When last I wrote, things were looking up. The Cardinals had held their own against the division leading Cubs as they dealt with the aftereffects of the COVID outbreak. They were dealing with the Reds, who had struggled this year after being expected to contend. They had Kansas City and Pittsburgh on the horizon. Life might not have been great, but it was looking pretty good.
So to need a late rally to avoid a 1-4 run through Kansas City, who is currently a last place team, and Pittsburgh, who had fewer wins than anyone else in the majors, is very, very concerning.
While there were some defensive glitches, almost every finger of blame over the last week can be pointed at the offense. The Cardinals scored one run in regulation during a double header with the Pirates, managing two in the extra frame of Game 1 to make it look a little better (since they were gifted a baserunner). They were a little better against the Royals, averaging a little over six runs per game in that series, but it took them scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 3 to get to that. Otherwise that nine run outburst they put up in the first game of the series would have looked very out of place.
You’ve already probably heard the stats about how the Cardinals haven’t lost a game when they score five or more runs and haven’t won a game that they’ve scored two or less. (They are 2-5 in games they score three or four.) In case you are interested, a couple of basic graphs. First, run distribution this season.
As you can see, they are most likely to score three runs a game. Which isn’t really great, I don’t think. I haven’t done anything like this for other teams to compare, but I’d think you’d want to be more like four or five runs on the regular. When they get going, they get going–nine runs three times already this season–but it’s just not likely they’ll get going.
Secondly, let’s look at consistency. This is a chart that shows the game-by-game run scoring.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern there, or at least not one I can see, and that’s where the frustration comes in. Following up a nine run game with a two run one. Scoring six in one game then half that in the next two combined. Consistency, thy name isn’t Cardinals.
Which is too bad because the pitching has been where we expected it to be. The starters are, for the most part, giving the team a very good chance to win. The double-headers mean that a good starter can go almost the length of the game, which is what we saw yesterday with Kwang Hyun Kim and Johan Oviedo. Both of those guys deserved a better fate. The bats just didn’t give it to them.
There are a lot of issues going on right now, of course, but the big losses from COVID, Paul DeJong and Yadier Molina, are back now and Molina, at least, looks like he never really stopped. This team can put runners on–how many times have we seen bases loaded situations this year?–but they struggle to get them in. They are third in all of baseball in on base percentage! Yet somehow they are 22nd in OPS and last (in absolute numbers, granted, and they have fewer games) in runs. If there’s a big situation with less than two outs, it seems like there is always a strikeout, making it much harder to get even one run out of it. If Brad Miller puts the ball in play in the 8th inning yesterday, the Cards might have at least split the twin bill.
Again, we are talking about 22 games. It’s not a great sample size, but in some ways it just adds to the year-long sample we saw in 2019. Whatever adjustments were going to be made in the offseason, whatever homework Jeff Albert was supposed to be assigning, it doesn’t look like it has done anything. There’s a lot of weirdness in this, of course, and maybe it’s not fair to judge this year’s results by any standard. John Rabe, curmudgeon that he is, had a good point last night on Twitter.
Because of this weird season, nobody will be held accountable for what’s shaping up to be another year of dreadful offense. #STLCards
— Just Blew In From Stupid Town (@johnrabe) August 28, 2020
Maybe they shouldn’t, given all the circumstances. Maybe they wouldn’t have been in a full season of this sort of inconsistency and futility. Maybe this program is like turning a ship around and it takes a little time. All that would be a fair way to look at it.
But maybe it’s not working. Maybe teams know the weaknesses, since the Cardinals aren’t seeing any fastballs basically, and the Cardinals aren’t adjusting. I don’t envy John Mozeliak and the front office for trying to figure out which it is, but I hope they can and are correct. Because if this is the way things are going to be, there’s a lot of angsty nights coming up.
Saturday vs. Cincinnati (3-0 win)
Hero: Harrison Bader. After a really bad error led to a loss the night before, Bader brought the bat, smashing a double and then a home run that capped the scoring. Not sure where that came from but it was good to see.
Notes: Kwang Hyun Kim picked up his first win in MLB with six scoreless innings. Kim didn’t have a good first impression as the closer, but sliding him back in to the rotation has been huge and continues to show that the front office has a good handle on the Asian leagues….Bader was the only player with more than one hit as the club only mustered seven….Tommy Edman made his hit count, driving in two runs with a single in the third….Andrew Miller gave up a hit and a walk before being rescued by Giovanny Gallegos. Perhaps this was when he started noticing the arm issue, though he went on Sunday and then warmed up once in the Kansas City series.
Sunday vs. Cincinnati (6-2 win)
Hero: Yadier Molina. Days after returning from his forced vacation, Molina put up four hits and drove in two. He keeps edging closer to 2,000 hits….and putting a fine layer of dust on Andrew Knizner.
Goat: Daniel Ponce de Leon. The bullpen bailed him out, but Ponce gave up two and walked four in under five innings, running up his pitch count. It’d be nice to see him be more efficient because he seems to have enough stuff to be a starter. However, he threw 95 pitches and didn’t even qualify for the win. That’s got to get better.
Notes: Dylan Carlson with his first home run. I almost gave him the Hero just for that….another home run for Harrison Bader, who tied the game up with a two run shot in the second….two hits for both of those guys and for Matt Carpenter. Honestly, with 12 hits, five for extra bases, six runs feels a little low, doesn’t it?….Paul DeJong could have gotten the Goat for going 0-4 with five left on, but given that it was his first real game action since returning from COVID, that didn’t seem right….the bullpen combined for 4.1 hitless innings. There are a lot of fun arms down there.
