As we know, running through a road trip undefeated is a tough chore for any team. Last year, the Cards had that trip through Atlanta and Miami, but those things are pretty rare (and, sadly, that was not a sign of things to come). So when the Cardinals went into Thursday’s game with an extra day off, with no rhythm, and with a five game winning streak, you could almost expect that it wasn’t going to turn out their way. I don’t think anyone thought it would go as badly as it did, though.
I’ll admit, I just listened to a little of the early part of the game before work and other issues distracted me. By time I returned, the game was to the point that I just checked Twitter to see if the gap closed. I guess it’s a testament that the 8-1 score got to the point where the Cardinals brought they tying run to the plate in the eighth, but they couldn’t pull off another July 20, 2004.
It’s pretty obvious that Luke Weaver has to be our Goat of the game, given that he allowed nine hits and six runs in four innings. It’s not that that he was beat up, as only one of those hits went for extra bases, but it piled up to the point where there was basically no return. Weaver now has given up 16 earned runs in 11 career innings against the Northsiders (a 13.09 ERA) and while I still probably would have thrown him instead of Michael Wacha in this one, you might start trying to figure out why the Cubs seem to have his number, especially since he’ll likely see them a lot more this season and beyond.
Save for Matthew Bowman allowing a two-run homer to Jason Heyward, which is significant salt in the wound to Cardinal fans, the bullpen did its job. Luke Gregerson made his debut and it was significantly better than Greg Holland‘s, retiring both batters he faced. Even with the injuries, Gregerson had a more normal spring and had more time in the minors (though by innings it wasn’t much). It would seem that he’s more prepared to be on a big league roster than Holland was and perhaps is, though Holland did throw a scoreless seventh (with one walk, because of course). It was interesting that Holland came in right after the Cardinals made it close, but given that Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina were both out, it was probably still a low-risk situation.
Taking Molina out of an 8-1 game makes sense and, indeed, Francisco Pena had a single and scored in the big seventh inning. We want Yadi to get rest when he can, even though he’d had two of the last three days off and there is another off day coming on Monday. With all that time off though, double-switching out Carpenter in the bottom of the sixth was a little less defensible. Not completely, of course–Carpenter had just batted and all that, and though the pitcher’s spot wasn’t due until fifth in the next frame you probably didn’t want to have to hit for Gregerson should a couple reach–but it is one of those white flag maneuvers that, baseball being baseball, does tend to blow up in your face. (And, in fact, the Cards almost batted around and Tommy Pham had to pinch-hit for Gregerson anyway. Baseball!)
Don’t take that as a complaint about Mike Matheny. 95% of the time an 8-1 game doesn’t get that interesting and while the weather-induced staggered schedule should mean that your starters don’t need as much rest, we say all the time folks like Pena need to get some ABs here in there. It was a reasonable time to do it and I have a feeling the result wouldn’t have been any different had Molina and Carpenter stayed in the game.
We need a Hero and we’ll give it to Jedd Gyorko, who was the only player with two hits and he contributed two walks and a run as well. Games like this are going to get Gyorko more playing time, which would likely come at the expense of Kolten Wong, who didn’t start this one but came in with the double switch. It’s hard to argue that he shouldn’t, given the early results. That four-starters-for-three-spots balancing act has returned and right now Wong is going to get the short end of it given his early play and the fact that he’s not Matt Carpenter.
Fairly crazy to think the Cardinals scored five runs and none of them scored via a hit.
—Harrison Bader scored in the first on a wild pitch (after reaching by a hit-by-pitch and stealing a base while moving to third on an error)
—Paul DeJong walked (yes, walked!) with the bases loaded for the first run in the seventh.
–Wong was up next and was hit by a pitch to force in the third
—Dexter Fowler hit a routine ball to short that Addison Russell flipped to Javy Baez, who flipped it to Fred Mackle from Buffalo Grove who was taking in the game yesterday afternoon, allowing the last two runs to score.
If there’d been a key hit–like maybe if DeJong hadn’t watched strike three with two runners on in the eighth–things might have been a bit different.
Still, it’s a rare time when these two teams have met lately that the Cubs really needed the win more than the Cardinals did. A Cubs loss would have had them 7-9, three games behind the Cardinals and having been swept by their rivals. While St. Louis would have liked to have that game, they went 5-1 on the road trip and still are in second by percentage points and have the Reds coming to town while the Cubs go out to Colorado. You want all the wins, especially against the baby bears, but I’d rather the Redbirds’ current position.
(Oh, and we should probably note that Tyler O’Neill made his major league debut, striking out as a pinch-hitter in the fifth with a runner on. As the score was already lopsided, I’m surprised that they didn’t let O’Neill stay in the game, but I guess anyone he would have double-switched with would have had the pitcher coming up in the next inning.)
Speaking of that Reds series (and if you haven’t, you can still get your Cardinal Six picks in!), it opens tonight with Wacha going up against Brandon Finnegan. Finnegan is sporting a 10+ ERA because he’s only had one start, which was last weekend against the Cards when he gave up five runs in 4.1 innings. Wacha gave up four runs (three earned) in five innings in his last start, also against the Reds, so this might not be a pitcher’s duel.