Cardinal70

The Dodgers have spared us.  All hail LA.

We know that, in just a little over a week, we will no longer be living in a world that lists the current World Champion as “Chicago Cubs.”  Chicago’s season ended with a League Championship flameout after they were able to barely squeak by the Washington Nationals.  There will be no “back-to-back” business.  You’ll be able to turn on MLB Network or other baseball shows this winter without being continually reminded of a baby bears win.  Finally, we shall have peace.

That’s not to say that everything is hunky dory in Cardinal Nation, of course.  Our complete well being doesn’t hinge on the team from the north.  We want the Cardinals to be good as well as the Cubs to, well, not be and there’s still work to be done to get St. Louis to that level.  As the princess once said, “It’s not over yet.”

Watching the Cubs in the postseason, though, makes you wonder just how big that gap is.  Remember, with six weeks left in the season, the two teams were tied at the top of the NL Central.  Will the Cubs struggle as much in the first half again?  I don’t know, but this doesn’t feel like this unstoppable dynasty any more.  Ben Godar wrote at VEB about this and it all rings true.  Even without moves I think the Cardinals could contend with the Cubs next year and the Brewers should be in the mix as well.  There’s a lot of good young talent offensively in Chicago, but can they stockpile depth and can they fix the pitching?  I’m sure if you are a Cubs fan you have answers to those questions but from the outside looking in, it feels like 2016 was more a peak than a new normal.

Again, we know, the Cardinals have to get better.  The Cubs could still win the division next year and likely will be the favorite unless St. Louis does some really big stuff in the winter.  Still, even with the uncertainty and excitement of the upcoming offseason pending, take a moment and breathe in the sweet, sweet air of the Cubs going home for the winter.

We tip our caps to you, Los Angeles.  Well done indeed.

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We’ve talked a lot this year about what’s wrong with the Cardinals.  When a team that we expect to be in the postseason flounders to 83 wins this year and misses October for the second consecutive year while the Cubs continue their season, it’s not surprising that things are going to turn negative.  As a respite, though, let’s take a look at five things that actually went St. Louis’s way this past season.

1) Tommy Pham–We’ll get more into Pham’s season when we go through the Exit Interviews in a couple of weeks, but no mention of high points is complete without the player that was the team’s MVP for the season.  Pham showed why so many have been high on him in his career, staying healthy and keeping his eyesight intact.  Whether this is a career year or the basis of production to come is still uncertain, but there’s no doubt that without Pham, the Cardinals would have had their season end about the same time as the Giants this season.

2) A weak division–Of course, as we say this the Cubs are back in the NLCS (Go Dodgers!), but as a general fact the NL Central had no juggernaut in it like Chicago was in 2015.  Remember, with basically six weeks left in the season, the Cardinals were tied for the division lead with the baby bears.  The teams obviously went separate directions after that, somewhat bolstered by the fact the Cards could never seem to beat the Cubs head-to-head, but there is no reason a team that spent over half the season under .500 should still have an active postseason life the last week of the season.  The 2017 Cardinals did, though.  How different would things have been if they’d been 10-15 games out at the trading deadline?

3) Paul DeJong–When Aledmys Diaz came out and flopped hard from last year’s highs, the club eventually made the call to Memphis to bring up Paul DeJong.  I don’t think even seasoned prospect watchers really expected what St. Louis got from the young man.  His power was unmistakable and he even though he slumped to start September, it still felt like he was being a little more patient, that he was learning a few things.  He’s been called another Randal Grichuk and maybe he is, but I feel like he’s going to be more balanced than Grichuk has been.  Whatever the future holds, having him shore up shortstop was a huge key for this season.

4) Matthew Bowman and Tyler Lyons–We continue to make jokes about Bowman’s arm falling off or the fact that he is, right this moment, out in the bullpen warming up, but there’s no doubt that he was one of the more reliable options out of the pen.  He went through some ups and downs and maybe the idea that people were more comfortable with him had to to do more with the company he kept, but it still didn’t usually scare folks when he came into the ballgame.  As for the Patron Pitcher of the Blog, Lyons was the arm that seemed to inspire the most confidence in the second half, especially after Trevor Rosenthal went down.  Whether just to face lefties or to soak up multiple innings, Lyons seemed to be able to do it all and it was more than this long-time Lyons booster noticing.

5) The Memphis brigade–DeJong wasn’t the only Memphis guy to get a call, not by a longshot.  The easier question to ask might be who DIDN’T come up and contribute.  While some were more limited (Luke Voit, Carson Kelly, Jack Flaherty, Sandy Alcantara) some, like Luke Weaver especially, chipped in considerably and the spark of Magneuris Sierra earlier in the year can’t be denied.  If nothing else, having some of these new faces come up gave some interest and excitement to parts of the season that really felt stale.

The 2017 season wasn’t one that’s going to be remembered fondly by Cardinal fans.  Let’s be honest, the only way that the season is remembered at all is if this offseason produces the major shakeup that we expect and the team responds to it.  It’ll be remembered as a turning point, as when things got as bad as they were going to get.  Otherwise, someone years from now might remember that this was the Pham season but other than that, it’s probably going to be lost to the mists of time.  Before it goes, though, remember the good times!

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It’s been a quiet week for the Cardinals, for the most part, which means a quiet time here at the blog.  (Though we are still taking your Twitter user ratings!)  I’ve had a few ideas on posts but I haven’t gotten around to writing on them, though Allen and I did get a Meet Me at Musial recorded, if you have been missing me for some reason.

However, in the last couple of days we’ve seen an article from Jose de Jesus Ortiz at the Post-Dispatch that got people talking in a myriad of ways.  Beyond the main thrust of the article, that the club needs to get back to The Cardinal Way, there was also the subtle mention of players coming in late and leaving early or in other ways not really giving their all to the club.  Probably not by coincidence, the three players mentioned by name early on in the article are transplants, whether it be Brett Cecil, Jedd Gyorko, or Dexter Fowler.

Fowler’s the one that came most under the microscope as there was at least the implication that he was a “last in, first out” guy, something that Rick Hummel partially confirmed during his recent chat.  Which, as others have pointed out, is not necessarily a bad thing.  Fowler has a young daughter at home, he’s got a family that is still getting acclimated to St. Louis, and I think we should appreciate players that aren’t so obsessed with the game that they shut out the rest of their lives.  Many of the players either don’t have children or don’t have them in St. Louis, so there are very few that are in the situation Fowler is.

In the past, we’ve seen articles come out after the season (or even during the year, for that matter) that tend to paint players in a negative light.  I’m not saying that’s a John Mozeliak trait, because not only has that happened in various other cities but it also happened before his time.  (And let me be extra clear, I’m not saying Mo is the person putting this out there.)  Oftentimes, they are to soften the ground or to work up a rationale for moving the player in a deal or letting them go via free agency.  I don’t really think that’s the case here but it is interesting to note that, even after the first year of a five year deal, the trade thoughts have swirled around Fowler.

But it’s very interesting, this idea that outsiders aren’t as schooled in The Cardinal Way, especially when one of Ortiz’s own examples is Trevor Rosenthal‘s mental lapse in New York.  When you look at the fact that Stephen Piscotty and Matt Carpenter, drafted and developed by the Cardinals, are the worst base runners on the team, how can you really point a finger at someone like Gyorko and say he doesn’t know how to do things?  Heck, maybe it’s like that old commercial: “I learned it by watching you!”

There’s no doubt that the clubhouse was not nearly as cohesive as you would like this season.  I myself have heard fourth or fifth hand about early drama in there, where it seemed like a lot of players were fed up with things, including the manager.  To some degree, that happens in any clubhouse that doesn’t win as much as they believe they should have.  Slights, aggravations, annoying quirks, all those get subsumed in the general happiness that is winning.  When you don’t have that to cover them, things tend to get a little ugly, either face-to-face or in anonymous comments to a local columnist.  Ortiz even points to that:

When teams are winning, the chess set, Brett Cecil’s video games and Jedd Gyorko’s ping pong prowess are embraced as great ways of relieving stress. When teams are winning, teammates hardly ever bother to notice or even care if Dexter Fowler is usually the last guy in the clubhouse and one of the first to leave.

So what do we make of this attempt, seemingly by leaders of the club, to hang others out to dry?  Is it anything more than guys being together for a long season and ready to move on to the winter?  Is it an indictment of the culture of the club?  After all, Chase Woodruff yesterday gathered examples of similar talk going all the way back to Oscar Taveras.  It’s not like this subtle campaign hasn’t been waged before.  If it is indeed relating to the culture, what does that say about the manager who should be setting the tone?  Anything?  Or what about those leadership players that should be fighting these problems?  We know Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina had that players-only dinner in Cincinnati that seemed to work for a bit, which is something.  Is there daily leadership in the clubhouse?

Unsurprisingly, I don’t have the answers to any of these things.  It’s also very possible that the problems that Ortiz lines out only bug a couple of people and overall it’s not that bad.  It’s just that the players it did bother are the ones talking to Ortiz.  For example, there’s this paragraph:

With so many up from Class AAA Memphis, some Cardinals wondered what message was being sent to young players like Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader, Magneuris Sierra and even Kolten Wong and [Randal] Grichuk.  The youngsters were hungry and eager to impress, and the team clearly cleaned up their base running and fundamentals toward the final two months.

So we can assume from this that the people that are grumbling are veterans, correct?  We can also assume that it’s not Fowler, Gyorko, or Cecil ratting out on themselves.  It could be someone like Wainwright or Molina, in theory, but they seem to have been more proactive with their issues given that dinner.  Of course, since that didn’t take, perhaps this is moving up to the next level to try to get things fixed.  Who does that leave?  Carpenter?  Greg Garcia?  We know Tommy Pham isn’t shy about putting his name on criticism so it’s not likely to be him.  It could be Lance Lynn or, if you consider him veterany enough, Michael Wacha.  But the pool is pretty limited when you take out “impressionable youngsters”.  Of course, it could also be from the coaching staff or front office, couched in terms that make it seem like the veterans are discussing it.  That opens things up a little bit.  That’s not to downplay the criticism or say that the player or coach isn’t correct in his assessment of the clubhouse, but we do have to wonder just how prevalent it is.  It would seem strange that some folks think things are blowing up while many think things are fine but it wouldn’t be unheard of.

