It was pretty unlikely that the Cardinals were going to go 19-0 against the Cincinnati Reds this season. The problem is less the loss and the snapping that streak than how that loss came to be. Because with a little more control, that streak could be still running. However, there were two wins before that loss and we best deal with them first.
Friday (7-6 win in 10)
Hero: Jose Martinez. His home run in the first started the scoring and his three-run blast in the third put the Cards up by four. Martinez has been on a tear in June. Through Sunday, his June line is .500/.563/1.036. This isn’t just one game or one series, he’s done this over eight starts. Three doubles, four homers, nine RBI. Heck, he’s only struck out twice! It’s an amazing run that’s tempered just a bit by the fact that, if it’s a close game with a lead, the Cardinals have to pull him because of his defense. In this one, that could have hurt because he left after his at bat in the top of the seventh, only to see his spot roll around again in extra innings.
Obviously there’s a lot to love about Martinez. His personality is great and his bat plays. That defensive lack, though, is going to be tough to deal with. Even with an offense that is struggling at times, you wonder that if a deal comes up that sends him to the American League for a decent return if the Cards wouldn’t be wise to pull the trigger there. It’d probably cause a stir in the clubhouse but that happened in the Allen Craig/Joe Kelly deal a few years back and people got over it.
Goat: Bud Norris. It’s not surprising that some questions are starting to pop up about Norris and even less surprising that the team says they aren’t concerned. In his last six outings, dating back to the loss he took against the Royals, Norris has a 9.00 ERA and has given up two home runs. He hasn’t walked anyone and has nine strikeouts in those six innings, so it’s probably just a little bit of a glitch, but it’s still worrisome. In this one, Norris allowed a double to start the inning, then sandwiched a Joey Votto RBI single around two strikeouts, so it looked like the ERA might get a blemish but things would be OK. Then he gave up two more singles, one that bounced off the glove of Jedd Gyorko, and the game was tied. He wound up getting a win when Gyorko redeemed himself in the 10th, but it wasn’t a great thing for the hearts of Cardinals fans.
And this is really concerning when you look at the bullpen as a whole right now. We’ll talk a little more about this when we cover Jordan Hicks on Saturday, but the reliable options out in the ‘pen are pretty limited. There are a few you trust more than others but overall, if their name isn’t Hicks or Norris, you worry. If Norris is going to start shifting to that “worry” line, lots of people have problems. The good thing is this probably isn’t the same as last year for Norris. Bud struggled in August and then went on the DL before returning in September and looking OK for the most part. Even in those struggles, there were many scoreless outings. Hopefully that’s the case here as well.
Notes: Marcell Ozuna had a triple and Yairo Munoz had a home run. The Cardinals scored seven runs but only had eight hits, though they had six walks to go along with it. (Walks are a key part of this weekend, but we’ll get to that.) Even so, that was a pretty efficient use of opportunities. I need to dust off that old Scoring Efficiency idea I had years ago and see what it looks like today.
Luke Weaver, freed from the chatter that he might be the odd man out in any rotation shake-up with the return of Alex Reyes, still wasn’t able to put together a strong outing. It wasn’t terrible and, without the late inning work of Norris, would have gotten him a win given his offensive support, but four runs in five innings isn’t what you want to see. It also took him 100 pitches to get there as he walked five Reds, including one with the bases loaded, and gave up seven hits. He was lucky the results didn’t look worse than they did.
Austin Gomber came in and held the line. With the news that Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons went on the DL and isn’t likely to return soon plus the continued struggles of Brett Cecil, especially against lefties, Gomber may get a lot more opportunities. Hopefully they won’t turn him into a lefty specialist and he threw 1.1 innings here, walking two but allowing no runs. He’s got to get his command worked on–he’s walked six batters in his career that spans 5.2 innings after an appearance on Saturday–but so far he seems to be showing that he’s perfectly at home in the big leagues. I would think there would need to be some guidelines on his usage, given that he’s basically a starter just learning relief, but it feels like some of these players start with guidelines that quickly go out the window.
