One of the reasons I came up with the idea of writing every day during the pandemic shortage is because I knew that, if left to my own devices, there would be some lengthy gaps. Kinda like the one between the last post and this.
It’s been a couple of weeks and a lot of Cardinal games since we last got together. Part of that is life these days, part of that is laziness on my part. However, a large part of it is….things aren’t real different. The Cardinals have spent the entire season around that .500 mark and things didn’t change in the last fortnight. Here’s the win-loss pattern since that last post:
18 games and if the Cardinals would have been able to beat the Pirates last night, they’d have been right at that .500 mark they were at 18 games ago and were at many times in that stretch. Nothing ever catches fire and, until recently, nothing ever depresses them enough to get them out of that .500 orbit. Here’s a real good way to look at it:
However, things have felt like they’ve taken a turn for the worse over the last couple of days. On Tuesday, Jack Flaherty got blasted and the team got thumped 18-3. Bad games like that happen, though, and they did turn around and win the opening game of the second doubleheader right after it. The nightcap, though, had them held to two hits against four Brewers relievers. Then they followed that up by getting just two hits against a Pirates starter (which really is enough right there to tell you that it was a bad thing) who had never thrown more than five innings in a start in 2020 and never stretched to the eighth in his career, yet cruised to a complete game shutout.
You might be surprised to learn that the Cardinals are averaging 7.1 hits a game in September, at least until you remember that they got 23 on the first day of the month against the Reds. They are at 6.5 hits per game in this stretch since their last day off between the doubleheaders against the Twins and Tigers. In that 11 game span, the team is slashing .222/.302/.363. They have 40 runs in those 11 games, and that is skewed by the fact they scored 12 in the first game of that selection. Which means that they are averaging less than three runs in their last 10 games.
Honestly, things look a little bleak. Two hits in back to back nights will do this, but the team seems less inspired and more flat than they have looked in a while. I get it, the games are piling up–as we’ve said, they’ve had 18 in the past 14 days with only one day off–but it’s not going to get much better. They are almost out of the doubleheader woods, with one today and then one next Friday, but there’s still a nine inning game every other day until a week from Sunday. (Unless, of course, they need to play the Detroit games they are missing, then they will have a doubleheader on the day after the season. I’m sure they are overjoyed at that prospect.)
Which brings me to the title of this post. Things feel like they are balancing on the point of a fulcrum. A push and this team could go one way or another.
If they lose the doubleheader today against a Pirates team that has fewer wins than anyone in baseball (and yet, somehow, has over a quarter of those wins against the Cardinals), then we look toward the winter. At 22-26, it would take them playing .600 baseball the rest of the way to even reach .500. Two losses would definitely put the Brewers in front of them and have the Cardinals sitting in fourth place. They could be two games behind the Reds for second and the guaranteed spot in the playoffs. They wouldn’t be eliminated and with games coming up against the Brewers they’d still have some possible control over how they finished, but if you lose a series to the Pirates with this much on the line, it would seem unlikely they could rally enough to make that push.
If they could sweep the doubleheader today, though, that would give some life. They’d be back to .500. Even if Cincinnati won, they’d be tied for second and a game up on the Brewers. If momentum is a thing, and it usually isn’t with the Cardinals, they could then win three of the next five between Pittsburgh and Kansas City, setting up a big final weekend with the Brewers with maybe a little more fire and a little bit of a wind at their back.
What will probably wind up happening, though, is a split doubleheader and that slides us not as far down the “it’s over” path as a sweep but it definitely isn’t what the Cardinals need. With Dakota Hudson leaving last night’s game with an injury and the team forced to call on Austin Gomber, Daniel Ponce de Leon is going to start the second game of the doubleheader on three days’ rest. Now, Ponce looked better than he has looked all year long in his last start and he’s done the reliever thing so three days probably won’t be too bad for him to go three or four innings, but it’s a risk. It also means that, for the good of the team, Carlos Martinez has to go deep and well in the first game. And, of course, the bats have to be able to hit Trevor Williams, who is 1-7 with a 6.35 ERA and gave up three runs in 3.2 innings to the Cards back in July, and Chad Kuhl (1-2, 5.50 ERA, but held St. Louis to one run in six innings during the doubleheader three weeks ago).
Today’s a big day. After it, we’ll know if we can keep thinking about 2020 or should start talking about 2021. And that 2021 talk? It’s not going to be happy.
Friday, Sept. 4 at Chicago (4-1 loss)
Hero: Jake Woodford. With Jack Flaherty still on a limited pitch count (and having already given up three runs), Woodford came in and kept the team in the game, throwing three innings and allowing just one run. It was a moot point as Yu Darvish was carving up the hitters, but it was a good effort by a guy I wasn’t sure would make it to the big leagues.