Next year’s clubhouse will be different.  They always are, of course.  Even with basically the same players, a change in fortunes on the field can improve or worsen tensions.  It seems pretty likely, though, that the 2018 Cardinals will not be “basically the same players.”  Things are going to shift dramatically.

Which means, if we are still talking about this next year, if there’s still this undercurrent of unhappiness, you have to look at those in charge for answers.  Mike Matheny was hired to manage a clubhouse with the hope that he could learn to manage a baseball game.  It’s debatable how much he’s done the latter.  If he is having problems with the former–as we said last year when Kolten Wong talked to Rob Rains as well as other times things like this have popped up–then you really have to question what he’s doing on staff.

Again, this really doesn’t seem like something 90 wins and an October trip wouldn’t solve, but until they do that or until we see the turnover that is supposedly coming this offseason, it’s something we’ll wonder just how deep it goes.

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Wrapping Up 2017

Regular readers of the site may remember (but likely don’t) that the beginning of October is a tough time for me to blog.  My day job–well, my only job–takes me out of town and getting up early to blog runs the risk of me fighting sleep on the drive there and back.  When they are in the postseason, that’s as huge of a drawback, but when the season ending press conference happens in that same first week, you have to find a time to write.  Before we get into that, though, let’s quickly hit those last three games with the Brewers that meant nothing to the Cardinals and wound up finally ending Milwaukee’s season.

Friday (5-3 loss)

Hero: Paul DeJong.  Three hits, including a solo homer that was the only tally until the ninth, when he scored on Jose Martinez’s homer.  After worrying that DeJong had hit a wall playing deep into September for the first time, he went .429/.455/.762 in his last six games, the last of which was a pinch-hit appearance.  If the Cardinals could have done something this week, it might have been DeJong pushing them there.

Goat: Tommy Pham.  0-4 with two strikeouts.

Notes: John Gant gave up four runs in five innings plus, with the two batters he faced in the sixth reaching on a walk and a double and scoring when Josh Lucas gave up a couple of grounders that plated them.  For a fifth starter and a guy that’s been in AAA all year against a team fighting for their playoff lives, it wasn’t bad.  Not intriguing or anything, but not bad.

Sandy Alcantara pitched a scoreless eighth, then allowed two runs after getting the first out in the ninth.  Seeing what they are going do with him next year should be interesting.  Do they move him back to the rotation?  Does he go back to Springfield to start with an eye on a quick promotion to Memphis?  I’m sure it’ll depend on what the roster looks like between now and then but it should be interesting to see.

I know that the Cardinals needed to field a competitive lineup given the fact Milwaukee was still technically alive facing Colorado, but it still was pretty surprising that Stephen Piscotty started both Friday and Saturday, especially when Dexter Fowler did not.  You have Randal Grichuk (who, in fairness, did start in this one as well), you have Harrison Bader and you have Magneuris Sierra.  While there are degrees of competitiveness in any of them, all of those have been starters at one point in the season.  Perhaps you hold out Sierra, but Bader easily could have started.  Perhaps Mike Matheny was looking for something good to send Piscotty’s season on and, in his blessed way, he wound up with it Saturday.

Saturday (7-6 win)

Hero: Greg Garcia.  Two hits, including one that opened up the decisive eighth inning.

Goat: Luke Weaver.  While it didn’t matter and it wound up not being the deciding factor, seeing Weaver go out there and allow six runs in 4.2 was pretty disheartening.  Weaver allowed nine hits and four walks in this game and after such a great run during August and September ended the season with a 16.43 ERA in his last two starts.  It well may be that he got fatigued and he’ll be able to be stronger next season, but you really hate to see him go into the winter with such a bad taste in his mouth and with a few extra questions surrounding him.

Notes: Down 6-4 in the eighth, Piscotty came up with the bases loaded and delivered a two-run single that tied up the game, then he scored when Harrison Bader singled him in a batter later.  Thankfully he came through because he was riding a 0-19 going into that at bat.  This is a positive note to end the season on, it’s true, but you’d have liked to seen more than a .184 average the last two weeks of the season.  There’s so much up in the air with Piscotty for next year and I don’t know how you really can feel confident about what he’ll be.

I don’t know if it means anything or not that Fowler didn’t play at all in this series.  I mean, he’s a vet and he’s earned the right not to be in a lineup like that, but still, it’s a little different that he didn’t pinch hit or anything.  Maybe he had an injury, but they were overt in shutting down Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Tyler Lyons, and Adam Wainwright, so I don’t know why they couldn’t have said Fowler was out as well.  That said, Fowler did battle a lot of injuries this year, so it’s probable they weren’t going to risk any more.

The bullpen went 4.1 and allowed no runs and just four hits.  While Zach Duke probably won’t return and it’s still debatable that Juan Nicasio will, at least John Brebbia and Ryan Sherriff give a little hope for next year’s pen.

Sunday (6-1 loss)

Hero: Randal Grichuk.  His home run was the only thing that kept the club from completely shutting down.  One of only three hits by the Memphis Redbirds lineup.

Goat: Jack Flaherty.  The lineup didn’t help him much and he actually battled after a rough first, but getting down 4-0 on the last day of the season before you even get to bat has to get everyone in the mindset of getting this game over as soon as possible.  It seems pretty clear Flaherty needs some more time in Memphis–that 6.33 ERA tends to speak pretty loudly–but there’s no reason that he can’t be a solid option even by midseason next year.

Notes: Nobody hit.  Alcantara let up a couple more runs.  Everyone went home.

So that’s the way the season ended.  83 wins, just as our friend Corey Rudd predicted at the beginning of the season.  A really blah couple of weeks after a push that got them close.  We’ll look more at the season at some point in time, but let’s talk about the press conference from today.

First off, the biggest news was that the pitching coaches weren’t being retained.  Derek Lilliquist and Blaine Illsey were let go as the Cardinals wanted to try a different approach.  This is really interesting because, as many have noted, Lilliquist was a holdover from the Tony La Russa era.  What hasn’t been as noted (at least, I haven’t seen it but again, I’ve been busy) is that this severs the connection to Dave Duncan, widely regarded as the best pitching coach of his generation.  While there’s no doubt that Duncan’s influence will still be felt in the organization, there’s nobody in his old job that has learned directly from him or from someone who learned from him (with Illsey also going overboard).

Perhaps that’s the new approach that the Cardinals want to try, but that seems a little strange given that Dunc was one of the first to chart pitches, to analyze results, etc.  Maybe there was still some old-school gut in there, but for the most part the reason Duncan was so good was that he was prepared and he was knowledgable, things that you’d figure would have been passed down to Lilliquist.  Perhaps Bryan Eversgard, who is at Memphis and was in the organization as a player in 1998 when Dunc was around, is the keeper of that flame, but it’s less direct than it was.  Again, that may be a minor detail, probably is.  But it’s an interesting one to me.

I don’t know how much to assign to coaches, both hitting and pitching, and it’s hard to know exactly what Lilliquist was or wasn’t doing besides wearing his uniform without a pullover.  (Seriously, does anyone ever remember seeing his number?)  However, the pitching results have been solid for a while.  I don’t know how much blame you can assign the pitching coach for over-usage of bullpen arms or the slow hook that the manager tends to have.  Maybe they were lockstep with Mike Matheny on these issues and this is the organization’s way of trying to again manage the manager.  Maybe they all didn’t see eye to eye and this is John Mozeliak’s way of getting folks in line.

Whatever the case, this is the most direct shakeup that the club has had since Mark McGwire left after the 2012 season and perhaps even since TLR left, since McGwire left of his own volition.  When you couple that with what happened in June, you have a lot of folks being moved around the guy that many would suggest is the actual problem.  Again, the club wasn’t going to get rid of Matheny for a number of reasons (and you could argue that there are issues that don’t tie directly to him) but the line of defense between him and the abyss is getting smaller.  There’s not a lot else you can do.

Humorously, Matheny said something about being still new to the job in this press conference.  Mike Matheny has the fifth most games managed in Cardinal history and he will pass number 4, Billy Southworth, in game 10 of 2018.  While it is true that many of the other managers had experience elsewhere or in the minor leagues, he’ll have 1000 games managed before the end of April next season.  That excuse doesn’t fly anymore.  And I don’t believe that the rope is that long for him going forward either.

Other than that, the only really notable fact–besides the fact that he made mention that he’d only guaranteed Dexter Fowler “a lot of money,” not where he’d play–was the fact that this is still clearly John Mozeliak’s show.  There was at least an idea that once the season was over, more transition of roles would be held, but that obviously hasn’t happened yet.  I believe Michael Girsch only had two questions directed to him and went a significant amount of time without speaking.  Maybe he’ll still grow into the GM role, but as long as Mo is casting that long of a shadow, it seems unlikely we’ll see much of it.

That’s probably not everything we could discuss now but my time has grown short.  I would still encourage you to fill out the Top Cards on Twitter ballot/survey so we can have a good sample of opinions there.  Otherwise, I’ll be with you again when I can!

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With the regular season now behind us, it’s time to turn to that annual tradition we have around these parts.  No, not that one yet.  No, we’ll get to that one.  Man, that one is in the spring.  No, it’s time for the third annual Top Cards on Twitter event!

In 2015, we kicked this off by asking everyone to fill out a blank ballot of their top Cardinal Twitter follows.  That’s a tough thing to do, of course, but it did lead to a lot of folks getting recognized.  Last year, we took the top 25 and put them in for ranking with the option of adding some others into the mix.  However, that just led to a reshuffling of the top 25 and no new blood getting in there, which seemed wrong.  So this year, yet again, we are going to approach this in a different manner.  This manner has the potential to get time-consuming, so I want to be clear about something right up front.

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO RATE EVERY PERSON ON THIS LIST!!

What I did this year was try to make sure we could give a voice to as many people as possible.  So what we have here is a list with every single account that got a vote last year (unless I couldn’t find them recently when I was searching) along with some new accounts that I have come across this season as well.  (I also asked at least twice for folks to submit nominees and I didn’t get any, so if you aren’t on the list, you had your chance!  Plus there is still a write-in section.)

