I’ve said often this season that I don’t want to write these big recap posts, but this one was unavoidable due to moving into a new house (which went well, by the way, though there are boxes stacked hither, thither, and yon). However, as we’ve also noted, it gets darn hard to get excited about writing about this team. Some days they are up, some days they are down, but they keep bouncing around the .500 mark and it becomes harder and harder to really see how they break free and blast off.
I talked some about the Chicago series and other parts of the malaise with Tara Wellman on Gateway to Baseball Heaven Sunday night, but we need to spend a little time slogging through the mire. I should note that I didn’t see a pitch of the Reds game nor any of the Chicago series, though I caught a bit here or there on radio. I don’t think I missed a ton.
Thursday (3-1 win over Cincinnati)
Hero: Paul DeJong. DeJong’s homer in the seventh broke a 1-1 tie and the bullpen held on from there. It was DeJong’s only hit of the game–interestingly enough, through last night’s game with the Marlins, DeJong has only gone hitless in two games in June. However, he hasn’t had a multi-hit game since May 18. It’s like that hitting streak Yadier Molina had going a few years ago, where he hit in like 15 or so straight but never had a multi-hit game so his average actually decreased during the streak. That Texas game on the 18th was also the last time DeJong had a home run before this outing and he hit .091/.226/.114 in the 13 games between. This is not exactly the most upbeat Hero discussion I’ve ever had, is it?
Goat: Matt Wieters. The extra playing time that he got while Yadier Molina was on the IL didn’t really work out as well for Wieters as we had hoped. He dealt with his own injury (and why Andrew Knizner didn’t get more run, I don’t know) but from May 29 to June 8, he got 31 plate appearances and went .167/.194/.433. Of his five hits he did have two doubles and two homers, which explains the slugging number, and that’s much more than we would have gotten out of most of the prior backup catchers. In this one, he went 0-4 with two strikeouts and four left on hitting in the seventh spot. Hopefully, with Molina back, he’ll heal and we’ll see better results in the five games that he plays the rest of the year.
Notes: Cincy’s pitching staff has improved and Anthony DeSclafani has had some good games, but he’s also a pitcher the Cardinals got for four runs in four innings when they saw him at Great American Ball Park earlier in the year. Colin wrote about the offense and we’ll probably look at some numbers as we go, but this just isn’t what we expected from this lineup. Check that–it might be what we expected from this lineup in the spring if we were trying to be reasonable about things, but definitely not what we would expect from that April run when the entire outfield was clicking and things just were sailing along. Now, well, it feels like no one is hitting, nothing is going right, and there’s a lot of low scoring games. We’re going to look at seven, counting this one, and the club averaged 2.86 runs over that span, which INCLUDES a seven-run outburst against the Marlins Tuesday night. (Take that out and and it drops to 2.17.) The pitching they’ve seen isn’t THAT good.
Anyway, thankfully Dakota Hudson kept up his run of good starts, keeping the Reds in check with a run for 6.1 before turning it over to the bullpen. The lack of scoring meant the win wound up going to John Gant, but it wouldn’t have been an option had not Hudson been on his game. There’s no doubt that there are some indicators that this may not last (as Zach Gifford pointed out) and he’s getting by with his extreme ground ball rate, but in fairness extreme ground ball rates are part of his game. In his last six starts (which includes this one and the one against the Marlins), he’s got a ground ball to fly ball rate of 1.72, which is helping offset his low strikeout rate (a reason I’ve never been completely high on Hudson) and a slightly high walk rate. Indeed, he has five double plays turned behind him over this stretch.
Can he keep this up? Even in the good run, his xFIP is 4.30, which would seem to indicate that right now he’s getting a little lucky. You wonder if he’ll tire a bit as the season goes on and the ball won’t sink quite as much, leading to more hits. It probably won’t be as bad as the beginning of the season, of course. During that stretch his xFIP was 4.35, so it would seem that Hudson is a low 4 ERA pitcher who earlier pitched better than his results and now is getting results better than his pitching. If he winds up throwing 4.30 ERA ball the rest of the way, he’s still got some value to this team, but if he’s not the weakest starter on the staff, that’s not saying good things about the staff.
