If you read the 10th anniversary post, you know that in 2007, the Cardinals went into the All-Star Break with some hope. They went into the break 7.5 games out, but had cut three games off that deficit in just over a week. Chris Carpenter was rumored to be on his way back. Things were looking up. Then the Phillies beat Kip Wells 13-3, won 10-4 the next night, Carpenter had a setback, and things just seemed to go south. (They did wind up rebounding in August, cutting the gap to 2.5 games, and actually got within a game in September before tailing off, so maybe not everything is terrible?) That sort of gutting of hope seems awful familiar after watching the last three games.
History doesn’t repeat, but at times it does rhyme. Like that 2007 team, this squad went into the All-Star Game a bit upbeat. They were two games under .500 but that was closer to break even than they’d been in a while. They were tied for second with the Cubs and 5.5 behind a Brewers team that many expected to slip in the second half. Things could be better, of course, but there was some light coming through. Then this weekend in Pittsburgh happened. Let’s dig through the muck and talk about it.
Friday (5-2 loss)
Hero: Jedd Gyorko. His two-run homer in the first was all the Cardinals could muster. It’s not the only time this team has put up runs in the first frame and nothing else, but it doesn’t get any less frustrating. The offense went into the break averaging 5.5 runs per game over the last 20. They wound up scoring a total of nine in this series. Just when you thought they could wait until the offseason for that big bat, they prove that the need is still there.
Goat: Seung-hwan Oh. Well, he didn’t blow the save and going into the ninth or extras tied on the road is asking for trouble, but that doesn’t mean you have to surrender to it that easily. Adam Frazier started the inning with a double, which put the game in jeopardy immediately. Josh Harrison flew out and Stephen Piscotty wound up hurting himself on the throw in to try to keep Frazier from advancing. (Piscotty wound up on the disabled list, something that didn’t really concern Allen during our Meet Me at Musial taping.) While Jose Martinez was getting on the field and loosened up, Mike Matheny decided to walk Andrew McCutchen.
On the face of it, and in a different situation, that makes a lot of sense. You get the double play set up (or at least force outs at each base) and you keep a dangerous hitter from batting with the winning run on second. McCutchen was 1-3 with a walk and had a .295 mark on the year. All that makes sense.
The problem is, that brings up Josh Bell. Bell is not the hitter that McCutchen is, but he’s still hitting cleanup for a reason. He already had one hit in this game. The key point though–Josh Bell bats left-handed.
We’ve talked about Oh’s issues this year with the lefties but they are just so extreme we should point them out again, as it appears Matheny might not be aware of them. Lefties–after the home run that Bell launched here, which only the details surprised folks; they knew Bell was going to win the game somehow–have an OPS of 1.077 against Oh on the season. To put that in some perspective, the only player with an OPS higher than that in the majors is Aaron Judge, he of the 30-home runs and the face of baseball campaign. That’s more than Joey Votto (1.042) or Bryce Harper (1.038). Oh has allowed seven home runs in 88 plate appearances to left-handed batters while allowing just one in 95 PA to righties. Right now, Oh should never face lefties, yet not only did he come in and have a lefty (Frazier) start his inning, Matheny walked McCutchen so that Oh could face another one. The odds were better to walk Bell as well and face Freese than to let Oh face Bell.
That being said, nothing is trending Oh’s way. In his last five games, batters are hitting .368/.429/.737 against him. Batters hit over .300 against him in June and so far into July. It’s almost like he’s got Eugene Koo on the mound with him telling the hitters what the pitch is.
Notes: Only six hits out of the club and two of them came unsurprisingly from Tommy Pham, who also scored on Gyorko’s homer. That limited offense was almost enough and might have been save for Oh and an uncharacteristic bout of wildness from Mike Leake. Leake only went five and allowed two runs, but the second one game after he had gotten a double play to erase a leadoff hit. Then he walked the next three batters and allowed a hit to Gregory Polanco that thankfully just allowed one to score. Leake got out of it, but Leake walked just one batter total in his first three starts this season, so it was a surprise to see him have that many walks in a row.