Instead of ranking folks and trying to decide whether you should rank cardinalsgifs ahead of stlcupofjoe or something like that, we’re going to do it a little more independently.  Each person on the list can be rated on a 1-10 scale, where one is a person that you may follow but doesn’t really provide much value to you and 10 is a person that you could not do Twitter without.  Between the two extremes, well, that’s up to you.

The form is long enough that I’m going to go ahead and just link to it here instead of trying to embed it.  To make sure you don’t miss it, let’s do the big centering thing again:

2017 TOP CARDS ON TWITTER FORM IS HERE!!!!

When you click on the big link above, you’ll come to a simple question, asking you your Twitter handle.  This is mainly to keep the ballots separate to make sure if a form gets submitted twice accidentally I’ll realize it.  After you put in your handle, which again is THE ONLY REQUIRED ANSWER ON THE WHOLE FORM, you’ll see the first page of accounts which range from those that start with numbers through the ones that begin with B.  There will be a “NEXT” button on the bottom of the page which will take you to the next section of accounts.  There are five (5) pages of listed accounts, all in alphabetical order.  Again, clicking next on the bottom of each page will take you to the next one.

The last page allows you to add in folks that weren’t listed on the form.  Just put them in the write-in spot, then rank them using the same scale.  Again, I tried to be as comprehensive as possible but it’s not realistic to list every single Cardinal fan account on Twitter.  We’d be here all day!  Hopefully this is a good compromise and something that works for you.

Submissions will be taken until October 23.  That gives you three weeks to get your opinions in.  Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be a regular nuisance with this on Twitter so you aren’t likely to be able to forget.  Once all the info is in, we’ll have our regular series of posts ranking them.  We’re going to use total points as the ranking, but there will be notes about highest averages and possibly even a leaderboard with that data as well.  I appreciate your help on this and I look forward to the results!

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Robbing Us of October

The coffin is nailed shut.  Elvis has left the building.  The fat lady has sung.  Dan Buffa’s out of coffee.  Whatever your metaphor, it well applies to the St. Louis Cardinals, who will be playing games that don’t technically matter for the first time since 2010.

On one hand, it’s a little strange to be thinking about games and not looking at the scoreboard or figuring scenarios.  On the other, this has been coming for a while, especially since those two losses in Pittsburgh.  You could hold out hope, but it wasn’t that reasonable.  You could see the technicalities, but know that the likelihood wasn’t there, especially when it got down to one single game, as it was before last night’s outing.

We’ll probably look at the season as a whole in early October, but I think the numbers that stand out the most right now are 5-14, which is their record against the Chicago Cubs.  If everything else stayed the same, even going 8-11 against the Cubs has you at least in the wild card hunt.  It doesn’t take much to find games–like the very first series, where the ball stuck to Yadier Molina‘s chest protector, or the series in early July when the Cubs swept but every game was decided by one or two runs, or the game in late July when Wainwright took a shutout into the eighth and they still lost–that could have made up some of that difference.  It was possible, even as wonky as this season has been, for the Cards to be alive this weekend.  Yet they aren’t.

Don’t misunderstand, it’s clear the Cubs are better than the Cardinals are.  I think the gap in places is small but all those edges add up to something that right now is dominating the rivalry in the wrong way.  I know that last year John Mozeliak said that what Chicago was doing or the interaction between the teams didn’t really play into what he did in the winter, but that’s got to change.  It used to be that everyone in the Central (and many around baseball) spent time figuring out how they were going to beat the Cardinals.  Now, the shoe is on the other foot.

As for last night’s game, it’s tough to know what to say.  It wasn’t too surprising that Kyle Hendricks was able to keep the bats in check because he’s done that before.  However, when the Cubs are running out a lineup that their Iowa farm team might use on its off days, you’d like to think you could wind up getting two or three runs, especially when Hendricks left the game.  Instead, the only reason the game went to extras was our Hero, Tommy Pham.  Pham, who had two of the team’s six hits plus drew a walk, showing more life than pretty much the rest of the lineup combined, singled in the sixth, stole his second base of the night, went to third on a wild pitch, and scored on Dexter Fowler‘s broken bat grounder.  While it was a great throwback to Whiteyball, given how they are honoring Whitey Herzog this season, it’s a little problematic that was all the club could muster.

Granted, there was one more real shot.  After Matthew Bowman misplayed a ball in the 11th and camera-watching Taylor Davis got his first major league RBI with a double, the Cards went down 1-2……….3 in the bottom of the frame, with the …….. representing how far Paul DeJong hit the ball.  Unfortunately, Leonys Martin was playing back and was able to go up and rob DeJong of his 25th home run, ending the game and snuffing out that flickering candle of hope.

Really, though, this one felt like those days at the end of the long school year when testing is done and no one wants to do anything.  (Which, looking back, is a similar analogy to the one I used in 2010.)  Dan McLaughlin and Jim Edmonds were playing it free and easy in the booth, akin to goofing off in the back of the room while the teacher sets up the movie the class is supposed to watch.  People checked out early, like the starting pitcher (more on that in a second).  All in all, even though there was technically still some life in the playoff race, it felt like this club was just ready to go home.  And, honestly, what are the chances that the Dodgers would help them out and sweep the Rockies this weekend anyway?

Lance Lynn started last night in what most likely was his last start in Busch Stadium.  With hitters in this situation, you can acknowledge them in their at-bats, the manager might take them off the field a la Matt Holliday last year, things like that.  Pitchers, of course, are a little trickier, but usually there is a mid-inning replacement where they can walk off the field one last time.

Lance Lynn got none of that.

The outrage that many of us felt last night as Lynn was just replaced by a pinch-hitter with no fanfare and a bit suddenly was tempered a bit by Mike Matheny saying afterwards that Lynn’s back had tightened up or otherwise he’d have probably pitched the sixth.  Lynn was at 86 pitches, which is a good 20 less than normal for him, and there was nobody on and one out when they hit for him, so it’s not like it was a prime scoring opportunity.  That at least makes sense, though I think if Matheny had been thinking big picture, he could have at least sent Lynn up to hit, then pulled him back for Randal Grichuk so everyone would realize Lynn was leaving the game and be able to express their appreciation for his career in Cardinal red.

Of course, that is if his back actually was bothering him.  Lynn said after the game that his back was fine, though given Lynn’s penchant for dry humor and straight-faced discussion of things that aren’t necessarily true, it’s hard to know.  (He also may have wanted to make sure that his free agent money wasn’t affected in the slightest.)  Matheny’s not one to lie to save face–he often doesn’t realize that face needs to be saved–so I’m guessing Lynn did tell him something of the nature but it wasn’t a significant problem.

So that’s it.  There’s a weekend series that means nothing, which might actually be fun to watch.  Matt Carpenter, who got the Goat in this one for going 0-4 with a walk and four strikeouts, has shut it down for the season.  He will get an MRI on that shoulder today but thinks he’ll be able to avoid surgery.  We’ll see.  That shoulder has been a problem a majority of the season and I’m not sure he’ll be able to rest enough for it to heal over the winter.  I’m no doctor, though, and I’m sure it’ll depend on what the MRI says.

Which means no Carp this weekend.  Yadier Molina doesn’t have any reason to try to rush back.  Jose Martinez still seems to be bothered by his hand issues.  It wouldn’t surprise me much if they let Stephen Piscotty go ahead and head back home to be with his mother.  We could have the whole Memphis Redbirds lineup this weekend.  Pham still wants his 25th homer, so he probably stays in the lineup, but we should see more of Luke Voit and Harrison Bader, at the least.  A lot of bullpen arms were used last night so we’ll see who we get out of the pen going forward, but in theory there’d be a lot less Bowman and more guys like Sam Tuivailala.  I don’t know if Seung-hwan Oh gets back on the mound or not, but maybe they do that so they can have a conference and Eugene Koo can get out there one more time.

Three more days of baseball before the winter sets in.  With no pressure, no worries, maybe we can enjoy them for what they are.  John Gant goes for the Cards tonight against the Brewers.  Enjoy the weekend, folks.  It’s all we’ve got.

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Finally on the Brink

We’ve written off this team many times during the season, only to see them put together a little run or to see opponents in the race stumble.  Hope has reappeared, only to be dashed again.  Finally, though, this team is on the edge of the precipice.  One more loss and they are home for the winter.  One more Colorado win and they are home for the winter.  Sun’s getting real low out there and today may be the last day that the Cardinals are “relevant” to the postseason picture.

I put that in quotes because even though they are technically still alive, their relevance has been minimal since those two losses to the Pirates this weekend.  The sweep by the Cubs the weekend before didn’t help it either.  You look at this team and see that they have gone 39-30 in the second half and think that’s pretty solid (which is it, especially in comparison to the first half) and September is 15-9 which is great, but then you realize that seven of those nine losses have come in the last two weeks and you start to wonder if the team ran out of gas or what.  Then you think that five of those nine losses came against the Cubs and you realize just how much work needs to be done for this team to get back to being the class of the division.

You look at the world and how terrible it seems today and you can’t help but tie that to the fact that the Cards have lost their place as the top team to the Cubs, can you?  I mean, before 2015 things weren’t great, but they weren’t this bad.  We always knew that Chicago winning the World Series would cause the end of the world, we just thought it’d be a little more dramatic and less gradual.  (Wait, this is only my crackpot theory?  Umm, nevermind.)

We’ve got two games to look at, including a rare win against the baby bears.  Let’s get to it.

Tuesday (8-7 win)

Hero: Zach Duke.  The team scored eight runs, but it wouldn’t have mattered had it not been for Duke’s outstanding work in a critical time.  Carlos Martinez got nicked for single runs in the second, third, and fourth, but was holding a 5-3 lead when the fifth started.  He walked Willson Contreras to start the inning, then got Ian Happ to fly out.  With Kyle Schwarber, who easily could tie the game with one swing, ready to bat, Mike Matheny showed some urgency (that, as we will discuss, he really DIDN’T show last night) and went to Duke instead of letting Martinez try for the win.  It probably helped that Martinez was at 92 pitches, of course.

