C70 At The Bat

Where Were These Guys in April?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As Long As There’s Light…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tonight’s matchups:

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

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

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

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For those that are still actively clinging to the postseason, last night didn’t do much for them.  The Cardinals won, but so did the Brewers and the Cubs.  (The Rockies lost, so I guess moving to 3.5 back in the wild card makes for mixed results.)  For those that are just enjoying the ride the rest of the way, it was a little bumpy, but the end result was a good one.

There’s no doubt that the Hero of the evening was again Dexter Fowler, who hit a game-tying homer in the eighth and then broke the tie in the 10th with an RBI double, plus he tossed in a single for good measure.  A lot of folks have soured on Fowler, which is understandable given the start he got off to, the expectations (that were probably a bit unreasonable) that were put on him, and the fact that he plays center field when he is not the best defensive centerfielder on the team.  All that said, Fowler has tied his career high in home runs, has an OPS+ equal to what he had last year when he was touted as the big on-base guy, and has done it in all in less games.  He hit .328 in August and is over .300 in September, with OPSes of 1.000+ in both months, and has been one of the guys fueling this late-season run.

Fowler’s not perfect, obviously, and we’ve only seen five steals out of him when we thought we might see 15-20, but just because he’s getting results in a different way than we thought doesn’t mean that he’s not a good player or he isn’t valuable to St. Louis.  I know we talked about that strange Langosch tweet yesterday, but I don’t think he’s going anywhere and I look forward to seeing what he can do when he’s settled into his new place to start a season and maybe a bit healthier, though he’s only played over 140 games twice in his career, so those injuries might just be part of the package.

Yadier Molina did his best to get the Hero nod, crushing a three-run homer in the fourth that woke up the Cardinals and got them back even with the Reds.  Until then, it seemed like this was going to be more of the same from this weekend, a lethargic offense that just never really got going, but without the excuse of facing a good team.  Molina’s blast, followed by Paul DeJong immediately breaking the tie, at least got them one big inning.  For a while there, the only hits came in that frame, like a summer storm that blew up out of nowhere before vanishing.  But it doesn’t matter how you get them, just that you get them.

DeJong moved down to sixth in the order, perhaps due to some struggles of late, and responded with the homer and a base hit in the 10th that got the Cardinals an insurance run that they wound up needing.  For the fact that the club scored eight runs, only Fowler and DeJong had more than one hit.  Scoring eight runs on eight hits and four walks is a pretty efficient use of your baserunners, if you ask me.

Our Goat for the night was Jedd Gyorko, who went 0-4 with no runs or walks to ease his line unlike some of his fellow players.  Gyorko was still moving pretty gingerly, at least on the basepaths, so he might not be ready to start every day just yet.  Memphis concluded its season last night in the AAA Championship Game, losing to the Durham Bulls, so there will be a number of eyes looking to see if Patrick Wisdom gets a callup today as a reward for an outstanding season.  There would seem to be a spot for him to play, though again the Cards aren’t officially eliminated and as such probably won’t start a lot of callups as of yet.

Jack Flaherty left after just two innings.  I was in a church meeting and by time I got out, John Gant was already on the mound.  Most people jumped to the “they are limiting his innings” idea, but it would seem that if they wanted to do that, they’d take Flaherty out of the rotation rather than just pulling him and forcing the bullpen to cover, especially when we see Brett Cecil throw three innings, which is never the ideal for him.  My Meet Me at Musial cohost Allen Medlock filled me in that Flaherty was getting hit hard which probably led to his quick hook.  Perhaps that was Mike Matheny playing with the urgency we’ve not really seen as much this season, perhaps it was their way of showing they aren’t throwing in the towel, but it was still a bit strange.  Adam Wainwright was activated before last night’s game but isn’t expected to return to the rotation, so it would seem Flaherty will get the next two starts he’s scheduled for.

With Flaherty gone, Matheny turned to Gant for an inning, even though Gant has been a starter in the minor leagues and could go deeper in the game.  (Looking at Gant’s game log, it’s weird that he’s had five MLB appearances this year and three of them have been against the Reds.)  He did give up the home run to Zack Cozart, but that’s not the biggest issue in the world.  It feels like Matheny felt this is what a team that is desperate does, pull a starter early and just keep throwing arms at the problem.  (Though, in fairness, he probably would have kept Gant in the game longer but his spot came up in the top of the fourth after the Cardinals and put up the five runs and had a runner on first with two outs.  I think that wasn’t exactly a prime scoring opportunity–especially when you are pinch-hitting with Greg Garcia–but I can understand “trying to go for it” there.  Again, it’s urgency, just not urgency we always see from Matheny.)

He then went to Cecil, which again is fine.  Cecil was on a six inning scoreless streak, he’d put up a 2.25 ERA since the middle of August, all that was fine.  And Cecil did good work in the first two frames, striking out four.  With a ton of arms in the pen, though, Matheny decided to go with Cecil for a third inning.

This was only the second time this season that Cecil had gone three innings; the other was also against Cincinnati, strangely enough.  A quick scan of his game logs indicates that since he moved into the bullpen midway through 2012, he’s never pitched three innings except for these two times.  He was signed as a LOOGY or, at most, a seventh inning guy.  He was not signed, nor has he ever been, a long reliever.  Yet Matheny has run him out there for that long twice in the span of a month and a half.

I get that maybe there are folks you don’t want to use in a close game, but I never thought Cecil was a guy that engendered so much trust that you asked him to go past his normal limits.  There were three lefties coming up in the sixth out of the first four hitters, but lefty relievers are not exactly a rare resource down there.  I know you want to save Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons for the eighth or ninth (or, in this case, tenth) but there’s still Ryan Sherriff or Zach Duke.  Asking a beyond-his-limits Cecil to try to get out Joey Votto and Scooter Gennett might have been a bit too much.  In fact, out of the three lefties in that inning, Votto walked, Gennett doubled, and Scott Scheibler hit a sacrifice fly.

I know that there are some unreliable arms down there.  I know that there are some young guys that you might not want to trust in a big situation.  I get that technically they are in a playoff race.  There has to be something better, though.  There has to be some way of not letting 4-5 guys down there not pitch for a week or more but Matthew Bowman come into every game.  There’s got to be a way to let folks like Sandy Alcantara get some experience and letting the chips fall where they may.  Heck, you have Wainwright out there who could have (if he’s healthy and clicking) been able to shut down lefties as well.  (What condition Waino is in still remains to be seen, of course.)  I keep having to wonder where Sam Tuivailala is at, since he’s only made three appearances this month.  There has to be a better way or they should just go ahead and send some guys home for the winter.

It’s Luke Weaver against Rookie Davis tonight in Cincinnati.  Just for reference, if the Cards go 12-0 the rest of the way, they’d wind up with 90 wins.  For the Cubs to finish with 90, they’d have to go 6-6.  The Brewers, 9-2, and the Rockies 8-3.  The idea that this team can run off a streak like that is pretty much of a long shot, though.  Let’s see if they can go 8-4 and match their total from last year or 9-3 and top it by a win.  We’ll see what they can do tonight!

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Dashing Hopes

There was more hope and anticipation about the Cardinals last week than there probably had been since the beginning of the season or at least that winning streak in May.  The team was 10-3 in September and within striking distance of both the division and the wildcard.  Things seemed to be trending in the right direction and if they could just have a respectable showing in Wrigley Field the last two weeks of the season would be an exciting dash to the finish line.

There were three games.  A sweep by the Cardinals and they were (depending on what Milwaukee did) in first place.  While that was the best-case scenario, most folks knew that was going to be a tall order.  Winning two of three would put St. Louis just a couple of games back, which given the fact that there were still four games to go between the two teams seemed a desirable outcome.  Losing two of three would hurt, but still keep them within four games with 13 to play, seven of which were head to head against Chicago and Milwaukee.  Just as long as they didn’t get swept, hope could endure.

So, in typical 2017 Cardinal fashion, they got swept.

The Cardinals aren’t eliminated and where there’s life there’s hope, but leaving Chicago six games out and 4.5 behind the wild card leaders, plus having to leapfrog the Brewers in either situation, makes these last four series seem anticlimactic.  I’m sure the Cardinals will come out with the same lineup and continue to run the starters so that they can say they never gave up, but I think we’d rather they go ahead and give Carson Kelly and others some starts and start looking toward 2018.

Anyway, we do have to recap the games so I guess we better get to it.

Friday (8-2 loss)

Hero: Tommy Pham.  Nobody did a lot offensively–which is the story of this series, as only one run scored that wasn’t via the home run–but Pham’s solo shot in the first gave the Cardinals some life and let them draw first blood.  Unfortunately, he didn’t get a lot of help.

