Painting the Town Red

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that this past weekend was the annual blogger event at Busch Stadium, affectionately known as #ucbweekend.  The fun and buzz from that will take a while to wear off and I need to write something on what John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt III said (though STL Hat Trick has the video of Mo and Eugene Tierney has a writeup of it as well, so maybe that’s less pressing), but baseball doesn’t stop to let us process and recover.  So before we get into the Mets series tonight (and hey, you can still get your Cardinal Six picks in until opening pitch), let’s take a look back at the Reds series.

It’s not easy to win seven straight games against an opponent.  I know the streak is longer than that, running back into the 2017 season, but there were different personnel on both sides then and the difficulty level is lessened when you have that break in between.  But to win seven in a row against a team in the span of 11 days is pretty amazing.  Yes, the Reds aren’t good but they did beat the Cubs last week.  A bad team wins roughly a third of the time at worst.  You’d have expected them to take at least one of these games.  Instead, the Cards are just a couple of wins away from winning the season series and we’re here with a week left in April.  (Of course, they also don’t face them again until a weekend series in mid-June.)

I’ll confess to a disadvantage in these games, as I was driving Saturday and didn’t get to see any or hear much (and as a fan of the Patron Pitcher, it sound like that was a good thing) and Sunday I was there but spent a lot of time talking with my fellow bloggers (which you can see some of in this amazing Periscope featuring Kyle Reis and Tara Wellman), but when have I ever let knowledge stand in the way of recaps and opinions?  If you answered never, I appreciate the fact you’ve been reading.  Let’s get to it!

Friday (4-2 win)

Hero: Jose Martinez.  A big day for the Cardinal…third-place hitter?  Is that what we are going with now?  Not that it’s a real problem, given how well Martinez has been hitting over the past couple of years, it’s just that’s not really how we drew it up in the winter, was it?  The idea of all the OBP in front of slugger Marcell Ozuna and then Martinez to drive them in made sense until all the OBP didn’t actually OBP.  Mike Matheny stuck with a set lineup for a couple of weeks and saw how things were going.  He’s decided to make some changes and, given Martinez’s season, it’s hard to blame him.  Martinez went three for five with a double, a run scored, and an RBI in this one.  We–well, maybe just me–keep wondering how for real this is but when you look at the underlying stuff, you look at the exit velocity, you realize that the ten years in the minors weren’t because of him but because of misevaluation.  The Cardinals are glad Kansas City didn’t try to find out what they had.

Goat: Marcell Ozuna.  He did walk once, which is something we’ve not seen enough of from him this year, and he did score a run, but otherwise went 0-3 and left three runners on.  The Ozuna experience hasn’t exactly hit the gaudy heights that folks were expecting after the trade but he’s been solid enough that we can wait to see if he’s going to explode.

Notes: This was the best Michael Wacha start of the year and it came at a very good time for the hurler.  With Alex Reyes six weeks away and Jack Flaherty tearing it up in Memphis (along with most of their rotation), there would come a point where the Cardinals would wonder what they were getting from a guy with a 5+ ERA.  Wacha reminded them of what he can be when he’s on his game, going 6.2 innings and allowing just one run.  The strikeouts were low (3) but you can take that if you get the rest.  Again, this is Cincinnati, but his start against them last week in Great American Ball Park wasn’t nearly this good, so we’ll see.  Hopefully he can build on this and have a good outing against the Mets, but you have to think that his rope is a little shorter than he’d like.

(All that said, I don’t see how you could get him out of the rotation.  Perhaps someone would take a flyer on him in trade but you aren’t going to get much back.  You can’t really move him to the bullpen–there are plenty of arms, and more consistent ones at that, down there–and a minor league stint might be technically possible but I’m not sure that really helps things even if they’d go that way.  If you could find a DL reason, like we see with Adam Wainwright now, maybe that could at least get a little time for a Flaherty, but that’s not a long-term solution.)

While we are on the pitching, let’s please note that Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons went 1.1 scoreless innings in this one, throwing 17 pitches.  He was efficient but this is something we’ll refer back to here in a bit.

