When last we spoke, things were looking up. After a disastrous game in Milwaukee, the Cards had lost a heartbreaker, then won four in a row over the Brewers and the Indians and looked a bit like the Cardinals we hoped to see on a regular basis. Surely, surely the clouds were lifting. Surely we could start legitimately thinking about additions and what could help this team beyond a full-throated shakeup. Surely…..
Eh, not so much.
Four games since then. Four losses. Most of them ugly, at least in spots. And again we return to the muck and the mire of wondering really what this team is.
We’ll get to the games in a moment, but odds are you aren’t going to read to the very end so let’s take a little look at the month of June overall:
Runs scored: 111
Runs allowed: 126
Number of times scoring double digits: 1
Number of times allowing double digits: 4
Number of times throwing a shutout: 3
Number of times being shut out: 1
Times Cardinal hitters got to face position players pitching: 0
Times Cardinal hitters WERE position players pitching: 2
All this doesn’t include Sunday’s loss to the Braves, a loss that wound up being close given a big inning late but for all the world looked like another lethargic loss until then. Amazingly, the Cardinals went into Milwaukee last Thursday 4.5 games back and somehow, in all this mess, have only lost a game. But I don’t think that tells the full story. I mean, the Cincinnati Reds are doing EVERYTHING they can to make the Cardinals a viable contender. They have lost all but one against the Cardinals but then they have won, what, six of eight against the Cubs and then won two of three against the Brewers this weekend.
St. Louis won’t take advantage, though. It just doesn’t feel like this team, especially as currently constructed, is going to have what it takes to make a push. You can talk about the fact that Paul DeJong will be back with the team while they are in Arizona, but expecting DeJong to pick up where he left off, especially with just two rehab games under his belt (though he did go 2-5 with a double in those games) seems to be asking a lot. As valuable as DeJong is, it’s also hard to believe he’s the reason they’ve gone 19-21 in his absence. Are they better with him? Absolutely. Are they five games better as team over 40 games? I don’t know. That seems like a lot to put on one player.
The team has had to deal with injuries, that’s true, and they’ve somewhat kept their head above water. There’s been a lot of them, but teams like the Dodgers have lost a lot as well, including their ace twice, and they are 2.5 behind Arizona. (Though, in fairness, just about 1 1/2 games better than the Redbirds.) There’s got to be more to it than injuries. You’ve seen the pitching staff start to unravel, the offense have trouble buying hits, and the bullpen put up an ERA around 6 in the Atlanta series. Trying to figure out which hole you plug is becoming harder and harder.
All right, let’s get to the games. We’ve put it off long enough.
Wednesday (5-1 loss to Cleveland)
Hero: Jose Martinez. He was the only hitter with more than one hit and he drove in the only run with a third inning single. Unfortunately, Cleveland already lead 4-0 at that point.
Goat: Dexter Fowler. Another rough night for the soon-to-be two-time father. 0-4 with two strikeouts and two left on base.
Notes: You kinda saw this loss coming. I mean, Cleveland is a really good team and the odds that anyone, much less this flawed Cardinal team, was going to sweep them out of the ballpark were long. St. Louis had never seen Shane Bieber before and that sort of situation has seen them struggle in the past, though Bieber seems to be a strong talent. The offense was in drips and drabs–only Fowler and Tommy Pham had no hits on the night from the starters (well, Kolten Wong was 0-1 but was plunked twice)–so runners kept getting on, but not in good spots and nobody was able to follow up on it.
Probably the one real shot the Cardinals had came in the fifth, when Matt Carpenter doubled and went to third on a Martinez single. Runners on first and third with one out seems like you should be able to get a little something, but Marcell Ozuna struck out and Yadier Molina grounded out. It’s not the most egregious time the Cards haven’t scored this year, but it’s just a symptom of the fact that, for as good as they were in those situations in 2013, they aren’t this year. They are hitting .234/.311/.351 with runners in scoring position and .229/.316/.359 when there are two outs and runners in scoring position, so at least in the raw numbers it doesn’t look like they are coming through when they need to.
