Consistent Winning Baseball Seems to Be In a Galaxy Far, Far Away

On a scale from Attack of the Clones to The Empire Strikes Back, last night’s Cardinals/Padres game was much more The Phantom Menace than A New Hope.  I’d say it was like The Force Awakens, a bit of a repeat and hitting the same beats as what has gone before, but I liked TFA.

(Of course, I like all the Star Wars movies, even the prequels.  Heck, there’s a lot to like about Clones–Obi-Wan’s detective work, the battle at Geonosis, Yoda vs. Dooku.  Toss out the Anakin/Padme stuff and it improves greatly.)

The Cardinals lost again to the Padres last night, falling by the same 4-2 score that they did on Tuesday.  Thankfully, this time we didn’t see Jordan HicksJohn Brebbia took on that role and did a fine job.  Everyone talks about Hicks and Bud Norris being the guys to trust down in the bullpen, but Brebbia is starting to make a case for being the leader of the next tier.  He had his struggles a few weeks ago, but seems to have gotten past that.  I’m not saying give him the ninth or anything, but if he keeps this up hopefully it’ll be easier to rest Hicks in games like this where the Cards want to keep it close.

Everyone is going to talk about the fact that the Cardinals just went 4-5 against three last place teams and that’s a fair topic of discussion but I think it’s just a small slice of a bigger issue.  Since those dramatic games against the Cubs last month, where the Cards swept on the back of two walkoffs, they have gone 16-18 in what wasn’t the strongest stretch of games.  Over that span they played the Padres twice, the Twins twice, and the Marlins, Reds, and Royals once.

St. Louis has seemed to be able to play to the level of their competition somewhat but when you look at what they’ve done in a little over a month against overall weaker competition, you worry about the upcoming schedule that is one solid team after another.  The Cubs (NLC 2), Phillies (NLE 3), Brewers (NLC 1), Indians (ALC 1), Braves (NLE 1), and Diamondbacks (NLW 1) take us through the Fourth of July, with then a bit of a break before the All-Star Break with the Giants, White Sox, and Reds.  Those next six teams are a combined 224-174 (.562).  For comparison, the Cards are winning at a .545 clip overall, so the gap isn’t as large as it honestly feels like, but it’s hard to walk into these series with a load of confidence after this last batch of games.

We’re getting away from ourselves though.  Our Hero of the night is Marcell Ozuna, who obviously has finally clicked.  Eleven games ago, he hit his first home run in Busch Stadium.  Counting that game and running through last night, he’s got five homers and a .390/.422/.805 line.  His two-run shot last night was the only scoring and the only extra-base hit, a fly ball to dead center field that continued to carry over the wall.  If part of Ozuna’s problem was that he was pressing, I think he’s over that and we are finally starting to see that power that we dreamed about when the trade was made this winter.

Jedd Gyorko also had two hits, though one of his was of the infield variety, and Tommy Pham was robbed of extra bases in the eighth which might be a good sign that things are starting to really come around for him in the power department, but otherwise it was a fairly quiet night.  A total of eight hits, half of which were from Ozuna and Gyorko.  No walks for the third straight game.  All in all, more boring that trade disputes in the galactic senate.

We’ll give the Goat tag to Yairo Munoz, who went 0-4 and left three men on base.  With a player like Munoz, it’s tough to know whether it’s a slump or whether pitchers are figuring him out (at least to me, maybe not to those that dive into the heat maps and exit velocity stuff), but he’s gone from hitting almost .300 at the beginning of the month to hitting under .250 now.  He has one extra base hit in that span and two walks against 10 strikeouts.  There’s at least some indication Paul DeJong could be back around the end of the month (though we don’t know how long it’ll take for him to get into a groove) but until then there’s not much other option than to run Munoz out there regularly.

Luke Weaver, or as we know him around here on days like this, Luke Skyweaver, had a better game than his line would indicate.  He gave up two runs in the first but then stayed out of trouble until the sixth.  With one out, Franmil Reyes lined one that Pham dove for but it popped out of his glove.  Reyes was given a double on the play, which is probably fair even though Pham will tell you he should have had it.  If he does, Manuel Margot might not triple and even if he does, no damage would have been done.  Instead, that brought in a run and Austin Gomber wound up allowing Margot to score.

All that said, Weaver wasn’t exactly stellar either.  He only walked one but allowed nine hits.  Most of those hits, as my Meet Me at Musial cohost Allen Medlock pointed out to me via Twitter, came with two outs.  That allowed him to get out of any jams fairly easily, since he only needed one out, but it also meant he wasn’t finishing off innings and he was running up his pitch count.  With a little offense and a little luck, he could have won that game last night, but both seem to be in limited supply these days.

Another disappointing series comes to a close and the Cardinals gird their loins for this gauntlet of games.  They do have four wins in five games against the Cubs this year, though their record against the rest of those teams so far this year isn’t great (1-2 against Arizona, 4-5 against Milwaukee).  At least Michael Wacha is on the mound to give it a good beginning.  Wacha has a 1.74 ERA in his last 10 starts and opponents are hitting just .188 against him.  He went 5.1 innings in a no-decision against the Cubs earlier this season and allowed two runs, just one earned.  He’ll be up against Jon Lester, who we know all about.

A day off today to regroup.  I’ll have a Cardinal Six for you later this morning to let you start focusing on Chicago!

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