C70 At The Bat

Resetting the Pattern

We remarked a week or so that the Cardinals had fallen into a distressing pattern.  Win one, lose three.  Win one, lose three.  Over the past week, though, the club has reversed that to a much more fun and acceptable arrangement.

Lose one, win three.

It started by dropping the finale in New York, then sweeping the Pirates in Busch.  On the road to Milwaukee, they dropped the first one of that set, seemingly ruining any momentum they might have had.  However, the next three worked out quite nicely and the Cards have moved from the cellar to, after Monday night’s play of other teams, a virtual tie for third and two games back of the division-leading-but-not-world-beating Cubs.  I’ve talked some about this series on both Meet Me at Musial and Gateway to Baseball Heaven, but you know the drill.  We’ve got to at least get our Heroes and Goats on for the last three in Milwaukee.

Friday (6-3 win)

Hero: Adam Wainwright.  We’re still waiting for Wainwright to pitch to a batter in the sixth inning of a game this year, but this time he packed a lot into his short time on the bump.  He allowed two runs, but struck out nine and walked none.  That’s a nice pitching line, but that’s not enough to get you the Hero tag.  Unless, of course, you give the team the lead by hitting a two-run homer and then extend it by singling in two more in the next frame.  You know how Waino loves to hit, so this is just about his perfect scenario, at least with the skill set he has these days.

Goat: Tougher to find one of these as every starter wound up with a hit.  I guess we’ll go with Yadier Molina, who did go one for three but drove in nobody, scored no runs, and left three on, more than anyone else.  It didn’t cost the team the game or anything, but it wasn’t exactly noteworthy either.

Notes: It was good to see Seung-hwan Oh have a relatively mild save outing for once.  He struck out the first two, allowed a flare single, then struck out Eric Thames to end the game.  That kind of domination has been very rare for Oh this year.  We saw him a couple more times this weekend, but this really was his best outing.

Dexter Fowler left this game with heel bursitis, which was worrisome and led to a lot of speculation.  Thankfully, it turned out to be a minor thing and we saw Fowler return to the lineup on Sunday.  While Fowler hasn’t yet clicked like you’d expect your big leadoff hitter to click, you don’t want to lose him for an extended period of time.  This lineup is already fairly tentative in spots.  Rearranging and trying to cover Fowler isn’t likely to make that better.

Very nice outing by Brett Cecil as he struck out the side.  Cecil seems to be becoming that key bullpen piece that we were expecting.  He’s not been charged with a run since his first outing against Washington, six appearances and 4.2 scoreless innings ago.   The more there are people that Mike Matheny can rely on down in the bullpen, the less he’ll have to use Matthew Bowman, increasing the chances Bowman’s arm stays attached.  That’s the theory, anyway.  You never quite know with Matheny and the bullpen, though it feels like he’s made a lot fewer questionable calls over this week than he did earlier in the season.

Kolten Wong went two for three in this one.  While I saw some folks questioning the quality of what he’s done and its sustainability, he hit .333 this past week with two doubles, a triple, and a homer.  He’s fourth on the team (third if you don’t count Wainwright) in OPS right now.  Wong’s always going to be a streaky hitter, I think, and he’s can’t complain much about his playing time this season.  Right now, quietly, it seems like the club is giving him the rope he needs.

Saturday (4-1 win)

Hero: Aledmys Diaz.  He got one at-bat, but he made the most of it, launching a pinch-hit home run (remember when that was almost standard last year?) and making a well-deserved winner out of Lance Lynn.  The Cards tacked on a couple more runs, which was good, but Diaz’s homer changed the game.

Goat: Kolten Wong.  Wong’s .333 average for the week is probably more impressive when you realize it also included this game, which saw him go 0-4 with a strikeout and five left on base.  That’s the way of baseball, though.  You have some bad games mixed in with the good.  You just hope that it’s a small seasoning and not an overwhelming addition.

Notes: It was a pretty nice series for Jedd Gyorko.  He had three hits and a homer on Thursday, two hits and a run on Friday, and then one hit and a hit-by-pitch in this one.  That hit, of course, was a ninth-inning, two-out triple that brought in Matt Carpenter and then a throwing error allowed him to come all the way around.  Given the shakiness of Oh (who, to be fair, had no problems in this one, retiring three in a row), that insurance was well received.

Greg Garcia led off in this one with Fowler out and got two hits.  I will say that, since Garcia got installed as a semi-regular after the apparent Matheny/John Mozeliak confab, Garcia’s hitting .190/.190/.333 and that includes the two hit day here.  It could just be a bad week, but it puts another point to the idea that Garcia’s a great supersub and a valuable part of the team, but if you can help it, you don’t want him starting every day.  Now, he may start all the games this week and hit .400, we’ll see, but I thought last year Garcia got a little exposed playing regularly.  We’ll see if he adjusts to the regular playing time soon.

A three-hit day by Molina and three hits also by Randal Grichuk.  Those guys hit back-to-back in the lineup and so you’d think they’d probably have a big part of the offense.  Instead, Molina didn’t score or drive anyone and Grichuk scored on a sac fly by Wong combined with an error on Ryan Braun for the club’s first run.  Then again, as we’ll discuss, the offense still hasn’t gotten itself all worked out yet.

Sunday (6-4 win)

Hero: If we gave Friday’s to Wainwright, it’s difficult to not give this one to Mike Leake.  Leake wasn’t quite as sharp as he’s been all season long, walking three when his total going into the game was one, but he went six innings, allowed just two runs, gave up just three hits, struck out six, and oh by the way drove in the go-ahead runs with a two-run single in the fourth.  He also scored a run in the third after reaching on an error.  Just another all-around game from a Cardinal pitcher, I suppose.

Goat: Tough day for Matt Carpenter.  He struck out three times and was ejected after complaining about the last one.  I was out mowing and didn’t see this, but apparently Carp had a legitimate case on strike two being a ball in that at bat and the frustration from that spilled over after the strikeout.  Carpenter does feel like he knows the strike zone better than the umpires (and, at times, he does) and it’s a little surprising that he’s not had more of an issue with the men in blue over the years.

Notes: The Cardinals had a 6-2 lead in the ninth until Jonathan Broxton came in.  Broxton had actually been all right over his last few outings.  I mean, you wouldn’t want him to throw in a high leverage situation or anything, but he did have scoreless frames in his last three before this one.  Thankfully there was a cushion–though I guess if there weren’t he wouldn’t have been out there–but Broxton gave up a homer to the first guy he faced and a single to the next guy before giving way to Oh.

I said before that Mike Matheny’s done better this week with his bullpen choices.  It’s hard to completely question it here since Matheny had been ejected and, as such, wasn’t supposed to be in charge of anything.  That said, it felt enough like what Matheny would do that it seems legitimate to assign it to him.  I’ll give a bit of a pass to using Trevor Rosenthal in the eighth, as he was already warmed up when the Cards scored their insurance runs.  However, Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons has been sitting down in the bullpen since Tuesday and has yet to get into a game.  It would have seemed a good time to at least let him get back on the mound to start the ninth.  Then maybe you aren’t in this situation.  You also have Miguel Socolovich, who hadn’t pitched since the opener on Thursday.  There were other options than immediately turning to Broxton, who had pitched both Thursday and Friday.

But let’s say that you go to Broxton and things still are the way they are.  You have a runner on first, nobody out, three run lead.  You have eight, nine, and one coming up assuming you can’t get a double play.  It’s not ideal, and I get wanting to nip things in the bud, but most of the pitchers out there are going to be able to get you out of that situation.  Then again, looking at it there may not have been as many options as I thought.  Rosenthal and Bowman had already been used.  You don’t trust Kevin Siegrist there.  Brett Cecil probably could use the day off.  Your options are probably to leave Broxton there to see if he can fix his mess (which he might have with the guys coming up), bring Lyons into an inning already started (not idea) or go with Miguel Socolovich.  I don’t think I’d have a problem with Socolovich there too much, at least to see if he could stem the tide.  Take out that disaster in Yankee Stadium and Soco’s ERA is under 1.50.  I think he’d have been fine to at least see if he could get the lower part of the order out.

Instead, whomever was in charge–and I don’t know who took over for Matheny, David Bell I guess?–went with Oh because, in part, it was a save situation.  No matter that Oh had thrown the past two days.  I’m sure they felt that with a day off on Monday things would be fine.  It worked out OK, but Oh walked the first man and wound up giving up an RBI single to Jonathan Villar, allowing both Thames and Braun to bat as the winning run.  He struck out Thames and got Braun to fly out, so there was no more damage except to the long-term health of most Cardinal fans.

As we talked about especially on Gateway, the Cards went 6-1 last week, which is great, but there’s still some of the same problems, especially when it comes to the offense.  Winning three 2-1 games, a game where your starter drives in four, a game where you go 0-14 with runners in scoring position, and a game where your starter drives in two isn’t exactly a sustainable model.  You’ll take it every time, of course, but it’s not ideal.  Hopefully the starting pitching will continue to be strong (maybe on both sides of the plate) and the offense can finally click.  I don’t know what it needs besides Fowler and Carpenter to really get going.  If they could click, things could look a lot better very soon.

As Derrick Goold points out, the Cards got away with things this weekend.  The pickoffs, for instance, wouldn’t have been so easily forgotten against a team that didn’t give second and third chances.  It’s hard to know much last week was because the team was improving, how much it due to the drop in competition, and how much was just some progression to the mean (is that a term? I feel like regression to the mean should mean you are dropping to a standard, but I guess it probably means coming toward the mean from both directions.  This is not a regression or a progression, but a digression).  With a banged-up and scuffling Blue Jays squad coming to Busch next, we may not really find out for a while.

It’s a rare time when these two birds flock together, but the Jays and the Cardinals do meet in St. Louis this week.  I would guess the most notable game between these two was the Chris Carpenter one-hitter in his return to Toronto and, of course, we all remember the trade between the two teams in 2011.  Otherwise, there’s not just a lot of history between the two, which at least means there’s some novelty to this series.

Michael Wacha will try to keep his momentum going against the crew from the frozen north.  Wacha has put a lot of folks at ease with his strong start, but I think there’s still going to be a little worry when he takes the mound.  That becomes less and less with every strong start, though.  Not a lot of folks here have seen much of Wacha and Tulowitzki is, I believe, on the disabled list.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Chris Coghlan 12 10 1 1 0 0 0 2 0 .100 .250 .200 .450 0 0 0 0 0
Kendrys Morales 9 7 3 0 0 0 0 2 0 .429 .556 .429 .984 0 0 0 0 0
Troy Tulowitzki 7 6 2 0 0 1 2 1 3 .333 .429 .833 1.262 0 0 1 0 0
Francisco Liriano 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Russell Martin 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 .000 .667 .000 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Darwin Barney 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Total 38 30 6 1 0 1 2 8 4 .200 .368 .333 .702 0 0 1 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/25/2017.

The Cardinals get to face Marco Estrada to start things off.  They’ve (I say they, I really mean the organization) have seen Estrada before as much of his career was spent in the National League.  Hopefully his career against the Cards continues as it left off, as Estrada is 0-5 with a 5.10 mark against the club.  Whether that will continue to translate to St. Louis doing damage off of him remains to be seen.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Yadier Molina 26 25 13 2 0 1 5 0 5 .520 .538 .720 1.258 0 0 0 1 0
Matt Carpenter 22 19 5 2 0 0 3 3 3 .263 .364 .368 .732 0 0 0 0 1
Matt Adams 16 15 3 0 0 1 1 1 4 .200 .250 .400 .650 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 7 7 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 .286 .286 .429 .714 0 0 0 0 1
Dexter Fowler 5 5 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 .200 .200 .200 .400 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 4 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 1 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 4 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 .000 .333 .000 .333 1 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 88 79 26 5 0 2 9 6 19 .329 .384 .468 .852 2 0 0 1 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/25/2017.

Have to like those numbers, don’t you?  Even the pitchers have gotten into the act.  It doesn’t look like a great matchup for Fowler to shed his shackles but that’s only five career AB.  It doesn’t really mean much.

Cards need to continue the momentum, but if they do lose tonight, perhaps we’ll get three more wins in a row?

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There was excitement, momentum, and a sense of optimism after the Cardinals swept the Pirates in Busch on Wednesday afternoon.  There was this idea that things had turned the corner and that everything might just be all right after all.

I really should have written yesterday morning.

Instead, the Cards go off to Milwaukee, a place where they’ve had a lot of success, with Carlos Martinez on the mound, and immediately squander a lot of that goodwill engendered by three straight wins.  Before we get into that, though, let’s take a moment to relieve the good times.

Wednesday (2-1 win)

Hero: Dexter Fowler.  When a guy basically provides all the offense and literally all the scoring, that’s likely to get him a Hero tag.  We commented after Tuesday’s game, where he took a walk and got a hit, that he might be coming out of his season-opening funk.  That surely seemed the case here, with his two homers providing all the scoring and he tossed in another hit to boot.  I’d say that’s the kind of day we thought we were getting when the Cards signed him, but I don’t think anyone really thought that two-homer days were going to be the norm.

