A Mixed Bag of Games

The Memorial Day weekend is always one that I wind up not spending much time writing posts (though I did prep a couple more in our Marking McGwire series) and sometimes don’t even get a chance to watch all the games.  That has never stopped us from talking about them before, of course, but it’s not like we can really draw a lot of conclusions from a 2-2 run of games.  This team, man, this team.

Friday (8-1 loss at Pittsburgh)

Hero: Tommy Pham, I guess.  His solo homer was the only thing sparing the Cards from being shut out, though it was his only hit.  Since the last game of the Philadelphia series and through Monday’s game, Pham is 2-28 with a double and this homer (he also has just one walk and 13 strikeouts).  This offense has enough problems when Pham is going well.  It has some serious issues when Pham is slumping.

Goat: There were a few 0-fers that could be considered here, but we’ll go with Francisco Pena, because not only was he 0-3, he stranded three runners and hit into a double play.  Granted, you don’t go to Pena for offense usually, but a timely hit could have at least put a couple more runs on the board.

Notes: The bats weren’t completely quiet in this one as Marcell Ozuna and Jedd Gyorko both had two hits and Ozuna and Dexter Fowler had a double.  There weren’t enough of them strung together to get runs in, though, and while John Gant held the line for a while, he eventually crumbled in the sixth and there was nothing to back him up.

I don’t think you can fault Gant too much for this one.  Not only did he not get any run support, but he left the game with the score 1-0 and two runners on base.  Yes, he allowed the opposite pitcher, Joe Musgrove, to lead off the sixth with a single and that was the run on the board after Josh Harrison doubled, but with runners on the corners and one out, a well placed ground ball gets you out of it.  Even a fly ball could have made it 2-0 but you’d have two outs.  Instead, Brett Cecil gave up that sacrifice fly then a triple to bring the other runner in before getting the last out.

Cecil ran hot and cold last year and looks like he might be going to do the same this year.  He had actually only been scored on in one game before this one (because he allowed a run of his own in the seventh) but 40% of his inherited runners score and that is a little high.  I’m not really sure what an average rate would be, but the worst team rate last year was Texas at 40%, so I feel confident in saying Cecil’s having trouble in that category.  And that’s before Monday’s outing as well, which we’ll get to later.

The problem again–and I remember us talking about this last year–is that Mike Matheny wants to use Cecil as a lefty specialist and, in truth, Cecil should be a good lefty specialist, but lefties aren’t being fooled by him.  Corey Dickerson, who hit the triple, was a lefty.  Austin Meadows, who singled to lead off the next inning and was Cecil’s last batter, was a lefty.  Before Monday’s outing against the Brewers, lefties had a line of .333/.412/.533 against Cecil this year in 17 plate appearances.  He’s only got five plate appearances against righties and while he’s walked two of them, he also hasn’t given up a hit against them.  You’d like to see Cecil figure it out against left-handers but last year lefties had a .936 OPS against him while righties–who he actually faced more often–had a .561 OPS.  It’s not like he’s never been able to figure them out–you only have to go back to 2016 to find a year when he had a better OPS against versus left-handers–but he’s not been able to get them out consistently while he’s been in St. Louis.  Why is a very excellent question.

The bullpen overall struggled here, which at least didn’t ruin a winnable game.  After Cecil’s issues, John Brebbia came in and allowed Cecil’s run to score plus two of his own.  I was listening to the Cardinals 24/7 Podcast and they were talking about how well Brebbia was pitching, which shows you why it is so important to make a good first impression.  Brebbia had a scoreless inning Monday, but in the six games before that (from May 2 until Friday), he had a 9.00 ERA in eight innings with a slash line against of .294/.351/.588.  We worried a lot last year and over the winter that the league might figure Brebbia out, that he didn’t necessarily have the arsenal to really overcome that.  I know Joe Schwarz was recently on the Brebbia bandwagon, though I can’t find the article (might have been some of his Athletic work), but the trend isn’t good for the reliever.  Maybe after he gets the beard fully grown.

Then there was Greg Holland.  For once, there should have been no issues with a Holland appearance, as down 6-1 in the bottom of the eighth would seem to be the best time to use him.  However, even that limited stress situation didn’t help him.  He allowed back-to-back triples (though apparently there was some help on one of those by Ozuna’s fielding) and a single to make his final line one inning, three hits, two runs.  That apparently was enough even for Holland, who went on the disabled list the next day with a hip impingement.  Whether this is something he’s been keeping quiet (since he’s been consistently stating that he’s fine) and is a real cause or is basically a way to get him off the roster for a while, I don’t know.  I do know that he’ll probably be out for a couple of weeks at least and then I believe they’ll insist on a minimum of two minor league outings, possibly more depending on the results.  I would imagine Holland wouldn’t return until the end of June, at the best.  Which means that the odds of him even approaching value on that contract are really, really slim.

Saturday (4-1 win at Pittsburgh)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  He led off the game with a home run, which helped give a bit of a jolt to this team and break it out of its doldrums, plus added another hit later on.  The home run wasn’t a game breaker–the Pirates scored in the bottom of the inning–but it did give some early hope and allowed us not to worry about how long it was going to take to get on the board.