The Cubs countered by pinch-hitting Albert Almora (which is a swap that the Redbirds would take any time, I think) and Duke struck him out then got Jason Heyward to ground out.  He then threw another scoreless inning with a couple more strikeouts to keep things as they were.  Duke’s been a bit up and down this year and I expect he’ll have to find work somewhere else, but he still seems to have something in the tank as a LOOGY and whoever gets him next year will probably get a solid piece.

Goat: John Brebbia.  We’ve often said that Brebbia has outpitched his peripherals this season and regression happened hard in this one.  Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons worked a scoreless seventh, but started the eighth by hitting Happ and walking Leonys Martin.  Watching it, I will say that Lyons seemed to have lost a little command, but the Cubs still had three lefties and a switch-hitter coming up.  It would seem to make sense to leave your best lefty in to face these guys, especially since that’s probably why you had him start the inning in the first place.  If you have to switch, perhaps you go with Ryan Sherriff, another lefty.  (I’d say Brett Cecil but we know that he’s had his own issues with those from the sinister side this season.)  Brebbia has done OK against lefties, but not as well as he has against righties.  With an 8-3 lead at the time, leaving Lyons in for at least another batter would have been the better play, especially since Jason Heyward didn’t have great career numbers off of him.

Heyward, of course, homered off Brebbia, who then went on to strike out Mike Freeman and get Jon Jay to ground out before giving up another long ball to Ben Zobrist.  Matheny then went to Juan Nicasio and Brebbia’s night was done but not before the lead was almost erased.  Which feels like a synopsis of the Cards/Cubs series this year.  St. Louis can play with them for a bit, but eventually things explode and it’s not good.

Notes: This was the kind of game that gets people talking about Martinez not being an ace.  And while his stuff is very good and he’s clearly the best pitcher the Cards have and one of the better ones in baseball, if you need reliability and consistency out of your ace, a guy that’s going to take the game by the horns and just shut it down, Martinez still has room to grow there.  The Cardinals scored three runs off Jake Arrieta in the first, but gave one back in the second on a Happ triple and a groundout.  St. Louis put up two more in the bottom of the second, but Martinez walked in a run in the top of the third after a double, a hit by pitch, and a walk had loaded them up.  He gave up a run in the fourth as well, though that was in large part to Carson Kelly‘s catcher interference eliminating a double play.  When you give a starter five runs, you want to see him come out and put up zeroes.  The Cubs have a very good lineup, but it felt like Martinez could have done a bit more to keep them in check.  He’s young and that part of the game will come, I think.

Offensively, Matt Carpenter led off the game with a home run, just his second career hit off of Arrieta (both homers).  Before the game, there was a lot of complaining about Carp being in the lineup leading off with his woeful career against the Chicago hurler.  I continue to say that Matheny is one of the most blessed individuals out there, because so often a bad process winds up as a good result.  Tommy Pham had two hits, including a long two-run homer, before being plunked (in his mind, intentionally) in the sixth and then getting picked off because everyone in the ballpark knew Pham was going to try to retaliate by stealing a base.  The HBP left him unable to bat in the eighth with two on and one out and an insurance run in dire need, leading Stephen Piscotty to pinch-hit and fly out.

Jedd Gyorko and Randal Grichuk had two hits and both of them hit a home run.  Paul DeJong snapped out of it a bit with two hits as well.

Wednesday (5-1 loss)

Hero: Paul DeJong.  He had two hits again, which was 40% of the total team hits, and drove in the only run.  For a while, the only run that was actually needed, though that finally crumbled.

Goat: Dexter Fowler.  0-4 with four men left on base.  Fowler’s done pretty well against his former team this year.  Unfortunately, it didn’t happen in this one.

Notes: All right, let’s get right to the biggest issue of the night.  Michael Wacha was on cruise control through most of this game.  He made it through six scoreless innings and had only thrown 60 pitches.  That’s incredible, when you think about it.  Two hits and one plunk (Anthony Rizzo, who I swear actually stands on home plate.  How he’d doesn’t have a 1.000 OPS and a ton of bruises from where he stands, I don’t know) was all that he’d allowed.  It was a masterful Wacha performance.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  Obviously, Wacha was going through the lineup for the third time.  Rizzo was leading off the seventh, so he was going to deal with the heart of the order.  Wacha’s barely pitched past the sixth this year (a total of 5.2 innings, three of which came in that shutout of the Mets) and third time around opponents have a .900 OPS against him.

I don’t quite think anyone was suggesting that Matheny should pull Wacha after the sixth.  I mean, maybe if you have a shutdown bullpen, a 7-8-9 three-headed dragon, then you think about it.  The Cardinals not only don’t have those guys, the closest guys they do have–Tyler Lyons and Juan Nicasio–were probably unavailable.  You had Matthew Bowman but that’s about all you feel real confident in.  So if Matheny pulls Wacha and the bullpen gives up the game, most fans are irate that he didn’t stick with Wacha.

Wacha gave up a scratch single through the shift to Rizzo to start the frame.  I think most people were believing that someone should have started warming in the bullpen then, which I probably agree with.  There definitely needed to be someone up after Ben Zobrist singled, putting runners on the corners.  I don’t know that anyone could have been warm enough to face Addison Russell if they’d gotten up after Rizzo, but you probably could delay enough to get them warm.  (You’d think Bowman stays warm as much as he has pitched this season.)

So I can understand Wacha facing Russell.  That inning was a quick one and Wacha had been so good you’d want to see if he could get a double play.  I also would have understood Wacha getting pulled before Russell, but not before, if someone had gotten warm in time.

Wacha gave up a three-run homer to Russell, of course, as he curved it just fair.  Which was a huge blow and probably the game no matter what right there.  You would think that was his last batter, because again, he’s not pitched past six before and he wasn’t really fooling anyone this time around. Pat him on the back and go to the bullpen.

Except, as far as I can tell, there’s still nobody warming up.

I know the bullpen is shaky.  I know that you don’t really want to use a lot of them when you don’t have to.  But this is basically your season right here.  With Colorado already winning, you are dancing on thin ice and that ice is spiderwebbing under your feet right now.  How can someone not be ready to go after the Russell home run?  That’s inconceivable and I do know what that word means.

So Wacha faces Javier Baez and allows a double.  Now Derek Lilliquist goes out to the mound but either still nobody is ready to come in (which is again mind-blowing) or they want to give Wacha another chance, because Lilli trots back to the dugout and Wacha stays out there to give up another double to Jason Heyward.  He’s STILL out there to issue a walk to Rene Rivera before finally being pulled.  Honestly, if the Cubs hadn’t pinch-hit for Lackey there, he’d have probably faced Lackey just to see if he could get an out in the frame.

Bowman comes in and gives up a double that lets Heyward score, so Wacha’s line went from 6-2-0-0-8 to 6-7-5-1-8 in the span of 20 pitches by Wacha and three by Bowman.  Zach Duke had to come in and finish putting out that seventh inning fire and Sam Tuivailala and Brett Cecil threw scoreless frames, but the damage was done.  The fire had gone out of the universe, as it were.

This is frustrating in isolation, but the problem is we’ve been saying this about Matheny since he took over the team in 2012.  It made a little more sense back then that he didn’t really know how to use a bullpen, that he deferred to his starters and let them try to work through things or go for the win or face a batter or two (or more) than they should have.  It’s been six years, though.  I think Matheny has gotten better in a lot of things over his time here.  I mean, he doesn’t bunt NEARLY as much as he used to and while he still wears out one bullpen arm a year it used to be a very rigid end of the game, no matter how often those guys had pitched or what the score was.  He’s somewhat better.

Nights like this, though, kinda show that he’s not better enough.  You’d think that a bench coach would help him out here or perhaps adding Mike Shildt to the mix would improve it, but so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Of course, didn’t it come out at one time that Matheny doesn’t tend to listen to those guys or you have to manipulate him into seeing it your way?  I can’t quite remember the quote or when it was or I’d look it up, but if that’s the case, it would explain a lot.

Mike Matheny has a three year extension that hasn’t even kicked in yet.  (Sorta like how everyone bagged on that old Ryan Howard contract the Phillies signed way before the current deal was over.)  He’s not going anywhere.  Bill DeWitt has come out with a public vote of confidence and I don’t see him backtracking on that.  I also don’t think that the organization is discontented with him enough anyway to move him.  I’m not exactly sure what the fascination with Matheny is and I’m sure there’s a lot we don’t see, but what we do see indicates that the Cardinals might be better served going in a different direction.

It’s true that Mike’s had six winning seasons, something that’s not easy to do.  The question is, would any other manager have NOT had winning season in that time period?  After all, we are talking about teams that won 88, 97, 90, 100, 86, and whatever this season winds up to be, probably about 84.  Are you telling me that someone else wouldn’t have gotten a winning season out of the 2012 team coming off the World Series?  That Matheny was worth 10 or more games in that recent stretch?  I’m not really buying it.  Matheny maybe should get credit for keeping things on an even keel and perhaps his leadership did get a couple of extra wins out here and there, but it feels like his bullpen management at the least would negate that and perhaps run a deficit.

I don’t know that I’m on the “Fire Matheny” bandwagon and I’m definitely not one of these that, if he cured cancer, would gripe that he took too long and he’d have figured it out sooner if he’d not stuck with “his” lab assistants.  That said, I’m not sold on the idea that Matheny is a net asset to the organization.  We continue to talk about shakeups in the offseason and while it won’t happen, a shakeup in the dugout might be part of the solution.

Lance Lynn goes up against Kyle Hendricks today in a desperate attempt to keep the Cards relevant for another day.  Colorado doesn’t play so it would take a loss to end this continual cycle of hope and disappointment permanently for the year.  You figure Hendricks will have an abbreviated start now that things are clinched and maybe that’ll help the Redbirds, assuming that they can come out with any sort of fire and aren’t just going through the motions.  You couldn’t really blame them if they did, though.  I think we are all ready for this to come to an end!

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Taking Another Punch

They just can’t go away.

