OK, so there probably weren’t actually 50 ways on display this weekend in Miami, but it’s not like Paul Simon used 50 in the song either and I’m just as able to use poetic license as a legendary musician, right? It was a frustrating end to the series, made more so on Sunday when defeat was grabbed from the jaws–or at least the general vicinity–of victory. Let’s take a look at the last three game against the Marlins.
Friday (11-6 win)
Hero: Tommy Pham. While Yadier Molina had more hits (three to Pham’s two), Tommy made his count a bit more, with a two-run homer contributing to his three RBI on the evening. After the Marlins had answered the Cardinals’ serious fifth with five of their own, that cushion was muchly appreciated.
Goat: Mike Leake. Leake looked a lot like the pitcher we had seen of late early (without the strikeouts) as he had allowed just one run into the fifth. However, things went south in a hurry in the fifth and the final line of Leake was pretty gruesome, six earned in five innings. He was burned by some extra-base hits, including two homers, and turned a 9-1 rout into a 9-6 ballgame. If the bullpen hadn’t held the line, I’m pretty sure a few Twitter accounts would have gone up in flames.
Notes: Molina had his three hits, including a big two-run double that started the scoring in the fifth. Kolten Wong also had three hits, driving in two with a double and a triple, though he was thrown out at home trying to score on a Greg Garcia fly ball after his three bagger. Every starter had at least one hit in this one and the bullpen combined for four scoreless innings, with twice as many strikeouts (four) as hits allowed (two).
Saturday (11-0 loss)
Hero: Kolten Wong. Wong had two hits, which was really the only thing of any positive note in this one. When you allow 11 runs and only get six hits, finding a top performer is like finding the tallest hobbit.
Goat: Pick one. Let’s go with Jaime Garcia though, since his four-run first inning set the tone for this game, digging a hole for the Cardinals that was going to be very tough to come back from in any situation, but especially since you knew Garcia wasn’t going to be out there for long and this was basically going to be a bullpen game.
Of course, the biggest Goat, if the rules of this game allowed it, would probably be Mike Matheny for deciding to go with Garcia on short rest anyway. There was no one that believed this was going to work (though many hoped it would) and it turned out to be exactly the case. Garcia wound up leaving in the fourth, allowing five runs and leaving a runner on third.
Now, to be fair, Tyler Lyons was a logical substitute for a Garcia start and he didn’t have the greatest of outings either when he came in to relieve Garcia. Lyons immediately walked Dee Gordon and, as Dee Gordon is wont to do, that immediately became a double when he stole second. Lyons then gave up a double and a single before striking out Giancarlo Stanton and retiring Marcell Osuna, two of the most dangerous bats in the Marlins lineup. Whether things would have been different had he started the fourth or started the game, there’s no telling. Perhaps throwing a bullpen this week, something that I don’t expect he regularly does, threw something off. (I realize that’s an argument for not letting him start as well.) I’d like to think a start would have gone differently, but who knows.
Remember, when Lyons came in it was a 5-0 game. While you could logically expect the runner on third to score, he just as likely might not. This offense has been known to put up runs–eleven of them just the night before. So what does Matheny do here? He double-switches to get Lyons into the game and removes cleanup hitter Matt Adams.
So, in theory, in a game that is still within reach, you remove what should be (given his placement in the lineup) your biggest power threat to bring in a pitcher that should (should, mind you) be in for long enough that he’s going to have to hit anyway. So when he does hit, if there’s a scoring situation the Marlins would just walk Matt Holliday (who was hitting third since Stephen Piscotty was getting a much needed break) and get to the pitcher. Talk about increasing the difficulty of a comeback.
This whole game seemed like a giveaway game. Not only was there the Garcia start, but there was the weaker lineup put out there with the need to rest Piscotty and Aledmys Diaz. There’s not a lot of cushion on the roster with all the injuries, so when you take out those bats, it’s going to be noticeable. Then you get the Lyons stuff and that was just like running up a white flag.
Then, THEN after spending your cleanup hitter to get Lyons into the game, he doesn’t throw more than two-thirds of an inning, as Matheny replaces him in the fifth with Jerome Williams. Now, I get that the game got more out of hand after Lyons’s appearance and an 8-0 game is definitely the only place you want to see Williams pitching. Williams went four innings and so the need for anyone else out of the pen was moot. However, it still felt like Lyons, given that he’s the long man that threw just 12.1 innings in the entire month of July, should go longer than two outs. Especially when Matheny then double-switches again, taking out Yadier Molina and putting Alberto Roserio in the fourth spot.
Again, it’s 8-0 and it’s good to see them getting Molina out of a game that there was no real chance of winning. It’s just strange to see how Matheny was working things in this one. And, to be fair, we weren’t in the mood to give him the benefit of the doubt after a gamble that absolutely no one thought was a good idea blew up in his face.
