You Want Dramatics? The Cardinals Can Arrange That!

Save for one game, this past weekend’s series with the Pittsburgh Pirates might have been the most dramatic you are ever going to find.  In fairness, the Cardinals did have that great series with the Cubs where they walked games off twice with homers, so that’s right up there, but when you have two games like that plus an almost no-hitter, that is tough to beat.  We’ve already talked about the first one, so let’s dive into the last three games.

Friday (4-0 loss)

Hero: Marcell Ozuna.  The bat got warmer in the next couple of days with some expected pop, but Ozuna had two hits in this one, again of the single/infield variety but that was a lot more than most of his teammates, since that was half of the team’s total.  We did say “save for one game” and this is that game.

Goat: I think we are going to have to use our old “leadoff hitter breaks ties” rule and go with Matt Carpenter, who went 0-4 with two strikeouts.  It’s a line, as we noted, that wasn’t foreign to the boxscore here and unlike when he would have these games a month ago, it doesn’t necessarily seem to be anything to worry about.  He’s been so hot that some cooling was bound to happen but it feels like we are going to see the regular Carpenter from now on.

Notes: This was the game that so bummed us out on Meet Me at Musial this week, which looks a little dreary when you look back at it after the last two days.  It looked like they were spoiling that momentum from Thursday night and while the next couple of days showed there was still some fight in them, in the moment it felt like a movie we’d seen before.  Hopefully they’ll still have a little of the momentum from the last couple of games with them when they take on Miami on Tuesday night.

Miles Mikolas continued his remarkable season, even if he took his first loss of 2018.  Six innings, six hits, two runs (one earned), two strikeouts, one walk.  That’s a solid line that gets you a win more times than not.  With the offensive struggles that this team has had, though, it’s not terribly surprising that such a good performance goes unrewarded.  Sam Tuivailala scuffled a bit, allowing two runs in 1.1 innings on a couple of doubles.  It’s still good that Mike Matheny is trusting Tui a bit more, but these kind of bumps in the road aren’t completely unexpected.  At least it happened in a game that the Cards weren’t likely to win anyway.

Saturday (3-2 win)

Hero: Kolten Wong.  When you walk it off, you get this spot, isn’t that the rule?  There were a lot of crazy stats floating around after Wong won his second game this season with a last-minute homer, but this might have been the one that was most nuts:

There’s no doubt that Wong can come up big at times.  Five regular-season walkoff homers make up that 14%, but one of his four postseason homers is also, famously, of the walkoff variety.  So that means, overall, six of Wong’s 40 homers have decided the game in this sort of situation.  And that’s not including other important ones, like this blast against Pittsburgh in 2014 that tied the game in the seventh in a game the Cards would go on to win.  It doesn’t feel that it’s often Wong hits homers in blowouts either way.

Goat: Bud Norris.  Look, I know that Austin Meadows is red-hot right now and is starting to look like he’ll be a real good player (and probably a thorn in the side of the Cards for a while).  However, when you waste the good work of not only Luke Weaver but Austin Gomber in his major league debut, you are definitely going to get tagged here.  Over his last five games, Norris has a 9.00 ERA.  Most of that was the three runs he allowed against Kansas City, but he’s given up home runs in back-to-back outings.  It looks like the club is trying to ease his workload some, as those five games span the 11 days from May 23 to this date, but it’s a little bit of concern when one of the few pieces of the pen you trusted starts having issues.

Notes: Before the game, my Musial cohost Allen Medlock called a home run by Marcell Ozuna in this one and the man knows what he’s talking about.  Ozuna launched one in his first at-bat to give the Cardinals the lead and, like we saw Sunday, they didn’t do a lot to build on his blast.  Still, seeing him go yard for the first time in three weeks and the first time ever in Busch wearing a Cardinal uniform was a great sight to see.  He also added on a single for another two hit day.

