Cardinals Imitate Luke Skywalker, Destroy Pirates

I feel like setting this up is fairly unnecessary, but then again Tara Wellman, noted non-Star Warsian, might read this and I’d hate for her to be confused. In Return of the Jedi, after destroying Jabba the Hutt’s Rancor monster, all of our heroes are loaded onto a skiff and sent out to the Pit of Carkoon, in which lives the Sarlacc monster.  Jabba’s Weequay thugs then line up Luke Skywalker to be first to walk the plank, but he has something different in mind, turning a defeat into a rout.

That’s a bit like the situation the Cardinals found themselves in recently. Put on the skiff by losing two of three to the Tigers, Monday saw them pushed out on the plank, only to survive with a thrilling move (I’m sure you can picture Matt Adams doing that Jedi flip) and then the rout was on Tuesday.  Suddenly, with a little help from their Reds friends, St. Louis finds themselves three games up for the last wild card spot, a game and a half away from hosting the wild card game, and a still-quite-unlikely-but-not-entirely-impossible 3.5 games from the division lead.  At worst, it feels like that if the Cards can split the upcoming four gamer with the Dodgers they’ll be two games up on those guys with 12 to play, which is a fairly nice place to be.

Before we look ahead to exploding any sail barges, let’s take a look back at the last couple of games, one dramatic, one almost comedic.

Monday (8-7 win)

Hero: Matt Adams.  There’d been some criticism–and fairly so–of Adams’s second tenure in St. Louis.  After all, before this series he was five for 32 in a Cardinal uniform and much of his damage (two of his hits, all his extra-base hits, and all of his RBI) came in one game against the Nationals.  It looked like more of the same on Monday, even as Mike Shildt hit him third as he did in that Washington game.  Adams was 0-3 going into his last at-bat in the eighth.  Matt Carpenter walked in front of him and Jose Martinez singled, bringing up Adams in a game the Cards trailed by two.  Edgar Santana had started the inning for Pittsburgh and Clint Hurdle left him in there.  It worked out OK for St. Louis.

This is why the Cardinals brought back Matt Adams.  Whether it is pinch-hitting or late in games, Adams has a history of rising to the occasion and this certainly counted.

Goat: It’s a bit of a toss-up here between a couple of relievers.  I’m going to go with Dominic Leone, because at least with the home run Chasen Shreve gave up, you could chalk it up to one bad pitch if you wanted.  Leone came in with two outs and nobody on and proceeded to allow a single to Jordy Mercer, walked Kevin Kramer, and an RBI single to Adam Frazier.  It’s hard to say that was just some bad luck or a missed pitch.  Leone seems to be so hit-or-miss,  He had four scoreless outings after returning from the DL, then gave up three to Washington before having an almost-clean inning last time in Detroit.

Notes: Before we leave that discussion, we probably should talk about Shreve.  Rusty wrote about how he could improve when he left Yankee Stadium.  He has been somewhat better–his ERA is about 50 points lower, for whatever reliever ERA is worth–and he does strike out a batter an inning.  However, he’s allowed three homers in 10.1 Cardinal frames, which is even a higher rate than he did in New York (eight in 38 IP).  I don’t know what his splits are just as a Cardinal, but lefties have gotten five of the 11 homers he’s allowed this season and their OPS is 100 points higher than righties.  There’s a reason Rusty was talking about Tommy Layne yesterday.

Going into the evening, the big story was the return of Adam Wainwright.  That’s not a story that has really settled down in the wake of his start, either.  Wainwright came out firing, throwing hard and getting through the first with only a two-out single by Josh Bell.  Wainwright allowed a homer in the second on an 85 mph pitch left solidly in the zone, then the wheels shimmied in the third.  A single, a lineout, then Starling Marte homered, making it 3-0.  The next three batters singled, plating another run, before Wainwright got a pop out and a ground out to stop the bleeding.

Interestingly enough, Wainwright went back out there for the fourth and had a perfect frame, then the Cards tied it up in the bottom with RBI from Marcell Ozuna, Paul DeJong, and Harrison Bader.  With his spot not coming up before the third out, Mike Shildt sent Wainwright back out there for the fifth.  (I wasn’t online right at the time, but I assume Mike Matheny‘s name was taken in vain right about then.)  Wainwright justified that faith by getting three groundouts.

So it seems like there are really two camps on the Wainwright start.  On the one hand, you look at four runs in five innings coupled with declining velocity throughout the game and you wonder if he didn’t get a little lucky not to be beaten around more than he was.  On the other hand, he was still reaching 89 in the fifth and the velocity drop is probably less than it appears since he was overly amped for the first inning, plus he had one bad inning and ended the start on eight straight batters being retired.

The Cards have already announced that Wainwright will make the start on Sunday, which I think has less to do with sentimentality (although there’s probably some of that in the decision as well) than it does with the state of the bullpen and the various arms that need to be refreshed down there.  If Wainwright can even go three solid innings before stumbling, you can hopefully turn it over to Tyson Ross or Luke Weaver and get through much of the rest of the game while preserving some of the other arms.

