Ever since last week’s bust at the trading deadline, there’s been a lot of vitriol and blame thrown at the front office of the Cardinals. If only John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch would have done something, this team would not now be in third place, 3 1/2 games behind a Cubs team that seems to have suddenly found their footing.
While I too believe the front office should have done something and that there are going to be far-reaching consequences for their lack of vision (probably not being zapped by Sith lightning but you can never be sure), there’s something that we probably should acknowledge. The lack of movement last week meant nothing, most likely, to the 0-5 road trip out West.
What was the front office focused on? A pitcher, mainly a starting one. And while Zack Wheeler has pitched very well for the Mets in August, it’s hard to see how that would have made an impact on the road trip. The game that Michael Wacha started, which most likely would have been Wheeler’s debut (though the rotation might have been shuffled), the Cards lost 8-0 with only two hits. You could make the argument that a closer game might have been more likely to see some sort of rally, but you could also make the case that, down eight mid-way through the game, the pitching from the other side should get a little easier and the club still couldn’t do anything with it.
Pitching hasn’t been the issue right now save for Wacha and, as noted, Bob Gibson could have started that game and it probably wouldn’t have mattered. No, when you score a total of seven runs in a road trip–less than they’ve scored in an inning at least once this year–it’s hard to argue that bringing in another pitcher would have helped salvage that West Coast swing. However, nobody in the front office talked about adding a bat and nobody in the fan base really did either. The obvious upgrade was the pitching staff. It’s hard to see how you could have improved the hitting with a trade.
(And before you claim that the Wheeler trade would have led to the promotion of Randy Arozarena, there’s little guarantee of that. If the trade had required Tyler O’Neill, they probably bring back Harrison Bader. If it required Bader, they don’t have to do anything with the 25-man except remove a pitcher for Wheeler.)
Does that get the front office off the hook for the lack of activity? Of course not. There’s a lot of aggravation focused on Mozeliak and Girsch and with good reason. There were chances to make this team better and they didn’t take them. However, the Cardinals couldn’t hit against quality opposition. That’s not something that reasonably could have been fixed at the deadline.
It also raises the question–if you can’t beat the good teams, should you really be a postseason team? The Cardinals just faced Houston, Chicago, Oakland, and Los Angeles. All besides Oakland currently reside in first place and the A’s have 65 wins, which has them just out of the AL Wild Card. They went a combined 3-8 in that stretch and hit .227 with nine home runs over that span. They were shut out twice. All the good feeling about the offense after they faced Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and Arizona (they hit .240 there with 25 homers in 14 games, which isn’t exactly ’27 Yankees but it produced some wins) got wiped away and while we aren’t back to May when you wonder if they’ll ever score a run, we aren’t far off.
Again, they ran into some good pitching, but they also were not capitalizing on opportunities, something we’ve seen over and over again from this team in 2019. When you see what they are doing against the folks that will or should be playing in October, it makes you wonder if they really are a postseason caliber team.
Yesterday was a fine example of this. Jack Flaherty, the Hero, pitches one of the best games of his life, going seven scoreless with 10 strikeouts against easily the best team in the National League. What did the Cardinal offense do to support him? They wasted a one-out double in the first, with Tommy Edman not advancing any farther. Matt Carpenter walked with one out in the second, didn’t advance. Paul DeJong and Matt Carpenter both singled in the fourth, but it was with two outs and Kolten Wong, who has been the best hitter of late, got called out on strikes on a borderline pitch. Dexter Fowler doubled with two outs in the fifth, but didn’t go anywhere. (Two outs is not really the best time to start rallies.)
Marcell Ozuna did homer in the sixth, which turned out to be the only Cardinal run of the day, but again with two outs Carpenter singled and Wong walked, but Matt Wieters couldn’t bring them in. Probably the most egregious missed opportunity, though, was the ninth. Carpenter got hit on the foot (and had to leave the game, but that did mean Carp had been on base four times in the game) and Wong bunted him over to second. Normally, I’m not a fan of the bunt and I’m not sure it was the best idea there, but when you are playing for that one extra run, I can see it. However, when Wieters dropped a flare into right, Lane Thomas (who was running for Carpenter) couldn’t/didn’t score. That put runners on the corners with one out and if you didn’t predict Jose Martinez grounding into a double play, you haven’t been watching this team all year.
Even with all those missed chances, the Cardinals still should have won the ballgame. Andrew Miller came into the top of the ninth with three lefties scheduled to hit. I get the idea behind this and I wouldn’t really argue with it, but Miller had pitched two-thirds of an inning the night before and allowed a run. (I didn’t realize until now, though, that that was his only appearance in August.) With Carlos Martinez not having pitched since July 30 and given that, as a starter, he could get lefties and righties out, I think I’d have started him that inning. However, as I say, I understand why you go to Miller in theory. It’s just, for all his good stats, he always seems to hit a bump at the wrong time.
I get it wasn’t the ideal situation, but I’m still giving Martinez the Goat here. He gave up a single to Will Smith (insert rapper/actor reference here), putting the winning run on base. After striking out Edwin Rios, he threw a wild pitch that moved both runners up, which allowed both runners to score when Russell Martin poked a 2-2 single through the infield.
When Martinez struggled for a while last month, some of the reasons given were that he was working too hard, being used to much. Was yesterday because he hadn’t been used enough? Could be. It’s not necessarily the situation you’d want to put a pitcher that hasn’t pitched for over a week into. That said, I feel like it’s going to be a while before I’m completely comfortable with Carlos in the ninth. Since he took over at closer, he has a 4.50 ERA. He has a 1.57 WHIP. He has allowed two of his nine inherited runners to score. And, in those 14 games, he’s had a clean outing three times, and one of those was just 1/3 of an inning (the other two, to be fair, were over an inning).
I’m not saying that Martinez shouldn’t be the closer–after all, even with all these struggles, yesterday was the first save he’s blown in that span–but the ninth inning is always going to be an adventure. We’re Cardinals fans, though. We’re used to it.
The schedule gets easier for the Cardinals after the off day (though, as we know, they’ve been terrible after off days this season). Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Colorado make up the rest of the month. Things may look better given that, and it’s possible (given that the Cubs are spending much of August on the road) that they could again rally to the top of the division. However, it’s going to be really hard to believe this team can capture some magic if all they can do is beat the lesser teams.
So be angry at the front office if you want. There’s no doubt they deserve some of it. Just realize that they aren’t the entire problem.
Tuesday (3-1 loss at Los Angeles)
Hero: Miles Mikolas. Two runs in 6.1 innings with seven strikeouts would be enough to win a lot of games.
Goat: Paul Goldschmidt. 0-4 with two strikeouts and four left on. Goldschmidt went 0-14 the last four games of the road trip and hasn’t homered in August. Perhaps July took a lot out of him.
Notes: Anytime you see Clayton Kershaw on the schedule, you have to know you are in for a tough night….Matt Carpenter went 1-3 with an RBI and a walk in this one. Perhaps leaving him down in the lineup is a good idea….Dexter Fowler had two hits off of Kershaw, including a leadoff double. Not that he scored or anything….Andrew Miller, as mentioned above, pitched in this one and gave up a walk and a hit. There are times he looks dominant, there are times he’s vulnerable, and you never know which is going to be which on a given night.