That said, Leake is definitely coming back to Earth after that Cy Young-like run at the beginning of the season. Since the beginning of June, he’s got a 4.47 ERA and the Cards are just 3-5 in his eight starts. We talk about hitting, we talk about the bullpen, but the starting rotation has a few potential holes in it as well. Trying to patch all these leaks is probably more than Michael Girsch wants to try to tackle at the trading deadline. (I almost wrote treading deadline, which might have been a Freudian slip.)
The bullpen, save Oh, was solid here as Matthew Bowman, Brett Cecil, and Trevor Rosenthal combined for three scoreless innings. There was an interesting development this weekend as the ninth inning rotated but Rosenthal always pitched the eighth. You could say matchups, though we have already shown why Oh shouldn’t have been pitching the ninth here. Rosenthal faced 7-8-9 here, which I know Rosie’s been struggling but this might have been better for Oh, since the first two were righties and then it would have been a pinch-hitter for the pitcher. Possibly Clint Hurdle would have done some swapping to attack Oh’s lefties weakness, but better there than in the ninth.
Saturday (4-0 win)
Hero: Lance Lynn. Not only because he threw 6.1 scoreless innings but because he may be rebuilding his trade value. Look, I like Lynn and he’s done some excellent work as a Cardinal. But he’s a free agent and this team is not likely to be playing in October. There are pieces like Luke Weaver that can fill in and give you 80% or so of what Lynn is giving you. If there’s a good deal out there, the Cardinals would be foolish not to take it. Lynn pitches again Thursday against the Mets and then we’ll see if he gets to make his next start at home. Lynn allowed eight hits but no walks and got a couple of double plays to help him out, including one he started.
Goat: Dexter Fowler. Matt Carpenter had two hits and Tommy Pham three, so there were plenty of opportunities for Fowler in this one, but he wasn’t able to come through at all. 0-4 and he left four on base. Thankfully Lynn and the bullpen pitched well enough so that the little offense that did come through–Cards scored three of their four runs in the fifth–was enough, but it’d have been nice to get a big hit from Fowler somewhere along the line.
Notes: As noted, Carpenter and Pham did a lot of damage and each of them scored a run and drove in one. Pham had two doubles among his three hits, proving that the All-Star Break vacation wasn’t enough to cool off his scorching bat. Luke Voit got him a hit before he was double-switched out of the game (I am still not sure that moving Carpenter to first and taking Voit out is a defensive upgrade) and Lynn helped himself out with a left-handed stroke to left-center that Andrew McCutchen bobbled, allowing Voit to score and opening the two-out floodgates for the top of the lineup.
Lynn left the game in the seventh with runners on first and third with one out. Matt Bowman came in–because he’s basically one of the only trustworthy arms in Matheny’s opinion, he’s back to throwing almost every day (seven of the 11 July games so far)–and got the second out, walked Adam Frazier to load the bases, then retired Josh Harrison to relieve the threat. After that, it was smooth sailing.
Again, Rosenthal pitched the eighth but let’s give Matheny some credit. This time he faced the heart of the Pirates order and we’d rather see Rosenthal go up against McCutchen, Josh Bell, and David Freese than the bottom of Pittsburgh’s lineup, wouldn’t we? I think that was underscored by the fact that the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons took the ninth, facing 6-7-8 (and, after giving up a leadoff double, 9) instead of one of the more normal options for the final frame.
Sunday (4-3 loss)
Hero: Magneuris Sierra. Sierra, recalled on Saturday when the club put Stephen Piscotty on the disabled list, got four hits and scored a run from the eighth spot in the lineup. He tossed in a stolen base for good measure and reminded folks of why we got so excited to watch him earlier in the season.
Goat: Brett Cecil. I don’t fault Mike Matheny for running Cecil out in the ninth. We’ve talked about the issues with Oh and again Matheny had used Rosenthal (which, I will say, I was surprised to see for three days straight) against the bigger bats in the lineup, facing 1-4 (after plunking Adam Frazier to start the inning, he retired the next three). Cecil hadn’t been charged with a run in over a month and really showed no signs that such a blowup might be coming.