The thing is, Shildt’s got to have a faster leash.  The Cardinals were fortunate to rally against Trevor Williams and perhaps, if Wainwright had allowed another hit, he’d have been pulled.  I’m just surprised he left him out there in the aftermath of the Marte homer.  That extra run could have been a big deal.  I’m very glad it wasn’t, of course, and I loved seeing Cardinal legend Adam Wainwright out there on the mound again.  Every time could be the last time from now on, so we should savor these moments if we can.  However, the club can’t put a farewell tour for Uncle Charlie ahead of the playoff race.  If they can do both, though, so much the better.

Fairly good night overall.  Carlos Martinez made it interesting in the ninth because he’s a closer now and that’s what closers do, but thankfully the Cardinals tacked on another run after the Adams homer and he had a cushion to play with.  Tyler Webb and John Brebbia combined for two scoreless innings that allowed the Cardinals to climb back into it after Shreve and Leone had ruined the tie.

Carson Kelly got the start as Yadier Molina must have been at least partially dead not to be out there to catch Wainwright.  Kelly went 0-4 and apparently we’re going to alternate catchers for a time as Francisco Pena got the start on Tuesday, with Kelly likely getting it for today’s afternoon affair.

Tuesday (11-5 win)

Hero: Miles Mikolas.  The extra day off must have help Mikolas, who went over 100 pitches in back-to-back starts for the first time in his career.  He did so pretty effortlessly as well, going seven innings and allowing just five hits and a run while striking out seven.  Most of that time he had to pitch with a slim lead, as the Cardinals got him two in the first and then were quiet again until the sixth.  Mikolas made it stand up, though, and even without much of the extra insurance that came, this one felt like a Cardinal winner.

Goat: Luke Weaver.  Ironic to make Luke the Goat after we set up the whole post with a little Skywalker, but there’s really no other option.  Luke.  Buddy.  Pal.  When you are given a 10 run lead and all you need to do is get three outs, you shouldn’t wind up needing to be relieved to make sure things don’t completely blow up.  I honestly didn’t watch the ninth, foolishly thinking ten was enough, but it doesn’t look like Pittsburgh was terribly fooled by anything he threw up there.  Back-to-back doubles after one out plated the first run, then after he got Colin Moran to ground out for the second out, he allowed a single-double-walk-double combo that brought John Brebbia into the game with runners on second and third.  Thankfully it took Brebbia just one pitch to end the inning, but that was really not what you wanted to see out of Weaver.

Then again, it’s tough to know how to evaluate Weaver or really what to expect.  He hadn’t pitched since September 2 when he started against the Reds and went just four innings.  His ERA since August 1 is 5.57 but he’s bounced between rotation and relief.  There’s no doubt he’s got talent but it’s hard to know how well it is going to translate.  Seeing what they do with Weaver this offseason is going to be a really interesting thing to watch.

Notes: Eleven runs for the Redbirds but only 11 hits and only three extra base hits.  Marcell Ozuna doubled in the first to give Mikolas that 2-0 lead, Tyler O’Neill stroked a three-run blast to make it 9-1 in the eighth, and Adolis Garcia painted the line (and got a little help from a fan) two batters later.  It helped that the club also drew six walks, but at one time 14 straight Cardinals were retired.  There’s something to be said for clumping up your offense, right?

Matt Carpenter had a hit and two walks and then was pinch-run for in the seventh with Yairo Munoz.  That was an interesting call given that the game was just 4-1 at the time.  I didn’t read any of the game stories this morning to determine if there was any physical reason and, obviously, the Cards didn’t need him the rest of the way.  It might have been a defensive move, but I’m not sure that Munoz is much better at third than Carpenter and that’s not something that Shildt has done regularly–not like removing Jose Martinez or even Marcell Ozuna if there is going to be a play at the plate.  Just a bit curious.

Another tough night for Harrison Bader.  He drew a walk and scored but also struck out three times.  He’s had five multi-strikeout games in September and is hitting .200 over that stretch.  You wonder if he’s feeling the effects of a longer season and the effort he gave out in August as the club made their run.  It’s not really affected his defense, I don’t believe, and maybe he’ll get a bit of a bounce offensively with the last push coming up.

As we noted above, with Chicago holding off Milwaukee last night and Luis Castillo pitching against the Dodgers like he did against the Cardinals, St. Louis is in good playoff shape going into this afternoon’s game with Pittsburgh.  If they can win this one, they will be at least three up on LA before they come to town, putting the pressure on the Dodgers to do more than just split the series.  I’m all for putting pressure on the Dodgers, what about you?

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Brewers9667.589 -
Cubs9568.5831.0
Cardinals8874.5437.5
Pirates8279.50913.0
Reds6795.41428.5

Last updated: 10/01/2018

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