Thoughts From a Long West Coast Weekend

There have been seasons where the Cardinals win one or two, then lose one or two, never really getting into a rhythm.  This year, they seem to be a bit more streaky.  Four wins against the White Sox and Diamondbacks in a row followed by, as of now, two losses in a row against Arizona and the Dodgers.  We’ll recap the games in a bit, but first some general thoughts about the last four games.

–The pitching staff needs help and that’s even before Jack Flaherty left last night with side tightness.  Flaherty said it was precautionary and hopefully that’s all it was, though.  If Flaherty’s out for any extended period of time, I don’t think there’s an internal option that works and none that gives you anything close to what the staff ace brings to the table.  I assume they would go back to Johan Oviedo, especially if it is just a start or two, but Oviedo desperately needs some time in Memphis to develop the talent he has.  We saw him again struggle on Friday night against the Diamondbacks, staked to a lead but again unable to get through five innings due to walks.  So I really, really hope Flaherty knows what he’s talking about and he’ll be back out there against the Reds this weekend.

–We keep talking about “The Big Three” when it comes to the bullpen, but I’ve been uncomfortable with Genesis Cabrera being included in that for a while.  We noted on Musial this week that his numbers, at least in some ways, aren’t that much different than Ryan Helsley‘s and while we started to make the argument to expand the group to four, you could also take that to shrink the group to two.  Cabrera has walked 15 in 26.1 innings after last night, which is less than ideal.  The kicker with Cabrera may be, as Mr. VanHicklestein noted last night, not to let Cabrera come in with runners on, which if you have to have that qualification on a reliever may mean that he’s not really a top tier reliever.

With runners on, Cabrera allows an .814 OPS (66 plate appearances) and if they are in scoring position, it rises to .881 (43 PA).  Two outs, RISP? He’s got a slash line of .316/.350/.474 in 20 PA.  When nobody is on base, that OPS drops to .351 (48 PA).  Much of Cabrera’s good work is when he can start an inning clean and just dominate it.  He’s still walked six with the bases empty, which is more than the hits that he’s given up in that situation (4).  While Chris Taylor had an excellent at bat against him last night, that came after Cabrera had walked two batters to force in a run.  There’s a lot of small samples in here, which is what you are going to get with relievers, but I don’t feel comfortable with Cabrera coming in mid-inning usually.  He sometimes surprises me (and his high-leverage stats are better than you’d think from above) but it really feels like he gets too amped up trying to keep runners from scoring and winds up overthrowing, which means the ball doesn’t get close enough to the zone for batters to chase.

–We saw Helsley do a bang-up job against the Diamondbacks, coming into a bases-loaded situation with nobody out and escaping without a run scoring.  That’s what got Allen and I talking about him on the show and there were a lot of positive signs for Helsley.  In fact, I’m not sure that Mike Shildt doesn’t need to rethink his approach to some innings.  Granted last night he had to do what he could with Flaherty leaving abruptly, but Helsley has allowed just one inherited runner out of 13 to score this season while Cabrera has allowed 10 of his 20 to come around to score.  It’s one of the reasons Helsley’s line looks so bad, because like last night the inherited runners Cabrera can’t hold are the ones Helsley put there.

Unfortunately, however they come around, Helsley has been charged with two runs in three of his last four appearances, the Arizona outing the exception.  That inherited runners stat might be a little skewed as well, given that Helsley has a .948 OPS with RISP (29 PA), a number that rises to 1.214 with two outs (only 10 PA though).  Without looking at the game logs particularly, Helsley might get credit for stranding an inherited runner if he is replaced before the inning is over.  That might play some of a role, but I can’t really hunt through the play by play right now.

–So basically the only pitcher in the bullpen you trust to come into a tough situation is Giovanny Gallegos, given that Alex Reyes is saved for the ninth (and we know how chaotic his saves can be anyway).  Gallegos with RISP: .589 OPS, two walks (22 PA).  It’s .469 if men are on (43 PA).  However, as the manager would tell you, you can’t bring in Gallegos every time, especially since you might have multiple situations in a game.

–The bullpen is really in shambles right now, it feels like.  We thought maybe Tyler Webb was turning a corner, only to see him blow up again against the D-Backs.  Daniel Ponce de Leon looked like at least a mid-range option, but he’s given up runs in three of his last four outings, including three last night.  While obviously no bullpen is lights out all the time and all have their weak points, it feels much easier in this one to find people you don’t want to see than people that you do.  If nothing else, down 6-4 you want someone that can keep it there and make the ninth interesting.  I’m not sure that there’s anyone you would even expect necessarily to do that out there.  When Jake Woodford may be the current best option for some sort of “keep it close” situation, that’s pretty telling.

–The starting rotation doesn’t get completely off the hook either.  We know that John Gant seems to be defying gravity at the moment but there’s also an expectation that will come to an end sooner or later (hopefully not as soon as tonight).  It may be time to worry a bit about Kwang Hyun Kim as well.  In Kim’s eight starts, he’s not completed six innings once.  While you knew that the club would bring him along slowly after that late injury in spring training, it’s past time for him to have a six inning outing on his resume.  His last three starts have been less than stellar, with a 5.14 ERA over them that could have been higher, as he allowed three unearned runs against the Padres (though that itself is misleading, as two of those runs were walked in).  Now, two of those starts were against the Padres and the White Sox, high caliber opponents that perhaps you give some slack regarding.  Giving up four against the Diamondbacks is a little more concerning, especially when you hear Jim Edmonds pointing out that he’s not mixing location allowing batters to sit on pitches.  Maybe he’ll make some adjustments.  The team really needs him to because they might eventually replace one starter.  I’m not sure they’ll replace two.

