Thanks to some great work by the Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh came into St. Louis 6.5 games back before this past weekend’s series. Which meant that, even though the Pirates won their first road NL Central series of the year (yes, you read that right), they still didn’t get dangerously close to the Cardinals. It wasn’t a series that inspired a lot of confidence about an October matchup, of course, but it could have been much worse.
Friday (9-3 loss)
Hero: Stephen Piscotty. There wasn’t much to work with in this one, but Piscotty continued to rake, getting two hits and driving in the first Cardinal run, which sadly didn’t come until the eighth.
Goat: Really not a pretty game for Carlos Martinez. Going with some extra rest, he wound up just finishing five innings, allowing seven hits, four runs, three walks, five strikeouts. Pittsburgh has gotten to Martinez twice this season, which may factor in him being out of an NLDS rotation if the two teams meet. Then again, Martinez also threw eight scoreless innings against them this season, so it may not play into things at all.
Notes: Brandon Moss continued to rebound, getting two hits, and Cody Stanley is showing that having him as an extra catcher isn’t a terrible thing, driving in two runs (with the game far out of reach, but still) with his pinch-hitting appearance. Jon Jay got a couple of at-bats after pinch-hitting for Martinez (and we’ll talk a little more about Jay later) and Seth Maness did a good job with his couple of innings.
It was Carlos Villanueva’s turn to slip up, though, as he allowed four runs in the ninth on five hits. Villanueva has a thankless job at times, and one of those times is to stay in there and get hit around to save everyone else’s arm. Matt Carpenter, Jason Heyward, Jhonny Peralta and Yadier Molina combined to go 0-13, which is one reason the offense never got going. I know J.A. Happ has done well since coming over to Pittsburgh, but it just doesn’t seem like that kind of pitcher should shut down the Cardinals, does it? I mean, the more recent offensive vintage. It could be, though, that the offense we’ve seen over the last two weeks was a mirage and it is starting to slow down again.
Saturday (4-1 win)
Hero: Jaime Garcia. It’s been fun seeing Garcia fully healthy, hasn’t it? Well, at least arm-healthy. He did have that groin issue for a bit. Still, knowing he is likely going to go out and dominate every fifth day is an outstanding thing to watch. Seven innings, no runs, four hits, nine strikeouts. That option for next year is going to be a very interesting discussion, whether you want to press the injury luck or not. Because if you look just at the results, it’s a no-brainer, even with the pitching the Cardinals have. In fact, with Marco Gonzales having a setback this season, it might be more necessary than we originally thought.
Goat: Jason Heyward. Batting in the third spot, he went 0-4 and left three on base. Seemed like a lot of folks had a rough weekend, but Heyward was on the top of the list.
Notes: Carpenter got a couple of hits, including a key two-run homer off of Pirates reliever Arquimedes Caminero in the seventh. St. Louis might not have done much against Pittsburgh’s starters this weekend, but they at least were able to make dents in the bullpen. Moss and Piscotty kept their hitting streaks going with a base knock apiece. Trevor Rosenthal made it a bit interesting in the ninth, giving up two hits, a walk, and a run with two outs, but closed the door and given that he’d only had one appearance this week and that was Monday, it might not be surprising he wasn’t completely on his game.
Sunday (7-1 loss)
Hero: Cody Stanley. His pinch-hit single in the ninth drove in the only run of the game. Given how bad this game was all the way around, that’s probably the only real highlight.
Goat: Kinda a tough call here. Steve Cishek allowed two runs in his less-than-an-inning of relief, but the Cards were already down 3-0 and with Garrit Cole on his game (as he was), three runs was a mountain. Molina and Heyward continued their hitless weekends by combining for 0-5, though Heyward drew a walk. I guess I’ll go with Stephen Piscotty, as much as I hate to pick on a guy that’d been hitting so well, but he went 0-4 and left three on, including grounding out with two outs and runners on first and third in the fifth when the game was still 1-0.
Notes: Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons got into this one as well after it was out of hand and gave up a one-out homer that made it 7-0. That’d have been a two-out homer if Peralta hadn’t booted Josh Harrison‘s leadoff grounder, so I guess that’s a mitigating factor. He did get Gregory Polanco out, which is not always the easiest thing to do for a Cardinal pitcher. Greg Garcia pinch-hit and scored the only run, continuing to show that if you are looking at the postseason roster, Garcia over Pete Kozma is really probably the smart move, even though it’s not likely to be the one the club makes.
All in all, it was a pretty regrettable series. I will say I didn’t see any of the first two games and Cole went against them in Game 3 so it’s tough to validate this conclusion, but it did seem like there was a little less urgency on their part in this one. After the battles and rallies of the Nationals series, perhaps that was a given, especially since they knew they’d be pretty comfortably in front after the series no matter what happened. However, they can’t have too many of these series, especially when the competition gets weaker after this upcoming Chicago series. They have to win the games they should win and not let Pittsburgh or Chicago (mainly the Pirates) think there’s an opening.
