Marking McGwire: #34

Home run #: 34

Date: June 24

Opponent: Cleveland Indians

Location: Jacobs Field

Pitcher: Jaret Wright

Score: 0-7

Inning: 4

Outs: 1

Runners on: 0

Distance: 449 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 31

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 30

After back-to-back days with a home run a week ago, Mark McGwire went quiet with the bat as the club finished up with Houston then hosted Arizona and Detroit.  Back on the road to Cleveland, a place Big Mac was well familiar with, he had to finally feel someone nipping at his heels.

Sammy Sosa had hit five home runs since McGwire had hit one, including two games where he went yard twice.  The national media was starting to pick up the thread that they would run all the way to September, of the smiling happy underdog coming after the focused favorite.  Suddenly this was more of a competition than a coronation.

We’ve talked many times in this series about how the pitching staff of the Cardinals was really good at squandering leads and providing the opponents with late inning heroics.  This time, Mark Petkovsek didn’t wait around for the Indians to put up runs.  He gave up a ton of them in the first, putting this game–even with the Cardinal offense–really out of reach before they got a second turn at bat.

McGwire provided the only offense in the top of the first, a single with two outs that was wasted when Brian Jordan fouled out to the catcher.  Petkovsek then took his gas can to the mound, brought a match, and proceeded to torch the place.  He got Kenny Lofton to fly out to start the game, but then Omar Vizquel singled and David Justice doubled, putting runners at second and third.  Jim Thome walked on a full count, loading the bases, bringing up Manny Ramirez.  This was a bit before “Manny being Manny” but not before Ramirez was a feared slugger, something he proved by clearing the left field wall for a grand slam.

We hear that home runs are rally killers and four runs in the first, while a big gap, isn’t insurmountable.  (I don’t know how many times over the past 20 years the Cards have scored that many early only to do nothing else and lose the game.)  Petkovsek, though, didn’t subscribe to that theory.  Sandy Alomar singled after the grand slam and Hard Hittin’ Mark Whiten, who had set his own bit of Cardinal history a few years previous, doubled to put the Indians in a familiar situation.  They skipped a step this time around, as Travis Fryman didn’t walk but parked his own home run to run the score to 7-0.  When David Bell followed that with a double, Petkovsek’s night was done.  John Frascatore came in and, while it wasn’t pretty (walk, flyout, single, and then a strikeout of Thome), he finally got out of the inning with no more damage done.

After an inning like that, you want to bounce back.  You want to show some fight.  Ray Lankford started it off with a walk, but then Gary Gaetti hit into a double play and John Mabry struck out and the only drama left in the game was whether the big guy could go yard.

He did in the top of the fourth.  Frascatore had kept the Indians in check but Jaret Wright had done the same for the Cards and it was still 7-0.  Delino Deshields flew out to left, bringing up McGwire for his second at bat.  Wright started him out with a ball, then got him swinging to even the count.  The third pitch was down and inside, but that was right in McGwire’s wheelhouse.

So basically the Cleveland faithful had the best of both worlds. A dominating performance by the home team and a continued chance of history by McGwire when it really didn’t hurt their chances.  That’s a pretty good day at the ballpark if you were an Indians fan.

The game was fairly anticlimactic from there.  Frascatore ran into trouble in the fifth, when Whiten singled and Fryman doubled him in.  After a flyout by Bell, Lance Painter took over and didn’t help the cause with a walk to Lofton.  He got Vizquel to ground out but then walked Justice and, with the bases loaded, Thome to force in a run.  Curtis King then took over and walked Ramirez, forcing in another run, then Alomar reached on an error by Royce Clayton, plating two more.

McGwire popped out to start the sixth and then was removed from the game.  Jordan and Lankford combined to get one run across, making it 12-2, and they got another in the seventh when Jose Mesa came into the game with the bases loaded with David Howard, Willie McGee, and Deshields.  Mesa got Brian Hunter to ground to third, but Fryman booted it and a run came in.

That was all for the Cardinals and Cleveland got a couple more, one on a Thome single against Brady Raggio in the seventh and one on a Vizquel sacrifice fly against Raggio in the eighth.  All in all, if it wasn’t for McGwire, this game would quickly be expunged from any Cardinal fan’s memory.

Sosa hit another one on this day as well, keeping the gap at four.  As we all know, it was going to get tighter.


Last night, the 2018 Cardinals looked like they could take their place along one of the most legendary teams in baseball history.  Not the 1927 Yankees.  Not the 1975 Reds.  Not the 2001 Mariners.

No, last night the Cardinals looked like they were a match for the 1962 New York Mets.

We’ve seen bad games from the Cardinals this year, seen them too often to count.  Last night, however, had almost every single ugly possibility all wrapped into nine innings.  Long stretches without a hit?  Check.  Terrible fielding, both marked errors and not?  Check.  Bad starting pitching?  Check.  Runs against the bullpen?  Check.  A position player pitching?  Check.

That last one is pretty telling.  Mike Matheny hates–hates–to use a position player on the mound.  Rusty Groppel pointed out on Twitter last night that he had done it three times in his career as a manager before this season.  Yet in basically the span of two weeks, he’s had to go to both Jedd Gyorko against Miami and Greg Garcia last night.  Without looking it up, my guess would be that’s the closest between position players pitching outings in Cardinal history save for the 20-inning game against the Mets in 2010 when Joe Mather and Felipe Lopez both had to be pressed into service.  (Running out of pitchers before the other team and double-switching out Albert Pujols‘s protection–people flipped out about the latter especially even with it being Tony La Russa managing.  If Matheny did that, computers would literally melt.)

This seems to be the state of Cardinal baseball right now.  It’s gotten away from expecting to win and gotten into hoping.  I believe I said this on Twitter recently but while rebellions are built on hope, I’m not sure that’s a great foundation for a winning baseball team.  While last night hopefully was the nadir on the season (because if there’s a worse game coming, I don’t want to be around for it), there’s no expectation that in general that was an aberration.  It’s not like that it was a strange night because the Cardinals made four errors–their defense is suspect at best most times.  It’s not that it was a strange night because Carlos Martinez couldn’t get to the fifth–the starting pitching is starting to show cracks from their great run and will moreso with Michael Wacha on the disabled list.  It’s not that it was a strange night that the offense was fairly quiet–we all know how frustrating these hitters can be.  Some nights one thing will work.  Some nights a couple of things might.  Getting everything to click, though, is a rare thing.  We saw it Sunday against the Cubs.  That’s really the only time this week it’s all come together.

I hate to put too much emphasis on a manager getting worked up.  Sometimes histrionics are overrated.  However, given how frustrating this game was, how ugly it was, it might have at least made the fans feel better had Matheny come out guns blazing in the post-game press conference.  Now, maybe he lit into them in the clubhouse and he wants to keep that in-house, which is legitimate, and you could tell he was angry in his clinched jaw and shorter words, but I think he could have gone a little stronger than this:

“Wasn’t one of those games that we like to put our name to,” Matheny said. “Things could go in the wrong direction, and they did. We’re a better team than that. That’s all there is to it. That’s the message. It didn’t look like we want to look. Call it what you want. It’s just not how we want to look.”

Is it so hard to say, “That was an unacceptable performance by a team wearing a St. Louis Cardinal uniform”?  Is it overly tough to say, “We’re not going to play like that tomorrow one way or another”?  Is it too overbearing to say, “I apologize to the fanbase that watched that one”?

Again, I have no idea how the conversation went in the clubhouse but if past history is any indication, you won’t ever be able to tell that anything happened.  There won’t be any lineup shakeup.  There won’t be anyone benched.  There won’t be any one thing that happens that you can point to and say, “OK, they understand how bad that was.”

After all, Matheny said this close to the end of his comments, which might show you that there is something to being TOO optimistic.

Now, I’ll give Matheny a bit of the benefit of the doubt.  While Zach and others feel like he was talking about the eighth, he well might have been talking about the fact that they were down 7-2 in the fifth after Yairo Munoz doubled in Yadier Molina.  Miller Park is a bit of an offensive park (at least, that’s what it seems, I don’t know the park factor) and I can understand that you might not feel out of it at five runs down with four innings to go.  Except for that small fact that Milwaukee’s bullpen is really good and Josh Hader is going to come out of that pen if you even get it close.  (If Matheny was talking about the eighth, where after a grand slam they’d still be down five, then he’s even more delusional than I thought.)

Which leads you to the clubhouse culture argument and whether it is time for a new voice leading this group.  I don’t know.  Selfishly, I enjoy talking with bullpen catcher Jamie Pogue every season and odds are a change at manager would affect his job status as well, at least eventually.  I’m never on the fire anyone bandwagon anyway because that’s a huge disruption to someone’s life, but I also know that when you become manager, you realize that a day will come when you’ll be let go.  Heck, they fired Red Schoendienst as manager once!  Upending someone’s life is sadly not a good enough reason to keep someone at the help of a multi-million dollar organization.

We’ve talked for the last couple of years about this club seems to be missing that edge.  The TLR years were full of edges, from the manager to a lot of players like Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols.  And we tend to forget that at this time in 2011, we were starting to wonder if that hard edge had become something that was detrimental.  Since 2006, after all, the club had one playoff appearance and was swept by the Dodgers.  They had faded in 2010 and it looked like 2011 was going to be the same.  There does come a time when the managerial style and voice becomes tuned out or a change is needed.

You could make the argument that the club has gone the softer route with Matheny and it’s starting now to cost them.  We thought that Tommy Pham brought that fire and edge to the clubhouse but you don’t hear those stories this year.  Maybe because it’s not new, maybe he’s not doing it at much, maybe it’s just not enough.  However, the leadership of the clubhouse always should come from the manager.  If he’s not pushing the guys to do better, if he’s not making them realize that games like last night are unacceptable, then he definitely needs to go.

It’s starting to feel like Matheny’s coming to the end of his rope with the organization.  Greg Holland is starting to come around, but I feel like his push to sign Holland and the resultant mess may be a mark against him.  He’s missed the playoffs for two years in a row and this team has a notable downward trajectory since 2013.  I’m not saying it’s all his fault or a new manager would immediately turn things around but a manager takes responsibility for the good and the bad.  He got perhaps more credit from some quarters than he should for 2012-2015, he’s probably getting more blame than he should from some quarters for 2016-2018.  At the end of the day, though, the buck will stop with Matheny whether he wants it to or not.

