As Inoffensive As Possible

The broad side of the barn is safe.  I’m not sure anyone on the Cardinals could hit it.

We’ve got five games to cover here.  The Cardinals scored nine runs in one of them.  They scored seven runs in the other four combined, including one that went to 13 innings.  While there was a glitch here and there with the pitching staff, losing three of the five (and, if you go back to the end of that Cubs series, losing five of seven) against sub-.500 teams is squarely on the offense or the lack thereof.  Which is a trend, it feels like.

I think most of us remember 2015, when the offense was basically terrible but a legendary pitching staff pushed the Cardinals to 100 wins.  Let’s quickly take a look at the last three-plus seasons and see where the club ranks offensively.

Year BA MLB Rank OBP MLB Rank SLG MLB Rank
2015 .253 12 .321 13 .394 23
2016 .255 18 .325 11 .442 4
2017 .256 14 .334 8 .426 17
2018 .226 29 .311 21 .378 28

I’ll admit, I expected most of those ranks in prior years to be a little bit lower than they were.  That said, while the Cardinals have obviously focused on OBP, they’ve not had a top-third offense overall in that span.  This year has cratered, of course, and you can expect a bounce-back of some sort but just how much?  We’re at the quarter pole of the season.  After 39 games last year, the line for the Cards was .259/.355/.422, which is pretty much in line with how they finished the season.  (In 2016, they were actually ahead of their final line at this point.)

Which does start to raise the question of just how much longer John Mabry should feel secure in his job.  The Cardinals have people like Mark Budeska in the organization that have a sterling reputation of working with hitters.  While I get that there is value in having folks like that work with the players coming up so that they can have the foundation and the skills to succeed at the big leagues, the fact is people aren’t succeeding at the big leagues and that’s the main objective for any organization.  The offense is legitimately to the point where scoring more than one run feels like a major triumph.  Eventually, that have to at least try to address that.

I didn’t mean for that long of an intro.  Let’s get to the games.

Thursday (2-1 win at San Diego)

Hero: Tommy Pham.  Without Mr. Pham, the trip to San Diego would have been worse than it already was.  Pham singled, went to second and third on wild pitches, then scored on a Jose Martinez sacrifice fly in the first, then homered in the fifth.  That was your offense right there.

Goat: It feels like a broken record, but you’ve got to go with Matt Carpenter.  0-4 hitting second with three strikeouts.  We talked a lot about Carpenter at the end of last week and I get that he probably should be out there and he’ll probably start hitting, but there’s nothing that says he needs to be hitting in the second spot in the order.  I realize others are struggling and finding a good 2 hole hitter may be difficult, but it’s honestly tough to be worse than what Carp is bringing to the lineup right now.

Notes: Another very solid outing from Miles Mikolas, which is another big reason the Cards were able to get a win here.  Six and two-thirds of one-run ball will win a lot of ballgames.  Mikolas has a 2.51 ERA going into this afternoon’s game with the Twins, which has to be at least a run better than most of us expected.  And remember when so many folks lost their minds after his rough spring training debut?  Seems a long time ago, doesn’t it?

The bullpen did well, with Jordan Hicks getting one out, Greg Holland pitching a scoreless frame (though he did issue a walk), and Bud Norris locking it down.  That’s how it is supposed to go and it’s nice when everything clicks.

Marcell Ozuna did have a couple of hits in this one, though they were both singles, as did Paul DeJong.  The Cards managed to get six or more hits in every game in San Diego but, save for our next game, never by very much.

Friday (9-5 win at San Diego)

Hero: Jedd Gyorko.  Surprisingly not in the lineup against his former team on Friday night, Gyorko added to the legend that is him against the Padres with three hits in four at bats, drilling a home run in the third, and scoring two runs.  While the magic dissipated some the next couple of nights, the line against San Diego was incredibly strong.

As I said elsewhere, probably on Meet Me at Musial, if you want to make the case that Gyorko shouldn’t have played Friday because the opposing pitcher that night struggled with lefties or that his success rate against the Padres really is a small sample, that’s fine.  I get that and there’s a lot of logical sense there.  However, Mike Matheny stated that, at least in large part, the decision came down to Gyorko’s line against Jordan Lyles.

1-6 with a strikeout and two walks.

Now, given this offense, a guy that can reach base 38.5% of the time against a pitcher would seem to be valuable but the larger point is making decisions based on six AB is fairly ridiculous.  I hope it played less of a role than it looks like it did.  I’m not optimistic.

Goat: I’m going to go with John Brebbia, though Luke Gregerson is also a possible answer here.  Handed a 9-1 game, Brebbia gave up three hits, including a double and a triple, before getting out of the jam.  Gregerson also gave up two runs and did so in the ninth, but one of those came on the weirdest play we’ve seen in a while, what apparently was a balk but one that was called by the second base umpire well after the pitch was thrown.  It never made any real sense and thankfully it didn’t wind up leading to anything bigger, but between that and Jordan Hicks’s quick pitch earlier in the season, it’s been a strange year for Cardinal pitchers and their relations with the umpires.

