Cardinal70

Dirty Water

A good majority of the 37,181 people that were at Fenway Park last night paid to see the Boston Red Sox.  A not insignificant number paid to see the St. Louis Cardinals.

None of them paid for an #umpshow, but Chris Segal gave them one anyway.

Before we go into that and how it played out in the ninth, we probably should put in the caveats.  The Cardinals are to blame for the loss.  They are the ones that stopped scoring after the second inning.  They are the ones that got cut down trying to score.  They are the ones that served up the pitches that got hit.  The Red Sox won the game, the Cardinals lost it.

However, as we have seen many times in history, just because an umpire doesn’t lose a game for a team doesn’t mean that he doesn’t affect it.  Don Denkinger didn’t lose Game 6 (well, the non-David Freese Game 6) but his blown call did probably mean the Cardinals didn’t win it.  It’s a fine distinction.  Call it a not-win.

An umpire is supposed to keep a baseball game in a certain shape.  Let’s use a cube, for example.  That’s the shape that both teams are expecting to be playing in.  That cube is never perfectly symmetrical, but the best umpires try to keep it that way and most often do a fine job of it.  Sometimes, though, that shape becomes distorted.  The cube bulges in spots, turns into more of a cylinder, things like that.  It becomes unstable.  It’s not the conditions teams were planning to play in.  While they have to adapt, and some do, it’s an extra complication in an already difficult job.

There is no doubt that Segal’s strike zone last night moved the game away from that cube shape that it was supposed to be in.  I’m a terrible one of judging pitches by watching TV–so often I think it was a good pitch and the FoxTrax will show it a good bit high or outside–but it was pretty obvious even to me that the zone seemed more generous when the Red Sox were batting.  Numerous examples were shown on Twitter of pitches on GameDay in the zone but called balls.  The Cardinals got a few pitches to go their way, but without a rigorous examination (and I was glad to hear that Zach Gifford was hopefully going to do that today), it felt like it was less a bad zone and more of an inconsistent one between the two teams.

Again, I’m bad at this, but in the eighth, Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons was on the mound and two check swings to Andrew Benintendi (one of the few times I’m not rooting for the former Razorback) were called balls.  They were a bit high and I don’t think Benintendi swung, so I believe those were the right calls.  The problem was, in the top of the ninth, Matt Carpenter took strike three in a spot almost identical to where the pitches were on Benintendi.  It’s not like the zone shifted over the course of the game.  That was four batters later!

While the strike zone was the biggest issue folks had with Segal, the real #umpshow came in during the bottom of the ninth.  We’ll talk about why this happened in a bit but John Brebbia had come into the game with two on and one out.  Brebbia was in the process of delivering a 0-2 pitch to Eduardo Nunez when Segal, on his own, called time.  On his own.  He was not honoring a request by Nunez.  There’s aggravation when umpires do that too late in the delivery, but that happens.  He was not honoring a request by Yadier Molina, most clearly.  He just “needed a break”.  If an umpire needs a break in the middle of a one-run game in the bottom of the ninth, he should get one–like a couple of weeks, at least.

Let this be marked on calendars: for the first time ever, Cardinal Twitter was united behind Mike Matheny.  Molina immediately jumped up after the “break” by Segal and started giving him all sorts of an earful (but with the presence of mind to keep his hands behind his back so as not to make incidental contact) before Matheny ran out there and got between them…..then took on the job of lecturer.  Matheny got tossed, of course, and may get suspended because I believe he did bump the ump, but showed a ton of fire as he went after Segal.  Then, in words that may be repeated a million times today, he was caught saying:

“It is not your show, man! Nobody is here to watch you! Nobody!”

Ain’t that the truth.  Yet now, just like Angel Hernandez and Joe West, we all know Chris Segal’s name.  Time will tell if his still has the ring those other two have after some time has passed, but right now, let’s just say he won’t get a warm reception if he does a Cardinal game in Busch this season.

OK, that’s enough on something that may have impacted the game, but didn’t decide it.  Let’s talk more about the ninth in general.  There was a discussion on Twitter about whether this was the toughest loss this season.  Given that the Cards (I believe) have lost 22 games when they led in a game by more than one run, there are so many to choose from, but last week’s winning streak–which feels farther and farther away–gave a lot more hope and optimism.  Earlier in the year, we almost expected them to lose at times.  Last night, it sort of blindsided us.

It might not have had we known about Trevor Rosenthal‘s arm health.  Rosenthal apparently has been feeling tightness and Matheny thought that with a few days off, he might be OK.  However, as someone else pointed out on Twitter last night, he knew there was a short leash as a couple of guys were up warming even as Rosenthal came in.  Rosie had nothing on his fastball, which was proven when Xander Boegarts crushed a 91 mph pitch in the middle of the zone over the Monster to cut the lead in half.  Rosenthal then walked the next batter before Matheny, again making a smart move, went and got him.

Without an effective Rosenthal, this bullpen looks much shakier than it did last week.  On the whole, the pieces have been working better of late, but they need that anchor at the end of the game to really take it to the next level.  Having Lyons become the eighth inning guy, as he was last night, seemed to give them a potent 1-2 punch at the end of a game.  Add in Seung-hwan Oh against righties and Zach Duke against lefties and you could feel confident about things.  Instead, this news makes you wonder if they are going to have to scramble around to find yet another ninth-inning solution.  With a 10-day DL, there seems no reason why the Cards shouldn’t put Rosenthal on it now, see if rest fixes the problem, and go from there.  Whether they will or not still remains to be seen.

Duke came in and struck out Brock Holt.  Segal’s zone played into him walking Jackie Bradley Jr. as ball one was well in the gray box on GameDay. So two on, one out for Brebbia, who after the fireworks got Nunez, but couldn’t put away Mookie Betts and watched him hit the ball off the big green wall.  A good throw by Tommy Pham or, more likely, a solid throw by Paul DeJong and they probably get Bradley at the plate.  As it was, Molina got the ball but lost it trying to swipe the runner.

Which meant that the run the Cardinals lost in the second inning came into play.  St. Louis put up a sustained attack against starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, putting the first four men on in that frame (and scoring two) before Randal Grichuk popped out.  Carpenter came up next and singled in a run and, when the catcher missed the throw in, wound up making it to third.  Carpenter would have been out by 10 feet if the throw had been on the fair side of third, but with it on the foul side he was able to just slide in there.

So runner on third, one out.  Pham comes up and hits a sinking line drive to the outfield.  It’s tough to tell on the replays, but it seems from reading and watching that Carpenter had taken off on contact and then retreated while the ball was in the air, thinking (legitimately) that it would be caught.  Instead, it dropped.  We know Carpenter isn’t a speedster and, honestly, if he wasn’t halfway down the line when the ball dropped, he probably should have just let it be, given the Cardinals runners at the corners and seen if DeJong could have picked him up.  If he was actually on the bag when the ball dropped, I could see taking off, though he’d have to weigh the good outfield arms and the fact that the ball was right in front of an oncoming Bradley.  Of course, given all possible options, Carpenter ran and was cut down by plenty.  You’d have thought it was a ground ball to the infield.

Out of the moment, perhaps Carpenter’s play was more excusable.  He did get caught in a bad situation.  (At the time, it was pretty infuriating, but maybe some of that passion got leeched off by the ninth.)  Unfortunately, that seemed to be the play that turned the inning around for the Red Sox and, indeed, the entire game.  The Cardinals only had five more baserunners the entire game, two of them in the next inning.  Like we’ve seen too often this season, the bats showed up for one big frame, then didn’t do anything else.

Lance Lynn did his best to make that hold up.  Matheny ran him pretty hard, starting him in the sixth with close to 100 pitches already in the books.  Rafael Devers led off the frame with a double, but the manager didn’t go to the bullpen.  Lynn got Boegarts to ground out, moving Devers over, then he walked Mitch Moreland on four pitches.  Over 100 pitches now, it seemed like the place to go get someone out of the pen, especially with just a two run lead.  Matheny left him out there and Lynn ran the count on Christan Vazquez to 3-0 before coming back and getting him to ground into a double play.  It was a huge moment that worked out for Matheny.  I’m not sure it was the right choice, but it definitely produced the right result.

We’ll give the Hero tag to Kolten Wong, who went three for four with a couple of doubles in a game started by a left-hander.  As much as I hate to, I think you still have to give the Goat to Trevor Rosenthal, because he put the whole ninth inning into motion.  I get that he may have been physically hampered, but if he’s on the field he has to produce and I expect that he’d tell you the same thing.  That said, there were a few others that could have gotten the tag from him.

While the Reds gave them a scare, the Cubs wound up winning.  So did the Brewers.  Now the Cardinals, in first place Sunday morning, sit in third place, 2.5 games out.  While it’s not what you want to see, it’s not necessarily the end of the world.  Tara noted last night on Twitter how the 2011 Cardinals slipped back to 10.5 games even after the August 25th game that traditionally “started the run”.  Just because they have stumbled doesn’t mean that the race is over.  That said, when it feels like just everything has to go right, having things go wrong doesn’t give you a whole lot of hope.

Which makes this upcoming series really key.  Adam Wainwright goes against Jameson Taillon tonight in Pittsburgh, who sits three games behind the Cardinals in this race.  Wainwright says he’s fine, that he doesn’t have any pain or discomfort like he did on Friday against the Braves.  With the Cards just now two games over .500 (they’ll have to win just as many as they lose going forward to get 82 wins, that pace we were calculating before the streak), they have to win three of four in this matchup.  Pittsburgh has talent, but they are 58-62.  It feels like if you want to be a contender, you have to beat these teams.  Whether they will or not may depend on Wainwright’s health and effectiveness and what happens to the back of the bullpen.  Here’s hoping for a less dramatic (and more satisfying) result tonight!

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Has the Bubble Burst?

Quite a number of things have happened since last we got together.  Let’s dive right into the recaps and see what threads we want to tug on as we go, shall we?