Marcell Ozuna with the only multi-hit game. The Cards did get nine hits, which is probably in line for three runs. I did a calculation once and if I remember right basically 2.5 hits should equal a run. If you have a lot more hits and not many runs, it’s a sign that you aren’t getting key hits (in my mind). I should really dig that back up so the guys like Zach can get a good laugh out of this rank amateur.
As noted, Gant got the win and he’s been a rock in the bullpen. However, someone last night said that Gant was Mike Shildt’s Matt Bowman, which seemed fairly ridiculous on the face of it. Gant has pitched in 30 (not 20–I looked at the wrong number last night when I responded on Twitter) of the Cardinals’ first 66 games. At the same marks from 2016-2018, Bowman had appeared in 20, 32, and 17 (injury) games. So it’s not as crazy as it would seem, at least on the basis of appearances. Gant’s actually thrown more innings than Bowman did in 2017. There’s differences in how they are used, the situations they come into, the amount of times they warm up, but it wasn’t as out of line as I initially thought it was. I still don’t think you can use that label as a “Shildt’s abusing a guy just like Matheny did” but it might be something to watch. So, Crash, my apologies. (That said, the idea that Shildt doesn’t manage a bullpen better than Mike Matheny is not a statement I’d make.)
Friday (3-1 loss at Chicago)
Hero: Giovanny Gallegos. In a game where not many did much, Gallegos at least kept the team in the game. Coming into the game in the fifth after Miles Mikolas had to leave because of being drilled on the arm, Gallegos threw two scoreless innings. He gave up two hits, but got out of any dangerous situations and while the team didn’t get any closer than the 3-0 deficit he inherited while he was there, it could have easily gotten out of hand with the starter just going four. Gallegos didn’t let that happen.
Goat: Miles Mikolas. We’ll talk much more about Mikolas when we get to last night’s start, but even though there were a number of hitters we might have been able to choose here, the fact that the club was down 2-0 to their rivals after one inning couldn’t have helped morale a whole lot. That seems to have set the tone for the entire series, in all honesty. Mikolas allowed another and, well, two is bad enough with this offense as we’ve seen. Three is just basically putting it out of reach. In fact, as far as I can tell, the last time the Cards rallied from down three or more to win a game was April 29 against Washington, when they scored six runs in one inning. Those were the days, weren’t they?
Notes: Cole Hamels pitched a great game against Adam Wainwright on the Sunday before this, so it’s probably not a surprise he limited the Cardinal hitters once again. Still, seeing eight scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and only three hits would be expected from peak Hamels, not necessarily this version. Though if pitchers like Anthony DeSclafani can keep the Cardinals in check, I guess we should be glad a guy like Hamels didn’t no-hit them.
Paul DeJong hit his second home run in as many days as his one hit in this one, doing so with one out in the ninth to ruin the shutout. Otherwise….ugh. Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader, and Jose Martinez (pinch-hitting) had hits. That was all she wrote and it didn’t make for a fun day at the Friendly Confines.
Ryan Helsley didn’t allow a run but he did walk three batters. Given the way his night ended last night, you wonder if that was some sort of precursor.
Saturday (9-4 loss at Chicago)
Hero: Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna knows timing is everything. He only got one hit, but it was a three-run blast in the first that looked to turn the Cardinals’ fortunes around. When Harrison Bader homered later in the top of the first, it looked like the team had finally shown some resiliency and were ready to show they weren’t going to lay down for the Cubs. We’ll get into how that went over. Ozuna seems to hit more home runs in the first inning than anyone else on the team and usually it’s a good sign when he gets into one early. Not so much here.
