The Cardinals won Friday night on a ninth-inning single by Dylan Carlson. It was a good game against a tough foe, their second in a row against the Giants, and it gave the Cardinals something they hadn’t had all season long–a three game winning streak. Surely things were looking up and the team that we hoped was going to represent St. Louis was starting to click into place.
Instead, as we sit here on Wednesday morning the Cardinals have given all those gains back and their starting shortstop now starts for the Memphis Redbirds. Needless to say, it’s been a bit of a turnaround.
Let’s take the last part first. When I say that yesterday’s news that Paul DeJong had been demoted to Memphis was a surprise, it’s only because the Cardinals have been hesitant to make moves like this at times. It’s a bit of awkward timing, anyway. Edmundo Sosa will be back with the team on Thursday, it seems, but the Cardinals couldn’t wait until then to demote DeJong after waiting five weeks to make the move in the first place, which means Kramer Robertson can always say he was a big leaguer, even if he doesn’t get an at bat before he returns to Memphis when Sosa is activated. In fairness, the club has often used the day off before a home stand to reset and make moves (something my Meet Me at Musial co-host Allen Medlock often refers to) and once the decision is made, you probably don’t want DeJong in some sort of limbo. Given that the only thing helping DeJong right now was his defense and he made two errors this weekend, it’s possible that things were starting to snowball.
I wrote more about DeJong and his career at the Substack yesterday after the news came out and Jason Hill has much more about why things don’t look great for the future of DeJong over at VEB this morning. There’s no doubt that many players do reinvent themselves and the Cardinals are on the hook for the remainder of his $6 million this year and $9 million next, so they may give him plenty of chances. (Currently, that $9 million would put him fifth on the 2023 payroll behind Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Miles Mikolas, and Steven Matz.) However, there’s a small but non-zero chance we’ve seen the last of DeJong in St. Louis, which would be a shame.
What’s more of a shame, though, is dropping three straight games to teams with a predominantly orange color scheme. Losing the two against the Giants was somewhat defensible, given how good San Francisco can be, but getting blown out in one game and being unable to hold gains in the second? That’s rough. Losing to a Baltimore Orioles team that, while improving, is still going to be a sub-.500 team? That’s a tougher pill to swallow. Granted, when you have to start current Patron Pitcher of the Blog Packy Naughton for a bullpen game, that’s not great on your chances, but being unable to hit Kyle Bradish, is extremely frustrating. Bradish came into the game having only five strikeouts on the season over his first two starts. He struck out 11 Cardinals, more than double his career total. It’s been a while since we could fall back on that old “rookie pitcher that the Cardinals have never seen dominates them” trope but it applied in this one, it seemed.
While there are a lot of points to be made over the last three games and we’ll touch on some of them in the recaps, can we talk a little about Kodi Whitley? Hopefully it’s just a bit of a slump but his last two outings have been concerning. After his first appearance against the Giants, he had allowed one run in 8.2 innings and, more notably, just one walk and eight strikeouts during that span. He pitched on Saturday and last night and, combined, he’s walked five and struck out two in 1.1 innings. He walked all four men he faced Saturday (and three of them came around to score, two after T.J. McFarland came in) and against the Orioles was better–again, four outs, two by strikeout–but still allowed two hits, a walk, and a hit batter. The final blow was a double from Anthony Santander that scored a run and left runners on second and third. This time, Nick Wittgren came in and stranded them, but it’s still an uncharacteristically rough look from Whitley.
I picked out a random game from last September and tried to compare it with last night. I’m also not a graphic person at all, so I can’t really get these to line up well, but here’s a comparison.
Again, it’s not a comparative sample, but you can see that Whitley was missing up a lot more than he was in the game from last season. I checked Thursday night’s game and it’s more similar to last year–very few out of the top of the zone, maybe one. Saturday, when he walked everyone? Looks a lot like last night. It hopefully is just that his mechanics are out of whack a bit and he can get back in line with what he’s been doing. If this continues, though, there may be some health issue that needs to be looked at.
The Cardinals get Mikolas out there tonight and hopefully a better Matz on Thursday afternoon (though that afternoon should be our first test on whether the ball is going to travel in the heat), so maybe they can get on track before the Giants come in to complete the season series. With Adam Wainwright not likely to go until they get back on the road (which means there’s at least one starting opportunity for him and Yadier Molina lost), Sunday could be a challenge so it’d be real great if the Cards could figure out a way to win four in a row and then not give them all right back.
Friday (3-2 win at San Francisco)
Hero: Ryan Helsley. You could give it to much of the bullpen for holding the line until the offense could do something, but Helsley did it with the most flair as he’s done all season. He faced five batters, coming in with a runner on, and struck out four of them. For his efforts, he actually picked up his first win of the year.