Goat: Greg Garcia.  Good thing Fowler hit homers, because Garcia wasn’t going to be driving him in.  Slipped into the two spot perhaps in part because he was playing shortstop and that’s where Aledmys Diaz bats, Garcia went 0-4 with two strikeouts and had an error in the field.  Not the greatest way to earn playing time, but it seems like that talk John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny had is still holding, so he’ll probably see a few starts in Milwaukee.

Notes: Another great outing by the starter, this time Michael Wacha.  Wacha allowed a solo homer to Josh Bell, but otherwise was pretty effective, getting within one out of seven full innings.  He didn’t strike out many (three) but he didn’t allow many hits either (four).  I don’t know when we’ll completely feel comfortable with Wacha, if we ever will given the way that injury can flare up at any time, but we’re at least feeling a lot less anxious when he takes the mound than we did last season.

Give some credit to Kevin Siegrist (in part because we’re going to do some critiquing later).  He threw a scoreless inning but had to get five outs in the frame, as Matt Carpenter missed a throw and then Garcia botched what could have been a double play ball.  Toss in the standard walk that you get from Siegrist these days and, in a one-run game, disaster looked imminent.  Instead, he got Gregory Polanco (who’s been a thorn in the Cardinals side often) to ground out and the damage was avoided.  Trevor Rosenthal gave Seung-hwan Oh the day off and closed things down with two strikeouts, letting folks know that, if necessary, he could probably slide back into his old role.

So everyone left St. Louis upbeat and excited.  That just doesn’t last long these days.

Thursday (7-5 loss)

Hero: Kolten Wong.  Jedd Gyorko had the best night, but Wong might have had the biggest moment.  Already down 3-0 in the second inning, the Cardinals loaded the bases with nobody out.  Wong then laced a triple down the right-field line, tying up the ballgame.  While things bounced around after that, that was a key moment in getting the club to at least have a chance.  If the Cards didn’t score there or even got just one, I think it could have snowballed.  Instead, they were right back in it and, when Matt Carpenter homered a few innings later, actually had the lead.  (Briefly, because leads have a short shelf life this season, it seems.)

Goat: It’s tough not to say Carlos Martinez, since he gave up five runs in five innings, and I am going that way, but I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as maybe the line would indicate.  Martinez had nothing in the first inning, giving up a three-run bomb to Travis Shaw.  After that frame, though, he seemed to find his rhythm and looked more like the Martinez we remember, setting down I think 11 in a row before giving up a hit and being burned by possibly the most dangerous hitter in baseball at the moment.  Take out that first and it looks like a fairly good start (and if he’d not thrown 25 pitches then, he might have gone deeper in the game).  That said, you can’t just not count the first inning, unfortunately.

Notes: Gyorko did have an excellent night, going 3-3 with a walk, two doubles, and a homer.  Some nights, that’s enough to win the game right there, but this just wasn’t one of those nights.  Still, it proves that the third base mix-and-match with him and Garcia is likely to pay a lot of dividends and right now we don’t have to worry about a Matheny reversion in that area with Jhonny Peralta on the disabled list with some upper respiratory issue that was conveniently aggravated by the medicine they’d given him.  Lucky thing for the team, that.

Siegrist pitched in back-to-back games and, well, it turned out like you’d think.  This was actually the first time that he’d gone on consecutive days and he allowed a walk and a two-run homer to put the game out of reach.  He did wind up striking out the last two batters, but the damage was done.  Siegrist isn’t really fooling anyone this year–or, at least, he’s not when the ball is actually in the strike zone.  He now has 10 walks in 6.1 innings, which means he’s basically walked one person for every two outs he’s gotten this year.  He’s also given up five hits in that span, so you mix all that together and, well, it’s no surprise his ERA is about 10.

Al Hrabosky talked a lot last night about Siegrist just needing to get some work, but it’s hard to stomach that when most of that work is going to wind up coming when games are hanging in the balance.  Last night did snap a string of three straight scoreless outings for the reliever, but even in those games he walked a total of five.  He has had seven appearances and none of them have been “clean” outings.  The best one was the one we talked about above, against Pittsburgh, when at least two of the three runners he allowed weren’t really his fault.

When Rosenthal got bad last year, the command was an issue as well.  We know now that Rosenthal was dealing with some arm pain and not telling anyone.  Could Siegrist be having the same sort of problem?  He did admit after the game that his shoulder isn’t quite where it should be.  Or could it be that Matheny’s usage of Siegrist over the last few years (81 games in 2015, 67 games in 2016) is starting to take its toll?  I don’t know what the problem is, but the Cardinals have to figure it out.  With a 6-10 start, they can’t afford to give up too many more games while they are trying to see if Siegrist can get back to form.

With the Cardinals behind, it at least gave Matthew Bowman the night off.  Jonathan Broxton and Miguel Socolovich (you’d have not expected to see both of them after the return of the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons, but Peralta gave the club an out) threw two scoreless innings and at least gave the Cards a chance to rally.

I gave Martinez the Goat, but I could have probably given it to Fowler just as easily.  Many opportunities passed Fowler by last night.  After Wong tripled to tie the game (and a Martinez groundout), Fowler had a chance, with just a fly ball, to give the Cards a lead.  He struck out.  In the eighth, after Gyorko had homered, Garcia singled with two outs.  Fowler struck out to end the inning.  Fowler mixed another strikeout in there on his way to an 0-5 night.  Honestly, I’m surprised the Cards got five runs with their leadoff man not contributing.

The Cards slipped back into last place with the loss and Pittsburgh not playing.  They are tied with the Giants for the worst record in the National League and really only have the Blue Jays at 3-12 to thank for not having the worst record in baseball.  Insert sigh here.

There was some interesting news yesterday as MLB finally declared Cuban uber-prospect Luis Robert a free agent.  You’ve probably heard about Robert before–Kyle Reis has spoken about him some on the last couple of Meet Me at Musials–but if not, he’s a 19-year-old with power, speed, and everything else you could want in a player.  He’s been impressive in Cuba and really is the kind of player that every team would love to have in their organization.

Not every team can get him, though, given the international spending rules.  Some of the big guys–Boston, the Yankees, the Cubs–are on the sidelines for this one.  The Cardinals, however, are considered one of the favorites along with teams like Cincinnati, the White Sox, Houston, and San Diego.  If it comes down to what the organizations can afford, the Cards are in a real good position.  There’s always other factors involved–whether one of these teams desperate for help will go way over the top, if Robert has some sort of preference for where he plays, things like that–but you have to at least like St. Louis’s chances.

What’s it going to cost?  Bunches and bunches of money.  The only comparable situation is probably Yoan Moncada, who signed two years ago with the Red Sox.  Moncada received $31.5 million and the Red Sox also had to pay a dollar-for-dollar tax to MLB since they were over their spending limit for the period.  (The Cardinals will have to do the same as will most of their competitors for Robert, which may also give them a leg up as whatever you give him will cost double.)  However, in Moncada’s case, a lot of big-money teams were in the same competition, so it’s not surprising that the Red Sox had to go big to get him.  The Yankees, for instance, apparently offered $25 million and were willing to go to $27 million.

In theory, not having those large market teams there to run up the bidding would help the Cardinals.  That said, the Moncada signing is precedent.  You have to figure Robert’s camp is looking for something in that price range.  Maybe the price won’t be as high as it could have been, but it’s still going to cost the Cards quite a bit to lock him up.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t sign for maybe a little more than Moncada, given the history and how things are continuing to grow in revenue for clubs.

Hopefully St. Louis is committed to that.  They don’t pick until the third round of this year’s draft and aren’t likely to be able to get significant talent that way.  (Perhaps they can take the almost $3 million they can’t spend on draft picks this year and put it toward this contract.)  The international rules change going forward, so this is the best chance the Cards have at getting a prime talent.  It’s like when Delvin Perez slipped to them last year in the draft.  You have to take advantage of opportunities and this would be a huge one.  (Can you imagine in a couple of years having Perez at short, Robert in center, and Manny Machado at third?  That’s a lot of dreaming, but it’s a fun dream.)

All that’s the future, though.  Robert can’t sign until May 20, which means that we’ll have to wait a bit to see how it all plays out.  Until then, we have games to watch.  It’s an interesting commentary that, right now, the fan base is more excited about starts from the 3-4-5 starters than the top two guys in the rotation.  However, it’s Adam Wainwright‘s turn up and, given how he’s gone lately, putting him in Miller Park is such a worrying thing.  I know he’s done well against these guys in the past, but the way the ball can fly in Milwaukee coupled with the way Waino is going right now is scary.  Maybe facing a team he’s had success against will help him get on track, though.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Ryan Braun 86 80 17 4 0 2 7 3 21 .213 .256 .338 .593 0 1 1 2 4
Kirk Nieuwenhuis 13 12 2 0 0 0 0 1 4 .167 .231 .167 .397 0 0 1 0 1
Hernan Perez 10 10 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .200 .200 .200 .400 0 0 0 0 1
Jonathan Villar 10 8 2 0 0 0 0 2 2 .250 .400 .250 .650 0 0 0 0 0
Wily Peralta 6 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Keon Broxton 5 4 3 1 0 1 1 1 1 .750 .800 1.750 2.550 0 0 0 0 0
Jimmy Nelson 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Orlando Arcia 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 1
Nick Franklin 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Domingo Santana 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Chase Anderson 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 145 133 27 5 0 3 8 8 38 .203 .257 .308 .565 1 1 2 2 7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/21/2017.

Wily Peralta is going for the Brewers.  Peralta’s been tough on the Cards at times and had mixed results against them last year.  His first start, he gave up five runs in five innings.  His second, three in five.  His last, he gave up one run and struck out 10 in seven.  Let’s hope for more of the former and less of the latter tonight, shall we?

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Carpenter 46 41 19 5 0 3 7 4 5 .463 .522 .805 1.327 0 0 0 1 0
Yadier Molina 37 35 10 1 0 0 4 2 5 .286 .324 .314 .639 0 0 0 0 1
Kolten Wong 30 27 5 0 1 0 3 2 7 .185 .233 .259 .493 0 1 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 29 27 5 1 0 0 0 2 3 .185 .241 .222 .464 0 0 0 0 1
Matt Adams 24 22 3 0 0 0 2 2 3 .136 .208 .136 .345 0 0 0 0 2
Dexter Fowler 21 18 3 1 0 0 2 2 5 .167 .286 .222 .508 0 0 0 1 0
Stephen Piscotty 12 9 3 0 0 0 3 3 4 .333 .500 .333 .833 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 11 11 4 0 0 1 2 0 2 .364 .364 .636 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 10 10 4 0 0 1 2 0 2 .400 .400 .700 1.100 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 6 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Aledmys Diaz 5 5 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 .600 .600 .800 1.400 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Wacha 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 241 220 59 9 1 5 25 17 41 .268 .325 .386 .711 1 1 0 2 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/21/2017.

If the Cardinals don’t at least split this series, things will be pretty bad.  A win of the series would be much better, but that means taking tonight’s game.  So let’s do that!

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Breaking the Pattern

We talked yesterday about how the Cardinals had had a rhythm this year, though not one that was pleasing to the ear.  A win, followed by three losses.  A win, followed by three losses.  A win, followed by three losses.

Last night’s discordant note in that rhythm was sweet music to the ears.

It again wasn’t easy and again the offense didn’t really show up, but there was just enough of it to make Mike Leake–yet again our Hero of the evening–a winner for the second time this season.  Leake pitched into the seventh, allowing just one run and trusting his defense to help him out, fanning just one batter.  For the most part, the defense did just that and Leake went five scoreless before the Pirates bunched a couple of hits and a groundout together to snap his scoreless streak just shy of 15 innings.  (If you were to ask who had the longest scoring drought, Leake or the offense, you’d probably have to think hard about your choice.)

Leake left in the seventh after the Pirates were able to get a couple of hits against him, but the bullpen took care of business.  Brett Cecil came in and, four pitches later, the Cards were out of the inning with a double play.  While there still seem to be some questions about Cecil’s velocity, this was his fourth consecutive outing without allowing a run, dropping his ERA from 15 to just under eight.  Given his start I think it’s going to be a little while still before we are completely comfortable when Cecil gets the call, but it’s at least getting easier to see what John Mozeliak saw when he decided to sign him.

Matthew Bowman handled the eighth as, given the way the evening went, apparently the Cardinals aren’t quite ready to let Trevor Rosenthal pitch on back to back nights yet.  Bowman actually is a guy that there is some confidence in with the fanbase and he continued to live up to that, giving up one hit but nothing else (and, if I’m remembering correctly, it was a solid hit but one the shortstop could have possibly made a play on).  There are not many folks out in that bullpen that nobody gets anxious about when they start warming, but Bowman is one of them.  While he is, I believe, the only person in the bullpen with options, there’s no way the Cardinals demote him with Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons is ready in a couple of days.  It might be the easy move, but it surely wouldn’t make the team better.

As someone said (approximately) last night on Twitter, apparently Seung-hwan Oh went to the Cardinal Closer Conference this winter and got instruction from Jason Isringhausen and the bad Trevor Rosenthal on how to pitch a ninth inning.  Oh obviously hasn’t been the dominant force that he was last season and last night added to his shaky campaign.  Putting two on with nobody out and having bases loaded with one out is not a great way to handle a one-run lead.  However, Oh got the comebacker that he was able to get the runner at home and then a flyout to end the game.