Notes: Paul DeJong hit a three run homer in the second that got everything going and Harrison Bader, Marcell Ozuna, and Gyorko all went deep in the third.  Tommy Pham, who had another three-hit night, tacked one on in the sixth.  Even Greg Garcia, who pinch-hit and stayed in the game, had two hits.  If the offense looked like this more often, we’d have a lot less worries.

Luke Weaver got the start in this one and threw five scoreless.  It did take him 92 pitches to get through those five, which isn’t ideal, but coupling that with his last start, where he settled in after allowing a lot of runs early to Chicago, gives us some thought that maybe he’s back on the right track.  Going up against the Phillies tomorrow will probably be a solid test of that.  If he gets back in line, the decision about where Alex Reyes goes in this rotation is a lot trickier.

Saturday (2-1 loss in 13 at San Diego)

Hero: I’ll give it to Jose Martinez, who had three hits and drove in the only Cardinal run, but you could easily just say “the bullpen” if you were allowed to give these awards to a group.  Until the last frame, which we’ll talk about in a bit, they pitched six scoreless innings, allowed three hits, walked two, and struck out nine.  When you know that any mistake is likely the last–and, once it got into extra innings, that was even more true–they held the line well.

Goat: Dexter Fowler.  Like Carpenter, it feels like we’re picking on him, but it was an 0-6 night with four men left on base.  I’ve got no solutions for Fowler or Carpenter.  For Fowler, he’s not making hard contact and hitting the ball in the air more, which if he was hitting them hard maybe it would work out but right now they are just routine flies.  I don’t think he has the speed to turn around his GB/FB rate and have that be successful like it was earlier in his career.  Could an adjustment help?  If so, does there need to be a new voice to come in and find that adjustment?

Notes: While I didn’t catch all this game (and fell asleep for a few minutes as Eric Hosmer won it in the 13th), there’s been a lot of discussion about Mike Matheny leaving John Brebbia out there for a third inning, especially after he pitched one frame the night before.  Obviously, the team was holding John Gant in reserve, as we’ll see when we talk about Sunday’s game, but Mike Mayers was out there and hadn’t thrown since the Cubs series.  If anyone could go multiple innings, it’s Mayers.  We’ve seen that.  So why stretch Brebbia?  Why stay with him after a leadoff walk?  It took another walk for Matheny to finally get Mayers, who then allowed a double on the first pitch he threw that won the game.  Because baseball.

Again, if they thought they were going to have to use Mayers on Sunday, holding him off until the very end makes sense.  But given that Gant was out there, not going to Mayers a little sooner makes less sense.  (Honestly, even without Gant, using Mayers in this one before Brebbia gives another day of rest to Brebbia, which makes him more likely to be able to backstop Adam Wainwright.  The whole thing was a little off.)

The Cardinals did get nine hits, but Martinez and Paul DeJong combined for five of them.  With those guys hitting back to back in the lineup, you’d think that would have accounted for more scoring.  Just spaced out wrong, I guess.  Along with Fowler putting up a goose egg, Tommy Pham went 0-5 with a walk, but I don’t think anyone believes Tommy Pham is a problem.

Sunday (5-3 loss at San Diego)

Hero: Harrison Bader.  Bader had the only two extra-base hits the Cardinals could muster, a triple in the sixth that scored Tommy Pham (Bader later scored on a Jose Martinez single) and a home run against Brad Hand in the ninth.  Given Hand’s reputation as a tough lefty, that should help cement the idea that Bader needs to play against southpaws on a regular basis.  It doesn’t need to be a strict platoon with Dexter Fowler (Bader should face some righties as well) but that needs to happen the majority of the time.

Goat: John Gant.  We will talk about Adam Wainwright in a bit, but while I get that Gant was put in a tough position, he did allow an inherited runner to score (given the bases were loaded with one out, that’s not a terrible thing) but gave up two runs of his own in the next frame.  If he doesn’t do that, the game probably plays out differently but the Cards feel better being down 2-0 than 4-0, especially the way things are going.

Notes: I’ll admit, Gant got the Goat tag in part because I didn’t want to assign it to Wainwright in what might have been his last Cardinal start.  Wainwright, who was activated from the disabled list before this game and put back on it yesterday, said he felt a pop in his elbow as he threw his warmup pitches.  The result was late-2017 Wainwright, where the velocity wasn’t there, the command wasn’t there, and sheer guile and smarts kept things from completely blowing up.  You have to give him credit for that, at least.