Goat: Jack Flaherty. As much as the offense was terrible, Darvish gets a lot of credit for that (unlike other games *cough*last night*cough*). In a game the Cards needed to be low scoring, though, Flaherty gave up two runs in the first and another one before leaving with two outs in the third. Without Woodford’s effort, it would have created a pitching scramble right before a double header.
Notes: Alex Reyes and Tyler Webb combined for 2.1 innings of scoreless relief….Matt Carpenter‘s home run broke up the no-hitter and shutout at the same time….Tyler O’Neill went 0-3 with three strikeouts, which probably was a reason his playing time started to shrink.
Saturday, Sept. 5 at Chicago, Game 1 (4-2 win)
Hero: Adam Wainwright. It seems to me Wainwright has determined that he is going to pitch a complete game every time out if necessary. He followed up his nine inning one against the Indians with 6.1 innings in this one, only leaving once the tying run came to the plate. If he gets Nico Hoerner out (or doesn’t give up two solo homers to Ian Happ!), he probably goes all seven. Huge game, given the night before.
Goat: Brad Miller. 0-3 and three left on with two strikeouts, though he did draw a walk.
Notes: The club still only had five hits in this one, but they made them count. Kolten Wong had two of them and scored two of the four runs. The team also drew six walks, which is how they were able to make five hits go so far….Lane Thomas‘s double was the only extra-base hit….Giovanny Gallegos got the last two outs without incident for his third save.
Saturday, Sept. 5 “vs” Chicago, Game 2 (5-1 win)
Hero: Tyler O’Neill. Two hits, a double and a two-run homer that capped a three-run second inning. Getting early leads in seven-inning games is a real good idea!
Goat: Kolten Wong. 0-3 out of the leadoff slot, though he didn’t have any strikeouts.
Notes: Paul DeJong also hit a home run….O’Neill was the only hitter with multiple hits….Austin Gomber allowed no hits and struck out five of the eight outs he acquired, but he walked three in that span as well….Ryan Helsley got the win, though he allowed the only run on a walk and a hit….Genesis Cabrera pitched 2/3rds of an inning but walked two batters in that time….John Gant and Andrew Miller wrapped the game with minimal drama, which is always nice.
Sunday, Sept. 6 at Chicago (7-3 win)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. He only had one hit, but it was a three-run homer that gave the Cardinals the lead in the third after falling behind early. These kind of moments were why the Cardinals wanted Goldschmidt and he certainly delivered.
Goat: Yadier Molina. The only Cardinal starter without a hit, though he did draw a walk.
Notes: The Cardinal bullpen was fire in this one. Alex Reyes, Genesis Cabrera, and Giovanny Gallegos combined to strike out eight of the 13 batters they faced, with Cabrera allowing the only hit….Dakota Hudson allowed three runs early, but was able to find his groove and make it through five innings with no more damage….Tommy Edman went deep in the first to give the Cards an early lead, one that would quickly be erased….Harrison Bader was three for three with two doubles.
Monday, Sept. 7 at Chicago (5-1 loss)
Hero: Kolten Wong. Two hits from the leadoff spot, but nothing to show for it.
Goat: Johan Oviedo. He got knicked for single runs here and there and it added up. Three walks against one strikeout didn’t help much either.
Notes: It was a Kyle Hendricks start, so this is what you expect to see from the Cardinals against him….Tyler Webb, Seth Elledge, and Rob Kaminsky combined to keep things in check (3.1 innings, two hits, no runs) but the damage was done….Paul Goldschmidt also had two hits, everyone else besides him and Wong combined for three.
Tuesday, Sept. 8 vs. Minnesota, Game 1 (7-3 loss)
Hero: Tommy Edman. His one hit was a two-run homer that put the Cardinals on the board in the sixth and at least made it respectable.
Goat: Paul DeJong. 0-3 and–this is the problem with doing a recap of a game 10 days ago that you didn’t even get to watch–I feel like he had a misplay that led to the big inning. I could be wrong there, but nobody is reading this far down so we’ll go with it.
Notes: Carlos Martinez’s first game back after dealing with COVID had its moments, but eventually he was done in by Josh Donaldson and the fact that he allowed seven hits and a walk in less than four innings….Ryan Helsley has of course had his own COVID issues, but it’s not been the step forward this year we’d have liked for him. In this one, he allowed a two run homer to Miguel Sano to cap the scoring after the Cards had cut the lead to 5-3….Two hits for Paul Goldschmidt, two hits for everyone else.
