The last time we got together, everything seemed pretty rosy. (Not necessarily Rosie, of course.) The Cardinals had won five straight games to move to seven over .500. They were in the first wild card position and while the division still was well out of reach, at least the gap wasn’t in double digits at the time, at least allowing for the possibility of a run. They’d won the last three series, two over quality opposition in San Francisco and Pittsburgh, and had actually split the series against the Nationals before that. Things were looking up, everything was about to click, and we were solidly in the STL-FIL 3 zone, with a chance for easing up to FIL 4 if everything broke right.
We didn’t expect the club to win all the rest of their games, of course, but we did expect them to win some as they came home to Busch Stadium. Instead, the two Texas teams pushed the Cardinals’ home record to a terrible 15-21 by bringing their brooms in their checked luggage, sweeping the homestand. Instead of FIL 4 within reach, we are dangerously close to FIL 2 and the long knives are coming out for not only people associated with the club but other sections of the fandom as well. This week was the most drastic turnaround in fortunes that this team has seen in quite some time. Let’s review.
Tuesday (5-2 loss vs. Houston)
Hero: Brandon Moss. It was a toss up between him and Matt Adams, and I was leading toward Adams. Moss left two on and Adams none, which was the only difference in their lines. Both had a solo home run and both were important, but Adams’s gave the Cards a quick 1-0 lead (which Jaime Garcia promptly squandered) while Moss cut the lead to 3-2 and seemingly gave this club, which had been so good at late inning scoring, a chance to come back. However, Adams made an error in the inning that saw Houston tack on two insurance runs, which was kind of a big deal, so we’ll go with Moss here.
Goat: There were a lot of pretty blah performances in this one. I guess I’ll go with Stephen Piscotty, who went 0-4 with a strikeout. Again, there were a number of folks that didn’t have much going for them in this one, as the club could only muster five hits off of Doug Fister and company.
Notes: Jaime Garcia had one of his better outings as of late, but since the five before this had seen him post a 6.38 ERA, that’s not exactly the highest of praise. Garcia really did do pretty well overall, allowing three runs in six innings before going out for the seventh and seeing his defense and his bullpen betray him. Garcia was charged with four runs, but the fourth was unearned (due to Adams’s error in the inning) and came when Seung-hwan Oh proved mortal and allowed Fister to single in two runs with two outs.
The Fister single led me to do a little bit of boxscore compiling, because I felt like pitchers had been getting some big hits against the Cardinals all year long. However, it turned out that those hits just stick out, because on the season pitchers are hitting .160 with just one extra-base hit against St. Louis and we all know that our pitchers have done much worse to the other side. (Those numbers would be worse without Jason Hammel, who is two for six with four of the 12 RBI pitchers have garnered. And, of course, we’ll see Hammel on Tuesday night.)
Tyler Lyons pitched a scoreless inning in the ninth. That didn’t make any difference in the game but I always like to acknowledge the Patron Pitcher.
Wednesday (4-1 loss vs. Houston)
Hero: Adam Wainwright. Starting pitching has not been the issue this week and Wainwright was just another representative of that. Seven innings of scoreless ball from the guy that actually resembles that staff ace the Cards are familiar with. Just four hits (though three walks) and six strikeouts. They gave Waino a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh, meaning that for a moment he was in line for a win. Then that lockdown bullpen left a key out.
Goat: Kevin Siegrist. The most frustrating part of Siegrist blowing this game was that he had escaped the danger. It’s like in the movies, when the hero fights through this terrible line of challenges, only to take a breather at the end and fall through the trap door. Siegrist had given up a leadoff single to Carlos Gomez, but after retiring the next batter picked off Gomez. So two outs and nobody on is a pretty solid spot to be in. Then Siegrist walked Evan Gattis (which is not the easiest thing to do) and allowed a home run to George Springer (which is less surprising) and suddenly, after fighting all game long to get a lead, the Cardinals immediately gave it back.
Notes: Trevor Rosenthal came into this one with a full gas can and poured it all over the smoldering embers, allowing four of the five batters he faced to reach base and two of them to score. In the past, it has seemed that Mike Matheny was going to sink or swim with Rosenthal, but this year (sadly) we’ve seen him a number of times go out and remove Rosie from the mound, which is what happened here, as it took Jonathan Broxton to finally shut down the Astros’ rally. Rosenthal has struggled mightily in June, something that we’ll sadly have another opportunity to talk about in this post.
