A Lightning Rod of Criticism

I have often said that, for the Cardinal fan base, there’s always a whipping boy.  Someone that takes an outsized dose of criticism, deserved or not.  My first memories of this concept were with J.D. Drew in his time in St. Louis and I’m sure it goes back farther than that.  For much of this year, it has been Matt Carpenter and I would imagine that, if you could only pick one, Carpenter still might be the guy.  However, every fifth day, he gets a break in the dunking booth and Carlos Martinez steps in.

When you look at the overall line from last night’s game, you can easily believe the dunking was justified.  Six runs in five innings is a tough thing for any team to deal with, especially one that has been so sporadic with offense as the Cardinals.  It’s also very frustrating since the Phillies were a team that had less luck with the bats than even St. Louis.  If that second inning is a goose egg, there’s a strong chance that they win that game.

There’s no doubt that Martinez played some role in the onslaught, but let’s really take a look at the inning.  He gets J.T. Realmuto to strike out to end the frame.  Then Alec Bohm hit a ball to Paul DeJong that DeJong was able to field, but he slipped planting his feet and was unable to make the throw.  Nine times out of 10, that’s an out.  Obviously, that probably changed the complexion of the rest of the inning, as your approach with two outs would be different than with one, but that wasn’t the only issue.

Didi Gregorius was up next and hit a ball hard that Carpenter was able to get the edge of his glove on but nothing else.  That’s probably a hit no matter, but you do wonder if Tommy Edman had been playing there instead of right field if it would have been caught.  That’s really just one of those things and, if it had been two outs, wouldn’t have been too concerning.

Next up was Jean Segura.  The writeup says that Segura “doubles on a fly ball to Justin Williams” but that’s really not terribly an accurate description.  Segura hit a high fly ball that somehow Dylan Carlson completely lost track off.  He floated to where it might have gone on a normal day, but with the wind that was knocking down balls last night, by time it dropped, the old saying of “if it was a hand grenade it wouldn’t have hurt you” applied.

So instead of being out of the inning, Martinez has given up a run on two fluky hits and one that might have been corralled with a different second baseman.  He’s not getting pounded here.

Next up was the eighth place hitter Mickey Moniak.  Moniak was making his season debut and while he had a good spring, he’s hitting eighth for a reason.  Mike Shildt, however, decided to walk him to load the bases for the pitcher.  I didn’t like this call at the time (and hindsight, of course, doesn’t hurt) because there was just one out.  Sure, it’s possible to double up Zach Eflin, but what’s the most likely outcome for the pitcher batting?  A strikeout, which means you still have the bases loaded for Andrew McCutchen, albeit with two outs.  With two outs, sure, go ahead and make the pass.  But you need to get two outs and I’d rather take the chance you could get Moniak than McCutchen.

Now, from this point in the inning, the blame does shift to Martinez.  He hits Eflin to force in a run, allows a bases-loaded single to McCutchen that plates two more, walks Rhys Hoskins to reload the bases for Bryce Harper (never a good move) who then doubles in two more, hits Realmuto (up for the second time) with a pitch before striking out Bohm.  If Martinez would have been able to contain some of that damage, perhaps the Cardinals are able to rally.

However, this is, what, at least the third six-run inning we’ve seen this year.  It’s not like Martinez is in a class all by himself.  In fact, the only reason he stands out is because, unlike the other times, he took the whole thing himself.  He didn’t get bailed out by the bullpen.  Martinez is the only starter so far that has gone five innings in all of his starts, which is remarkable on a team that has almost as many bullpen innings as it does starter innings.  And, in regards to saving the bullpen, it worked out.  Martinez, who had a perfect first inning, did not allow another baserunner the rest of the night.  Only that second inning stands out as a imperfection, though obviously it was a large one.

After the game, there were tweets like this one.

Which sounds terrible, no doubt and it’s not what you want to see.  However, it lacks a lot of context.  The first three of those starts were in 2018, right before he went on the DL for a month and came back as a reliever (instead of taking the rest of the season off, which given how things have worked out you wonder might not have been to his advantage.)  The three starts before Frederickson’s arbitrary cutoff Martinez went six, six, and seven and had a 1.89 ERA.  For both the good and the bad, you wonder how relevant 2018 is to the current state of affairs.

