Flip-Flop Phils Fear and Fun

You could say a lot of things about this past weekend’s series with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Consistency wouldn’t necessarily be one of them.  With a win-loss-win-loss pattern and some things looking bad on one day and great on another, you hate to draw too many conclusions.  That said, there were some tantalizing possibilities throughout the four games–and away from it, down in Springfield.  Let’s get into it.

Thursday (6-2 loss)

Hero: Luke Weaver.  With no margin for error, Weaver made just one, allowing a home run to Carlos Santana.  Otherwise, he was in control, going seven innings and striking out six.  In the middle of the month, the demotion of Weaver to make room for Alex Reyes in the rotation when he was ready seemed to be a no-brainer.  Since that four-run first against the Cubs, though, he’s thrown 15 innings with just that home run given up.  He seems to have righted the ship a bit and the seven innings was his longest outing of the year.  He’ll have one start, maybe two before the Cards really have to decide how to fit in Reyes.  He’ll be up against the Royals next, which should be a good matchup for him.  If he doesn’t stumble, the front office’s decision is going to be so tough.

Goat: Jordan Hicks.  Look, we love the guy and there’s no doubt he continued to wow us over the rest of the series, but the three runs he gave up without giving up an out wound up being big.  It didn’t feel as much at the time since the offense was doing that “score no runs” thing that they do at times, but eventually they put a couple on the board and things might have been different had the game stayed close.  Hicks didn’t get hit hard and one of those runs charged to him came in after Sam Tuivailala had taken over, but it still was a reminder that for as great as Hicks has been, if you don’t strike people out, you run the risk of things like this, especially with a defense behind you that is OK but perhaps not great.

Notes: As we said, the Cardinal offense seemed to again be allergic to the plate.  In the third, Francisco Pena ran into an out trying to go to from second to third on a grounder to the left side by Tommy Pham, turning that into a double play.  In the seventh, the Cards had runners on second and third with one out, but Pena hit a ground ball and, because of that contact play that I swear costs more runs than it creates, Dexter Fowler was out at home.  Even in the eighth, when they did get a couple of runs, they could possibly have had more because they had the bases loaded and nobody out after Paul DeJong was hit on the hand (a painful HBP that will cost the Cards their shortstop for a couple of months, most likely).  They got their first run on a groundout, but then Jose Martinez was out at home on another contact play when Fowler hit a grounder.  If it weren’t for Jedd Gyorko getting a single next, they’d have had only one run to show for that situation.

It was notable, as we I believe talked about on Meet Me at Musial, that Mike Matheny pinch-hit for Matt Carpenter with a lefty on the mound and runners on in the eighth.  Harrison Bader, who has significantly better numbers against lefties, flew out, but it was a decision you’d not expect Matheny to make given that it was Carpenter involved.  It was the right decision, though some wanted to point to Carpenter’s fluke double in the seventh as a reason to let him hit there.  It just was surprising.  (And, given the rest of the series for him, perhaps a little motivating.)

Three hits by Martinez and, extremely remarkably, Pena.  Interestingly, he seems to be taking to the starting catching job now that Carson Kelly is on the DL and Steve Baron will probably only get a start a week.  It’s probably more of a fluke and the pitchers not having to adjust yet, but we’ll see how long it runs.  Another 0-fer night for Marcell Ozuna, though he did get that RBI.  Figuring out a way to get him going should be a top priority for the club.

Friday (12-4 win)

Hero: Plenty of offensive heroics in this one but we’ll go with Tommy Pham, who was 3-3 with two walks, a double, three runs scored, and an RBI.  That’s a full line in the box score, which is usually a good thing.  Hopefully Pham stays in the leadoff role all year long because he’s definitely taken to it and, as they said about Dexter Fowler, when he goes, they go.

Goat: Dexter Fowler.  In the midst of all these baserunners, Fowler went 0-4, though he did draw one walk.  Marcell Ozuna was 0-2 before he was replaced, but he did draw two walks which was a bit of an encouraging sign given his lack of discipline this season.

Notes: Not much to say about this except you’d like to see this all the time.  Jake Arrieta is a solid pitcher so to get him out of the game after three innings was pretty helpful.  The Phillies bullpen wasn’t able to handle the onslaught and the Cards got their first double-digit score in about a month. Francisco Pena had another three hit game, including a home run, for more hits in two games than Matt Carpenter had in about a month, it felt like.  Though Carpenter did continue his emergence in this one with two hits and an RBI, so maybe I shouldn’t say anything.  Jose Martinez and Kolten Wong also had home runs as the runs fell like the rain did before the game.

