The Yo-Yo Keeps Going

Up and down.  Up and down.  Whether you use the yo-yo or the roller coaster as your analogy (or something else that tends to go back and forth, maybe one of those Newton’s cradle toys), you could slap a St. Louis Cardinals logo on it and you’d have a great representation of not only this season but the past few seasons.  Win a couple, get people excited, the slide back down the hill.  Forget Fredbird–this team’s mascot should be Sisyphus.

This hasn’t changed since the last time we got together.  When last we spoke, the Cardinals had split the first two games against the Diamondbacks.  Since that time, they’ve had a big win and a big loss.  They’ve won a tight game and lost one.  They are 3-2 in the span, so I guess that’s something, but they went 10-13 over this stretch against over .500 teams, including many first place teams.  Whether that is holding their own or just another sign they are really about a .500 team themselves is in the eye of the beholder.

Let’s look back at the last few games, but even though the details may differ, the general feeling is going to seem awfully familiar.

Wednesday (8-4 win at Arizona)

Hero: Tommy Pham.  It’s always good when Pham breaks out, because that’s not as common as it was last year or earlier this season.  Sometime in the last few games FOX Sports Midwest put up Pham’s OPS splits (I believe) per month and they were pretty drastic.  July was an upswing, but that number has dropped off with a few more games in the sample.  Still, right now it’s his second-best month this season and the two below it are not exactly strong.  Pham famously bet on himself this offseason by declining the Cardinals’ contract offer.  It’s still up in the air whether that bet is gong to pay off.  Anyway, Pham was Phamtastic here, getting three hits and driving in three runs, the first one coming in the fifth to break up the shutout and help put the Cards in position for their rally.

Goat: Jose Martinez.  Talk about bouncing back and forth.  It feels to me that Martinez gets to be the Hero or the Goat more than anyone else.  Doesn’t feel like a lot of middle ground with him.  In this one, he went 0-4 with a strikeout and five left on as his teammates were putting up 13 hits and eight runs.  Martinez was also back at first base this evening and for all the hoopla about him playing the outfield, that’s where his next start was as well (which was understandable given AT&T Park’s outfield).  With the DH coming in Chicago, it will be this weekend against Cincinnati before we see Mike Matheny put him out in right again, which at least helps alleviate some of the carousel and the issues out there.

Notes: A big day for the hitters as Matt Carpenter joined Pham with three hits and Yadier Molina and Harrison Bader had two.  Molina had a three-run home run as part of his work that capped the scoring in the seventh, his 13th of the season.  Remember when Yadi was this powerful offensive force for like three years, then the power dropped off and we figured we’d never see that again because catchers don’t get stronger with age?  Yeah, we were completely wrong.  Last year saw him bounce back up to 18 homers and he’s probably going to get close to that again at this rate.  If nothing else, Molina’s career is going to be one that proves anything is possible when it comes to catchers assuming you work hard enough at it (and are freakishly talented).

Give a hat tip to Yairo Munoz as well, as his home run tied the game in the seventh.  A home run wasn’t a rally killer in that inning.  Well, maybe Yadi’s was, but after five runs you gotta figure a rally is going to peter out anyway.

Miles Mikolas, who on Sunday was named the Cardinals’ All-Star representative (the only one, assuming Matt Carpenter doesn’t win the Final Vote), threw six innings that weren’t exactly classic Mikolas.  He walked four, which was right about a quarter of his season total.  Mikolas didn’t walk four the entire month of April.  He was in the middle of his eighth start of the year before his season total equaled four.  He also allowed seven hits, which is more in line with what he does, and gave up just two runs.  So even with the uncharacteristic wildness (and, to be fair, two of those came in the first and one of the others was an intentional pass to Paul Goldschmidt), it was really what we’ve come to expect from Mikolas.

