Hope was the key phrase in Rogue One. Rebellions are built on hope and all that. And while the Cards have given a bit of hope to their fans this week with a few wins, it’s still not clear whether they are Princess Leia, jetting off with the plans, or Jyn Erso, standing on a planet about to be devastated. You can find hope in the situation, but how much depends on your point of view.
If the Cards hadn’t blown a lead on Tuesday night, we’d be talking about a team that had won five in a row and was 2.5 games out of first place. They’d still be under .500, of course, but you could at least say they were trending in the right direction, as someone put it recently. (Hey, Tara!) In truth, you can still say that, but I think there’d be more belief around it with that extra win. Either way, nobody’s betting the farm on this team, but a decent winning streak is great for poking the embers of that fire we call hope.
So let’s look at that makeup game with the Reds and the series with the Diamondbacks and see how much hope we really should take from these games.
Monday (8-2 win vs. Cincinnati)
Hero: Jedd Gyorko. There were a lot of offensive numbers put up in this one, courtesy of a Reds staff that isn’t pitching nearly as well as they were when this game was originally scheduled. Gyorko got everything going with his two run homer (well, actually Tommy Pham got it started with his adventurous trip around the bases) and tacked on another hit and another RBI before being removed from the game to get some rest.
Goat: It was a feel good game for most everyone except Aledmys Diaz. Diaz went 0-4, the only starter without a hit, and struck out twice while leaving four on base. They were his last at-bats before heading to Memphis (though he got into Tuesday’s game late). Diaz has obviously not been the player that he was last year, with infield hits replacing extra-base ones as his calling card. Hitting .260 with seven home runs would stand out among some of the shortstops that the Cardinals had before Jhonny Peralta and Diaz, but it’s not what we’ve seen Diaz can do. Most telling is, as many have pointed out, the fact that he’s not walking at all this year. If he could get back his patience, he probably would be a big asset down the stretch. We’ll see if the Memphis coaching staff can do that. (And there’s an argument to be made about why players have to keep going to Memphis for said coaching, something Allen and I might discuss tonight on Meet Me at Musial.)
Notes: Pham got to be the leadoff hitter in this one and set the tone immediately. He walked to start the game, moved to second on a routine fly ball that the center fielder just casually tossed back in, stole third, and scored on a wild pitch while Stephen Piscotty walked. The Cardinals are going all out to celebrate Whitey Herzog this year, it would seem. Pham also had two other hits and a walk as he continues to be the one Cardinal you can rely on to have some fight in him.
Good day for Randal Grichuk, smashing a three-run homer to give St. Louis some breathing room as part of his two-hit day. Grichuk is never going to be an all-around hitter, I don’t think, but his power is a really nice addition. If he can be consistent with it, and by that I just mean avoid terrible slumps, he’s going to be an asset. I’m not sure about a guy that hits second, as he did here, but as a 5/6 hitter, he brings a lot to the table.
Paul DeJong with three hits, including a double. I don’t know if it’s the fact that he’s seeing new pitchers or he was just in a slump and he’s come out of it, but he’s hitting .304 with four homers in the 14 games since his return from Memphis. I don’t think DeJong ever is going to really be that starter that plays every day (long-term; obviously he is now, especially with Diaz out and Kolten Wong hurt), but he feels like he can really slide into that “super sub” slot that Gyorko was supposed to be in.
We had a lot of concern about Michael Wacha going into this and while I don’t know that the level has dropped a lot, it was good to see him have a successful outing. Six innings with just one run allowed is huge compared to his recent results. It was the Reds, but if the Reds can do one thing, it’s usually hit. For him to be at all effective is a notable step in the right direction. We’ll see if he can continue that against the Nationals this weekend. If he can put two good starts together, I don’t think you think things are solved, but it at least gives you reason to dream that they might be.
Tuesday (6-5 loss in 10 at Arizona)
Hero: Carlos Martinez. When you look at the box score of this one, you realize that nobody really stood out. No extra base hits, Arizona helped on some of the runs scored, etc. Martinez still looked pretty sharp, though. He had a little bit of control issues in the sixth, which put runners on for Chris Iannetta to drive in, but otherwise he was pretty much the ace of the staff. Ten strikeouts led to his pitch count rising, but when the Cards put up three in the top of the seventh, he was in line for a win. Unfortunately, as he’s dealt with at times this year, that win didn’t come.
