As was pointed out on Twitter, it was four years ago today that Oscar Taveras made his major league debut. Called up to join a team that was just barely over .500 and four games back in the standings, Tavares had been the object of many fans’ dreams for most of the season. Why were we having to deal with end-game Allen Craig when Taveras was right there ready to plug into the lineup?
Finally, the call came and there wasn’t a game more anticipated on the calendar. We all remember that game against the Giants, especially his legendary home run as the rain began to come. It seemed like maybe, just maybe, the solution had been found.
We know, in retrospect, that wasn’t the case. Taveras struggled over the next month, was sent back to Memphis, returned after a couple of weeks, and hit .249 with two homers the rest of the way. And you can argue that he wasn’t helped by Mike Matheny‘s usage and other issues, which is completely fair, but that season boiled down to one thing. Oscar Taveras wasn’t the complete answer to the team’s woes.
The most anticipated game since that debut probably came yesterday as Alex Reyes took the mound for the first time in over a year and a half. Yes, Reyes had already made his major league debut and there was a lot of excitement and hype around his arrival in 2016, but I think folks looked even more toward this one, given his loss last season and his dominance throughout the minors as he did his rehab work. Even though starting pitching is the strength of this team, the idea of adding Reyes into the mix seemed to spark an idea of “now here we go” among some.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
The easy comment is, of course, that the Milwaukee Brewers are better, much better, than anything that Reyes saw while at Memphis or Springfield or the like. There’s a lot to that. You can’t expect him to come out and strike out 13 while allowing just one run at the big league level, especially his first time out. The level of competition has to come into play here.
What was more concerning to everyone, including apparently the coaching staff, was the drop in velocity that Reyes had as the game progressed. Our friend Zach Gifford, who finds this stuff right in his wheelhouse, compared the drop to Adam Wainwright‘s first start, which as we know has led to a troubled season for the former ace.
this is a bad thing pic.twitter.com/1HttMK3Fmc
— Zach Gifford (@zjgifford) May 30, 2018
Reyes also just went four innings, being pinch-hit for with Greg Garcia in the fifth as the Cards had a chance to score that didn’t pan out. I think Garcia was going to hit anyway as the club was being cautious with Reyes. He threw 73 pitches in his four frames, walking two and allowing three hits. He only had one true 1-2-3 inning, his last, though he only faced three hitters in the first and the third as well, he just had those runners erased on the basepaths. (But still not as a caught stealing–the Cards remain 0-for-2018 there. A pickoff removed one in the first and Carson Kelly had a great recovery of a wild pitch and got Lorenzo Cain trying to advance on it. Though how Cain’s out is recorded in the box score, I don’t know. It’s not as a caught stealing, though it probably should have been. There’s no obvious notation of it either, which makes it harder to prove this box score. Hmmm.)
After the game, both Reyes and the coaching staff said that he was fine, though he will be examined today after the Cardinals return to St. Louis. I think it’s fair to believe Reyes was a bit fired up early on and the fastball decreased as the adrenaline wore off, though you’d expect to see a leveling off in that graph Zach presented if that were the case. Reyes also threw three pitches 95 plus to end his time after a brief visit from the trainer, so it’s also reasonable he was trying to conserve some energy through his time out there as well. Lots of different possibilities. Hopefully today’s examination rules out all the injury ones.
However, Reyes could have been just as dominant as he was in Memphis on Thursday and there’s a strong chance he wouldn’t have won this game. The Cardinals didn’t get on the board until the seventh, when Harrison Bader greeted Jeremy Jeffress with a booming blast. The Cards couldn’t do anything against Junior Guerra and, in fact, put more runners on in three innings against the vaunted Milwaukee bullpen than they did in six innings against Guerra. Jeffress allowed Bader’s homer then a single by Dexter Fowler (our Hero of the day, more on him in a bit) and Yairo Munoz reached on an error. Carson Kelly bunted them over a base (his second sacrifice bunt of the day) and Tommy Pham, who had the day off, pinch-hit and had a sacrifice fly that was a large part due to Fowler’s baserunning than the depth of the fly ball.
The Cardinals also had chances against superstud reliever Josh Hader, getting two hits and drawing two walks in his 1.2 innings. It got to the point where the Brewers had to remove him from the game and bring in Corey Knubel to face Jose Martinez, who ran the count to 3-1 before striking out to end the game. Still, after the way the bottom of the seventh unfolded, to see them put up a fight was heartening. So often they could have just gone quietly through the eighth and ninth, but they had a chance up until the last pitch.
Before Tuesday’s game, I Tweeted about Francisco Pena and how he’d been in a slump since his last three hit game. He went out and had three hits, including a homer. So Wednesday, I tried again:
Shoot, I was going to try this whole Tweet thing with Pham but he’s not starting today. So let’s try this: Dexter Fowler has only 1 multi-hit game this month and only 5 on the season. Since his last, he’s hitting .150/.292/.250.
