Stephen Piscotty didn’t just swing the bat yesterday afternoon. He also swung the entire outlook of Cardinal Nation, an outlook that was as dark and nasty as a summer thunderstorm. Revisit and cleanse yourself of an ugly week, won’t you?
Before we get to yesterday’s game, though, we have to deal with Tuesday’s. Let’s do that quickly, because save for one inning, it’s not going to improve our outlook any.
Tuesday (8-5 loss)
Hero: Randal Grichuk. Piscotty had two hits and an RBI, so I thought about choosing him, but I think Grichuk’s pinch-hit homer jolted things quite a bit. It kicked off that five-run seventh and gave the Cardinals a little life, which has seemed to be lacking in recent days. He couldn’t do it twice, striking out with the bases loaded to end that frame, and it gave Mike Matheny the idea that he should put Grichuk in the starting lineup, but there’s a down side to most everything.
Goat: Michael Wacha. He had some excuse in his outing against the Padres, as the defense behind him helped lead to the grand slam he allowed. He doesn’t have that out here, as the only error behind him was of his own making. Six runs, including two home runs, putting the Cards down a lot early. Now, if Carlos Villanueva doesn’t falter in his third inning of work, maybe that five-run inning means more, but if they weren’t in that hole to begin with, their chances would have been much greater.
Notes: There’s really not much to say about this one. The seventh inning had four hits and three walks. The rest of the game had four hits and one walk. After digging that hole, there wasn’t a lot going on until that one outburst, like that summer shower that comes up, hits you, and moves on, leaving things more miserable than they were beforehand.
That brings us to yesterday. When you saw the lineup and saw Grichuk starting in center field, even though he’s not allowed to throw with any effort, and you saw Matt Adams activated even though he can’t play first base yet, you could legitimately wonder if Matheny and company were starting to show signs of panic. After all, a loss in this one, coupled with a Pirates win that night (which they picked up in part because Jay Bruce struck out with the bases loaded and down a run in the eighth), would put the Cards just 3.5 up on Pittsburgh and 5.5 up on Chicago. While the schedule may be in the Cardinals’ favor, going into a road trip being swept by the Cubbies and having lost six of seven at home wouldn’t seem to bode well for the psyche.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals got down early. It wasn’t the sharpest game by Carlos Martinez, though it wasn’t all his fault. We know how baseball works, right? You try to hide someone and that’s where the ball goes. You try to get cute and it’s going to cost you.
Here’s a quote from Matheny after the game: “The odds of it happening in the first and affecting a run, I’m going to say, are fairly low but it got us.” Mike, you’ve been around baseball a long time. You really think the odds of that were low? I’m not talking about the mathematical odds, where you calculate all the different variables. I’m talking about those baseball odds. The ball will find you. You know that.
The Cardinals’ plan going into this was to run on Jon Lester as much as possible. (That turned out to be all of once, as Lester allowed two hits and one of them was a triple. Jason Heyward did take off on the first pitch Lester made after his single, though.) Instead, the Cubs ran all over Grichuk, with Chris Coghlan scoring all the way from first on a ball that turned into a triple by Anthony Rizzo and then Lester himself scoring from second when Grichuk weakly threw the ball in. It’s possible that the first run would have scored anyway, but you’d like to think Lester would have been held had a regular center fielder been out there.
Matheny won’t rule out putting Grichuk out there again, but it seems an unnecessary risk. He talked about jump starting the offense, but the offense was going fine earlier in the homestand. It stalled partly because Jon Jay returned and mainly because the club was getting into such big holes it became tough to get out of them. I mean, look at the scores after three innings of the last six games:
Friday: 0-2 (both runs in the first)
Saturday: 2-0 (a win)
Sunday: 0-0 (I thought this one was an early rout, but it was mainly the bullpen)
To be sure, the Cardinals have probably run into better pitching in the last six games than they did during that winning stretch on the West Coast (though they still should have been able to get to Dan Haren), which is going to curtail the offense some as well. At the core, though, this team is (as Derrick Goold has phrased it often) a run-prevention team more than a run-scoring team. They win by making sure that the other team doesn’t get across home plate much. Putting out a hobbled center fielder is not playing to your strengths. Maybe if it’s a ground ball pitcher that doesn’t have many balls get to the outfield, but even then, all it takes is one play and the game can be lost. I know the whole thing worked with Albert Pujols in 2003, but to me it seems the corner outfield spot where Pujols was is going to be less pressing, less likely to be hit at, than center. We’ll see, I guess.
