The Cardinals spent the weekend in Chicago. It didn’t go well. Three games, three leads lost, three games on the wrong side of the ledger. All that equals third place and two games (an alteration on a theme) under .500. We have to look at the games because I’m a completist, but it’s not going to be much fun. Baseball should be fun, but right now that idea seems to be incompatible with what we’re seeing on the field.
Friday (3-2 loss)
Hero: Dexter Fowler. In his first at-bat back in Chicago, Fowler crushed a home run that gave the Cards a quick 1-0 lead. He didn’t do anything else, but that’s enough to get a Hero tag on a day when the offense managed more walks (five, and Fowler did have one of those as well) than hits (four).
Goat: Matt Carpenter. Not only did he go 0-4, but it was his at bat in the eighth that could have been the game. After Magneuris Sierra walked (and Mike Matheny, playing for the one run, had Greg Garcia bunt him over), Fowler took his free pass. Two on, one out. Carpenter, as is his wont, wound up working the count to 3-2, but then swung at an obvious ball four. Stephen Piscotty followed that with a walk–which would have forced in a run had Carpenter been on base–to load the bases but a pitching change later Yadier Molina struck out to end the last Cardinal threat. The strikeout by Carpenter changed the whole equation there and given his recent slide was probably an indication he was just pressing to make something happen. And something did! Just not anything good.
Notes: Lance Lynn didn’t have great command in this one, walking four in 5.1 innings. He mainly got away with it, allowing two runs on six strikeouts and one of those runs scored when the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons came in with two on and allowed a double to Jason Heyward, tying the game. Lyons then walked a batter before being pulled for Matthew Bowman, who ended the threat. We talked about it last Friday and this start didn’t change matters–Lynn’s been pretty pedestrian over his last five outings, those eight innings against the Dodgers notwithstanding. This team can’t afford to have the starting pitching–the one real good constant on this squad–start to slip because nothing will be able to absorb that. It’s not like the offense is putting up a ton of runs or you can turn to a lights out bullpen a little earlier. If the rotation starts to fray, the season starts looking lost.
Sierra got a two-game callup as Jedd Gyorko was on the paternity list, celebrating the birth of his daughter. We saw some of that spark that Sierra had brought before, especially when he singled in the second run of the game, but anyone that thought that the return of Magneuris would instantly transform this club again got a quick wakeup call. Not only was the offense as quiet as we’ve seen it be over the past few weeks, but then Sierra missed a ball in the eighth inning that turned into the winning run, a ball that (if the number I saw was right) is caught 91% of the time. St. Louis would have probably found another way to lose, given how things are going, but it just proved not everything can be solved with Sierra. (That said, it does seem strange you sit him in the only other game he’s available to you.)
Putting Molina and Jhonny Peralta 4-5 in the lineup seemed to be an offense suck when it was announced and it turned out to be that way in the game as well. Molina went 0-3 and left five on (mainly those three mentioned above) while Peralta went 0-4, though he didn’t actually strike out. At least Piscotty was hitting third and is starting to look more like the Piscotty we remember (and the Cardinals signed), going 1-2 with two walks.
Saturday (5-3 loss)
Hero: I probably should say Wonder Woman, since going to see her movie kept me from seeing the latest heart-ripping. However, we keep it to players here so let’s go with Jose Martinez, whose single in the first plated two runs and looked to be a big deal given that day’s starting pitcher.
Goat: Mike Leake, though if you talk to the internet, this is again where Mike Matheny might be at fault. Let’s go over the key moment, though I imagine all of you have replayed it time and time again.
Leake gets through the sixth inning having allowed just one run, a home run by Javier Baez. Which might be a little indicative of some issues in and of itself, because after going the first five games of the season without allowing a long ball, he’s only had one such start like that since the beginning of May and most of the time he’s giving up two. Still, if he limits who is on at the time, a home run isn’t going to kill you.
That last part is key, because Leake started the seventh by getting Ben Zobrist, then Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras singled. Again, I didn’t see them but it sounds like at least Contreras’s ball might have been fielded by Gyorko if he’d been there instead of Peralta. If that’s the case, that might have been a double play and Leake’s out of the inning. At the least, they get one and when Baez strikes out, that’s the frame. That’s an if, though. It’s not what happened.
Jon Jay, who got to torment his former team twice this weekend, had a 2-2 count on him before he activated that personal baseball attracting field that he has and got hit by a pitch. Again, it sounds like it was a fairly cheap HBP, maybe brushing the jersey, but they count. Which means that there are two outs and the bases loaded with Kyle Schwarber coming up.
Perhaps it was being screamed at the time, I don’t know, but definitely after the fact there were many that questioned Leake being out there to face Schwarber. At that moment, however, there were two options: Leake or Kevin Siegrist, who was warming up in the bullpen. The Kevin Siegrist who has a reverse split for his career against lefties (though it’s more even in 2017) and was legendarily victimized by Schwarber a couple of years ago. Or Leake, who hasn’t been hit terribly hard in this frame but is at 97 pitches.
As my friend Dennis wrote this weekend, who you blame here is Brett Cecil. If Cecil had been the pitcher that the Cardinals thought they were signing, he’s warmed up and coming into the game right there, I think. If nothing else, he’d been the best choice, though we know that doesn’t necessarily influence Matheny’s moves. Given that Cecil’s been a little bit better of late and, again, is being paid for these moments, I think I’d have at least had him warming up instead of Siegrist. (That said, Cecil has a 1.155 OPS against lefties this year, so there’s probably the biggest reason he wasn’t up.)