Goat: Carlos Martinez.  I know some of his runs were allowed by Matthew Bowman coming in and being unable to stop the bleeding, but Martinez is the one that opened the wound in the first place.  We talked about it on Meet Me at Musial this weekend and it’s games like this that have people questioning Martinez’s “ace” status.  I don’t agree with that–Martinez has been a darn good pitcher this year and at worst is the best pitcher on the staff, which is my definition of the term–but you do expect that your best pitcher can go into a big game and at least limit the damage.  Martinez threw five really good innings (and even made the most of the umpire not calling strike three on him by driving in a run that almost literally caused John Lackey‘s head to explode) but when things started going south in the sixth, he couldn’t stop them.  His error–well, it was charged as a fielder’s choice, but it was an error–was just the capper on a “death by a thousand cuts” type of inning.

Notes: Bowman is getting more rest of late, but that hasn’t seemed to increase his effectiveness.  He was riding a five appearance streak without allowing a run of his own or anyone else’s, but it didn’t work in Wrigley as he allowed all three runners he inherited to score here and, as we’ll see on Sunday, allowed one of the two then to score with catastrophic results.  So many arms out there in the bullpen and the same guys tend to get used.  I’m not sure there was a better choice here, especially with the lead already gone, but Bowman is not always the answer to whatever the question is.

Stephen Piscotty was the only Cardinal to tally multiple hits, getting two singles.  Pham’s homer was the only extra-base hit the club could muster, so that made Piscotty more productive than almost anyone.

Saturday (4-1 loss)

Hero: Matt Carpenter. After writing on Friday how it feels like Carpenter is just up there looking to walk (and, as a side effect, either doing that or striking out), he walked just once in the entire series and got as many hits (three) as he’d had in the six games previous to this series.  Perhaps we shouldn’t have said anything.  Anyway, Carpenter cranked a home run in the eighth to keep the team from being shut out.

Goat: Tommy Pham.  Perhaps trying to do too much in the moment, Pham went 0-4 with two strikeouts and a huge double play early in the game.  A hit there, even a sacrifice fly might have sparked something.  This weekend felt flat in a lot of ways, though, which is what happens when the team scores fewer runs in three games than their opponent does in one inning on Friday.

Notes: Dexter Fowler had two hits in this one after being out for five games with that leg/back issue.  He still seems to enjoy playing in front of the ivy if his stat lines are any indication.  Perhaps more so than playing in front of the Cardinal red, if this interaction is any indication:

Even before we get into the meat of what the MLB.com Cardinal beat writer is saying, let’s mention just how strange this is.  Langosch rarely interacts with folks on Twitter.  The last time she replied to anyone before this was someone wishing her happy birthday a week or so ago.  Before that, I scrolled back a long way, almost to August, and still couldn’t another one.  So she’s not likely to entertain random crazies on Twitter with their theories.  Also, even if she did have more of an interaction with her followers, it seems unlikely that she’d just throw this out there without it having come up before.  It feels like Derrick Goold or others would have said, “There’s no talk about moving him” or “It’s hard to speculate” or something fairly noncommittal.  While Jenifer isn’t saying they WILL move him or that they WILL ask him to become a corner or anything of that nature, there’s something in that reply that makes it seem not all is well, which is pretty terrible given the fact they were hoping Fowler would solve some of the problems they were having!

Again, that’s probably reading more into a reply than was expected, but I did find it interesting.  As for trying to trade Fowler after one year of a contract, good luck trying to get anyone to sign with you after that.  The Cardinals are already having trouble with free agents wanting to come to St. Louis, so treating one of your big signings like that is probably going to send a signal that folks probably shouldn’t bother entertaining offers from this front office.  At the very least, it’s going to make the price of free agents go up.

The Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons came into this one and allowed a run on two hits, which is a little unlike him.  It was the first run he’d let up himself in the second half (the other run charged to him was an inherited runner someone let score).  It was a home run by Addison Russell, which isn’t the most embarrassing thing given Russell’s talent.  (His off-the-field issues are another story.)  Pitchers are occasionally going to be touched for the long ball.  You just hope it’s in a situation like this, where the game wasn’t really in the balance.

Sunday (4-3 loss)

Hero: Dexter Fowler.  His three-run shot tied the game up in the sixth and injected a little life into a team that had felt dead most of the weekend.  Unfortunately, nobody could build on that.

Goat: Matt Carpenter.  His double started the sixth, but other than that he struck out four times, which really didn’t help the team’s offensive woes.

Notes: The game turned on Mike Matheny‘s management of the bullpen, so you know things weren’t going to go well.  With the game tied, Matheny brought in the Patron Pitcher to start the seventh with Anthony Rizzo leading off.  Lyons hit Rizzo, though with his stance if it hadn’t hit him, it’d probably been a strike.  Lyons then allowed a single by Javier Baez before getting Kyle Schwarber to pop out.  So two on, one out.

Instead of sticking with Lyons, especially with Jason Heyward lurking on the on-deck circle, Matheny goes to Bowman.  As others have noted, Matheny seems to think that Bowman is another Seth Maness, able to get a double play on command, but he’s really not.  This is a time where a fireballer would have been nice (it’s too bad Sandy Alcantara is still so rough or he could have gone there) but it’s not like Tyler Lyons is a LOOGY.  He probably could have handled Albert Amora, who is basically a league average pitcher, and then be in there to face the lefty Heyward.  Bowman instead gets to face Ian Happ (because Joe Maddon then pinch-hit for his righty).  He got Happ but couldn’t get Heyward.

There are times when it seems Matheny can only hold one thought in his head at a time and right now that thought is Bowman is his main guy.  While Bowman is fine and many times would have gotten through that inning, there was no reason to be switching out your best reliever there.  But if you have to, why aren’t you using Juan Nicasio?  That’s kinda what they got him for.  In a must-win game, you can’t wait around to see if you have a lead for him to save.  You have to use the fire extinguisher when there’s a fire.

The Cardinals haven’t played games after elimination since September 29, 2010.  It’s a long run but that’s going to come to an end soon.  Hopefully they’ll win their games but asking for the level of help they’ll need is just beyond what you can expect.  Like I said, it’d be nice to start seeing some different folks in different roles starting tonight in Cincinnati but that would be an acknowledgement of defeat and that’s something most teams and athletes can’t do, even when everyone else has moved on.  It’s Jack Flaherty versus a rookie in Jackson Stephens.  A couple of young guns going tonight, so we’ll see how it develops!

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Setting Up the Showdown

There’s no way this weekend should matter.

After all, the Cubs were a lock for this division, weren’t they?  The reigning World Champions with a team that was just going to lay waste to the division for a number of years.  Even with a good Cardinals team, things should be well settled by mid-September.

And, for most of 2017, this wasn’t a good Cardinals team.  They spent a great swath of the season under .500, not getting away from more losses than wins until a little over a month ago.  Put this team with the 2016 Cubs and they are back by 20 games at the trading deadline, which likely would have gone very differently.

Yet here we are, September 15, with a chance that by the end of the weekend we’re talking about the first place Cardinals.

Let’s quickly stipulate a lot of things would have to go right, starting with a sweep of the Cubs in Wrigley, but even that it is within a reasonable realm of possibility is insane given what we’ve watched this season.  A team that couldn’t get out of its own way at times now looks like the fairly well-oiled machine that we’d hoped we’d see all year.  St. Louis is 10-3 in September, 12-4 since those series losses to San Diego and Tampa Bay that seemed to nip whatever momentum the club was feeling in the bud.

Of course, the problem with digging a hole is that it’s pretty tough work filling it back in.  The Cards lost once to Cincinnati–just once–and it cut probabilities by like 10% and made the mountain steeper.  If the Cards can’t sweep but win two of three, which is a pretty nice accomplishment, they would remain two back of the Cubs with 13 to play.  Summer’s coming to an end and the days are getting shorter in more ways than one.

Before we look at the series that starts this afternoon, let’s take a look at the Cardinals beating the Reds.  If they’d done this at the beginning of the season, the hill wouldn’t loom so large, but I digress.

Tuesday (13-4 win)

Hero: Paul DeJong.  Unsurprisingly, given the number of runs and hits, there were a lot of people in consideration here.  DeJong edged them out with three hits, including a double and a home run.  He also drove in two while scoring two.  His numbers haven’t been as strong in September as they were the rest of the month (through Thursday he’s slashing .261/.333/.478 with two homers and five RBI) but he’s not done a nose dive either.  He’s contributing in the heat of a pennant race–which, actually, can be said about a lot of recently-former Memphis Redbirds.

Goat: I thought about giving it to Lance Lynn, who pitched OK but not outstanding, but most of the runs Lynn gave up were after the game was well in hand, which has to mean something.  We’ll go with Harrison Bader instead.  Bader did get a hit, like everyone else in the lineup, but he left six men on in his five AB.