Even without John Mozeliak’s recent pronouncements, I wouldn’t expect Matheny to be removed in the middle of the year.  The club will do what they can at the trade deadline to shore up issues and see how the last part of the year goes.  At the end of September, though, I feel like the odds are stronger that a change is coming (assuming no turnaround run to the playoffs) than we’ve ever had before.

All this and we’ve not gotten into the game itself, but there’s really no reason to spend a ton of time talking about it.  I’m going to give the Hero tag to Yairo Munoz due to his three hits and two RBI.  He had almost half of the team’s hits by himself, which is something that happens way too often with this squad.  The offense always seems to be focused on a player, maybe two.  Those games where everyone gets involved are great but they feel too few.

Matt Carpenter gave the high point of the game on the first pitch, belting it out of the park to dead center field.  Unfortunately, that was it until the fifth and there wasn’t much more after that.  Carpenter also was one of those with an error which bumped him out of Hero status.

As for a Goat, it’s hard to narrow it down.  Jedd Gyorko flew out in the top of the seventh and was so frustrated he dropped his bat as soon as he swung.  Then he came out and make a fielding error and a throwing error that helped lead to the last four runs the Brewers put up.  Marcell Ozuna went 0-4 and completely botched a ball in the bottom of the first, scaling the wall to take away a home run only to find the ball didn’t quite make it that far.  I can understand that Ozuna guessed where it was going, looked away to see where the wall was, and was surprised to find it didn’t carry as much as he thought, but it was still a terrible look.  (And Tommy Pham didn’t do a great job of backing him up there, which isn’t completely out of character for Pham either.)  Pham himself went 0-4 with two strikeouts and left three men on base.

However, we’re going to have to put the tag on Carlos Martinez.  Needing a big game from the pitcher that is supposed to be their ace against the divisional leaders, Martinez….well, he didn’t walk folks like he had been.  Matheny said after the game they’d been talking to him about throwing strikes.  Unfortunately, they didn’t differentiate between hittable strikes and good strikes.  Again, you can look at misplays like the one Ozuna had and realize it wasn’t all his fault, but even that ball was hit hard.  It should have been a hard out, but it wasn’t like Ozuna dropped a can of corn.

Whether things would have been different if he’d gotten out of the first with a lead, I don’t know, but I have trouble believing it would have been given how the rest of his time went.  He allowed three doubles (one of those was the Ozuna play that would have been scored an error by a different tradition of scoring) and a home run in his four innings of work.  Seven runs, five of them earned.  But he only walked two, so that’s some sort of improvement?  Probably not, especially since there were two wild pitches, including one that looked weird and painful and allowed a run, but apparently was just due to being crossed up.  (Usually you just throw the pitch, Carlos, and let Yadi worry about catching it.)

I don’t know what’s going on with Martinez.  There’s no medical indication that he’s hurt but it’s hard not to jump to that conclusion.  He’s not looked right since returning from the DL.  In those four starts, he has a 8.10 ERA, has gone just 16.2 innings total, and has given up a slash line of .333/.484/.493 to opposing hitters.  I think the STL Bullpen Twitter account said it best last night.  We’re to the point where we want him to be hurt because at least that explains things.  He may have other things going on in his life or maybe he’s just not comfortable yet, but whatever the case he either needs to get right or tell someone if he’s hurting.  This team needs consistent starting pitching and they need their ace to be the ace.

Speaking of Martinezes, Jose Martinez played last night after suffering that wrist/shoulder injury.  He still didn’t look completely comfortable, though it didn’t stop him from his normal preparatory gyrations in the batter’s box, and went 0-4 but only struck out once.  His swings didn’t seem quite as full, though, and it was tough to tell in the field if anything was bothering him, given his normal fielding prowess.  It’s going to be interesting to track his production from here on and see if he’s trying to play through an injury.  Which, of course, is a tradition around these parts.

John Gant wound up throwing 41 pitches, in large part due to the errors behind him, and got tagged for four unearned runs when Eric Thames came within inches of a grand slam.  (Credit Pham there–he did wind up knocking that down when he jumped at the wall, even if he couldn’t make the play.  Not that one run made a lot of difference.)  While Matheny wouldn’t rule him out for Monday’s start that Wacha should be taking, and another contender for that spot Daniel Poncedeleon threw 45 in Memphis, I’m not real excited about either of them starting a game on two days’ rest after throwing that many pitches.  Not saying that it would impact their stuff that much–I don’t know–but it would probably turn into a bullpen game fairly quickly as they would probably be limited to around 60 pitches or so. Dakota Hudson would be the other option and while I’m not expecting the club to go that way–the path of least resistance is always strong around here–it might be a nice kick for the team.

Last night was a mess.  Tonight surely can’t be worse.  If it is, perhaps Mozeliak needs to revisit how long he wants to keep Matheny employed.  It’s Jack Flaherty versus Junior Guerra tonight.  Guerra’s done very well against the Cardinals (and most teams!) this season so Flaherty really needs to be on his game, as do the rest of the Cardinals.  We’ll see if they can be.


Finding Your Match

After three games, it feels like the Cardinals and Phillies are teams that are very much alike.  We saw three one-run games, all of which had lead changes and neither team getting up more than a couple and not for long.  We had an extra-inning game, a game that was blown in the eighth and won in the ninth, and all in all it’s not a surprise that the teams right now are within a game of each other.

The question is, is that all there is?  Because while Philadelphia is a plus-.500 team, they have enough flaws that it’s hard to see them passing Washington and they’d need the Braves to come back to earth.  Otherwise, they are a third place team.  Likewise, Chicago and Milwaukee are keeping the Cardinals down and playing almost even with the Phillies doesn’t inspire the confidence that they can step up in class, as it were.

The Cards will have that chance soon enough, starting tonight in Miller Park (and the Cardinal Six is open if you want to make your picks).  Before we get there, let’s take a look back at these last two games.  Fair warning, I missed all of Tuesday’s game going to another showing of Solo: A Star Wars Story (which you should see if you haven’t before it goes away) and watched Wednesday’s via GameDay.

Tuesday (7-6 win)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  Carpenter doubled in two runs in the seventh to tie the game, scored the go-ahead run, then hit a ninth-inning home run after the Phillies had come back to knot it at six.  His overall line isn’t remarkably better leading off than hitting second this year, save the fact that eight of his 12 homers have come in that position.  After this game, his average stood at .239, which was his high for the season.  It’s not quite classic Carpenter or peak Carpenter, but he’s helping the team and that does give some spark to the offense.

Goat: Jordan Hicks did get the blown save, but it’s tough for me to give the Goat to him given the fact he gave up a double to his first batter, which let the two batters Austin Gomber put on score.  He also shut down the Phillies in the ninth to preserve the win, which is a pretty big tally in his favor.  So let’s go with Marcell Ozuna here.  0-4 with two strikeouts and he left two men on base.  Ozuna might be cooling off from his torrid run in June, which is to be expected.  He’s not going to hit four homers and have a 1.000 OPS every week.

Notes: The biggest thing that came out of this game might have been Greg Holland, a story that continued on Wednesday.  After all our complaining, after all of us saying that the minor league results showed that he wasn’t ready to come back yet, after all of us pointing at the sky and saying, “Hey, isn’t that coming toward us at a rapid pace?”, Holland goes out and throws a perfect inning here with two strikeouts, then another clean inning on Wednesday with another strikeout.  Maybe we should have listened when Holland said that he found it, whatever it was.

Can we trust this resurgence of Holland?  Obviously we’ll want to see another game or two and decide whether it was more the questionable Phillies offense or some newfound mechanical fix, but the fact that he wasn’t walking anyone is a good sign for the latter.  Even if the Phillies aren’t necessarily a powerhouse offensively, if Holland wasn’t in the zone they’d have taken their free passes.  It’s also true that Holland had a stretch of four games in April where he gave up one hit, struck out five, and walked one.  It looked like he had everything figured out, that the rust from no spring training was gone.  Then he gave up three runs and didn’t record an out in his next start and had a 14.14 ERA in the seven innings between then and when he went on the DL.  Some of that could have been the hip impingement.  It’s also possible that Holland can get out of whack and things blow up on him.

But if he is right, if he is the Holland the Cardinals thought they were signing, that bullpen becomes a lot different.  We already know about Hicks and Bud Norris, we talked yesterday about how John Brebbia and Austin Gomber (though he didn’t show it in this one) are making strides in the reliability department.  Sam Tuivailala isn’t perfect, as we’ll see, but he’s been a guy that can get outs.  Brett Cecil seems to struggle if he goes more than one inning, but in that first inning he’s been OK.  Mike Mayers has filled some gaps admirably this week.  Suddenly, while you may not be excited when the bullpen door opens, there’s not necessarily this feeling of doom that washes over you.

Now, they are talking about Luke Gregerson and Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons getting out for rehab assignments soon and when they come back, that may change some of the dynamics.  Right now, though, it feels like the bullpen is slowly moving from a weakness to a strength.  The problem may be some other things are going to take its place.

Luke Weaver started in this one and gave up four runs in five innings, which is becoming depressingly standard for a Weaver start.  That’s pretty much the line he’s put up in his last three outings and he’s given up four or more runs in seven of his last 12 starts.  That great start to the season seems a long way away.  However, Weaver may be living a charmed life in some regards.  First Alex Reyes goes down for the season, meaning he doesn’t have to worry about losing his rotation spot to the phenom, then as we’ll see Michael Wacha runs into an injury, which means even if the Cards wanted to promote someone, Weaver is still safe for a while.  Hopefully this security will let him tinker until he finds what it takes to be more effective.

Tommy Pham had two hits, including his second home run in as many days.  He seems to be bouncing back from his rough May, which helps the offense.  With Carpenter and Ozuna going as well, plug in Pham and Yadier Molina and you’ve got a little something going.  That said, this was also a good hitting environment, but that may be all Pham needs for a jump start.

Wednesday (4-3 loss)

Hero: Yadier Molina.  Two home runs, both of which tied up the game.  He was also hit by a pitch, which probably didn’t faze him given his trip to the disabled list earlier this season and how it came about.  Yadi’s hitting .273 with nine homers and missed a month with that injury.  He’s also 35 and just set the record for most games caught with one team.  I don’t know if he’ll get into the Hall of Fame, though I feel he should, but no matter what, he’s going to be legendary not only in St. Louis but in the game as a whole.  Which seems like it should factor into HOF voting, right?