Michael Wacha didn’t need all that support, though I’m sure he was glad to get it.  Six innings of two-run ball is a solid outing no matter what the offense is doing.  Over his last six starts, Wacha has a 2.06 ERA with 32 strikeouts to 11 walks.  At one time, you’d have thought that Wacha’s spot might be the one that Alex Reyes would take over, but it’s hard to argue moving him, especially with the youth of the rotation.  With Carlos Martinez out, Wacha’s the grizzled veteran of the rotation, having been around since 2013.  There was a graphic this weekend that showed the Phillies’ rotation was the fourth youngest in baseball.  The Cardinals were the very youngest with Martinez and Adam Wainwright not currently in the mix.

John Brebbia and Mike Mayers both pitched and both gave up a run in garbage time.  That’s really concerning about Brebbia because he’s allowed runs in each of his last four appearances, totalling six in six innings over that span with home runs in back-to-back outings against the Phillies.  He may right the ship soon and I know our pitching guru Joe Schwarz is high on him, but with a quick trigger on guys returning to Memphis, that’s not exactly the stretch you want to have.

Saturday (7-6 loss)

Hero: Honestly, for the fact the Cards should have won this one, nobody really stands out.  Tommy Pham had two hits, but he also struck out more than anyone not named Steve Baron (who did get his first major league hit in this one, so congrats to Steve!).  I guess we’ll give it to Matt Carpenter, because his double in the seventh scored Pham and put the Cards on top.  What happened next, well, that wasn’t his fault.

Goat: Greg Holland.  There’s a strong argument for not throwing Holland in one-run games right now.  However, the first four outings of May, he had four scoreless innings (though the three to one walk to strikeout rate is a significant concern).  There are times that Holland looks like he’s gotten back to that All-Star form that he had, but about the time that happens and the Cards start trusting him late again, things blow up on him.  The outing before this one was the one in Minnesota where he gave up two runs in 1/3 of an inning.  It’s tough to know what to do with him.

That said, I won’t blame Mike Matheny too much for bringing in Holland here, because he’d used a lot of the bullpen and you aren’t likely to use Bud Norris for a two inning save if you don’t have to.  Holland did get the first two batters out, but then he walked Nick Williams.  Given Holland’s struggles, having someone warming even if he’s doing well wouldn’t be a bad idea and as soon as he walked someone, I think Matheny probably should have bounced out of the dugout to make a pitching change.  I mean, I get that there were two outs and he’s worked around a walk before, but this was feel-good, come-from-behind game that you wouldn’t want to risk.  Four outs from Norris is something he’s done a lot this season and is a little better than six.  Instead, Holland then gives up a triple and a single and the game goes from victory to defeat in a Thanos snap.  Norris comes in then and gets out of the jam, but it was too late and, unsurprisingly, the offense wasn’t able to muster a rally.

Again, I don’t know what you do with Holland.  The “no spring training” excuse is thin now and the fact that he’s still got more walks than innings pitched this late in the year is very troubling.  Holland has to probably move back to those sixth/seventh inning roles when the team is up by a couple of runs and has a short leash even then, trying to work his way back to the end of the games.  It feels like there’s probably no real way that he actually becomes the closer (like he’s being paid for) assuming Norris continues to go the way he is.  The best you can realistically expect would be him to be a solid eighth inning guy.  That has value, though I’m not sure that value is $14 million.  It didn’t feel like a necessary signing and if the rumors are true that Matheny badgered the front office until they got him that proven closer, it’s another tally on the wrong side of the ledger that he may have to justify at the end of the year.

Notes: Tyler O’Neill showed that his power plays in the big leagues, smashing his first big league homer to tie the game up at 5.  Jedd Gyorko also had a key single that drove in two runs, but he also made two errors (though one of them could have gone to Jose Martinez instead).  When Paul DeJong went down, the club called up Yairo Munoz and John Mozeliak said that he’d get the bulk of the time at shortstop.  Yairo Munoz got one at bat this series and played the last inning of that 12-4 game in the field.  Matheny said that Gyorko would be the starter at shortstop and, so far, that has happened.  Which is another thing he may have to justify at some point, because going against what your boss says publicly isn’t necessarily a great strategy.

