Plugging Through the Mess

We’ve talked before about the issues that I’ve been going through at the moment, what with moving and a new dog and all sorts of different things.  One thing, though, is probably part of the overriding malaise when it comes to trying to get posts up.

This team just isn’t very good.

At least, that’s what the results are telling us.  We know there’s talent and we know that they used to be quite good.  While that 20-10 start seems like a heat mirage now, they did put that up way back when.  If, as Derrick Goold likes to say, you are your record, we do need to note that then they were a team that won two-thirds of their games.  Now, they seem to be a team that’s struggling to stay at or above .500.

Which isn’t all that interesting to write about, honestly.  We’ve talked about the games and the issues on both Meet Me at Musial and Gateway to Baseball Heaven, so revisiting them yet again can be a burden on the soul.  That said, we haven’t missed a regular season game since we started doing Heroes and Goats in 2008 and I’m not likely to stop now.  So suck it up, buttercup.  We’ve got games to discuss.

Wednesday (8-2 loss to Kansas City, Game 1)

Hero: Marcell OzunaMatt Wieters actually had two of the four hits for the team, but Ozuna’s double drove in two runs in the eighth and kept the team from being shut out by the Royals after a day off and a rainout.  Brad Keller‘s good, but he’s not that good.  (Actually, I’m not sure that he’s really good either.)

Goat: Michael Wacha.  Sure, the offense didn’t help things at all, but Wacha dug the hole deep and early.  A six-run third pretty much took care of any thoughts the Cards had of coming back, which may have played into how bad the rest of the game went.  If the Redbirds were down 3-0, 4-0, I’d have thought they could come back.  Instead, Wacha just blew up.  On the day, he didn’t get through the fifth and allowed seven runs and seven hits and three walks.

It was the last straw for the club, which slid Wacha into the bullpen later in the week.  It’s possible he’ll get as much usage there as he did in the 2014 playoff bullpen (sorry for that old wound) but Wacha is going to have to pitch at some point.  Even the “pitchers under glass” with the former manager got into games once every couple of weeks.  (Which, right now, would make them the closer, but we’ll get to Jordan Hicks‘s usage in a bit.)  There’s no real good situation for Wacha to come into, though.  I don’t know that his stuff is going to really be that dominant in a short stretch.  He’s got command issues and throwing more often probably runs the risk of bothering that shoulder.

Then again, the club isn’t going to cut a guy with Wacha’s history with the organization just months before he could be a free agent.  They won’t offer him a contract at the end of the year, but I have trouble believing that they’d let him loose like this.  Maybe if the bullpen doesn’t take, they’ll go back to that shoulder and put him on the IL.  I don’t know how it’s going to pan out, but it had reached the point that he couldn’t be in the rotation anymore and something had to be done.  It’s possible it could have been done a start or two before, but at least give credit to the club for making the move eventually.

Notes: Talk about a miserable afternoon.  The club gets down early and the offense makes no real attempt to get back into it.  If it wasn’t for Wieters, Keller would have taken a no-hitter into the seventh, I believe.  Ryan Helsley got to make an appearance but allowed a run in his 1.2 innings, with two walks to boot.  Giovanny Gallegos (nothing in 1.2) and Tyler Webb (nothing in a frame) closed out things in solid fashion, if it had mattered at all.

Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler both walked twice in this one.  The problem was the three hitters between them went 2-10 and one of those was Ozuna’s late double.

Wednesday (10-3 win over Kansas City, Game 2)

Hero: Marcell Ozuna.  His three-run blast off the aptly named Homer Bailey gave the club more runs than they got in all of the first game and proved that the nightcap was going to be significantly different.  He had another hit and walk later on and scored on a Yadier Molina single.  Ozuna might be heating up a little bit–counting the last game in Texas and running up to present day, he’s hitting .261/.370/.522–and if that continues perhaps the offense will get more on track.

Goat: The offense did pretty well overall, so we’ll tag Adam Wainwright here, even though it wasn’t a disastrous line by any means.  Three runs in five innings could be a winning line on most nights, if the support is there, but six hits and four walks in that span, especially when you only have two strikeouts, is asking for a lot of trouble.  The Royals didn’t cash in on all the opportunities.  Better teams will.

