An Ending That Came Out of Nowhere

My wife and I have a number of TV shows that we record throughout the year, mainly of the superhero variety.  We tend not to watch them, however, until the kids get to bed which means we usually have stuff to watch because we just can’t keep up watching one, maybe two shows 3-4 times a week.  So last night, when my wife asked it we wanted to watch something, I did the mental calculus and figured, with this team–almost any team, really–being down three runs with just the ninth to go, we were safe to get started checking out an episode of Arrow.

I didn’t realize that the real superheroes were wearing red, not green.

Seriously, though, what are the odds that the team that scored four in the first, then frittered that away before adding another, the team that had been so offensively challenged for basically the entire season, would then put up five runs without the Pirates getting an out in the ninth?  I mean, that’s kinda the expectation of the Cardinal bullpen, not the Cardinal hitters, isn’t it?

Our Hero, as it has a lot recently, goes to Yairo Munoz.  You walk it off with a three-run bomb, you get the title.  That wasn’t all Munoz did offensively, as he drove in two runs in that big first inning with a double.  So five RBI for the rookie, who is now hitting .314.  Since his recall after Paul DeJong‘s injury, Munoz is hitting .424/.457/.636 and his two home runs have come in the last four days.  We talked right after DeJong’s injury about the power struggle that seemed to be going on between the manager and the front office but Munoz’s production has definitely settled that question.

His defense is still a work in progress, of course.  He made an error and had another play that could have been one soon after, but he was able to regroup and help turn a key double play in the seventh that kept the game tied, at least for another inning.  I know we’ve said that there are only so many places you can sacrifice defense for offense around the diamond but, especially given the options, I don’t think Munoz has anything really to worry about.

Of course, Munoz’s homer was the capper but there was a lot more work done there in the ninth.  The most important, besides Munoz’s blast, was the fact that Luke Voit, called up earlier in the day in a bout of transactions that we’ll talk about in a bit, finally got his first AB in 2018 after coming up and going down earlier in the year without getting a chance to take some cuts.  Voit used that AB wisely with a bases-loaded single that drove in two, cut the lead to one, and set the stage for Munoz.  Voit has actually been struggling at Memphis which made his promotion a bit of a head-scratcher but maybe the big league life will invigorate him.  So far, so good.

You can’t dramatically out of a hole unless you dig it first, though, which leads us to a discussion of the bullpen.  First off, we probably should note that this wasn’t Jack Flaherty‘s best outing.  Given four runs in the bottom of the first, he let Pittsburgh chip away here and there, giving up an RBI single in the second, an RBI double in the fourth, and a two-run home run to Josh Bell in the fifth.  He threw over 100 pitches in those five innings, which isn’t really the pace you want to see out of any pitcher, and while he didn’t walk any, he allowed seven hits.  He got five strikeouts, which helped limit the damage, but worked slow and overall didn’t seem like the dynamic guy we are starting to get used to.  As a rookie, it’s not surprising he may fluctuate in his dominance from start to start.

He left four innings for the bullpen to cover, though, which is a dangerous thing.  It started off well as the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons redeemed himself a little bit for that blast Christian Yelich hit Wednesday, getting the first two batters he faced out, one on a strikeout that saw his stuff moving everywhere in a manner that really did remind us of last year’s Patron Pitcher.  With a one-run lead courtesy of a Greg Garcia single in the bottom of the fifth, you are walking a tightrope but as good as Lyons has looked and given the fact that he’s usually solid against righties as well, leaving him in to finish the frame would have been my preference.  Instead, Mike Matheny made it 14 of 21 appearances of less than an inning for Lyons, going to get John Brebbia.

Brebbia walked his first guy then gave up a drive I was initially sure had given Pittsburgh the lead only to see it settle into Harrison Bader‘s glove.  Brebbia came back out for the seventh (which did make sense) and got the first out, then gave up a single that turned into a double when the ball kicked off Munoz’s knee then another single that Munoz couldn’t quite make a play on.

Runners on the corners, one out, seventh inning.  The problem with not having a lot of reliable arms out there in the bullpen is that Matheny tends to then rely on the same arms over and over.  And the main same arm is Jordan Hicks, who came into this one.

In his first eight appearances in May, Hicks threw 97 pitches over 19 days, which averages out to 5.11 pitches per day, a stat that probably means nothing but we’re throwing it in for comparison’s sake.  He’s thrown, counting last night’s 30, 120 pitches in his last six outings, covering 12 days, or 10 pitches per day.  (For comparison, he threw 213 in the first month of the season over 32 days, or 6.66 pitches per day.)  Overall, he’s being effective, but it worries me that he’s going to be used too much, that he’s going to wind up being damaged.