Notes: Like I said, it wasn’t Lynn’s best game.  He gave up a run early, which got quickly erased, and three in the fifth.  They pulled him then even though he was at 73 pitches, which wasn’t a bad idea given the score, and you do wonder if the big lead allowed Lynn to go at batters differently than he would have had it been 2-1.  Lynn will go in the finale against the Cubs this weekend so hopefully a little bit of rest will help out there.

Yadier Molina had another strong outing, going two for three with a double that erased that early Reds lead.  Carson Kelly came into this one late (though did wind up with a plate appearance, drawing a walk) but with Molina on fire and the Cards in a race, that’s about all we can expect from Kelly.  I hate it for him, but there’s no doubt that Yadi being out there a majority of the time is best for the team.  If the Cards would get eliminated from both the division and the wild card with a week left, then yeah, Kelly should start most of those.  It just doesn’t look like that’s going to happen unless things really get disastrous this weekend though.

Jose Martinez continues to be on fire.  Two more hits in this came, including a double, and he drove in two runs.  In the second half, he’s got an OPS of 1.083 with eight homers in 126 PA.  I feel bad about dismissing him over the winter and earlier in the year, though his first half numbers weren’t nearly as strong.  Zach Gifford wrote up a nice piece about why Martinez’s increased selectivity (he has nine more walks in nine fewer plate appearances in the second half, for one thing) has helped him find the pitches he can drive.

Oh, and he’s hitting .435 with a 1.208 OPS in September while starting almost every day at first base.  I’d say he’s been contributing.

The bullpen of Brett Cecil, Zach Duke, and Sandy Alcantara threw three scoreless innings, which is good to see of course, even if the low pressure situations don’t necessarily tell us everything we want to know about these guys.  Giving them a chance to succeed and boost a little confidence surely can’t hurt, though.

Wednesday (6-0 loss)

Hero: Jose Martinez.  He had two of the team’s five hits.  That’s….really about all there is to say about that.

Goat: Jack Flaherty.  I know that Ryan Sherriff gave up the grand slam that 1) put the game away and 2) let most of Flaherty’s runs score.  However, if Flaherty fields Tucker Barnhart‘s comebacker cleanly, he gets the double play and has two on with the pitcher up and is probably in a better frame of mind so he doesn’t wind up hitting Tyler Mahle and putting him on base.  That was the thread that caused everything to unravel.

Notes: Of course, when you have seven batters on base in the first three innings and absolutely none of them score, there’s a strong chance it isn’t your night.  One of those key hits that the Cardinals got on Tuesday night could have quickly changed the entire complexion of the game.  Instead, there were a lot of groundouts to end innings and unsurprisingly the Reds finally took advantage.

I know there was a lot of grief about leaving Sherriff in the game to face Eugenio Suarez, a right-handed batter.  Sherriff, at least in the minors, wasn’t just a left-handed specialist.  He closed games and faced a number of righties.  With where we were in the game (it seemed unlikely you’d see a Matthew Bowman in the fifth) I wasn’t terribly disappointed that Mike Matheny left him in.

However, looking at the stats, I can see that Sherriff hasn’t been nearly as good against major league righties (a 1.041 OPS against them, though that counts Suarez’s blast) and apparently Suarez was significantly better against lefties as well.  Putting those facts into evidence, facts that the manager should have known, and when you have a full bullpen with expanded rosters and an urgency to win, I probably do go get someone, maybe Bowman who wound up pitching the ninth of this one when it was out of hand for his first game in about five days.  He could have finished the fifth and pitched the sixth without issue, it would seem.  Again, with the way things went in the early going, it really may not have mattered but it would have at least shown an urgency that you need this time of year.

Thursday (5-2 win)

Hero: It’s a coin flip, honestly.  In recognition of not only this game, but what these numbers mean, I’m going to give it to Tommy Pham, who hit a home run, stole two bases, drove in two runs, scored two runs, walked, and became the first 20/20 Cardinal since Reggie Sanders in 2004.  That’s a game and that’s a heck of a season.  You wonder if he’d started the year in St. Louis how close he’d be to 30/30.

Goat: Yadier Molina.  Of course, we say all those great things about Yadi above and here he goes 0-4 with five men left on base.  Maybe a day game after a night game would be where a normal catcher would rest, but again, as noted, you have to keep running Molina out there while he’s hitting if at all possible.  Besides, it’s fine.  Yadi trains for 174.

Notes: Luke Weaver almost got my Hero tag just by being the stabilizing force in this rotation.  Seriously, since Weaver slid into Adam Wainwright‘s spot and Mike Leake got traded, do you worry about who is starting that night?  I mean, you probably know the bullpen is going to be used a bit more with Flaherty going, but you don’t look at a starter and say, “Man, it’s going to be a real tough one tonight.”  Which, in my opinion, is what is really fueling this run.  Stabilizing the starters stabilized the bullpen and let folks realize that the 4-5 runs this offense has been putting up since the All-Star Break actually can win games.

All Weaver did here was go six innings, allow two hits and an unearned run, and struck out six.  That’ll do, I think.  What about you?

Jose Martinez also had two hits in this game.  Because of course he did.

Let’s talk a little about Matt Carpenter.  I plan to get into this tonight with Allen on Meet Me at Musial and we’ve discussed it a bit here as well, but since he returned from the cortisone shot, Carpenter has had 25 plate appearances.  In 12 of them he’s walked (which his why his OBP over this stretch is .600) and seven of them he’s struck out.  That means only six times in the past six games has Carpenter had a PA that ended with the ball in play.  He has three hits in those six tries, including a double and a home run.

All that is good and I don’t mean to complain about it.  Obviously OBP is huge in the game and you don’t want Carpenter up there swinging away all willy-nilly.  We’ve seen the complaints that Reds fans have about Joey Votto walking too much and felt they were pretty silly.  (Which they are, because Votto hits over .300 with about 30 homers with those walks.)  So again, I don’t want it to sound like I’m griping that all Carpenter does is walk.

But all Carpenter does is walk.  I hope I can explain this better on the show, but if Carpenter was putting up numbers like Votto, it would seem like Carpenter was being selective but willing to do damage when he got his pitch.  Watching Carp the last week, it doesn’t feel like he wants to swing the bat right now.  It feels like he just is up there to walk.  Which is fine and good, especially out of a leadoff man, but part of Carpenter’s appeal was that he was Votto-lite, that he would put up some numbers with that keen batting eye.

He does have 19 homers, but his OPS is .820 which would be almost a career low.  His OPS+ is 115, which is solid but again, not overly so (and a career low as well).  It feels like Carpenter is supposed to be more integral to the offense and that means swinging the bat more.  Walks are a very good thing (though they’d be more meaningful from a leadoff guy with speed), but it feels like the walk is the focus now, not the selectivity to find his pitch.  It probably doesn’t help that feeling when he’s got a .397 OBP since August 1 and a .193 BA in that same span.  Again, maybe that’s some weird thing I’m feeling, but it’s nagging at me.

In 2017, Carpenter has walked 101 times and struck out 113, meaning those account for 37.3% of his plate appearances.  Votto’s walks and strikeouts this year account for 30.3% of his plate appearances.  I guess what I’m saying is it feels like Carpenter is being passive at the plate right now, not patient.  Maybe that’ll change, but for me it makes it seem like his shoulder is still really bothering him and he’s afraid to do a lot of swinging with it.

The Mets couldn’t help the Cardinals last night, but the Diamondbacks could.  So let’s take a look at the standings before this afternoon’s game.

The Cardinals look pretty solid in their chance of finishing over .500 (they’d have to go 4-12 to finish at break even) which is more than we thought just a couple of weeks ago.  The road record has improved as has their record inside the division.  I’m not saying that they are going to sweep this weekend or that they’ll even win the series, but they’ve played the Cubs close all year long, even when they weren’t playing well.  There’s not a large gap between the two teams.  Unfortunately, with things being that close, that means a game can turn on one play or one pitch and there are times that has bitten the Cardinals badly.

They’ll send out Carlos Martinez to try to reduce some of those bad possibilities.  We all know Martinez can be a little erratic, but he’s the guy you want on the mound in the biggest series.  (Which is the definition of an ace for most people, though the manager might disagree.)  Martinez is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA against the baby bears this season so I’m all for him keeping that up this afternoon.  (He’s 3-4 with a 3.02 ERA in day games, which doesn’t seem to cause concern either.)

Chicago will be countering with that grumpy old former Redbird John Lackey.  Lackey has some rough numbers on the season but he’s been pitching somewhat better of late.  His last two starts, he’s gone seven innings in each and allowed a total of two runs, both against Milwaukee in his last outing.  He’s faced the Redbirds twice this year and given up a total of five runs (four earned) in 13 innings.  This could be a pitcher’s duel today, though if the wind is blowing out that seems somewhat unlikely.

