When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to kill off his most famous creation, he had Sherlock Holmes and his arch-enemy Professor Moriarty meet at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. There the two locked in battle before they careened over the edge to (seemingly) their deaths. (Proving that even in the late 1800s death wasn’t that final in fiction, Doyle figured out a way that Holmes escaped when he brought him back a couple of years later.) This past week, first the Brewers then the Cubs tangled with our heroes. There was no reprieve from going over the edge for the Cardinals, however.
Losing five of your last six against the two best teams in the division to go from 1.5 games in the playoffs to completely eliminated by Saturday is really not the last memory you want of a team. It’s been a long while since the Cardinals had a playoff spot in the last week of the season only to see it slip away like a dream you just woke up from. For completeness, we’ve got to look at the last three games even if most of us are now ready to turn the page and start thinking about what’s ahead.
Friday (8-4 loss)
Hero: Kolten Wong. While nobody overly shone in this one, Wong did have two hits, including a double, and a walk. It was his last offensive contribution of the year, as he only came in as a defensive replacement on Saturday and sat out Sunday, indicating that there were still probably some lingering hamstring issues. Wong also made his ninth and final error of the year but with the number of spectacular plays from this season you’d think that’s not going to keep him from his first Gold Glove. We’ll see if the players and managers see it the same way.
Goat: There could be arguments for a few folks but I’m going to go with Matt Carpenter. 0-4 with a strikeout and five men left on base. Getting a couple of those guys in might have made for a different story in this one. To have the key part of the offense go missing on probably the biggest stage is disconcerting. Carpenter’s last week against the Brewers and Cubs: 3-21, four runs, two doubles, two RBI, three walks, seven strikeouts, two HBP, .143/.308/.238. We’ll probably talk about Carpenter’s vacillating season later on but there’s a reason the MVP talk ceased around him weeks ago.
Notes: It was Adam Wainwright‘s final start of the season and potentially his final time in a Cardinal uniform, though that seems not as definitive as it once was. I’d like to talk about Wainwright’s future in another post but here he allowed four runs in five innings, just like he did against Pittsburgh in PNC Park to start this return from the DL. Wainwright struck out the side in the first and had seven K on the day, but that first also started with two hits and a walk to plate a run before anyone was out, with Wong’s error helping the second one score. He was tagged by Kris Bryant for a home run and his last run came off a Daniel Murphy double and an Anthony Rizzo sacrifice fly. All in all, against that lineup in Wrigley Field, things could have gone a lot worse. If the offense had been able to do anything against Kyle Hendricks, perhaps things would have looked a little different.
Two hits and an RBI for Marcell Ozuna, though both were just singles. After that power surge right after his return from the DL, Ozuna had five extra base hits (three doubles, two homers) over his last 19 games. That’s not bad, but it’s not really to the level Ozuna hinted at with five homers in six games nor what the Cardinals thought they were getting when he was traded for. That shoulder is going to be a major concern, especially since Ozuna doesn’t plan to address it with surgery in the offseason. All we can hope is that whatever work he does do with it is effective, because Ozuna healthy could be a potent force for next year’s team. We’ll just have to see if he can be healthy.
Jordan Hicks put this game out of reach, throwing for the last time in 2018 and allowing three runs on a hit and two walks. It wouldn’t be surprising if Hicks hit a wall late in his first major league season. For the month of September, he had a 6.97 ERA and walked nine batters in 10.1 innings while striking out 12. His last five outings were even worse: 11.57 ERA, seven walks in 4.2 innings with just four strikeouts. As we discussed on both Meet Me at Musial and on Gateway to Baseball Heaven, figuring out what to do with Hicks next season is probably one of the topics for the front office. Returning him to a starter role seems unlikely, honestly, but it’s also clear that he’s not ready to be the full-time closer yet either. He’s exciting but there’s a reason very few make it to the bigs with just a year of minor league experience.
Saturday (2-1 win)
Hero: Miles Mikolas. With the season literally on the line, when a loss means no October baseball, and in Wrigley Field against a potent Cubs offense, Mikolas threw a gem. There were a lot more fly balls than what you’d want to see in Wrigley on a regular day but the wind was blowing in and knocked down drives from both sides. Mikolas went eight innings, gave up just the unearned run on the first when Yairo Munoz botched a ball that Kolten Wong would have made look easy, and struck out six while walking none. There’s a lot of questions around the front office and their approach to talent right now but there’s no doubt they were completely, 100% right when they locked up Mikolas.