Goat: Jack Flaherty. Staked to a four-run lead, Flaherty immediately gave half of it back in the bottom of the frame and all of it before he left with one out still to go in the fourth. From what I heard on the radio, not all of it was his fault (the strike zone didn’t help him at all) but still, that’s rough. Flaherty walked three, struck out none, and allowed five hits, including a home run. If you want to use Game Score as a metric (which is up to you, as I know it’s kinda a quick and dirty measure) and if you say that 60 is an above average start, Flaherty hasn’t had back-to-back above average starts yet this season, which is surprising given the expectations for him. The closest would be his last three starts before this one, which went 59-73-59. The lack of innings hurt (you get points for every inning past five, I believe) but there’s still a lot of inconsistency in his game. Which is understandable for a pitcher in his second major league season. (Point of reference: Dakota Hudson’s last three GS were 61-58-69.)
Notes: The normally reliable bullpen wasn’t in this one. I want to get into John Brebbia‘s recent outings when we (eventually) make it to last night’s game, but he allowed two runs in 1.1 innings and John Gant did the same in two frames. The only pitcher to really do well was Ryan Helsley, who had a scoreless frame and didn’t walk anyone, though he didn’t strike out anyone either.
As we’ve seen way too often over the past few years, the Cards scored a lot in the first….and nothing else. (Which happens, of course. I remember Albert Pujols helping the Cards put up a four spot in the first off of Zach Duke in Pittsburgh over a decade ago, only to score no more and lose the game.) Matt Carpenter was back in the leadoff spot but went 0-4 with two strikeouts. Jose Martinez, 0-3. Matt Wieters, 0-4 with three strikeouts. For the fact that they got four runs, the Cards were only able to muster five hits. Four of them–FOUR–came in the first. That means in the last eight innings, they had one hit. They only drew one more walk after the first as well, which means that there were a lot of quiet frames. I think I’m glad I missed seeing this one.
Sunday (5-1 loss at Chicago)
Hero: Nobody really stands out, but I’ll go with Paul Goldschmidt, who had two hits and didn’t strike out. Could have also gone again with Marcell Ozuna, who had three hits and scored a run, but Goldschmidt had an extra-base hit, which is something rare it feels like.
Goat: Paul DeJong. 0-4 with three left on base is tough to deal with. I mean, it’s not like this game was terribly close, but it could have been with a key hit from DeJong.
Notes: Expecting Adam Wainwright to duplicate his game from the prior Sunday would have been just shy of crazy, but Waino was looking pretty good (again, this is really just based on the box score as Sunday night I was trying to figure out exactly where things might be) until the fifth. It’s not surprising at all that Wainwright tried to go for a double because he’s always had a healthy confidence (if you are being generous) in his offensive potential. Also, though, he knew that the club probably needed him to be on second to have a chance to score. With two outs and Matt Carpenter and DeJong coming up behind, there were strong odds that they weren’t going to get the two hits needed to get him across. (Carpenter did actually single him to third, but DeJong grounded out in a place where a hit could have been huge.)
What’s a bit more confounding is, if Wainwright hurt his hamstring on that double, why he stayed in the ballgame. Again, I didn’t see the game so I don’t know how clearly Wainwright hurt himself, but he should have known the extent of it or at least given some heads up to the coaching staff that he didn’t feel right. He has shown ever since 2015 how important a pitcher’s legs are to him and if they are compromised, the results probably aren’t going to be good. And they weren’t–single, sacrifice bunt by the pitcher, RBI single, RBI double before Wainwright was removed and Giovanny Gallegos came in.
That turned the game from a 1-1 tie to a 3-1 deficit and, as you know, that’s not exactly a good place for the Cardinals. Being behind by more than one run feels like being down 10 at times with this club. Now I could be completely wrong about this due to lack of knowledge, but it really seems like Wainwright should have said he was compromised rather than trying to do too much with the physical limitations. It wouldn’t have kept him off the IL–I don’t know that he increased the severity of the hamstring injury by pitching, though maybe he did–but it might have kept the Cardinals in the game.