Goat: Sam Tuivailala.  Overall, this was a fairly well played game and the Cards did a good job.  However, when you are as evenly matched as these two teams seem to be, one mistake can be the difference.  Tuivailala made a mistake to Odubel Herrera, the Phillies’ best hitter no matter what Mike Matheny might say about Carlos Santana, and it cost them.  Herrera’s on a hot streak right now, homering in four straight games, and sometimes the hitter wins.  Unfortunately, the Cards couldn’t rally from that deficit.

Notes: Dexter Fowler got back-to-back starts for the first time in a couple of weeks.  He went 0-7 in them and, coupled with his unsuccessful pinch-hit appearance on Monday, had nothing to show for Philadelphia.  Fowler is down to .166 on the season.  He’s got 50 strikeouts in 231 plate appearances.  He’s hitting .105 in June.  By this time last year, the resurgence had already started.  From June 1 to June 20 in 2017, he hit .323/.425/.677.  This year, his last extra-base hit was a double on May 31.  His last home run was May 6, that walkoff against the Cubs.  (He’s hitting .172 since that highlight, which sadly is better than his overall numbers.)

I don’t have any idea what you do with Fowler.  It’s got to be frustrating for him and he seems like a good guy.  However, you just can’t play him all the time.  You can’t really play him much of the time.  Mike Matheny already seems to be platooning him and Harrison Bader, but by now even Bader’s weaknesses against righties are still a better deal than Fowler going up against them.  So you can’t really play him much.  You can’t trade him, because as much as I imagine he’d waive his no-trade clause (especially given the treatment he and his wife have received on Twitter, which is disgraceful), nobody is going to take him on without the Cardinals basically paying the whole contract, and what good is that?  He’s got three years left on the deal, so cutting him really isn’t a solid option.

I guess all you can do is play him like 1/2 the time against righties, give Bader the other 1/2 and all the lefties, and see what happens.  I’m not sure how Fowler gets out of the slump on the bench, but he’s not been able to do it in the lineup either and there are better options.  Just an ugly situation all around.  I think many fans wondered about the last year or so of this contract, how Fowler would be then, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be this bad even then, much less in Year 2.

More than anything, though, this game was marked by some potentially significant injuries.  Michael Wacha left with two outs in the fourth, after giving up a home run to Cesar Hernandez, and the word quickly came out that it was a left oblique strain.  While Wacha put up the general front after the game, where he says he hopes it’s not too bad, he feels better, etc., there seems little doubt that the Cards will have to put him on the 10-day DL and need another starter to make a couple of turns through the rotation.  Determining who that starter may be could depend on how long that they believe Wacha will be out.  If they think that he’s just going to miss a couple of starts, I expect they’d either move Austin Gomber to the rotation or let John Gant (or maybe Daniel Poncedeleon) take the start.  Remember, when in doubt when you guess moves in this organization (and most others), go with the path of least resistance.  All those folks are on the 40-man roster, all have been in the bigs (though Poncedeleon hasn’t made an appearance yet) and it would be relatively easy to add them and then put them back in Memphis or the bullpen when Wacha returns.

If it’s going to be a longer DL stint for Wacha, though, that might be where they go add Dakota Hudson to the 40-man and see what he can do.  Hudson is 9-2 with a 2.13 ERA on the season at Memphis.  A flag for me–though you need to go read Kyle Reis and Colin Garner to see if this is really an issue–is the fact that he doesn’t strike out as many folks as you’d like to see, especially at the minor league level.  If he doesn’t really have that strikeout pitch in the majors, things could go sideways.  Still, it’d be intriguing to see what he can do, there’s no denying that.

Late in the game, Jose Martinez fielded a ball and the runner made contact with his arm as he tried to apply the tag.  (Kyle Reis said last night in Prospects After Dark that it reminded him of Scott Rolen and Hee-Seop Choi‘s collision and after seeing the clips, I completely agree with him.)  Martinez’s shoulder seems to have taken the brunt of it and he was going to sleep on it (well, perhaps not literally, depending on the pain) and see how it would react overnight.  My Meet Me at Musial co-host Allen Medlock, who works in a related field, tells me that if it swells up overnight, that’s a big concern.  No matter what, Martinez says he’s played through pain before, which of course leads to the fear that he’ll try to do that here and have no success.  It is true Martinez singled in his at bat right after the collision but I have to think he won’t be in the lineup tonight and we’ll see if he avoids the disabled list.  I expect if he goes on it the call would be back to Luke Voit, though if he’s out an extended period of time that might factor into the club’s thoughts about outside moves.  (Of course, if he’s out too long, that also lessens any chances the Cardinals move him while his value is high.)

Spotty offense again in this one, with Molina and Greg Garcia the only ones with two hits.  Jedd Gyorko did have a big double with one out in the ninth, but nobody could ever bring him home.

The Cardinals go into Milwaukee today and while you don’t want to say any mid-June series is a big one, this one does have some weight to it.  The Cards sit 4.5 back of both the Brewers and the Cubs.  The Cubs will be in Cincinnati and while I know the Reds beat up on the Cubs earlier in the year, I don’t think you can bet on that now, especially the way Chicago is going.  St. Louis really needs a split here to stay close in the division.  Losing three of four would put them 6.5 behind Milwaukee and while that’s certainly not a death sentence, it is a pretty good road to hoe especially since the Cards and Brewers won’t have as many games together going forward.

Carlos Martinez goes tonight against Bruce Suter.  The Cards got three off Suter in five innings last time, he limited them to one in 5.1 the time before.  We have been worrying about Martinez’s control since he returned from the disabled list but he has two really good games against Milwaukee this season, including that 8.1 inning, four hit, zero run, 10 K performance on April 4.  We’ll see which Martinez is out there tonight.  Hopefully it’s that one!


There was a lot of trepidation on the off day last Thursday.  The Cardinals had just finished up playing three last place teams in the National League and wound up going 4-5 against them.  The next six series were against teams over the .500 mark and some significantly over.  Would the Cardinals be able to step up their game and play with the big boys?

The early returns are yes and no.  Save for the first game of the set, they’ve been in all the games and had chances to win.  The unfortunate part is they are 1-3 to kick off this stretch and they got the variety pack of losses, with each one having a different flavor.  Let’s dive in.

Friday (13-5 loss to Chicago)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  Two hits, including a solo home run, plus a walk and he drove in two.  There wasn’t much to be excited about in this one but Carpenter did good work.  It’s nice to have him clicking again.  Through Monday night, he’s hitting .254 in June, which isn’t a great number but much better than the sub-.200 work he was putting up.  He also has four homers, though he has five walks and 17 strikeouts in that span.  Take out the Pittsburgh series to start the month (where he went 0-11) and he’s hitting .308 over his last 12 games, which is more in line with what I felt like he was doing.

Goat: Michael Wacha.  Everybody stumbles and Wacha had been going so well that he probably was due for a bump in the road.  I don’t think it necessarily was going to be this big, however.  Four innings, nine runs (eight earned), four walks, two strikeouts, and a game score of -1.  I am sure I’ve seen negative game scores before, but I don’t remember when.  (Probably one of those Adam Wainwright blowups like this.)  One of those runs scored after Wacha left, as he didn’t retire anyone in the fifth and Mike Mayers came in and immediately let his inherited runner score.  There’s no particular reason to think Wacha can’t bounce back to closer to his earlier work tomorrow against the Phillies, but we’ll wait and see.

Notes: It was a blowout loss to the Cubs.  I don’t think we want to dwell on it much.  Marcell Ozuna had a home run that put the Cards on the board (after trailing 5-0) and Tommy Pham got one in garbage time late.  Matthew Bowman was the only pitcher not to be scored on, but I think everyone wishes he’d saved that scoreless outing for later.  Otherwise, there’s really not much we want to rehash about this game.

Saturday (6-3 loss to Chicago)

Hero: Marcell Ozuna.  He only had one hit, but it was a two-run homer in the first that got the Cardinals a lead and at least temporarily helped wipe the taste of Friday’s beatdown out of their minds.  The two runs didn’t hold up, but he did his part.  There’s a reason he was named NL Player of the Week on Monday.  Four longballs in that span will usually do that.

Goat: Matt Carpenter.  I know, I know, I just said a lot of nice things about Carpenter, but this was one of his rare hitless games as of late.  0-5 and he left four men on base, including striking out in the ninth with two on and one out.

Notes: Carlos Martinez didn’t really alleviate any concerns folks might have had about his control, walking six in five innings along with allowing seven hits.  The fact he just gave up three runs with all those base runners is fairly remarkable.  The numbers since his return from the disabled list are not, though.  Batters have a .500 OBP against him in those three starts.  I don’t have to tell you what that means, but I will anyway.  That means that every other batter is reaching base against him.  In 12.2 innings he has 18 walks and 15 strikeouts.  He has a 7.11 ERA and a .908 OPS against.  The only good thing is his GB rate is 1.43 over that span, which is why he’s not been even worse, as he continues to get double plays to curtail the threats.  Still, that’s a big problem and three starts is enough of a sample to start getting a little worried.  Maybe he’ll be more like Carlos next time out but if he’s not……well, I have no idea.

Austin Gomber threw a scoreless inning and is moving up the trust ladder in the bullpen.  Matthew Bowman went 1.2 scoreless, which means counting Monday he’s thrown in three of the four games since he returned from the disabled list.  Wow, some things really don’t change, which can come back to bite you, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Sam Tuivailala might have taken the loss with his work in the seventh, though he didn’t have as bad an outing as the line suggests, since the walk was an intentional pass of Kyle Schwarber and he was one out away from getting out of trouble, but the story afterwards was that Jordan Hicks was more mortal than we thought.  He cleaned up Tuivailala’s mess, then started the eighth and saw the first batter reach on an error by Yairo Munoz.  It’s not the first time Hicks has had a runner on, so there wasn’t any reason to think it’d be a problem, especially with Jason Heyward coming up.  Heyward has struggled over the last few years with hard throwers–heck, he’s struggled against everything–but quietly he’s turned things around.  Perhaps Chili Davis made a tweak in his approach, I don’t know (I watched the game muted), but he got every bit of a Hicks fastball and crushed it out into the bullpen, putting the game on ice for all intents and purposes.

Munoz did have three hits, which mitigates his defense a little bit.  I still think everyone’s ready for a return of Paul DeJong, though that could make for some interesting decisions as well.  Munoz has hit well enough to be a good bench option, but they may want him to work on his fielding in Memphis.

