Brushing Off a Losing Streak

If you can say nothing else about this Cardinals team, you can say that they play with a passion.  When your leader is Nolan Arenado, I don’t think you have much choice.

There are many things to love about Mr. Arenado.  There’s the fact that he’s currently first in the National League and second only to some guy named Mike Trout in OPS.  He’s tied for seventh in MLB in home runs and is fifth in the RBI category.  His offensive exploits this first month of the season have been eye-popping.  Last year, which he said was a down year, was good and enjoyable but this is incredible.

Of course there’s the defense.  The error on Monday night was a rare instance of him not making the play and that one was one that 90% of third basemen just put in their pocket.  Not only did Arenado try it, we were extremely surprised when he didn’t pull it off.  Watching him play defense is a treat.

All of that comes in a fiery package that is fun to watch.  The man competes and he takes everything on the field to heart.  The Cardinals have been accused at times (and somewhat fairly) of being a team of emotionless robots, guys who don’t get too low or too high.  There’s a lot of value in guys like that, but Arenado proves that sometimes you have to leaven a team like that with a guy that will put his heart on his sleeve and charge into battle.  We saw that most clearly yesterday in the eighth inning.

Miles Mikolas hit a batter Monday night.  The Cardinals hit three guys on Tuesday, most notably Starling Marte with the bases loaded, while the Mets hit two.  Yesterday, Edmundo Sosa was hit in the fourth before J.D. Davis was hit in the eighth.  That’s a lot of guys to be hit in a series, but none of them seemed intentional.  The first two games were close enough you wouldn’t put on extra runners if you could help it and some of the HBP were balls glancing off feet or the like.

I didn’t actually get to watch yesterday’s game, just followed along on Twitter and GameDay, but I guess hitting Davis with one out and a runner on in a five run game didn’t set well with the Mets.  (Looking at the SNY video of it, I see Ron Darling thinks Genesis Cabrera hit him intentionally on the back foot on a 3-2 pitch.  Which seems pretty ridiculous, especially when you factor in how much Cabrera’s pitches move.)  The two teams had been jawing a lot anyway, starting with Tuesday night’s game (I think Max Scherzer would have fought anyone on his own that night, as incensed as he was) and another plunking set the stage for retaliation.  With Arenado coming up, it allowed for equal status after Pete Alonso had been clipped in the head Tuesday night.  With a five run deficit, the Mets didn’t have to worry about losing the game because of it.  There were a lot of folks on Twitter predicting a plunk and absolutely no one was surprised when Yoan Lopez threw inside with his first pitch.

There seem to be a lot of Mets fans putting the blame of the brawl on Arenado, which perhaps I would do in their case as well.  We always tend to look at situations, especially some that are less than clear, with our own biases.  However, I do think there were differences between what we saw with Arenado and what we saw with Alonso, the situations that are most often compared.

  • Intent matters.  It’s hard to believe that Alonso was intentionally thrown at, given that Kodi Whitley had one out and a two-run deficit to try to hold.  Save for the crew chief of the umpiring squad (more on that later), everyone saw intent in Lopez’s throwing at Arenado.  Oli Marmol had one of the best lines after the game, saying “I think my four-year-old knew it was coming.”
  • “It didn’t even hit him” seems to be a common cry.  And it’s true, Arenado was able to get out of the way of the pitch.  However, as he said after the game and was fairly clear anyway, if you are going to throw at someone, do it in the middle of the body, not up around their head.  In fairness, Lopez might have had that intent and the pitch got away from him, but we don’t know that and Arenado definitely didn’t know that when he had 94 mph heat in his face.
  • “He started it” also is out there, which if you are talking about him charging the mound, is accurate.  It would seem to start with Lopez’s throw, however, and Lopez definitely didn’t do anything to de-escalate the situation.  In fact, it seemed like Arenado was yelling at him but was ready to get back into the box before Lopez came off the mound and made it more than halfway to the box responding to Arenado.  If Lopez stays on the mound, even if he yells back, things might not have gotten to where they did.  It was clear that Lopez, if not the Mets in general, wanted a confrontation.

