The Cardinals lost to the Giants last night. Earlier in the season, that’d have been a reason to gnash some teeth and talk about how this team didn’t really rise to the occasion. Now, it’s a disappointment, but not a tragedy.
That’s what happens when you put on a remarkable run of baseball. As you all know, the Cardinals have been outstanding since coming back from that terrible road trip to Los Angeles and Oakland. A 20-6 run, to be exact, with come from behind wins, great pitching performances, offensive explosions, you name it, the Cardinals have won that way, all the way to taking a 2.5 game lead in the NL Central. It’s gotten to where you expect them to win every night, even if they get down early. Comebacks haven’t been an issue lately for the Redbirds.
This is much closer to the team that many thought the Cards were going into the season, honestly. There were some questions about the starting pitching–and still are–but the offense was supposed to cover that and the bullpen would be solid. That’s pretty much what we are seeing now and it makes that extreme swoon in May and June so terrible. Had the Cards been able to even play .500 or just below in that stretch, they could be cruising to a divisional title. Instead, the seven games left with the Cubs at the end of the season still loom large.
Honestly, if there’s one place I’m concerned right now (besides the more nebulous “hot teams in August can crash in September” narrative), it’s actually that bullpen, which has been so solid for the bulk of the season. Giovanny Gallegos is showing cracks after a very strong summer, allowing home runs in back-to-back games after having not allowed one at all in the second half. His K/9 rate since the beginning of August is 8.53, which is solid but well down from what it was through July (12.79). His xFIP since August is 4.71. He’s right at the innings he threw in 2017, which was split between AAA and New York, and the leverage and pressure on him has been much more intense than anything he’s dealt with before. I worried last night when he came into the situation he did and, unfortunately, I was right, though he did recover to pitch a solid ninth and struck out three of the five batters he retired.
With Gallegos being less than automatic, the bullpen takes on a little more concern. You can’t pitch Carlos Martinez every night and he’s shown a bit of a propensity for tightrope-walking as it is, though he’s only allowed one baserunner in his last four games. John Gant was a rock earlier in the year, but has a 1.755 WHIP and a 4.58 ERA in the second half. John Brebbia is usually really good, but the last four times he was scored upon, he gave up multiple runs. In fairness, that spans 18 appearances in the second half and over that time he’s only allowed one of nine inherited runners to score. He might be the most likely pre-Martinez rock you could use and I’m not sure why Mike Shildt didn’t use him last night unless he wanted to save him to back up Dakota Hudson this afternoon.
And then there is Andrew Miller, who continues to be a conundrum. He pitched last night and gave up a hit, which turned out to be the tying run when Gallegos relieved and allowed the two-run blast to Kevin Pillar. Miller last had a clean outing on August 22, when he retired both batters he faced. He’s still got good stuff, as evidenced by his 11.82 K/9, but one in every four fly balls (26.3%) leaves the yard. His walk rate per nine is almost five. His xFIP is 4.29. There are nights when Miller looks overwhelming, but more often he’s much more human.
After that, who is there that you want to see out there in a close situation? Ryan Helsley has potential, but the club is using him as a long man. They probably should have him as a starter, as we have continued to say, but if they aren’t the long role is probably the best for him. (That said, if they make the playoffs, Helsley coming in for one inning throwing heat would be intriguing.) Junior Fernandez is still too raw to be put in any real high leverage situation. Tyler Webb? He’s been better than many think but again, there’s a lot of breath-holding if he’s in late.
I’m not saying the bullpen is bad by any means but it doesn’t feel like it’s automatic like it has at times. Last night hopefully was the aberration, especially since a lot was asked of them and not all the top arms were available. If Paul DeJong goes to first/isn’t distracted by the umpire, the Giants might not have gotten three more runs, but if it wasn’t Dominic Leone out there, that might not have mattered anyway. Not to bash Leone, but he’s struggled this year and spent most of it in Memphis. He’s not the guy you want to rely on in a pennant race.
If the starting pitching continues to go deep in games, the bullpen isn’t really a problem. With Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson rolling and Miles Mikolas almost always going six, there’s less need for the big arms every night. However, when they start facing teams like the Cubs, they may need all hands on deck. Hopefully those hands will be helpful.
Wednesday, August 28 (4-1 loss at Milwaukee)
Hero: Kolten Wong. Three hits, including a double and a home run that was the only scoring.
Goat: Marcell Ozuna. 0-4, three strikeouts, two left on.
Notes: Jack Flaherty’s worst game of the second half–he gave up three runs, two earned….two hits for Yadier Molina, who maybe should take a month off every summer….I wrote in my last post that this could be a trap game and it proved to be just that.
