Back to the Bottom of the Hill

Last Friday, the day of the John Mozeliak press conference designed to shake things up, the Cardinals were about to start a home stand sitting in fourth place at 26-32 and 4.5 games behind the division leading Milwaukee Brewers.  After last night’s game, they wrapped up that home stand….in third place, 30-35, 4.5 games behind the division leading Milwaukee Brewers.

Here we go again.

What’s more frustrating, as you know, is the fact the Cards won the first four games of the home stand and were leading in the second game of the double header, getting them to dream about being 1/2 game out of first at the end of Tuesday night.  Instead, they lost that game and the two after.  Let’s take our regular look at those final two.

Wednesday (7-6 loss)

Hero: Aledmys Diaz.  Two hits, including a big two-run homer in the eighth that made it seem like a comeback might be happening.  June’s not been too bad to Diaz, though the patience still isn’t there.  He’s walked just twice this month, but he’s hitting .283 with six extra-base hits.  The Cardinals in theory could upgrade at shortstop, but finding franchise anchors there is really, really tough.  If you can’t do that, Diaz is probably good enough to leave out there, depending on your opinion of his defense.

Goat: Mike Leake.  I’ve got to give Leake some credit for hanging in this game and saving the bullpen, but giving up six runs in the first two innings is a very, very good way of putting up an L.  With the doubleheader the night before the Cardinals needed him to stay in the game and he didn’t allow any more, which allowed for a comeback of sort.  Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough.

Notes: While Leake gets charged with the loss, Kevin Siegrist actually gave up the deciding run on a two-out single to Hernan Perez.  That was the first run charged to Siegrist in a couple of weeks and his ERA is down to 4.38, which I guess is something.  (He did allow two inherited runners to score in Cincinnati, so it’s not been quite as good as the numbers would indicate.)  I think much of that bullpen is really to the point where you throw them out there and hope that this is the good night.  Maybe two times out of three it is, but that third will mess you up.

Tough night for Dexter Fowler as well.  Fowler, who’d been doing pretty well after sliding in behind Matt Carpenter in the lineup, went 0-4 with a double play and four left on, including two in the seventh where a two-out hit would have helped the Cards creep a little closer.

Seven hits for the team, four from Diaz and Carpenter, means that we were probably lucky to see six runs.  Four walks helped, but there’s been a lot of talk about how bad this Milwaukee bullpen is.  Save for Diaz’s homer, we really didn’t see that much in this series.

Thursday (6-4 loss)

Hero: Dexter Fowler.  For the second time on the homestand, Fowler roped an important home run.  This time it tied the game up at 3 right after Milwaukee had taken the lead.  Fowler and Carpenter both had two hits in this one and showed a little more of what this offense was designed to be, though the rest of the team didn’t follow up quite as much as you’d like.  Fowler’s hitting .333 with an OBP of .400 since the shift, so if he’s hitting there and Carpenter’s hitting in the leadoff spot, there’s no real reason to juggle them around for a while.  Maybe it’ll spread!

Goat: Seung-hwan Oh.  Two outs.  Two strikes.  Yes, Eric Thames is a big slugger, but you have to be able to finish off a guy like that if you are a closer, don’t you?  If he gets that last strike they go to the bottom of the ninth tied at four and who knows what happens.  Instead, you have to try to muster two runs in three outs and that’s not an easy task for this club, especially when you are starting at the eighth spot in the lineup.  Everyone knew that Oh would be a little weaker this year than last, but I don’t think anyone really thought that he’d scuffle like he has.  Honestly, he’s probably avoided a lot of grief because the rest of the bullpen has been such a dumpster fire.  If this bullpen had been going like we expected, there’d be a lot more calls for Oh’s return to the eighth.

Now, it’s somewhat relative as well–since the beginning of May Oh has a 2.84 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 19 innings.  However, he’s also allowed 20 hits and eight walks in that span, which means that runners are getting on.  And when runners start getting on, especially for a ground-ball pitcher with a middling defense behind him, things have a chance to go south.

Notes: Paul DeJong returned to St. Louis when Kolten Wong went on the disabled list.  (As Allen Medlock noted–and we’ll probably talk about tonight on Meet Me At Musial–that sort of forearm strain often leads to Tommy John surgery in pitchers.  Since it continues to develop in Wong, you wonder if that might not wind up being an issue.)  We’ll see how often he plays second base over Greg Garcia.  It felt like DeJong might be getting a little exposed, but then again you have to have playing time to really make some adjustments.

John Brebbia got tossed into the fire last night, relieving Michael Wacha with the bases loaded and nobody out.  He gave up a base hit that scored the fourth Brewers run (plus an out–the Brewers did a great job of imitating Cardinal baserunning in that inning) but that was all.  He wound up pitching two innings and wasn’t charged with a run himself.  It was a great way of keeping the club in the game and you have to give him some kudos for that.  Sure, Milwaukee may have helped, but he made the right pitches.

As for Wacha…..what do you say?  Since the infamous “skip for rest”, Wacha’s had six starts.  The line: 1-2 (Cards are 1-5), 27.1 innings, 34 hits, 22 runs (21 earned), 17 walks, 26 strikeouts, 6.91 ERA, a .375 BABIP.  What’s bad is that includes six scoreless innings his first time out and his two runs in six innings against the Phillies last Friday.  Without those in the mix…..  I mean, just look at the innings pitched.  Six, four, three, 4.1, six, four.  That makes it difficult to see Wacha staying in the starting rotation for a lot longer.

John Mozeliak addressed this some in our talk with him on Sunday, talking about how you don’t just willy-nilly move folks to the bullpen from the starting rotation because when it comes to arbitration or free agency, that can be a millions-of-dollars decision.  Which is fair and I agree you want to make a very deliberate decision.  But either Wacha’s hurting or he’s not going to be a starter anymore, at least not for a while.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cards don’t wind up placing him on the DL soon with another flareup of that stress reaction, but if that’s the case, it’s pretty obvious you can’t manage it and hope that you can get a good Wacha late into the season.  It’s coming no matter what you do.

So the Cardinals knocked a week off the calendar and basically sit in exactly the same spot.  Not only did they lose a week to try to make up ground, they also lost a week in Mozeliak’s time frame (which, he admitted, was really arbitrary) to evaluate the squad.  All the good feelings that came from beating the Phillies (and it’s probably fair to point out than any era of good feelings this season have seemed to only come when the Cards are playing bad teams) went right out the window.  You would have liked to see St. Louis at least split with Milwaukee and stay 2.5 back, because even though you play your division rivals a lot, you need to make the most out of every opportunity.

We can still say it is a weak division, because it is.  Milwaukee is good, but you wouldn’t be surprised to see them fade.  Chicago still hasn’t found traction and you start to wonder if and when they will.  Cincinnati and Pittsburgh aren’t world beaters.  The Cardinals are in this, but it becomes really hard to say they are ever going to put it together when they are sitting mid-June five games under .500.  Even if they could win the division, does anyone think they go far in the playoffs?  I know, you never know, etc. but is it worth trying to shore up this team on that faint possibility?

It seems unlikely.  More and more it seems like the Cards will move Lance Lynn, maybe the Nationals will want Oh, and do a soft reload to get a few prospects.  I can’t say I’d fault the team for that.  It makes a ton of sense with the squad that they have now.

At least we get to see Carlos Martinez tonight going up against Kevin Gausman and the Baltimore Orioles this evening.  While I’m still not a fan of interleague play, especially not this constant stuff we see, going to Camden Yards for the first time in a while should be a nice novelty.  Do you think that Baltimore would notice if Manny Machado just left town on the Cardinal plane after the series?  Worth a shot, right?

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