Is This Just a .500 Team?

Since we last spoke, the Cardinals have split a couple of games with the Marlins.  We’ll get to those in a bit–you know we never leave a game unexamined around this site–but let’s take a look at the bigger picture with the Cardinals.  It feels like there’s a lot of re-examination going on and as we get into June, it seems fair to say that what we see from this team is probably what it actually is, unlike in April when you could say small sample and things will turn around.

The first thing I want to look at is streaks.  How often can they string wins together?  How long do the bad times last?  Let’s take a quick look.

Streak Length # of Winning # of Losing
1 7 10
2 6 4
3 1 3
4 0 0
5 2 0

Now, I don’t really know how these numbers stack up against other teams in the league, whether good or bad.  But on the face of it, the fact that 27 of their 33 streaks are of two games are less strikes me as a telling sign of their inconsistency.  They can’t get things going but they are good enough to not let them get out of hand.  So they aren’t great, they aren’t terrible, they’re just sort of…..blah.

The club sits at 33-27 right now.  That’s much better than where they were last year at this time, of course.  At this time last year they were waiving players and letting go of coaches and shuffling the deck.  So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.  However, six games over .500 isn’t necessarily a sign of a strong team, especially when you factor in the fact that they went 7-0 against the Reds, who they see again starting tonight.  Look, the Reds are bad and the Cards should beat up on them, but if they went 5-2 (which would have been still good but perhaps more reasonable than running the table) in those games they are 31-29.  And that, well, that feels more in line with what we see out of this team, right?

I think it’s the stops and starts, the great wins followed by depressing losses, no real strong push that makes you wonder if this team can be more than just middle of the road.  I mean, if you can win 3, lose 1, win 3, lose 1, you are doing OK while still fitting somewhat into the table above, but too many times it’s win one, lose one, win one, lose two, win two.

Again, the starting pitching is there.  That seems to be the constant.  So if the offense gets going, if the bullpen sorts out where Bud Norris and Jordan Hicks aren’t the only people you trust, this team could launch out of this .500 orbit.  Right now, though, it just feels like a bunch of mediocrity, a team that might get to 88 wins but still fall short in what is looking to be a loaded NL.

On that cheery note, let’s get to the games!

Wednesday (11-3 loss)

Hero: Jose Martinez.  Three hits and he drove in two of the three runs.  There wasn’t a lot of good in this game and pretty much all there was Martinez provided.

Goat: Who you like for this one?  Because you can pretty much pick from a number of folks.  Marcell Ozuna went 0-4 and left five men on base.  Yairo Munoz made three errors (though he did have an RBI).  Either of those are fine, as could be Brett Cecil or Preston Guilmet in his last Cardinal appearance (one inning, two runs for both of them).  However, all of those would have had more impacted if the starting pitching had been good and, well, Jack Flaherty had his struggles.  Five innings, six runs (though only four earned) and eight hits.  He did have six strikeouts and no doubt that the extra work he had to do because of Munoz made an impact, but still, that’s a lot for the offense to try to overcome.

Notes: We talked about Cecil and Guilmet above.  Guilmet got waived on Thursday as the team activated Greg Garcia from the paternity list and, as Jon Doble pointed out on Twitter, it’s possible Guilmet didn’t get a real fair shot.  After all, he came in the second day after having thrown 25 pitches the first day.  That said, the fact that he threw 25 pitches with no real deception to a struggling Marlins team was probably enough, with the club throwing him on Day 2 just to see if he could redeem the situation.  He couldn’t.  There was a reason the team was hesitant to bring him up even with a bullpen smoldering and him doing well at Memphis.

That bullpen was so bad that Mike Matheny did what he doesn’t like to do, which is let a position player pitch.  This time it was Jedd Gyorko, who spared John Brebbia (the only clean performer on the night) from having to go another inning.  Gyorko allowed a home run but that was about it and, given the state of the bullpen, might want to keep working on that fastball.

I should note, after being critical of him earlier in the season, Brebbia has had a bit of a resurgence.  He’s got a 3.18 ERA over his last six appearances and the only runs came in a hiccup against Pittsburgh.  I’m not saying give him the ninth or anything, but it’s a much better run than he was on the six appearances before that (4.91 ERA).

Thursday (4-1 win)

Hero: Miles Mikolas.  The Cardinals needed a lot of things Thursday.  They needed a win.  They needed a solid start.  They needed a long start that saved the bullpen.  Mr. Mikolas gave them all three.  Seven innings, three hits, just one run and that was unearned due to a Dexter Fowler error (that got a controversy stirred up on Twitter after the game, but I don’t think I want to get into that).  There were differing opinions about Mikolas after the signing and especially after his first couple of spring starts, but even his most adamant supporters (save Moz’s Algorthim on Twitter, who has used “Cy Mikolas” since soon after the signing) didn’t expect that he would be the ace of a 2018 Cardinal staff that, on the whole, really is pretty good.

Goat: It was a tough day for Dexter Fowler.  He did single in his first at bat, but then went 0-3 with two strikeouts and that error that he really should have had.  Again, I’m rooting for Dex, but you do have to wonder if the club is going to manage some of his usage going forward and use a little more Harrison Bader, at least when he’s going well.  (Bader is 1-12 in June, which probably is one reason why Fowler was out there yesterday.)

Notes: Jose Martinez almost got the Hero title again, smacking a two-run homer in the first that was all Mikolas really needed.  Tommy Pham had a couple of hits.  Zach Gifford published this very interesting piece at Birds on the Black on Tuesday night.  Since then, Pham has gone 4-8, but I don’t know that it invalidates what Zach was saying.  Zach was saying that high fastballs were Pham’s kryptonite right now.  At least one of the hits that I saw he got off the Marlins was a middle of the zone pitch.  It just may be that the Marlins weren’t talented enough to be able to consistently hit that weakness of Pham’s.  We probably won’t be able to tell this weekend in Cincinnati either.  That said, we know Tommy Pham.  It’s quite possible he read Zach’s piece and is making a conscious effort to lay off those if he can.

Two hits by Kolten Wong as well, though he was caught trying to steal.  The Cardinals can contribute to other team’s running games by not throwing anyone one, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s returning the favor.

Jordan Hicks (two strikeouts, though a walk and a single as well) and Bud Norris finished this one out for the Cardinals, which is the way you’d want to draw it up.  Unfortunately, you can’t have them come in every night to do this.

The Cards try to carry this one game winning streak (not recorded above, BTW, since we don’t know how long it’ll actually be) into Cincinnati and look to make it grow.  Law of averages says that Cincy’s going to get a game in this series, but hopefully we can push that off a little longer.  Luke Weaver goes tonight against former Dark Knight Matt Harvey in what should be an interesting matchup.  Let’s see if we can’t keep the winning going!

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