A Week Full of Baseball Ups and Downs

It’s a rare week, of course, that sees seven baseball games at all, much less between Monday and Friday.  We spent a lot of time without the Cardinals and now, it’s almost like we can’t get away from them!  This weekend is more normal and there’s only one doubleheader next week, so maybe we’ll catch a breather before the sprint that will be September.

As for what we’ve learned about this team this week, the answer is….still not much.  Again, there are so many variables that it’s hard to really determine whether this is bad or that is good.  The Cardinals used a ton of players this week, flipping people from Springfield to the majors like John Mozeliak was day trading.  There have been some good surprises and some not-unexpected failures.  So drawing a larger conclusion from this sample is a really tough and risky thing to do.

That said, it seems pretty clear that the offense is still struggling, especially since that’s the one place that wasn’t hit very hard by the entire COVID bug.  Granted, it’s a smaller sample than most of the other teams in the majors, but the club has an OPS of .660, which ranks them 25th in baseball.  (Thankfully, the Brewers and the Pirates are two of the teams that are worse.)  They are last in home runs, obviously, but even prorated to 28 games, they’d be 24th.  Their team OBP is .310.  If nothing else, look at how many times they are able to load the bases versus how many runs actually score in those situations.  Save for Matt Carpenter‘s grand slam against the Cubs, most of those situations have gone without being capitalized on.

Some of this perhaps is the way they are being approached.  From all indications, they are seeing less fastballs than other teams.  The broadcast speculates it’s because, when you are away from the game, you can only really get work on pitching machines that throw straight pitches, so teams are trying to go away from that.  Kind of a rust thing, if you will.  I’m not so sure that’s the case, though.  Perhaps that plays a part, but for every team to go after the Cardinals this way also indicates that perhaps other teams believe it’s a flaw in their approach.  It would be interesting to compare how the Pirates and Twins approached the Cardinals before the shutdown to how the White Sox, Cubs, and Reds are doing it now.  That’s for people like Zach Gifford and others that know how to dig into the data to tell you.  If you are coming here for that, you are sadly mistaken.

The offensive issues mean that, when the pitching breaks, it’s notable and painful.  Twice this week, we saw Tyler Webb give up a game-changing home run.  Webb, for all the slings and arrows he takes, was pretty effective for the Cardinals last year.  From July to September, batters hit just .155 against him and he walked eight guys in 27.1 innings, though perhaps telling is that he allowed homers to four batters.  Of course, a lot of his time last year was less than an inning, something that isn’t an option this year.  And he’s had good outings this year as well, with five of his seven outings being scoreless.  Honestly, when he’s on, he’s fine.

Monday night against the Cubs, it was clear he was not on, and I do fault Shildt for perhaps being a little less proactive than he should have been there.  After Webb walked Jason Heyward, in a normal season I think the manager would have gone for the hook.  However, there are so many other things that Shildt has to worry about.  At that time, he had another doubleheader coming up in two days.  He has a long stretch of games without an off day.  The pitching at Springfield was almost exhausted.  I feel like that’s what is going to happen a lot this year–Shildt is going to try to push for one extra out when he can.  He tried it with Roel Ramirez on Sunday and that just blew up on him.  David Bote is worse against lefties so I can see the idea there, but I also know it isn’t the first time Bote had burned the Cardinals (and it wasn’t the last time in the series) and Webb didn’t look like much.

As for last night, Webb shouldn’t have been in there anyway.  Genesis Cabrera was going well with two outs and then Harrison Bader completely missed a fly ball, then compounded things with a bad throw.  It looked like Yadier Molina went out to see and suggested Cabrera be careful with Mike Moustakas.  It almost worked as well–pinch hitter Philip Ervin, batting with two on and two out, really didn’t have any chance against Cabrera.  However, his control issue flared up and he plunked Ervin, leaving the bases loaded.

Cabrera’s pitch count was getting up there and you do run the risk of him letting the inning get away, but you have a guy in Josh VanMeter coming up that is hitting .059 on the season.  Shildt probably should have been more aware of who was on the bench–bringing in a lefty gave David Bell a chance to go get Matt Davidson off the bench.  Davidson has been significantly better in his career against left-handed pitching and you know Bell jumped at the chance to get a stronger bat into the lineup.  That doesn’t completely excuse Webb, of course–it was not a great pitch–but he was just a part of the problem.

