Back to the Old Ways

At the end of Rogue One, after the Death Star plans have been carried onto the Tantive IV and onto the bridge, Princess Leia is asked “what have they brought us?”

“Hope”, she responded.

I asked Ben Godar last night on Meet Me at Musial if the sweep of the Diamondbacks had produced any hope for him.  He, being the wise man that he is, said not really.  I, being less smart, had not necessarily hope but at least an uptick in optimism.  If they could play some winning baseball until the break, perhaps things could start breaking their way and this wouldn’t be a lost season after all.

It took just nine innings for those hopes to be dashed.

In fairness, it’s just one game.  The Cardinals could come out and win the next three in Colorado and we could be back in a happy mindset.  And, as I wrote in the series preview, Colorado plays like a 103-win team at home so losing to them there shouldn’t be necessarily seen as some great tragedy, even if they are quite a ways under .500 overall.  However, I think there’s a combination of things that made this one of the more deflating losses of the season.

  • As noted, they just swept the Diamondbacks and had won four out of five overall.  A win in the opener keeps some momentum and, for what it’s worth, gives them one of their longest winning streaks of the season.
  • They’d made up some ground on other teams in the division not named Milwaukee.  They were tied for third with the Reds and two games behind the Cubs.  The Cubs didn’t play, the Reds won and so did the Brewers, so the Cardinals fall back to fourth and now are nine games back of the Brew Crew.
  • Adam Wainwright pitched and, right now, you need to win every Wainwright start.
  • In Coors Field, the Cardinal offense only put up two runs.
  • One of the bullpen stalwarts was the one that coughed up the game.

If Tyler O’Neill‘s ball in the top of the eighth inning goes about two feet more, I wonder if things aren’t different, though what happened in the ninth gives some pause to that.  My thought at the time was if that ball goes out, you turn to Gallegos for two innings (which he’s done numerous times this year) and hopefully get the win.  Maybe that could have happened in that situation.  It’s not what actually happened.

Obviously the Hero tag has to go to Adam Wainwright.  He made two mistakes, one walking C.J. Cron and the other giving up a home run to Brendan Rodgers immediately after it.  Other than that, he was pretty much brilliant, going eight innings and keeping the Cardinals in it.  He made it a little dicey in the seventh when he allowed a one-out single, but he was able to induce a 1-6-3 double play to get out of it, then threw another scoreless inning on top of that.  Even though he was at 110 pitches, I don’t think any of us completely ruled out him going back out there for the ninth until another pitcher took the mound.

Just as obviously, Giovanny Gallegos has to take the Goat.  It was a tough situation and the offense, after scoring one in the second and one in the third, had been very quiet.  That said, Gallegos got the first two outs, then walked two batters before giving up a walk-off homer to Elias Diaz, who is hitting .194 on the season.  (On the flip side of that, maybe it was just his night, as he got two hits off of Wainwright,  He’s also on a hot streak, on a five game hitting streak where he’s hitting .533 in 18 plate appearances.)

There’s no guarantee that extra innings would have been any kinder to the Cardinals, though they’d been able to get to the top of their lineup (so would the Rockies).  If Dylan Carlson doesn’t go 0-4 or Yadier Molina doesn’t do the same with a big double play, maybe the team scores more than two runs and the ninth inning is a bit more rote.  There are a lot of places to point fingers, but it’s getting to the point of wondering what’s the use?  This team, as constructed, isn’t really going anywhere.  You wanted to see them at least tread water after Jack Flaherty went down and they’ve done so much less than that the lifeguard has pulled them out and is trying CPR.

There’s not much that can be done, but one thing that can be done is recognizing that Molina is now playing like the almost-39-year-old (hopefully he’ll be spending his birthday in Colorado as a bench bat for the All-Star Game) catcher he is rather than the 29-year-old catcher he was channeling earlier in the season.

Before injury: .323/.366/.631, 5 homers in 71 PA
After injury: .217/.268/.316, 2 homers in 164 PA

Look, I’m not stumping for Andrew Knizner to play every day or even a majority of the time.  Knizner had his own offensive slump at the end of his regular playing time.  However, while Yadi was hitting .184 in June, Knizner made four starts and got a total of 20 plate appearances between starts and late-inning substitutions.  (Knizner hasn’t seen the field in a game the Cardinals won since May 29 against the White Sox.)  Even if you don’t lessen the time for Molina, which you really should since it seems a more rested Yadi is a more productive Yadi, you at least have to move him down the lineup.  Molina has no business hitting fifth, even in this shifted lineup.

I’ll grant there’s not an obvious fifth place hitter, but right now just about anyone is equivalent.  Yadi is always going to get the big hit in key situations, there’s no doubt about that, but he can do that at sixth or seventh as well.  Paul DeJong had two hits last night and while I’m still not completely certain about what DeJong is going to bring to the table, I think I’d rather see his potential power at five rather than Molina.  Again, the lineup doesn’t really have the pieces for an ideal construction, but they can probably do a better job optimizing what they have.

Paul Goldschmidt stayed hot, hitting a home run that tied the game up at 2 as well as a single in the opening frame.  Tyler O’Neill had two hits, one a double.  If only Nolan Arenado could have done something in between them, but I had a feeling this could be a rough game for Nolan, with all the emotions that would be around returning to Colorado.  It was great to see such a loud and warm ovation for him in his first at bat (with Diaz even doing the Molina “stand in front of home” routine to make it last longer).  The bad blood never was between him and the fans and I have no doubt that, as much as he seems to be enjoying St. Louis, part of him wishes that Colorado had fulfilled his expectations and he could have won there.

Arenado also gets a second chance at a warm welcome after this weekend as he was elected the starting third baseman for the All-Star Game, to be held as you know at Coors Field.  I would imagine Molina gets in as a reserve, though that’s not a guarantee given how he’s played the last couple of months.  Paul Goldschmidt might make it at first, but there are a lot of really good first basemen.  Alex Reyes would seem to be someone that could get consideration and, if they wanted to honor the old guard, maybe Adam Wainwright, but I would think that might be a stretch.

Harrison Bader returned and went 0-4.  It was good to have him out there defensively in the large outfield (though he almost was too aggressive, calling off Carlson on a ball late that Carlson could have easily had and Bader had to stretch for) but we’ll see if his bat comes around.

You’d like to hope so.

But we know what this team does to hope.

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