At this point, it’s very hard to say that the Cardinals are much more than a .500 team. Lately, they’ve had trouble even being that, sitting a game under right now after nine games that were against teams that, before they played the Cards, under .500 themselves. While that is skewed a bit due to the sweep by the Braves, a team that remade themselves at the deadline and now is in second place in their division and just two games out to boot, you’d still think that a team that at one time had postseason dreams could muster up something better than 4-5 in that span.
If I’m looking at things right, the Cardinals haven’t been even two games above break even since June 16, right at the end of that Marlins sweep that was one of the only highlights in June. That was game 68. St. Louis will play game 112 tonight. That’s 43 games where they’ve gone 20-23. It’s hard to write off close to a third of the season as a small sample size. While we may have not thought this was a .500 team going into the season (it would be disappointing if PECOTA finally got the Cardinals right), it’s safe to say that this is a .500 team now.
When the division gap is 10 1/2 games and the wild card gap is 8 1/2, you start looking for other things if you want to stay interested in the baseball season. For me this week it’s going to be the roster machinations. Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas are very close to returning. Flaherty will probably pitch the last game in this Pittsburgh series while Mikolas may return to the club, may have another rehab start. If I were to guess, I’d say that the fact the team isn’t putting a huge push on, the fact that Mikolas wasn’t completely sharp in his outing on Sunday, and the roster issues will combine to give him another start in the minors.
However, they’ll both be up eventually. Daniel Ponce de Leon was also in this category, but yesterday the Cardinals made that move by swapping him with Kwang Hyun Kim, who will be on the injured list for a while. Baseball tends to find a way to solve some of these problems, which is something we usually say in spring training but also applies to the rest of the season. Before that move, it looked like the Cardinals were going to need to clear three spots on the 26-man roster and two spots on the 40-man, since currently Flaherty and Mikolas are on the 60-day IL and as such do not take up 40-man room. Given the makeup of the roster, it could have required three people to be released or passed through waivers, but the Kim injury saved somebody’s job, most likely.
When you look at the 40-man, there are some options. T.J. Zeuch has only been in the organization a couple of minutes and gave up four runs in 1.2 innings in his only outing. There was talk that he’d be a hot commodity when he was released from Toronto, though, so perhaps they wouldn’t want to risk exposing him to waivers. Even if they did, they’d still have to send someone from St. Louis to Memphis to make room for Flaherty and the only person that really has options is Lars Nootbaar, which would weaken the bench even more.
You start then thinking about Justin Miller and Luis Garcia, two guys who came over as DFAs and have seen limited use since they came to St. Louis. Miller has thrown 11 innings since June 15. He’s got a 7.07 ERA but the runs come in bunches. He’s made 18 appearances and been charged with a run (actually multiple runs–he’s never had just a single tally) in just five of them. He’s not throwing important innings, of course, but he’s not given up a run in his last 4.1 innings. Still, with the roster crunch, I’d expect them to let him go.
Garcia is perhaps a different story. We just saw Mike Shildt turn to Garcia after Kim left the game Saturday after four innings and Garcia threw two scoreless frames with three strikeouts. He’s only had eight outings with the team but after giving up runs in his first three appearances, he’s not allowed anything in his last five. Garcia seems to intrigue the team a little more than Miller does, which means I don’t believe they’d like to put him on waivers.
But if not him, who? (You can see why I believe they’ll hold off on Mikolas as long as possible.) Do they let Jon Lester take another start then cut their losses, even after giving up Lane Thomas for him? (Thomas is 5 for 13 with a home run with Washington’s AAA team, though I doubt that plays a factor.) I have trouble seeing them cut bait on either Lester or Happ so quickly after trading for them. If they’d picked them up off the waiver wire, maybe, but given the cost and effort to get them here, I think they are probably here for a bit.
It’s starting to be a small list without them, though. Most of the people you could see them releasing–Seth Elledge, Patron Pitcher of the Blog Brandon Waddell if he wasn’t still on the COVID IL, maybe Johan Quezada–are in the minor leagues and still don’t help with your major league situation. It seems very unlikely, even though they aren’t using him all that often, that they’d release Andrew Miller. T.J. McFarland and Wade LeBlanc have done exceptional jobs and aren’t likely to go anywhere this season.
I am going to find it very interesting to see how they navigate these waters. Probably more so than on-the-field results. You would like to think that, with a lot of games against Pittsburgh over the next month, they could at least end August perhaps five games up. We’ll see if they can reach that modest goal or if they’ll find a way to continue trading wins and losses.
(Apparently so interested that I’ve written a second consecutive post on it. This is what happens when I let a few days go by, I forget what I’ve already said!)
Wednesday (7-4 loss vs. Atlanta)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. You’d have hoped that his three-run homer in the first would have set the tone, but sadly it didn’t hold up.