Sunday (5-0 win vs Chicago)

Hero: Jack Flaherty.  The Cardinals needed a stopper.  They needed someone that could give a little bit of hope.  They needed not to be swept by the Cubs.  And Flaherty–along with a cadre of bullpen folk–did the job.  Five innings were all he could go since he wasn’t as efficient as some, but he allowed just two hits and struck out seven.  He was even able to get out of trouble, like when he loaded the bases in the third on a hit-by-pitch, a walk, and a single (not in that order).  With Kris Bryant up and two outs, fans could have been forgiven for feeling a bit of “here we go again”, but Flaherty struck out the Cub slugger and gave a boost to his team.

Goat: It actually is tough to find one, which is a nice change, but we’ll go with Luke Voit.  The only starter not to get a hit, Voit struck out twice and was double-switched out of the game late.  Voit did less with this callup than he did before, going 0-7 for the weekend and returning to Memphis when Jose Martinez came off the paternity list on Monday.

Notes: Two hits for Marcell Ozuna and two hits for Harrison Bader.  A home run for Matt Carpenter.  There are times where you can see a reasonable offense in this team, just not all that often.

The bullpen, for as much as we deride it, worked like a charm in this one.  John Brebbia pitched the sixth and worked around a couple of hits.  Austin Gomber threw a perfect seventh and Jordan Hicks and Bud Norris followed it up with scoreless frames of their own.  I keep thinking there’s some hope in the bullpen.  I like what Gomber brings and, as I’ve said many times, he needs to be more than just a LOOGY.  I don’t want Brebbia pitching the ninth or anything, but he’s done well enough that those middle innings can be less concerning when he’s out there.  As I said on Gateway, if you can have four guys you can really rely on in certain roles, that allows you to weave in the guys you may be less confident in, like Brett Cecil, in games where either it is out of hand and give them a chance to get right.  It becomes much easier not to overuse folks or feel like you have to use Hicks every night if you have a few arms that you feel confident in.

Monday (6-5 loss in 10 at Philadelphia)

Hero: Tommy Pham.  By all rights, we should be celebrating a dramatic shot by Mr. Pham.  It was his only hit of the night, but it came at just the right time and, being that it is his second homer in four games, you get encouraged that his power is returning.  If it is, couple that with Carpenter going and Marcell Ozuna hitting like we thought he would, plus a solid season from Yadier Molina, and there’s something there.  Whether it’s enough and whether the pitching staff will be able to continue what they are doing to make it worthwhile are different questions.

Goat: Marcell Ozuna.  Even if Ozuna hadn’t been 0-5 with three left on, he’d have gotten the Goat here.  After taking the 5-4 lead, the Phillies–well, and the Cardinals, but we’ll talk about that in a minute–put two runners on.  Matt Bowman gets two outs then gives up a sharp fly to left.  With two outs, the runners are going.  The biggest thing is to keep the ball in front of you.  If it drops, with Ozuna’s arm, it’s possible that the bases are loaded.  At worst, the tying run scores and you have a chance to go to the 11th.  If you are going to leave your feet, you have to come up with it.  I’m sure Ozuna thought he would.  He didn’t.  And it was pretty much worse-case, because if he doesn’t get a glove on it and flip it over his shoulder, he might have been able to make a play on the go-ahead runner.  (Probably not, but maybe.)  The way it happened, there was no chance.

Notes: All right, let’s talk about Mike Matheny‘s intentional pass of Carlos Santana, breaking the rules of baseball to put the go-ahead run on base.  The tying run was on second with one out.  I’m going to confess, my initial reaction was to walk Santana as well to set up the force, especially since Bowman isn’t likely to get the strikeout you really want here.  A number of people pointed out on Twitter that Santana is only hitting .226 on the season, but that’s mainly–like Matt Carpenter–because he had an atrocious April.  He hit .281 in May and .265 in June so far with eight of his 10 homers coming since the end of the first month.  I’m not saying he’s a world beater, but there’s a reason he’s batting fourth on a team led by a sabermetrician.

Santana’s also, on the season, hitting .294 with runners in scoring position and was hitting over .300 for the past week.  His OBP is strong for the entire year.  He’s also has a 1.131 OPS against groundball pitchers this season.  Mr. Bowman would probably be considered a ground ball pitcher.

All that said, I don’t think much of that may have factored into Matheny’s decision.  I think Matheny thought, “Bowman’s my double play guy, let’s get him a chance to get a double play.”  Yet in 20 games this season, Matt Bowman has induced one (1) double play.  It’s a simplistic way to look at it, because obviously not all plate appearances are double play possibilities, but in 2016 Bowman got a double play every 35 plate appearances, which was about what it was in 2017 as well.  He’s gone 95 PA this year with just one.  Maybe he was due for one, but you can’t plan on Bowman getting those kind of plays.

Especially when he doesn’t have his stuff.  Bowman was staying up high in the zone much of the inning, not getting down where a ground ball should be.  Honestly, my bet is this wasn’t going to work out well for the Cardinals no matter what.  Odds are, Santana would have come through.  Not saying that putting him on was right and you do tempt fate by doing it, but I’m not going to say that was the reason the Cards lost this one.

The choice of Bowman here–again, in his third appearance in four days–might be more of an issue.  Some wanted to see Jordan Hicks here, but you know what I think of running him out there three days in a row and after Bud Norris pitched on his second day, chances are he’s not going tomorrow.  If Hicks also pitched, you are kicking the problem down a day.  I mean, who would close tomorrow if Hicks and Norris are both out?  I get it, you win the game you have, but you do have to be planning somewhat down the road.  Otherwise you wind up with Hicks pitching every day and that’s Bowman’s job.

It would have been Austin Gomber’s third day in a row as well, so he was out of the picture. Mike Mayers and Sam Tuivailala had already pitched.  That left Bowman, Brett Cecil, or John Brebbia.  With Brebbia having just gone Sunday (but been off Saturday), that probably would have been my choice.  That said, he has been worked hard of late, so it’s possible he wasn’t as available as it would appear.

All of this might have been a moot point had Miles Mikolas not had a completely uncharacteristic first inning.  A single, a walk–only his third in June–and then a three-run blast from Odubel Herrera before he even got an out meant that he gave up more runs there than he did in four May starts combined.  He settled in eventually, though not until he gave up another run in the frame, and looked more like Mikolas the rest of the way.  While that is two games in a row where he’s given up three or more runs, I don’t think we can claim that “the league is figuring him out”.  He probably isn’t as amazing as he was early on, but he’s still going to be a good pitcher going forward.  The fact that he was able to check the Phillies for the rest of his night helps tell us that.

(It’s amazing that we talk about all this and not the fact the Cards should have lost the game when Yairo Munoz struck out–something the Cardinals did a lot of last night–but the ball got away from Andrew Knapp allowing Yadier Molina to score from third.  Then Kolten Wong pinch-hit and did what Kolten Wong does best, getting a big late inning hit to tie the game.  All those dramatics kinda faded a bit after the 10th.)

So the Cards have lost a blowout, they’ve lost a game where they led early, they’ve lost a game where they made a late comeback.  There’s hope there if you poke around, but there’s also a lot of worry and a lot of possibilities that this could all go south in a hurry.  The Cards are still just four games out of the division and a game out of the wild card, but it also feels like the season might be balancing on a tipping point.  At least to us–apparently not so much to John Mozeliak.  There’s no doubt that he knows much more than we do and has a good track record of being right, but I don’t know if I’m quite on board with what he’s selling.  Especially when the first returning player is likely to be Greg Holland today after showing nothing in a minor league rehab.  Holland says he wants to be in “uncomfortable situations” and pretty much anytime he’s in the game for a while, fans are going to be uncomfortable.

Luke Weaver goes today, still trying to find that form we saw earlier in the year.  Hopefully he can find it faster than Mikolas did last night and the Redbirds can find a way to win instead of a new way to lose.


Marking McGwire: #33

Home run #: 33

Date: June 18

Opponent: Houston Astros

Location: Astrodome

Pitcher: Shane Reynolds

Score: 6-4

Inning: 5

Outs: 0

Runners on: 0

Distance: 449 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 25

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 27

Home runs can come in spurts.  After a few days without a long ball, Mark McGwire went deep in back to back days before going quiet again.  He wasn’t the only one taking advantage of Houston pitching in this one, however.

It was Shane Reynolds vs. Kent Bottenfield in this one.  Reynolds was a serviceable mid-rotation pitcher who was coming to the end of his prime (1999 would be his last real good year) and Bottenfield, well, he was still a year away from that fluke year that turned him into Jim Edmonds.  (Talk about a dated trade.  Nobody would trade Edmonds for Bottenfield now just because of 16 wins.)  Both starters began the game with a scoreless first, though the Astros were able to put two runners on against Bottenfield.  Bottenfield was able to get Moises Alou to line out to right to end the threat, however.

The bats really started going in the second.  Brian Jordan started the inning with a double and John Mabry followed with a walk.  Ron Gant then doubled down the line, scoring Jordan and putting runners on second and third.  The next batter, Tom Lampkin, went up the middle for his double, scoring both runners.  Reynolds got the next two batters to strike out and after a Royce Clayton single put runners on the corners, got out of the jam by striking out Ray Lankford.

The Astros began countering in the bottom of the second.  Carl Everett doubled to start things off, then moved to third on a Sean Berry groundout.  Tony Eusabio then grounded to third and Houston was on the board.

St. Louis got that run back and more in the top of the third.  McGwire drew a walk on a full count, but then was forced at second on a Jordan groundout.  Jordan himself was forced at second when Mabry did the same thing, but Ron Gant saved the inning by belting one over the left field wall.  His two-run shot put the Cards up 5-1.

As we know, though, no lead is safe with the 1998 Cardinals.  Craig Biggio started the bottom of the third with a single and scored on a one-out double by Derek Bell.  In the fifth, Everett singled, moved to second on a one-out walk to Eusabio, and both batters advanced on a sacrifice bunt from Reynolds.  Bottenfield then uncorked a wild pitch that scored Everett, then Biggio singled in Eusabio to make it 5-4.

Back came the Cardinals with their most potent weapon, the long ball.  Ray Lankford smashed a 1-1 pitch to the right field bleachers, bringing up the Cardinals’ slugging first baseman.  McGwire took a strike, then a ball, then smoked a pitch that dropped down into his hitting zone. The ball landed well up in the left field seats, something not easy to do in the old Astrodome.