They’ve tried, mind you.  They’ve lost three games in a row, two of which in extremely ugly fashion.  They’ve shown little spirit since Friday night’s rally in Pittsburgh.  It’s like that was the last bit of oomph the Cardinals had, but it didn’t time out right.  My wife talks about having to make sure she has enough toppings for her lettuce when she has a salad because she doesn’t want to have one without the other.  It feels like the Redbirds had more season than motivation.

And yet, they stay alive.  Colorado lost by one last night to the Marlins and so the Cardinals remain 2.5 games out, though now with six to play.  The odds are very long–today’s Fangraphs projection has them at 8.4%–but a six game winning streak would mean Colorado would need to lose at least two of their remaining five to create a tie, three to let St. Louis slide past them into October.

Does anyone see a six game winning streak coming, though?  The Cardinals have had 6.2 innings out of their starters in the past three games.  That’s 18.1 innings out of the bullpen, meaning a bullpen that was already not well trusted is also a little tired as well.  At least it’s in a time of expanded rosters so Mike Matheny can empty out all those folks that he doesn’t trust in games like this one and on Saturday.

The best pitcher the Cardinals have had during September has been Luke Weaver, but he was no match for the Cubs last night and was our Goat for the evening.  I know some people are complaining that Matheny left him out there too long, but consider that all eight of his runs came with two out.  Most of them were quick strikes.  Do you remove him in the first with the bases loaded and two out?  That seems extreme, but one batter later it’s 3-0 which, as it turned out, was plenty for Jon Lester.  (There was debate on whether Randal Grichuk or Harrison Bader would have caught that ball that Stephen Piscotty didn’t and I’m definitely no expert in that field, but it seemed to be a solid hit by Addison Russell that probably would have dropped no matter.  The others might have held him to a double, but it likely wouldn’t have mattered in the long run.)  Jason Heyward doubled in the fourth run.  Do you go get Weaver there, when you haven’t even had the chance to see if you could get a couple of runs back?

The run in the fifth was a solo shot to Kris Bryant, again with two outs.  Nothing you could do there to prevent that, I don’t think.  (I mean in the way of seeing signs to replace a pitcher, of course.  You could try not to give Bryant anything to hit to avoid the HR.)  In the third, you possibly could have gone to get him after Willson Contreras singled, but he did get the next two outs.  Walking Heyward and putting two on might have been another decision point, one that I might agree on.  Still, two outs and a taxed bullpen.  If he gets Javier Baez, he’s out of the inning.  Unfortunately, he didn’t and suddenly it was 8-1 and it was all over but the shouting and the discussion of nacho guy.

We’ll give the Hero tag to Jedd Gyorko, who cracked a home run after Russell’s dive into the stand upended some nachos and gave the broadcast and Twitter something else to focus on for a while.  Overall, Gyorko was three for three, which was half the team’s hits, and he and Luke Voit were the only ones to get extra base hits, as Voit pinch-hit in the seventh and went yard, which was good to see.  I know a lot of folks think Voit should have played more and he probably should have, but there wasn’t a great place for him to get regular at bats.  Which just speaks to the roster crunch that this team has and that must be addressed during the winter.

Then there was the Yadier Molina situation.  In the top of the seventh–again, in an 8-1 game–Molina was clocked not once but twice by foul balls, balls that barely deviated from their flight path before smashing into his skull.  After the second one, Mike Matheny went to get him, which was a good thing since Yadi wound up vomiting into his mask on the way off the field.  Unsurprisingly, he went through concussion testing and even though his brother Bengie Molina says everything is fine, I think we’re all in agreement with Bernie Miklasz on this one.  There’s no reason to see Yadi again unless it’s a pinch-hit appearance on the last day of the season to let the fans acknowledge him.

Matheny’s usage of Molina is a little weird when you think about the fact that Matheny is a former catcher.  You’d think he’d realize the wear and tear and give him more rest, but it feels more like Matheny is living through him and letting Yadi play as much as Mike wanted to play when he was on the field.  However, I think–I hope–concussions are a different matter.  Matheny had a number of them and has been vocal about trying to reduce players having them, including being part of changing the collision rule at home plate.  If Matheny lets Molina play tonight, I think that would indicate that Matheny can’t be trusted with player health, that he’s not the leader that the front office and ownership might want him to be.

I know Mike is saying all the right things–or at least the things you have to say when you are leading a ball team.  He’s saying that the season isn’t over, they just have to play good baseball and not worry about what other teams are doing.  Fine, though I think ignoring your difficulties is just as bad as overly focusing on them.  (Someone on Twitter made the joke Matheny’s presser after they are eliminated will be something like “Oh, we were eliminated? I didn’t know because I don’t pay attention to other things.  We still have to keep grinding through the season and play good baseball and see how things work out.”)  Which makes me worried that he’ll try to run out Molina tonight because “every game is important” and “we have to have our best club out there”.  I feel like his feelings on concussions will win out here, but I’m going to be slightly concerned until we see the lineup this afternoon.

For all that talk about the untrustworthy guys coming out of the pen, they wound up doing all right.  Jack Flaherty made his first relief appearance, but the game worked out to where he only got an inning, which was a bit of a waste.  His spot came up with two on and two outs and you have to try to get back into the game.  It didn’t work out–Grichuk flew out–but it was a move that had to be done.

Ryan Sherriff, Sam Tuivailala, Zach Duke, and Josh Lucas combined for 4.1 innings of scoreless ball.  The only outlier from the relievers was Sandy Alcantara, who made an error that allowed Ben Zobrist to reach, then got Russell and Heyward before the floodgates opened.  He wound up allowing two runs and left the game with the bases loaded, thankfully to be bailed out by Duke.  There are going to be nights like that for Alcantara and, if the inning had developed differently, I might have been in favor of him trying to get out of that jam since the game obviously was out of hand.  Hopefully this won’t be the last time we see Alcantara this year and it probably won’t be unless elimination doesn’t come on Wednesday or Thursday like we expect.

 

I think our friend Dennis Lawson said it best last night.

So far this season the Cubs have owned the Cardinals and from all indications, that’s not going to stop soon.  Last night there was way too much blue for my taste.  I had actually gone into the other room before the Baez homer and listening to the crowd I couldn’t tell if Weaver had gotten the out or if Baez had done something.  Sadly, it was the latter.  If being invaded by blue-clad Chicagoans in the last week of the season isn’t a warning sign to the front office and ownership, I don’t know what would be.  For the past three years, the Cubs have been a significant thorn in the Cardinals’ side.  It’s always been a concern what would happen if the Cubs paired up their financial resources with someone that had a clue about putting together a team and we’re seeing it now.  If the baby bears get some pitching this offseason, this could be a long-term thing.

That’s not going to fly in St. Louis.  I’m not saying your season is a success if you beat the Cubs and nothing else, but it’s a solid component of a year worth remembering.  You don’t want to make any panic moves, but this has been going on long enough for you to factor it into your winter strategy.  It’s been a long time since that walkoff win against Chicago on Opening Night but there haven’t been many more moments worth remembering since then.

Maybe there will be some tonight.  Carlos Martinez goes up against Jake Arrieta, so in theory this is going to be more of a pitching duel.  In theory, at least.  St. Louis has faced him three times this year and each time he’s gone six innings, with one, four, and two runs allowed.  It’s hard to imagine the offense just exploding, but we’d take it if it happened!

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I used the analogy last night on Gateway to Baseball Heaven that the Cardinals, especially over the last couple of months, have been the fisherman in this State Farm commercial:

Instead of dangling a dollar, though, they put a little postseason hope on that hook. You don’t want to grab for it, but eventually it is just too tempting even if it’s just a small amount of hope.  As soon as you do, though, they’ll yank it away from you, leaving you more disappointed and irked than before.

After that rally on Friday night, hope was again riding high that the Cardinals could at least take the series with the Pirates and stay relevant as they went to Busch for their final homestand of the season.  That didn’t last much more than an inning and after two losses, the team returns to St. Louis 2.5 out of the wildcard with seven to play and, unfortunately, will most likely see the Cubs clinch the division on the Busch Stadium lawn if they can’t sweep.  While this still counts as “meaningful baseball”–the Cards can’t be eliminated until Wednesday, which means no matter what they’ll have fewer games that don’t count than they did in 2010–it’s frustrating to see what is basically an uphill climb when a win here or there could have made the road a lot more favorable.

Let’s get the recaps out of the way, not that there’s much we want to talk about with these two outings.

Saturday (11-6 loss)

Hero: Tommy Pham.  It was Pham’s two-run homer that led off the scoring and got fans excited….until the bottom of the inning.  It was his double that drove in the third run and put runners on second and third with nobody out and a chance to cut into the Pirates’ significant lead.

What most people will remember from this game, though, is the TV cameras catching Pham appearing to berate (or at least adamantly complain) to his teammates about their inability to score either Matt Carpenter or himself in that situation.  (Dexter Fowler and Jedd Gyorko struck out and Yadier Molina popped out.)  If that’s the case–and while Pham was definitely upset about not getting runs, it’s hard to know exactly how much was directed at his teammates–it seems to have inspired two different camps:

  • Tommy Pham is having his first real successful season and doesn’t have the history or weight to be speaking out like that.  Plus it’s not a professional way of treating your teammates.
  • Tommy Pham has a passion to win and he should be upset when things like that happen.

I have no real problem with Pham getting on his teammates.  Heaven knows we still glowingly speak of the time Chris Carpenter yanked Brendan Ryan into the stairwell and chewed him within an inch of his life.  It is more of a problem if folks are accepting of bad baseball and not chipping away when you can.

That being said, if you are going to make a public show of things, you better back it up.  Pham came up in the sixth after the Cards had put up three runs to cut the lead to 10-6 and had runners on first and third.  A solid single gets the team within three, an extra-base hit scores Harrison Bader from first.  Instead, Pham grounded out.  Which happens–this isn’t a Hollywood story and you can’t just will a hit.  Pham also had a terrible Sunday, leaving five men on and most notably striking out with two on and two out in the fifth.  Again, they were tough situations for him to be productive in and the situation on Saturday he hit the ball well, just right at third.  It just doesn’t look great after that outburst to then have your bat go quiet.

