Up and Down, Back and Forth

How you feel about the Cardinals right now is a matter of perspective.  (Unless, as we’ll see, you are Christian Yelich, then you love them unconditionally.)  You look at their overall record of 9-7 and you say, OK, not too bad, not too great.  You look at their mark of 5-2 over the last week and you are heartened, figuring things are good.  If you look at the last four games, which is what we are about to do, you might say they are a .500 team.  A long season gives many chances to have fun with endpoints and set your mood accordingly.  Let’s look at this current run of win-loss-win-loss.

Thursday (11-7 win vs. Los Angeles)

Hero: Jose Martinez.  Getting a rare start, Cafecito got four hits, scored three runs, and drove in one.  It was good to see Martinez get going a bit, as he seems to have struggled with fewer at bats.  This is not completely unexpected as he wasn’t necessarily great off the bench last year either (though before that he excelled at it.)  With Marcell Ozuna firing up (as we’ll see) and Dexter Fowler maybe showing some life, it could be tough to get Martinez more of these starts.

Goat: Michael Wacha.  Well, at least he didn’t walk eight this time.  Perhaps determined not to walk people (and perhaps worn from the 119 pitches he threw in that prior start), Wacha allowed eight hits and seven runs in 3.2 innings.  Only one walk though!  I know Bernie Miklasz on the Seeing Red podcast indicated he thought the 119 pitch start, many of which were in high-stress innings, took its toll on Wacha.  We’ll see how he rebounds against the Brewers in a couple of days.

Notes: We gave the Hero to Jose Martinez, but you have to give a huge hat-tip to the bullpen.  Wacha turned it over to them in the fourth trailing 7-5 with a runner on and the heart of the Dodger order coming up.  Giovanny Gallegos hit the first man, but after that he, Tyler Webb, John Gant, and Andrew Miller combined to throw 5.1 innings and allow just two hits and no walks while striking out eight, three from Gallego and three from Miller in what was his best outing yet as a Cardinal.  Except for Miller, who just had the ninth, each pitcher threw over an inning and did remarkable work.  The Cardinals can’t rally without them.

We talk so much about the Cardinals being reliant on the home run ball, yet in this game they scored 11 runs and the only extra base hits they had were doubles by Martinez and Paul DeJong, part of DeJong’s two-hit day.  There were a couple of stolen bases, including one by Matt Wieters who made his first start as a Cardinal, and the Dodgers helped out a bit, hitting Harrison Bader with the bases loaded twice and throwing two wild pitches that allowed a runner to score, including Bader from second once.  It was a wild and ugly game but it was the kind of game I’m not sure the Cardinals win in past years.

It also allowed the Cardinals to claim a sweep on the Dodgers, who came in as the best team in the National League.  The Dodgers then went to Milwaukee and lost their first two before salvaging a victory, which just shows to me how tight the National League is going to be overall this season.

Wieters did well in his first official at-bats as a Cardinal.  He came into the game with only a HBP appearance and he walked in his first time up, so it took a while to register that AB.  He went 1-3 on the day and drove in three runs, which is almost half of the RBI Francisco Pena had all year with the club last year (8).

Saturday (5-2 loss to Cincinnati in Mexico)

Hero: Adam Wainwright.  There were concerns about what pitching at a higher altitude would do for Wainwright.  Heck, there are always concerns when Waino pitches outside of Busch Stadium.  He didn’t get blown up, though, not in the least.  In fact, Wainwright took a no-hitter into the sixth before Jesse Winkler went yard to break it up.  He only allowed two more hits, but one of them was a home run to Derek Dietrich to lead off the seventh and break a 1-1 tie, which ended Wainwright’s night.  On the whole, though, if you can get six innings of two-run ball out of Wainwright, you take that every time.  Oh, and he also drove in the only Cardinal run before the ninth, bouncing a single through the turf infield that plated Dexter Fowler and gave the club a 1-0 lead.  That kept one of the weird facts on this season alive–they’ve led in every game except the first Saturday game against the Brewers.  I blame the powder blue jerseys.

