Playing Out The String

What should the goals be for the next two months?

Our friend Alex Crisafulli may have summed up what to look for between now and the end of the season in the way only he can.

I think those are some very solid goals for us as fans to focus on for this season. First off, the Cardinals haven’t finished below .500 since 2007, the year I started my blog. (No connection to the events, I’m sure.) Keeping that streak, which is second only to the Yankees—who last finished with more losses than wins in 1993—would be a big deal. It’s also, from a front office perspective, hard to go into a winter with a “we’ll be OK” mindset if your winning percentage starts with a four.

Point two is something we also always want to see, though it’s been a little while since the Cardinals have been able to pull that off. After Sunday’s games, St. Louis was four games up on a Cubs team that has been torn apart during trades. Look at the lineup they ran out there Sunday night. Only Willson Contreras would have likely been in the same sort of lineup a month ago. Finishing ahead of the Cubs should not be a problem if the club is able to check off the first point.

Number three, like the other two, kinda works out if you can stay over .500. Currently, the Cardinals sit 10 1/2 games behind Milwaukee. They are 14 1/2 games ahead of the Pirates, however, and they play Pittsburgh 10 times this month. Winning a majority of those games, which they should, could almost lock this goal down.

As for number four, the Cardinals are just two back of the record with a little less than two months left to play. In theory, the arms are getting better with the return of Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas, so they could avoid it. However, we saw Jon Lester load the bases on Sunday before allowing a single, so if they keep getting into the situations, who knows what will happen.

Look, the Cardinals aren’t going to play in October. We’ve got to find a way to keep ourselves entertained throughout the season, find a reason to root for them to win. Between this and The Cardinal Six, it’s at least something to keep our attention on what might not technically be meaningless baseball, but for all intents and purposes is meaningless baseball.

The Last Time We Met…..

Being that the two teams have 10 games left, you might think it’s been a hot minute since they’ve met up. It’s not been that long ago—the end of June—and that series was the true capper to a terrible month, as the Cardinals somehow lost three of four in Busch Stadium to the black and gold.

Pittsburgh jumped on Carlos Martinez early in game one, as the first three batters reached and the fourth grounded out to plate the second run of the frame. Martinez gave up three more in the fourth on a home run by Bryan Reynolds and the Cards never really threatened after that. Wade LeBlanc gave up a home run later on to Adam Frazier and Pittsburgh came away with an 8-2 win.

Game two was at least a more competitive affair, even if the Pirates got the win there as well. The Cardinals loaded the bases with one out in the second after Kwang Hyun Kim was hit by a pitch but Dylan Carlson grounded out, plating one but short-circuiting a bigger inning. That became a major issue in the top of the third when Kim gave up four runs in an inning that only ended because Phillip Evans tried to go for two on his RBI single and was unsuccessful. Over the next two innings, Nolan Arenado and Carlson homered and Lars Nootbaar and an RBI single, but Jake Woodford gave up a walk and an RBI single in the three batters he faced, putting the Pirates up by one and that was the end of the scoring.

Unsurprisingly, the one game the Cardinals won in the series was an Adam Wainwright game. The Cardinal ace—and truly this year, Wainwright has been that—allowed one run over six innings while striking out eight. Paul DeJong and Paul Goldschmidt homered, Yadier Molina had two hits and an RBI, and the Cards righted the wagon briefly by 3-1.

It didn’t last. The first six Pirates reached base against Johan Oviedo to start the finale and three of them would score, one on a bases loaded two out walk. Down 3-0 before they even batted, the Cardinals went with a whimper, only scoring after Pittsburgh put up four more runs.

The Opponent

You’d think that Pittsburgh, as dormant as they’ve been since 2016, wouldn’t necessarily be in a spot where they would need or want to sell off very key parts of their lineup. However, Adam Frazier, an All-Star this year, had one more year of arbitration before reaching free agency, so Pittsburgh felt that he was getting too expensive and swapped him for prospects. Likewise closer Richard Rodriguez, who wouldn’t be a free agent for two more years, got shipped off to Atlanta. How you are supposed to be a fan when any player that survives the first 3-4 years in the Steel City with a positive vibe gets dealt, I don’t know. It’s not a situation I’d want to be in.

Given that the Pirates are 30 games under .500, you might not be surprised to know that they are struggling in basically all aspects. Over the last 30 days, their team OPS is .699, putting them 24th in baseball. They are tied for 28th in home runs, though they are 20th in runs which puts them ahead of the Cardinals.

Pitching is a similar story. They have a 5.89 ERA over the last month, which sits 29th in all of baseball. Teams are hitting .278 against them, also 29th. Their WHIP is 1.59, dead last. They do strike people out (201, 18th over the last month) but they have also walked more batters than any other team over that span.

The Mound Men

Tuesday: J.A. Happ (5-6, 6.62 ERA, 5.38 FIP, 5.75 xERA) vs. Steven Brault (0-0, 2.25 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 6.17 xERA)

Wednesday: Adam Wainwright (10-6, 3.48 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 3.96 xERA) vs. Wil Crowe (3-6, 5.47 ERA, 6.01 FIP, 5.45 xERA)

Thursday: TBD (probably Jack Flaherty) vs. JT Brubaker (4-11, 4.95 ERA, 4.97 FIP, 4.61 xERA)

xERA courtesy of FanGraphs

Brault has missed much of the season with a lat strain, but made his 2021 debut last time out, allowing a run in four innings against the Brewers. Being that he’s been a Pirate for the last five years, the Cardinals have run into him a few times, touching him for a 4.95 ERA over 12 appearances (six starts). The last time they saw him was September 17 of last season, when he threw nine innings and allowed just two hits and one run.

