Step Right Up and Meet the Matz

A post yesterday wasn’t happening after a late night recording a Meet Me at Musial/Gateway To Baseball Heaven crossover (Infinity War, eat your heart out), but that turned out to be a good thing.  What would have been completely a downer post now gets leavened by a very good outing by the local nine.  Let’s get through the pain to get to the pleasure.

Tuesday (6-5 loss in 10)

Hero: Tommy Pham.  Three hits, with the big blow a two-run homer off of Zack Wheeler in the bottom of the first, and two walks.  It’s nights like that which have people talking about him being in the leadoff spot, with that speed/power combo that invokes the legend of Rickey Henderson (not that Pham is at that level, of course!).

Goat: Again, remember, it’s only the players on the field, not the people making the decisions.  I guess you have to go with Matthew Bowman, because giving up a home run in extra innings is a tough thing to come back from.  Unlike many folks, though, I don’t have much of a problem going to Bowman there.  You could argue there should have been different sequencing, that maybe Bowman should have gone earlier in the game, which is probably fair, but Bowman came in at the beginning of an inning, like we’ve been saying he should, and was a guy that could have gone 2-3 innings if the situation warranted.  You could have used John Brebbia there, but Bowman is as rested as he gets.  After going seven times in the first 11 games, he’s only gone three in the last 11 (counting this one).  Heck, he’s given up runs in three of his last four games, which maybe means he does need to be used more.  Bowman got burned, which happens, and it wasn’t nearly the most controversial decision of the night.

Notes: Luke Weaver might be coming down to earth a bit.  For the second straight start he didn’t get through the fifth inning and in this one probably pitched longer than he should.  Weaver struggled early, walking Michael Conforto to open the game and adding two more walks and a Jay Bruce triple in the second.  He settled in, though, and retired nine in a row between the end of the second and the middle of the fourth.  With that sort of run, it’s not too surprising that Mike Matheny didn’t have anyone warming as the pitcher’s spot came up in the fifth.

The pinch-hitter, Wilmer Flores, walked on four pitches.  Conforto followed with another four-pitch walk.  At that time, Weaver is approaching 90 pitches and has up the dangerous Yoenis Cespedes representing the tying run.  Cespedes might not be off to the strongest start this season but you’d think he’d still inspire enough fear that perhaps you go to the bullpen for a Dominic Leone or perhaps even Jordan Hicks (more on him in a bit).  Instead, Matheny stuck with Weaver and it didn’t work out at all, with Cespedes launching a massive homer.  Weaver then walked Asdrubal Cabrera before he was finally relieved.

I get it, you want to see Weaver finish the inning and he is just one out away, but with things going south and the big bat up, you probably need to be aggressive there.  Maybe it was being treated as a learning experience for Weaver, to see if he could get out of a jam with less than his best stuff, but it’s easier to handle that approach when it’s the Reds than when it’s a Mets team that you well may be jockeying with for playoff position come September.  I don’t think it’s the most egregious thing Matheny has done as a manager–which is really a long list–but a more urgent manager makes a switch there.

I also want to talk about the use of Hicks.  After Leone came in and got out of the fifth, the Cards took the lead on a Paul DeJong double and Leone held that in the sixth.  Then Matheny went to Hicks, who went 2.1 innings on Saturday remember.  I was hoping we wouldn’t see Hicks again until Thursday, maybe Wednesday at the earliest, but keeping Matheny away from the toys is tough.  (And, in fairness, Weaver not going deep was going to tax the bullpen a bit.)  Hicks had a fine seventh, though he walked one.  Instead of going to Luke Gregerson for the eighth and Greg Holland for the ninth (because I believe Bud Norris was unavailable), Matheny decides to ride the Hicks train for another frame.

I didn’t see the eighth, as we were recording the show at the time, but I followed in on Gameday.  Hicks started the inning with a walk to Todd Frazier.  Bruce (who was a thorn in the side all night long) then singled to put runners on the corners.  I picked up on Twitter that there’s some issue with Jose Martinez not getting to the ball, meaning it went from a possible double play to what we have here?  If so, that’s a little better from the Hicks point of view.  He then allowed a sacrifice fly to tie the game before Matheny went to Gregerson.  It could have been much worse, especially given how he much he threw this weekend, but it doesn’t do anything to alleviate the fears that something is going to happen to Hicks under Matheny’s watch.  He’s thrown four times in the last 10 games, which is actually more than Bowman.

Good to see Holland come into a pressure situation and get out of it with no damage.  Holland took the ninth in a tied game and retired all three batters he faced, two via strikeout.  Norris was apparently available Wednesday night so the arm soreness doesn’t seem to be a big thing, but Holland is probably going to start getting some saves pretty soon with Norris going to the eighth.  Which could be a very potent combination at the end of games, given how Norris has been going this year.