Monday vs. Kansas City (9-3 win)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. Three for four, three RBI including a two-run homer, plus a walk. Goldschmidt has really been what we thought he’d be when the Cards traded for him this season and hopefully it continues.
Goat: Yadier Molina. Apparently he used up all his hits on Sunday because he was the only starter to not get one in this game. Well, Matt Carpenter went 0-2 before being pinch-hit for but he drew a walk, which was also more than Molina did. Also, after the sixth inning this was a five run game. Yet Yadi took every pitch. Andrew Knizner hasn’t even appeared in a game since Molina returned last Thursday. I get Yadi is rested and he’s a great asset, but you have to find some way to let Knizner play. I’d say use him as a pinch-hitter, but the DH has pretty much eliminated that.
Notes: Three hits for Brad Miller and two for Tommy Edman, meaning the top three in the lineup went 8-12. That’s a good way to score runs….Harrison Bader had a double, but it was a double that was about a foot from being a home run for the third consecutive day….Jack Flaherty didn’t need all the support, going five scoreless, but I’m sure he appreciated it nonetheless….the only glitch on the pitching staff was Alex Reyes, who put two on and then gave up a three-run bomb to Jorge Solar. One of them was unearned due to a Paul DeJong error, but it still wasn’t great. Reyes is probably going to have some of these days, but the fact that he can also have some really dominant ones is encouraging.
Tuesday vs. Kansas City (5-4 loss)
Hero: Paul DeJong. Three hits, which was almost half of the team’s total. If he doesn’t hesitate (or Jose Oquendo realizes and holds him up), perhaps it’s a different story. Being caught at the plate really hurt.
Goat: Kolten Wong. 0-3 from the leadoff spot, though he did draw a walk and was hit by a pitch in the ninth.
Notes: Harrison Bader made it interesting, tripling off of Trevor Rosenthal in the ninth with one out, but as we referenced above, it seems like a runner on third with one out is a prime strikeout time for this team and Tommy Edman did that before Paul Goldschmidt grounded out….Adam Wainwright admitted afterwards he didn’t have much, but he allowed just four runs in seven innings. That’s a solid outing for many pitchers these days, especially one at his stage in his career. He can do better, but this wasn’t really bad….Dylan Carlson with a hit and a walk as he slowly seems to be finding his footing in the bigs….John Gant gave up a run on two hits and a walk in his inning of work. Combine that with Thursday’s outing and there’s got to be some concern that we’re starting to see the slide we saw last season in the second half.
Wednesday vs. Kansas City (6-5 win)
Hero: Kolten Wong. One hit and two walks, counting one that capped one of the most gift-wrapped rallies ever.
Goat: Alex Reyes. Granted, the runs probably don’t score if Tyler O’Neill doesn’t overrun a fly ball, but he still put them on with walks.
Notes: The Cardinals scored four runs in the ninth inning. They only got two hits in that frame. Four walks and a hit by pitch will do that. Many people were crediting Mike Matheny for the victory, in part because that’s what we do as Cardinal fans, but honestly it would have been much more Matheny to leave Trevor Rosenthal in to get the last out when he was obviously running on fumes. The fact that he threw Tuesday plus he had to come in to put out a fire in the eighth meant there wasn’t much room for error. He hit the wall and Matheny got him. The problem was, reading some comments from Royals fans, there wasn’t anyone else available but Randy Rosario. Who still should be able to get an out if he’s on a major league roster, but obviously wasn’t the first choice for that assignment….O’Neill got one of the hits in the ninth, a smash that the third baseman couldn’t handle and led to the two runs that tied the game. Two hits on the night for TON, who has been in a weird place in regards to playing time lately….not a bad outing from Dakota Hudson, who allowed three hits (but two runs) in six innings.
Thursday vs. Pittsburgh, Game 1 (4-3 loss in eight)
Hero: Kwang Hyun Kim. One unearned run in six innings. Given that they should have only played seven, that wins you a ballgame 95% of the time, unless you are a Cardinal starter.
Goat: Brad Miller. Two errors that proved costly–one that led to Kim’s run, one that led to the eventual deciding one in the eighth. Add to that, with one out, the Cards down one in their last at bat, and runners on first and third, he–you guessed it–struck out. A fly ball there probably ties it up and we keep going. Miller’s had some great games for the Cardinals so far, but if you start people wishing Matt Carpenter was playing third, you’ve got issues.
Notes: Seven hits in the game and three of them came in the extra frame….two hits for Tommy Edman, the only person with more than one….Yadier Molina went yard. After his first 11 (I think) hits being singles, he’s got a double and a homer in the last three games….John Gant got burned by the extra inning rule, seeing a flare drive in a runner that he didn’t allow, but then he crumbled after that and allowed two more.
Thursday vs. Pittsburgh, Game 2 (2-0 loss)
Hero: Johan Oviedo. Two runs in five innings isn’t overwhelming, but it’s good enough to win with any support. Oviedo only allowed four hits and just had one iffy inning. I’m liking what we are seeing from him so far.
Goat: Paul DeJong. 0-3 and left two men on base.
Notes: Getting shut out by the worst team in the league is really not something you want on your resume….nice work by Austin Gomber, who put up two scoreless innings in relief….Dylan Carlson got a hit, which puts his average just under .200 and climbing.