Singing the Blues (the Traditional Way)

Now that the Blues have done their thing, the focus can get back on what is important in life, which is what the Cardinals are doing.  Not that anyone really wants to look at it, of course, but it is necessary.

(Wait, there’s ANOTHER round for the Blues?  Seriously, how long does this thing take?  I’m already almost to Rachel-Phelps-at-the-end-of-MajorLeague-when-they-play-“Wild-Thing” level about the theme song.)

Anyway, to paraphrase Harry Doyle from that documentary (per Brad Thompson), in case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the Twitter activity, you haven’t, the Cardinals still haven’t gotten on track.  From Friday’s post:

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.

The club did slightly more than add Carlos Martinez, as they also brought up Ryan Helsley and let Luke Gregerson go while sending Dominic Leone to Memphis for a while, but the lineup only added Harrison Bader hitting ninth until Sunday, when a lot of folks got the day off against the lefty Drew Smyly.  The results….weren’t encouraging.  Let’s get into it.

Friday (7-3 loss)

Hero: Harrison Bader.  Three hits, including a two-out homer in the ninth that…well, meant nothing but at least cut the final deficit to four instead of five.

Goat: Miles Mikolas.  In his return to Texas (which, let’s be honest, wasn’t exactly fraught with meaning since he pitched 10 games there five years ago.  It’d be like Justin Masterson returned to St. Louis, even less so because Masterson was a mid-season deal.  I wonder how many Rangers fans would have remembered Mikolas unprompted), Mikolas had a meltdown.  We’ve been talking about how he’s more like the Mikolas of last year in his last few outings and thinking he was back to being the staff ace.  Even if all of that is true (and it probably is), staff aces blow up occasionally.  Mikolas had a scoreless first, then gave up seven runs in the second while retiring just one batter.  It was bad.  Really bad.

Notes: Being down 7-0 shouldn’t necessarily have been a death sentence in that park against that team with the potential of this offense, but they never got anything going, a common refrain as of late.  Even scoring their two in the third was a little disappointing, as you had runners on the corners with no one out, then the first run scores on an error so you have two on, one in, and nobody out.  Then a lineout by Paul DeJong, a groundout by Marcell Ozuna (that brought in the second run) and, after a single by Jose Martinez again put runners on the corners, Yadier Molina flew out.  It felt like that was a chance to really break things open and it definitely could have gone worse, but that wasn’t as explosive as it could be.

Then the offense shut down until Bader’s homer in the ninth.  Out in order in the fourth.  Only a two-out single in the fifth.  In order in the sixth.  Ben Humphrey, former Viva El Birdos site manager, is writing again and in his most recent post, he looked at the offense.  One of his conclusions was that the only problem with the offense was that it was lacking in power.  Which makes their scoring issues make sense.  When everything is clicking and they are able to put runners on, go from first to third, get the hits, the runs come.  When things dry up, they don’t have the big bop that gets them a run on their own, or regularly get a guy on second with nobody out to move over and then move in.  When they can gang up and put pressure on the pitcher, they get games where they score 14 or so.  But if even one part is out of alignment, the whole thing comes crashing down.

Which is a shame because the bullpen did such good work in this one that it would have nice for them to have been recognized.  They covered 6.2 innings and gave up just one walk (by Giovanny Gallegos) and two hits (by John Brebbia).  Tyler Webb did a remarkable job, especially given his struggles this year against right-handers.  He went 2.2 innings, which is longer than I thought he would be able to go, and gave up nothing while striking out five.  Andrew Miller capped it off with two-thirds of an inning.  You want your bullpen to hold the line and let you rally.  That’s exactly what these guys did, just without seeing the rally.

Saturday (8-2 win)

Hero: Paul DeJong.  As the offense broke out, DeJong led the pack with four RBI, including a home run to cap the scoring in the ninth.  However, his biggest hit was his double in the fifth that plated two and put the Cards up 4-0.  While we look a lot at Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt because of their struggles, we’ve sort of taken for granted DeJong’s consistent production.  If the rest of the lineup was like him, we probably wouldn’t be worried nearly as much about this team.

Goat: Tough night for Kolten Wong.  His teammates gave him some opportunities, but he wound up going 0-5 and leaving five men on base.  That snapped a five game hitting streak and he only pinch-hit on Sunday, so maybe the stretch of days off here will help him get a breath and start trending upwards again.

Notes: I had real worries about Dakota Hudson in Arlington, especially after the Rangers loaded up the left-handers against him.  Whether it was because he’s made adjustments or just one of those nights, Hudson shut down the Rangers for the most part, limiting them to two runs in six innings.  He allowed five hits and a walk but struck out five.  He’s got a 3.13 ERA in may (in part because one of his bad starts had six unearned runs in it) and batters have a .673 OPS against him in that span.  I’m not saying he’s fixed, but it seems possible he’s passed Michael Wacha and is no longer the weakest link in the rotation.

Carlos Martinez made his season debut in this one and looked fairly good.  He did hit a batter but got a double play to get out of that minor inconvenience.  He threw 12 pitches and even though the Cards didn’t necessarily want to use him on back-to-back days yet, he shouldn’t have been off limits for Sunday.  But we’ll get to that.

