There are really no words for this weekend.
I mean, we can try–and we will–to recap what happened from Friday to last night against the Chicago Cubs. We will probably pile up plenty of words talking about the injuries, the comebacks, the highs and lows. Yet trying to absorb what happened, the fact that this Cardinal team swept the odds-on divisional favorites and used two walk-off home runs to do so, that’s not likely to happen by the end of this post. It’s just amazing and wonderful and exciting and something that hopefully we can continue to point to as a sign for this team, not as a mirage.
Let’s get into it, starting with Friday’s game. Who knew a one run game with Kris Bryant at the plate with a runner on in the ninth would be the boring one?
Friday (3-2 win)
Hero: Miles Mikolas. Tommy Pham gave him the runs but Mikolas made them stand up. You wonder, when the Cubs look at what Mikolas has done versus what Yu Darvish has done, whether they wish they’d have pushed a little harder to make Mikolas a baby bear. In this one, Mikolas went seven scoreless innings, scattering seven hits and striking out four. He actually pitched into the eighth, allowing a double to Kris Bryant to lead off the frame, but the bullpen did a fine job of stranding him there.
Goat: Paul DeJong. It was a bit of a toss-up between DeJong and Matt Carpenter, as both of them went 0-3 with a walk, but DeJong left three men on and that was the tiebreaker. DeJong didn’t strike out, though, which is another good sign for him. As long as he stays out of one of those dreadful ruts, he’s going to be fine.
Notes: Bud Norris proved human in this one and given what happened on Saturday you wonder if he was out there in a compromised position. He allowed two runs in his inning of work and, as noted, had Bryant up with two outs and a runner on. He got Bryant to ground out to third and ended the threat, but it felt like the game was about to unravel. Which, as we said many times this weekend, kinda seems to prove this team is not like last year’s or maybe even the year before’s squad. This could have been a sweep the other way last year because these were the kind of games they couldn’t win in 2017.
Dominic Leone got an early start on the injury party that was coming on Saturday, coming into the game Friday but not being able to throw an official pitch. Right upper arm nerve irritation is what they are calling it and there doesn’t seem to be any indication how long he’ll be out, but given the Norris situation (which we’ll get to in a minute) it obviously wasn’t just something a day or two of rest should be able to handle. Hopefully the 10 days or something close to that will be all that he misses, though with the abundance of arms that the Cards have, they probably don’t need to rush him.
As noted, Pham’s three-run homer was the difference in this one. Marcell Ozuna went 3-3 and Jose Martinez and Jedd Gyorko had two hits each, so the offense kept putting people on but couldn’t get the big hit to get some insurance. Innings like the third, when the first two reached but Yadier Molina grounded into a double play, would have been haunting had Bryant gotten a hold of one.
Again, this was a exciting and dramatic game and it will always be overshadowed by what came next.
Saturday (8-6 win in 10)
Hero: Kolten Wong. Seriously, just think about what Kolten saved us from.
—There were no position players left on the bench. Carlos Martinez has already been used as a pinch-hitter, for goodness sake, and Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons was on deck. There was a good chance, if Wong got out, that Harrison Bader comes up with two outs and a runner on second (assuming Lyons bunted). Maybe Bader comes through but that’s a good recipe for heading to more extras, something the club really wasn’t prepared for.
–There were just two pitchers behind Lyons in the bullpen, Luke Gregerson and Sam Tuivailala. They reportedly tried to stretch Tui out on his rehab assignment, but given that he’d not pitched since he’d been activated, you wonder how well that would have worked.
–The Cards had rallied in the ninth in dramatic fashion. Having that go to waste would have been a real bummer of a way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Thankfully, the Hawaiian Dynamo saved us from worrying any more about anything, wrapping a home run basically down the right field foul pole off of Luke Farrell. It was a beautiful blast that blew up Tara Wellman’s phone (and she would have had it no other way). It was Wong’s only hit of the day, though he was hit twice in the early going. That’s the way to retaliate, Kolten!
Goat: Luke Weaver. Allowing four runs in four innings isn’t typically the way you want go about things when you are facing a team like the Cubs. (Really any team, but some teams that’s less of an issue.) I missed the early part of this one but from all accounts, Weaver had a bad inning and got some bad BABIP luck that led the runs to pile up. He did keep the Cubs off the board the rest of his time out there which allowed for the Cardinals to put up a four-spot of their own against Tyler Chatwood, so maybe he’ll be fine going forward. He needs to bounce back soon, though, because the numbers on his last few starts are pretty rough.
Notes: There’s been a good bit of talk about Matt Carpenter hitting into bad luck. Maybe he’s about to come out of that, because his double over Kyle Schwarber on a ball that should have been easily tracked and caught was definitely in the “good luck” category. (Well, not completely luck–there’s a reason you want to hit it toward Schwarber.) He almost did it again the next time up, as Schwarber went back and fell down as his shoe apparently betrayed him, but it was a lazy enough fly that Schwarber could get back up and make the play. I know you can talk about small samples and the fact that he’s barrelling the ball, but he’s also just 3-14 on this five-game home stand, including that gift double. He’s walked three times so the OBP is robust, of course, but it would really be nice if he could click and start hitting even at a reasonable facsimile of his past.