Colin McHugh did a fine job of keeping the Cards at bay, allowing seven hits in just shy of seven innings. St. Louis finally got to him when Greg Garcia‘s pinch-hit single drove in Yadier Molina, but as we’ve seen that was a short-lived victory.
Speaking of Molina, it was a good night for the catcher with three hits. Molina’s bat has been on an upswing, so perhaps that slump he was in wasn’t entirely due to fatigue, since Yadi’s not getting much more rest than he was save for some convenient off days. Two hits for Matt Carpenter as well, who was the only other starter to record multiple knocks.
Friday (1-0 loss to Texas)
Hero: Michael Wacha. We’ve not seen a lot of great things out of Wacha this season, but as of late he’s been a bit better, posting a 3.20 ERA in June after this strong start, where he only allowed a solo home run to Rouged Odor in 7.2 innings. Wacha struck out seven and deserved so much better than to take the loss in this one. While win-loss records aren’t terribly indicative of how a player is going (especially due to games like this), it’s tough to see a guy like Wacha sitting at 2-7. That’s a mark you’d think you’d see on a team like the Reds, not a team that’s in a playoff race.
Goat: Pick a hitter. The Cardinals wound up with three hits and two of them came from Matt Carpenter, who also drew two of the three walks. Basically, he was the offense. You gotta take just one here, though, so I’ll go with Aledmys Diaz, who went 0-4 with Carpenter on every time he reached base. A hit here or there and maybe the Cards are able to put one across against Cole Hamels. Maybe not, as Hamels was in top form in this one.
Diaz has struggled quite a bit of late, with that insanely hot start masking the fact that he’s hit .217/.287/.292 over basically the last month (before Sunday’s game). While his defense has gotten somewhat better–though as we’ll see it was a key in one game–the league has adjusted to him and it’s time to see if he’ll adjust back. I know John Mozeliak wants to give him every chance to be the shortstop of the future, but he’s got to first be the shortstop of the present.
Notes: The Cards didn’t hit and it didn’t matter how well they pitched. Really, not much else to say here.
Saturday (4-3 loss to Texas)
Hero: Carlos Martinez. For the second time in this homestand, a pitcher left after throwing seven scoreless innings, only to see the bullpen give up two in the eighth and two in the ninth. Wainwright, Wacha, and Martinez combined to allow one run over a three-game stretch and the Cardinals won none of them. That’s mindboggling. (Well, it would be, save we all remember last season.) Martinez showed no ill effects from throwing 122 pitches against the Pirates, giving up just four hits in his time out there and striking out four as well.
Goat: Trevor Rosenthal. There’s no doubt that Oh and Siegrist contributed to this, but Rosenthal came into the ninth in a save situation, which is what he’s paid to do. In fact, the FOX graphic showed that his ERA in save situations was 0.64, compared to a mark over 10 in non-save situations. (However, that’s not reflecting situations like the game in Anaheim where he walked three batters and was yanked for Siegrist, who didn’t let them score. No blown save, no mark against the ERA, but not what you’d say was a successful save appearance.) Rosenthal allowed a hit (which, to be fair, could have been ruled an error on Adams) to Odor leading off the ninth, then followed that up with a single and a hit-by-pitch. Siegrist then came in, allowed a run-scoring walk with one out and a sacrifice fly by Ian Desmond that honestly took a nice play by Tommy Pham not to be a bases-clearing double. Truly, this was a complete bullpen effort.
Notes: Matt Adams could have easily been the Goat in this one, with two plays in the late innings that could have both been errors (one was scored that way) and an 0-4 day with four left on base. Adams has been quite good for some time now, though, and everyone’s going to be rough every once in a while.
Carpenter went 1-2 with two walks, continuing his hot streak, but surprisingly the runs aren’t coming. When Carpenter’s going well, that’s usually the thing that the offense needs to get clicking. While three runs isn’t anything terrible, it’s not exactly a cloudburst either.