Goat: Dexter Fowler.  Fowler missed a ball in the outfield that many believed Pham or Bader would have caught.  At the very least, he needed to get in front of it and not let it go past him.  (Much like the inside-the-park homer against the Pirates earlier in the month, Pham was nowhere to be seen trying to back up that play, requiring Stephen Piscotty to come over and chase it down.)  He also went 0-4 on the night, which gets him the edge over Lance Lynn, who was my initial thought for this spot.  However, let’s take a look at Lynn’s work up to that moment:

Double
Walk
Single
Strikeout
Single (RBI)
Single
Single (RBI)

Does any part of that look like a good outing?  A guy that was just on the verge of getting it all together?  Now maybe he does.  Maybe if Fowler catches the ball for the second out he retires Gerrit Cole for the final out of the inning and everything is hunky-dory.  We’ve seen games that the starter has looked ugly in the first and settled down afterwards.  Still, Lynn had thrown 30 pitches and didn’t look like he was fooling anyone.  Even the ball that Fowler misplayed wasn’t a high fly ball, but a sinking line drive that was misjudged.  And when you are staked to a 2-0 lead in a must-win game, you can’t come out and blow it that quickly.  Lynn didn’t exactly shake things off either, taking six pitches to get Cole to ground out and then walking Adam Frazier before his night was done.  Josh Lucas came in and allowed both inherited runners to score, inflating his line that much more.

When you know that the bullpen is going to be needed significantly the next night, watching the starter leave before the first is over is just a pending disaster for the entire weekend.  It was good to see the Cardinals rally a bit, but it’s very possible any postseason hopes left when Lynn did.

Notes: Given the situation, it wasn’t surprising that we finally got to see Adam Wainwright out on the mound again.  (He even got to add to his hit total by singling in the third and scoring on Pham’s double.)  Unfortunately, the pitching results weren’t as encouraging as we were hoping given some of the good reports we’d gotten about Wainwright while he was on the DL.  Wainwright went just two innings, allowing a run on three hits and a walk.  More to the point, he never topped 90 on the radar gun and indicated after the game that he was still hurting.  I would be very surprised if we see Wainwright again this season unless it’s a courtesy outing on Sunday in the final home game.  Just on the off chance that it is the final game for Waino.

Because, sadly, we are starting to get into that realm of possibility.  Wainwright is under contract next year for $19.5 million and I’m sure, given that fact and the fact that he’s a competitor and eternally optimistic about what he can do, that he’ll at least try to pitch next season.  However, it seems fairly likely he’s going to need some sort of surgery this offseason and it may depend on what kind it is and what the rehab time is like.  Wainwright turned 36 about a month ago and healing and recovery aren’t nearly as easy at that age as they were a couple of years ago with the Achilles (and you could argue he never was the same after that anyway) and definitely different than returning from Tommy John back in 2012.  It’s hard to really believe that Wainwright would be anything more than a fifth starter that you hope on going into camp next year.

Which (and this is another topic Tara and I touched on last night, so if you haven’t clicked the above link, you might want to) is 1) not the way you want to see a Cardinal legend like Wainwright go out and 2) throws another wrinkle into the offseason mix.  If Wainwright doesn’t return, the rotation right now is Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Luke Weaver.  There are others that could fill in and likely Alex Reyes is ready by mid-season to return to that role, but there’s no veteran presence, no guy to shoulder a load, and no guy you would consider at the head of the rotation to help take any burden off of Martinez.  Most of that is still relevant even if Wainwright returns, because how much do you trust him to be a pitcher that is even middle of the rotation?  Don’t you have to plan for nothing out of Wainwright and if he comes to camp looking good, that’s a bonus?  With all the options on all these arms, even signing a veteran or making a trade for one still allows a return of Uncle Charlie, but to not make such a move feels like you aren’t taking this seriously.  Add that into the mix with a big bad and some trustworthy bullpen arms and Michael Girsch has his work cut out for him this winter.

The rest of the bullpen was OK, but it’s noteworthy that Seung-hwan Oh came in for the eighth and walked two while allowing a hit which led to the last run.  Not noteworthy to this game, per se, but it set the stage for the next.

Sunday (4-1 loss)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  Carpenter hit a homer in the third and that was basically the offense.  The team combined for a total of three more hits (though they did draw five walks) in a game that looked like a hangover effect from the body blow that was the night before.

Goat: Seung-hwan Oh.  Let’s review this just a little bit:

  • Oh has struggled all year long.
  • He’s been out with an injury until just recently.
  • He pitched yesterday and didn’t look effective.
  • It’s a 1-1 game that’s even more must-win than yesterday was

What part of any of that makes you think Oh is the guy to go for?  Well, probably none for you, but something in that mixture seemed fine to Mike Matheny, who made the call.  Oh promptly gave up a single and a homer.  That was the 10th homer Oh has given up this year in less than 60 innings.  This is not an uncommon occurrence nor is it something that would be a surprise.  Yet that was the call to the bullpen, brought to you by T-Mobile (or whoever the sponsor is, I can’t remember right now).

The problem is that somehow with all these arms in the bullpen, Matheny doesn’t trust any of them.  You note that he went to Matthew Bowman first after John Gant went his three innings.  (Having a bullpen game when you are still in a pennant race with less than 10 games to go is probably an issue.)  Which is fine, I guess, but why not go to someone like Jack Flaherty?  Let Flaherty eat two or three innings.  His success usually came the first time around anyway.  If that works, you could go with Bowman and the regulars at the end of the game.  Or why not try Sandy Alcantara?  Alcantara has his flaws, for sure, but he’s allowed one run in 4.2 innings with six strikeouts.  If you get beat with the young flamethrower, that’s easier to swallow for most folks than getting beat with a guy in Oh that everyone is 95% certain is going to cost you the game.  If this was Oh of last year and he got beat, that’s a different story.  Stats don’t carry over, though, and you can’t apply a few of the ones from ’16 here at the end of ’17.

Notes: I know it was a day game after a night game but it still strange to see Yadier Molina sitting in this game that was very meaningful.  I mean, it’s not like Yadi hasn’t done that sort of thing many times before and, in fact, left the game early on Saturday night when the score got out of hand.  So it makes it feel like Matheny was waving the white flag to start Carson Kelly here.  Again, I realize that we’ve talked about Kelly getting more at bats and that’s fine, but you’d think you’d put in your A lineup all the way to the end.  If Molina was a normal catcher with a normal workload, we’d not think twice about this.  He’s not, he doesn’t, and so we are.  (Kelly did have one of the three non-Carpenter hits and did fine.  It’s just an interesting decision.)

Brett Cecil came in and allowed a home run on his first pitch, continuing his rough 2017.  We’ll probably look at it more in his Exit Interview, but it feels like Cecil has had periods of effectiveness followed by a run of bad outings.  He’s given up 13 runs in 23 innings over the past two months, which is a pretty long stretch of yuck.  There’s not much you can do about it, though.  They aren’t going to cut him and he’s pretty much untradeable (which, to be fair, we said about Mike Leake) so I think they are just going to have to hope he can find something over the winter to adjust and come back better next season.

To highlight the point we had above, the last two innings of a 4-1 game (which did not feel that close) were handled by two of the most reliable relievers, John Brebbia and Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons.  There was really no reason to throw either of those guys.  Lyons hadn’t thrown in the series, so maybe he just needed the work, but when there are folks like Alcantara and Tuivailala that never seem to get into a game, it would seem a decent time to try them out, especially when you hope to need Brebbia and Lyons against the Cubs on Monday night.

Here we are, the final seven games of the 2017 season.  A season that started out so hopeful, especially after that Opening Night win against the Cubs, now has come down to needing basically a perfect week and a little help from the Dodgers (yeah, right) or Marlins.  More likely than not, a week from today we’ll be staring into the void, realizing that winter has come and we’ve got no more Cardinal baseball to watch, either to enjoy or gripe about.

So watch this week.  Watch it with less frustration with whatever Matheny does or which player strikes out or gives up a home run, but with the idea that even bad baseball, even losing baseball, is better than the emptiness of no baseball at all.  Luke Weaver goes today for the Cardinals.  Let’s hope it’s a winner, but even if it’s not, it’s still a day with baseball!

 

 

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Where Were These Guys in April?

And yes, I know, the literal answer to the post title’s rhetorical question is in large part “Memphis”, but that’s not exactly what I’m going for here.  Back in April or May or heck, possibly even July, this team would have made a key error and never recovered.  Now, with postseason within sight, the Cardinals still make a key error, but this time are able to rally in the ninth to keep their October hopes on more than life support.

After sweeping Cincinnati, the Cardinals went into PNC Park to take on a team that has been a tough battle the last couple of years.  That said, this Pirates squad isn’t really resembling that team that made the playoffs and pushed the 2013 squad to the brink.  St. Louis swept them in Busch Stadium just a couple of weekends ago and now hope to do the same in their ballpark.  They’ll probably need to do that given the strength of the last week and the motivation of who is coming into St. Louis.  Whether they can do that or not may rely on the resiliency they showed last night.

Let’s talk about the last third of the game first and we’ll work our way back if necessary.  With the score tied 2-2 in the seventh, Ryan Sherriff comes in to start the frame.  Sherriff, as we’ve talked about before, has been pretty solid against lefties in his major league career, but righties have figured him out.  (Currently, his OPS vs. those that hit on the predominant side is 1.143.)  He gets Gregory Polanco (L) to strike out swinging.

So then there are two righties up.  Given the way Mike Matheny uses the bullpen, I’m sure he thought his options were limited, even with 12 relievers out in the pen.  John Brebbia had already been used.  Tyler Lyons wasn’t available.  Brett Cecil has the same issues against righties.  And there seem to be about 9 relievers down there that can only be used if things have gotten out of hand.  So Sherriff stayed out there.  Which, in fairness, I could see giving him one guy to see if he was able to get him.  Unfortunately, catcher Elias Diaz then doubled off the wall, just missing a home run by a foot or so.

The go-ahead run in a critical game is now on second and another right-hander in Jordy Mercer coming up.  Mercer’s not an overwhelming threat, but he’s a solid hitter with some pop.  When you have a guy like Sherriff that’s struggling against right-handers, this is probably not a matchup you want to see.  If it’s in August and less critical, maybe you let him work through it to try to learn.  You can’t do that with less than two weeks left and less than two games between you and October.

