The Era of Good Feelings….Never Really Got Started

A walk-off win, followed by a no-hitter.  An off day, where they draft a top talent that usually isn’t available to them.  Yadier Molina returns.  Carlos Martinez returns.  Miami coming to town.  There was all sorts of momentum and positiveness and all-around good feelings going on around the Cardinals before last night’s game.  Unfortunately, we know what the Cardinals do with momentum.

I always worry when a team comes in to play St. Louis with all sorts of negative indicators.  Miami had lost six in a row, but that’s around the normal length of a losing streak in baseball without it becoming a huge deal.  Odds are that the Marlins weren’t going to lose all three in Busch and have a nine-game streak at the end of it.  That’s not generally how baseball works.  (I mean, it was possible of course, but streaks tend to snap before then.)  Then there was Jose Urena, who was 0-7 and already had the narrative building up that he didn’t get any run support.  Just like when Miles Mikolas got almost to June without a loss, it’s tough to expect a pitcher as talented as Urena to go much longer without getting in the win column.

Miami might have had some law of averages going for it but that’s not to say the Cardinals shouldn’t have kept those streaks going last night.  If a non-rusty Carlos Martinez (and we have to go with rust as an issue, though we can’t say we didn’t see this coming, especially after this report) shows up, there’s a good chance that the Cards are able to make that early lead stand up and perhaps still add on like they did.  Four runs is a winnable game, especially with this pitching staff.

When Martinez walked the leadoff batter on four pitches, we figured he was getting adjusted to the mound.  And, indeed, he came back and got a double play to end the inning with no damage.  Then he walked the leadoff batter in the second on four pitches and allowed a hit to follow that up.  He got another double play, then walked two more batters before striking out Urena in an at-bat that was much tougher than you’d expect from a pitcher.  Third inning, Martinez gave up two singles and a walk before getting his double play which this time allowed a run to score.  He then had a ball hit back to him and couldn’t find the handle, then lobbed it to first.  I’m sure he forgot that there was a runner on third and he probably figured he had more time, but there was and he didn’t.

He had a good fourth, striking out two, but overall this was a rough start for Martinez.  I know there was a lot of excitement and symbolism of getting him and Molina back at the same time, but you wonder if he shouldn’t have made another start for Springfield or Memphis.  John Gant hasn’t been quite as good as I thought he was before looking up the stats and he might not have given you much more in the innings department than Martinez.  Maybe you plan for Austin Gomber (who had his own issues in this one) to start, but then you don’t get those three innings on Saturday and perhaps don’t win that game.  Most likely, you let everyone stay on regular rest and worry about your fifth starter on Saturday when you are in Cincinnati.  You could have held Gomber out in preparation for that and then let Martinez come back on Sunday a little sharper hopefully.

Honestly, it becomes difficult to see why the Cards even mess with rehabbing their players in minor league games.  Martinez makes one start.  We saw Adam Wainwright do the same earlier in the year.  Molina has two games in Springfield and goes without a hit.  I’m sure it helps somewhat, but I would think you’d want to get a week’s worth of games for a hitter and at least a couple of starts for a starter or 3-4 appearances from a reliever at least to make sure they are good to go when they get called up.  Paying lip service to things like this is how you get Greg Holland being miserable to start the season.  (How you get Holland being miserable all the way to June is a different story.)

As I say, Martinez could have been the Goat.  Some of the relievers could have been the Goat.  However, we’re going with a hitter as the Goat and it’s one that has been making a regular showing in the role.  However, it wasn’t just the fact that Tommy Pham went 0-4 that gets him the award.  It’s not the fact that he left three men on base.  After all, his fifth inning fielder’s choice brought in a run, so he had that going for him more than….well, actually, nobody else had a 0-fer night so I guess he had that going for him more than Preston Guilmet, who might have received the tag.

No, it’s one play that really sealed the deal for Pham.  After that groundout, which cut the deficit to 5-3, Marcell Ozuna (who once again gets to be the Hero, narrowly edging out Matt Carpenter) singled in a run and went to second on the throw while Pham went to third.  It’s 5-4, runners on second and third, just one out.  After giving up three in the top of the inning, the Cards were poised to get it all back and then some.

Molina comes to the plate.  Molina had singled in his first at bat, driving in the first run of the game.  There were so many ways he could tie up the game.  He could get another hit.  He could hit a sacrifice fly.  He could ground out to second.  Plenty of options.

All of which were taken away from him when Pham was picked off at third.

I can’t quickly find stats on being picked off.  I’m pretty sure Pham led the league in pickoffs last year and he’s probably right up there in the list again this season.  It’s part of his aggressiveness and he’s always looking for an edge, so his pickoffs at first base, while frustrating (I mean, when Jon Lester picks you off, you are doing it wrong), have at least some reason for existing.  Being picked off of third base in a one-run game?  No, there’s no defending that one.  With Pham’s speed, he didn’t need to get very far from the base to be able to score.  He can wait until the pitcher actually lets go of the ball to get a jump.  That was probably the turning point in the game.  Molina grounded out, a groundout that would have scored Pham had he stayed still, and the threat was over.  The Cards had another chance in the sixth but that was about it.

(That sixth was frustrating, because you get two hitters on to lead off the frame, then Kolten Wong tries to bunt them over.  However, the ball hit his bat again as he was trying to get out of the batter’s box.  The umpire called him out due to him being out of the box, though that was debatable.  It also probably didn’t matter, since Harrison Bader and Carpenter both struck out following Wong to end the threat.)