Last night, Hicks walked the first batter, then got a double play to end the seventh.  Given that all took seven pitches and the state of the bullpen, it’s not surprising that he returned for the eighth, though a seven-pitch night wouldn’t have been terrible for him personally.  Anyway, Colin Moran singles to start the inning and Gregory Polanco doubled to tie the game.  While Bud Norris had been stretching before this, once the Pirates tied the game, the FOX Sports Midwest cameras panned over to the bullpen and showed no one warming up.

Which was mind-boggling to many of us on Twitter.  Hicks had faced four batters, three had reached, and he was up to 11 pitches.  The game was tied and while I’m not saying you had to replace him right there, having someone getting ready would have seemed like a smart thing.

Hicks got Jordy Mercer to fly out but then walked Adam Frazier on a full count.  I was personally pretty sure that was it–I think the cameras indicated pitchers were warming by this time–and sure enough, the cameras swung to the dugout to watch someone emerge.  But instead of the manager making a change, it was Mike Maddux coming out to have a chat.

Hicks got the next batter to fly out and finally the manager made the move after 30 pitches, his high for the season.  Again, I get that there aren’t really a lot of reliable options down there and I’m not sure that other moves would have worked better, but I still wonder about what all this is going to do to Hicks in the future.

Hicks gets our Goat because he let the game get tied and put those go-ahead runs on but it was Bud Norris who actually did the damage.  Norris, who hadn’t pitched since Sunday against the Brewers, ran the count full on Francisco Cervelli before Cervelli, who is carrying on in the fine Pittsburgh tradition of having players that just kill the Cardinals, deposited one over the left field wall, giving the Pirates the three-run lead.

I have to wonder a little about Norris, because then the manager came immediately out to make a change and bring in Mike Mayers (another one of those transactions).  As noted, Norris hadn’t thrown since Sunday.  He’d thrown seven pitches here and while the game seemed out of reach, letting him at least finish the inning wouldn’t seem to be outlandish.  It wouldn’t keep him from throwing again tomorrow, for instance.  Sure, someone else like Mayers could take the ninth, but why make this move here?  And, more importantly, why were you prepared to make this move here?  Norris looked good against the Brewers over the weekend so you wouldn’t necessarily think there’s a physical issue, but after leaving Hicks out there for so long, the quick hook for Norris was pretty noticeable.

Overall, even though all the hits didn’t really pan out, it wasn’t a bad night for the office.  Matt Carpenter had two hits, Bader had three.  Dexter Fowler had another multi-hit game and drove in two runs early with a base hit.  You had Munoz’s two hits and Garcia chipped in two as well, so the hit total piled up.

The exciting ending to the game helped paper over, at least for a little while, the earlier news of the day.  Voit, Mayers, and Austin Gomber came up while Tyler O’Neill and John Gant went to Memphis and, unfortunately, Alex Reyes returned to the disabled list.  Reyes’s lat strain was termed significant by GM Michael Girsch and they were expecting Reyes to miss a number of starts.  Either they are getting better with their messaging or we may not see Reyes again this season, given that Carlos Martinez had a similar issue and was only supposed to miss one start.  That one has turned into four and while he’ll probably wind up throwing Tuesday against the Marlins, he wasn’t completely dominant last night and another rehab start can’t be completely ruled out.  (Put it this way, another rehab start might be best, even though that’s not likely what’s going to happen.)

To lose Reyes just after getting him back is heartbreaking not only for the fans but for Reyes himself.  We were so excited to get a chance to finally see the phenom only to have that taken away from us.  Reyes was pumped about getting a chance to pitch regularly in the majors and now has to wonder if it’s ever going to all come together for him.  Hopefully he can rebound from this and be fine in the second half of the season but all our discussions about a six man rotation and what do the Cardinals do with all their pitching talent are effectively moot.  By time Reyes is ready to return, we’ll have a lot more data and possibly even a trade that fixes the problem.  Or they’ll start him out in the bullpen again to ease him into things.  Unfortunately, we’ll just have to wait and see.

All the Cards can do now is move forward.  A big win like last night is a good first step but we’ve seen that they aren’t really a momentum team.  Maybe they can be tonight as Miles Mikolas takes the bump against Jamison Taillon.  Taillon’s last start was against the Cards, when he allowed three runs in 6.1 innings in a no-decision.  Hopefully the offense can keep up what they were doing last night and we can start to feel like the end of the tunnel is coming.  If nothing else, Yadier Molina might be back by the middle of next week, which could be a nice boost!

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