Rosenthal wasn’t warming behind Oh–nobody was, but really, with Bowman already used, would you want anyone but Rosenthal coming in?–which lends credence to the idea that they don’t want Rosie going on consecutive nights yet.  That being said, it may be something that they need to get comfortable with quickly.  It would have been devastating to the just-blooming self-confidence of this team to have lost that game last night.  They really needed that win and thankfully they got it, but it would have been nice to have a bit of an insurance policy.

(Side note: reading the above linked article, I see Matheny is indicating a lack of use could be part of Oh’s problem.  While I’m not discounting the fact we’ve not seen Oh a lot and that could play some role, has there ever been a problem that Matheny didn’t think could be solved by just playing people more?  Has he ever said, “Man, we are just playing him too much.  That’s got to change.”?  I imagine that if he gets bad service at a restaurant, he just thinks that the server hasn’t worked in a few days and he’ll be better if he just puts in a few days in a row.)

They weren’t going to get that insurance from the offense, unfortunately.  The club had four hits last night, including a leadoff triple from Dexter Fowler that was great to see.  Fowler also drew a walk, which hopefully means he’s starting to get into his comfort zone at the plate.  This lineup is going to have a much better chance of succeeding when he is producing at the top of it.  Fowler scored on a Stephen Piscotty triple and then the SuperSubs, Greg Garcia and Jose Martinez, combined to put the other tally on the board.  Matt Carpenter might want to hurry back before the club realizes they’ve won 40% of their games without him.

On the down side, it was another rough night for Aledmys Diaz, who takes home the Goat.  0-4, three left on, and while he wasn’t charged with any errors, there were at least two plays that I saw (and I didn’t get to watch until about the sixth) that he should have made but didn’t.  Diaz was the subject of a Twitter conversation last night as our friend Kevin Reynolds felt like he needed a mental break and a day off.  It’s a reasonable enough thought and with a day game today, you might see Garcia slide over to second and Jedd Gyorko take over third for the afternoon.  Diaz is 0-16 in the last four games, which might indicate needing a reset as well.

Kevin’s point was that this is a young guy that’s wearing down over carrying the team.  Maybe that’s right, but I don’t know that Diaz has changed his approach in the last few days.  After all, he has zero walks on the season, so it’s not like he was being patient until the Cards started being terrible and he decided to expand and press.  Interestingly, Diaz has five multi-hit games and only one game where he has one hits.  It’s coming in bunches for him, which wasn’t how 2016 went I don’t believe.  He’s still making contact–only six strikeouts–but he seems to take a rip at just about everything that comes up there, especially the ankle high pitches.  If he can calm down and focus, he’s going to be fine.  So maybe a day off along with some encouragement and discussion with the coaching staff can provide that focus.

While we don’t know for sure there was a meeting between Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak on Monday, the actions since then sure seem to indicate there were.  Besides the fact that Mo wouldn’t have talked to the press without getting on the same wavelength as his manager, Jhonny Peralta sat yet again, Matt Adams was still not in the outfield (nor first base, which is kinda funny that he still can’t play first with Carpenter hurting, but it is hard to argue with the way Martinez is swinging right now), and Carpenter–after Mo and Matheny both earlier maintaining he wasn’t going to do anything but play first–took ground balls at third before the game.  It only makes sense to let Carp play some third, given the options.  I still think 80% or more of his time will be at first, but when you can shift him to third and let Adams play first against a guy that struggles against lefties, why don’t you do it?  Or if you need another right-handed bat in the lineup, you can either choose Gyorko/Garcia at third or Martinez at first and still have your best hitter available.  Regular listeners to the podcasts will know I was very surprised they committed to Carp at first so early in the offseason.  Hopefully moving occasionally won’t be a huge detriment to him.

It’s Michael Wacha against Gerrit Cole in what could be a regular matchup of good young pitchers.  Cole is always a tough one for the Cardinals to solve.  Carpenter will likely be back in the lineup if at all possible, given his success, but I wouldn’t expect many runs from St. Louis.  Then again, when do we these days?

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Carpenter 35 31 10 1 0 3 5 4 3 .323 .400 .645 1.045 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 26 26 4 1 0 1 2 0 4 .154 .154 .308 .462 0 0 0 0 1
Yadier Molina 25 24 4 0 1 1 2 1 1 .167 .200 .375 .575 0 0 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 25 23 7 2 0 0 0 2 6 .304 .360 .391 .751 0 0 0 0 0
Dexter Fowler 24 22 8 1 0 1 1 2 6 .364 .417 .545 .962 0 0 0 0 1
Matt Adams 19 18 3 1 0 0 0 1 5 .167 .211 .222 .433 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 11 10 3 2 0 1 3 0 5 .300 .300 .800 1.100 1 0 0 0 0
Stephen Piscotty 9 9 3 0 0 0 1 0 2 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 8 6 1 0 0 0 0 2 1 .167 .375 .167 .542 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 6 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .167 .167 .167 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 6 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 .167 .167 .167 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Wacha 6 5 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 .000 .167 .000 .167 0 0 0 0 0
Aledmys Diaz 4 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .500 .667 1.167 0 0 0 1 0
Adam Wainwright 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Eric Fryer 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 207 192 46 9 1 7 14 13 44 .240 .291 .406 .698 1 0 0 1 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/19/2017.

Cole is coming off allowing just two runs in six innings against the Cubs as part of the sweep the Pirates put on those baby bears this past weekend.  Wacha, of course, gave up some long balls in New York but on the whole has looked pretty decent so far this year.  He has good memories about going up against Pittsburgh (the 2013 playoffs, for instance) but they’ve actually got some fairly good offensive numbers against him, which may be a product of his struggles the last couple of years.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Andrew McCutchen 30 28 12 2 1 1 3 2 6 .429 .467 .679 1.145 0 0 0 0 0
Jordy Mercer 22 18 3 1 0 0 0 4 3 .167 .318 .222 .540 0 0 1 0 0
Gregory Polanco 22 20 7 2 1 0 2 2 4 .350 .409 .550 .959 0 0 1 0 0
Josh Harrison 14 14 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 .071 .071 .071 .143 0 0 0 0 0
Francisco Cervelli 12 11 4 0 0 1 5 1 2 .364 .417 .636 1.053 0 0 0 0 0
John Jaso 10 9 4 0 0 1 3 1 1 .444 .500 .778 1.278 0 0 0 0 0
Gerrit Cole 8 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Stewart 8 7 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 .286 .286 .429 .714 1 0 0 0 0
David Freese 7 7 3 0 0 0 1 0 1 .429 .429 .429 .857 0 0 0 0 0
Josh Bell 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Frazier 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 135 124 37 6 2 3 17 10 22 .298 .351 .452 .802 1 0 2 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/19/2017.

It might be asking a lot for this club to sweep but it’d be awful nice.  You look at the division and the Cards are just a game behind the Pirates for fourth and 2 1/2 out of second.  (Would have been nice if the Brewers had hung on last night against the Cubs–the gap to second would have been larger but then Chicago and Pittsburgh would have been tied.)  Let’s hope this is the start of better things!

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Leaning on Lynn

Thankfully, they kept to the pattern.  Hopefully tonight, they’ll break it.

As someone pointed out on Twitter Sunday night, the Cardinals have had three sets of games where they had a win followed by three losses.  After being swept by the Yankees this weekend, the pattern said they were due for a win.  It didn’t come easy, but they got it.

That win would not have been possible without the stellar work of Lance Lynn, our Hero for the night.  Lynn allowed just three hits in seven innings and made the solo home run by Kolten Wong stand up until a little insurance could be gathered in the bottom of the eighth.  (Insurance that was sorely needed, as it turned out.)  Save for hitting Josh Harrison twice (and I swear Harrison moved his leg back into the danger zone on that second one), Lynn had no problems keeping the Pirate offense quiet.

We’ve often talked about the difference in Lynn coming back than others that had Tommy John surgery, probably including Alex Reyes next season.  With Lynn having his so early in the offseason instead of as people wind up back in spring camp, that gave him about five months’ head start on rehab, letting him get back into minor league games last year before the season was over and allowing a full regular offseason.  So far, that seems to be a pretty key thing as Lynn’s had two good starts and one marred by home runs.  When you look at Adam Wainwright‘s first three starts of 2012, for instance, there’s a lot of runs and not a lot of innings as he started to build up to what he needed to be.  Lynn’s there and while we’ll still see a little inconsistency, I think we can rely more on “regular Lynn” than even we expected.

The offense, though, is still not clicking.  It was great to see Wong get that big home run and I’m sure he was excited about it.  That hit was 20% of the hits and 50% of the runs, though.  That’s not exactly where you want to see things.  I know Mike Leake has been going very well, but I still think asking him to throw shutout ball is a big ask.  The team’s going to have to put some runs on the board if they want to break the pattern we talked about above.

If that’s going to happen, it’s going to have to happen at the top.  Dexter Fowler gets the Goat again for an 0-4 night, a line that is becoming depressingly familiar from the leadoff hitter.  Nobody’s writing off that contract and I don’t think folks have turned on Fowler yet, but we are starting to see (in the opposite vein) why the Cubs felt their offense only clicked when he was going.  This dream Cardinal fans had of Fowler and Aledmys Diaz getting on for Carpenter and some big early innings just really hasn’t come to fruition yet.  If and when it does, things will start to turn around, but Fowler is the key.

With Lynn going seven innings, he left limited chances for the bullpen to cause problems, yet they almost did.  I say they, but Trevor Rosenthal was just fine in his inning of work, pitching a clean frame and striking out a batter.  Thankfully Randal Grichuk (who had two of the five hits, so perhaps moving up to cleanup suited him) and Jose Martinez (playing first since Matt Carpenter‘s finger was still iffy) combined on an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh, because Seung-hwan Oh allowed one run and had the tying run on second before getting a groundout from John Jaso to end the game.  What is it about returning folks to the ninth inning?  Do the Cardinals just need to have a new closer every year?

While the game was enjoyable, the media scrum before the game might have been even more interesting.  John Mozeliak met the media and in his subtle, understated way, kinda laid down the law.  Mo noted that there’s no one button to push to fix things and, honestly, there weren’t going to be many personnel changes as the folks at AAA really aren’t ready to provide that spark, though the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons will be coming to St. Louis this week after his outing in Memphis yesterday (4.2 innings, six hits, two runs).  Obviously, since it’s going to be a release situation no matter who is chosen (because Matthew Bowman isn’t heading down I-55), Mozeliak didn’t give any details of the other side of the transaction.

In what might have been a rebuke to his manager, Mozeliak also basically declared the Matt Adams Experiment over, saying that he didn’t feel it fit with their offseason plan of defense and that it was very tough to learn that at the big league level.  While Mike Matheny could still run him out there, I guess, it would seem unwise to upset a Wookiee….wait, sorry, how did that get in there?…to upset his boss with a pretty flagrant display of insubordination.  I am not saying we won’t see Adams in the outfield ever again, but I’d been very stunned if he ever started there and you probably could count the number of innings he’ll play the rest of the year and not run out of fingers.

Mozeliak also commented on Jhonny Peralta, who was not in the lineup again yesterday, saying that the production hasn’t been there, which is nothing we didn’t know but it’s always good to hear that management is aware of it.  He also said they’d be willing to move Carpenter off of first if necessary, which is not something that has come across in the first two weeks (though, again, Mo made that sound like it was a last resort kinda thing.)

With all these comments, you have to wonder if Mo and Matheny didn’t have a little sit-down Monday morning.  So many of these issues are ones that at least the fans have felt Matheny has dug in his heels over, so to see Mo come out and basically overrule Matheny’s philosophy is interesting.  I’m not saying they aren’t on the same page or Matheny’s in any kind of jeopardy, but it is interesting that Mozeliak made a point to address all of these things.  If you want to read into it, you could wonder if Mo was trying to insure Matheny’s cooperation by leaving him no room to disagree without getting some very pointed media questions about why he was doing things different than his boss had indicated.  It might have been more cordial, more of a meeting of the minds than we as outsiders perceive it to be, but I do think it’s an interesting dynamic.  One that I expect Mo will be asked about come Blogger Day, whenever that might be.

Carpenter should be back tonight, you’d think, and Leake is on the mound hoping to put together the first winning streak of the season as he matches up against Chad Kuhl.  Leake has given up just one run this season, though if the offense doesn’t come together, even giving up one run could spell doom.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Andrew McCutchen 85 77 19 1 0 2 6 5 17 .247 .318 .338 .655 0 0 0 3 0
Starling Marte 47 44 11 2 0 1 2 0 11 .250 .298 .364 .662 0 0 0 3 1
Josh Harrison 38 34 9 1 0 1 3 1 2 .265 .297 .382 .680 1 1 0 1 0
Jordy Mercer 31 27 9 2 0 0 2 2 2 .333 .367 .407 .774 1 1 2 0 0
David Freese 29 28 15 3 0 1 6 1 2 .536 .552 .750 1.302 0 0 0 0 0
Gregory Polanco 29 25 5 1 0 0 3 4 4 .200 .310 .240 .550 0 0 0 0 0
Francisco Cervelli 13 12 4 2 0 0 3 1 3 .333 .385 .500 .885 0 0 0 0 1
John Jaso 11 11 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 .091 .091 .273 .364 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Stewart 9 9 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 .222 .222 .222 .444 0 0 0 0 0
Gerrit Cole 8 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 5 .125 .125 .125 .250 0 0 0 0 0
Philip Gosselin 5 4 2 0 0 1 3 1 0 .500 .600 1.250 1.850 0 0 0 0 1
Juan Nicasio 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Hudson 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Jameson Taillon 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Total 312 284 78 12 1 6 30 15 49 .275 .325 .387 .712 4 2 2 7 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/18/2017.

