The Pause That (Hopefully) Refreshes

After a tough series against the Dodgers and a long road trip, the Cardinals get to take on the Reds at Busch.

What is this team?

Is the team that started the season 8-10 and briefly fell to last place in the NL Central? Is it the team that then went 18-9 and got a three game lead on the rest of their divisional foes? Or the team that currently is 5-6 in its last 11 and looking up at the Cubs?

If you had to pick which sort of team this would be, what would you pick?

The Cardinals are 23-11 against sub-.500 teams, which means that this weekend and much of this month could be good. There are still games with the Braves, Marlins, Tigers, Pirates and Diamondbacks coming up after a short set with the Indians and another matchup with the Cubs. Even after that, you get four with the Rockies before finishing the first half of the season with the Giants. It would seem that the schedule could allow them to get well.

However, how well can you get when your ace is on the injured list and you don’t trust but a quarter of your bullpen? When your team hits .264 in the first third of the game but then .211 after? When half the team winds up hurt and all the depth you thought you might have turns out to be shallow water after all?

What is this team?

I don’t have any good answers. Hopefully the return of Harrison Bader, maybe not in this series but soon after, will help a bit. It’s not like Bader was tearing the place up when he went down, but it’s still a significant step up from Justin Williams and Lane Thomas.

It’s questionable how much more Paul DeJong gives you over Edmundo Sosa, at least at the moment. I imagine that by time DeJong actually is ready, that will be an improvement, but that’ll just get us back to the level we are already at.

Change is coming—Andrew Miller’s return will probably be the end of Tyler Webb—but I’m not sure what can help more than facing teams like Cincinnati.

At least, I hope that is the balm it is supposed to be.

The Last Time We Met……

The Cardinals started getting healthy the last time Cincinnati was in town, sweeping the Reds and returning to an above .500 team. Game 1 saw the club get to Sonny Gray, most notably with a Yadier Molina home run, and they took a 5-1 lead to the ninth where the heartburn began. Jordan Hicks gave up a walk, a triple, and then another walk to turn it over to Alex Reyes with two on and up three, only to see Reyes walk the first two (including one of those bases-loaded walks that a Cardinals specialty this year) and throw a wild pitch before striking out the last two batters to preserve the win.

Game 2 was a little less intense, though the margin wasn’t much greater. The Cards scored a run in the first off of three singles, the last from Nolan Arenado, and Andrew Knizner doubled in a run in the sixth. Otherwise, it was the pitching staff that shone. John Gant had one of the rare games where had less base runners than innings pitched, which was nice, and Genesis Cabrera and Giovanny Gallegos finished it off.

The finale didn’t have a whole lot of drama, but that happens when Jack Flaherty is on his game. Flaherty went seven innings with only a Jesse Winker homer in the seventh marring the day. Tyler O’Neill hit two solo homers and Dylan Carlson had three hits, including an RBI single.

Season series: St. Louis leads 4-2.

The Opponent

This week, the Reds put up some new banners around Great American Ball Park. They feature the moment in the opening series with Nicholas Castellanos flexed over Jake Woodford at home plate. At the rate the Reds are going, that’s going to be one of their only true highlights of the season.

Since they were last at Busch, the Reds have gone 15-17, which is pretty good for the fact that Joey Votto has been on the injured list much of that time and their staff ace, Luis Castillo, still has an ERA over 7 for the season. The Reds are coming off a series where they took two of three from the Phillies, but got beaten 17-3 in the last game after winning games 5-1 and 11-1. The Reds have given up 10 or more runs five times since the beginning of May, including a 19 run egg against the Giants and a game they actually won 13-12.

Currently, Cincinnati is at 24-29 and are in fourth place in the division, seven games behind the Cubs. They are 13-19 against teams over .500, a record the Cards hope to worsen this weekend.

The Mound Men

Thursday: Vladimir Gutierrez (0-1, 1.80 ERA, 5.73 FIP, 3.40 xERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (3-4, 4.22 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 3.60 xERA)

Friday: Luis Castillo (1-8, 7.22 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 4.28 xERA) vs. Kwang Hyun Kim (1-3, 3.65 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 4.68 xERA)

Saturday: Tyler Mahle (4-2, 3.42 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 3.32 xERA) vs. TBD, but likely Johan Oviedo (0-2, 5.40 ERA, 6.03 FIP, 5.41 xERA)

Sunday: Wade Miley (5-4, 3.26 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 3.78 xERA) vs. John Gant (4-3, 1.60 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 5.13 xERA)

xERA courtesy of FanGraphs

Gutierrez is one of those folks that we tend to worry about, a pitcher that the Cardinals have never seen before, though at least he throws righthanded. Gutierrez made his major league debut last time out, limiting the Cubs to two hits and one run (a solo shot) in five innings at Wrigley. Gutierrez has never been a top prospect of the Reds and missed all of 2020 with a performance-enhancing drug suspension. I guess if you are going to miss a year, that’s the year to miss.

