On July 18, the Sunday after the All-Star Break, the Cardinals won their second in a row to pull within one game of .500. The next day, they’d win again to break even. Since then, they have not been more than one game up or one game down from that mark. In fact, their last six games have followed the same pattern: a win, than a loss. Lather, rinse, repeat. When you are spending the end of July and the beginning of August spinning in the orbit of .500, it’s hard to make the argument that you are a better team than that.
The last two games have been the same thing. A solid win on Sunday over the Twins was followed by a disaster against the Braves last night. We’ll recap them below, but there’s not much to say about Sunday’s game. Adam Wainwright does what Adam Wainwright does, both on the mound and in a key at bat. The Cardinals broke it open later in the game and, once they got a lead, the good part of the bullpen could be used. It’s kinda their thing.
Last night was perhaps more noteworthy. Jon Lester made his Cardinals debut and to start the game it looked like he still was a Cub the way he destroyed their chances. Before he recorded his first out in red, he’d given up:
A walk (which was ironic, given how he and J.A. Happ were sold as strike-throwers, an irony we’ve seen a few times this year)
A home run to Jorge Solar
Three straight singles, including one that drove in the third run
A base hit by Joc Pederson (no matter the uniform, he’ll get the Cardinals) that plated the fourth run
Finally he got a double play (that made it 5-0) and retired the pitcher to get out of the inning. After the first, he did settle in, only giving up four more hits and the only run being a home run by Freddie Freeman, which is going to happen. He got two more double plays behind him, which helped a lot as he only had one inning where he didn’t have anyone on. Lester admitted there were some nerves in the first which led to some bad pitches, so if that’s the case, maybe his next time out, which in theory would be Sunday against the Royals, will go much better.
It probably needs to because, in the midst of the first inning carnage last night, I started thinking about something. Miles Mikolas was on his third rehab start and Jack Flaherty will have another one I believe tonight. Both of those will likely be in the big leagues in a couple of weeks. That means that the rotation suddenly fills up. Those two, Wainwright, and Kwang Hyun Kim are guaranteed four spots. Who takes the last? Is it Wade LeBlanc because he’s been so effective for so long? He’s also spent time in the bullpen, so maybe he shifts there, but then it comes down to Happ and Lester. Would one of those guys go to the bullpen as well?
It’s possible, but I also wonder if one of those guys does really badly that they aren’t released when the time comes. Maybe not immediately when Mikolas and Flaherty return, although someone is going to have to be. Don’t forget that Daniel Ponce de Leon, who is out of options and will be out of rehab assignment days soon, will also need to be added to the major league roster unless they are going to let him go, which seems a little unlikely though not impossible. So three roster spots are going to be needed. Not only 26-man spots but, in the case of Mikolas and Flaherty, 40-man spots as well.
The problem is, right now, I think the only person that could be sent down is Lars Nootbaar. A few others have options–you can see that over here at this Viva El Birdos post–but most of them are too valuable to be sent down. You aren’t going to see Genesis Cabrera in Memphis, for instance. The problem with that is right now the roster is split evenly at 13-13 hitters to pitchers. While I think the requirement to have at least 13 hitters is removed for 2021, I can’t imagine the Cards want to go to 12-14. The bench is bad enough as it is, though it’s not like Nootbaar gets to see the field much. I’d about forgotten he was on the roster until he pinch-hit last night.
No, the Cardinals are going to have to remove three pitchers from their roster and probably will wind up DFAing all of them. There’s nobody that make sense to be demoted that can be. That would seem to mean Jose Garcia and Justin Miller‘s days as Cardinals are numbered. Who is the third, though?
LeBlanc and T.J. McFarland were picked up in that manner but have been solid pitchers for the Cardinals, so it’d be tough to see them go. Which leads us back to the original conclusion. If Happ or Lester struggle a lot over the next 2-3 starts, one of them could find themselves without a roster spot. I don’t know that you can get enough of a sample size there to really tell and it’d be a waste of a trade if you did (though the Cards didn’t necessarily give up anything they wouldn’t have discarded anyway) but it’s at least a possibility. Outside of releasing Ponce, which also seems unlikely, I’m not sure how they’ll figure out the roster crunch. Baseball finds a way and all that but they seem to have maneuvered themselves into a bit of a corner.
Of course, much of this is shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. None of these guys are going to be part of the 2022 team, you wouldn’t think, and the 2021 team isn’t going anywhere. Still, it’s something to think about.
Sunday (7-3 win vs. Minnesota)
Hero: Edmundo Sosa. Three for three with a walk (an intentional variety one, sure, but still) and a home run late to put up a little more insurance.
Notes: As noted above, Adam Wainwright had another excellent game. He gave up a couple of runs early, which is kinda his gimmick this year, but held the line and the Cardinals rebounded. He also came up in a key spot, when Tommy Edman doubled with two outs and Michael Pineda, smartly it seemed, intentionally walked Sosa to get to Waino. That said, I felt like Wainwright was going to do something there or at least have a good at bat because the game was tied and that’s just Wainwright. 10 pitches later, he grounded out but Luis Arreaz made a bad throw, meaning he was safe and the go-ahead run scored. The Cards never trailed again….old friend John Gant finally got into a game this series and threw a inning. Somehow he didn’t walk anyone but he did give up a run on a wild pitch, so that’s pretty close to the Gant we know….a three-hit day for Dylan Carlson, including two doubles, and Edman had two hits as well….Wainwright went seven, which meant Mike Shildt could tinker a bit with his formula and leave out Genesis Cabrera (who did warm up) and go straight to Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes. With the off days and the win-loss pattern, Cabrera hasn’t pitched since a week ago Sunday against Cincinnati.
Tuesday (6-1 loss vs. Atlanta)
Hero: Yadier Molina. Two hits, including an RBI single in the ninth that kept the club from being shut out.
Goat: Jon Lester. No matter how well he pitched after it, that first inning ruined everything.
Notes: Three hits and a walk by Tyler O’Neill, who had been going through a bit of a funk. Hopefully this means he’s starting to come out of it….the bullpen was excellent, with T.J. McFarland, Luis Garcia, and Justin Miller combining for four innings of one-hit ball….another tough night for Harrison Bader, who did get a hit but struck out three times.