Crowe has had a limited career, pitching for the Nationals last year before surfacing in Pittsburgh for 2021, but he’s already faced the Cards twice this year. Combined, he’s given up 11 hits and seven runs in 10 innings, not getting past the fifth either time. Only four times has he recorded an out in the sixth and last time the Reds got to him for seven runs (though only three earned) in four innings.

Brubaker was to be the ace of their staff and probably still is considered so given the rest of the rotation. He’s been a workhorse for sure, putting up 20 starts, though he’s averaging just over five innings a start so maybe workhorse is a little strong. In four of his last six starts, though, he’s given up at least four runs and that includes his most recent outing when he allowed nine runs (eight earned) in five innings to the Reds. The last time he faced the Cardinals was in the one game they won in the last series, when he allowed three runs in six frames.

The Hot Seat

It’s not like Yadier Molina’s seat ever gets warm—in fact, he’s rarely in it to warm it up. However, with Molina putting up a .539 OPS with only four extra base hits since June 1, it’s fair to say the rumblings are out there, especially as news leaks out that the Cardinals might be looking to lock him up for 2022 early. It would seem reasonable that, if they do bring him back, it’s with a stronger understanding of his playing time. They can’t continue to burn through young catchers the way that they are. Ivan Herrera might be the future at catcher, but Andrew Knizner could be the present. It’s probably worth noting that Knizner has played three times since the trading deadline, as the Cardinals may be more committed to at least getting him in once a series or so.

Dispatches From The Front

As I said, it has to be hard to be a Pirates fan, but there are a number of them out there and thankfully some of them do some great blogging as well. Marty Leap can be found co-editing the FanSided Pirates blog Rum Bunter and he was kind enough to let us know a little about the state of the Pirates.

“For the most part the 2021 season has gone as many Pirate fans expected. The team has struggled, which was expected, but there have been some unexpected unpleasantries as well. Ke'Bryan Hayes, although it's partially due to injury, has struggled more than people expected, and top outfield prospect Travis Swaggerty was expected to be on the Major League roster at this point but a shoulder injury cost him his 2021 season.

“However, there have been some positives as well. Bryan Reynolds has bounced back to prove his 2020 struggles were a fluke and he would be a legitimate MVP candidate if he was on a good team. David Bednar, Hoy Park and Rodolfo Castro could be emerging as core guys. The Pirates had quite possibly the best draft in baseball and a strong trade deadline. While things are dark and gloomy right now, the Pirates have arguably the best farm system in baseball and the future once again looks bright.”

Assorted Crudités

This week on Meet Me at Musial I said in passing that if Mike Shildt wanted to actually get out of his bullpen routine, since he can’t pitch the same guys every night, he could look at using Luis Garcia in bigger spots. After all, since scuffling in his first three outings, he’d put up 6.1 scoreless innings with five strikeouts and, most remarkably for this bullpen, no walks. Shildt may be a subscriber because Saturday night he did just that, letting Garcia take the fifth and the sixth after Kwang Hyun Kim left early. Garcia struck out three in two innings and allow no hits and no walks. I don’t think he’s going to take Alex Reyes’s place anytime soon, but he’s definitely better than just pitching in blowouts.

Speaking of unused bullpen pieces, Andrew Miller has only been used five times in the second half. Now granted, opponents have a slash line of .286/.375/.429 against him over that span, so there’s some reason for it. I assume the three batter minimum is playing a part because Miller is ridiculous against lefties (.517 OPS) and ridiculous the other way against righties (1.158 OPS). Still, if they could have had this sort of usage last year for Miller, he probably doesn’t vest his option. Given the amount of games they had piled up on top of each other last year, though, that really wasn’t something they could do.

In 12 appearances in the second half of the season, Giovanny Gallegos has a slash line against of .268/.347/.415 and a 5.73 ERA. Alex Reyes’s ERA in the second half is 5.79, going down after allowing an unearned run on Sunday. Granted, these are small sample sizes and a bad outing or two can skew them for a long time, but it also raises some concern about whether they are starting to wear down a bit after a fairly strong workload.

Something else to watch, if you are interested: Paul DeJong is hitting .198 after Sunday and Matt Carpenter is at .200. Will both of these guys wind up on the right side of the Mendoza line?

Random Links

Currently listening to: Nothing, since I finished up Chirps Episode 115 on Friday. I missed that Ben Cerutti had a new Conversations out, so I’ll be either listening to that or this week’s Cardinals Off Day by time this post publishes. Either way, it seems, I’ll be listening to prospects with Kyle Reis.

Currently reading: I’m still cycling through a number of books I have started. I haven’t started anything really new lately—John Adams by David McCullough is the most recent, but it’s been a while and I’ve gotten only a chapter or so in—but I’m hopeful to finally finish the Baseball Prospectus Annual sometime soon.

I swapped from DirecTV to AT&T TV this week. I realized I was paying about $200 a month to basically watch the Cardinals, since my family doesn’t watch too much actual TV these days. AT&T TV is closer to $85 and that should get me by until Sinclair hopefully gets that streaming service with actual games on it come next season. So far, though, AT&T TV has been pretty nice. If you watched many channels it might be a pain to navigate and the delay of a couple of seconds means I can get notifications from MLB At Bat or Twitter sometimes before I see what happens, but it’s a small price to pay.

1 John 1