Timing Is Everything

I should have written yesterday.

With a four game winning streak to recap, it would have been nice to have had nothing but good things (besides the obvious tabbing of the different Goats) to say about the Cardinals.  Unfortunately, I let the opportunity slide by and now it’s just mostly good, ending on the downbeat.  I’d say I’d try to do better but as we can see, this is going to be a season of long gaps and catchup for this blog and, in truth, I expect this will be the last post until about this time next week as we make a final push to get into our new house this weekend.  So let’s take a look at the last five games and hope the good can overshadow the bad.

Thursday (5-3 win at Philadelphia)

Hero: Dakota Hudson.  After losing the first two in the City of Brotherly Love, the Cardinals needed someone to step up and stop the bleeding.  Hudson answered the call, throwing six innings and allowing just one run.  He allowed four hits and walked three, but struck out four and got the outs when he needed them.

Since the game against the Phillies where his defense betrayed him and basically everything went wrong, Hudson has had four starts, gone six innings in each one, and has a 2.96 ERA in that span.  I still worry about sustainability–in those 24.1 innings he has nine walks and only 13 strikeouts–but he’s not that batting practice pitcher we saw earlier in the year.  His numbers against lefties are still rough (1.052 OPS) and batters still have a good time when they get ahead in the count (1.219 OPS) but I feel like as bad as they are, those numbers are better than what we saw earlier in the year.  If nothing else, I don’t think Hudson is the most pressing problem at the moment, but I do think they should be monitoring him and I don’t think he’s quite reliable yet.

Goat: Paul DeJong.  DeJong is in a terrible rut.  He hit a home run against Texas and since then (not counting last night) he’s gone 3-40 (.075) with five walks and 11 strikeouts.  Given how well he was going earlier in the year, I guess some regression might be expected but this is a bit extreme.  In this one, he went 0-4 with two strikeouts.

Notes: Solo shots by Marcell Ozuna and Matt Wieters gave the Cardinals an early lead, but as become way too common this season, that was almost all that the team produced.  A three-run seventh finally gave them some cushion but yet again one of the better games on Jerad Eickhoff‘s game log has STL next to it.

The cushion came from a solo homer by Matt Carpenter, who is definitely heating up, and Jedd Gyorko‘s two-run blast that capped the scoring.  (Talk about boom or bust.)  For all that, the offense did show up some.  Ozuna, Wieters, and Paul Goldschmidt had two hits each.  Just there weren’t many people getting hits before the big blows came.

On the pitching side, Carlos Martinez pitched one good inning, but walked Andrew McCutchen and gave up a single to Jean SeguraAndrew Miller then came on to get Bryce Harper and failed, allowing McCutchen to score and Segura to go to third.  I know Harper is a tough out, especially for Cardinal pitching (he hit .455 with a 1.455 OPS against the Cards this season), but that’s exactly the kind of thing Miller was acquired to do.  In his last three outings (including Sunday’s game against the Cubs) he’s come into the game with two runners on and allowed one of those runners to score.  Up until this stretch, he had allowed one of eight to score on the season.  I don’t know if it’s different usage or what but if you can’t trust Miller to come in to face a lefty with runners on, there are some issues.  Again, it may just be a bad stretch and things will straighten out, but it’s not like Miller’s season has earned him a lot of goodwill to tap into.

John Gant got out of the mess and Jordan Hicks pitched an uneventful ninth.  Unfortunately, we can’t always say that.

Friday (2-1 win vs. Chicago in 10)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  You walk it off, good chance you get a Hero tag.  Given the situation–bases loaded, one out, bottom of the 10th–it’d have been pretty bad if he DIDN’T walk it off in one way or another, but given this team you can’t assume anything.  A long fly that dropped and the Cardinals were jumping all over the field.  It was Carpenter’s only hit of the night but he made it count.

Goat: Matt Wieters probably never thought he’d play in three straight games with Yadier Molina on the team.  But with Molina’s hand requiring a IL stint (welcome to the majors, Andrew Knizner!), Wieters is going to be playing a lot, which is fine.  However, in this one he went 0-4 and left three men on.  Still, this is why it is nice to have a capable backup.  Yadi’s amazing, but given his wear and tear it won’t be surprising if he spends significant time on the shelf each season from now on.

Notes: Great job by Miles Mikolas, limiting a Cubs team with plenty of weapons (even if they aren’t all firing right now) to one run over seven innings.  The strikeouts weren’t plentiful, but we’ve seen in the past that Mikolas can be very successful without them.  Take out that Texas start and Mikolas had a 1.85 ERA for the month of May.  I think we can continue to expect him to be the best pitcher on the staff, at least the one that can do it most consistently.