It was a pretty rough weekend for Mike Matheny and this game was part of that. In the eighth, with runners on second and third, Nomar Mazara swung at a pitch that, upon review, hit one of his legs as it passed between them. Molina was unable to corral the ball and the runners advanced, getting Texas on the board. With the ball hitting Mazara, it should have been a dead ball but Matheny didn’t ask for a review. Afterwards, he admitted that he knew it had hit Mazara, but he didn’t realize that Mazara had swung and didn’t want to let Texas put the tying run on base. (Which turned out to be supremely ironic in about 24 hours.)
Putting aside how he couldn’t tell that Mazara swung or how someone didn’t make that clear after watching the replay, even if Matheny is right in that situation, it’s an interesting call. I mean, I get not wanting to put a runner on, but there are two outs in the eighth. If that ball hits him, you have the bases loaded and, while it’s true there was a dangerous hitter in Adrian Beltre coming up, you also have a force at any base and that run is off the board. Without knowing that he swung, it’s a debatable proposition. With Mazara swinging, it was a no-brainer, one that Matheny flubbed.
Sunday (5-4 loss to Texas)
Hero: Matt Holliday. Only one hit, but it was a game-tying homer in the sixth, plus Holliday had another RBI in the third, a sacrifice fly that gave the Cardinals a brief lead. Holliday’s still on pace for between 25 and 30 homers, which is just amazing given his age and how slowly he started the year. The general practice of pulling him in late innings isn’t a bad thing, though, and may be contributing to some of that rejuvenation.
Goat: Aledmys Diaz. Diaz had a single in this game, which was his only hit of the homestand, but unfortunately it was the other side of the ball that provided the focus. In the first, Diaz missed a throw from Eric Fryer (who was giving Molina a day off) when Desmond stole second base. Desmond then went to third and was able to score on a sacrifice fly. Given that that play was in the first inning, it might have been forgivable, even in what turned out to be a one-run game. The second glitch was more of an issue.
In the eighth, the first two Rangers are retired by Matt Bowman (in his second inning of work) before Odor, who made a stink all weekend, doubled and Mitch Moreland was intentionally walked (more on that in a bit). Elvis Andrus then hit a ground ball to short, which Diaz fielded and threw to second to get Moreland. However, on replay (and, honestly, it was clear enough that it’s stunning the ump got it wrong to start with), Moreland was safe as Diaz just didn’t make the play as quickly as he should have. That allowed Jurickson Profar to come up with the bases loaded and single in the two runs needed to give Texas their final lead. Which surprised no one, as there was this sense that the bullpen was going to eventually let this game get away, the question was how. Profar just gave us the answer.
The bullpen struggles had serious repercussions in this one. It seems unlikely that Bowman would have been still out there, especially with two on, if Rosenthal was going right or if Siegrist and Oh hadn’t struggled lately. (Unlikely, but not impossible, because it would be like Matheny to try to give Bowman that experience of getting out of a jam.) Of course, if the bullpen was going well, the Cards probably win three games at least on this homestand instead of losing all five.
Notes: Stephen Piscotty homered and scored another run when Fryer walked with the bases loaded, giving the Cardinals their last lead. Two more hits and two more walks by Carpenter, showing that no matter how the rest of the team might be going, Carp’s going to be that consistent rock.
Mike Leake looked OK in this one, save the two home runs he allowed. They were both solo shots and the only ones that were earned against him, as that Diaz error made the first one not count against his ERA. Five strikeouts and he also had a base hit, so I think that’s what you’d take about every time out of Leake, though he only went six innings given the sixth inning rally that saw him be pinch-hit for.
As we said, it wasn’t the best weekend for Matheny, to the point that I’ve seen more people on Twitter calling for his job than I ever have before. I mean, there’s always been a lot of complaining about this manager, but I’ve never seen so many that were willing to use “fire” in front of his name as I did this weekend. On Sunday, Matheny gave them some fuel by walking Moreland in the eighth with a runner on second, intentionally putting the go-ahead run on base. I didn’t care for that move myself, but let’s be fair–if Diaz’s throw is a bit quicker, the Cards are out of that inning. Given that Moreland had one of the longest home runs by a visiting lefty earlier in the game, you could see why there might be some hesitation. (That said, perhaps you go with a lefty against him and pitch to him instead of just putting him on base.) It wasn’t the best idea by the skipper, but as Tara and I said last night, if the players execute, that mitigates a lot of those choices. They didn’t, which means that this was a loss that had a lot of fathers.
