If you turn away from watching the Cardinals for just an instance, you’ll forget. You’ll forget that this team is struggling to put up runs. You’ll forget that they are closer now to third than they are to first. You’ll forget that they aren’t the solitary power in the NL Central.
After all, this is a team with extensive offensive capabilities. They hit 159 home runs last year, which wasn’t necessarily dominating, but did sit around the middle of the pack in the National League. They were second in runs and first in hits as well. This year, while they are first in runs and second in hits, they sit 13th in the NL with 106 home runs to this point, just kept out of the cellar by the powerless Marlins and Giants.
Interestingly enough, even when you split the stats and focus just on the second half of the season, the Cards still sit tied for second in runs (with the Reds) and in the same position for home runs, though they are just one ahead of Miami instead of 26 like you see in the full season version.
So, overall, there are some offensive numbers being put up. It just doesn’t feel like it after watching this team the last week. It was a week ago Monday that Allen Craig hit the grand slam to rally the Cardinals past Cincinnati in Busch Stadium. That was the last home run the club hit and in five of the seven games since then, they’ve not scored as many as Craig brought in on that one swing. Heck, combine all five losses and the Redbirds have only put up three runs, being shut out three times in the last week.
We’ve pointed out before the disparity in the offense in wins and losses. Currently, the Cards are hitting .315/.377/.483 in games they win and .203/.260/.284 in games they lose. To be fair, that’s not necessarily a condition that is focused on St. Louis. Pittsburgh’s hitting .273/.341/.446 in wins and .209/.276/.321 in losses, while the Reds are .285/.363/.460 up and .206/.279/.311 down. In other words, the Redbirds have piled up a lot of stats in those wins, perhaps more than the other two teams.
Whatever the case, last night apparently the offense blinked and the Weeping Angels sent them back to 1968, complete with Homer Bailey doing his Don Drysdale impersonation. The Cardinals managed a total of two hits–cue the Major League quote here–both by Matt Carpenter. So at least Matty Carp kept Bailey from throwing his second no-hitter of the year and the third in two seasons. They’ve got that going for them, which is nice.
If the game had gone differently, Carpenter probably would have gotten the Hero tag. Instead, it has to be Michael Wacha. He’d shut down the Reds last week, but being a young pitcher and that they’d just seen him, you had to wonder exactly what was going to happen when he took the mound at Great American. What happened was six scoreless innings in which Wacha looked the equal or better of about anyone currently in the St. Louis rotation.
Wacha allowed just three hits and walked a pair, but struck out three. You’d like to see him with a little higher K/IP rate, but nobody was complaining last night. Well, not about Wacha or his pitching. You know you can’t get by watching a game on Twitter without some complaining. Those complaints spiked in the seventh inning.
After six scoreless and only 80 pitches, Mike Matheny pulls an effective Wacha and goes to Seth Maness. That decision was extensively criticized and that was before Maness gave up the single and double that plated the Reds’ only run. I also would have left Wacha in, but the move was defensible. Wacha hadn’t thrown as many as 80 pitches in a while and the bullpen has been one of the few things you could rely on for most of the second half. I would have let Wacha start the inning and, if a runner got on, brought in Maness, but I can understand what Matheny was thinking.
Of course, if Billy Hamilton doesn’t pinch-run and get his first stolen base, if Yadier Molina doesn’t rush and makes a good throw to get him, they might still be playing. The speed of Hamilton did affect the calculus of the game and I’m sure it’s not the last time we’ll see him this series.
You could give the Goat to Maness for giving up the run, but I’m not going to do that. For the most part, Maness pitched an effective inning. If the offense had done more than two solitary hits, maybe that run doesn’t mean that much.
Which is why I’m going with Matt Holliday as the Goat. Four strikeouts is a rough night at the ballpark, but the most devastating might have been the first one. Carpenter and Carlos Beltran start the game by reaching base via hit and walk, so there are two on with nobody out. A base hit here gets a run for the youngster. Heck, even a ground ball gets a runner to third (though, to be fair, Holliday ground balls do tend to turn into double plays). Instead, Holliday strikes out, Craig grounds into the double play and the last real scoring threat is over. Holliday would strike out with Carpenter on second in the third and the Cards would only get one more runner on base the entire game, when David Freese walked in the eighth.
Now what? We wanted to see some separation in the standings, but this wasn’t the way we expected the Cards to go about it. They have to win the next two just to split the series and, given that Pittsburgh is playing Milwaukee those two days, probably need to win both just to make sure they don’t fall any farther behind before the head-to-head series this weekend. It’s scary to think that two more losses and this team is in third, not only staring at the wild-card play-in game but in the position of having to travel for it. That trick worked last year. There’s no guarantee it’d work again.
Which means that the starting pitcher is perhaps less important than if the bats will return from whatever journey they’ve been on recently. They’ll have to do so against Bronson Arroyo, who is another one of those pitchers that they have beaten around before, but can also shut them down quickly. He gave up seven runs in 3.2 innings against the Cardinals back on August 2 (another one of those wins where the stats were piled up) but gave up just two in six innings in a June meeting between the two.
Will we see Ryan Jackson out there today? Probably not with Daniel Descalso having such good career numbers against him. Then again, Carpenter doesn’t, so maybe you rest him, put DD at second and Jackson plays short. He’s supposedly “in the mix” which is more than I would have expected given his treatment this season.
To win, the Cards also have to keep the other team from lighting up the scoreboard. That’ll be Shelby Miller‘s job tonight. Miller didn’t look that sharp against the Pirates this weekend, but did give up just one run in seven innings against the Braves before that. If we can have more of that Miller, things might just be OK.
He’s had some success against Cincinnati, as he matched up against Arroyo back in early August and gave up three runs in five innings. That’s actually the only time he’s faced them this season, which is kinda surprising given the number of games and that he’s been in the rotation the entire time.
Pittsburgh goes for win #82 tonight and sends Francisco Liriano to the bump to get it. Milwaukee counters with Wily Peralta, so, well, Cards better win this one. Getting down three games in September is a hole that even this organization probably wouldn’t want to try to dig out of.