Thursday (8-6 win vs. Kansas City)

Hero: Dexter Fowler.  Two hits, including the third grand slam of the week, which made up the bulk of his five RBI.  I was listening to the Bird Law podcast yesterday and they pointed out just how good Fowler has been since those first couple of weeks.  Since May 1, he’s got a line of .259/.374/.505, which is pretty much in line with what we thought we’d be getting.  Maybe a bit less batting average but that’s counteracted by a surprising amount of slugging.  You can argue whether the Cardinals should have gone that route, but I don’t think it’s as easy to make the case that Fowler isn’t living up to expectations.

Goat: Brett Cecil.  It’s not the only time we’ll have issues with Cecil in this recap, as I got to see him make an impact on a game in person the next night.  I’m as confused as anyone about Cecil.  It looked like he had a handle on things for a while, but then he’s blown up again lately.  From June 13, after he had a few days off to mentally reset after some bad outings, to the end of July, he had an ERA of 1.31 and batters had a .611 OPS against him.  He still wasn’t a strikeout monster–13 in just over 20 innings–but he only walked three so it worked out in the Cardinals’ favor on balance.  In his five games in August, though, he’s got a 9.00 ERA, a OPS against of .827, while actually being more effective with the strikeouts–nine K and one walk in seven innings.

It could be just a few bad innings, it could be he needs another reset.  Whatever it is, the Cardinals need to figure it out.  There’s a lot of clamoring of Internet folks to just cut him and eat the contract.  Which isn’t going to happen.  If there was a few months left on the deal, a la Jhonny Peralta, maybe that’s an option.  With three years and change on it, that’s just not how business is done.  Right now you can’t pitch him in close games and, to his credit, Mike Matheny seems to know that.  In this one, he was handed a 7-3 lead in the eighth inning.  That’s about as safe as you can do, yet Cecil did his best to ruin it, putting the first two on before striking out Alex Gordon and being removed for Seung-hwan Oh.

In fairness (and something that I’d forgotten as I started this section), Oh allowed those runners to score, being foolishly allowed to pitch to left-handed Brandon Moss with the bases loaded.  Moss came a foot away from a slam of his own.  Still, if Cecil had been able to get his guys, maybe Oh doesn’t come into the game and he certainly doesn’t have to face Moss with as many runners on.

Notes: Lefties have an 1.056 OPS against Oh this season in 100 plate appearances.  That is a higher OPS than any one player has in the majors this year.  Joey Votto has a 1.048 and Bryce Harper has a 1.034.  (Technically, Mike Trout has a 1.154 OPS, but he didn’t make the leaderboard given he missed a few weeks.  Not that anyone believes he wouldn’t have basically that even if he hadn’t.)  There is NO situation where Oh should face a lefty, especially one with power, with runners in scoring position.  OK, maybe if the Cards are up 10, but even that’s iffy.  Don’t do it, Matheny.  Just don’t.

Fowler’s slam gave Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons the win for his two-thirds of an inning of work.  Joe Schwarz wrote a great look at Lyons over at The Intrepid and showed that one of the reasons he’s being effective is that his two pitches tend to “cross”.  Check it out to see what he’s talking about.

Paul DeJong had two hits, including a big insurance-RBI double in the eighth inning that let Cardinal fans breathe a bit easier.  Kolten Wong went 2-2 with a walk and drove in a run.

Lance Lynn had a pretty solid outing, especially for the fact that his head was grazed by a comebacker early on.  Six innings, three runs (two earned), with the main blemish being that he walked five while only striking out three.  Still, he limited the damage and the offense came back and took him off the hook.  This made the winning streak serious at six games.

Friday (8-5 win vs. Atlanta)

Hero: Paul DeJong.  Two doubles and three RBI.  The last two were the big ones, again giving fans a bit of a breather by doubling home extra runs in the eighth inning.

Goat: Brett Cecil.  I probably should have gone with Oh above, but this was all Brett.  With two outs and a runner on second, he allows a single to Kurt Suzuki, then a single to Matt Adams (making his return to Busch, where he got the normal standing ovation) that drove in a run.  Right there, he should have been pulled.  He wasn’t, and Ozzie Albies hit his second career homer to cut the lead to 6-5.

We talked about Fowler mainly living up to what reasonable expectations were of him.  Cecil was signed to be that left-handed specialist.  Yes, he could get right handers out as well, but he was going to be the guy that we could count on to shut down the big lefties.  That hasn’t happened at all.  Cecil’s line against lefties: .333/.393/.538.  He’s given up as many homers and more doubles to left-handed batters and done so in almost 30 fewer plate appearances.  Thank goodness Zach Duke has returned and really gives a strong LOOGY option to this team.

Notes: I was at this one and it was a great night for baseball.  No Cardinal homers, unfortunately, but seeing the big second inning was a great tonic.  That said, the offense shut down after they got their second run in the third.  From the third to the eighth, IIRC, they only had like one batter reach and that was on a hit-by-pitch.  Luke Jackson came in for the Braves and just dominated, striking out six of the seven batters he faced.

Adam Wainwright was lucky to survive five innings in this one.  Even sitting in the ballpark and not looking at the radar gun, you could tell there was nothing on his pitches and he didn’t really have much command either.  Afterwards, he spoke of some arm issues, issues that have apparently cleared up as he had a session yesterday with no problems.  It definitely proves that he’s reaching the “crafty veteran” stage of life, though, to be able to win when you really have nothing.

Yadier Molina almost got the Goat here, being that he went 0-5 with two strikeouts.  It was a tough night for a guy that’s been rolling as of late.  Also, the Cards scored eight runs for the sixth consecutive game, a club record.

Saturday (6-5 win vs. Atlanta)

Hero: Randal Grichuk.  A home run early to tie up the game, plus he got a hit and scored another run later on.  Since Grichuk returned from Memphis on July 21, he’s put up a .310/.341/.607 line with five doubles, one triple, and six homers.  He’s still striking out (26 K in 88 plate appearances) but it feels like he’s got a little bit better approach at the plate these days.  Of course, as we’ve said before, you can’t keep sending him to Memphis to try to fix him.  Memphis’s season is about done and he’s got no options next year.  Still, this little run is pretty encouraging.

Goat: Yadier Molina.  We’ll go with Yadi here since he was 0-4 with four men left on base.  Since the Rally Cat slam, Molina is 1 for 16 through Saturday.  Maybe there wasn’t as much magic in that old gray cat they found after all.

Notes: Carlos Martinez again struggled out of the gate, allowing two runs in the first, but settled in and limited the Braves to just one more tally over the next five, striking out seven in total.  If he could ever start off games right, he’d be outstanding.  Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons followed him and pitched two scoreless innings, with two walks and two strikeouts.

Trevor Rosenthal has been lights out lately, but he was shakier here.  In fairness, if Matt Carpenter catches a routine toss to him, much of this might not have happened.  With a runner on and one out, a grounder was hit to Kolten Wong, who routinely threw it to first, hit Carpenter in the mitt, and watched as it just fell right out.  Carpenter has been better at first of late–I really enjoyed his double play on Friday–but that was about as bad of an error as you could see.  So instead of one on and two out, there were two on and one out.

Rosenthal struck out the next batter (which should have been the third out) but then walked Brandon Phillips and, after getting two strikes on him, allowed a single to Freddie Freeman that drove in two runs.  He got Nick Markakis to strike out and preserve the victory, but it wasn’t exactly the way they drew it up.  Surprisingly, Rosenthal was not quoted after the game as saying Carpenter “had to make that play.”

Two hits in this one by Dexter Fowler and Paul DeJong.  I never would have thought Fowler was the solution to the cleanup spot, but he’s done pretty solid work since he’s been put in that position.  It’s only five games, but Fowler has a gaudy .500/.652/.875 line in 23 plate appearances as the cleanup guy.

The Cubs lost on Saturday night, meaning that, for a few hours, the Cardinals were tied for first place in the NL Central.  Hopefully that’s not the high water mark of the season.

Sunday (6-3 loss vs. Atlanta)

Hero: Paul DeJong.  Three hits, including his 18th home run.  I’m not saying he’s the starting shortstop next year nor that he’s not going to get figured out by the league, especially with a winter to work up a book on him, but man, he’s been fun this year hasn’t he?  Pauly D goes deep more often than anyone and seems to be making some adjustments as he goes along as well.

Goat: Matt Carpenter.  0-5 and three left on base really gets highlighted in a loss like this.

Notes: While you knew that the winning streak was going to come to an end sooner or later, this was still a better loss than we’ve seen out of this team much of the year.  For a while, it looked like a reversion, with no offense coming after getting down early.  However, they battled back against the Braves’ bullpen and had the bases loaded with one out in the eighth down two.  A big hit in that spot could have tied the game or even given the club the lead, but with Jedd Gyorko hobbled and Luke Voit and Dexter Fowler already used, there weren’t any bench options to replace Greg Garcia except for Yadier Molina, who came up next to hit for the pitcher.  As noted, with Molina’s slump it might not have made a difference–indeed, Yadi might have hit into a double play–and it would have taken some juggling to cover third in the field after that.  Garcia struck out, Yadi grounded out, and the threat was over, but it was still more fight than we’d seen in a lot of games.

Michael Wacha struggled a bit, giving up four runs in five innings, including a two-run homer to Brandon Phillips.  Wacha’s been better of late, though he may be coming down from some highs that we’ve seen.  Still, you are going to have days like that.  Most of the time lately the offense has been able to pick up a starter with that sort of outing.  They just weren’t able to do it here.

Two hits each by Randal Grichuk and Kolten Wong.  Wong’s been having a solid season and it’s been a consistent one.  His batting average, on base percentage, and OPS are almost identical in the second half as they were in the first half.  When you can hit over .300 and get on base at close to .400, you are doing mighty fine.

Tuesday (10-4 loss at Boston)

Hero: Dexter Fowler.  Three hits, two RBI.  It might not have been enough, but Fowler seemed to enjoy Fenway Park.

Goat: Yadier Molina.  I don’t know the last time I saw a GITP in the box score.  When your two at bats for the night result in five outs for your team, it’s not your night at all.

Notes: Running a Mike Leake who is talking about being physically compromised out into a hitter’s park against an AL team leading their division and, well, you probably aren’t expecting much.  Leake held it together for a while, allowing just one run until the fifth, but when it unraveled, it unraveled quickly.  Even erstwhile reliever Matthew Bowman couldn’t stop the bleeding, coming in with the bases loaded with one out and a 5-0 deficit and immediately surrendering a double and two singles to move the game to 9-0.  There was no coming back from that and while the Cards made a bit of a rally, scoring three in the sixth, the outcome never really was in doubt.

