Finding Your Match

After three games, it feels like the Cardinals and Phillies are teams that are very much alike.  We saw three one-run games, all of which had lead changes and neither team getting up more than a couple and not for long.  We had an extra-inning game, a game that was blown in the eighth and won in the ninth, and all in all it’s not a surprise that the teams right now are within a game of each other.

The question is, is that all there is?  Because while Philadelphia is a plus-.500 team, they have enough flaws that it’s hard to see them passing Washington and they’d need the Braves to come back to earth.  Otherwise, they are a third place team.  Likewise, Chicago and Milwaukee are keeping the Cardinals down and playing almost even with the Phillies doesn’t inspire the confidence that they can step up in class, as it were.

The Cards will have that chance soon enough, starting tonight in Miller Park (and the Cardinal Six is open if you want to make your picks).  Before we get there, let’s take a look back at these last two games.  Fair warning, I missed all of Tuesday’s game going to another showing of Solo: A Star Wars Story (which you should see if you haven’t before it goes away) and watched Wednesday’s via GameDay.

Tuesday (7-6 win)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  Carpenter doubled in two runs in the seventh to tie the game, scored the go-ahead run, then hit a ninth-inning home run after the Phillies had come back to knot it at six.  His overall line isn’t remarkably better leading off than hitting second this year, save the fact that eight of his 12 homers have come in that position.  After this game, his average stood at .239, which was his high for the season.  It’s not quite classic Carpenter or peak Carpenter, but he’s helping the team and that does give some spark to the offense.

Goat: Jordan Hicks did get the blown save, but it’s tough for me to give the Goat to him given the fact he gave up a double to his first batter, which let the two batters Austin Gomber put on score.  He also shut down the Phillies in the ninth to preserve the win, which is a pretty big tally in his favor.  So let’s go with Marcell Ozuna here.  0-4 with two strikeouts and he left two men on base.  Ozuna might be cooling off from his torrid run in June, which is to be expected.  He’s not going to hit four homers and have a 1.000 OPS every week.

Notes: The biggest thing that came out of this game might have been Greg Holland, a story that continued on Wednesday.  After all our complaining, after all of us saying that the minor league results showed that he wasn’t ready to come back yet, after all of us pointing at the sky and saying, “Hey, isn’t that coming toward us at a rapid pace?”, Holland goes out and throws a perfect inning here with two strikeouts, then another clean inning on Wednesday with another strikeout.  Maybe we should have listened when Holland said that he found it, whatever it was.

Can we trust this resurgence of Holland?  Obviously we’ll want to see another game or two and decide whether it was more the questionable Phillies offense or some newfound mechanical fix, but the fact that he wasn’t walking anyone is a good sign for the latter.  Even if the Phillies aren’t necessarily a powerhouse offensively, if Holland wasn’t in the zone they’d have taken their free passes.  It’s also true that Holland had a stretch of four games in April where he gave up one hit, struck out five, and walked one.  It looked like he had everything figured out, that the rust from no spring training was gone.  Then he gave up three runs and didn’t record an out in his next start and had a 14.14 ERA in the seven innings between then and when he went on the DL.  Some of that could have been the hip impingement.  It’s also possible that Holland can get out of whack and things blow up on him.

But if he is right, if he is the Holland the Cardinals thought they were signing, that bullpen becomes a lot different.  We already know about Hicks and Bud Norris, we talked yesterday about how John Brebbia and Austin Gomber (though he didn’t show it in this one) are making strides in the reliability department.  Sam Tuivailala isn’t perfect, as we’ll see, but he’s been a guy that can get outs.  Brett Cecil seems to struggle if he goes more than one inning, but in that first inning he’s been OK.  Mike Mayers has filled some gaps admirably this week.  Suddenly, while you may not be excited when the bullpen door opens, there’s not necessarily this feeling of doom that washes over you.

Now, they are talking about Luke Gregerson and Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons getting out for rehab assignments soon and when they come back, that may change some of the dynamics.  Right now, though, it feels like the bullpen is slowly moving from a weakness to a strength.  The problem may be some other things are going to take its place.

Luke Weaver started in this one and gave up four runs in five innings, which is becoming depressingly standard for a Weaver start.  That’s pretty much the line he’s put up in his last three outings and he’s given up four or more runs in seven of his last 12 starts.  That great start to the season seems a long way away.  However, Weaver may be living a charmed life in some regards.  First Alex Reyes goes down for the season, meaning he doesn’t have to worry about losing his rotation spot to the phenom, then as we’ll see Michael Wacha runs into an injury, which means even if the Cards wanted to promote someone, Weaver is still safe for a while.  Hopefully this security will let him tinker until he finds what it takes to be more effective.

Tommy Pham had two hits, including his second home run in as many days.  He seems to be bouncing back from his rough May, which helps the offense.  With Carpenter and Ozuna going as well, plug in Pham and Yadier Molina and you’ve got a little something going.  That said, this was also a good hitting environment, but that may be all Pham needs for a jump start.

Wednesday (4-3 loss)

Hero: Yadier Molina.  Two home runs, both of which tied up the game.  He was also hit by a pitch, which probably didn’t faze him given his trip to the disabled list earlier this season and how it came about.  Yadi’s hitting .273 with nine homers and missed a month with that injury.  He’s also 35 and just set the record for most games caught with one team.  I don’t know if he’ll get into the Hall of Fame, though I feel he should, but no matter what, he’s going to be legendary not only in St. Louis but in the game as a whole.  Which seems like it should factor into HOF voting, right?