It was actually a quiet offensive night.  While all starters besides Ozuna and Jedd Gyorko (who was 0-2 with two walks and an RBI) had a hit, only Martinez had more than one.  Tommy Pham led off and is really an interesting possibility for that role.  We spent all winter debating Dexter Fowler/Matt Carpenter to surround him, but there was never much talk of Pham leading off and letting someone else hit in the two hole.  With the way Martinez is going, a Pham/Carpenter/Martinez/Ozuna top of the lineup would work well, if Fowler can do enough in the five/six spot in the lineup to make it worth it.

Saturday (4-3 win)

Hero: Jordan Hicks.  Yadier Molina hit the tie-breaking home run, but Hicks made sure that 1) the tie was preserved and 2) that one run made a difference.  Hicks came into the seventh with runners on the corners and proceeded to get Cliff Pennington to fly out.  The ninth became interesting as he walked Jesse Winter, hit Jose Peraza, and walked Joey Votto with one out, but got a double play ball to end the threat and the game.  It was very interesting to see Mike Matheny leave Hicks out there in such a big situation instead of letting a more veteran reliever come in to hopefully put out the fire.  It was a growth opportunity for Hicks and he rose to the challenge.

There are some questions about Hicks and his low strikeout rate–Zach Gifford proposed over the weekend it had to do with spin rate on the fastball while my podcast partner Allen Medlock wondered if batters are more defensive when they know 102 is coming and they just put the bat on the ball rather than taking a full swing–and I’m still not sure what this is going to do to his development, whether he’ll be able to return to being a potential top of the rotation starter or if he’s on a path to being an elite closer type.  Even Mo admitted he doesn’t know the end of Hicks’ story.  Right now, though, it’s a lot of fun to watch.

Of course, you also start to worry when he’s out there for 2.1 innings.  Hopefully we don’t see him again until Thursday to give him plenty of recovery time.  Given how much Bill DeWitt (the owner, not the team president) likes prospects, breaking Hicks might be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Matheny’s tenure in St. Louis.

Goat: Tyler Lyons.  OK, you know how I hate to give it to the Patron Pitcher but there’s no doubt that he earned it here.  He came into the game with a three run lead, two outs, and a runner on first.  He left with the game tied, two runners on, and still two outs.  It was a terrible outing for Lyons but I wonder if there aren’t some extenuating circumstances.  First, remember that he threw 1.1 innings the night before.  It might not have been the most laborious outing, but it was an outing.  Now, look at the recent game log:

2018 Pitching Game Log
Rk Gcar Gtm Date Tm Opp Rslt Inngs Dec DR IP H R ER BB SO HR BF Pit
8 128 14 Apr 13 STL @ CIN W,5-3 8-8 H(3) 1 0.2 1 1 1 1 1 0 4 12
9 129 16 Apr 15 STL @ CIN W,3-2 8-8 H(4) 1 1.0 1 1 1 0 0 1 4 14
10 130 17 Apr 17 STL @ CHC W,5-3 8-8 H(5) 1 0.1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 5
11 131 19 Apr 20 STL CIN W,4-2 7-8 H(6) 2 1.1 1 0 0 0 2 0 5 17
12 132 20 Apr 21 STL CIN W,4-3 7-7 BS(1) 0 0.0 3 2 2 1 0 0 4 17
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/24/2018.

It was the fourth time he’d seen the Reds in less than 10 days.  It was the fourth time he’d pitched since Sunday.  Again, none of those innings were that bad–he faced just one batter in Chicago–but they can add up.

Mo brought up this situation as an example where he thinks Mike Matheny may get beat up a little too much.  We talk about wanting to see things being run analytically and Mo said, look, analytically you want the lefty to pitch to all the lefties.  Lyons didn’t get it done but running the numbers would say he should have been out there.

While lefty-lefty matchups are definitely based in statistics, I don’t think that’s what I would call analytical thinking.  That’s as by the book as you get it.  The oldest of old school guys is probably going to go get a lefty to face Joey Votto.  That’s so easy even I could do it.  I think analytical thinking is taking all the variables into account, such as recent usage.  I did think that Lyons actually had a reverse split, but if he did earlier in his career he’s gotten it taken care of, as it were.  Probably in part because he faces more lefties now.