Carson Kelly got to come into the game after Molina had done his damage and singled in a run in his first at bat.  I’m sure Molina will get back on the upward swing soon, but it might not be a bad idea to let Kelly take a bit more of the workload when he can.  Kelly got the start Sunday and most of the game here, but I don’t think that’s any sign of a change in catching philosophy.  Molina will be back out there and hitting fifth again tonight.

So, now that we are closing in on 2400 words, maybe we should try to tackle the question the title posed.  Has the bubble burst?  You so often see it in sports where a team makes a rally in a game or in a race and they get so close to the top, maybe even a tie, before stumbling and being unable to find that gear again.  The Cubs won on Sunday and on Monday while the Cardinals were off, so St. Louis now sits 1.5 games back in the NL Central, tied with Milwaukee for second (though three games over Pittsburgh).  Was that all this team had?  Did they come at the king and miss?

I don’t necessarily think so.  Sure, you’d have like to see them get ahead of the Cubs and change the dynamics of the race.  However, unlike what we thought right after the All-Star Game, it doesn’t seem like the Cubs are going to just run away with things.  They’ve not found that 2016 gear yet and with less than 50 games left in the season it doesn’t feel like they are going to.  Chicago is 5-5 in their last 10, five of which came against the Giants and Reds (they went 2-3 in those).  They’ve had the Diamondbacks and Nationals, which are tougher teams, but you’d think if they were going to be this Best Team in Baseball like everyone dubbed them in the offseason that they’d be able to more than hold their own against those teams.  This stretch right now is pretty easy for them (their next 11 games are against the Reds, Blue Jays, Reds, and Phillies) but there is no guarantee they are just going to rip through that soft underbelly of a schedule.

I think the Cardinals can stay at least close to the Cubs and, with seven games left against them in September, they have a shot.  This team–even with last night’s pain–still feels different than it did before that infamous dinner meeting in Cincinnati.  Losing against the second-best (by record) American League team in their ballpark isn’t the most unheard of thing in the world.  What’s going to be more telling is this four gamer coming up with the Pirates.  If the Cards can’t at least split and hopefully win three of the four games then you start to wonder if they are going to start sinking back into the muck.

A win tonight would do a lot for the psyche of the fanbase, though.  Lance Lynn will take the mound against Eduardo Rodriguez, a left-handed starter who beat the Cardinals when the Red Sox were in Busch earlier this year, allowing three runs in six innings.  His last start was six scoreless innings against the Yankees, so the Redbird hitters might have their work cut out for them here.  Hopefully they can get the split and head to Pittsburgh with a little momentum!

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Here we are in the second week of the second round of the Greatest Cardinal Moment Tournament (#BestCardsMoments).  I will admit, I was a little surprised to see how easily Bob Gibson‘s 17 strikeout game defeated Albert Pujols‘s moonshot off of Brad Lidge.  So after last week’s matchups, here’s (or here’s) the bracket:

Let’s check out our next battle.

#4 Bruce Sutter ends the World Series (1982)

vs.

#5 Jim Edmonds makes a diving catch in NLCS (2004)

The road here: Sutter struck out Mark Whiten, Edmonds dove past Willie McGee and Vince Coleman‘s speed antics.

The clips:

The matchup: There’s no doubt that locking down a World Series is a huge thing, but Edmonds’s catch is still one of those moments that completely stands out for me.  I’m still unsure how he covered all that ground and there’s no doubt it saved the game and allowed the Cards to rally for the win.  That’s my vote, but where do you stand?

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Rally cat, rally cat
What are they feeding you?
Rally cat, rally cat
Yadi’s bomb is your fault

They don’t want you at the K
The Royals wish you’d go away
It may not be a bed of roses
When you leave the field by your toeses

–“Rally Cat” by Phoebe Buffay (probably)

Let us first make all the fun-killing observations.  One, a cat (or any other small animal that might run on the field) has minimal impact on the game and can not bring “luck”.  Two, this is probably a pop-up fad that leaves in a day or so.  I remember a couple of years back, there was another incident similar to this, with a squirrel or something, and the Cards rallied and won a game.  Everyone was talking about “Rally Squirrel II”…..until the Cards lost the next night and the incident drifted off into those fuzzy edges of memory.  So if you were planning on quitting your job to make “Rally Cat” merchandise, perhaps give that another think, then another.

That said, you do have to wonder if the delay of chasing down that cat (and kudos to Lucas Hackmann for not only doing the chasing but having the Herculean amount of focus and pain tolerance to not drop that feline after it did a number scratching him up) affected Peter Moylan.  He’s in a decent rhythm, striking out Paul DeJong before doing the no-pitch intentional walk thing to Dexter Fowler to load up the bases.  He gets one pitch in on Yadier Molina (a ball) before the delay.  He probably initially thought Yadi was calling his shot, what with him stepping out to point his bat like that.  After all the hoopla, Moylan comes back to the mound.  I don’t know if he was out of sync or what, but leaving a pitch right down the middle is not usually a good idea.  Molina smoked it over the wall and that grand slam made him the Hero of the game.  (To all those Rally Cat accounts perhaps reading this, the rule is only giving Hero or Goat to a player, otherwise you’d have been right in the mix.)

The cat and the slam helped distract from the fact that this game almost got away from the Cardinals.  Mike Leake, our Goat, gave up three runs before the end of the second.  The Cardinals, in a fashion that we’ve seen over the last week or so that’s counter to most of what 2017 has taught us, rallied with two in the second and one in the third to tie it, then Jose Martinez untied it in the fourth with a blast to center field.  Jose’s been hot this week, starting with his slam in Cincinnati.  He’s hitting .412/.474/.824 over the past four games with the two home runs.  Given Mike Matheny‘s preference of riding the hot hand, he may stay in the lineup today and give someone else like Randal Grichuk a night off.  Tough to bench him right now.  I’d say hitting him places like second and fourth is a pretty crazy idea, but so far it’s panned out so what can you do?

Anyway, the Cardinals get the lead, but immediately Leake gives it back on a single by Eric Hosmer and a homer by Melky Cabrera, his second since coming back to KC at the trade deadline.  It felt like that could be a deciding blow, at least until The Cat Not Known As Jim Hayes got involved.  Leake wound up allowing five runs on 11 hits, including the big home run.  One of the runs was unearned due to a throwing error by Molina, but still, 12 baserunners in five innings isn’t a great way to keep your team in a game.  Leake is obviously finding his natural equilibrium, countering that strong start with some rough outings.

The bullpen did a great job.  Four innings spread over five pitchers (including the Patron–or is that Pawtron–Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons coming in for a key out in the eighth) and only four hits and no walks.  Trevor Rosenthal allowed a hit but struck out two and locked down the win for the Cardinals, which put them two games over .500 and, thanks to losses by the Cubs and Brewers and Diamondbacks, 1.5 games out of the division lead and now tied for second and 6.5 games out of the second wild card.

It was a pretty strong offensive night all the way around.  I said yesterday that they wouldn’t score double digits at home, but they came close with eight.  It was spread out as well–Martinez and Grichuk were the only folks to get two hits.  Fowler, pressed into cleanup duty, didn’t lose his eye in the process, drawing three walks to go along with his one hit.  Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter also walked twice.  The only guy that really didn’t do much was Paul DeJong, who went 0-5 and struck out twice, leaving seven on base.

It’s been a wonderful week and a great run so far and there’s no doubt that getting over .500 makes you feel a little better about St. Louis’s chances.  The Cubs were great right out of the gate when the second half started, making me think that they were going to finally find that extra gear and start pulling away from the rest of the division.  Instead, they are 4-6 in their last 10, just lost a series to the Giants, and now go play Arizona starting Friday while the Cardinals, after today’s matchup with the Royals, get the Braves.  Nothing about this season has been normal, but you could see the Redbirds picking up a game this weekend, putting them even closer to the top.  With those September games looming, maybe we are going to see a pennant race after all.

It’s still a little hard to buy into the fact that this same roster that has baffled and befuddled us all year long is now going to make a run.  The skepticism is still there but it’s impossible to ignore the excitement and the fun that this week has been.  I was going to write a post Sunday about why this team wasn’t the 2006 Cardinals or the 2011 Cardinals and it is still true, they aren’t those teams.  The connections are miniscule at best.  That said, you start to wonder if maybe, in a few years, we’ll be trying to draw comparisons to the 2017 Cardinals like we do those other teams.  Because if they win–which is still a huge if, even for the division–they’ll be doing it in their own unique way that will get stories told about them.

Can they make their winning streak serious?  They’ve got a good one going to try, as Lance Lynn takes the mound for the Redbirds, going up against Jason Hammel.  Lynn, master of the post-game soundbite, has gone six or more innings in his past six starts.  In that time, he has a 1.21 ERA and opponents are hitting .188 against him.  If he keeps that up and the offense can keep clicking, there’s a good chance of knocking another half-game off that Chicago lead tonight.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Melky Cabrera 12 10 2 0 0 0 1 2 3 .200 .333 .200 .533 0 0 0 0 0
Alcides Escobar 10 9 2 1 0 0 0 1 3 .222 .300 .333 .633 0 0 0 0 0
Alex Gordon 10 10 6 1 0 0 0 0 1 .600 .600 .700 1.300 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Moustakas 9 9 3 0 0 2 3 0 0 .333 .333 1.000 1.333 0 0 0 0 1
Lorenzo Cain 7 6 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .333 .286 .333 .619 0 1 0 0 0
Eric Hosmer 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Minor 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Moss 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Trevor Cahill 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Hammel 2 1 1 0 0 0 2 1 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Ian Kennedy 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 63 58 17 2 0 2 7 4 17 .293 .333 .431 .764 0 1 0 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/10/2017.

