You know, I’d just about had this team figured out. If they scored multiple runs in the first inning, they won. Otherwise, they didn’t. No need to wait until the end of the game, the first would tell you all you need to know. Last night, however, they finally sent that shorthand packing.
The two games so far in Miami have been fairly off script anyway. After the disaster that was the starting pitching against the Reds (who, it should be pointed out, have scored 19 runs in their two games against Pittsburgh after the Cards left town), there were worries about how Daniel Ponce de Leon and John Gant would look and how taxed the bullpen would be after those games were added to the ones that opened the series. The back of the rotation stepped up, however, with Ponce going five with just one run allowed and Gant going four with the same result, with his run being unearned. Going four and five isn’t exactly saving the bullpen, but it surely helped.
Of course, it’s possible one of those will get the reward of being bumped from the rotation. Kwang Hyun Kim pitched a simulated game yesterday and will go with the team to St. Louis. There’s a reasonable possibility that you’ll see him slide into the rotation, probably for Gant, and be the starter the next time around. If they’d rather replace Ponce, Kim might come into relief in a game or two and then take over the rotation spot not Sunday but the start after.
What was a better sight to see was the fact that the bullpen looked more like the bullpen we have come to know. Ryan Helsley still had some issues last night, allowing a run and four baserunners in an inning and a third, but that was the outlier. Alex Reyes got saves in back-to-back games. Giovanny Gallegos also pitched on consecutive days. Tyler Webb is in the running to be the new Matthew Bowman, just a little more effective. All in all, the bullpen allowed one run in nine innings. That sound you heard was Cardinals fans sighing in relief.
When the pitching is better, the focus then turns to the offense. It didn’t exactly light the world on fire in Miami and Mike Shildt is juggling with the lineup some to see if something will catch. Dylan Carlson got a much-needed insurance run via the longball last night, but that was his first hit since his home run on Opening Day. Tyler O’Neill is 0-for-Miami. Austin Dean didn’t improve over Justin Williams, who is now 0-10 with six strikeouts after his pinch-hitting performance last night. It’s gotten to the point that, as much uproar as there was about Matt Carpenter making it into the starting nine, there wasn’t a real argument for keeping him out.
The idea that Carpenter, who has struggled since 2018, had a terrible spring, and hadn’t started in the first four games should immediately be dropped into hitting fifth is a questionable one. It would make much more sense to see him batting lower in the lineup until he’s shown that there’s still something there. But with Carlson, O’Neill, and the rest of the outfield as impotent as Carpenter, the decision could be defended. I’m still not big on it, but Shildt could say that. The fact that he did say that “Carp’s a proven guy” as his rationale is less inspiring. Every big name is a proven guy until he’s not. Scott Rolen is a proven guy, but I don’t want to see him hitting fifth tomorrow night. That said, I do think Shildt says a lot of things to the media that are meant to help his guys (much like his mentor Tony La Russa did) and that aren’t really the reason he’s doing things.
Also, Carpenter went 0-3 with a walk, but he did wind up hitting the ball hard.
Matt Carpenter doesn’t have much to show for it, but has had some rough luck today.
Today’s ABs (xBAs):
— Cardinal Metrics (@CardinalMetrics) April 7, 2021
I was on a Brewers podcast last night and in the conversation it came up that Carpenter has good numbers against Corbin Burnes, who the Brewers will throw on Thursday, two homers and a double in ten at bats. Granted, it’s a small sample, but given that and the fact that it’s the home opener, perhaps his last, I could see Carp getting another start then.
It hasn’t been completely a get well trip for the Cardinals, but they look a little more like the team that we were hoping they’d be. A final game against the Marlins tonight, then the set against the Brewers. Perhaps they can take a few more steps toward that goal.
Also, just wanted to say that Nolan Arenado is 8-20 with a 1.029 OPS in his first five games as a Cardinal. I’d say he’s happy to be here.
Monday (4-1 win)
Hero: Daniel Ponce de Leon. With his history, this could have been a disaster. Instead, Ponce threw basically only fastballs, walked only one, and got through five innings in slightly less than 100 pitches. He protected his early 3-0 lead and turned it over intact to the bullpen. It wasn’t a gem but the Cards needed it.
Goat: Tyler O’Neill. Two strikeouts in an 0-4 game and he left five men on base.
Notes: Austin Dean got to start against his old organization and did his best Justin Williams, going 0-4 with three strikeouts….Yadier Molina keeps ticking, smacking a two-run double in the first….Tommy Edman got his first homer of the year….Giovanny Gallegos went two innings. When we talked about longer relievers, his name never came up but it looks like he can handle it….Jordan Hicks got his first strikeout of the year.
Tuesday (4-2 win)
Hero: Yadier Molina. Two hits and a RBI on a sacrifice fly. Molina’s hitting .313 in the early going. Perhaps that year “off” helped some.
Goat: Tyler O’Neill. I hate to go back to that well, but O’Neill not only went 0-4 with two strikeouts again, stranding four men, but his error in the first was responsible for the Marlins’ first run and he made another error later. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see him get a day off today, honestly.
Notes: Cardinals loaded the bases with nobody out on two singles and a walk in the sixth. In the past, we’d have probably seen them find a way to completely spoil this situation. This time, they still didn’t get a hit with runners in scoring position, but the three runs scored on a passed ball, a groundout, and Molina’s sac fly. Progress, it would seem….as my Musial cohost Allen Medlock messaged me last night, we probably should give up on this 100 innings idea for Alex Reyes. He seems to be the closer now. That said, running him back to back nights does help a bit with getting the innings up. I still think that they’ll slide Hicks in there after a bit, but it’s something to watch.