— Cardinal70 (@C70) May 30, 2018
Not only did Fowler have a multi-hit game, he had three hits and scored the go-ahead run. I don’t know that those results are a harbinger or just a good day, but either way it was nice to see. And I have to come up with a different tweet for today, apparently.
Back to that bottom of the seventh, though. The Cardinals had just taken a one run lead. After not scoring for the first six innings, they are just nine outs away from taking the series against the divisional leaders. The Patron Pitcher of the Blog comes in, throws one pitch, and Christian Yelich ties the game. For that, you have to give Tyler Lyons the Goat, as much as it pains me to do so.
We’re embedding a lot of Tweets today, but given that the game was only on Facebook Live there were plenty of conversations going on during it. I looked up some of Lyons’s usage and I have to wonder if the way he’s being used this year is leading to some of his problems.
I also wonder if this “specialist” usage isn’t for the #PatronPitcher. 13 of 20 appearances have been less than an inning. Last year, just 15 of 50.
— Cardinal70 (@C70) May 30, 2018
Jon Doble did his own research and he feels like Lyons may just be overused.
In 2016 he averaged 1.6 innings per appearance. In 2017 he averaged 1.1 innings per appearance. So far this year 0.6 inning per appearance. A more specialized role has not suited him well. And that’s beyond him being unable to fool LHBs.
— Jon Doble (@JonDobleRBD) May 30, 2018
It’s fair to say that Lyons has struggled against lefties this season. I mean, he’s only thrown 12 total innings this year so it’s a bit of a small sample, but his line against lefties is .345/.441/.552. That’s not good, especially since he’s faced more lefties than righties. Last year, it’s true, he was dominant against left-handed batters and he’s been strong in his career against them, but he’s also been a starter or long relief man for much of it. He’s rarely been that guy that has to come get a lefty out and then that’s it. That’s not all there is to it–Lyons at least started the seventh, though maybe he was already told he just had one batter–but you wonder if he’d go about things differently if he knew like last year he was going to be out there for an inning or more rather than just one hitter.
Again, that’s not likely the entire cause. He’s been on the DL, so injuries have led to some of the results. He’s not been scored on in 14 of his 20 appearances and his inherited runners scored rate is 21%, so he’s been effective at times. It just seems that when he blows up, he blows up big. Three of the six times he’s allowed runs, he’s allowed two of them. Those three games he pitched a total of 1.1 innings, so that’ll give your ERA a huge kick real quick.
I don’t know what the answer is for the Patron Pitcher. I think there’s still some good in him but he’s got to figure out what he’s doing wrong against left-handers. And it’d be nice if Mike Matheny didn’t run him completely into the ground as well.
Sam Tuivailala came in for the third time in four days and gave up three hits and a run in relief of Lyons. He faced the minimum in his second frame as his own error was erased on a double play. Tui’s doing well this season and I hope it continues, but he needs a little better spacing out as well.
Which is the problem, right? It might have been nice if Jordan Hicks hadn’t thrown two innings (or maybe at all, looking at his usage) in a game that was well in hand Tuesday night so that maybe he’d been available here. However, how many arms down there in the pen do you fully trust? Hicks, Bud Norris (who was being saved for probably the eighth and ninth if the Cards could keep their lead), and that’s probably it. Tui is close to that, but it’s tough to completely believe in him. John Gant had pitched long relief in this one and did fine, so we’ll see how he does in the bullpen. Those arms can be really, really good down there, but they can also blow up when they are needed.
Still, if the offense would put up some runs, the relievers might not have such high-leverage situations to deal with all the time. Fowler had his three hits and Munoz had two hits plus reaching on the error. (How about Munoz raising his average to .304 after being so dreadful to start the season?) That was five of the eight hits the Cardinals had, though, and when your 6 and 7 hitters are doing the damage, that’s hard because 8-9 aren’t likely going to be able to add on.
Martinez went 0-4. Tyler O’Neill, who was a late replacement for Marcell Ozuna who was dealing with a jammed finger, went 0-4 with two strikeouts. (I have to think O’Neill may get back to Memphis for a while to play regularly, because right now I’m not sure they can keep running him out there and hoping that he can learn the league with so many other holes.) All in all, there just wasn’t much going on and while some of that’s a credit to Guerra, it happens to regularly to just completely tip your cap to him.
Cards get to see the Pirates for the second weekend in a row but this time they get to host them. It’ll be the first time Pittsburgh has made it to Busch Stadium this season and hopefully the Redbirds aren’t gracious hosts. Jack Flaherty takes the mound tonight against Trevor Williams. Hopefully the bats start clicking, but it feels like we say that every day! Also, don’t forget to make your picks in The Cardinal Six!