Jordan Hicks went two innings and got the win.  He didn’t allow a hit but did walk two, which has been his issue most of the year.  However, we’ll get more into that when we tackle Sunday’s game.

Again, there wasn’t a lot to talk about offensively.  Kolten Wong had two hits, which hopefully is the start of a resurgence for him.  Marcell Ozuna singled in Carpenter in the first and that was it until Carpenter’s heroics in the ninth.  Yu Darvish isn’t supposed to be that good anymore, nor is the Cubs bullpen supposed to be a strength.  But you couldn’t tell that from the bats.

Saturday (7-4 win vs. Chicago)

Hero: Marcell Ozuna.  Three hits in this one, which was like two separate games with a 3.5 hour rain delay in the middle.  Given that the second half of this game started about 11:20 PM Central, I know nothing besides what I read from that portion.  Ozuna tied the game at 2 with a single in the third and then scored the go-ahead run when Matt Wieters doubled in the sixth.  Solid night for Ozuna who isn’t putting up 2017 numbers but is definitely more productive than he was this time last year.

Goat: John Brebbia.  It was a toss up between the only hitter to not record a hit (Paul DeJong) or the only pitcher to not record an out.  Brebbia came into the game in the seventh after the Cards had gotten out to a 5-2 lead.  He gave up a single to Addison Russell and a double to David Bote, bringing in one run, before walking Albert Amora.  With the tying run at the plate, Andrew Miller was called upon and, as we noted earlier, that has its issues.  Daniel Descalso singled and while Miller got Kyle Schwarber to strike out, Kris Bryant grounded out to bring in another run before Anthony Rizzo struck out.  (Miller has allowed a 1.002 OPS to righties this year.  It feels like we have a lot of guys who can get lefties out but not righties, which is an issue given the makeup of MLB.)

These were the first runs Brebbia had given up since May 12.  These nights happen and most likely it’s just a blip in the radar.  Indeed, last night against the Reds he finished the game with no incidents.

Notes: Dexter Fowler hit a home run against his former team in a rain-delayed game on national television.  Not quite as dramatic as his walkoff last year, but we’ll take it.  Harrison Bader also went yard to give the final cushion.  Paul Goldschmidt had a homer in the first that tied the game up after a Rizzo homer in the top half and added another hit as well.  Goldschmidt has a .964 OPS in his last 10 games (through last night) so it feels like he’s coming around.

Jack Flaherty deserved better, but there was no way he could return after the rain delay.  Before the sky opened, though, he went five innings, allowed four hits and two runs, and struck out eight.  In his last four starts, counting this one, Flaherty has a 2.74 ERA and a .580 OPS against while striking out 26 and walking seven.  The home runs still bug him (three in that span) but it’s starting to feel like he’s taking his game up a level.

Another good night for Giovanny Gallegos, who struck out two in his inning of work.  He’s got some inconsistency as well, but that strikeout ability is legit.  38 strikeouts in 24 innings is incredible.  You wonder if somewhere down the road, if he can harness the rest of his game, he’ll see some ninth inning action.

Sunday (2-1 win vs. Chicago)

Hero: Some games you have to wonder who should get this tag.  There are others where there is only one option.  Adam Wainwright threw eight scoreless innings, folks.  Eight!  We’ll get into whether he should have been allowed to or not in a moment, but I don’t think any of us thought that he still had that sort of game in him.  It’s very likely the last time he’ll see the eighth as a starter in his career, let’s be honest, but it was an amazing display of guts and smarts.  Seven walks was the only blemish and thankfully there weren’t too many hits that went along with those free passes.  The defense, perhaps fired up by what he was doing, was on its game, turning double plays (the snag and double-up by Paul DeJong stands out) and then, of course, there was Kolten Wong with the game saving catch of an Anthony Rizzo flare.  All in all, it was an incredible performance.

Goat: Harrison Bader.  It really seems like that leadoff position has some sort of negative energy around it.  It was Bader’s day in the box and he wound up going 0-4 with a strikeout and two runners on.  Of course, when the whole team musters just four hits, and two of those are by Wong, perhaps it’s not a huge shock that the leadoff guy isn’t going well.

Notes: Seriously, four hits.  Two of them came in the eighth, when Wong singled, got picked off but stole second anyway, and then scored on Matt Carpenter’s pinch-hit single.  In fairness, Cole Hamels is good and watching him and Wainwright go at it threw us back about 10 years, but still, four hits is not great.

Then there is Jordan Hicks, who made sure that insurance run provided by Wong was relevant.  Hicks struck out Javier Baez and everything seemed fine, but then he followed it up by walking Willson Contreras, which is not a great thing in a two run game.  Less good was letting Jason Heyward single, bringing the winning run to the plate.