The rest of the scoring came off of Carlos Martinez in the last couple of frames, as he allowed a home run to Carlos Gonzalez in the eighth after allowing a run-scoring single to Kyle Schwarber in the seventh. This was also the first time all year Martinez had gone more than an inning. Maybe it’s the start of something to start stretching him out, but being that he didn’t pitch at all in the Miami series, it feels like probably not. Which is a problem, because Martinez has been scored on in three of his nine outings and two of them were multiple runs, though last night one of the runs was unearned. He’s only pitched twice in June, which doesn’t help either. By now, I’d rather see them (if Martinez is agreeable or physically able) to put him in the starting rotation and let him throw 50 pitches his first time, 65 the next, etc. Let someone be designated to come in after him–for a while, maybe it’s Michael Wacha even if he stays in the rotation–but let him start developing out to starter levels.
I don’t expect they WILL do this and I get there are a lot of issues around Martinez that make this sort of thing not as easy as it appears. Still, it doesn’t feel like he can really get into his groove pitching once a week. If he is going to do that, let him pitch 2-3 innings if at all possible. By the end of the season, Martinez might have the fewest innings on staff and that is not what you want to see.
Two hits for Carpenter as well as multiple hits for those mentioned before. As of today, Matt Carpenter’s slash line is .219/.330/.382. After 66 games last year? .232/.335/.418. Not a huge discrepancy! So let’s look at the last 15 games for both years at this point. 2018: .279/.353/.459. 2019: .275/.351/.451. Hmm. Maybe a surge is coming after all. I imagine there’s some differences in hit quality, etc., but those raw numbers at least give some hope that the entire season might not be a waste for Carp.
Dexter Fowler went 0-3 with two strikeouts and four left on. Since he dealt with that minor injury at the end of April, Fowler’s slash line is .177/.313/.333. When he hits it it goes aways (seven extra-base hits out of 17 hits) but he just doesn’t hit it much. He’s striking out in 26.7% of his plate appearances. Whatever he had working in April, it seems to have run out. Of course, none of the other outfielders are lighting it up and Tyler O’Neill has started struggling in Memphis, though that might be because of boredom or a lack of confidence.
Monday (4-1 win at Miami)
Hero: Michael Wacha. Look, it was the Marlins, who are not going to be confused with an upper echelon MLB team anytime soon. At times, they might not be confused with a MLB team at all. Still, the way that Wacha was throwing two outings ago, even a weaker team like Miami would have put some runs on him and made things miserable for the fans, most likely. Instead, he threw six scoreless innings, allowed just five hits, and got out of his worst jam by picking off a runner at second base. Do I think Wacha has turned a corner? I don’t know about that. He may be better than what we saw earlier in the year, but he’d just about have to be. The fastball velocity ticked up, which is a nice sign, and he might be serviceable going forward, but even that’s not that likely. Whatever the future may hold, it was nice to see a good outing from Wacha again. You just have to hope that, while it should be factored into decisions relating to the rotation, that start doesn’t get oversized emphasis and completely erase the negatives.
Goat: Jose Martinez. 0-4 with two strikeouts and it may be time for Jose to spike his coffee. Since May 15 he’s hitting .176 and the only extra-base hit he has is a double back on May 17. For the fact that this outfield looked so incredible in April, it’s becoming a huge black hole that is hard to figure out exactly how you fix it, given who is playing and the contract situations. At least Marcell Ozuna keeps it from being a total loss out there, though even he’s had his slumps. Not as bad as this, though.
Notes: When the top two guys go 0-7, it’s pretty impressive that you are able to get a win. Then again, if Jorge Alfaro doesn’t throw away Kolten Wong‘s bunt with two men on (which, let’s be honest, really wasn’t the smartest thing even though it worked), the two teams might still be playing. Four hits against Sandy Alcantara and the Marlins bullpen seems a bit underwhelming. Not that Alcantara isn’t good and, indeed, the rotation for the Marlins might be about all it has going for it. But still, if you are going to be a contender, beating up on teams like Miami has to be done. You shouldn’t need to be lucky to win but that’s pretty much what the Cards were here.