Goat: Trevor Rosenthal. Seung-hwan Oh blew the save, but that was almost inevitable by time Rosenthal chopped the three run lead to one. I went to bed after the eighth due to the lateness of the game and because I was fairly sure that the Cardinals were going to lose it, which in fact they did. Rosenthal gathered himself at the end to not blow the game entirely, but two hits, a walk, and a hit by pitch doesn’t usually work out real well. I know there are a lot of folks that want Rosenthal to replace Oh in the ninth–something we saw on Wednesday–but given the way Rosie is going right now (7.88 ERA, .772 OPS, six walks in eight innings over his last 10 games), I’m not sure that’s a huge increase. (Granted, that’s a bit skewed from the three-run, zero-out performance against the Brewers, but he’s still got a 6.00 ERA without it.)
Notes: All that by Rosie aside, it’s pretty clear Oh isn’t the Oh we saw last year. Unfortunately, that also means that folks aren’t going to be interested in taking him on for the stretch run. Even the Nationals, with their scuffling bullpen, probably wouldn’t give up much to get a guy that has given up at least one run in five of his last eight outings. Could it be that Oh just needs to make some adjustments? Perhaps so. However, with the season about half-way done and his free agency looming, he’s running out of time to show that is what needs to happen.
Cards did steal three bases, including the eighth by Pham, which surpasses the team high of seven last year held by Wong and Piscotty. You could say this team doesn’t run much and still be overstating things. (Well, they don’t steal much. Their running, that’s a topic for another time.)
Wednesday (4-3 win at Arizona)
Hero: Yadier Molina. Again, the offense wasn’t anything special, though at least this time they were able to muster two doubles in their six hits. Yadi gave a cushion they really needed when he singled with the bases loaded in the fourth, giving the Cards the 3-0 lead.
Goat: Randal Grichuk. Grichuk is always probably going to be hit or miss and he missed here, going 0-4 with two strikeouts and four left on base.
Notes: I didn’t watch this one closely, but even if he was getting the extra-wide strike zone many said he was getting (and I have no doubt that he was), it was still good to see Adam Wainwright pitch a solid game on the road. Eight hits and a walk in 6.1 innings did mean he wasn’t dominating, but he got out of a jam in the third (on a strikeout that got both the batter and the manager ejected for arguing) and pretty much did his thing the rest of the way. Again, it wasn’t vintage Wainwright and all the concerns we have about him are still valid, but it’s nice to see him defy expectations every once in a while.
Brett Cecil came in after Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons finished up the seventh for Wainwright and threw a perfect eighth with two strikeouts. It’s harder to blame Cecil for everything these days, as he’s quietly gotten his season ERA under 4.00 and has gone 10 innings not only scoreless, but allowing a batting average against of under .100. In those ten frames, he’s struck out eight and walked just one. Whatever adjustments he’s made (or maybe it’s just the fact that it’s later in the season, when he historically does better), they seem to be working. So much so that most folks would rather see him in the eighth or ninth than Rosenthal or Oh, I believe.
Rosenthal got the save in this one, but he allowed two walks, a hit, and a run on a wild pitch. After he walked Daniel Descalso with two outs–Daniel Descalso! Dirty Dan! A guy Rosenthal should strike out in his sleep!–the fact that he DIDN’T blow the game was more remarkable than if he had allowed it to slip away.
Nice day for Jedd Gyorko, who only got one hit (one of the doubles) but also walked with the bases loaded and registered two RBI, just like Molina. It’s a little concerning that the offense was kinda quiet against a pitching staff that’s good, but not necessarily one of those being acclaimed as great this season.
Thursday (10-4 win at Arizona)
Hero: Randal Grichuk. While St. Louis piled on against Randall Delgado in the eighth, the big moment was Grichuk’s three-run homer in the seventh, putting the Cardinals into the lead. Grichuk had three hits and five RBI on the day, which proves what we said yesterday–he’s streaky, but you like it when he’s on.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. Carpenter scored a run and drew a walk, but otherwise went hitless on the day. It’s been 11 games since Carpenter had a two-hit day and in that span, he’s hit just .111 but has 15 walks, so his OBP is .373. I’m of two minds about this. I mean, it’s obviously good that Carpenter is getting on base, but he’s also supposed to be the heart of this offense. He’s got to do more than just walk, right? Of his four hits, three were for extra bases and he has scored 10 runs, so he’s doing what a leadoff guy should do, I guess, it just feels like he’s putting a lot of the offensive responsibilities on others. I don’t want to come off like the Reds fans that are irked Joey Votto walks as much as he does, but I wonder if Carpenter’s being a little too selective.
