After three games last year, the Cardinals sat at 1-2 and were one game off the early NL Central pace. After some significant changes this offseason, the new-look Cardinals….sit at 1-2 and are two games out, since Milwaukee started off with a sweep of the Padres. Now, as we all know, you can’t draw many conclusions from three games and, my tweet this weekend notwithstanding, I don’t think they’ll start off 3-9 like they did last year. That said, the losses look too familiar. We’ve already tackled Opening Day, so let’s look at the last two games in New York.
Saturday (6-2 loss)
Hero: Jose Martinez. Whatever the issues with his fielding may be, and Tara discussed that aspect well last night on Gateway, there’s no doubt that right now Martinez is one of if not the biggest bat in the lineup. While the rest of the lineup spent a lot of time going down on strikes to Noah Syndergaard in the opener and Jacob deGrom here, Martinez went five for seven and in this one not only had multiple hits but also drove in one of the two runs St. Louis was able to put up.
While Martinez hitting is not a problem per se, I continue to get the feeling this attempt at trying to fit four guys that could be and arguably should be full-time MLB starters into three slots is going to be an issue, especially when Martinez and Matt Carpenter aren’t going to really rotate out of the lineup. Those guys played all three games in New York and there’s really not an argument for them to have done anything else. The problem is that Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko have also proven that they should get regular at bats and both of them have better gloves than the two already mentioned. Gyorko sat in this one for the second straight day while Wong took the bench on Sunday with left-handed Steven Matz on the mound.
We’ve said often that Gyorko could be that super-utility type and it has been noted that he could use a little more rest early to be stronger late. And obviously this is one of those patented “good problem to have” things. Still, I feel like someone is going to get the short end of the stick here and we’ll see if the production we expect out of these guys, especially Gyorko, is able to continue with them playing perhaps just a couple of times a week.
Goat: Michael Wacha. For the second straight game, the starting pitcher was unable to finish the fifth inning. It was also the second straight game where a pitcher, who had already been scuffling a bit, was allowed to hit in the top of the fifth and was pulled in the bottom. That’s one of those things we thought Mike Maddux was going to fix but so far, not so much. Could be that Maddux still needs time to get Mike Matheny to adjust. Could be that the changes with a “pitching coordinator” aren’t going to be as drastic as we hoped. Again, two games, etc. so we’ll see how this develops.
As for Wacha, he was touched for a couple of home runs, which really hurt. Like Carlos Martinez before him, he was unable to keep the Mets off the board immediately after the Cardinals scored for him, giving up a long ball to Travis d’Arnaud after his teammates had cut the New York lead in half. He walked two, gave up five hits, and left the game with a runner on first and two outs. (Which, I guess, could be a change–Matheny didn’t try to keep him out there for one more batter to see if they could rally and get him a win.)
It was a disappointing start to the season for Wacha, who had looked pretty good in the spring and a lot of folks had hopes of him continuing the good work he did last season. Hopefully his next turn, which will be the Cardinal home opener, will go much better.
Notes: We saw the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons make his debut, getting the last two outs of the game. (I didn’t watch the game so you can imagine how confusing I found it that the box score said he threw four pitches, all strikes, while getting two outs, giving up a hit, and issuing a walk–until I found out it was an intentional walk and as such didn’t count as pitches thrown.) Bud Norris also did well coming out of the bullpen, getting the final out of the fifth and going another scoreless frame, striking out two in the process.
The results weren’t quite as strong for Ryan Sherriff, who made his season debut after being recalled when Brett Cecil hit the disabled list, and Sam Tuivailala. You could be encouraged that Sherriff got the lefty (Jay Bruce) which is something, though he allowed a hit to Asdrubal Cabrera and a walk to Yoenis Cespedes first. With runners on second and third, Tui got the call and allowed Cabrera to score on a sacrifice fly and issued a walk before finishing the frame. The eighth wasn’t any better for him, as he gave up two singles and threw a wild pitch before the Patron Pitcher came in.