On Tuesday night, Pedro Strop came into that cauldron of the seventh inning and allowed two run-scoring singles and a walk before striking out Grichuk. Thankfully, Joe Maddon believes in going right back to the well (which is a Matheny thing to do also) and let him relieve Lester. If Lester could have pitched nine innings, the Cards don’t win, I don’t think. Getting into the bullpen of the Cubs, though, especially some of their lesser lights, gave them the opportunity.
After Strop put two on with one out, Clayton Richard (who also pitched in that inning Tuesday, but just to one batter and retired him) came in. The one batter he faced on Tuesday? Matt Carpenter, who was his assignment here. Carp apparently made an adjustment, because he roped a single that made it 3-2.
The Cubs then went to Fernando Rodney. I know Rodney pitched the eighth on Tuesday and had a perfect inning with two strikeouts, but odds are that isn’t going to happen often. It didn’t this time either. First pitch to Piscotty and, well, you see the results above. A beautiful, cathartic double that stopped everyone ranting for a little bit and made folks much happier.
Our Goat from yesterday has to be Randal Grichuk as well. I know it’s not his fault he was out there, but the reason they risked the defense was for him to bring the offense. Instead, he struck out three times on his way to going 0-4, including with two on and two out in the eighth. Thankfully Trevor Rosenthal was on his game so an extra run didn’t matter, but it still would have been nice.
While you can fault the defense some for Martinez’s outing, the simple fact still remains that he allowed 10 hits and threw 100 pitches in just five innings. You have to go back to July 25 to find a game where Martinez didn’t allow three runs (though in one of those games, only one was earned). In that span (but not counting yesterday, because Baseball-Reference hasn’t updated yet) he had a 5.13 ERA, a .303 BAA, and a .390 BABIP. Now, some of that is bad luck–he’s only walked nine over those 40 innings, struck out basically a batter a frame, and has allowed only two homers–and those numbers improved some with yesterday’s outing (save maybe the BAA) but that’s still a rough stretch. Will he straight out over the last three weeks? I’d hope so. He has to if he wants to be in the postseason rotation.
Good work out of the bullpen to keep the game where the offense could rally. Only one hit in four innings and six strikeouts, including Jonathan Broxton striking out the side. Regression has seemed to hit everyone hard in the last week, but maybe we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. If nothing else, playing some losing teams might help.
Speaking of, the Cards are off on a three-city road trip, starting in Cincinnati tonight. As noted, Cincy just lost two of three to Pittsburgh including a tough one last night that saw Joey Votto get ejected and go nuts in the eighth. Whether he’ll face any discipline for that or not remains to be seen, though he well might appeal and be available this series anyway. Cardinals have done well against the Reds, though they lost the series in Busch at the end of July. I was there for that and won’t be in Cincy this weekend, so the Redbirds should be OK.
Jaime Garcia, the only pitcher really unaffected by the recent blahs (well, I guess John Lackey did pretty well against the Pirates) takes to the mound for the Cards tonight. Garcia faced the Reds in that July series I just referenced and allowed one big hit–a home run by Votto–and those three runs were enough to tag him with the loss. He’s not lost since, though, and has a 1.76 ERA over that span. If you want a road trip to kick off on the right foot, this would seem to be a good way to do it.
John Lamb is up for Cincinnati. He’s made five starts for the Reds since making his debut on August 14 and none of them have gone just swimmingly. His best was two runs in six innings against the Brewers, but then they turned around and tagged him for six runs in five innings his last time out. he is a lefty, though, and one the Cards haven’t seen, so factor that in accordingly.
Let’s hope this road trip goes as well as the West Coast one did and that the Cards return to Busch looking for win 100 and a clincher!