If ever there was a line to summarize the 2016 Cardinals, the ending of Guardians of the Galaxy might just be it. Any time you try to summarize this team, you’ve got something good and something bad, though not always in equal measure. We’re behind on the games, so let’s go catch up.
Wednesday (3-2 win vs. Cincinnati)
Hero: Jaime Garcia. Garcia threw eight innings of one run ball, faltering a bit in the ninth and then turning the ball over to Seung-hwan Oh, who basically cleaned up the little mess he left. You couldn’t fault Mike Matheny for leaving him out there, because even after the two batters he faced in the last frame, Garcia only had 85 pitches. Garcia’s had back-to-back games of dominance and even though those games have come against the Braves and the Reds, given how the rest of the team has dealt with those clubs, I don’t think you can downgrade what he’s done just because they were lesser teams. Garcia was in command all night long, giving the bullpen a rest and helping reduce stress levels all around Cardinal Nation.
Goat: Greg Garcia. The only starter not to get a hit, Garcia went 0-4 with a strikeout and two left on base.
Notes: Matt Carpenter led off the bottom of the first with a home run and then tripled and scored in his next at bat. He also drew a walk later on, so it was a fairly solid night for Carp and it helped put the Reds in catch-up mode early, something that Garcia wasn’t going to allow. Carp was the only one with two hits, as the other seven knocks were spread throughout the lineup. So the Cards weren’t shut down, but they couldn’t open the floodgates either.
Thursday (4-3 loss in 11 at Chicago)
Hero: Randal Grichuk. Grichuk indirectly got a lot of grief from folks after Matheny’s comments later in the weekend, about him being a “stallion” and the team was going to “let him run”, but in this one he showed why there’s that feeling about him. Coming off the bench (and unfortunately following a Jedd Gyorko pickoff), Grichuk launched the game-tying home run off of Travis Wood. It was exactly what this team needed, though they weren’t able to completely capitalize.
Goat: Zach Duke. There were a lot of things that could have been chosen before the 11th, I guess, but when you are the pitcher on the mound when the game gets lost, you are in strong contention for this spot. The end of the game might have had the umpire to blame, but when you come into an extra frame, you can’t have an inning like this:
Again, the last walk wasn’t entirely his fault, as he threw strike two and the umpire called it ball four. That said, he had gotten the count to 3-1 and he’d loaded the bases, so there’s only so much blame he can slough off. It was terribly frustrating to lose a game the Cardinals could have easily won on a terrible call, but you can’t get into the position to let the game be decided in that fashion.
Notes: Carlos Martinez had a great game….except for his last inning. The Cardinals had just extended their lead to 2-0 on another Brandon Moss home run and things were looking good. However, as Tara Wellman is keeping track of this season, many times as soon as the Cards score, they let their opponent do the same. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo led off the sixth with singles, but Martinez got the next two out. Which is a fine strategy for dealing with the Cubs–Bryant and Rizzo are going to get theirs, so if you can limit them to singles and get the other guys out, you are in business.
Unfortunately, you have to get three outs. Jason Heyward hit a hopper that Jhonny Peralta was playing too deep to field in time to either get Bryant at third or Heyward at first. Then, while trying to call time, Chris Coghlan slapped a reaction single that wound up scoring two because Martinez, in some sort of mental daze, cut off the throw coming in to Yadier Molina instead of backing up the play behind the plate. It appeared that, if that ball goes through, Rizzo was dead to rights and the inning was over. Instead, David Ross came up and bunted in Heyward from third, giving the Cubs the lead.
There was a lot of criticism on Matheny at the time for leaving Martinez in there. Carlos was over the 100 pitch mark, it’s true, but I don’t think that factored much into the inning. He got Heyward to hit an infield ball, it just didn’t work out. The pitch to Coghlan may not have been great, but if Coghlan hadn’t had to rely so much on reflexes, there’s no telling what happens there. (To be fair, that might have been the same result.) And, again, if Martinez is mentally in the game, they probably leave that inning up 2-1 instead of down 3-2. Given the club’s bullpen, there’s not many arms out there that you’d say the same about.
