Where do you begin? How many corners can a team turn before it catches its own tail? How many false starts to do you get before you think maybe the engine isn’t going to catch? I guess the optimist says that you have to wear down the wall before you can break through, but how long does that take? It does no good to break down the wall and go on a tear in the last week of the season, more than likely.
One of these days, maybe they’ll go Hulk Smash on the wall and just start rampaging through the league. Until then, we just continue to bang our heads against the wall as we watch another promising streak after another come to nothing.
At least we have two positive games to talk about before the last couple. Let’s get at it.
Thursday (7-2 win at San Francisco)
Hero: Carlos Martinez. The pitching line was nice (5 innings, one run, six strikeouts, one walk) but getting the big two-run single was huge. If he hadn’t run into a bit of a glitch at the end of the fifth, he’d have most likely gone through six and been even more deserving.
Goat: Matt Holliday. 0-4 and left five men on base. Good thing this was one of those few offensive blowouts, otherwise that really could have hurt.
Notes: When you see seven runs put up in a pitcher’s park against a guy like Madison Bumgarner, there are reasons to start feeling a bit optimistic about what you are seeing out of the club. It gave them a series win against a quality team and washed a lot of the bad taste of the Dodgers series out of their mouth.
Big home run by Jhonny Peralta in the first. Giving the young Martinez a lead to work with helped him out immensely, I believe, and perhaps allowed for a little relaxation by the rest of the hitters as well. Big games for Yadier Molina (three hits) and Jon Jay (two) as well. Plus some very good work by the bullpen, something that we can’t say every day in this recap. Note that Seth Maness threw two innings here. He also got a base hit, the first of his career. Wouldn’t be the last, of course.
Friday (3-2 win vs. Miami)
Hero: Lance Lynn. More and more, Lynn is becoming a rock in the rotation. Sure, he’ll hit a hiccup or two, but those are becoming less and less since we did our seminal work on The Lynning. In this one, he left needing just one out for seven scoreless innings, striking out a batter per full frame. With the rotation around him and Adam Wainwright being a little shaky, it’s so nice to have that second player you can really rely on.
Goat: Trevor Rosenthal. It didn’t need to be that close. It was a nice, easy, 3-0 lead for the closer. However, we’ve seen that 3-0 seems to be the kiss of death for this team. Usually it’s not quite so late in the ballgame, however.
When you look at the play by play for the ninth inning, you see just how lucky the Cardinals were to get that win. Giancarlo Stanton up with the bases loaded? Walking there isn’t the worst possibility. Then it took a stellar double play from Matt Carpenter and Daniel Descalso to make sure the tying run didn’t score. Jason Isringhausen has retired, folks–the ninth isn’t supposed to be that tough.
Notes: Another nice game for Molina, who seems to be coming out of his offensive doldrums. Either that or he just really likes Marlins pitching. Nice to see an RBI double out of Oscar Taveras as well. Taveras hasn’t necessarily clicked yet at the big league level, but there’s still plenty of time to have that fuse catch and that firecracker explode on the NL. Good work by Pat Neshek and Sam Freeman in the pen. For the most part–the next couple of games excluded–we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t cringe when Mike Matheny goes to the mound and signals for the bullpen, no matter who might be making that slow walk.
Saturday (6-5 loss to Miami)
Hero: Jhonny Peralta. For a time, it looked like Peralta’s homer was going to be pivotal. After going back-to-back with Craig, the first time the Redbirds have been able to do that all season long, the score stood 5-1 and a fifth straight win looked almost assured. The key word in that sentence, almost. Peralta also had a hit in the ninth which could have led to a comeback, perhaps, had not Molina immediately rapped into a double play to end the game.
Goat: Trevor Rosenthal. Many people were screaming at Matheny for this one and their criticism makes sense. After all, Rosenthal had thrown 30 pitches the night before in almost blowing a win. However, looking at it outside of the heat of the moment, it becomes a bit more understandable why Matheny went back to his horse in this situation, assuming you don’t ask why Matheny didn’t go to his favorite tactic, the double switch, when he brought Neshek into the game.
There’s a general managerial theory, which I’ve seen espoused by both Matheny and Tony La Russa and I imagine others as well, that says you’ve got to run your closer back out there as soon as you can after a tough outing to let him rebuild confidence and show that you trust him and are in his corner. Yes, Rosenthal had thrown 31 pitches on Friday, which is why Matheny didn’t open the ninth with him. Using Randy Choate to get the first batter (which almost didn’t work) in theory shortened the inning and allowed Rosenthal to have a quick outing to get his confidence back. Rosenthal actually hadn’t pitched much in the last week–the middle game of the San Francisco series and the second game of the Los Angeles one–so the workload wasn’t such that it precluded this bit of confidence building.
However, if you are going to build confidence, the player actually has to do well. When he goes out and blows the game within three batters, that might not do wonders for his self-esteem. He did get Stanton out–Cardinal pitchers did well against him in the series–but Casey McGehee proved to be a pest much of the weekend. Rosenthal got another run added to his ledger when Freeman allowed an inherited runner to score and the Cards yanked defeat from the jaws of victory.
In hindsight, it’s a little easier to understand why Matheny did what he did there and give some rationale to the move. (While watching the game, such context and understanding were quite fleeting in this household, let me assure you.) I’m not saying it was the right move or it is what I’d have done by any means, but the test of a manager is if there is some sort of reasonable thought behind the moves. I could see where there could be in this one.
Rosenthal is going to be the closer for some time, which makes sense, honestly. Sure, Jason Motte has some experience in the matter, but as we saw Sunday, Motte’s no sure thing either as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery. While I wouldn’t mind Matheny using folks like Neshek and company in the occasional save situation, right now the ninth is going to usually be Rosenthal’s, and I think that’s OK.
