Oasis in the Desert

The Cardinals are in the middle of a rough patch. Perhaps Arizona can change that.

Well, if nothing else, the Cardinals are done with Chicago for a while. After going 2-4 against the Cubs and the White Sox (with very limited offense throughout) facing a different team might be good for what ails them.

Not that the opponent is going to solve all of the Cardinals’ woes. They still have a lot of injuries to deal with, though Tyler O’Neill might be returning while they are in Phoenix. They still have a very weak bench and some underperforming options. They still have a bullpen that is either lights out or gets knocked out, depending on who pitches. They still could stand some improvement even as they stand in first place in the division, however tentatively.

Getting a chance to take out some aggression would not go amiss. And they just might get that.

The Last Time We Met…..

Arizona was host to the last Cardinals/Diamondbacks series and it was a fairly memorable one, for many and varied reasons.

The Cardinals went to Arizona three games up on the Brewers with a three game series there and a three game series at home against the Cubs left to play. The opening game was a wild one. While St. Louis never trailed, the Cardinals scored in five innings and the Diamondbacks scored in four. Both teams put up two runs in the ninth, for instance. Adam Wainwright got the win but wasn’t sharp, giving up five runs in five innings. The bullpen was pretty solid, save for the runs charged to John Brebbia. The Cardinals hit four home runs (Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina, and Harrison Bader) and pushed their lead to 3.5 games.

Game 2 almost derailed the entire rest of the season. In what was typical fashion for the 2019 team (and, as we have seen some recently, would not be out of place in 2021), the Cards scored one in the first against former Cardinal Mike Leake when Dexter Fowler led off the game with a home run. With Jack Flaherty on the bump in the midst of his Bob Gibsonesque run, one run would seem to be enough. And it almost was. That one run was all the Cardinals would score for a while, but Arizona didn’t score any until the bottom of the ninth. Andrew Miller came in to get the save as Carlos Martinez had pitched in five of the last six games. He struck out Christian Walker, but then surrendered a home run to Ildermaro Vargas. Vargas hit six home runs that season, but today as a Pirate is on his fifth team in the last two years. He has one home run in that span.

What looked to be a quiet but helpful win turned into a marathon. The Cardinals went deep again in the 13th as Paul Goldschmidt victimized his former team, but Arizona answered against John Gant, with Nick Ahmed leading off the inning with a triple and, after a walk, coming home on a Caleb Joseph single against Junior Fernandez. Finally, in the 19th, it ended. John Brebbia gave up two singles, struck out two batters, intentionally walked Christian Walker to load the bases….only to see Vargas strike again with a single.

Playing more than a doubleheader decimated the Cardinals. The Brewers had won, so their lead was 2.5 before the third game that had the distinct look of a AAA affair. Rangel Ravelo hit in the three hole. Matt Wieters batted cleanup. Yairo Munoz and Edmundo Sosa manned the keystone. Seven different pitchers were used. For all that, the Cards almost pulled one out thanks to the heroics of Randy Arozarena, who got one of his rare starts in this game. Arozarena had two hits, including a home run that gave the Cards a 5-2 lead in the sixth, and threw out a runner at third base.

It all blew up in the bottom of the sixth. Genesis Cabrera, who got the last out in the fifth, couldn’t get anyone out in the sixth, though the first reached on an error by Tommy Edman playing third. A wild pitch, a walk, and a ground rule double later, it was Junior Fernandez’s turn. Things snowballed on Fernandez until it culminated in a two-run homer by Wilson Flores. The Cardinals did have the go-ahead run at the plate in the ninth when Paul Goldschmidt pinch-hit, but he rapped into a double play, ending the game. The Cards left Arizona only up 1.5 on the Brewers, a lead that they were thankfully able to hold.

The Opponent

To put it mildly, the Diamondbacks are in a funk. They had lost nine in a row before facing San Francisco last night. They were up 4-0 in the fifth when I wrote the majority of this, only to give up two in the sixth and three in the seventh for their tenth straight loss. They’ve slipped behind the Rockies for last place in the NL West and only Baltimore has a worse record in baseball than this team. They’ve had some injuries—who hasn’t—but just recently got old friend Carson Kelly back. So what’s the problem besides having to consistently play Los Angeles, San Diego, and the resurgent Giants?

Offensively, they resemble the Cardinals. (All stats are as of Tuesday.) They are only one point below them in OPS, have six fewer homers but 14 more doubles and six more triples. They have only 13 steals, tied for 26th in the bigs, but the Cardinals have 25 and they are 10th. Stolen bases just aren’t valuable these days. Eduardo Escobar leads the team with 12 homers, but the best bat has been Kelly, who has a 1.066 OPS in 30 games.

