Remember way back, long time ago, like three weeks, when the Cardinals couldn’t get their starters past five innings? Even five was asking a lot at the time. Jack Flaherty had the only outs in the sixth all season and he’d only done it once. That vaunted Cardinal advantage, starting pitching, looked questionable.
Since the start of the series in Washington, though, the Cardinals starters have been serious–they’ve gone six almost every time out. The line reads six, seven, six, five and two-thirds, six, seven, nine, and now seven and a third. They aren’t just staying out there for their health (or, more accurately, the bullpen’s health) either. Almost always they are giving up two runs or less during their time on the bump. It’s no surprise, then, that the Cardinals are 5-3 in that stretch and all three losses were incredibly close.
Last night, the Tsunami warning sounded again as Carlos Martinez got his first win as a starter since 2018. It was just two starts ago that there were St. Louis columnists pointing out a (skewed) record of how he’d done since that last win and strongly suggesting he was only a bullpen option. Since then, he’s thrown 13.1 innings and allowed three runs, only two earned. He might be making the adjustment to not trying to overpower everyone, as he has only seven strikeouts (but just three walks) in the frame.
Honestly, his reliance on his fielders has been part of his problem this year. Martinez hasn’t always gotten the best of efforts from those behind him in 2021. Even last night, Justin Williams completely misjudged where he was on the field and let a very catchable ball drop, turning an out into a double. Martinez then exacerbated the situation by trying to pick the runner off of second, which hardly ever works and a large percentage of the time winds up with the ball in center field, as it did here. Other than that play, though, the defense shined. Every infielder had a remarkable play, either with diving stops or catching line drives. Then there was Nolan Arenado doing those Nolan Arenado things that we’ve heard about so often and seen when he was wearing purple, but finally got to witness “in person”.
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) April 28, 2021
When the pitching and defense is going, the offense doesn’t need to do a whole lot. Early on, though, it looked like they were going to, well, do a whole lot. After the Phillies got one on a sacrifice fly, the Cards countered in the bottom of the first with (yet another) Dylan Carlson single and then an Arenado double that old friend Brad Miller didn’t really judge well. Remember when Miller played third for the Cardinals last year and it was less than a rousing success? It was kinda like that.
The Cards put up two more in the second. Williams singled, Andrew Knizner (more on him in a bit) singled, then Tommy Edman doubled them home. Three runs in two innings and it looked like, as they did with Joe Ross, they were going to beat up on Zach Eflin the second time they saw him.
Eflin settled in, though, and St. Louis wouldn’t get any more until the seventh in a two-out rally. Edman singled, Carlson singled, and that was the end of the night for Eflin. Sam Coonrod came in to face Paul Goldschmidt, who has been struggling of late. However, Goldy jumped on the first pitch from Coonrod and was about half a foot or less from depositing it in the Cardinals’ bullpen. The double scored two and gave Martinez a little insurance.
Back up a little there, though. I said that was a two-out rally and the second out of the inning was Martinez batting for himself in the bottom of the seventh in a one run game. The reason he could, besides the lead, was that he was only at 82 pitches. As smoothly as Martinez was going, it wasn’t a terrible thing to let him bat (especially with no one on base) since the bottom of the lineup was coming up in the eighth. When Martinez walked the pinch-hitter in the nine slot, though, Mike Shildt wisely got him before he could face the heart of the Phillies’ lineup one more time.
When the starters are going deep, that can help the bullpen look a little sharper as well. Giovanny Gallegos threw three pitches and got the double play, so his night was pretty smooth. Alex Reyes came in for the ninth, of course, and gave up a single to Bryce Harper but that was it, ending the night with the second strikeout.
We’re giving Martinez the Hero but everyone played a solid game that it’s tough to give a goat. I’m going to go ahead and give it to Paul DeJong because he went 0-4 and was the only starter without a hit, but he did have a nice spear of a line drive to help out his pitcher.
Before the game, the Cardinals put Yadier Molina on the injured list and recalled Ali Sanchez. Molina might have pushed himself a little bit to catch Adam Wainwright last night, but it sounds like it was a situation where he felt fine, played, then didn’t have the recovery he was hoping for. If a weekend of rest got him to be able to play, hopefully 10 days off will get him back into his normal form. Molina has that same sort of amazing healing skills that Albert Pujols had, so I’m sure he’ll be back then ready to go.
In the meantime, we get to see Knizner and honestly, so far so good. The results haven’t been remarkably different–the pitching run started under Molina and continued with Knizner–and two hits last night pushed his average over the .300 mark. He has two doubles, so he’s not completely a singles hitter. Even as well as Molina has been going this year, it doesn’t feel like, at least right now, that it’s a big drop off to his backup.
Dylan Carlson is now slashing .474/.500/.526 since moving into the second spot in the lineup. He’s had multiple hits in three of the five games. My only concern is that he’s not looking to drive the ball as much–a double is his only extra-base hit in 20 plate appearances–but he’s setting the table for the big bats behind him so it’s not like we’re complaining!
Cards try to at least split the series tonight with Johan Oviedo going up against Vince Velasquez. Velasquez did well in relief of Matt Moore in the game the Cards won in Philly, so this could be another pitching duel!