The Cards saw Hammel a decent amount the last couple of years when he was with the Cubs.  His move to the AL hasn’t been all that successful for him, as he has an ERA of 4.73 and a WHIP of 1.377 on the season.  He’s been solid as of late, as in almost the definition of quality start solid.  He’s allowed three runs exactly in five of his last six starts, with the innings varying from 5.2 to 7.0.  He’s coming off a three-run, 6.1 inning start against Seattle where he took the loss.  St. Louis saw him last in September of 2016, his final regular season start, when he allowed six runs to them in 2.1 innings.  We’d take that again tonight, I think.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Carpenter 27 26 4 1 0 1 2 0 10 .154 .185 .308 .493 0 0 0 1 0
Yadier Molina 26 24 10 4 1 0 5 2 3 .417 .462 .667 1.128 0 0 0 0 1
Randal Grichuk 16 16 6 2 1 1 5 0 4 .375 .375 .813 1.188 0 0 0 0 1
Kolten Wong 11 8 1 1 0 0 0 2 2 .125 .364 .250 .614 0 0 0 1 1
Jedd Gyorko 8 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 .125 .125 .125 .250 0 0 0 0 0
Dexter Fowler 6 6 2 0 0 1 1 0 2 .333 .333 .833 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Wacha 4 4 1 0 0 0 2 0 2 .250 .250 .250 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Zach Duke 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 1.000 1.500 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy Pham 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Lyons 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 111 105 26 9 2 3 15 4 31 .248 .288 .457 .745 0 0 0 2 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/10/2017.

For those of you that have made it this far, there won’t be a post tomorrow, as my wife and I are headed up to St. Louis.  The folks at the Marriott St. Louis Grand are hosting us and letting us experience the Grand Slam Package, which includes tickets to Friday night’s game.  You’ll be seeing some tweets and such about it–that’s my side of the bargain–but any reviews will be honest ones.  If you are up in the area and want to say hi, I’ll be the guy with the Lyons jersey in Section 134.  Hopefully it’s a great weekend and we’ll have a lot to talk about on Monday!

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A four game winning streak.  Three straight games with ten or more runs, something that ties a franchise mark (and would have been inconceivable–and I do know what that word means–a week or so ago).  And when you wake up and look at this…..

…how do you not start getting a little excited about this team?  It’s still not really logical and there are plenty of holes in the idea that this Cardinals squad has finally found the right mix and is going to take off, but with Madison Bumgarner going for the Giants against the Cubs today, you could start to dream about if Chicago loses and St. Louis could keep it up for another day, especially since they play better at Busch than on the road…..

How did we get here?  How come four wins in a row is enough to take us from the pit of existential despair, where we need to trade off every piece not named Carlos Martinez, to this land of optimism and wonder?  Fandom, man.  We live and die every day with this squad.  Even those of us (and there are still a lot) that aren’t printing playoff tickets or really looking at the postseason schedule that was released yesterday still are more excited about this team than we’ve been since, I don’t know, that 7-0 road trip against the Braves and Marlins?  Maybe Opening Night after beating the Cubs?

Of course, when you crack 10 runs in three straight games (and they aren’t nail-biters), the era of good feelings is a little easier to explain.  Last night started out as one of those momentum-killer games that we’ve seen too many off.  Jason Vargas, who is 1) a lefty and 2) having a good year, seemed to be a tough task to manage and when the Royals responded to a Yadier Molina home run by plating three runs off of Michael Wacha (even though a case could be made Wacha had the third out of the inning via strikeout before the runs started, the home plate umpire disagreed), it looked like that kinda night.

Instead, in a resiliency not seen often in 2017, the Cardinals immediately responded with a six-run frame to give Wacha plenty of breathing room.  Randal Grichuk started it off with a homer and Jedd Gyorko capped it with a three-run shot.  In between, there were hits and walks and a wild pitch and a pitching change.  Suddenly, the Redbird lineup seemed a bit fearsome.  They tacked on three more a couple of innings later when Grichuk singled in two (thanks to a terrible throw into the infield) and Matt Carpenter doubled in the final mark.  10 runs, man.  This team could go a week and not score 10 just last month.

Except for that one inning where he couldn’t finish off the Royals, Wacha seemed to do perfectly fine up there.  He was throwing 96-98 often and got five strikeouts in his six innings.  Seung-hwan Oh, Zach Duke, and John Brebbia finished it off by combining for three hitless, walkless innings, striking out a total of three in the process.  Nights like this, especially coming in such succession, are allowing for a lot more rest out of the bullpen, which can only be a good thing.  Matthew Bowman has pitched an inning in a week, which has to be great for his arm.  Trevor Rosenthal hasn’t been needed since Saturday.  Nobody’s being overused (since Brett Cecil saved the pen somewhat on Sunday) and hopefully that’ll show over the next few games.

I like what Grichuk and Molina did in this one, but I’ve got to give the Hero tag to Jedd Gyorko.  He only had the one hit (but drew three walks) but that home run was so big.  It took it from a 4-3 game where the Royals still had hope to a 7-3 game that felt much more secure.  As for our Goat, I guess once again it’ll have to be Tommy Pham.  Pham did have a hit, a walk, and scored a run, but was 1-5 with two strikeouts.  It’s not a typical Goat line, but when everyone else is putting up some big numbers, it happens.

Cubs lost, Brewers lost, Rockies lost.  Only Arizona, out of the teams that the Cardinals should keep some eye on, was able to pull out a victory last night.  I’m still not really convinced the wild card is a legitimate option for this team, but it’s worth paying a little attention.  The division is the bigger deal, of course, and that right now seems doable.  Right now those seven games with the Cubs in September, four of which are in Busch, are pointed toward drama and meaning something.  Whether that’ll be the case by the end of the month, we’ll have to wait and see, but the fact that we can look at those and realistically think about the division being won or lost there is amazing given where this club has been.

Of course, we probably shouldn’t get carried away.  After all, a loss tonight drops them back to .500 and ruins some of the buzz that is going on with this team.  Mike Leake takes the ball against new Royal Trevor Cahill.  So far Leake’s been a little better at home (3.20 ERA vs. 3.53 on the road) but he’s struggled some in the second half.  He did well against the Reds, but this was before the offensive explosion so three runs in six got you a L.  Whether he can do better tonight (or if the offense will do more for him) remains to be seen.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Melky Cabrera 9 9 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .444 .778 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Moss 8 8 3 1 0 1 3 0 0 .375 .375 .875 1.250 0 0 0 0 1
Ian Kennedy 5 4 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 .250 .400 .250 .650 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Minor 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Alcides Escobar 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Alex Gordon 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Eric Hosmer 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Whit Merrifield 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Drew Butera 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Trevor Cahill 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Cheslor Cuthbert 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 44 42 9 2 0 1 4 2 6 .214 .250 .333 .583 0 0 0 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/9/2017.

Cahill came over from the Padres at the trade deadline, so he’s still getting used to Royal blue.  He’s not gotten a decision in his first two starts, but he’s also only combined for 8.2 innings and allowed 14 hits, five walks, and seven runs.  Most of that was his first time out versus Toronto, but Seattle got to him for two runs in 4.2 frames in his last start.  He shouldn’t be overpowering so we’ll see what the Cardinals can do with him.  Historically, that’s been quite a bit.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Dexter Fowler 17 14 7 1 2 0 1 1 0 .500 .588 .857 1.445 0 0 0 2 1
Matt Carpenter 14 14 5 2 0 0 0 0 2 .357 .357 .500 .857 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 14 11 4 0 0 1 2 3 0 .364 .500 .636 1.136 0 0 1 0 2
Jedd Gyorko 9 8 2 1 0 0 1 1 3 .250 .333 .375 .708 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 6 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .167 .000 .167 0 0 0 1 0
Randal Grichuk 5 4 1 0 0 0 0 1 3 .250 .400 .250 .650 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Wacha 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 2 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy Pham 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 74 65 22 4 2 1 5 6 12 .338 .419 .508 .927 0 0 1 3 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/9/2017.

Cahill last faced the Cards as a member of the Cubs bullpen last September, throwing 1.1 scoreless innings in a game St. Louis won by six.  Let’s hope they can do more damage to him this time!

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Flight of the Bumble-Cards

They’ve weaved and bobbed, made runs and fallen back, but finally, last night, the Cardinals accomplished a goal that has eluded them for over two months.  As Ray Kinsella would say, the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place.

The Cardinals, right now, can say they are actually a .500 team.

It feels wrong that this is a time of celebration, since most Cardinal teams of the recent past would have felt like .500 was a huge dropoff from where they should be, but when you’ve been as bad as this team has for so long, getting to the break-even mark feels like a big deal.  Al Hrabosky last night kept saying they could get to even and then take off, but I think that’s probably asking much.  Let’s just see if they can stay at or over .500 for a few days first.

So how did they get here?  So glad you asked.

Friday (3-2 loss at Cincinnati)

Hero: Tommy Pham.  Two hits, a run, and a stolen base.  If he could just get that line drive rate up, he’d be elite.  At least, according to him.  Just what the internet needs, another argument about whether Player X is elite.

Goat: Stephen Piscotty.  0-4 with four men left on and a double play, which is really killer in a one run game.  His demotion on Monday, while a bit surprising given external circumstances, made plenty of sense given the results on the field.  Piscotty was hitting just .176 since his return from the disabled list and with his other struggles, a trip to Memphis to see if he couldn’t get a few things worked out is probably the best thing for him.

Notes: Mike Leake did what you’d expect Mike Leake to do.  Three runs in six innings while striking out three and walking none.  It was a very serviceable outing and if the offense had clicked even a little bit like it has the last couple of days, he’d have gotten a win.  There was no reason while Asher Wojciechowski should have kept them in check as much as he did, but he and the Reds bullpen managed to do just enough for the win.

Good to see Carson Kelly get a start, though given the way Yadier Molina has been hitting of late, he may have to resign himself to just late inning appearances for a while.  Molina had been clocked twice in the head on Thursday, so he needed the day off.  Obviously he was hit hard enough to forget his Instagram password.

Saturday (4-1 win at Cincinnati)

Hero: Paul DeJong.  The Cardinals only got four hits in this game, but DeJong made one of them count, smashing a two-run shot in the third to help overcome the early deficit.  Kinda amazing, perhaps a bit sad that a guy that didn’t make his debut until May 28 leads the club in home runs.  DeJong has cooled somewhat, but the power bat is still there.