It was interesting to see Matheny have such a quick hook with Greg Holland and, given what happened Sunday, that might have been for the best.  It was a 6-2 game when Holland entered.  He walked Jake Lamb on five pitches then gave up a base hit to David Peralta.  Given the four run lead, you might have thought that the manager would allow him to at least face Daniel Descalso, knowing that he couldn’t tie the game.  Instead, he pulled Holland and went with Jordan Hicks.  The results weren’t quite what you’d want to see–Hicks allowed both of those runners to score, though one scored because of Carpenter’s second error of the game and the other came in on a double-play ball–but it feels noteworthy that Holland still doesn’t have the manager’s trust.  It’s probably worth noting that the only times Holland has come into a close game (within two runs) since he came off the DL were the first two against the Phillies.  The first one, they were ahead two but that was only because they had rallied while Holland was warming up.  It wasn’t designed for him to have that lead to protect.  The second one, they were down one.  We’ll get a little more into Holland later on.

Thursday (11-2 win at San Francisco)

Hero: Luke Weaver.  There was nobody in the rotation that needed a good game more than Weaver.  In his last five starts, he had a 7.71 ERA with a .971 OPS against and had never made it out of the sixth inning.  So seeing him be able to pitch an outstanding game warms the heart and gives him a little more purchase in the rotation.  It probably helped that he had a 4-0 lead before he took the mound and a 5-0 lead after two innings.  That kind of cushion may have let him focus and he showed what he could do with that focus, taking a perfect game into the sixth inning.  All in all, he allowed two hits, two runs (since one of those hits was a home run), struck out seven, and went eight innings and apparently was a bit perturbed he didn’t get a chance to finish it.  He even got a hit of his own.  Now the question is, can he build on that or was that just an outlier?

Goat: I guess it has to be Yairo Munoz, but it was one of those games that nobody really deserved the tag.  Munoz had just one hit in five at bats and left four men on.  Everyone around him just was a little better, unfortunately.  Munoz also knew that Paul DeJong was returning the next day and had to wonder a bit about where his place in the organization was.  I think it was the right move to leave him in the majors, because he obviously can hold his own there, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if the club wanted him playing every day.  Then again, with his versatility, they may find ways to get him into the lineup regularly.  I even heard mention of him as an outfield possibility over the weekend, because if there’s something that the club needs it’s another outfielder.

Notes: Cards pounded out 18 hits in this one which probably is a season high (and probably will stay that way).  Jedd Gyorko had three hits, including a big home run in the first that got the wheels really rolling, and five RBI.  (It’s always nice to put a pounding on Johnny Cueto.)  Matt Carpenter only had one hit but it was a home run and he supplemented that with two walks and two runs scored.  Harrison Bader continues to lay claim to right field, putting up three hits in this one including a two-run homer to get back the runs that Weaver had just allowed.  Yadier Molina also had three hits and Marcell Ozuna had two along with two RBI.

Brett Cecil pitched the ninth.  It was a very low-leverage situation but quietly Cecil is starting to salvage his season.  Maybe it’s his usage by Mike Matheny, but he’s not allowed an earned run in his last eight appearances, including Sunday’s mop-up work.  Those haven’t been LOOGY outings either, as he’s thrown at least an inning in each of them.  His control still isn’t there–he’s walked five over that span–but batters are hitting .143 against him in those 8.1 frames.  Again, I’m not saying he’s a closer option or that he needs to be in one-run games right now, but he’s definitely showing signs of being OK.

Friday (3-2 loss at San Francisco)

Hero: Kolten Wong.  When your team’s five hits are concentrated among three hitters, it becomes a fairly easy task to find someone here.  Wong not only had two hits in three at-bats but he also drove in both runs with a double in the second and a triple in the seventh.  Wong’s hitting .364/.400/.545 in eight July games (six starts) and has his season average over .200.  In fact, after Saturday’s game it stood as high as it has all season long (he pinch-hit on Sunday and dropped it a point).  Over the weekend, Derrick Goold pointed out that Wong’s playing time has always seemed to be dictated by others instead of what he can do.  With the Cardinals apparently putting into place a defense initiative, you would think we’ll see Wong out there regularly going forward and that can only help him.