It’s a huge weekend for the Cardinals.  While they are going up against the Cubs, the Brewers will be “at” Miami (Miami will be the home team but they are playing it in Miller Park due to the hurricane) while the Rockies will host the Padres.  They aren’t probably going to get any help from other teams, so they’ll need to win and win often in the Friendly Confines.  Here’s hoping they can do it!

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After all the work, all the time spent since we kicked this off after the All-Star Break, the end of the Greatest Cardinal Moment Tournament is finally getting close.  (Given the few folks that have voted on non-Twitter polls, you probably haven’t noticed, but hey, I appreciate those that have!)  As always, let’s take a quick look at the bracket:

The finals are still being set on a couple of regions, but we are good here and let’s get to it. (Also note, this is the possibly the last post on here about these brackets.  We have something special set up for the Final Four that will be Twitter-focused–go where the folks are–and I don’t know if we’ll post about them here or not.  Maybe, who knows!)

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

vs.

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

The road here: Gibson took care of the Cincy brawl, Albert Pujols‘s moonshot, and Jim Edmonds‘s diving catch; Carpenter fended off Ozzie Smith‘s backflip, Pete Alexander‘s famous strikeout, and Matt Carpenter‘s NLCS at bat.

The clips:

The matchup: It’s fitting that, as a big proponent of pitching, I get these two masters of the craft.  Even though we’ve had low vote totals, I still want to give plenty of respect to the fact that Gibson is still here.  I thought that with our short-term memories being the biggest thing, he’d have lost a while back, especially to Albert’s homer.  He’s still kicking, though, which may mean that there’s nothing going to take him down in this bracket.

That said, NLDS Game 5 is still the epitome of a pitching performance to me.  Carpenter walked a tightrope the whole game, with his only run coming before he even took the mound.  Any pitch could have sent the Cards home for the winter, but it didn’t.  It’s probably not too surprising that this team finished their run and won it all, unlike 1968.  There’s no wrong pick here, but Carp’s still my man.

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The Heat Is On

We said last week that sweeping wasn’t an easy thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

All season long, we’ve wanted the Cardinals to win the games they should win, beat the teams that are down.  It’s true that the schedule has been favorable for the Redbirds as of late, but they’ve taken advantage of that advantage.  Since the beginning of the last road trip, they are 10-3 and now sit just two games out of the division and three games out of the wild card (because the Dodgers have completely forgotten how to win, it seems).  They are tied with the Brewers in both aspects, which makes for some interesting possibilities coming up in the next couple of weeks.

Right now, according to Fangraphs, the Cardinals have a 16.2% chance of winning the division and a 8.5% chance at the wild card, giving them almost 1 in 4 odds of making the playoffs.  Compare that to where they stood at their last off day, before this current run, where the overall odds of them playing in October were 13.3%.  Their 23.7% mark may not mean you should start buying playoff tickets but they surely are trending in the right direction.  The next three weeks will decide the fate of the 2017 season, something we’d have never believed back in June or July.

As I said last night on Gateway to Baseball Heaven, we often use the 2006 and 2011 teams as the “anything can happen” rally points.  This team isn’t at all those teams, but I think they have a chance to be a more realistic example for hope in the future.  2006 was a better team than most folks give it credit for, leading the division all year long and being about nine games over .500 as September opened, plus it still was the basic core of the two 100-win teams that had come before.  (Interestingly enough, that ’06 squad was 76-67 after 143 games, compared to this team’s 75-68.)  2011 was that once-in-a-lifetime run that’ll never be duplicated, but that team also was solidly over .500 for most of the season, needing the run not to get to respectability but to chase down a solid field.  (They were also 76-67 at this point in the schedule.)

The 2017 team, though, if they can complete this comeback, could be used as a fairly real example for teams in the future.  “Look, 2017 was under .500 at this point in a year and they made the playoffs.  Things can turn around!”  That’s fair.  And sure, some of this is schedule and some of this is the fact that the Cubs haven’t played like they did last year, but every year is going to have its unique twists and conditions.  If this team makes it into October (or even falls just short, perhaps), I think we’ll be using it as an example for a while to come.

Anyway, that’s enough preamble.  We have a couple of games to take a look at.

Saturday (4-3 win)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  I’m still not so sure that the shoulder isn’t continuing to bother Carpenter.  Since his return from his three days off, he’s hitting (counting Sunday) 1-7 with five walks and four strikeouts.  That means just three times this weekend the at-bat ended with him making contact, which makes me think he’s more hesitant than normal to be swinging.  (And let’s not get into how weak and awkward his throws still look.)  Thankfully, one of them was a game tying home run in this one, setting the stage for the comeback win.

Goat: Dexter Fowler.  There were a number of possibilities here and Fowler did wind up scoring a run, but he overall went 0-3 with two strikeouts and two left on.  Plus he tried to catch Adam Frazier‘s ball at the wall and came crashing down, forcing his removal from the game.  Fowler’s been good this season–that early stint overshadowed a lot of what he’s done–but especially of late it feels like he’s been injury-plagued.  It’s not like he’s brittle or they aren’t reasonable injuries–he came down hard on his back on this play–but it seems like if something can happen, it’s going to happen to Fowler.

Notes: This was a game that I’m not sure this team wins a month, two months ago.  Chad Kuhl kept them in check, but Carlos Martinez did the same to the Pirates for the most part.  Frazier’s inside-the-park homer was a fluke (when Harrison Bader has to run over from right field to get a ball that has wound up in left, you know it’s a weird play) but overall the pitching staff kept it close.  If they’d lost, I think that it would have been a tough one, but an acceptable one.  Thankfully, the late heroics meant we didn’t have to debate the semantics.

Martinez went six, gave up two, struck out eight.  With a solid bullpen–and more and more, the Cardinal bullpen is looking solid–you’ll win a game like that a majority of the time.  He had a bad second, including giving up an RBI double to his opposite number, but other than that was outstanding.  Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons got the win with a scoreless eighth and newest Cardinal Juan Nicasio locked down his second save, quickly becoming a fan favorite just by providing some stability to the ninth inning.  What the Cards will do in the playoffs if they get there is still undetermined, but it’s nice to have this option right now.

Yadier Molina went two-for-four with two RBI.  I looked it up last night and, not counting Sunday (which was a big day for him, as you’ll see), Yadi’s hitting about .284 with six homers since telling his manager on Instagram he’s not tired.  Point to the catcher, I believe, though it hasn’t been great for Carson Kelly.  And you really wonder why they bothered with Alberto Rosario, who has been up for 10 days and still doesn’t have an inning played.

Credit also to Paul DeJong, who may be in a bit of an overall slump but still seems to make his hits count.  In this one, he doubled to lead off the eighth then moved along and scored on a couple of groundouts.  One of which came from Randal Grichuk, who didn’t strike out in a situation that he really couldn’t afford to strike out.  In June you know he’d have whiffed.

Sunday (7-0 win)

Hero: Yadier Molina.  Two hits, five RBI.  His three-run homer in the third really felt like the slamming of the door the way the pitching staff has been going of late.  Turns out, all Michael Wacha really needed was his RBI single in the first.

Goat: Another tough day for Stephen Piscotty.  He did reach and score a run, but his line is 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on base.  I had hope that Piscotty’s success against the Padres might get him kick-started a bit, but apparently that was not to be.  Right now, it feels like when they are healthy (and able to see) the outfield should be Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler, and Harrison Bader.  What that means for Piscotty’s playing time is unknown.  That said, even with all these outfielders, playing time hasn’t been as much of an issue yet since injuries keep creating openings.  If everyone is healthy as the season winds down, then some decisions may need to be made.

Notes: As noted, Wacha basically did it all here.  Eight scoreless innings plus he chipped in a sacrifice fly.  He was efficient as well, throwing eight in 95 pitches.  I don’t know that you can rely on Wacha having good starts, but you know that it is a very good possibility, which makes you feel somewhat better.  Right now, the entire rotation has created confidence which is a big reason they are where they are.  If Wacha, who dropped his season ERA under 4.00 for the first time in a month, can be on for his next three starts, you like the Redbirds’ chances.

Yadi did most of the damage, but Randal Grichuk had a home run and Paul DeJong had a couple of hits.  Just a perfect Sunday afternoon under the arch, getting cheap drinks for everyone to enjoy today.

The Cardinals are off today but they could still gain some ground.  The Pirate team they just swept moves on to Milwaukee, where Steven Brault faces Brandon Woodruff.  It might be asking a bit for Pittsburgh to help St. Louis out, but maybe it’ll happen.  The Rockies will face a tougher test as they got to Arizona, sending Kyle Freeland against Zach Greinke.  You have to like the chances there to gain 1/2 game in the wild card race.  (Of course, they could slip to third in those standings if Milwaukee wins and picks up a full game.)

