We all know the old saw that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. I don’t know that I quite believe that, especially in baseball, but after another dud of a game, you have to think that a change would do some good.
Last night, the Cards added to their stretch of losses when they score two runs or less (they are now 0-11 in that situation) but given they were down 5-0 before they scored and then immediately allowed more after, they weren’t going to win that one even if they reached their average run scoring amount (five, if you are wondering). It was a night when the offense was blah, the starting pitching was eh, and the bullpen was ugh. A trifecta of misery that feels a little too common. It’s not a low point like last year’s game in Milwaukee where Marcell Ozuna misplayed a ball and every facet of the club was terrible, but it’s not that far away from it.
Honestly, I don’t know who to give the Hero to. Nobody had multiple hits and the only reliever that managed to come out unscathed was Jordan Hicks, who entered into a 10-2 game to get some work and retired the only batter he faced. I guess I’ll go with Matt Carpenter, who did hit a home run, though it came while the Cards were down 9-1. There was a lot of talk last night about how it was this day last year that the Carpenter turnaround started. From all indications, though, Carpenter’s offensive profile doesn’t look like last year’s, even though the stats are similar. Just a quick look at his page at Baseball Savant shows that his barrel percentage is the next-to-lowest it has been since 2015, his exit velocity is the same, and his xwOBA is 60 points below what his previous low was. His walk rate is still good but his hard hit rate is way down. All in all, a tear like last year’s shouldn’t be expected and, if that’s the case, this extension could be interesting. Then again, it feels like the last time the Cards made a good call on an extension or signing was Yadier Molina (with Paul Goldschmidt still undecided, obviously), so maybe that’s not unexpected.
Marcell Ozuna also had a home run, but he hit into a double play in the first inning after Julio Teheran had walked Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong with one out. A hit there and maybe the game turns a little differently. Hard to know, given the final lopsided score, but it’d been nice not to have to worry about Teheran having a no hitter in the fifth inning.
Even with the paucity of hits, the Cardinals had most every starter reach base in one fashion or another, thanks to four walks to add to those six hits. I’m not saying it’s a potent offensive mix by any means but you can kind of see where a hit in the right place could start a chain reaction. Unfortunately, the hits are spread out or come with two outs and it doesn’t help nearly as much.
For our Goat, as bad as the pitching lines look, we’ve got to pick one of them. As much as I love him, you can see why it’s always a risk to start Adam Wainwright on the road these days. Five walks from your starter is always going to be a problem but especially when those are paired with five hits and crammed into four innings. There are going to be outings like this from Wainwright–honestly, I’m surprised that they’ve been as rare as they have been–and if the rest of the rotation is going fine, you can run the risk. Spoiler alert: the rest of the rotation is not fine. Which actually works to Wainwright’s advantage because there are bigger problems to solve at the moment.
As for the bullpen, it was rated R for mature audiences last night as a few people were pitching for their roster spot (or their job) given the imminent return of Carlos Martinez and, like two polite people discussing the last cupcake, they each seemed to want the other to stay with the big club. Tyler Webb actually wasn’t terrible, going 1.1 innings and allowing just the home run to Freddie Freeman, though Freeman is a lefty and that’s sort of the only reason Webb is still with the club. Webb has limited lefties to 2-for-24 this season. Both hits have been for extra bases and he’s walked four, but he’s doing his job there. The problem is Mike Shildt continues to deploy him for a full inning instead of as a LOOGY. Righties have almost a 1.000 OPS against him, which is where a lot of his damage has come from. Keep him facing lefties and, for the most part, I can handle him having a big league job I think.
Luke Gregerson followed Webb and undid any good he’d done over the weekend, allowing two runs on four hits in 2/3rds of an inning. Right now, it feels like it’s only Gregerson’s contract that is keeping him in the big leagues and that’s not enough of a reason, especially given that there is only a few months left on it. He’d had three scoreless innings going into this game, so maybe there’s still something he can do, but it feels like you are never going to put him in even a medium-leverage situation (he has yet to appear in anything but low leverage) and that’s not worth what you are paying him. Then again, is it worth more than paying him to sit at home? I don’t know. It does feel like you could find someone better for that spot, though, someone that might give you better results even in low leverage situations.
Dominic Leone…..I don’t know what to say about Leone. There’s obviously good stuff there, as we saw at the beginning of the season, but over his last nine outings he has a 14.81 ERA. Both of his six run innings are in there, which spikes it of course, but he’s also allowed no runs in less than half of those outings. We’ve said it before–when he’s on, he’s great, when he’s not, he gives up two runs in 1.2 innings like last night. It’d be nice if Mike Maddux could figure out what that trigger is if it is a physical or mental thing. I mean, some nights you just don’t have it, but Leone’s having too many of those nights lately.
The Cardinals have now lost four straight series. They’ve lost series to good teams (Chicago, maybe Philadelphia) and solid teams (Pittsburgh, Atlanta) so it’s not the end of the world quite yet (lose a series to Miami and heads might roll) but it’s not a great look nonetheless. With Martinez coming back on Saturday, there will be some difference in the bullpen and with the DH being used while they are in Texas the lineup will have to look a little different as well. Why not embrace this point in time and make some bigger changes? Drop Carpenter out of the leadoff spot until he gets going–the idea that he can only hit leadoff takes a bit of a blow when he’s not even hitting while he’s leading off–and let Dexter Fowler take a shot at it for a while since he’s got that fancy .410 OBP. That’s probably going to come down some but Fowler’s proven his eye is fine and he can still hit. Bring up Austin Gomber as well as Martinez and slide him into the rotation for Dakota Hudson.
Even if they don’t want to make those specific moves, it’s time to do something. I know often the club wants to wait until June or so before a shakeup, but it’s hard to argue this team isn’t in freefall right now. They’ve gone from 20-10 to 23-21 (that’s a 3-11 stretch for those not mathematically inclined) and they haven’t often been close losses that “the breaks just didn’t go our way”. I’m not saying tear it down and start over, far from it, but there are smaller moves (at least smaller than making trades) that can be done to at least see if it gets them out of their funk.
If the Cards lose their series to Texas, that’s a significant problem. Texas comes into this at 19-22, though they are 12-7 at home. This is a series the club has to win (and, while a stretch, a sweep would be nice). If they don’t do anything more than add Martinez and keep basically the same lineup while losing their fifth straight series, Monday is going to be really ugly.