Moss had two hits, including his homer, and Molina had three, continuing his post-All-Star tear. In the second half, Molina’s hitting .380/.418/.554, which is outstanding. Of course, he’s started all but five of those games, so let’s hope this continues but it wouldn’t be surprising if he petered out at the playoffs, which was exactly what the Cardinals have said they didn’t want. You do wonder how Molina’s usage would have been different had Brayan Pena would have been healthy all year long, but it’s like they drew up a plan for Pena and didn’t want to adapt it for Eric Fryer or Alberto Rosario. I know those guys are different–Fryer’s reverted to form for the Pirates, by the way–but it still was a plan to rest Molina. Hopefully some of these off days in August will help out.
Matt Holliday left this one when a pitch came at his head and, while he reacted to get out of the way, got his hand in the path of the ball. It’s broken and he’s out for the rest of the year. For all the talk about the Cardinals hitting batters, something that is of course well blown out of proportion, given that Rizzo didn’t wear one the rest of the series, they rarely have a ball up around the opponent’s head and never when it is intentional. Also, that’s two Cards that have been lost for extended period of time (and we still don’t know if Aledmys Diaz will return this season or not–it definitely won’t be until September) because of broken bones after being HBP. How many seasons have St. Louis pitchers ended?
Friday (13-2 loss at Chicago)
Hero: Maybe the guy that finally ended this one? An ugly affair from start to finish, but we’ll give the tag to Jedd Gyorko, who had a home run as one of his two hits. Again, this was a small pool to choose from.
Goat: Adam Wainwright. As nominal ace of this staff, you can’t go out and give up seven runs in two innings. Especially in an important game and especially after doing similar work against the Braves last time out. In the five games since his shutout of the Marlins, Waino’s 0-2 with a 7.36 ERA. It’s not good, especially for a team battling to stay in a wild-card race.
However, while Tara and I were talking on Saturday night (a new Conversations went up and you’ll want to take a listen), I pulled up Wainwright’s 2012 game log and noticed a similar issue. He had a shutout of the Astros on August 21, then in his next five starts he put up a 6.04 ERA before settling down at the end of the season. I’ve referred back to his 2012 season often, given that he was returning from injury then like he did this season, and I wonder if he’s run into a bit of a wall. Hopefully he can break through and be more like the Uncle Charlie we are familiar with the rest of the way.
Notes: Matheny takes grief on everything, many times deserved, but his comment that Jerome Williams “gave us exactly what we needed” shouldn’t be one of them. Williams gave up six runs, true, but it was 7-2 at the time and Molina and Carpenter were out of the game. There wasn’t exactly a rally forming. What the club needed was someone to stay out there and pitch no matter what, resting up the other arms. That’s what Williams did. Did he do it well? No, but he didn’t have to. For better or worse, Williams is on the team to pitch in the blowouts. Whether the team needs such an arm is, of course, up for debate.
Saturday (8-4 win at Chicago)
Hero: Randal Grichuk. When the guy is on, there’s no doubting his power. He only had the one hit, but it was the game-breaking grand slam that basically assured a victory on a day when the future of the club was on display.
Goat: Greg Garcia. With Carpenter finally moved to the third spot which would seem to be the best fit for him, Garcia got the leadoff spot and went 0-5. You have to wonder a bit if Garcia is better in small doses. In August, he’s had eight starts and for the month he’s hitting .079 with a .225 OPS. Perhaps it’s not a great idea to have him leading off right now. We’ll see if maybe Kolten Wong can get back out on the field on some sort of regular basis.
Notes: I mentioned that the future was on display. It also looked pretty darn bright as Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes combined for seven innings of two-run ball. The only blemish was Weaver allowing a homer to Addison Russell with one on in the second, but after that (well, and the fact that he wound up loading the bases after the homer, only to escape by getting Bryant to ground out) it was pretty smooth sailing. Gyorko tied it in the seventh with a home run and the club put up six in the eighth, giving Reyes his first major league win. The two rookies combined for five hits, six strikeouts and four walks. That’ll do nicely. Weaver is staying in the rotation for right now instead of the club using the myriad of off days in the next week to skip a slot, which tells you something as well. If nothing else, these two will provide reasons to watch the rest of the season.
Seth Maness struggled in this one, turning a blowout into a cause for slight concern before Duke came to bail him out. That said, Maness has been one of the more reliable arms in the pen over the last couple of months. Off days happen and hopefully that’s all that was, not the start of more angst.
Sunday (6-4 win at Chicago)
Hero: Stephen Piscotty. While I wanted to find the actual gif of this, I think the picture says enough. (And I know I’ve got it a little big, but dadgumit, that moment was worth it.)
