As noted philosopher Rachel Green once said (and was echoed in Moneyball by Billy Beane/Brad Pitt), there’s rock bottom, 50 feet of crap, then us. We thought things were bad earlier in the month. We thought there was nowhere to go but up. Then the Cardinals lost four in a row against the Tigers and Pirates and we started to realize what that smell was.
In fairness, if you took last night’s loss in a vacuum, it wouldn’t be so bad. Yes, it’s never good to lose to Pittsburgh, but it felt more like a regular loss. The Cardinals put runners on, scored some runs, and just basically had a bad inning out of Kwang Hyun Kim. They went into the ninth with a chance to tie, which is more than we could say for any game except Sunday’s second game of late. In fact, the Cardinals have lost by more than two runs 10 times this month. To just have a competitive game, a game where the pitching was all right and the offense did something, is sadly something that stands out as a positive.
You can’t take that game in a vacuum, though. The Cardinals have now lost six straight for the second time in three weeks. They are seven games behind the league-leading Brewers, two games behind the third-place Reds, and seven games ahead (thankfully) of the fifth-place Pirates. They are four games under .500. While you could argue that some of the at bats over the last couple of games have been better, the results are still lagging behind. Plus, of course, all the good at bats in the world don’t help the pitching staff to get better.
After the game last night, Mike Shildt announced that John Gant was returning to the bullpen. No word yet about who will take his place in the rotation, which should come up Monday. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Wade LeBlanc get the spot but I’d rather them go bring up Angel Rondon and give him another shot, I think. Either way, it should improve the team some but only incrementally. There’s still plenty of problems there.
There are going to be more if Kim can’t pitch in muggy weather. That was at least part of the reason that he was removed with one out in the fourth inning. It was another one of those head-scratchers, since Kim had led off the bottom of the fourth. If you think he’s going to be leaving soon, why not pinch-hit there? Granted, the Cardinals tied it up right after on Dylan Carlson‘s homer, so maybe the change in game status played into the decision to remove Kim. Also, the bench is pretty short (and not overly potent) with only four batters and one of them, Andrew Knizner, really unlikely to be used. Using Matt Carpenter or Paul DeJong there would have limited options later on in the game, especially since Edmundo Sosa had already dealt with a cramp and there had to be a concern he might be replaced at some point.
All in all, this game did feel like a step in the right direction. It’s just that there are so many steps left to take. Maybe some optimism will return when they win a game that is started by someone other than Adam Wainwright. (Though at least Waino goes this afternoon, which should end this losing streak.) However, until then, you have to worry about the fact that Arizona has lost 24 straight road games but comes to Busch on Monday. If the streak doesn’t stop today or tomorrow, you know it’ll stop while the Diamondbacks are in town and that’s just another card to put on the depressing pile.
Thursday (8-2 loss)
Hero: Dylan Carlson. The only Cardinal with two hits, Carlson settled into the leadoff role nicely.
Goat: Carlos Martinez. As I noted on this week’s Musial, when I got the notification Martinez had allowed a run in the first, I knew it was all downhill. Except for the gender, Henry Wadsworth could have been talking about Martinez when he wrote “And when she was good, she was very, very good, But when she was bad she was horrid.” Martinez can be outstanding, but if something goes wrong, if something slips off the tracks, it’s a wild ride to the bottom. In this one, it was seven walks and five runs in five innings of play.
It’s hard to justify sending Martinez out there every five days anymore and I say that as someone that has often been in Carlos’s corner. Throw out that terrible 10 run, two out game against the Dodgers at the beginning of July as a terrible fluke. Even without that his ERA for the month is almost nine and a half, which includes his good game of seven innings, two runs against the Cubs. In six of his 14 outings this year he’s given up five or more runs and a seventh he gave up four. Shildt has said, right now, Martinez is staying there but it does sound like that’s still under evaluation. Of course, figuring out who will replace him, especially with John Gant going to the bullpen, is a question as well.
Notes: Wade LeBlanc finally fell down the elevator shaft and gave up runs as a Cardinal, getting touched for two homers in his 2.1 innings of work. He does throw strikes, though, so you wonder if the Cardinals will make him an option for the rotation. We’ll see if he gets used the next couple of days, though I would hope he wouldn’t be needed behind Adam Wainwright today….Junior Fernandez had a good inning, though he did walk one. He’s had four scoreless appearances (totaling 3.2 innings) in a row, but he’s walked four in that span. Still has some work to do….Lars Nootbaar had a hit and drove in a run, still giving a bit of a boost to the offense….Tyler O’Neill walked twice and would have had three but he was hit by a 3-2 pitch.
Friday (5-4 loss)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. Two for two with a home run and three walks. His extra round of batting practice before last night’s game seems to have paid off.
Goat: Paul Goldschmidt. The two stars so rarely align, it feels like. While Arenado is going off, Goldschmidt goes 0-5 with four men left on base. A hit at the right time might have swung this game.
Notes: Kwang Hyun Kim has completed six innings one time this season. He’s gotten an out in the sixth three other times. He’s thrown less than five innings six times, including his last two outings. I know he’s had back troubles and the like, but if he could go deeper into games, that’d be a big help. He’s had some off games this year but he’s also allowed one run or fewer six times….Lars Nootbaar continues worming his way into the hearts of Cardinals fans, getting two hits, driving in a run, and scoring a run….Dylan Carlson walked once and homered in the leadoff spot, a place that he may stay for a while….Tyler O’Neill had a couple of big opportunities late, but struck out and popped out…..the game might have been different had Mike Shildt gone with Ryan Helsley as the first man out of the pen instead of Jake Woodford. Woodford really doesn’t need to be in a close game, I don’t think, though I will say that after walking his first batter, he got a double play ball to Edmundo Sosa, who had a cramp as he went for it and fell over, making both men safe. If Sosa turns that, or at least gets one out, maybe the game is different. Instead, Woodford then gives up a hit and the tie-breaking run scores, sending Shildt out there to make the move for Helsley….the bullpen did a fine job of keeping the Cards in striking distance, the offense just couldn’t come through.