Notes: Everybody’s numbers look pretty good when you can bat around in an inning. Heck, Delgado even walked Eric Fryer in the midst of that, and Fryer’s been pretty rough at the plate. (It’s been right at a year ago when he was released for Brayan Pena. I think this is the year that’s more accurate to Fryer, which made the whole excitement about his return befuddling to me.)
Luke Voit got his pinch-hit double the inning before, opening the door for Grichuk’s homer. Voit’s got to be enjoying his chance to play with his hometown team and so far he’s taken advantage of it. I mentioned to Kyle Reis as we recorded his Musial segment that it’s interesting to see the big slugger get the same fan treatment that’s usually reserved for scrappy middle infielders like Bo Hart. Here’s hoping Voit’s career doesn’t follow the same patch as Hart or Stubby Clapp (unless, of course, he’s interested in managing).
A quality start for Lance Lynn, allowing three runs in six innings while striking out seven. It’s much better than we’ve seen out of him lately, so maybe he’s stemming the tide and turning things around. We’ll wait and see, I guess. A couple more good starts may allow him to be attractive on the trade market.
So, after all this, is there hope? Should there be hope?
On the positive side, the Cards just won a series against a good team and have won four of five. As mentioned above, they were very close to actually sweeping the Diamondbacks, which would have had to give them pause. They are 3.5 back in the division race and had the Cubs not taken advantage of the cesspool that is Washington’s bullpen (something hopefully St. Louis can tap into this weekend), they’d be just a game and a half out of second. No team has taken advantage of a terrible division and, in theory, one big move that pays off could send this team right into October.
On the flip side, they are still four games under .500 and still haven’t shown much in the way of consistency. The bullpen is scary, you don’t know what you are going to get from the starting rotation save for Carlos Martinez, and the offense is better, but not necessarily a force you can rely on. While the division is still there for the taking, the club has only cut one game off their deficit since the big press conference earlier this month. It’s hard to really feel like this team is just waiting to blast off.
It makes for a delicate balance come trade deadline. Do you 1) go ahead and sell off pieces, even though the divisional race is close, because the odds of an October run past the first round are small? Or do you 2) go for the big bat, make some sort of splash, and see if that plus some returns to form can make this team more fearsome than we’ve seen so far? Or maybe it’s 3), where you do the Mozeliak special and swap an outfielder for a bullpen arm and hope the small improvements are enough? What do you do?
I’ve been in the first boat for a while now, because opportunities to restock the minors don’t come along often in St. Louis. That said, the prime pieces of Lynn, Oh, and even possibly Rosenthal haven’t been pitching well enough to draw a lot of interest. Sure, you could probably move them, but it’s not worth it if you are just getting back a AA lottery ticket or something. In this case, maybe three is the best way to do it. Don’t go all in, but see if you can do just enough to pass the Cubs and Brewers, then hope for magic to happen in October. I mean, strange things happen when you get into the playoffs.
It sounds like Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak (and, now that I’m finishing this up hours later, new GM Michael Girsch) are fine with being in boat one, honestly. I think the only thing they’ll do that would make a splash would be to bring in a guy they have control over for a number of years, with the eye not on 2017 but ’18 and beyond. They aren’t going to sink a lot into this squad and well they should not. There’s not much here to sink into.
The Nationals come to town tonight for another test of this team. If they are able to take two of three from a very potent Washington team, then maybe we can start to get a little excited. That’s a pretty big if, though. On the upside, if Mike Leake wins tonight you have Carlos Martinez going on Sunday night. (Of course, he’s going against Max Scherzer, so maybe that’s asking a lot.) If Leake loses tonight against Tanner Roark, you have Wacha versus Gio Gonzalez in the middle game, which would seem to favor Washington though the Cards got to Gio earlier in the year. Basically, the Cards have their work cut out for them if they are going to take this series. Here’s Leake versus the Nats:
And Roark versus the Cards:
Should be a fun series. Well, an interesting series at least!