For those that are still actively clinging to the postseason, last night didn’t do much for them. The Cardinals won, but so did the Brewers and the Cubs. (The Rockies lost, so I guess moving to 3.5 back in the wild card makes for mixed results.) For those that are just enjoying the ride the rest of the way, it was a little bumpy, but the end result was a good one.
There’s no doubt that the Hero of the evening was again Dexter Fowler, who hit a game-tying homer in the eighth and then broke the tie in the 10th with an RBI double, plus he tossed in a single for good measure. A lot of folks have soured on Fowler, which is understandable given the start he got off to, the expectations (that were probably a bit unreasonable) that were put on him, and the fact that he plays center field when he is not the best defensive centerfielder on the team. All that said, Fowler has tied his career high in home runs, has an OPS+ equal to what he had last year when he was touted as the big on-base guy, and has done it in all in less games. He hit .328 in August and is over .300 in September, with OPSes of 1.000+ in both months, and has been one of the guys fueling this late-season run.
Fowler’s not perfect, obviously, and we’ve only seen five steals out of him when we thought we might see 15-20, but just because he’s getting results in a different way than we thought doesn’t mean that he’s not a good player or he isn’t valuable to St. Louis. I know we talked about that strange Langosch tweet yesterday, but I don’t think he’s going anywhere and I look forward to seeing what he can do when he’s settled into his new place to start a season and maybe a bit healthier, though he’s only played over 140 games twice in his career, so those injuries might just be part of the package.
Yadier Molina did his best to get the Hero nod, crushing a three-run homer in the fourth that woke up the Cardinals and got them back even with the Reds. Until then, it seemed like this was going to be more of the same from this weekend, a lethargic offense that just never really got going, but without the excuse of facing a good team. Molina’s blast, followed by Paul DeJong immediately breaking the tie, at least got them one big inning. For a while there, the only hits came in that frame, like a summer storm that blew up out of nowhere before vanishing. But it doesn’t matter how you get them, just that you get them.
DeJong moved down to sixth in the order, perhaps due to some struggles of late, and responded with the homer and a base hit in the 10th that got the Cardinals an insurance run that they wound up needing. For the fact that the club scored eight runs, only Fowler and DeJong had more than one hit. Scoring eight runs on eight hits and four walks is a pretty efficient use of your baserunners, if you ask me.
Our Goat for the night was Jedd Gyorko, who went 0-4 with no runs or walks to ease his line unlike some of his fellow players. Gyorko was still moving pretty gingerly, at least on the basepaths, so he might not be ready to start every day just yet. Memphis concluded its season last night in the AAA Championship Game, losing to the Durham Bulls, so there will be a number of eyes looking to see if Patrick Wisdom gets a callup today as a reward for an outstanding season. There would seem to be a spot for him to play, though again the Cards aren’t officially eliminated and as such probably won’t start a lot of callups as of yet.
Jack Flaherty left after just two innings. I was in a church meeting and by time I got out, John Gant was already on the mound. Most people jumped to the “they are limiting his innings” idea, but it would seem that if they wanted to do that, they’d take Flaherty out of the rotation rather than just pulling him and forcing the bullpen to cover, especially when we see Brett Cecil throw three innings, which is never the ideal for him. My Meet Me at Musial cohost Allen Medlock filled me in that Flaherty was getting hit hard which probably led to his quick hook. Perhaps that was Mike Matheny playing with the urgency we’ve not really seen as much this season, perhaps it was their way of showing they aren’t throwing in the towel, but it was still a bit strange. Adam Wainwright was activated before last night’s game but isn’t expected to return to the rotation, so it would seem Flaherty will get the next two starts he’s scheduled for.
With Flaherty gone, Matheny turned to Gant for an inning, even though Gant has been a starter in the minor leagues and could go deeper in the game. (Looking at Gant’s game log, it’s weird that he’s had five MLB appearances this year and three of them have been against the Reds.) He did give up the home run to Zack Cozart, but that’s not the biggest issue in the world. It feels like Matheny felt this is what a team that is desperate does, pull a starter early and just keep throwing arms at the problem. (Though, in fairness, he probably would have kept Gant in the game longer but his spot came up in the top of the fourth after the Cardinals and put up the five runs and had a runner on first with two outs. I think that wasn’t exactly a prime scoring opportunity–especially when you are pinch-hitting with Greg Garcia–but I can understand “trying to go for it” there. Again, it’s urgency, just not urgency we always see from Matheny.)
He then went to Cecil, which again is fine. Cecil was on a six inning scoreless streak, he’d put up a 2.25 ERA since the middle of August, all that was fine. And Cecil did good work in the first two frames, striking out four. With a ton of arms in the pen, though, Matheny decided to go with Cecil for a third inning.
This was only the second time this season that Cecil had gone three innings; the other was also against Cincinnati, strangely enough. A quick scan of his game logs indicates that since he moved into the bullpen midway through 2012, he’s never pitched three innings except for these two times. He was signed as a LOOGY or, at most, a seventh inning guy. He was not signed, nor has he ever been, a long reliever. Yet Matheny has run him out there for that long twice in the span of a month and a half.
I get that maybe there are folks you don’t want to use in a close game, but I never thought Cecil was a guy that engendered so much trust that you asked him to go past his normal limits. There were three lefties coming up in the sixth out of the first four hitters, but lefty relievers are not exactly a rare resource down there. I know you want to save Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons for the eighth or ninth (or, in this case, tenth) but there’s still Ryan Sherriff or Zach Duke. Asking a beyond-his-limits Cecil to try to get out Joey Votto and Scooter Gennett might have been a bit too much. In fact, out of the three lefties in that inning, Votto walked, Gennett doubled, and Scott Scheibler hit a sacrifice fly.
I know that there are some unreliable arms down there. I know that there are some young guys that you might not want to trust in a big situation. I get that technically they are in a playoff race. There has to be something better, though. There has to be some way of not letting 4-5 guys down there not pitch for a week or more but Matthew Bowman come into every game. There’s got to be a way to let folks like Sandy Alcantara get some experience and letting the chips fall where they may. Heck, you have Wainwright out there who could have (if he’s healthy and clicking) been able to shut down lefties as well. (What condition Waino is in still remains to be seen, of course.) I keep having to wonder where Sam Tuivailala is at, since he’s only made three appearances this month. There has to be a better way or they should just go ahead and send some guys home for the winter.
It’s Luke Weaver against Rookie Davis tonight in Cincinnati. Just for reference, if the Cards go 12-0 the rest of the way, they’d wind up with 90 wins. For the Cubs to finish with 90, they’d have to go 6-6. The Brewers, 9-2, and the Rockies 8-3. The idea that this team can run off a streak like that is pretty much of a long shot, though. Let’s see if they can go 8-4 and match their total from last year or 9-3 and top it by a win. We’ll see what they can do tonight!