Reynolds was gone a batter later and after all the excitement in the early frames, the game finally quieted down a bit.  No more scoring for either team happened until the bottom of the seventh, when Jeff Bagwell, who had doubled with one out and moved to third on Moises Alou’s grounder, scored when John Frascatore threw a wild pitch.  The ninth got a bit dramatic, when Ricky Gutierrez started things off with a single and moved to second on a one out wild pitch.  (Sensing a theme yet?)  Bagwell grounded out, but Alou singled to put runners on the corners and bring the winning run to the plate.  Before Rich Croushore could retire Everett, though, he unleashed another wild pitch, so for the third time in this game, a Houston runner scored when a pitch got away from the catcher.  Four wild pitches in a game makes you wonder a little bit about the day Lampkin was having, huh?  Everett struck out and the Cards hung on for the 7-6 victory.


Marking McGwire: #32

Home run #: 32

Date: June 17

Opponent: Houston Astros

Location: Astrodome

Pitcher: Jose Lima

Score: 0-1

Inning: 3

Outs: 2

Runners on: 0

Distance: 437 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 25

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 26

For the fact that early in the year it look like just a coronation waiting to happen with Mark McGwire and the home run title, a few things happened in the middle of June.  One, McGwire went four days without a home run, which isn’t a huge stretch but enough that it slowed his pace a bit.  Two, Sammy Sosa had just gone off.  On June 15, he hit three home runs against Cardinal-to-be Cal Eldred and had gotten within double digits of McGwire for the first time all year.  Big Mac still had the upper hand but for the first time it seemed more like a competition than a solo act.

Sosa had already crushed another one earlier in the day against the Brewers, pulling him to within six of McGwire, when the Cardinals opened up play inside the legendary Astrodome on June 17.  Todd Stottlemyre, one of the Cardinals’ best starters on the season, matched up against Jose Lima, who hadn’t become the fun-loving legend he would later on but was already showing a propensity for allowing the long ball.  (He’d allow 34 in 1998, which wasn’t even close to his career high.)  Lima did most everything else right, though, and it looked to be a good pitching matchup.

That’s the way it started as well.  The Cardinals got two singles in the first, including one by McGwire, but couldn’t capitalize on them when Brian Jordan fouled out and Gary Gaetti flew out.  Stottlemyre was shaky to start as well, eventually walking the bases loaded, but Carl Everett grounded out and ended the threat.  The Cards got Willie McGee on with a single to start the second frame and saw him steal a bag, but the bottom of the order just couldn’t capitalize.

The fact that so many came to bat in the first hurt Stottlemyre in the second.  Brad Ausmus singled with one out and Lima bunted him over to second.  The lineup then turned over and Craig Biggio got the two-out hit that put the Astros on the board 1-0.

Lima got back to work in the third.  Royce Clayton flew out and Delino DeShields struck out, which brought up Mr. McGwire.  Lima got McGwire to chase a pitch, then wasted one out of the zone.  McGwire missed again on the third pitch but the fourth one was right in his wheelhouse.

The tie game lasted until the bottom of the sixth.  Everett, atoning for his earlier missed opportunity, roped the first pitch he saw into the right field bleachers.  However, in the top of the seventh, Brian Hunter parked an 0-1 pitch from Lima into the left field seats, retying the game.

Again, it’s amazing to see how baseball has changed over the past 20 years.  With the score 2-2, Lima stays in the game and faces the Cards in the bottom of the eighth.  Gaetti bunted his way on to lead off the inning (a move that would have sent howls around Twitter had it been around in those days) and David Howard pinch-ran for him.  McGee singled, putting runners on second and third.  Then Tom Pagnozzi bounced one back to Lima, who threw it away allowing Howard and McGee to score and Pagnozzi to wind up on second.

That finally did it for Lima and Bob Scanlan came into the game, striking out pinch-hitter Ray Lankford before allowing a single to Stottlemyre, who not only was still in the game BUT WAS ALLOWED TO BAT WITH A TWO RUN LEAD AND A RUNNER ON SECOND IN THE EIGHTH.  Seriously, I lived through this time and I didn’t realize how gradually baseball changed, even with Tony La Russa in the dugout.  This is unheard of today.  Well, not completely unheard of given Mike Matheny‘s penchant for letting pitchers hit, but even he would probably pinch-hit in the eighth.  Anyway, Clayton grounded out, Pagnozzi scored, and the Cards went into the bottom of the eighth up 5-2.

That’s the way it stood in the bottom of the ninth when Jeff Brantley took over.  Oh, goodness, you know where this is going.  The 2018 team might have its own bullpen problems, but Brantley was basically what would happen if Greg Holland pitched all the time.  He led off the inning by hitting Biggio with a pitch, which really isn’t the way you want to kick off a ninth inning where you have a three run lead.  Biggio stole second and Bill Spiers bunted–perhaps to move Biggio to third, perhaps for a hit, I don’t know, but if it wasn’t for a hit that’s Matheny-esque–and wound up at first.  So runners on the corners, nobody out, heart of the order coming up.

We talk about TLR being innovative and a guy that liked to make changes, but at least in this stage of his life, he didn’t really want to yank the closer it doesn’t feel like.  Brantley got Derek Bell to line out to right, scoring Biggio and making it 5-3.  Unfortunately, the next batter was Jeff Bagwell and, well, there’s a reason he’s a Hall of Famer.  He crushed Brantley’s first pitch to left field, tying the game up at 5.

Brantley stays in the game–again, amazing–and got Moises Alou to fly out.  With two outs, Everett–remember, he’d homered already, and Brantley gets to stay in to face him–singled up the middle and then took an extra base when Brian Jordan muffed the ball.  That finally got TLR to come to the mound and signal for a replacement.  Curtis King came in and unintentionally intentionally walked Ricky Gutierrez to set up the force.  That didn’t matter when Ausmus singled, bringing in the go-ahead run.

You just wonder what this team could have done with a decent bullpen.


On a scale from Attack of the Clones to The Empire Strikes Back, last night’s Cardinals/Padres game was much more The Phantom Menace than A New Hope.  I’d say it was like The Force Awakens, a bit of a repeat and hitting the same beats as what has gone before, but I liked TFA.

(Of course, I like all the Star Wars movies, even the prequels.  Heck, there’s a lot to like about Clones–Obi-Wan’s detective work, the battle at Geonosis, Yoda vs. Dooku.  Toss out the Anakin/Padme stuff and it improves greatly.)

The Cardinals lost again to the Padres last night, falling by the same 4-2 score that they did on Tuesday.  Thankfully, this time we didn’t see Jordan HicksJohn Brebbia took on that role and did a fine job.  Everyone talks about Hicks and Bud Norris being the guys to trust down in the bullpen, but Brebbia is starting to make a case for being the leader of the next tier.  He had his struggles a few weeks ago, but seems to have gotten past that.  I’m not saying give him the ninth or anything, but if he keeps this up hopefully it’ll be easier to rest Hicks in games like this where the Cards want to keep it close.

Everyone is going to talk about the fact that the Cardinals just went 4-5 against three last place teams and that’s a fair topic of discussion but I think it’s just a small slice of a bigger issue.  Since those dramatic games against the Cubs last month, where the Cards swept on the back of two walkoffs, they have gone 16-18 in what wasn’t the strongest stretch of games.  Over that span they played the Padres twice, the Twins twice, and the Marlins, Reds, and Royals once.

St. Louis has seemed to be able to play to the level of their competition somewhat but when you look at what they’ve done in a little over a month against overall weaker competition, you worry about the upcoming schedule that is one solid team after another.  The Cubs (NLC 2), Phillies (NLE 3), Brewers (NLC 1), Indians (ALC 1), Braves (NLE 1), and Diamondbacks (NLW 1) take us through the Fourth of July, with then a bit of a break before the All-Star Break with the Giants, White Sox, and Reds.  Those next six teams are a combined 224-174 (.562).  For comparison, the Cards are winning at a .545 clip overall, so the gap isn’t as large as it honestly feels like, but it’s hard to walk into these series with a load of confidence after this last batch of games.

We’re getting away from ourselves though.  Our Hero of the night is Marcell Ozuna, who obviously has finally clicked.  Eleven games ago, he hit his first home run in Busch Stadium.  Counting that game and running through last night, he’s got five homers and a .390/.422/.805 line.  His two-run shot last night was the only scoring and the only extra-base hit, a fly ball to dead center field that continued to carry over the wall.  If part of Ozuna’s problem was that he was pressing, I think he’s over that and we are finally starting to see that power that we dreamed about when the trade was made this winter.

Jedd Gyorko also had two hits, though one of his was of the infield variety, and Tommy Pham was robbed of extra bases in the eighth which might be a good sign that things are starting to really come around for him in the power department, but otherwise it was a fairly quiet night.  A total of eight hits, half of which were from Ozuna and Gyorko.  No walks for the third straight game.  All in all, more boring that trade disputes in the galactic senate.

We’ll give the Goat tag to Yairo Munoz, who went 0-4 and left three men on base.  With a player like Munoz, it’s tough to know whether it’s a slump or whether pitchers are figuring him out (at least to me, maybe not to those that dive into the heat maps and exit velocity stuff), but he’s gone from hitting almost .300 at the beginning of the month to hitting under .250 now.  He has one extra base hit in that span and two walks against 10 strikeouts.  There’s at least some indication Paul DeJong could be back around the end of the month (though we don’t know how long it’ll take for him to get into a groove) but until then there’s not much other option than to run Munoz out there regularly.

Luke Weaver, or as we know him around here on days like this, Luke Skyweaver, had a better game than his line would indicate.  He gave up two runs in the first but then stayed out of trouble until the sixth.  With one out, Franmil Reyes lined one that Pham dove for but it popped out of his glove.  Reyes was given a double on the play, which is probably fair even though Pham will tell you he should have had it.  If he does, Manuel Margot might not triple and even if he does, no damage would have been done.  Instead, that brought in a run and Austin Gomber wound up allowing Margot to score.

All that said, Weaver wasn’t exactly stellar either.  He only walked one but allowed nine hits.  Most of those hits, as my Meet Me at Musial cohost Allen Medlock pointed out to me via Twitter, came with two outs.  That allowed him to get out of any jams fairly easily, since he only needed one out, but it also meant he wasn’t finishing off innings and he was running up his pitch count.  With a little offense and a little luck, he could have won that game last night, but both seem to be in limited supply these days.