Tuesday, Sept. 8 vs. Minnesota, Game 2 (6-4 win)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. His one hit led off the big inning and he came back around later in the frame to get an RBI on a walk. Tacked on another walk later as well.
Goat: Tyler O’Neill. 0-3 with two strikeouts and left four men on base.
Notes: It was the most Cardinals five-run rally ever. Single, HBP, walk, HBP (RBI), walk (RBI), strikeout, fielder’s choice (RBI), single (RBI), groundout, walk (RBI), fly out. Five runs, two hits. Thank goodness for wild Twins pitching….Matt Wieters had that flyout on the 19th pitch of the at bat. So we’ll always remember that from his time in St. Louis….Daniel Ponce de Leon again dug the Cardinals a hole by allowing a two run homer to Brent Rooker. The rest of his outing was fine, but he only went three innings while throwing 63 pitches….the bullpen bailed out the team again, though John Gant and Giovanny Gallegos both gave up runs over the last four innings.
Thursday, Sept. 10 vs. Detroit, Game 1 (12-2 win)
Hero: Rangel Ravelo. Not often you get to call his name so let’s do it here. Two for two, two runs, three RBI, and a homer in the sixth that finished off the scoring. Big day for a man that doesn’t get much field time.
Goat: Harrison Bader. Everyone got a hit so it’s another tough game to find a Goat, but Bader went 1-4, struck out once, and left four on.
Notes: Yadier Molina hitting a home run in his first at bat wearing 21 to honor Roberto Clemente? That’s a surprise to no one given how Yadi shows up in big and meaningful moments….The Cards hit five home runs in this game. That’s 11.6% of the home runs they’ve hit all season long…..Molina and Tyler O’Neill joined Ravelo as players with multiple hits….Jack Flaherty was solid, allowing a two run homer after the team had staked him to a 9-0 lead but otherwise nothing much going in his five innings.
Thursday, Sept. 10 vs. Detroit, Game 2 (6-3 loss)
Hero: Tommy Edman. 2-3 with a walk and a home run that looked to cap the scoring, then looked to be insurance, before turning out to not be as important.
Goat: Ryan Helsley. Look, it’s not real fair to give it to him, I get that, but he didn’t really do anything to avoid it. Giovanny Gallegos started the meltdown but you can blame injury, especially since he left the game and went immediately on the IL. Helsley had to get ready quickly and come into a save situation. However, he gave up two of Gallegos’s runs and then two of his own on a home run by Jorge Bonifacio.
Notes: This was a gut punch of a game. Leading a team like the Tigers 3-1 going into the ninth should be a slam dunk win, especially with Gallegos rested….I don’t know who else was available, but Helsley might not have been the best option for Mike Shildt there and that’s not second-guessing. Helsley’s struggles with the long ball have been evident this year. Maybe some day he’ll be a closer, but not this day. However, there may not have been much else down there….it could have been worse, had not Paul Goldschmidt turned an unassisted double play right before the home run….Austin Gomber started this and threw three scoreless innings with six strikeouts. Alex Reyes followed with two more scoreless and two K.
Friday, Sept. 11 vs. Cincinnati (3-1 loss)
Hero: Paul DeJong, I guess. One of the two hits, though he struck out twice. Which is the same as what Kolten Wong did, but Wong had another at bat.
Goat: Tommy Edman. 0-4 with a runner left on base.
Notes: It feels like every time you turn around, the Cardinals are getting two-hit. At least Luis Castillo is a decent pitcher to have that happen against, but still, seeing a complete game shutout against you shouldn’t be this regular….Adam Wainwright gave up three runs in six innings, which is a very presentable result and should have been more rewarded.
Saturday, Sept. 12 vs. Cincinnati (7-1 win)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. Two hits, including a home run that kicked off a five run inning.
Goat: Matt Wieters. 0-2, though he did walk and score a run. Left three men on though.
Notes: Four home runs in this one. Add that to the game earlier when they had five and over 20% of the home runs the Cardinals have hit this season were in those two games. Talk about feast or famine….Dakota Hudson got plenty of support but he didn’t need much of it, allowing one run in six innings. Did have four walks, which always seems to be an issue for Hudson….Harrison Bader got the big blast, a three run homer that put the game out of reach.
Sunday, Sept. 13 vs. Cincinnati (10-5 loss)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. The only Cardinal with two hits. Honestly, looking at the box score, it’s hard to see how they got five runs. Seven Cincinnati walks helped in that regard.
