In 2017, Dexter Fowler started off his Cardinal career by hitting .132 with 16 strikeouts and only one extra base hit in his first 13 games. While Fowler rebounded after that (he had a .920 OPS the rest of the season), the slow start coupled with the fact that many fans weren’t excited about the signing doomed his Cardinal career. (It didn’t help that things went decidedly south after 2017 either.) The old saying is that you never have a second chance to make a first impression and that was certainly true for Fowler, who spent the last year of his Cardinal contract in Anaheim.
I’m not saying that you can write off the entire Cardinal career of Steven Matz because of Sunday’s game, but with people already less-than-enthused about the fact that he was the big move of the offseason, a couple more bombs and his reputation with the fan base, deserved or not, might be pretty damaged. Giving up seven runs and not getting an out in the fourth after being staked to a 3-0, to Pittsburgh no less, is not anywhere close to the way you want to introduce yourself to the Busch Stadium faithful.
With Matz laying and egg and Miles Mikolas also unable to get out of the fourth after a 41-pitch first inning on Saturday, the questions around this pitching staff have only been heightened. Jack Flaherty is not walking through that door anytime soon, as he’s still building strength before starting a throwing program. That probably means early to mid-May at the best case scenario and we know the classic baseball wisdom, that you can’t win a pennant (or division) in April but you sure can lose it then. It’s hard to draw justifiable conclusions from three games, but there’s no doubt there’s a lot of worry so far. We’ll see what Dakota Hudson does today, but tomorrow is Jordan Hicks and best case scenario is he gets six straight outs before leaving the game. Right now, it’s feeling a lot like it’s Adam Wainwright and hope the bats are right.
So far, so good on that score. Nolan Arenado is leading the league in RBI and is hitting .500. Dylan Carlson has an OPS over 1.000 in the leadoff spot. Tommy Edman is three for nine with a home run and two walks in the nine slot. Except for Yadier Molina (1-12) and Corey Dickerson (1-8), the offense has been clicking pretty well in the first three games. They are actually second in the majors to Toronto in OPS, for instance. Again, it’s hard to draw any real conclusions from this small sample, especially when they have been facing Pittsburgh, but you have to like what you see.
It’s been a long time since the Cards were a bash first, find pitching second kind of club. Let’s hope that it doesn’t turn into that this season either. Having a strong offense is great and necessary, but I don’t think we can handle winning a number of 10-9 games.
Saturday (6-2 win)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. Four for four, three doubles, two runs scored, three runs driven in. I know that Arenado said he wasn’t content with last year’s performance and he’s proving that by coming out of the gate really hot. You love to see it.
Goat: Miles Mikolas. He only allowed two runs, but not being able to make it through the fourth inning really put a crimp into plans, especially knowing that you have to save at least one long man for the Jordan Hicks start on Tuesday. The bullpen was able to piece together the rest of the game and do so in grand style (5.1 innings, no runs, six strikeouts, two walks) but we know from last April and May how things can get ugly when the bullpen gets overused early.
Notes: The day off in between games one and two helped (as well as holding Drew VerHagen and Jake Woodford back if at all possible), but it was interesting to see Nick Wittgren and Ryan Helsley get an appearance here after also pitching on Opening Day. I don’t think anyone would have guessed that we’d have seen that much of Wittgren this early. I guess I would have believed in coming into this game because that’s the kind of role I saw for him, the guy that comes in when the starter struggles to give innings. Except that he only got two outs, so apparently he’s going to be used in a different way.
Helsley again looked sharp, striking out three of the four batters he faced and cracking the 100 mph barrier yet again. Looking at the detail of the four batters he faced, it’s interesting to see that he alternated going cutter-heavy in an AB with bringing the heat for the next guy. We won’t see him just pumping it in there, which is good. The variety makes him even more dangerous.
Paul DeJong got his first homer of the season which was good to see. He’s definitely looked more together than we’ve seen him in a while…..Yadier Molina got his first hit of the season….Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader both went 0-3 but at least O’Neill drew a walk.
Sunday (9-4 loss)
Hero: Dylan Carlson. Two for two, drew a walk, scored a run, drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. He did have a throwing error but other than that it was an all around good performance.
Goat: Steven Matz. What is it about the Cards giving up grand slams to Pittsburgh batters? Letting a lead get away on one pitch is always tough. The fact that it didn’t stop there is even more distressing.
Notes: Nolan Arenado continued his run by homering in the first, giving St. Louis a 3-0 lead….Tyler O’Neill had another hitless day, meaning he’s been quiet since his big Opening Day….give a lot of credit to Jake Woodford, who went three innings and didn’t allow a run, allowing the Cardinals to at least believe they were still in the game….Andre Pallante and Aaron Brooks made their major league (Pallante) and Cardinals (Brooks) debuts yesterday with similar results. Both allowed a run on two hits in their inning of work, though Brooks also struck out two. Always good to see debuts, though!