Leake’s had his issues with the Pirate hitters in the past, especially the Hero of Game 6 (who is off to a good start with the Pirates anyway).  It’s also nice to see that the standing ovations for David Freese have stopped.  Still gets a round of applause, which is fine, but the ovations were going to be a little tough to sustain.

Kuhl faced the Cards twice in September last year, allowing a total of five runs in seven innings.  It’d be nice to see some of that offensive explosion tonight, though Kuhl is coming off allowing just one run in 6.1 innings against the Red Sox in Fenway.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Carpenter 5 4 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 .500 .600 .750 1.350 0 0 0 1 0
Yadier Molina 5 4 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 .500 .600 .500 1.100 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Piscotty 5 5 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 .200 .200 .400 .600 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 4 3 1 0 0 0 0 1 2 .333 .500 .333 .833 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Aledmys Diaz 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 1 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 1.000 1.000 2.000 3.000 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 33 30 11 4 0 0 3 2 7 .367 .424 .500 .924 0 0 0 1 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/18/2017.

A winning streak.  Sounds nice.  Let’s try that.

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Trying To Find The Words

I’ve done two podcasts this weekend (Meet Me at Musial and Gateway To Baseball Heaven) that totaled close to three hours and it’s still hard to come up with words to describe how the Cardinals are playing right now.  Especially if you, like myself, limit yourself only to words that don’t get you an explicit rating on iTunes.  Let’s quickly sum up the weekend in New York and then maybe discuss more of the issues, if we can figure out exactly how to do so.

Friday (4-3 loss)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  He only had one hit, but it was a two-run homer in the first inning that looked to kick the weekend off right.  Unfortunately, the lead didn’t get past the first two Yankee hitters.

Goat: Dexter Fowler. 0-5 and left four men on base.  Fowler’s really been struggling of late and, as Tara and I noted last night, you don’t see that smile nearly as much anymore, which is too bad.

Notes: Michael Wacha wasn’t terrible, but again, it’d be nice if the Cardinals could hold a lead for more than three batters.  He gave up another run on a homer, but both of those (while well struck) might have been a factor of playing in Yankee Stadium, which isn’t necessarily known as a pitcher’s park.  The fourth run was unearned and costly as Kolten Wong threw a bit wildly to the plate and Yadier Molina didn’t pick it up.  Some blame on both sides there, really.

Of course, this game was notable for how close the Cardinals got to tying the game and, more amazingly, scoring off of Aroldis Chapman.  The Cardinals haven’t scored on Chapman since 2011, if my rough research is correct, but had Randal Grichuk on first when Jose Martinez does what he does against Chapman, doubling into the gap.  Chris Maloney didn’t send Grichuk, which was probably the right play since Grichuk had been watching the outfielders instead of his coach.  If he’s focused on his baserunning, he probably at least can make an attempt at home.  Unsurprisingly, the rally died and the game was over with the next batter.

Saturday (3-2 loss)

Hero: Jedd Gyorko.  Gyorko and Stephen Piscotty provided the only offense, both hitting solo homers late after the Cards had gone down by three.  Gyorko gets the nod because the only difference in their lines was that Piscotty left a man on.  Still, there wasn’t much going on in this one that was worth noting here.

Goat: Carlos Martinez.  It’s pretty interesting to put a guy that was working on a no-hitter for a little while in this spot, but when that said no-hitter has more runners on the bases than bloggers in the buffet line in a suite at Busch Stadium on Blogger Day (that’s a lot), it kinda loses its impact.  Martinez threw 118 pitches in 5.1 innings, which is basically insane and might not have happened if Mike Matheny thought he could trust his bullpen.  (This would be the kind of game it’d be nice if Trevor Rosenthal was stretched out like he was supposed to be.  Though that might be overrated a bit–he threw three innings at the end of last season with no prior workup to that level.)  Martinez struck out eight but walked 11 and according to my Gateway cohost (because I didn’t get to see this one) didn’t seem focused or concerned at all.  What most amazed me was reading that in the first two innings, Martinez struck out six…..and walked six.  That’s a tough way to keep a scoreless game.

Notes: A decent enough outing by the bullpen.  Brett Cecil struck out the two batters he faced and Miguel Socolovich and Jonathan Broxton finished it up with two scoreless innings.  Had the offense been able to rally, that could have been a huge boost for the team.

Sunday (9-3 loss)

Hero: Greg Garcia.  Getting his first start of the year, Garcia had two hits and drove in the first Cardinal run, again a lead that evaporated by the end of the inning.  Garcia did drop an easy throw at second, but was part of two of the four double plays the team turned.

Goat: Adam Wainwright.  For a while there, it felt like some of the Twitter carping might have been a bit overblown.  Wainwright, staked to that 1-0 lead, gave up a single, a home run that wasn’t, then a home run that was and it was suddenly 3-1.  He settled a bit after that and threw two scoreless frames, but he couldn’t get out of the fifth, allowing another run and leaving two runners on for Matthew Bowman to clean up.

As much as we all love Wainwright, 100 pitches in five innings, which is pretty much where he’s been in all three starts, isn’t going to cut it.  The only good game he had was in Busch and even then there were a number of fly balls that might have been much more trouble in a smaller ballpark.  To his credit, Wainwright didn’t admit to any easy answers after the game, saying he thought he threw well–much better than against Washington–but didn’t really know what the problem was.  Hopefully he can come up with something.  That said, it’s Adam Wainwright.  The club is going to run him out there as often as they can to see if he can fix it and I don’t think most of us have a problem with that.  The question is going to come if and when it is obvious that fix isn’t coming.

Roy Halladay‘s name got bandied about on Twitter last night as a bit of a cautionary tale.  Halladay had sub-3 ERAs all the way to 2011, and we all remember that legendary Game 5 matchup against Chris Carpenter.  In 2012, he strained his shoulder and had an ERA around 4.50.  The next year, he got hurt again, threw 60 innings, had an ERA of almost 7, and retired.  Life comes at you fast.  Halladay was 35 and 36 those last two seasons.  Wainwright is 35 now.  Sometimes pitchers just drop off a cliff, not gradually ride off into the sunset.  Wainwright’s going to have to work to prove that’s not the case for him.

Notes: Oh, Soco.  Socolovich had been so effective this season, but for whatever reason, maybe coming out of the pen on back-to-back days, he didn’t have it last night, allowing five runners in the eighth, all of which scored.  A lot of people feel like he just gave the club a rationale for cutting him (and not Broxton) loose when Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons returns shortly.  I still believe the club wouldn’t cut him over that, but I will admit the front office has never been all that enamored with him for whatever reason, letting him languish in Memphis last season for instance.  Again, my feeling is the club would like to keep control of him, but there’s no guarantee.

I do feel like the roster is going to get a shakeup soon.  From the fan’s perspective, there’s a listlessness and plodding that you see out of teams in the middle of the second half of the season, not right out of the gate.  As we saw last year, every game counts and it is hard to believe that John Mozeliak will let this team get much further without some sort of kick in the pants.  My guess was that we’d see Lyons activated today instead of him starting at Memphis, but given that the Redbirds’ game starts at 11 and Lyons is still listed as the starter, that seems like it’s not going to happen.  Why not, I couldn’t tell you.  It definitely doesn’t look like he needs any more time down there.

The two evaporated leads this weekend made me curious.  Just how long have leads lasted this year?  Not long, obviously, but let’s quantify:

Game Lead Acquired Lead Lost
1 B3 T9
1 B9 N/A
3 B1 T7
5 B1 N/A
7 T2 B2
7 T3 B4
7 T5 B5
8 T1 B3
9 T1 N/A
10 T1 B1
12 T2 B2

So it’s not quite as bad as I thought, but five of the 11 leads this season lasted less than two innings and a sixth was gone after three.  Three time so far they’ve given the lead immediately up after taking it.  It’s tough to build a winning feeling that way.  It always feels like doom is right around the corner.  Also, I don’t believe they’ve come from more than one run down this season.  I didn’t mark that in my look and I don’t have time to revisit, but it feels like when they are down, they are down, and when they are up, they are going to be down.  It’s not a pleasant way to go.

Hopefully returning home (where the Cards have two of their three wins, so they are doing better at home just like we thought they would!) will help out.  Pittsburgh just swept the Cubs, which is nice in a lot of ways, but they’ll be coming in with momentum.  Lance Lynn will go for the Cardinals, looking to be more like his first start than his second, and Ivan Nova will be on the bump for the Pirates.  Cards have a total of 17 plate appearances against Nova, 11 of which have come from Jhonny Peralta, who is 3-11 with a double and three strikeouts.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on whether he’ll be in the lineup today.

Lynn, on the other hand, is very familiar with the Pirates hitters and vice versa.  Pittsburgh’s done all right against him in the past, it seems.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Andrew McCutchen 48 47 8 4 0 0 2 1 18 .170 .188 .255 .443 0 0 0 0 0
Starling Marte 33 25 8 2 1 0 0 3 6 .320 .485 .480 .965 0 0 0 5 0
Josh Harrison 22 22 8 2 0 1 2 0 2 .364 .364 .591 .955 0 0 0 0 1
Jordy Mercer 20 18 7 3 0 0 4 2 2 .389 .450 .556 1.006 0 0 1 0 0
Gregory Polanco 14 12 4 1 0 0 1 2 3 .333 .429 .417 .845 0 0 0 0 0
Gerrit Cole 10 8 2 0 0 0 1 0 4 .250 .250 .250 .500 2 0 0 0 0
Francisco Cervelli 6 5 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .200 .333 .200 .533 0 0 0 1 0
Chris Stewart 5 5 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 .400 .400 .400 .800 0 0 0 0 0
Total 158 142 40 12 1 1 10 8 38 .282 .346 .401 .748 2 0 1 6 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/17/2017.

It would be really nice to see a sharp, well-played, Cardinal win tonight. I think Cardinal Nation needs it for their mental health!

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All According To Plan

Baseball, as we’ve noted before, has its stubborn streak, at times determined not to follow the script.  So it wasn’t as much of a surprise to see a struggling Cardinal team on a three game losing streak face Max Scherzer, one of baseball’s top pitchers, with a getaway-day-looking lineup and win, just because we’ve gotten a feel for how twisted baseball can be at times.  When everything is pointing one way, that’s about the time baseball goes the other.  It can be frustrating, but this time it was very, very welcome.

While the Cardinals did some damage against Scherzer–with a little help–the biggest reason they won was the starter, the Hero, Mike Leake.  Leake looked like he was contracting whatever the rest of the rotation had this week when, having been staked to a 1-0 lead, had runners on first and third with nobody out in the bottom of the first.  This was about the time everyone expected the roof to cave in, but Leake picked off Anthony Rendon then struck out Bryce Harper and got Danny Murphy to ground out.  Everyone sat up a bit straighter.

Rendon’s single would be the last base runner Leake allowed until Murphy singled with two outs in the seventh.  Leake was masterful, throwing seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts tossed in for good measure.  You don’t know how long this will last, as the defense is still not quite as improved as we hoped it would be, but right now Leake is the best pitcher in the rotation.  (We’ll see if Michael Wacha has anything to say about that on Friday night.)  It was a shot in the arm to see him have such success.

The offense, at least for the most part, did just enough to help him.  You’d think if Scherzer struck out 10 and allowed just four hits over six innings he’s probably going to be winning, but three errors behind him and three wild pitches (possibly indicating he and catcher Matt Wieters weren’t on the same page) did him in.  Stephen Piscotty had a case for being the Hero, doubling in the first run and singling in the third run.  He also put the game out of reach in the ninth, clubbing a three-run homer off of Joe Blanton.  We’ve worried about Piscotty some, what with the quiet spring and then a slow start to the season, but it would seem that he’s starting to get back to the level that earned him that contract extension.  This offense will look much better if Piscotty’s there in the fourth spot quietly producing.

He didn’t do much at the plate (1-4) but Jedd Gyorko might have saved the game in the eighth.  Trevor Rosenthal started the inning and the good feelings that Rosie had engendered with his dominant first outing took a hit as the Nationals, well, hit.  After striking out the first batter (giving him four straight over his two outings), he gave up three hits in a row, plating Washington’s only run and leaving runners at the corners.  Mike Matheny went to Matthew Bowman, who did his job by getting a ground ball that got one out but left runners at the corners for Harper.  Matheny then went to Brett Cecil, which put knots into people’s stomachs.  It looked to do more than that when Harper hit a rocket to left, but Gyorko snagged the ball in a very nice play (that Jhonny Peralta doesn’t make) that saved at least one, possibly two runs.

