The wild card was clinched and there was nothing else that could be done for playoff positioning. The streak was over the next night While the Cardinals and others won’t count the last four games of 2021 when they talk about the team has played X number of meaningless games over the past decade or whatever, that’s only because they use the word “meaningless” to denote an eliminated team. There was very little meaning in this last stretch of Cardinal baseball.
Which, for the most part, is a good thing. After the exhilarating stress of the winning streak, having a chance to catch our breath and watch low-stakes baseball was a nice change and allowed us to refresh our batteries before the all-encompassing stress of the wild card game and hopefully many more playoff series afterwards. We didn’t have to fret about lineups, about whether the manager was leaving in a pitcher too long, why this was happening or why didn’t they do that. Even the loss on Saturday, which would have been a huge gut punch in normal times, was able to be shaken off without too much anxiety being spent.
It did make me miss the past, though. If the expanded rosters were truly expanded, we would have seen games with Juan Yepez playing first, Nolan Gorman playing second, and probably our first look at Matthew Liberatore. Getting a real look at these players that right now for most of us exist as names and gifs on Kyle Reis’s Twitter timeline would have been outstanding. I get the complaints people have with a full September clubhouse, but I have to think there’s some compromise between what we had and what we have to make September a little more interesting, especially if your team isn’t in it.
All in all, hitters and pitchers alike got some rest and should be ready to go tomorrow evening. (At least playing a wild card team from the West Coast means getting on in prime time instead of mid-afternoon or something.) Obviously they’ll need that, going up against Max Scherzer and a Dodger team that would have won every other division in baseball by at least six games but was a runner-up in the NL West. While the Cardinals aren’t at all the favorite in this, we know that any team can beat any other team on a given day and the Cards aren’t terribly outclassed here. It’s not like you are expecting Baltimore or Texas to take on Scherzer and win (though they could, depending on the day). St. Louis split the most recent series with the Dodgers, though they did lose the Scherzer game. The key is not to get down four runs in the first. My suggestion would be to score those four runs instead. (If you want better discussion of the game, Ben and Ben did a fine job on the most recent Cardinals Off Day.)
Just because the games didn’t matter doesn’t mean we aren’t going to discuss them, however. Every game gets its Hero and its Goat.
Thursday (4-3 win vs. Milwaukee)
Hero: Dylan Carlson. The last big moment of the rookie’s regular season was, well, big. A home run in the third to break a 1-1 tie then another home run, this one a two-run shot, to erase a 3-2 deficit. The Cardinals as a team had five hits, four runs, and four RBI. He had two of the five, one of the four, and two of the four. That’s about as close to winning a baseball team single-handed as you can get.
Goat: Tyler O’Neill. Tough day for the man eventually named Player of the Month for September, going 0-4 with a strikeout.
Notes: J.A. Happ‘s final Cardinal start (unless they decide to re-sign him this offseason, which is a possibility) was a typical solid Happ start. He allowed three runs in 6.1 innings, allowing nine hits but striking out seven, which was the second highest strikeout total of his time in St. Louis….Paul DeJong had a double and a walk as he started in place of Edmundo Sosa, still dealing with the wrist….Kodi Whitley was the first out of the pen and struck out the first two batters he faced, then came back to start the eighth and got a flyout before walking Tyrone Taylor. Since his promotion at the end of August, Whitley has thrown 15 scoreless innings with 19 strikeouts. He could play a big role if there’s much of a postseason run.
Friday (4-3 win vs. Chicago)
Hero: Tyler O’Neill. You can’t keep a good man down. Solo shot in the first. Solo shot in the fourth. A double to lead off the sixth and scored the tying run. Threw out the go-ahead run at the plate in the top of the ninth. If Paul Goldschmidt hadn’t walked it off, I have no doubt he’d have won the game right after.
Goat: Tommy Edman. 0-5 with four left on, which almost was very costly.
Notes: Dakota Hudson got his first start since his Tommy John surgery and was outstanding, allowing no runs and three hits in five innings. He’s going to be on the postseason roster in one form or another…Genesis Cabrera got charged with two runs after walking three batters as he had a recurrence of the nail issue that has plagued him all season long. Apparently they’ve put an artificial nail on to help, which is important because Cabrera needs to be good for the Cards to have a chance….T.J. McFarland was the one allowing those runs to score, giving up a three-run homer to Trayce Thompson. Between that and Luis Garcia on Saturday, a couple of the pillars of the bullpen wobbled which is a little concerning given their workload….Andrew Miller bounced back and threw a scoreless frame. Just never know which Andrew Miller you are going to get.
Saturday (6-5 loss vs. Chicago)
Hero: Dylan Carlson. His two-out RBI single drove in two runs and gave the Cards a lead in the seventh, a situation we have been conditioned over the last three weeks to mean a Cardinal victory.
Goat: Luis Garcia. The umpiring didn’t help much–he got squeezed a bit on the zone, though only one was really a pitch that could have gone either way. Ian Happ is a Cardinal killer, though, and getting behind 2-0 on him just was begging for him to go yard. I love me some Garcia, but counting the end of his scoreless innings streak, he ended the season allowing six runs in seven innings, though he did strike out eight over that span.
Notes: This game would have had people throwing things if they hadn’t clinched. Of course, it might have had Giovanny Gallegos in it as well if they hadn’t….two hits for Tyler O’Neill including an RBI triple….Harrison Bader batted leadoff–something Mike Shildt should consider more often given Tommy Edman’s OBP issues–and smashed a home run on the fifth Cub pitch of the night….Jon Lester had one bad inning, a four-run frame with an infield hit, two walks, and a grand slam by Trayce Thompson, giving him back-to-back days with blasts. I don’t know if that has any bearing on the postseason, except that if they get to where they can use Lester, maybe not hesitate to go get him (and, in truth, he’d never have pitched to Thompson if the game mattered).
Sunday (3-2 loss in seven vs. Chicago)
Hero: Tommy Edman. He left three men on, but he led off the game with a home run and also drew a walk, so it was a big day for him.
Notes: Jake Woodford gave up three in five innings, but that’s pretty much in line with what you expect from Woodford….Matt Carpenter did get a hit in his likely last regular season game as a Cardinal, though it was just a single. His last three hits before that were doubles (which took you all the way back to August 7) which would have been a more appropriate way to go out. Maybe he can double against the Dodgers on Wednesday for old times’ sake….Edmundo Sosa went 0-2 with a walk but he played the entire game at short, which is a good sign for his health….Alex Reyes was announced into the game right before the rain delay that eventually ended it. That meant he ended the year with 72.1 innings pitched, well short of the 100 inning goal from the beginning of the year and short of the 80-100 range given later on….Jack Flaherty threw an inning of relief and struck out two. Good chance he could be a big part of bridging games this postseason if there are opportunities.