It probably wasn’t overstatement to say that the Cardinals’ season really hung on a thread last night. Losers of four straight, including three to their nearest competitor in the wild card race, St. Louis had fallen out of the playoff spot they’d occupied for so long and another loss would have them even further behind the Dodgers, who actually had leapfrogged Colorado and moved into the NL West driver’s seat, so focus would need to shift to those boys in purple. No matter who they were chasing, they were chasing, and they needed to start moving forward.
It was a good time for a visit from old Uncle Charlie.
Before we get into last night’s game, though, we have a lot of losses to discuss. We’d hate to leave any game out so let’s plug through them.
Wednesday (4-3 loss to Pittsburgh)
Hero: Patrick Wisdom. There wasn’t necessarily a lot to choose from in this game, as the offense was muted and the pitching was just OK, so we’ll go with Wisdom, who singled as a pinch-hitter in the ninth and brought in one run and left runners on the corners with one out. A hit by Paul DeJong or Matt Carpenter and the game is at least tied. DeJong could have even hit a fly ball to get to that result. Obviously, neither of those happened but it was great that the rookie put them in a good situation.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. Part of the reason the Cardinals have struggled more in September is the fact the salsa is wearing off. (I can’t help to think of Major League II, when Rick Vaughn goes big-time but struggles to be effective when you see Carpenter’s salsa at the local grocery store in the middle of his slump.) After Sunday’s game, Carpenter is hitting .192 for the month of September with two doubles being his only extra-base hits. The MVP talk certainly is quieter these days, isn’t it? In this one, Carpenter left six on, including taking strike three in the ninth when a base hit, given Wisdom’s steal of second, probably would have won the game. Twice earlier in the game he came up with a runner in scoring position and nobody out and failed to even advance them. Carpenter’s season is likely going to be defined as a scorching-hot middle sandwiched between two ice-cold buns, which sounds like a Hot Pocket to me.
Notes: Daniel Poncedeleon gave up just two runs in five innings and struck out seven, a solid start that deserved a better result. Poncedeleon also had his first hit, which actually was a leadoff triple in the third, but Carpenter lined out, Tyler O’Neill popped out, and Matt Adams flied out. When you are looking for signs that it’s not your day, that’s a huge neon one.
Mike Mayers made his first appearance since coming off the disabled list so we’ll chalk this up to a little rust but he allowed two runs in less than an inning, taking the game from 2-1 to 4-1 and putting the club in a hole it never was able to fully climb out of. The rest of the bullpen did a fine job, with Dominic Leone, Brett Cecil, and Chasen Shreve combining on three scoreless innings.
The Cardinals only had seven hits, with one of those by the pitcher and one of those by a pinch-hitter. Marcell Ozuna drove in a run in the first inning to give the Cards a brief lead, continuing his September production. The bases-loaded situations continue to find Jose Martinez, who pinch-hit for Adams with the bags full in the eighth with one out. He also continued not to be overly strong in them (for the season he’s 0-10 with two walks with the bases juiced) by grounding out, though he did bring a run in so it wasn’t completely wasted.
The loss coupled with the Dodgers win meant the Cardinals went into this big series with Los Angeles up two games. A split would have them up two games with 12 to play and that was reasonable, right? Right?
Thursday (9-7 loss to Los Angeles)
Hero: Marcell Ozuna. Two hits and two RBI in this one as the offense came around, just not soon enough. Ozuna had a groundout in the first that got the first run on the board and then had a bases-loaded single in the fifth as the Cardinals tried to claw their way back against Clayton Kershaw.