Sunday (5-4 loss)
Hero: Stephen Piscotty. While Piscotty still doesn’t look right, he did come through when it mattered most, doubling down the line in a 4-2 game to drive in Tommy Pham, then scoring himself when Adeiny Hechavarria launched the cutoff throw into the seats behind home plate. Suddenly the game was tied in the eighth and there was hope to take three of four in the series. That hope didn’t last all that long, but it was nice to have for a while.
Goat: If you could split this title, I’d do so between the two outfielders that cost the Cards at least a chance to keep playing. Since I can’t, I’m going with Jeremy Hazelbaker since he went 0-4 on the day. However, both he and Tommy Pham bear some culpability for the final play of the game, a fly ball that probably both of them could have caught, neither of them did catch, and neither of them veered off to back it up. The ball bounced past them both and the runner on first scored easily, knocking the Cards back out of the wild card slot.
Notes: Folks wanted to complain about Matthew Bowman in the ninth, and I get that Seung-hwan Oh could, maybe should have been used in that situation. That said, Bowman has been solid all year long and for the month of July before yesterday he had a 1.23 ERA with a .448 OPS against in 14.2 innings. Oh’s July? 2.03 ERA, .507 OPS in 13.1 innings. Oh has more strikeouts (16 to 12) but Bowman was a solid choice, especially if you are looking to have him pitch the 10th as well. If Pham or Hazelbaker catches that ball as they should have, we go on to the 10th and Bowman has done his job. They didn’t and the Cardinals didn’t, but that’s not really on Bowman.
Greg Garcia got a surprising home run. Listening on radio, Ricky Horton was doing that “fly ball, carrying, carrying, gone!” bit which made it seem like it didn’t look like a homer, but it got over the wall. There wasn’t a lot of offense in this one (again, just six hits) but between that and Piscotty’s double/error advancement, it was almost enough.
Before Sunday’s game, as you know by now of course, the Cardinals made their traditional mid-level prospect for bullpen help trade. It’s one of those baseball traditions, like peanuts and Cracker Jack. Zach Duke comes over from the White Sox for Charlie Tilson. (Tilson, interestingly enough, was a player I suggested as a possible trade piece on the most recent Meet Me At Musial. I don’t get things like this right very often so you better believe I’m going to mention it!) As I said last night on Gateway to Baseball Heaven, I originally thought Duke was more of a LOOGY, given that he has 53 appearances this year and only 37.2 innings to show for it. Looking over his game log, though, I can see that he’s gone an inning or more a number of times, which is more like it. This bullpen didn’t need a specialist, it needed a solid option for the seventh or eighth and Duke should provide that.
As for Tilson, he was a good prospect, but he wasn’t even ranked in the Cards’ top 10. (He immediately placed at 5 in the White Sox rankings, I believe, which could tell you a number of things.) Assuming the club is committing to Randal Grichuk long term, even though he can’t seem to find his swing this year, there’s not really any room at the big league level for Tilson, especially since Harrison Bader passed him on the depth chart a while back. Tilson’s from the Chicago area and hopefully will get a lot of opportunities with his hometown team.
Last night, Rob Rains tweeted that since July 5, the Cubs had lost 10 times (which basically made them .500 for that span) and, on those days, the Cards had lost eight times as well, which just goes to show the frustration level that comes with this team. The division race could be so much closer had they taken advantage of just a few of those opportunities. (That said, it’s actually just nine times as Rains–reasonably–was counting last night as a loss, only to see the Cubs rally from down 6-0 in the middle of the game–and playing Travis Wood in the outfield!–to win 7-6 in 12 innings. If they are a team of momentum–unlike St. Louis–that could be something that gets them going.)
The Cardinals have today off while the Cubs play the Marlins in a game where you don’t know who to root for. Either team losing works for the Redbirds, though the Marlins are the more direct threat. St. Louis goes to Cincinnati for tomorrow’s game, with Jhonny Peralta expected to be activated and Brandon Moss not far behind. Matt Carpenter, who started his rehab yesterday, should be ready by time the club gets home to play Atlanta. Adam Wainwright will take the hill for the Cards (which is a great birthday present for me) while Dan Straily goes for the Reds. Charts follow:
We know that Wainwright’s been on a roll. Straily is coming off allowing just one run in 7.2 innings to the Giants at AT&T Park. He’s had a good month of July, with his last blowup at the end of June when he allowed 7 in 3.2 innings to the Cubs. We’ll see if the Cards can have similar success!
Also, if you want an optimistic look at the rest of the season, check out Kevin Reynolds’s work at STL Cards ‘N Stuff. I’m not sure I can completely get on that bandwagon, given the general inability of this team to get on a run (especially when things like yesterday happen) but there’s no doubt Kevin lays out a good argument for a strong two-month kick!