The Cardinals had their moments against new Chicago lefty Jose Quintana. Randal Grichuk and Paul DeJong reached him for home runs. Tommy Pham almost did as well. Matt Carpenter was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a double. Yadier Molina was thrown out stealing one pitch before DeJong’s home run. Michael Wacha bunted into a double play to blunt another scoring opportunity. Pham’s was one of three line drives that were caught.
The most notable aspect of Quintana’s game – to my mind – was his aggressiveness. He only fell behind two batters 2-0 (and he walked both of those). Everyone else got a strike (and usually a fastball strike) in the first two pitches.
Jose doesn’t have the overpowering fastball. But that didn’t stop him from firing it in there. In baseball, aggression always works – except when it doesn’t. And while the end result for Jose could very easily have been much different, he ended up getting just enough run support and just enough plays made behind him to get the win.
That’s how it goes when you are the hot team.
For the Cardinals, it was their fourth loss in the last five games.
After getting just 5 hits in his previous 11 games, Jedd Gyorko came through with a couple of hits. His first-inning double (the hit that resulted in Carpenter getting thrown out at first) was his first extra-base hit in 32 at bats.
DeJong’s little slump didn’t last long. He had two hits – including a home run – and is having as fine a July as anyone. He is now 20 for 68 (.294) this month with 8 doubles and 6 home runs – a .676 slugging percentage.
Whether or not it will last, Grichuk certainly didn’t struggle to find his rhythm. He finished the Cub series 5 for 11 (.455) with 3 home runs and 5 RBIs.
While DeJong has re-discovered his groove, Luke Voit – whose playing time has been less regular – has not. Luke took over for Matt Carpenter after Carpenter felt tightness in his leg, and went 0 for 3. Luke is now hitless in his last 10 at bats, and 1 for 12 (.083) in the last 5 games. For the month of July, his average has fallen to .220 (11 for 50).
In the fifth inning, Luke bounced Quintana’s first pitch changeup to second base. In his brief major league career, Luke has hit the first pitch thrown to him 9 times. He has one infield singled to show for them.
Tommy Pham didn’t get a hit, but he ended up in counts of 1-0, 2-2, 3-2, and 3-1. For the month of July, Pham is hitting ahead in the count 47.5% of the time, and 42.7% of the time for the season. As his vision seems to have been corrected, Tommy’s strike zone judgment has improved significantly.
Dexter Fowler has now played in 13 games since coming back from his latest foot issue. After his 0 for 3 last night, Fowler is a .239 hitter (11 for 46) and .326 slugger (1 double, 1 home run). He has driven in 2 runs and scored 2 runs in those games.
Let’s point out, though, that for someone who hasn’t had a lot of hits, Dexter has been putting together a lot of pretty good at bats. In his 52 plate appearances since coming off the disabled list, Dexter has hit ahead in the count in 26 of those (50%). This includes 2 of his 4 last night. That Dexter is only hitting .150 in those plate appearances (3 for 20) is evidence, perhaps, of some bad luck. He has also walked in 6 of those plate appearances-including 1 last night, so his on base percentage since his return is a not so bad .346 when he gets ahead in the count.
Though last night wasn’t all he hoped for, let’s not forget how well Wacha has been pitching of late. He had won 5 decisions in a row, and was 4-0 with a 1.01 ERA and a .189/.235/.221 batting line against over his previous 26.2 innings. Before allowing two home runs last night, Michael had gone 141 at bats against him without yielding a home run.
Michael, in fact, pitched better than his final line. All during the month of July, Wacha has been throwing that plus change off his downward-plane fastball to mostly devastating effect. Last night he pitched from ahead against 8 of the 24 batters he faced. They managed one hit and struck out 4 times. For the month of July, when Wacha pitches ahead in the count, opposing batters are 2 for 36 (.056).
The only real damage done to him last night came when he fell behind hitters. Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant both drove in third-inning runs on 2-0 fastballs. Willson Contreras’ game-winning, two-run homer came on a 3-1 fastball.
Buyers or Sellers?
With the 4-6 road trip, the Cards stand at 47-51, 4.5 games behind the division co-leaders. One could make a very compelling case for the Cards being sellers at the deadline – the most compelling argument being that 98 games into the season, the Cardinals are still a bad baseball team. They have great, great talent. Anyone who doubts their talent, just hasn’t been paying attention. But their heart doesn’t match their skill.
After last night’s loss, manager Mike Matheny said: “We’re putting up some good, good games against some good teams. It’s just that something is not letting us finish it, one way or another, whether it’s enough offense or enough pitching and defense.”
In other words, they are what I have been calling them for a while – the team that blinks. The team that isn’t as mentally tough as the team that lines up against them.
That being said – being that they are only 4.5 games out – it is unlikely that they will sell. And I think I’m OK with that. Especially as it concerns Grichuk and Lance Lynn.
With Randal, I really want to see him play through this second half. He’s been more of a tease these last two years, but there is enormous talent there. Before we give it away for whatever we can get, I would like to see these last couple of months whether he can turn the corner. He is under team control for a few more years, so we can always flip him next year if he doesn’t pan out.
The case of Lynn is a little more complex, as Lance will be a free agent at season’s end. The team thinking – I think – is this. We have a great many promising arms working their way through the system. Of immediate note, Alex Reyes is expected to be back and in the rotation next year – so one of the current members of the rotation will have to give way. Lance, of course, will want a long-term deal, and – with the numbers of pitchers on the way – the Cards don’t feel that they can make that kind of commitment to him. They consider him a very good pitcher, but not as elite as the prospects on the way.
Over his last several starts, though, Lynn – in his first season back from Tommy John surgery – has been pitching like one of the top pitchers in baseball. Can he sustain that? Who knows? But I, for one, am curious. I would like to see Lance get the rest of the season to make his case. To show that his future is as promising as many of the arms on the way.
If neither Grichuk nor Lynn prove to be parts of our future, then not moving them will be something of a lost opportunity. But before we part with these two impressive talents, I would like to be more convinced of what we have or don’t have in them.
Last night the Cards played a rubber game on the road for the sixth time this season. They have now lost five of them.
St Louis is now also 1-5 in rubber games against teams that won their previous series.
After going 6 for 12 with runners in scoring position on Friday, St Louis was 0-1 in RISP opportunities in both of the last two games.