They just can’t go away.
They’ve tried, mind you. They’ve lost three games in a row, two of which in extremely ugly fashion. They’ve shown little spirit since Friday night’s rally in Pittsburgh. It’s like that was the last bit of oomph the Cardinals had, but it didn’t time out right. My wife talks about having to make sure she has enough toppings for her lettuce when she has a salad because she doesn’t want to have one without the other. It feels like the Redbirds had more season than motivation.
And yet, they stay alive. Colorado lost by one last night to the Marlins and so the Cardinals remain 2.5 games out, though now with six to play. The odds are very long–today’s Fangraphs projection has them at 8.4%–but a six game winning streak would mean Colorado would need to lose at least two of their remaining five to create a tie, three to let St. Louis slide past them into October.
Does anyone see a six game winning streak coming, though? The Cardinals have had 6.2 innings out of their starters in the past three games. That’s 18.1 innings out of the bullpen, meaning a bullpen that was already not well trusted is also a little tired as well. At least it’s in a time of expanded rosters so Mike Matheny can empty out all those folks that he doesn’t trust in games like this one and on Saturday.
The best pitcher the Cardinals have had during September has been Luke Weaver, but he was no match for the Cubs last night and was our Goat for the evening. I know some people are complaining that Matheny left him out there too long, but consider that all eight of his runs came with two out. Most of them were quick strikes. Do you remove him in the first with the bases loaded and two out? That seems extreme, but one batter later it’s 3-0 which, as it turned out, was plenty for Jon Lester. (There was debate on whether Randal Grichuk or Harrison Bader would have caught that ball that Stephen Piscotty didn’t and I’m definitely no expert in that field, but it seemed to be a solid hit by Addison Russell that probably would have dropped no matter. The others might have held him to a double, but it likely wouldn’t have mattered in the long run.) Jason Heyward doubled in the fourth run. Do you go get Weaver there, when you haven’t even had the chance to see if you could get a couple of runs back?
The run in the fifth was a solo shot to Kris Bryant, again with two outs. Nothing you could do there to prevent that, I don’t think. (I mean in the way of seeing signs to replace a pitcher, of course. You could try not to give Bryant anything to hit to avoid the HR.) In the third, you possibly could have gone to get him after Willson Contreras singled, but he did get the next two outs. Walking Heyward and putting two on might have been another decision point, one that I might agree on. Still, two outs and a taxed bullpen. If he gets Javier Baez, he’s out of the inning. Unfortunately, he didn’t and suddenly it was 8-1 and it was all over but the shouting and the discussion of nacho guy.
We’ll give the Hero tag to Jedd Gyorko, who cracked a home run after Russell’s dive into the stand upended some nachos and gave the broadcast and Twitter something else to focus on for a while. Overall, Gyorko was three for three, which was half the team’s hits, and he and Luke Voit were the only ones to get extra base hits, as Voit pinch-hit in the seventh and went yard, which was good to see. I know a lot of folks think Voit should have played more and he probably should have, but there wasn’t a great place for him to get regular at bats. Which just speaks to the roster crunch that this team has and that must be addressed during the winter.
Then there was the Yadier Molina situation. In the top of the seventh–again, in an 8-1 game–Molina was clocked not once but twice by foul balls, balls that barely deviated from their flight path before smashing into his skull. After the second one, Mike Matheny went to get him, which was a good thing since Yadi wound up vomiting into his mask on the way off the field. Unsurprisingly, he went through concussion testing and even though his brother Bengie Molina says everything is fine, I think we’re all in agreement with Bernie Miklasz on this one. There’s no reason to see Yadi again unless it’s a pinch-hit appearance on the last day of the season to let the fans acknowledge him.
Matheny’s usage of Molina is a little weird when you think about the fact that Matheny is a former catcher. You’d think he’d realize the wear and tear and give him more rest, but it feels more like Matheny is living through him and letting Yadi play as much as Mike wanted to play when he was on the field. However, I think–I hope–concussions are a different matter. Matheny had a number of them and has been vocal about trying to reduce players having them, including being part of changing the collision rule at home plate. If Matheny lets Molina play tonight, I think that would indicate that Matheny can’t be trusted with player health, that he’s not the leader that the front office and ownership might want him to be.
I know Mike is saying all the right things–or at least the things you have to say when you are leading a ball team. He’s saying that the season isn’t over, they just have to play good baseball and not worry about what other teams are doing. Fine, though I think ignoring your difficulties is just as bad as overly focusing on them. (Someone on Twitter made the joke Matheny’s presser after they are eliminated will be something like “Oh, we were eliminated? I didn’t know because I don’t pay attention to other things. We still have to keep grinding through the season and play good baseball and see how things work out.”) Which makes me worried that he’ll try to run out Molina tonight because “every game is important” and “we have to have our best club out there”. I feel like his feelings on concussions will win out here, but I’m going to be slightly concerned until we see the lineup this afternoon.
For all that talk about the untrustworthy guys coming out of the pen, they wound up doing all right. Jack Flaherty made his first relief appearance, but the game worked out to where he only got an inning, which was a bit of a waste. His spot came up with two on and two outs and you have to try to get back into the game. It didn’t work out–Grichuk flew out–but it was a move that had to be done.
Ryan Sherriff, Sam Tuivailala, Zach Duke, and Josh Lucas combined for 4.1 innings of scoreless ball. The only outlier from the relievers was Sandy Alcantara, who made an error that allowed Ben Zobrist to reach, then got Russell and Heyward before the floodgates opened. He wound up allowing two runs and left the game with the bases loaded, thankfully to be bailed out by Duke. There are going to be nights like that for Alcantara and, if the inning had developed differently, I might have been in favor of him trying to get out of that jam since the game obviously was out of hand. Hopefully this won’t be the last time we see Alcantara this year and it probably won’t be unless elimination doesn’t come on Wednesday or Thursday like we expect.
I think our friend Dennis Lawson said it best last night.
If this Cardinals team happens to take the 2nd WC, that would be my new argument that the 2nd WC shouldn’t exist.
— #dennis (@gr33nazn) September 26, 2017
So far this season the Cubs have owned the Cardinals and from all indications, that’s not going to stop soon. Last night there was way too much blue for my taste. I had actually gone into the other room before the Baez homer and listening to the crowd I couldn’t tell if Weaver had gotten the out or if Baez had done something. Sadly, it was the latter. If being invaded by blue-clad Chicagoans in the last week of the season isn’t a warning sign to the front office and ownership, I don’t know what would be. For the past three years, the Cubs have been a significant thorn in the Cardinals’ side. It’s always been a concern what would happen if the Cubs paired up their financial resources with someone that had a clue about putting together a team and we’re seeing it now. If the baby bears get some pitching this offseason, this could be a long-term thing.
That’s not going to fly in St. Louis. I’m not saying your season is a success if you beat the Cubs and nothing else, but it’s a solid component of a year worth remembering. You don’t want to make any panic moves, but this has been going on long enough for you to factor it into your winter strategy. It’s been a long time since that walkoff win against Chicago on Opening Night but there haven’t been many more moments worth remembering since then.
Maybe there will be some tonight. Carlos Martinez goes up against Jake Arrieta, so in theory this is going to be more of a pitching duel. In theory, at least. St. Louis has faced him three times this year and each time he’s gone six innings, with one, four, and two runs allowed. It’s hard to imagine the offense just exploding, but we’d take it if it happened!