Another disappointing series comes to a close and the Cardinals gird their loins for this gauntlet of games.  They do have four wins in five games against the Cubs this year, though their record against the rest of those teams so far this year isn’t great (1-2 against Arizona, 4-5 against Milwaukee).  At least Michael Wacha is on the mound to give it a good beginning.  Wacha has a 1.74 ERA in his last 10 starts and opponents are hitting just .188 against him.  He went 5.1 innings in a no-decision against the Cubs earlier this season and allowed two runs, just one earned.  He’ll be up against Jon Lester, who we know all about.

A day off today to regroup.  I’ll have a Cardinal Six for you later this morning to let you start focusing on Chicago!


In the intro to the always excellent Bird Law podcast, the hosts (Rusty Groppel and Adam Butler of The Redbird Daily) overlay some music with various quotes from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  One of them goes as follows:

We’re both men of the law. You know. We get after it. You know, we jabber jaw, we go tit for tat. We have our little differences. But at the end of the day, you win some, I win some, and there’s a mutual respect left over between us.

I don’t know about the “mutual respect” part, but right now that seems to encapsulate the Cardinals’ season.  They win one or two, the other team wins one or two.  We talked about the inability to get out of that orbit last week and these last two games against the Padres are another indication of that.  Until they play tonight, the Cards are 4-4 against the Marlins, Reds, and Padres.  That’s not what you want to see from a team that has postseason aspirations.

I’ll admit that I’ve not gotten to see much of these two games–one of the defining characteristics of being a United Methodist is a regular rotation of pastors and I’ve been helping get ready for our next one–but that’s never stopped me before.  And, if we’re being honest, the box scores really do tell the story.

Monday (5-2 win)

Hero: Jose Martinez.  Cafe Jr. had another three hit game and another home run, this one rallying the Cards from an early 1-0 deficit.  An 0-4 on Tuesday snapped his hitting streak, but even with that game he’s hitting .472 with a 1.497 OPS in June.  That’s smoking hot and over a good stretch of games.  It’s not his fault the club has been wallowing in mediocrity.

Goat: Matt Carpenter.  An 0-4 and three runners left on out of your leadoff man tends to be something that gets you this label.  Carpenter has slowed down from his blistering pace of late May, hitting .244/.306/.356 in June.  That’s still much better Carpenter than what we saw earlier in the year, obviously, but you hope that’s not really where he’s going to settle.  Batting leadoff hasn’t been a huge panacea either, as he has a .242/.327/.421 line in that role.  A lot of us, including myself, thought Carpenter was “fixed”.  And maybe he is, given that both of those lines look a lot like last year’s marks (.241/.384/.451) except in the on-base department.  It just may be that this is what Carp is these days and if so, that’s a problem for the club to have to address.

Notes: A strong outing by Jack Flaherty, bouncing back from a little bit of a rough start against the Marlins.  Flaherty went 6.1 innings, gave up just three hits and one run, and walked one while striking out six.  That last walk came in the seventh, when Flaherty was reaching 100 pitches and seemed to be obviously laboring.  I did get to watch this part and once he walked Cory Spangenberg, I felt like he should be pulled.  For a while there, it looked like the manager disagreed, but they were pulling out all the stalling tactics to get John Brebbia ready.

Overall, Mike Matheny did well with the bullpen here.  I’m still not enamored with the idea of Austin Gomber, this guy that’s always been a starter and that does fine against right-handed hitters, turning into your short LOOGY type of guy.  I realize that Brett Cecil isn’t getting the job done and there aren’t any other lefties down there since Tyler Lyons is on the DL and Ryan Sherriff got his elbow cut open, but you don’t have to have one either.  Gomber can do more than just lefties.  If you want to bring him in against one, fine, but there’s no reason to yank him after he gets through them.  That being said, apparently Hunter Renfroe hits lefties well, so it may have been more about the hitter’s strengths than the pitcher’s weaknesses in that move.  Otherwise, everything went well and Matheny didn’t even use Jordan Hicks.  But more on that later.

Lot of pop in this one as all five runs scored via the home run.  Martinez had his two-run shot, Marcell Ozuna had one as well as part of a two hit night, and Jedd Gyorko capped things in the eighth with a solo shot.  I think Bernie Miklasz has written about how over-reliant they are on the home run, especially for the fact that they play in a stadium that at best isn’t a home run park.  When it works, it works, but how often is it really going to work?  Which may be part of the up and down we see with this club.

By the way, Bud Norris had an uneventful ninth save for hitting a batter, which was good to see after some recent struggles.  The last thing this club needs is to not be able to trust Norris.

Tuesday (4-2 loss)

Hero: Jordan Hicks.  There really weren’t many to choose from here, so I’m going with Hicks who threw two scoreless innings and struck out four.  In part because that’s a really good performance, in part because again we need to discuss his usage.  The Cardinals were down 4-0 in the seventh when they were able to finally show a little life and get a couple of runs, cutting the lead in half.  Still, they are down by two and the Padres have Brad Hand to make that chore a little heavier.  Birds on the Black writer Chuck Brownson noted on Twitter that, after the seventh, the Cardinals had a 13% chance to win the game.

I get wanting to keep it close.  A bloop and a blast and you are tied.  I’m not saying that you should wave the white flag there.  I am saying be reasonable about your chances and don’t throw the amazing young right arm out there when he doesn’t need to be out there.  I’ll admit I initially lost a day and was thinking this was his fourth outing in five days, but it was actually four in six.  If the Cards were winning, that might make some sense.  In this situation, you are not only adding to his workload but you are–at least you SHOULD be–taking him out of play for Wednesday, a game you might need him in to win.

The club brought up Daniel Poncedeleon before Monday’s game and this felt like a good time to use him.  The Padre hitters wouldn’t be familiar with him.  He’s not really going to hurt the team if he winds up scuffling and he could give a boost if he holds the line.  He’s also a starter that can go two innings with no problem.

There’s no doubt that Hicks is dynamic and he’s young enough that he probably heals up quickly.  Still, it seems an unnecessary use of a great weapon and a handicap in trying to win the series tonight.  Then again, apparently in the post-game press conference Mike Matheny said he wouldn’t rule out using Hicks again tonight.  A quick search doesn’t show up five appearances in seven games even in Matthew Bowman‘s game logs.  I would guess that he’s just trying not to show his hand, but if he ran Hicks out there again tonight St. Louis area stores might run out of torches and pitchforks.

Goat: The Cardinals got all of five hits against San Diego’s bullpen game.  Pick one.  I’ll go with Yairo Munoz, who struck out and hit into a double play as part of his 0-3 night.  You could go with Jose Martinez and his 0-4, Yadier Molina and his 0-4, Jedd Gyorko and his 0-3….you get the picture.

Notes: Miles Mikolas had one bad inning, allowing a home run to Eric Hosmer and a bases loaded single to A.J. Ellis.  Otherwise, he looked like the Mikolas that we’ve come to expect.  He didn’t walk any, struck out five, and had a solid outing save for the fourth inning.  Mike Mayers gave up a run in his inning of work–in 9.1 innings since May 18, he’s got a 3.86 ERA.  Given some of the stats Zach Gifford is putting out there, you wonder if this is more likely what we’ll see out of Mayers than that stretch to start the season.  It’s still worth having around, especially in this bullpen, but putting him in high-leverage situations may not be the way to go.

We go back and forth.  You win some, I win some.  Until the Cardinals start being greedy and winning more than their fair share, as it were, this is going to be a team that doesn’t inspire confidence nor is it necessarily a lot of fun to watch.  Which means they’ll probably go sweep the Cubs because that’s just how this season seems to work.  Before that, though, they have one more with the Padres and Luke Weaver tries to make sure that the series isn’t a failure.  May the Force be with you, Luke!


Marking McGwire: #31

Home run #: 31

Date: June 12

Opponent: Arizona Diamondbacks

Location: Bank One Ballpark

Pitcher: Andy Benes

Score: 1-0

Inning: 3

Outs: 1

Runners on: 3

Distance: 438 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 20

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 26

It was probably a bit weird for Andy Benes to be looking across the field at the birds on the bat.  After all, he’d won 18 games for the Cardinals in 1996 and 10 more in 1997.  Benes had then been a free agent that wanted to return to St. Louis, but Scott Boras overplayed his hand a bit and while a deal was reached with the Cardinals, it was after the deadline for a free agent to return to his current team.  Without St. Louis as an option, Benes took a $12 million-plus, two-year deal to go out to the desert to an expansion Diamondbacks team that was just beginning its franchise life.

Benes was struggling a bit with the new club and the desert air, posting a 4.67 ERA going into this outing and coming off a start where he had allowed five runs in 4.1 innings.  Now he was facing his old squad and being opposed by Todd Stottlemyre, his former rotation mate.  This would not be the start where he got well.

It actually started off well for Benes, who struck out two batters, including Mark McGwire, in the first inning, and the first batter Stottlemyre faced, Andy Fox, went yard.  After two innings, the Diamondbacks were up 1-0 and Benes had four strikeouts in six batters.  Then the ceiling caved in for him.

Royce Clayton broke up proto-perfect game with a walk and stole second during Tom Lampkin‘s at bat.  Lampkin then stroke a double that tied up the game.  Proving that baserunning issues are always in season, Lampkin tried to go to third when Stottlemyre hit a ball back to the pitcher.  That didn’t work well at all, but that meant Stottlemyre reached.  Delino DeShields followed that up with a single and Ray Lankford a walk, meaning that the league’s leading home run hitter was coming to bat with the bases loaded.

Benes missed with his first pitch and, with no place to put McGwire, he had to try to challenge him.  He failed.

The fastball was up and it went much higher as McGwire whacked it into left.  Suddenly a 1-1 game was 5-1 in favor of the Redbirds.

Crazily enough, even though as we all know home runs are rally killers, the Cardinals weren’t done in the third.  Brian Jordan grounded out, but then Willie McGee singled and John Mabry doubled him to third.  In his second time up for the inning, Clayton unloaded a shot to left-center.  Lampkin then grounded out, but it was now 8-1 Cardinals.