Goat: Austin Gomber. Oh, what could have been had Gomber not put the Cardinals in a huge hole early in this one. David Freese, in that unfamiliar blue (though I guess we definitely are used to seeing him in other teams’ colors by now, huh?) and batting cleanup tripled in two runs in the first inning and scored on a base hit from Matt Kemp. Gomber had a scoreless second and was touched for only one run, off a Manny Machado double, in the third. Gomber couldn’t get an out in the fourth, giving up three straight singles to the bottom of the order, capped off by a Kershaw flare that brought in the fifth run. Tyson Ross gave up a double and a sacrifice fly that closed the book on Gomber and it looked like the game was over. At this rate, Joe Schwarz is going to disown him again as his favorite pitcher.
Notes: While Ross did allow his inherited runners to score and then gave up a run of his own, he wound up throwing two more scoreless frames after that as he kept things in check, plus he cranked his first homer of the year and the second of his career off of Kershaw in the fifth. (And far from being a rally killer, it was a rally starter!) I continue to be impressed with what Ross has brought to the table. It’s solid, unassuming work. Reminds me some of Carlos Villanueva when he was with St. Louis. Whatever the role, he’s going to go out there and do a good job, even if it’s not spectacular. While I understand they probably won’t go that way (and history does show Villanueva was terrible the year after he left St. Louis, the last of his career), it wouldn’t bother me if they brought Ross back for a similar type of role next season.
You have to give the Cardinals a lot of credit here. Moral victories don’t show up in the standings and that doesn’t mitigate the frustration of losing, but down 7-1 to Kershaw and you could have easily understood them packing it up and trying again tomorrow. Instead, they wind up continuing to claw back and, for the second straight day, had a chance to win in the ninth. The first two batters reached, Jedd Gyorko hit a ball that Machado threw away trying for a double play, and suddenly the tying run came to the plate in the form of Matt Adams. Adams grounded out, but even to get to that spot was something. I hoped it set a tone for a solid, scrappy series. I was wrong.
Matt Carpenter did have two hits in this one, as did Yairo Munoz. The Cardinals got 12 base hits and four runs, which would have done them pretty well in most games. Of course, you also wonder if they’d have gotten some of those hits and opportunities if they hadn’t been down six, but you take what you can get.
Friday (3-0 loss to Los Angeles)
Hero: Jack Flaherty. He wasn’t able to pick up the win, but he threw six innings, gave up one earned run, and struck out eight. Flaherty’s got to work on being able to go deeper into games, but really there wasn’t much more you could ask from him on this one. He only walked two and allowed four hits, but one of them started Yaisel Puig’s reign of terror and that was the only run he allowed.
Goat: There were plenty to choose from, but our general rule is that the tie goes to the leadoff guy, so Matt Carpenter gets it again. 0-4 with three strikeouts isn’t really going to get an offense going.
Notes: Let’s be clear up front–Walker Buehler is very, very good. He’s dominated the Cardinals both times he’s seen them and has an ERA under 3.00 for the season. For as excited as we are about Flaherty, Dodger fans are to be that revved up for Buehler. So losing to the top two pitchers in the Dodger rotation isn’t something to be terribly ashamed of. They could have done a little more in the Kershaw game but here, they ran into a buzzsaw. Nine strikeouts in eight innings and I was a little surprised he didn’t take the ninth. Tip your cap and move on, really. Two hits and two walks shows that nothing really was happening against Buehler.
Saturday (17-4 loss to Los Angeles)
Hero: Patrick Wisdom. His grand slam was literally the only thing that was interesting about this game. It was a great moment that erased a three-run Dodger lead with one stroke and gave the Cardinals a ton of momentum and excitement…which was gone the next half-inning. Yeah.
Goat: Pick you a pitcher you like for this spot and as long as it’s not Chasen Shreve (and even then, he allowed an inherited runner to score) you probably are making a right choice. The starter is going to get the focus, though, and so I’ll go with John Gant. The early three runs were bad enough, but following up Wisdom’s slam with letting three of the next four batters reach takes all the excitement in the stadium and smothers it with a wet blanket. Tyler Webb and Mike Mayers might have been the ones that allowed the runs to actually score, but Gant put them on and didn’t leave the club in a good spot.