Goat: Jedd Gyorko.  0-4, two strikeouts, three left on.  Gyorko’s obviously scuffling and Mike Matheny is doing a smart thing by letting him rest more regularly.  You also wonder if there’s some injury concern there.  Gyorko’s been out the last two games and was only a mid-game substitute in the one before this one, so that’s three out of four games that he didn’t start.  He’s already within 50 plate appearances of his total from last year, so maybe he is just worn down, but my feeling is there’s a little more to it.

Notes: Solid game by Lance Lynn.  He gave up a run in the first, then shut down the Reds over the last five.  Of course, knowing Lynn, I’m sure he’d say it was a good team win.  It wouldn’t have happened if he’d struggled any more, though, given the lack of offense.  Of course, I say lack of offense, but the Cardinals had plenty of baserunners.  Sure, they only had four hits, but Cincinnati walked them seven times.  They had opportunities but didn’t cash in as often as they could have.  Lynn made sure that was OK.

The bullpen was outstanding in this one.  Seung-hwan Oh went an inning, allowed a hit but that was all, and Trevor Rosenthal came in for a save that got a little dicey but it wasn’t entirely his fault.  Rosie struck out the first batter, walked Scooter Gennett, then got a fly out for the second out.  Devin Mesoraco then hit a smash to shortstop that Paul DeJong couldn’t come up with.  With two on, though, Rosenthal just got Jose Peraza to ground out and picked up the save.

Between Oh and Rosenthal, though, might have been the pitching performance of the night by the Patron Pitcher.  Tyler Lyons came in and was extremely nasty to three left-handed Reds, including Joey Votto.  Lyons struck out all of them, freezing both Votto and Jesse Winkler and catching them looking.  It really was some impressive pitching and I’m not just saying that because of his taste in numbers.

Sunday (13-4 win at Cincinnati)

Hero: So many offensive stars, but we’ll go with the one that had the biggest highlight, which was Jose Martinez.  His grand slam erased any doubt, even with this Cardinal team, and he tossed in a double and a walk to boot.

Goat: With everyone clicking, it overshadowed the rough outing Adam Wainwright had.  Which, in fairness, was less a rough outing than a rough first inning.  Fresh off the DL, he could get anyone out, giving up a three-run home run to Joey Votto in the first and then loading up the bases with nobody out.  He was the beneficiary of a slick double play from Matt Carpenter that kept a run from scoring, otherwise he might have been out of the game before the inning was over.  Wainwright’s next two innings were fairly uneventful–just a walk in each one–but when you throw almost 50 pitches in the first inning, you aren’t going to be around long.

Notes: While it wasn’t a huge chore for them, especially when they had a 10 run lead most of the game, it was another solid outing from the bullpen, perhaps more so since they had to cover so many innings.  Brett Cecil did most of it, going three frames and allowing no runs on three hits.  John Brebbia was touched for a run in his two innings of work and Matthew Bowman, who many of us figured was going on the DL when Wainwright came off of it due to the fact that he’d not pitched since Tuesday, worked a perfect ninth.  (We were close–Kevin Siegrist wound up being the DL move, bringing the bullpen back down to three lefties for a while.)

Huge offensive day.  16 hits and six walks.  Paul DeJong had three hits and none of them were a home run.  Kolten Wong had three hits, two runs scored, and an RBI.  Yadier Molina had a couple of hits.  Heck, even Stephen Piscotty pinch-hit and got a knock.  You’d like to think that there was something that clicked on this team and they are going to start mashing, especially with Monday’s result, but Homer Bailey really has been bad this year.  This was the fifth time he’s allowed six or more runs in a start and he’s only made nine starts on the season.  His ERA after this one, where he was charged with 10 runs, is almost nine.  He’ll show flashes of his old self, but something definitely is out of kilter with him.

Monday (11-3 win at Kansas City)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  It was a toss up between him and Kolten Wong, but I went with Carpenter because his three-run home run really sealed the deal.  The Cards had scored three runs in the frame and had a 4-1 lead, but Carpenter’s blast made the game serious and, with Carlos Martinez going, you felt pretty solid that this was the night the wins equaled the losses.  Carpenter also mixed in a double with his outing, giving him six total bases.

Goat: Given the offensive output, the Goat has to be Tommy Pham, the only starter without a hit.  Pham did walk once, but he struck out twice and left two men on while not scoring or driving in anyone.  Rough night for Tommy, who probably worked out extra long after the game to make up for it.

Notes: Another big offensive night.  Mainly off of Ian Kennedy, who gave up seven of the runs in six innings.  Kennedy was sharp early but started losing command and then the hits started to come.  Of course, his season ERA now is climbing close to five and this is the second time in four starts he’s allowed five runs or more, with one other start being four runs in just four innings.  Kennedy is better than Bailey, for sure, but it’s still not enough to make you think that this offensive surge is going to stick around.  Of course, the Cardinals have been shut down by terrible pitchers often over the last couple of years, so maybe you can take some hope that they are at least getting to these guys.

Wong had four RBI–a two-run homer late to make it 11, a bases-loaded grounder that was kicked, and a sacrifice fly.  Pretty productive for a 1-3 night!

Dexter Fowler came off the disabled list before this game as Stephen Piscotty was sent to Memphis as we mentioned before.  Fowler wasted no time getting back to it, roping a triple that led to the team’s first run.  That was his only hit, but he did walk once and score.  At least with Piscotty getting shipped out that helps relieve some of the outfield crunch that would have been created with Fowler’s return.  You’d think that after they get out of the AL park, the outfield will regularly be Pham, Fowler, and Randal Grichuk.  Which isn’t the worst thing, really.  (Grichuk was 1-4 in this one.)

Carlos Martinez was pretty, pretty, pretty good last night.  He gave up a run in the second on a home run by Mike Moustakas, erasing the 1-0 lead he’d been handed, then got tagged later in the game after the Cards were up by six.  Other than that, it was eight very effective innings with seven strikeouts and no walks.  Thankfully he got the offensive support he deserved and those couple of mistakes didn’t come back to haunt him at all.

So now the Cardinals are at 56-56.  That means 50 games remaining, so the Race for 82 math is pretty easy.  They just have to go 26-24 the rest of the way, a .520 winning percentage.  That’s an 84-win team rate, which is quite reasonable for these guys.  The August schedule is kind of a mixed bag, with some teams like Atlanta and San Diego but also with teams like Boston, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh.  September’s a little better and especially with call-ups and the like, winning 26 more games seems doable.

That doesn’t necessarily help with the division though.  The Cubs won last night, the Brewers didn’t.  St. Louis stays 3.5 back, which seems reasonable but Chicago has a pretty easy August ahead of it.  Even a run by St. Louis might be matched or exceeded by the team they are chasing.  It’s still a pretty good longshot to see the Cardinals in October, though Fangraphs gives them a 19% chance which…feels like right about where it was when I checked last.

The Cards send out Michael Wacha to try to keep the ship afloat and get over that .500 mark.  Wacha just went four innings last time, in part because of command and in part because of Matheny trying to take advantage of a scoring opportunity, but he allowed just one run against the Brewers.  He’s got a 2.16 ERA since the break and inspires much more confidence than he did in the early going.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Lorenzo Cain 12 12 4 1 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .417 .750 0 0 0 0 0
Eric Hosmer 12 12 4 1 0 0 1 0 1 .333 .333 .417 .750 0 0 0 0 1
Alcides Escobar 11 11 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 .273 .273 .364 .636 0 0 0 0 0
Alex Gordon 9 8 1 0 0 0 0 1 2 .125 .222 .125 .347 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Moustakas 7 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .143 .143 .143 .286 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Hammel 6 6 2 1 0 0 3 0 1 .333 .333 .500 .833 0 0 0 0 0
Whit Merrifield 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Drew Butera 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Trevor Cahill 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Moss 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Melky Cabrera 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 1 0 0 0
Total 72 68 16 5 0 0 5 3 10 .235 .264 .309 .573 0 1 0 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/8/2017.

He’ll be up against Jason Vargas.  Last time out for Vargas, he gave up three runs in five innings at Baltimore.  He had back-to-back starts at the beginning of July where he allowed six runs in each, but since then he has a 3.38 ERA, which is in line with his season mark.  Vargas is also a left-hander, so the run of double-digit outings could be over.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Yadier Molina 10 8 3 1 0 0 2 1 0 .375 .400 .500 .900 0 1 1 0 0
Dexter Fowler 6 5 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 .200 .333 .400 .733 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 4 4 4 1 0 0 1 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.250 2.250 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Total 24 20 8 3 0 0 4 2 1 .400 .435 .550 .985 1 1 1 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/8/2017.

Hopefully this good stretch of baseball continues and they can get over .500 tonight!

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After four weeks of work, we’ve cut half of our field of 64 and sent them packing.  Some great moments, to be sure, but there were very few upsets in the first round.  These are the more iconic times of St. Louis Cardinals history.  Let’s take a look at the current bracket.  (As always, to open in another tab click here.)

Here in the second round, we’re only going to have one matchup a week. Voting will stay open until Saturday, because I’m all about trying to get more than 10 votes on these things.  This week’s matchup:

#1 Bob Gibson strikes out 17 in World Series Game 1 (1968)

vs.

#8 Albert Pujols staves off elimination, NLCS Game 5 (2005)

The road here: Gibson knocked out the Cincinnati brawl of 2010, Pujols edged Jack Clark‘s shot against the Dodgers in a tiebreaker.

The clips:

The matchup: This is a tough one to call, I think.  There’s no doubt that Gibson did his on the big stage and led his team to a win that night, though they wound up falling in the Series.  Pujols kept the team alive and gave everyone one more night in Busch Stadium II, but they lost the next night to Roy Oswalt.  Most of us saw Pujols’s blast and it’s still something we talk about a lot, but Gibson’s is not only legendary but still a World Series record.  You really can’t go wrong with this matchup, I don’t think.  So make your pick below!

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Striving To Be Mediocre

Right now, it feels like .500 is the Death Star and the Cardinals are the X-wings trying to take it down.  Maybe one time a talented, gifted ship will sneak in and blow it up, but right now the Empire of Even keeps swatting away challengers.  Two games, one win, one loss, against a team that’s ahead of you in the standings (and while the leader of the division is losing) is not exactly what screams “we’re making a run”.  More like “we’re mired in muck”.

