Anytime you’ve got the number six involved, it’s a good time to break out these guys.
Seriously (no pun intended), it’s amazing how one ad campaign has basically embedded itself into a fanbase. Even if you aren’t a fan of the, well, whatever these guys are, we all know that six is a serious number. And now, only for a few hours hopefully, it’s a magic one as well.
Both the Cardinals and the Pirates are frustrating each other. The Pirates just went in and swept a four-game series against the Rockies (including the last one on an eighth-inning home run by Sith Apprentice Pedro Alvarez) so the Cardinals couldn’t get any more breathing room or cut that magic number down more than they did. On the flip side, as a Pirates fan, wouldn’t you be perturbed knowing that you just won four in a row and all you did was cut days off the calendar? I know I would be.
We’re behind on our recaps, though, so let’s take a look at that Cincinnati series plus last night’s win against Milwaukee.
Monday (2-1 win)
Hero: Jaime Garcia. While the offense again sputtered against John Lamb, Garcia kept the team in the game. That’s been the hallmark of this season, hasn’t it? Win or lose, it’s nice to see the Cardinals get back to what was working for them instead of getting down multiple runs early. If the pitching is good, they’ll likely win. Garcia was good, going seven innings and allowing just five hits and a run. It was the first night we saw Tony Cruz behind the plate and, so far, the results haven’t been noticeably different than when Yadier Molina was back there.
Goat: Randal Grichuk. It’s tough to be too hard on Grichuk as he’s still working back into a regular rhythm, but he went 0-3 in this one before being removed late the game per the “rehab in the majors” program Mike Matheny has going on. Jason Heyward also went 0-3, though he drew a walk to break the tie.
Notes: I expect the Cardinals are going to do some great work against bullpens this postseason if they get the chance. There’s always a weak spot, it seems, and they exploit it beautifully at times. A Tommy Pham triple, then a one-out Jhonny Peralta double and a Stephen Piscotty double and immediately it swings from a 1-0 deficit and worrying about Aroldis Chapman to a 2-1 lead and Trevor Rosenthal warming up. Games aren’t over until they are over (our hat tip to the recently departed Yogi Berra) and this club has proven it with 12 games won when they’ve trailed after seven innings. Now, it’s not a philosophy I endorse for the postseason–most of those teams will either go to their closer if there is trouble brewing in the eighth or have a solid setup man–but it’s nice to know that if they can stay close, there’s still a shot.
Tuesday (3-1 win)
Hero: Tommy Pham. I really leaned toward John Lackey, because he pitched a whale of a game, but there’s no doubt it’d have been in vain had not the rookie driven in two runs, one on a double that tied the game, one on a sacrifice fly that put the team ahead. Pham has done nothing to warrant coming out of the lineup, though he probably will more as Matt Holliday and Grichuk continue to heal, but hopefully he’s done enough to make the postseason roster. Given that we’ve not seen very much of Jon Jay as of late, I believe that’s probably the case.
Goat: All the starters got a hit and the pitchers were pretty solid, though Kevin Siegrist did get us worried with two walks in his inning of work. Honestly, I guess I’ll have to go with him because the hits and walks by the offense were pretty spread out. They really should have scored more than three runs in this one, at least according to a glance at the box score.
Notes: Lackey continues to make the case to be not only in the postseason rotation (which really is a given) but to be at the head of it. One run in seven innings here, with seven strikeouts and three double plays helping to work out of those nine hits that he allowed. He does give up a number of hits, which could come back to hurt him in October. In his four September starts, he’s got an ERA of 1.91 but a BAA against of .285 on a BABIP of .384. He’s gotten eight double plays over those starts, though, so I guess if he can keep folks hitting them on the ground, some will get through and some will raise $99.99 for Cardinals Care.
Steve Cishek came in to get the save in this one and looked better than we’ve seen him look. My problem with Cishek has been consistency. Jonathan Broxton has some of this as well–very good outings mixed with some real ugly ones–but Broxton seems to have the bad ones a little less often. My personal postseason roster (assuming, as we’ll talk about in a bit, Adam Wainwright is healthy) doesn’t have Cishek on it.
Of course, as I look at his game log, I’m not sure those impressions are backed up by the stats. He’s allowed his own runs in only four of 23 outings in St. Louis. His ERA wearing the Birds on the Bat is 2.29, which isn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. The problem is, at least on the face of it, that 60% of his inherited runners score. So bringing him in mid-inning would seem to be out, but if he can start an inning fresh, he does OK. Maybe I should rethink that roster a little bit. (For comparison’s sake, Broxton has also allowed his own runs in four of 23 outings, his Cardinal ERA is 2.57, but only 40% of his inherited runners score. So statistically they aren’t as different as I thought.)
