The Cardinals are 5-9 against teams over .500. (They would be 8-12, but the Brewers lost last night to slip under the mark.) Yet they are tied for the third best record in the National League and are 3 1/2 games up on the NL Central. Why? Because they beat up on the bad teams.
St. Louis has played each team that is in the basement of their respective National League division. They are 2-4 against the Nationals, which admittedly doesn’t help my point much but they are also the best of the basement teams and are almost as close to the Mets as the Cubs are to the Cards, 3-0 against the Rockies and, after last night, 5-0 against the Pirates. They are also 3-0 against the fourth place Marlins and 5-1 against the fourth place Reds. Records can get fat on the weaklings and while that might not help a lot in October, it certainly helps you to get there.
Sending out the current incarnation of Jack Flaherty against a team that is last in the league in OPS isn’t exactly a fair matchup but baseball doesn’t aim for fairness every night. Flaherty was perhaps not completely on his game–he did issue four walks, though three were in one inning and one of those intentional–but it was more than enough to curtail the Pirates. Flaherty ran his scoreless streak to over 22 innings before Gregory Polanco (really, if you were to guess, it was probably going to be him) got into a pitch for a two-run homer that cut the lead to four.
Flaherty could be unconcerned about that homer because the offense showed up. They were aided by a compromised Trevor Cahill, who left in the second inning having allowed a run in the first and loading the bases in the second on two walks and a plunk of Edmundo Sosa. All of those runners would come in to score–Flaherty drove in the first one with a sharply hit ball that Polanco was able to catch for a sacrifice fly, then Tommy Edman had a two-run single–plus a few more as Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado got into the fun. It was 6-0 after two and it seemed like everyone could just sit back, let Flaherty do his thing, and go home happy.
Unfortunately, because of those walks, Flaherty could only go six and even that took 105 pitches. Which set up the most dangerous situation for the 2021 Cardinals, a comfortable lead turned over to the bullpen. When you can’t use (or don’t need to use, as in this case) Genesis Cabrera, Ryan Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos, and Alex Reyes, things can get uncomfortable much more quickly than you’d like, even when the offense gave them two more runs in the bottom of the fifth to work with.
Kodi Whitley started this one. We’ve seen some good outings from Whitley, so this was a bit of an anomaly. In fact, he’d not been charged with a run since April 16 against the Phillies, though he had let four of his nine inherited runners score over that stretch. Last time against the Padres, though, he walked two and started the seventh off by walking Erik Gonzalez, then giving up two singles to load the bases with nobody out.
That’s when Mike Shildt decided not to let the rookie (I think he still has rookie status, at least) get out of his own mess but decided to go to the veteran. I don’t know if Shildt is trying to make some final determinations. Perhaps he thought a jam with as much low stress as you can have with the bases loaded and nobody out would be a good place to get Tyler Webb back on his feet. For a minute, it almost looked like it was going to work. Webb worked a full count but got Bryan Reynolds to ground to second but it was slow enough that the infield couldn’t turn the double play.
That was the high point. Two singles and two more runs later, the game was a 8-5 score and the tying run was coming to the plate. Shildt had no choice to turn to his more high-leverage arms, the ones that are getting perhaps a little too much work for this stage in the season.
It also might have been the last straw for Tyler Webb. Because he allowed Whitley’s runs to score and Genesis Cabrera came in the strand the runners he put on, his ERA actually went down to 11.25 with a scoreless third of an inning. He’s been charged with a run in six of his last seven outings before last night and the one he didn’t allow a run was 1/3 of an inning against Milwaukee where he also walked a batter. He’s walked 14 in 12 innings. His WHIP is over 2.00. Last night seemed to prove that there’s no game that you feel comfortable bringing him into. With Carlos Martinez and Miles Mikolas needing to be activated this weekend, it’s very possible that they’ll make room by releasing Webb. Given the need for arms in the next 17-in-17 stretch, they’ll probably have to turn to someone from Memphis, which might be what Thomas Parsons (man, I wish B-R would link to Tommy) needs to get a crack at the big leagues.
We’re giving Flaherty the Hero (and kudos for him being mentioned in the same category as Bob Gibson) but there were plenty of good offensive performances. Goldschmidt had three hits and two RBI, including driving in Edman in the first to put the Cards on the board. Edman himself went 2-3 with a walk, two runs, and three RBI. His only out was a screaming liner that Will Craig speared in a fine play.
Speaking of fine plays, Sosa had two of those last night, exceptional defensive plays that I don’t believe Paul DeJong probably would have made (though DeJong is no slouch with his glove, of course). Sosa also got a hit and stole a base. He had three hits in this short series, which might be because it was the Pirates but he might be starting to get adjusted to the big leagues a little bit. I hope it’s the latter, because it would be nice to have a viable option to DeJong so he doesn’t have to play there all the time. It would also give Edman a chance to breathe, as Sosa (or DeJong, but probably Sosa) could cover second on occasion.
Cards get another off day before starting a trek that won’t see them have another respite until June 7. (The Bens really knew what they were doing when they designed a podcast that only came out on the off days.) The Cubs come to town for the first time–as I’m sure you’ve heard by now–since 2019. I know that 2020 felt like a decade and I get that it’s a rare thing to be able to say, but it’s really not that long ago in the grand scheme of things. They also come to town either three or four games back, depending on the outcome against the Nationals, but either way the Cards will be assured of being at least partially in first place when they leave. A series win would perhaps get Cubs management wondering if they have what it takes to win. That’s a good thought to put in their heads!