Walking a Tightrope Over the Desert

Say what you will about last night’s game, but it was at least unique.  It didn’t feel quite like any other game the Cardinals had played this season.  Sure, some of the elements were there–long stretches of quiet by the offense, a bullpen that could have been better–but they were put together in a way that was fresh.  Maybe it was just the later start time but that one was interesting in ways we’ve not seen much of this year.

For one thing, the Cardinals finally got on the “no-hitter watch” bandwagon.  It seems like just about every day some pitcher is getting through five innings without allowing a hit, but it’s rarely someone wearing the birds on the bat.  Adam Wainwright had one going earlier this year, I believe, but that’s the only one that I can think of that has gone past the third or fourth.  Even Jack Flaherty when he is on usually gives up something early.

Carlos Martinez, though, had the look early on of a guy that could actually do this.  Bud Smith was the last Cardinal no-no, of course, doing his out under the palm trees of San Diego.  Could Martinez get it done also on a West Coast trip?  His pitch count through six innings was under 80 pitches, so that didn’t look to be a concern.  This was the best chance that Cardinal fans have seen in quite some time.

Sadly, it ended where a lot of no-hitters do, the time when you start to take it seriously.  Ketel Marte led off the seventh with a single and the dream was over.  The game, however, was just beginning to be competitive.

The Cards had put up three runs in the second, two on a long home run (it’s the first time I’ve seen a corrected Statcast, as it was first measured at 417, then revised to 451) by newly activated Tyler O’Neill.  They were able to get another run when Martinez himself started a two out rally with a single, followed by a single by Tommy Edman and a walk to both Dylan Carlson and Paul Goldschmidt, the latter forcing in a run.  Bases loaded walks are much nicer when you are on the receiving end rather than the giving one.  Unfortunately, Nolan Arenado got anxious and swung at the next three pitches, fouling two off and flying out to center to eliminate more scoring.  Arenado made up for it in the fifth, following a double by Goldschmidt with a double of his own, but other than that the bats were fairly quiet.

Which is annoying because Arizona has one of the worst pitching staffs in the league.  I wrote about it for the series preview but their staff ERA is almost five and teams are hitting worse off of them (.265) than any other team in baseball.  I guess four runs and eight hits in regulation is a decent showing, especially given how bad it can be at times, but you feel like they should have done more.

If they had, the game wouldn’t have gotten to the place that it did.  Once Marte singled, the wheels started coming off for Martinez.  Eduardo Escobar followed with a single, then David Peralta (who my Musial co-host Mr. Medlock believes would look good in his original organization, something we’ll talk about on this week’s show) doubled in a run–it would have been two, but a fan interfered making it a ground rule double.

Martinez never got an out after the no-hitter was broken up.  I don’t know if he suddenly hit a wall, if the third time through penalty hit, or he really had his head into a no-hitter and was lost when it was.  Whatever the case, Mike Shildt figured with the tying run at the plate, it might be a good time to start using The Big Three.  First up, Genesis Cabrera.

The problem with baseball being not a video game is that even great pitchers aren’t great every time out.  This was an off night for Cabrera, who allowed a double to Pavin Smith to make it a 4-3 game, then gave up a base hit and a walk to load the bases with nobody out.  Suddenly, this went from a game that might be historic to a game that the Cardinals might lose to one of the worst teams in baseball.

Enter the Hero, Ryan Helsley.

Bases loaded nobody out is a situation you can get out of without allowing a run.  How many times have we seen the Cardinals not score in such a situation?  But it’s really hard to do that.  You can almost score a run by accident.  A double play ball plates a run.  A sacrifice fly.  A wild pitch.  Or, of course, a walk.  To come into a game into that situation is one of the hardest in baseball.

Ryan Helsley made it look easy.

Carson Kelly, fresh into the game, struck out on three pitches against a guy he probably caught somewhere along the way.  Andrew Young, another former Cardinal, ran the count to 3-2 before Helsley got him swinging.  He then got Josh Rojas to ground out to Edman at second, escaping the trap with no scars on him or the linescore.

