It’s amazing that so many people across the internet hate the Cardinals. Given their performance of late, they are the most inoffensive bunch of players you’re likely to come across.
St. Louis has had, counting last night, 28 games where they’ve had six hits or less. The fact that they are 14-14 in such games is a testament to how good the pitching has been. Still, it’s a problem and it’s been getting worse–of those 28 games, 13 of them have come since the first of July. That means fully 30% of the games they’ve played since June have been offensive struggles. I know we’ve said that playing close, low-scoring games is good practice for the postseason, but you can’t win if you can’t score and, odds are, without some hits, you aren’t going to score.
That was the case last night. When you get to face Ryan Vogelsong instead of Mike Leake, you really should take advantage and it looked early like the Cardinals would. Stephen Piscotty singled with one out and Brandon Moss walked with two down, bringing up Yadier Molina. Molina’s grounder didn’t quite get through the infield, though, and no runs would score. That was the most potent inning the Cardinals would see all night long. The only two batters to reach after that were Jhonny Peralta with a double in the fourth and Matt Carpenter with a walk in the ninth. That’s it. You look at the line and say, “Two hits? Two blankity-blank hits?” in the vein of Major League.
There was a lot of talk about the second run the Giants gave up, but the first one was all they really needed. Lance Lynn gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning and, with one out, walked Buster Posey to load them up for Brandon Crawford, who always seems to come through. I guess we should count ourselves lucky that it was a soft grounder instead of a bases-clearing double, which it easily could have been. If it’d been a little harder, perhaps Carpenter could have started a double play, but all he could do was get the runner at first, allowing Gregor Blanco to score.
Given the scuffles in that inning and given the razor-thin margin of error a lineup that had Moss, Mark Reynolds, and Tommy Pham all playing at the same time, you’d think Mike Matheny would have been a little itchy with the bullpen hook. After all, that’s why John Mozeliak strengthened it at the deadline, right? Lynn was allowed to start the seventh and that made sense. It’s one run, he’s around 85 pitches, he’s not coming up in the order soon, so everything there was good.
Lynn then has an 11 pitch AB before retiring Ryan Lollis. Six more pitches and he strikes out Justin Maxwell. So now he’s over 100 pitches. Two outs in the inning, so nothing to worry about. Then Madison Bumgarner, and it tells you something about the state of this Cardinals team that more people would want Bumgarner on the team for his stick than his arm, gets a pinch-hit single. Six pitches later, he walks Blanco.
Two on, two out, your pitcher is well over 100 pitches (actually over 110) with the heart of the lineup coming up. Would seem to be the place to go get him, right? Ah, but you aren’t Matheny and you don’t have this deep and abiding desire to let your players go out on their own terms. So, instead, Lynn walks Matt Duffy on six pitches (though I’ll be honest, I thought ball three was strike three) and finally gets pulled with the bases loaded.
I’m not absolving Randy Choate for his outing, because it’s bad when you are a LOOGY and you can’t get your guy, but it’s really bad when you plunk him. Choate’s now faced 98 batters on the year and hit six of them, which seems like a high percentage. I mean, he’s only walked three! 33 of the 98 have reached base via hit, walk, or HBP, so maybe bringing him into a bases-loaded situation isn’t really ideal. That said, there’s no room for a mistake in that situation, which means no matter who came it, it was going to be a tough thing (though Seth Maness came in and faced Posey in that situation after the HBP and was able to do it).
I guess I need to find a Hero and Goat in this one, huh? I’ll give the Hero to Jhonny Peralta because he had the only extra-base hit and the Goat to Yadier Molina for leaving not only those two on in the first but Peralta in the fourth. A hit from Molina in either spot might have changed the complexion of the game.
Of course, when the offense has to field a lineup without Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk and Jason Heyward, it’s not terribly surprising that there’s some offensive struggles. What’s amazing is that even with all those injuries, Peter Bourjos still can’t get a start. Matheny would rather run Moss out there in left than scoot Pham over there and put Bourjos in center. Moss had one ball glance off his glove, giving Crawford an iffy double (really surprised it wasn’t ruled an error) though he did chase down a couple of flies well. Still, you know it’s going to be a defensive struggle, as it were. Why would you not want Bourjos and Pham covering ground? I’m not saying I’m a Bourjos fan, because I think he’s been outplayed a lot of his time in St. Louis, but not playing him now is ridiculous. Gotta feel for the guy and hopefully next year he’s somewhere they’ll actually use him.
At least it appears Heyward’s injury isn’t terribly serious. While he probably won’t start tonight, he would seem to be available to pinch-hit and, with the off day tomorrow, he could be ready to go for the San Diego series. So there is hopefully a bullet dodged. This team really couldn’t handle him being out an extended period along with everyone else.
We’ll see if the offense can come to life with Matt Cain on the hill. Cain’s dealt with injury and struggled this season, with a 2-3 record and an ERA over 6 in eight starts. The Cardinals have always been a bugaboo for him in the past as well–he’s 2-5 with a 6.63 in 10 career starts against the Redbirds. Put all that together and maybe the Cardinals can get seven hits tonight. I don’t want to raise your expectations too high, though, because we know how these situations have worked out for them in the past.
At least the game should be close if the offense is quiet because Jaime Garcia is on the mound for St. Louis. Garcia’s been stellar all year long and was just outs away from a shutout last time against Miami before leaving in the ninth inning.
The Giants have hit him some in the past, but Garcia is probably as strong as we’ve seen him in his career. I expect we’ll probably see another pitching duel again tonight, but hopefully with the right outcome!