My Meet Me at Musial cohost Allen Medlock messaged me yesterday, asking if I thought the bats would wake up in the last game of the series with the Minnesota Twins. My gut feeling was that the fact they were very familiar with Lance Lynn and the fact that he’d be throwing 90% fastballs coupled with the fact that those fastballs weren’t necessarily blow-you-away ones, might be what they needed to put up a few hits and runs.
It’s possible facing Lynn primed the pump and the offense just started rolling from there, but Lynn left after three long, laborious, fodder-for-the-not-signing-him-argument innings and the hitting didn’t entirely stop. Which is good, because the bullpen wasn’t what you call “lock down” either. That’s the state of the Cardinals these days–even wins can get you concerned.
I’m going to give the Hero tag to Matt Carpenter. Yes, Matty C is back again, or at least was for one day. Three hits, starting with an opposite-field single that messed with the shift and then two doubles after that. I’m not going to pronounce Carpenter cured after one outing–remember, the last game before this recent abysmal drought was a double-homer game against the White Sox that had everyone thinking he was on his way–but this is a real good sign. Hopefully Mike Matheny will leave him in the seventh hole for a few days to make sure this sticks before moving him right back up to the top three. I’m fairly sure nobody actually expects that, but we’ll see.
Joining Carpenter in the turn around game was Dexter Fowler. Fowler drove in the first two runs of the game with a single, then singled and drew two walks later in the game. Fowler said he knew from first pitch that he was good mechanically and that had to help mentally as well. Again, we need more than a one game sample size, but it was really good to see both of these guys hitting well.
Unless, of course, they drained their magical mojo from the pool Miles Mikolas was using. Mikolas, who had been so sharp over his last five starts, posting a 1.30 ERA and walking just three batters, didn’t make it out of the fifth in this one. It’s a little interesting to see Matheny pull Mikolas with two outs in the fifth inning with runners on the corners and the Cardinals clinging to a one run lead when he left Jack Flaherty in the game in roughly the same situation (the sixth instead of the fifth, but Mikolas also had fewer pitches) the night before. Not saying there aren’t reasons to treat the situations differently, but I also wonder if he really needed to get a win in this one after letting last night slip away.
Unfortunately, that left 5.1 innings for the bullpen to cover, with mixed results. Brett Cecil got out of Mikolas’s jam, which was nice. Jordan Hicks threw a scoreless frame (though he walked one) and Bud Norris locked it down with 1.2 innings of work (though he threw a wild pitch that let in a run). That was the good side.
The bad was bad enough to cast more of a pallor over this bullpen that, in theory and thought, could be a strength. Matthew Bowman continued his struggles by allowing a home run to Logan Morrison that counteracted the RBI double Paul DeJong had an inning before. Bowman has allowed a run in four of his five May outings and since April 10 he has an ERA of 6.17, an OPS against of 1.017, and has only had two consecutive scoreless innings once (and one of those was just a third of an inning). I know Bowman is one of Matheny’s favorite tools but the manager hasn’t turned to him quite as often as of late (though he’s still made appearances in five of the last 10 games). With the fact that he has options and the fact that there are a lot of bullpen arms that are going to need room (whenever the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons comes off the disabled list, for instance) may mean that Bowman won’t spend all season in St. Louis.
At least Bowman comes at the minimum and has options, though. Greg Holland doesn’t and, while he has options, they aren’t going to be exercised. Holland was starting to look like he was coming around–just yesterday pitching guru Joe Schwarz wrote an optimistic piece on Holland for The Athletic–and was riding a four-game, four-inning scoreless streak where he allowed just one hit (though walked three and only struck out one, which were still warning signs). Holland came into this game in the eighth and immediately set to work becoming the Goat of the game. He walked the leadoff batter, which you never want to see your eighth inning guy do even if the score is 7-3. He got Max Kepler to pop out, but then allowed two singles, including a run-scoring one from Morrison, and then walked Robbie Grossman to load the bases. Thankfully, Matheny had seen enough and went to Norris, who got out of it, though he did have that wild pitch.
Players are going to have bad days and I know that they are magnified when they are late inning relievers. That said, it’s continually hard to trust that Holland is going to turn the corner and just be dominant. So far this season he’s pitched 11.2 innings. He’s allowed right at a hit an inning (12) and even more walks (13). You put two runners on every frame, that’s going to be a problem when you are holding a slim lead. It doesn’t get much better when you factor out that first horrific outing, which is the issue. It’s hard to find a frame that makes things look like they are going to be good. Better than this, sure. Good, not so much. For me, the biggest thing is the lack of strikeouts. He’s got eight on the season and none in his last three outings. He has only one the entire month of May. He’s not getting the ball past people and that means he can’t get out of jams of his creation very well. Perhaps he’ll start improving and get some strikeouts, but until then he’s going to be a danger and a worry.
Overall, it was a good day. Besides Fowler and Carpenter, Tommy Pham and Jose Martinez also had multi-hit games (Pham also hit the Cards’ only homer) and most everyone contributed in some way besides our Goat, Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna went 0-5 and left seven men on base, runs that might have been very useful had Norris not gotten out of that late mess. Ozuna is hitting .250 for May and currently on a 0-11 skid. We continue to hope that with the warmer weather, Ozuna’s bat starts warming up. Right now, he’s basically on pace for 12 homers, which wouldn’t replace Randal Grichuk and barely would outdo Stephen Piscotty in that category from last year. That’s not what Cardinal fans were wanting when the trade was announced, though there definitely was a fear of regression. Even with regression, his career has shown him be more powerful than this.
Cards come back home tonight to take on a Philadelphia Phillies team that has a similar record and a similar place in the standings, sitting second, just one game behind the Braves for the NL East lead. Luke Weaver tries to extend his recent good work against Vince Velasquez. Velasquez is 3-4 with a 5.05 ERA on the year but last time struck out 12 Giants while allowing three runs in six innings. Could be an interesting matchup. Before first pitch, don’t forget to get your picks in for the Cardinal Six!