Thank goodness for Adam Wainwright.
Our Hero went to the mound with a lot on his shoulders last night. Not only had the Cardinals lost six games, but if he faltered, there was a less than zero chance this losing streak could reach double digits. Earlier Mike Shildt announced that the rotation for this weekend in Wrigley Field would be Johan Oviedo, John Gant, and Carlos Martinez. Nothing against those guys, but there’s a lot of uncertainty when they pitch, especially in a park like the one on the North Side (I shudder if the wind is blowing out). Someone needed to stand in the gap and that person, for years, has been Adam Wainwright. He did it once again last night.
It didn’t start off looking like that, though. After the first five batters, Wainwright had two outs but also two runs in. He got Josh Naylor to strike out, though, and then was settled in. He only allowed one baserunner over the next six innings, when an errant pitch clipped Bradley Zimmer. (Perhaps worth nothing, Wainwright has hit seven this year, though three came in his last outing. He hit eight in all of 2019 and his career high is nine, way back in 2007, his first year of starting at the big league level.) Wainwright’s not going to be this good all the time and he’s probably going to flare up a bit more often given his age, but he’s still a rock and a guy that you can at least feel confident will give you a chance to win, a confidence that isn’t always felt when other members of the rotation are on the bump.
Of course, Wainwright couldn’t do it alone, even if he did pick up his first hit in the ’20s. (His career average, which was at .199 going into the year and what he desperately wanted to get over .200, has now slipped to .194.) He needed offensive support and, for the first time in a while, the offense came through and did so early enough to let him pitch with a lead.
I don’t know much about Jean Carlos Mejia, though I know the Indians were trying to work him into the rotation by stretching him out. The pregame show said that Cleveland was trying to get him up to around 65 pitches tonight. So we knew his night would be short anyway, but the offense made sure he didn’t reach his goal. Remarkably, they did a lot of damage with two outs.
Tommy Edman led off with a double and after Dylan Carlson flew out and Paul Goldschmidt struck out, he was still on second. It felt like a familiar refrain. I wonder how many times Edman has started an inning at second and hasn’t moved? More than I’d like, I know that. However, Nolan Arenado drew a walk and Tyler O’Neill, unlike the rest of his night, hit a ball that was nubbed just into the right place where he could beat out an infield hit. (We are really getting a feel for his speed this year, I think.)
Bases loaded two out is still a dicey place to be, but Mejia gave the Cardinals a taste of their own medicine, walking Yadier Molina to force in a run. That was only the second bases-loaded walk the Cardinals have received this year, so they have a long way to go to balance the ledger. That brought up Matt Carpenter with the sacks still jammed. Earlier this season, when Carpenter was in the midst of his terrible start, he couldn’t come through in this situation that has helped build his reputation. No such problem last night, as he cleared the bases and gave the team a 4-2 lead.
We’ve talked about it before (though some people still don’t want to hear it) but Carpenter is starting to be a more potent force at the plate, which is good since with Harrison Bader still out (and to be out a while longer), this allows Shildt to let Carpenter have some second and Edman right field, since none of the other replacement outfield options are really cutting it. Since the start of the series with the White Sox, which was two-plus weeks ago now, Carp has a .323/.432/.516 slash line. He’s got six doubles in that span, which is a little bit of that old Carpenter. We shouldn’t expect a lot of power and he still needs to be in the bottom part of the lineup, but he’s not the automatic out he was earlier in the season which is good to see.
Waino could have made that 4-2 lead stand up but the club didn’t make him. O’Neill add a blast in the third after an Arenado double, giving the veteran two more runs to work with. It stayed that way until the seventh, when Goldschmidt put one just over the wall and, one out later, O’Neill hit his second of the night.
I thought my friend John Redbird made a good point on the Twitters last night:
Do we get to talk about Tyler O’Neill like we do Adolis Garcia and Randy Arozarena
— John Redbird (@JohnRedbird) June 10, 2021
There’s been a lot of talk about Luke Voit and Randy Arozarena and Adolis Garcia and, even this week, Patrick Wisdom. I think the only true miss in that group is Arozarena, because they never gave him the shot he needed, but we also have to keep in mind that he worked tirelessly during the quarantine and emerged a stronger player, so he was a little different when he finally got to play with Tampa Bay than when he left the Cardinals. Voit is in a good situation for his strengths and likely wouldn’t have developed to this extent in a park that tends to suppress power. Garcia is surprising even the Rangers and Wisdom has been on three teams since he left St. Louis.
Even if you want to ding the front office for all of that, though, you have to admit that they saw what O’Neill was capable of when they dealt for him. For a bit, sure, it looked like Seattle might get the best of it with Marco Gonzales, but I think O’Neill has erased that gap. After leading the team (well, co-leading) last year in home runs, he’s got 15 this year, more than double his total last year in about the same number of plate appearances. He’s on the top of the leaderboards in exit velocity, barrel percentage, all the x stats, and sprint speed. He’s got a Gold Glove under his belt and only needs to walk a little more to be the complete (sigh) package. The Cardinals haven’t hit on a lot of hitters, but they surely seem to have here.
Our Goat from last night has to be Dylan Carlson, who went 0-5 with three strikeouts. Carlson’s in a mini-slump, going 1-17 in his last four games. He hit .438 his four games before that, so I think we can give him a little leeway there.
Cardinals go to Chicago for three games starting Friday afternoon. I’m going to be off the grid–OK, not really, I’m sure I’ll check in on Twitter and Facebook occasionally–for the next week but we’ll catch up on all the games when I get back!