Jack Flaherty started this game and, given how well he threw against Milwaukee, it was unsurprising he slipped back here. Four runs in four innings, though he did strike out five. It was probably good to get him out after only 75 pitches given the stress he went through working on a no-hitter the start before. It was also good to see Austin Gomber get more of an extended look rather than just the LOOGY-type outings that he’s been dealing with. Two innings and one earned run allowed isn’t stellar, but it’s not bad. Better to see Sam Tuivailala to go two innings and not allow a hit, though he did walk one.
If this was the only flaw in the last few days, you could swallow it and move on. It most certainly was not.
Friday (5-1 loss to Atlanta)
Hero: Miles Mikolas. He might have taken the loss, but that’s just because his offensive compatriots did absolutely nothing for him. Mikolas allowed his first run in the seventh inning (well, technically Austin Gomber allowed it when he relieved Mikolas and hit Ender Inciarte with the bases loaded, but it got charged to Mikolas). He didn’t strike out many and allowed seven hits, but was his characteristically solid self in walking just one and keeping folks off the scoreboard. Three of those seven hits came in his last frame, so he was pretty much cruising most of the evening.
Goat: So many options. You could talk about Jordan Hicks and how he allowed three (well, again, one of those scored after he left) runs to put the game out of reach. You could talk about Gomber hitting the only batter he faced–and Gomber would make for an interesting choice after throwing two innings two days before. I don’t know how much rest he should have gotten but going right to that well could be debated. There’s a reason the Cards claimed Tyler Webb from the Padres this weekend–they need some reliable left-handed help. I think, though, I’ll go with Jose Martinez, who went 0-4 and left three men on base.
Notes: Finding a starter that GOT a hit is a little harder chore. Nobody had more than one, so the four hits went to Matt Carpenter, Marcell Ozuna, Yadier Molina, and Harrison Bader, who had the only extra-base hit. Kolten Wong drove in the only run with a groundout in the ninth.
As for Hicks, it wasn’t a usage problem–he hadn’t pitched since Monday. He just didn’t have it, walking the first batter and hitting the second, both of which scored on a Johan Camargo double. Greg Holland came in and allowed a hit that plated the third run, but then struck out the next two batters. Again, Holland is looking like he’s going to be a guy you can bring in to protect leads, whether it be in the seventh or eighth. They just haven’t had a lot of those leads lately to protect.
Saturday (11-4 loss to Atlanta)
Hero: Harrison Bader. Two hits, including an RBI double in the four-run ninth that was the most meaningless crooked number put up in a long time. Bader also came around to score and, as we keep saying, was the only player to have multiple hits. Seriously, it’s hard to get much going if the hits are going to be spaced out like that.
Goat: Luke Weaver. So Saturday was a bit busy for me, as we had a reception at my house for our new pastor. By time everyone had gone, the game was starting but I still had to run a couple of different errands, so I listened to the game in the car and knew they were behind early, but when I finally sat down to start watching the game, I was still thinking it was 2-0, maybe 3-0. So imagine my surprise to see that it was now 8-0 and I had to wonder if I wanted to bother with the rest.
Weaver’s ERA on the season now stands at 5.16. Without his first three starts of the season that were very solid, that number is closer to six. You remember at one time we were trying to figure out how Alex Reyes was going to fit into this picture? Unfortunately, that’s not a discussion right now but if the club believes that Dakota Hudson is ready for prime time, bumping Weaver back to Memphis is not going to be the worst thing in the world. Over his last seven starts, Weaver’s ERA is 6.49 and he’s gone into the sixth twice, never finishing it. Batters are hitting .310/.383/.531 against him in that span.
If the club was already set on going nowhere this year, you could leave Weaver out there to take his lumps, to learn on the job, to continue to develop in the big leagues. If, however, you think this team can make a run at the playoffs, another arm is needed to take Weaver’s spot. Whether that comes from within (Hudson) or via trade, something needs to happen to give the club a chance and Weaver a break.
