One Giant Hole
The Cardinals go to San Francisco. Does it really matter?
Three weeks ago, the Cardinals were coming off a disappointing sweep by the Cubs, dropping them under .500 and putting them six behind Chicago and Milwaukee. However, the schedule looked like it was on their side. At that moment their next six opponents had also lost more than they had won and the Cards had done a fairly good job against those kinda teams. There were 20 games. They could redeem themselves.
Even the good start to this stretch, the sweep of the Marlins, gave an indication that things weren’t going to be as hunky-dory as we’d planned. While St. Louis picked up three wins (and wound up cutting three games off the division gap as both the Cubs and Brewers were swept), all were close, low-scoring games and two of them required walk-offs to win.
After that, the bottom dropped out. Losing three out of four to the Braves could be somewhat explained, but not being swept in two games by the Tigers or losing three of four to the Pirates. Sweeping the Diamondbacks, a team currently on pace for 119 losses, was nice but following it up with losing three low-scoring games in Coors Field just about put paid to any hopes for 2021.
The Cardinals went 9-11 in that 20 game stretch and it felt much worse. They went from six games out to 10 as Milwaukee set the world on fire and took over a paltry NL Central. And now, they have to play in San Francisco against a Giants team that has the best record in baseball. I’d say optimism has boarded the last train for the coast but that would seem to indicate it was heading toward the Cardinals, not away from them.
Baseball is a strange game, of course, and perhaps the Cardinals are able to pull out a game or two here. When you are behind the leader by double-digits on the Fourth of July, though, it’s hard to muster up anything more than “wait until next year”. I would like the Cardinals to prove me wrong. That, at least, would be a win.
The Last Time We Met…..
It’s been a bit since the Cardinals and Giants have renewed their rivalry. Of course, being in different sections of the country, they didn’t meet in 2020. It’s been almost exactly two years (July 6 and 7) since they have been in the Bay Area. They got swept in that, losing the first game due to a rough start by Miles Mikolas and the second when Jack Flaherty had his first flirt with a no-hitter, with the only hit being a home run by Evan Longoria that was all San Francisco needed. We remember that one as the kickoff to one of the greatest second halves by a pitcher ever, even though it was before the All-Star Game.
The actual last time the two teams got together was in Busch around Labor Day and it was much more in the Cardinals favor. Game one of the four game set saw Adam Wainwright be Adam Wainwright, allowing only four hits and no runs in seven innings and the offense did just enough to win. The second game had Jack Flaherty and a 1-0 score again, but this time St. Louis got the run on a home run by Marcell Ozuna.
The Giants got their only win in the series in a wild 9-8 game. Michael Wacha had to leave after two innings and his replacement Tyler Webb allowed four runs (with an assist from Ryan Helsley allowing inherited runners to score) in a third of an inning. The Cardinals chipped away and tied it with two runs in the fifth on a Paul Goldschmidt triple. San Francisco retook the lead when Brandon Crawford hit a three-run blast off of Dominic Leone (who currently is a Giant, actually) but three batters into the bottom of the sixth (Yadier Molina double, Tommy Edman triple, Harrison Bader sac fly) the Cards were down just one. Later in the inning, Goldschmidt struck again, doubling in two runs to put the Cards up 8-7. The final blow came in the eighth, when Giovanny Gallegos came in with one on and one out and served up a home run to Kevin Pillar.
The final game was much more anticlimatic. St. Louis scored three in the first, highlighted by a Paul DeJong blast, and a relentless five in the second with no extra-base hits. Dakota Hudson and Genesis Cabrera kept the Giants off the board and the Cards won 10-0.
When people talked about the NL West before the season, the entire focus was on the Dodgers and Padres and how they’d be battling all year long for the division title. The Giants were expected to be around a .500 team even by their own fans. Yet here they sit, 1/2 game up on the Dodgers for the division and, as mentioned, the best record in baseball. So what’s up out west?
Well, the bats are good for one thing. The Giants have a .760 OPS, which is fourth in MLB and first in the NL. They lead all of baseball in home runs, though they have slightly fewer doubles than the Cardinals. More of their balls just get that extra oomph to clear the wall instead of hit it. Brandon Crawford is having a resurgence, which isn’t good as he always did well against the Cardinals anyway. He’s got 17 homers to lead their team and is hitting .264 to boot. There was an interesting article in The Athletic (subscription required) that talked about how the coaching staff of the Giants was getting the most out of veteran players. Whatever the case, the offense doesn’t look like a problem.
