I said at the beginning of the calendar year that I was going to try to be better about writing game recaps instead of series recaps, a habit I fell into last year because I’m old. Unfortunately, I just mentioned this to a young pup of a blogger in Cassie yesterday, so I have to drag myself out to be a good example. Which is much harder to do after a game like last night’s. Basically nobody else did their job, why should I have to do mine?
There were times where things looked OK during the 14-6 loss to the Nationals, something you wouldn’t believe by just looking at the final score. The Cardinals had three leads in this one! Unfortunately, only one of them survived the bottom of an inning. All three of those leads were lost in part and in whole by Adam Wainwright, which has lead to some really disappointing thinking.
One of the best voices of our generation sang the following lines that really meant something to us as we watched Wainwright try to capture that spark, that dominance that we were so used to:
“‘Cause I’ve been by myself all night long
Hoping you’re someone I used to know…..
Let me photograph you in this light
In case it is the last time
That we might be exactly like we were
Before we realized
We were sad of getting old
It made us restless”
We hoped all spring that maybe the Achilles injury and its recovery were really what were holding Wainwright back. That, while we knew he was getting older, he still had some approximation of that legendary status he’s built up around Cardinal Nation. Instead, in his first two starts, it seems to be that Father Time is winning yet another battle. Wainwright didn’t look bad against the Cubs, but it still took him over 80 pitches to get through the fifth inning, averaging a baserunner an inning. Last night, Wainwright continued to work himself in and out of trouble. Every inning had multiple baserunners. He allowed 11 hits and two walks in four-plus innings. So that’s more baserunners than outs, which is probably going to make it difficult to do much, and he did it in 96 pitches. 96! I remember when Wainwright could throw complete games in that span.
Wainwright’s always been prone to a bad game, but this wasn’t one of his “I have nothing” game where he allows seven runs in the first and the next time out he’s much stronger. This felt…different. Like this was the new normal. Like he’s going to become now the crafty veteran who gives up baserunners and sometimes has games where he works out of it and sometimes has games where he doesn’t. He can still be effective, but the confidence that we used to have every time Wainwright took the mound is gone and I’m not sure that it’s ever coming back. Every time out makes that shutout against the Marlins last year more and more like the photograph we should have taken.
Of course, Wainwright’s night could have been a little better or more efficient had a double play been turned behind him in the fourth. With a runner on, Tanner Roark hit a weak grounder that Kolten Wong fielded and rushed to second, throwing past Aledmys Diaz and turning a nobody on, two out situation into a nobody out, two on one. Wainwright got out of the jam with just one run scoring, but threw a lot of extra pitches in the frame which came back to hurt him. That’s the other thing with Wainwright now, a great game from him is going to take stellar defense. Lapses just lead to more opportunities for the other team to whittle away at him.
Wong had a mixed night. On the positive, he got the start and his double in the second brought in the first two Cardinal runs and gave them their first lead. However, that was his only hit of the night and had not only that defensive miscue but then had a hot shot bounce off of him and into the outfield during the Nationals’ pounding of pretty much any bullpen pitcher not named Trevor Rosenthal.
Yes, it’s time to talk about the bullpen, which has been rated R for goriness over the past week, culminating in turning a 5-4 game into a 6-5 one quickly, a 7-5 one fairly quickly, and then a 14-5 one later in one horrifying frame. This is not the rock of a bullpen that we thought we were getting this season, at least not in the early going.
Brett Cecil has not done a great job of endearing himself to the Cardinal faithful and that continued last night, immediately giving up an RBI single to Matt Wieters and then a sacrifice fly to Adam Eaton to put the Cards behind. Neither of those runs were actually charged to Cecil, so his ERA dropped to 15.00 even in the midst of another less-than-stellar appearance.
