicago six games out and 4.5 behind the wild card leaders, plus having to leapfrog the Brewers in either situation, makes these last four series seem anticlimactic. I’m sure the Cardinals will come out with the same lineup and continue to run the starters so that they can say they never gave up, but I think we’d rather they go ahead and give Carson Kelly and others some starts and start looking toward 2018.
Anyway, we do have to recap the games so I guess we better get to it.
Friday (8-2 loss)
Hero: Tommy Pham. Nobody did a lot offensively–which is the story of this series, as only one run scored that wasn’t via the home run–but Pham’s solo shot in the first gave the Cardinals some life and let them draw first blood. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a lot of help.
Goat: Carlos Martinez. I know some of his runs were allowed by Matthew Bowman coming in and being unable to stop the bleeding, but Martinez is the one that opened the wound in the first place. We talked about it on Meet Me at Musial this weekend and it’s games like this that have people questioning Martinez’s “ace” status. I don’t agree with that–Martinez has been a darn good pitcher this year and at worst is the best pitcher on the staff, which is my definition of the term–but you do expect that your best pitcher can go into a big game and at least limit the damage. Martinez threw five really good innings (and even made the most of the umpire not calling strike three on him by driving in a run that almost literally caused John Lackey‘s head to explode) but when things started going south in the sixth, he couldn’t stop them. His error–well, it was charged as a fielder’s choice, but it was an error–was just the capper on a “death by a thousand cuts” type of inning.
Notes: Bowman is getting more rest of late, but that hasn’t seemed to increase his effectiveness. He was riding a five appearance streak without allowing a run of his own or anyone else’s, but it didn’t work in Wrigley as he allowed all three runners he inherited to score here and, as we’ll see on Sunday, allowed one of the two then to score with catastrophic results. So many arms out there in the bullpen and the same guys tend to get used. I’m not sure there was a better choice here, especially with the lead already gone, but Bowman is not always the answer to whatever the question is.
Stephen Piscotty was the only Cardinal to tally multiple hits, getting two singles. Pham’s homer was the only extra-base hit the club could muster, so that made Piscotty more productive than almost anyone.
Saturday (4-1 loss)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. After writing on Friday how it feels like Carpenter is just up there looking to walk (and, as a side effect, either doing that or striking out), he walked just once in the entire series and got as many hits (three) as he’d had in the six games previous to this series. Perhaps we shouldn’t have said anything. Anyway, Carpenter cranked a home run in the eighth to keep the team from being shut out.
Goat: Tommy Pham. Perhaps trying to do too much in the moment, Pham went 0-4 with two strikeouts and a huge double play early in the game. A hit there, even a sacrifice fly might have sparked something. This weekend felt flat in a lot of ways, though, which is what happens when the team scores fewer runs in three games than their opponent does in one inning on Friday.
Notes: Dexter Fowler had two hits in this one after being out for five games with that leg/back issue. He still seems to enjoy playing in front of the ivy if his stat lines are any indication. Perhaps more so than playing in front of the Cardinal red, if this interaction is any indication:
Yes and yes.
— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) September 16, 2017
Even before we get into the meat of what the MLB.com Cardinal beat writer is saying, let’s mention just how strange this is. Langosch rarely interacts with folks on Twitter. The last time she replied to anyone before this was someone wishing her happy birthday a week or so ago. Before that, I scrolled back a long way, almost to August, and still couldn’t another one. So she’s not likely to entertain random crazies on Twitter with their theories. Also, even if she did have more of an interaction with her followers, it seems unlikely that she’d just throw this out there without it having come up before. It feels like Derrick Goold or others would have said, “There’s no talk about moving him” or “It’s hard to speculate” or something fairly noncommittal. While Jenifer isn’t saying they WILL move him or that they WILL ask him to become a corner or anything of that nature, there’s something in that reply that makes it seem not all is well, which is pretty terrible given the fact they were hoping Fowler would solve some of the problems they were having!
Again, that’s probably reading more into a reply than was expected, but I did find it interesting. As for trying to trade Fowler after one year of a contract, good luck trying to get anyone to sign with you after that. The Cardinals are already having trouble with free agents wanting to come to St. Louis, so treating one of your big signings like that is probably going to send a signal that folks probably shouldn’t bother entertaining offers from this front office. At the very least, it’s going to make the price of free agents go up.
The Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons came into this one and allowed a run on two hits, which is a little unlike him. It was the first run he’d let up himself in the second half (the other run charged to him was an inherited runner someone let score). It was a home run by Addison Russell, which isn’t the most embarrassing thing given Russell’s talent. (His off-the-field issues are another story.) Pitchers are occasionally going to be touched for the long ball. You just hope it’s in a situation like this, where the game wasn’t really in the balance.
Sunday (4-3 loss)
Hero: Dexter Fowler. His three-run shot tied the game up in the sixth and injected a little life into a team that had felt dead most of the weekend. Unfortunately, nobody could build on that.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. His double started the sixth, but other than that he struck out four times, which really didn’t help the team’s offensive woes.
Notes: The game turned on Mike Matheny‘s management of the bullpen, so you know things weren’t going to go well. With the game tied, Matheny brought in the Patron Pitcher to start the seventh with Anthony Rizzo leading off. Lyons hit Rizzo, though with his stance if it hadn’t hit him, it’d probably been a strike. Lyons then allowed a single by Javier Baez before getting Kyle Schwarber to pop out. So two on, one out.
Instead of sticking with Lyons, especially with Jason Heyward lurking on the on-deck circle, Matheny goes to Bowman. As others have noted, Matheny seems to think that Bowman is another Seth Maness, able to get a double play on command, but he’s really not. This is a time where a fireballer would have been nice (it’s too bad Sandy Alcantara is still so rough or he could have gone there) but it’s not like Tyler Lyons is a LOOGY. He probably could have handled Albert Amora, who is basically a league average pitcher, and then be in there to face the lefty Heyward. Bowman instead gets to face Ian Happ (because Joe Maddon then pinch-hit for his righty). He got Happ but couldn’t get Heyward.
There are times when it seems Matheny can only hold one thought in his head at a time and right now that thought is Bowman is his main guy. While Bowman is fine and many times would have gotten through that inning, there was no reason to be switching out your best reliever there. But if you have to, why aren’t you using Juan Nicasio? That’s kinda what they got him for. In a must-win game, you can’t wait around to see if you have a lead for him to save. You have to use the fire extinguisher when there’s a fire.
The Cardinals haven’t played games after elimination since September 29, 2010. It’s a long run but that’s going to come to an end soon. Hopefully they’ll win their games but asking for the level of help they’ll need is just beyond what you can expect. Like I said, it’d be nice to start seeing some different folks in different roles starting tonight in Cincinnati but that would be an acknowledgement of defeat and that’s something most teams and athletes can’t do, even when everyone else has moved on. It’s Jack Flaherty versus a rookie in Jackson Stephens. A couple of young guns going tonight, so we’ll see how it develops!