Wednesday (5-4 win)

Hero: Yadier Molina.  We can talk about him being tired, we can talk about him stunting Carson Kelly‘s development (as Kyle and I did last night on a special Meet Me at Musial), we can talk about the fact he shouldn’t be hitting fifth, but we can’t deny the fact that there obviously is something left in the tank.  Maybe he’s just been inspired by all the talk and the promotion of Kelly, who knows.  Or maybe he just looks good compared to the rest of the lineup.  In this one, he had three hits, a double and two home runs, to really lead the charge.

Goat: A tough day for the birthday boy.  Not me–my birthday was fine, hanging out at home, watching Star Wars, having a great dinner–but Paul DeJong.  DeJong went 0-5 with four strikeouts and four left on base.  It turned out not to matter, but given the spottiness of the offense of late, it’s a bit of a surprise one of those runs left on didn’t come back to bite the team.  Since the All-Star Break, DeJong’s hitting .211.  It’s true that half of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases (three doubles, five homers) but 29 strikeouts in 80 plate appearances doesn’t just scream third-place hitter.  DeJong’s going to have to continue to adjust and he’s not the All-Star level guy we saw earlier, but he’s still a good part of this team.

Notes: Jedd Gyorko did get a hit in this one, but when you combine his struggles with DeJong’s, it’s not surprising there’s a gap in the middle of this order.  With the personnel that are available and how they are going, I don’t really know how you rework the lineup.  With Zach Gifford’s work on Matt Carpenter, it surely looks like he needs to hit first.  I understand the idea of Tommy Pham second, but when Dexter Fowler comes back I’d slip Fowler there and Pham to third.  Maybe DeJong fourth, Gyorko fifth (assuming you can dynamite Molina out of there), Molina six, Kolten Wong seventh?  Even though he’s struggling, it feels like Stephen Piscotty should hit higher than eighth.  That may just prove that it’s not going to matter much who hits where, that there really aren’t the ideal pieces for a strong lineup.

We saw a very solid start out of Luke Weaver in this one.  Weaver pitched into the seventh, although many would have probably pulled him after six and 92 pitches.  Instead, Mike Matheny ran him back out there for the seventh (perhaps not really wanting to turn it over to the bullpen, although it feels like the ‘pen has been more consistent of late) and he got burned for another couple hits and a walk.  The Cards had a 5-1 lead at the time, which probably also played into it.  Weaver’s been really good in his two starts, that one bit of loss of control against Arizona notwithstanding, and even though Adam Wainwright is returning to the rotation Sunday in Cincinnati, it feels a shame that Weaver has to leave.  Unfortunately, it looks like the only way you could keep Weaver up is to send down John Brebbia (though didn’t we decide Kevin Siegrist had an option year left?) and as much as Brebbia has outpitched his peripherals, it doesn’t feel like that’s a move they’d do.  We’ll see what happens on Sunday, though.

Of course, it was Brebbia that about gave the game away in this one, so perhaps that removal is more likely.  Sandwiched around a Travis Shaw strikeout was a double by Ryan Braun and a home run by Jesus Aguilar, who is quickly making a name for himself as a Cardinal killer, taking that role on the Brewers from our old Sith Lord friend Aramis Ramirez.  Brebbia got another out before they went to the bullpen and got Trevor Rosenthal, who got the last four outs, striking out three and allowing just one hit in the ninth.

Speaking of Rosie, he’s crackling once again.  Since that mental lapse in New York, he’s thrown 6.1 innings over four outings and struck out 12 while allowing no runs and a batting average of .143.  Take it back to the beginning of July and he’s got a 1.32 ERA in 13.2 innings with 23 strikeouts and just three walks.  I’m not saying that bad Rosie might not show up again, but right now when Rosenthal comes in with a lead, he’s going to leave with that lead and the ninth inning feels solved yet again.

Thursday (2-1 loss)

Hero: Kolten Wong.  With DeJong getting a much-needed day off, Carpenter slipped down to the third spot and Wong got a day to lead off.  He grabbed it, getting two hits, the only player that was able to get more than one.

Goat: Matt Carpenter.  It is one game, and if it wasn’t for Zach’s work above, I’d definitely write it off as such.  When you factor that in, though, seeing another 0-4, especially leaving three men on base in a one-run game, isn’t great.

Notes: Not much to say about this one.  Michael Wacha started and was OK, though his high pitch count (and, let’s give credit where it is due, a little aggressiveness from Matheny) led to him being pinch-hit for in the top of the fifth.  So four innings, one run, five strikeouts but three walks.  Again, you’d like to see him be a little more efficient, but he has been for the most part of late.  If this is a step back, it really is an acceptable one.

Again, it was somewhat impressive that Matheny hit for Wacha in the fifth, with a run in and runners on the corners, to go ahead and go to the pinch-hitter with what could have been (and probably was) the game on the line.  I’m not sure that I’d have gone with Luke Voit in that situation, but there’s not a solid option at all so it’s fine.  Voit has been struggling in his limited playing time, but there’s no high contact hitter on the bench.  I mean, maybe you’d have seen Greg Garcia there but he was in the starting lineup covering for DeJong.  Voit did make contact, but unfortunately it turned into a double play, snuffing the rally.

Not only was Garcia in the starting lineup, he was on base there having just driven in the only run of the game.  It didn’t last, though, as Brett Cecil stumbled again, allowing a run on three hits after retiring the first two in the inning.  Cecil got the third out and pitched another scoreless frame, but the damage was done.  For some reason, Matt Garza was able to keep the Cardinals in check.  Matt Garza.  Just ponder that for a bit.

So it’s time to do our calculations again in the Race for 82.  We’ve basically just cut two games off the schedule, so now the Cardinals need to go 29-25 to make it over .500 for the season.  That remains a .537 winning percentage, the equivalent of an 87-win team.  Given that the Cardinals have been over .500 after only 22 of their 108 games (20.4%), it’s really asking a lot for them to start stepping it up.  Then again, maybe a boost from Memphis after the season will help them win some meaningless games.

If you still hold out any hope about this team, good for you, but also this weekend is a big deal.  The Cardinals go into Cincinnati, a team much worse than they are on the season.  The Reds are nine games worse than the Cardinals.  They are 3-7 in their last 10.  They are under .500 at home (though better there by a good margin than they are on the road).  You throw Mike Leake tonight, Carlos Martinez tomorrow, and Adam Wainwright (who may have PTSD after his last outing in Cincy) on Sunday.  You have to win the series.  You really should sweep the series.  The Cubs will be playing the Nationals, the Brewers the Rays.  (You probably can’t expect help in the wild card race, given Colorado is facing the Phillies and Arizona the Giants.)  If the Cards lose two of three here, there’s really no logical way to say this is a team that’s going to find themselves and start running through the schedule.  There’s only a third of the season left.  This is probably what this team is.

Leake goes against Asher Wojciechowski in the first game of the three game set.  The last time Leake pitched in his old ballpark, he gave up two runs (but 10 hits) in five innings in a 5-2 loss.  Leake sometimes scuffles against his old crew and especially in his old park, so that was a pretty solid outing that the team couldn’t help him out in.  Of course, given the run of the offense right now, he might want to do even better tonight.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Scooter Gennett 33 32 9 2 0 0 4 1 5 .281 .303 .344 .647 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Duvall 24 22 11 3 0 2 9 2 4 .500 .542 .909 1.451 0 0 0 0 0
Joey Votto 21 20 7 2 0 0 1 1 3 .350 .381 .450 .831 0 0 0 0 0
Billy Hamilton 19 17 7 0 0 1 1 1 0 .412 .444 .588 1.033 1 0 0 0 1
Eugenio Suarez 15 13 2 2 0 0 2 1 3 .154 .200 .308 .508 0 1 0 0 0
Jose Peraza 13 13 3 0 0 0 0 0 2 .231 .231 .231 .462 0 0 0 0 0
Tucker Barnhart 12 10 5 1 0 0 1 2 1 .500 .583 .600 1.183 0 0 1 0 0
Arismendy Alcantara 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 140 130 44 10 0 3 18 8 19 .338 .374 .485 .859 1 1 1 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/4/2017.

Wojciechowski has had an up and down year, both in levels (he’s spent a lot of time at AAA) and in roles (four starts earlier in the year, but the rest of his outings out of the pen, including all since his return a month ago).  Of course, one of those starts, easily the best outing he’s had all year, came against the Cardinals in GABP.  He gave up just two runs in six innings and beat Martinez for the win.  Which if that doesn’t scream 2017, I don’t know what does.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Carpenter 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 1
Jedd Gyorko 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 1
Yadier Molina 3 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy Pham 3 3 1 1 0 0 1 0 2 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Piscotty 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 .500 .667 .500 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Paul DeJong 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 2 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 19 18 7 2 0 0 2 1 5 .389 .421 .500 .921 0 0 0 0 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/4/2017.

Asher here has gone more than two innings once since his recall at the beginning of July, when he went five innings against the Nationals allowing just one run (though the Reds were down 5-0 before he came in).  You’d like to think that the Cardinals could get to him if not early, at least in the middle innings of the game.  Let’s gamble: I say they win tonight, win behind Carlos tomorrow and get back to .500.  Who’s with me?

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You remember last year, of course.  That rough season where every time the Cardinals tried to get to 10 games over .500, they’d wind up losing.  I don’t remember what the mark was and I can’t find it in a quick search, but I want to say that when they won the season finale against Pittsburgh and finished the year 86-76, that marked the first time in ten tries they succeeded in their quest.

Man, those were the days.

This year, the standard has dropped by 10 games.  Ever since the Cardinals fell below .500 on June 3, they’ve had five chances to get back to break even (and most of those feel like they’ve been in the last couple of weeks).  Five times they’ve failed.  Last night, you had to figure they were going to break that streak, what with Carlos Martinez on the mound.  Perhaps this curse is a bit stronger than we first came to realize.