The bullpen did a pretty good job in this one, even though they were covering a lot of innings and doing so somewhat shorthandedly as the Cards apparently couldn’t get someone from Nashville (where the Memphis Redbirds were playing) to St. Louis in time to be in the bullpen. I don’t quite understand that–you might as well DL Dominic Leone and even if your replacement (which turned out to be Mike Mayers) can’t get here by game time, he’s likely there by time he needs to be used. It’s not the only time this weekend travel arrangements seemed to be questionable.
Anyway, Ryan Sherriff had to go two innings but he did them fine except for Javier Baez taking a pretty solid pitch well below the zone out of the ballpark. I don’t think you can blame Sherriff for that one, Baez (who is a guy that seems to give Cardinal fans–me included–fits) tends to come through often enough. Matthew Bowman allowed a home run an inning later to Anthony Rizzo and while Rizzo is a solid hitter, Bowman’s pitch wasn’t nearly as good as Sherriff’s was.
That was it from the bullpen but it seemed to be enough going into the bottom of the ninth. The Cardinals were down to their final shot and facing Brandon Morrow, the Cubs’ free agent closer acquisition who, unlike Greg Holland, hadn’t been scored on this season.
Harrison Bader, who I have to admit I have really enjoyed watching of late, drew a walk before Carpenter “struck out”. We put that in quotes because strike two was off the plate and should have been ball four and strike three, while a strike, drew a protest from Carpenter because it’s one thing to shift a zone, another to expand it. But it was Angel Hernandez behind the plate so expecting quality is fool’s gold. Jose Martinez singled to keep things going and then Marcell Ozuna got one of his first real hero moments as a Cardinal, doubling in both runners to tie the game up. After Francisco Pena popped out, Dexter Fowler almost walked it off himself, coming just a foot or so shy of putting one out of the park.
While Wong’s homer overshadowed it, we do need to note that Carpenter saved the game in the top of the 10th. With one out, Jason Heyward singled against Bud Norris. Baez then struck out, but the pitch got away from Pena and Heyward went to second. Norris then left with an injury, forcing the Patron Pitcher into the game. Lyons then threw his own wild pitch, putting Heyward on third. Lyons’s third pitch to Victor Caratini was roped down the line and it seemed like the Cubs had taken the lead before we realized that Carpenter had reflexively gotten his glove up and the inning was over. For the grief we give him about his defense (most of it deserved), occasionally he’ll turn in a play like that and it’s a beauty.
We mentioned Norris went out in this one with an injury that apparently will only keep him out a day or so. Still, anytime you lose that reliable option in the ninth, it hurts. Holland pitched Sunday, looked a bit better, and probably will be who they go to while Norris is out to get a save, but right now most of us will breath easier when Norris returns. Hopefully it is just a couple of days and not one of this injuries that lingers and you wish they’d just gone ahead and put him on the DL.
Norris was the last guy to leave with an injury but by the end of this one, there were more folks in the training room than there were available to come into the game. Tommy Pham walked in his first at bat but a couple of innings later was replaced by Bader due to a recurrence of the groin injury he dealt with in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. (As noted, I didn’t see Weaver’s bad inning, but there was some talk that if Pham was at his normal level he probably catches a couple of those balls.) Pham was able to pinch-hit on Sunday night and hopefully this also isn’t something that will be very long, but there’s an argument to be made (and Tara and I discussed this last night on Gateway) that you should go ahead, get ahead of this, and DL him for the 10 days so hopefully it won’t reoccur. You do hate to lose Pham for that long if you can help it, though.
Then there was Yadi.
Yadier Molina is one of the toughest players you’ll ever find. We see him take foul balls all the time and at worst take a moment to catch his breath and more often just shake them off. When he stood up and collapsed after being hit on Saturday, you knew it was serious. (Of course, a normal person, having taken a foul tip from a Jordan Hicks 102 mph fastball, would have needed the ambulance, not been able to walk off the field.) There were some tense moments Saturday night, given a Tweet from a Post-Dispatch columnist that really overstated the issue, but Molina had surgery and is already back up walking around. Given Molina’s dedication, I’m only half-serious that I expect he’ll be ready by the end of the 10 days, much like Albert Pujols was back at the end of 15 after a wrist injury that was supposed to keep him out months.
Our best to Yadi as he deals with this, something that most of us don’t want to even think about. And we’re not going to think about it any more.
