I think our good friend Alex Crisafulli said it best:
So thankful the Pujols news dropped this afternoon otherwise my attention would have been entirely on one of the most unenjoyable baseball games I can ever recall.
— Alex Crisafulli (@alexcards79) May 6, 2021
The Albert Pujols news deserves its own post (or more than one, given that Dennis Lawson has already graced us with one) so we can’t use that excuse to talk about what was probably the ugliest, most lackluster game the Cardinals have played this year. I don’t want to get too far past this year because the offense has given us plenty of other games over the last few years that we’ve used the label on, but yesterday’s combination of no offense and, to be generous, inconsistent pitching led to its own sort of blandness.
Let’s start where the manager did, bemoaning the eleven-11!–walks handed out by the pitching staff. The fact that there was any drama in the ninth was completely due to the fact that the Mets left 17 men on base. There are towns smaller than that here in Arkansas. If the Cardinals had done that we’d be less-than-thrilled with the win. Better than the alternative, of course, but when you are given that many opportunities and can’t cash in, it’s frustrating. Imagine if the Cards didn’t walk three of those runs in! If the walks had been at slightly different times, St. Louis might have won this game and all of the cosmos might have gone out of balance.
Our Goat has to be John Gant, who issued six of those walks in 4.1 innings. Somehow, even though he issued six walks and allowed five hits (plus had a runner reach on a Nolan Arenado error), he was only on the mound to see one run score, when he walked his sixth man with the bases loaded and was removed from the game. Kodi Whitley came in and walked another, which meant two runs (though just one earned) wound up on his line. Gant was able to limit the damage some with five strikeouts, but when less than 60% of your pitches find the strike zone, it’s going to be a long day.
Gant’s walk percentage is in the bottom 4% of the league as he is walking 17% of the batters he faces. None of his other metrics are much more encouraging. He’s not had a WHIP under 1.5 in any of his starts this year. His ERA is still nice and shiny but it feels like the rocks are starting to start down the hill, building to a potential landslide. Gant has already pitched more innings than he did all of last year–almost double as many, in fact. We saw in 2019 him have a very strong first two months (where he threw 29.2 innings with a 1.21 ERA and a .431 OPS against) only to falter the rest of the way (5.65 ERA, .776 OPS against). He was strong all of 2020, but that was a total of 15 innings.
Obviously, Gant’s not going to be in the rotation much longer no matter how things go. Miles Mikolas threw his first rehab start this week and has probably three more, though if Gant looks rough and Mikolas doesn’t, they might change their mind and let Mikolas finish building up strength in the majors after two. Gant can still be a quality reliever and even though I personally watch for that dropoff, especially with the usage he’s had this year, he can still get people out in tight spots. His K% is not overwhelming this year (18.7%, in line with the first three years of his career) but it easily might slide back into the 20-25% range he’s shown as a reliever the last couple of years when he moves back to the pen. It’s early enough that they can probably get three more starts out of him without it feeling like they’ve stuck with him too long but if Mikolas wasn’t returning, something (perhaps Johan Oviedo) would need to be done.
Every reliever walked at least one batter except Seth Elledge, who struck out two in his inning and allowed just one hit. You know what? No one else stood out at all so let’s go ahead and give him the Hero. Probably the only time he’ll get it so congratulations, kid.
We talked about the concerns around Tyler Webb in the last post and this game just added fuel to that fire. Webb came in and allowed a hit and two walks, leaving the bases loaded for Jake Woodford, who walked in one run (of course) and allowed a hit to score the other. Allen Medlock and I talked about this last night on Musial and I can only find one time since he became a Cardinal that he allowed runs in four straight outings and in that instance, two of those outings had unearned runs. Webb’s walk rate is worse than Gant’s (22.4%) and while people don’t hit him hard when they hit him, there’s no real reason for them to swing the bats. His xERA is significantly lower than his 13.00 ERA (which is the inverse of Gant, who has an xERA over three runs higher than his 2.15 ERA) but it’s still 5.88. Even if he was getting the results the metrics say he should be getting, it wouldn’t be good.
This walk rate is way out of line with anything else Webb has put up in his career. Last year, for example, it was 8%. The year before, 10.4%. So we have four options. One, Webb is having some bad luck and will revert to form, maybe with a mechanical tweak. Two, the league knows to be more patient with him and he needs to adjust his pitching approach. Three, there’s an injury that he’s either unaware of or isn’t telling the team about. Four, he’s a reliever that was good and just suddenly isn’t. The shelf life of relievers is short and he wouldn’t be the first one to have such a drastic change in his results.
The problem is, if you want to have lefties in your bullpen, there’s not much other option than Webb right now. Andrew Miller, who has his own problems this year, is on the injured list. Maybe the move when he comes back is to let Webb go, but you are just exchanging one issue for another, albeit perhaps to a lesser degree. Bernardo Flores Jr. got to make a bid for that sort of thing, but given that he didn’t get an out it seems unlikely they’d want to go that route without him pitching more in Memphis first. That’s it for the 40-man. Obviously, if you released Webb you could add someone in his place, but there’s no obvious choice in the minors now and any lefty out there on the waiver wire is probably not going to give you much better results. No, I think we are going to have to accept Webb’s lack of control for the time being.
Offensively, there’s not much to say. Arenado got a single in the second and scored on a Harrison Bader sacrifice fly. The Cardinals didn’t get another baserunner until the ninth. The Mets didn’t issue a walk the entire game, ironically. Edwin Diaz tried to make it interesting in the ninth, allowing one-out singles to Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson and Paul Goldschmidt gave the ball a ride, but it was caught in center. Arenado grounded out and the game was mercifully over.
St. Louis was able to split the series and still lead the NL Central, for what that’s worth in the first week of May. (It’s better than most of the alternatives, I’d say!) Hopefully they can take care of business against a Rockies team that is last in the NL West and has the worst record in the National League. Though the Rockies just won two of three from the Giants, who lead the NL West, so never take anything for granted. Especially since in the first game the Cards are facing a lefty they’ve never faced before and we know how that goes. Anybody know anything about this Austin Gomber?