Coming into last night, Corey Kluber, the defending Cy Young award winner in the American League, was looking for his third such trophy. He had a 2.10 ERA, he had all of 12 walks on the season, he had a .544 OPS against, and was striking out a batter an inning.
Going up against him was a Cardinals team that, as you know, struggled against last place teams lately before facing a run of good teams and at least playing around .500 against them. A team with an inconsistent offense and a pitcher in Carlos Martinez that had looked atrocious since returning to the DL.
So, of course, that St. Louis squad forced the shortest outing of Kluber’s career. Baseball, man, baseball.
After another hour-plus rain delay to start the game (and given the results of the last two days, I’m for such a delay before every game), Martinez came out and did nothing to alleviate any worries. To my untrained eye, he didn’t look quite right and balls were being hit hard. Giving up two runs in the first inning seemed like a good way to have the game decided early. Which it was, but not right then.
Our Hero of the night is Matt Carpenter, who led off the first with a home run, hit another one in the eighth, and had three hits in the middle. An amazing night for Carpenter, who scored each time he was on and drove in three runs as well. Carpenter put up more offense in one day than we’ve seen the team put up in some games and close to what they’ve done in some series. In ten years, when we look at Carpenter’s back of the baseball cards, the 2018 season isn’t going to look out of place compared to the rest of his career, which is amazing when you think about the way that he’s gone about it. My Musial co-host and to-be Conclave contributor Allen Medlock pointed out that Carp is now eight for his last nine and 10 for his last 15. The only thing hotter than a southern summer, it appears.
Carpenter wasn’t the only one doing damage, of course. Jose Martinez ended Kluber’s night with a big three-run shot in the second. Kolten Wong got a chance to shine with a big fly against Dan Otero in the third, one of his two hits on the night. Marcell Ozuna had a couple of hits. The Cardinals had seven strikeouts. They had five extra-base hits. If you’d have said that they’d have been that close in those categories in a Kluber start before the game, people would have lined up to make that bet.
As for Martinez, he struck out Yan Gomes to end the first and looked much sharper going forward. He still wasn’t necessarily the dominating Martinez that we are used to, but after the first, he allowed three hits and no walks in his next five while striking out seven in that span. There’s still going to be concern when he takes the mound the next time but settling in like that gives some hope that if he was having a mental block, he overcame it.
The bullpen did a fine job as well. It would have been easy, given that they were up by so much, for a reliever to give up a run or two here or there as they had less pressure on them. Instead, Brett Cecil, Greg Holland, and Mike Mayers combined for three perfect innings, though only Mayers registered a strikeout.
All this fun, all this happiness, but there’s got to be a Goat and sadly it’s not really a contest. Even with all this offense out there, Tommy Pham wound up going 0-5, though he did only strike out his first time up. Pham reached on a Francisco Lindor error but otherwise didn’t contribute to the festivities. We continue to talk about different selections of the season and how Pham has struggled during them. Pham is riding an 0-19 in his last six games, 0-20 if you get back to the last at bat in last Tuesday’s game against the Phillies. I know there’s been some “flu-like symptoms” involved in this, but if Pham isn’t healthy, he doesn’t need to be out there. Even Dexter Fowler is better than what Pham has shown this week.
So the Cardinals now have a four game winning streak against teams leading the Central divisions. We’ve talked before about the Cardinals playing to the level of their opponent but this month has borne that out more than I believe any of us would have expected. After Friday’s loss to the Brewers the Cardinals were closer to fourth place than second. Today, since the Dodgers couldn’t take care of the Cubs last night, they sit 1.5 out of second and tied with LA for the last wild card spot. This team’s given us so much grief and yet they continue to reel us back in time after time.
It’d be typical Cardinals go beat up on Kluber and then come out flat against Shane Bieber tonight. After all, he’s a rookie they’ve not seen before and Bieber is having a strong season so far. Of course, that season is only three games–he was called up May 31, sent down, then recalled 10 days ago. His last outing, he put up seven scoreless innings again Detroit. The good thing is, St. Louis counters with their own impressive rookie, Jack Flaherty, who struck out 13 Brewers and had a no-hitter going last time. Maybe THIS will be the pitching duel that we thought we might be getting last night!