The Cardinals have seen Castillo twice this year and they’d certainly like to see some more of him. He’s only gone 8.1 innings total and allowed 14 runs, but that’s overstating things. I mean, only 12 of them were earned. That said, much of that was on Opening Day, as last time was in the third game of that last series when he gave up four runs, but it was in five innings. That’s what he did in his last start as well (five innings, four runs, with four walks) against the Chicago Cubs.

Both Mahle and Miley have been pleasant surprises for the Big Red Machine. Mahle perhaps less so, since he is having a season somewhat in line with his shortened 2020 numbers. He got blown up by the Giants three starts ago (seven runs in two innings) but has worked 10.1 scoreless innings since then, including his last start against the Cubs, when he struck out eight. St. Louis has only seen him once this season, back in that opening series, when he struck out nine and gave up three runs (two earned) in five-plus innings.

Miley, of course, has a no-hitter under his belt (seems like those may have settled down as the weather started picking up, though the last one was May 19 so it’s not been THAT long) and that no-hitter isn’t really out of line with the rest of his body of work this year. Like Mahle, he has a blowup (his was eight runs against the Rockies in Coors) but has been going strong of late, including allowing one run in six innings to the Phillies in his last outing.

The Hot Seat

I keep checking Twitter as I write this because I’m fairly convinced Tyler Webb isn’t going to make it through the weekend with the Cardinals. From all reports, Andrew Miller is going to return this weekend and someone is going to have to go. Not that Miller has been dominant against lefties, but he’s going to always be the choice over 2021 Webb and in that case there doesn’t seem to be a spot for Webb in St. Louis. I’ll imagine he’ll clear waivers, go to Memphis, and hopefully find his groove again. I thought that the Cardinals had done that before with him, but it looks like his former trips to Beale Street were on options.

Assorted Crudités

I looked at it a little bit for this morning’s post and then again when I inserted myself into a Twitter conversation between Alex Crisafulli and John LaRue, but the Cardinals are one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to being blown out. They’ve had 11 of their losses be of that variety (five runs or more being the criteria) which is 44% of all of their losses. The good news? Cincinnati has 12 of those losses (41.4%). Maybe the Cards can make up some of what they’ve lost in run differential over the past two weeks. A team that was once the class of the division (and one of the best in the NL) in that regard now has a -10.

All the numbers are in favor of St. Louis this weekend. They are 15-10 at home, the Reds 12-15 on the road. As we said above, they are 23-11 against losing teams, the Reds 13-19 against winning ones. Well, not all of them, I guess. The Reds have a much better team OPS. They are seventh in all of baseball and the Cards have seen some of that first hand.

You’d like to think that Nicholas Castellanos would have cooled off by now. Instead, since we last saw him, he’s hitting .402/.468/.643 with five homers in 29 games. So that’s fun. The Reds offense pretty much is Castellanos and Jesse Winker, so if the Cards can shut them down somewhat (or shut everyone else down so they can’t do a lot of damage, which might be more likely) that ups their chances of winning.

Tyler O’Neill since his return: seven games, four homers, .393/.393/.929. Sure, he’s not walked, but when you are that hot, it’s allowed.

Random Musings

Currently listening to: Chirps Episode 109: Chirps After Dark. It’s always fun to listen to Alex, of course, but anytime you can add Kyle Reis to the mix it is a must-listen. The problem is now I want to see this setup of Kyle’s apartment after it was described. Screenshots are your friend, Alex!

Currently reading: I have not added anything to the various things I pick up to read. Well, I guess that’s not entirely true. I’ve had Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict sitting next to my chair for a while but I finally picked it up and read a chapter or two of it. It was very interesting seeing some of the arguments for some of our Middle East intervention repurposed to help rebuild Endor after the events of Return of the Jedi.

Upcoming: I used to have to take an annual trip to Ohio to see my wife’s family. However, since her dad passed in 2015, I’ve only been up there once. Her mother moved here about two years ago and passed away back in January, so we will be taking her ashes to be interred next week. I should be able to write up previews of the Indians and Cubs series, especially given the off days, but then will miss out on a few after that so your mailbox will get a respite.