Offensively, Pham did most of the work, though Kolten Wong definitely looks like he’s gotten on one of his hot streaks.  Two for four in this one with two doubles, a run, and an RBI.  When Wong gets cooking, he really rakes.  The question is just how long it will last.  Also, it was good to see DeJong get that double and not strike out until the last out of the game, which stopped him from going three straight games without a K.  After feeling like he was all or nothing earlier, he’s rounding out his game a little more and it feels like he’s seeing things better.  When he’s not an automatic out, this lineup is much better.

The shift to the leadoff spot hasn’t immediately sparked Matt Carpenter, who went 0-3 (but with two walks) and is 1-10 since the move.  As someone pointed out on a recent podcast (I think it was Rusty Groppel on a Bird Land Cards Commute), if Carpenter’s going to walk and not hit, he does need to be leadoff so that there are fewer times he comes up with a runner on base.  A walk doesn’t help much when there’s a runner on second.  If you are setting the table, walking is fine, but there are times where you have to swing the bat and right now Carp’s not doing that effectively.

Wednesday (9-1 win)

Hero: Michael Wacha.  Not only did Wacha pitch six very effective innings, striking out eight in the process and giving us a look at what a Wacha on the top of his game could look like, he also helped out at the plate.  Granted, it was usually bunting and usually because the Mets were sloppy with what they were doing, but it was something.  In the third, Wacha bunted with Kolten Wong on first, but Steven Matz threw it away and Wong went to third while Wacha reached.  Eventually, Wacha came around to score in the three-run frame.  The next inning, Wacha got the squeeze bunt down as Paul DeJong came barreling down the line, creating another Mets error as Matz’s hurried throw got past catcher Jose Lobaton.  Wacha came around to score there as well.  Wacha had eight career runs scored coming into this game.  Baseball, man.

Goat: Yadier Molina.  Molina was one of the few that didn’t contribute in any fashion, going 0-4 with no walks, no sac flies, nothing.  Molina moved to first by the end of the game, allowing Francisco Pena to get a little action, but you have to figure he gets the day off today with the day game.  We’ll see, of course, because betting on Molina not to be in the lineup is a fool’s errand.

Notes: Tommy Pham led off this game and proved to be a danger–to himself.  Before his second time up, he cracked himself in the head with a bat, opening a wound and forcing Mike Matheny to swap in Harrison BaderMatt Holliday is glad to know that the tradition of crazy injuries didn’t end when he left St. Louis.  Pham should be fine to go today, assuming he can get a batting helmet on.

Another nice night for Wong.  He was aggressive on the basepaths, running from first to third on that first Wacha bunt, and his two-for-four night left him just short of the .200 mark (he was actually over that before lining out in the eighth).  .200 might not sound like much, but it’s better than Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler, so it’s not nothing either.  Hopefully this streak will go for a while and, given how Jedd Gyorko is also swinging a hot back, it’ll make for some tough decisions.  It’s possible that Carpenter might sit a little more often, though it’s not really likely.

Kudos to John Brebbia for coming in and covering the last three innings of the game.  With his eight strikeouts, Wacha was in the 100 pitch neighborhood after the sixth, but Brebbia allowed not only for Wacha to not be pushed but gave everyone else in the bullpen a night off as well.  After everyone but Bud Norris, Brebbia, and the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons were used on Tuesday, the breather is a big thing.  Norris and Lyons should be really rested, as Norris last went Sunday and Lyons Saturday.

Fowler might not have gotten a hit but he definitely still contributed.  He drew a walk with the bases loaded and drove in another run with a sacrifice fly.  On April 25 of last season, Fowler was slashing .184/.250/.316 (in 20 games played).  This year, it’s .188/.302/.338 in 23 outings.  You’d like to see more, but the OBP is already significantly higher than this point last year.  The slow starts are concerning but there’s still plenty of time for Fowler to turn it around.  After all, after May 1 last year he hit .273/.378/.509.

Pretty surprising that, for a 9-1 game, only four total pitchers were used.  We’ve talked about the Cardinals, but the Mets left Matz out there for 3.1 innings (and was much longer than most of us expected given the way the third and the start of the fourth went) and then Corey Oswalt made his major league debut and went 4.2 innings.  Besides the bomb he gave up to Gyorko, Oswalt held his own and didn’t have much to complain about in his first big league outing.

People were complaining about this team, saying after Tuesday night that “see what happens when you play a real team” and the like.  But the Cardinals, in my mind, have shown that they can compete with the teams on the Mets’ level over the last two days.  If Weaver gets Cespedes out, there’s a good chance they have the series won and are looking for a sweep this afternoon.  Losing a one run game to a team that is leading their division is not exactly the mark of a weak team.

It’s quite the afternoon matinee as Carlos Martinez and Noah Syndergaard renew acquaintances.  Obviously these two got together on Opening Day when Martinez wasn’t sharp and Thor allowed four runs.  If the Cardinals can score like that again today, I think there will be a different outcome.

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