The Cardinals have played 81 games. Where do they stand?
My hometown resides on Interstate 40, that long stretch of road that goes from California to North Carolina. Growing up, we had only two (and a half, it was weird) exits, now we’ve moved up to four, but one of them has always been at mile marker 81. It’s the one where, quite often, I’ve gotten off the interstate there. When I’ve reached 81, I know I’m almost home.
In the stretch of road that is the baseball season, reaching 81 isn’t the home stretch, it’s the midpoint. It’s right before the annual break for the All-Star Game and a time where you can easily extrapolate everything if you are lazy enough. Nolan Arenado has 16 home runs? Obviously we’re looking at a 32 homer season. Alex Reyes has 20 saves? 40 saves here we come!
The middle of the season always seems to get here so quickly. Wasn’t it just yesterday Nick Castellanos was flexing over Jake Woodford? (Well, I guess if you were at Cincy’s ballpark, it was given the banners around.) It’s hard to remember that the Cardinals weren’t always terrible, that they had a three game lead on the Brewers at one point. While June was a stinker, it doesn’t define the entire year. At least, we hope not.
It’s also the time where we start to look ahead. Every day, we wake up to a little less sunlight and a little less season. Nobody talks about it being early. The problems are clear and, honestly, many teams already know the basic shape of how their season will wind up. Arizona is going to be contending for the first pick in the 2022 draft. The White Sox are probably, though not definitely, going to be playing in October. Every game gives us that much more detail, that much more finality to 2021.
The Cardinals hope that their shape hasn’t been fully determined yet. After finally feeling like the team we thought they might be over the past five days, even if it was against lesser competition, there’s a path forward. Win this series against the Rockies. See if you can win four of six against the Giants and the suddenly reeling Cubs. Take your break, deal with the Giants and Cubs again, and maybe make a trade. Get Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas back and take your chances with 13 games in the last six weeks of the season against the division leading Brewers.
That’s a lot of ifs and sitting eight games back in both the division and in the wild card right now doesn’t allow for a lot of optimism. Five Thirty Eight gives them a 5% chance of playing in October. FanGraphs says it’s a 4.1% chance of making the playoffs. Baseball-Reference is the most pessimistic, giving only a 0.5% chance, with the best record the club can muster being 84 wins.
Forecasts can change and we know this team has the history of great second halves. If that run is going to happen, it needs to start now. After all, we’re halfway there and, currently, they are living on a prayer.
The Last Time We Met…..
Colorado came into Busch Stadium earlier this year, back when we were young and believed this team was on a roll. Jack Flaherty was on the mound in the first game, which already makes it feel like forever ago, and does what Jack Flaherty does, throwing seven scoreless, three-hit innings. Austin Gomber, his opposite number, wasn’t quite as successful, giving up home runs to Harrison Bader and Flaherty (what are the odds of it being THOSE two) in route to allowing five runs in five innings.
The second game started out well but got much tighter than necessary by the end. Carlos Martinez gave up a run in the first on a walk and a double, but he got picked up in the bottom half when the Cards scored three on four hits. Yadier Molina drove in two more in the third with a single, but the Rockies then scored four in the top of the fifth off of Martinez to tie things up. (A wild pitch with the bases loaded—because that’s so 2021—and then a three-run double by Dom Smith.) Paul Goldschmidt ended Chi Chi Gonzalez’s night with a two-run homer in the bottom of that frame and the relief crew wasn’t much better, allowing two more runs to make it 9-5. That usually should have been enough, but it was an off night for Giovanny Gallegos, who allowed one run and then saw Alex Reyes allow one of his runners to score (along with one of Reyes) before locking down the 9-8 win.
The finale was another shutout for the Cardinals, even though they didn’t score many runs of their own. Nolan Arenado finally got to his former team, homering in the third, and Yadier Molina doubled in Arenado (who had reached via an error from his cousin, to provide all the runs that were going to show up. Thankfully, it was an Adam Wainwright at home game, and Waino went 8.1 innings, leaving with two on in the ninth. Ryan Helsley walked the first batter he faced, loading them up, but induced a big double play to end the contest.
Season series: 3-0 Cardinals
The epic collapse of the Diamondbacks has kept Colorado from bringing up the rear in the NL West. That’s not saying a lot, of course, but the Rockies did just finish a sweep of the Pirates (which, as we know, bedeviled the Cardinals last weekend) and they are 28-16 in Coors Field, which is at a 103-win pace. German Marquez almost got a no-hitter a couple of days ago there at what is supposed to be a hitter’s haven. The Rockies definitely have some home mojo going. Let’s take a look at some of those stats.
The Rockies have the best home offense in the National League, at least measured by OPS (.816, trailing only the Blue Jays in all of baseball). Interestingly, they are just ninth in baseball in homers at home, though they lead all of baseball in doubles and triples.
All of that is pretty expected. Honestly, the pitching side of things isn’t much of a stretch either, though maybe a bit better than you’d guess. Their home ERA is 4.22, which ranks them 21st in baseball. They actually have a better home ERA than Boston, though Fenway’s not known as a pitcher’s paradise either. They have a 1.31 WHIP, which is not that far off the 1.27 the Cardinals have at Busch. They sit 22nd in batting average against at .246. So not a good staff at home, but not an overly bad one either. Pair that up with exceptional offense and you can see why they like playing in Denver.
Former Cardinals Austin Gomber and Matt Adams, who both got to play in the first series in Busch, will miss this one as they are both on the injured list.
