The Cardinals were down to their final out, trailing 4-0 in the bottom of the ninth, and Reds manager Bryan Price employed a no-doubles defense. Why? Well what Price was thinking was…
Okay, so I have no idea what he was thinking. The Reds were up by four so even if Matt Carpenter smoked one into the gap, a double still wouldn’t have given the Cards the lead.
Naturally Carpenter rips a single to the outfield and the ball drops perfectly in front of right fielder Scott Schebler. Had Schebler been playing straight up, then it’s likely he catches the line drive and the Cards lose for the third time in four games against the last-place Reds.
Instead, Carpenter’s hit changes the entire narrative of the night and the Cardinals win a wild one at Busch Stadium. Bad teams often find ways to lose. That was certainly the case for Price and his club Monday night.
Wacha still shaky
Lost in all the hoopla from Monday night’s win is that Michael Wacha put together another uninspired performance. Somehow his 3.69 fielding independent percentage (FIP) is in the average range for starters, but his 4.45 ERA and Expected Independent Percentage (xFIP) offer a bleaker outlook.
Over his last five starts, Wacha has hadn’t much issue with walking hitters (2.77 walk rate) but his 5.54 strikeout rate is the lowest of the Cardinals’ starters over that span. He has suffered from some poor batted-ball luck (.344 BABIP), but he’s failed the eye test consistently this season.
On Monday night Wacha did struggle with walks, serving up four while consistently failing to locate his pitches. It was also the second time in as many starters that he completed just five innings and things don’t get any easier when he faces the Cubs at Wrigley this weekend.
The bottom line? While his performances in June weren’t terrible, Wacha is off to a rocky start in August. Furthermore, he’s no closer to resembling the top-of-rotation fixture that he was earlier in his career.
The starting rotation remains an issue in the second half
Over their last 25 starts (141.1 innings), the Cardinals’ starting rotation has averaged less than six innings per start and owns a 5.41 ERA. The rotation’s 3.87 FIP and 3.75 xFIP puts the unit closer to league average than terrible, but league average isn’t going to cut it for a club that is in the middle of a wildcard race and continues to have issues with injuries and its bullpen.
What’s unfortunate is that Carlos Martinez has struggled of late. Over his last four starts, his ERA is 5.25, his FIP is 5.63 and his xFIP is 4.92. He’s struggled with command (4.13 walk rate) and keeping the ball on the ground when it has been put into play (19.0% HR/FB).
The good news is that his “stuff” is still all there. In terms of effectiveness, his fastball remains one of the best pitches in baseball this season and once he gets his command issues under control then the numbers will follow.
The bad news is that Martinez isn’t the only one struggling in the rotation since the All-Star Break. There have been too many times where a Cardinals’ starter is struggling to reach the sixth inning, which puts too much pressure on an already suspect bullpen.
The Cardinals’ margin of error this season is razor thin
What has become increasingly evident over the course of the season is how the Cards’ margin of error in games is razor thin.
Take Sunday for example.
Adam Wainwright was one strike away from pitching a perfect first inning against the Braves. He walked Freddie Freeman and then gave up a double to Matt Kemp. If he could have made a play on Nick Markakis’ broken-bat single that just crept under his glove, then it’s a completely different inning. Maybe it’s a completely different ballgame, too.
Instead of a zero-run first-inning, it’s a three-run frame and the flood gates are opened. Cards lose to the Braves, again.
This is just one example from one game and isn’t intended to pick on Wainwright. He’s not the only Cardinal to fail to make a play this season, even if the play in question wasn’t an error.
That’s also the problem. This isn’t a fundamentally sound and with the pitching not being up to snuff since the break, one or two (non) plays have cost the Cards.
Despite the offense’s ability to put the ball out of the yard in the blink of an eye, this team can’t overcome miscues. Small mistakes wind up being huge.
There’s just no margin for error.