Sunday (4-3 win in 14)
Hero: Dexter Fowler. He’s struggled a lot this year but this is the second time Dex has walked off a game. You can’t get more dramatic than this, though. Down to their final strike with Harrison Bader on first after an infield single, Fowler hit it right over (and perhaps off of) Jason Heyward’s glove to win the game against his former club. (Wonder why we don’t say “his former club” when he plays the Rockies or Astros? At least not with the same implications?) It came off of Luke Farrell and was just a little shorter but in the same direction as Wong’s homer the day before. Talk about some deja vu for Farrell. I can imagine Cub fans aren’t real thrilled with him after this weekend.
Goat: Jose Martinez. 0-5 with a walk will likely get you here. For all the good that Martinez has done this year, it’s worth noting he’s hitting .219 in his last 15 games. Mike Matheny has been a little more willing (twice in the last couple of weeks) to sit Matt Carpenter, but Martinez probably needs the same consideration. If you are going to have four starters for three spots you really need to play the hot hand and right now Jedd Gyorko is the hot hand. If you have to get him in the lineup by putting Carpenter at first sometimes, I think you do it.
Notes: Another great game by Kolten Wong, who tripled in the tying run in route to a 3-for-6 night. Gyorko had two hits, including the home run that initially tied the game at 1 and a double later on that the Cards couldn’t capitalize on.
Why they couldn’t capitalize on it is one thing we should talk about in regards to some of the decisions made by Matheny last night. Gyorko doubled with one out in the fourth. After Paul DeJong lined out, Wong singled and moved to second on the throw. With runners on second and third, the Cubs intentionally passed Francisco Pena (and we’ll try to talk about why it was him and not Carson Kelly in the game in a bit) to get to Michael Wacha.
It’s the bottom of the fourth. You are down one and you don’t know how many chances you’ll get against Jon Lester, plus you can’t count on another rally against the Cubs bullpen like you did yesterday. Wacha’s at 75 or so pitches and has already dealt with two rain delays. While you don’t have Norris, you have a lot of guys down there in the pen that can cover innings, including Mike Mayers who was promoted in part just for that purpose.
There’s an argument on both sides and there’s no doubt in hindsight that they might have been really in trouble in a 14 inning game had they pulled Wacha there, but it’s also possible that a base hit there by a pinch-hitter might have kept the game from going 14 innings. I feel like that would have been the time to be aggressive, to take a shot at it. Besides, how often does it happen that Matheny leaves in the pitcher here, he forgoes the scoring opportunity, only to see the pitcher not make it out of the next frame? (Thankfully that didn’t happen here as Wacha pitched a scoreless fifth and got one out in the sixth.)
Matheny can be aggressive but it seems like he’s aggressive at the wrong times. Take, for example, the sixth (an inning you can hear us react to on Gateway). After Wong’s triple tied it up, Pena was hit by a pitch and that brought up the pitcher’s spot. Matheny sends up Greg Garcia to hit, apparently trying to make Joe Maddon counter by bringing in the left-hander Justin Wilson. When Maddon went for it, Garcia was pulled and Tommy Pham came up.
Again, this move makes sense at some times, when you have a full bench or late in the game when a shorter bench isn’t going to bite you. I’m not sure the advantage of getting Pham against Wilson is worth losing the flexibility that Garcia brings you, especially in a game that might go extras. I think I’d have just sent Pham up there to take his chances against Steve Cishek or let Garcia hit against the lefty. Burning a player like that when you have so few available is an interesting decision and unfortunately Pham didn’t justify it, grounding out on the first pitch.
The last thing I saw from Matheny that I questioned (because I went to bed soon after) was in the eighth. With two outs and two on, Matheny has Pena hitting with Carpenter in the on-deck circle to pinch-hit for the pitcher. The idea that Pena was going to come through there was pretty weak. I’d have let Carpenter pinch-hit for Pena and, had he gotten a hit, Kelly could have hit for the pitcher. Jordan Hicks was replaced anyway so it wasn’t a situation where he wanted the pitcher to still be available if Pena didn’t come through. It might not have worked but it would have been an interesting and aggressive approach instead of just hoping things worked out.
The bullpen did their job, though. I did see Greg Holland throw and I thought that was the best I’d seen him as a Cardinal. The box score shows Sam Tuivailala finally got to pitch and did a great job in his two innings, then Mayers did what he did last time–got called up, threw three innings, and likely got sent back down, but at least this time he has a major league win to accompany him to Memphis.
For the fact that I started out this post saying there were no words, we’ve put plenty of them on the page. Still, there’s no capturing the feeling of sweeping the Cubs in dramatic fashion. The last time a team beat someone else with walkoff homers in back-to-back days? 2011. Cardinals. Over Cubs. If you are looking for omens, you might put that one in your pocket.
Cards go tonight trying to extend this five game winning streak and keep the homestand perfect, sending John Gant (once he gets officially called up) to the mound against the Minnesota Twins and Fernando Romero. Romero has made one major league start, going 5.2 scoreless innings against the Blue Jays last Wednesday. Could be a tough matchup for the Redbirds but assuming they aren’t drained from this weekend I like their chances. At least right now, this feels like an exciting team. Let’s see if they can keep it going!