I have been negligent in my writing, for various reasons, but when you look at what the Cardinals have done since the last post, can you really blame me?
- Dropped the finale against the Marlins when they were one strike away from getting the sweep.
- Lost two of three to the Phillies, admittedly a surging team and in relatively close fashion.
- Lost three of four to the Braves and were pounded in the first two, MIA in the third, and finally squeaked out a win in the final contest.
A couple of weeks ago, the Cards led the division by 2 1/2 games. Now they trail by 2 1/2 and it’s only that because Milwaukee went 3-4 against the Pirates and the Cubs over the same span, which is not something you should really count on. (It also indicates what we’ve been saying all along, that there’s not a lot of difference between the Brewers and the Cardinals and this is going to be a race all season.)
Over the span of the last eight games, the Cardinals have scored 20 runs, have hit eight homers, and have slashed .221/.296/.360. They’ve only walked 25 times and struck out 75, a number somewhat inflated by last night’s 18 strikeouts. The strikeouts and walks are similar to the eight games before when they had a .781 team OPS and went 5-3, so that’s not all of it, but it feels like the Cardinals have done a better job when they’ve been more selective. Wonder if that works out. Let’s look by month.
It’s obviously not the only thing, but it’s an interesting trend. The Cards have walked fairly consistently, but the strikeouts are trending the wrong way. (Again, July is really skewed by last night’s 19 punchouts. Take that out and it’s 8.8 per game.) There’s a lot of reasons for that, as the lineup is made up of different people these days. Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader have been known to strike out but they also bring a different offensive dimension to the lineup that changes approaches for everyone.
There’s also the fact that this lineup has a lot of young guys in in that are now being more exposed to the major leagues. I haven’t gotten very far into the most recent Talking About Birds podcast, but I did hear Kyle Reis make a great point on there. These young guys had a day off every week last year when the minor leagues went to their new schedule and none of them played regularly in 2020. There’s fatigue involved and adjustments to be made for these guys. You have to appreciate what a guy like Brendan Donovan has given to this team but he’s also hitting just .212/.323/.308 over his last 15 games. Oli Marmol seems to have done a good job of resting people like Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, using the DH and such, but it’s a hard juggling act.
Of course, while the offense hasn’t been necessarily carrying the load, most of the fingers are pointed at the pitching staff. Since the last post, the team ERA is 4.43, which isn’t outrageous, but that’s in part because the bullpen has done some strong work. The staff as a whole has given up 10 homers in eight games while only striking out 58 batters in that span. That’s an average of just over seven a game. I know this is a pitch-to-contact kind of squad and I know missing Jack Flaherty brings down the strikeout numbers as well, but that seems a little low to me.
Splitting out the starters and the relievers over this span, we can see that the bullpen, though it’s had a hiccup or two like last night, has been fairly solid. In eight games it has an ERA of 1.52 and has 32 strikeouts in just under 30 innings. The starters, on the other hand, have been rough. A 6.81 ERA and only Andre Pallante against the Marlins and Miles Mikolas against the Braves have gone six or more innings in that span. When you have a four game stretch where your starter gives up 5, 4, 6, and 7, you know things aren’t going well.
No matter what people think, this isn’t the end of the world. It’s a little concerning that when the Cards stepped up in class, playing Philadelphia and Atlanta, that they wound up struggling, but when right the Cardinals have proven they can hang with the good teams. Without some uncharacteristic bullpen issues, for instance, they would have taken the season series from the Mets and they did take it from the Giants. This is also a team with some missing pieces. O’Neill and Genesis Cabrera are expected to be back on the team this evening as the Cards get the Phillies again, this time in Busch Stadium. Bader may well be back in the lineup before the bloggers descend on Busch a week from tomorrow. It would seem Steven Matz will probably be back right before the All-Star Break. Yadier Molina will be back soon and it’s hard to quantify his effect on the pitching staff. Things are going to get brighter.
I do think this has narrowed the focus for John Mozeliak when it comes to the trade deadline, assuming he was trying to decide what to buy. A reliable starter would be huge for this team, allowing Pallante to shift back to cover middle innings and perhaps Matthew Liberatore as well, though Liberatore is more likely to work on things in Memphis. I don’t expect that any move will be earth-shattering, but this team needs to be invested in and I believe the front office will do it.
Assuming the club doesn’t have any more of these weeks in them.
Wednesday, June 28 (4-3 loss vs. Miami)
Hero: Andre Pallante. Going up against one of the best in the league in Sandy Alcantara, he pretty much matched the former Cardinal while he was in there, giving up just five hits and two runs in seven innings.
Goat: Ryan Helsley. Sure, he’s human, but it was a tough spot to find that out. The leadoff walk to Garrett Cooper was an overlooked culprit. Get the out there and you don’t have to face Avisail Garcia, who has been tough on the Cards.
Notes: The resurgence of Dylan Carlson continued as he had one hit and two of the three RBI….two doubles for Juan Yepez, both off of Sandy Alcantara….two hits, including a triple, for Edmundo Sosa. Always feels like his offense comes in clumps….the Cardinals were able to rally off of Alcantara after falling behind, which was nice to see. You’d really like to have that sort of win.
Friday, July 1 (5-3 loss at Philadelphia)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. A motorcycle has nothing on the excitement of a baseball cycle, the first for the Cardinals since 2005.
Goat: Many and varied options. I’ll go with Dylan Carlson, I guess, who went 0-4 with three strikeouts.
Notes: Not necessarily Miles Mikolas’s greatest outing, though he got burned by errors from Arenado and Juan Yepez. Still, it’s unusual to see him allow four runs (even if two were unearned) and walk two while just striking out one in just over five innings….four hits from Arenado, two from Paul Goldschmidt, and one from Yepez. That’s all the offense against a rookie pitcher and a bullpen that, in the past, has been a weakness of Philly.