All of that overshadowed what turned out to be a really good win for the Cardinals.  Before the game, a rumor went around (quickly shot down by the man himself) that Mets owner Steve Cohen had promised a new car for anyone that hit a home run off of Steven Matz, given Matz’s last-second rejection of the Mets for the Cardinals in the off-season.  (That didn’t make a lot of sense anyway because the Mets then pivoted to Scherzer, who I think is a more than adequate alternative!)  The Cards got on board first, but the Mets responded with four off of Matz and it seemed like this was going to be another one of those days.

Instead, the Cards found their bats.  Nolan Arenado, who is the Hero of this game for so many reasons, drove in two in the third with a single, cutting the lead to one, and then St. Louis scored five in the fourth, which was as much as they’d scored in the entire series up to that point.  When you start an inning with a Yadier Molina double, you better take advantage and the Cardinals did.  Even Corey Dickerson, who has had a tough year so far, got in on the action with an RBI infield single.

It was also a big day for Dylan Carlson, who had a monkey on his back named King Kong of late.  His two-run triple capped the scoring in that inning, he had another hit on the day, and he unleashed a beauty of a throw to nail a runner at third.

The Goat is a bit of a tossup.  You could go with Steven Matz, who allowed four runs in four innings.  However, after the pitch count he ran up in the second it’s impressive he made it through the fourth and he didn’t allow any more damage, which allowed the team to rally.  (And a hat tip to the bullpen work of Jake Woodford, Cabrera, and Ryan Helsley, who threw five scoreless innings.)  You’ve got Tyler O’Neill as an option, as he went 0-4 with two strikeouts, but he did draw a walk, stole a base, and scored two runs.  So I guess I’ll go with Paul DeJong.  You know things are going bad when even seeing the Mets doesn’t help out the shortstop.  DeJong went 0-5, had two strikeouts, and left six on base.

Looking at DeJong’s Baseball Savant page, right now it is hard to see a lot of difference in DeJong’s current run and the last few years.  His expected batting average is in the bottom 3% of the league, just like it was last year.  His strikeout rate is higher than its ever been.  His walk rate is also a career high, which I guess is one good sign, and he’s increased his launch angle, but I don’t know how much the launch angle helps when the average exit velocity is in line with where it was last year, when it was in the bottom 8% of the league.  He only has one hit on a non-fastball and it might be the early going but it also may be that teams are figuring it out–he’s seen almost as many breaking pitches as fastballs this year.

A good win to take into the series with Arizona, which should prove a little less difficult–and hopefully much less contentious!


Tuesday (3-0 loss)

Hero: Andre Pallante.  He did allow one of his inherited runners to score, but he came in with no notice after Jordan Hicks left with an injury and pitched three innings with no runs charged to his ledger.  He even started a double play!  If the offense had been able to do anything, he might have been rewarded with his first major league win.  Rosters have to shrink this weekend and he’s making sure that, if he does go down, it’s a hard decision.

Goat: Plenty to choose from when the offense only manages three hits.  I’ll go with Tyler O’Neill here, since with his 0-4 he had two strikeouts and three left on base.

Notes: Paul DeJong did get a base hit in this one on a fairly tough pitch, just enough to keep that flickering flame of hope of a turnaround alive….Brendan Donovan made his first major league start, letting Paul Goldschmidt be the DH, and went 0-2 with a strikeout, so he’s still looking for that first major league hit….Tommy Edman had two steals even though he didn’t have any hits….new Patron Pitcher of the Blog Packy Naughton got into his first game and got the team out of a jam in the sixth, then pitched a scoreless seventh….Aaron Brooks again got tagged with a run (Marte’s HBP) though it wasn’t all his fault–the walk before that loaded the bases had some questionable calls from the ump.  Still, Brooks has struggled with only one of his four outings being scoreless.  I don’t believe he has options so we’ll see how long the Cards will stay with him.  He’s not in any immediate danger, I don’t believe.

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