I told my Meet Me at Musial co-host this weekend that there are only so many positions you can sacrifice defense for offense at the same time.  I think you could have Jose Martinez play first or you could have Jedd Gyorko play short, but I don’t know that putting them in the lineup at those spots together is a great idea.  You are going to get plays like the one in this game that should have been made but turn out to be costly.  Of course, I also don’t think that the Cards can legitimately run Gyorko, Munoz, and Greg Garcia (who started Sunday’s game) out there and cover DeJong’s absence for an extended period of time.  We’ll see if the front office agrees.

Sunday (5-1 win)

Hero: Jack Flaherty.  7.2 innings is impressive enough out of the righthander, but one run is even better.  Thirteen strikeouts?  That’s amazing.  Flaherty has had one iffy start in the four that he’s made in the big leagues and outings like this show why there’s no obvious spot for Alex Reyes.  Flaherty may get the short end of the stick initially, because of options and everything else, but he’s not going to deserve it and the club is going to have to do something to get him a spot in the big league rotation.  Martinez, Miles Mikolas, Wacha, Weaver, Reyes, and Flaherty all should be in the rotation but it seems unlikely you’d want to go to a six man and minimize any of these guys.  Figuring out who doesn’t get a chair when the music stops is why they pay Mo and Michael Girsch the big money.

Goat: Tommy Pham.  A rare off day for Pham, who went 0-4 with two strikeouts.  The offense was pretty concentrated–two guys had six of the 10 hits on the day–so it’s not like he’s the only one.  Aaron Nola is a pretty good pitcher, coming into the game with an ERA a hair under 2.00, so that’s kinda to be expected.

Notes: Those two guys that did all the damage were Matt Carpenter and Tyler O’Neill.  Carp continued his resurgence with a single and two doubles and looks better even by the eye test.  He’s not quite to the .200 mark yet but he’s much, much closer than he was even a week ago.  If he gets on track up there with Pham, life will be pretty good.

Marcell Ozuna got the day off and O’Neill made sure they didn’t miss him, getting three hits of his own including yet another home run.  Someone noted that Ozuna, in 80+ AB, still doesn’t have a home run in front of the home crowd while O’Neill, in a bare handful, has two.  Tara and I talked about it on Gateway to Baseball Heaven last night and it’s tough for any manager to do a five-man outfield rotation when everyone needs starting time, but it also is true that O’Neill’s power potential is something this team could use.  Most likely he’ll go back to Memphis sometime soon, but until then Matheny needs to find a way to get him in the lineup regularly so he can start to adjust to major league pitching.  So far, so good.

There was also the little matter of the fact the manager, in consultation with Mike Maddux, let Flaherty throw 120 pitches, which was the fourth most by ANY starter this season, much less a rookie pitcher.  Joe Trezza says the last time a young guy threw that many was Julio Teheran in 2013.  The most telling part was that Matheny, after the game, said that going into the game 120 was the limit they had for him.  Say what?  How do you plan for that?  How do you say, even with a taxed bullpen, that you are going to throw someone that young that many?  I get that they were relatively stress-free and he was in a groove, but when he’s at 107 or so after seven innings, you don’t send him back out there for the eighth.  Ruining prospects (and using Jordan Hicks again for the fourth time in five days may go in this bucket as well) would seem to be a real good way to get on Bill DeWitt’s bad side.

Hicks threw 105 miles per hour.  Twice.  In the same at bat.  It’s insane his speed, but what’s perhaps more insane is that Odubel Herrera kept putting his bat on the ball.  Hicks has to become a pitcher, not a thrower, and use that speed in the right way.  It feels like now, in my uneducated view, that he’s not mixing things up enough to alter timing.  As we talked about on Gateway, if he throws 105 and then goes to an 89 mph slider, that’s going to mess with some timing.  Instead, he pumped five 103+ pitches out there, which is incredible and amazing but also allows for timing.  I worry a lot about Hicks’s development the longer he stays in the bigs.

Oh, and Alex Reyes struck out 13 in a scoreless outing in Springfield.  So yeah, there’s that.  Young guys, man.  They are coming and they are going to be incredible!

Cards take on the Royals tonight.  Get your Cardinal Six entry in!

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