Matthew Bowman would have been a solid choice and, indeed, came in a batter later when Mercer singled, putting runners on the corners.  I don’t know that I’d been terribly confident in him, but Seung-hwan Oh did have a clean outing last time.  Jack Flaherty hasn’t yet seen time out of the bullpen, but he was so effective first time facing batters that he could have been an option.  You even have Adam Wainwright out there, though you’d probably want to start an inning with him.

Plenty of options with differing degrees of quality, but Matheny stuck with Sherriff until Mercer singled, then went to Bowman.

Matheny seems to think that Bowman is a double play specialist in the mold of Seth Maness, though he’s only got a double play rate of about 13% for his career.  Maness is 19% for his career and 30% in his first year in the bigs, when he got that label.  Yes, Bowman gets ground balls, which does up the double play chances, but I don’t think of them being hard hit grounders all the time.  And, as we know, if you get ground balls, some of them go through.  Or the defense has to deal with them.

Because Matheny is a truly blessed person, Bowman came in and got a double play ball.  Unfortunately, Paul DeJong–who had a decent offensive night but is still our Goat because of this–completely spasmed while trying to flip the ball to a covering Kolten Wong.  If it had been a covering Shaquille O’Neal, maybe there would have been a chance.  As it was, it went flying over Wong’s head, the go-ahead run scored, and Bowman had another jam to work out of.  He did it, getting another groundout and a strikeout, but the damage appeared done.

The game stays that way until the ninth, when the Pirates bring in their closer Felipe Rivero.  Rivero has had a fine season and is doing well in the closer role, getting his first save June 10 and posting a 2.23 ERA and 18 total saves from that mark, blowing only one opportunity.  Facing the bottom of the lineup, this seems like a real bad thing for the Redbirds.  Before the inning started, Pittsburgh had an 84.6% chance of winning the game per Fangraphs.

Stephen Piscotty had looked pretty bad in two of his three at bats on the evening, but he roped a double down into the corner to lead off the frame.  Matheny, working all the angles like he feels like he learned from Tony La Russa, replaced Piscotty (who, as we know, has had his running issues this year) with Harrison Bader.  This was a smart move as that extra speed could have been crucial.  I mean, unless you were going to bunt the runner to third or something, in which case it wouldn’t really matter who was on the bases and you could replace them on third if you wanted.  But who would do that after pinch-running, right?

Oh.

I know that Carson Kelly is pretty rusty, given that he’s had all of 48 plate appearances since he was called up a couple of months ago.  (Which also goes to why you shouldn’t have him bunt, but that’s another story.)  Still, giving up an out when you only have three is a pretty dicey move in the first place.  You don’t have to worry about the double play.  The runner is already is in scoring position (and is a fast runner now to boot).  Let Kelly swing away with the idea of going to right.  Thankfully, after two ugly attempts to bunt, Kelly worked his way back to a 2-2 count and flew out deep to right, which moved the runner over.  You know, like you would hope they would.  Again, Matheny is a blessed man.

It was pretty fascinating to see Jedd Gyorko pinch-hit for Matt Carpenter in this situation, runner on third with one out.  There’s no doubt that Carpenter has struggled against lefties this year, but I never really expected Matheny to acknowledge that in a key place like this.  You just wonder, he makes moves like this when it is crunch time, but why can’t he do it during the rest of the season?  Then, maybe, you don’t have to HAVE a crunch time.

(That being said, I take issue with those that think that 60% or whatever of Carpenter that we have now is not as good as the alternatives.  I would agree in general that a damaged player probably shouldn’t be out there, but Carp’s hitting .286 with a 1.148 OPS since he returned from his cortisone shot and seems to have gotten more where he’s just being patient and not where he’s looking for a walk, like we talked about before.  The throws look tough, but so far I can’t think of a defensive play of his that has cost the team a game.  With Gyorko unable to play third and Jose Martinez doing so well at third, this is really the only option.  I know, I know, Luke Voit should play more, but honestly, the team isn’t going to be better with him out there than what we are seeing.  Though with Martinez going back to St. Louis due to his thumb, we’ll probably have Voit at first for at least the rest of the weekend.)

Gyorko got the big RBI single that tied the game up, then Tommy Pham singled pinch-runner Randal Grichuk to third.  With the runner going (because the Cardinals had hit into four double plays and even with Dexter Fowler up they could do it again), Fowler hit a ball to shortstop that probably would have been a double play if 1) Pham wasn’t running and 2) Mercer could have ever gotten a handle on it.  He was and he didn’t and the go-ahead run scores.

With the lead secured and given that Juan Nicasio had only thrown five pitches in the eighth, Matheny elected for him to bat instead of pinch-hitting for him with runners on.  This was a typical Matheny move that at times has blown up, but there is the legitimate argument that if you pinch-hit for Nicaiso and don’t get the runs, who do you trust to take the ninth?  We’ve talked about this above, but there really wasn’t a great option.  Depending who was left on the bench (and I think it may have just been Voit, who was coming into the game anyway and probably would have been the option, and Alberto Rosario, who would have had to have been wheeled out of storage somewhere), the odds weren’t great you were adding on. I probably would have gone with Voit and seen if you could have pieced together a ninth, but I can understand this and, again, it worked out.

We’ll give the Hero tag to Stephen Piscotty, given that he had two hits and his double set the whole ninth in motion.  Fowler was the only other player with two hits and Carpenter, who doubled to lead off the game, was the only other with an extra-base hit.

It was a fairly solid start out of Michael Wacha.  Two runs in five innings and he could have gone longer (only 73 pitches) but there was a scoring opportunity in the top of the sixth and so Matheny pinch-hit for him.  I think that was a time I’d have let it go, since there were two outs and a runner on first and you were sending up Greg Garcia, but hey, it’s something.  If there had been a runner at second there, I’d have understood it more, but Garcia’s not going to likely double a runner in or anything.  (The runner was Wong, so a double might have actually worked.)  Especially with a stocked bullpen you don’t want to actually use, leaving Wacha in for another inning might have been the better move.

An eventful night in Pittsburgh and one that at least moved the Cards into second when the Cubs took care of the Brewers in extra innings again.  San Diego couldn’t be quite as helpful, so the Redbirds stayed 1.5 back and their odds of making the playoffs held steady at 23.6%.  Let’s take a look at what’s happening today.

Given how late I started this and how long it’s taken me to finish, the Cubs and Brewers are just about to throw their first pitch.  It’ll be Kyle Hendricks, who did a number on St. Louis last weekend, versus Brent Suter.  You’d think the edge was to the Cubs here, which now that the Cards have passed Milwaukee doesn’t help as much.

The Cardinals will go tonight in Pittsburgh with Lance Lynn matched up against Gerrit Cole.  Cole is always one that is tough for the Redbirds to figure out.  They didn’t face him in the sweep two weeks ago, but the three times they have seen him this year, he’s always thrown six innings and allowed either one or two runs.  He has a loss, a win, and a no-decision to show for all of that.  Cole’s on a bad stretch where he gave up five to Milwaukee and four (in only five innings) to Cincinnati, so maybe they are catching him at the right time.

Lynn, on the other hand, is Lance Lynn, likely making his penultimate start in a Cardinal jersey.  The last time he saw the Pirates was in July, when he threw 6.1 scoreless innings against them.  Lynn’s also scuffled a little bit over his last couple of starts, at least for him, but maybe he’ll be on track.  The odds would seem to slightly favor the Cards tonight, but that’s never been a great thing for them this season.

Then in the late hours Colorado and Chad Bettis go up against San Diego and Jhoulys Chacin.  Bettis allowed five runs in a third of an inning last time and I think we’d be perfectly fine if he wanted to try that again.  Chacin’s home ERA is a shade under 2.  I’m hopeful the Padres can help the club out, but that’s not going to mean as much if the Cardinals don’t win this evening.  So let’s get a big red W, why don’t we?

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Another win by the Cardinals.  A loss by the Brewers and the Rockies.  Suddenly, somehow, out of all reason and logic, this Cardinals team sits 1.5 games out of the wild card.  (And five out of the division, of course, in case the Brewers start winning and putting that four game set with the Cubs next week into larger context.)  This is actually a little closer than the 2011 team was at when you look back, but again, that’s a historic team.  We shouldn’t expect this team to do the same.  Yet, somehow, they are doing a pretty good imitation.

St. Louis has upped its odds of making the playoffs to 22.5%.  On Sunday night, after that sweep by the Cubs, it was at 4.7%.  (Just imagine where it’d be right now if they’d taken even one from those baby bears!)  It’s still not a great shot–even with their recent failings, Colorado still has an easier schedule until their last three with the Dodgers, and given last year and even this year, we put no faith in the Dodgers actually helping the Cards out–but it means that there probably will be more meaningful baseball played this year than there was in 2010.  Meaning that since 2009, the number of games the Redbirds have played when eliminated will be able to be counted on two hands.  Think about that in comparison to the Giants being eliminated before September this season.

The Cards did their part last night by sweeping the Reds.  While there were a lot of offensive stars, it’s about time to recognize a Hero for not only what he did last night, but what he’s done all year long.  The Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons has been amazing in the second half and it’s been fun to see others join in on the #PatronPitcher bandwagon (even if they aren’t using the hashtag, which they really should).

We know the second half numbers, but it is definitely worth looking at them again.  Since the All-Star Break, our Ty Fighter (kudos to Dennis Lawson for giving me that one a year or so ago) batters are slashing .146/.253/.232.  He’s got a 1.04 ERA.  He’s struck out 34 batters in 26 innings.  His WHIP is 0.808.  These, in case you are wondering, are good numbers.

And even though Mike Matheny doesn’t always realize it, he’s perfectly good against righties (.640 OPS for the year) though obviously is better against lefties (.572 OPS).  Last night, he also proved just how dangerous he can be when armed with his trusty slider.