Given all that, I’m not sure why you warm up Siegrist in that situation if you aren’t going to use him. Schwarber, as much as he’s struggled, is obviously the game there. He has to be why you are getting a lefty ready. If he’s not coming in, why do you warm him up? You could have used him against Jay and perhaps not hit him but at least had him in the game for Schwarber. Are you afraid they’ll pinch-hit for him and get you stuck on the wrong side of a platoon? I guess, but if you bring in Siegrist, that’s what you’d want!
Again, I don’t really fault Matheny for leaving Leake out there. Given all the variables, I probably would have as well. But if you’ve got a lefty warming, it’s like Chekov’s gun–you have to use it when the situation comes up.
Notes: Again, a weak day from the offense. Nobody had multiple hits. Six hits and four walks and four of those 10 baserunners were in the first inning when the club scored two. After that, a wasteland. Not that it is anything new for this club, however. The only other offense was when they “added on” with a home run by Molina to make the game 3-1. Which seemed to be big at the time, I’m sure, but it didn’t last long enough.
Oh, and Siegrist got the last out of the seventh (after Leake walked Ian Happ in the aftermath of the slam) and Cecil pitched a perfect eighth. Because baseball, you know.
Sunday (7-6 loss)
Hero: Stephen Piscotty. Aledmys Diaz might have been the first person this weekend to have a multi-hit game, but Piscotty’s three-run home run looked to be a huge boost to this team. It was vaporware, not surviving the bottom of the frame, but his blast plus the additional run the Cards put up after gave them a nice-looking 4-1 lead. Piscotty also drew a walk in this one and is hitting .357 with a 1.169 OPS since he returned from his trip to see his mother. If this is more in line with what we’ll see out of Piscotty going forward, the three spot in the order might have a solid occupant.
Goat: Michael Wacha. Given that three-run lead, Wacha completely and quickly unraveled. Seriously, it was quickly. After the top of the fourth, I contacted Tara about doing Gateway while the Cards were winning. She said give her 10 minutes. By time we actually got the show started, St. Louis was down 6-4. To paraphrase Billy Joel, “From the highs to the lows to a frustrating show.” You’ve all seen the numbers, but since the Cardinals decided to get him out of his routine and skip a start, he has an ERA of 7.79 in 17.1 innings with an OPS against of .949. And those numbers INCLUDE his six scoreless innings against the Giants in his first outing after the rest. Sure, his BABIP over that span is over .400, but that’s less to do with batted ball luck and more to do with being hit really hard.
Which, of course, makes you start wondering about Wacha’s health. After all, last year he had an ERA after seven starts of 3.12, the next three he had a 12.00. This year, it was 2.74 after seven, 11.91 the next three. Last year Wacha gathered himself and put up a 4.00 ERA from his 10th start until early August, but that’s not likely to cut it this year with the quiet offense and the bullpen problems that are only going to be exacerbated if he can’t go six innings at least. With Luke Weaver and Marco Gonzales doing well at Memphis, any sort of hint that he’s got that stress reaction flaring up again should see him on the disabled list, not trying to pitch through it.
Notes: It was heartening to see the Cardinals rally, at least. This feels like a team that gets down a couple of runs mid-game and nothing happens, so to see them put up a couple of runs and tie it at six was nice. This was also the first time they’d scored six runs since May 24. So go get those 50 cent drinks today. You’ve earned it!
Diaz had two hits, as noted above, but the team again only had six. They walked five times, which was at least some part of John Mozeliak’s master plan for this team, but I think that if you told Mo in the spring that this team is going to walk as much as it hits, he’d not be enthused. Especially when getting more than one extra-base hit a game seems to be a real challenge (though Diaz did have two doubles and, of course, Piscotty went yard in this one.)
The bullpen did what it could do with Wacha leaving in the fifth. Lyons got two outs to stem the tide, Cecil threw another scoreless frame, and Rosenthal closed it up with a good outing. Unfortunately, Bowman was in the middle of that and he allowed three hits and the game-winning run, though I will say if GameDay is any indication, Jon Jay (because, of course, it was Jon Jay) really had to reach to get that last hit. Bowman is a lot more hit and miss than he was, perhaps due to overuse, and if they had to send him to Memphis for a break, I don’t think anyone would terribly mind.
So the Cards go to Cincinnati today as close to the Reds (who are tied for fourth) as they are the Cubs. It’s a good thing the division is weak, but the Redbirds have to start putting up wins or they’ll just lose a weak division, which is even worse than losing a good one. You have to like their chances today in Great American Ball Park to actually put up offense (though as Tara reminded me, they couldn’t score in Coors) and you have Carlos Martinez on the bump. Martinez is sparkling right now, being that ace we thought he was. Unfortunately, on the other side is a Reds pitcher that is making only his second start and you know what that usually means. Asher Wojciechowski gave up three home runs in the fourth inning of his first start, so you’d like to think the Cards could eventually get to him, but……you know. Anyway, here’s CarMart’s history against the Reds hitters:
The Cardinals REALLY need to take three out of four from a Reds team that’s lost six of ten. A team with any reasonable hope of making a run has to beat teams like this. We’ll see how reasonable our hope is, I guess!