A Giant Series Behind, A Giant Series Ahead

I think, if you told almost anyone, that in the span of a couple of weeks this Cardinals team would take four of six from the best record in baseball, nobody would have believed you.  This team that struggled through a set of really bad teams coming out to the good against San Francisco?  We have often said the Cardinals seem to play to the level of the competition and this is just one more bit of anecdotal evidence.

Not that everything is fixed, of course.  The Cardinals were able to win two of three while scoring a total of seven runs.  The offense is still very hit or miss, mostly miss.  They are averaging 3.8 runs in July, which is of course a smaller sample (just 12 games) and that includes the nine run extra inning game against the Rockies.  Take that one out, it drops to 3.4 over that span, which is probably more in line with the way we feel about this club.  Of course, this is basically the story of the last few years of the Cardinals, isn’t it?  They score just enough to win when the pitching is good.  And the pitching has been good!  They are averaging, just like the offense, allowing 3.8 runs per game in July, but you factor out that 10 run outburst the Cubs put on them and it drops to an even three.  The Cardinals can win when they are giving up two or three runs max.  More than that (and, it feels like, if the runs come early) it gets dicey.

As I said on Gateway last night, the offense continuing to be meh at best makes it really frustrating when every day, the lineup notification comes out and it’s the same guys in the same order.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that they are putting up the same results.  Paul DeJong and Harrison Bader are hitting well enough that they are somewhat wasted at seven and eight while Dylan Carlson obviously needs a break from leadoff.  We talked about a different lineup configuration Saturday and I still think a shakeup would be helpful.  I understand the hot hand is kind of a fallacy, but if a guy is hitting well over two weeks or more, it’s a little different than putting a guy at leadoff because he went 2-3 the night before.  Change it up, let it run for a couple of weeks, then adjust again.  Honestly, what can it hurt right now?

Winning against the Giants is good, but there’s still such a hole for the Cardinals.  I’m trying to stay as optimistic as my Musial cohost is and I do think the fact that there are a lot of games left against the Brewers gives some hope.  However, nine games is tough.  It’s not 2011 tough, but it’s tough.  There are 69 games (nice, I know) left in the season at this point.  Which means you have to make up one game about every eight games you play.  (And I know the Cardinals are actually closer in the wild card, but I’m focusing on the division because 1) they don’t have many games left with the Dodgers and Padres and they aren’t until September, 2) most of the teams they need to climb to get to those top two are in the Central anyway, and 3) you’d always rather win the division if you could.)

Which makes this series against the Cubs really big.  I laid it out over in the series preview, but whichever team loses this series might be done for the year.  Milwaukee has a couple of off days and two games with the Royals, so you aren’t going to make a big swing here probably.  I mean, sure, if the Cards sweep and the Royals sweep, you cut the gap to six, but that’s not exactly likely.  Assume Milwaukee wins both games against the Royals, even a split in this series leaves you 10 games back with four more games off the schedule.  10 games back with the trading deadline approaching would definitely have the Cubs selling off while the Cardinals would probably just hold on and hope for the return of Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty.  It seems silly to say winning this series is a must, but it kinda feels that way.

So, in what could be a crucial series, you are glad to be able to start it out with *checks notes* Jake Woodford.  Just like we drew it up in April!  On the positive side of things, a win tonight gives you pretty good confidence in a series split at worst (which, again, not as helpful as we’d like) with Kwang Hyun Kim going in the finale.  Plus you have Adam Wainwright at home, but it’s against Kyle Hendricks so who knows there.  A win tonight is really important, though.  Hopefully Woodford is up for the challenge.

If nothing else, this team needs to get over .500.  They were last at that mark after losing to the Braves in the second game of a doubleheader back on June 20, which means that it’s basically been a month underwater.  It’s beyond time to fix that.


Saturday (3-1 win)

Hero: Kwang Hyun Kim.  Kim ran his scoreless innings streak to 22 (I believe, not checking now) with six scoreless.  At 85 pitches, I think Mike Shildt should have sent him out there for the seventh, especially given this bullpen, but he didn’t.  Kim was quick and efficient–he walked two but he gave up only three hits.

Goat: Nolan Arenado.  It seems like he and Paul Goldschmidt trade months to be hot.  In this one, Arenado went 0-4 and left two men on, which could have proved costly on another night.

Notes: In two games, we saw the good and the bad from Ryan Helsley.  In this one, he walked the first batter, wild pitched him to second, then after an out gave up two more hits and was pulled.  Obviously Sunday was a different story.  Helsley definitely has his moments and I need to look, seems like he actually does better with runners on base when he comes in rather than starting an inning….the bottom half of the lineup went 2-12, with only Paul DeJong keeping it from being a complete goose egg….a home run by Tyler O’Neill and a two run shot by Goldschmidt.  If they are going to score minimal runs, at least do it with flair.

Sunday (2-1 win)

Hero: Ryan Helsley.  I actually didn’t watch the last part of the game, watching shows with my wife instead, but everyone was buzzing about Helsley’s work here.  Wade LeBlanc started the sixth but gave up hits to Donovan Solano (who tormented his original team plenty this weekend) and Mike Yastrzemski in a tie ballgame.  Helsley struck out the first, got a fly out from the second, intentionally passed Brandon Crawford (which was smart given Crawford’s history, season, and the fact that Mike Tauchman isn’t doing anything) before striking out Tauchman and keeping the game tied.  Again, Helsley can step up.  Much like Genesis Cabrera, though, you aren’t always sure he will.

Goat: Another tough day for Arenado, but I’m going to go with Yadier Molina here since he went 0-3 and left three men on base.  I appreciate that Molina tends to step up with runners in scoring position and I know his numbers in that area for the season are good, but 1) I’d like to see what they are recently and 2) I’m not sure they are consistent enough to warrant short-circuiting the lineup with him at five.  He’ll get plenty of RISP opportunities at seven if people are hitting.

Notes: As noted, another 0-4 for Arenado.  He’s just 2 for his last 22….Paul DeJong hit a home run that gave the Cards the lead, but perhaps as important was his fly ball that moved Jose Rondon to third, allowing him to score on Harrison Bader’s infield single….Congratulations to Alex Reyes, who set the new record for most consecutive successful saves to start a career with 24.  Of course, he walked two in the process, which is dicey in a one run game, but he didn’t allow any hits and got out of it without issue.  You do wonder who is available tonight, with much of the good part of the bullpen used at least the last two days.

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