When last we got together in this space, we were still on cloud nine after a not-perfect but still exciting and enjoyable Opening Day. The Cards were 1-0, the offense had clicked, and good times seemed the order of the day.
That didn’t last long.
While two losses shouldn’t create any more panic than one win should have created overwhelming euphoria, there’s no doubt that the last two games in Cincinnati were a bit more concerning. Perhaps it would have been different had Nicholas Castellanos not flexed his muscles both figuratively and literally this weekend. A guy that went 3-35 against the Cardinals last year went six for 11 in the three games, hitting for the cycle in the series with a double, a triple, and two home runs. The first one might have sparked the rivalry (though honestly I never saw any mention of it before Saturday’s festivities), the second one pretty much put paid to the weekend.
Even though they were held to just one run on Saturday, the offense overall wasn’t really the concern. It’d be nice if Tommy Edman could get going in the leadoff spot and the outfield was less productive after Thursday’s opener, but the club put up 18 runs in three games. It wasn’t exactly feast or famine, though it’s hard to get a pattern out of three games. No, if there’s anything that has gotten at least my worries up, it’s the pitching staff as a whole.
Look, Adam Wainwright got a terrible run of luck in the third inning of his start, having bloops and dribblers wind up for hits in that third inning when nothing went right for him. That said, as I believe Ben Humphries pointed out on Twitter, Wainwright’s not striking out people as much anymore and as such can be vulnerable to the vagaries of balls in play. Sometimes they are going to go to the fielders. Sometimes they aren’t. When they don’t, things can snowball and they did on Wainwright.
If you want to be positive, there’s no reason to necessarily believe that Wainwright’s going to have that happen all the time. It was an extreme intersection of paper cuts that wound up driving him out of the game. Had even just one of those wound up as an out, Waino probably gets out of that inning and rolls through 2-3 more. Just like with Jack Flaherty and the idea that he pitched differently up 6-0 than he would have in a closer game, you can find reasons, reasonable reasons, not to be concerned about the starters.
Carlos Martinez really goes into that bucket as well. Martinez looked sharp in the early going yesterday. Four innings of allowing just one run is a pretty good start and he was an out away from getting through five with those results as well. He was trying to work around a bad hop that Paul Goldschmidt couldn’t wrangle, which is always a rare thing, and a walk following. If it had been anyone but the red-hot Castellanos in his way, he might have made it. He made a mistake, though, and it was 4-1 instantly.
So, even though the results weren’t what we wanted to see, I don’t think there’s anything really from this weekend that changes your opinion about the starting rotation. However, the bullpen might be a different story. While it’s still not worth panicking over, there’s no doubt this wasn’t the lockdown relief corps that we were hoping for. The most obvious focal point is Ryan Helsley, who seems to be struggling to get anything other than his fastball over the plate and the Reds didn’t take long to figure that out. He got a break on Thursday when Tyler Stephenson forgot how many outs there were, but he had no such luck Sunday. Walk, popout, walk, single, wild pitch, single. Yes, Tyler Webb didn’t help by allowing one of Helsley’s runners to come home, but that was just icing on the cake.
As Tara said last night on Gateway, Helsley isn’t the lynchpin of the bullpen, the guy that keeps this whole thing together. However, he’s possibly the difference between a good pen or a great one. He’s a guy that could be heavily relied on if good. If he’s not, it might be that Kodi Whitley takes that role. That’s not bad, the way that Whitley has pitched, but it’d be better if Whitley replaced Jake Woodford instead. That would make the unit better on the whole. Hopefully Helsley can find some footing, as he had a good spring, but I don’t know how many opportunities he’ll get before being sent out.
It’s not like Helsley is the only one that had a less-than-perfect time in the Queen City. Andrew Miller gave up a home run to (I believe, without checking) the first batter he saw. To be fair to Miller, he did strike out three of the six outs he got over the weekend, so the home run was mitigated. Tyler Webb allowed that home run yesterday, putting two earned runs on his resume. Genesis Cabrera has walked three batters while only striking out one and has a nine ERA to his name. The big names–Giovanny Gallegos, Jordan Hicks, Alex Reyes–have done all right but they can’t carry the entire load. (Also, Reyes is on an early pace for 54 innings this year. I’m still not sure how long they can keep him in the bullpen if they want to stretch him out to start next year, but it’s something to watch.)
Of course, the fight is what will really be remembered from this weekend. Castellanos apparently is the sensitive type, looking for offense when no one else thought there was any. Perhaps he was a little more self-conscious about the bat flip from Thursday that, again, I don’t remember anyone mentioning. Just like the ball is going to find a player that just came into the game, it was completely like baseball to have Castellanos be the runner on third when Woodford threw the wild pitch. It is perhaps the only baseball fight I can remember where the instigator then heads out of the way to stand with his hands behind his back like “Wow, that’s an interesting thing going on over there. I’ll just stand safely here and watch.” I would think Castellanos is in for a good booing when the Reds come to Busch on the 23rd of this month, though I don’t know how high tensions will be between the two teams if there are no more incidents.
Now it’s on to Miami, back to Florida after just escaping there, back to an opponent they are familiar with from facing this spring. Whether that will be good for the Cardinals or not, we’ll have to wait and see.
Saturday (9-6 loss)
Hero: Paul DeJong. His two home runs wound up not being as important as we would hope, but it was still good to see DeJong flashing some power. I’ve been concerned with the idea of him in the cleanup spot and I’m still not certain that’s how I’d draw up the lineup, but it definitely worked on this day. Except for the fact nobody was on when he hit the bombs.
Goat: Tommy Edman. Normally a line like that would give this award to Waino, but I’m going to take into account how it happened as well. As for Edman, 0-4 in the leadoff spot when the three batters behind him went 5-12 with three homers. If he’d been able to get on, it might have made a difference.
Notes: Nolan Arenado‘s first Cardinal home run, unfortunately it came in a less-than-stellar game….speaking of Arenado, that’s a passionate man. He was right in the middle of the brawl, shouting at the Reds and taking up for a pitcher that he might have met twice….after a bit more contact in the opening game, the Cards struck out 13 times here, with Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill leading the way with three….Jordan Hicks made his return and while he didn’t strike out anyone, at least no one had a 22-pitch at bat against him.
Sunday (12-1 loss)
Hero: Yadier Molina. Drove in the only run of the game, which tied things at one before it all went to pot.
Goat: Ryan Helsley. I don’t know if the Cards would have come back from 4-1, but Helsley made sure they didn’t have to worry about it.
Notes: Andrew Knizner got two at bats in this game. It’s the earliest a backup catcher has had two total at bats in a season since 2005. That’s a guess, not a fact….even in a blowout, even in a game that Edmundo Sosa gets into, Paul DeJong still winds up playing nine innings. When a guy has a history of wearing down, maybe take advantage of this sort of situation, instead of using Sosa to pinch-hit for and replace Arenado….Justin Williams struck out three more times and is 0-9 with five K in the early going. Hopefully it’s a little bit of him pressing and he’ll get a hit to break that pressure soon, but it probably helps that Harrison Bader isn’t almost ready to go.