I’m not buying it.
I know that the Cardinals are 3 1/2 out of the wild card game. I know that they have six games left with the Reds, they have seven left with the shell of the Cubs, and three with a rapidly crashing Padres squad. I know that technically they still have a chance.
I’ve believed before.
Going into this past series in Pittsburgh, I could be sold on the idea that the Cardinals could make a bit of noise in September and that they might just creep into the wild card game, where they would likely get crushed by the Dodgers but hey, you never know in one game and St. Louis owns LA in the playoffs and and and. There was something to be said for the possibility even as you had to acknowledge it was a long shot.
Then the bullpen happened twice against a team that will lose 100 games and it became real tough to see that path, even with the gap not expanding that much.
Can you truly believe in a team that splits with Pittsburgh when their season is on the line? Not only that, but goes 3-4 in the last 10 days or so against that team? That saw the bullpen account for three of those losses by epic meltdowns?
Maybe you can. I want to believe that they’d play to the level of their competition and hold their own against the September heavyweights. However, there are just 33 games left. Holding your own isn’t going to do it. They have to win a lot of games and get a lot of help and so far, when they get help, they don’t accept it.
Perhaps after this series I’m singing a different tune. After all, a sweep would put them right behind the Reds (or the Padres, depending on what they do). If you are expecting a sweep, though, I hope you have something to fall back on.
The Last Time We Met….
The Cardinals went into Cincinnati in late July, coming off of taking two of three from the Cubs and finding themselves a game to the good of .500. They were just a half-game behind the Reds and seven behind the Brewers, though they were also seven behind the Padres for the wild card. There was hope that a good showing in Cincinnati would get them into second place and put them on the right path to challenge Milwaukee.
Midway through the first game, it looked like these hopes had a real chance of happening. Paul Goldschmidt hit a home run in the top of the first to put them on the board first, but Wade LeBlanc gave that run and another back when Joey Votto doubled with runners on. Harrison Bader, then in the middle of his hot streak, homered to lead off the second and tie things up. The Reds took the lead in the fourth on a home run by Kyle Farmer, but the Cardinals got into the Reds bullpen in the sixth. A two-run double by Andrew Knizner put the Redbirds on top and Dylan Carlson brought Knizner in with a sacrifice fly.
Up two runs going into the seventh, you felt good about your chances with this bullpen, but it didn’t last. Ryan Helsley, starting an inning fresh, allowed two singles then a double that scored one and put runners on second and third. A wild pitch allowed the tying run to score but Helsley worked out of more damage when Carlson threw a runner out at home, but that just delayed the dagger. In the eighth, Giovanny Gallegos gave up a leadoff single, then threw a ball away to put two on with nobody out. He retired Jonathan India, but walked Jesse Winker to load the bases. Unfortunately, Tyler Stephenson hit it in the air, not on the ground, and the Reds had the lead they would not return. This was also the game Adam Wainwright had to pinch-hit in the ninth because there were no more batters on the bench, but with two outs and nobody on in the ninth, it didn’t make a significant amount of difference.
Game 2 allowed Jake Woodford to return to the scene of his most infamous moment, though Nick Castellanos was on the IL and couldn’t complete the scene. The Cards again got the early lead when Harrison Bader singled in Paul DeJong in the second, but the Reds countered in the bottom of the inning with a two out, two run double by Jesse Winker. It stayed 2-1 until Joey Votto led off the bottom of the fifth with a solo blast and Winker added a two run shot in the seventh. The Cardinals made a game of it in the eighth, as Nolan Arenado and Paul DeJong drove in runs to make it 5-3 with one out in the eighth. An Edmundo Sosa single and an Andrew Knizner walk later, it was bases loaded with two outs for Jose Rondon, who popped up on a 3-2 pitch to get the Reds out of the woods and ended the only threat.
The Cardinals were able to salvage the last game of the series and leave Cincy with an even record. Even that didn’t come easy, though. Tyler O’Neill homered in the bottom of the first, putting St. Louis up 2-0. The Reds answered off of Johan Oviedo in the bottom of the frame, with Joey Votto hitting a three-run shot. It stayed quiet until the fourth, when the Cards erupted for seven runs off of Sonny Gray and Edgar Garcia. Harrison Bader’s three run shot was most of the damage, though Dylan Carlson added a two run homer for good measure.
Up 9-3, it looked like Johan Oviedo would cruise to his first major league win. However, in the fifth, he gave up a double and two walks and Mike Shildt took no chances, bringing in Ryan Helsley to get out of danger. The Reds added a run an inning later off of Andrew Miller, Genesis Cabrera gave up a two run double to Max Schrock in the seventh, and suddenly it was 9-6. Thankfully the bullpen didn’t give up anything else and Nolan Arenado homered for an insurance run in the ninth.
The Reds were somewhat active at the trade deadline trying to address their biggest issue, the bullpen. They brought in some new arms but they’ve had issues keeping other arms healthy. For instance, they currently have Tejay Antone, who has been one of their better arms when the Cards have faced them, on the 10-day IL. However, Mychal Givens has been outstanding since coming over from Colorado and Luis Cessa has been pretty good since being acquired from the Yankees.
It will probably not surprise you to learn that over the last 30 days, the Reds have been one of the better offenses in the league. They sit fifth in baseball with a .787 OPS and the only National League team that’s been better plays in Coors Field. They are second in home runs to only the Chicago White Sox. They are fifth in baseball in runs but no National League team is above them. That offense is clicking, as you would expect especially from a team playing in Great American Ball Park.