If that had gone the other way, our Goat is probably Cecil or Rosenthal.  Instead, it’s a bit of a tossup between two players that I like a lot but are making it harder and harder to defend them.  Matt Adams again started in left and, while I didn’t see much of the game, I don’t think he had any atrocious fielding chances.  However, he went 0-3 with two strikeouts and three left on before Randal Grichuk took over for defensive purposes.  I could select him, but I think I’m going to go with Kolten Wong, who looked terrible in a couple of his plate appearances from all accounts.  Wong went 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on as well.  Hopefully Wong uses the off day to clear his head and not carry this with him.  If he’s going to earn that second base spot–and that’s becoming much more of an if than when–he’s got to be able to put the bad days behind him, something that’s not always been easy for him in the past.

There’s no doubt that it’s a much better feeling to go into an off-day with a win than otherwise.  A lot of the problems the Cardinals have been having still showed up Thursday–the offense was pretty quiet other than Piscotty and the bullpen almost took an amazing Leake performance and….I feel there’s a crude pun here but I don’t think I’ll walk that path–but there were some hopeful signs.  We’ll see how the regular lineup (such as it is with the various swaps and such) performs on Friday night before getting too euphoric.

As mentioned, Wacha will go up against Masahiro Tanaka in the opening game in Yankee Stadium Friday evening.  (I loved the factoid from Jenifer Langosch–the last time the Cardinals played the Yankees in New York, Matheny and Joe Girardi were the catchers.  Now they’re the managers.)  Tanaka has a 11.74 ERA on the young season, having been blasted in his first outing before giving up three in five last time out.  Baseball the way it is, it would be just like this team to beat Scherzer and then lose to Tanaka.  None of the Cardinals have ever faced Tanaka, and you know how that goes sometimes.

Wacha looked very good in his first outing and hopefully will continue to do so in this one.  In a small sample, the few Yanks that have faced him (including Starlin Castro from his time with the Cubs) have done pretty well, but with Wacha it is all about how healthy he is when you see him.  Now that he’s sharp, there’s a good chance these numbers mean less than they normally do.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Starlin Castro 25 24 11 2 0 3 8 1 5 .458 .480 .917 1.397 0 0 0 0 0
Jacoby Ellsbury 9 9 4 1 0 0 1 0 2 .444 .444 .556 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Carter 8 7 2 0 0 2 2 1 3 .286 .375 1.143 1.518 0 0 0 0 0
Brett Gardner 3 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 1 0 0 0
Total 45 41 17 3 0 5 12 3 10 .415 .444 .854 1.298 0 1 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/13/2017.

The Cardinals also get to see old friend Matt Holliday in this series.  I bet dinner plans are already made between him and Adam Wainwright at least.  It’s a great historical matchup when these two franchises get together and it should be a fun one to watch this holiday weekend.  I hope you and yours have a blessed and meaningful Easter and we’ll see you back here Monday!

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Eight games is 5% of the season.  It’s still not deep enough into the new year to make sweeping generalizations and have enough data to expect them to be true.  (That doesn’t stop folks–me included–from making sweeping generalizations, of course.)  However, this has been the worst start to a season in some time.  Consider:

Year W L RS RA Run Diff
2017 2 6 28 47 -19
2016 4 4 52 35 +17
2015 5 3 30 20 +10
2014 5 3 29 30 -1
2013 4 4 46 38 +8
2012 5 3 42 30 +12
2011 2 6 21 33 -12
2010 6 2 44 25 +19
2009 6 2 40 23 +17
2008 6 2 33 21 +12
2007 4 4 23 30 -7
2006 5 3 42 33 +9

For time purposes, I’ve stopped the table there, but looking last night, no team since before the 2000 season had started off worse than 2-6.  I didn’t look at the run differentials for those other teams, but this sample is pretty telling.  Never have the Cardinals in this span allowed even 40 runs in their first eight, but this team has allowed 47.  Only the ’11 squad and the ’07 version have scored fewer runs to open the season.  Put those two facts together and there is a reason there are a lot of worried folks in Cardinal Nation.

Again, obviously things have time to turn around.  While the ’11 squad needed a furious rally to make the playoffs, they did win 90 games.  (Granted, it took an 18-8 September to get there, but they’d have been at 86 probably with a strong, yet more reasonable, final month.)  We’re not saying that the Cards are doomed to their first losing season since 2007.  It’s just things have to improve and, honestly, they seem like they’ve been going the opposite direction since Opening Night.

I’ll admit, I only saw parts of last night’s game and most of what I watched saw a pretty solid Lance Lynn, which tells you that I only saw the first few innings.  Lynn, whose start against the Cubs was one of the highlights of the first week, this time around gave up six runs (four earned) in his five innings.  Lynn after the game said he made three mistakes, which were all hit for home runs.  (I’m not sure what walking the pitcher with an out in the third counts as, but given as it led to the Nationals’ first lead, I’m going to say that wasn’t in the plan.)  What was most frustrating was seeing Randal Grichuk tie the game on a solo homer, only for the first Nats batter in the bottom of the frame untie it on a long ball.  Once Washington added on with another in that frame, the team seemed destined for another defeat.

Lynn is going to be the Goat of the game, but Aledmys Diaz had a chance to be with two fielding errors, one of which factored into that first Nationals rally and the other that aided another run in the seventh.  If it weren’t for the fact that Diaz had two hits, including his third homer of the season, he’d have been a strong contender for the award.  That said, allowing three homers is not exactly a good night at the ballpark.

So the fielding was bad, the starting pitching was shaky, the bullpen allowed runs again (Miguel Socolovich‘s was at least in part due to Diaz’s error, but Seung-hwan Oh allowed doubles to Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy for the final Washington tally; I get those are big hitters and the game wasn’t in the balance, but given Oh’s early struggles, that doesn’t help me feel much better) so what did go right?  Jose Martinez had two hits in his first start of the season, so I guess there’s that.  We’ll give the Hero to Grichuk for his homer–just like Diaz’s offense got him out of being the Goat, his defense kept him from being the Hero–and leave it there.

Derrick Goold says something that a lot of us have been thinking and saying.  The opening to his article:

The familiar caveats and catchphrases about small sample sizes and long seasons would be easier for the Cardinals to argue if this first week was the first time they had meandered through games like this.

It’s harder when it’s a continuation of an entire season.

And that’s the thing.  The defense was supposed to be better, but the Cards rank at the bottom of a lot of defensive metrics.  The pitching was going to be solid, but they’ve allowed the most runs in Major League Baseball.  The hitting was going to effective, but they still lag behind in most of those stats.  All the things that we thought were going to make things different than 2016….haven’t happened.  In fact, they’ve taken a step back because at least last year they could explode for runs.  When 36% of your total runs–a total that’s not all that impressive in and of itself–came in one game, that’s a problem.

As he did last year, over and over again, Mike Matheny says “we’ve got to get better.”  Heck, I had a post last year titled using similar words from him.  The question I asked then still stands: how?  How are you going to get better?  You can’t just say that we need to improve without doing something about it.  I assume that they are, but I honestly don’t know what the answer is here.  The first time around, the starting pitching was really our only comfort.  If that’s going to start to go, it is hard to see how this team gets better.

Again, the season isn’t over.  There is time to see if the talent and the results that we expected to see out of this club will surface.  It seems unlikely Oh has completely lost it over a winter or Carlos Martinez will struggle as badly as he did Sunday very often.  Even with no changes, I think things would get better, but how much better is the question.  I don’t know what the answer is, but I hope they come up with something that works soon.

Given how Cardinal teams, when they are going frustratingly, have worked in the past, we’ll probably see a win against Max Scherzer today.  That’s what they do, beat the really good teams and pitchers and struggle against lesser lights.  (That said, Gio Gonzalez really has been good against them and Tanner Roark‘s no slouch.)  They need a win here to avoid a sweep–I remember that year when they went so long before losing a series.  Now we’re just hoping to avoid brooms.  Sigh.  Anyway, I don’t think we need to say anything about Scherzer–he’s a very good pitcher and there could be a lot of Cardinals making the right turn to the dugout after their at bat today.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Dexter Fowler 22 22 4 1 0 0 3 0 11 .182 .182 .227 .409 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 12 12 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 .250 .250 .250 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 10 10 5 2 0 0 0 0 2 .500 .500 .700 1.200 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Piscotty 10 10 3 0 0 1 4 0 3 .300 .300 .600 .900 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 8 8 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 .125 .125 .250 .375 0 0 0 0 1
Randal Grichuk 6 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 6 6 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Aledmys Diaz 5 5 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .200 .200 .200 .400 0 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 4 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 3 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 3 3 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 .333 .333 1.333 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Wacha 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Total 96 93 21 4 0 2 11 2 27 .226 .242 .333 .575 1 0 0 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/12/2017.

Scherzer is up against Mike Leake, who had a great outing against the Reds in his season debut.  Normally, you wouldn’t draw it up so that Leake is what is standing between you and a four-game losing streak, but if whatever the rotation contracted for this turn around misses him, things might be OK….at least, until they have to go to the bullpen.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jayson Werth 30 24 7 1 0 1 3 4 3 .292 .367 .458 .825 0 2 0 0 0
Ryan Zimmerman 25 19 4 0 0 1 1 6 4 .211 .400 .368 .768 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Murphy 21 21 5 1 0 1 4 0 1 .238 .238 .429 .667 0 0 0 0 1
Bryce Harper 13 13 3 0 0 2 3 0 2 .231 .231 .692 .923 0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Rendon 11 10 4 0 0 0 0 1 3 .400 .455 .400 .855 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Drew 9 9 5 1 0 0 3 0 1 .556 .556 .667 1.222 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Lind 9 8 5 0 0 1 4 1 0 .625 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Strasburg 5 5 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .200 .200 .200 .400 0 0 0 0 0
Joe Blanton 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Eaton 3 3 1 0 0 1 2 0 0 .333 .333 1.333 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Jose Lobaton 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Taylor 3 3 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 .333 .333 1.333 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Gio Gonzalez 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Oliver Perez 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 140 125 37 3 0 8 21 12 18 .296 .353 .512 .865 1 2 0 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/12/2017.

It’s a late afternoon game and if it’s anything like Leake’s last outing, you may have this one done before dinner.  Whether that’ll make your evening better or worse probably depends on the result and your point of view.

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A Bunch of Bull…..Pen

I said at the beginning of the calendar year that I was going to try to be better about writing game recaps instead of series recaps, a habit I fell into last year because I’m old.  Unfortunately, I just mentioned this to a young pup of a blogger in Cassie yesterday, so I have to drag myself out to be a good example.  Which is much harder to do after a game like last night’s.  Basically nobody else did their job, why should I have to do mine?

There were times where things looked OK during the 14-6 loss to the Nationals, something you wouldn’t believe by just looking at the final score.  The Cardinals had three leads in this one!  Unfortunately, only one of them survived the bottom of an inning.  All three of those leads were lost in part and in whole by Adam Wainwright, which has lead to some really disappointing thinking.

One of the best voices of our generation sang the following lines that really meant something to us as we watched Wainwright try to capture that spark, that dominance that we were so used to:

“‘Cause I’ve been by myself all night long
Hoping you’re someone I used to know…..

Let me photograph you in this light
In case it is the last time
That we might be exactly like we were
Before we realized
We were sad of getting old
It made us restless”

We hoped all spring that maybe the Achilles injury and its recovery were really what were holding Wainwright back.  That, while we knew he was getting older, he still had some approximation of that legendary status he’s built up around Cardinal Nation.  Instead, in his first two starts, it seems to be that Father Time is winning yet another battle.  Wainwright didn’t look bad against the Cubs, but it still took him over 80 pitches to get through the fifth inning, averaging a baserunner an inning.  Last night, Wainwright continued to work himself in and out of trouble.  Every inning had multiple baserunners.  He allowed 11 hits and two walks in four-plus innings.  So that’s more baserunners than outs, which is probably going to make it difficult to do much, and he did it in 96 pitches.  96!  I remember when Wainwright could throw complete games in that span.

Wainwright’s always been prone to a bad game, but this wasn’t one of his “I have nothing” game where he allows seven runs in the first and the next time out he’s much stronger.  This felt…different.  Like this was the new normal.  Like he’s going to become now the crafty veteran who gives up baserunners and sometimes has games where he works out of it and sometimes has games where he doesn’t.  He can still be effective, but the confidence that we used to have every time Wainwright took the mound is gone and I’m not sure that it’s ever coming back.  Every time out makes that shutout against the Marlins last year more and more like the photograph we should have taken.

Of course, Wainwright’s night could have been a little better or more efficient had a double play been turned behind him in the fourth.  With a runner on, Tanner Roark hit a weak grounder that Kolten Wong fielded and rushed to second, throwing past Aledmys Diaz and turning a nobody on, two out situation into a nobody out, two on one.  Wainwright got out of the jam with just one run scoring, but threw a lot of extra pitches in the frame which came back to hurt him.  That’s the other thing with Wainwright now, a great game from him is going to take stellar defense.  Lapses just lead to more opportunities for the other team to whittle away at him.

Wong had a mixed night.  On the positive, he got the start and his double in the second brought in the first two Cardinal runs and gave them their first lead.  However, that was his only hit of the night and had not only that defensive miscue but then had a hot shot bounce off of him and into the outfield during the Nationals’ pounding of pretty much any bullpen pitcher not named Trevor Rosenthal.

