It’s been a while since I took up my keyboard. Between other things going on and a general weariness of writing about the same issues, I thought I’d sit out a bit and come back when the team clinched.
I didn’t quite expect that to be almost the literal last moment.
We’ve got four games to review. Let’s do that before we get into any sort of postseason talk.
Wednesday (3-1 loss at Chicago)
Hero: There’s got to be one, right? Even if it was one of the most frustrating games of the year, given the stakes? (Wait, I think I could use that description for almost everyone one of the four games we are talking about here.) Let’s go with Yadier Molina, who got two of the team’s five hits and scored the only run. Of course, he scored that run when Wellington Castillo threw the ball into center field to try to get Peter Bourjos stealing, since apparently RBI hits are for weak teams that need a lot of runs to validate their existence.
Goat: So many of the offensive lines are almost identical that it’s tough to come up with just one person to put here. I’ll go with Kolten Wong, because he left two on in his 0-4 night, but it could have easily been any of the other hitless folks on the evening.
Notes: Of course, you could have gone with John Lackey for that Goat tag as well, seeing as the opposing pitcher got the two-out, two-run triple that basically won the game for the Cubs. That said, Lackey gave up two runs in 6.2 innings. Most of the time, you should win that game, especially against a last place team. I know Jake Arrieta is a pretty darn good pitcher–not looking forward to seeing him and Kyle Hendricks for years to come–but still, that’s a ridiculous performance from a playoff-bound team.
Carlos Martinez also seems to be an on-again, off-again pitcher. This night, he was off, allowing two hits and that decisive insurance run in the eighth. There are times where he is electric and you want him to be the closer, but nights like this are why he’s not going to be in that role for a while.
Friday (7-6 win in 10 at Arizona)
Hero: Is there any doubt? Jhonny Peralta drove in two runs in the sixth to put the Cards on top in a game that was looking so depressingly like the last couple with the Cubs, then drove in the game-winner once the bullpen had seen fit to stub their toe with the division on the line. Without Peralta’s heroics, Sunday’s whole day would have been a lot more stressful.
Goat: Pat Neshek. Five hits and three earned runs in an inning where Mike Matheny seemed to have no urgency in getting him out of there. I’m not sure who might have come in, given the situation, though you’d think you might get Trevor Rosenthal in there since he hadn’t pitched in a week. Once Neshek didn’t have it, that might have been the move. Neshek did get out of the mess, but not before Arizona came back and tied it up.
Neshek’s splits are a little disconcerting. Since the All-Star Break, Neshek has a 3.41 ERA. He allowed five runs in 14.1 innings in August (3.07 ERA) and five runs in 9.1 innings in September (4.82 ERA). Strangely, this seems to coincide somewhat with Matheny’s plan to back off on both him and Rosenthal. In the last four weeks, batters had an OPS of .685 off of him, even though he only appeared in nine games over that span. That’s roughly 200 points higher than he had for a season total (.480 OPS). In fact, take a look at this:
Neshek has actually done his best work with regular exposure, either with no rest or just a day off. It’s almost a direct line of increasing OPS each extra day he gets off. Perhaps we should use Neshek MORE often, rather than less, even though that feels a bit counter-intuitive.
Notes: It was nice to see the offense get serious one last time, stirring around and reminding us that, if it all clicks, this lineup could do some damage. It’s just the odds of it clicking more than once in a series is pretty slim.
Even though he had a hit and a run scored, it was a pretty off game for Matt Carpenter. He had some questionable decisions on the basepaths, including not scoring when Matt Adams singled right in front of Peralta’s big hit. Carpenter didn’t score on it, leaving the bases loaded for Peralta. If he’d hit into a double play–which, let’s face it, 85% of Cardinal fans completely expected–Carpenter likely would have had to face the music. He tossed in an error as well, which didn’t help his cause any.
Michael Wacha started this game, but it probably will be the last one he starts in 2014. To be fair, Matheny left him out there (against voracious fan demand) and Wacha settled in some, but he gave up two runs in the first inning and was lucky not to allow any more going forward. Three walks is the key, because when Wacha is on the walks are pretty minimal. If this hadn’t been such a vital game (and if we’d known the offense was going to show up), folks wouldn’t have been so worked up about it. However, going into the postseason everyone has to be on the top of their game and right now Wacha doesn’t appear to be. Whether he could serve the team in the bullpen is debatable, but I don’t want to get into the postseason roster discussions just yet. That’s a post for another day.