2019 Martinez didn’t start a game, instead being an effective, if not always lockdown, reliever due to his arm health.  He returned to the starter role in 2020, getting in one game against the Twins, giving up six runs in 3.2 innings on home runs by a team that smashed a lot of home runs in his first start after a huge layoff and a weird spring.  We were giving everyone some passes for the beginning of 2020, not just Martinez.

Then COVID hit the Cardinals and Martinez was one of the worst ones affected.  He was the only Cardinal that we know of that had to go to the hospital in relation to his symptoms and he did that three times.  There’s a picture of him hooked up to IVs and generally not looking like he’s in the prime of health.  He eventually came back from that but we’ve talked about how Lane Thomas dealt with a COVID fog and didn’t look himself the rest of the way.  It’s not surprising that a pitcher would feel some lasting effects as well.  Martinez worked his way back to five innings by his last start (though he gave up eight runs in the process) and you would think that, had the season continued, he’d probably had a chance to work back into some shape and get farther away from the virus.

That brings us to this year.  The only pitcher that has thrown more innings than Martinez is Jack Flaherty, who is at 15.1 to his 15.  Adam Wainwright has given up more hits in fewer innings.  Andrew Miller and Daniel Ponce de Leon have given up as many home runs.

I’m not saying that all of the issues have been flukes and he’s really been a Cy Young caliber pitcher, mind you.  Martinez bears some blame for not getting out of some jams and being more effective.  I’m just a bit surprised for all the calls for him to come out of the rotation.  We had Benjamin Hochman on Meet Me at Musial last night and he was of the same mind, thinking that the first big shakeup move might be to slide Martinez out of the rotation.

I might understand that more in the past, when the Cards had pitcher after pitcher that they could replace him with.  However, we’ve seen Daniel Ponce de Leon already removed from the rotation to accommodate the return of Kwang Hyun Kim (sounds like Kodi Whitley will be sent down to allow for his roster spot).  John Gant has a shiny 3.00 ERA in the rotation but he’s also walked six in nine innings and his WHIP is at 1.78.  You know I’m not the biggest Gant backer, but I do think that’s going to catch up with him.  Perhaps if Gant and Martinez still look like this when Miles Mikolas comes back (which seems to be late May at the earliest) then Martinez is the one that gets bumped.  I have a feeling it won’t look like that, though.

Who else is there?  Maybe you can make the case for Johan Oviedo, which I would be open to hearing, but I’d still put him in for Gant instead.  The young guns of Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson aren’t ready for promotion.  There’s an argument to be made that the Cardinals should have signed Jake Odorizzi but he’s with the Astros now (and also gave up five runs in 3.1 innings to the Tigers in his only game so far this season).  Maybe someone like a Rick Porcello could be obtained but you’d still have to try to figure out how to get them into game shape without minor league games for them to pitch in.

I think a lot of us would like to see Alex Reyes slide back into the rotation, but given he’s not been stretched out and the innings limit he is dealing with, you’d probably see him only for 2-3 innings for a while and then Martinez come in.  If Martinez is going to have to give you five in that regard, why not have him in the starting rotation?

So all that said, yes, I’m going to give Carlos Martinez the Goat for last night’s game, I just don’t think it was an outing that deserved all the storm around it.

Last night’s game had a few other noteworthy things.  Justin Williams hit his first major league home run in the eighth, giving the Cards their first runs since the fifth on Tuesday night.  Let’s give him the Hero for that.  Tommy Edman had two of the six Cardinal hits, but for once the big guys behind him didn’t help.  Paul Goldschmidt went 1-4 but struck out twice.  Nolan Arenado went 0-4 and left three men on base.  Goldy’s hitting .160 since he missed the game with back tightness.  Hopefully that’s still not bothering him.

Carpenter went 0-3, still looking for that third hit to top his spring outing.  Paul DeJong did get a hit.  It was of the infield variety, but that’s something I guess.  Those guys are going to be out there–Carpenter got double switched out but DeJong was again out there for the duration–so hopefully the Cardinals get something from them.

Whitley gave up a two run shot to Realmuto late and Andrew Miller had his third consecutive appearance giving up a run, allowing now five in the five innings he’s thrown.  I know it would have been hard given the need for pitching to avoid having that option vest last year, but I sure would have like to see them try.

Kim makes his debut today against Matt Moore.  Hopefully he’s ready for the challenge!

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