It was about last week at this time when the Cardinals announced that Michael Wacha would be sliding back into the rotation the next time the fifth starter came around. There was some question about when that would be, since with two off days last week a fifth starter could be skipped this time around. There was also the expectation that this was just a cover, a just-in-case that would never come to fruition because the Cards would get a starter at the trade deadline and make all of this moot.
Because Michael Wacha as a starter has been bad this year. As a reliever, he’s had some good outings, but as a starter, it’s….yuck. At the time of the announcement he was averaging a little under six innings, which was actually a little surprising, and had a ERA over 5.00. His last start, against Seattle on the Fourth of July, saw him go 3.1 innings and allow four runs. There wasn’t a lot of reason to clamor for him to return to starting, save that Daniel Ponce de Leon was having his own troubles in that spot.
As you well know by now, the trading deadline came and went and nothing was done to help the team. Also, the club decided it didn’t want to adjust things to work around the fifth spot (why, I don’t know, because it would seem with these guys, if you can, you should) and so last night Michael Wacha started against a Dodgers team that was 74-40, was 43-15 at home, and led the National League in home runs.
Now sometimes baseball throws you for a loop, when all the signs point one way and the game goes another. Last night was not one of those nights.
Three batters into the contest, the Cardinals were down 3-0. And while they’ve shown signs of being able to rally from deficits like that, the odds of putting up four against the Dodgers at home, even with a rookie pitcher on the mound, seemed pretty remote. Wacha tried to right the ship, getting out of the rest of the first and through the second with no damage. I was about to think that, if he could give up just those three in five innings you call it a success when the roof cracked a bit more. Corey Seager bounced a ball over the wall in the third, scoring Justin Turner. Could a different outfielder other than Dexter Fowler have gotten that one? It looked like a tough play but an extra step might have put it in the glove.
Whether it could have been caught or not, the fact is that the Dodgers were hitting Wacha hard. In the fourth, he allowed a homer to Joc Petersen, then walked Max Muncy. Mike Shildt had seen enough and went to Adalberto Mejia to try to get out of the inning. Mejia threw a wild pitch then gave up a run-scoring double to Turner before finally getting the last out of the frame.
Mejia’s fifth didn’t go well as the outfield betrayed him, with one ball falling in front of both Fowler and Jose Martinez and then a ball went off of Martinez’s glove for a double. All in all, it was a mess. And it was a mess that everyone, except maybe the folks in the front office and in the dugout, saw coming.
Last night’s game was so bad that our Hero has to be Ryan Helsley just because he threw three scoreless innings. He walked four over that span, but at least the Dodgers didn’t put up any more runs. The offense wasn’t going to rally–they managed only two hits on the evening–and the pitching staff put it in the hole to begin with. It’s pretty clear Michael Wacha is our Goat, but it really wasn’t much of a game from anyone.
So now what do you do? Surely, no matter what Mike Shildt said afterwards about Wacha throwing better pitches than he had in a while, you don’t run him out there again. The fifth starter will go again at home against the Pirates (assuming it isn’t skipped–with Thursday’s off day you could do that) and maybe that’s a better matchup for Wacha but I don’t know that anyone has much confidence in that. Derrick Goold and others reported the idea of the opener was again broached with Shildt and he seemed more open to it than he was in the past, but Wacha’s got to be better early if he’s going to be the front end of that. With Helsley going three innings last night, perhaps you could start him and see if he could give you four or so, then turn it over to the bullpen. There are some different options but you’ve got to do something different. We’ve said time and again that this club isn’t going to be able to win a tight division race giving away 20% of its games and that’s what it feels like the Cardinals are doing with that fifth starter spot.
It’s hard to believe it’s been less than a week since the Cardinals were in first place. Now they sit 2.5 games behind the Cubs because they won’t stop winning (though they’ve got road games coming up that may be more of a roadblock). Matt Carpenter has returned and, at least in results, looks exactly like the guy that he was earlier in the year. I understand putting him out there after bringing him up from the rehab, but it doesn’t have to be the leadoff spot. Let him hit eighth until it looks like things are turning around. He’d be a dangerous eighth place hitter. Batting him leadoff just saps whatever offensive electricity this club has right now.