However, you can’t just win slugging the ball. Over that same amount of time, the Reds are 10th in baseball in ERA at 3.65, not that far below the Cardinals’ 3.50 for that period. They are sixth in batting average against (.232) which is better than the .235 for St. Louis. They are 13th in WHIP, indicating they do allow runners, and most of those come from walks (6th with 94).
The Mound Men
Monday: Jon Lester (4-6, 5.27 ERA, 5.26 FIP, 5.26 xERA) vs. Luis Castillo (7-13, 4.29 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 3.78 xERA)
Tuesday: Miles Mikolas (0-1, 2.70 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 4.60 xERA) vs. Sonny Gray (6-6, 3.91 ERA, 3.64 FIP, 3.39 xERA)
Wednesday: J.A. Happ (8-6, 5.76 ERA, 5.17 FIP, 5.55 xERA) vs. Wade Miley (11-4, 2.74 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 3.95 xERA)
—xERA courtesy of FanGraphs
The Cardinals saw Castillo on Opening Day and got to him for eight runs. Between that day and the next time they faced him, Castillo went 1-9 with a 6.24 ERA. Then he saw St. Louis again and gave up just one run in six innings. Since then, a 2.82 ERA in 15 starts, including another start against the Cardinals that saw him give up just one run over seven. His last start was against the Brewers and he took the loss, but he only allowed two runs in 6.1 innings while striking out six.
We mentioned above the last start Gray had against the Cardinals and how that blew up on him. For the season, he’s 0-2 and the ERA is 16.71 when facing the Cards. Obviously he’s been better than that against most other teams—he’s allowed five runs or more to only one other team (Milwaukee) on the season—and last time out threw six scoreless innings at the Brewers on the heels of seven one-hit innings against the Marlins.
Wade Miley has had probably his best full season in the big leagues this year and that’s not even taking into account his no-hitter. He shut out the Marlins over seven innings his last time out and, save for allowing five runs in five innings to the Braves earlier in August, hasn’t really had a blip since giving up eight in three to the Rockies in May. The Cardinals saw him back in June and didn’t like what they saw, as he had eight strikeouts and no runs in five innings. He’s gone longer than five in all but two starts since then.
The Hot Seat
As I write this, the Yoshi Tsutsugo home run is still fresh in my mind. We put Alex Reyes here in the preview of the last series and he didn’t really do anything to make us feel better in his two outings against Pittsburgh. He got the save on Friday night but had to allow a leadoff hit before retiring the next three. Sunday….you know about Sunday, the two walks before the walkoff bomb. Mike Shildt said after the game that they would look at how they used Reyes and it does seem like they may move him out of the closer role.
Shildt said earlier in the week that they wanted to get him to 80-100 pitches so he could transition to the rotation next year. That felt a little like shifting the goalposts, since 100 pitches has been the marker all year up until this point. Now they might be good with 80? With that said, after Sunday he’s at 58.1. At this pace, he’d finish up at 73 innings pitched, even short of that marker. Would they want to take a guy who would be basically doubling his career innings pitched with that 73 mark and try to get him to 100-125 innings out of the rotation? That seems pretty problematic. But it’s also pretty clear you can’t have him in the ninth. Reyes is working on being a conundrum for this organization and probably will be for a while as they’ll not want to give up on that potential even as it may never be fully realized.
The biggest issue is right in front of the Cardinals, obviously. However, the Padres are playing Arizona for three starting tonight, so St. Louis probably shouldn’t expect help there. The Phillies head to Washington for a three game set, while the Mets….man, the Mets got plenty of problems besides trying to get back in the race.
Andrew Knizner has started to play pretty regularly here in the second half. Basically once a series he gets to start and give Yadier Molina a rest. Have the results been there? Offensively, not really. Super small sample, of course, but in the second half (which pretty much coincides with this extra playing time) Kniz is hitting .188/.366/.344. The OBP gets a boost from hitting in front of the pitcher, but out of his six hits, two are doubles and one a home run. Over roughly the same span Yadi’s at .286/.326/.310 with two doubles, so Knizner has provided a little more oomph but obviously a lot less overall contact. Hopefully the time share continues to work out though.
The legend that is cardinalsgifs asked this week if we’d seen the last Matt Carpenter home run. He has three on the year, which is one less than he had last year in 50-plus more at bats. His second hit of the season was a bomb, remember that? After bunting for a base hit the night before? Then he had the two pinch-hit three run shots back to back on April 29 and 30, which were pretty memorable. After that…nothing. That last home run was in PNC Park and this weekend Carpenter hit another ball that seemed like it might end the streak. However, it settled in a glove well short of the warning track. Since May 1, Carpenter is hitting .205 with nine doubles and a triple. Unfortunately, he’s struck out at a 30% rate in that span. He can still draw a walk (14%) and maybe we can cheer that in the last home games, but it feels real unlikely he’ll muscle one out between now and October 3. It doesn’t help his case that he’s not started but three games this month and had a total of 25 plate appearances in August. He’d need a lot more chances to have a big fly happen.
There’s not much to put here as I’ve not done much since last we spoke. Still listening to the latest Cardinals Off Day. Glad that I have until Thursday to get that one done before the newest one.