I used the analogy last night on Gateway to Baseball Heaven that the Cardinals, especially over the last couple of months, have been the fisherman in this State Farm commercial:
Instead of dangling a dollar, though, they put a little postseason hope on that hook. You don’t want to grab for it, but eventually it is just too tempting even if it’s just a small amount of hope. As soon as you do, though, they’ll yank it away from you, leaving you more disappointed and irked than before.
After that rally on Friday night, hope was again riding high that the Cardinals could at least take the series with the Pirates and stay relevant as they went to Busch for their final homestand of the season. That didn’t last much more than an inning and after two losses, the team returns to St. Louis 2.5 out of the wildcard with seven to play and, unfortunately, will most likely see the Cubs clinch the division on the Busch Stadium lawn if they can’t sweep. While this still counts as “meaningful baseball”–the Cards can’t be eliminated until Wednesday, which means no matter what they’ll have fewer games that don’t count than they did in 2010–it’s frustrating to see what is basically an uphill climb when a win here or there could have made the road a lot more favorable.
Let’s get the recaps out of the way, not that there’s much we want to talk about with these two outings.
Saturday (11-6 loss)
Hero: Tommy Pham. It was Pham’s two-run homer that led off the scoring and got fans excited….until the bottom of the inning. It was his double that drove in the third run and put runners on second and third with nobody out and a chance to cut into the Pirates’ significant lead.
What most people will remember from this game, though, is the TV cameras catching Pham appearing to berate (or at least adamantly complain) to his teammates about their inability to score either Matt Carpenter or himself in that situation. (Dexter Fowler and Jedd Gyorko struck out and Yadier Molina popped out.) If that’s the case–and while Pham was definitely upset about not getting runs, it’s hard to know exactly how much was directed at his teammates–it seems to have inspired two different camps:
- Tommy Pham is having his first real successful season and doesn’t have the history or weight to be speaking out like that. Plus it’s not a professional way of treating your teammates.
- Tommy Pham has a passion to win and he should be upset when things like that happen.
I have no real problem with Pham getting on his teammates. Heaven knows we still glowingly speak of the time Chris Carpenter yanked Brendan Ryan into the stairwell and chewed him within an inch of his life. It is more of a problem if folks are accepting of bad baseball and not chipping away when you can.
That being said, if you are going to make a public show of things, you better back it up. Pham came up in the sixth after the Cards had put up three runs to cut the lead to 10-6 and had runners on first and third. A solid single gets the team within three, an extra-base hit scores Harrison Bader from first. Instead, Pham grounded out. Which happens–this isn’t a Hollywood story and you can’t just will a hit. Pham also had a terrible Sunday, leaving five men on and most notably striking out with two on and two out in the fifth. Again, they were tough situations for him to be productive in and the situation on Saturday he hit the ball well, just right at third. It just doesn’t look great after that outburst to then have your bat go quiet.
Goat: Dexter Fowler. Fowler missed a ball in the outfield that many believed Pham or Bader would have caught. At the very least, he needed to get in front of it and not let it go past him. (Much like the inside-the-park homer against the Pirates earlier in the month, Pham was nowhere to be seen trying to back up that play, requiring Stephen Piscotty to come over and chase it down.) He also went 0-4 on the night, which gets him the edge over Lance Lynn, who was my initial thought for this spot. However, let’s take a look at Lynn’s work up to that moment:
Does any part of that look like a good outing? A guy that was just on the verge of getting it all together? Now maybe he does. Maybe if Fowler catches the ball for the second out he retires Gerrit Cole for the final out of the inning and everything is hunky-dory. We’ve seen games that the starter has looked ugly in the first and settled down afterwards. Still, Lynn had thrown 30 pitches and didn’t look like he was fooling anyone. Even the ball that Fowler misplayed wasn’t a high fly ball, but a sinking line drive that was misjudged. And when you are staked to a 2-0 lead in a must-win game, you can’t come out and blow it that quickly. Lynn didn’t exactly shake things off either, taking six pitches to get Cole to ground out and then walking Adam Frazier before his night was done. Josh Lucas came in and allowed both inherited runners to score, inflating his line that much more.
When you know that the bullpen is going to be needed significantly the next night, watching the starter leave before the first is over is just a pending disaster for the entire weekend. It was good to see the Cardinals rally a bit, but it’s very possible any postseason hopes left when Lynn did.
Notes: Given the situation, it wasn’t surprising that we finally got to see Adam Wainwright out on the mound again. (He even got to add to his hit total by singling in the third and scoring on Pham’s double.) Unfortunately, the pitching results weren’t as encouraging as we were hoping given some of the good reports we’d gotten about Wainwright while he was on the DL. Wainwright went just two innings, allowing a run on three hits and a walk. More to the point, he never topped 90 on the radar gun and indicated after the game that he was still hurting. I would be very surprised if we see Wainwright again this season unless it’s a courtesy outing on Sunday in the final home game. Just on the off chance that it is the final game for Waino.
Because, sadly, we are starting to get into that realm of possibility. Wainwright is under contract next year for $19.5 million and I’m sure, given that fact and the fact that he’s a competitor and eternally optimistic about what he can do, that he’ll at least try to pitch next season. However, it seems fairly likely he’s going to need some sort of surgery this offseason and it may depend on what kind it is and what the rehab time is like. Wainwright turned 36 about a month ago and healing and recovery aren’t nearly as easy at that age as they were a couple of years ago with the Achilles (and you could argue he never was the same after that anyway) and definitely different than returning from Tommy John back in 2012. It’s hard to really believe that Wainwright would be anything more than a fifth starter that you hope on going into camp next year.
