To be a “glass half full” guy, you could say that – all things considered – it wasn’t that bad. Over the course of the just concluded, season-long, ten-day, 13-game, three-city road trip, the Cardinals were outscored 63-41 and were outhit .230/.318/.414 to .201/.279/.293. Yes, on the road trip, the Cards couldn’t even keep their slugging percentage over the .300 mark.
They hit 7 home runs over the last week-and-a-half. There were 16 hit against them.
So, with those numbers as a back drop, you could convince yourself that you are grateful to return home having gone 7-6 on that trip.
The reality, though, is that the Cardinals missed a serious opportunity.
Ten days ago, St Louis held a 20-20 record. They were 4 games behind the 28-20 Cubs, 2 games ahead of the 20-24 Brewers, and 2.5 games up on the 21-26 Reds. The trip would take them through Milwaukee, Pittsburgh (14-30) and Kansas City (20-28).
At the start of the series, the Brewers ranked fourteenth in the 15-team National League in runs scored (180) and were thirteenth in OPS (.698). Their pitching was sixth with a 4.54 ERA. The Pirates were last in runs scored in the league (173) and in team OPS (.625). At 5.10, their team ERA was twelfth. When they arrived in Kansas City, St Louis found a Royals team that was fourteenth in the American League in runs scored (215), and twelfth in OPS (.702). Their team ERA sat at 4.46, ranking ninth in the AL.
All these teams had lost their previous series. The Brewers had lost 5 of their previous 7 games (including being no hit by the Cubs); the Pirates came into the series riding an eight-game losing streak; and the Royals had lost their previous three games and four out of five.
Slice it however you like, these were vulnerable teams. In the thick of the playoff chase, these were teams that the Cards needed to find some way to push past if they were going to write their own ticket. Meaning no disrespect to the Brewers, Pirates or Royals – all of whom, I believe, are better teams than their records showed – this final stretch of the season was a gift to the Cardinals. A waiting opportunity for them to move the needle on their season.
While the Cards were going 7-6 on the road trip, the Cubs were scuffling to a 4-4 mark, the Brewers went 7-4 (including winning three of five from the Cards), and the Reds managed an 8-2 mark.
Even a 9-4 trip would have kept them marginally ahead of the Reds (2 games) and would have them 1.5 games behind the Cubs for the division lead. As it is, catching the Cubs is now very unlikely, and the Cards are locked into a scrum for that second wildcard spot.
The question at the top of the column, though, is more literal than figurative. A wildly successful trip could have positioned the team to claim a playoff spot without having to play one or two more games in Detroit after the season is ostensibly over. Now – even if they win four or five from Milwaukee (which will be challenging enough) – they will still need some help from Minnesota to avoid a final roadtrip and a final doubleheader.
So, among the many questions to be answered over the next four days is, is this, in fact, the end of the road? Stay tuned.
To be very clear about this, there have been many thousands of people who have had a worse 2020 than Carlos Martinez. Yes, he did contract the virus, and got pretty sick over it. But he did recover and hasn’t lost his job or felt any significant financial impact from any of the disasters that have swirled around this year. Lots of people are much, much worse off than Carlos.
That being said, Martinez’ season is a kind of sports metaphor for the way things have been going on a world-wide basis. In spite of his very best efforts – and Carlos has worked extremely hard to position himself to return to the rotation – nothing has worked out for him at all.
The talented Martinez made 5 starts this season – all of them bad. The back twinge that ended his night, probably ended his season. Even if he is deemed healthy enough to start, I can’t imagine the Cardinals giving him another opportunity, either in what’s left of the regular season or in the playoffs.
Barring an improbable further opportunity, Carlos’ final 2020 line will read 0-3 with a 9.90 ERA. Batters hit .348 against him this year, with a .609 slugging percentage against him.
It’s difficult to imagine someone with Martinez’ stuff ever getting batted around like that – but 2020 has been like that. Even beyond the strangeness of the schedule, the vile rule changes, the visiting team batting as the home team, and the playing of 11 doubleheaders in about a month’s time, we have seen stuff happen in games that almost never happen. For example:
It is actually a fairly rare thing for a pitcher to be replaced due to injury in the middle of an inning. In a normal season, I would estimate that this kind of thing happens about twice every three years.
When Seth Elledge came out of the pen to replace the injured Martinez, he became the fifth Cardinal reliever tasked with that challenge in about a week and a half. As with most of the others, perhaps – in spite of being given all the time he needed to loosen up – he didn’t quite take long enough.
Over his first 11 appearances of the season, Seth registered a 2.53 ERA with a .194 batting average against. In short order, after relieving Carlos, Seth was tagged for a homer, a walk and three doubles (not necessarily in that order). By the time he left, an already daunting 6-1 deficit had turned into an 11-1 deficit.
When I wrote about this earlier (here, I think is the post) I detailed the previous instances of this rarity and suggested that if this is going to keep happening to us, then the Cards are going to have to start preparing somehow for this eventuality.
Yadier Molina has only hit safely in 4 of his last 6 games, but 3 of the 4 have been multi-hit efforts after he went 2-for-3 last night. Yadi is hitting .350 (7 for 20) over his last 6 games – hits that include a home run and last night’s double – bringing his slugging percentage to .550 over that span. His run scored last night was his fifth over the six games.
After getting what I thought was a much needed day off (he had made 30 consecutive starts at shortstop), Paul DeJong returned to the lineup with another 0-for-4. Paul is now 0 for his last 15, and 2 for his last 30 (.067), both singles.
During the month of September, Paul is hitting .205 (17 for 83) with just 2 extra-base hits.
DeJong finished the road trip hitting .171 (7 for 41) with no extra-base hits. For the season, he hit .208 away from Busch (16 for 77) with 2 home runs – a .286 slugging percentage.
Tyler O’Neill still lists among the strugglers. Hitless in 2 at bats last night, Tyler is now 2 for his last 22 (.091). He is 13 for 68 (.191) this month.
When the Cardinals renew acquaintances with Milwaukee this evening, the Brewers will be St Louis’ fifth consecutive opponent to have lost its previous series. The Cards have not fared well in these matchups, losing 3 of the 4 previous series.
In fact, if you are on a bit of a losing stretch, St Louis is a team you would be relieved to see on your schedule. To date, St Louis has matched up against 7 teams that had lost the series before. Five of those teams reversed their slide with series wins against the Cardinals. St Louis is 12-14 in the games of those series.
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.