Finding the Motivation

A series loss at the wrong time makes it hard to find the words.

It’s hopefully the last blast of summer. Temperatures outside have been creeping close to 100 with heat indexes well over it. With the calendar shortly turning to September, you’d like to think this week would be the last of the extreme heat around here, but you never can be sure. No matter, it’s draining even when you don’t go outside in it.

I spent my three day weekend seemingly perpetually in motion, with Saturday going from celebrating my parents’ 50th anniversary to immediately afterwards taking a dog for an emergency vet visit. With the monitoring of the dog, sleep was fitful and interrupted that evening and I don’t think I’ve recovered.

When you are already a bit worn, it’s hard to get geared up to do much of anything, much less write about a team that had their own hand in this lack of motivation.

Dropping two to the Brewers was understandable. Dropping two to the Pirates, less so. And while the competition has been very helpful, meaning that the Cards are still within 4 1/2 of the Reds (with the Padres now between the two teams instead of leading the pack) it’s hard to work up the justification that a team that loses games like that to imperil their over .500 status should be playing in October.

It’s a short Tigers series. Let’s just get into the regular beats and see if we can work up some enthusiasm.

The Last Time We Met…..

Remember June, the last time the Cardinals had a soft schedule and then they face-planted all the way through it? Remember if they’d just gotten a few more wins against those miserable teams, they’d probably lead the wild-card now? Yeah, that’s when the Cards and Tigers mixed it up last.

The first game blew up on Johan Oviedo in the fourth inning. After three scoreless frames, Oviedo gave up a one-out single, threw a wild pitch, made an error that led to a run, walked two batters, gave up a double that plated two more, struck out a batter, then served up a two-run blast to Jonathan Schoop (who not only didn’t get traded at the deadline but signed an extension with the club). St. Louis got a couple of runs back in the top of next frame on a Lars Nootbaar sac fly and a Paul Goldschmidt single, but the Tigers matched that in the bottom of the inning against Daniel Ponce de Leon and Andrew Miller.

The second game started better but ended in a similar fashion. Nolan Arenado hit a home run to lead off the second against Matt Manning and Tommy Edman singled in Lars Nootbaar (who had tripled) in the top of the third. At that point, things went downhill for John Gant. He walked the first two batters of the third and School drove them in with a double, tying the game up. He then allowed the go-ahead homer to Daz Cameron in the fourth, ending his day. The bullpen didn’t really help as Schoop went yard against Ryan Helsley in the fifth, Akil Baddoo drove in a run against Genesis Cabrera in the sixth, and Isaac Paredes had a sacrifice fly in the eighth on the way to a Detroit sweep.

The Opponent

The Tigers were 32-42 when St. Louis left town licking their wounds. They are 60-66 now, meaning they are +4 over that span. (The Cardinals, meanwhile, were 36-38 and now are 62-60, so they are also +4.) Detroit is just three games behind Cleveland for second place in the AL Central, something that most people would not have expected at the beginning of the year. With a strong minor league system, the future isn’t now, but it’s bright for the club.

The success hasn’t really come from the offense, however. The Tigers have put up a .701 OPS over the past 30 days, which is significantly lower than what St. Louis has been putting up over that span. They are 25th in home runs in the past month, which probably means they’ll hit three or four in this two game set.

The pitching has been somewhat better. Again, the Cardinals have posted a better ERA, WHIP (can you believe the Cards are sixth in that category over the last 30? Sorry for the aside, but that’s amazing), and batting average against, but the Tigers are 15th (4.12), 24th (1.44), and 24th (.270). So maybe not a lot better than the offense, but it seems more likely they’ll win 4-3 games than 6-5 ones.

The Mound Men

Tuesday: Casey Mize (6-6, 3.69 ERA, 5.03 FIP, 5.12 xERA) vs. Jack Flaherty (9-1, 2.68 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 4.17 xERA)

Wednesday: Tarik Skubal (8-11, 4.02 ERA, 4.86 FIP, 4.02 xERA) vs. Jon Lester (4-6, 5.46 ERA, 5.40 FIP, 5.23 xERA)

xERA courtesy of FanGraphs

I wanted to say Casey hasn’t been a Mizer when it’s come to giving up runs, but he’s been pretty consistent. He’s given up four or more runs only five times this season. However, two of those came in his last three starts and, save for a seven inning start at the end of July, he’s spent the last two calendar months exiting before the fifth is over, if not before. His last start, he allowed two runs on four hits and four walks in four innings, leaving after 88 pitches. Mize will be facing the Cardinals for the first time, which might be a problem.

Skubal has had a solid second year in the majors and was the starter for the first game of the series earlier this season, though he didn’t last long enough for the win. That was the last game he didn’t go at least five innings, though, and five of the nine starts since then have seen him complete at least six frames. Last time out, he gave up just two runs to the Angels in 6.2 innings, striking out seven and walking no one, but wound up with a hard luck loss.

