The coffin is nailed shut. Elvis has left the building. The fat lady has sung. Dan Buffa’s out of coffee. Whatever your metaphor, it well applies to the St. Louis Cardinals, who will be playing games that don’t technically matter for the first time since 2010.
On one hand, it’s a little strange to be thinking about games and not looking at the scoreboard or figuring scenarios. On the other, this has been coming for a while, especially since those two losses in Pittsburgh. You could hold out hope, but it wasn’t that reasonable. You could see the technicalities, but know that the likelihood wasn’t there, especially when it got down to one single game, as it was before last night’s outing.
We’ll probably look at the season as a whole in early October, but I think the numbers that stand out the most right now are 5-14, which is their record against the Chicago Cubs. If everything else stayed the same, even going 8-11 against the Cubs has you at least in the wild card hunt. It doesn’t take much to find games–like the very first series, where the ball stuck to Yadier Molina‘s chest protector, or the series in early July when the Cubs swept but every game was decided by one or two runs, or the game in late July when Wainwright took a shutout into the eighth and they still lost–that could have made up some of that difference. It was possible, even as wonky as this season has been, for the Cards to be alive this weekend. Yet they aren’t.
Don’t misunderstand, it’s clear the Cubs are better than the Cardinals are. I think the gap in places is small but all those edges add up to something that right now is dominating the rivalry in the wrong way. I know that last year John Mozeliak said that what Chicago was doing or the interaction between the teams didn’t really play into what he did in the winter, but that’s got to change. It used to be that everyone in the Central (and many around baseball) spent time figuring out how they were going to beat the Cardinals. Now, the shoe is on the other foot.
As for last night’s game, it’s tough to know what to say. It wasn’t too surprising that Kyle Hendricks was able to keep the bats in check because he’s done that before. However, when the Cubs are running out a lineup that their Iowa farm team might use on its off days, you’d like to think you could wind up getting two or three runs, especially when Hendricks left the game. Instead, the only reason the game went to extras was our Hero, Tommy Pham. Pham, who had two of the team’s six hits plus drew a walk, showing more life than pretty much the rest of the lineup combined, singled in the sixth, stole his second base of the night, went to third on a wild pitch, and scored on Dexter Fowler‘s broken bat grounder. While it was a great throwback to Whiteyball, given how they are honoring Whitey Herzog this season, it’s a little problematic that was all the club could muster.
Granted, there was one more real shot. After Matthew Bowman misplayed a ball in the 11th and camera-watching Taylor Davis got his first major league RBI with a double, the Cards went down 1-2……….3 in the bottom of the frame, with the …….. representing how far Paul DeJong hit the ball. Unfortunately, Leonys Martin was playing back and was able to go up and rob DeJong of his 25th home run, ending the game and snuffing out that flickering candle of hope.
Really, though, this one felt like those days at the end of the long school year when testing is done and no one wants to do anything. (Which, looking back, is a similar analogy to the one I used in 2010.) Dan McLaughlin and Jim Edmonds were playing it free and easy in the booth, akin to goofing off in the back of the room while the teacher sets up the movie the class is supposed to watch. People checked out early, like the starting pitcher (more on that in a second). All in all, even though there was technically still some life in the playoff race, it felt like this club was just ready to go home. And, honestly, what are the chances that the Dodgers would help them out and sweep the Rockies this weekend anyway?
Lance Lynn started last night in what most likely was his last start in Busch Stadium. With hitters in this situation, you can acknowledge them in their at-bats, the manager might take them off the field a la Matt Holliday last year, things like that. Pitchers, of course, are a little trickier, but usually there is a mid-inning replacement where they can walk off the field one last time.
Lance Lynn got none of that.
The outrage that many of us felt last night as Lynn was just replaced by a pinch-hitter with no fanfare and a bit suddenly was tempered a bit by Mike Matheny saying afterwards that Lynn’s back had tightened up or otherwise he’d have probably pitched the sixth. Lynn was at 86 pitches, which is a good 20 less than normal for him, and there was nobody on and one out when they hit for him, so it’s not like it was a prime scoring opportunity. That at least makes sense, though I think if Matheny had been thinking big picture, he could have at least sent Lynn up to hit, then pulled him back for Randal Grichuk so everyone would realize Lynn was leaving the game and be able to express their appreciation for his career in Cardinal red.
Of course, that is if his back actually was bothering him. Lynn said after the game that his back was fine, though given Lynn’s penchant for dry humor and straight-faced discussion of things that aren’t necessarily true, it’s hard to know. (He also may have wanted to make sure that his free agent money wasn’t affected in the slightest.) Matheny’s not one to lie to save face–he often doesn’t realize that face needs to be saved–so I’m guessing Lynn did tell him something of the nature but it wasn’t a significant problem.
So that’s it. There’s a weekend series that means nothing, which might actually be fun to watch. Matt Carpenter, who got the Goat in this one for going 0-4 with a walk and four strikeouts, has shut it down for the season. He will get an MRI on that shoulder today but thinks he’ll be able to avoid surgery. We’ll see. That shoulder has been a problem a majority of the season and I’m not sure he’ll be able to rest enough for it to heal over the winter. I’m no doctor, though, and I’m sure it’ll depend on what the MRI says.
Which means no Carp this weekend. Yadier Molina doesn’t have any reason to try to rush back. Jose Martinez still seems to be bothered by his hand issues. It wouldn’t surprise me much if they let Stephen Piscotty go ahead and head back home to be with his mother. We could have the whole Memphis Redbirds lineup this weekend. Pham still wants his 25th homer, so he probably stays in the lineup, but we should see more of Luke Voit and Harrison Bader, at the least. A lot of bullpen arms were used last night so we’ll see who we get out of the pen going forward, but in theory there’d be a lot less Bowman and more guys like Sam Tuivailala. I don’t know if Seung-hwan Oh gets back on the mound or not, but maybe they do that so they can have a conference and Eugene Koo can get out there one more time.
Three more days of baseball before the winter sets in. With no pressure, no worries, maybe we can enjoy them for what they are. John Gant goes for the Cards tonight against the Brewers. Enjoy the weekend, folks. It’s all we’ve got.