Goat: John Brebbia.  Wong’s triple had just tied up the game and the momentum seemed to be heading the Cards’ way to keep their winning streak alive.  Instead, Brebbia came in and gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Hunter Pence.  After a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen singled in Pence to give the Giants the lead again.  Brebbia kept it there but that was the difference in the ballgame.

You could be forgiven if you thought something was going on with Brebbia.  On June 30, he allowed two runs in 1.1 innings against the Braves.  He didn’t pitch again until this game six days later.  He gave up a run here, then allowed three runs on Sunday.  While it was always probably asking much of Brebbia to keep up his early success, these kind of outings (coupled with all that rest) makes me wonder if there’s not some nagging injury or something that is affecting him.  Then again, if there was, they probably don’t run him out there twice in three days.  Probably.

Notes: Jedd Gyorko had two hits as well, including the triple that he was missing for the cycle the night before.  Paul DeJong got a hit in his return to the active lineup but that was about it from an offensive standpoint.

John Gant took another turn in the rotation and didn’t do anything to remove himself from it, going six innings and allowing just two runs.  He has a 2.95 ERA in his three starts since Michael Wacha went down and, with no fifth starter needed until the Chicago series after the All-Star Break, may have held the door well and could turn the rotation spot back over to Wacha, though I’ve not heard anything about a rehab assignment as of yet so Wacha might not be ready in a little less than two weeks.  If Gant has to take a few more starts, well, we’ve seen worse.

Saturday (3-2 win at San Francisco)

Hero: Carlos Martinez.  The Tsunami is back.  Even in his last couple of starts, Martinez has looked good overall but might have had a bit of a hiccup early in the game before setting the cruise control.  Not in this one.  He went seven innings and only allowed one run, with that one coming in the sixth via a Brandon Belt double.  Otherwise, Martinez was completely in control.  He didn’t have as many strikeouts but that also allowed him to go seven in just 100 pitches.  Plus Martinez started the scoring by doubling in Kolten Wong in the third, so it was an all-around triumph for the Cardinal ace.

Goat: Matt Carpenter.  There haven’t been many days like this for Carpenter as of late, but the leadoff hitter put up an 0-5 and left two on base.  Given how hot Carpenter has been over the last few weeks (1.066 OPS since May 20), an occasional off day is to be expected.  Given the way their respective seasons started out, it’s incredible to see that Carpenter has better overall numbers than Tommy Pham does.

Notes: Another multi-hit game for Wong, but we’ve talked about him above.  He was the only player to get more than one hit, though.  Francisco Pena got the start due to Yadier Molina having some shoulder issues, issues that kept him out of Sunday’s game as well, and drove in a run with a base hit.  Jordan Hicks gave up two singles with a wild pitch in between to allow a run, but Bud Norris slammed the door in the ninth to make sure this one didn’t get away.

Sunday (13-8 loss at San Francisco)

Hero: Yairo Munoz.  Getting the start at second with Madison Bumgarner on the mound, Munoz got the Cardinals on the board with a home run in the second and drove in two more with a single in the third.  He also drew two walks and looked to be a huge part of another Cardinal win….until the pitching staff got involved.

Goat: I’d like to give this to Jack Flaherty for only going 2.1 innings and forcing the bullpen to cover the rest.  I probably should give this to Greg Holland since he gave up five runs and basically put the game out of reach.  Instead, I’m giving it again to John Brebbia.  We talked about Brebbia above, so we don’t need to rehash all of that, but he came into the game when the Cardinals had battled back and just taken a 4-3 lead on a Jose Martinez RBI single.  Brebbia then goes groundout, double, single, homer to have that lead quickly washed away.  He gave up another hit then escaped without further damage, but that’s a rough game.

Notes: First off, when did Pablo Sandoval become a thing again?  He made at least two great plays at third, hit that home run off of Brebbia, then drove in another run by taking a pitch out of the dirt against Holland.  He had three hits and five RBI on the day.  I thought Kung Fu Panda was delegated to the bargain bin these days.  Apparently not so much!