Guess what? Neither does the pitching. That’s kinda how you get to the best record in baseball. The Giants’ team ERA is second in the majors behind the Dodgers. Their WHIP leads MLB. They are third in batting average against. Kevin Gausman is going to the All-Star Game with his eight wins and sub-2 ERA. Anthony DeScalfani was always interesting with the Reds but is doing well in a much better pitcher’s park than GABP. Their reliever ERA is third in baseball, behind the Padres and the Cubs. Unfortunately, there’s no obvious way to try to attack San Francisco.
The Mound Men
Monday: Kwang Hyun Kim (2-5, 3.79 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 4.31 xERA) vs. Kevin Gausman (8-2, 1.68 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 2.69 xERA)
Tuesday: Adam Wainwright (6-5, 3.49 ERA, 3.94 FIP, 3.75 xERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (6-4, 4.00 ERA, 4.06 FIP, 4.55 xERA)
Wednesday: Johan Oviedo (0-4, 5.14 ERA, 5.28 FIP, 5.52 xERA) vs. Alex Wood (7-3, 3.89 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 3.97 xERA)
As noted above, Gausman is one of three Giants going to the All-Star Game. He’s got numbers that would get him starting consideration if it wasn’t for that Jacob deGrom guy. It’s a career year for a guy that was an interesting prospect and has had some success in the bigs. Gausman faced the Cardinals four times in 2019 when he spent time in the Reds bullpen. Combined, he allowed no runs in five innings, giving up two hits and two walks while striking out 10. Yeah, this should be great. His last outing was against the Dodgers, where he had uncharacteristic control issues, walking five and allowing three runs in five innings.
Kickin’ Johnny Cueto, who I never will mention without also mentioning the end of Jason LaRue’s career, is somehow in his 14th season in MLB. Seems just yesterday he was a star for the Reds, kicking up his heels and knocking heads. This is Cueto’s sixth season as a Giant and his healthiest one in a while, as he’s already made more starts this season than any year since 2017. He saw the Cardinals on July 5, 2018 (what is it with St. Louis always being in San Francisco at this time?) and gave up 10 hits and five runs in five innings. Last time out, Arizona got him for five runs, so if the Cards are going to ring any pitcher’s bell, it may be his.
Except for seven starts with the Reds in 2019, Alex Wood has always been in the East or West and as such hasn’t seen the Cardinals much. They did run into him in 2019, though, as he wound up allowing eight hits and five runs (four earned) in five innings against Jack Flaherty. He struck out six in that game, though, so it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. He had better luck than Cueto did against the Diamondbacks last time out, giving up two runs and striking out eight in five innings.
The Hot Seat
Everyone. Losing baseball gets everyone feeling like they are on notice. While there’s always been a lot of criticism on Twitter about the front office or the manager, it feels like those barbs have come up a notch over the past weekend. The players aren’t immune but things like having Matt Carpenter bat cleanup will get people really worked up about Mike Shildt.
The Cardinals were last 10 or more games out after games of July 4 in 1998, when we had a certain redhead to distract from the misery. (McGwire was at 37 home runs at this point in the season. The top three guys this year—Nolan Arenado, Tyler O’Neill, Paul Goldschmidt—have combined for 43.) In fact, the Cardinals have only been under .500 four times on the fourth between then and now (1998, 1999, 2007, and 2017). None of those seasons extended into the postseason.
Perhaps overcome by the emotion, perhaps wanting to do too much, but Nolan Arenado’s trip back to Colorado was less than memorable statistically. Arenado went 2-14 with three walks and a run scored. Arenado is one that (and I don’t mean this as a criticism at all) really gets into the moment and sometimes tries to do too much because he really wants to win. I think it works sometimes, though not all the time. I love the passion that he brings to it though.
Everyone complains about Carpenter hitting cleanup and he goes out and gets two hits. I mean, one was the bunt against the shift which is great but not what you expect out of a cleanup hitter, but it’s better than a lot of days for Carp. That was his first two-hit day since June 8 against Cleveland. Between the two games: 4-30 with a double, four walks, and nine strikeouts.
Overall since Paul DeJong returned from the injured list, he’s hitting .174. However, in the stretch starting with the Detroit series, he hit .243, which is at least closer to what you’d expect from DeJong. He has two homers in the 12 games (11 starts for him) there as well. DeJong’s perhaps not completely done, though an upgrade there would still be a good idea.