Yes, it’s time to talk about the bullpen, which has been rated R for goriness over the past week, culminating in turning a 5-4 game into a 6-5 one quickly, a 7-5 one fairly quickly, and then a 14-5 one later in one horrifying frame.  This is not the rock of a bullpen that we thought we were getting this season, at least not in the early going.

Brett Cecil has not done a great job of endearing himself to the Cardinal faithful and that continued last night, immediately giving up an RBI single to Matt Wieters and then a sacrifice fly to Adam Eaton to put the Cards behind.  Neither of those runs were actually charged to Cecil, so his ERA dropped to 15.00 even in the midst of another less-than-stellar appearance.

I noticed after Cecil allowed his home run (after the Magical Sticking Strikeout Ball) on Thursday that some Jays fans were saying that Cecil would warm up as the season went on.  Looking at his three-year splits, it does seem to be the case that April isn’t his month (though June has some bad numbers as well).  His April ERA is 5.40 in that span and that doesn’t count this April, which will probably raise it.  But his post-All Star Break ERA over the same time? 1.50, in just as many innings as he’s had before the break.

While it’s great to think that this four-year deal might eventually pay off, that doesn’t help mitigate the losses that seem to follow when Cecil is brought into the game.  There is absolutely nothing different the club can do with him except continue to run him out there and hope it eventually clicks, but nobody’s going to be overly excited to see him for a while.

If he was the only problem in the ‘pen, that’d be one thing.  However, it’s easier to find people that aren’t a problem.  Look who pitched last night and their ERAs–a stat that’s not always that telling for a reliever when it is low, but does usually mean something when it’s up–after the final out:

Cecil 15.00
Kevin Siegrist 19.29
Jonathan Broxton 16.88

That doesn’t include Seung-hwan Oh, who didn’t pitch last night but has a 13.50 mark.  Somehow Matthew Bowman has avoided the problem and hasn’t been scored on personally yet, though two of his three inherited runners have scored.  Honestly, seeing Rosenthal come out last night in his season debut and strike out the side was a wonderful oasis in the middle of this bullpen desert.

As always, whenever we talk about anything in April, you have to factor in small sample size and the like.  A stretch like this in July would be noticeable but not necessarily cause for panic if the first few months had been strong.  Siegrist could turn it around and have a 2.50 ERA the rest of the way.  (I still think Broxton gets cut when Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons is ready, but even if not, I don’t think we expect a whole lot out of him.)  So yes, making wholesale changes based on a handful of innings would not be a great idea.

That said, you know the mantra of this season: Every Game Counts.  Given how last season turned out, there’s a renewed emphasis on winning every game you possibly can.  So far, that hasn’t happened.  The Cardinals are 2-5 for the first time since 2011.  And while we all know how that season turned out, it took perhaps one of the most furious September comebacks of all time just to get a wild card spot.  I love the 2011 team, but it’s not a team to emulate.

There’s a group of people on Twitter that often will remark that people are going overboard on (now) seven games.  Which has some truth to it–Twitter and social media have us living in the moment much more than we did a decade or so ago.  Every game feels like the end of the world or the beginning of a great run.  Equilibrium is not something that’s really prized by a lot of folks.

However, while the problems may be somewhat different, there’s been a mediocrity about this team for quite some time.  We point to 2015 and their 100 wins, but since the All-Star Break that season to now the club is 132-110, a .545 winning percentage.  That’s an 88 win per year pace, but it just doesn’t feel like that, does it?  I honestly was surprised it was that high (and a 19-9 August in ’15 affected it a bit) because it feels like they’ve been good, but just not consistently good.  That may be me getting more wrapped up in the Twitter stuff than I should be.  A year without the playoffs following a year after a quick playoff exit, though, does put a little more pressure on this team to at least reach October.  So far, hope is not being inspired.

Let’s mark the Hero and Goat then, even though neither one is that easy for various reasons.  Let’s give the Hero tag to Yadier Molina, who went 2-4, drove in a run, and scored a run.  The Goat will be Brett Cecil for letting the last lead go, but really, throw a dart at the bullpen (or even the starter) and you probably could hit a fine choice.

Whether that’ll change tonight or not, that’s questionable as Lance Lynn goes up against Gio Gonzalez.  Gonzalez is 2-2 with a 2.72 ERA in six starts against the Cards, though they got him for six runs in 4.2 innings last May.  With a lefty on the mound, Wong probably sits and you’d think we’d have another night without Matt Adams in the outfield.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jhonny Peralta 28 21 5 1 0 1 2 6 6 .238 .393 .429 .821 0 1 0 0 1
Yadier Molina 22 21 6 3 0 0 2 1 2 .286 .318 .429 .747 0 0 0 0 0
Dexter Fowler 21 20 10 2 1 1 3 1 4 .500 .524 .850 1.374 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 16 16 2 2 0 0 1 0 4 .125 .125 .250 .375 0 0 0 0 1
Jedd Gyorko 8 6 2 0 0 1 1 2 2 .333 .500 .833 1.333 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Piscotty 6 5 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 .200 .333 .200 .533 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 6 5 1 1 0 0 2 1 3 .200 .333 .400 .733 0 0 0 0 1
Kolten Wong 6 5 3 0 0 0 1 1 2 .600 .667 .600 1.267 0 0 1 0 0
Michael Wacha 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Aledmys Diaz 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 3 3 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 2 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 132 118 33 10 1 3 14 13 31 .280 .348 .458 .806 0 1 1 0 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/11/2017.

Lynn looked quite sharp last time out before the bullpen ruined the game for him.  Lynn’s 3-1 in his career against the Nats with a nice 3.29 ERA against them.  Hopefully he can go pretty deep into the game and keep the bullpen off the field for a while.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Daniel Murphy 18 17 6 2 0 0 3 1 3 .353 .389 .471 .859 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Lind 16 13 2 0 0 1 2 3 2 .154 .313 .385 .697 0 0 0 0 0
Jayson Werth 16 15 4 1 0 1 1 1 6 .267 .313 .533 .846 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Zimmerman 12 12 3 1 0 1 1 0 4 .250 .250 .583 .833 0 0 0 0 2
Bryce Harper 11 9 2 0 0 1 2 2 2 .222 .364 .556 .919 0 0 0 0 1
Adam Eaton 6 5 1 1 0 0 0 1 2 .200 .333 .400 .733 0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Rendon 6 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .167 .167 .167 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Heisey 4 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .250 .250 .250 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Drew 3 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 1 0 0 0
Gio Gonzalez 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jose Lobaton 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Wieters 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 97 88 21 5 0 4 10 8 24 .239 .299 .432 .731 0 1 0 0 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/11/2017.

Cards need to win this one because trying to salvage a win in a series against Max Scherzer is not exactly how you want to live your life.  And getting swept in the Nation’s Capital is no way to put out any of the frustration fires that are spreading all through the fanbase.

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Stumbling Out of the Gate

We’ve got four games to discuss here.  Let’s hit the high points then talk about any overarching issues.

Thursday (6-4 loss to Chicago)

Hero: Aledmys Diaz.  Two for five with a couple of runs on a day when the whole team could muster only seven knocks.

Goat: Brett Cecil.  His Cardinal debut included a pitch sticking to Yadier Molina, meaning his strikeout victim reached, then a three-run homer that gave the Cubs the lead they wouldn’t give up.

Notes: Lance Lynn looked great in his first outing back from Tommy John surgery, going into the sixth and allowing just two runs while striking out four.  One of those runs scored after he left, though you can hardly blame Matthew Bowman for allowing a runner on third with one out to score on a grounder.  Kolten Wong had a double and a walk as he continued to take pretty solid at bats.

Friday (2-0 loss to Cincinnati)

Hero: Mike Leake.  He got absolutely no help, but one run in eight innings was stellar from the starter.  He even had six strikeouts and the defense seemed to be fine behind him.  A Billy Hamilton single and stolen base followed up by a Joey Votto double was all that he allowed.  There’s a strong argument to be made that they should have walked Votto to put two on with one out and gone after Adam Duvall.  Which makes some sense, but you also can’t expect a one-run lead to hold against a bullpen that was so flammable last year.

Goat: Aledmys Diaz.  0-4 and left two men on.  Nobody did much in this one, given that the entire team had more walks (three) than hits (two), so it was a tough call.

Notes: I know the numbers don’t necessarily back it up, but a lefty pitcher the Cardinals haven’t faced before always SEEMS to be their kryptonite and it was here as they were unable to get to Amir Garrett in his major league debut.  Then again, given Sunday’s game, maybe it was less about experience with the pitcher and more about just bad offense.

Saturday (10-4 win over Cincinnati)

Hero: Aledmys Diaz  Diaz had a heck of a stretch of games, didn’t he?   This one was the big one, though, as he had three hits, including two big flies, and four RBI.  Before this game, the Cardinals only had one homer as a team, a far cry from last year’s squad.  Now they just have three, which ties them for last in the big leagues with Boston and Pittsburgh.  In case you were wondering, the leaders have 11 and the Nationals, the team the Cardinals next face, are tied for third with 10.

Goat: With the Reds handing out walks like candy on Halloween (12, which was again more than the hit total of 10), it’s hard to find someone that didn’t do anything offensively.  So for the Goat we’ll go with Jonathan Broxton, who had a very mixed eighth inning, giving up a single and a two-run homer before striking out the last two.  The two runs didn’t matter–which is probably why Broxton was in the game at that point anyway–but it’s still not a great thing to see.

Notes: Michael Wacha kept his strong year going, going six innings, allowing three hits and a run, and striking out six.  I don’t know how long this resurgent Wacha is going to stick around, but it’s a great thing to see.  The first time through the rotation was pretty heartening, even if many of them didn’t pick up a win.  If the majority of games are pitched like that, good things are going to happen.

Jedd Gyorko was the only other person to have a multi-hit game in this one, though four people (including Gyorko) drew multiple walks.  You hate to say that the club should have gotten more than 10 runs, but with 22 base runners, it likely could have happened.

Sunday (8-0 loss to Cincinnati)

Hero: This is one of those games where you really want to say none.  Only six hits and the pitching was shaky all the way around.  I mean, Sam Tuivailala threw a scoreless inning, but it’s not like that meant much to the game.  I guess I’ll go with Matt Carpenter, who not only had a hit in three AB but also drew a walk.  That was pretty much the extent of the offense yesterday.

Goat: Carlos Martinez.  While a couple of his runs came because Cecil came in and allowed runners to score, it was a very different game for C-Mart than it was on Opening Day.  Martinez struck out only three in five-plus innings and was charged with six runs, five earned.  In the second, according to the radio guys strike three to Adam Duvall was called ball three, then Martinez reverted to bad habits, tried to just throw the ball past him, and Duvall parked it in the bullpen.  The day didn’t get much better from there.

Notes: The defense wasn’t as taut as you’d like, with Jhonny Peralta making two errors on one play and Randal Grichuk making his own miscue.  The bullpen was again leaky, though coming into this 4-0 game, it probably didn’t matter.  Still, Cecil gave up a 2-RBI double to the first batter he faced, a lefty.  Between that and the longball issues again, something that was supposed to be a bedrock in 2017 has been more like shifting sand in the first week.

All right, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.  Which, given some of his plays this weekend, might be an appropriate metaphor even though Matt Adams has lost a ton of weight.  When this whole “Adams as an outfielder” experiment started, it felt a bit silly, but there was some logic in having him available out there in case of emergency or the occasional spot start.  Our friends at the 11th Inning Stretch podcast had a discussion where the over-under line of innings Adams was in the outfield was at 15 for the year.  Given Stephen Piscotty‘s adventure around the bases and then apparently a bit of a barking knee, Adams made that mark in the first week.

Let’s be clear.  Not starting Piscotty after having his bell rung made sense, though given that happened Tuesday and, given the rain, the team didn’t play again until Thursday (when Piscotty was able to enter the game later on), it was a bit less defensible.  If Piscotty’s knee is barking, then yes, you should probably not put him out there.  All of this makes plenty of sense…..

…..if Matt Adams is your only guy that can be put in the outfield.

It’s perhaps hard to remember–it seems to be an issue for Mike Matheny–but Jose Martinez is actually on this squad.  Jose Martinez, the darling of spring training.  Jose Martinez, who has played the outfield all his life and, more importantly, in the major leagues.  Jose Martinez, the guy that was so necessary Tommy Pham got sent to Memphis.  (Where, if you haven’t heard, he just had a two-homer game and is hitting .400.)  I’ve never been a huge fan of Martinez, but if you need an outfielder, perhaps playing an outfielder and not a guy you wish was an outfielder might be a good idea.

Again, it’s only fair to point out that Adams hasn’t cost the team a game yet.  He’s had some atrocious looks out there–the mashup of his attempt on Saturday with Game 6 is pretty amazing–but it’s not been the play that decided the game.  Hopefully it won’t come to that.  I even understand the idea of putting Adams out there.  He’s actually had some good approaches at the plate, more than some others, and with a sputtering offense, anyone that can perhaps provide some spark could be helpful.

But Adams is learning this on the biggest stage.  If he’d spent all spring training playing outfield, that might have been a different story.  Six intensive weeks might have helped him get some of the early mistakes out of his system.  Instead, they came up with this idea with just a few games left and he got, what, one ball hit to him in his spring starts?  It’s hard to really know what you have when you don’t have any chances.