Two hits for Matt Carpenter, who had a decent series against the Rangers.  I’m not sold that he’s going to start taking off in any sort of approximation of what we saw last year, especially since the road trip through Atlanta and Texas saw him hit just .227 with a .320 OBP.  Still, that’s an improvement over what he has been doing so maybe he’s at least coming around a little bit, even if it won’t be otherworldly.

Harrison Bader had another two hits and you have to think has made a case for himself to get into the lineup a little more often.  I know they aren’t likely to sit Marcell Ozuna, even though he’s hitting .198 over the past four weeks, but Jose Martinez has cooled somewhat (.685 OPS over the past two weeks) and you’d think that coupled with some of the defensive issues might get Bader a start or two or at least get him into the late innings of some games.  We’ll see if this weekend made an impact on Mike Shildt, though with today’s doubleheader the lineups may not be indicative of what we’ll see on a regular basis.

Sunday (5-4 loss in 10)

Hero: Dexter Fowler.  No matter what happened in the extra innings, good or bad, it wouldn’t have happened without Fowler’s ninth-inning, game-tying home run that came after an incredible at bat which saw him down 0-2 then taking pitches and fouling them off until he got a good one.  It was Fowler’s only hit of the day but man, did he make it count.

Goat: While we’ll talk about Jordan Hicks in a bit, I can’t give it to him because I believe….well, again, we’ll get into that.  I’m going to assign it to Yadier Molina, who went 0-4 and, most crucially, couldn’t get a hit in the 10th with runners on second and third with two outs.  He gets a knock there, the whole bottom of that inning likely goes a different way.  Yadi’s sliding a bit right now (.244/.262/.390 over the past two weeks) but as we know, his results don’t necessarily correlate with playing time so there’s no point in resting him more, even if he was inclined to let them do that.

Notes: All right, let’s talk about the 10th.  Jordan Hicks came in to finish off the eighth inning, in part because he had family there and he hadn’t pitched in the series.  Figuring it was going to be his last opportunity since there might not be a bottom of the 9th, Oliver Marmol (I’m sure with some direction from Mike Shildt) waved in Hicks instead of letting Andrew Miller finish out the frame.  Hicks gave up a base hit to Logan Forsythe and then retired Nomar Mazara.  Eleven pitches, no big deal, nice work.

Then Dexter happens and the Cards play the bottom of the 9th.  It made plenty of sense to bring back Hicks then and he got three outs on another 11 pitches.  Easy breezy, you could say.

The Cardinals score in the top of the 10th, in large part due to Harrison Bader leading off the inning with a double.  Six batters, which isn’t remarkably long but still is not exactly quick.  With a lead, you would think the Cards would turn to Carlos Martinez there after 20+ pitches and two different times cooling off in the dugout.  If you don’t want to use Martinez on back to back days, you have John Brebbia, who probably was good to go even after throwing more than an inning on Friday.  Instead, Marmol (again, assuming input from the tossed Shildt) left Hicks in the game.

There should have been someone warming up even if you were going to run Hicks out there.  His longest major league appearance was 34 pitches and he was already 2/3rds of the way there.  Any sort of hiccup and the manager should be ready to pull him and get a fresh arm in there.  Instead, Hicks allowed a single to Rougned Odor and then walked Danny Santana.  Those two batters took 12 pitches, which meant he tied his longest outing.  The club didn’t go to the bullpen, though, and Hicks then gave up a single to Willie Calhoun that tied the game and put runners on second and third.

Finally, they went to Martinez who intentionally passed Shin-Soo Choo (who was 2-4 and had a good series against the Cards) to load the bases.  Martinez then struck out Forsythe but couldn’t get out of the jam, allowing a fly ball from Mazara that was deep enough to score the winning run.

The Cardinals have lost games by not getting any offense and by the starting pitching blowing up.  They’ve not lost many because of the bullpen and I don’t think this would be one of those, because this one lays on the managerial staff.  Shildt said after the game the plan was to have Miller and Hicks both throw two innings but it was clear Hicks didn’t have much to start the 10th and I doubt he’s ever had to sit twice in a game and then come back out, at least not since he left his starting days behind.

This was a tough loss because if you win that game, you win the series and you go into the off day and the KC series with some momentum, with a little spring in your step.  Now you have the same questions about not winning dogging you as you get an extra day off with the rainout.

Or you would if anyone was paying attention.  No wonder Yadi and Adam Wainwright spend so much time watching hockey.  It’s a subtle thank you for keeping the focus off this miserable stretch of games.  However, if the Cardinals finish last, no cup from some old guy is going to salvage 2019, at least for me.  Hopefully instead the baseball team can take a little inspiration from the other team in town and start an successful winning run.  It wouldn’t even be improbable because the talent is there and the expectations are as well.

Maybe they just need a song.  I hope they pick one I’ve never heard of so it doesn’t get stuck in my head forever.

Doubleheader today with Wainwright and Wacha as your starters.  I’m not really sure how this is going to go, but at least we get baseball back!

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