Again, you have a questionable intentional walk here. The Pirates had already tied it up, but there were two outs and a runner on second when David Freese was announced as a pinch-hitter. As with Oh on Friday, the logic makes some sense–get the force in order and don’t let a big bat drive in that run from second. The problem is, again, you bring up a lefty in Frazier. Which, on the face of it, should work in the Cardinals’ favor. However, for the year Cecil has been remarkably better against right-handers than lefties. His OPS against righties: .549. Versus lefties? .923. Of course, the flip side of THAT is that Freese is hitting .304 against lefties this season, though in only 46 at-bats. It’d have been a gamble, but the stats indicate it’d have been a gamble worth taking.
Instead, Matheny walks Freese and Frazier singles in the game-winner. The best idea would have not to get into that situation, because I’m not sure there was a winning way out of it.
Notes: As always, Carlos Martinez deserved better. Seven innings, two runs, five strikeouts, one walk, plus he drove in a run with a single in the sixth to get back the one he allowed on a home run to Max Moroff, the first of his career. Martinez looked more like the ace we know he is and perhaps playing in the All-Star Game revitalized him a little bit.
Real tough day for Jedd Gyorko, who would have been the Goat had it not been for Cecil’s demise. 0-5 with seven left on base? Ouch. He also hit into two double plays. If he’d come through once or twice, it’s possible that Cecil’s issues wouldn’t have been deciding the game.
Two hits each for Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, and Kolten Wong. There were a lot of opportunities in this one, with the Cardinals pounding out 13 hits, but they just weren’t able to get them across the plate.
So the Cardinals come into Monday in third place, two games behind the Cubs that made their big trade and look reinvigorated (though Baltimore pitching, as we know from experience, can do that to you) and 6.5 behind the Brewers, who took two of three from Philadelphia. Looking at that, what do you do in the next two weeks?
Not a complete tear-down (though I don’t think anyone save Martinez from the major league squad should really be off the table) but let’s be realistic. This team sits three games under .500 and hasn’t shown any ability to really go on a run. People want to talk about 2011 and never giving up, which is fine, but do you know where that 2011 team was after games of July 16? First place, 1/2 game ahead of Milwaukee. People also tend to forget, as I noted when I looked at John Mozeliak’s trade history, that the Colby Rasmus trade didn’t immediately solidify this team. They struggled a lot in August, which is why they were 10.5 out close to the end of the month. A big bat, a bullpen arm, any of these things could help, but would they help enough and in time for this team to shake off months of meh and really kick it into gear? The idea that this team not only should get an addition but deserves one doesn’t really sit well with me, nor does it feel like it is in line with what the Cardinals’ philosophy is.
Any deal needs to be made looking for the future and I’m not real sold on that future being just 2019. A Josh Donaldson trade, for instance, would be nice, but you get less than a year and a half out of him now. What does this team look like for next year? Can they make a run? You have to figure the Cubs will be better and the Brewers likely aren’t going away. Even the Pirates and Reds might be stronger. I think the Cardinals can definitely be in contention in 2018, but I wouldn’t empty the larder to get a bat that can only help this year and next.
At the beginning of June Mozeliak said they’d review over the next 4-6 weeks and decide what to do. That time is basically up and this team looks no better than it did at that point. There are new points of interest–seeing how Voit and Paul DeJong and Sierra are playing is much more interesting than Jhonny Peralta getting time–but the overall picture isn’t much different. Which is why investing in it and hoping for some sort of miraculous turn-around isn’t really smart.
The Cards get to try to prove that they do still have something as they take on the Mets in a four-game series starting tonight. They took two of three when the Mets were in Busch last week and will need to take at least three of four here to inspire any hope in folks. Adam Wainwright has been pitching better of late, even on the road, and obviously has some fond memories of New York. Can he make some more tonight? I’m cautiously optimistic but I also realize that could fall apart at any time.
Zack Wheeler went up against the Redbirds last Saturday and gave up eight hits but just two runs in six innings, which was his longest outing since June 7. Will familiarity help out the Cards or Wheeler in this one? We’ll have to wait and see.
We’ll see how this one shakes out tonight. Hopefully either the Cards will get up big or someone will figure out how to break the ninth inning curse (because you know Rosenthal isn’t going tonight). Also, come back this morning and this afternoon for the next matchups of the Greatest Cardinal Moment Tournament!