There’s been a lot of transactions this week, which you can look at in a variety of ways. One way would be some long-overdue changes, one way would be a desperate attempt at a hot hand or finding something that works. I’m not sure exactly how I’d take it, but the fact that the Cubs are now 12.5 games ahead of the Cardinals has to be weighing at least somewhat on this front office.
First off, Kolten Wong was called up on Friday with Jeremy Hazelbaker being sent down to balance the scales. There’s no doubt that Hazelbaker has been slumping and been fairly marginalized as of late, so his demotion wasn’t terribly unexpected. We’ll see how he does down there and if we see him return, but there’s a reason the 28-year-old outfielder made his major league debut this season. There’s not too many people these days that are just starting great, long baseball careers at that age.
However, the promotion of Wong was a little bit puzzling. Yes, Wong had done great at Memphis, but it was a whopping seven games. I realize that he had four homers and was hitting .429 in that span, but depending on what you sent Wong to Memphis to do, it seems hard to believe he’d gotten it all figured out in 10 days, just in time to be promoted for his Hawaiian jersey giveaway at Busch. It’s a fairly small sample and while Wong did get a few starts in center field down there, it wasn’t even all seven of those games. Was that really enough to change anyone’s minds about what Wong was going to do right now?
Apparently it was, since he got the call up, but it seemed a little bit weird to see him return that quickly. It could well be that the club figured he was better than some of the other options, like Hazelbaker, but you’d almost think they’d have figured that out beforehand. I know they’d probably say that they didn’t want him to learn center field in the majors, but that’s still basically what he’s doing. This one just seemed strange to me.
The next day, Randal Grichuk was demoted and Tommy Pham took his place. Again, I don’t think anyone is going to argue that Grichuk could use some time in Memphis (and apparently, the land of the delta blues solves a lot of issues, as Grichuk crushed a three-run homer on Sunday), I’m just surprised that the club actually made the move. We’ll see how they treat Grichuk, especially if he has a hot run in Memphis as well. Will he get a return trip quickly also?
As for Pham, he was hitting .236 in Memphis. John Nagel and I had discussed Pham on the last Meet Me At Musial (and, programming note, sorry we didn’t get a show recorded this weekend. We were set to do so and then life threw a last minute curve) and we’d agreed that he wasn’t doing enough at AAA to really warrant a callup. Then again, .236 is better than .208 (if you just want to look at batting average, which of course you shouldn’t) and perhaps Pham will also get a kick from a change in scenery. He got his first big league hit of the season on Sunday, though he was out trying to stretch a double into a triple, a situation (stretching hits) that seemed to bite the Cardinals plenty over the weekend.
Finally, on Sunday, Seth Maness was activated from the disabled list and Dean Kiekhefer was sent back to Memphis. Kiekhefer was the most (and perhaps really only) disposable arm and it’s worth seeing if Maness’s issues from earlier this season were due to the injury and not as much general ineffectiveness. That said, you’d have to think there’s a bit of a short leash on Maness, because if he scuffles more after returning, he’s out of excuses.
As if things weren’t just ugly enough, the Cardinals get to make their first trip into Wrigley Field starting tonight. I guess if you are looking for silver linings you grab onto the fact that the Cards play better away from St. Louis (20-12 away from Busch) and that streaks in baseball tend not to get terribly long. On the down side, the Cubs are 25-8 at home, just swept the Pirates, and the Redbirds have to face John Lackey, Hammel, and Jake Arrieta. This should be a fun time.
Jaime Garcia will take on the baby bears tonight. Overall, he’s done OK against these guys and he allowed just two runs in five innings when he faced them back in April, though that was still enough to get saddled with the loss.
John Lackey goes for the third time against his 2015 team, but at least this time he’s not at Busch Stadium, where he apparently put down a long-term deposit on the mound. He gave up three runs last time in seven innings, mainly due to an Adams homer late. The first time, zero runs in seven innings. Lackey’s apparently made himself at home at Wrigley as well, as he’s 3-1 with a 1.66 ERA in front of the ivy.
A series loss to the Cubs and I think we can officially change the Frustration Index Level to Rasmus. Let’s hope, somehow, that it doesn’t come to that.