Tui is off to a rough start. He got into the first two games and between them threw two innings, has walked three batters, and has thrown three wild pitches. Command has always been the issue with Tuivailala and, without minor league options, you wonder how long the Cardinals will continue to work with him. His stuff is good and it seems unlikely that they’d put him on waivers to make room for Greg Holland when they need a 25-man spot (especially since they’ve already gotten Holland on the 40) but with Alex Reyes returning in two months, you have to figure the clock is ticking–loudly–on Tui.
Sunday (5-1 win)
Hero: Paul DeJong. The first multi-homer game of the season for a Cardinals as Paulie D went deep in the second and in the eighth to bookend the scoring. You remember in The Last Jedi (sorry, Tara, another Star Wars reference) when the Millennium Falcon swoops in on Crait, drawing off all the TIE fighters, and Finn exclaims, “They hate that ship!”? Yeah, that’s pretty much how the Mets feel about DeJong now. He has six home runs and a .366/.381/.927 slash line against the Mets in just 10 games. And he gets to see them again at the end of the month! Right now the Mets are glad that DeJong signed that extension to stay in St. Louis so he’s less likely to wind up on the roster of one of their NL East foes.
Goat: Dexter Fowler. Fowler capped off a miserable opening series by going 0-4 with three strikeouts. So far, the leadoff hitter for the Cardinals is 0-13 with six K, which is less than optimal. Obviously Fowler got off to a slow start last year before coming on and getting out of New York will likely help him a lot. I just hope we’ll see a steady hand for a while leaving Fowler at the top of the lineup. Though I guess it’d be kinda ironic if we started making the argument that Fowler can’t hit in the leadoff spot after spending so much time saying Matt Carpenter can’t hit out of it.
Notes: The bats woke up a bit in this one, though there’s still not been a widespread clicking of the offense. Marcell Ozuna had three hits and drove in two and Yadier Molina had his second home run of the season. (Mets fans are wondering if Molina has passed on what he has learned to DeJong.) Tommy Pham also had a couple of hits and walked twice, leading to scoring two runs. After seeing him go 1-7 in the first two games, it’s good to have a strong outing from Pham. That’ll alleviate some worries right there.
On the pitching side of the ledger, if you had Luke Weaver to be the first to complete five innings, please step up and claim your no-prize. Weaver walked three–control has been a serious issue for the pitchers in the early going–and allowed a run, but otherwise turned in a strong performance, limiting the Mets to one run on five hits. With eight baserunners in five innings, Weaver had to work out of some trouble at times but was able to do so.
Given how bad things were on Opening Day and given Zach Gifford’s research on the possibility Matthew Bowman was hurting, I didn’t really expect–well, let’s not say expect, more like want–to see Bowman return until at least Milwaukee. Instead, Matheny turned to him yet again to relieve Weaver but this time it worked out much better. Two scoreless innings from Bowman, allowing just one hit and striking out two. Jordan Hicks came in and electrified everyone with another scoreless inning and then Dominic Leone finished it up, though given DeJong’s last smash it wasn’t a save situation. Kinda how we drew it up, right? Well, maybe not the two innings from Bowman part.
The Cardinals get out of New York and get to head to Milwaukee, facing the division leaders but not seeing the type of pitching they have been seeing. There isn’t a Thor/deGrom pairing and if the offense is held down by Zach Davies, Chase Anderson, and Jhoulys Chacin, we might have more concerns. (That said, Anderson was pretty good last year and is their #1, as the Brewers used their off day to skip their fifth starter.) Davies is the first on the docket and here’s how the Cardinals have dealt with him in the past.
There are some fine numbers on there. I think Davies is one of those guys that occasionally winds up shutting down the Cards and you wonder exactly how that happened, but then gets beat around the next time out. My bet is that these numbers come into play and Gyorko is playing third with Carpenter at second this afternoon, but we’ll wait and see when the lineup comes out.
On the flip side, we get to see the Cardinal debut of Miles Mikolas. After a rough start to the spring, Mikolas looked much better in his final outings and hopefully will be the first starter to get into the sixth inning. Getting a win to start the series would go a long way toward easing some minds.
Oh, and if you want to make some predictions on this series, the Cardinal Six is still open until first pitch! My Gateway cohost won the Mets series so someone needs to dethrone her. It’s obviously not going to me, judging by the results. So come play with us!