How Do You Like Your Wins?

The Cardinals right now are doing their impression of Burger King.  You can have a win your way.  It can be a slugfest, a pitching gem, or a come-from-behind battle.  They’ve won all sorts of different ways this year, as we’ll see when we recap the last five games.  (Sorry for getting behind, folks.)  For as cheesy as the slogan seemed in the winter, it’s come to be very true.  It really is #TimeToFly.

Wednesday (5-2 win vs. Milwaukee)

Hero: Marcell Ozuna.  The big bear kept growling, slamming a three-run homer in the fourth to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead that the Cardinals would never relinquish.  Ozuna also singled and walked, continuing his offensive output.  Since leaving Milwaukee (and not counting Monday night’s game against the Nationals), Ozuna’s actually slowed down some, hitting just .209, but he’s walked nine times and hit two homers, meaning his OPS in that span is .877.  The offense has been rolling and a lot of that is the thump Ozuna has brought to the cleanup slot.

Goat: Tough day for Jose Martinez.  He did drive in a run, but went 0-4 and left five men on base.

Notes: Adam Wainwright continued his balancing act, allowing just one run and four hits over six innings.  Given the potential of the Brewers lineup (though it did help that Christian Yelich didn’t start in this one), that’s pretty solid work for the longtime Cardinal.  He also threw those six innings in just 86 pitches, which is what Wainwright has to do to be successful.  You don’t know how long this will continue and you have to figure there will be some days where he doesn’t have it, but getting starts like this out of Uncle Charlie does my heart good.

The offense helped him out, continuing to put pressure on the Brewers.  Yadier Molina had a solo homer and Lane Thomas, Paul Goldschmidt, and Paul DeJong all had multi-hit days.  The only people that went hitless were Martinez and Matt Carpenter and that seems to be a regular occurrence.  Not that those guys are hitless, but that very few people on a given night don’t get a base knock.  It’s fun to see.

Andrew Miller continues to be a guy that goes from bad to good, sometimes in the span of the same appearance.  Staked to a four-run lead and with the club wanting to rest Jordan Hicks, Miller got Lorenzo Cain to fly out before giving up a single to Eric Thames (a lefty) and walking Yasmani Grandal.  He struck out Travis Shaw (in fairness, it should be noted he’s also a lefty) then hit Manny Pina with a pitch to load the bases and walked Ben Gamel (another lefty) to force in a run.  The Brewers then went to Yelich to pinch hit and, with him being the go-ahead run, Mike Shildt had to go to Hicks, who struck out the MVP to close down the game.

Overall, things have been rough for Miller, who through the end of the Reds series has a .997 OPS against this year.  He does have 15 strikeouts in 10.2 innings, but he’s also got nine walks and three HBP in that same span.  It’s been a pretty even split between righties and lefties that he’s faced and both are hitting him pretty well.  Lefties have a .973 OPS but that is better than the other side, so I guess that’s something.  We’ve talked about it before, we’ll talk about it again.  This probably just sums up the Andrew Miller experience in 2019:

Friday (12-1 loss to Cincinnati)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  Two hits and two walks.  Unfortunately it was that rare night when the bats weren’t necessarily clicking and so he only scored once, coming around on Paul DeJong’s single in the seventh that cut the Reds’ lead to 4-1.

Goat: Miles Mikolas.  While the game got ugly under Dominic Leone, Mikolas’s outing took a lot of wind out of people’s sails early.  He allowed a home run to the second batter he faced, then allowed two more on his way to giving up four runs in five innings.  While that’s not a terrible night, especially if the offense is doing what it usually does, it’s still something to overcome.  Mikolas has given up half as many home runs as he did all last year and we can’t even completely use the Miller Park excuse anymore.  Without his strong start against the Mets, his ERA for the season would be over 6.  Even where it is (5.29) is way too high after six games for the guy that was going to be the ace of the staff, especially with Carlos Martinez out.

Again, I’m sure things will turn around, but remember we talked about the risk of giving out a long-term extension based on one stellar year.  It’s still early and there’s no reason to believe that the contract won’t pay off, but the early returns aren’t exactly what we wanted to see.