I noticed after Cecil allowed his home run (after the Magical Sticking Strikeout Ball) on Thursday that some Jays fans were saying that Cecil would warm up as the season went on. Looking at his three-year splits, it does seem to be the case that April isn’t his month (though June has some bad numbers as well). His April ERA is 5.40 in that span and that doesn’t count this April, which will probably raise it. But his post-All Star Break ERA over the same time? 1.50, in just as many innings as he’s had before the break.
While it’s great to think that this four-year deal might eventually pay off, that doesn’t help mitigate the losses that seem to follow when Cecil is brought into the game. There is absolutely nothing different the club can do with him except continue to run him out there and hope it eventually clicks, but nobody’s going to be overly excited to see him for a while.
If he was the only problem in the ‘pen, that’d be one thing. However, it’s easier to find people that aren’t a problem. Look who pitched last night and their ERAs–a stat that’s not always that telling for a reliever when it is low, but does usually mean something when it’s up–after the final out:
That doesn’t include Seung-hwan Oh, who didn’t pitch last night but has a 13.50 mark. Somehow Matthew Bowman has avoided the problem and hasn’t been scored on personally yet, though two of his three inherited runners have scored. Honestly, seeing Rosenthal come out last night in his season debut and strike out the side was a wonderful oasis in the middle of this bullpen desert.
As always, whenever we talk about anything in April, you have to factor in small sample size and the like. A stretch like this in July would be noticeable but not necessarily cause for panic if the first few months had been strong. Siegrist could turn it around and have a 2.50 ERA the rest of the way. (I still think Broxton gets cut when Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons is ready, but even if not, I don’t think we expect a whole lot out of him.) So yes, making wholesale changes based on a handful of innings would not be a great idea.
That said, you know the mantra of this season: Every Game Counts. Given how last season turned out, there’s a renewed emphasis on winning every game you possibly can. So far, that hasn’t happened. The Cardinals are 2-5 for the first time since 2011. And while we all know how that season turned out, it took perhaps one of the most furious September comebacks of all time just to get a wild card spot. I love the 2011 team, but it’s not a team to emulate.
There’s a group of people on Twitter that often will remark that people are going overboard on (now) seven games. Which has some truth to it–Twitter and social media have us living in the moment much more than we did a decade or so ago. Every game feels like the end of the world or the beginning of a great run. Equilibrium is not something that’s really prized by a lot of folks.
However, while the problems may be somewhat different, there’s been a mediocrity about this team for quite some time. We point to 2015 and their 100 wins, but since the All-Star Break that season to now the club is 132-110, a .545 winning percentage. That’s an 88 win per year pace, but it just doesn’t feel like that, does it? I honestly was surprised it was that high (and a 19-9 August in ’15 affected it a bit) because it feels like they’ve been good, but just not consistently good. That may be me getting more wrapped up in the Twitter stuff than I should be. A year without the playoffs following a year after a quick playoff exit, though, does put a little more pressure on this team to at least reach October. So far, hope is not being inspired.
Let’s mark the Hero and Goat then, even though neither one is that easy for various reasons. Let’s give the Hero tag to Yadier Molina, who went 2-4, drove in a run, and scored a run. The Goat will be Brett Cecil for letting the last lead go, but really, throw a dart at the bullpen (or even the starter) and you probably could hit a fine choice.
Whether that’ll change tonight or not, that’s questionable as Lance Lynn goes up against Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez is 2-2 with a 2.72 ERA in six starts against the Cards, though they got him for six runs in 4.2 innings last May. With a lefty on the mound, Wong probably sits and you’d think we’d have another night without Matt Adams in the outfield.
Lynn looked quite sharp last time out before the bullpen ruined the game for him. Lynn’s 3-1 in his career against the Nats with a nice 3.29 ERA against them. Hopefully he can go pretty deep into the game and keep the bullpen off the field for a while.
Cards need to win this one because trying to salvage a win in a series against Max Scherzer is not exactly how you want to live your life. And getting swept in the Nation’s Capital is no way to put out any of the frustration fires that are spreading all through the fanbase.