It seems that the Cardinals might be good after all.
We talked last time about how hot the Dodgers were coming into this series. That success wasn’t a fluke at all, given this is a team that has been to the World Series the last two years and is again the heavy favorite to win the NL West if not repeat that Fall Classic appearance. They were mashing the ball at remarkable levels and were 8-2 on the year.
Then they’ve come into Busch and more than doubled that loss total. Three games, three wins for the Redbirds. Now, to be fair, in the span of a baseball season a good team can lose three games to a lesser squad, but these didn’t feel like flukes. The Cardinals have been able to finally put together the strong starting pitching they thought they would have all year, the relief help they felt strongly about, and an offense that they believed would score some runs into what we’ve seen over the last three nights.
Let’s talk about Tuesday and Wednesday’s games, shall we?
Tuesday (4-0 win)
Hero: Yadier Molina. Yadi started this season terribly at the plate, but the idea that he was lacking some reps due to his shortened spring seems to have some validity to it. In this one, he had two doubles and drove in three runs. From Saturday to Tuesday, Molina hit .438 with three doubles and a 1.038 OPS. As we’ll see, those numbers weren’t hurt much by Wednesday’s game either. I don’t know how much of this he can carry through the rest of the year and he still should sit today with an afternoon affair if only to prove to Matt Wieters that backup catchers do occasionally play in this city, but it looks like Molina’s still been able to push Father Time off a little bit and, at this rate, it becomes harder to believe that 2020 really will be his last year.
Goat: While Marcell Ozuna had an 0-3 and, shall we say, an adventurous time in the outfield, I’ve got to give the Goat to Harrison Bader. 0-4 with three strikeouts is a tough night for anyone. Then toss in the fact that he left two on base and you can see why we had to go with him.
Notes: We’ve got to talk about that Ozuna “play”. I wanted to put the video in there but I’m not having much success finding an embeddable one. You can find it on the link here if you haven’t seen it but I’m pretty sure you have. Ozuna completely misjudges how far a ball is going, runs and climbs the fence, only to realize it is going to bounce well behind him. It’s the kind of thing you don’t expect to see when you are watching major league baseball. For most non-fans of the Cardinals, this might be the first time they’d seen a play like this.
For Cardinal fans, it’s the second.
Ozuna had a similar play (though the ball wasn’t quite as badly misjudged) last year in Milwaukee. You can see the video of that one on the link as well, but what are the odds of seeing that sort of play twice in two years when you’ve never seen it in the past 20 or more? It’s high, very high. Though perhaps the probability decreases when it is the same player making that error. While I don’t typically mock Ozuna’s defense like many others, it seems clear that either there was some irregularities in the Gold Glove voting a few years ago or, like with his bat, he had a career year defensively. (Or, as is often the case, his offensive success led to the defensive award, because baseball.) With his shoulder at a reported (by him) 55%, it’s no wonder that Mike Shildt has gone to replacing him defensively late in games.
That said, as we’ll see talking about last night’s game, the bat could be heating up a little bit. Which will make it less likely Shildt has to make the decision of whether or not to bench him for a while.
Dakota Hudson started this game but couldn’t get out of the fifth inning as walks again plagued this squad. Four by Hudson, including one to Max Muncy to load the bases with two outs that ended his night. John Brebbia, who is becoming the fireman of the squad, came in and got Enrique Hernandez to strike out and end that threat. Hudson did keep a powerful lineup fairly in check, though, allowing six hits and no runs.
The only knock on the bullpen, which was Brebbia, John Gant, Mike Mayers, Andrew Miller, and Dominic Leone, was that they walked four in 4.1 innings of work. They only allowed one hit, though, which mitigated that well, and they struck out seven. Miller in particular seemed stronger, striking out one and getting Cody Bellinger to line out to short. It was just one outing, but it was an outing that looked more like the Miller that the Cardinals paid for. Hopefully that means that he’s figuring something out and starting to round into shape.
Molina and Paul DeJong, who continued his modest hitting streak, were the only ones with multiple hits in this one. DeJong went two-for-two with two walks and both hits were doubles. I never really bought into DeJong hitting in the third spot and while I still would like to see Paul Goldschmidt in that role, it’s hard to deny that DeJong is doing some really good work there.
Wednesday (7-2 win)
Hero: Marcell Ozuna. Like we said yesterday, the bat may be starting to heat up. Ozuna hit his third home run of the week, a two-run shot, and doubled early in the game and scored the first run, and he tossed in another hit and a stolen base to boot. There’s no guarantees that the power will continue–we all remember his hot week in May last year, followed by another couple of months of meh–but it is nice to see at least.
