Perfectly balanced. Thanos might believe that’s the way all things should be but there are few Cardinal fans that think a 50-50 record is a beautiful thing. Better than some alternatives, but not a consummation devoutly to be wished. Yet that’s where the Cardinals stand going into this series with Cleveland.
Ironically, this isn’t quite uncharted territory. In 2018, they were 50-50 and 8 1/2 games back in the division. Their finishing kick was 38-24, good for a winning percentage of .613, but while they got as close as 2 1/2 games before the end of August, they wound up trailing the Brewers by 7 1/2 at the end. (They did throw a wrench in the Cubs repeating as division champs, so it wasn’t all bad.)
Could the Cardinals do that again, win at a clip that would equal almost 100 wins (or more) this year? I mean, it’s possible. Counting this series against the Indians, who are one win above break even, the Cardinals have 31 of their 62 games against teams that are above .500. The month of August just has three of those games, which are against the Brewers. If these offensive changes continue to manifest and the returns of Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas are as helpful as expected, there’s no reason why the Cards can’t pick up 20 or more wins in that span.
Of course, we also know that the last time they had a soft month on their schedule, they won six games, which is basically why they are in the mess they are in right now. There are reasons to believe this won’t be the same but until they go through it you can’t guarantee that.
Harrison Bader said it after Sunday’s game, they need to treat every game as a must-win. If we come even to the end of this weekend with the team still looking like the knife on the Mad Titan’s finger, it may be a long last two months.
The Last Time We Met…..
The Tribe came into St. Louis at the beginning of June, just as the Cardinals were starting their free-fall from first place. The first game was always going to be a challenge because Shane Bieber was going for the Indians, but when the visitors put up two in the first inning off of Carlos Martinez, the hill became that much steeper. Martinez gave up a three-run shot to Jose Ramirez in the third and left after the fourth. The Cards got a run in the bottom of the fourth and had the bases loaded with two outs, but Bieber got the now-Pittsburgh-legend John Nogowski to ground out and that was the end of any real threat. Junior Fernandez gave up four in the ninth to make sure the score was sufficiently gaudy.
The second game required a stopper, since St. Louis had lost six straight and eight of nine. When you need a stopper, Adam Wainwright still often fits the bill, especially at Busch Stadium. Wainwright went seven innings, allowing only three hits and two runs. Both of those runs came in the first inning when the first five batters of the game went double, single, lineout, double, sac fly. However, the Cardinals actually answered in the bottom of the frame with four runs, headlined by a bases-loaded double from Matt Carpenter. They continued to tack on (two-run homer by Tyler O’Neill, then solo shots by Paul Goldschmidt and O’Neill again) and won 8-2.
The Indians currently are in a similar predicament as the Cardinals. They sit in second place in their division, not third, but are nine out there and five out of the last wild-card spot. They probably aren’t going to move anywhere in the division—Detroit is four games behind them even as well as the Tigers have been playing—so it feels like it could be a quiet trade deadline for Cleveland as well. July has not been kind to them, as they are 7-13 for the month and have lost two of the three series (to Houston and Tampa Bay, admittedly) they’ve played since the break.
Over the last 30 days, the Indians have a .711 OPS, good for 22nd in MLB. (The Cardinals, due to their change in approach, sit 15th at .721.) Cesar Hernandez and Franmil Reyes have six home runs over that span to lead the team while Hernandez and Bradley Zimmer are the only qualified hitters over .800 in OPS. Jose Ramirez is hitting .230 with and .846 OPS over that span but he’s played in just 17 games as it looks like he may have sat out with some nagging injuries as well as getting a breather.
On the pitching front, Cleveland’s team ERA is a whopping 5.49 for the past 30 days, 26th in the bigs. (St. Louis is at 9th with a 3.94.) Teams are hitting .246 against them over that span (good for 9th) and they haven’t given up a ton of home runs or walks. Their WHIP is 1.41 over that span, not much worse than the Cardinals’ 1.37. They are four for 10 in save opportunities, though, which means that games aren’t over until that final out.
