This team, man. This team.
If you plucked one of us from the timestream from around April or May and dropped us in the middle of this week, I imagine we’d think that you’d taken us years into the future. Not only are the faces significantly different but the energy, the excitement, the expectations around this squad were unfathomable a couple of months ago. A team that had no realistic thoughts of October baseball now sits two games out of the wild card–either wild card at the moment–and five games out of the division lead.
We’ve got four games to recap and they show the various ways that this team can go about their business. We’ve got a shutout and a slugfest. We’ve got early scoring and late comebacks. What they all have in common–the Cardinals wound up on top and now have won six in a row. It’s serious.
Friday (7-0 win at Kansas City)
Hero: A few options but let’s go with Harrison Bader, who had two hits including a home run, scored two runs, and drove in two runs. Pretty solid work for a guy at the bottom of the order due to that American League abomination they call a DH. (Look, just because the Cardinals were able to exploit it this weekend still doesn’t mean it is a good idea.)
Goat: Rough night for Marcell Ozuna. While the rest of the offense was going pretty well, Ozuna went 0-5 with two strikeouts and left six men on base.
Notes: It’s hard to know just how much credit to give him, given that the Royals are a pretty bad team, but Austin Gomber threw five shutout innings and that has to count for something. He allowed only four hits and a walk and struck out three. With the low strikeout total, it’s possible that some of the advanced metrics were less favorable to him than the line indicated, but it was a solid outing for Gomber, who may be in the rotation the rest of the year after Monday’s news on Carlos Martinez. More on that in a bit.
While we are talking about the pitching, good work from Chasen Shreve and Daniel Poncedeleon to wrap this one up. Poncedeleon even got his first major league save by covering the last three innings and not allowing a run, though he did walk three and allow two hits. He spaced them out well, though, and got the outs when he needed them to keep the shutout intact.
Offensively, Jose Martinez, using that DH spot, got three hits and drove in two. Matt Carpenter hit a rare homer–not that the homer is rare, given that he leads the league, but more the fact that there was someone on when he did it. His two-run blast contributed to the five-run second that pretty much told you how this game was going to turn out very early. Yadier Molina had two doubles in three at-bats before Francisco Pena was allowed to play for only the second time this month and only the fourth time since Mike Shildt took over. He’s now 1 for 1 in August and the way Molina is going at it, that might how he finishes August as well.
Paul DeJong only had one hit, but it was a home run in the second inning that started the scoring. As we’ll talk about later, DeJong’s power is starting to come around–apparently with an assist from Bader.
Saturday (8-3 win at Kansas City)
Hero: The best line of the night came from Jose Martinez, but that’s in part because of his two-run homer in the ninth that was just a little extra icing on the cake. We’ll go with Jack Flaherty here, since he threw seven strong innings and struck out nine. His only stumble was allowing a two-run homer to Alcides Escobar, but he had a four run lead at the time and only allowed two more hits. Miles Mikolas is having the best season, but if you were to pick a potential ace out of the current rotation, Flaherty would have to be your man.
Goat: While he did draw a walk, which differentiated him from Kolten Wong and Adolis Garcia who also went hitless, we’re giving the Goat to Matt Carpenter not only because of our “leadoff hitter breaks ties” rule but also because he had an error on the night, the only one the Cardinals made. While defense was starting to become a priority before the managerial change, it has really been cleaned up under Shildt to the point where we are surprised by errors now rather than expecting them.
Notes: Five players had two hits in this one and it’s not even that remarkable. It wasn’t that long ago you were lucky to get more than one. Something has been unlocked on this offense and it’s not going to necessarily remind you of the ’27 Yankees (man, in a few years we are going to have to put a 19 in front of that, aren’t we?) but it’s a consistent offense that is getting contributions from just about everyone. This is going to make it sound like I’m pinning an issue on one person, which I’m not because I think the numbers were coming around before this, but the Cardinals are 8-1 and hitting .302/.365/.512 since Dexter Fowler went on the disabled list. Again, that’s not really the cause–it’s not like we got a lot of Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader together, though it has allowed for Martinez to play a bit more–but sometimes a drain is clogged by one small thing in the wrong spot. I think there are a lot of reasons things are going better now, but not having Fowler continuing to try to figure it out in the middle of rallies could be part of it.
Marcell Ozuna was one of those with two hits, including a rare (for the Cardinals) triple. The Cardinals have seven of those on the season. Six players in baseball have seven or more triples on their own. The Cards are three behind the Orioles for last place in the category. I don’t think that means a lot–triples are a bit of a fluke depending on who hits them, how the defense plays the ball, and what ballpark they are being hit in–and I don’t think I’d trade their standing in home runs (9th overall) for those, but you can’t deny triples are pretty exciting. I honestly thought Ozuna was out trying for third here, but replays showed a heads-up slide avoided the tag. I have to say, I do like Ozuna and I hope that he can have that big year next year that we thought he’d have this season.