The problem then is, you guessed it, Frank Stall—-the pitching. Arizona is 26th in ERA with a 4.95 mark and the only National League team worse than them is the Reds. They actually have five more strikeouts as a team than the Cardinals (which puts them 25th and St. Louis 26th) and obviously haven’t walked nearly as many. They’ve given up 65 homers, though, which is fourth in MLB, and opponents are hitting .265 against them, worst in the majors.

The Mound Men

Thursday: Carlos Martinez (3-4, 4.18 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 5.45 xERA) vs. Matt Peacock (1-1, 4.91 ERA, 4.55 FIP, 3.38 xERA)

Friday: Johan Oviedo (0-2, 5.74 ERA, 6.08 FIP, 5.56 xERA) vs. TBD

Saturday: Adam Wainwright (2-4, 3.95 ERA, 4.46 FIP, 3.48 xERA) vs. TBD

Sunday: Kwang Hyun Kim (1-2, 3.09 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 4.38 xERA) vs. TBD

xERA courtesy of FanGraphs

So, uh, this section gets a little tough when there’s no announced starters on the other side except a rookie that’s never faced the Cardinals before. The fact that as of Thursday morning there are still no announced starters probably tells you a little something about their rotation. Peacock has been in 10 games but has finished more (five) than he’s started. The two starts were the last two games, however, and he looked solid in both, going around five innings both times. Last time, it was 5.1 innings of one run ball with four strikeouts against the Dodgers, but he came away with a no-decision.

As for the other games, I’d expect we’d see Corbin Martin in probably Sunday's game, though that’s just a guess. Martin has made two starts for the D-Backs, giving up six runs to the Giants in four innings in his last start. Madison Bumgarner should be in the mix as well, one of the few pitchers on this staff that has a history with the Cardinals. Bumgarner has a 5.04 ERA in 12 starts spanning 69.1 innings. He’s not faced them as a Diamondback, but the last time he saw them with the Giants he allowed six runs (and six extra-base hits, including two triples) in five innings. We won’t see Luke Weaver or Zac Gallen, as both are on the injured list.

The Hot Seat

Tyler Webb had a very solid game against the White Sox, so we’ll remove him from this spot for the moment. We’ll put the bench as a whole here, though. With Bader and O’Neill out, there’s not a lot to choose from when you need a pinch-hitter. We saw Justin Williams, Mike Moroff, and Lane Thomas go 0-12 with nine strikeouts in yesterday’s win. Williams hit at least one hard for an out, but overall there’s not a lot encouraging and it’s even tougher when some of these (and that includes Matt Carpenter) are forced to start on a more regular basis.

Assorted Crudités

It was pretty surprising not to see John Nogowski get into Wednesday’s game as a starter. In fact, if O’Neill is ready to go Thursday or Friday (which I don’t know that he will be, but it’s possible), there’s a strong possibility Nogowski scrambled to get back to the big leagues only to not get an at bat before he is returned to Memphis. Nogowski’s not the thriving bat that we saw in spring training (1-14 at the big league level, .214 at Memphis) but it’s not like there’s a high bar to clear to get into the lineup.

Tommy Edman hit two home runs yesterday, which until the ninth were the only hits the Cardinals actually had. Edman’s not a big power guy but that wasn’t his first multi-homer game. He also hit two against the Pirates back on September 6 of 2019.

Adam Wainwright has a 10-5 record and a 3.06 ERA against the Diamondbacks in his career, but when I think of him and Arizona I think most about the game that he didn’t start. The final game of the 2014 season was in Arizona and this was before MLB had every game on the last day start at the same time. (In fact, this game was one of the reasons why.) The Cardinals were in a battle with Pittsburgh for the division title. Wainwright was scheduled to go in the finale, but when Pittsburgh lost and the division was clinched, a last minute swap was done and Nick Greenwood took the start, saving Wainwright for the NLDS. It worked out well, as Wainwright dominated Game 5 to send St. Louis to the NLCS.

Andrew Miller might be back this weekend, though I think it’s probably more likely it’s against the Dodgers. Just in case you need to mentally prepare yourself.

Random Links

Currently listening to: Seeing Red Episode 9. I’ve got a little longer of a drive today, so I’m either going to finish this up and then do the latest Chirps where Alex talks with Ben Clemens or skip to Chirps and finish this one up later. Either way should do fine but I’m leaning toward the latter.

We skipped the Cardinal Blogger Awards last year (though Allen, Jason Hill, and I did it as part of the last Meet Me at Musial of 2020) but I’d like to do some sort of Cardinal podcast awards in the future. Preferably not necessarily an open ballot but let the hosts/co-hosts/regular guests/people who listen to more than a couple vote and see who has the best intro, etc.