A Vacation From the Ordinary

As regular readers and Twitter followers know, last week I was out on vacation.  The first part of the week was spent in an area with no wifi and spotty cell service, which would have been a great chance for me to then put the Cardinals out of mind and enjoy not worrying about them.  Instead, I kept waiting for notifications to come through whenever the wind shifted just right to see how they did.  Even in the wins, it was a frustrating situation.

In the early–well, not that early, given the short season–part of last year we talked about this team bobbing around .500.  That’s basically what they turned out to be, though with the short schedule and other quirks, they wound up not only as a playoff team, but the fifth best in the league.  This year they have to play 162, though, and I don’t think .500 is going to get them into the postseason.  Right now, though, .500 seems about the best we can hope for.

We’ve spent time talking about the problems this team has and they really haven’t changed.  The stat was rocketing around Twitter last night that the Diamondbacks in their current 17 game losing streak (thank goodness the Mets lost to them on June 1, otherwise their last win would have been against the Cards) have scored more runs than four teams in the league during that span.  One of those teams?  The Cardinals, of course.  In fairness, Arizona has lost probably more due to their pitching than their hitting, but they have scored 64 runs in those 17 games (3.76 per game) while St. Louis has posted 51 (an even 3).

There doesn’t seem to be a clear way to make the offense better, either.  Paul DeJong has struggled a lot all year, but especially since returning from the disabled list (.134/.202/.280).  Tara and I (and it was good to have Tara back last night!) talked about it on Gateway, how much our idea (and perhaps the front office’s idea) of DeJong is colored by an outstanding rookie year, allowing for us to say he’s capable of much more.  The problem is, his streakiness isn’t helping an offense that needs some consistency.  I know DeJong hit 30 homers two years ago, but his OPS+ was right at league average.  I can’t imagine there are many other 30 homer guys that were average players.  Maybe Mr. Crisafulli can fire up Stathead and find out.  Even with those struggles, though, can you imagine the Cardinals going in a different direction?  There will be a number of shortstops on the free agent market and maybe they’d make a move there, but DeJong’s price tag only goes up the next few years ($6 million next year, $9 million in ’23, then two option years).  The idea that they’d just cut him loose seems unlikely.

When the top of the lineup gets in sync, good things happen.  We saw that in the first game of the doubleheader yesterday, where the top four went 10-14 with home runs from Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.  It just doesn’t seem to work out that well that often.  Over the last 15 days, Tommy Edman has a .511 OPS.  That’s going to short-circuit a lot of things from your leadoff hitter.  Dylan Carlson has a .613.  Goldy and Nolan are at .865 and .794 respectively, which are stronger numbers.  But if nobody is on for them, that’s a problem, especially when after Tyler O’Neill the lineup tends to fall off especially now that Yadier Molina has come back to earth (.437 OPS in 14 June games).

Fixing the lineup would be difficult enough in a regular year.  Do you go get an outfielder that can plug into right field, even knowing that a Harrison Bader return would cause some tough playing time decisions?  It seems impossible to bring in another infielder, with Matt Carpenter and Edmundo Sosa needing time and Edman available to play second as well.  It also seems like one bat might not be enough, though perhaps it would help make sure there was always someone viable playing well.

You could do that, maybe, if it wasn’t for the fact that the pitching staff still needs a lot of help.  Before I left, it felt inevitable that the Cardinals would make some sort of deal for an innings-eater.  Instead, they let the schedule work for them and they didn’t have to replace Kwang Hyun Kim, just letting an off day keep the status quo.  They didn’t even have to use Angel Rondon as a starter.  The fact that he only got two scoreless innings in his promotion seems like a waste.  John Mozeliak did wind up signing Wade LeBlanc while I was gone and LeBlanc has paid some early dividends, but his biggest contribution has been in a game that the team was losing by eight runs.  Going out to get another mop-up guy was not really what I had in mind.

If Carlos Martinez could be the good Carlos Martinez more often, maybe the losing wouldn’t be quite as frequent, though you can’t put it all on him at all.  Carlos had a strong start against the Cubs but wound up losing, then imploded against the Braves.  He still seems susceptible to not being able to adjust to a bad call or misplay and if his focus goes, so too does the game.  However, it’s not as simple as finding a starter and moving him to the bullpen.  The Cardinals got a good start out of Johan Oviedo against the Marlins, but it was the Marlins and you want to make sure it’s repeatable for him.  John Gant seems to be regressing to his statistics, which is not a good thing at all.  If they lose an Adam Wainwright start, you are looking at the beginnings of a Diamondbacks-like run.  After all, it was only his win against Cleveland that stood between them losing 10 in a row.

