Let’s be clear from the jump–while the Cardinals have been kinda meh this September, it’s not been all bad. They swept a series with the Cubs, split one with the Nationals, won one against Pittsburgh, and could potentially split a small one with the Brewers with a win tonight. They are 7-4 this month. The sky is not falling and they still have a solid seven game lead in the division. While there are a few warning lights on the dashboard, the car isn’t on the side of the highway with smoke billowing from the engine. After a stellar August, some regression is probably to be expected.
There are warning lights, however.
They have won seven games this month, true, but the competition is lesser than what they’ll see in the playoffs and four of those seven wins took rallies in the eighth or ninth to either break a tie or come back from a deficit. They’ve scored 51 runs in September. Twenty of them (39%) have come in the eighth inning or later. That’s a testament to a “never give up” mentality but teams also don’t typically make it to October with bullpens that can’t lock down games. It’s not a strategy you want to rely on, in other words.
Some of those rallies have been necessary because, overall, the offense has been struggling. Here’s the line for the last 15 days for a few folks.
Even Albert Pujols, who has thrilled us with historic home runs, is hitting .194/.250/.472 over the past couple of weeks. Three big home runs and his hits have been key ones (nine RBI ties for the team lead in that span) but he’s not been a source of consistency. If you want to look that way, you have to look at the September version of Yadier Molina (.297/.333/.541, two homers) and Tommy Edman (.435/.458/.761, three homers) for that. It’s nice to have Yadi and Edman hitting, but they are supposed to complement the big guys, not replace them.
Still, we know that you can handle a reduction in the offense if the pitching is solid. About that…..
Jordan Montgomery had a rare off night, giving up six runs in five innings (two were unearned). Other than that, he’s been as advertised this month. Miles Mikolas threw eight scoreless innings against the Cubs then followed it up with four runs in five against the Pirates. As he goes for history today, Adam Wainwright has matching four run, five inning outings this month. Jack Flaherty looked strong his first outing off the injured list, less so his second. Jose Quintana has actually gone from regularly giving up two runs to giving up just one in each of his September outings, which is cool.
The bullpen has been pretty solid, which has led to the games being close enough for those late rallies. Ryan Helsley has been more human, giving up two runs in just over five innings, but he’s still nailed down each save opportunity. Andre Pallante has had a rough month, giving up five runs in 2.2 innings since his heroic stand in extras against the Reds at the end of August. His ERA is much higher than his FIP but even that’s 5.37. The current rest streak of three days is the longest he’s had in September and hopefully he can get another day or two to perhaps fully recover.
All in all, the team is just in a bit of the doldrums right now. While the pitching could be sharper, if the bats start to come back around, everything should be fine. The problem is if they are struggling against bottom-feeding teams, how are they going to do against the best of the best? We’ll find out, I guess!
Thursday (11-6 loss vs. Washington)
Hero: Yadier Molina. He did his part on his special day, hitting two home runs. The first gave the Cardinals a temporary lead, the second tied the game after that lead got away. Unfortunately, those three RBI weren’t enough.
Goat: Adam Wainwright. There was no win on the day he and Yadi tied the battery record in part because Waino couldn’t hold what was given to him. The Cards scored one in the first, he gave up one in the second. The Cards scored two in the second, he gave up one in the third and two in the fourth. Five runs, nine hits, four runs, and afterwards he admitted his mechanics were out of sync. Hopefully tonight when they set the record will have a better outcome.
Notes: In fairness to Wainwright, leaving the game tied after five should have been doable for the Cardinals. The bullpen didn’t have it, though. Andre Pallante allowed two hits and got just one out before Jordan Hicks came in. Hicks allowed one of those runners to score but got out of the jam, then in his second inning walked one, then gave up a hit and a sacrifice fly before turning it over to Chris Stratton, who allowed the other runner to score. James Naile came in and allowed four runs in the ninth, which looks like it was a big deal when the Cards started a late rally again, but in truth Washington approaches the ninth much different at 11-4 than they would have 7-4….three hits for Brendan Donovan, including a double, and he drew two walks as well. When the leadoff man gets on five times, you should have a better result….two hits and two RBI for Corey Dickerson, who just keeps churning them out….major league debut for Alec Burleson, who went 0-4 but scored a run and gets to tell his kids he hit between Albert Pujols and Molina.