The Hot Seat

It’s going to be interesting to see the mix of playing time for Paul DeJong and Edmundo Sosa over the next five weeks or so. DeJong reached a batting average of .209 (basically his high-water mark for the year) on July 27. Since that time, he’s played in 17 games (15 starts) and has a slash line of .161/.238/.304. He has 20 strikeouts in 63 plate appearances (31.7%). If he hits the ball it can go a ways—four of his nine hits are for extra bases—but that’s a fairly large if.

In that same span, Sosa has also played in 17 games, though he has just nine starts, and has a line of .308/.372/.462. The power is less—he has a double, triple, and homer in his 12 knocks—but he’s more consistently putting the ball in play. In 43 plate appearances, he has four strikeouts (9.3%). It is probably not a surprise that Sosa has started the last two games and six of the last nine.

Scoreboard Watching

All right, let’s see what that wild card has in store. The Reds go on the road (which hasn’t been a problem as they are over .500 away from Great American) to Milwaukee to face the division leaders. Cincy is 7 1/2 behind the Brew Crew and if they want to make things interesting, they have to do it now. On the other hand, Milwaukee should be quite motivated to push them back down the standings.

San Diego, who fired their pitching coach on Monday, have to host the Dodgers for three games starting tonight. That’s not exactly what you want to see when you are struggling with your pitching staff. Some of the starters haven’t been announced but the Padres will have to face Walker Buehler and Max Scherzer in the last two games.

You also have to watch Philadelphia, who sits 1/2 game behind the Cardinals. The Phillies get the extremes this week, but from our current point of view they take on the Rays for two games while the Cards are dealing with Detroit.

Assorted Crudités

Adam Wainwright is good. Tara and I talked about it on Gateway to Baseball Heaven and I want to save some of the stats for the next preview, but his second half has definitely gotten him in contention for Cy Young votes. Not the Cy Young, I don’t think he’s to the point where you can actually see him winning it, but he’s going to pick up votes. I can’t imagine many 40 year olds could say that (obviously, this is Wainwright’s Age 39 season, but he’ll turn 40 next week). Roger Clemens won the award at 41 and came in 3rd at 42, but there were other issues in play there. Nolan Ryan came in fifth in both his Age 40 and 42 seasons. Randy Johnson came in second at 40. What all of those guys have (besides being Hall of Famers or would be without steroids Hall of Famers) was a blazing fastball that stayed with them. Wainwright is doing it on craft and guile, similar to how Greg Maddux spent his career. Maddux last got Cy Young votes at 34, however.

Tyler O’Neill’s August: .323/.427/.548 with four homers in 18 games. I’d say he’s turned into what they thought he’d be. It’s nice to see patience pay off because so often the Cardinals stick with a guy and he doesn’t pan out or they get rid of one that does. The same might not be able to be said for Harrison Bader, who is hitting .171/.242/.171 since he got his average over .300 at the end of July with six walks and 28 strikeouts in 91 plate appearances (6.5% and 30.7%).

It’s been a while since Giovanny Gallegos got an entire series off but it was definitely needed. He’s thrown 20 or more pitches in three different August outings, which isn’t necessarily unheard of for him but it’s rare that so many pitches are thrown in one inning or less. He seems to have come off his rough spot (no runs in his last 5.1 innings) and four days off should also help.

The Pirates series was the first in a while that Andrew Knizner hasn’t played, but I think that was a function of losing the first game and having Wainwright on the mound for the last. If Flaherty had gone Sunday there’s a better than average chance Knizner would have caught him.

Random Links

Currently listening to: Cardinals Off Day 18, which is not the most recent one to come out because I’m slow and can’t keep up. I did talk with my pastor, who is an Iowa boy as well, about some of the corn facts I learned in this podcast and he very much sympathized. If I mow this evening, I’ll probably finish this and get well into the latest Chirps before hitting up COD 19. (If Cerutti puts out a Conversations, I’ll never catch up.) Also, I will say I listened to the initial Cardinals Chat podcast and it was solid. I don’t know that it can nudge past any of my other shows, but it was worth the listen. Also, I realize I haven’t listened to Seeing Red in months and I probably haven’t listened to Best Podcast in Baseball all season. There’s just too many good ones out there!

Also, there’s new Meet Me at Musial and Gateway to Baseball Heaven (mentioned above), but I’ll let you determine where those rank in your pecking order.

I’ve been keeping up with the War of the Bounty Hunters comic series going on through the various Marvel Star Wars comics. I’m not always great about remembering who is who and what is going on in comics, but it’s been an interesting project. The basic premise is that Boba Fett had the carbonite body of Han Solo stolen from him and then someone in the underworld puts it up for auction. It’s been pretty interesting seeing the storylines intersect.

Isaiah 26:1-11