Piscotty’s three-run home run put the Cardinals in the lead and completely changed the tenor of the game. St. Louis was able to tack on two more runs in the frame (thanks in part to more Moss power) and suddenly an evening that had been headed for more depression came out smelling like a rose. Something good, something bad, a bit of both.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. Tough night for Carp, going 0-5. Peralta was the only other starter hitless, though he did wind up scoring a run.
Notes: I said that Piscotty was the Hero, and that’s fair, but honestly, I probably should have gone with Matt Bowman. Bowman came into the seventh inning with runners on the corners. He walked the first batter, but then retired the next three, including Bryant, without allowing a run to score. That was 1) huge, 2) even bigger once Piscotty went yard, and 3) not the first time Bowman has gotten out of a bases-loaded, nobody out jam without allowing a run this season. He might be a one-year wonder, I’ll confess, but it’s been a heck of a one year.
Mike Leake wasn’t dominant, but after his first inning glitch where there were two runs in with just one out recorded, he settled in and kept the Cardinals close. The Cubs scored again after a sixth inning triple by Bryant, but given the situation, 3-1 wasn’t a terrible thing. As long as it wasn’t the ninth, they had a chance. (Speaking of, the Cardinals twice won games in the eighth while Aroldis Chapman sat twiddling his thumbs in the bullpen. For all of Joe Maddon’s vaunted creativity and wizardry–some of which is probably overblown–it’s interesting to note that doesn’t extend to nontraditional use of a closer.)
Kevin Siegrist left this game after surrendering a home run to Rizzo (who is quickly moving to the top of the Sith Lord replacement list) and calling out the trainer. Siegrist says it’s just a “dead arm” phase, which given that he’d thrown in seven of the club’s 13 games in August, including three of the four in the Chicago series, might be plausible. That said, do we really trust anything we hear from injuries? Does anyone not expect Siegrist to wind up on the disabled list, even if it’s just for a limited time? Then again, with the off days and the expanded rosters coming two weeks from Thursday, perhaps they can limp along and see how he does between now and then. Hopefully some rest will fix the problem. I don’t think I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t, however.
Yesterday’s off day brought some other surprising news. Lance Lynn, he of the Tommy John surgery earlier in this calendar year, had a rehab start at Palm Beach last night. Lynn threw 1.2 innings, struck out two, and allowed a hit. Typically, you have to promote someone within 20 days if they are doing an actual rehab assignment, but given the minor league season ends before then, I’m not sure how that all works out. Apparently the idea that Lynn could return as a reliever isn’t out of the realm of possibility, though there would seem little benefit to rushing him back. I know that Wainwright wanted to do that and really tried to make the comeback, but we saw how he struggled in 2012 when he did get back.
Of course, Lynn would be returning as a reliever and for only occasional work, I’d imagine, and if the medical clearance is there, I can see why he and the club would want to see what he has. Still, it seems risky and not necessary, two reasons not to push it. We saw with Wainwright last year that just because a player gets to return before the end of the season doesn’t mean that the next season is going to be better. Waino’s early struggles this season would have been more understandable and acceptable had he not returned last year, honestly.
Garcia gets back on the mound tonight as the Cardinals head down to Houston. Like here, it’s going to be unseasonably nice in Houston, unlike the 100 degree temps you’d expect going there in August. They may even have the roof open for these two games, even tomorrow’s 1:00 start. (Though maybe they won’t, given the rain chances.) Given the move of the Astros out of the NL, many of these Astro hitters haven’t seen Garcia much before. If his stuff is like it has been the last couple of starts, that’s bad news for them.
Dallas Keuchel goes for the ‘Stros against St. Louis. Keuchel, who won the Cy Young last year, came out of the gates completely flat this season, running up an ERA of 5.92 by May 22. Since then, it’s been more of the Keuchel fans have expected over the last couple of years. His ERA is down to 4.56 and only once since mid-June has he allowed more than three earned runs. His last time out, he threw a shutout against the Texas Rangers. The Cardinals haven’t seen a lot of him, so this could be a pitcher’s duel yet again.
It’s a weird week, with two days off and a short series in the middle, but it’s not like the gaps will do anything for the Cardinals’ momentum, since they apparently don’t believe in it. Some good play and some quality wins would be nice, though!