Notes: Dexter Fowler had three hits while Kolten Wong had two hits and three RBI.  Matt Carpenter had a home run and had a walk, though he did strike out three times.  All in all, this was a fun evening and the last hurrah, at least for now, for the lineup that we’d seen so much of this season.

Friday (5-2 loss vs. Atlanta)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  Two hits, including a ninth inning home run that didn’t do much for the final score but allowed him to claim homers in back-to-back games.  Carpenter slid down to fifth in the lineup in this one but he’d had an .853 OPS since the beginning of the series in Atlanta until the lineup swap, which was 200 points higher than his OPS up to that point.  You’re not likely to see red-hot MVP Carpenter like you did last summer, but there are some indications that we might get some more reasonable production out of him going forward.

Goat: Dexter Fowler.  We thought that, given Fowler’s increased OBP for the season, moving him to the top of the lineup would be the spark that would light the fire that would burn the First Order–um, I mean, the offensive woes–down.  Instead, Fowler went 0-3 with three strikeouts (though he did get hit by a pitch) and that set the tone for his production for the whole series.  A rough weekend but not enough to make Mike Shildt think about swapping things back just yet.

Notes: Two hits from Paul Goldschmidt and, again, we’d like to think that he’s heating up a little bit but I don’t know that there’s enough info to really quantify that.  Ben Cerutti had a great look at Goldschmidt’s season so far and the numbers aren’t all that encouraging.  He has one home run in May and that one was back on May 12 against the Pirates.  Since that game he’s hitting .300 but just slugging .360.  Still, his OBP in that span is .426, so there’s some value there.  Hopefully the power will come, but there are a lot of strikeouts and some at bats that just look terrible.  Maybe if Fowler starts getting on in front of him the approach by pitchers will be different and he’ll be able to capitalize.

Two hits for Harrison Bader as well, who has parlayed his strong weekend against the Rangers into regular playing time, taking some away from Jose Martinez who had seen his bat cool anyway.  Directing that merry-go-round is probably Shildt’s toughest job right now and that doesn’t include the fact that Tyler O’Neill is hammering away in Memphis.  The Cardinals kept Lane Thomas up here after the doubleheader, sending down Ryan Helsley, but he’s only appeared in two games and has yet to record an at bat.  It’s never easy balancing all that but Bader definitely made his case and he’s continuing to provide solid offense.

Occasionally he tries too often, as he did in his first at bat here.  He tripled in Kolten Wong but then tried to go home when the ball got away and was caught.  Going for (basically) an inside-the-park homer with nobody out isn’t exactly the best way to start an inning.  Again, appreciate the hustle, but you’ve got to be smart about it as well.

Miles Mikolas really probably deserved better in this one.  Bouncing back from that terrible Texas start, he allowed three runs in seven innings and struck out nine along the way, which is a little surprising out of Mikolas.  Unfortunately, the offense didn’t come around and then Giovanny Gallegos had one of his bad nights, allowing two runs and basically putting the game out of reach in just a third of an inning.

Saturday (6-3 win vs. Atlanta)

Hero: Jedd Gyorko.  It’s got to be tough for Gyorko, riding the bench, playing very sparingly.  Sometimes we forget that he’s even on the team, but this guy hit 30 homers just a couple of years ago.  So it was great to see him come through in a huge way in this one.  After Matt Carpenter tied the game up with a single in the eighth, Gyorko pinch-hit and launched the second pitch he saw from Dan Winkler into the seats, providing the final cushion.  It was an incredible rally for the team in general and it looked like–at least for eight innings on Sunday–the kick this team needed.

Goat: Carlos Martinez.  Brought into the game to protect a one run lead in the seventh and a runner on second with one out, Martinez then proceeded to give up back-to-back doubles by Tyler Flowers and Ozzie Albies to put the Braves ahead.  He was able to work out of the inning with just a walk after that, but the damage was done until the club rallied the next inning.