Goat: Andrew Miller. With the Cards up 5-4, Alex Reyes got an out but allowed a walk. John Gant came in, gave up a single, and left hurt. So Miller didn’t have the greatest situation to start with, much like Ryan Helsley above. But he did nothing to make it better, hitting the first batter to load the bases, walking the second to force in the tying run, then throwing a wild pitch to give the Reds the lead. He got a groundout that scored an insurance run for the Reds before finally getting out of the inning.
Notes: Carlos Martinez’s second game back wasn’t much better than the first, allowing three runs in four innings, though he did strike out eight, which was encouraging….every Cardinal reliever allowed at least one run, though obviously Gant’s was allowed by Miller….Brad Miller walked three times….Rangel Ravelo had a hit and an RBI.
Monday, Sept. 14 at Milwaukee, Game 1 (2-1 loss in 8)
Hero: Kwang Hyun Kim. Right off the IL and not missing a beat, Kim threw seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, while striking out six. He deserved so much better than a no decision.
Goat: Ryan Helsley. As Tara noted on this week’s Chirps, Helsley really isn’t the guy that you want to come in to lock down a lead right now, especially with a runner on second to start the frame. I know a lot of guys were a little gassed, since so many had pitched the night before, but you’d think someone could have locked that one down. He did strike out Christian Yelich with two runners on, which is something, but Ryan Braun picked up his teammate.
Notes: Tommy Edman had the big hit, the eighth-inning single that looked to stave off a wasted opportunity after Harrison Bader popped up a bunt and Kolten Wong struck out. It just didn’t last long….Josh Lindblom had a 6.06 ERA coming into the game and that was after two scoreless relief innings brought it down. So of course he went five innings, no runs, three hits, six strikeouts….the bottom four hitters in the Cardinal lineup went 1-12.
Monday, Sept. 14 at Milwaukee, Game 2 (3-2 win in 9)
Hero: Paul DeJong. Three hits, including the game winning single in the ninth.
Goat: Lane Thomas. 0-4 and left four men on while striking out twice.
Notes: An excellent start from Daniel Ponce de Leon, perhaps the best since his debut when he took a no-hitter through seven. He kept his pitch count low enough to go through six (even more meaningful in a shortened doubleheader game) and struck out nine while allowing only two runs on a home run in the fourth (Jedd Gyorko, why you do us like that?)….Tommy Edman struck out three times but he walked twice and scored two of the three runs….Alex Reyes walked one, struck out three in his inning. Genesis Cabrera walked one, struck out three in his inning. Tyler Webb walked one, struck out three–oops, sorry, just one–in his inning, getting the save.
Tuesday, Sept. 15 at Milwaukee (18-3 loss)
Hero: Really? In a game like this? All right, let’s go with Tommy Edman, who had two hits (team had seven total) and a walk, plus scored a run.
Goat: Jack Flaherty. Part of the ace is stepping up when the team needs you. Flaherty didn’t answer the call here, giving up nine runs in three innings. He did strike out six, which was good, but he allowed back-to-back homers in the first and never got on track, really.
Notes: Nobody covered themselves in glory, but Jake Woodford had the worst outing of his young career, giving up five runs in 1.1 innings….actually, Nabil Crismatt did pretty well, allowing only one run in three. He’s proven that he’s a fringe major leaguer, I think, which is more than he would have gotten in a normal year….Rangel Ravelo went 0-4 and left six men on, which is a rough, rough day.
Wednesday, Sept. 16 at Milwaukee, Game 1 (4-2 win)
Hero: Brad Miller. Two for three with a home run, a solo shot that provided some insurance.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. 0-3 with two left on.
Notes: Easily could have given another Hero to Adam Wainwright, who went the distance (all seven) and allowed just two runs, both in the first inning….Tyler O’Neill stole some of Dexter Fowler‘s bats and smashed a homer with one to get the Cards on the board and used one for a sac fly that tied things up.
Wednesday, Sept. 16 at Milwaukee, Game 2 (6-0 loss)
Hero: Tommy Edman. One of the only two hits in the game. Two hits, yet again.
Goat: Brad Miller. 0-3, two strikeouts, three left on. The Cardinals only had four baserunners so that last point is a real feat.
Notes: Just another night making a struggling pitcher look awesome. Not sure what else to say about it.
Thursday, Sept. 17 at Pittsburgh (5-1 loss)
Hero: Tommy Edman. Drove in the only run with one of the (say it with me) team’s two hits.
Goat: Austin Gomber. While the offense probably should take the blame, allowing four runs in less than two innings is a very good way to have this team lose a game.
Notes: Junior Fernandez threw a scoreless inning. That’s something I guess. Otherwise, read the notes from the last game.