Mike Shildt stayed with Wainwright ridiculously long.  I thought he’d go get him after he walked Heyward with two outs in the seventh.  I couldn’t believe he sent him back out there for the eighth.  After Daniel Descalso walked, I expected Shildt to take a walk as well.  After Kyle Schwarber singled, putting two on, I figured the hook was coming.  Even after he struck out Kris Bryant I figured a lefty was coming in.  Given the state of the bullpen and the lack of strong contact, you could make a case for keeping in Wainwright, but it’s not a case I think you’d want to take to court.  It worked and that’s what matters, but I hope it’s not a long term strategy.

The reason I don’t think it will be is that, with two on and one out in the ninth, Shildt didn’t let Hicks try to figure it out.  He didn’t say, “You’re my guy” and leave him in.  He went to John Gant–who has been amazing in everything this year–and Gant got out of it with just a run scoring on a groundout.  Shildt knew that Hicks didn’t have it and he didn’t try to press.  He knew that Wainwright was locked in and he gave Waino the chance to stay that way.  Managers have to know their personnel, know what’s working on that day.  Numbers are good and need to inform the decisions, but you do have to adjust for what you are seeing in the moment.  Shildt seemed to do that on Sunday.

As for Hicks, the command has to get better.  Hicks has walked 11 batters in 20.1 innings.  That’s one every two frames, which isn’t exactly what you want to see from your closer, especially when coupled with 14 hits.  While the “he’s not pitching enough” excuse made sense the first half of May, he’s pitched five times since May 25, which was nine games ago counting yesterday.  Over that span, he’s pitched 4.1 innings, allowed four runs, walked four, struck out three.  Twice in that span he’s not been able to finish the ninth.  All of these outings came after that 39 pitch one in Texas (and there’s a 35 pitch outing included) so maybe that’s part of it.  He was clicking in April so it’s possible, but he’s just got to throw a few more strikes it seems like.

Tuesday (4-1 loss vs. Cincinnati)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  He led off the game with a home run.  27 outs later, that was still the only run.  He also hit into a big double play in the seventh that took away the last real chance for the Cardinals to make a game of things.

Goat: Another rough night for Matt Wieters, who went 0-4 and left four men on.  Obviously, with more playing time some of Wieters’s numbers are going to decrease.  He’s still going to be an asset for this team while Yadier Molina’s away.

Notes: I’m still pretty intrigued by Genesis Cabrera and I think that he had some good pitches hit last night, but it’s also safe to say he might need a little more seasoning.  No strikeouts is one thing, but no swings and misses is something entirely different.  And some of the pitches hit by the Reds were fairly hittable.  That said, if Matt Carpenter fields a ball cleanly (the more I think about it, I wonder about his Hero tag) Cabrera throws five innings and gives up three runs.  That’s not superb but it’s pretty tolerable.  Instead, Michael Wacha comes in, gives up a run-scoring single, and Cabrera has four runs in 4.2 innings.

The hit Wacha gave up quickly led to a “here we go again” mentality, but he got the next batter (the pitcher Luis Castillo) and then threw two more scoreless innings, allowing just one more hits and striking out three.  Given the fact that, assuming tonight’s game doesn’t get rained out which is a reasonable possibility, the next time this spot in the rotation comes up is Sunday night at Wrigley, there’s some speculation that Wacha will slide back into the rotation for that after this outing.  I don’t think that’d be particularly wise–two good innings can’t really make up for what we’ve seen all year from Wacha–and I’m not sure they’ll do it.  Most likely it won’t be Cabrera either, so I’d guess Daniel Ponce de LeonJake Woodford is getting some talk but I’m not sure the club would want to see him make his major league debut on Sunday Night Baseball.  Mike Mayers just broke out into a cold sweat wherever he is.

Just six hits on the night.  Harrison Bader had the only other extra-base hit, a double that led off the seventh and started what could have been a rally or at least gotten another run on the board without Carpenter’s double play.  Also, Tyler Webb threw 1.1 scoreless innings.  He’s got his flaws, but he has six outings of over an inning with no runs allowed.  Over his last six appearances, he’s given up one run, allowed a .115/.281/.154 line in eight innings, and has struck out seven.  He’s walked six–as I said, he has his flaws–but he’s been at least not scary.

Cards lost ground to the Cubs and couldn’t take advantage of Milwaukee getting pounded.  Tonight hopefully will 1) get in and 2) be a different story.  Also, it’s Star Wars Night (again, this is not a cursed night–two years in a row there have been no injuries) and Jedi Master Hudson will take the mound hoping to get things back on track like he did in Philly.  May the Force be with us!

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