Before last week, it was easy to start getting excited about the possibility of making a push to the second wild card. Losing two of three to the Brewers didn’t help but there was no shame in that. Then they lost two of three to the Pirates and split with the Tigers. Yet for all of that, given how the other teams were playing, they were 3 1/2 out of the wild card with games against the teams they were closest to in the standings. Nobody was printing playoff tickets, but it was hard not to do a little what if thinking and scoreboard watching.
Last night might have taken the focus from “can they make the run” to “can they stay over .500”.
There’s a lot of blame tossed Mike Shildt’s way for how he uses the bullpen and I think a lot of that is justified. There were a lot of fault points last night outside of Genesis Cabrera, though. For instance, given a 7-1 lead, Miles Mikolas couldn’t get out of the fifth. That was actually Shildt being proactive, since it was 7-3 but there were two runners on and Mikolas had only thrown 76 pitches. In a different situation, the manager probably leaves him out there to see if he can get the outs without much more damage, but Shildt smartly realized the danager and got him out of there.
However, that left the bullpen to cover 5.2 innings, which is a lot, and it was questionable if there were the arms to do it. Shildt brought in T.J. McFarland, who promptly got a double play and got out of the inning. However, McFarland had thrown the two games before, so he was probably not available for more than that inning (and will likely be on the shelf for today). Given what I’m going to say here in a minute, it might have been for the best.
Andrew Miller came in and just dominated the sixth, getting three outs on seven pitches. Which meant he could come out and start the seventh. Now, this is observation bias and I don’t really know how to get into finding out what the numbers are, but it seems to me some of these relievers can throw an exceptional inning, but if they sit down and then have to come back out, they struggle. It’s gotten to where I’m leery of anyone being used for a second inning, though I know it does work at times. With Luis Garcia likely unavailable given that he had pitched in the last two days, there weren’t many options besides letting Miller come back out.
Miller gives up a double and a walk and then is replaced by Genesis Cabrera. This is where the focus is and it’s fair to look at it. Let’s talk it out some and see if there are some exculpatory facts for the manager, though.
So Cabrera comes in, two on, nobody out. You aren’t going to have someone warming up before he throws a pitch because Cabrera’s been good and there’s no expectation that he is going to completely melt down. The only reason you might think that is that Pittsburgh scored three runs on four hits against him on Saturday (so less than a week ago) and if you think Pittsburgh has a tell on him, you might be ready for it. I think that the club probably thought Saturday was the outlier and didn’t necessarily think the Pirates knew what was coming. (Though, if you remember, Saturday had Cabrera standing around on the mound and acting weird, so maybe that had something to do with him thinking the Pirates knew the pitches.)
First batter singles on the second pitch to load the bases. Could Shildt have started warming someone there? Maybe. The tying run is coming to the plate, but after two pitches it’s a little hard to tell if that was just the way things go or Cabrera doesn’t have it. (It does look like there’s a correlation between Cabrera giving up a hit and Cabrera giving up a run–it’s not perfect, but usually his outings are either clean or it’s less than ideal.) I think I would have probably have gotten someone stirring but I can understand waiting as well. You only have Daniel Ponce de Leon, Junior Fernandez, Giovanny Gallegos, and Alex Reyes available, I think. The first two aren’t coming into a game in the balance and the last two were ideally going to be deployed in the next couple of innings. Honestly, given how Reyes is going, I wouldn’t want him to come in here either.
Second batter singles on the first pitch. Three pitches and now the game is 7-5 with two on. I’m sending Gallegos to the bullpen here, but Shildt kept things quiet. There wasn’t even a mound visit here, which is a little surprising.
Third batter singles on the second pitch to load the bases. Mike Maddux comes out to talk but, IIRC, there’s still no activity in the bullpen. That’s pretty indefensible and it’s possible that I’m wrong, but given that it was Ponce that went to warm up probably not. Gallegos goes to warm here in this situation. I have a recollection from watching it that Dan McLaughlin said Ponce started warming much later.
There’s no doubt this inning happened fast, but the pitcher can control some of that with step offs, etc. Still, there was no reason not to have anyone going right here, though it’s probably a little harsh to say someone should have been ready to step in at this moment.