Notes: After spending Friday at my church’s annual BBQ fundraiser, I came home and watched much of this, but I turned it off when Tyler Webb came on because I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more.  Imagine my surprise to wake up the next morning and see what Webb and Leone had done to the score.  People are going to have nights like that (though maybe not THAT extreme) and Leone in particular has been very solid, only allowing two runs in 11.1 innings before this outing.  I’d pass it off as a weird fluke but, as we will see, his next outing he didn’t revert to form.

At least this allowed Jedd Gyorko to pitch.  Gyorko came in to get the last out and struck out Phillip Ervin.  That ball will get a place of honor at the Gyorko estate, I imagine!

Also, strange quirk: the Cardinals have won the game before the last three off days, then come back and lost the game after the day off.  Which means nothing, except maybe you hate to break momentum.

Saturday (6-3 win vs. Cincinnati)

Hero: Marcell Ozuna.  A three-run homer and a two-run double that was very close to leaving the yard itself.  Ozuna is doing some remarkable damage, more than we ever really thought we’d see even when being optimistic about the trade.  It’s a lot of fun to watch!

Goat: A few folks went hitless but only Kolten Wong didn’t also draw a walk to at least reach base.  Wong hit just .167 on the nine game homestand and while he’s still an asset with his defense and his baserunning when he does reach, it’d be nice to see that bat heat up a little bit again.  I’m not talking hitting .500 like he was in the early going, but a few more hits here and there would be a good thing.

Notes: Is Dakota Hudson starting to be more of a reasonable rotation option?  He picked up his second win in a row here, allowing three runs in 5.2 innings.  It’s good to see, but looking at his various lines, I’m not sure I can spot anything that indicates this is more than getting a few breaks (or, if you want to look at it the other way, that he wasn’t getting the breaks before).  The biggest difference is that in his first four outings, his groundball rate was 1.61 while over the last two it is 0.95.  Which you would think would mean things were getting worse rather than better, but it would seem he’s getting some easy fly balls instead of a number of balls bouncing through the infield.  He has walked a few less, so maybe he’s getting a feel for it.  We’ll see how he looks against Washington this week, but I’m not ready to say he’s improved.

The bullpen, including Andrew Miller, did great in this one.  Miller walked a batter but struck out two and that walk was the only baserunner he, John Gant, or Jordan Hicks allowed.  So far, it feels like if the Cardinals can get a lead, they’ll hold it.  And very often, they get a lead.

Two hits for Paul DeJong and a hit and a walk for Paul Goldschmidt, who wound up scoring twice.  There’s quality up and down the lineup and it’s wonderful to watch.

Sunday (5-2 win vs. Cincinnati)

Hero: Jack Flaherty.  Flaherty’s had a number of solid starts this season but this was easily the best one yet.  Seven scoreless innings holding on to a small two-run lead.  Flaherty struck out only four, but also allowed only four hits and that allowed his pitch count to stay low.  In fact, he was only at 89 pitches when Tyler O’Neill pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the seventh.  Given the situation (nobody on, two out), I might have been tempted to let him at least start the eighth, especially since the more rest you can get the bullpen, the better.

Goat: Dominic Leone.  With Yadier Molina singling in two runs in the eighth and Dexter Fowler driving in another one, the Cardinals were able to pull Jordan Hicks, who had gotten the last out in the eighth after John Brebbia and Andrew Miller had done their jobs, and they brought in Leone.  The only problem with this, of course, is that if the game gets close again, you don’t have Hicks to close it out.  Leone did his best to make that a reasonable fear.  Jesse Winkler, who again has been a Cardinal nemesis this year, doubled to start the inning but Leone got the next two batters to pop out and line out.  He wasn’t able to get the third, however, as Jose Iglesias singled (and eventually took second) and Scott Schebler doubled them both in.  John Gant had to come in and get Derek Dietrich to line out sharply to Paul Goldschmidt.

