Monday night, you could really believe things were changing for the Cardinals. You had an excellent outing by Miles Mikolas, just one pitch short of throwing a Maddux, and it was backed up by two homers by Tyler O’Neill and seven overall runs, though again a solid portion of them came from Pittsburgh bumbling around in the outfield. Still, you win that game while the Cubs and Brewers are losing, giving you three straight wins. There’s a bit of a buzz, a feeling that maybe this time, things will be different.
Things are not different. Tuesday night was the same blasted game we’ve seen so many times this season. Good–or even better than good–starting pitching but the complete inability of the offense to do anything with it.
Jack Flaherty is our Hero, of course, because not only did he throw seven innings of three hit ball (his second really good start in a row), but he also drove in the only run of the game with a ball down the line that was at least called fair with Harrison Bader on third. Flaherty actually doubled there, but then inexplicably tried to steal third with one out.
Look, I appreciate the aggressiveness that Mike Shildt has brought to the table, but can we perhaps not try to be overly reckless with a pitcher running? Especially Flaherty, who has already this season been thrown out at home and picked off of second to end a game. I know that Shildt was ticked about the length of time it took the Pirates to review that–and I think that’s a fair complaint, given the rules–but let’s be honest. Flaherty shouldn’t have been running in the first place.
All of that was bad enough, but the bottom of the seventh is REALLY when the deja vu kicked in.
Dexter Fowler led off by coming inches from a home run on a ball that just kept carrying. It bounced off the wall and Pittsburgh had some trouble picking it up, so Fowler wound up on third to start the inning. Right there, you know you have to score and you also know the Cardinals have a real good chance of not scoring. You are going to have at least three chances to move him 90 feet and get the tiebreaking run, but I bet if you polled Cardinal fans at that moment only about 20% would have thought the run was going to actually score.
The other 80% were correct. Kolten Wong walked, which gave you runners on the corners with nobody out and the chance for a big inning. Matt Wieters then grounded out to first, which not only didn’t allow Fowler to score but gave Pittsburgh the chance to force Wong, giving you the runners on the corners still but with one out and a decrease in speed at first.
Next up was Bader. My father just walked by complaining about why Shildt didn’t pinch-hit for Bader there. Bader was 1-2 with a walk and a double in the game, but it’s still a reasonable discussion to have. You’d have lessened your outfield defense for the last two innings no matter what configuration you run out there, but that’s also not a situation where you expect Bader to thrive. I don’t think I would have pulled him but I can understand the thinking. Bader popped out and Jose Martinez, pinch-hitting for Flaherty, grounded out to second to end the inning and, by all rights, the game. If you don’t score there, the odds of you scoring at all have to be slim.
It’s hard to determine who the Goat should be. I mean, the top three batters combined to go 0-12. The Cardinals only drew three walks to go along with their five hits. I think I’m going to go with Carlos Martinez who had a terrible ninth where he hit one, walked one, and gave up two hits to let the Pirates take the lead. Some of that wasn’t his fault–one of those hits was a ball to Kolten Wong that he lost the handle on and got nobody out–but overall that wasn’t a shutdown performance at a time when the Cards needed one. In fairness to Martinez, this was the first time since he took over as the closer that he’s allowed any runs and nights like that are going to happen.
So where we stand overall this morning is significantly different than where we did yesterday morning. The Cubs and Brewers both won last night, erasing those gains, and now we are on the downward swing of the emotional roller-coaster this team has provided all year (though it feels like many more downs than ups). A good outing by Daniel Ponce de Leon today would at least give the Cardinals (assuming they can back it up) a second straight series win and perhaps indicate that the second half really will be different. Right now, though, it’s looking like the same old same old and that’s not a great place to be.
Friday (4-2 loss vs. Arizona)
Hero: Daniel Ponce de Leon. Seven strikeouts in 6.2 innings with the only blemish a home run by Christian Walker. Deserved better, but that’s a common refrain.
Goat: Tommy Edman. 0-4 with two strikeouts. As much as I love the spark Edman brought, I also wonder if the league isn’t figuring him out. He hasn’t had a hit since before the break and is hitting .200 in 30 July AB. I think he’s better than the Bo Hart/Stubby Clapp type that electrifies the offense for a bit then fades away, but he’s going to have to make adjustments. I also think that he doesn’t need to be penned into third while Matt Carpenter is on the injured list. Yairo Munoz should get a good long look as well.
Notes: Andrew Miller continues to get beat at the worst times, allowing a tiebreaking homer to the only batter he faced….John Gant got touched for a home run as well….Cards did try to put a late rally together but nothing really came of it.
Saturday (4-2 win vs. Arizona)
Hero: Tyler O’Neill. A double and a homer drove in all four runs. How we kept Kyle Reis from charging the field I really don’t know. If O’Neill is starting to adjust to the big leagues, that could be really huge not only for this year but for 2020 plans.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. He did get a hit over the shift, but otherwise struck out four times. I think the plan to let him finish his IL stint with a couple of rehab games at Springfield or Memphis isn’t a bad idea at all.
Notes: As you know, I was there for this one….Dakota Hudson was shaky early but settled in….I did think it was interesting Mike Shildt had Michael Wacha warming in the second when Hudson was having his biggest problems….Matt Wieters also had two hits….Andrew Miller walked the one guy he faced, giving him back to back 0.0 inning outings. He only has one other one this season, which may mean Shildt is realizing if he doesn’t have it, best to pull him, or they are not letting him do more than be a LOOGY, which would be disappointing if it has come to that.
Sunday (5-2 win vs. Arizona)
Hero: Adam Wainwright. Seven scoreless innings, seven strikeouts. Waino loves pitching at home and, as we’ve said plenty of times this year, has been a pleasant surprise this season.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. 0-3 though he did get an RBI. I thought Carpenter’s 2018 season gave some indications that he might be slowing, but nobody saw anything of this magnitude.
Notes: Paul Goldschmidt had a homer against his old team as one of his two hits….Dexter Fowler and Kolten Wong also had two hits each….John Brebbia made the ninth much more interesting than he needed to, requiring Carlos Martinez to come in and lock it down.
Monday (7-0 win vs. Pittsburgh)
Hero: Flip a coin. I think, just because of how the offense has been, I’m going to go with Tyler O’Neill here due to his two home runs. But it could have easily been Miles Mikolas due to that stellar pitching performance.
Goat: Matt Wieters. 0-4 with a strikeout. I do hope John Mozeliak was right and Andrew Knizner gets a good bit of the playing time while he’s up here. Wieters still has pop and everything, but he’s not so dominating that Knizner can’t get some time (and hopefully that first major league hit).
Notes: Everyone but Wieters and Kolten Wong had a hit….Paul Goldschmidt had a double, two walks, and three runs scored….Dexter Fowler went 1-2 and has a .990 OPS in July, which is great to see.