Saturday, August 31 (10-6 win vs. Cincinnati, game 1)
Hero: Dexter Fowler. Three hits, including a home run.
Goat: Giovanny Gallegos. John Brebbia’s line shows two runs with nobody retired, but his runs came in when Gallegos gave up a bases-loaded double.
Notes: Brebbia did allow one of Dakota Hudson’s runs to score (as did Gallegos)….the top three in the lineup went 7-12 with three walks….Kolten Wong doubled in some insurance runs late to keep things from getting out of hand.
Saturday, August 31 (3-2 win vs. Cincinnati, game 2)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. Getting that walk-off hit had to be big for him, especially after looking bad on the two splits right before the game winner.
Goat: Paul Goldschmidt. 0-4 with two men left on.
Notes: You probably could give Tommy Edman the Hero tag since he had three hits in the game….Dexter Fowler had two hits, including a double, and Kolten Wong started his triple rampage….huge kudos to Michael Wacha, who had his best start in a long while by going seven innings, allowing just three hits and two runs, and keeping the bullpen fresh as they went through the 5-games-in-57-hours gauntlet.
Sunday, September 1 (4-3 win vs. Cincinnati, game 1)
Hero: Harrison Bader. Get the walkoff, get the Hero tag. Bader was also one of only two that had multiple hits and drove in another run besides the game-winner.
Goat: Marcell Ozuna. 0-4 with a strikeout.
Notes: Yadier Molina was the other one with two hits, capping his Player of the Week resume….Matt Carpenter got a start but went 0-3 and didn’t build a case for a regular dose of them….a bit of a getaway lineup feel as Mike Shildt used this time to rest a few players, using Tommy Edman at second and Yairo Munoz at short.
Sunday, September 1 (5-3 loss vs. Cincinnati, game 2)
Hero: Kolten Wong. Three hits, including a triple, and an RBI.
Goat: Daniel Ponce de Leon. Thankfully this was close to the end of the gauntlet, but five hits and four runs (three earned) in four innings isn’t great no matter when it happens. Ponce de Leon is depth, but he’s not showing that he can consistently be a starter at the big league level.
Notes: Andrew Knizner hit a two-run homer, briefly tying the game….Mike Mayers returned to the 40-man and the majors but allowed a home run to the first batter he faced. He did wind up going two innings and striking out three, so it was bit of a mixed bag….Matt Carpenter started in this one as well and went 0-4 with three strikeouts and three left on.
Monday, September 2 (3-1 win vs. San Francisco)
Hero: Adam Wainwright. Seven scoreless innings with just four hits allowed. He only struck out one but given the results, we’ll take that.
Goat: Marcell Ozuna. 0-4 with two left on.
Notes: Giovanny Gallegos accounted for San Francisco’s only run, allowing a home run to Mauricio Dubon….Kolten Wong tripled again, becoming the third Cardinal to triple in three straight games….Carlos Martinez went 1.1 innings with two strikeouts to lock down the save.
Tuesday, September 3 (1-0 win vs. San Francisco)
Hero: Jack Flaherty. Eight scoreless innings and he took a no-hitter into the sixth. One of these days he is going to complete that no-hitter. Also struck out eight and walked one, continuing his Pitcher of the Month run.
Goat: Kolten Wong. 0-4 with two strikeouts.
Notes: Marcell Ozuna provided the only run with a blast up into Big Mac–er, Big Ac–Land. He also had a single, the only Cardinal with two hits….Yadier Molina went 1-3 but left three men on….Mike Shildt didn’t want to risk ruining Flaherty’s night and went with Carlos Martinez for the fourth straight day.
Wednesday, September 4 (9-8 loss vs. San Francisco)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. Two hits and four RBI, including a double that put the Cards on top 8-7 and seemed to propel them to another win.
Goat: Giovanny Gallegos. Brought in with a runner on, he promptly served up a home run to Kevin Pillar that wound up winning the game.
Notes: Even with the loss, it was nice to see the team come back not once but twice…..we referenced it above, but the key moment may have been Paul DeJong being distracted by the second base umpire being in his line of sight and not getting the third out of the sixth, keeping Dominic Leone out there which is always playing with fire….13 hits, including triples by Goldschmidt and Tommy Edman…..Michael Wacha was fine to start this bullpen game and, amazingly enough, wouldn’t have minded if Mike Shildt had let him go more than two innings….Tyler Webb didn’t have it last night, allowing two runs of his own in his 1/3 of an inning and having two more charged to him when Ryan Helsley let them score.