All that in the hopper, it can’t be avoided that Lyons isn’t as strong as he was last year.  That’s somewhat the nature of the reliever beast as those results fluctuate wildly.  It’s also very possible that last year was his career year and he’ll never be quite that good again while still being effective (and, for the most part, he’s still effective, though the overall numbers are less than you’d like.  This last week, when he’s given up four runs over 3.1 innings, hasn’t done wonders for the bottom line.  I also do wonder if the knee is acting up again.  He’s dealt with that over the last few years.  I don’t know.  I just want #70 to be solid and hopefully he’ll return to that soon.

Notes: Molina hit second in the lineup.  If you want to throw out all the traditional rules of lineup construction, that’s definitely the way to do it.  And because Matheny leads a charmed life and because Molina doesn’t actually understand the aging process, he went two for three with the big home run.  At age 35, Molina is hitting .315 with six homers this April while starting all but one game.  He’s John Locke, basically.  Don’t tell him what he can’t do.

Paul DeJong had a homer but he he also had a double and, most notably, didn’t strike out.  While I joked over the weekend that DeJong was really just a Two True Outcomes guy, either a homer or a strikeout, I feel like the last couple of days might indicate that he’s breaking out of that a bit.  Even just the fact that he’s making non-strikeout outs is somewhat encouraging because it would seem to me that he’s seeing the ball better if he can put the bat on it.  (Of course Sunday he puts the bat on it and hits into an inning-ending double play.  Sometimes you just can’t win.)

Going back to that seventh inning for a bit, the root problem seemed to boil down to maybe Matheny being too analytical.  It’s a three-run lead and Luke Gregerson got the first two outs before giving up a flare single.  Last year, in a year that was struggle for him, he was about as good against lefties as he was against righties.  For his career, he’s got a .235/.309/.358 line against southpaws.  Again, I didn’t watch, but from all accounts Gregerson was going fine.  You signed him to be a setup man or perhaps a closer and he’d face lefties in that role.  Yanking him there is probably a little bit of overkill and it blew up.

Oh, and Carlos Martinez was good, but like that’s newsworthy.  Six innings, no runs, seven strikeouts.  Ho hum, right?  It’s always good to see Carlos be Carlos.

Sunday (9-2 win)

Hero: Miles Mikolas.  On a day when perhaps his bandwagon leader Mo’s Algorithm was in the house, Mikolas put up a performance that showed why, as Bill DeWitt III put it, Mo had a cheshire cat grin on his face when they were about to sign him.  Seven innings, two runs (one of which came on the weakest, worst-hit ball of Joey Votto’s career I think, a dribbler that went through where the shortstop should have been), and six strikeouts.  Mikolas is proving that the Cards have a handle on translations from the Asian leagues and they could be spending a lot of time over there.

Goat: Matt Carpenter.  Back in the leadoff role for the second straight day, Carpenter went 0-3, though he did draw a walk and score a run.  Carp’s OBP is still reasonable (if not necessarily great or where you’d expect his to be) but he’s got to hit a little more to be fully effective.  Apparently moving him to the leadoff spot isn’t an immediate fix, as he went 1-7 against the Reds in those two games.  With a day off and hopefully better weather, I’m going to be interested to see if Tommy Pham gets back in that slot.  I really think Carpenter’s patience could be a huge asset with Pham leading off first.

Notes: Speaking of fan club leaders, the head of the Kolten Wong fan club was in the house to watch him go deep in his first at bat, as you can tell from Tara’s above Periscope.  (If you listen to Gateway to Baseball Heaven, you know Tara’s been with Kolten a long, long time.)  He also had a nice play in the field as well.  I feel like Wong’s a streaky guy, so maybe we are seeing the beginnings of a hot streak, though he’s going to need one to be able to keep his spot in the lineup.

Yadier Molina had another three hits.  Paul DeJong had a big three run homer.  Even Greg Garcia had a smash for a double.  The last few innings were a lot of fun to keep an eye on as we stuffed ourselves with food and good company.

The Cards have to up the level of competition today with the NL East-leading Mets coming to town.  Luke Weaver looks to rebound from that disastrous Cubs start and will do so against Zack Wheeler.  Wheeler has only had two starts this year but they’ve been solid ones.  Last time out, he allowed three runs in six innings to the Nationals.  He’s still not quite what everyone expected when he came over in the Carlos Beltran trade forever ago, but he seems healthy now and we’ll see if he can really reach that potential.  Just hopefully not tonight!

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