The Mound Men
Thursday: Adam Wainwright (6-5, 3.59 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 3.75 xERA) vs. Antonio Senzatela (2-7, 4.76 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 4.67 xERA)
Friday: Johan Oviedo (0-4, 5.23 ERA, 5.28 FIP, 5.51 xERA) vs. Chi Chi Gonzalez (2-5, 5.81 ERA, 5.15 FIP, 6.35 xERA)
Saturday: Wade LeBlanc (0-1, 5.60 ERA, 5.58 FIP, 5.41 xERA) vs. Kyle Freeland (1-2, 6.54 ERA, 6.71 FIP, 5.73 xERA)
Sunday: Carlos Martinez (4-9, 6.38 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 6.00 xERA) vs. German Marquez (7-6, 3.62 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 3.72 xERA)
—-xERA courtesy of FanGraphs
By ERA+, Senzatela is about a league average pitcher. Remarkably, he gives up less than a home run per nine and while his K rate isn’t very high, his walk rate is around 5%. He’s only had two games where he’s allowed more than four runs, and one of those was back in April and had an unearned run in the mix. His last two starts have been against the Brewers and combined he’s allowed seven runs (five earned) in 11 innings. Of course, the last time he faced St. Louis, back in September of 2019, he held them to a run over six innings.
We mentioned Gonzalez getting pounded by the Cardinals in the series earlier, but his ERA is two runs lower at Coors than it is away from it. His last outing was against the Brewers in Milwaukee, when he allowed three hits and a run in five innings, but the rest of his June starts saw him put up a 9.15 ERA, including allowing eight runs to the Marlins in Miami.
Freeland had a really great sophomore season with the Rockies, coming in fourth in the Cy Young voting, but has scuffled since then. He’s only made seven starts this year, not making his debut until May due to a shoulder strain. He seems to be getting into a groove, though, as he’s allowed just one run in 11 innings in his last two starts against the Mariners and Pirates. He’s not seen the Redbirds since August 1, 2018, when he gave up three runs in 5.1 innings to take the loss.
Finally, there’s the ace of the staff. Marquez says he thinks he’ll get the no-hitter that just eluded him on Tuesday against the Pirates and, given the way the Cardinals can get into a funk, it’s a definite possibility in this one. Marquez has allowed one run in his last three starts and, taking out an uncharacteristic blowup against Cincinnati, four runs in seven starts dating back to mid-May. He was the starter against Adam Wainwright in the May series, allowing just the one earned run (and one unearned) in six innings.
The Hot Seat
A sweep of anyone, even the Diamondbacks, will cool a few seats. That said, John Mozeliak still has to feel a little antsy. Not that his job is really in danger—he still seems to be on the same page with Bill DeWitt—but the fan base is restless and the attendance during the Arizona series left something to be desired. Nothing gets the front office’s attention more than empty seats.
Tommy Edman got two hits on Tuesday night, snapping an 0-15 slide. (He had another hit on Wednesday that drove in two runs.) With the return of Harrison Bader, who should be in the lineup tonight, Edman is going to wind up staying at second for a while, which is good given his glove. That said, Edmundo Sosa is starting to heat up again (he’s currently on a four game hitting streak) and I wonder if it wouldn’t be best to rotate Sosa, Edman, and Paul DeJong through the two middle infield positions. DeJong does look a little better as of late, but giving him rest isn’t a terrible thing. It’s notable that they did give him the day off Wednesday, which might not have happened in other years.
I know we consider Genesis Cabrera part of the Big Three, but there’s a pretty big gap between him and Giovanny Gallegos/Alex Reyes. Cabrera can be lights out at times, but you never quite know what you are going to get. In his two Arizona outing, he combined for one inning, two hits, three walks, a run, and two strikeouts. His ERA for June is 3.27 (for whatever reliever ERA is worth) and he did strand all the inherited runners he had while striking out more than one per inning. One day he’ll probably get that consistency and be an epic reliever but right now, you hold your breath a little bit when he comes walking in.
Paul Goldschmidt hit .281 with five home runs and 15 RBI in June. Hopefully this will continue throughout the summer.
Nolan Arenado’s career numbers at Coors Field: .322/.376/.609 with 136 home runs in 543 games. I hope and expect he’ll get a rousing welcome when he returns to the land that formed him.
Since Tommy Edman’s comments and the intent of a stronger focus on adjustments with the offense (comments that coincide with the start of the Pittsburgh series) St. Louis has posted a .226/.312/.378 line as a team, good for a 95 wRC+. In the week or so before that, they had a .188/.258/.266 line with a 51 wRC+. So maybe something is working?
Currently listening to: Conversations With Cerutti Episode 18: What If The Cardinals Sold? I thought I might get this one finished today as I planned to mow after work, but a rain shower at the wrong time meant I had to postpone that task. I imagine I’ll get to do it tomorrow or Friday. I was excited about this episode because I enjoy talking to my Musial co-host Allen Medlock but I don’t get to hear him with other people often. He’s part of this roundtable with Ben, Tara, and Corey Sanzone and so far, it’s a really good discussion. Also looking forward to getting to the new Chirps as Alex and Tara finally reunite!
Currently reading: Star Wars: The Rising Storm. I can’t remember if I’ve talked about The High Republic publishing initiative here or not, but the brief synopsis if not is that these are connected stories set about 300 years before the prequels, at a time when the Jedi are at their height and there are no (known) Sith. The first book in this series, which encompasses adult, young adult, and kids books, comics, and stories in the Star Wars Insider magazine, introduced a galactic catastrophe as well as some bad guys. This new one is going to be set around a Galactic Fair and the enemies that will menace this attempt at unity and harmony. So far, so good, though keeping track of a whole slew of characters that we only know from these few stories is tough!
Personal: New Musial recording tonight. Allen is likely out of pocket so Ben Godar has graciously agreed to fill in and I look forward to our chat. And if Allen can join us, so much the better!