Which (and this is another topic Tara and I touched on last night, so if you haven’t clicked the above link, you might want to) is 1) not the way you want to see a Cardinal legend like Wainwright go out and 2) throws another wrinkle into the offseason mix. If Wainwright doesn’t return, the rotation right now is Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Luke Weaver. There are others that could fill in and likely Alex Reyes is ready by mid-season to return to that role, but there’s no veteran presence, no guy to shoulder a load, and no guy you would consider at the head of the rotation to help take any burden off of Martinez. Most of that is still relevant even if Wainwright returns, because how much do you trust him to be a pitcher that is even middle of the rotation? Don’t you have to plan for nothing out of Wainwright and if he comes to camp looking good, that’s a bonus? With all the options on all these arms, even signing a veteran or making a trade for one still allows a return of Uncle Charlie, but to not make such a move feels like you aren’t taking this seriously. Add that into the mix with a big bad and some trustworthy bullpen arms and Michael Girsch has his work cut out for him this winter.
The rest of the bullpen was OK, but it’s noteworthy that Seung-hwan Oh came in for the eighth and walked two while allowing a hit which led to the last run. Not noteworthy to this game, per se, but it set the stage for the next.
Sunday (4-1 loss)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. Carpenter hit a homer in the third and that was basically the offense. The team combined for a total of three more hits (though they did draw five walks) in a game that looked like a hangover effect from the body blow that was the night before.
Goat: Seung-hwan Oh. Let’s review this just a little bit:
- Oh has struggled all year long.
- He’s been out with an injury until just recently.
- He pitched yesterday and didn’t look effective.
- It’s a 1-1 game that’s even more must-win than yesterday was
What part of any of that makes you think Oh is the guy to go for? Well, probably none for you, but something in that mixture seemed fine to Mike Matheny, who made the call. Oh promptly gave up a single and a homer. That was the 10th homer Oh has given up this year in less than 60 innings. This is not an uncommon occurrence nor is it something that would be a surprise. Yet that was the call to the bullpen, brought to you by T-Mobile (or whoever the sponsor is, I can’t remember right now).
The problem is that somehow with all these arms in the bullpen, Matheny doesn’t trust any of them. You note that he went to Matthew Bowman first after John Gant went his three innings. (Having a bullpen game when you are still in a pennant race with less than 10 games to go is probably an issue.) Which is fine, I guess, but why not go to someone like Jack Flaherty? Let Flaherty eat two or three innings. His success usually came the first time around anyway. If that works, you could go with Bowman and the regulars at the end of the game. Or why not try Sandy Alcantara? Alcantara has his flaws, for sure, but he’s allowed one run in 4.2 innings with six strikeouts. If you get beat with the young flamethrower, that’s easier to swallow for most folks than getting beat with a guy in Oh that everyone is 95% certain is going to cost you the game. If this was Oh of last year and he got beat, that’s a different story. Stats don’t carry over, though, and you can’t apply a few of the ones from ’16 here at the end of ’17.
Notes: I know it was a day game after a night game but it still strange to see Yadier Molina sitting in this game that was very meaningful. I mean, it’s not like Yadi hasn’t done that sort of thing many times before and, in fact, left the game early on Saturday night when the score got out of hand. So it makes it feel like Matheny was waving the white flag to start Carson Kelly here. Again, I realize that we’ve talked about Kelly getting more at bats and that’s fine, but you’d think you’d put in your A lineup all the way to the end. If Molina was a normal catcher with a normal workload, we’d not think twice about this. He’s not, he doesn’t, and so we are. (Kelly did have one of the three non-Carpenter hits and did fine. It’s just an interesting decision.)
Brett Cecil came in and allowed a home run on his first pitch, continuing his rough 2017. We’ll probably look at it more in his Exit Interview, but it feels like Cecil has had periods of effectiveness followed by a run of bad outings. He’s given up 13 runs in 23 innings over the past two months, which is a pretty long stretch of yuck. There’s not much you can do about it, though. They aren’t going to cut him and he’s pretty much untradeable (which, to be fair, we said about Mike Leake) so I think they are just going to have to hope he can find something over the winter to adjust and come back better next season.
To highlight the point we had above, the last two innings of a 4-1 game (which did not feel that close) were handled by two of the most reliable relievers, John Brebbia and Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons. There was really no reason to throw either of those guys. Lyons hadn’t thrown in the series, so maybe he just needed the work, but when there are folks like Alcantara and Tuivailala that never seem to get into a game, it would seem a decent time to try them out, especially when you hope to need Brebbia and Lyons against the Cubs on Monday night.
Here we are, the final seven games of the 2017 season. A season that started out so hopeful, especially after that Opening Night win against the Cubs, now has come down to needing basically a perfect week and a little help from the Dodgers (yeah, right) or Marlins. More likely than not, a week from today we’ll be staring into the void, realizing that winter has come and we’ve got no more Cardinal baseball to watch, either to enjoy or gripe about.
So watch this week. Watch it with less frustration with whatever Matheny does or which player strikes out or gives up a home run, but with the idea that even bad baseball, even losing baseball, is better than the emptiness of no baseball at all. Luke Weaver goes today for the Cardinals. Let’s hope it’s a winner, but even if it’s not, it’s still a day with baseball!