There were two returns last night that proved pivotal for the Cardinals. One was literal, the other was more metaphorical.
Aledmys Diaz made his first appearance since being hit on the hand by an Andrew Cashner pitch in July and immediately proved his thumb was fine, launching a game-tying homer in his inaugural at bat. Diaz’s home run may prove legendary, in that “remember when he hit a home run right after returning from the DL” way, not the “Game 6” kind of way. Diaz gave life to the Cardinals, who were down 2-0 for reasons we’ll get into later.
Brandon Moss hadn’t gone anywhere, but you couldn’t have proven in by his results. Going into last night’s game, he was one (1) for his last 41. That’s not good, not good at all. Last night, though, he was the Hero. Because baseball.
Moss singled his first time up (and scored on Diaz’s homer) and walked his second. His third time up was the big one, a two-out, two-run shot off of Jason Hammel that gave the Cardinals their first lead since Saturday and wound up being the decisive tally. Hopefully this means a return to form of Moss, whose sputtering probably has thrown a kink in the offensive works over the past month. Then again, last night’s offense consisted only of two two-run homers, so maybe not everything is fixed.
The home runs only mattered because of two reasons. One, Mike Matheny made a bold move, one that I don’t think we’d have seen Matheny make in years past. For all the criticism directed at him (some of it fair), he is learning. Our Goat Jaime Garcia proved early on that he had basically nothing, allowing a leadoff home run to Dexter Fowler and then another run before anyone was out in the second. He was able to battle and get a couple of outs, but then an infield single by the pitcher (which could have been an error on Diaz, as he was unable to pick up the ball on a tough play) and a walk to Fowler and Matheny had seen enough, going to the rookie to get out of the jam.
Which Reyes did. If it wasn’t for the fact that he allowed six walks over his 4.1 innings of relief, Reyes could have easily been our Hero. The control wasn’t there last night, but his stuff was enough that he struck out four and was able to work out of any jams he got into, basically by alternating walks with outs. You do that, you can walk the bases loaded and you’ll still have a scoreless inning. Yadier Molina did his best to get him focused on each batter, but you could see why there’s that hesitation to put him in the starting rotation.
This was my uncle when he broke in. Throw 99 mph… all over the place… walk the bases loaded but strike out the side too.
— Frederick D. Gibson (@Sugalean) September 14, 2016
Do we really expect Reyes to be Gibsonesque? No, I don’t think so. That’s a huge bar to try to hurdle, a ton of expectations to place on anyone’s shoulders. However, it just shows that the control can come. Carlos Martinez might be a more reasonable comparison. Martinez had the same issues when he came up, to the point where some (and I was in that group) weren’t sure he could ever be efficient enough to be a starter. So far, yeah, I think it’s been OK. With this usage, Reyes will be out for a few days and may not be available until Saturday’s game with the Giants. It’s the only drawback to his ability to go multiple innings–it means we don’t necessarily have him in key spots like you do the single inning folks. It’s a tradeoff that we’ll glad accept, though. Seung-hwan Oh is apparently still dealing with that groin injury, so Matthew Bowman and Kevin Siegrist finished last night’s game off. Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue, though you know both of those guys have had their hiccups as of late. We’ll see what happens in the next save situation, since Oh was supposed to be ready by last night. Speaking of the bullpen, Trevor Rosenthal threw a short side session and pronounced himself happy with the results. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him activated today or tomorrow and be available while the club is in San Francisco. I continue to say that if it’s true that he’s been hurting all year and that was the cause of his issues and if–if, mind you–he is actually pain-free now, he could be a huge addition to this bullpen. If you can get to the playoffs (which right now is still dicey), a bullpen of Reyes, Rosenthal, Siegrist, Oh, Bowman, even Zach Duke would shorten things up considerably. Get a Matheny that plays it like he did last night (like Tony La Russa in 2011) and, well, who knows? The win last night means that the Cubs can not clinch at Busch Stadium, something that was of paramount concern to Al Hrabosky on the broadcast last night. Al continually referred to “you don’t want them to clinch”, even using that as the reason Matheny went to Reyes in the second. To which I Tweeted:
Hey, Al, I don’t think this is a “don’t let them clinch” move. More a “try to stay in the playoff race” move.
— Cardinal70 (@C70) September 14, 2016
(Click through and scroll through the likes. One name at the end might stick out to you, a person who liked it almost immediately.)
It is good that the Cubs can’t celebrate in St. Louis, of course, but it’s not the focal point of things. The focus is to win. If that keeps the Cubs from celebrating until they get home, great. That’s not the point, though. The Cardinals are trying desperately to get into the playoffs and they need to win as much as possible, no matter who the opponent is.
Speaking of that wild card race, things got a little more interesting last night. The Mets won, so the Cards are still on the outside looking in by a half game, but the Giants coughed up five in the ninth and fell to the Padres. That means that the Cardinals are just one game out of the first wild card spot, a place they could be tied for if things fall right today. Of course, that’s going to be a tough order because the Giants are sending Madison Bumgarner to the mound (against former Cardinal farmhand and current Padre Luis Perdomo), so the Giants losing that one isn’t what you’d expect. They go this afternoon, starting probably around the fifth inning of the Cardinal game. New York also has an afternoon game, starting probably around the time the Cards are getting into the eighth or so. They are sending Robert Gsellman, whom the Cardinals saw in his major league debut when he relieved Jon Niese, against Tanner Roark and the Nationals. That might go Washington’s way, but we’ll see.
For their part, St. Louis has Carlos Martinez going against Jon Lester in today’s 12:45 start. Martinez has been the best and most consistent pitcher on the Redbird staff for quite some time now. C-Mart gave up three runs in six innings the last time he faced the Cubs. He saw them in April and allowed one run over seven, then in May he gave up six in five frames. Hopefully we’ll see more of the good results today.
As for Lester, he’s having another solid season and is always a tough person to face. Last time out, for instance, he threw seven scoreless innings against the Astros. The Cards saw him last in August, when they got two runs off of him in six innings. Surprisingly, that’s the only time the Cardinals have faced him this season, as he apparently has usually missed the little get-togethers. The Cards have had some success against him in the past, but he’s also shut them down. May be a pitcher’s duel this afternoon.
The Cardinals need to win tonight and sweep the Reds and Pirates at the end of September to finish at .500 at home this season. That’s a tough task, but a win today would make it a lot more realistic. Here’s hoping!