The Mound Men
Tuesday: Adam Wainwright (7-6, 3.56 ERA, 3.94 FIP, 4.03 xERA) vs. Cal Quantrill (2-2, 3.84 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 5.32 xERA)
Wednesday: Kwang Hyun Kim (6-5, 2.88 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 3.73 xERA) vs. Zach Plesac (5-3, 4.30 ERA, 4.80 FIP, 4.14 xERA)
—xERA courtesy of FanGraphs
For people that grew up in the 1980s, this series is going to be very “feel your age” as we tend to remember when Cal’s dad and Zach’s uncle were the ones pitching against the Cardinals. (For the record, Paul Quantrill was 3-0 with a 2.88 ERA in 15 appearances against St. Louis, while Dan Plesac was in 33 games against the Cardinals with no decisions and a 6.08 ERA.)
Cal, on the other hand, is in his third major league season having started with the Padres in 2019. The Cardinals saw him for two innings in the second game of the earlier series, when he struck out two and allowed just one hit, one walk, and no runs. He had similar success against the Rays in his last outing, going six innings and giving up just one run (though he walked three to pair with his four hits) in a game Cleveland lost 5-4.
Plesac made a name for himself last year, of course, by not disclosing a COVID diagnosis when he should have. That seems to have stayed in the past, though, and he’s done a solid if erratic (two different games he’s thrown at least seven scoreless innings, two different games he’s given up six runs) job this year. Last time out he gave up four runs in 6.1 innings against the Rays and he has never faced the Cardinals before.
The Hot Seat
You wonder if some of those DFA relievers that the Cards have been acquiring are going to start heading back out the door. Justin Miller and Luis Garcia don’t seem to play much role for the club besides the desperation or save the good arms type and haven’t done much in St. Louis anyway. Miller has thrown 5.1 innings since he was acquired at the beginning of the month and Garcia has thrown a total of one inning during that span (three appearances and six earned runs will kinda do that). With Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty perhaps making rehab-like starts in the majors, those guys would seem to be heading out the door to make room.
The Brewers start a three game set with the Pirates today, so there’s unlikely to be a lot of help coming from that quarter. (Of course, I said that about the Royals before they took both games against Milwaukee.)
The Reds and Cubs tangle for four, with the first one being last night. It will be very interesting to see if it’s the same Cubs team at the end of the series as it was at the beginning.
The Cardinals are a little closer on the wild-card side so we’ll take a look there as well. The Dodgers and the Padres have the two spots at the moment and the Dodgers go to San Francisco for three starting tonight while San Diego (and the newly acquired Adam Frazier) hosts Oakland for two.
Between the Reds and Cardinals in the wild card race is the Phillies. Like the Reds and Cubs, they started a four game series last night, hosting the Nationals.
This will be, of course, the last time the Cardinals play the Indians, as the club announced over the weekend that they would be known as the Guardians starting in 2022. I personally like the change, though their font is a little too angular for me. The baseball with the Gs on each side is partly cool, partly feels like the Jay Garrick Flash helmet from the comic books.
Six of the 11 runs that Alex Reyes has given up have come in July and another one came June 23, so in basically a month Reyes has given up almost 65% of his run total. That’s partly because he was so dominant early, partly because you walk enough people baseball eventually events out, but you wonder if it’s partly him getting a little tired. When he gets his next out he will tie his career high in major league innings, which he set in his rookie season of 2016. I also have to think 46 stressful, short-rest innings are more troublesome than other kinds. If he is hitting a wall, it might not bode well for him being a starter next year. Then again, he’s not going to get anywhere close to the 100 innings they wanted from him (he’s on a pace that’s closer to 75) so I don’t know what that does to the equation either.
The trading deadline is Friday at 3 PM. Honestly, I still somewhat miss the midnight deadline, staying up to see who might get moved, #HugWatch full in effect. I imagine we don’t have to worry about seeing anyone hugging in the Cardinals dugout, though you never quite know what John Mozeliak will do, I guess.
Currently listening to: Just got started on the new Cardinals Off Day Episode 14. Ben and Ben are going to be pretty regularly turning out content as there is another off day this week then four straight Mondays in August. Before that dropped, though, I was listening to a recent Full of Sith episode because they interviewed Vanessa Marshall, voice of Hera from Star Wars Rebels. If you know you know why they were talking with her now. However, there are some here that might not want to be spoiled on things, so I’ll leave that be.
Currently watching: Not really much of anything. Obviously catching The Bad Batch when it airs and looking forward to What If…? but as for old shows I’m catching up on from time to time, I guess Batman Beyond would be the only one. I haven’t seen it before so I’ve been watching episodes of it on HBO Max.