The problem with Carlos so far has been that he can’t seem to settle in on the mound.  The first inning has been terrible for him this year, seeing him put up a 6.55 ERA in 22 innings.  The only inning that sees a worse mark for him is the seventh, and he’s only thrown eight of those.  You can understand him wearing down a bit around the sixth or seventh, but what is it about the first inning that’s getting to him?  Again, the standard idea on an ace is “get to him early or you won’t get to him” and I guess that’s somewhat true of Martinez, but it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

Last night, he had runners on the corners before he got anybody out, so allowing one run wasn’t a surprise.  He got a groundout (which drove in that run) and a strikeout, so he could have escaped with just one run.  Instead, he gave up a single and a double and it was quickly 3-0.  Unlike when the Cardinals do all their scoring in the first, those three runs held up.

I’m not going to give the Goat to Martinez, though when you give up three runs in five and walk five batters in that span, you are in the running.  Still, if the offense is clicking at all, three runs against Jimmy Nelson, whom they have dominated in the past, shouldn’t be insurmountable.  The offense struggled, though, and when they tried to make something happen, such as Kolten Wong trying to score from first on a double by Randal Grichuk, Milwaukee made some perfect relays and got him nailed at the plate.

(That play really was in the eye of the beholder.  Some on Twitter thought it was ridiculous to send him, especially since there were no outs.  Some saw it like I did, where 9 times out of 10 he’s safe.  Plus, given how this team squanders scoring opportunities, there’s no guarantee they’d have gotten Wong in anyway, though second and third no outs is a nice situation to be in.)

The Goat will go to Jedd Gyorko, who may have used up all of his season magic already.  He was 0-4 with three strikeouts and two left on in this one, continuing a stretch that has seen him hit .169 with a .504 OPS since the All-Star Break.  Run it back to the beginning of July, it’s .199 with a .582 OPS.  It’s not a Brandon Moss-like run yet–Gyorko does have a couple of home runs in that span as well–but it’s not surprising that when your fourth place hitter is doing this, the offense sputters.  Having Yadier Molina behind him doesn’t help a whole lot, though Yadi is .273/.301/.364 since July 1.  So he’s getting singles but not much else.  He can help the offense, but not at that spot in the lineup.  However, arguing lineup construction with the Mike Matheny era is like me dating in high school.  You can try, but it’s never going to happen.

Our Hero of the piece will be Tommy Pham yet again.  Two hits, scored one of the runs, drove in the other.  Seriously, thinking about what this team like without Pham feels like a story by Stephen King.  Would they be ahead of the Reds?  I honestly don’t know.  He’s one of the only ones that seems to be able to produce on a regular basis.  Wong also had two hits and Matt Carpenter walked twice, but that’s pretty much the extent of the offense.

With the Cubs winning, that pushes the Cardinals 5.5 back in the divisional race (and, seriously, that Cubs team is clicking.  Nobody’s going to chase them down) and eight back in the wild card, needing to pass up Milwaukee (who is three games ahead of them) as well as one of Colorado or Arizona.  Things didn’t feel good at the trade deadline, but adding another loss on top of that just makes it even worse.  All we can do now is enjoy the time we have left before the season wraps up, though winning baseball would help that.  I just want them to win more than they lose on this season.  The Race for 82 is on.

The Cardinals are 52-54 right now.  That means they have 56 games to play.  They’ll need to go 29-27 to make it to .500, 30-26 to finish above break even.  That’s a .536 winning percentage, which is basically the equivalent of winning 87 games in the regular season.  This, honestly, is not going to be easy.  Since John Mozeliak’s “shake up” press conference, they’ve gone 26-22.  That’s a .542 mark, so I guess if they keep doing what they’ve been doing for the past two months, they can get to 82 wins.  It’s sad when this is the focus, but that’s what it’s come to.

They’ll try to mark one of those wins off tonight when Luke Weaver goes against Brent Suter.  Weaver, of course, had a pretty solid outing against Arizona last time out, save the grand slam he allowed.  Weaver’s seen the Brewers a little bit and had success in that small sample.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Ryan Braun 6 6 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .500 .833 0 0 0 0 0
Jonathan Villar 6 6 1 1 0 0 0 0 4 .167 .167 .333 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Keon Broxton 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Orlando Arcia 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Hernan Perez 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Zach Davies 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Total 26 24 3 2 0 0 0 1 12 .125 .160 .208 .368 1 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/2/2017.

Suter, on the other hand, has seen the Cardinals a bit this year.  He had two scoreless relief outings against them in April (a total of four innings) but then started against them in June and allowed three runs in 4.2 innings.  He shut out the Cubs over seven innings last time, so he may not have much trouble with a lineup that’s significantly worse than that one.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Carpenter 7 6 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 .167 .286 .333 .619 0 0 0 1 0
Kolten Wong 5 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .250 .400 .250 .650 0 0 0 1 0
Jedd Gyorko 4 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .250 .250 .250 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 4 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .250 .250 .250 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Jose Martinez 3 3 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 .333 .333 1.333 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy Pham 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Carson Kelly 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Piscotty 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 33 30 5 1 0 1 2 1 7 .167 .242 .300 .542 0 0 0 2 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/2/2017.

Again, I’m under no illusions that this team can make a run, but it’d be nice to see a win tonight to stop falling into that hole completely.  Let’s see what they can do!

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Yesterday, as three o’clock ticked past and the Cardinals’ roster look exactly as it did the last few days, a lot of frustration welled up inside many of us, including myself.  While I don’t recant anything I wrote in the heat of the moment, I do want to revisit the issue after a few hours of reflection and a decent night’s sleep.

  • I can understand not moving Lance Lynn if, in fact, there were no significant offers for him.  Sonny Gray and Yu Darvish did finally go off the board, but it was late.  There wasn’t any time to try to position Lynn as the best alternative, even if that would have been effective.  It feels wrong that no one in contention valued Lynn’s workhorse mindset and results to make an offer, but perhaps the Tommy John surgery played a role.  Or maybe we overvalue Lynn, which is always possible.  (By we I mean the fans, though it’s also possible it applies to the front office.)
  • I do wonder if Houston was in on Lynn at the last, though.  They wound up making a move for Francisco Liriano, but both John Mozeliak and Jeff Luhnow used the “couldn’t get over the finish line” analogy when they were talking about moves that they couldn’t quite get made.  Maybe it’s just some of the Cardinal way of speaking still lingers with Luhnow.  I just thought it was interesting to hear.
  • By the same token, the arguments against not making a cosmetic move and adding some middling bullpen arm have some merit as well.  There’s not much help it would be this year and you don’t want to just make a move to make a move.  Still, let’s not fool ourselves that making a move here would have had some far reaching impact on the organization.  The Diamondbacks got David Hernandez, a pitcher with a checkered career but having a solid season, for a Single-A pitching prospect and not one whose numbers jump out at you.  That’s the kind of deal the Cardinals could have made without ever noticing what they gave up.

Not making a move is more defensible than it felt like yesterday as the clock ticked down.  That said, there are still issues with it.  I was listening to some of the latest UCB Podcast and Kevin (I believe) said it pretty well.  He noted that the Cardinals have cashed in a lot of the chips they have with the fanbase.  Which is where a lot of the frustration comes into play, in my opinion.

How long have the Cardinals been talking about making a big move?  How long have they been talking about transforming the team?  Yet opportunity after opportunity goes by and nothing really changes.  Last year at the trade deadline, it was just Zack Duke.  A valuable piece, to be sure, but not one that revamps the squad.  Last winter, it was Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil.  Granted, we’ve not seen the best out of either of them and if they’d played up to reasonable expectations maybe we’d be at least a bit happier with 2017, but they are at best complementary pieces.  The argument that Fowler was a key cog in the Cubs’ World Series run seemed to make sense in the first half, but as the Cubs collect themselves they are proving they can win without him.  I guess the closest you could get to such a transformational deal was the Jason Heyward deal.  If Heyward had been the player that everyone thought and had stayed, he could have been the guy to build around.  It’s becoming more obvious that Heyward isn’t that guy, that he works best as a team player, but you can say that John Mozeliak was going for a team-changing move there, even if it was born out of the need to fill the gap left by Oscar Taveras.

Each of these, taken by themselves, are logical and you can see what the club is going for.  When you start to look at them together, the big picture is not nearly as pretty.  The talk of the front office–“I think we’re going to be active”–doesn’t match up with what the results are.  Pretty soon folks stop believing the talk.  Now, there are always folks that are going to ascribe base motivations to anything the front office does or doesn’t do, that it’s a conspiracy to enhance Bill DeWitt’s pocketbook, that they don’t care about the fan base.  Those are always going to be with you, no matter what you do.  It’s when you start losing the more reasonable fans that you have issues.  And when the talk–and the product on the field–are lacking in results, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

It’s also hard to swallow a roster that is still not affected by the outside when close to two months ago supposedly every job was on the line and people better watch out.  As Kevin pointed out in the podcast, Mozeliak said that and included himself even as he must have been aware that his promotion was coming.  It’s things like that that give such a lifeline to those that want to criticize and are frustrating to those that would like to give the benefit of the doubt to those in power.  Mo was right in that he wouldn’t have his job much longer, but the implication wasn’t that he’d get a better one.

And how has this “on notice” team performed?  Well, since that time they are a few games (I believe four) over .500, which is better than their overall season but not exactly what folks were looking for.  They are still 4.5 games out, but now chasing a more robust Cubs team than a Brewers team nobody really fully believed in.  You could believably argue that this team could make a run at Milwaukee.  You can’t–and especially now–make that case and expect folks to believe you now.  (I will note that Twitter user Mo’s Algorithm is saying he predicts them to win the second wild card and win that game and more power to him.  I hope he’s right, but I can’t actually believe he is.)

The roster has shuffled over the last couple of months, but it’s been more of a trip to Memphis, then a trip back.  Eric Fryer, I believe, is the only person that’s been actually let go since Jhonny Peralta was in that press conference in June.  It’s been nice to see some of these Memphis guys, but it’s not exactly the spark and the edge that apparently Mozeliak and Michael Girsch were expecting.  And, since there were no trades, even that’s going to be dulled.  Harrison Bader has already been sent back to Memphis in anticipation of Stephen Piscotty‘s return from the disabled list and Dexter Fowler will be back soon as well, forcing another move.  Then, most nights, you’ll have pretty much the same lineup you had in June out there.  Paul DeJong might be the exception and obviously Tommy Pham is more integral than he was, but it is difficult to really see where the finger wagging at this team from the front office has paid off.