Goat: Paul DeJong.  DeJong had been riding a good little hitting streak, but this was the wrong night for it to end.  DeJong left six men on base while going 0-5.  Bringing in one or two of those could have made for a different result, but given how DeJong’s season is going, you can’t blame him for occasionally having an off night.

Notes: This one got away in the eighth.  Tyler Webb came in and allowed a triple and a walk to put runners on the corners and nobody out in a tie game.  Mike Shildt went to Mike Mayers, who seems to fluctuate in his results based on his velocity.  Rusty Groppel of Bird Law has pointed this out a few times, where if he’s throwing 92-93, it gets hit around but when he can get up to 96-97, he’s solid.  He had the heater going in this one, getting Yaisel Puig to line out and Eugenio Suarez looking.  He got to two strikes on Scott Schebler and looked like he might be able to get out of the jam, but Schebler got a piece of his 2-2 pitch and dumped it into the outfield.

Dietrich was up next and while the official scoring gave him a triple, that was all Tyler O’Neill‘s doing.  Dietrich lifted a fly ball that O’Neill came running in on.  He dove for it and as he did it bounced off his glove.  Given the height of the ball and the speed that O’Neill was closing, I think he probably catches it if he doesn’t dive.  The dive redirected the ball past the charging Bader, who had to turn around to get it.  Two runs scored and that was a big hole to climb out of in one inning.

They almost did it, though.  Kolten Wong led off with a home run and Bader walked, but O’Neill struck out.  Matt Carpenter followed that with a single, but Paul Goldschmidt and DeJong weren’t able to get those guys in and the Reds took the first in Mexico.

Sunday (9-5 win vs. Cincinnati in Mexico)

Hero: Marcell Ozuna.  The Big Bear is starting to get on track, smashing two home runs here and driving in four.  From the beginning of the Padres series to the end of this one, he’s hitting .300 with five homers and 11 RBI.  He’s huge in the middle of the lineup when he’s bringing the thump like that.  The Cardinals are doing well with only one of their top four hitters really clicking.  If more get added to Paul DeJong, look out.

Goat: Tough game to pick one so I’ll go with Miles Mikolas.  Staked to a four-run lead before he even pitched, Mikolas actually did pretty well for most of his outing but let up four runs (three earned) in the fifth, which turned out to be his last frame.  Not all of it was his fault–the inning started with an error by Matt Carpenter–but he was touched for another home run and that’s been a cause for concern this year.  He’s allowed almost a third of the homers he allowed last year.  He’s never going to have the largest strikeout rate but that’s down a lot this year as well.  Put those two things together and you get worried.  Hopefully it’s not going to be a long-term issue.

Notes: After pretty much a pitcher’s duel on Sunday, the offense we expected to see in Monterrey showed up.  Four total homers for the Cardinals, which was fun to see.  Ozuna and Tyler O’Neill went back-to-back in the first and then Carpenter broke the 4-4 tie with a blast of his own in the seventh.  Carpenter seems to be coming around a little bit as well, hitting .242/.366/.455 over his past 10 games (including Monday night).  Besides that home run, he’s had two doubles and a triple (though, like that business on Cato Nemoidia, it really doesn’t count given it was a weird popup on turf with an extreme overshift).  Again, if these top four get going….

Every starter had a hit except Kolten Wong, who walked twice.  Granted, one of those was an intentional walk, but it’s still putting runners on base.  Wong may have slowed from his hot start but he’s still providing a lot of value to this team.  And given that he’s still playing even when he’s not going bonkers, that’s got to give him some confidence as well.

Again, excellent work by the bullpen.  Giovanny Gallegos gave up a home run, but the rest of the relievers gave up a total of two hits and two walks.  Jordan Hicks finally returned to a game, coming in with two on and two outs in the eighth.  After hitting the first man he faced to make it more challenging, Hicks retired Kyle Farmer and then shut the door in the ninth.