We’ve talked about Helsley being right outside the circle of trust.  It’s true he might be slightly less reliable than The Big Three, though honestly, I might stack his season up with Cabrera’s.  Helsley’s had a few more blowups, but Cabrera has allowed 47% of his 17 inherited runners to score, meaning runs that are on someone else’s ERA.  Helsley has had fewer inherited runners (13) but has allowed only one of them (8%) to score.  That one?  When he came into a bases loaded one out situation against the Phillies about a month ago and allowed a sacrifice fly.  There’s no doubt that when Helsley is off, it goes south quickly (games of two, three, and four runs scored are on his game long) but when he’s on (and 15 of his 22 appearances he’s not allowed a run of his or anyone else’s) he’s as good as anyone out there.

The Cardinals went in order in the eighth and Giovanny Gallegos took over in the bottom of the frame.  Take a look at this list of appearancesAlex Reyes is tied for second in baseball, while Cabrera and Gallegos are in a big tie for fourth.  Gallegos’s 30 innings, though, are more than anyone else in that clump by at least three.  He did get two games off in a row against the White Sox, but this was again a back-to-back outing, something he’s done six times this year but the last three have come in the last six outings.

There’s a price to be paid for the lack of options in the bullpen.  This was the sort of game you would use Gallegos even with other options, though, so you can’t fault Mike Shildt much there.  Unfortunately, it went south in a similar fashion as the seventh–Marte singled and, after two outs, Smith doubled him in.  Gallegos struck out Josh Reddick to keep it tied.

Nothing happened in the ninth, though Paul Goldschmidt gave a ball a ride that was caught on the warning track.  Alex Reyes came in to make sure that there were extra innings and, except for a two-out walk, had no issues sending us to extras.

I am never going to like the runner on second rule for extras and I hope this is a fad that we look back on in a few years and say, “Man, wasn’t that weird?”  However, it’s not like we expect the Cardinals to turn that down even if they could.  Goldschmidt trotted out to second and after Arenado was unable to advance him, the ageless one did what he does.  Yadier Molina‘s double proved to be the difference, scoring Goldschmidt and giving the Cards the lead.

It was a little interesting that Shildt didn’t use Reyes for another inning.  Reyes has gone two innings twice this year, though both were after at least one day of rest and Reyes threw an inning Wednesday to lock down the win against Chicago.  Still, we are talking about a guy that, at one time, had an innings goal of 100 innings.  After last night, with 50 games down, he’s at 27.  I guess that actually gets him close to 90 at that pace, so maybe we aren’t as far off as it seems.

Also interesting was the choice of Daniel Ponce de Leon to close it out.  Truly, there weren’t any other options–even with his improvement in Chicago, no way you trust Tyler Webb there, nor are you going to use Junior Fernandez, Kodi Whitley, or Jake Woodford.  Thankfully, though, the improved Ponce was the one we saw again last night, going 1-2-3 to lock down the save.  Ponce has looked pretty sharp except for that one game against the White Sox since returning from the injured list.  He had two good outings as a reliever (after one real bad one) before going on there as well.  It’s possible that we’re seeing a tiered system starting to form, where it’s Reyes/Gallegos/Cabrera, then Helsley/Ponce, then the rest of the crew.  If you could just get one more arm in that second group, things would be a lot better.

We need a Goat in this one.  I’m going to go with Justin Williams, who went 0-4, struck out once, and left three on.  I’m not all that excited about Williams being a bench guy, much less having to see him start while Harrison Bader is out.  I do wonder if we’ll see a little more Lane Thomas until then, though Thomas hasn’t necessarily set the world on fire either.

Another late one tonight (though not as late as Saturday night!) with Johan Oviedo going against Madison Bumgarner.  Cards have gotten to Bumgarner in the past and they’ll probably need to give Oviedo all the support they can!

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Brewers6544.596 -
Reds5751.5287.5
Cardinals5354.49511.0
Cubs5257.47713.0
Pirates4167.38023.5

Last updated: 08/05/2021

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