So Jon Jay got activated this week and got a couple of starts in center. On my numerous podcasts, I’d said earlier in the summer that Jay was going to get some starts when he returned and Twitter was going to lose its mind when he did. Both of those came to pass this weekend. Now, I’ll grant you that perhaps Jay should have gotten his starts against lesser competition, but given that the Cards had only two hits last night before the ninth and Jay’s was the first of those, it could have been Cole would have been running for the second-straight Sunday Night Baseball no-hitter if he’d not been in the lineup. Also, he’d been hitting well in his rehab in Memphis and, with the incumbent center fielder Randal Grichuk still out, it didn’t seem to be a terrible thing to give him a shot out there.
Now, did he have a great weekend? Not at all, though he got one more hit than Molina and Heyward combined. Jay wasn’t the reason the club lost against the Pirates, but it was a great focal point for some. Given his history as an solid batting-average hitter, having him on the bench in the postseason, if he’s right, could be an asset. They have to give him some AB to see if he’s right, though.
Is this optimal? Of course not. Is this what we want to see? I don’t think so. But I can’t gripe at Mike Matheny for putting him out there for a couple of games to see how Jay is looking. Should he start all the Chicago series? No, I wouldn’t say that. I’d not be worked up if he got some starts in Cincy, depending on Grichuk’s health, but if Mark Reynolds is available, perhaps we should see some Heyward or Piscotty or Tommy Pham in center over the next three days. (That said, I just checked the lineup and Jay is still out there. So maybe this is going to be more about Matheny’s guys than I was thinking.)
Every day there are injury updates, but the most surprising one of the weekend was Grichuk getting activated. That was quickly tempered by the fact that he’s only available to pinch-run (ah, September rosters) and hopefully will be working toward throwing over the next week or so. It sounds like he could be ready for Cincinnati or, perhaps more likely, the Milwaukee series that starts a week from tomorrow.
He might be joined by some Matts. Matt Belisle really sounds like he’s close, that he could be activated by the Reds series. Adding him into this bullpen would be an interesting thing to watch over the last couple of weeks of the season. If he’s effective, does that bump someone like Cishek out of the mix? Matt Holliday is expected to return before Matt Adams does, but he’s not imminent. I could see Holliday in that Brewers series and perhaps Adams in the Reds series that starts September 21, though that only gives him two weeks to get on track before the season is over. The more this goes on (and with Moss and Reynolds on the roster, with Piscotty likely needing to play first to stay in the lineup), the less I think Adams plays in October.
And then there’s Jordan Walden, who is done for the year. This is the least surprising news I’ve heard all season long, really. As you know from reading here or listening to me elsewhere, I’ve expected this whole rehab thing to probably not work out well. Of course, surgery isn’t a guarantee either, as is noted in the article, and it seems possible that the contract that the Cards signed Walden to at the beginning of the season is going to be another Jason Motte contract, where there’s not much gotten out of it. When you start comparing someone to Mark Mulder–and you aren’t talking about ability, but injuries–it’s not exactly something that inspires confidence. Could Walden rehab enough over the winter to contribute next season? Sure. But he’s been rehabbing most of this season and we see where that got him. I can’t say that I believe he’ll play much of a role in the 2016 Cardinals either, though I hope I’m wrong.
Lance Lynn, after some extra rest, goes today for the Cardinals looking to at least keep the lead at 5.5 games. (Pittsburgh is in Cincinnati, with Jeff Locke going up against Anthony DeSclafani. The pitching matchup probably favors the Reds, if that means anything.) We’ll see if the extra rest does more for Lynn than it did for Martinez. Lynn has faced the Cubs twice this year, but the last time was in May when he gave up five runs in six innings, snapping the club’s eight game winning streak.
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On the other side will be former (if you go far enough back) Cardinal Dan Haren. Haren, who started out this season on the Marlins before being dealt to the Cubs at the July trading deadline, hasn’t been all that stellar since putting on the blue. In six starts, he’s got an ERA of 5.87 and an OPS against of .857. He’s given up nine homers in those six games, though as he says, he’s a pitch-to-contact guy and that’s going to happen. (That characterization is true–he’s struck out 24 in 30.2 innings and walked just seven.) In his Cubs career, he’s only gotten past the fifth twice, and one of those was a 5.1 inning stint. Last time out, he allowed just two runs in five innings to the Reds, which was his best start yet.
While much is in the Cardinals’ favor today, the Cubs are going to come in wanting to do as much damage as possible to make one last gasp run. A win today would make a lot of people feel a whole lot of Cardinal Nation feel better!