Tomorrow, the Cardinals get to face a Reds team that has bedeviled them all year long.  With our favorite club playing better and the Reds short Billy Hamilton and one of their top starting pitchers, maybe St. Louis can do a little better this time around.  Mike Matheny has juggled the rotation with today’s off day so Lance Lynn will go instead of Jack Flaherty, which probably is a wise move.  Robert Stephenson will be on the other side of things, coming off limiting the Brewers to one run in six innings.  He hasn’t faced the Redbirds since his first start of the year back in April, when he walked six and allowed three runs in 1.2 innings.  We’d take more of that!

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Making a Little Go a Long Way

The Cardinals returned to Busch last night and faced a pitcher that they’d pummelled just a few weeks before.  They still somewhat got to Trevor Williams, but on the night they mustered five hits and four walks.  (All but one of the hits came from Williams, who left with an out left to go in the fifth.)  Yet somehow this squad was able to not only win the game, but win it comfortably.

For that, a huge amount of the praise again goes to Luke Weaver, our Hero for the night.  Weaver wound up allowing more hits than he had been, which helped his pitch count elevate to the point that he didn’t finish the sixth, but he struck out seven and none of the hits went for extra bases.  It wasn’t the most dominant start we’ve seen out of Weaver since he took Adam Wainwright‘s spot in the rotation, but it was up there.  In his four starts since joining the rotation, he’s put up a 1.42 ERA, a .232 BAA, and 36 strikeouts to four walks in 25.1 innings.  That’ll do, I think.  Most everyone seems to agree that, with two spots opening up in the rotation with Mike Leake gone and Lance Lynn unlikely to return, Weaver has staked his claim to an opening.

Another great night for Jose Martinez, who continues to be a rock in the lineup.  Two hits, including a big bases-loaded single that brought in the last two runs of the night.  Since the start of that last road trip (11 games, eight starts), he’s hitting .469 with a 1.358 OPS.  He’s also improving over at first base as well.  I don’t think we’re talking Gold Glove by any means, but it’s less of a “why the heck is he over there” and more of an average to slightly-below average fielding job at first.  And first base is the one place you can get away with that, especially if you are putting up an OPS over 1.000.

One of the chores for Martinez is corralling some really weak throws from Matt Carpenter over at third.  Carpenter was back after taking a cortisone shot that has apparently helped with his shoulder, but you couldn’t tell it by the throws from first, which have almost a rainbow quality to them.  I’ve been noticing those for a while and I don’t think that was common while he was there regularly, so I imagine the shoulder has impacted that.  He also drew three walks last night, so at least he was getting on but we didn’t really get to see how that shoulder was going to impact his swing much, with a flyout being the only time he put the ball in play.  (I was a little surprised, looking at the recap, that it wasn’t on a two-strike pitch, which would indicate he went up there not wanting to swing.  It was a 1-1, though, which goes against that theory.)

We’ll give our Goat to Stephen Piscotty, who went 0-4 with two strikeouts and four left on (which, when the guy ahead of you walks three times, is going to happen).  Piscotty took extreme exception to one of those strikeouts, suggesting that he checked his swing, but even with that (and he may have been right) it was another rough night.  Seeing that right after his good weekend in San Diego is a bit disheartening.  You’d have liked to see him keep that roll going even coming back home.  We’ll see how the rest of the weekend goes before drawing any large and unsupported conclusions, though.

It was nice to see Juan Nicasio make his debut and do it so flawlessly.  His first batter resulted in a strong play off the mound and he buzzed through the ninth without incident.  Thirteen pitches for four outs.  We could get used to this and, as much as we’ve assumed this is just a three-week deal, it could be that a strong three weeks gets him a contract offer.  There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, but if he’s starting to figure things out he might be a good asset for next season.  Past history on him is a bit hard to judge since he’s spent a lot of it in Colorado, but first impressions are definitely in his favor.

Carlos Martinez gets on the bump tonight for the Cardinals, who didn’t gain any ground in the wild card standings last night as both the Brewers and the Rockies won.  (That Brewer win did get the Cards a game closer to the division lead.)  He’ll go up against Chad Kuhl, who cooled the Redbird bats last time out, allowing just one run in five innings.  We’ll see if the bats can warm up from their recent slump–they’ve only scored seven runs over their past three games after scoring eight in the game before that stretch.  Elsewhere, Chase Anderson and the Brewers go against Mike Montgomery and the Cubs this afternoon and Chad Bettis and the Rockies look to keep the Dodgers and Alex Wood in a bit of a slide.  Meaningful September baseball is always interesting!

Oh, and by the way, if you need something to get you through the afternoon, there’s a new Meet Me at Musial!

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Sweepin’ Ain’t Easy

In most times, a 7-3 road trip that included eight games on the West Coast would be seen as a great trip and a significant accomplishment.  Indeed, we should be glad the Cardinals were able to do so well on that trip away from Busch, given there well-under-.500 record when they aren’t under the Arch (at least before they left).  It was a good trip.

That said, this time of year, with the gap the Cardinals have to make up if they are going to play in October, any loss is a tough loss.  The Cardinals could have won the game against the Brewers had Randal Grichuk‘s ball been half a foot farther.  They could have won the game against the Giants if the bullpen could have gotten three outs (and you could argue how much goes to the bullpen and how much to Mike Matheny there).  And they could have won the game against the Padres if….well, we’ll get there.

After the Cardinals got to within four of the division and two of the wild card, hope built up a little bit.  And even though there are many, many reasons not to compare this team to 2011, it’s probably good to note that St. Louis occasionally saw the gap widen even in September of that season.  Still, as we’ve said often about this team in the past, there is no margin for error going forward.  They really can’t afford to lose on days where Chicago or Milwaukee or Colorado (depending on what race you are looking at) win.  If they can play .700 ball the rest of the way, that would be 15-7 and get them to 87 wins.  Even that might not be enough.  (At least they only need 10 more wins for a plus .500 season.)

OK, we’ve got three games to recap, so let’s do it.

Tuesday (8-4 win)

Hero: Jose Martinez.  Again, Martinez has surprised me so much this season. A double, two homers, and a walk in this one, accounting for four of the eight runs in one way or another.  With Matt Carpenter out he’s been playing first (to the detriment of Luke Voit‘s playing time, unfortunately, but what are you going to do given his outfield defense), but if Carpenter returns they may have to decide if the offense overwhelms the defense.

Goat: Again, I’m not going to give a lot of grief to a guy making his major league debut, especially someone that really wasn’t expecting it, so Breyvic Valera‘s 0-4 is spared and we’ll go with Yadier Molina, who also went 0-4 but he did pick up an RBI.

Notes: Good night for Harrison Bader as well, smacking his third home run as one of his two hits.  We’re starting to see a bit more of that power that he has shown in the minor leagues on the big stage.  Of course, that doesn’t do anything to alleviate the outfield logjam.  So far injuries are helping in that regard but at some point, everyone is going to probably be at full health and we’ll see what happens then.

Stephen Piscotty had a hit and two walks in this one.  He played better this series–hitting .500 in the three games he started–and you do wonder if having his family there was a motivating factor.  And, if it was, whether playing on a West Coast team would be better for him going forward.  Don’t get me wrong, I still think Piscotty can improve and I expect he’ll bounce back a good bit next year anyway, no matter where he’s playing, but you can understand how the family issues would weigh on him and being closer to home could be a benefit.

Unfortunately, Michael Wacha‘s run of solid starts ended at one.  This one wasn’t as bad as some others that he has had recently, but four runs in six innings to a team that’s not really a hitting team isn’t a great look.  (Neither is the fact that two of them came on an absolute blast by Travis Wood, the opposing pitcher.)  Joe Schwarz has a good piece up about the fact that he seems to be tipping his changeup, which is obviously a huge part of his arsenal.  He did make it through six innings, which is something given how the game started, but having a significant cushion helped.

Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons pitched in the ninth of a four-run game.  That probably tells you most of what you need to know about the problems folks have with Mike Matheny’s bullpen management.

Wednesday (3-1 win)

Hero: Stephen Piscotty.  It looked like a game that was going to slip away from the Cardinals. (At least, I guess it did.  I was well asleep before the late innings rolled around.)  Instead, continuing to show that perhaps there’s hope for him yet, Piscotty cranked a two-run homer in the seventh that put the Cardinals on top.  They’d add insurance an inning later, but that was a big home run for a team that wanted to make up ground since the Rockies had already lost.  Lots of people are down on Piscotty this year and I understand why, but I think there’s a reason the Cards signed him to that contract.

Goat: Alex Mejia.  0-4 with four left on base and two double plays.  That’s a rough night by any measure.

