As the (sigh, old) song goes, “everybody’s working for the weekend“. That must include the Cardinals, because they have won any game that has been held Monday-Thursday. Saturday and Sunday? Not so much. There haven’t been any games on Friday yet so we don’t know if the team considers that part of the work week or not.
To be fair, if you are going to do it like this, this is the way to do it. The Cards are 5-4 but there are many more weekday games than weekend ones, especially if Friday is part of the week. Wouldn’t we take 4-2 each week? Would you take it if you knew ever Saturday and Sunday the Redbirds would get blown out?
Which is what they’ve done, of course. The four weekend games they’ve lost by a combined 24 runs. Much of that came from last Sunday’s demolition by the Reds, but they’ve not been closer than three runs in any of them, and that is usually because of a rally by the offense. Every one of those losses saw an inning where the Cardinals gave up at least five runs except yesterday, where they gave up four in the first and three in the second. It’s like this pitching staff is a finely tuned machine. When it’s humming, the Cards do all right. When one thing gets out of alignment, the whole thing blows up.
Before we get into the games, let’s talk about the roster move that was made Sunday. (Viva El Birdos always has a good writeup of transactions and you can find that here if you are so inclined.) Tyler O’Neill wound up going on the IL with the groin injury he suffered Saturday and Lane Thomas came back up. The Cards wasted no time getting Thomas into the lineup, as he played Sunday and got a hit. Thomas has a wide open field to make his case for playing time over the next 10 days. Austin Dean had a good weekend and might see a little time, but he and Justin Williams are going to fill one spot. Thomas, like O’Neill, should be playing every day. He’ll probably play even if Tommy Edman makes it out to the outfield for a game or two, though I don’t expect we’ll see much of that.
The question, of course, is whether Thomas can take hold of the spot. The good thing for him is that it’s a low bar. O’Neill had been struggling, striking out in half of his at bats and only having four hits on the year. Williams and, until this weekend, Dean were in the same range of outcomes. If Thomas can hit even .250 with occasional power, he might have a job even when O’Neill gets healthy. Though if he does, it’s going to make for some interesting roster decisions, especially if Harrison Bader is healing up. Bader’s at least another three weeks away, so it’s not imminent, but it’s something to keep in mind.
The other side of coin was that the front office sent down Jake Woodford and promoted Johan Oviedo. I was really surprised that they took Woodford to start with, finding him a league average arm at best. He threw almost two innings on Saturday and they expected to need more innings on Sunday. I expected them to do this last time Woodford pitched, his three innings in Cincinnati, but perhaps the organization expected (and, in truth, got) a deeper outing from Carlos Martinez after that one than Daniel Ponce de Leon after this.
It was a smart move because Ponce de Leon had nothing yesterday, something he admitted after the game. He said he never could get the feel for anything in the bullpen before the game and his arm felt heavy. The feel isn’t an issue. There are plenty of stories of pitchers who expect a short night due to a terrible pre-game bullpen only to throw seven strong, for instance, and vice versa. If the arm isn’t feeling right, though, is that something that you should report to Mike Maddux or someone? I honestly don’t know. I’ve never really heard a pitcher term it like that. It doesn’t necessarily sound like an injury, though if it doesn’t improve they could possibly put him on the 10 day IL, freeing up a spot. After all, Kwang-Hyun Kim should be ready to go next time through the rotation after pitching a simulated game yesterday. I expect he’ll go against the Phillies instead of Ponce, but someone is going to have to go somewhere to get Kim on the roster.
Thankfully Oviedo was there to cover the gap. The game was pretty much over by time he came into it in the second inning–according to Fangraphs, they had a 3.8% chance of a comeback–but not only did Oviedo save the rest of the bullpen, he made his case for being on the major league roster. After the game, Shildt talked about an occasional six man rotation, though it sounded more like spot starts to give the regular starters another day of rest, and so Oviedo has the leg up for that. It might be an overreaction to one low-intensity outing to say he should slide into the fifth spot where John Gant currently resides, but if Miles Mikolas isn’t going to be back by early May and Oviedo continues to impress, that might be the way to go. Honestly, I’d like Oviedo in that spot and Gant back in the bullpen, but I think the Cards are going to give Gant a lot of rope in this spot because it’s probably his only real chance.