Saturday (5-2 loss at Arizona)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. After an off night, Carpenter comes back and is the only player to tally more than one hit. He also scored on a sacrifice fly in the fourth, breaking up the shutout.
Goat: Seth Maness. Maness came into the game with nobody on and one out and completely destroyed the game. Two flimsy hits were followed up by a big long one by Mark Trumbo and the game was over. Maness got the next two but there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the clinching the team had hoped for was going to have to wait. Those were the first runs Maness had given up since he allowed three to Pittsburgh at the end of August, but it was a rough time to have that streak stopped.
Notes: Lance Lynn kept the team in the game, even after giving up back to bak home runs in the first inning. He allowed nine hits and a walk, so he was dancing out of trouble all night, but again two runs in six innings should get you in line for a possible win. At least the offense got him off the hook for the loss, which is a minor balm for the soul. Jason Motte, in what might well be his last appearance in a Cardinal uniform, got the last out for a scoreless appearance.
Sunday (1-0 win at Arizona)
Hero: Marco Gonzales. This was a weird game, given that Pittsburgh had lost before the Cardinals started. Adam Wainwright, whom Matheny adamantly said would start no matter what happened in Cincinnati, was immediately scratched when Cincy locked down the win against the Pirates. Many of the other starters were pulled from the starting lineup as well and those that actually started the game were taken out eventually. There wasn’t exactly a lot of enthusiasm on either side–the game took 2:20 to play and I think we were into the bottom of the fifth in like an hour–so it’s hard to know if there’s anything to really take out of this outing.
That said, I think Gonzales locked up a spot on the postseason roster with his work in this one. I know, I know, I said I didn’t want to talk about that and I’m not really going to, but Gonzales was summoned with two on and one out and got a double play on the first pitch, then pitched another 2.1 innings of scoreless ball. I think the fact that Matheny went to Gonzales in this situation was a test to see if they could trust him with big situations in the postseason and Gonzales delivered with flying colors. With the questionable status of Wacha for a long relief role, Gonzales in my mind has to be on that roster.
Goat: I was told on Twitter yesterday that I wasn’t allowed to pick a Goat on the clinching day, but baseball doesn’t allow you to skip things, otherwise the Cards probably wouldn’t have bothered playing today. That said, when a team has three hits–THREE HITS–against the last place team in a game that looks like it should be taking place in Jupiter, it’s hard to know where to lay blame and where someone just isn’t into the game for legitimate reasons.
I’m going to go with Randal Grichuk because 1) he was one of the few to actually pile up four at-bats and 2) he struck out twice. Again, though, plenty of blame to go around. When you are playing a last place team, you should be able to score more than one run by accident.
Notes: Kudos to all the pitchers today (save for Kevin Siegrist, who made the mess Gonzales cleaned up and eliminated any chance of him playing in October) for their fine work. How into things Arizona was is up for debate, but getting scoreless outings out of Nick Greenwood and Justin Masterson is nice no matter who the opposition is.
While it’s not a big deal and apparently the pitcher himself had some say in the matter, I’m still not a fan of Matheny being so adamant that Wainwright was starting (even while the Pirates/Reds game was going on) to scratching him at the last minute. I don’t see why there was any reason for deception. If nothing else, if you think you are going to do that you say, “Waino’s our guy, but we’ll see how tomorrow goes. We’ll reevaluate if necessary.” There’s no upside to the deception–it’s not like Arizona was going to change their lineup or anything–and it just looks bad.
Again, I’d have let him go four or five innings, just to keep him on his regular rotation. He’ll have 11 days off between his last start and the beginning of the NLDS against Clayton Kershaw. Whether he’ll be rusty or not is, of course, quite debatable and the idea of saving some bullets in the arm has merit. He’s got some outstanding stats with more than six days of rest this year (in a small sample) so perhaps it’ll work out. I’ll freely admit that both the pitcher and the manager have a better grasp of baseball than I do.
It’s really hard to believe that the 2014 regular season is over. I think I appreciate baseball more in the winter, when I can’t watch it everyday, than I do when it’s on and I sometimes find other things to do or only half watch it. The postseason baseball is great, of course, but it’s much more stressful on me and, as such, not quite as enjoyable as a lazy mid-July game.
Even though the Cards don’t play again until Friday, there’s still plenty to talk about. We’ll look at the postseason roster and I still need to work up my Top 7 Prospects that were due last week. We’ll cover the news and look at the Dodgers in the days ahead. Until then, though, remember:
2014 National League Division Champions!