Now, there’s going to be a lot of talk about an extension for Mikolas this winter but I don’t think we’ll see that and you have to also wonder if it’s wise. Mikolas made sure to leave his free agency options open when he signed the contract with the Cards, meaning that even though he doesn’t have enough MLB experience, he won’t be going through arbitration. I imagine that he’d like to have another year like this and see what the market might bring him for his one and possibly only real payday. On the flip side, we’ve seen one year out of Mikolas. There are a lot of instances where we’ve seen a great year followed up by nothing, where teams have wanted to lock down a talent only to see them sputter after the deal. People wanted to lock down Tommy Pham after last year, but pre-trade Tommy Pham would have made whatever contract they gave him a disappointment. I like Mikolas a lot and I don’t expect him to decline but I also know you have him under contract for next season and there’s no reason to rush to an extension that may not pay off.
Goat: Jedd Gyorko. Gyorko had a rough week, always seeming to come up with big scoring opportunities and never really getting that hit that the club needed. Gyorko went 0-15 in the games against the Cubs and the Brewers, including 0-4 here, leaving four men on in the process. Mike Shildt sat Gyorko, along with some others, on Sunday because they’d been playing through injuries, which brings up the question we’ve been asking a lot over the past few years, though it feels like decades: at what time does a compromised Gyorko become worse than a healthy player like Patrick Wisdom? I don’t know the answer, but when you look at those numbers, you have to figure Wisdom couldn’t have done any worse. I understand stability and I understand sticking with what brought you here, but it feels like if Gyorko was hurting and it was affecting him that much, the team would have been better served with him resting.
Notes: Just three hits from the Cardinals, but they made them count. Matt Carpenter reached on a catcher’s interference and Jose Martinez walked to start the fourth and Paul DeJong followed with a single that drove in Carpenter. Unfortunately, with runners on the corners and nobody out, the Cards couldn’t capitalize further. In the fifth, Harrison Bader was hit by a pitch and Munoz walked. After Mikolas couldn’t get the bunt down, Carpenter singled and Bader scored, making it 2-1. The other hit came in the sixth, when Marcell Ozuna singled with one out. Yadier Molina followed by getting hit with a pitch but Gyorko and Bader couldn’t add on.
This was not necessarily a game the Cardinals deserved to win, especially when going up against Cole Hamels, but they’ve lost enough games they should have won that I’m fine with this evening out the ledger a bit. It became a moot point for the Cardinals when the Dodgers won that afternoon, eliminating them, but this loss (eventually) kept the Cubs from being NL Central Champs. I don’t think we get a banner for that, though.
Sunday (10-5 loss)
Hero: Yairo Munoz. Munoz only had one hit but he drove in the last three runs of St. Louis’s season. Two came on a sixth-inning single, scoring Patrick Wisdom and Harrison Bader, highlighting the Memphis contribution to the season. The last came on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch.
Goat: Two different young hurlers gave up four runs in less than three innings in this game and while I figure both of them had reached the E light on their personal gas tank, making me feel bad about designating one of them to this role, you gotta do what you gotta do. I guess I’ll give it to Jack Flaherty, because on a day like Sunday, once the Cardinals got behind, you can understand them not making an all-out effort to win. Austin Gomber‘s four runs in two innings sealed the deal but things were probably already settled when Flaherty left in the third. Honestly, I expected after the Dodgers won on Saturday that Daniel Poncedeleon would get the call as they’d go ahead and call it a season for Flaherty. It’s probably a good thing that the Cards didn’t wind up relying on him in a one game playoff.
Notes: The use of Poncedeleon in September is really baffling, so much so that I figure there had to be some sort of injury issue that kept him off the field. He got the seventh inning in this one and looked fine, allowing no hits and striking out one, but I can’t believe he wasn’t used for two and a half weeks without there being some sort of reason. Luke Weaver not going since September 15? Completely understand. Poncedeleon, not as much.
The bullpen got kinda emptied out here and, save for Gomber, did a fairly good job though the stress factor was very low. Tyler Webb allowed two unearned runs–well, those were his runners, but technically Dakota Hudson let them score when he dropped a throw from Matt Carpenter for the third out of the inning–and Hudson (this is why reliever lines are deceptive), Chasen Shreve, Poncedeleon, and Mike Mayers combined for zero runs. Of course, Shreve only got one out and Hudson the same, so they weren’t exactly extended.
All the starters had at least one hit and Jose Martinez, Wisdom, and Paul DeJong each had two. Francisco Pena even got to play and got a hit, though he left five men on base and hit into a double play. But he got into a game! Carson Kelly would really have liked an opportunity like that. Kelly last got to play on September 15, in the last inning of that Dodgers rout. He had 13 plate appearances in September and started two games. I said at the time that the Cardinals would call up a third catcher but he’d never really be needed and such was the case. I really am curious to know what the organization’s thoughts are on Kelly because it doesn’t appear that he’s at all a priority.
And, with that, winter came to Cardinal Nation.
There’s a lot more to talk about as we review this season. I hope to get some posts up before we get into the Exit Interview phase of things to talk about various aspects of the season. For now, though, we watch others play in the arena that the Cardinals used to own and wonder when they’ll be able to return there.