–There was some good news out of the weekend, though, and it came from the offense.  Tyler O’Neill came off the injured list with a vengeance, hitting home runs in three straight games and then another one last night.  I really would like to see this version of TON hitting fifth with Yadier Molina sixth, especially since Yadi has started to cool off a little bit (.717 OPS in his last 10 games).  Obviously O’Neill will slow down some but he’s been pretty good for the most part all season long, whenever he can stay on the field that is.  There’s a good chance he’ll wind up leading the team in homers at the end of the year but he’s not completely a home run or bust kinda guy.

–Then there was Dylan Carlson.  You know that we’ve talked much about the lack of power we’ve seen out of Carlson since he moved to the second spot.  He’s been effective, of course, and a great addition to the top of the lineup, but the power had gone missing.  In the last four games, though, he’s got a double and two home runs and came close to having another one out in Arizona.  If he can continue to meld that with the approach he’s had the last month, that Rookie of the Year award will be well within his grasp.


Friday (8-6 win at Arizona)

Hero: Jake Woodford.  It’s not often you get to say it, but Woodford really saved the game.  It was 7-3 when he came into it but there were runners on second and third and things were looking shaky.  Not only did he strike out the next two batters, ending the threat, but he pitched two more scoreless frames.  Given how things wound up, that really was the difference between a win and a loss.

Goat: Johan Oviedo.  Oviedo had a four run lead before he even took the mound, yet couldn’t make it through the fifth.  Six walks and five hits while recording only 13 outs is not a recipe for a good outing.  As we keep saying, it’d be very good to get Oviedo a stretch of AAA starts but they keep having to bring him up to fill a need.  Hopefully there won’t be such a need for a while.

Notes: Tyler O’Neill and Nolan Arenado homered, Arenado on a pitch that was so inside it might have hit him….Ryan Helsley and Daniel Ponce de Leon made this more interesting than it needed to be, combining to allow three runs in the last two innings….Madison Bumgarner wasn’t sharp either and the Cards put up eight runs with only six hits, in part due to six walks.

Saturday (7-4 win at Arizona)

Hero: Tyler O’Neill.  Three hits, including yet another homer, and three RBI.  The other two hits were doubles–I’m not sure O’Neill hits singles anymore!

Goat: Dylan Carlson.  Toss up between him and Nolan Arenado, since both were hitless, but Carlson left three men on while Arenado at least scored a run.

Notes: Adam Wainwright hit a wall fast in this one, allowing nothing in the first four innings but leaving without an out being recorded in the sixth.  (Genesis Cabrera was able to strand the runner he inherited in this one, albeit not without some drama.)  Which is probably going to happen to Wainwright more regularly than not–some days he’ll be able to go deep, some days he’ll only be able to fool them once through the order….big day for Yadier Molina as well, with two hits and three RBI….Tommy Edman also had a couple of hits, doing that “setting the table” thing he does….the bullpen came together in this one, even while using Tyler Webb.

Sunday (9-2 loss at Arizona)

Hero: Dylan Carlson.  Two hits, including a home run that got Danny Mac all worked up and made Jim Edmonds a prophet.

Goat: Tyler Webb.  Look, the game wasn’t in good shape when he came in, but Webb basically blew it all up.  He faced six batters, five of them reached (one by error).  He allowed two of those runs to come in and Jake Woodford allowed the other three to score.  A 4-2 game went to 9-2 in a hurry and with a spring training getaway day lineup out there, there wasn’t going to be any comeback.

Notes: Matt Carpenter had two hits, including a double, which meant this was one of his best games of the year….Jose Rendon also had two hits, his first as a Cardinal….Andrew Knizner also had a couple of hits, which helped reverse the slide he was in before Yadier Molina returned from the injured list….Junior Fernandez threw two scoreless innings in a very low leverage spot but it was still nice to see….does it seem to anyone else that the Cardinals get blown out a lot?  10 of their 24 losses have been of five runs or more.  Just look at this graphical representation of their season and you can see how rarely they lose close games.

Monday (9-4 loss at Los Angeles)

Hero: Not a real great choice here, but we’ll go with Dylan Carlson, whose one hit was a two-run homer that, temporarily, gave the Cardinals the lead.

Goat: Genesis Cabrera.  It was bad enough that Ryan Helsley put two of the three batters he faced on base, but at least he made them earn it.  Cabrera came in and walked the first two he faced, forcing in the tying run, before an epic at bat against Chris Taylor wound up allowing three more runs to score.  He walked yet another batter before getting out of the inning.

Notes: That bases-loaded walk was the 15th issued by the Cardinals this year.  If you could somehow remove those runs from the team ERA, it would go from 3.96 to 3.67….Jack Flaherty gave up back to back homers in the second but other than that looked sharp, striking out nine in five innings before his side tightened up….Justin Williams, whom I had personally written off, had a home run off of Trevor Bauer to start the scoring and had another hit later, the only person with multiple hits.

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