It was almost laughable that Mo comes out yesterday, when this expectation of being active at the deadline was still ringing around Twitter in a derogatory way, and says that you could see some deals in August.  August deals do happen, for sure, but they are much tougher and hardly ever generate a name worth noting.  They are the kind of names that makes sense when a contender has a small flaw they want to fix during their run.  They aren’t a team changer.  Put it this way: the kind of small deal that they didn’t want to make yesterday are the only real kind of deals that happen in August.  They would have been understandable yesterday.  There’s no point in making them today.

Other than that, they are going to “evaluate for 2018”.  Which makes sense, of course, because that’s what the focus has to be on.  That said, they’ve already been evaluating for two months.  I don’t know what the next two months tell them unless they bring up more prospects to see what they have, but I don’t know how they get them into the lineup or the bullpen, at least not until rosters expand and evaluating in September has to be more difficult than evaluating in August.  I’m not disagreeing or downgrading what they are saying, I’m just not sure how much it means.

Which leads us to the last point.  Everyone–I’m pretty sure this literally means every Cardinal fan–realizes that the 2018 roster can’t look like the 2017 roster, at least not significantly.  Things have to get done this winter.  Bernie Miklasz talked about it in his deadline column yesterday.  Everyone knows that things have to be different, but the trust that the front office is actually going to do something is lacking.  What’s the saying, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me?  With a bunch of talk over the last few years and relatively little action, it’s tough to really get excited about that.  The reservoir of good will needs to be replenished and the only way to do that is to make good on some of this talk this winter.  A bunch of “we tried, but the market wasn’t there” or “we got uncomfortable but ultimately couldn’t get it done” isn’t going to cut it.

Thankfully, the Cardinals get back on the field this evening in Milwaukee and we can talk about actual baseball and start our own evaluation of the next two months.  I mean, it’ll likely be frustrating as well, but at least it’s a different frustrating, you know?

Also, if you’ve made it this far, go vote in yesterday’s Greatest Cardinal Moment matchups.  It’s Chris Carpenter versus Ozzie Smith here and the Running Redbirds versus Jim Edmonds here.  Honestly, diving into the history may be the best way to stay sane for the rest of the season!

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The Do Nothing Cardinals

In 1948, President Truman bestowed the moniker “the Do Nothing Congress” on the legislative side of the government.  While Congress still gets that tag slapped on them from time to time, most recently the current batch of folks, today the Cardinals decided to claim that as their own.

It’s 3:15 PM and the trade deadline has passed.  Unless something happened right at the end that hasn’t been announced yet, the Cardinals did nothing at the deadline.  Zero.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  Tara and I begged them to pick a direction, to sell or to buy, and in the end they did what they’ve done most of the year–stood pat.

Most of the time, I’m a front office apologist.  I give them the benefit of the doubt and try to see it from their point of view.  Even now, I can imagine that there will be some talk of not wanting to give assets away or that things will happen this winter when the market is more open or something along those lines.  Which make sense, as far as they go.

But look.  You’ve got an outfield glut that gets worse when Stephen Piscotty comes back tomorrow.  You’ve got a pitching glut and Lance Lynn now is only going to bring you a compensatory draft pick that no longer is in the first round given the new CBA.  You’ve got a roster that’s clogged in spots and you are saying that there was nothing you could do to get it cleared up?

Let’s say you don’t want to sell, though.  You’ve got tickets sold, you’ve got a fanbase to placate, and you are only 4.5 games out of the division, for what that’s worth.  So fine, you keep Lynn, you keep the outfielders.  Don’t you have to bring in SOMETHING to sell the players, the fans, anyone with a mind that you can actually contend down the stretch?

Because right now, you have the same roster that you’ve had basically all year.  A roster that has been above .500 for, what, two weeks all season?  How do you sell the hope that they are going to make a run at a Cubs team that now looks much more like the playoff squad they were last year than the bumbling hangover guys they looked like up until the break.  Their August schedule isn’t that difficult and they patched their holes over the last couple of weeks.  I don’t know that they are Series favorites, but they look more like a playoff team than anyone else in the Central right now.

And this same roster that has put up a disappointing 52-53 mark up until now is the team that’s going to do it.

Don’t you at least get some sort of bullpen arm for a couple of Double-A prospects that aren’t really in the plans and say that you are trying to address the 20 bullpen losses?  You could sell the idea that the bullpen would be better to go with starting pitching that’s solid right now and an offense that’s getting by.  That didn’t happen.

Again, I get it.  It’s tough to make deals.  You don’t to just deal to deal, I don’t think, but when attendance is such a big deal, even a cosmetic move can make a difference in how folks feel about the team.  Right now, there’s going to be a lot of folks that feel like the club has waved a white flag even though they didn’t sell and that may play into their entertainment choices over the next couple of months.

We’ll see if they can do something this winter to make the 2018 squad look different, but season ticket renewals go out before the end of this season.  It would be fascinating to see if there’s a drop off in those renewals after a iffy 2016 and now a mediocre 2017.  That may make this winter very interesting as well.  Otherwise, I have to say, I’m not sanguine about this big moves that people think will come this offseason.  We thought they were coming last year and all that happened was Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil.  Needed moves, to be sure (though ones that haven’t panned out as well as hoped) but not transformational ones.

It’s right now tough to sell faith that this team will either get better with internal options or that there’s going to be this very active winter, especially when the word “active” was used a couple of weeks ago by John Mozeliak to talk about THIS deadline.  It feels like we keep kicking the can down the road, holding on longer and longer to prospects that have no room or not making that difficult decision.

I’m perfectly willing to be surprised.  Maybe Dakota Hudson is the callup and he fixes the bullpen.  Maybe Harrison Bader figures out offspeed pitches or Piscotty comes back and hits like he did last year.  Maybe it all comes together for this surprise run or maybe Mo and Mike Girsch make a huge deal with Miami this offseason.  Maybe not making a deal right now was the right move.

It doesn’t feel like it, though.  It feels like the same old inability to decide which way they want to go.  And that feeling sucks, to be honest.

Hopefully this post doesn’t age well.  I’m fine with that.  But if you don’t rant without full information or in the heat of the moment, what good is a blog?

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This morning, we had a meeting of the 2000s vs. the 1980s.  This afternoon for our final first round game, we have the same!

#2 Chris Carpenter shuts out Philadelphia in Game 5 (2011)

vs.

#15 Ozzie Smith and his iconic backflip (1982-1996)

The entire run of the 2011 Cardinals, from the Colby Rasmus trade to the run that started in late August to the David Freese Game is well chronicled and is so familiar to everyone that was around at the time.  I don’t want to say that our favorite (by seed) in this matchup is overlooked, because I don’t think that is the case.  I’m just not sure it really gets its fair due, because it is probably the best pitched game I’ve ever seen.

I know you remember the game, but we’ll give some background just in case.  After the Cardinals had been able to win Game 4 (which was remarkable in and of itself, given that Roy Oswalt started it for the Phillies), they went into Philadelphia knowing that their best was on the mound.  The problem was, the Phillies’ best was on the mound as well and there weren’t many better than Roy Halladay.

As was mentioned many a time during the series, Carpenter and Halladay were friends from their time in the Toronto organization.  They had a vacation planned together after the 2011 playoffs, one that they kept even after this head-to-head battle.  Halladay had a 19-6 record and a 2.35 ERA for the season, was an All-Star and was runner-up for the Cy Young award that he’d won the year before.  Honestly, if you’d told anyone that night that Halladay would retire after two miserable years in 2013, nobody would have really believed you.  There seemed to be plenty in the tank.

Carpenter, on the other hand, hadn’t been to that level but was still his normal outstanding self, putting up a 11-9 record and a 3.45 ERA.  He also would be out of baseball after one more year, a year plagued with injuries that in part came from his willing of his body through this playoff run.  That was to come, though.  If there was anyone a Cardinal fan wanted to see on the mound, it was Carpenter.

You know the old saying–if you are going to get to an ace, get to them early.  Rafael Furcal led off the game by tripling on Halladay’s fourth pitch.  Five pitches later, Skip Schumaker drove him in with a sacrifice fly.  John Rooney likes to tell the story that Mike Shannon leaned over to him after the inning and said, “It’s going to take more than one run to win this game.”  For once, the Moonman was wrong.

Carpenter was amazing.  He went the distance and allowed just three hits throughout the whole game.  While the game was a tightrope all night long, Carp never slipped.  Fans were holding their breath throughout the whole thing, and I remember pacing the same bit of carpet, standing inches from my TV and sharing my tension on Twitter, but Carpenter was at the peak of his powers.

He had to be.  After getting Schumaker, Halladay allowed only five more hits over the eight innings and struck out seven while walking one.  Ryan Madson struck out two of the three he faced in the ninth, which was big for the Phils because they had Chase Utley, Hunter Pence, and Ryan Howard due up.

Utley scared everyone by sending a shot to the wall, but Carpenter got the next two to ground out.  The last one was devastating for Howard, who tore his Achilles on the play and never really was quite the same.  The primal scream Carpenter let out still reverberates through Cardinal history.

You could watch just the ninth and get a feel for it, but why not revisit more highlights?

This game goes up against the only entry in the tournament that doesn’t have a definite date.  There’s no one time that we saw Ozzie Smith do the backflip, which is why the word “iconic”–a word I find way overused and misused–fits so well here.

Who doesn’t think of the Cardinals and think of an inverted Ozzie, that 1 blazoned on his back, in the middle of a flip?  It’s one of those pictures that immediately screams St. Louis baseball.  It defined an era as well as the Hall of Famer that performed it.

Look at that. Still flipping at 40. At that age I have trouble flipping off the light switch.

I think the flip, while great to see in action, stands out most as a still image in most people’s minds.  A picture like the one below probably graced a number of bedrooms and sports rooms across Missouri and the surrounding states, if not the entire country, during the late ’80s.

So what wins here? A legendary performance or a timeless representation?

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