The defense of the bullpen usage from last night really boils down to what Mike Shildt said after the game:
“We’re down a run and we have to be able to pitch other guys to hold it there,” said manager Mike Shildt. “We can’t go to the same guys every night that we chase games. We can’t just use the same three or four guys. We need to be able to get contributions and outs from other people to hold it down, or to hold it close.”
He’s absolutely right in that statement. What he didn’t say but what is probably true is that, this morning, this series still looks exactly as people planned it.
With Kyle Hendricks going, you kinda expect to take a loss in the first game of the series. The fact that they were able to keep it close is great and I’m not saying you just give up because of the starting pitcher, but the fact is that they trailed in the eighth inning with Craig Kimbrel–not the Kimbrel of Paul DeJong/Yadier Molina homer fame but the Craig Kimbrel of old–waiting in the ninth. If Paul Goldschmidt had been able to keep the rally going in the bottom of the seventh, tying it up or putting the Cardinals ahead, the usage would have been different. As it was, the Cardinals win expectancy was only at 24% before Kodi Whitley threw a pitch.
Imagine if the Cardinals got a lead Saturday or Sunday and blew it because they couldn’t throw Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos, or Alex Reyes because they had burned them on Friday night trying to win a game that they had less than a one in four chance of winning. That would be terrible and actual managerial malpractice. This isn’t a video game. There’s already been complaints about how much Gallegos is throwing. Sometimes you have to make the tough decision to rest the big guns.
To that end, the choice of Whitley made sense. Allen and I had just talked about Whitley on this week’s Musial, commenting on how he’d been good for the most part but not good enough to put him into that circle of trust. Honestly, I don’t know who else you use there, especially since Ryan Helsley had already been used (and not been as effective as he had been recently, which is part of the reason they were in this mess). Do you want to see Jake Woodford there more? If he’d not been so bad before the IL stint, maybe that’s where you put Daniel Ponce de Leon instead of the ninth after it was out of hand, but I wouldn’t have wanted Ponce into a one run game for his first outing after being activated.
No, Whitley made sense. If Nolan Arenado doesn’t botch a grounder trying to make a play too fast, perhaps that inning goes a little differently. At worst, you have runners at first and third, I think. Arenado might have been trying to get the ball so he could tag third, but he was a little too far from the bag for that. I don’t think he could have tagged third and I’d have been really surprised if he could have done the 5-3 double play. Maybe a 5-6-3 with a clean scoop, even though it didn’t look like he was trying for that from my watching.
(Also, I’ll admit I was surprised to see a reasonable and smart fan like Ben Cerutti say Arenado was disappointing at defense. I didn’t realize the metrics were indicating that, because it seems to me that I’m consistently seeing him make excellent plays. Perhaps that’s a function of not having a solid third baseman in a while. I would also like to enter into evidence the ideas that Arenado is learning a new shifting philosophy, new teammates and their skills and chemistry, and infields that he is less familiar with. I think the metrics will improve on him as time goes on. I also think it’s tough to compare him to Scott Rolen given Rolen never had the shifts Arenado has and also Rolen’s mastery is possibly heightened in our memory given it’s been 15 years. We don’t remember the two error games that he may have had, for instance.)
What doesn’t make sense is bringing in Tyler Webb into another bases-loaded, nobody-out situation. As Rusty Groppel said, we’ve seen this one before. Unlike with the first decision, there are many other options here. You could have let Whitley try to work out of it–after all, if you were trying to spare his ERA, you don’t bring in a guy that’s been as bad as Webb. You could have brought in Seth Elledge, which granted turned into a disaster when he came in for Webb but at least it would have been a different option with at least the unknown around it. You could have turned to Ponce there, though again I wouldn’t have been a big fan I think I’d have still done it instead of Webb.
Bringing Webb into the game last night felt, to me, like some of those situations we’ve seen in the past where the player gets one last chance, one last ride, before the end comes. I know there were two lefties (since the Cubs had announced Eric Sogard) coming up but Webb has been terrible against lefties this year. We’ve talked about those splits before but after last night, lefties have a .955 OPS against him in a few more plate appearances than righties do. Webb is the lefty that you want to use when lefties AREN’T coming up!
The idea that you have to keep Webb on the roster because Andrew Miller isn’t close to returning and you don’t want Cabrera as your only left-handed option is flawed because, in truth, Cabrera is your only left-handed option right now. There is no game that hangs in the balance that you will feel comfortable bringing Webb into. We saw it last night. He gave up a base hit to Sogard on his third pitch. He did get Joc Pederson to pop out, which is more than a lot of pitchers did last night, but I don’t think that makes the decision good, especially when that out was negated by walking Kris Bryant to load the bases up again.
Webb’s WHIP went up last night–it’s now at 2.351. Which means for every inning he pitches, he gets close to loading the bases. He has more walks than innings pitched. He has more hits allowed than innings pitched. As much as he’s been a good part of the bullpen the past couple of years, you can’t continue to run him out there. You just can’t.
There need to be more arms than the Big Three. Helsley is close to that status, but in a tie game do you really want to see Woodford or Ponce or Elledge? Moving John Gant back to the bullpen can’t come quickly enough, honestly, and I say that as someone that doesn’t fully trust Gant in the bullpen role either. It’s better than the current options by a long way.
Miles Mikolas comes back today and probably Elledge goes down to Memphis. If the club was more aggressive, they’d cut Webb, give Bernardo Flores Jr. another try (I know he was bad in his first outing, but at least see if that’s a regular thing), and perhaps even send Woodford down and give Thomas Parsons Webb’s 40-man spot and a seat out in the pen. A reworking of those arms needs to come soon. Not everyone has to be lights out, but there has to be some expectation of success when the door opens. Right now, there’s not much of that.
Hero to Dylan Carlson, who still can’t hit an extra base hit but had two hits in this one, including a big knock past the shift that made it 4-3 and gave hope that Goldschmidt could work some magic. Goat to Nolan Arenado, for an 0-3 and the two errors.
Other notes: I missed watching the first two-thirds of this one but the line makes it appear Carlos Martinez was none the worse for his time on the injured list. The strikeouts still aren’t there but I really feel like Martinez is shifting into the “pitch to contact” stage of his career. Usually, with this defense, that’s going to be a good thing.
Edmundo Sosa with three hits last night, upping his average to .333 in his limited play and showing why the Cardinals didn’t really want to waive him to let Jose Rondon make the team. (Rondon is hitting .250 with four homers in Memphis, so he’s not out of mind.) It’s going to be interesting to see if Sosa can at least make the return of Paul DeJong a conversation–DeJong will obviously take over the spot when he returns, but Sosa’s showing that he probably should play more often. Of course, we’ll see if the league starts to make adjustments and how he does in response to them.
Matt Carpenter got a hit that wasn’t a single or a home run. I know that he’s done that a couple of times this year but it’s still worth noting.
Helsley walked two guys (one intentional) and threw a wild pitch. I’m starting to think Adam Wainwright is right, that wildness is somewhat contagious.
Today’s a night game, but the roster moves will start coming out probably around two. I hope there are multiple ones!