Saturday, July 2 (7-6 win at Philadelphia)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. Two homers, one a part of history, the other that wins the ballgame.
Goat: Matthew Liberatore. Staked to a 5-0 lead before his first pitch, Liberatore wasn’t able to finish the third inning. Five runs and seven hits in 2.2 innings is a rough lesson for the rookie. (In fairness, two of those runs scored after he left the game.)
Notes: Arenado. Nolan Gorman. Juan Yepez. Dylan Carlson. Four consecutive home runs, the first time any team has done that in the first inning and only the 11th time ever. Thankfully they were able to pull out a win or I’d say stop having historical type games….very cool that a game in Philadelphia over Fourth of July weekend ended 7-6….great work by the bullpen to keep this one from getting out of hand. Save for Junior Fernandez allowing Patron Pitcher of the Blog Packy Naughton‘s inherited runner to score, no runs over 6.1 innings, capped off with Ryan Helsley striking out five of the six outs he got….two hits by Tommy Edman and Paul Goldschmidt, Goldy’s first coming right before the barrage.
Sunday, July 3 (4-0 loss at Philadelphia)
Hero: Dylan Carlson. One hit plus a walk meant he was the most productive member of the offense.
Goat: Adam Wainwright. Not the worst game we’ve seen out of Waino but Zack Wheeler on the other end means there was little margin for error and he just couldn’t figure out Rhys Hoskins. Waino’s ERA without Yadier Molina over the last few starts is 4.56 and that includes the seven scoreless innings he threw last time out against the Marlins. His FIP is 3.74 so it’s not just the lack of Yadi, it’s some bad luck, but it’s something to watch.
Notes: I mean, what are you going to do with Wheeler on the other side? While the idea of the Harrison Bader or Tyler O’Neill-headed package from a couple of years ago isn’t as appealing, it’d still sure be nice to have a guy like that in the rotation….more nice work by James Naile, who went 1.1 scoreless innings. He was demoted today due to the return of Genesis Cabrera but he’ll be back soon, I’m sure….four total hits, huh….Nolan Gorman went 0-4 with three strikeouts.
Monday, July 4 (6-3 loss at Atlanta)
Hero: Juan Yepez. Two hits, including a home run in the sixth after the long rain delay.
Goat: Dakota Hudson. When the team is down 6-0 after two, it makes for a long night, even without a 2 1/2 hour delay. Hudson walked three, struck out two, and basically couldn’t put people away. The most notable instance was Dansby Swanson, who was 0-2 in the second with the score 2-0 and two outs and the bases loaded. Swanson then worked the count full (worked is a bit of an overstatement as most of the pitches weren’t terribly competitive) and then doubled in everyone. Maybe Tyler O’Neill or Harrison Bader catches that ball but the point remains it didn’t have to get to that point.
Notes: The cool thing about the rain delay was that I wound up missing basically none of this game even though I went out to my parents to shoot fireworks. Just wish it was a better one to watch….Connor Capel got his first major league homer, splashing in the water outside the center field wall….0-5 with two strikeouts for Tommy Edman, who obviously is working through some things given his usage as of late….two hits for Nolan Arenado….Johan Oviedo and James Naile covered the last half of the game after the rain and kept the Braves off the board, allowing just one hit between them.
Tuesday, July 5 (7-1 loss at Atlanta)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. 2-3 with a walk as he continued his hot start to July.
Goat: Andre Pallante. Pallante has been so good but he didn’t have it in this one. Seven runs in 3.2 innings on 10 hits. He didn’t walk anyone, which I guess is a minor highlight.
Notes: Nolan Gorman doubled in Paul Goldschmidt for an early 1-0 lead. It didn’t last….Austin Romine made his second start in a row. He started on Thursday as well and somehow seems to have supplanted even Andrew Knizner. I guess it’s the idea that if catcher is going to be an offensive black hole, there should be an upgrade defensively….Packy Naughton has become an amazingly valuable part of the bullpen. The Patron Pitcher went 2.1 innings and gave up just one hit. Bullpens need guys who can come in when the game is close and keep it there and Naughton is starting to be that guy.
Wednesday, July 6 (3-0 loss at Atlanta)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. Two hits, one for extra bases, and a walk.
Goat: Edmundo Sosa. 0-4, one strikeout, two left on.
Notes: Miles Mikolas had a better outing, at least getting to quality start status with three runs in six innings, but he was burned by two homers and a non-existent offense thanks to Max Fried….Albert Pujols also had two hits, which was nice to see. It got his season average back up to .200….Nolan Arenado had a hit but hit into a double play at the worst time, with two on and nobody out to start the sixth. Juan Yepez then struck out.
Thursday, July 7 (3-2 win in 11 at Atlanta)
Hero: Dylan Carlson. Not only did he get three hits coming off the bench, not only did one of those hits drive in the winning run in the 11th, but in the 10th he chased down what looked to be a sure game-winning double and not only caught it but doubled the runner off of first. It was incredible and wonderful.
Goat: Giovanny Gallegos. After the Cardinals battled to drive in their first run, Gallegos immediately came in and allowed a game tying homer.
Notes: Patron Pitcher of the Blog Packy Naughton got the save with a scoreless 11th after Carlson’s RBI….Ryan Helsley pitched 2.1 innings but did get burned by the zombie runner in the 10th, allowing the Braves to again counter a Cardinal score….Jordan Hicks has been much better than I expected in his return to the bullpen. In this one he gave up a hit and a walk in his two innings but he struck out three and strikeouts have always been one of his issues….two hits by Nolan Gorman, the only other Cardinal to get multiple knocks.