Last night, the Cardinals lost to the Rays 11-3. Hidden in that final score is the fact that, had a ball hit by Juan Yepez gone about three feet further, the game could have been tied after five and 1/2 innings. On the face of it, it looks like the Cardinals could have won that game and that things just went south quickly.
It’s true you wonder what would have happened had T.J. McFarland remembered there was just one out when he had the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth. One run had already scored, of course, but if McFarland goes home on the chopper for the second out, it’s feasible that the team leaves the sixth down 6-3. Instead, two more runs come in, it’s 8-3, and any momentum that the Cardinals had was lost.
However, would they have had much momentum even at 6-3? Even at 5-3? Oli Marmol wasn’t going to use the big relief guns in a losing effort and it was questionable how much he’d have been able to use them had the Cards gotten a lead. The fact that they went to Nick Wittgren instead of Drew VerHagen when they had pulled within two probably meant that Marmol wasn’t going to pull out all the stops here. VerHagen threw 21 pitches on Tuesday night so he might not have been available, even though he is a multiple inning reliever. So if he’s out and your big three are out, you’re using Wittgren and McFarland. It might have been interesting to see them go to Andre Pallante in the sixth instead and perhaps if Yepez tied things up they would have, but it was just him and Zack Thompson as other options.
So once Patron Pitcher of the Blog Packy Naughton gave up three RBI doubles, you knew the Cards were in real trouble given the arms that were available. Given this sort of bullpen game, you pretty much need zeros as long as possible and, this time, Naughton couldn’t do it. I’m a little surprised, given that he pitched on Friday, that the club didn’t go with Zack Thompson either as a starter or in relief of Naughton, choosing Johan Oviedo instead. It could be that Oviedo is the next guy to go down, it could be that they wanted to see if Oviedo could be a reasonable bullpen piece for them, it could be many other reasons. All things being equal, though, I think I’d have started Thompson. Pallante threw four innings on Saturday so he’s probably not available for a start, especially since it’s obvious they are starting to build him up. He’s gone over three innings in his last three outings and 35% of his season innings have come in that stretch. And, as I check this weekend, I see they’ve announced Pallante for Friday’s game, which is another reason he wasn’t going to be used in this one.
We’ve said it a few times this season but a game like last night feels a bit like the end of the road for McFarland. He has an 8.18 ERA on the season and that doesn’t count the fact that he’s let nine of his 17 inherited runners score. When he gives up runs, they are in multiples–only once this year has he allowed just a solitary run. Things are not really improving either–he’s got a 11.57 ERA over his last eight outings after giving up three in two innings against the Rays. He had been alternating a bad outing with a clean one until last night but it’s clear that he’s just a garbage time reliever now and you wonder if someone like Jake Walsh couldn’t be a better low-leverage guy. There’s not a roster move that has to be made right now but with a double header next week against the Pirates, there’s got be consideration to just letting McFarland go.
Anyway, let’s pick the Hero and Goat and be done with this. On the upside, Tyler O’Neill looked very good last night. He had a home run that started the scoring and a two-run single that capped it. It was only the second time this season that O’Neill has had back-to-back two-hit nights and the running narrative that he always comes off the injured list hot seems to definitely have some legs this time. Get him in there with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, maybe with Nolan Gorman hitting second and baby, you got a stew goin’.
On the downside….I’m going T.J. McFarland. Yes, this game might have been doomed from the outset, but he gave up three runs of his own and two of Wittgren’s. That’s the difference between a close, perhaps tough loss and Yadier Molina making his second appearance on the mound. Now the battery of Molina and Adam Wainwright have 2,053 strikeouts, as Molina got his first on the mound last night. The first time out, Yadi complained about the rain causing issues with his grip and while that seemed like some jocularity, given his approach last night, there might have been something to it. Molina allowed a couple of hits but no runs (though if the Rays had been aggressive, Francisco Meija would have scored on Manuel Margot‘s double) and will likely be able to hold that he’s a better pitcher over Albert Pujols‘s head for a long time to come.
Series finale this afternoon. The big arms should be rested and Miles Mikolas is on the mound against another tough Tampa Bay starter in Shane McClanahan. Cards need to a win today to salvage this series and have a little momentum going back home, so expect a much more focused result from the club today!