So I haven’t written in this space in over a week (and the Substack longer) for various reasons, the largest of which was that I kept resetting my alarm to get more sleep and therefore didn’t have time to write before work. However, another reason that it’s been harder to write is that, well, the team has been a whole lot of meh.
I mean, look at this visual representation of the season so far, picked up by Lauren Bundy while long-time chronicler Jodi Umo deals with health issues. (Hope things are going well, Jodi!)
— Lauren Bundy (@lbundy90) May 19, 2022
One three game winning streak. Two three game losing streaks. No consistent play at all. 15 runs one night, none the next. The pitching can be lights out, then can’t get anyone out. Much like the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expects 17 game winning streaks, but that doesn’t mean the team can’t win four or five in a row and eight out of 10. They started the season 7-3, which was good, but are 13-15 since. Granted, they have played better competition (it’s remarkable to me that, this late in the season, the Brewers have only played five games against a team better than .500 and four of them were against the Cardinals!) and there were games in that stretch that they should have won (locking down two late leads against the Mets would make things look a lot better) but there’s a lot of meh going on with this team right now.
That doesn’t mean that it’s all been blah, of course. Every season has its moments but I think this season has some that would stand out no matter the background. Earlier this year, we saw Albert Pujols warm up Miles Mikolas between innings and we thought that was cool. It didn’t hold a candle to Pujols being on the other side of that interaction. When he took the mound at the end of Sunday’s game, it brought a lot of lightheartedness to a game that can be deadly serious at times. We’ve remarked before how much more fun Pujols seems to be having this time around, at least outwardly, and that night was just another example. He couldn’t keep that big grin off his face, even as a couple of Giants took him yard.
We’ve seen Harrison Bader not only hit an inside-the-park home run, but almost chase down Yadier Molina while he was doing it. Those sorts of home runs don’t happen often anyway–this was the first one hit at “new” Busch, which is eligible for its driver’s license now–but the added spice of seeing Bader bearing down on a scrambling Molina made that one for the memory banks.
There have been outstanding plays by Nolan Arenado, of course, but those are almost a matter of routine. There’s been the hot hitting of Paul Goldschmidt, which has helped keep things afloat. While this season so far isn’t one that is definitely going to be one that we remember 10 years from now, some of those things, especially with the OV3 (old valuable three of Pujols, Molina, and Adam Wainwright) will definitely been referenced for years to come.
This weekend, there’s going to be two more dashes of red on that grey canvas.
After losing a heartbreaker to the Mets Thursday afternoon, it was announced that Nolan Gorman would be joining the team when they arrived in Pittsburgh and would be making his major league debut Friday night against the Pirates. Gorman’s got 15 home runs down in Memphis already this season, which is as many as Arenado and Goldschmidt combined, and while he strikes out a lot, he’s already rebounded from a slow patch earlier in May. With Tyler O’Neill going on the IL as part of this, the Cards wanted a lefty bat and it seemed that the time was right to make the call.
But as I tell Kyle Reis after he groans at my first pun, “But wait, there’s more!”
With the double-header on Tuesday, the pitching rotation was thrown out of whack and with the bullpen used a lot this week, the Cardinals needed someone to cover a game this weekend. Turns out that someone is going to be Matthew Liberatore, the highly prized prospect that came back in the Randy Arozarena deal. Liberatore has made seven starts in Memphis, putting up a 3.83 ERA. That number is a bit skewed due to giving up six runs in 5.2 innings two starts ago, but he bounced back to give up just one in six innings last time out.
It’s hard to remember any time that the Cardinals have promoted two prospects at the same time, much less two of their top three. (According to MLB Pipeline, the only prospect more highly ranked in the system is Jordan Walker, which at the rate he is going, it’s hard to rule out seeing him this season!) They brought up Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver at the same time back in August of 2016, but even though both of those guys were highly rated, I don’t think Weaver was in the top three. (Pretty sure Reyes was, back in the pre-injury days.) It’s also pretty telling that they went this aggressively this early in the season. The Cardinals have often waited until early June to make significant changes to the roster. The fact that they are doing it in mid-May probably is a sign they aren’t terribly content with what is going on.
It sounds like Liberatore might be a one and done, that he’ll fill in on Saturday and return to Memphis afterwards. That said, they had to put him on the 40-man and they will lose someone off of it when he gets formally added tomorrow. That might just be Kramer Robertson, who could slide through waivers (maybe) and no harm no foul. It could be the club gives up on T.J. McFarland, which would not necessarily be a loss. Whatever the case, the Cardinals are going to have to pay a price to add Liberatore. They could have worked things so Johan Oviedo could have come up and made the start, given that he’s on the 40-man. They didn’t, which to me means that unless things go really badly, they probably try to keep Liberatore around. There’s been a lot of talk of needing innings in the bullpen, especially with Jordan Hicks at most going five and Dakota Hudson often doing the same, so maybe they keep him as a long man. Of course, at the end of May the rosters have to be balanced 13 hitters, 13 pitchers. Currently it is, so if McFarland goes for Liberatore it’s more likely he stays up than if it’s a move like Robertson.