Laura and Holly in their most recent podcast suggested Adams spend a little time in Memphis learning the position and that makes some sense, but Memphis is so stocked with outfielders now that it’s not fair to some of them to be bumped aside for someone brand new trying to learn it all.  Besides, if the idea is the lineup needs him more than the outfield needs his glove, getting him out of St. Louis only exacerbates that issue.

So what it really boils down to is this: why can’t Adams play first on the days you want him out there, sliding Carpenter over to third?  Yes, Carp’s defense at third isn’t anything special either, but it’s adequate.  Who is saying that Adams’s outfield defense is that high?  Besides, Adams is better defensively than Carpenter at first as well and no matter who Carp spells, whether it’s Peralta or Gyorko, his glove is at least as good as those guys.  The overall defense of the team is better that way.

For some reason, that’s not going to happen.  The club has cemented Carpenter at first, no matter what it means to the other team.  Which makes you question that whole commitment to defense.  Tara and I were talking after Gateway last night (I think we could have done a whole ‘nother show with that conversation) but it’s funny that while Matheny was known as a defensive guy and not necessarily any great shakes offensively.  You would expect a former player turned manager to instinctively play to his strengths.  You’d think he’d be a small ball guy (which he has been in the past, obviously, but not as much now) that really focused on getting the best defensive team out there.  That just hasn’t happened.

Matheny also strikes me as a guy that can double down on things.  Many folks, after seeing Adams on Thursday and especially on Saturday, might have backed off from the idea or at least let the furor die down a bit before running him out there again.  Instead, Matheny sends him back out there on Sunday.  It feels like he’s just determined to make it work if only to spite all the people questioning it.  Dedication and stick-to-it-ness is a good thing, but as some folks have noted, doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is also one of those definitions of insanity that floats around.

Hopefully Piscotty stays healthy and this won’t be much of an issue this week.  If Adams starts making appearances even with a healthy Piscotty and Grichuk, John Mozeliak will probably have to get on the phone and move Adams somewhere, a la Allen Craig or Mitchell Boggs.

In other news, Trevor Rosenthal is to be activated Monday, with Tuivailala being returned to Memphis.  Rosenthal threw some simulated innings at Busch this weekend and apparently all went well.  It’s strange that we are talking about Rosie returning to stabilize a bullpen, but that seems to be the way that it is going.  Seung-hwan Oh has already given up two home runs this season.  Broxton (who I think probably gets released when Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons is ready to go), Cecil, Kevin Siegrist, and Tui have all given up one.  That’s six homers allowed in six games by a supposed strength of the team.  Overall, save for Bowman and probably Miguel Socolovich, there’s not been anyone that’s been in line with expectations so far this season.

Will Rosenthal’s return change any of that?  Maybe, I don’t know.  What bothers me is that the bullpen usage actually hasn’t been that strange.  We talked about the different ways the first game of the year could have gone, but those were defensible choices.  The problem is that the big guys–Siegrist, Oh, Cecil–are the ones that seem to be having the problems.  That’s not likely to change with the return of Rosenthal, at least not because he’s returning.  More than likely all of this is small sample size slow start, but it’s still disconcerting right now.  We are likely to hear the “every game matters” refrain a lot this season and having some close games not go the club’s way (plus losing two of three to a Reds team projected to lose 100 games) is not inspiring a lot of confidence.

The Cards followed up on their rough home record in 2016 by going 2-4 in their first six games at Busch.  Hopefully their strong road record from last year will carry over as well.  St. Louis heads to Washington tonight and we get Adam Wainwright vs. Tanner Roark. Wainwright looked pretty good his first time out, but he and the Nationals don’t always get along.  Looks like the Bryce Harper/Daniel Murphy combo could cause some problems tonight.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jayson Werth 37 35 7 2 0 2 7 1 10 .200 .216 .429 .645 0 1 0 0 0
Ryan Zimmerman 37 37 13 6 0 3 5 0 8 .351 .351 .757 1.108 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Drew 29 26 4 1 0 0 0 3 9 .154 .241 .192 .434 0 0 0 0 1
Bryce Harper 25 23 9 2 1 2 3 2 3 .391 .440 .826 1.266 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Murphy 18 17 8 2 1 0 2 1 0 .471 .500 .706 1.206 0 0 0 0 1
Anthony Rendon 10 10 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .100 .100 .100 .200 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Heisey 7 7 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .286 .286 .286 .571 0 0 0 0 0
Gio Gonzalez 6 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 .000 .200 .000 .200 1 0 0 0 0
Adam Lind 6 6 4 2 0 1 2 0 0 .667 .667 1.500 2.167 0 0 0 0 0
Jose Lobaton 5 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .200 .000 .200 0 0 1 0 0
Tanner Roark 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Max Scherzer 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Total 184 171 48 15 2 8 20 10 36 .281 .319 .532 .851 2 1 1 0 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/10/2017.

Roark gave up two runs in six innings in his season debut against the Marlins.  I just realized that, in prepping this post, I didn’t copy his results against the Cardinal hitters and now am at a spot where I can’t.  As far as I can tell, though, Roark last saw the Cardinals almost two years ago, with a couple of inning relief stints on April 21 and 23 of 2015.  Cards got one hit and one walk off of him in those innings, so I don’t know that a table would have meant a whole lot here.

It’s the first six games of the season, which means it’s going to have more import, whether it should or not.  A stretch like this in June or July is probably not a big thing.  When you have a start like this after a season like last year, though, the sky starts looking a bit cracked and unstable.  Hopefully the bats show up on the road and things start clicking tonight!

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Create Your Own Title

Look, I’m on a tight time schedule here and nothing is coming to me for a title.  I thought about “You Down With RISP, Because The Cardinals Aren’t” but that didn’t work well.  I looked for some sort of air pun for Jake Arrieta (“Letting the Arrieta Out of the Tires”, etc.) but it seemed like a stretch.  So you come up with a fun title for this one while I get into the recap.

You know when you go into a game with Arrieta that it is going to be difficult.  We talked about that on Monday morning, how he’s done a stellar job of just shutting the Cardinals down.  (Then again, he’s pretty much done that with the National League as a whole the last couple of years.)  Last night, though, a key hit here or there and things might have been significantly different.  Instead, the Cards fell to the Cubs and need a win today to take the series.

And by here and there, I pretty much mean the sixth.  The Cards scored their run in the fifth in the Stephen Piscotty Abuse Inning, but the sixth is where the game sat open for the taking.  In fairness, it all started with two outs, which is a tough place for a rally to start, but a bloop from Jhonny Peralta fell in, Yadier Molina got a single, and Greg Garcia worked a walk with a wild pitch tossed in for good measure.  (I had no idea Arrieta led the league in wild pitches last year.  Good thing he doesn’t have a Molina behind the plate, at least from our point of view.)  Randal Grichuk couldn’t replicate Sunday night, though, and popped up on the infield.  Which wasn’t an uncommon sight last night–seemed like a lot of folks were popping it up on both sides.

Matt Adams might have tied it in the seventh (though on replay it seemed more likely it’d have bounced off the top of the wall for a double) but Albert Almora made a nice grab.  I joked on Twitter that if Adams hadn’t lost all that weight, the ball would have gone out since he’d been able to put more behind it.  Adams had a fine night at the plate after coming in as a pinch-hitter, drawing a walk in a very good AB and then the deep fly.

Can we also talk about how baseball is the most ironic of sports?  Matt Adams goes three straight spring training games without a ball hit to him before finally getting a chance in his fourth stationing in the outfield.  The first time he goes into left in a major league game, the first batter hits one to him.  Because baseball.  Adams wound up with two balls that inning and one the next and didn’t completely look lost out there.  If his bat continues to be as warm as it was in the spring, he may see more time over there than we expected.

Let’s talk about what is going to be a legendary trip around the bases by Piscotty.  It reminded me of that game in San Diego years ago when Albert Pujols hit the ball off of Chris Young‘s nose, knocking him out of the game, then sliding into the catcher (whose name I can’t remember) and taking him out of the game a batter or two later.  This time, though, all the damage was centered on Piscotty, who got plunked in the side to get on base, was clipped on the elbow as he went to second on a wild pitch, and then was clocked in the head on a throw home as he scored the game’s only run.  Piscotty’s going to be reevaluated today, though initial signs were positive.  Given that throw and how it seemed to land flush on the side of Piscotty’s helmet, I’m almost surprised he’s not going on the seven-day concussion DL, but it looks like that won’t be necessary.  He’s probably not starting this afternoon, though.

Last night was a good game between two good teams.  Adam Wainwright was serviceable and got the outs that he needed to.  He allowed his first run on a bloop hit by Jason Heyward and the second came because of Grichuk’s miscue of throwing home on that play instead of third.  Other than that, he seemed to keep the hitters off balance, striking out six in five innings and getting popups and fly balls.  If he hadn’t been in Busch in April, though, it’s possible some of those fly balls would have carried more and we’d be a little more concerned about his outing.  As it was, I still found myself on pins and needles his whole time out there.  It never felt like he was in complete control like we’ve seen in the past, but that’s likely just the world we live in now.  Waino’s going to be good most of the time, but it’s never going to let us get completely comfortable with him.

Good work by the Cardinal bullpen last night, showing they can be trusted in a close game.  I missed the last couple of innings and apparently Jonathan Broxton made it interesting, but on the whole the pen held.  Great debut for Brett Cecil in a Cardinal uniform, throwing a scoreless frame and striking out one to boot.

Let’s name our Hero and Goat.  Not a lot to choose from on the Hero side, given how Arrieta kept the offense in check, but I’ll go with Stephen Piscotty because of his baserunning and the fact that he scored the game’s only run.  For the Goat, Randal Grichuk had the misplay in the field and left five men stranded while going o-fer.  Think we have to give it to him, which again shows just what kind of game baseball is.

Afternoon affair in St. Louis today, that is, if the weather cooperates.  Right now, the hourly forecast from the Weather Channel doesn’t look so promising, as it has a 60% or better of rain from noon until 9 PM.  It would be a terrible time for a rainout, as there is an off day tomorrow and we’d have to like 72 hours without baseball, which is just cruel after it just returned.  Assuming it goes off as planned, it’ll be Lance Lynn against John Lackey.  Lynn, who apparently has backtracked on his desire to reach free agency and now would like to be a “Cardinal for life” if they’d offer him an extension, is obviously making his first appearance since the end of the 2015 season, when he was so damaged the Cards skipped him in the playoffs in favor of Lackey going on short rest.

(Aside: As for Lynn and an extension, there’s two schools of thought.  One is that you can never have enough pitching and Lynn’s been a solid contributor.  The other is that you have a full rotation next year under contract even without Lynn and you have a lot of other arms coming through the system.  I would think that the Cards will probably not go that route just because they will need to start saving some money somewhere and they do have a lot of options, but it wouldn’t be a terrible thing if they brought him back.)

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Anthony Rizzo 35 29 10 3 0 2 8 5 5 .345 .457 .655 1.112 0 0 0 1 0
Miguel Montero 17 13 1 0 0 0 2 4 3 .077 .294 .077 .371 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Heyward 10 8 3 2 0 0 3 2 2 .375 .500 .625 1.125 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy La Stella 6 6 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 .167 .167 .333 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Addison Russell 6 5 1 1 0 0 0 1 3 .200 .333 .400 .733 0 0 0 0 0
Kris Bryant 5 5 1 0 0 0 1 0 3 .200 .200 .200 .400 0 0 0 0 0
Ben Zobrist 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jon Lester 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jake Arrieta 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Schwarber 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Hendricks 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 92 77 17 7 0 2 15 14 21 .221 .348 .390 .737 0 0 0 1 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/5/2017.

Lackey, as we know, as always done very well at Busch Stadium.  He’s 12-4 with a 2.02 mark on the St. Louis bump and the Cardinals would really like to raise that ERA today.  I mean, he’s a friend and all, but there’s only so far that goes.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jhonny Peralta 42 40 13 2 0 1 5 0 9 .325 .333 .450 .783 0 1 0 1 2
Matt Carpenter 21 18 3 1 0 0 0 3 6 .167 .286 .222 .508 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 19 19 6 0 0 0 1 0 3 .316 .316 .316 .632 0 0 0 0 0
Dexter Fowler 13 12 2 1 0 0 0 1 4 .167 .231 .250 .481 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Piscotty 12 9 1 0 0 0 0 1 3 .111 .333 .111 .444 0 0 0 2 0
Aledmys Diaz 10 9 3 1 0 0 2 0 1 .333 .300 .444 .744 0 1 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 9 8 1 0 0 0 1 1 2 .125 .222 .125 .347 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 9 8 3 0 0 0 0 0 2 .375 .444 .375 .819 0 0 0 1 0
Matt Adams 8 8 2 0 0 1 2 0 1 .250 .250 .625 .875 0 0 0 0 0
Eric Fryer 6 6 1 1 0 0 1 0 3 .167 .167 .333 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 5 5 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .200 .200 .200 .400 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Total 163 150 37 6 0 2 12 6 39 .247 .290 .327 .617 1 2 0 4 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/5/2017.

Should be another close, exciting game….if they get it in!