Offensively, as we noted Austin Dean had a good weekend. He went two for three on Saturday with a home run that made the score more respectable and then Sunday went two for four with a double and two RBI in a rally for the Redbirds. With Williams struggling, it would seem that we’ll probably see an outfield of Thomas, Dylan Carlson, and Dean for the rest of the week. As was noted yesterday, Adam Wainwright has more career at bats than those three guys have combined. Lot of inexperience but a fresh look can’t hurt too much.
Also, Nolan Arenado continues to be awesome. He got a hit in both games this weekend, running his hitting streak to start his Cardinal career out to nine. That’s the longest streak for someone new to the birds on the bat in Cardinal history. It’s very nice to see someone come in and be as expected after the last few acquisitions have been a bit less than their standard their first year with the club.
Finally, I continue to watch Matt Carpenter for signs of life. He pinch hit in both games this week and struck out once, flew out once. Some of these things may be true, some of them may not, but thoughts:
- We always talk about how the ball flies better in warmer weather. It could be that, if he keeps hitting like that, things are going to start dropping or going over the wall. There’s no guarantees, but it wouldn’t have taken much for his fly ball Friday against Corbin Burnes to become something much more. Plus we know what Busch is like–maybe on the road, he’ll have more success.
- It’s starting to feel like Carpenter is going fully to a three true outcomes player. He’s up there looking for the one pitch he can drive but otherwise is fine with a walk and probably will strike out if he doesn’t get it.
- I also worried that, if everything is perfect and Carpenter still can’t hit anything besides deep fly outs, perhaps the power just isn’t there to be a three true outcomes player. What if he’s just a warning track guy now?
- He’s had some bad luck, of course. His maximum exit velocity this year is higher than last year’s by a smidgen, though it’s well down from the years before. His average exit velocity would be the highest of his career, but that’s a function of fewer balls in play to average. Still, he’s barreled three of the seven balls he’s put into play and you’d have thought one of them would have been a hit.
- I predicted that he’d have more hits in April than he did all spring. That’s still pretty likely, but he’s not going to get a lot of opportunities if he’s just pinch-hitting.
Cardinals finish their homestand with a series against the Nationals. The Nats, who had their opening set wiped out by COVID and still are dealing with those effects, are 1-5 and at the bottom of the NL East, but should be getting their quarantined position players back in time for this series. Hopefully the Cardinals remember the work week has started.
Saturday (9-5 loss)
Hero: Austin Dean. Driving in three of the five runs and adding another hit to boot, all while coming off the bench, will get you a nod here.
Goat: Tyler Webb. Webb’s been a solid piece of the bullpen for two plus years now, but every once in a while the magic wears off. Saturday wasn’t his day, turning a 3-2 game into a 5-2 game before Andrew Miller came in and allowed the two runners Webb left to score via homer.
Notes: Yadier Molina‘s strong start continues, going three for four with two runs scored….Carlos Martinez struggled in the first, but settled in and got through five without too much trouble. We talked in the spring about how that first inning is a tough one for Martinez and he was fortunate to get out of it giving up just one run, but I think three in five, while not great, at least gives the team a chance….Andrew Knizner got to pinch-hit and got a single. Of course, it was in the bottom of the ninth so it wasn’t exactly a big gamble on Shildt’s part….as noted, Miller gave up a bomb and it feels like, while he’ll be good most of the time, that inconsistency is going to bother us all season long.
Sunday (9-3 loss)
Hero: Johan Oviedo. Excellent work by the young man.
Goat: Daniel Ponce de Leon. Seven runs allowed by a starter is never good. Doing that while only collecting four outs is even worse.
Notes: Lineup change as Molina and Paul DeJong flipped spots. I guess the idea was to get a guy that does seem to have the knack for driving in runs or at least having good at bats with men on base to get behind the big guys. The results were inconclusive since Paul Goldschmidt hit into a double play in the first and overall there weren’t as many opportunities to judge, but getting DeJong out of the fourth spot is a very good idea. I’d slide him down even further but I don’t make up the lineup….Jordan Hicks walked two in an inning and a third, but kept them from scoring and got some work in….Webb came back and got the two guys he faced, indicating no lingering issues there.