The game was on FS1 last night and their announcers mentioned the incident earlier in the year when Pham cracked his head open during a game.  Before that bat met Pham’s head, Pham was hitting .327 and was about a week removed from a four-hit game.  Since that time, he’s hitting .200/.245/.356.  It’s probably not a cause, especially since he had a two-hit and a three-hit game just days later, but it’s an interesting thing to think about.  More recently, Pham’s hit .147 since his last home run 10 games (eight starts) ago.  He didn’t strike out last night, which is a good thing, but the Cardinals really need the Pham they had last year and earlier this year to show up.

Before the game, the Cardinals made a number of moves.  Martinez and Molina were expected, but they also made room on the 40-man to bring up Preston Guilmet.  Guilmet was dominating Memphis with a 0.93 ERA, 11 saves, and 35 K in 29 innings.  Apparently there was some language in his contract that made it advisable to give him a shot in the majors.  I would assume that one of those standard veteran “if I’m not in the majors by X date, you’ll release me to find work elsewhere” kinda things.  Because, in case you weren’t aware, Guilmet is a 30-year-old that had been pitching in Japan because his major league record was not good (and totalled only 23 innings).

Anyway, Guilmet comes up and, because Martinez didn’t go long enough and because of the fact that the pitcher spot was coming up, Mike Matheny went to him to get three outs.  Honestly, I don’t have a huge problem with this.  Guilmet had been strong in Memphis, you don’t need him to save the game, just get you through the inning, and a shorter bench due to Greg Garcia‘s paternity leave may have made a double switch less attractive.

That said, when I saw people in the last couple of weeks clamoring for Guilmet to get a chance, I worried that he was really just a Quad-A player, a guy that was using some veteran knowledge and good enough stuff to overwhelm minor league hitters but would get exposed against the big leaguers.  Guilmet didn’t do much to change that opinion.  He got the first out, but then single, single, sacrifice fly (on a terrible throw in by Ozuna, who may still be having arm problems) and then a home run by Brian Anderson.  That made the game 5-2 (as noted above) and he took the loss in this one.

I imagine they’ll give Guilmet a couple more chances, but if they don’t go any better than that, he’s an easy person to let go and not worry much about.  It looks like he’s out of options, so he can’t go back to Memphis without passing through waivers.  Depending on how he does in the bigs, he might, but the Cards aren’t out a lot if he doesn’t.

In retrospect, everyone wanted a double switch that got Gomber into the game, but then Gomber comes in after the Cards had cut that lead and gives up a home run to the first batter then walks the next two.  He got the next three guys (though one was on a sacrifice fly) but that really hurt.  This was also Gomber’s first time (as far as I know) to go on short rest, so it’s not surprising it might take him some adjustments to get into this reliever life.

All in all, a downer of a game.  What happened before the game held a little more intrigue.

My Gateway to Baseball Heaven co-host Tara Wellman, star of stage and screen (well, at least your computer and phone screens), was the first to notice that Ryan Sherriff had posted a picture to Instagram from Dr. Jobe’s clinic showing the after-effects of what he said was Tommy John surgery.  Sherriff had been on the Memphis DL for a couple of weeks now, but nobody had mentioned anything about surgery.

When I say Tara was the first, she wasn’t just the first fan on Twitter.  The beat writers and reporters had no clue.  And, apparently, neither did the Cardinals.

Once the media folk picked up on that (though most didn’t acknowledge the first reports, because you know), they asked the Cardinal reps about it and instead of a “yes, Ryan had surgery today” it was a “no comment”.  While some off the record did say Sherriff was supposed to consult with a surgeon (meaning this wasn’t completely out of the blue), there seemed to be no indication the club knew this was happening.

Lots of issues here.  First off, let’s talk finances.  If I’m right (which is rare), if Sherriff had gone through the process with the Cards, they’d have covered the expense of the surgery.  I have trouble believing that Sherriff could just get Dr. Jobe to bill the club for this if someone hadn’t signed off.  Which means that Sherriff may be on the hook for this financially.  Why would he do that?  It’s not like he’s making millions.

Now, if the Cards had told him he needed to see X surgeon and he wanted to use Dr. Jobe, that’s a different story.  However, even then it’s not like he’s going to a quack.  Dr. Jobe is at the top of the list of respected surgeons in this area.  It would seem strange if the Cardinals told him, “We won’t pay for it if you use that guy.”  So that doesn’t feel like an issue.

There feels like there’s more to this story.  The official site doesn’t have much and you can’t read anything on the Post-Dispatch’s site without a subscription (or the app, but then I can’t link to it) but guys don’t just take off and have surgery without some sort of OK from their team.  I know we all remember when Jaime Garcia announced he was having surgery when the club wanted him to have rest and rehab, but he didn’t show up with his arm in a sling when he made that announcement.  The club might not have been happy with the choice or with the fact that he went to the press with it, but they at least knew about it ahead of time.

You have to wonder if this is the last we’ve seen of Ryan Sherriff in a Cardinal uniform.  If he went on his own and had this surgery, as all indications point to, that’s a large breach of his contract.  The Cards would be well within their rights to cut him today and void the contract, meaning that Sherriff wouldn’t get paid a thing while he rehabbed.  Even if they decide to keep him, that’s a trust that he’s broken.  That’s going to come into play when they talk about adding him back to the big league roster.  He’s going to have to go out there, once he’s healed up, and be dominant to make sure there’s no reason for them not to bring him up.

We’ll see how it plays out.  Sherriff’s a nice left-handed option but it’s not like he’s established himself as a great reliever.  I mean, he was bouncing back and forth from Memphis for a reason.  He could become a better one in the future but relievers like that are pretty fungible.  You can always find one as good or better.  I’d be pretty surprised, honestly, if Sherriff is still in the organization when he finishes up his rehab.

Jack Flaherty takes the hill tonight hoping to make sure the Cards don’t lose the series.  Because if you lose a series to the Marlins, don’t expect folks to have good feelings for quite some time.

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