Probably the most telling thing for me this week was the fact that they swept the Marlins, a team that is bringing up the rear now in the NL East, but it took late inning heroics in all three games to do so.  A good team would have won at least a couple of those relatively comfortably.  St. Louis had to scratch and claw just to get those wins.

I appreciate that the Redbirds are 24-13 against losing teams.  They’ve lost only one against the Rockies, Pirates, Diamondbacks, and Marlins.  That’s great and indeed, as we keep saying, that’s what a good team needs to do, beat up on the bad ones.  However, there is a second part to that bromide.  You have to hold your own against the good teams.  That means 20-17, for instance, instead of 13-24.   If you can beat bad teams but can’t beat good teams, it’s hard to say that you are anything more than mediocre.

I guess if there’s one silver lining in these past few games is that the bullpen hasn’t blown anything.  They haven’t had much to blow, of course, and it’s telling that Alex Reyes has had three innings from the start of that Cubs series last Friday.  (If you are keeping track of his innings pace, he’s in line to reach around 85.  They may have to let him have some two inning outings in the second half of the season to get him up to 100, especially if there are more weeks like this.)

The Cardinals have a lot of bad teams lined up but even if they start to win, I don’t think we can feel all that confident that they are actually figuring things out or are ready to take on even the Cubs and Brewers of the world.  Still, a win makes for a better evening so they should get some of those!

RECAP

Friday, June 11 (8-5 loss at Chicago)

Hero: Nolan Arenado.  Two hits and drove in three of the five runs.

Goat: Genesis Cabrera.  The game was already shaky when he came in, but at least it was tied.  Cabrera gave up hits to three of the four batters he faced, accounting for two runs.

Notes: Very frustrating but not unexpected to not be able to hold a 5-1 lead….I am really, REALLY wishing the Cards had been pro-active and signed Joc Pederson this offseason.  Not only would that have helped the outfield situation, it would have kept him from posting a 1.047 OPS against the Cardinals, with three home runs in six games against them….three hits for Yadier Molina, which is as many as he had in the next eight games total….strong start by Johan Oviedo but he faltered before he could get through the fifth.  Still, a step in the right direction it seemed….Oviedo also drew two walks and Lane Thomas drew one pinch-hitting, so the ninth spot was 0-1 with three BB, which is a rare line.

Saturday, June 12 (7-2 loss at Chicago)

Hero: Nolan Arenado.  It was a toss up between him and Paul DeJong.  Both had one hit (a home run) and a walk, but Arenado didn’t strike out.

Goat: John Gant.  Five walks in less than two innings.  Walking in a run, something that is sadly very common this year.  Five runs allowed (though some of that was because Jake Woodford allowed runners to score).  Gant’s ERA is now 3.36 after two terrible starts in a row.  Maybe going against the Tigers will help keep the regression at a minimum, but that ERA still feels below what we’d expect.

Notes: A bit surprised a position player didn’t get into this one, given the shortness of the start, but five relievers trotted in after Gant….Andrew Miller continues to be an effective person out of the pen, though it doesn’t feel like he’s been in many high-leverage situations since he’s returned from the injured list.  For the season, he has four high-leverage AB and seven mid-leverage, meaning that 87% of the time it’s low leverage.  Since his return, though, he’s allowed a .651 OPS, so it could be the situation, but it might be worth starting to increase the difficulty.

Sunday, June 13 (2-0 loss at Chicago)

Hero: Carlos Martinez.  Look, two runs in seven innings should win you a lot of games, especially when you are going up against Zach Davies.  This one’s not on Carlos, folks.  He deserved better.

Goat: Tommy Edman.  When there are so many option, the leadoff guy takes the brunt.  0-4 with two left on.  Amazing there were two for him to leave on but that’s another topic.

Notes: Matt Carpenter with errors in back to back games reminds us that there’s a tradeoff for getting him into the lineup, even as the bat improves….that said, it probably would be a good idea to keep an eye on Carpenter’s bat.  He was starting to pick it up, but over this stretch we are talking about in this post he went 2-14 with three walks and three strikeouts.  So he’s not striking out like he was earlier in the year, but it’s possible the X-wing is starting to settle back into the Dagobah swamp….Tyler O’Neill has been the bright spot this season.  One of the two hits here, plus drew a walk.

Monday, June 14 (4-2 win vs. Miami)

Hero: Tyler O’Neill.  Two hits, including the double in the eighth that broke the tie.

Goat: Nolan Arenado.  0-4 and left five men stranded.

Notes: A lot of similar batting lines in this one, as O’Neill, Paul Goldschmidt, Dylan Carlson, and Edmundo Sosa all had two hits….Paul DeJong went 0-3 but he did walk and drove in an insurance run in the eighth with a groundout….Adam Wainwright for six and the Big Three for an inning each will get you a win most every time.

