Everyone was feeling good about the Cardinals going into last night’s game. They’d just finished winning two of three in Pittsburgh and had completed a stretch where they won eight of 11. They were in first place, the pitching was great, the offense was clicking, and things overall were looking bright. There was just one thing we didn’t count on.
The off day.
Not counting Opening Day, the Cardinals are now 6-14 after off days (7-15 if you count a couple of rainouts). That’s probably a better record than you were expecting–it was for me–and it’s padded by the fact that the Cards won three such games last month. Still, the inability to come out with a win after a day off is puzzling, especially since many of those losses can be put on the offense. The Cards have been outscored 88-68 in those twenty games and four times, including last night, they were able to only muster one run. (Those total runs could have been lower, but they put up 14 against the Braves after an off day in May.)
More than anything, I feel like it’s probably a bit of a fluke, part of the randomness that comes with every baseball season. This isn’t a team that’s likely over-enjoying their days off to the point that they find it hard to go back to work the next day. This isn’t a team that’s shown a lack of discipline or a coaching staff that has shown they can’t prepare the players. The good thing is that often the Cardinals are able to make adjustments and come back to win the series, but it does put you in a hole trying to do that when you spot the opposition the first game.
Last night also had the added wrinkle of being in Colorado. Normally, you’d expect baseballs flying everywhere, but I also have heard the idea that it takes the opposing team a little time to get adjusted to the thin air at that altitude. Of course, if it took them very long you’d expect the Rockies to have a decided home field advantage instead of being, after last night, even-up with the opposition. It’s a different environment, though, and you can put that in the section called “mitigating circumstances”.
That’s about the only one you can find, though. The Rockies are 23 games under .500 even with last night’s win. They have the highest batting average against and only the Baltimore Orioles have a worse ERA. The Cardinals just swept the Rockies at Busch and were facing a pitcher in Chi Chi Gonzalez that they had torched for five runs in 4.1 innings at home. Last night was the first time all season Gonzalez had allowed just one run in his outing. (That said, his last start he limited the Dodgers to two runs on three hits in 6.1 innings at Dodger Stadium, so maybe he’s putting some things together.)
The Cardinals got bailed out when the Padres beat the Cubs in 10 innings (after blowing a substantial lead and likely making a lot of late night watching Cards fans nervous) and kept their four game lead while moving their magic number down to 15. (We probably should also keep an eye on the Brewers, who won last night and moved a game behind the Cubs, though the loss of Christian Yelich for the season might be too much for them to overcome.) They shouldn’t have had to depend on the kindness of strangers, however. St. Louis had many opportunities last night to cash in a run or two that would have gotten them a tie or perhaps a lead. They were unable to do so in flashbacks to some of their most frustrating moments of 2019.
The biggest one had to be in the fifth. With one out, Yadier Molina reached on an error and the Speedster Twins (Tommy Edman and Harrison Bader) both singled. Bases loaded, one out, and Mike Shildt wisely went to the bench. Michael Wacha had pitched a fair game, only being touched by a Nolan Arenado two-run blast in the first that almost left the stadium. This was the moment to break things wide open. Instead, Matt Carpenter lined out to short and Dexter Fowler grounded out sharply to first. The moment passed.
There was another in the seventh, as Paul DeJong walked and Yadier Molina was hit by a pitch to open the frame. Again, a promising rally fizzled out when Edman grounded into a force out and Bader and pinch-hitter Jose Martinez (in what might have been the worst at bat I’ve ever seen Martinez take) struck out. While there are going to be nights like that for every team, you’d like to think an October-bound team takes advantage of those situations. Then again, the Astros gave up 20 runs last night, which isn’t what you expect one of the top contenders to win the World Series to do. Baseball laughs at expectations.
The Cardinals only have one more off day this regular season, right before the last three games with the Cubs. You’d like to think that the division would be clinched by then and that first game wouldn’t hold major import. No matter if it does or doesn’t, if there’s a reason for these off-day flops, Shildt and company need to find it.
After all, October is full of off days.
Thursday (10-0 win vs. San Francisco)
Hero: Paul DeJong. His two-run homer in the first really set the tone and showed the Cards were going to bounce back from the tough loss the night before.
Goat: Marcell Ozuna. 0-4 with two strikeouts and four men left on.
Notes: Dakota Hudson stayed sharp, throwing six scoreless innings with just one hit allowed….Genesis Cabrera looked good in his three innings and got a save to show for it….Paul Goldschmidt had two hits, including driving in the first run before DeJong homered….Matt Carpenter had two hits and two walks….Rangel Ravelo hit his first major league home run.
Friday (9-4 loss at Pittsburgh)
Hero: Tommy Edman. Two homers and three RBI in probably his best outing in the big leagues.
Goat: Picking someone out of the rubble that was the seventh inning is tough because there are so many options. I’m going to go with John Brebbia, who allowed an RBI single and a triple before getting the third out.
Notes: For the second time in three days, a misplayed ball by Paul DeJong opened floodgates….the inability of the bullpen to get the third out after DeJong couldn’t get Starling Marte‘s ball out of his glove was inconceivable….Mike Mayers allowed two in the eighth and continues to fuel the “why was he re-added to the 40-man roster again?” discussion….Edman was the only one with multiiple hits, though Matt Carpenter had a pinch-hit RBI double.
Saturday (10-1 win at Pittsburgh)
Hero: Adam Wainwright. On the road (and in those terrible blue uniforms) Waino put up seven innings and allowed just one run. Again he got the run support, like he often does, but seeing him succeed away from Busch is always great. He also had two hits, one of which was a double.
Goat: Paul Goldschmidt. 0-3, though he did draw two walks.
Notes: Marcell Ozuna gave the Pirates notice this was a different game with a three-run homer in the third….Kolten Wong, as he does, had two hits and scored two runs….Junior Fernandez and Daniel Ponce de Leon took care of the bullpen work, showing why expanded rosters can really help this club.
Sunday (2-0 win at Pittsburgh)
Hero: Jack Flaherty. Eight innings. 10 strikeouts. No runs. Flaherty’s a remarkable pitcher right now and it’s coming at a wonderful time for the Cards.
Goat: Paul DeJong. 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on.
Notes: Matt Carpenter was the only Cardinal with multiple hits, getting a single and a double….the top three in the lineup went 1-10 with two walks….Carlos Martinez locked down the save without incident.
Tuesday (2-1 loss at Colorado)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt, I guess. Went 1-4 and drove in the only run.
Goat: You could pick any from the situations above. I’m going to go with Tommy Edman and not being able to at least move the runners over the in the seventh. Though Edman did have one of the few hits last night.
Notes: Kolten Wong went 0-4. Wong had a three hit game on September 1, but since then is hitting .219. A cooldown was inevitable, I suppose….Giovanny Gallegos pitched two very good innings, which helps relieve some fears about him wearing down….Ryan Helsley also threw two scoreless innings in fine fashion.