If nothing else, the Cardinals have given us a reason to tune into the games this weekend. Hopefully, this changes the narrative. It seems like in the last couple of full seasons, the Cards have started out OK, then fallen flat in May and June as the bullpen starts to become an issue and the offense doesn’t do much. (I remember them struggling quite a bit while the Blues were making their Cup run, for instance.) Nothing so far has kept them out of the playoffs and, indeed, they aren’t that far off of Milwaukee’s pace even though the Brewers have had such a light schedule. While Gorman won’t be godly and Liberatore won’t be a liberator, what they can do for this team is nudge it in the right direction. We’ll see if they are able to do that. It should be exciting to find out!
Thursday, May 12 (3-2 loss vs. Baltimore)
Hero: Nobody just really stands out here, but we’ll go with Dylan Carlson who homered for his lone hit.
Goat: Genesis Cabrera. It was a meh game all the way around so nobody is a clear choice, but Cabrera came in and allowed a hit and one of Steven Matz‘s runners to score, which wound up being the difference in the game.
Notes: I mean, you have six hits fairly evenly placed in the lineup and three runs in 6.2 charged to the starter. There’s not a lot of extremes here….Nolan Arenado got Hero consideration because his one hit was a double and he added on a sacrifice fly….the Cardinals outscored the Orioles 15-9 and yet lost the series.
Friday (8-2 loss vs. San Francisco)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. Two hits, including a home run, and he drove in both of the Cardinals runs.
Goat: T.J. McFarland. They might not have won anyway, but McFarland allowing three of his own runners plus two of Nick Wittgren‘s to score pretty much assured the outcome.
Notes: Jordan Hicks went five innings for the first time, allowing just three hits but also two walks and three runs. Still, it was something to build on for the young man….current Patron Pitcher of the Blog Packy Naughton got 1.1 innings and struck out three, which was a solid performance….Brendan Donovan had two hits and drew a walk. It’s remarkable to think that we might soon have a lineup of Donovan, Juan Yepez, and Nolan Gorman….another tough outing for Tyler O’Neill, who went 0-4 with a double play.
Saturday (4-0 win vs. San Francisco)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. 2-4 with a double and an RBI in the seventh that helped put the game away.
Goat: Dylan Carlson. The only starter without a hit, he also left three men on.
Notes: Dakota Hudson can be tough to watch but he often winds up with a good line. He only went five innings here on 80 pitches, so I’m a little surprised Oli Marmol didn’t send him back out there for another frame. (If he’d known what the next week was going to hold, he probably would have.) It was a tightrope walking performance as Hudson allowed five hits and two walks, but he got a double play and only one of the hits went for extra bases….Andre Pallante struggled a bit–two hits and a walk in his 1/3 of an inning–but Ryan Helsley cleaned up that mess and went another scoreless frame to boot. It’s clear he’s passed Giovanny Gallegos for best bullpen option, but it’s probably best that Marmol keeps using him as a fireman instead of locking him into any sort of closer role….the most notable play from this game might have been Yadier Molina reading the signs from the Giants’ dugout to catch Joc Pederson stealing.
Sunday (15-6 win vs. San Francisco)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. Goldy kept up his recent tear, hitting a two-run homer into Big Mac Land in the first and then putting up two more hits, driving in another run, and scoring twice more.
Goat: Hard to find one in a game like this, especially since you aren’t going to disparage that last relief pitcher’s outing by any means. We’ll go with Corey Dickerson, who came off the bench but still was 0-2, the only player to have more than one AB and not get a hit.
Notes: Albert Pujols pitched. That’s something that nobody’s ever going to forget. Back in the day there was a blog called Aaron Miles‘s Fastball. If Christine was still writing today she might have to update her site name….this was the night for the old guys, which I can appreciate. Not only did Pujols pitch, he went 2-3 with a double, two walks, an RBI, and two runs scored. His good friend Yadier Molina went deep with a two-run shot as part of his two hit, four RBI night….then there was Adam Wainwright, who started this and only needed a couple of those 15 runs. He went six innings, gave up three hits (including a homer to Joc Pederson) and two runs, getting the win and making him and Yadi the winningest battery in the history of baseball.