Winning out west was always going to be a real tough thing. Getting two wins out of Oakland and LA seemed the most that you could hope for. One win in five might be acceptable and the Cards put out their best pitchers the next two nights. The problem is St. Louis has to tackle Clayton Kershaw–and for all of those “Cardinals own Kershaw” thoughts from the playoffs, he’s been pretty good against them in the regular season–and another rookie, Dustin May. The Dodgers’ offense is potent, as we’ve seen, and the Cardinals bats are going to have to look more like they did in late July than how they’ve looked….well, sadly, most of the year.
The schedule gets easier after this West Coast trip, which is perhaps the only reason I’m not completely afraid that the snowball has started down the mountain and is picking up speed. The Cards need to get a win, hope the A’s can do the same in Wrigley, and try to change the narrative as it were. Because right now the narrative is inaction at the deadline doomed the entire good run of the team. True or not (and even with a move, they might have had the same results this week), that’s the way folks are going to see it. Grab a pen, boys, and start rewriting.
Wednesday (2-0 loss to Chicago)
Goat: Tommy Edman. 0-4 with two strikeouts in the leadoff spot.
Notes: Tough night for Miles Mikolas, who took the loss allowing just one run and it was unearned….Yairo Munoz was inserted into the outfield as part of a double switch and then couldn’t get to a ball that led to the second run. We covered Munoz’s situation on both podcasts this weekend….not great to be shut out two times in five games, I don’t think.
Thursday (8-0 win over Chicago)
Hero: Jack Flaherty. Seven scoreless innings and again took a no-hitter into the “hmm, maybe” area of the game. Nine strikeouts as well. When Flaherty is on, you see why everyone is so high on him and you also see the ace he may grow into being.
Goat: Dexter Fowler. The only starter without a hit. He’s 2-20 since the beginning of the Chicago series.
Notes: Matt Wieters had two hits, including a home run off of Derek Holland that pretty much wrapped it up….Kolten Wong and Paul DeJong both had three hits….after everyone complained that Yairo Munoz was starting in the outfield over Lane Thomas, he had two hits and two RBI. Because of course.
Saturday (8-3 loss at Oakland)
Hero: Paul DeJong. Two hits and an RBI.
Goat: Dakota Hudson. He couldn’t make it through the fourth and allowed four runs (three earned) in that span. Since the beginning of July, he’s got a 5.70 ERA and remember, his last start of June was the game he gave up seven runs in 1.2 innings, just six of them were unearned. In other words, regression has come for him after his strong May and June.
Notes: Lane Thomas hit a home run in the ninth as a pinch-hitter. Wasn’t enough to get him a start the next day, though….every single reliever allowed a run, which is not something that happens often….this was the last game for Mike Mayers, who was designated for assignment on Sunday. Wouldn’t be surprised if he clears and makes it to Memphis, though….two hits from Paul Goldschmidt as well.
Sunday (4-2 loss at Oakland)
Hero: Paul DeJong. His home run was one of the few high points of the weekend.
Goat: Dexter Fowler. 0-3 and left one on base.
Notes: Solid start for Adam Wainwright. If he’d left after five innings, he’d have allowed just two runs after two hit-by-pitches (the first was one of those lean-in-and-get-hit-while-pretending-to-get-out-of-the-way type that should be disallowed, the other was clocking Stephen Piscotty on the hand when he couldn’t avoid it) and a double with two outs. Even though he was at 90-plus pitches, perhaps because of the short start the night before (though Ryan Helsley was RIGHT THERE) Mike Shildt sent him out for the sixth, where he got an out then gave up a home run to Jurickson Profar….that run would have been the difference had John Gant not allowed another one in the eighth. Gant’s ERA since July 1? Just a tick under 5.00. He’s given up a run more times (six) than not (five). Whether it’s overwork or just the league catching up to him, he’s not nearly as effective as he was in the first half….Cards had a chance to get a tie before Gant’s appearance, but Jose Martinez flew out to end the inning.