Losing the Games You Aren’t Supposed to Lose

If you asked any fan of the Cardinals this past week about what they had to do over the six games with the Padres and Rays, you probably would have heard something about going at least 4-2 and that you can’t lose a series to either team, but especially a Padres team 10+ games under .500 and expect to remain in contention.

So, of course, they lost two of three to the Padres.  Whatever else you might think of this team, they have frustrating down pat.

You have Carlos Martinez on the mound against Luis Perdomo, who has talent but has struggled to put it all together.  This should be a mismatch, especially since the offense has been rolling for the most part, averaging just over five runs a game since the All-Star Break.  This really shouldn’t have been a contest and, indeed, the Cardinals mustered 12 hits and two walks, which should translate to more than two runs.  (I’d have to dig it up, but I had a rudimentary formula for expected runs out of things like this a long while back.)

The biggest reason that many hits didn’t turn into more runs? Our Goat, Tommy Pham.  This was one of the worst nights Pham has had in the big leagues, grounding into three double plays and lining out the one time he came up with nobody on.  It was pretty telling that the Cardinals got three hits in the first inning, but scored no runs, because Pham’s double play wiped out the first one.  This was Pham’s third hitless game in his last four starts, which is a lot for him this year.  The three before that took 15 starts and he’s only had one other hitless game in August.  So odds are this was just a bad night, but it could be he’s starting to feel the effects of playing all year long and at such a high level.  Even with four hitless games this month, he’s still got a .266 average, which isn’t nothing.

Many of you probably would give the Goat to the bullpen for ruining a Martinez start where he allowed two runs in seven innings by blowing it in the ninth. (Because Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons came in for the second straight day and took care of business, though he wasn’t quite as sharp as he’d been the day before.)  That’s a fair look.  Sam Tuivailala, who hadn’t given up a run in his last three outings spanning five innings and has some clamoring for him in higher-leverage situations, didn’t fare as well as you’d hope last night.  He allowed two singles, though the runners wound up at second and third.

Some pitchers might have been allowed to work their way out of that, but Mike Matheny was trying to pull every lever in the ninth last night.  He went with Zach Duke to face left-hander Carlos Asuaje, but Duke’s recent struggles continued when Asuaje singled past Jedd Gyorko at first.  Unable to get the lefty, Matheny didn’t wait to see if he could get the righty, going to Matthew Bowman because Bowman had had a day off and couldn’t be allowed two.  Bowman did better than he’d done in his last couple of appearances, but the out he got was a sacrifice fly and then he intentionally passed Yangervis Solarte to set up the double play.

Matheny, channeling his inner Tony La Russa, went to Brett Cecil who got the next two guys out to end the threat.  (Going to Cecil against a lefty isn’t the automatic Matheny seems to think it is, but it worked.)  The damage was done, though, and even though Randal Grichuk led off the bottom of the ninth with a home run, Brad Hand wasn’t allowing anything else.

We need a Hero, so we’ll go with Paul DeJong and his three hits over Dexter Fowler and his three hits in a coin flip.  Martinez did pitch well, though the sixth inning turned into a bugbear for him and the second run scored when he threw wildly over Yadier Molina’s head with the bases loaded and a runner coming home.  A good throw gets that runner and maybe allows Molina to turn a double play, but that was anything but a good throw.

Speaking of Molina, his time in the spotlight–and not in a good way–came in the eighth.  DeJong and Fowler had singled to start off the inning and were sitting at second and third.  This is where, even though most of us aren’t a proponent of bunting, it made a lot of sense.  Molina’s slow and susceptible to the double play and while the saying is when you bunt and play for one run, you only get one run, in this situation, you needed that run.  Now, of course, it’s strange to see a guy that you have as much confidence in to bat fifth bunting here, but we’ve had the Molina batting fifth argument way too many times.

If you want a slight defense of not bunting here, I guess it would be that Matheny didn’t trust this bullpen to be able to hold a one-run lead and wanted to get more than that.  Which is iffy, but since we’ve seen Molina bunt before–sometimes on his own volition, sometimes not–it might have led into his thinking.  And that’s a fair point–with Lyons already used, who out there did you trust for the ninth?  We saw most of the arms that we probably would have selected out there anyway and they didn’t work.  I still think you get the run and worry about holding it later, but it probably was a factor.

Let’s take a look at our race for 82 and let’s talk a little about what a series loss to San Diego actually means.  First off, the Cards have 35 games left.  To stay over .500, they’ll need to go 18-17, which is slightly better than the .504 winning percentage they currently sport, but not significantly.  The problem is, even though the Cubs lost yesterday to the Reds and the Brewers dropped one to the Giants, the Rockies and Diamondbacks both won.  So now, well, let’s just look:

They’ve bounced back to being closer to the division title than the wild card.  Even with the struggles of Colorado as of late, they still have been one game better in their last 10 than the Cardinals.  Let’s look at the matchups for this weekend:

Chicago at Philadelphia
Milwaukee at Los Angeles Dodgers
Arizona vs. San Francisco
Colorado at Atlanta

Except for Milwaukee, do you really think the Cardinals can make up any ground on those folks given the matchups?  Colorado is 31-33 on the road, so maybe Atlanta could be an issue, but you figure they’d at worst take one of three.  Unless you think the Redbirds will sweep the Rays, a team three games under .500 but also better than the Cards in the last 10, there’s not much ground to be made up there.

My Meet Me At Musial cohost Allen Medlock (and hey, quick note, we’ll be doing a new show tonight so look for that tomorrow) messaged me this morning asking what I thought they’d have to do in the last 35 games to get into the playoffs.  It feels hard to believe that the rest of the teams (Chicago, Colorado, Arizona mainly) won’t go at least .500 over that stretch.  Which means that the Cardinals would have to win five more than .500.  That’s 22-13, which gets them to the 86-76 mark they had last year.  That still feels low, given some schedules, but that’d be the bare minimum.  They’d probably really need to go 25-10, which would put them at 89 wins.  A 25-10 clip is a .714 rate which, over a full season, translates to 116 wins.  In other words, they’d have to play like the Dodgers have been playing all year long over these games (which just shows you how nuts the Dodgers have been).  That’s really not going to happen with as many questions as this team has.

The winning streak brought us a little bit of hope, but even the Rebellion got beaten back immediately after destroying the Death Star.  Hopefully there will be some interesting things and good baseball in September, but pressure-packed outings with potential playoff implications don’t seem to be part of the package.

As noted, the Cardinals open up with the Rays tonight in Busch with Michael Wacha hopefully showing that his last outing was more due to returning after the rain delay than any lingering issues.  Jake Odorizzi, who has occasionally at times in his career been bandied about as a target for the Cardinals, goes for Tampa Bay.  The St. Louis area native faced the Cardinals in Busch back in 2014 and got the win, but he’s put up a 4.74 ERA on the season this year.  His last game was against the Mariners and he got smoked, allowing seven runs in 3.2 innings.  In his four starts before that, though, he put up a 3.00 ERA and a .158 BAA against, though he went less than five innings twice in that span.  He can run up a high pitch count but their bullpen seems solid as a unit, so getting him out of the game may be good but not the boon it would be against some teams.  (Like, oh I don’t know, St. Louis for example.)

Sit back and enjoy the baseball.  The winter will be here soon enough.  Don’t worry about October until something shows us we should.  It’s Players’ Weekend, which should help you take it casually.  The stress isn’t worth it!

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