Wait, Something Seems Different

Since the All-Star Break, the Cardinals are 5-2.  That sort of record is nice, but especially in the last couple of days, how they’ve put together a W is probably more notable than the fact that they did.

Let’s start with yesterday.  A day game after a tough loss (which, as we noted, looked familiar).  You’d be forgiven for thinking that things were going to go sideways early when Daniel Ponce de Leon allowed a home run to Starling Marte in the first, but the Cards were able to not only counter that in the bottom of the frame with a Tyler O’Neill RBI single, but take the lead in the second on a Jose Martinez sacrifice fly.

That second inning had a few of the hallmarks of what we’ve anguished about over this team all year, even as they took the lead.  Yairo Munoz singled and Andrew Knizner got his first major league hit with a double, putting two runners in scoring position with nobody out.  Ponce de Leon was up next (because that’s the way 2019 goes) and struck out, but Tommy Edman walked to load the bases.  After Martinez’s sac fly, Paul Goldschmidt walked to re-load them, but O’Neill was called out on a questionable third strike.

It felt like there should have been more than one run from all those runners and in the fourth, it looked like again they were going to be doomed by not taking advantage of opportunities.  The first two batters for Pittsburgh reached, but then Ponce de Leon got Jung Ho Kang to ground into a double play and everything seemed groovy.

Now, some people complained that Mike Shildt decided to intentionally pass Jacob Stallings, the eighth place hitter.  (There’s one guy on Twitter, seemingly a very adamant anti-Shildt guy, who complains about every IBB.)  It’s really hard to fault that, though.  Runner on third with two outs and the pitcher up next.  Now, granted, the opposing pitcher isn’t as automatic as you’d like when it comes to the Cardinals and Chris Archer had already gotten a hit earlier in the game.  Still, that’s really the smartest play, especially with a guy on third.  I’m not necessarily fond of passing batters like that, but if Stallings gets a hit, everyone is up in arms about not walking him and that’s a legitimate complaint.

Of course, we’re not talking about this if Archer doesn’t get his second hit of the day, driving in Melky Cabrera.  Rob Rains tweeted out that Archer’s first hit snapped a string of 35 at bats where the Cardinals had retired the opposing pitcher.  Archer then went 2-3 and, to jump ahead, last night Tanner Roark went 1-2.  I have no idea why pitchers hit so well against the Cardinals but it’s pretty darn annoying.

Anyway, then of course Bryan Reynolds singles in both runners and the Cards are down 4-2.  With Archer looking more like the guy everyone wanted to trade for last year (rather than the guy he’s looked like since), the expectation was that this was a lost series and that second inning was going to be a huge culprit.

Instead, the Cardinals rallied.  With power.  Say what?

In the fifth, O’Neill cranked a solo home run, bringing them to within one.  It’s been a while since we’ve seen a hitter as hot as O’Neill has been lately–perhaps Marcell Ozuna earlier in the year.  Since his recall at the end of June, he’s hitting .354/.392/.667.  The strikeouts (18) are high and the walks (3) are low, but you can get away with that with those numbers, which include three doubles and four homers.  A good portion of that damage has come since the break–his slash line in the second half is .500/.500/1.200.  (Both of those numbers do not include last night’s game, as Baseball Reference hasn’t updated yet, but he went 2-4 in that so his second half BA and OBP didn’t change.)

That set the stage for our Hero.  In the seventh, with one out Tommy Edman singled and Jose Martinez walked.  The Pirates then removed Francisco Liriano, perhaps forgetting that he always dominates the Cardinals, and brought in Michael Feliz to face Paul Goldschmidt.  And finally, FINALLY, Goldschmidt had one of those moments that we as Cardinal fans thought we’d be seeing on the regular this season.  He took Feliz’s fifth pitch out to left center and put the Cards on top 6-4.  Watching the clip, you can see Edman tagging at second and then just clapping his hands as he watched the ball leave the park.

We talk about Goldschmidt warming up and perhaps he is somewhat, but I think it’s just relative to what we’ve seen from him before.  Since the break (not counting last night and we’ll definitely get to that), he’s hitting .200.  He’s slugging .550, which is great, so the hits are more potent, but it’s still not quite the breakout we thought.  It felt like being out on the West Coast helped him, but since the start of the Padres series he’s hitting .241, though with a .519 slugging.  It’s better than hitting .241 with a .319 slugging, for sure, but we’re still not seeing the overall game of Goldschmidt.  That said, moments like that are wonderful to see.

Carlos Martinez made it interesting again in the ninth, allowing a run on three hits before getting Marte to ground out.  That’s two straight outings where Martinez has been scored upon.  Something to keep an eye on, I guess.  Also, there was a big blowup over a Ken Rosenthal story that said that the Cardinals might be open to trading him.  The Cardinals are not going to trade Carlos Martinez right now when they are using him as a closer and need starting pitching.  They aren’t going to trade him while his value is down.  They aren’t going to trade him unless they get a significant return for him and nobody in contention is going to want to pay that sort of return.  At some point, they may deal him.  Honestly, I’ve never thought the organization really was committed to Martinez, that they weren’t sure he’d ever live up to the potential.  But any sort of deal like that is an offseason one, not one here when the Cards are in the hunt.