Goat: Tyler O’Neill. 0-4, three strikeouts, two left on. Unfortunately, we’ve seen similar lines from TON way too often this season.
Notes: Dylan Carlson probably really needed that big moment, to come through as a pinch-hitter and drive in the winning run. It’s been a tough season so far for pretty much that entire outfield that we thought was going to be such an asset….Nice night for Harrison Bader as well, with his only hit being the two-run homer that gave the Cards the lead….that they immediately squandered in the bottom of the inning….I was hoping that Jordan Hicks could stretch out a little more, but he went into the fifth for the first time this season, even if his pitch count wasn’t much more than last time. He was pretty efficient with his pitches, striking out five but getting touched for two runs when Genesis Cabrera allowed both the runners he left on to score. To be fair to Cabrera, the runners were on first and third with one out and he got the second out before giving up a pinch-hit single to Darin Ruf on the first pitch of the AB to bring them both home….13 strikeouts for the team in this one. The Cardinals only had four double-digit strikeout games before this game. They’ve struck out 10 or more times in four straight now.
Saturday (13-7 loss at San Francisco)
Hero: Paul DeJong. At least DeJong had one more moment in the sun before his demotion. He did make an error and drop a double play transfer, but he had two hits and drove in two runs, including one that pulled the Cards within one of the Giants early.
Goat: Steven Matz. Giving up a grand slam in the first inning is bad, especially when you walked two of the guys that got on. Giving up two two-run homers in the second on top of that? It doesn’t get much uglier than this unless you are Mike Mayers making his major league debut.
Notes: The Cards got three runs late on a Dylan Carlson home run, which was another sign that maybe Carlson is starting to come out of his slump….St. Louis actually managed 14 hits in this one, including eight (leading to four runs) off of Logan Webb. That sort of offense you should win the game, assuming you get even average pitching. They didn’t…..things were fairly reasonable after Matz, at least until Whitley came in but we’ve already discussed that. The rest of the bullpen went six innings and allowed two runs, not counting the inherited runners T.J. McFarland let in….Juan Yepez went two for five and still, through Monday, has at least one hit in every game he’s played in. Hopefully he plays in many more!
Sunday (4-3 loss at San Francisco)
Hero: Juan Yepez. Two hits, including a home run that he told his mother he was going to try to hit for her on Mother’s Day. How can you not be romantic about baseball?
Goat: Tommy Edman. 0-5 for the leadoff guy in a one run game is a tough thing to overcome.
Notes: Most of you know I’m not necessarily all that confident in Dakota Hudson as a long-term asset and games like this are why. Four walks, five hits, no strikeouts. He did get a double play turned behind him but he puts too many batters on without a way to counteract that that isn’t a ground ball. Some nights it is going to work, some nights it isn’t….frustratingly, again the Cardinals allowed runs in the bottom of each inning that they scored in the top….two hits for Dylan Carlson, raising his average to .220….an 0-5 for Nolan Arenado and his OPS is starting to get close to slipping under 1.000 for the first time this season….the Cardinals didn’t strike a Giant out until Giovanny Gallegos got Joc Pederson for the last out of the eighth.
Tuesday (5-3 loss vs. Baltimore)
Hero: Harrison Bader. For the first time since 2001, a Cardinal has hit an inside-the-park home run. Bader’s blast probably carries out of the park with a normal baseball in a normal year, but it bounced off the wall, then off of Cedric Mullens and the race was not whether he was going to score but whether he’d be wise enough not to pass Yadier Molina in the process.
Goat: Tyler O’Neill. 0-4, three strikeouts, three left on, including the tying runs in the ninth. In May, O’Neill has struck out 14 times in 34 plate appearances. That’s a 41.2% clip and that isn’t a good thing in the least. He only has seven hits in that span, though four were for extra bases.
Notes: It’s tough to fault Packy Naughton for his outing, given that he’s not started since September 28 of last year in the bigs. He held his own somewhat, not walking anyone and striking out two in 3.1 innings of work. The two home runs allowed were the back-breaker, though….I believe it was when I was talking to Russ Robinson on this week’s Meet Me at Musial, but recently I said that I didn’t feel that Oli Marmol had a “had to use” reliever like Mike Matheny used Matt Bowman and Mike Shildt used Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes. That might have been premature. T.J. McFarland has pitched in 11 of the Cardinals’ 29 games including five of nine in May. I will say that the results seem to be better (though his strikeouts are down), and perhaps McFarland told Marmol he needs to have regular work to be effective. Hopefully Marmol will not ride that horse too often, though.