West Coast trips are always tough. The fact that they went to Arizona and LA (plus that first trip to the White Sox) and went 5-5 is not the worst thing that could have happened in the least. However, the trip highlighted that, as currently constructed, things are going to be hard for the Cardinals. The question then becomes, how long are they going to be as currently constructed?
Before this trip, we were saying that the Cardinals should go out and get a starter in large part to help the bullpen. The addition of a better arm would allow them to move ticking time bomb John Gant to the bullpen, where he has had a lot of success and where he could stabilize some things. More trustworthy arms out there would be a very good thing for the club.
Then Jack Flaherty left Monday’s game early.
The resulting diagnosis, that Flaherty had an oblique strain of some magnitude and would be out probably at least until August, was a devastating punch where the Cardinals could least afford it. This team, while improving on the offensive side, is always going to win with pitching and defense. Losing their best pitcher for an extended period is something that will be hard to overcome without help. Suddenly, the need for a starter shifted from “it’d be nice to help the bullpen” to “it is needed to stay afloat”.
Currently, of course, Johan Oviedo is on the up of his yo-yo season between St. Louis and Memphis. This is the sixth time Oviedo has been called up since the season started, though it would seem likely he’ll be here for a while this time instead of just a day or two. This is where we reiterate that Oviedo, though very talented, really needs some minor league work to hone what he has. He has 16 strikeouts and 15 walks in 20 innings while putting up a FIP of 6.04. He needs to figure out how to throw strikes more and he needs to do that in the lower stress environment of the minor leagues.
However, the Cardinals don’t really have another option. The big names bandied about, Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson, are in the same boat as Oviedo. They need to figure some things out at the minor league level. Liberatore is off with Team USA right now while Thompson continues to struggle at Memphis. Thompson did have one of his best starts of the year last night, allowing two runs in 5.1 innings, which brought his ERA under 10 for the year. Those guys would be ill-served by being rushed to the big leagues.
There aren’t many other internal options either, which is never what John Mozeliak wants to hear. Angel Rondon is on the 40-man and has looked better after two terrible starts to begin the season, but is he going to be much better than Oviedo? He’s got more experience–he spent most of 2019 at Springfield before getting the call to Memphis–but he’s still a very unknown quality that has trouble going more than five innings at AAA. Even if he could do that in the majors, you are still asking for a lot from the bullpen in all of his starts.
Ah, the bullpen. Just about the time you start to trust some arms, they blow up on you. I mean, even Giovanny Gallegos got nicked for a game-tying home run on Tuesday night, though I don’t think that’s enough to put him in the “don’t trust” pile. Gallegos is still the same guy that we’ve seen since 2019. He’ll occasionally have a rough night or two, but most of the time he’s going to get the job done and that’s all you can ask for a reliever to give you, I think.
The rest…..let’s start with Tyler Webb, because it really feels like we won’t be able to do that much longer. After a couple of good outings against the White Sox and the Diamondbacks, Webb has reverted back to 2021 form. His past two outings have raised–raised–his ERA from 10.80 to 13.22. I know reliever ERA is not exactly a great measure, but when it gets to the extremes like this, it has some merit. Only nine of his 22 appearances this year have resulted in him not being charged with a run. Seven of those were less than an inning. It’s not getting better, either. Since the beginning of May, he has a ERA of 16.88 with 11 walks against five strikeouts in a total of eight innings.
It’s to the point that it’s even tough to pitch him in extreme blowouts, which the Cardinals find themselves in way too often. Last night, for instance, the Cards were toast probably before the first out was gotten, definitely by time the first inning was over. Webb wanders into a 11-2 game with no pressure, no runners, nothing. Just throw strikes and get people out. How’d that go?
–2 run double by the pitcher
Most of that damage was done by the bottom of the lineup as well. I really hate to say it, because as you know I’ve felt Webb was undervalued by folks the last couple of years, but I can’t see that he really has anything left. Andrew Miller is going to be returning this weekend and while Miller may not be any great shakes, he’s light years better than Webb right now. I would expect, to activate Miller, they’ll place Webb on waivers. He’ll clear and go to Memphis, where maybe he can work things out. I believe this wouldn’t be the first time he’s been waived by the Cardinals, so there could be hope for him.
We saw Ryan Helsley and Daniel Ponce de Leon scuffle in the first game, both having a setback on their way to really being trusted. We know Genesis Cabrera is either going to be lights out or have limited control, but you never know which one you are going to get until he’s on the mound. Adding a couple of veteran arms, if possible, would help things tremendously. However, when you also figure the front office is looking for a starter, it’s fair to ask how much outside help they can find and are willing to obtain.