We’ll have to give our Goat to Daniel Ponce de Leon.  It’s not surprising he’d have a hiccup every once in a while and here he allowed the four runs without getting out of the fourth inning.  Shildt is definitely getting into that groove that he had last year when he was tapped to be manager of not letting starters give away games.  Which may be an issue for the bullpen, but we’ll get to that.  In this one, the bullpen was outstanding as everyone between Ponce and Martinez (Dominic Leone, Chasen Shreve, John Brebbia, and Andrew Miller) didn’t allow a baserunner.  Brebbia even struck out four in his two innings, which was good to see.  The time off for the All-Star Break might have really helped him.

A comeback win.  Based on home runs.  Who’d have thunk it?  However, that dangerously smells like momentum and we know what Cardinals have done to momentum in the past.  Expectations were tempered for more of the same in Cincinnati and, indeed, last night they got down early.  Dakota Hudson has started to come back down to earth a bit, which was to be expected.  He’s still better than the April version but here he allowed a first inning homer to Eugenio Suarez.

Starts HR Allowed ERA
March 30-April 27 5* 8 5.63
May 2-June 16 9 1 2.63
June 22-July 18 5 6 3.65

*Plus one relief appearance

That 3.65 isn’t completely accurate because that includes the game against the Giants where he allowed seven runs in 1.2 innings but only one was earned.  Still, as you can see, when he’s keeping the ball down, good things happen.  His HR/FB rate was actually right up there with Jack Flaherty‘s among the worst in the league, but he was allowing fewer fly balls.  Now batters are starting to put a few more in the air, it seems.

Anyway, two innings later the Reds put two more runs on the board and so the Cards roll into the fifth down 3-0 having had just four baserunners, two of which had been eliminated on double plays (including a weird one in the second where Tyler O’Neill is out due to Dexter Fowler‘s interference).  Same old same old, right?

Surprisingly, no.

Matt Wieters led off the fifth with a single.  Paul DeJong came into the game on a two for 20 slide since returning from Cleveland and the All-Star Game.  His last home runs came in the Mets series, which was over a month ago.  Streaks are made to be broken, though, and he poked one down the line, giving the Cardinals new life by cutting the deficit to one.

Hudson held the line and the Cards took another shot in the sixth.  O’Neill popped out but, like what happened so often in April, the bottom of the lineup came through.  Fowler walked, Wieters singled, then DeJong singled in the tying run.  Kolten Wong singled to load the bases with one out.  Yairo Munoz then pinch-hit for Hudson and hit a fly ball that Yaisel Puig caught.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate that, in May or June, this play probably would have ended the inning.  Because Puig came in, caught the ball, and gunned it home to keep Wieters at third.  (I think anyone besides the catcher at third probably tries for home.)  Juan Graterol was catching, took the throw, then immediately fired it to first base because Kolten Wong had assumed everyone was going to tag up and was halfway to second.  Wong scrambled and slid into first around the tag.  When everything was going wrong, Wong would have been a step slower or the tag a hair faster and the Cardinals would have blown their chance.

Instead, that allowed Tommy Edman to bat.  That turned out pretty well.  Robert Stephenson‘s first pitch to him landed in the seats for Edman’s first career grand slam and the first slam the Cardinals have hit all year.  If you want to believe in signs, in momentum, in things turning around, that might be a thing you can point to.

It became a big thing in the bottom of the inning, as John Gant didn’t have it last night, allowing a run on two hits and a walk before Giovanny Gallegos stopped the bleeding.  Gant gave up two runs in 1.1 innings to Arizona last time out and isn’t that far removed from four in 1/3 of an inning to the Angels, though he had 3.1 scoreless innings between those two.  You wonder if the heavy workload from earlier in the season is catching up to him.  It still wouldn’t hurt the Cardinals to get another bullpen arm in the next couple of weeks, though they might also do that by getting a starter and shifting someone to the pen.  Perhaps Ponce de Leon.  If Michael Wacha was more trustworthy, he could be in that role.  Michael Wacha last pitched on the Fourth of July, if that tells you anything about how excited they are to use him.  It’s been so long I expect him to give up a home run to Travis Ishikawa when he returns.

Anyway, we’ll Hero Paul DeJong (the slam is nice, Tommy, but Paul did the heavy lifting up to that point) and we’ll Goat Paul Goldschmidt, who was 0-4 with four strikeouts and three men left on base.  Just when you hope he’s turning a corner, a game like this happens and you wonder if it has or not.

Cards gained 1/2 a game on the Cubs and the Brewers last night as neither team played.  Hopefully they can gain a full game on them both tonight!

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Cardinals7058.547 -
Cubs6960.5351.5
Brewers6762.5193.5
Reds6068.46910.0
Pirates5475.41916.5

Last updated: 08/25/2019

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