Now while the ’98 version of the club was known for allowing big leads to slip away, they didn’t do that this time.  Both clubs traded zeros until the seventh, when the Diamondbacks cut into the lead on an RBI single by David Dellucci, an RBI groundout by Jay Bell, and then a single by Kelly Stinnett that drove in a third run.  The Cards responded in the top of the eighth when Clayton again led an inning off with a walk and then scored on a sacrifice fly by DeShields.

Even this version of the Cardinal bullpen couldn’t make it all that interesting.  In the ninth, Stottlemyre allowed a leadoff single to Matt Williams and then was replaced by Lance Painter.  Painter got a pop out and a strikeout, though strike three was wild and allowed Williams to move over to second.  Painter then walked Karim Garcia and Tony La Russa, taking no chances (and feeling confident even his “closer” couldn’t blow this one), went to Jeff Brantley with a five run lead and just one out to get.  Brantley got Stinnett looking and the ballgame was over, with McGwire now on his way to his second batch of 30 big flies.


Passing On a Sweep

It was pretty unlikely that the Cardinals were going to go 19-0 against the Cincinnati Reds this season.  The problem is less the loss and the snapping that streak than how that loss came to be.  Because with a little more control, that streak could be still running.  However, there were two wins before that loss and we best deal with them first.

Friday (7-6 win in 10)

Hero: Jose Martinez.  His home run in the first started the scoring and his three-run blast in the third put the Cards up by four.  Martinez has been on a tear in June.  Through Sunday, his June line is .500/.563/1.036.  This isn’t just one game or one series, he’s done this over eight starts.  Three doubles, four homers, nine RBI.  Heck, he’s only struck out twice!  It’s an amazing run that’s tempered just a bit by the fact that, if it’s a close game with a lead, the Cardinals have to pull him because of his defense.  In this one, that could have hurt because he left after his at bat in the top of the seventh, only to see his spot roll around again in extra innings.

Obviously there’s a lot to love about Martinez.  His personality is great and his bat plays.  That defensive lack, though, is going to be tough to deal with.  Even with an offense that is struggling at times, you wonder that if a deal comes up that sends him to the American League for a decent return if the Cards wouldn’t be wise to pull the trigger there.  It’d probably cause a stir in the clubhouse but that happened in the Allen Craig/Joe Kelly deal a few years back and people got over it.

Goat: Bud Norris.  It’s not surprising that some questions are starting to pop up about Norris and even less surprising that the team says they aren’t concerned.  In his last six outings, dating back to the loss he took against the Royals, Norris has a 9.00 ERA and has given up two home runs.  He hasn’t walked anyone and has nine strikeouts in those six innings, so it’s probably just a little bit of a glitch, but it’s still worrisome.  In this one, Norris allowed a double to start the inning, then sandwiched a Joey Votto RBI single around two strikeouts, so it looked like the ERA might get a blemish but things would be OK.  Then he gave up two more singles, one that bounced off the glove of Jedd Gyorko, and the game was tied.  He wound up getting a win when Gyorko redeemed himself in the 10th, but it wasn’t a great thing for the hearts of Cardinals fans.

And this is really concerning when you look at the bullpen as a whole right now.  We’ll talk a little more about this when we cover Jordan Hicks on Saturday, but the reliable options out in the ‘pen are pretty limited.  There are a few you trust more than others but overall, if their name isn’t Hicks or Norris, you worry.  If Norris is going to start shifting to that “worry” line, lots of people have problems.  The good thing is this probably isn’t the same as last year for Norris.  Bud struggled in August and then went on the DL before returning in September and looking OK for the most part.  Even in those struggles, there were many scoreless outings.  Hopefully that’s the case here as well.

Notes: Marcell Ozuna had a triple and Yairo Munoz had a home run.  The Cardinals scored seven runs but only had eight hits, though they had six walks to go along with it.  (Walks are a key part of this weekend, but we’ll get to that.)  Even so, that was a pretty efficient use of opportunities.  I need to dust off that old Scoring Efficiency idea I had years ago and see what it looks like today.

Luke Weaver, freed from the chatter that he might be the odd man out in any rotation shake-up with the return of Alex Reyes, still wasn’t able to put together a strong outing.  It wasn’t terrible and, without the late inning work of Norris, would have gotten him a win given his offensive support, but four runs in five innings isn’t what you want to see.  It also took him 100 pitches to get there as he walked five Reds, including one with the bases loaded, and gave up seven hits.  He was lucky the results didn’t look worse than they did.

Austin Gomber came in and held the line.  With the news that Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons went on the DL and isn’t likely to return soon plus the continued struggles of Brett Cecil, especially against lefties, Gomber may get a lot more opportunities.  Hopefully they won’t turn him into a lefty specialist and he threw 1.1 innings here, walking two but allowing no runs.  He’s got to get his command worked on–he’s walked six batters in his career that spans 5.2 innings after an appearance on Saturday–but so far he seems to be showing that he’s perfectly at home in the big leagues.  I would think there would need to be some guidelines on his usage, given that he’s basically a starter just learning relief, but it feels like some of these players start with guidelines that quickly go out the window.

John Brebbia locked this down with a scoreless 10th.  We talked on Friday about Brebbia had looked better of late and that continued through the weekend.  He may be shifting to that short list of folks we (and Mike Matheny) trust, which may mean Brebbia is going to get a lot of work in the next month or so if he keeps this up.

Saturday (6-4 win)

Hero: Yadier Molina.  Oh, does Yadi love Cincinnati.  He’s played 102 games there in his career and has a line of .320/.364/.504 in Great American Ball Park.  (Cincy’s actually the place he’s played the most outside of Busch Stadium III where he has a .288/.341/.399 line.)  Playing a day game after a night game, a sure sign that Molina’s back to normal, Yadi went 2-3 with a bases-loaded double that put the Cardinals up 5-0.  They needed every bit of that, so it was nice that Yadi was able to come through and silence those persistent Reds boobirds.  I’m not excited that Molina has worked his way back up to fifth in the lineup, but there is nobody hitting behind him that shouldn’t be, so it’s less about Molina and more about the offense in general.

Goat: Jedd Gyorko.  A tough game for Uncle Jedd, who went 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on base.  We don’t talk about him as much but Gyorko’s June has been a struggle as well, as he’s hitting .118 (2-17) for the month.  Defensively, having him at third and Matt Carpenter at first probably works a lot better than Carpenter at third and Martinez at first, but with the offense struggling, it’s also difficult to take out one of the hottest bats for one that is cold.

Notes: Another rough game for Dexter Fowler, going 0-3 with three strikeouts before being replaced as part of a double switch.  I thought he was starting to come around after his back-to-back multi-hit games to end May, but he’s followed that up with a 3-for-20 June.  It’s still possible that he’ll get that kick, but last year this time he was hitting .225/.320/.425 and he raised his average 20 points before July on the way to a very strong second half that a lot of people tend to forget about when they talk about Fowler’s Cardinal career.  (I doubt many were complaining about effort when he was hitting .300 with 10 homers from this point forward in the season in 2017.)  Unlike last year, though, he’s 1) still under .200 and 2) there are options that can keep him out of the lineup and make it harder to have a sustained run.  Not that running Harrison Bader out there, especially against lefties, is the wrong move at all, but it does make it difficult to see how Fowler can have another strong second half.

By the way, Fowler’s June is .150/.190/.150.  Bader’s is .150/.190/.200 after his two hit day on Sunday.  Nobody’s really winning this contest (especially not the Cardinals), though the argument that Bader’s defense and speed would be a tiebreaker is a legitimate one.

Jose Martinez hit another home run in this one and Marcell Ozuna followed it up with his own jack, giving the Cards an early 2-0 lead.  Carpenter had two hits, including his own home run later in the game that gave some really key insurance.

On the pitching side of things, Michael Wacha wasn’t no-hit good but that wasn’t exactly a surprise.  He still allowed just two runs, though he had to be pulled before finishing the sixth because…well, I didn’t see this game but I’m not really sure why.  I mean, Wacha was at 96 pitches and after going around 110 the game before it’s not surprising they’d want to save a few throws, but he had a three run lead and one on with two outs.  Again, maybe there was something going on during the game that made this more obvious of why they didn’t let him try to finish the sixth, but I’m not seeing it at the moment.

Mike Mayers came up when Tyler Lyons was hurt because it’s not a week if Mayers doesn’t get on the Memphis shuttle.  He gave up a couple of doubles that allowed a run and in a 6-3 game with a runner on and Joey Votto coming up, Mike Matheny went to Austin Gomber to be that LOOGY that we hoped he wouldn’t become.  He walked Votto but got lefty Scooter Gennett to fly out and was done with his day.  Given he’d pitched the day before, the shortness of the outing isn’t a big deal and it’s not surprising that they didn’t want anyone else facing those guys, but man, I wonder how this is going to work for Gomber.

The big news in the bullpen was that Jordan Hicks came out and got his first career save, pitching for the third consecutive day.  Immediately after this game, the headlines were that the Cardinals are going to be cautious with Hicks.  The quote from the manager:

“We just need to listen to him,” Matheny said. “He is good about telling us. Days when he isn’t feeling good, we shut him down. If the trainers see anything we shut him down.”

Given that we just had a week where Alex Reyes didn’t tell the club that he was feeling a bit off after Memphis and that Carlos Martinez didn’t tell the club that he was holding back while on the mound, perhaps we should be a little less reliant on what the players are telling the club and do some proactive stuff.  I truly believe Hicks told them he had another inning, that he felt good.  He’s also 21 years old who never relieved before this year.  That’s what a manager is there for, to protect his players when they want to do crazy stuff like pitch three days in a row.  We don’t like it when folks like Matthew Bowman does that and, no offense to Mr. Bowman, he’s basically a replacement-type reliever.  Hicks is a special arm, a talent that we’d like to see not go the path of Alex Reyes or, perhaps more notably, pitchers like Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal.

I get that you might have lost the game if you had used someone else to close.  That does seem to be the way things are going as of late.  But if you are saying there is no one else in that bullpen that can get three outs before they give up two runs, that’s an issue.  Unlike what you have seen a lot this season, Hicks and Norris can’t throw every day.  (Interesting to note that Norris was off-limits here but not Hicks.)  Sometimes you take the short-term loss to not run the risk of a long-term one.

Bowman and Greg Holland have started their rehab assignments and while Bowman could be back as early as the end of this Padres series coming up, but Holland may take a little more time.  If Holland can get right and look sharp in Memphis and then–huge key–carry that success back to the bigs, that’ll help a lot.  There aren’t going to hopefully be too many days where Hicks, Holland, and Norris will all be used, so someone should be available every day if a closer is needed.  Again, that assumes a return to form for Holland, something I’m not completely sold on as of yet.