Two hits for Marcell Ozuna. He’s not hit overwhelmingly great in Miami for his career but I’m sure the familiar surroundings didn’t hurt much.
This was the first game Paul DeJong sat all year long, with Yairo Munoz handling shortstop and doing a fine job. Given the recent trajectory of DeJong, a few more days off might not be a bad idea.
Tuesday (7-1 win at Miami)
Hero: Harrison Bader. A triple in the second drove in the first one and he added another RBI later in the form of a bases-loaded walk. It was interesting to read that the veterans had been on him a bit about not taking his at bats with him to the field and trying to have a more even keel. To his credit, he took that criticism in the spirit it was intended and is working on that. Which is good, of course. Then again, you wonder if at times this team isn’t TOO even-keeled. Not that you want to see them constantly beating themselves up over strikeouts or the like or letting it affect their defense, but we’ve talked about this team needing an edge. Tommy Pham looked to bring that for a while. We fondly remember Chris Carpenter. Even John Lackey was a guy that kicked some butts. Do they have that now? Do they NEED that now? Heck, it couldn’t hurt, could it?
Goat: Every starter had a hit and the pitching staff did well, so it’s not a fair thing but we’ll say Yairo Munoz. He did have a hit in the leadoff spot as Matt Carpenter got the night off, but he also struck out three times. Again, the runs came and things were overall fine, but in a different game that could have really hurt.
Notes: Dakota Hudson was good again, but we’ve talked about him above (if you remember that far back). He even posted six strikeouts in this one, which was a nice thing to see. Giovanny Gallegos (who has pitched eight scoreless innings over his last six appearances) and John Brebbia (again, more on him in a bit) finished things off in a game that was tighter than the score indicated. It was 3-1 going into the eighth before they got to reliever Adam Conley. Honestly, it looked like the game was going to again hinge on an error by a Marlins player, this time shortstop Miguel Rojas, who threw away a ball trying for a double play after catching Yadier Molina’s liner, allowing Paul Goldschmidt to score the tiebreaking run.
Marcell Ozuna got a home run there in the ninth to cap the scoring and give him his second hit of the night. In the eighth, Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez got into the action, driving in runs. Ozuna, Molina, Fowler, and Kolten Wong all had two hits on the night.
A good team should be able to find the weak spots on a bad team and that’s what the Cardinals did here, finally exposing a seam in the Marlins bullpen. It just….man, it shouldn’t have taken that long, you know? If Conley is good or someone else pitches, the Cards win because the Marlins threw the ball away and then walked three straight batters. Not really a great sign for the offense.
Wednesday (9-0 loss at Miami)
Hero: Good luck finding one. There have been a lot of miserable games in the last few months but this one might outrank them all, at least in the Mike Shildt era. You know what? I’m going with Tyler Webb. His first pitch was bunted for a suicide squeeze, but after that he threw 1.2 innings and gave up just one hit. Webb’s not the best arm down there, but he’s only allowed one run in June and, as we’ve said many times before, is tough on lefties, even more so than the guy paid to be tough on lefties (Andrew Miller). Seriously, lefties have a .354 OPS against him this year. That’s really good.
Goat: Miles Mikolas. A grand slam will ruin anyone’s stat line, but the fact is Mikolas gave up eight hits and one walk in just five innings. Even without a slam, things weren’t going to work out well. Which just continued a frustrating year so far for Mikolas. Let’s take a look at his game log.
As you can see, it’s kinda all over the place. Let’s just look at Game Scores. Two below average starts, an average, a below average, an above average, a below, three above (including one really above), a terrible one, two more good ones, two bad ones. I don’t really see a pattern or a correlation. His xFIP is 4.16, so he’s pitched a little worse than his normal, and obviously the fact that his HR/FB rate is almost 20% is a large portion of the problem.