Goat: Jedd Gyorko.  Rough night for Gyorko, who went 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on base.  Interestingly enough, he played second base while Carpenter played third, which isn’t the configuration you’d expect to see often.  It also has to make Kolten Wong feel like he’s further and further from the plans of the team, but hitting .175 is going to have some repercussions.

Notes: First off, can I say while I appreciate the reason and the cause for them, the Memorial Day uniforms were a bland and boring mess?  My wife asked why they were wearing black and white ones.  The caps were OK, I guess, but the olive green birds and numbers on a gray road jersey?  It felt dull and lifeless, which given how the Cardinals usually play might have been appropriate but still wasn’t really visually appealing.  I understand why they wanted to get away from the reds and whites and blues here, but there’s got to be something better.

Jack Flaherty didn’t pitch as well as he did last time out, but you don’t expect that kind of dominance in every appearance for any pitcher.  (At least, not until Alex Reyes gets here.)  Six innings, one run, four strikeouts will do most every time and, as people have consistently noted, he has nothing left to prove in Memphis and definitely should be in the major leagues.  That said, if it happens that he goes to Memphis because of the return of Reyes, let’s pump the breaks on calling this a travesty and an outrage.  This is not sending him down so that a potentially-out-of-gas Adam Wainwright can get back into the rotation.  There are six high-quality guys for five slots and someone is going to be unfairly treated unless the Cards go to some hybrid six-man rotation and I don’t really think they will.  (Something Tara and I discussed on Gateway on Sunday.)

So if Flaherty goes down and Luke Weaver stays up, that might not be ideal but given where the players are in their career, the options, etc., it’s not the worst thing.  I’m not saying I advocate it, mind you, just that someone is going to not pitch in the big leagues as much as they probably should and Flaherty might be that guy.  It happens to rookies.

The bullpen continued to be Jekyll and Hyde with another strong performance in this one.  The Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons was activated (along with Carson Kelly) before this game and got one out, then Jordan Hicks went 1.2 innings.  Normally I wouldn’t have wanted to see Hicks go back out there after getting the two outs in the seventh, but he did so on three pitches so it’s hard NOT to have him remain in the game.  Bud Norris finished it up with a clean ninth for his 10th save.

Sunday (6-4 win at Pittsburgh)

Hero: Yairo Munoz.  Nobody on the offense really stood out, as Matt Carpenter was the only one that had multiple hits.  While Munoz also had a hit, it was his walk that was the big moment, drawing one with the bases loaded and the game tied at four in the eighth.  Carson Kelly gave some insurance with an RBI groundout but Munoz’s moment was big for a guy that had had his offensive issues earlier on in the season.

Goat: Tyler O’Neill.  The excitement around O’Neill has faded just a bit as he went 0-5 with four strikeouts.  You always knew that O’Neill was going to have issues with the K, but he has 16 strikeouts in 37 plate appearances through Monday, including a stretch in his last five games (three starts) where he’s been rung up 11 times in 15 PA.  That’s….not good.  It seems pretty clear that pitchers have found his weaknesses and now he needs to adjust them.  Of course, with the rest of the offense sputtering, it’s not like he is dragging the team down or immediately has to go to Memphis.

Notes: It’s great to see them win games like this because it doesn’t happen all that often.  We’ve seen them rally late occasionally, like when they got to the Mets in Busch, and we continue to hope that it’ll spark something, that it’ll get a run going or it is a sign that they are about to put some things together.  More often, it’s just a one-off and it definitely didn’t carry over this time either, but it’s something.  It was also good to see some of the young guys, like Munoz, Kelly, and Harrison Bader, as part of this rally.  That sort of experience can only be positive.

It was a bit of an off day for Miles Mikolas, at least by the final line.  He gave up more runs in this one than he had in his past four starts combined, but I do think it’s still pretty solid for him that the most he’s given up is four runs in any start.  He’s done that three times, his first two and this one, but if that’s the worst you do in a year, that’s not bad.  Most of the damage was done in the fifth, when an uncharacteristic walk led off the inning and things snowballed from there, including yet another triple by a Pirates hitter.  Is PNC Park just that conducive to triples or were the outfielders just in the wrong place?

I’m glad to see that not only is Sam Tuivailala starting to come into his own as a reliever but Mike Matheny is starting to trust him in bigger spots.  It was a one run game when Tui came into it and he needed to be able to hold the line, which he did.  Since the last time he was charged with a run, he’s thrown 5.1 innings with seven strikeouts and has stranded two of the three runners he’s inherited.  When you look past Holland and Cecil, maybe Brebbia as well, this bullpen has a chance to be a real lockdown group.  That said, it’s tough to look past those guys and they are going to have to play as well when they aren’t on the DL or Brebbia’s not in the minors, which may happen soon.  I wonder if John Gant would get the call to stay up and Brebbia go down when they need space, though they may want to keep Gant on a starter’s regimen.