Wednesday (10-2 win)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. Two home runs, both of the two-run variety, tends to get you put here. There were a number of other options, of course, when the team scores 10 runs, but Carpenter’s 2-3 wins the day.
Goat: Jhonny Peralta. 0-3 before being replaced when the game was out of hand. Seriously, this box score looks like either an All-Star Game or an early game down in Jupiter. Folks swapping in everywhere, like here when Jay went into Peralta’s spot because Pete Kozma pinch-ran for Matt Adams who pinch-hit for Lance Lynn and then he (Kozma) stayed in at short. I feel for that one person who keeps a scorecard at home, because this one was a mess in that regard.
Notes: Before we talk about the offense, let’s talk about Lynn. When the postseason rotation question has been brought up, it does seem that Lynn is the more consensus pick to be left off of it. Whether that means to the bullpen (likely) or off the roster entirely, that’s still debatable. The fact that he wouldn’t be in the rotation really didn’t seem to be.
So what impact, if any, does a six-inning, three hit, zero run, four strikeout inning have on that discussion? In a vacuum, I don’t think much. After all, for all the the trouble the Cards have had with them of late, this was still the Reds. If you can manage not to get burned by Joey Votto (something that struck the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons after he replaced Lynn in this one), you have a good chance of locking them down. His outing wasn’t that out of line with what Garcia and Lackey did to the same club this week. It’s not the Reds the Cardinals will be facing in the postseason.
That said, and we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves here, but Michael Wacha hasn’t been just lights out either and he had his issues last night. Could we see Wacha to the pen and Lynn as the fourth starter in the playoffs? It wouldn’t be unheard of. I also could see Wacha as the fourth starter for the NLDS, given Lynn’s issues with both Chicago and Pittsburgh, then see them swap for the NLCS depending on the opponent. I think the last couple of starts…hang on, it’s hard to believe but we’re getting down to taking off the plural there. Right now, assuming the off day doesn’t affect things, Lynn would pitch Monday against Pittsburgh (which probably would be a huge factor in his postseason life) and then the last game of the season against Atlanta. Wacha would get Tuesday against Pittsburgh (another big test) and that’s it. Where exactly has this season gone?
As mentioned, Lyons got a chance to pitch, though I was disappointed it was just the one inning. Save for being taken deep by Votto (who had this look on his face like he was super ticked to be down 9-0 and was going to do something about it) he had a solid inning. Probably would have gone longer than an inning but Matheny used this chance to empty out the bullpen and use some guys that hadn’t gone in a while. Miguel Socolovich had a scoreless frame and Sam Tuivailala, who I think if he’d had regular use could be a strong weapon in the postseason, gave up a run on a couple of hits but struck out two. There are a lot of arms down there and it does make it hard to juggle everything, which is another casualty of not being able to clinch early.
Holliday returned to the field in this one and ripped a double in his second at-bat, driving in Pham (who had two singles in this one). Holliday doesn’t appear rusty, though the Cardinals aren’t taxing him just yet. I would hope that next week Holliday and Grichuk are playing every day against Pittsburgh and Atlanta, trying to get in line for postseason. If they get going, this offense is going to be so much better.
Mark Reynolds, who will likely be a bench bat given Piscotty will need to play first if the outfield heals up, went three for four while shifting from third to first to third. I told you it was like a spring training game. Reynolds also drove in two and scored a run of his own.
For the fact the club had 13 hits and four walks, there were still a few folks that didn’t do much. We noted Peralta above, but Piscotty also went 0-3, though he walked and scored a run. Cruz had the same results (0-3, walk, run) and both Greg Garcia and Brandon Moss went 0-2 after they came in as replacements.
Thursday (7-3 win)
Hero: Stephen Piscotty. Three for four, including the tie-breaking home run following Peralta’s three-run jack. He then singled in two more runs in the fifth and singled in another in the seventh. Without Piscotty, the club might have lost this one, but instead they kept pace with the Pirates and marked another day off the season.
Goat: Kolten Wong. 0-4 with a strikeout and left two men on base.
Notes: As we talked above, Wacha started this one and while his overall line isn’t that stellar, let’s break it down a bit.
First inning: 3 runs, 3 hits, 2 walks, 28 pitches
Second through fifth innings: 0 runs, 3 hits, 1 walk, 62 pitches
Now, even that latter part isn’t necessarily the dominant Wacha that we’ve seen in the past. Four runners in four inning isn’t bad, but Wacha can also go four innings without allowing a single runner. Still, if you want to credit Wacha with getting stronger as the game went on, that seems reasonable. He wasn’t just beat around in that first inning, but command was such an issue. Both walks were on 3-0 counts and Wacha seemed to struggle to put batters away, needing 11 pitches to strike out Logan Schafer. That was his only strikeout of the night and it came on the second batter, which is a little disconcerting.