Goat: Giovanny Gallegos. It was a bit of a tossup between him and Ryan Helsley, but Gallegos’s uncharacteristic blowup late was impossible to come back from. Three runs in the eighth of a tie game will lose it for you almost every time.
Notes: Helsley, entrusted with a one run lead, struck out the first guy he faced, then gave up a hit and a home run to lose that lead and wound up being replaced before the inning was over….all that wasted a nice debut by J.A. Happ, who allowed two runs in five innings. He gave up a home run to Jorge Solar, but that just made him a true Cardinal….Luis Garcia closed this one out with 1.1 scoreless innings. Again, lower leverage, but right now he seems to bring something to the team….nobody but Arenado had more than two hits and Paul Goldschmidt was the only other person to drive in a run….Yadier Molina went 0-4 and left four on base….the “leading Tommy Edman off against lefties” makes some sense, but between Tuesday and Wednesday Edman went 0-8.
Thursday (8-4 loss vs. Atlanta)
Hero: Wade LeBlanc. Two runs in six innings should win you some games. LeBlanc only allowed three hits, though he also walked three batters.
Goat: Alex Reyes. A hit by pitch and four walks, the last three of which forced in a run. We’ve talked a lot about Reyes’s control issues, but that was the most glaring example you’ll ever see.
Notes: For the second straight night, Giovanny Gallegos gave up three runs, two on his own and one when Reyes went walking everyone. With two outs, he allowed a single to Freddie Freeman then was one strike away from getting out of it with the lead intact before allowing a bomb to Austin Riley. I saw where Derrick Goold said in his chat this week that he doesn’t feel like Gallegos and Reyes are overused given how often they go without pitching when the Cardinals aren’t winning and there’s a good point there. However, Gallegos is on pace for more innings than he’s ever thrown and that’s not counting coming off the abbreviated 2020. I wouldn’t be surprised if a little fatigue sets in on both of these guys down the stretch, especially if with the softer schedule they get turned to often with leads….Justin Miller did walk in the fourth run, which of course wasn’t charged to him and didn’t show in the discussion above, but he got the last out to end the nightmare….two hits each for Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill. In fact, six of the eight hits for the Cardinals came from 2-5 in the lineup and two of the RBI came from there, but it just wasn’t quite synced up enough for a big night.
Friday (4-2 win vs. Kansas City)
Hero: Tyler O’Neill. 4-4 with a double, a home run, two runs, and an RBI. That’ll help the cause right there.
Goat: Tommy Edman. The attempt to lead him off reaches 0-12 and two strikeouts in this 0-4.
Notes: Another classic Adam Wainwright outing as he went seven innings and gave up two runs, working out of occasional trouble to keep the Cards in the lead….with Giovanny Gallegos off limits, T.J. McFarland took the eighth and did a great job, then Alex Reyes went back out there for the ninth and had a 1-2-3 inning. Mike Shildt loves to get players back up on that horse….Paul Goldschmidt with two hits, including a home run….10 strikeouts for Cardinal batters, which stands out as they’ve been pretty good about keeping it under double digits it feels like.
Saturday (5-2 win vs. Kansas City)
Hero: Luis Garcia. In his biggest opportunity yet, protecting a one run lead in the middle innings, Garcia struck out three, allowed no runs in two innings, and picked up the win to boot.
Goat: Tyler O’Neill. The pendulum came back sharply on O’Neill as he went 0-4 with three strikeouts and didn’t look good at all at the plate.
Notes: The bottom of the lineup did most of the damage as Paul DeJong and Tommy Edman both had two hits, with DeJong adding a walk and scoring two runs….Nolan Arenado hit his 22nd home run….it looks like a line drive in the boxscore, as the saying goes, but Yadier Molina’s one hit was a bloop that got lost in the sun but accounted for two runs….Ryan Helsley started an inning and didn’t blow up, which was a nice change….Giovanny Gallegos got back on track with a scoreless inning that netted him his second save.
Sunday (6-5 loss vs. Kansas City)
Hero: Dylan Carlson. He led off the bottom of the first with a home run and chipped in another hit and RBI later on.
Goat: Jon Lester. It was a better start than last time, but it got away from him as he allowed five runs in 2.1 innings after starting the game with three scoreless.
Notes: Sending Alex Reyes back out there after a two hour rain delay was not the move I would have made, but I don’t necessarily think that made the difference in the ballgame. It was runners at second and third after Paul Goldschmidt’s throwing error before the delay, so it would have been difficult for anyone to work out of that unscathed. Still, how much did Reyes have to throw to stay loose? I imagine it won’t matter since yesterday was the off day but that’s just more wear on the arm….nice to see a rally, even if it was against a lesser bullpen. Finally the Cards got some value out of Greg Holland….two hits each from the first three batters in the lineup and all five of the RBI came from there. More of that and the offense won’t cause quite as much heartburn.