Nothing New Under the Sun

The Cardinals left St. Louis and wandered out into the desert to take on the Diamondbacks.  Unfortunately, they didn’t leave their up-and-down season behind them.  A win and a loss in the first two games of the series well mirrors the win a few, lose a few style that the 2018 club has seemingly perfected.  Let’s talk about them.

Monday (6-3 win)

Hero: Yadier Molina.  For the first game in quite a while, we had more than one hitter get more than one hit in the game, but Molina got the edge with his three RBI night.  His single in the first plated two and put the Cards on the board and his home run in the sixth added a little insurance.  For all the problems on this team this year, Molina has been a consistent rock.  Only twice this year has he had more than one hitless game in a row.  He had four in a row in the latter part of April and two in early June.  That’s it.  When Yadi’s starting, Yadi’s hitting.

Which is mind-boggling given his age, his usage, and that still-painful-to-think-about injury.  You’d think after almost a month off with that Molina might have been rusty, but he had seven hits in his first 10 games back (though the average was just .219) and has a .271/.340/.529 line since returning.  That slugging has six home runs and four doubles in it, which isn’t bad for a 26 game stretch (all of them but one a start).

When the season ends, we’re going to probably have a number of different opinions about who the MVP of the team was.  There shouldn’t be any discussion about who the rock was.

Goat: Marcell Ozuna.  While Ozuna may have fixed the major issues that were plaguing his offense, that doesn’t mean he’s immune to a slump or two.  Ozuna went 0-4 with two strikeouts and five left on base.  Since the end of the Cleveland series through Tuesday night’s game, Ozuna is hitting .105/.105/.105 in 19 plate appearances.  I still think five games is too short of a span to worry that something is desperately wrong, the sky is falling, everything has to be changed, but it’d be nice to see a little production out of him in short order.

Notes: Jedd Gyorko was one of the other multi-hit game of the night, following Yadi’s homer with a blast to the opposite side of the park.  Those two home runs made a big difference, because it’s better to face the Arizona lineup in the late innings up three rather than up one.  Gyorko’s three games in July have produced a .400 batting average, which is good because he’ll probably see some more time out there.  (It also helps offset the 0-13 he ended June with.)  We’ll talk a little bit more about that when we get into Jose Martinez as part of Tuesday’s game.

Yairo Munoz was our final multi-hitter, which was good to see.  Munoz is hitting .286 with a couple of doubles over his last five games and while that’s not going to keep Paul DeJong from claiming his spot when he returns this weekend (especially the way DeJong has been hitting during his rehab stint), it’s helpful to the cause.  The question is going to be whether the Cardinals want to keep him as a bench bat (and hope that he can produce in such a role) or if they want him playing regularly at Memphis.  I’m betting they’ll do the former, but I’m not sure how well irregular use will sit with Munoz’s performance.  He’s done enough in the bigs that a trip to Memphis would seem strange, though.

After a little bit of a shaky first inning, Carlos Martinez clicked and cruised the rest of the way.  I think you have to feel better about Martinez now that he’s had two starts where he looked much more like the guy we all expect and less like a guy that’s worried about throwing pitches.  It is just two starts, but when those starts are putting him back close to the form he had before his injury, I think you can start feeling a little better.

Pretty solid work out of the bullpen.  Mike Mayers had another good stint (and, if you are a subscriber to The Athletic, you can read a little bit about how he’s doing it from our friend Joe Schwarz) and Bud Norris locked it down with the save.  In the middle was Greg Holland, who wasn’t necessarily as sharp as we’ve seen him (though much sharper than the Holland we came to know before the hip impingement) and was victimized by an unearned run when Kolten Wong made an error trying to turn an inning-ending double play.  David Peralta followed with a single and the run scored.  It wasn’t a perfect inning, but Holland probably could have gotten out of it unscathed.

That win snapped the four game losing streak and got folks a little upbeat, as wins do.  The problem is, it never seems to last very long.

Tuesday (4-2 loss)

Hero: It’s tough to really pinpoint one, but we’ll go with Kolten Wong.  One for two plus a walk and he drove in the second run of the game with a hard-hit sacrifice fly that almost knuckled enough to get over the outfielder’s head.

Goat: There were a couple of choices here, but I’m going to go with Tommy Pham.  0-4 and, more notably, left four men on base.  Three of those came in the seventh, when the Cards were down by the 4-2 score with two outs.  A base hit there probably ties the game up, but unfortunately instead Pham rapped a grounder to third to end the frame.

Pham is 3-11 since breaking that ugly 29-AB hitless streak, but you look at the overall line and you wonder what happened to that MVP-caliber player that the Cardinals had last year.  With the holiday upon us, he’s hitting .245/.329/.411.  Last Fourth?  He went into that game carrying a .295/.388/.503 line.  He was even better (.959 OPS) from that point on so perhaps there is still hope for Pham’s season (and, even at this rate, it’s not a lost season like Dexter Fowler or Wong is experiencing).  There’s going to have to be if this team has any thought of putting some sort of run together.

