Yesterday, I wrote
You expect this team to win every time they go out there, even if they get behind early. It’s a good feeling to know that there’s no reason to turn off the game after a miserable second inning.
While that may be the case, there is no reason that the Cardinals need to continue to test that theory. It wasn’t the second inning on Tuesday night, it was the third, but the same thought applies. The Redbirds did battle, but it was the second game they never led in and some of the big bats were the ones defusing any of the rallies.
Which also raises the question, at least right now–are they really on the Brewers’ level? While they’ve been able to be competitive with Milwaukee for the most part, they are also 1-5 in six games right now with an afternoon affair yet to come. Granted, they’ve all been in Milwaukee–I sincerely hope and believe Christian Yelich won’t be hitting homers in every single game at Busch–but there comes a point when you ask whether you are really equals or this is a big brother/little brother situation.
It’s early, of course, and if they ever DO figure out how to pitch to Yelich things might be different. If Jordan Hicks gets through the game on the first Sunday of the month, if Yelich only had one homer last night, the season series might look different. On the flip side, it took Paul Goldschmidt having a three-homer game (and so far easily the best game of his season) for the Cards to pull out their one win.
I’m not sure you make any declarations after two weeks, but seeing what should be the main rival for the title 10 times in the first month means you can’t completely use the “it’s early” bit. Of course, even after losing three of four the first time, the Cards came into this series 1/2 game out. It’s well possible that they could lose the season series handily and still win the division. Which, when you think about it, would be one of those Cardinal things that infuriate other fan bases.
So let’s look at last night’s game. We’ll give the Hero tag to Marcell Ozuna, who just had one hit but it was a two-run homer that got the team on the board and sparked things just a bit. Through his first 15 games last year, Ozuna had two homers and a .703 OPS. This year? Seven homers and an OPS of 1.046. I think it’s safe to say that, barring anything external, this is going to be a much better year for Ozuna and, as John Mozeliak said on Dan McLaughlin’s podcast, we are starting to see the player they thought they were trading for.
Also in consideration for that award? Dexter Fowler had two hits, giving him three straight games of two hits and a six-game hitting streak overall. A couple of doubles in there as well, so maybe there’s more to what he’s doing than Tara and I gave him credit for on Gateway this week. One of those hits went through the shift last night, giving Kolten Wong an opportunity to drive in a run. The inning short-circuited after that because, as we’ve seen so often this season, the bottom of the lineup did work while the top was less effective.
Yadier Molina also had two hits and got to shift to first base for the last couple of frames as Matt Wieters caught a bit. So Yadi has first and third ticked off–you know he’ll want to play center before the season is over.
Then there was Ryan Helsley. I imagine Mike Shildt wanted to find a good spot to get him into the game tonight, but once the Brewers jumped out to a five-run lead, it was a guarantee he’d get in. The situation, however, probably wasn’t what Helsley or anyone else thought. Down five with two runners on and two outs, Shildt went out and got Giovanny Gallegos (who had pitched up to that point, even striking out Yelich with the bases loaded after he came in and walked Cain, but was obviously at the end of his rope) and brought in Helsley to face Yelich.
As Danny Mac said last night on the broadcasts, there are a couple of different views on this. You’d probably prefer to see Helsley make his debut in a low-leverage situation, possibly with a lead facing the bottom of the order. For some players, that’s probably the best way. It appears the coaching staff thinks that Helsley is made of sterner stuff and I’m not sure they were proven wrong even as Yelich tagged yet another Cardinal pitcher for a home run. Helsley got ahead of Yelich 0-2 and looked like he might be able to put him away, but Yelich worked the count full then got a pitch–like so many others that he has crushed–middle of the plate and put the game away.
That being said, even with this team’s ability to rally, it was a five-run deficit. If he gets Yelich, great, but odds are no matter what, it wasn’t going to factor into the decision and it really didn’t. The Cards did score four runs after that, meaning in theory it could have been 5-4, but the Brewers would have also played the game a bit differently. Some of their big relief guns probably would have come into play that didn’t in the large lead.
Helsley came back and struck out Ryan Braun for his first major league out, then pitched two more innings allowing nothing and striking out three. He also beat out an infield bouncer for his first major league hit, but then was immediately erased on Matt Carpenter‘s double play, ruining another potential scoring inning. I haven’t read the game stories but I imagine there was nothing that happened last night that dropped Helsley a notch in the eyes of the coaching staff and we’ll probably see a lot of him over the next few weeks.
Now for the Goat. Do you go with the leadoff guy that went 0-5 with a double play and made an error (well, it wasn’t recorded as such but it pretty much was) or do you go with the starting pitcher that imploded in the third and couldn’t get most anyone out (except Yelich, which had to be the most ironic thing, and Mike Moustakas)? We’ll let the fact that he allowed Brandon Woodruff, his opposing number, to get a two-out bases-loaded double off of something that wasn’t his fastball to tip the scales to Jack Flaherty. Flaherty did fine his first couple of innings, but once Lorenzo Cain took him deep to start the third, things went south in a hurry. Which is a little worrisome because he was so good against the Brewers last year. Seems like they’ve done some study and it’s time for Flaherty to do a little adjusting.
Carpenter, though, didn’t have much of anything to get excited about. The double play after Helsley’s hit seemed to put paid to any kind of momentum the Cards might be trying to build. Milwaukee also seems to have a handle on Paul Goldschmidt, striking him out three times for the second time this season.
It was an ugly game, but at least none of the big bullpen arms (save maybe Helsley, but it’s hard to put him in that category after one game, as good as he looked) threw in this one. If you get a good Michael Wacha today and take the afternoon affair, maybe that helps stop the bleeding and gives some confidence heading into next week’s tilt at Busch. If they get swept….you might want to stay off Twitter until after Easter.