Fourth batter singles on the first pitch, tying the game. If they didn’t have a tell on Cabrera, they definitely had a plan to not let him get deep into counts. This ties the game and I think ideally this is where you’d go get Cabrera. If you start warming someone up after the second batter, as you should, you could have someone ready. I think Ponce is warming by this time, but he should have been ready to come in. And if the only reason Gallegos wasn’t in by now was because they were saving him for the eighth, that’s a terrible thing.
Fifth batter actually doubles on the fifth pitch, the longest at bat of the evening for Cabrera. I mean, the four batters before him took a total of six pitches. Now the Cardinals are down 9-7 and the Pirates clearly have Cabrera’s number. This is where you go get him, except that Ponce (I guess?) isn’t ready.
The Pirates then pinch-hit for the pitcher with Yoshi Tsutsugo who had three home runs this season, two of them against the Cardinals. It’s a bit of an interesting matchup given that Tsutsugo bats left-handed, which probably is another reason Shildt left Cabrera in. Which backfired sharply when Tsustugo made it three for four in the home run department against St. Louis.
Finally Shildt goes out to get Cabrera, but the damage was done. Down 11-7, you knew that all the energy had been sucked out of that team, a team that put up seven runs in the first three innings then only had one hit, one walk, and one hit by pitch after them. The Cards went in order over the last six, striking out four times.
I think the bullpen decisions were a little tougher for Shildt than we want to give him credit for, but I also think he was too slow to recognize that things were going south and that he was too entrenched with Gallegos going in the eighth and Reyes in the ninth. The guys on Cardinals Off Day have talked about this a lot but did again on their last show and this was a perfect example of Shildt getting a little too comfortable with roles instead of how the game is going.
The Cardinals have now lost three of four to the Pirates in the last week when they are trying to make a push for the wild card. Even if they have a good weekend and even if Cincinnati stumbles, I’m not going to buy in. There’s just no way this team is good enough for that, especially with the September they have looming. We’ll see if they make me eat those words.
Wednesday (3-2 win in 10 vs. Detroit)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. Lars Nootbaar had the walk-off winner, but Goldy’s two home runs were the only offense the Cardinals mustered before that. They almost were enough, too.
Goat: Alex Reyes. They were almost not enough as well. Reyes had two outs before allowing a double to Miguel Cabrera–no real shame there, given he’s a Hall of Famer, plus was pinch-hitting and as such hadn’t been in the heat all day–and a single to Harold Castro (who also was pinch-hitting), scoring Cabrera somehow from second and tying the game up. Reyes has really been struggling in August and it coincides with him not walking batters, which is weird.
Notes: Big props to Nootbaar for coming through with two outs and the bases loaded….Tigers walked Goldschmidt intentionally to start the 10th, putting two runners on and, with one out, both Goldschmidt and Tommy Edman stole bases so they intentionally walked Nolan Arenado. Good to know putting a lot of extra runners on beat someone else for a change….rough day for Dylan Carlson who would have gotten the Goat had Reyes gotten the save. 0-5 with two strikeouts and four left on….Edman and Goldschmidt had four of the five Cardinal hits, but the team did walk five times. Though, again, two of those were in the 10th. It wasn’t a big offensive day is the point, though with field temps over 100, that might not be surprising….Jon Lester put nine runners on in five innings, yet got enough double plays that he only allowed one run. That’s really the best you can expect from him, right?
Thursday (11-7 loss at Pittsburgh)
Hero: Edmundo Sosa. Two hits, plus was again plunked by a pitch. One of his hits was a bomb of a home run. I don’t know if Sosa can keep this sort of thing up, but honestly I prefer his energy to seeing Paul DeJong struggle. However, I realize that things might be different next year if Sosa was named the starter.
Goat: Genesis Cabrera. See above.
Notes: It’s hard to say that the offense should have kept piling on when you are up 7-1, but it would have been nice if it didn’t go into complete hibernation….Nolan Arenado had a very bad homestand, so it was good to see him bang a ball off the foul pole to start this one and give the Cards an early lead….the hits were more potent, but there weren’t many more of them in this game than on Wednesday. Seven hits plus three walks and that Sosa plunking, so basically the same number of baserunners, but two homers and a double help put more runs on the board….Tommy Edman with his second straight two hit day….Miles Mikolas gave up three runs on eight hits and a walk in 4.1 innings, which could have sunk the team in another game (and obviously didn’t help here). Probably still going to be a few of these games as Mikolas gets settled in, but there’s also the fact that he had a lot of these kind of games in 2019 as well.