Sunday (6-3 loss)

Hero: Marcell Ozuna.  Two hits and an RBI, the only Cardinal with two hits in the game that actually was productive with one of them.

Goat: Carlos Martinez.  I wasn’t able to watch this one and I read stories (and checked with Tara during last night’s Gateway to Baseball Heaven) to make sure there was no recurrence of injury.  There doesn’t seem to be any, which makes seeing 3.2 innings and seven walks so insane.  In his two starts since returning from the disabled list, Martinez has walked 12 in 7.2 innings of play.  I understand that the strike zone may not have been consistent or what you’d expect a strike zone to be, but that only goes so far.  As Tara noted, Martinez does seem to have these stretches, but given his comments last time, given that he’s coming off the DL, it’s just a bit worrisome.  Hopefully he’s much sharper next time when he goes up against the Cubs.

Notes: The team with 11 hits lost to the team with five and it wasn’t really close.  Of course, when the team with five gets 11 free passes over the course of the game, that tends to help out.  Brett Cecil had most of the non-Martinez damage in that regard, walking three in his two innings of work.  Looks like Cecil’s first inning of work was pretty good, though he walked Joey Votto, which 1) is easy to do given Votto’s eye and 2) is just another data point in why you worry about Cecil facing lefties.  (He did get Scooter Gennett to fly out, though.)  Perhaps he shouldn’t have gone out for the second inning, when he walked the first two batters and wound up allowing one of them to score, but innings are at a premium right now and someone was going to have to do it.  At least it was in a game they were already losing.

Two hits for Matt Carpenter, though he struck out to end the last real rally of the Cards.  Two hits for Jose Martinez without a run or an RBI to show for it.  Two hits for Harrison Bader.  A decent amount of offense for the fact there weren’t a lot of runs pushed across the plate.

2-1 against the Reds would be better if it didn’t mean the team went 3-3 against the two worst teams in the National League.  The Padres come in today and the Cardinals can try to improve their record against bottom feeders with Jack Flaherty going on the mound.  The Cardinal Six for the series is ready and waiting for you!



Marking McGwire: #30

Home run #: 30

Date: June 10

Opponent: Chicago White Sox

Location: Comiskey Park II

Pitcher: Jim Parque

Score: 1-0

Inning: 3

Outs: 1

Runners on: 2

Distance: 409 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 20

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 25

Thirty home runs is a heck of a season.  Jedd Gyorko was the last Cardinal to hit 30 homers in a season when he did it in 2016.  Before that, it was Carlos Beltran in 2012 with 32.  Just two Cardinals since the last World Series title have reached that level.

McGwire did it before the middle of June.

Say what you want about the era and the way that McGwire got there, there’s no doubt this was a huge feat.  It’s fairly rare for a player to reach 30 by the All-Star Break, but to do so a month before the game?  Incredible.  Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, a McGwire home run didn’t guarantee a win anywhere but the box office for the Cardinals in 1998.

This one started out promisingly enough.  The two teams matched zeroes in the first two frames as Jim Parque and Kent Bottenfield allowed one runner combined.  The third was a different story, as that legendary explosiveness came out in a good way.  Tom Lampkin singled and David Howard beat out a bunt.  Willie McGee then singled, loading the bases with nobody out.  Ray Lankford worked the count to 2-2 before grounding out to first, allowing Lampkin to score.  With one in and one on, McGwire came to the plate.  The first pitch was taken for a ball.  The second….

A four run lead is nice but it wasn’t going to hold up regularly with this pitching staff.  Bottenfield did keep it going, though, putting zeroes on the board in the third and fourth.  In the fifth, the Cardinals tacked on.  Lankford led off with a double and, with first base open, it’s not surprising that McGwire wound up drawing a four-pitch walk.  Brian Jordan then made the White Sox pay for that, doubling in Lankford and putting McGwire at third.  Brian Hunter then hit a bullpen that was speared by Mike Caruso at short and Gary Gaetti watched strike three, but Royce Clayton doubled in McGwire and Jordan to make it 7-0.

Bottenfield kept the White Sox off the board in the fifth but in the bottom of the sixth, apparently feeling like things were well in hand, Tony La Russa went to Manny Aybar.  Now, in the course of reading these posts, you’ve seen what Aybar can do, so the fact that he faced four batters, got nobody out, and was replaced probably won’t be a surprise to you.  Caruso started it with a single to left, followed by a single to center by Frank Thomas.  With two on, Albert Belle swung at a 3-0 pitch and belted it over the left field wall, making it 7-3.  When Robin Ventura followed that with a double, TLR felt it was time to go get him.  John Frascatore came in and limited the bleeding, though he did allow an RBI single to Mike Cameron before getting the third out.

Things settled down until the ninth inning.  In the top of the inning, the Cardinals were able to get a little more insurance, Lankford walked and, in a rare move, stole second with McGwire batting.  Big Mac struck out and then Lankford stole third before Jordan hit a grounder to short that allowed him to score.  8-4 going into the bottom of the ninth.  What could go wrong?

Curtis King came in to get the final three outs and started off strong by striking out Charlie O’BrienRay Durham then grounded out and the Cards were one out away from a solid victory.  That last step, though, is a doozy.

Caruso singled past Royce Clayton and Thomas, with that great eye, drew a walk on a full count.  That brought up Belle, who was in the middle of an incredible year of his own.  He’d wind up leading the league with a 1.055 OPS and it was games like this one that pumped up that number.  On a full count–yes, this game was one strike away a couple of times, which we know a little bit about–Belle smoked his second homer of the day, plating three and bringing the White Sox to within a run.

Homers are rally killers, right?  All King would need to do would get that next out–oops.  King left a 1-0 pitch when Ventura could get it and he banged it over the right field wall, tying the game at 8.  King got Wil Cordero to strike out but it was too little, too late.

Nobody did anything in the 10th.  In the 11th, McGwire was intentionally passed with two outs and nobody on, which got interesting when Jordan walked behind him but ultimately was fruitless when pinch-hitter John Mabry struck out.  Sean Lowe, which is really not a name I remember, took over in the bottom of the frame and got Thomas to ground out and kept Belle in the park with a single to short, but Ventura finished it off with his second homer in as many plate appearances.

The pitching of the Cardinals had come home to roost.  After this one, the club sat four games under .500 and 10 games back in the NL Central.  While they would occasionally bob their heads over the break-even mark in the months to come (and, indeed, finish in the positive at 83-79), they would never get closer than 7.5 out and by the end of the month were in double digits to stay.  There was not going to be a pennant race to be concerned about.  However, with Sammy Sosa having hit five homers in the first 10 days of June and 11 in the last 17, something perhaps even more memorable was brewing.


Marking McGwire: #29

Home run #: 29

Date: June 8

Opponent: Chicago White Sox

Location: Comiskey Park II

Pitcher: Jason Bere

Score: 0-3

Inning: 4

Outs: 0

Runners on: 1

Distance: 356 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 20

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 24

Interleague play was still fairly new in 1998.  Young whippersnappers who have come to the game more recently might not remember that when interleague started, they matched up the same divisions against each other for a set span of time, which meant that the Cardinals saw a lot of the AL Central.  While Mark McGwire had hit a lot of home runs against American League teams, they’d all come as a member of the A’s.  He was traded over late enough in 1997 to miss the interleague portion of the schedule and, as such, was participating in his first game against an AL team from the other side.  He quickly showed that he was still well familiar with the junior circuit.

The first was an inning that points out that even small ball can be frustrating.  Willie McGee led off the game against Jason Bere with a walk, then was caught trying to steal second.  Of course, then Delino DeShields singled.  With McGwire up, DeShields stayed put but Big Mac just lined out to left.  With Ray Lankford at bat, DeShields had no compunction about staying in place, but he was also caught stealing.  So a walk and a single and your cleanup batter still doesn’t hit.  That’s a level of frustration even the 2018 Cardinals haven’t reached.

Mark Petkovsek wasn’t as lucky.  Ray Durham led off with a double and Mike Caruso bunted him to third.  Yes, a leadoff double and a bunt in the first inning.  The game has changed somewhat–I don’t think even on his worst day Mike Matheny would do that in the first.  I don’t think.  Anyway, after giving up an out, Frank Thomas walked.  Albert Belle then singled in Durham but Robin Ventura followed with a double play.

The White Sox added on in the second, when Jeff Abbott also led off with a double and came home on a one-out single by Magglio Ordonez.  They got another in the third when Thomas again walked, Belle again singled, and Ventura grounded out to first, bringing in Thomas who had gone first to third on Belle’s base hit.

While the Sox were scoring in drips and drabs, the Cardinal offense was built for bigger things, things that started in the fourth.  DeShields was the first batter of the inning and drew a four-pitch walk, bringing up the big redhead.  McGwire wasted no time launching the first pitch, a high fastball, to the left field stands.

That was all for that inning, but Petkovsek finally stopped the White Sox in the bottom of the fourth and then John Mabry tied the game up with a homer to lead off the fifth.  Unfortunately, the tie was short-lived.  In the bottom of the fifth, Mike Caruso–no relation to David, I don’t think–had a one-out single and Thomas walked again.  Belle then hit a ball out to right field that Brian Jordan muffed, allowing Caruso to score and putting runners on second and third. Petkovsek then intentionally walked Ventura to load the bases, but that blew up when Abbott tripled in all three.  That was the end of the day for Petkovsek, who received more salt in the wound when reliever Rick Croushore threw a wild pitch to his first batter, allowing Abbott to score, a run that was charged to Petkovsek.

So after being tied, the Cardinals found themselves down 8-3.  However, there was a reason On The Run didn’t have 50-cent (or, as it was when the promotion started, a quarter) drinks when the Cards scored six back then.  That offense was explosive and five runs wasn’t necessarily a death sentence.  In fact, in the next inning Jordan partially redeemed for his miscue by hitting a solo homer, cutting the lead to four.  In the seventh, McGee tripled with two on and just one out, but DeShields struck out and McGwire popped out, so it stayed at 8-6.

Even though the Cards found themselves just a bloop and a blast from tying it up, the offense never was able to do any more.  The game ended with McGwire on deck, so they had a chance up until the very end.  You can’t say that the ’98 version of the team was necessarily successful, but they sure were entertaining!




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