Still, I think Wacha has a lead on Lynn for that last spot, depending on how they both do next week in PNC Park. If Lynn can show that he is able to master the Pirates (remember, the last time he faced them, he didn’t get out of the first) he might get the call if Pittsburgh wins the Wild Card Game. I can’t imagine Lynn facing the Cubs in the playoffs in any situation, honestly. He has a chance against the Pirates, even though that may also be a long shot.
The offense was a bit concentrated at the top, which isn’t all bad. That led to Piscotty being able to have a lot of runners to clean up. Carpenter was 0-4 (with a walk) but Pham had a hit, Heyward had two, and Peralta had two, including that big home run. Maybe some rest has helped. Since his last day off ten games ago, he’s hit .243/.310/.378, which isn’t good by any means but is much better than what we’d seen out of Peralta since the All-Star Break. He’s also got three multi-hit games in that span, showing that the bat still has some life in it. Grichuk also had a couple of hits.
Matt Adams singled in his pinch-hitting appearance. That’s two days in a row that he’s been able to come through as a pinch hitter and, since his return earlier this month, he’s 4-7 in that situation with, of course, that home run in Cincinnati. My thought has been that Moss might take Adams’s spot on the postseason roster since Adams might not be able to be fully ready. However, since Piscotty will likely be playing first most of the time and since Moss is not only 0 for his last seven and hasn’t actually started a game since Sunday against the Cubs, it may be that Matheny’s already planning for Adams to have that role. Moss was starting to hit a bit–while he’s just hitting .245 on the month, it was .265 before that 0-7–and I’m afraid him not getting regular time out there may get him rusty again. There’s not a good solution, especially with the outfielders getting healthy, so we’ll just see how the next nine games play out.
Earlier this week, Wainwright faced hitters off the mound as he threw some batting practice. Adams took him deep but the other three didn’t do much with him. Waino will go for a simulated game this weekend and hopefully then be ready to go on the road trip. (I really wanted him to get into Sunday’s game, because the place would go crazy, but it doesn’t sound like that’s to be.)
The question, as it is with so many of these folks, is whether Wainwright should be on the postseason roster. If you grant the injury concerns but also grant that the doctors are clearing him and, as such, he should be able to do this without injury, does he help the bullpen? You’d think so, but this has been a fairly good ‘pen and the upgrade might not be a huge one. Still, having Wainwright on the roster has to be a mental boost if nothing else. Plus, if he gets to be this year’s Shelby Miller/Michael Wacha, we won’t complain as much, right?
To clinch the division at home and to make the Pirates series meaningless, two things have to happen. One, the Cardinals have to win their next three games at home. That would run their winning streak to eight, which is a pretty significant stretch of wins for any team. Their longest winning streak of the year was eight, back when it seemed like they could do no wrong at the end of April and beginning of May. So it’s doable, though I think we should be prepared that, just by general baseball odds, they’ll likely drop one to the Brewers over the weekend.
Two, the Pirates have to be swept by the Cubs. I’m of two minds about that. I mean, one, it’d be great to get the magic number dropping like that. However, that means we have to again root for Chicago and a sweep would mean the two teams were tied, which would at that time mean that the Wild Card Game would be played in Wrigley. I think many of us, seeing how Chicago has handled the club in September and the loss of Jung Ho Kang by the Pirates, have come around to rather seeing Pittsburgh in the NLDS than the Cubbies. Which means that we’d rather have Pittsburgh host that game, as they are 50-25 at home. Both teams have good road records, so that might not be a huge factor, but it’s something to keep in mind. In Wrigley this afternoon is almost a WCG preview, as Gerrit Cole (who will go for the Pirates in that game) goes up against Jon Lester (who will likely give way to Jake Arrietta for the WCG and start Game 1 of the NLDS if they get there).
The Cardinals will know those results before they take the field tonight, which is nice. Carlos Martinez, who was so good against the Cubs on Sunday, takes the hill for St. Louis tonight. He faced the Brewers two starts ago and allowed just one run in eight innings, so you like his odds to at least keep the team in the game, stalling until the offense can click. Maybe it won’t take long, maybe it will, but the Tsunami will be there. Hopefully they’ll score early and the bullpen can take over after the fifth, giving Martinez just a little rest.
Ariel Pena is on the bump for Milwaukee. He’s only started three games, but one of those was against the Cardinals last week in Miller Park. He allowed just one run in five innings against Martinez, getting a no decision when the game went into extra innings. So perhaps he didn’t shut down the offense per some criteria, but they surely didn’t do much with him. Hopefully another look at him will help out.
As much as six is a revered number in the area, I’m really fine with the club moving on from it tonight. Four’s not bad, right?