Monday (8-3 loss at Milwaukee)

Hero: Yairo Munoz.  It’s a toss up between him and Matt Carpenter, because that was the only offense the Cards really had.  Munoz had a two-run homer to get the club on the board and Carpenter had two hits, including a solo homer that pulled the Cards within one.  Other than that, the team had three hits and the only other extra-base hit was Jedd Gyorko’s double with one out in the ninth.

Goat: Brett Cecil.  I’m not saying that the Cards would have rallied to win down 5-3, but Cecil made sure to take all the wind out of everyone’s sails by allowing a single to (lefty) Christian Yelich and then, after getting the next two outs (including a strikeout of lefty Travis Shaw), he intentionally walked Ryan Braun and then watched as Yelich and Braun pulled off a double steal that no one even made an attempt to stop.  The fact that the Cardinals have still not thrown out a baserunner is ridiculous and while the number of attempts against them is low, in part because of Yadier Molina‘s reputation while he was back there, this is going to keep happening with alarming frequency if they can’t figure a way out to stop it.

Of course, then Cecil allows a three-run shot to Jonathan Villar (who was hitting from the right side, which is his much weaker side) and it’s all fairly moot.

Notes: Luke Weaver’s outing wasn’t all that impressive, allowing four runs in four innings.  Weaver’s spot did come up in the top of the fifth and, with the score 4-2 at that point, perhaps Mike Matheny was trying to get a base runner on (though he hit Tyler O’Neill there instead of Greg Garcia when a solo homer wouldn’t have necessarily done much) but it also may have been an acknowledgement that it wasn’t Weaver’s day.  He threw 76 pitches in his four innings and allowed four runs on five hits with just three strikeouts.  He gave up a two-out single RBI single in the second, a homer to Yelich in the third, then got victimized in part by Jose Martinez‘s defense or lack thereof.

He should have gotten his opposite number Bruce Suter out, but Martinez not only didn’t come up with a liner but then, disgusted with himself, didn’t chase the ball down.  If he gets to it, perhaps one run doesn’t score.  The Cardinals were a bit lucky that the Brewers were extra-aggressive and Tyler Saladino was caught at home.  It could have been worse, I guess.

You’ve heard of a three act play?  Weaver’s year has been almost been a tale of three starts.

Starts W-L IP ERA K BB
1-3 2-0 17.1 2.08 17 5
4-7 0-2 18.0 9.00 15 10
8-10 1-2 19.0 1.89 18 3

Yesterday was start 11, which if things hold means that Weaver has gotten out of whack and will take another start or two before he gets into his rhythm again.  Looking at this runs, the walks seem to be what fluctuates.  When he’s attacking hitters, he’ll do well.  When he’s giving up more than a walk a start (and he gave up two yesterday in just four innings), it seems to go south on him.  We’ll see if that continues.  While Reyes will be back Wednesday, it’s not until Carlos Martinez returns in a week or so before serious decisions need to be made and that gives Weaver another start, maybe two, to break this cycle and make that a tough discussion.

Matheny’s been better of late about that “reliever under glass” thing, mainly because he doesn’t necessarily have an obvious guy to hold out (though partly because when folks like Holland and Cecil are struggling, you don’t really have as many options).  Mike Mayers pitched for the first time in five days here, which is not really egregious just worth noting, and allowed a run in two innings of work.  Though it should be noted that Mayers hasn’t pitched an entire inning without giving up a run since April 12, when he went three scoreless innings.  The only other times he’s not been touched were partial frames, like the 2/3rds and 1/3rds of an inning he pitched against the Royals.  Without that three inning stint, his season ERA is 3.37, which is still solid, but it’s going to be interesting to see going forward if clubs continue to pick at him or he can stop the bleeding.

Probably should be noted that Carson Kelly didn’t start in this one and has started just five games since he was promoted from Memphis after Yadi’s injury.  Sure, he was on the DL for part of that time, but the entire idea was that, if Molina went down for any length of time, Kelly would get the call to start and Pena would stay the backup.  Pena’s hitting surge helped (plus the Molina endorsement), but shouldn’t we see Kelly most of the time going forward from now until Molina’s return in a couple of weeks (my assumption–Molina’s ETA has not been announced)?  I don’t imagine this is what the front office expected when they called him up.  Then again, it took Munoz a while but it looks like he’s finally taken over short in Paul DeJong‘s absence.  Maybe Kelly still has a chance.

The Cardinals sit at 28-23, five games out and in third place.  Given the ups and downs of this team, it’s surprising that they are so much better, record-wise, than the 2017 version of the Cardinals.  Then again, if they were just 5-2 against the Reds instead of 7-0 this season, they are 26-25 and much more like the .500 team they feel like.  We continue to say the talent is there, but when will it come together?  We’re a quarter of the way through the season and nothing seems to be fully clicking yet.  They might be great at full throttle, but when will they get there?  The division is still winnable, especially with Milwaukee’s history of fading, but you can’t afford to get too far behind.  What John Mozeliak and company may want to do to give this team a kick in the pants, similar to their early June press conference last year, still remains to be seen.

Michael Wacha looks to continue his strong season against Zach Davies and the Brewers tonight.  The Cards saw Davies earlier this year and tagged him for seven runs (six earned) in 5.2 innings, his worst start so far this season.  I’m up for more of that, how about you?

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