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Another Press Conference

The Cards have called another press conference for 1 PM this afternoon. Unlike yesterday’s, nobody has any idea what this one is about. Stay tuned to Twitter and we’ll come up with 1000 goofy reasons before finding out the real one.

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Before we get too far on discussing last night’s game, let’s take a moment and look at a beautiful piece of art.

For one night, the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and sanity, so lacking over the last few months, has returned to our world.  There’s no guarantee on how long this will last (past Tuesday night, at least) so enjoy the moment.

Baseball returned to us last night and it did so in thrilling, but somewhat familiar fashion.  After all, the Cardinals didn’t get their first hit with a runner in scoring position until the ninth.  We’ve been there.  Carlos Martinez was dominant and completely worthy of this opening start.  Been there as well.  And Mike Matheny made some hugely questionable decisions regarding his bullpen.  It’s like we never left.

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way before we break down what I think were the key moments when things could have been different last night.  For much of the game, it looked like it was obvious who the Hero and Goat were going to be.  (By the way, if you are just joining the blog this season, a quick explanation: every game I pick one player as the Hero and one player as the Goat.  Usually it’s who had the best or worst game, but key moments can produce either one as well.  You can find a running total plus who got the overall award for the last nine season below the links over here.)  Martinez was amazing, holding down a very powerful Cubs lineup to just six hits, two of which came in the first frame and two of which came after he probably should have been pulled (more on that soon).  He struck out 10 and seemed in command all night.  Ask Kris Bryant about how well Martinez was going.  Bryant, the reigning MVP, didn’t put a ball in play until after Martinez had left the ballgame.

On the flip side, Jhonny Peralta was installed in the cleanup spot and looked pretty rough, striking out in his first three plate appearances.  Peralta’s antics were particularly painful because The Three Amigos (Dexter Fowler, Aledmys Diaz, Matt Carpenter) were doing what they are supposed to do, which is get on base.  Peralta had at least one runner on in each of those times up but couldn’t do anything with it, twice ending the inning with a K.  Until the ninth, everything was fine and dandy.

The ninth upset the apple cart.  Seung-hwan Oh gets the first Goat tag of the year, but there are mitigating circumstances that we’ll get into in a bit.  Oh threw 38 pitches, which was more than he threw in any game in 2016 (he threw 36 against the Reds on April 16).  Only four times did he throw over 30 pitches last season and three of them, interestingly enough, were against the Cubs.  Two of those three were in August, which makes you think that Matheny is focused on beating the Cubs more than some other teams.  That’s a defensible position, but you have to make sure your judgement isn’t clouded when you do that.  You could argue, at least based on last night, that it has been.  (Then again, some would snark, Matheny’s bullpen judgement has never really been clear.)

You could also give a share of the Goat (if we did such things) to Matt Carpenter.  Most of his first night as official first baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals was uneventful, but with a runner on first in the ninth inning, old friend Jason Heyward hit a little chopper to first.  Instead of taking the out in a 3-0 game, leaving the Cubs just one out to get, Carpenter first looked to second to see if they had a force there, then lost the handle on the ball in his glove, allowing Heyward to beat it out.  One batter later, Wilson Contreras took Oh deep, tying the game.  If you get the out there, at worst the Cards are still up by one if Contreras still goes yard.  At best, with two outs, Oh focuses and gets the grounder and everyone goes home happy.

Thank goodness for Randal Grichuk getting hit on the hand.  That’s a strange sentence to type, but if Grichuk hadn’t been plunked at the end of spring training, it seems very unlikely that he’d have been hitting eighth and it’s possible he wouldn’t have been the Hero of our story last night.  Grichuk smashed a two-run homer in the eighth inning against Pedro Strop and then walked it off in the ninth against Mike Montgomery.  Grichuk also put together some good at bats early in the game, even though they didn’t wind up with great results.  If you want to base it on one game, it really looks like Grichuk has stepped up his game and perhaps figured out the contact thing a little more.  Not saying he’s going to hit .300 or anything, but his overall night was encouraging.

Speaking of encouraging, the person that batted before Grichuk in the ninth was Kolten Wong, who had come in as a pinch-hitter for starter Jedd Gyorko when Jon Lester left the game and it was safe for a lefty to enter.  Montgomery is a lefty, which meant Wong was at the handedness disadvantage there in the ninth with two on and a chance to win the game.  Unlike some times when feels like he has to be the hero, Wong stayed disciplined and worked the walk, setting it up for Grichuk’s heroics.  The rest of his outing wasn’t overwhelming, but you take the good where you can find it.

Kudos to Diaz as well for continuing his strong spring and getting a good start at alleviating one-hit-wonder worries.  Not only did Diaz get two hits, including the team’s first extra-base knock of the year, he stole two bases against Lester, one of the few that was able to take full advantage of Lester’s issues with base runners.  Wong and Stephen Piscotty had seven steals to lead the team last year.  Maybe this new focus on baserunning is actually going to happen!

There was a lot going on in this game, but let’s start talking about three different Matheny decisions.  If the Cardinals had started out with a loss last night, any one of these could have been the reason.

Sixth inning, two outs, bases loaded.  As noted, Martinez was cruising along in this game, but the offense wasn’t getting the hit he needed.  The Cardinals continued to put runners in scoring position but they continued to leave them there.  The one run that did score, like the first run they scored in the spring, was Fowler scoring on a Carpenter sacrifice fly.  In the sixth, though, Yadier Molina singled and Piscotty walked.  After Wong grounded into a force out, Grichuk walked to fill the bags and bring up Martinez to hit.

Martinez was at about 85 pitches right then, so there’s the question: do you hit for Martinez and let the bullpen cover the last three frames or do you let Martinez bat because he’s going well and you want another inning out of him?  I mean, you do have Matt Adams on the bench, who had a strong spring.  The Cubs might have gone to a lefty reliever, but they had just brought Carl Edwards Jr. into the game and I don’t think that they had anyone warming up.  They may not have had a chance to counter.

My initial feeling was to leave Martinez in the game, but I understand and don’t really disagree with the idea of hitting for him there.  Martinez actually put together a good AB–probably too good, as his sharp grounder turned into a double play.  Some argued that Martinez should have just taken strike three and let Fowler hit with two outs and the bases loaded, but I don’t know.  Fowler was a better shot at getting a hit, of course, but two outs limits the options.  Then again, Edwards didn’t look good at all–without the stroke of luck that his wild pitch immediately caromed right back to home plate, one run would have scored anyway–and maybe that would have been the better option.  Flip side, if Martinez actually gets a flare to drop, which isn’t unthinkable, two runs score and the Cubs are on the ropes.  It didn’t work out, but I think this is the most defensible of Matheny’s moments.

Eighth inning, nobody out, nobody on.  Martinez ran through the seventh without much of an issue, though when Addison Russell singled Brett Cecil got up in the bullpen.  At 97 pitches, it seemed like Martinez’s night was through.  Seven scoreless frames is about as much as you can expect from a starter these days and there’s a fully rested pen out there that should be able to get six outs.

Instead, Matheny sends Martinez back out there.  I can understand perhaps not sending Cecil out since there were a lot of right-handed bats coming up (not that Cecil can’t face righties, just that you’d want him to face a majority of lefties to be most effective) but literally everyone down there was available.  Kevin Siegrist is supposed to be the eighth inning guy, right?  Why not use him, especially since he’s been better against righties than lefties in his career anyway?  I can see not wanting to toss Jonathan Broxton or Sam Tuivailala in that situation, but Matt Bowman’s done a fine job in those situations before.  I’d even not squawked if Miguel Socolovich had come into the game there, though that’d have been pretty surprising.

There was only the tiniest of chances that Martinez makes it through the eighth.  He doesn’t need to be out there for 110 pitches in the first game of the year.  Unsurprisingly, Martinez’s effectiveness was not quite there.

Eighth inning, two on, one out.  Martinez allowed a leadoff single, got a popout, then gave up a single.  Matheny finally realized that he had a bullpen and went to get Martinez.  Did he bring in Siegrist?  Did he go to Cecil, given that Kyle Schwarber was up next and Anthony Rizzo was looming?

Oh no he didn’t.  Perhaps being confused with all the pomp and circumstance and thinking it was the playoffs, Matheny went to his closer.  There are times that bringing Oh out for a multi-inning save makes sense, but I’m not sure that this was one of those times.  It wasn’t him facing the bottom of the lineup in either frame.  This was Oh going through the heart of the Cubs power.  Again, this one makes some sense if it wasn’t for the fact that you signed Cecil for just these situations.  If the Cubs counter by removing Schwarber from the game, that’s fine.  Cecil’s not limited to lefties, as we’ve noted, and that removes a big bat from the late innings.

Oh got through the eighth, but as we’ve seen didn’t manage the same luck in the ninth (though Mr. Grichuk make sure he got a win for his efforts, because baseball).  I know nobody would have done it, but it would have been interesting if Oh had pitched there and Cecil the ninth, given that Ben Zobrist (a switch hitter) and Jason Heyward were coming up.

Right now, if you were to take away one thing from last night, it’s that Mike Matheny doesn’t trust his bullpen.  That may not be the case, but it sure looked like it from his decisions.  It’s very possible that Matheny got caught up in the moment and put undo emphasis on winning the first game of 162 more.  It’s possible that we’ll see better moves going forward.  Matheny’s bullpen management has always been one of those things that worries Cardinal fans, though, and last night didn’t relieve those worries one bit.  It’s one game, though.  Let’s hope the rest of the week and the rest of the season works out better.

Baseball likes to tease us, and after waiting six months for real baseball and getting one game last night, we have to wait until tomorrow for another one.  There’s lots of games to watch, to be sure, but it’s not quite the same.  Tomorrow, Adam Wainwright will go up against Jake Arrieta.  I’m sure it was different for Waino to be sitting and watching yesterday, but at least he got to ride in on a truck.  (Actually, that probably wasn’t a rare treat–the last time the Cards started at home, Chris Carpenter got the nod, so I don’t think Waino’s had the home opener as well as Opening Day very often.)  I think we are all holding our breath with every Wainwright start this year, not exactly sure what we are going to get.  A solid outing against a strong team like the Cubs would help us feel a lot better.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Anthony Rizzo 42 38 11 1 0 1 5 3 5 .289 .333 .395 .728 0 1 0 0 3
Miguel Montero 29 26 7 0 0 1 2 3 7 .269 .345 .385 .729 0 0 0 0 1
Jason Heyward 19 18 4 1 0 1 3 1 3 .222 .263 .444 .708 0 0 0 0 0
Ben Zobrist 12 11 3 1 0 0 0 1 3 .273 .333 .364 .697 0 0 0 0 0
Kris Bryant 10 9 2 2 0 0 2 1 0 .222 .300 .444 .744 0 0 0 0 0
Javier Baez 9 9 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .222 .222 .222 .444 0 0 0 0 0
Addison Russell 8 7 4 2 0 0 2 1 1 .571 .625 .857 1.482 0 0 0 0 0
Willson Contreras 5 4 2 0 0 1 3 1 1 .500 .600 1.250 1.850 0 0 0 0 1
Jon Lester 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Albert Almora 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 1
Jake Arrieta 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Jon Jay 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
John Lackey 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Schwarber 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Hendricks 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy La Stella 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Szczur 2 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 2.000 3.000 0 0 0 1 0
Total 159 146 39 8 0 4 17 11 30 .267 .321 .404 .725 0 1 0 1 6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/3/2017.

As for Arrieta, we know that’s going to be a tough matchup for St. Louis.  The Cardinals have gotten to him a little bit more than some teams as of late, but for his career he’s 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 13 games against the Cards.  Last year he was 3-1 with a 2.38 ERA, so he’s trending the wrong way?  Maybe?

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jhonny Peralta 37 35 10 6 0 0 2 2 5 .286 .324 .457 .781 0 0 0 0 1
Matt Carpenter 33 27 1 0 0 0 0 6 8 .037 .212 .037 .249 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 32 31 7 1 0 0 0 1 9 .226 .250 .258 .508 0 0 0 0 1
Yadier Molina 28 26 4 0 0 0 0 1 9 .154 .214 .154 .368 0 0 0 1 1
Matt Adams 26 22 7 2 0 0 4 4 9 .318 .423 .409 .832 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Piscotty 15 13 2 0 0 1 3 2 3 .154 .267 .385 .651 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 12 12 4 1 1 1 3 0 6 .333 .333 .833 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 8 8 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .250 .250 .250 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Aledmys Diaz 6 6 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 6 5 1 0 0 0 0 1 2 .200 .333 .200 .533 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Wacha 6 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Eric Fryer 3 3 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .667 .667 .667 1.333 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 3 2 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 .500 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 1
Total 221 202 46 11 1 2 13 18 60 .228 .294 .322 .616 0 0 0 1 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/3/2017.

We’ve gone this long and didn’t even mention Molina’s contract extension, but it was right in line with what most of us expected.  Three years after this one, $60 million total.  That was exactly what I thought and, with the TV money kicking in next year, I don’t see that being an issue.  We’ll see how things between him and Carson Kelly work out over the next couple of years, but I think it’s a very good thing that Molina should end his career wearing the birds on the bat.  Molina also made history last night, becoming the first player to walk on no pitches.  I still think this new intentional walk thing is silly.

Enjoy the day off and the fact that the Cardinals are in first.  It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?

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