The uneven, herky-jerky ride of the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals lurched back upwards last night, taking a game from the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers and moving to four games behind them, staying 1/2 game behind the Chicago Cubs. As with a lot of wins this season, it was fronted by really good starting pitching, with just enough offense (well, maybe a bit more than that) to get the W.
That W, in large part, stood for Michael Wacha. He went 6.2 innings and allowed just two hits, though four walks against three strikeouts wasn’t the ratio you’d care to see. The only run charged to him came after he left, when Sam Tuivailala gave up a base hit and allowed an inherited runner to score. Tui was able to strike out Lorenzo Cain, however, to keep things where they were at.
Watching Wacha in the bottom of the sixth, I noted on Twitter that I wouldn’t have run him out there for the seventh. He seemed to be tiring, going to a full count on the last three batters of the frame and walking one of them. He was approaching 90 pitches as well and, given Wacha’s history, I thought another time through the order might not be good. After all, last year he had a slash line of .331/.396/.504 the third time through and a .722 OPS against on ABs in the 76-100 pitch range.
It’s a smaller sample, but actually Wacha’s been much better in those situations this season. The third time through this season has generated a .200/.226/.300 mark and that 76-100 pitch range has a .470 OPS against. I still think that I probably would have pulled him after six, but given the issues with the bullpen, there’s a better case to keeping him in the game than I expected.
We’ll go with Wacha as the Hero, but we easily could have gone with Harrison Bader. Bader hit a home run in the top of the second to open the scoring and tacked on two other singles to boot. Always good to see Bader have a strong game against a right-handed pitcher. We know he can do damage against lefties but games like this means you have less concerns about seeing him out there more regularly. Assuming there is a spot, which isn’t always possible with the players this team has that man the outfield.
Speaking of three-hit nights, here was an apparently ill-advised Tweet I sent out before the game:
Since having back-to-back three hit games, Francisco Pena is 3-25 (.120) with one walk and six strikeouts in seven starts.
— Cardinal70 (@C70) May 29, 2018
It was completely true but apparently Francisco Pena didn’t care for being called out. He also went three-for-four with a home run in the eighth that made the Mobil On The Run folks pay up (so go get your cheap drinks if you are in the St. Louis area). Pena is actually hitting .317 since Yadier Molina went down, which is fairly crazy. Yes, much of that is concentrated–nine of the 13 hits come in three games–but it’s still more than we ever thought we’d get out of Pena.
Here’s the problem. Carson Kelly was activated Saturday and has played once since then. He’ll probably play today with a day game and it doesn’t hurt that he recently caught Alex Reyes. However, if Kelly is now the backup to basically a career minor leaguer and journeyman backup type, why exactly do we have him? I’m not saying that Kelly is going to be some potent force, but the whole idea was that when Molina went down, Kelly would get his time. Instead, he’s been overshadowed by Pena. More and more, I feel like Kelly is going to be part of some deal this deadline, especially with Andrew Knizner starting to hold his own in Memphis. Pena could be the backup to Molina this year and probably next, with Knizner hopefully moving into that role mid-season or so. It’s very true Knizner’s timetable works better in relation to Molina’s contract.
Matt Carpenter walked twice and hit a home run. You know, as Carpenter does. Jordan Hicks threw two innings and struck out four batters. We have talked about Hicks’s inability to get the strikeout but he seems to be adapting. Counting last night, in his last five games he’s thrown seven innings, allowed one hit, walked two, and struck out eight. If he’s getting his command and his deception going, the league could be in trouble. Of course, so could Hicks, as Mike Matheny might not able to resist running him out there over and over. But soon, not today but soon, we’ll have a game started by Reyes and perhaps finished (or at least in the same game) by Hicks. And won’t that be something.
Our Goat for the day is becoming a familiar name in this area. Tommy Pham went 0-5, struck out twice, and his bad break on a ball in the fifth inning led to the breakup of Wacha’s nascent no-hitter. We’ve talked about Pham’s struggles recently, but the whole month of May has actually been a problem for him. He was hitting .341 at the end of April and now currently stands at .271. He’s hitting .198 for the month which is probably a little more than a slump. Half his hits (two doubles, six homers) are of the extra-base variety so if he can hit, he can generate his power, but in his last eight starts he’s hitting .030 (2-33) with 15 strikeouts. That’s not the Pham we know and love.
You’d like to think that, with the rotation looking like it’s going to be stellar pretty soon, Pham and Marcell Ozuna will kick in and they along with Carpenter will carry the offense and put this team on an elevator up to the top. However, right now that’s just a hope. Ozuna went 0-3 and still doesn’t seem like he’s got it figured out. Pham has never really had a month this bad–some of his 2016 months were rough, but in smaller samples. Dexter Fowler will probably return today or tomorrow from his knee problem, but there’s no particular reason to think he’ll find his game. There are a lot of offensive issues out there and while the answers are possibly already on the roster, it’s going to take someone finding the adjustments and getting the players to buy in. Otherwise, there are going to be a lot of very good pitching performances wasted.
Alex Reyes goes today! You may have heard that. You may also know that it’s on Facebook, with former Cardinal Jason Motte having his first broadcast experience. Honestly, I’m not as worked up about the whole Facebook thing as some folks are. I think I may have watched a little of one of them, but basically I’m not going to be able to see an afternoon game during the middle of the week on FSMW. I really can’t watch it on Facebook either but I’ve got a better chance of being able to check in occasionally. MLB does need to be open to various media in order to get their product out there. Yes, going on Facebook probably isn’t really the way to get “the kids” to watch, as most of them don’t hang out there, but it’s something and hopefully it allows the powers that be to find different avenues to get younger fans excited about the game.
Reyes is up against Junior Guerra as he makes his return from Tommy John surgery. We know expectations are through the roof with Reyes, but we do need to remember that he’s (as far as we know) human and TJ surgery is still a big deal. He was able to handle minor leaguers but he’s going to be facing a division-leading team today. I’m sure he’ll do fine, but let’s not expect one hit and 13 strikeouts, shall we? As for Guerra, he limited the Cardinals to one run in 5.1 innings in his first start of the season. He’s been pretty good this year, with his last outing two earned in six against the Mets.
No matter what, there will be plenty of reaction to today’s game. Let’s see if Reyes can bring home a series win in his debut!