Tuesday, Game 1 (3-1 loss at New York)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. Kept the team from being shut out with his home run in the eighth.
Goat: Harrison Bader. 0-4 with four left on and two strikeouts, including one to end the game with runners on first and second.
Notes: The three-four-five combo of Nolan Arenado, Juan Yepez, and Yadier Molina went 0-12….Dylan Carlson was the only Cardinal with more than one hit….Miles Mikolas wasn’t as dominant as he has been, but three runs (one unearned) in six innings is at least keeping your team in the game….Packy Naughton came up as the 27th man and filled in admirably, allowing just one hit in 1.2 scoreless innings of relief.
Tuesday, Game 2 (4-3 win at New York)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. 3-5, two RBI, you know the drill.
Goat: Dylan Carlson. 0-4 with four left on.
Notes: I almost went with Ryan Helsley as the Goat due to him blowing the lead in the eighth, but he would have escaped unscathed without Andrew Knizner missing strike three on Eduardo Escobar, which allowed him to go to first and the inning to continue. That said, it wasn’t Helsley’s best outing as he was having trouble with command throughout the whole inning. Nobody is on every night, though….two hits from Knizner though, the only Cardinal not named Goldy with more than one….another tough outing for Pallante, walking three and getting just one out. Kudos to Genesis Cabrera (someone who has had their own command issues) for getting out of it with a strikeout and a popout. I do wonder if Pallante’s a candidate to go to Memphis and get stretched back out if they decide to keep Liberatore up.
Wednesday (11-4 loss at New York)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. 2-4 with a two-run homer in the eighth to make the game close, at least for a bit.
Goat: You pretty much can pick a pitcher. For me, it’s a bit of a coin flip but I’m going to go with Nick Wittgren, who allowed all of his inherited runners to score.
Notes: The problem with Jordan Hicks right now is that he doesn’t have a lot of margin for error. Here, he threw 82 pitches which I believe is a career high, but because he walked three and went into some deep counts on others, he only got four innings completed. He left with the game still in the balance, tied 2-2, but that meant a lot more innings for a bullpen that had covered quite a few the day before. It didn’t go well….Jake Walsh had his first bad outing in the bigs, walking his first batter, hitting his second, and giving up hits to the next two before Wittgren came in….Drew VerHagen actually looked pretty good with two scoreless innings, but then Oli Marmol went to T.J. McFarland again and the results were, well, about what you’d expect from McFarland this year, four hits and a walk with all of them scoring when things were capped by a Pete Alonso homer….Albert Pujols has started to find his groove again, getting two hits here and tying the game early by driving in two runs….three hits for Dylan Carlson, who has also started to find his place in things.
Thursday (7-6 loss in 10 at New York)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. I think we just need to rename Hero the Paul or something, given how often he’s getting it. 3-4, a home run, and the game-tying RBI in the ninth (with a little help from Eduardo Escobar).
Goat: Giovanny Gallegos. Gallegos is still, on the whole, one of the better relievers for the Cardinals but it’s easy to start wondering if his peak shelf life has passed. He’s only had three outings this year where he hasn’t given up at least a hit or a walk. Technically one of the runs he allowed yesterday was an unearned run but even with that, his ERA for the season is 4.15 in 13 innings. I’m not saying that he’s not valuable, just that he’s not the automatic guy we are used to. Anyway, allowing a home run to the first batter (especially when it’s Pete Alonso, who is going to irritate Cardinals fans for a while now) and losing the game will get you the Goat every time.
Notes: Dakota Hudson didn’t have it in this one, giving up four runs in 4.2 innings even though he got two double plays behind him. Hudson allowed five hits, walked two, and somehow just threw 84 pitches in that span even though it seemed to take two hours to watch it….Oli Marmol seems to think Nick Wittgren is a lock down guy and he definitely had his moments earlier in the year, but it seems like the word is out on him now. He got the last out of the fifth but not before allowing one of Hudson’s runners to score and one of his own as well….a much better outing from Pallente in this one–he still gave up three hits but they were spread over two innings and he struck out two….it was a surprise that Albert Pujols was playing first against a righty again but given the news on Tyler O’Neill and Pujols’s game the night before, I guess it was worth the gamble. 0-5, though the last was a double play that scored what could have been the winning run in the 10th….Andrew Knizner had to leave this game due to a possible concussion after taking a couple of foul balls off the mask, which might lead to another roster move. He’ll probably be fine, but if they have to put him on the concussion IL, the club would probably bring up Ali Sanchez but it’d be really intriguing if they let Ivan Herrera have a taste of the big leagues. Herrera’s hitting .310 with a couple of homers at Memphis and is on the 40-man roster. Imagine if he joined the weekend crew!