Goat: Kolten Wong. Not been too many night like this for Wong this season but the law of averages says they were going to come. Even with last night’s 0-4, he’s still hitting .325 on the season. The good thing for Wong is he knows he’ll be out there tomorrow, especially since Walker Buehler isn’t a lefty.
Notes: Speaking of Buehler, we missed by one day getting to see Jack Flaherty and him match up for the third time. Flaherty went six strong innings in this one, only allowing a wall-scraping home run to Joc Pederson in the sixth. Both Pederson and Max Muncy, who hit a home run off of Tyler Webb in the next frame, barely got over the wall and, in all honestly, it felt like other outfielders besides Ozuna and Dexter Fowler might have at least made a play on them. Whether there was a little bit of being spooked by Tuesday night’s Ozuna play (and not wanting to look foolish) or they just can’t make those plays at the wall anymore, I don’t know. It’s not likely Jose Martinez would have brought either one of those back, but you could make a case that Tyler O’Neill might have.
Anyway, Flaherty struck out eight, didn’t walk a batter, and allowed only three hits. That’s what we expect to see more and more of out of Flaherty and all he needs now is to be a little more efficient and get into the seventh inning. That’s a nitpick, though, on a stellar outing.
Webb allowing a home run to Muncy just emphasized how Mike Shildt and the staff had the right idea about keeping John Brebbia instead of a lefty just because they were a lefty. Better a righty that can get both sides out than a lefty that might struggle with getting anyone out. Again, it wasn’t like Webb got destroyed or anything, but you don’t like to see a LOOGY type give up anything to a left-hander, much less a home run.
For the second straight night Dominic Leone got the ninth in a non-save situation and did well. He had that one bad game against the Padres but other than that has been sharp this season. You wonder if this is grooming him for being that off-day closer when Jordan Hicks has worked a couple in a row but there’s a save opportunity. Something to keep an eye on, I guess.
We should also probably note that the Cardinals only walked one batter all night. That was such a relief to see given how things have gone in the early going!
Yadier Molina only had one hit but it was a big one, a two-run homer that pushed the lead out to four. He also drove in the first run of the game with a groundout for his first back-to-back three RBI nights since 2017. (I believe I saw nobody else on the Cardinals has done that in that span either.) Yadi’s a wonder, isn’t he?
Paul DeJong is pretty remarkable as well. He, like Ozuna, had three hits and one was a beautifully placed triple in the sixth that scored Paul Goldschmidt. Why Pederson dove for that ball, I don’t know, but it would have been difficult for him to run it down anyway as it headed for the left-field corner. He might have kept DeJong at second but I’m not sure that he would have. As it was, DeJong was in standing up and, a few moments later, trotted home on Yadi’s homer.
Matt Carpenter didn’t do a lot on the field the last couple of nights but he made some news off of it yesterday, getting in on the extension fun with a two year deal with a vesting option. That replaces his option year for next season, meaning that he is under contract through 2021 for sure and possibly 2022 if he reaches enough plate appearances. The only real hesitation I have with this is not, as everyone immediately jumped to, the fact that Nolan Gorman and others are moving through the ranks but more that if things start to go south for Carpenter at third (and it’s not unreasonable to think this could happen), there’s no real spot to move him with Goldschmidt manning first for the next five seasons after this one. Do you put him in the outfield? Maybe, though there are a lot of other folks that would seem to have dibs out there. Some point to the coming of the DH, which could be a (horrendous) possibility, but there’s also no guarantee that happens in the next couple of years. It’s a short enough deal that, if something happens, they can figure it out while perhaps making sure he doesn’t vest that ’22 option.
Overall, though, there’s a lot more certainty about the 2020 Cardinals than there was just two months ago. Now you have the entire starting lineup under contract except Marcell Ozuna, three-fifths of the rotation (and if Adam Wainwright has a good year, you know he’ll get another deal), and much if not all of the bullpen. Derrick Goold liked to say that this was going to be an Etch-a-Sketch season, where the club could shake everything at the end and start over. Now, it’s more like etched in stone. This is who the Cardinals are and who they are going to be going forward. Which could be a good thing, because there’s not going to be much in the free agent market at this rate for them to acquire to remake the squad.
Afternoon baseball today with, as noted, Walker Buehler going up against Michael Wacha. Should be a good one!