Monday (10-7 loss in Milwaukee)

Hero: Paul Goldschmidt.  His home run got the Cards on the board in the first and he finished the night with two hits and two walks.  His second hit was a single with two runners on (after one had come in on a wild pitch that hit home plate umpire Ron Kulpa in the head) and that was very good to see.  It feels like Goldschmidt has shown the power but hasn’t come through as often as we’d like with a key base hit.  That looks to change.  The one time Goldschmidt was retired last night was on a very questionable strike three, where Kulpa ruled the ball was a foul tip held on to by the catcher when the broadcast seemed to show that there was about a foot between the bat and the ball.  In his last seven games, Goldschmidt is hitting .259/.375/.519, the strikeouts are down, and he has two home runs.  I think it’s starting to come together for him.

Goat: Dakota Hudson.  When you give up a six spot, you probably are going to wind up here.  Hudson didn’t get the loss because the Cardinals rallied, only to see the bad Mike Mayers show up, but Hudson is definitely going to have to make some adjustments.  The broadcast last night pointed out he doesn’t go in on left-handers and, indeed, lefties are slashing .485/.585/1.000 against him and he’s faced more of them (41 PA) than righties (29).  He’s dominating the righties, but if he wants to be a starter, he’s got to figure out the other side or he’s going to see every lefty a team can throw at him, including the bullpen catcher and the manager’s mother.  Even as a reliever, not getting lefties out would really limit his future.

Notes: Christian Yelich.  I don’t know that we need to say more than that, but these tweets are illuminating.

There’s got to be a different game plan for Yelich.  You’d think it wouldn’t continue but you’d have said that after the last series.  I’m sure there will be some differences in his results when he gets to Busch Stadium next week, but they still have two more games in Miller Park to contend with him first.  Adam’s illustrated it well–they can’t try to use the middle of the zone, even when they are behind.  Nibble, nibble, nibble and if he walks, that’s better than most of the results we’ve seen so far.

Seriously, though.  Three homers?  After hitting four in the first series?  Talk about a guy being too comfortable at the plate.

Tyler Webb did a fine job in 1.1 innings and Dominic Leone continues to be someone you can trust.  John Brebbia allowed the third homer to Yelich and a couple of other hits besides and I saw Joe Schwarz (who will never read this far into a post because there are no gifs) questioning if there was an injury concern given his lack of velocity.  I’ve not seen anything more on that and hopefully it was just an off night and not anything of import, but it’s something to monitor.

Marcell Ozuna hit another home run, continuing his run and giving hope that this isn’t like last year, where he had one good week then went fallow again.  He also hit it off of Josh Hader, and when you take that plus the fact that Jose Martinez almost went deep against Hader on Opening Day, it feels like you might not make much contact off of Hader, but what contact you make could do damage.  Hader also struck out three, so that kinda reinforces that idea, huh?

I will say I was expecting this team to rally from that early 6-2 deficit, given Milwaukee’s staff, the park, and just the potential of this lineup.  We’ve seen them not give up on games a lot this year.  We’ve not often seen the offense just roll over.  Even as they’ve struggled in Milwaukee–and it feels like every good team has one place or one team that bedevils them and it’s not like the Brewers are chumps by any stretch of the imagination–they’ve battled, they’ve shown they aren’t going to lay down.  You expect this team to win every time they go out there, even if they get behind early.  It’s a good feeling to know that there’s no reason to turn off the game after a miserable second inning.

Jack Flaherty gets to try to stop the losing skid to the Brewers tonight, going up against Brandon Woodruff.  Interestingly enough, Woodruff pinch-hit last night (and, sadly, continued the trend of pitchers getting hits off the Cardinals, something starter Freddy Peralta also did, by getting a double).  Not sure if the Brewers were running with a short bench or what, but that was an interesting move by Craig Counsell.  It’s doubtful that it’ll have any ill effects for tonight but we can hope, right?

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