Tara and I spent a lot of time talking about Uncle Charlie and his outing on Gateway this week and there’s not much else to say.  It’s a very sad thought that we might have seen the last of Adam Wainwright, who has been this bulwark for the Cardinals for so long.  If you got into baseball at 10 in 2005, you are closing in on your mid-20s and all you really know is Wainwright wearing Cardinal red.  Even for some of us old fogies, it’s hard to remember a time before Wainwright was flashing that curveball.  It hurts to see him struggle and it hurts to feel like he may never return.

However, with Alex Reyes making his inexorable march on St. Louis with another stellar outing in Peoria on Monday night and with Jack Flaherty not only pitching well in Memphis but now making good starts in the majors, it’s hard to see how Wainwright displaces either of them should they grab hold of that fifth spot in the rotation.  It’s hard to see why Wainwright would be a good choice in the bullpen–some folks say he could “air it all out” and “keep nothing back” but that’s assuming that he has something to air out.  Wainwright’s problem is not that he wore down, it’s that (before this last setback) he had control problems and the like.  That’s not really something you want in the bullpen.

The best case scenario for the Cardinals, most likely, is for Wainwright to stay on the DL until rosters expand in September, then let him have a couple of relief outings at Busch Stadium so the crowd can acknowledge him before sending him into retirement.  I know Wainwright is going to work hard to be a relevant force in the second half of the season but it seems harder and harder to believe that, even for the man that is relentlessly optimistic about his possibilities.  As Allen Medlock texted me Sunday, there was a sense of finality when Mike Matheny relieved Wainwright in this one.

Tuesday (4-1 loss at Minnesota)

Hero: Jack Flaherty.  Given absolutely no margin for error, Flaherty came within an out of leaving with a lead at the end of his day of work.  He only struck out three, but walked just one and gave up five hits.  On a better day, with more support, the fact that he allowed a run at the end of his tenure wouldn’t be a big deal.  Instead, it tied the game and, given the way the Cardinals were hitting, pretty much doomed them to a loss.

There was a bit of a debate last night about the end of Flaherty’s start.  Flaherty got the first two guys out in the sixth before giving up a single to Brian Dozier, then another one to Eddie Rosario.  With two on and two outs, with Flaherty in the low 90s on pitch count, this seemed to me the time to go get him.  Brett Cecil was warming up and a fresh arm was probably better than continuing to go third time through the order.  Instead, Mike Matheny just sent Mike Maddux out to talk to him.  Flaherty stayed in the game and had a solid AB against Eduardo Escobar, but on the sixth pitch Escobar laced a single, tying up the game.

It’s not the worst decision Matheny has made as a manager in regards to the bullpen, of course.  It hardly even registers on the list and there were some smart folks that thought that leaving Flaherty in there was the right call.  I just think that, with a young guy out there, giving him the chance to leave the game with a lead when he’s likely getting tired is a good thing.  I don’t know if Cecil would have gotten Escobar out–he allowed a double to Logan Morrison to lead off the next inning that wound up being the winning run–but I’d have felt better about the decision had they made the move.

As noted, Cecil allowed the double to left-handed Morrison.  Super small samples of course, but before last night lefties were 1-5 with two strikeouts against him, so I guess they are 2-7 now.  Cecil’s the only lefty out there and as such, no matter what the splits might be, he’s likely to be run out there to face left-handed batters.  I hope that he can do better against them than he did last year.  Something to watch for sure.

It’s becoming harder to justify the Luke Gregerson signing.  After his issues in San Diego, which included giving up a home run and having that runner on third to be balked home, he came into this one and threw away a dribbler to the mound that allowed the go-ahead run to score, then gave up a two-run homer to Bobby Wilson to seal the deal.  (Truthfully, even 2-1 seemed too big of a mountain.)  I thought he was turning the corner when he had five straight scoreless outings and he’s still thrown less than nine innings this season so there’s hope this is somewhat of a small sample, but an 8.64 ERA is not ideal for anyone, much less a reliever that was bandied about as being a closer possibility when he was signed.

However, it’s really tough to win a game with one run.  The Cardinals had two hits last night, which means that in three games against the Twins over the last week, they’ve totaled seven safeties.  Seven.  I get that they ran into some good pitching with the Twins, including Jose Berrios last night, but that’s fairly ridiculous.  The team needs something because this is bordering on ridiculous.  I don’t know if it’s a new voice in the coaching staff or what, but it’s starting to look like “just give them time” isn’t necessarily the best option.

(EDIT: Upon review, I see I left out a Goat for this game.  We’ll go ahead and give it to Luke Gregerson for putting the game out of reach.)

The Cards get to see old friend Lance Lynn this afternoon.  Lynn has had some rough outings, including four runs allowed in 4.2 innings his last time out against the Angels.  No doubt he’ll be focused and a bit motivated facing his former squad but we can hope his fastball-centric approach will work in St. Louis’s favor.  Right now, that’s about the only hope we have!


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