Notes: A three hit night for Goldschmidt, which factored into the numbers above.  Also three hits by Carpenter with another RBI besides the one that he procured in the eighth.  There’s so much that this offense CAN do, it’s trying to get it to do it on a regular basis.

Jordan Hicks threw a scoreless inning, though he didn’t strike anyone out.  He pitched twice in the series.  Unfortunately the second one wasn’t nearly as good.

Sunday (4-3 loss to Atlanta in 10)

Hero: Jack Flaherty.  The starting rotation this weekend got zero wins even though all three pitched well enough to bring one home.  Flaherty was the best of the lot, though, putting up six scoreless innings and striking out seven.  He avoided any big innings and allowed only three hits, walking nobody.  Command’s often been an issue for Flaherty but more outings like this and he’s going to move quickly up the “best MLB pitcher” rankings.

Goat: It really looked like things might be turning around.  The dramatic win Saturday coupled with eight scoreless innings had the Cards on the verge of winning two in a row and taking their first series all month.  With a day off on Monday, they could bask in that glow and take some confidence with them into Philadelphia.  All they had to do is get three more outs and they had their lockdown closer ready to go.

Then Jordan Hicks wasn’t lockdown.

Double.  Single that makes it 3-1.  Walk.  Single that made it 3-2.

That was it for Hicks and it probably ran a little longer than it needed to.  It was pretty clear Hicks didn’t have much and you probably could have gotten him after the walk, especially given that game against Texas last week where things went off the rails quickly.  Andrew Miller came in and got Brian McCann, but Ozzie Albies hit a fairly decent pitch to tie the game up.  After that, it was really a matter of time before the Braves took the win, which they did on a bases-loaded walk to McCann by Tyler Webb in the 10th.

There’s been a lot of talk about the usage of Hicks this month.  With the multitude of losses and with the wins usually gaudy, there’s not been a lot of save situations for Hicks to come into.  In fact, Hicks pitched three times in the six games from Sunday to Sunday.  He pitched three times total before that in May.  There’s a strong case to be made that the lack of use has made him rusty and perhaps has sapped him a bit.  Still, after such a good outing Saturday, seeing him melt down like that on Sunday was a kick in the teeth.

Notes: The top of the lineup drew some walks, but Dexter Fowler, Paul Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong, and Marcell Ozuna combined to go 0-13, which makes it difficult to get much going.  They didn’t strike out much but Ozuna was the only one to be able to turn his time on base into a run.  The Cards only mustered three hits and while the Braves did walk them six times, three of those came with two outs in the third, but Matt Carpenter was unable to make Atlanta pay for it.

You might not have liked Webb being the guy out there facing batters with the game on the line in the 10th and I think there’s some merit to that.  John Brebbia had wound up getting out of the jam in the ninth and got Dansby Swanson to pop out to start the 10th.  With a lefty coming up, Shildt went to Webb.  It makes some sense–while Brebbia is able to get out lefties, they do hit him more than righties do.  It would have honestly been a great time to figure out a way to put Brebbia in the outfield, because Webb wound up pitching around the right-handers Josh Donaldson and Andrew Riley after Freddie Freeman reached on a infield hit.  Webb’s been outstanding against lefties this year but the luck ran out against McCann.

So, after all that, the Cards sink back into the .500 mire like Luke’s X-Wing in a Dagobah swamp.  (An analogy I’ve made before about a playoff team, so maybe it’ll all work out.)  They go into Philadelphia for three games to face a team that’s leading the Braves (a team that has beaten St. Louis four out of six times) at home where they are eight games over .500.  And they’ll do it with a new face in the rotation, as Genesis Cabrera is coming up for the start.  Cabrera’s overall numbers aren’t great but they are trending in the right direction, but this probably has more to do with Austin Gomber being hurt (though why Daniel Ponce de Leon didn’t get the call I’m not sure) and also maybe wanting to show that they got something from the Tommy Pham trade.  Because Pham’s doing some good stuff in Tampa Bay and that trade isn’t looking so hot right now.

With going to Philadelphia and then hosting the Cubs, this feels like a huge week as the calendar turns over to June.  We’ll see if the results make us optimistic about a turnaround or if we’re going to be gloomy Guses for a while.

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