Which then brings up the question: did John Mozeliak and the front office jump the gun by extending Mikolas? At the time, there were plenty of reasons to like the deal but there were also reasons to be concerned. We’d not seen the league have time to adjust to Mikolas. We didn’t know if his strong season was more who he was or a bit of a fluke. I don’t know that we still know–he could be just as flukily bad as he could have been flukily good. And, sure, if Mikolas was putting up a 2.70 ERA right now, we’d probably be glad they had him under contract instead of wondering where he was going.
That said, the Cardinals have money. We know that. If it would have cost them a little bit more at the All-Star Break to try to get a deal done with MIkolas, that might have been worth it to have the flexibility to shop him this year if things don’t improve or not to be tied down if 2018 was his career year. The same discussion goes for Matt Carpenter, who got extended even though the club had an option for 2020 they could have easily exercised, and even Paul Goldschmidt. Heck, toss in Jose Martinez in there, though that really was more about getting him some money as it didn’t really change the control the club had over him.
I get that if you can get an extension in early, it not only allows you to lock in a price if the player improves but also allows for long-term budgeting. But if the player declines, you are in for it. Which gets back to what Tara and I were talking about Sunday in how the organization values players. They are locked in on these three for a couple of years and that could wind up being costly. They jumped on Dexter Fowler and Mike Leake for a long-term deal when there were questions there. Again, not saying that they were wrong to do that, but you do run the risk of that blowing up in your face and that’s what we are seeing hints of here.
Maybe things will improve, but you know that old baseball truism about how the ball flies when the weather gets warmer. If that holds (and I think DeJong did some experiments in the offseason that showed that might not be the case) and Mikolas is already at 20% for the home run rate…..ouch. And for what it’s worth? Nine of the homers he allowed last year came after June 15. If he kept the same sort of ratio this year, he’d wind up with 32 homers allowed and that, that’s a lot.
Notes: OK, let’s get into John Brebbia. Watching last night, as Brebbia came in and allowed three runs in his inning of work, it felt to me that Brebbia’s been hit around a bit as of late. Now, going through some of these games, I’m not so sure, so let’s look at the game log…..and that’s an interesting story. Brebbia has appeared five times in June. He’s thrown four total innings and allowed seven earned runs. Right now, he’s alternating: Two against Chicago in 0.0 innings followed by none in 0.2 against the Reds. Two in an inning and a third against Chicago, none in an inning against the Marlins. Then there came last night.
So does he just not match up well against Chicago? Maybe–his only other outing against them was when he allowed the home run to Javier Baez that lost the game for the Cards in that first matchup at Wrigley. That doesn’t really explain last night, though.
It feels like Brebbia is just a streaky pitcher. Last year he had a 6.17 ERA in May, followed by a 2.08 ERA in June, then capped the summer with a 7.36 ERA in July before allowing just one more run the rest of the way. It could be that he gets just a little off, makes an adjustment, and then things click and go forward well.
I will say it is a little surprising that Mike Shildt used him in back-to-back days, especially when it was a game already out of hand. I know it’s tough to juggle around “we might need them the next couple of days” vs. “they’ve not pitched in a while” but Andrew Miller hasn’t pitched since Saturday. Carlos Martinez threw last on Sunday, when he threw 1.2 innings. I’m sure that, had Ryan Helsley not left with a shoulder issue that’s forcing him to the IL, he’d have covered more ground and Tyler Webb would have finished things off. With Helsley leaving early, that threw a few things out of whack. With that info, I guess it makes sense that Brebbia went again, especially since he’d just thrown 11 pitches the night before.
Other than that, there wasn’t much to say about that one. The club got three hits against a guy making his major league debut. Stop me if you’ve heard it before. It was a miserable game all the way around and probably a good thing only 10 people watched it given what was going on with the other local professional sports team.
Now the Cards have to go to New York and face Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in a four game series. You have to figure the odds of being no-hit are still long, but not as long as they usually are. I have a bad feeling about this.