After the disappointment of losing the last game in Chicago (missing an opportunity to pull within 1.5 games of the Cubs), the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader against Minnesota began in dreary enough fashion. Carlos Martinez was done early, and Twins right-hander Jose Berrios was effortlessly blowing through the Cardinal lineup. Going into the bottom of the sixth (remember, this would be a seven-inning game) the Cards were looking up at a 5-0 deficit.
Then suddenly the Cards showed a spark of life. A walk and Tommy Edman’s two-run home run sliced the deficit to three. Paul Goldschmidt’s single chased the tiring Berrios from the game. Before the inning would end, Goldschmidt would score on a wild pitch. The score was now 5-3 with one inning remaining.
Trusted with the seventh inning, Ryan Helsley invited trouble giving up a leadoff single. After a strikeout and a flyball, he was almost out of danger. When the count on Miguel Sano went to 0-2, Ryan was one strike away from holding the deficit at two and keeping the team in the game.
Three pitches later, Sano iced the game with a soaring home run over the left field wall.
Fast forward to last night’s second game. The Cards carried their 3-1 lead in to the bottom of the seventh (again, the game’s final inning). Giovanny Gallegos was tabbed to start the inning, but at some point in his outing he injured himself. All three batters he faced, reached, with one of them scooting home.
With the game now 3-2 Cardinals, Mike Shildt turned again to Helsley. Again, relief was hard to come by. Even after an intentional walk and a two-run single off the bat of Jeimer Candelario pushed Detroit in front 4-3, the Cards were still – ostensibly – in the game. As with the Minnesota game, the Cardinals truly needed Ryan to stop the bleeding. Hold us in the game.
After Willi Castro lined into a double-play, it meant that once again Helsley was one out away from getting out of the mess. And once again, Ryan was tagged for the game-icing home run (this time off the bat of Jorge Bonifacio. That put the finishing touches on a deflating 6-3 loss (boxscore).
A promising three-game winning streak against Chicago had momentarily pushed St Louis to the rarified air of two games over .500 at 17-15, with the pitching – especially the bullpen – very much in the front of the charge.
St. Louis is 2-3 since that moment, with the pitching staff – especially the bullpen – taking on water. Over those last five games, the Cards hold a 5.50 ERA (5.12 from the rotation and 5.94 from the bullpen). One of the sticking points has been the staff’s inability to control games while they are close and hold deficits at one or two runs.
Here, I’ve picked a little on Helsley, but he hasn’t been the only one. Six times in four games so far this month, Cardinal pitchers have failed in that position – either early or late – of keeping the opposing team in striking distance. All four of those games were lost. Over the last five games, Cardinal pitchers have worked 6 innings with either a 1- or 2-run deficit. They have a 7.50 ERA in those innings, with batters going 10 for 26 (.385) against them, with half the hits for extra-bases (3 doubles and 2 home runs) contributing to a .731 slugging percentage.
It’s mid-September now, and teams like the Cubs and the Twins are very much fighting for playoff seeding. The Cardinals – who have been in survival mode for nearly a month – are going to have to find another gear quickly or their season could very well slip away from them like the second game of yesterday’s doubleheader.
One gets the feeling that Matt Carpenter cannot be benched, regardless of how deeply he struggles. Even when his average slipped below .170, there was no feeling that Shildt would ever remove him from the lineup. Whether it’s a blip or a for real turnaround, Carpenter has rewarded that confidence over the last 3 games as he has reached base six consecutive times (2 singles, a double, 2 walks and a hit-by-pitch).
Rangel Ravelo was one of several Cards who had big days in the 12-2 first game rout (boxscore). He went 2-for-2 with his first home run of the season. For what it’s worth, Rangel has hit in all three games since his recall, hitting .364 (4 for 11) during that span.
Yadier Molina, another hero of the first game, had been 0-for-11 through his previous three games before his two-hit effort, including a home run.
After a flurry of hits in Chicago, Harrison Bader is fading at the plate again, chasing high pitches far too often. He is 1 for 12 over his last 4 games.
His walk in game one was Tyler O’Neill’s tenth of the season. In his thirty-first game and after just 111 plate appearances, O’Neill has already tied his career high in walks set last year in 60 games and 151 plate appearances.
My Designated Hitter Rant
As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably). If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH. Here is the link. If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.