Leone didn’t just get shelled but he did get hit harder than you want to see a reliable bullpen piece get hit.  It might just be a mismatch between him and the Reds but it also may be the sign of something a little more serious.  There were a number of folks disappointed that he wasn’t optioned out instead of Ryan Helsley when Michael Wacha returned Monday, but if there’s anything we’ve learned from Shildt, it’s that he’s not going to toss people over the side willy-nilly.  Leone’s done too much this year to be summarily dismissed, I believe.

Notes: Molina drove in three, but the two big ones came in the eighth.  He hit .343 on the homestand and, after a hit Monday night, has a 16 game hitting streak.  This after 15 years of more innings behind the plate than anyone.  I mow the yard one night and I can barely move the next day.

Jose Martinez and Dexter Fowler both had two hits as they continue to get the bulk of the playing time even with Harrison Bader and O’Neill back.  I imagine, especially after last night, we’ll start to see Bader mixed back in there, but right now the two vets are making the most of their opportunities and, especially in Fowler’s case, that’s great to see after last year.

Monday (6-3 win at Washington)

Hero: Harrison Bader.  Getting the start with a lefty on the mound, Bader made the most of it.  He started the big fifth inning by homering, he singled later and looked to have stolen a base, though replay apparently found the split-second where he was slightly off the bag and the tag was on.  (I continue to maintain that’s not what replay is for.  Replay is for things that are fairly apparent by the human eye.  Don Denkinger.  Jim Joyce.  Obvious things.  And I’m fine with home run/not home run or fair/foul, for the most part.  But if you have to go frame by frame and get that 100th of a second where the situation changes, that’s not right.  Going further, I believe managers should not have access to video before they make their decision.  It should be obvious.  And if a replay can’t tell you different after a couple of full-speed run-throughs, leave it and let’s move on.)

Goat: Matt Carpenter.  Carpenter drew a walk but he struck out three times, at least once looking.  After last year, you don’t want to draw any conclusions early, but Carpenter had more walks than hits (8-7) over the nine game home stand and that kept up here.  Again, it’s very possible that he’ll get going soon and it’s good to know he still has his eye, but he does seem to run the risk of being more passive than patient.

Notes: The offense bailed out Michael Wacha in this one.  Wacha actually was OK except for the second inning, when he gave up three runs.  The problem was, with two outs, he walked the eighth place hitter to load the bases for Patrick Corbin, the opposing pitcher.  If there is something that we’ve learned from this season, it’s that the opposing pitcher is the single most dangerous hitter (non-Yelich division) the Cardinals can face.  Corbin battled enough to draw a walk, forcing in a run, then Adam Eaton doubled in two.  Other than that, Wacha was pretty solid, but with that inning (plus another long Corbin at bat the next time up), he wasn’t able to go deep into the game.

The bullpen stepped up.  Giovanny Gallegos went two innings, bridging most of the gap, and didn’t allow a baserunner.  John Brebbia ran into some trouble in the eighth, finally escaping after walking the bases loaded.  That meant he couldn’t go the ninth, though, which brought in Jordan Hicks for the third straight day.  I think, given that it was 8-9-1 coming up, I’d have tried to go with someone like John Gant there, because that should mean Hicks is off-limits for today and maybe tomorrow as well.  Still, Hicks did what Hicks does and the Cards took home a win.

Two hits, two RBI for Marcell Ozuna, who just keeps plugging along.  Two hits also for Jose Martinez, which meant all the outfielders had a couple of hits.  (Well, Dexter Fowler and Tyler O’Neill didn’t come through as pinch-hitters, but you can’t have everything.)  Good problems to have are still problems and Mike Shildt’s going to have a bit of a challenge keeping everyone fresh when everyone is going well.  Lots of good combinations, at least.  There doesn’t seem to be a weak link on this roster right now, a person that you don’t want to see at all in the game.

There are plenty of other things that are going on–Carlos Martinez going to the bullpen, Alex Reyes breaking his hand, the Hall of Fame selections–but you’ll have to go to the podcasts for those, because this is already way too long.  Cards go for at least a split of this four game series tonight with Adam Wainwright up against Anibal Sanchez.  A couple of old vets making their way in today’s young man’s game.  We’ll see who has more of the craftiness!

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