Tuesday, June 15 (2-1 win vs. Miami)

Hero: Paul Goldschmidt.  Drove in the first run with a single, walked it off with a homer.  That’ll get you listed here every time.

Goat: Nolan Arenado.  0-3 and two left on.  Nolan didn’t care much for the Marlins, it didn’t seem like.

Notes: A fairly good outing for Kwang Hyun Kim coming off the injured list, but I think anyone but the Marlins would have made him pay for the five walks he issued.  Six strikeouts was nice to see, though….the Big Three got used in back to back games.  Of course, they hardly were used in Chicago and there was an off day before that, so I guess they were rested up….Jose Rendon got a pinch-hit single and came around to score the first run of the game.  I’d forgotten he was on the team.

Wednesday, June 16 (1-0 win vs. Miami)

Hero: Johan Oviedo.  I probably should give it to Yadier Molina because of his walk-off single, but the game wouldn’t have gotten to that point with Oviedo looking like the starter we all hope he can be.  Seven scoreless innings with just four strikeouts, maybe meaning that he’s learning he doesn’t have to overthrow to be successful.  Excited to see how he’ll do next time out.

Goat: Paul DeJong.  0-3 with two strikeouts.

Notes: Yadi could be 0-100 but if there’s a runner in scoring position in a key spot, I’d want him up there.  Nine times out of 10, he’s going to come through.  (Note: stats may not be accurate.)  Molina always has an idea and the focus to pull it off.  Always has–I remember thinking that back in 2006…..Dylan Carlson with two hits in the leadoff spot with Tommy Edman ailing.  I could be persuaded to have that be a more permanent feature….Congrats to Ryan Helsley for picking up the win with 1.1 innings of scoreless relief.  He’s thrown five scoreless frames since he got touched for a couple of runs by the Indians, allowing just one hit and striking out four.

Thursday, June 17 (4-0 loss at Atlanta)

Hero: Matt Carpenter, I guess.  Only three hits in this one and Carpenter had one of them in two AB.  He also got hit by a pitch (one of the rare games the Cardinals got hit more than giving hits) so reached based twice.

Goat: Tommy Edman.  Tough night for the returning Edman, as he went 0-4, struck out twice, and left three on base.

Notes: Three hits, one from Jose Rondon pinch-hitting.  Not sure there’s much more to say there….John Gant was better in this one, three runs in 5.1 innings.  That feels more like the top end of what we could see from Gant and I’m fairly sure the bubble on his season has burst….Wade LeBlanc made his Cardinals debut and had a chick and a duck, if a chick is a base hit and a duck is an out.

Friday, June 18 (9-1 loss at Atlanta)

Hero: Wade LeBlanc.  LeBlanc said “how YOU doin'” to the Atlanta hitters, getting some deep flies but eventually putting up three scoreless innings with only one hit and one walk allowed.

Goat: Carlos Martinez.  The bad Carlos showed up yet again and, again, you could see it coming.  In the second, already down 2-1, Freddie Freeman singled and the throw to try to get Ronald Acuna Jr. at home was cut off.  Martinez demonstrably believed they would have gotten him had the throw gone threw.  Nobody was then surprised that Ozzie Albies homered two pitches later.  Once that happened, there was no coming back.

Notes: Another day, another game where the offense only got three hits.  Atlanta’s pitching is good, but it’s not THAT good….Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Tyler O’Neill went 0-9.

Sunday, June 19 (9-1 win at Atlanta, Game 1)

Hero: Adam Wainwright.  A complete game (since it was a seven inning affair) with 11 strikeouts and only one run allowed.  That’s the Wainwright we know and love.

Goat: Edmundo Sosa.  0-4 with two strikeouts edges out Paul DeJong’s 0-4 with just one.

Notes: Unsurprisingly given the score, the top of the lineup was cooking as noted way back at the top of this post.  If only there were more games like this.

Sunday, June 19 (1-0 loss at Atlanta, Game 2)

Hero: Ryan Helsley.  He struck out the side (though allowed a hit) in his inning of work, which kept the Cardinals at least in the game.  We’ve not seen a lot of that on the year and if Helsley can develop into that role, he’ll wind up vulturing some wins, I’d imagine.

Goat: How do you choose when, instead of three hits, the team musters just two and those were 1) almost at the end of the game and 2) of the infield variety that could have been errors with a different scorer?  I guess we’ll go with Edmundo Sosa because he left three men on base, which is a talent given how few baserunners there were.

Notes: Kwang Hyun Kim got beat by Ronald Acuna Jr. and there’s no shame in that.  Otherwise, the sort of outing we kinda expect from KK.  That’s about all there is to say about that.

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Brewers5842.580 -
Reds5149.5107.0
Cardinals5050.5008.0
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Pirates3861.38419.5

Last updated: 07/27/2021

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