Notes: Jack Flaherty got the start in this one and did a little better than his first time out, though he still wasn’t quite dominant.  One run in five innings is fine, but four walks is a little iffy.  Kyle and I talked about this start in the bonus Meet Me at Musial that went up last night and he noted a lot of dissension between Carson Kelly (who started this game) and Flaherty about how to approach batters.  I don’t know if that’s what it was or what, but what I saw it seemed like he was having trouble finishing hitters off.  We’ll see how that adjusts next time out against the Reds on Tuesday.

Piscotty was the only person with multiple hits.  Jose Martinez and Greg Garcia both had a hit and a walk.  I guess you know your lineup is in trouble when Garcia is hitting sixth and it’s a legitimate sixth.  (Kelly could have hit there, but given his lack of reps at the big league it’s kind of a tossup on who was better.)

Kudos to Ryan Sherriff who came into the game in relief of Flaherty and threw two scoreless innings, putting him in line for his first major league win.  The Patron Pitcher Tyler Lyons made it a little interesting in the ninth (what is it about putting anyone out there for the 9th inning!) but locked down the save.

Thursday (3-0 loss)

Hero: How does a team wind up with three players with multiple hits and still get shut out?  Eleven hits total and none of them crossed the plate.  Part of the problem is that only one of them went for extra bases, which is why Paul DeJong gets the tag here with two hits including a double.

Goat: I think it has to be Seung-hwan Oh here.  Granted, the offense hadn’t scored yet, but a 1-0 game going into the eighth seems much more doable than a 3-0 game.  Zach Duke didn’t do his job, allowing a single to a lefty, but Oh got crushed for a home run from Wil Myers which padded out the lead.  Honestly, I expected that to come a batter earlier, when Matheny inexplicably left Oh out there to face left-handed hitting Yangervis Solarte, but somehow Oh threaded that needle only to falter against Myers, who could have very easily been walked for the Cardinals to face Cory Spangenberg, who was 0-3 and, as a lefty, you could have brought in any number of other options, including the new guy Juan Nicasio, who has to be wondering by now just why the Cardinals made such a push for him.

Notes: Not using Nicasio at all in this sequence makes absolutely no sense.  He’s no rookie, he’s dealt with pressure situations before.  You don’t have to ease him into being a Cardinal.  Even without that, though, why go to Oh?  I can probably understand not running Sam Tuivailala out there (though the power arm part of his game would have been nice) and Sheriff and Lyons were probably unavailable.  And Oh was rested, to be sure, not having pitched since Saturday and then only to one batter.  Still, what makes you think this game isn’t going to go sideways if he gets in there?

Brett Cecil has done better of late and was rested.  It’s honestly surprising Matheny didn’t turn to Matthew Bowman, who was also not used Wednesday.  John Brebbia had pitched the night before but that was the first time in a few days and there’s no reason he couldn’t have gone on back-to-back days.  There seemed to be other options, most notably the guy you just traded for that’s supposed to help shore up the bullpen.  Don’t save him for a save situation that might not come, Mike.

Can’t fault Lance Lynn in this one.  He struggled early, though a lot of that in the first seemed to come from Alex Mejia’s misplays.  He got out of it with just one run and most of the time, you’d take that.  Unfortunately, the offense has gotten to where it doesn’t have much desire, it seems, to put runs on the board for Lynn and he again struggled with every pitch being the difference between a win or a loss.  It’s funny that early in his career, the team seemed to put up a lot of runs for Lynn.  Not as much as he’s become the reliable veteran.

As noted, the Cardinals made a deal for Nicasio earlier in the week, sending Eli Alvarez to the Phillies.  It was a bit of an odd deal since Alvarez was at least a somewhat-regarded prospect and Nicasio isn’t eligible for the postseason since he was acquired after August 31.  It feels like the Cards were looking to free up 40-man space this winter and weren’t sure, for whatever reasons, that Alvarez should be taking one of those spots.  Instead of letting him go with no return, at least this way they get a guy that (in theory) can help them stabilize the pen and win enough games to stay viable in the playoff hunt for as long as possible.  Of course, he’s got to be used in a game to help out…..

St. Louis is done with everyone that isn’t a National League Central squad.  The next 22 games will be against the division where they’ve played their worst baseball overall.  To go 15-7 in this stretch, as we noted above, might be difficult, especially when nine of those games are on the road, where the Cardinals have also struggled.  However, while it may be a cliche, you’ve got to really just take it one game at a time.  Win tonight.  Then win tomorrow.  And so on and so forth.  To do that, they’ll need another great game out of Luke Weaver and hope that they can do something with Trevor Williams.  Williams blanked the Reds for seven innings in his last start but gave up eight runs in three innings against the Redbirds a couple of weeks ago.  Let’s hope there’s more of that tonight!

If you are scoreboard watching, Chicago and Milwaukee face off (Jimmy Nelson vs. John Lackey) so the Cards can gain ground in at least one race tonight with a win.  The Rockies and German Marquez go out to face the Dodgers and Yu Darvish, so you’d like to think LA could take that one and St. Louis could get back to two games out of the wild card.  Gotta win first, though!

 

 

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The Carlos Martinez Show

With the Cards having pulled within three games of the second wild card due to their somewhat improved play (and more due to Colorado’s continuing collapse), a lot of eyes were on Carlos Martinez yesterday.  For all his talent, for the fact that he’s the best pitcher on the team, Martinez has had a troubling tendency to not seize the moment at times.  Being unable to continue winning streaks.  Giving up early runs.  You don’t have to go any farther than his last start, where he gave up six runs against their closest competition.  So even though he was going up against the San Diego Padres, one of the weakest teams offensively in the majors, there was still a bit of unease.

Martinez took care of that and showed why he still wears the “ace” title.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  There were a few Martinez fans yesterday who were using this game to get back at Martinez’s critics, who tend to be a little harsher on Martinez than is warranted given his age, his talent, and his results.  However, using a complete game shutout against a team that has trouble hitting its way out of a paper bag isn’t necessarily a clinching argument.  While I get that Martinez had all of his pitches working yesterday, he also was a steamroller faced with a paper plate.  It’s very possible that the Martinez of yesterday could have shut down any team, but I’d wait until he did it against one of those powerhouses before I started doing a victory dance.

All that said, Martinez was outstanding.  Ten strikeouts in a complete game shutout is wonderful no matter who you are facing.  Martinez allowed just three hits, walked three (all of which came in the last two innings), and had one runner reach on an error to start the game.  Otherwise, he just kept carving folks up.

He was masterful enough to earn a ninth inning even as he finished the eighth just shy of 100 pitches.  In fairness, had someone reached base in the top of the frame, Mike Matheny likely would have pinch-hit for Martinez, trying to get that extra run.  Instead, the first two batters did what a significant portion of Cardinal hitters did yesterday and Martinez was allowed to stay in.

This just reiterated the problem the Cardinals have, though.  With no Trevor Rosenthal, it’s pretty debatable who should take the ninth.  It seems to be Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons‘s job now, as Lyons began warming in the ninth.  Martinez did walk two in the eighth (one of which was erased on a double play) which would have seemed to indicate he was tiring, but even as good as Lyons has been, trusting someone else with the two-run lead just didn’t seem that advisable.  Martinez walked the leadoff guy in the ninth but even then Matheny let him have a long leash, something that probably would have come back to bite the manager had things gone awry.  Lyons probably would have been able to handle the ninth without incident but giving him another day of rest and letting Martinez get another complete game was the best decision.

Martinez is the obvious Hero, of course, but who is the Goat?  Well, there are plenty to choose from because yet again Luis Perdomo didn’t allow just a whole lot of anything.  We’ll go with Harrison Bader, who was 0-4 with two strikeouts, though he did get his first career stolen base in the bigs after reaching on a fielder’s choice.  Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong were both also hitless, but Carpenter left early with shoulder tendonitis and DeJong got a walk and a hit by pitch mixed in there.

Otherwise, the offense was OK, I guess.  Seven hits and three walks were counteracted by 10 strikeouts.  The only runs of the game came in the fourth, when the bases were loaded with nobody out for Yadier Molina, who drove a ball deep that Jose Pirela couldn’t catch.  The ball bounced off his glove and the two runs scored.  Jose Martinez only made it to second, perhaps due to uncertainty on whether Pirela was going to catch it or perhaps due to not wanting to push it after having a leg muscle tighten up on him earlier in the game.  Not that it really mattered as Bader struck out and Greg Garcia hit into a double play, ending the threat.

It was another two-hit day for Tommy Pham, who first hurt himself sliding into second and having his helmet fly off and bounce into his nose, then left the game early with a shoulder issue that came out of that slide as well.  Pham believes he’ll be able to get treatment and be back today, though hopefully his loyal Twitter contingent won’t melt down if he does get a day off.