Mike Matheny said after the game that he thought Holland had his best stuff so far this year.  I don’t know that I’d say that, but I would say he pitched better than his line suggested.  The first two runs came on a pitch that Sandoval had no business hitting and some argued that Tommy Pham, while not charged with an error, let a ball drop that was in his glove.  (I was watching that inning but I don’t remember the play being referred to.)  Holland had two outs when he faced Sandoval, so he could have gotten out of it with no damage.  Instead, Sandoval singled and then the next two batters did as well.  It got out of hand in a hurry.

All those caveats aside, you do wonder if there’s a little concern about Holland.  He’s been charged with a run in his last three outings, though before yesterday they’d been unearned.  After giving up just two hits and no walks in his first six appearances off the DL (5.2 innings), he’s given up seven hits and three walks (though one of those was intentional) in his last three outings (1.2 innings).  It’s starting to feel like whatever mechanical issue he had early on is starting to flare back up.  Maybe he’ll get it together but it’s a little ominous that we are seeing some of these results again.  He’s still better than he was to start the year, however.

Jack Flaherty might not have gotten a lot of help from the home plate umpire early but that wasn’t the only reason he didn’t make it out of the third.  A lot of three-ball counts and he was almost at 70 pitches with one out in the third.  He wasn’t hit hard–a double by Gorkys Hernandez was the only extra-base hit against him–but he didn’t have his command as the four walks showed.  That’s the downside to young, exciting pitchers–they don’t have the consistency that veterans do.  It’ll come, and he’s definitely got better chances every time he goes out there of throwing a gem than others, but you do have a little bit of uncertainty there each time out as well.

Matt Carpenter got the day off for the most part but then pinch-hit in the eighth and hit a three-run blast that made the game a bit more interesting, at least until Sam Tuivailala gave up a couple of runs in the bottom of the frame.  It wasn’t entirely his fault–one of the runs was unearned due to Paul DeJong’s third error of the series.  Guessing for as much as his bat looked sharp in Memphis, he still hasn’t quite gotten enough time his timing down in the field.

Jose Martinez made the most of his start by getting three hits.  Jedd Gyorko got a couple of hits as well, so maybe the idea of him playing regularly to help his bat has some merit.  Either that or he just likes facing California teams.

Kudos to Harrison Bader as well.  He saved a run in the bottom of the sixth with a diving catch, then led off the top of the seventh by being hit, stealing second, and scoring on a Marcell Ozuna sacrifice fly.  Couple that with Dexter Fowler again striking out in his pinch-hit appearance and the scales continue to tip toward Bader.

Speaking of Fowler, you have to figure Matheny might have been kicking himself for using Fowler early when the game got out of hand, because that would have been a great time to get him in for some extended play.  It really came up when Tommy Pham left the game with what was later determined to be a bone bruise, forcing Martinez to play right and Bader to shift over.  We didn’t talk much about Fowler’s return from the paternity list but that’s basically because there wasn’t much to talk about.  He didn’t start in three of the four games, at least in part due to the large right field in San Francisco, and went 0-3 in the game he did start.  Post-paternity break (and post-John Mozeliak interview), he’s 0-5 with two strikeouts and one RBI.  We’ll see if he gets any more time against the White Sox or the Reds this week.

Probably shouldn’t get away without noting some good work by Mike Mayers.  He got out of Flaherty’s jam (with a little help from the Giants, as Andrew McCutchen should have easily scored on a fly ball to Ozuna but didn’t try and then Alec Hanson swung at ball four with the bases loaded and popped up) and had another scoreless inning of his own.  It’s amazing the difference between reliever Mayers and starter Mayers, isn’t it?

Cards have the off day but it seems unlikely any sort of changes are coming.  Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons did have a couple of scoreless innings in Memphis this weekend, striking out the side on Sunday, but I don’t know that he’d be activated for the White Sox series.  I do expect him back by Cincy, though, and you wonder if Brebbia will be the casualty there.  Otherwise, you figure the Cardinals will stay the course.  It’s amazing that the organization can plow straight ahead when the team continues to gyrate like this.  At some point, you figure there will be some changes.  When and what, that’s for you to ponder on the day off!

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