Overall, this team seems to be what we thought it would be.  A team that is going to win when the pitching and defense are strong, but a team that is not going to win many slugfests.  The occasional offensive explosion is nice, and they’ve been able to put up some high run totals a couple of times this season, but that doesn’t feel like who they really are.

Will that change?  I don’t know how it would.  The trading deadline is a little over a week away but I can’t see Mozeliak making any sort of significant deal.  The fortunate thing is that the NL Central is not that great.  The Cards proved that they are on the same level as the Cubs, being just a couple of pitches away from possibly going 4-1 in that series.  The rest of the division is under .500.  They’ve got a great shot at making the playoffs, especially since they are doing this at less than full strength.  Unfortunately, it may be more because of the division than their talent if they make it to October.

Monday at Chicago, Game 1 (3-1 win)

Hero: Brad Miller.  His two-run single in the top of the seventh broke the tie and set the Cards up for the win.

Goat: Kolten Wong.  0-3 from the leadoff spot, though with only four hits, there were a lot of 0-fers to choose from.

Notes: Great work out of the bullpen, as John Gant, Giovanny Gallegos, and Andrew Miller combined for 3.1 hitless innings.  It’s always nice to see the good Andrew Miller.  That doesn’t happen all that often…..a solid first starter for Kwang Hyun Kim, with the only real blemish being three walks.  His pitch count should be increased against the Reds tonight, so we’ll see if he can go deeper, but one run in 3.2 innings against that Cubs team is nothing to sneeze at….Dexter Fowler had a hit and an RBI, continuing his strong start to the 2020 season.

Monday “vs.” Chicago, Game 2 (5-4 loss)

Hero: Brad Miller.  Definitely was Miller time on this day.  Two home runs in this one, accounting for three of the four runs.

Goat: Tyler Webb.  Maybe he shouldn’t have faced Bote, but he should have gotten out of it before then as well.

Notes: Dylan Carlson continues to struggle, going 0-4 with two strikeouts in this one.  Even the balls he hits hard get caught, which is not the way you would hope to debut if you are the young man….Alex Reyes still needs to figure out how to be more consistent in the strike zone.  He got out of the first with no runs allowed, but the three walks meant he couldn’t go back out there….Some nice debuts here–Ricardo Sanchez, Rob Kaminsky, and Nabil Crismatt all threw scoreless frames…..home run for Max Schrock as well, which was fun to see.

Tuesday at Chicago (6-3 loss)

Hero: Paul Goldschmidt.  Three hits, a walk, a run, and an RBI.  That’s what we call filling up the box score.

Goat: Matt Wieters.  0-3 and left five men on base.  Getting one or two of those in would have been nice.

Notes: Daniel Ponce de Leon continues to get the strikeouts, but he’s not able to go deep in games that way, especially now with so many inning/pitch limitations.  (Three walks didn’t help his case either.)  He had a better outing than he did against the Twins, but hopefully next time out he’ll get through four, at the minimum….Cardinal debut for Ryan Meisinger and major league debut for Jesus Cruz.  Cruz’s would have gone better had he not gone back out there for another inning….Seth Elledge still has a lot of potential and intrigue, but like a lot of young pitchers still has to be consistent with his results….two hits for Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter, both of whom look like they are coming around.

Wednesday at Chicago, Game 1 (9-3 win)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  Only one hit, but it was a grand slam that gave the Cards a 4-0 lead with nobody out in the first.  With Jack Flaherty on the mound, that’s a lot of positive momentum.

Goat: Dexter Fowler.  0-4 with two strikeouts.  It was actually one of the rare off games for Fowler so far this season.

Notes: Flaherty may have started, but he wasn’t out there long.  Between waiting this long for him to pitch and the short (1.2 innings) outing, it seems pretty clear the Cards are trying to make sure he doesn’t join the long list of injured pitchers from around baseball this season.  Whether that will be effective or not still remains to be seen, but hopefully they can take the restrictions off a little bit and he can go a little deeper against the Royals on Monday….Kolten Wong with two hits and a walk and Tommy Edman with three hits.  The top of your lineup does that, the runs will come more often than not….Matt Wieters went 0-3 to run his season to 0-12.  The “great toe contusion” came at a good time, because people would riot if he got to see more time than Andrew Knizner going forward.  Not that either of them will see much, if any, time now that Yadier Molina is back….Austin Gomber also returned and went 1.1 scoreless.  Hopefully they keep stretching him out a bit as well to leave him as a starting option.