Notes: Many people got worked up when Holliday was replaced by Shane Robinson. It turned out that Holliday had injured his knee and was taken out for precautionary reasons. That said, why do you go to Robinson instead of Taveras? That didn’t seem to be the best idea, especially when Robinson came up in the eighth with a runner on. Does Robinson have that much better glove than Taveras? I have problems believing that. Better, yes, but enough better to sacrifice the potential offense?
Let’s not forget the role Maness played in this one as well, serving up a three-run homer in relief of Shelby Miller, who had pitched pretty well before putting two runners on in the sixth and being replaced by Maness. Maness seems to be again one of Matheny’s go-to guys and he’s been very effective, but he’s pitching basically every other day, which I guess is a positive thing for a sinkerballer, or at least it should be. Maness gave up two long fly balls in his first two batters. The first one was caught. The second wasn’t. Given his recent work, though, he was probably due for a bad day. You get a lot more rope on these things when you’ve been reasonably successful. And it’s not the ninth inning, of course.
Good to see Craig get a home run, but I don’t think we can celebrate any return to regularity. That was his only hit of the day, after all. We’ve seen flashes of the old Craig at times this year, but it’s going to take a week or more of consistent hitting before I think he might be “back”.
Sunday (8-4 loss to Miami)
Hero: Matt Adams. Four hits is an oasis of offense in this drought the Cardinals are still suffering through. Yes, they put up four runs, but much of that was after the game was well out of reach and the pitching philosophy from the Marlins changed, most likely, from deception to “hit the ball and let’s get some outs”. Plus Adams even stole a base. If the whole offense was doing what Adams was doing this season, we wouldn’t be having these frustrating discussions time and time again, save maybe when lefties were on the mound.
Goat: Nick Greenwood. Greenwood’s actually not been that bad in the few times the Cards have used him out of the pen, but he stumbled Sunday and that was the ballgame. Sadly, if he’d been able to get Henderson Alvarez, the opposing pitcher, out to start the inning, things might have gone better for the young pitcher. Then again, Alvarez had three hits on the day, so it’s not like anyone else could get him out either.
Notes: I think that bears repeating. The opposing pitcher had three hits. The Cards had 10 as a team, but they were concentrated on four people: Adams (4), Peter Bourjos, who came in as a replacement for Holliday late (2), Kolten Wong, activated from the DL and provider of the only offense early with his second homer (2), and Daniel Descalso (1).
Craig 0-4. Taveras 0-4. Holliday 0-3. Carpenter 0-4. This team isn’t going to win many games with those lines in the box score. Of course, being that we’ve seen such lines pretty often this season, that’s not a conclusion that surprises anyone reading this. More of “tell us something we don’t know”.
Again, there’s no real solution to this, at least not one that stands out. The Cards now are in third, five games back of the Brewers and a half-game behind the surging Pirates. They are just one game ahead of the Reds, so fourth place is ominously close. However, I don’t see that obvious move that John Mozeliak can make to revitalize this team and make it start looking more like last year’s version. At best, you pull the trade for David Price and double down on winning low scoring games, but I’m not sure that’s the way to approach this. Then again, what is?
The Cards play Pittsburgh for four in Busch starting tonight and Milwaukee in Miller Park for three starting Friday. That’s seven straight games against your closest competition right now. This is a must-win stretch for the Redbirds, I believe. If they can’t go at least 5-2 in this week, they risk burying themselves farther down with much fewer opportunities to dig themselves out of the hole in the second half.
If Mozeliak is going to make a move, now may be the time.
Assorted news before we look at today’s game. First, Jaime Garcia is having surgery and is out for the rest of the year. Garcia, who has the same thing that Chris Carpenter took out a rib to try to beat, only to eventually be unsuccessful, didn’t bother informing the club before the press about his injury, which got Mozeliak about as hot as we ever see him. The odds of Garcia producing much for the Cardinals during the rest of his contract, which is up at the end of 2015, seems remote. The odds of the Cardinals re-signing him to some sort of discounted rate after that contract expires in the hope that he’d be able to recover seems even less likely now. If we see Garcia make more than 10 starts for St. Louis next year, I’d be stunned. It’s more likely to be half that number.
Cardinals get four All-Stars this year in Wainwright, Carpenter, Molina and Neshek. Matheny is the manager and if he doesn’t pick Wainwright to start the game, he might not want to come back to Busch. You want to win an All-Star Game? Start Waino and let him go two, then let Clayton Kershaw go two. Your relievers can make up the rest of the slack. (Actually, if you want to win, you let them both go three, but that’s beyond the pale in today’s Midsummer Classic. But I’ve ranted enough on that.) There seems little chance that Matheny won’t take this chance to honor his ace with the start, especially since Wainwright’s numbers are worthy of the consideration.
Wainwright goes tonight against the Pirates, so if you are going to open up an important week, it’s nice to start it off with the big guy.
Wainwright’s been a bit hit or miss with the Pirate hitters in the past. However, on the whole he’s done well against them and we know that there’s a real good chance it’s going to be a low scoring game with Waino on the hill. He threw eight scoreless against Pittsburgh in April. I think we’d take that tonight, right?
He goes up against Charlie Morton, who is having a fairly good season in his own right. Morton may have a losing record, but his ERA is 3.30 and he’s got a .239 BAA. His last start, he gave up one earned run against Arizona in six innings and he’s only had one really bad start in his last ten.
Cards have done OK against him and he allowed four runs to the Redbirds in May, though three of them were unearned. I expect we’re in for another close game this evening. Hopefully St. Louis picks up the momentum they need to finally crash through this wall!