Notes: Jack Flaherty probably would have gotten the Hero tag had the strike zone been a bit more friendly to him.  The first run he allowed came after a very questionable walk and Paul Goldschmidt‘s three-run homer followed (eventually) a leadoff double from Nick Ahmed when it appeared Ahmed should have struck out on the pitch before.  All in all, though, Flaherty looked top-notch.  Getting beat by Goldschmidt on a wall-scraping home run isn’t something to hang your head over.  Unfortunately, it was the deciding factor, but other than that it was a very sharp game for Flaherty.  He struck out seven and allowed just four hits, though of course he wound up hitting Jon Jay before Goldschmidt’s blast.  (Surprisingly, it was on Jay’s foot, not his rump.)

Jose Martinez started this game in right field and got a hit in his four at bats.  It seemed like a lot was being made of this for the fact that Martinez has always been an outfielder until this year.  That said, I put this tweet out there during the game that received mixed reception:

Many folks pointed out that the club needs all the offense that it can get, that nobody else has stepped up in that spot, and his defense shouldn’t be that bad out in right.  All good points!  Right now (I need to update the totals), Martinez leads my Heroes list with 10 tags.  You could argue where this team would be without him and it’s a solid discussion.

That said, it’s not like the Cardinals are tearing it up with him in the lineup.  It’s also interesting to note that in his last 15 games, he’s hitting .200/.254/.382.  Slumps will turn around and I’m not saying that he’s done or anything like that, but I think sometimes we think he’s just churning out the offense when he’s about as much of a roller coaster as this team is.  For instance, I know this doesn’t mean much nor is it a true rolling-average chart like Zach Gifford and the like would roll out, but here’s Martinez’s OPS in 15-game chunks.

Games OPS
1-15 1.046
16-30 .617
31-45 .918
46-60 1.068
61-75 .722

Then there’s the last three games where he has a .444 mark.  Again, I don’t know that it tells us anything but it does show that he’s not necessarily this hitting machine that carries this team.  He can for a while, but it’s not going to last an extended period of time.

There was a school of thought that Martinez in the outfield and Jedd Gyorko playing at third regularly gives the offense a kick while improving the defense.  It well might.  Maybe the regular play will help Gyroko’s numbers, numbers that are down somewhat from last year.  However, Gyorko’s not likely to improve the “home run or bust” aspect of this lineup.  Which, hey, getting more home runs is good!  But I don’t know that the overall offense is going to be that much better.

Plus there’s the idea that Gyorko tends to wear down as he plays, that the last couple of years he’s struggled at the end of the season.  I’m not sure I completely am on that train–last year, for instance, Gyorko was dealing with an injury–but it is something to keep in mind.  At the beginning of the year, this Gyorko-as-super-sub idea seemed to be the most popular one.  Now, many want him in there every day.

Playing time is also an issue as well.  If we want Martinez out there as much as he’s been while playing first, he’s going to play basically every day.  Which means at least, you’d think, five of every seven games, probably more.  What does that mean for the other folks that are supposed to be out there?  We know the Dexter Fowler situation is a mess right now, but assuming the Cardinals don’t want to eat 90% of his contract to trade him (which may not be a fair assumption), he needs to play some to see if he can recapture anything.  Harrison Bader could spell Tommy Pham some in center, but that won’t add much to his playing time.  Tyler O’Neill probably returns to Memphis but it’s hard to imagine he has a lot to prove there.

I’ve been wrong about Martinez a lot in my writing career.  I wondered why the Cardinals kept him on the 40-man the year after his first callup.  Sure, he had a nice few games, but they need that spot!  Obviously, I was very wrong and they knew much more than I did about what Jose Martinez brought to the table.  Depending on the moves, the team might get worse if they moved Martinez, I’ll acknowledge that as well.  I just think that Martinez is one of the few people that has some value, especially to an American League team, and if you are going to start shaking up this roster, that’s a fine place to start.

We’re past the halfway point and the Cardinals are 6 1/2 games behind the Brewers.  They are 3 1/2 out of the last wild card, behind the Dodgers and the Giants trying to catch the Cubs or Phillies.  Do you really think this team, as it is constructed, can put together any sort of run and be relevant to the race in September?  It’s really hard to see that for me.  Obviously, things happen, but it’s going to take something and if it’s moving Martinez to let Bader play and develop, then so be it.

Cardinals send out Miles Mikolas to try to get the series win tonight.  It’d be nice to have that under their belt, wouldn’t it?  Enjoy the fireworks outside and hopefully some from the Cardinals in the game!

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