I think it’s fair that nobody saw that coming. With the Reds in town, any sweep thoughts were of the positive variety, not the possibility that the Cardinals could be the receiving end of the broom. I mean, the last time the Reds had done that was 1990, a year where they went on to win the World Series. They hadn’t even won a four game series against St. Louis in Busch since then. There was no way that was going to happen. Until it did.
The Cardinals can perhaps hold on to the rally on Sunday as they are going into the off day as a positive memory but the fact is that you could look at any of the facets of this team and see reasons to be less-than-excited.
Offense: The Cardinals scored as much in the sixth inning yesterday as they did in the rest of the series. Seven runs in three games isn’t great at any time, but especially not when you are facing a Cincinnati staff that has been less than impressive. Even if their starters are able to keep you down, which was at least somewhat understandable, how do you not score against a bullpen that has a 5.78 ERA, the worst in the majors, and that’s AFTER their performance in this series? The Cards did do some damage against those guys and were able to get the tying run to the plate in the ninth in every game, but you’d have expected at least one of those comebacks to succeed. Especially Sunday, when the tying run is on third and the winning run on second with nobody out. And let’s not even talk about the bench, which was even weaker this weekend when Yadier Molina was dealing with his knee issue.
Starting pitching: We knew it was just a matter of time before folks got to John Gant, though I expected more of a deluge of singles and doubles rather than big home runs. Kwang Hyun Kim wasn’t terribly sharp even before he had to leave Friday’s game early with back trouble and the club got probably the best they could hope for out of Johan Oviedo but he didn’t go five innings. The memory of Carlos Martinez‘s start in Los Angeles still resonates and the loss of Jack Flaherty this week has made this area suddenly the pressing priority.
Relief pitching: For the fact that “the good arms” didn’t get used until Sunday, this could have been worse. Junior Fernandez allowed two runs on Friday that turned out to be big but they also got 2.1 scoreless innings from Andrew Miller and 1.2 from Jake Woodford. Daniel Ponce de Leon pitched two goose eggs on Saturday, but Ryan Helsley had made that somewhat moot by already allowing two runs in his outing. Sunday may have been the best bullpen day we’ve seen, with Miller, newbie Angel Rondon, and Giovanny Gallegos combining for four scoreless innings, only to see Alex Reyes undo it all by allowing a home run.
It’s hard to be optimistic about this team right now. This was a team that was a little questionable even if everything went right. At the beginning of the year, it felt like they were a division winner in part because of what they had and in part because the division wasn’t going to be that great. The latter part might still be in play–the Cards are just 2.5 out behind Chicago and Milwaukee with a record that would see them much farther out in most every other division except the NL East–but what the Cardinals had was a solid lineup and a good pitching staff and, with injury after injury, both of those things have been eroded away.
There’s still good here, but John Mozeliak has been frank in the fact that help is needed and soon. I don’t think you see a big blockbuster trade for a while, but something smaller that can help the Cards hold the line and stay in the race until the bigger names become more available or more teams figure out what they want to do. The latter might be a problem, since I think there are going to be a lot of teams clumped around that sorta good line, especially with the two wild cards. Right now, teams like Baltimore, Texas, and Pittsburgh would be teams that know their future, but you have to ask what sort of players from those teams would help you? Minnesota might have some, but do they think this is what they are going forward or is it a one year blip and they plan to return to contention next year? I don’t know but that’s important for determining whether someone like Jose Berrios is going to actually be on the market.
The Cardinals have lost five in a row and not always looked competitive doing so. They didn’t give up any this weekend, not even when they were down 7-0, and that’s heartening to see. However, moral victories and spirit wins don’t show up in the actual standings. Players getting healthy–we’ll probably see Paul DeJong this weekend if not tomorrow and you hope KK only misses the 10 days–will help, but there are holes that need to be patched in all facets of the team. Whether Mozeliak has enough boards and nails remains to be seen.
Friday (6-4 loss)
Hero: Dylan Carlson. Three hits, though the fact that your second place hitter can have three hits and no runs scored is an issue.
Goat: Nolan Arenado. 0-4 and left four men on base. I do think, at times, Arenado gets to pressing and trying to do too much for his team. Thankfully he was able to get back on track later in the weekend.
Notes: The two runs Junior Fernandez gave up in the top of the ninth didn’t seem to be that big of a deal, but they turned out to be the deciding factor. Of course, the Reds might have made different bullpen choices in a 4-1 game, though after using Tejay Antone and Lucas Sims the night before, I’m not sure what other choices they had….really great work from Jake Woodford and Andrew Miller. I never would have thought Miller could have gone over two innings, much less do it without allowing runs….Kwang Hyun Kim didn’t look that sharp even before he tried to beat out a grounder (it’s remarkable how fast he is, isn’t it?) and has allowed three runs or more in each of his last four starts. Either the book is out on him (except for Cincy and the Padres, those aren’t teams he faced last year) or he’s just not throwing as well. Whatever the case, the club needs to see more of the 2020 version, and how often can you say you want to see the 2020 version of anything?
Saturday (5-2 loss)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. Three hits including two doubles. Most of the hits were the “stick the bat out” variety but they worked and that’s all that matters. When you have almost half the team’s hits, you do it however you want.
Goat: Ryan Helsley. After pinch-hitting for Johan Oviedo in an unsuccessful attempt to take the lead, Helsley held the line for an inning but then a walk and a homer in the sixth was a back-breaker. It feels like a lot of times this year a reliever has come into the game and been really good his first inning, then allows runs in his second. I don’t know if it’s the break between innings or what, but unless they are Giovanny Gallegos, it happens more frequently than I like.
Notes: Paul Goldschmidt had a triple, which was kinda interesting since it was more of a bloop hit that got away from the outfielder rather than a ringing line drive in the corner….it probably was the best we’ve seen Oviedo since his relief appearance earlier in the year. He allowed two runs in four innings, but he struck out four and minimized the damage as best he could….Edmundo Sosa went 0-4 and left five men on base. He’s hitting under .200 for the past two weeks and it should make the decision to put Paul DeJong back in the starting lineup much easier….two hits for Tyler O’Neill, the only other Cardinal to record more than one.
Sunday (8-7 loss)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. A four-hit day with another two RBI that tied up the game after an unfortunate Paul Goldschmidt double play.
Goat: John Gant. I almost went Alex Reyes but if Gant keeps the ball in the yard or has anything approximating a normal start, the Cardinals probably win this one. Seven runs in four innings of work is distressing. It doesn’t help that he walked three and hit a man in that span.
Notes: Reyes got burned by Jesse Winker, but who didn’t this series. In the four games, Winker slashed .444/.500/1.111. Yes, he slugged over 1.000 with four home runs….also destroying the Cardinals was Jonathan India, who hit .538 and also slugged over 1.000 due to two doubles and two homers….on the year, India is hitting .438 against the Cardinals and 14 of his 37 hits have come in the 10 games he’s played against them….Nick Castellanos went 0-5 in this one and, compared to the other two, actually was contained in this series, hitting .333/.400/.444. Of course, without that 0-5 he hit .462….three hits by Paul Goldschmidt, so the 3-4 hitters went 7-9 with a walk. We’ll take that as often as they’d like to give it….seriously, I never expected Andrew Miller to be this effective. Another scoreless inning here and if he’s actually somewhat fixed that’s going to help things a lot….congrats to Angel Rondon for making his major league debut. Gotta figure they got his feet wet but he’ll be making a start sometime soon, perhaps even this weekend at Wrigley.