John Brebbia locked this down with a scoreless 10th. We talked on Friday about Brebbia had looked better of late and that continued through the weekend. He may be shifting to that short list of folks we (and Mike Matheny) trust, which may mean Brebbia is going to get a lot of work in the next month or so if he keeps this up.
Saturday (6-4 win)
Hero: Yadier Molina. Oh, does Yadi love Cincinnati. He’s played 102 games there in his career and has a line of .320/.364/.504 in Great American Ball Park. (Cincy’s actually the place he’s played the most outside of Busch Stadium III where he has a .288/.341/.399 line.) Playing a day game after a night game, a sure sign that Molina’s back to normal, Yadi went 2-3 with a bases-loaded double that put the Cardinals up 5-0. They needed every bit of that, so it was nice that Yadi was able to come through and silence those persistent Reds boobirds. I’m not excited that Molina has worked his way back up to fifth in the lineup, but there is nobody hitting behind him that shouldn’t be, so it’s less about Molina and more about the offense in general.
Goat: Jedd Gyorko. A tough game for Uncle Jedd, who went 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on base. We don’t talk about him as much but Gyorko’s June has been a struggle as well, as he’s hitting .118 (2-17) for the month. Defensively, having him at third and Matt Carpenter at first probably works a lot better than Carpenter at third and Martinez at first, but with the offense struggling, it’s also difficult to take out one of the hottest bats for one that is cold.
Notes: Another rough game for Dexter Fowler, going 0-3 with three strikeouts before being replaced as part of a double switch. I thought he was starting to come around after his back-to-back multi-hit games to end May, but he’s followed that up with a 3-for-20 June. It’s still possible that he’ll get that kick, but last year this time he was hitting .225/.320/.425 and he raised his average 20 points before July on the way to a very strong second half that a lot of people tend to forget about when they talk about Fowler’s Cardinal career. (I doubt many were complaining about effort when he was hitting .300 with 10 homers from this point forward in the season in 2017.) Unlike last year, though, he’s 1) still under .200 and 2) there are options that can keep him out of the lineup and make it harder to have a sustained run. Not that running Harrison Bader out there, especially against lefties, is the wrong move at all, but it does make it difficult to see how Fowler can have another strong second half.
By the way, Fowler’s June is .150/.190/.150. Bader’s is .150/.190/.200 after his two hit day on Sunday. Nobody’s really winning this contest (especially not the Cardinals), though the argument that Bader’s defense and speed would be a tiebreaker is a legitimate one.
Jose Martinez hit another home run in this one and Marcell Ozuna followed it up with his own jack, giving the Cards an early 2-0 lead. Carpenter had two hits, including his own home run later in the game that gave some really key insurance.
On the pitching side of things, Michael Wacha wasn’t no-hit good but that wasn’t exactly a surprise. He still allowed just two runs, though he had to be pulled before finishing the sixth because…well, I didn’t see this game but I’m not really sure why. I mean, Wacha was at 96 pitches and after going around 110 the game before it’s not surprising they’d want to save a few throws, but he had a three run lead and one on with two outs. Again, maybe there was something going on during the game that made this more obvious of why they didn’t let him try to finish the sixth, but I’m not seeing it at the moment.
Mike Mayers came up when Tyler Lyons was hurt because it’s not a week if Mayers doesn’t get on the Memphis shuttle. He gave up a couple of doubles that allowed a run and in a 6-3 game with a runner on and Joey Votto coming up, Mike Matheny went to Austin Gomber to be that LOOGY that we hoped he wouldn’t become. He walked Votto but got lefty Scooter Gennett to fly out and was done with his day. Given he’d pitched the day before, the shortness of the outing isn’t a big deal and it’s not surprising that they didn’t want anyone else facing those guys, but man, I wonder how this is going to work for Gomber.
