Turning Stras Into Gold

Every day, usually early in the afternoon, the lineup for the St. Louis Cardinals is released.  That usually opens the floodgates for the legion of armchair managers to then start picking it apart, wondering what Mike Shildt is thinking, why is he putting this guy there and why can’t that guy move up.  It’s as predictable as the sun rising in the east.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not immune to joining in the criticism or questioning.  Given how some players have struggled so far this season, seeing them in places of honor, as it was, will trigger that sort of thing.

Yesterday’s lineup had the same impact on people.  With Yadier Molina, one of the best bats on the team in the early gong, sitting to make sure he reached his 2,000th game at catcher with Adam Wainwright on the hill today, the lineup looked, shall we say, unimpressive.  Paul DeJong was hitting fourth and Matt Carpenter fifth, two guys that have few hits and a lot of issues between them.  Andrew Knizner was in the lineup with Molina out, which wasn’t really a problem but Knizner obviously doesn’t have much of a track record.  All in all, save for the big guys at the top, it didn’t seem like much, especially when going up against a guy like Stephen Strasburg who can shut down good lineups with ease.

However, this is exactly where baseball loves to throw the curveball.  I tweeted this before the game, but I am sure many were thinking the same thing and remembering many times in the past where it had come to pass.

Explode they did.

Now, it’s reasonable to wonder if Strasburg was really 100%.  His velocity wasn’t nearly the same as it usually is and his mechanics seemed off.  John Rooney and Rick Horton were wondering if he’d done something to his ankle as he didn’t seem to be finishing off and seemed about to stumble.  The Bally Sports broadcast talked about shoulder problems and actually had a shot of Strasburg feeling his shoulder between innings, a shot that he and Davey Martinez both complained about.  (They probably have a legitimate beef.  I don’t remember a shot like that ever happening before.)  As far as I can see, neither Strasburg or the Nationals seem to be that concerned about it, but three home runs, five walks, and diminished velocity is going to make people wonder.

I also was surprised at how long Martinez left his pitchers out there.  Someone suggested that Martinez be the Goat of this game, which if it didn’t go against the arbitrary rules I set down long ago, I’d consider it.  I don’t know their situation, whether the bullpen is frazzled or struggling, but for Strasburg to bat in the top of the fifth already down 5-1 seemed very strange.  You also have to feel for Luis Avilan, who came in when Strasburg loaded the bases with one out and proceeded to throw gas on a fire.  Not just regular gas either, but the really combustible stuff.  Look at this rundown:

Single (RBI)
Sac fly (RBI)
Single (2 RBI)
Single (RBI)
Single (RBI)
Sac fly (RBI)
Single (2 RBI)
Strikeout–given the call on strike 2 (what should have been ball 4), even the umpire was ready for the inning to end

It was a remarkable, feel-good inning on a night that had a good number of those moments.  You had to like Justin Williams driving in three runs in that one inning.  He had all of three hits before that inning and two in it!  Williams has seemed to be coming around with a little more consistent playing time.  He’s 4-7 over the last three days and continues to play good defense.  Hopefully he’s building confidence and will continue to improve.

I’m naming Paul DeJong the Goat because someone has to be, but even DeJong was able to contribute in that fifth inning, getting a base hit that kept the line going, and he also walked and scored on a home run we’ll discuss in a bit.  However, he still struck out twice and left three men on.  He was the only batter to strike out more than once for the Cardinals.

I still don’t understand Shildt’s thinking on DeJong, either.  This is the second blowout game that the Cardinals have participated in where Shildt does wholesale substitutions and Edmundo Sosa comes into the game.  Both times, however, Sosa then plays third for Nolan Arenado and DeJong plays the entire game.  The only inning this year that DeJong has not played was the ninth on Saturday, when Sosa took his place against the Brewers.  The conventional wisdom on DeJong has been that he wears down and struggles later in the season because he gets overworked.  Then again, that conventional wisdom might just be wrong and DeJong struggles all the time.  As was pointed out on Twitter yesterday, since May of 2019 he’s hitting .211 with an 84 wRC+.  That’s obviously not good for anyone, much less someone that continues to be put in the middle of the lineup.

The best moment of the night, though, had to be after the DeJong walk.  Matt Carpenter, who every knows is struggling, has been hitting the ball hard with no positive results.  Monday night, he got his first base hit on a bunt.  Last night, he got his second off the foul pole, smashing a two-run homer to make it 5-1.  The release for Carpenter, the dugout, even the fans was palpable.  I know it’s getting trendy to complain about curtain calls, but to see people cheering so much for Carp that he took one was outstanding.  I think most people still like Carpenter and want him to succeed, they just aren’t sure that he can.  Seeing him have a moment of success like that was great and I’m glad he got that sort of reaction.

For Chirps, Tara and Alex asked for bold predictions before the season and mine, only partly tongue in cheek, was that Carpenter would get more hits in April than he did in all of spring training.  In Carpenter’s next at bat, he hit a sharp liner that Starlin Castro couldn’t handle.  It was fairly ruled an error, though it could have possibly gone the other way.  The search for hit #3 continues.

Our Hero from last night could have been a lot of people.  Dylan Carlson got three hits, including beating out an infield single when the lead was already in double digits.  Paul Goldschmidt started everything off with a solo homer in the first, one of his two hits on the day.  We’ve already noted Carpenter and Williams, both of whom had three RBI.  I’m going to go with Nolan Arenado, though.  He had two hits and a walk in his four plate appearances, scored twice, and had three RBI.  His two-run homer in the third brought the momentum back to the Cardinals after the Nationals had just tied the game off of Jack Flaherty.

Which reminds me, there actually was pitching last night!  We’ve been so focused on the offense but there do need to be a few cap tips toward the hurlers.  Flaherty struggled with efficiency early, which is why he was pinch-hit for early on in that fifth inning explosion.  Had he been able to throw a few less pitches, he probably would have gotten a chance to be the only Cardinal pitcher with two six-inning outings.  (Nobody else has one.)  Flaherty even got a base hit to lead off the fourth, which almost led to a big inning before DeJong grounded into a double play to end the threat.

It was a low-leverage night for the bullpen but, for the most part, it was solid.  Genesis Cabrera was dealing in the high 90s and struck out two of the three batters he faced.  Kodi Whitley made his season debut and gave up a double to Kyle Schwarber immediately, then set down the next six guys.  The only slight hiccup was Daniel Ponce de Leon, who was moved to the bullpen earlier in the day with the announcement that Kwang-Hyun Kim would pitch in his spot in the rotation on Saturday.  Granted, it was 14-1, but you’d think Ponce would be out there to show that he could be a reliable part of the pen.  Instead, he gave up two walks, two hits, and two runs.

I don’t know if Jason is right, but would seem to be a legitimate thing to check out.  As it is, you can’t really expect to see Ponce except in these sort of low leverage situations and we don’t know how often they are going to come along.

Adam Wainwright is on the mound today for Molina’s milestone, going up against Joe Ross.  I wrote something about the relationship between the pitcher and the catcher.  You’ll find that at my new Substack site this morning.  If you subscribe over there, you’ll get posts delivered to your inbox in a newsletter form.  I’m not sure what I’ll be putting over there yet but I’ll try to do little cross-posting, so sign up and see what happens!

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