Wednesday “vs.” Chicago, Game 2 (4-2 loss)

Hero: Johan Oviedo.  We’ve been waiting for this guy for a while and when he finally arrived, he delivered.  Five innings, which is more than anyone not named Adam Wainwright has done since the restart, and just two runs with four strikeouts.  It’s pretty telling that, with all the roster shuffling, Oviedo didn’t get sent back to Springfield after his outing.  I think the club was impressed and there’s a strong chance he’ll wind up challenging for a rotation spot if he can follow up on this first start.

Goat: Andrew Miller.  It’s looking like Miller’s option will vest for next season but I can’t say that I’m excited about that.  Miller has his moments, but they seem fewer and spread out.  He’s pitched in five games and been charged with runs in two of them.  Only once has he retired every batter he faced.  If the slider is really working he can be OK, but I continue to hold my breath when he is out there.

Notes: Another game where the Cardinals got only singles.  Which maybe could work if they got nine or ten hits, much less likely to work when they get three.  Though they had the game tied in the seventh before Giovanny Gallegos allowed Miller’s runners to score off another hit by David Bote, so it almost did….Genesis Cabrera only threw 12 pitches in the sixth.  I’m not sure exactly why Shildt didn’t let him at least start the ninth.

Thursday vs. Cincinnati (5-4 win)

Hero: Kolten Wong.  A Wong off is always a good thing.  The Reds gifted the Cardinals some runs there in the ninth, including a questionable balk by Raisel Iglesias, and Wong made sure that the club got to have its first walkoff winner of the year, complete with socially distanced celebration.  I do wish Wong had gotten the Gatorade bucket and dumped it on himself as he suggested, though.  That hit saved what was a rough night for the second baseman, with three strikeouts in the first four at bats.

Goat: Paul Goldschmidt.  He did draw two walks, but otherwise went 0-2 and made an error that led to some of the unearned runs against Adam Wainwright.

Notes: Waino was Waino, going seven innings and allowing four runs, though only two were earned.  He worked in and out of trouble and basically did that “crafty veteran” thing that he does so well….Yadier Molina sat for 26 days or so, comes up with the bases loaded in his first at bat, and pokes a single that scores two runs.  Legend….Dylan Carlson may be pressing a bit, as he went 0-4 and left four on with two strikeouts….Seth Elledge got the win after doing his darndest to cause problems, walking three in his inning of work but getting out of in without incident.

Friday vs. Cincinnati (4-2 loss)

Hero: Dakota Hudson.  I questioned him a bit last time but you can’t fault him here at all.  4.2 innings, one hit, no runs is a great night for any starter right now.  Throw in six strikeouts and it’s a feast, pretty much.

Goat: Harrison Bader.  As I said above, I know that Genesis Cabrera could have and probably should have worked out of the jam.  But that was a routine fly ball that Bader just whiffed on.  He catches that, we move on and there’s a strong chance–though the offense adding on would have helped–this turns into a Cardinal winner.  Add in that he went 0-2 (though walked and scored) and was pinch-hit for late with Dylan Carlson and, well, he’s had better days.  The problem is, his defense is going to have to carry him (and even that probably isn’t going to be enough) and big gaffes like that might start pushing him to the bench even more.

Notes: We’ve talked about Cabrera’s issues, but it would have been nice to see him get one of those guys out and going to Tyler Webb without knowing (or caring) that David Bell would go to his bench wasn’t one of Mike Shildt’s best moments….Paul Goldschmidt came up with the bases loaded and one out early in the game and struck out, which would have been a bigger deal had not Matt Carpenter walked right behind him forcing in a run.  Still, a hit there might have changed the complexion of the game….another three hits, all singles game.  Two of those in a week and, if I remember seeing this on Twitter correctly, already four this season.  Out of 15 games, that’s not exactly outstanding….good work by Jake Woodford to pitch two scoreless innings and give the team a chance to climb back into the game, even if they didn’t take it.


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