Notes: Honestly, what do you say here? My pastor might have put it best when he said to me yesterday, “Did a football game break out in the middle of this?” Yaisel Puig hit three home runs, making it five in two games. The Cardinals got a total of five hits and the three runners on when Wisdom hit his slam were via walks. There’s no real excuse for being dominated by Rich Hill (who isn’t a bad pitcher, but shouldn’t be pitching like Buehler or anything) and the Dodger bullpen.
The season of Luke Weaver continues to disintegrate. Weaver had such a good spring and while he stumbled out of the gate, he’s had some really good stretches during the season. However, since the All-Star Break, batters are hitting .340 against him. They have an OPS just under 1.000. Here, he allowed seven runs (just three earned, but I don’t know that really is a great mitigator) in 2.1 innings, pitching garbage time because, well, someone has to do it and right now it’s tough to trust Weaver with anything else. It has to be tough for the young man to be going through this and it’ll be interesting to see what he develops over the off season that helps him get back to the levels we were hoping for next year.
Sunday (5-0 win over Los Angeles)
Hero: Adam Wainwright. After his start against Pittsburgh, there was a ton of griping and moaning about Wainwright getting another start. Some of that is still the glow of August, when you could run out Gomber and Gant and Flaherty and others and everyone would give you six to seven innings of one-run ball. That’s not happening right now. Wainwright’s four runs in five innings against the Pirates was one of the best non-Flaherty starts of the week and in line with a lot of others for the month. You could wonder if it was sustainable but he wasn’t shoving aside a better option, especially with the expansion of the rotation.
So with the season hanging by a thread, with three losses already in the books, with basically everything riding on it, Wainwright went out there and reminded everyone why he is a Cardinal legend.
Wainwright’s curveball was dominating, he mixed in enough fastballs to keep people honest, and while only his last inning went 1-2-3, he never let more than one runner on and he always retired the leadoff man in an inning. Keeping runners off the basepaths is huge when one mistake could be the difference in the ballgame. Wainwright struck out nine Dodgers over his six scoreless innings and looked like the pitcher we’ve loved for over a decade.
Sure, this brings up more questions–was this a mirage, can he pitch to a similar level again, what does this mean for 2019–but for one evening, you had Wainwright pitching to Molina and shutting down the opposition, making everything right with the world.
Goat: I could easily go with Matt Carpenter here again, as he went 0-4 with two strikeouts, but we’ll mix it up a bit and go with Kolten Wong. While Wong’s glove is still spectacular, his bat hasn’t been as warm as it was when he went on the DL, hitting .192 since his return. It also feels like he’s trying a bit too hard, as it seems every game sees him try to bunt for a base hit at least once. In this one, he went 0-3, popping out with two runners on against switch-pitcher Pat Venditte in the fourth and hitting into a double play with runners on the corners and one out in the sixth. Thankfully those opportunities didn’t come back to haunt the Cardinals and you can’t argue with his defensive results, but hopefully Wong can find his groove again.
Notes: Marcell Ozuna homered for the Cardinals’ first run, giving him nine home runs in 21 games, I believe. Man, you wish that shoulder would have been healthier all season long. Hopefully he can work on it this offseason and be fully ready to go in 2019. Jedd Gyorko and Yadier Molina both had two hits and Molina drove in two on the night, continuing the flashback theme. (Though, of course, Yadi’s been hitting a lot this year as well.) Credit to the bullpen as well. Bud Norris looked off, but he left with a blister issue and Jordan Hicks took care of the problem, throwing two innings before turning it over to Carlos Martinez for the ninth.
The Cardinals got a needed win and a little postseason life breathed back into them, even though it’s still a tough road for them to be playing in October. They head to Atlanta before coming back to Busch for the last homestand, facing the Giants and Brewers. If they can win, they are in good shape. They are playing meaningful baseball in the last two weeks of the season. Things could be a lot worse!