Carpenter’s injury does bring up more questions.  As he explained it after the game, it’s an issue that he’s been dealing with most of the season, which raises a couple of questions.  Is this something that the team knew about and has been helping him manage or has he been keeping it to himself?  Also, does this explain much of his season and, if so, why is he just now coming forth with it?

As Steven McNeil pointed out on Twitter, nobody ever complained about Albert Pujols dealing with his foot issues or felt like he was being selfish by wanting to play through it.  However, as I said in response to him, if Carpenter was hitting .300 with 30 homers, probably people wouldn’t be complaining about him either.  It’s the fact that Carpenter’s production has been so diminished this year, to the detriment of the team, that’s the biggest issue.  If he’s been keeping this quiet so that he can keep playing, I’m sure he would say that he was doing it because he thought he was the best option for the team but realistically, that’s not been the case.  Given his limited work, the offense has actually worked better at times without him.  If he’s been dealing with this all year, it sounds like (to this blogger who knows nothing of medicine) that surgery is going to be coming sooner rather than later.  Hopefully, if that’s the case, it happens early in the offseason and he can be full health by time spring comes along.

To help cover for Carpenter’s injury, the team is going to promote Breyvic Valera, who had a strong season for Memphis.  Memphis won 91 games in 142 (I believe) chances but their playoff squad is going to be severely depleted at this rate.  We’ll see what Stubby Clapp can do with what he has left and hopefully it’ll be enough!

Michael Wacha will take the ball this evening–well, late tonight for those of us here in the Central time zone–and go up against a familiar face in Travis Wood, whom the Cardinals know from his time in Chicago and Cincinnati.  He’s got a career 5.37 ERA against the Cardinals, but we’ll see if that translates given the scoring environment that is Petco Park.  Wacha had a strong outing last time (that we talked about in yesterday’s third overall post–man, we were busy for a holiday, weren’t we?) and going up against the Padres can only help.

For scoreboard watching, the Cubs (who now are just five games ahead of the Cardinals) sent Kyle Hendricks out to face the Pirates and Steven Brault, the Brewers and Zach Davies will face the Reds and Robert Stephenson, and Tyler Chatwood and the Rockies host Ty Blach and the Giants.  I guess it’s a good thing we can still be scoreboard watching in September, huh?  The season’s not a total loss!

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We went through all the moves of the last few days in our earlier post, but now it’s time to catch up on all the activity that’s happened on the diamond.  It started out on a downer and there was a controversial loss out by the bay, but on the whole it’s been not too bad since we’ve last spoken.  We have Heroes and Goats to get to so let’s not waste any more time!

Wednesday (6-5 loss in Milwaukee)

Hero: Tommy Pham.  Pham cracked a two-run homer in the first and a two-run shot in the eighth, bookending the scoring for the Cardinals.  Unfortunately, he didn’t get a lot of help in his exploits.

Goat: Carlos Martinez.  When you need your big gun to step up and he instead allows six runs (three unearned, but some of that unearnedness came from his own error) he’s going to find himself in this spot.  Martinez had two bad innings, but they were bad enough for the loss.  He did strike out seven and walked none, but the walks goodness was counteracted by 10 hits by the Brewers.

Notes: Randal Grichuk really, REALLY should have been the Hero in this one.  With a solo home run already in the game, he stepped up with two outs in the ninth and a runner on and launched a ball to straight center field.  If it had gone half a foot farther or Keon Broxton, who’d been put into the game for defensive purposes, had been a step slower, Grichuk would have put the Cards on top going into the bottom of the ninth.  Whether they could have kept that lead or not is debatable, but at least they would have had the chance.  Instead, Broxton makes a dream play and the Brewers take the game.  Given that the Cards are now just 2.5 games behind Milwaukee in the wild card race, that was a huge catch.

(By the way, I know Pham after the game, when asked about whether that’s a play players dream of making, said “I make that play a lot.”  While Pham may make some excellent catches and he may have robbed a home run or two this season–I don’t specifically remember one, but he well may have–he’s never made a game-saving rob of a homer.  That was what the question was asking, not whether the catch was great but the whole situation around it was dream-worthy.)

The Cardinals got a total of five hits off of Chase Anderson and the Brewer bullpen, three of which left the ballpark.  Matt Carpenter did draw two walks, but the offense was pretty stifled here.  Which, as noted, has become a glaring issue.  If the Cardinals miss out on tying the Brewers for the wild card by one game, you can point to a lot of them during the year but this will be the most direct reason why they aren’t in the playoffs.

This was an early afternoon end of series game and it really felt like it.  Perhaps there was some lingering residue from the Mike Leake trade, which happened a few hours before the ballgame.  Or, you know, it could be the Brewers aren’t a bad team as well.

Thursday (5-2 win at San Francisco)

Hero: Randal Grichuk.  Again, this was a Grichuk-Pham buddy pic as an offense, with Pham going three for four with a double and two RBI and Grichuk tallying two hits, but one of his going out of the park in the second, giving the Cards an early 2-0 lead that held until they could pad it a bit late.  Grichuk is still feast or famine–he started five games in a row and hit .200 with three HR, but that was because he bookended a 4-12 stretch with two 0-fer games–but it’s nice to see when his bat gets going.

Goat: Paul DeJong.  0-5 with eight men left on base would have been huge had the pitching not been able to make that early lead stand up.  Games like that happen and DeJong has actually held up better than I expected over the long haul.  Since August 1, he’s hitting .290/.331/.511 in 30 starts.  He’s also not had a day off in a month, which might be why he’s hitting .185 on this road trip.  Or it’s just a slump.  Still, as tough as it is to not have his bat out of the lineup, a day off might not be the worst thing.  At least there are breaks in the schedule on the next two Mondays, so he’ll get those off if nothing else.

Notes: You know that I exchanged questions with our favorite Giants blog and while I’ve posted the answers I got from Craig, he also posted the answers to the couple he asked me, one of which asked how much blame folks put on Michael Wacha for the ending in 2014.  That was an interesting question to get since, as far as I know, nobody in the Cardinal fan base from the moments before Travis Ishikawa hit the home run to now has ever blamed Wacha for how that turned out.  I never really thought that some might think Wacha would get heat there.  Most other situations, the pitcher would have.

Anyway, that’s a tangent.  Wacha was Good Wacha in this one, giving up just one run on four hits and two walks in six innings.  It really isn’t necessarily indicative of a bounceback or anything from Wacha–the Giants offense is so weak–but it’s good to see.  Wacha’s next outing will be against the Padres, who are dead last in the majors in batting average and just a hair better than the last place Giants in OPS, so maybe these two starts will give him some momentum for good final push.

Mike Matheny used Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons in the eighth inning of this one up 5-1.  At the time, Lyons hadn’t pitched since Saturday so it was probably a good idea to get him out there and not have him get rusty, but as the rest of the weekend played out, it became a bit larger than expected.  The bullpen also took three pitchers to close down this game, as John Brebbia wound up giving up back-to-back doubles (the latter, to Brendan Crawford, should have been a home run–MLB admitted the next day they messed up with the replay) and got one out before Zach Duke came in to pitch to a lefty and then Seung-hwan Oh came in to pitch to a righty.  It worked out and it wasn’t entirely dramatic, but it was a lot of juggling for an inning that started out with such a cushion.

Friday (11-6 win at San Francisco)

Hero: Stephen Piscotty.  I think, more than just about anyone, Piscotty needs to have a good couple of weeks going into the winter to kinda reset and get back to what we’ve been accustomed to in his short career.  A game like this surely helped and perhaps it was because he was in his stomping grounds and (I would assume) had some chance to see his family.  Three hits, including the capping two-run homer in the six-run ninth.  He also scored three runs.  It didn’t carry forward–he was 0-7 in the next two games–but it’s good to see the results are in there somewhere.

Goat: I can’t in good conscience (unless it’s just egregious) give the Goat to a rookie making his major league debut, so we’ll go with Matt Carpenter here.  With all the offense going along around him, Carpenter wound up 0-4 and left three men on base.  Obviously something is off again with Carp, as he sat the next two days, and while it’s not terribly noteworthy, given how much walks are a part of his game, he hasn’t had a multi-hit game since August 8.  Since that game, he’s hitting .181/.322/.319–yes, his OBP is greater than his slugging.  It may not be too surprising that the offense looked a little better with him out of the leadoff spot the last few days.

Notes: Jack Flaherty made his first big league start and had a great first inning before having his “welcome to the big leagues” moment in the second, when he gave up a single and a homer to start the frame and another run later on.  He gave up two more in the third before a perfect fourth ended his ninth.  The flashes were there–he struck out six in his four innings–but it’s not great when a weak lineup like the Giants gets after you.  Not that it means much of anything or that he’s going to be a flop by any means.  He knows what it’s like to pitch in the big leagues now and that comfort level should help him as he goes through the rest of the season in the rotation.  Like Wacha, he gets the Padres next time out so that should hopefully allow him to build on what he learned in this one.