Carlos Martinez entered the seventh inning with a 6-3 lead.  He struck out a pinch hitter but then let up a home run to Scott Schebler and a single to Zack Cozart.  Suddenly the tying run was at the plate, and not just any tying run, but Joey Votto, all world hitter that always does damage against St. Louis.  Matheny, showing some of that urgency that we wish we saw more often, went ahead and turned to Lyons here as the game sat precariously in the balance.

All Lyons did was use that slider to frustrate Votto on a 3-2 count and then strike out Scooter Gennett to end the threat.  While he was a little less effective in his second inning of work, walking two, he also struck out two and left them stranded.  Juan Nicaiso let up a homer in the ninth but the fact that it got to him with a lead was mainly because of Lyons and his amazing work so far this season.  There is no reliever that most people trust more than Lyons now and that’s an amazing development when you look at the arc of not only his season, but his career.  This corner of the Internet has always been on his side, of course, but it’s nice to see him getting some recognition.

Of course, he had to have a lead to protect and that came from the offense.  Dexter Fowler continued his strong run here in the latter days of the season by getting three hits, including a double that led to the first run and a double that drove in two more later on.  The top of the lineup was outstanding, with Matt Carpenter getting two hits and a walk before leaving the game late, Tommy Pham with two hits, then Jose Martinez following Fowler in the lineup with two hits of his own.  Heck, Yadier Molina had a big hit that drove in two plus he got two walks and Randal Grichuk even had a couple of hits.  If only they could face Cincinnati’s pitchers all the time.

Let’s look a little more at Fowler.  I know folks are questioning him being in center and that’s probably a topic that’s not only legit but better suited for someone smarter than me.  Offensively, Fowler is providing value, even if it is in a different manner than we expected.  Take out the first month of the season, when you could say he was getting his bearings and such, and he’s hitting .281/.386/.532.  That OBP is close to that high from last season that we were sure would drop, but nobody saw that slugging coming.  18 home runs on the year?  10-12 we’d have expected, but nobody thought you could put Fowler in the cleanup spot and it not seem ridiculous, but that’s what’s happened.  When you realize he’s set a career high in homers in a career low mark of games (at the moment–he should pass the 116 he played in Houston and the 119 his last year in Colorado when it’s all said and done), that’s pretty remarkable.  Again, moving him to a corner might make the most sense, though if you put him, Pham, and Harrison Bader out there, you’d think those two would help counteract some of Fowler’s deficiencies.  Whatever the case, I think most of us should be happy Fowler’s going to be around for a while.

The only guy that really didn’t join in the fun last night was our Goat, Paul DeJong.  DeJong went 0-5 and left four men on base, though he did just strike out once.  It’s been a tough September for DeJong, as he’s batting .233 with four homers this month.  It’s probably not too surprising that a guy playing in his first major league season might wilt a bit due to the length and the grind, but after watching Aledmys Diaz completely crash and burn this year, folks get a little gunshy about any sign of weakness.  In fairness, we’ve always said that DeJong might be best suited to be the Jedd Gyorko utility type we thought we were getting (before Gyorko became a starter) but there’s nobody else at short unless a deal is made this offseason.  DeJong’s likely to be the 2018 starter and we hope this rookie season isn’t his career year.

The last three road games of the 2017 regular season start tonight in Pittsburgh.  The Pirates are 2-8 in their last 10, they are well eliminated, and are guaranteed a losing season, slipping back into that morass they were stuck in for two decades.  Whether they’ll be as easy to dispatch as they were two weekends ago in St. Louis remains to be seen, however.  Ivan Nova, Gerrit Cole, and Jameson Tallion go for the Bucs, so that’s not exactly the same as facing Cincinnati’s beleaguered staff.  The Cardinals can and have beaten those guys, of course, but it’s a tough road.  St. Louis counters with Michael Wacha tonight, Lance Lynn tomorrow, and John Gant (taking Jack Flaherty‘s spot) on Sunday.

You don’t want to say they have to sweep, because putting back to back sweeps together isn’t easy.  The Cardinals have won seven and eight in a row at different times this year, of course, so it can happen, but even if they can take two of three here, they should be OK.  We still have the Cubs and the Brewers going at it after the Brewers lost a heartbreaker last night and Colorado is just trying to hang on and not doing a great job of it, losing to the Padres last night and getting them for three more this weekend.  It’s going to take some help, it’s going to take some luck, but if we are still talking about St. Louis being 1.5 games out of the wild card or closer on Monday morning, there might just be a chance after all.  The next-to-last weekend of baseball is going to be intriguing and scoreboards are going to be watched, which is about all you can ask for!

Oh, and don’t forget to go vote on both semifinal matchups of the Greatest Cardinal Moments tournament!  You’ll find them both here and thanks so much to cardinalsgifs for the visuals!

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As Long As There’s Light…..

“Remember, when that sun is gone, that weapon will be ready to fire!  But as long as there’s light, we’ve got a chance.”–Poe Dameron, The Force Awakens

If we wanted to extend the Force Awakens metaphor, the Cardinals’ season is about to the point where the sky almost completely dark and Poe is making his last run.  Just like in the movie, all of the Cardinals’ efforts on their own behalf aren’t going to be enough, but they need a little help, like someone blowing a hole from the inside.

Then again, isn’t that the story of this season?  If we were judging the Redbirds on their own merits in a normal year, we’d already be officially talking about next year and doing postmortems.  While we’ve tried to do that a few times already this year, this division and this wild card race keep pulling them back in.  As we’ve said, if the Cubs were even a 95+ win team, which would have been a bit of a step down from last year, they’d have about 90 wins now and the Cards would be close to double digits behind.  If the Rockies had played to the level they played through August, we’d be talking about their wild card game against Arizona.  Every time the Cardinals seem to dig a permanent hole, there’s another team that comes along and throws down some rope.

It happened against last night.  After that sweep by the Cubs, things felt pretty bleak, as all the projections had the Cards with, at best, a 3-4% chance of making the playoffs.  Now, well, it’s still bleak and it’s not as good as it was less than a week ago, but those numbers have risen to 12%.  Every team they needed to lose lost while they were able to take care of Cincinnati.  San Francisco beat Colorado.  Pittsburgh beat Milwaukee.  Tampa Bay beat Chicago.  It’s not pleasant to have to count on help, but it’s not something you are going to turn away, either.  It keeps the light flickering.

I’m not one that really believes that the Cardinals are going to make this improbable run.  While they are playing better than they were most of the year, covering 2.5 games in 11 games is right in that 2011 run territory and, while we’ve seen that before, it’s also not something you can bank on.  However, every little bit closer does help, especially when they have games against Chicago and Milwaukee on the last homestand.  (The schedule maker did a pretty good job this year!)  If nothing else, it keeps pushing back that date when baseball becomes meaningless (in relation to the postseason, not as a general thing).  The Cards played five games of that nature in 2010, the last time they did so.  At the very worst, they’ll have six games this year, as they can’t be eliminated from the wild card race until Monday.  As long as there’s light….

As for last night’s game in Cincinnati, it was what you’d hope to see out of a team trying for October versus a team that gave up on October a long time ago.  You did worry about facing a guy named Rookie Davis, because that just felt like a recipe for the bats to shut down, but after they saw him for a bit things went well.  Our Hero of the piece is Tommy Pham, who surprisingly, given the fact that the club scored nine runs, was the only guy with more than one hit.  Pham put up three knocks, including two doubles, scored two runs, and drove in two runs.  No matter how sustainable for the future you believe this is–and I can’t shake that nagging feeling that we’re witnessing what’s easily a career year–Pham’s having a remarkable season that’s going to be part of Cardinals lore.

(That tweet was before last night. Yeah, Tommy saw it, so you know he wanted at least one two-bagger.)

Other than Pham, things were fairly spread around.  Matt Carpenter led off the game with a home run and walked twice.  Dexter Fowler and Paul DeJong went back-to-back in the four-run third.  Stephen Piscotty had a double and a walk.  Nine of the team’s 11 hits were for extra-bases, which is how you pile up nine runs with the hits being as scattered as they were.

All that offense overshadowed yet another stellar outing from Luke Weaver.  Weaver just went five innings, but that was more due to the fact that the club was up 7-2 when he left than for any issue of his performance.  He did allow two runs in his last inning of work, but gave up just five hits and struck out seven.  It’s getting to the point that, if you had to use Carlos Martinez in a wild card game, you wouldn’t feel bad about Weaver starting off a divisional series if they got there.  Weaver will be starting in the big leagues next year, though you do have to wonder if this stretch has upped his trade value enough to make him part of a big deal in the offseason.  There’s no desire to trade him, don’t get me wrong, but if that gets you back the most value, it has to be considered.

The bullpen was as solid as you’d hope it’d be.  The big lead helped, of course, but four relievers (Zach Duke, Seung-hwan Oh, Sandy Alcantara, and Sam Tuivailala) each pitched one inning and struck out one batter, with only Tui allowing a base-runner.  This served two purposes, in my mind.  One, it allowed the guys Mike Matheny always turns to a day of rest but two, hopefully it gave Matheny more confidence in some of these guys, especially Alcantara and Tuivailala, whose big fastballs could come in handy at times.

We’ve got to pick a Goat and Kolten Wong was the only starter without a hit, so I guess we’ll be going with him.  Wong is hitting just .139 in September as those back problems seem to have gotten to him.  It’s disappointing that such a solid year for him seems to be ending on a sour note.

Tonight’s matchups:

St. Louis (Carlos Martinez) at Cincinnati (Homer Bailey)
Chicago (Jake Arrieta) at Milwaukee (Zach Davies)
Colorado (Tyler Anderson) at San Diego (Clayton Richard)

It could be a good night in the wild card race if the Cardinals can beat the Reds, though Colorado faced Richard in his last start and was able to do damage.  You have to like Chicago’s odds tonight against the Brewers, though I guess it depends on how Arrieta bounces back from his recent injury.

As for the Redbirds, the Cardinals scored 10 against Bailey the last time they faced him and he either seems to be really good or really bad as of late.  Last time out, he gave up one run over 5.2 innings at home against Pittsburgh, the time before that, five runs in six innings against the Mets.  You just don’t know what you are going to get, but you have to like the matchup for the Cards and hopefully they can pick up the sweep and maybe a game somewhere along the line tonight!

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