Notes: The bullpen was tolerable but not great, not that it mattered. John Brebbia allowed two runs in an inning and a third. Brett Cecil did fine and Austin Gomber, pitching in his third game in a row (though again, there was an off day in there and the Friday game was just a couple of pitches), put up a scoreless frame. Bud Norris pitched to get a little work in and allowed an unearned run when Tommy Pham, coming off an 0-3 day and striking out to end the eighth, misplayed a ground ball that put a runner on third instead of first.
Jose Martinez had a home run to break up the shutout in the ninth. I mean, it’s nice and not being shutout is always a positive thing, but when that makes it 11-1, it’s hard to get too excited.
Sunday (6-5 loss to Atlanta)
Hero: Tommy Pham. His three-run homer made a game out of what was feeling like another rote blah loss. It was his second hit of the day, breaking him out of that 0-29 slump he was going through. You kinda felt like something was going to happen soon but the question is, can he have an extended period of hitting or is he going to regress again? Also, you won’t believe this, but Pham was the only person with more than one hit.
Goat: Harrison Bader. As great as he was the night before, the pendulum swung back and he went 0-4 with three strikeouts and three left on. That’s kinda what happens with young players especially. It’s trying to find that consistency that always seems to be a problem in the early going. Like with Flaherty earlier–you expected a step back after such a great start before.
Notes: It was nice to see a five run inning and it did make things a little more interesting, but again you wonder how much of it was a function of the Braves being up 6-0 and already having won the series. When Peter Moylan came into the game and they flashed up his stats, you wondered why they’d bring him in and, if the game had been closer, they probably wouldn’t have. So where does the credit for the rally lie? It’s probably telling that after Pham’s homer, Jose Martinez singled but then the Cardinals didn’t get another runner on. Once it got close and better relievers were used, the bats quieted down again.
John Gant actually had a pretty good outing. He allowed one run in the first five innings before the Braves got to him in the sixth. Even then, it was a two-run blast by Freddie Freeman that did most of the damage and that’s a pretty good hitter right there. Mike Mayers came in and allowed an inherited runner to score and then allowed two of his own, giving some credence to the criticism Zach Gifford has been leveling at him. Jordan Hicks threw two innings, which in theory should keep him off the field Monday night, but you never really know how they’ll use him. With Holland being solid and Norris as well, you don’t have to go to Hicks all the time. Hopefully they’ll remember that.
All in all, this continues to look like that slightly-above-.500 team we’ve been talking about for quite some time and slightly-above-.500 isn’t a playoff contender, especially not if the Cubs are going to catch fire. We’ll see Tyler O’Neill in Arizona with Dexter Fowler going on the paternity list for three days, but that feels like a bit of a copout, a way of making a change without actually making a change. We’re into July now and it’s going to take a lot for this team really to make a run at October. Will John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch feel like this is a team that is worth investing in? That’s a real good question and the longer it takes to answer it, the more likely the answer will be no because there won’t be enough time to fix it.
Mozeliak was on the radio this morning and was sounding frustrated from all reports. I didn’t listen to it, but apparently there was some acknowledgement of the fan complaints about Fowler and his playing style. Whether that is folks reading into some of his comments or there really is a little disconnect between front office and player, I don’t know, but Mo has often gone on the record as saying he likes Fowler and made that trip to Vegas this winter to talk with him. If he is souring some on Fowler, you do wonder if a trade is more possible than we ever thought. Still feels like that’d have to be a winter move though.
I honestly can’t see that this team is worth investing in. We’ve said that the last couple of years and they’ve made runs even with minor tinkering only at the deadline, so maybe they could do something again, but it really feels like they are caught in between the now and the not yet. Not good enough to be a playoff team, not bad enough to really be able to start selling off stuff. They just….are. And that’s a terrible place for a team to be.
They try again late tonight in the desert, spending the holiday with the Diamondbacks as they face them for three games before heading to San Francisco for four. If you are up for it, the Cardinal Six for the series is waiting for you!