Impressively, the bullpen held things in check while the offense came around.  John Gant, who was also called up this weekend and I totally forgot to mention that in our transactions post from this morning, pitched two scoreless frames.  Brett Cecil contributed a goose egg in his inning.  Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons came out for the eighth again in a 5-5 game and kept it that way.  Lyons was in line for the save once Kolten Wong singled in the tie-breaking run in the ninth, but as the offense continued to pile on (so great to see someone else’s bullpen melt down for a change, isn’t it?) he got pulled back and Sam Tuivailala took the ninth.  I’d have thought this would have been a great place for Sandy Alcantara to make his debut, but we had to wait a couple of days for that.

Offensively, Wong had two hits and two runs scored.  For the season, he’s hitting .271 with a .333 OBP in the leadoff slot.  That’s not as good as his overall numbers but he’s starting to look like he could develop into a reasonable alternative at the top of the lineup.  It’s been such a quietly good year for Wong and I look forward to talking about it when we do the Exit Interview series here in a month or so.

Two hits for Harrison Bader, including his first career home run, and two hits for DeJong and Yadier Molina as well.  If you took a game like this in a vacuum, you’d think that this was a solid team that never said die.  I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment of this squad but it’s nice to see that side of them sometimes.

Saturday (2-1 loss to San Francisco)

Hero: Lance Lynn.  Lynn allowed a base hit to the second batter he faced and then didn’t allow another one the rest of the way, throwing eight scoreless innings in the process.  He reached 101 pitches as he finished up the eighth and some games would have probably come out to start the ninth, but as we heard he also was dealing with a blister that had increased in severity so much that there was no way he could have thrown another inning.

Goat: You know I never put Mike Matheny here because he doesn’t play the game, but boy do I want to.  Instead, I guess I have to use that “leadoff batter breaks ties” rule that I have around here and go with Kolten Wong.  The entire team just mustered three hits–two by Dexter Fowler (who drove in Jose Martinez, who had the other hit, for the only run)–and a couple of walks.  Honestly, when you look at the offense, it wasn’t a game they deserved to win.  Jeff Samardzija is a fine pitcher, but he also has an ERA over 4.00.  He’s not unhittable.

Notes: All right, let’s look at the ninth and the tenth.  With Lynn unavailable, Matheny turned to the Patron Pitcher to try to get the last three outs.  It seems that Lyons might be getting these assignments more and more as the final month unfolds.  The only problem was, as you’ve been following along and seen, this was Lyons’s third day out there in a row.  While I think he might have gone in three straight games before, looking at his game log it was the first time this season he’d gone three straight days.  He’s also well over his career number of appearances, though being that he’s a former starter I don’t think that’s much of an issue.

With that kind of writeup, you’d think Lyons just blew it, but he didn’t.  He faced Hunter Pence first and got a ball hit almost right back to him.  It looked like he thought about trying to make a play on it, but decided to let the infielders have it.  Problem was there weren’t infielders where that ball went and it allowed Pence to start the inning with a single.  Joe Panik bunted him over and suddenly the tying run is on second with one out.

Now that’s a serious situation, especially with Buster Posey up, but Lyons has been your most reliable reliever over the second half.  Even when you factor in that Posey has an OPS closing in on 1.100 against lefties, you have Brandon Crawford (a lefty) and Pablo Sandoval (a switch-hitter that who is working on like an 0-30) coming up next.  I get that you aren’t excited about putting the go-ahead run on first, but I think I’d rather walk Posey and set up the double play possibility with Lyons facing a lefty in Crawford that OPSes .657 against those kind of pitchers this season than bring anyone else in.

My guess is that Matheny had Lyons on a short rope because of the no rest thing, but I guess my feeling would have been if he was on that short of a rope, he shouldn’t have been out there, and if you didn’t trust anyone else, then stick with him.  Instead, Matheny went with Seung-hwan Oh to face Posey.  And while Posey did get the hit and drive in the run, you really can’t blame Oh there.  He got Posey 1-2 and then threw a pitch off the plate.  Posey was just able to stick out his bat and flip it into the outfield, tying the game up.  Oh was done and Ryan Sherriff came in to exploit the left-handedness of Crawford and the weakness of Sandoval to at least keep the game tied.

In the tenth, Fowler led off with a shot into the alley, leading to yet another triple in this series.  (There were more triples this weekend then I think most months of the season.)  So you have the go-ahead run on third with nobody out.  Fowler gets replaced because he hurt his hip going around the bases and Bader comes in to pinch-run.  Surely this will make that ninth inning stuff just a nuisance as they’ll score and win the game with a strong bottom of the frame, right?

If you actually believed that, you probably haven’t watched the 2017 Cardinals that often.  Molina grounded out to third, keeping Bader on the bag.  Then, with one out, the blasted contact play was put on, a play that I swear costs more runs than it provides.  Sure enough, Piscotty smoked one right at third and, since Bader was running, he was easy pickings for Sandoval to Posey.  Greg Garcia grounds out, we go to the 10th where Sherriff allows a home run to the first batter, and somehow a game that was all but won is lost.  We’ve seen it way too often this year but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating or painful to watch again.

Sunday (7-3 win in San Francisco)

Hero: Jose Martinez.  I need to eat a lot of crow about Martinez.  I never quite understood why he stayed on the 40-man roster when the club needed spots for folks like Allen Cordoba this offseason.  I’ve never expected that he’d really be that big of a contributor.  Martinez has definitely proven me wrong, becoming a very solid fourth outfielder and making the most of the opportunities that he gets.  He’s no fielder and he probably doesn’t need to be out there every day, but he probably should play more than he does and this outfield logjam isn’t helping him.  If a number of folks were cleared out and he was the clear #4 guy next year, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.  In this one, he went three for five, hitting his 11th home run of the season.  The other two hits were doubles.

Goat: The bottom part of the lineup went 0-10 so you could take your pick, but Kolten Wong gets it again because he was the only one of those guys not to take a walk.

Notes: Luke Weaver has been outstanding since taking over in the rotation for Adam Wainwright.  He just missed striking out 10 for the third straight start, going seven and allowing just four hits and two runs.  Joe Schwarz over at The Intrepid STL took a look at what Weaver is doing now that is making him so successful and there doesn’t seem to be any reason that it won’t continue.  The battle for the last couple of spots in the 2018 rotation is going to be interesting and it’s definitely not going to be limited to spring training next season.  No, that battle is beginning now and Weaver is doing all he can to make the best of it.  By this time next season you could have a rotation of Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Alex Reyes, and Luke Weaver.  Or maybe Jack Flaherty is in there instead of Wacha or Wainwright, depending on health.  Or Austin Gomber could be in that mix.  So many options, so much to watch.

One of those options was going to be Sandy Alcantara and still could be, though the Cardinals have currently shifted him to the bullpen.  Alcantara made his debut in this one up 7-2 and immediately was touched for a home run.  He masterfully struck out Buster Posey before allowing another hit and was removed to make sure things didn’t get out of hand.  Alcantara’s going to still need some polish and it would seem most likely that he’d be in Memphis next year, but it’s possible the club thinks of him as another Trevor Rosenthal in the making and let him learn the bullpen craft at the big league level in 2018.  Just another variable!

Bader had another homer in this one and is hitting .333 in his short big league career.  If he stays hot, the outfield logjam becomes that much more difficult to navigate.  Fowler being hurt could ease it for a bit, but when he’s back there are basically four players for one spot.  Good thing Mike Matheny is so noted for deft manipulation of depth at a position.

I doubt you are still here by this point–this thing has grown to over 3200 words, which is why I wanted to spread it out from the transactions talk we had this morning–but if you are, the Cardinals will be taking on the Padres here in an hour or so.  Matt Carpenter is back in the leadoff spot, Dexter Fowler is still out, and Jose Martinez is playing first.  It’s not the strongest lineup we’ve seen, but especially with Jedd Gyorko out it’s not the worst one either.  Carlos Martinez takes the hill against Luis Perdomo, who did a number on the Cardinals a week or so ago when the Padres were in St. Louis.  Hopefully Martinez can return the favor this time around!

Also, if you are looking to kill some time before the game or after, check out Allen and I talking on Meet Me at Musial or Tara and I chatting on Gateway to Baseball Heaven.  Plus Allen has done some detailed examining of the rest of the schedule for the contenders and I’d recommend checking that out as well.  And, of course, there are two more Greatest Cardinal Moment matchups to vote in!  We’ll be back tomorrow with a shorter post, hopefully about a solid win!

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