We wondered if Gomber was ever going to pitch in the big leagues.  His first time up he sat out in the bullpen and never got into a game before he was sent down to Memphis.  He came back up on Thursday but didn’t play in the first two games.  He made it worth the wait, though.  Three scoreless innings in relief of Luke Weaver and doing it all with just a one run lead.  That’s a tightrope to walk at any time but especially in your initial outing, but not only didn’t he give up any runs, he didn’t even allow a hit.  He walked one, struck out two, and definitely will get a few more bites at the apple soon, I would think.

Ozuna was again the only Cardinal with multiple hits.  Wong had his homer and Tommy Pham got a base hit in four at bats, which drove in a run and ended a stretch where he hit .091 over seven games.  With this one and then his work on Sunday, there are some signs that maybe he’s getting out of this funk he was in basically all of May.

Oh, and Weaver went five, allowed one run, struck out four.  It’s amazing the pitching this team has been getting when that sort of outing is a bit of an afterthought.

Sunday (5-0 win)

Hero: Michael Wacha.  The world was a lot different on September 3, 2001.  We were a bit more than a week away from our lives being fundamentally changed.  There was no MLB At Bat, no streaming video of any sort.  I still remember that night watching Bud Smith, with the palm trees of San Diego in the background, finish up the last Cardinals no-hitter.  Given that we were just a couple of years away from Jose Jimenez no-hitting the Diamondbacks and Randy Johnson (still two games–that and the rematch–that show baseball can’t be predicted), nobody would have guessed it’d be over a decade and a half and he’d still be the most recent one.

I thought yesterday that was going to change.  Wacha looked so good and he even had the experience of going into the ninth with one against the Nationals to help with any jitters.  I know that he wouldn’t cop to it or complain a bit, but I do wonder if things would have been different had the Cards gone 1-2-3 in the eighth.  As someone pointed out to me on Twitter yesterday, given that he was at 106 or so pitches at the end of 8, he might have appreciated the breather, which is possible.  However, I feel like not getting a chance to cool down, not getting a chance to stiffen up at all, and not having that rhythm broken might have given him a better chance.

Then again, when Pittsburgh sends up a pinch-hitter that hasn’t faced him at all in this game, it might not have mattered much.  That fresh face might have been able to get to him either way.  At least the ball that Colin Moran hit was a solid single, not a high blooper over the head of Wacha that the shortstop couldn’t quite make a play on.  Not that I’m having flashbacks or anything.

Wacha’s been incredible over his last few starts, putting up a 1.60 ERA over nine outings with a .482 OPS against.  Sounds like Keeper of All Pitching Knowledge Joe Schwarz may have an article on Wacha coming out soon at The Athletic, so if you are subscribed over there you might keep an eye out for that.  Tara and I talked about Wacha’s run last night on Gateway and you do start to wonder a little bit if Wacha’s great stretch, coupled with the always-looming injury issue, does make him a trade candidate.  After all, it’s a little surprising they’ve never locked Wacha into a long-term deal, especially when they aren’t really shy about doing that.

Goat: Harrison Bader.  Not exactly the birthday Bader would have liked, as he went 0-4 with three strikeouts.  Of course, it also happened during an almost no-hitter, so nobody was really talking about it.  So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

Notes: Marcell Ozuna provided almost all the offense again in this one, ripping a grand slam in the first inning.  As Benjamin Hochman noted, it was a rare “natural” slam, joining a few legendary Cardinals and Todd Zeile.  I actually was at the game where Albert Pujols did this against the Mets in 2002 but I had no idea it was really that rare.  Ozuna also drew a walk as he pretty much had a great all-around weekend, save maybe one fielding issue in Friday’s game.

Pham had two hits here.  If he’s coming out of his slide and Ozuna is getting hot, couple that with a Matt Carpenter that works and the return of Yadier Molina and maybe this offense is going to get going.  Which probably means it’s about time for something else to go wrong.

As noted, both Yadi and Carlos Martinez will be back on the field Tuesday.  I’m still not sure what we’ll get out of Martinez, especially after this report, and as Tara pointed out there’s not a great track record this year of pitchers returning from the DL and, you know, staying off the DL, but if he can quickly get on track in a start or two, the rotation gets even that much better.  Which is saying something given as well as the starters have been pitching.  Something to look forward to!

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