While the pitching staff is going to get most of the focus, it’s not like the offense is without its own share of issues. After all, on this road trip the team slashed .216/.279/.385. They only drew 2.5 walks a game, which doesn’t seem to be ideal. They stole six bases but were caught four times. At least they had 12 homers, most of which came from the bat of Tyler O’Neill.
The problem with trying to fix the offense is that there’s less obvious ways that can be done. All you can hope for is for some combination of Tommy Edman, Dylan Carlson, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Yadier Molina, and Tyler O’Neill to be clicking at the same time. It’d be great if they could find a veteran outfielder that was willing to be a fourth outfielder, especially since it looks like Harrison Bader could be back as early as this weekend. A solid bat that could get a couple of starts a week could help a lot. Right now, there’s not much you really trust in a pinch-hit role, is there? Matt Carpenter has had limited success but he works better to draw a walk than to drive in a runner from second, I think.
So much to do and, in my view, it’s dangerous to stay pat too long. Losing two of three to the Dodgers wasn’t terribly unexpected (though the way they lost last night was) but when you couple that with the fact that the Cubs just swept the Padres–a team that the Cardinals were swept by, even if they had their chances to win two of three–it feels like the balance of power has shifted in the division. The Cubs started out flat but now are playing like the defending divisional champs that they are. Given all their free agents, it would have been ideal for them to struggle and start a sell-off. Instead, they are more likely to add some pieces now and try to make one more push with those guys. The gap is small now and there is time to make it up. However, it can grow quickly if not monitored. They do play the Giants while the Cards are playing the Reds this weekend, so maybe San Francisco can help St. Louis out.
Early June is often when the Cardinals try to do some shuffling, usually internally, to figure out what they really have to do at the trade deadline. It was almost four years ago when the Cards let Jhonny Peralta go and revamped the coaching staff. I don’t know that we’ll see the same sort of dramatics this June, but it does feel like there will be something more than running the Memphis shuttle in the days to come. If not, there’s a strong risk that things could start to get out of hand. We know from last night what that feels like.
Tuesday (3-2 win)
Hero: Tyler O’Neill. Two hits but it was his ninth inning overall that stood out. After a single, he stole second and came home on Edmundo Sosa‘s single, breaking the tie. In the bottom of the inning, he made a stellar catch to rob Mookie Betts and to save the game for Alex Reyes.
Goat: Yadier Molina. Both he and Nolan Arenado had very similar lines (0-4, two left on) but Yadi struck out twice while putting his up.
Notes: A strong start by John Gant, who didn’t even need a lot of heroics to put up the good line. He walked three and gave up four hits in six innings, but that’s better than he normally does in regards to baserunners. He did get double plays behind him in the first and third, which helped….Cardinals first three batters against David Price reached and there was a run in, but nothing else came of it. Another hit there might have broken the game open….Reyes keeps getting saves but it doesn’t get any easier on the heart. Just once, would it hurt him to go 1-2-3?
Wednesday (14-3 loss)
Hero: Dylan Carlson. Two of the seven hits, including a home run. Unfortunately, that was the last run either team scored so it didn’t really mean much.
Goat: Carlos Martinez. It seems silly to say this, probably because it is, but I think this might have been the at bat that turned the game.
Mookie Betts had led the bottom of the first off with a fluke double, a ball that just landed right on the line as Justin Williams raced over and bounced away from him. Martinez, as you can tell, should have had Muncy struck out. At the least, it should have been a competitive at bat. Instead, Martinez got none of the calls and, to my very untrained eye, it felt like Martinez unraveled then. He seemed to be very frustrated, especially when the next batter singles and the tying run scores on a throw that almost was in time to get him. His body language seemed to have changed, whether because he was more focused on the umpire than the batters or just the fact that everything snowballed. I wonder if he strikes out Muncy how that first inning goes.
Still, he had plenty of opportunities to get outs and they just didn’t happen. When the opposing pitcher is the first out of the game, you’ve got problems. Going to be a long while before Martinez’s line looks reasonable again.
Notes: Jake Woodford actually did a pretty fine job in relief except for his first batter. He went 3-0 on Cody Bellinger with the bases loaded and while I was hoping that he’d just walk him and get the Cardinals closer to their team record of bases-loaded walks, Woodford grooved on. I guess, because it wasn’t a position player pitching, Tony La Russa would have been fine with Bellinger swinging 3-0 up seven in the first….hard to remember but the Cardinals quickly led in this one when Paul Goldschmidt homered off of Walker Buehler in the top of the first….remarkably, no position players actually did pitch in this one. Kudos to Seth Elledge and Junior Fernandez for combining on four scoreless innings. It was low pressure, but hey, we saw what that meant for Tyler Webb.