Goat: Sam Tuivailala.  Overall, this was a fairly well played game and the Cards did a good job.  However, when you are as evenly matched as these two teams seem to be, one mistake can be the difference.  Tuivailala made a mistake to Odubel Herrera, the Phillies’ best hitter no matter what Mike Matheny might say about Carlos Santana, and it cost them.  Herrera’s on a hot streak right now, homering in four straight games, and sometimes the hitter wins.  Unfortunately, the Cards couldn’t rally from that deficit.

Notes: Dexter Fowler got back-to-back starts for the first time in a couple of weeks.  He went 0-7 in them and, coupled with his unsuccessful pinch-hit appearance on Monday, had nothing to show for Philadelphia.  Fowler is down to .166 on the season.  He’s got 50 strikeouts in 231 plate appearances.  He’s hitting .105 in June.  By this time last year, the resurgence had already started.  From June 1 to June 20 in 2017, he hit .323/.425/.677.  This year, his last extra-base hit was a double on May 31.  His last home run was May 6, that walkoff against the Cubs.  (He’s hitting .172 since that highlight, which sadly is better than his overall numbers.)

I don’t have any idea what you do with Fowler.  It’s got to be frustrating for him and he seems like a good guy.  However, you just can’t play him all the time.  You can’t really play him much of the time.  Mike Matheny already seems to be platooning him and Harrison Bader, but by now even Bader’s weaknesses against righties are still a better deal than Fowler going up against them.  So you can’t really play him much.  You can’t trade him, because as much as I imagine he’d waive his no-trade clause (especially given the treatment he and his wife have received on Twitter, which is disgraceful), nobody is going to take him on without the Cardinals basically paying the whole contract, and what good is that?  He’s got three years left on the deal, so cutting him really isn’t a solid option.

I guess all you can do is play him like 1/2 the time against righties, give Bader the other 1/2 and all the lefties, and see what happens.  I’m not sure how Fowler gets out of the slump on the bench, but he’s not been able to do it in the lineup either and there are better options.  Just an ugly situation all around.  I think many fans wondered about the last year or so of this contract, how Fowler would be then, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be this bad even then, much less in Year 2.

More than anything, though, this game was marked by some potentially significant injuries.  Michael Wacha left with two outs in the fourth, after giving up a home run to Cesar Hernandez, and the word quickly came out that it was a left oblique strain.  While Wacha put up the general front after the game, where he says he hopes it’s not too bad, he feels better, etc., there seems little doubt that the Cards will have to put him on the 10-day DL and need another starter to make a couple of turns through the rotation.  Determining who that starter may be could depend on how long that they believe Wacha will be out.  If they think that he’s just going to miss a couple of starts, I expect they’d either move Austin Gomber to the rotation or let John Gant (or maybe Daniel Poncedeleon) take the start.  Remember, when in doubt when you guess moves in this organization (and most others), go with the path of least resistance.  All those folks are on the 40-man roster, all have been in the bigs (though Poncedeleon hasn’t made an appearance yet) and it would be relatively easy to add them and then put them back in Memphis or the bullpen when Wacha returns.

If it’s going to be a longer DL stint for Wacha, though, that might be where they go add Dakota Hudson to the 40-man and see what he can do.  Hudson is 9-2 with a 2.13 ERA on the season at Memphis.  A flag for me–though you need to go read Kyle Reis and Colin Garner to see if this is really an issue–is the fact that he doesn’t strike out as many folks as you’d like to see, especially at the minor league level.  If he doesn’t really have that strikeout pitch in the majors, things could go sideways.  Still, it’d be intriguing to see what he can do, there’s no denying that.

Late in the game, Jose Martinez fielded a ball and the runner made contact with his arm as he tried to apply the tag.  (Kyle Reis said last night in Prospects After Dark that it reminded him of Scott Rolen and Hee-Seop Choi‘s collision and after seeing the clips, I completely agree with him.)  Martinez’s shoulder seems to have taken the brunt of it and he was going to sleep on it (well, perhaps not literally, depending on the pain) and see how it would react overnight.  My Meet Me at Musial co-host Allen Medlock, who works in a related field, tells me that if it swells up overnight, that’s a big concern.  No matter what, Martinez says he’s played through pain before, which of course leads to the fear that he’ll try to do that here and have no success.  It is true Martinez singled in his at bat right after the collision but I have to think he won’t be in the lineup tonight and we’ll see if he avoids the disabled list.  I expect if he goes on it the call would be back to Luke Voit, though if he’s out an extended period of time that might factor into the club’s thoughts about outside moves.  (Of course, if he’s out too long, that also lessens any chances the Cardinals move him while his value is high.)

Spotty offense again in this one, with Molina and Greg Garcia the only ones with two hits.  Jedd Gyorko did have a big double with one out in the ninth, but nobody could ever bring him home.

The Cardinals go into Milwaukee today and while you don’t want to say any mid-June series is a big one, this one does have some weight to it.  The Cards sit 4.5 back of both the Brewers and the Cubs.  The Cubs will be in Cincinnati and while I know the Reds beat up on the Cubs earlier in the year, I don’t think you can bet on that now, especially the way Chicago is going.  St. Louis really needs a split here to stay close in the division.  Losing three of four would put them 6.5 behind Milwaukee and while that’s certainly not a death sentence, it is a pretty good road to hoe especially since the Cards and Brewers won’t have as many games together going forward.

Carlos Martinez goes tonight against Bruce Suter.  The Cards got three off Suter in five innings last time, he limited them to one in 5.1 the time before.  We have been worrying about Martinez’s control since he returned from the disabled list but he has two really good games against Milwaukee this season, including that 8.1 inning, four hit, zero run, 10 K performance on April 4.  We’ll see which Martinez is out there tonight.  Hopefully it’s that one!

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