Friday (8-2 loss at Pittsburgh)
Hero: Tommy Edman. Two of the team’s six hits and one of the two RBI.
Goat: Brendan Donovan. Must of used up all his hits the day before because he went 0-5 in this one.
Notes: Miles Mikolas didn’t pitch great–four runs in five innings, allowing eight hits–but he did get eight strikeouts. I know Pittsburgh might be developing a team but you still don’t want to give up runs like that to them….Jake Woodford is back to being the long man and this didn’t help his case to start, giving up four runs in 1.2 innings….tough night for Andrew Knizner, who went 0-3 and left four on.
Saturday (7-5 win at Pittsburgh)
Hero: Albert Pujols. 3-4 with home run number 696 to tie Alex Rodriguez for fourth all time. That homer tied the game and his single in the eighth tied it again.
Goat: Paul Goldschmidt. 0-4, though he did draw a walk in the ninth and come around to score.
Notes: Nolan Arenado salvaged his night by doubling with the bases loaded in the ninth, scoring the winning runs….Paul DeJong got a hit, his first since August 21. He’s hitting .097 in his last 70 plate appearances….two more hits for Corey Dickerson, who might wind up hitting .300 this year….a less dominating start by Jack Flaherty, who gave up three runs in five innings but more notably walked four and didn’t strike out a batter….JoJo Romero got touched for a homer and Ryan Helsley allowed a run in the ninth, but otherwise the bullpen was outstanding.
Sunday (4-3 win at Pittsburgh)
Hero: Albert Pujols. #697 gave the Cardinals a ninth inning lead. The man’s amazing.
Goat: Another rough day for Brendan Donovan, who went 0-4 in the leadoff spot.
Notes: Tyler O’Neill also went deep in the ninth inning, which turned out to be a huge insurance run when Ryan Helsley again allowed a run….as Benjamin Hochman noted on Twitter, Helsley has a 5.14 ERA in seven innings with no days’ rest, and three of the five homers he’s allowed have come in that situation….Tommy Edman again was the only player with more than one hit and his double to lead off the ninth was huge….0-3 day for Nolan Gorman, but he did walk once….Alec Burleson got his first major league hit, so good for him.
Tuesday (8-4 loss vs. Milwaukee)
Hero: Tommy Edman. Two hits–again, the only Cardinal who could get two knocks–and both a run and an RBI.
Goat: Jordan Montgomery. His second bad start as a Cardinal and the first they lost. Six runs (four earned) in five innings, including allowing a two-run homer to Andrew McCutchen after the Cards had tied it at four a couple of innings before.
Notes: Albert Pujols had an RBI single to give the Cardinals a temporary lead in the first. He got a shot against a lefty (Taylor Rogers) in the eighth but popped it up….another 0-4 for Paul Goldschmidt as he left four men on. That Triple Crown buzz has gotten quiet as he’s now third in average (six points behind Freddie Freeman), third in homers (two behind Kyle Schwarber), and second in RBI (one behind big strong Pete Alonso). Still doable with a good finishing kick but he’s going to have to come out of the funk he’s currently in….doubles for Nolan Arenado (who drove in two) and Tyler O’Neill….Patron Pitcher of the Blog Packy Naughton has returned to the bigs. He came in to runners on the corners and one out in the sixth, got a comebacker that took care of the lead runner, then was ordered to intentionally pass Willy Adames to get to Christian Yelich which is 1) amazing to say, 2) a reasonable strategy given the way those guys hit, and 3) a dangerous thing to remove all margin of error. Naughton then clipped Yelich–honestly on replay it was hard to see where it hit him, if he did–and forced in a run. Naughton got out of the inning and got two outs in the seventh, so a reasonably good outing for him save the HBP.