Dakota Hudson ran into some trouble and Jordan Hicks had to bail him out, but the two combined for two innings of one-run ball and even that run probably doesn’t score if Hudson doesn’t throw a wild pitch. Relievers are going to be fickle anyway and young ones even more so but so far the Cards have avoided most of the bad. If this is the worst it gets, we’ll take it!
Sunday (8-2 win at Kansas City)
Hero: Patrick Wisdom. I don’t know how many opportunities Wisdom is going to have in the big leagues. There are some 40-man spots that are going to be needed, especially soon with Dominic Leone already partway through his rehab, and Wisdom could be an easy way to find those spots. No matter how much he plays in St. Louis or in the majors at all, nobody can take away his debut and he made sure it was one to remember. His first hit was a dribbler but he came around to score the first run. His second time up was with the bases loaded and he drove in the tying run with his second hit, then came around to score on a Yadier Molina single. He did have a strikeout and he did make an error in the first that led to the Royals taking a 1-0 lead, but other than that it was a stellar outing for a guy that never was sure he’d get here.
Goat: Man, nobody really stands out here. The pitching was good, the offense was consistent. Harrison Bader went 0-2 but drew a walk and threw one guy out at home and almost had another right before that. I guess I’ll go with Matt Carpenter, who went 1-4 and struck out twice, leaving four men on. Again, not all Goats are created equal.
Notes: Since Luke Weaver had trouble dealing with an aluminum container, Tyson Ross made an emergency start for his first Cardinal appearance and did a remarkably fine job. Yes, he was going against the Royals so maybe you factor that in, but two runs over six innings is solid work no matter who you are facing. We’ll see how he does going forward, but right now Ross has had a better impact on his team than Chris Archer has had on his, if you want to be trollish about it. I would like to see if Joe Schwarz saw anything different in Ross in this one versus his time in San Diego earlier this year, perhaps indicating that Mike Maddux was working with him, but Joe was too obsessed with men hitting stationary balls this weekend to focus on men not hitting moving ones.
Let’s talk about the end of the game, which after Paul DeJong hit a home run in the top of the ninth was the only drama left. The Cardinals had been hit four times in this one. Now, one of those was a ball that clipped Bader’s jersey which hardly counts but another was Wily Cabrera, a man that hadn’t hit a batter all year long, putting a 97-mph fastball in an MVP candidate’s ribs. I have no idea if it was intentional, but given Carpenter’s hot hitting, Cabrera’s usual control, and that the ball wasn’t anywhere close to the zone, you could well make the case that it was, especially since it was the last of the four plunkings. If nothing else, that might have been a good time for a warning. However, the umpires let it go, which is fine as well. Unless you can really determine intent, I’m for erring on the side of the ball getting away from a pitcher.
The umpires, however, did not extend the same courtesy to the Cardinals. With the six run cushion, Mike Shildt turned to Tyler Webb to finish off the inning. Webb got the first two batters, then ran the count to 1-2 to Jorge Bonifacio. The fourth pitch caught Bonifacio in the back after he turned away from it. It wasn’t overt and it could have easily been passed off as a ball that got away, even more so than Cabrera’s earlier. If you want to warn the teams there, fine. However, we got an #umpshow and Webb was tossed out of the game. No warning, no hesitation.
Now, again, if your thought is that any intentional plunking deserves a running, then that’s fine. I completely get that. However, under that scenario, you probably should have run Cabrera. Intent is tough to determine and at least with just one strike away from the game being over, you could make the argument that he didn’t want to prolong the game and the ball got away. It felt like the place where a warning should be issued. Instead, Bud Norris had to come in and strike out Hunter Dozier on five pitches to end it. Norris was already warm, which is why they went to him, and we’ll talk about if that turned into an issue for Monday in a bit.
Monday (7-6 win against Washington)
Hero: Too many to count, so many that it is hard to narrow it down. I wanted to give it to Dakota Hudson for coming into a tie game with runners on the corners and getting out of it with the game still tied. I could easily give it to Matt Carpenter, who did the whole MVP thing by smashing a three-run, go-ahead home run in the eighth inning. Maybe even Jose Martinez with a four-hit night, even though he didn’t get any RBI or runs scored. However, as important as all those were, I’m going with Paul DeJong. Now, you might say that’s the easy pick because he hit the walkoff home run, and that’s completely fair. But what pushed him over the top of Hudson and Carpenter especially was combining the home run with the diving stop on Bryce Harper‘s smash with runners on the corners in the eighth, starting a double play and keeping it at 4-2 and allowing for the big rally to take the lead.
Jen Langosch passes along the story that Harrison Bader got into a conversation with DeJong and they started figuring out some issues the shortstop was having. Since that chat, DeJong has a hit in each game (which, to be fair, he also did when he came off the DL for a stretch) and has four home runs in those six games (yeah, that’s different). His OPS is 1.142 in that almost week’s worth of games. Apparently Bader’s value to the team goes beyond amazing defense and great hair.