The big news in the bullpen was that Jordan Hicks came out and got his first career save, pitching for the third consecutive day. Immediately after this game, the headlines were that the Cardinals are going to be cautious with Hicks. The quote from the manager:
“We just need to listen to him,” Matheny said. “He is good about telling us. Days when he isn’t feeling good, we shut him down. If the trainers see anything we shut him down.”
Given that we just had a week where Alex Reyes didn’t tell the club that he was feeling a bit off after Memphis and that Carlos Martinez didn’t tell the club that he was holding back while on the mound, perhaps we should be a little less reliant on what the players are telling the club and do some proactive stuff. I truly believe Hicks told them he had another inning, that he felt good. He’s also 21 years old who never relieved before this year. That’s what a manager is there for, to protect his players when they want to do crazy stuff like pitch three days in a row. We don’t like it when folks like Matthew Bowman does that and, no offense to Mr. Bowman, he’s basically a replacement-type reliever. Hicks is a special arm, a talent that we’d like to see not go the path of Alex Reyes or, perhaps more notably, pitchers like Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal.
I get that you might have lost the game if you had used someone else to close. That does seem to be the way things are going as of late. But if you are saying there is no one else in that bullpen that can get three outs before they give up two runs, that’s an issue. Unlike what you have seen a lot this season, Hicks and Norris can’t throw every day. (Interesting to note that Norris was off-limits here but not Hicks.) Sometimes you take the short-term loss to not run the risk of a long-term one.
Bowman and Greg Holland have started their rehab assignments and while Bowman could be back as early as the end of this Padres series coming up, but Holland may take a little more time. If Holland can get right and look sharp in Memphis and then–huge key–carry that success back to the bigs, that’ll help a lot. There aren’t going to hopefully be too many days where Hicks, Holland, and Norris will all be used, so someone should be available every day if a closer is needed. Again, that assumes a return to form for Holland, something I’m not completely sold on as of yet.
Sunday (6-3 loss)
Hero: Marcell Ozuna. Two hits and an RBI, the only Cardinal with two hits in the game that actually was productive with one of them.
Goat: Carlos Martinez. I wasn’t able to watch this one and I read stories (and checked with Tara during last night’s Gateway to Baseball Heaven) to make sure there was no recurrence of injury. There doesn’t seem to be any, which makes seeing 3.2 innings and seven walks so insane. In his two starts since returning from the disabled list, Martinez has walked 12 in 7.2 innings of play. I understand that the strike zone may not have been consistent or what you’d expect a strike zone to be, but that only goes so far. As Tara noted, Martinez does seem to have these stretches, but given his comments last time, given that he’s coming off the DL, it’s just a bit worrisome. Hopefully he’s much sharper next time when he goes up against the Cubs.
Notes: The team with 11 hits lost to the team with five and it wasn’t really close. Of course, when the team with five gets 11 free passes over the course of the game, that tends to help out. Brett Cecil had most of the non-Martinez damage in that regard, walking three in his two innings of work. Looks like Cecil’s first inning of work was pretty good, though he walked Joey Votto, which 1) is easy to do given Votto’s eye and 2) is just another data point in why you worry about Cecil facing lefties. (He did get Scooter Gennett to fly out, though.) Perhaps he shouldn’t have gone out for the second inning, when he walked the first two batters and wound up allowing one of them to score, but innings are at a premium right now and someone was going to have to do it. At least it was in a game they were already losing.
Two hits for Matt Carpenter, though he struck out to end the last real rally of the Cards. Two hits for Jose Martinez without a run or an RBI to show for it. Two hits for Harrison Bader. A decent amount of offense for the fact there weren’t a lot of runs pushed across the plate.
2-1 against the Reds would be better if it didn’t mean the team went 3-3 against the two worst teams in the National League. The Padres come in today and the Cardinals can try to improve their record against bottom feeders with Jack Flaherty going on the mound. The Cardinal Six for the series is ready and waiting for you!