Goat: While there were plenty of Heroes, there’s really only one Goat. I don’t believe that the extra work on Sunday was a problem for Bud Norris. He had already been getting warm, so throwing the five pitches or so in game probably didn’t noticeably wear on him. Before Sunday, he hadn’t pitched since Tuesday, so he was well rested. Every closer has one of those days where nothing is going to go right and, unfortunately given the circumstances, last night was his night.
Shildt did stay with him a bit longer than expected, but I’m not sure exactly when Hudson started warming up and, given that he’s a starter by trade, it might be that he’s not quite used to the “get ready in a hurry” nature that the bullpen sometimes requires. So far, I think Hudson has come in to start innings and as such as been able to get ready on his schedule. I will say when Norris got Matt Adams to pop out for the first out, I thought Norris was going to settle in and get the job done. Instead, two base hits followed and the game was tied. Maybe Shildt could have gotten someone ready sooner but it’s not like this was Greg Holland who has been shaky all year. There’s no particular reason to think that, when Norris walked out there in the ninth, there was going to be anything but a quick inning and a solid win. You can say he made the move a batter too late, but given all the circumstances, Shildt has earned enough good will with me to make me believe that it was more the situation rather than a philosophy.
Notes: This was just a remarkable game. I’d say it’s one that could spark a team but 1) this team feels already sparked and 2) we know how momentum has worked in the past for this squad. Besides that, they are now on a six game winning streak and while obviously longer streaks happen, it’s also getting into that air where streaks usually die. A loss today, if it happens, shouldn’t be taken as a “can’t keep momentum” trope as it would have been a couple of months ago. Of course, a couple of months ago they hadn’t won eight of 10 or 17 of 25 either. I think they have their momentum, they don’t need to find any.
Miles Mikolas got burned by Juan Soto–and that group of people is going to continue to get larger and larger–but overall had another one of his good outings. Four runs is a little high for him, but he went seven frames and allowed just four hits. Two of them were home runs, Soto and Harper, which made them hurt a little more but it still was a pretty good outing for the current ace of the staff, which is amazing and mind-boggling to say, isn’t it?
Lost in all of the excitement is the fact that Jedd Gyorko homered to lead off the eighth, which thankfully didn’t kill the rally. You also saw Shildt pull some strings and pinch-hit for the pinch-hitter, sending up Patrick Wisdom for Greg Garcia after a pitching change. That paid off handsomely as Wisdom singled, putting two on for Carpenter’s “MVP moment” as DeJong termed it at the time.
So much win in this run. Even if it stops tonight, it’s been remarkable and it has the Cardinals in serious playoff contention, five back of the Cubs (it would be four if it wasn’t for that blasted walk-off slam, but as we saw you can’t expect much out of the Nationals bullpen) and two back of both Milwaukee and Philadelphia, who are tied for the two wild card spots. There is still a lot of work to do, but they’ve filled in a lot of the hole they were in and now, if they can take care of business at a reasonable rate, they very well may be playing in October.
If they are playing when other teams have gone home, they’ll be doing it without Carlos Martinez in the rotation. The Cardinals announced yesterday that they are prepping Martinez to be a reliever for the rest of the season, though he’ll be back on a starter program by spring training. From the official accounts, there isn’t quite enough time to build up his stamina to be a starter but they can get him back quicker as a reliever. Michael Wacha will still be on the starter track, but it seems like he’s much closer to a rehab assignment than Martinez is. In fact, I believe Wacha starts his later this week or beginning of next.
Given that we thought Martinez might be shut down for the entire year given his injuries and their reoccurrence, this is probably a good way to have your cake and eat it too, though we’ll see how well Martinez’s body takes to being back on the mound. Another point was brought up in Derrick Goold’s chat, as DG mentions that as a reliever, Martinez is going to have to be prepared to go every day. Given that it’s been reported by Goold and other that at least once this season, if not multiple times, the Cardinals were starting to prepare an emergency starter because Martinez was not at the ballpark when he was supposed to be, there might be something to that. There’s been a lot surrounding Martinez this season, both on the field and off, officially and just rumor, and perhaps having him prepping every day to play won’t be a bad thing.
However, it does mean that you are relying on a return to health and form from Michael Wacha or you are going into the postseason with a rotation making their first appearances in October and a bullpen that’s much of the same. That doesn’t mean a postseason rotation of Mikolas, Flaherty, Gomber, and Weaver (or however you structure it) wouldn’t work, but there is something to at least knowing what the pressure of the playoffs is like.
That’s still a long way off, though. Hopefully we’ll have plenty of time to talk about later on. Tonight, the Cards go for seventh heaven as John Gant takes on Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a guy that has been able to shut down the Cards in the past and he’s coming off a great game against Atlanta, but I saw some numbers (can’t find them now) that showed that in the small sample, the Cards have hit lefties much better under Shildt than they did beforehand. Plus Gonzalez gave up six runs to the Reds the time before, so who knows what we’ll see? The only thing we can be certain of is that you better watch until the end because this team never feels out of a game!