After the Cardinals and Jose Martinez took a commanding hold of game one, our second installment had different plans in what turned out to be a back and forth slugfest. Prior to this start, the Cardinals were the only team in baseball to use the same five starting pitchers through the first 62 games of the season. Marco Gonzales broke that trend, hoping to follow-up Lance Lynn’s eight strikeout win a few hours earlier. The Brewers’ bats had other plans.
Jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead on RBIs by Jose Martinez (0-for-3, RBI, BB, 2 Ks) and Matt Carpenter (3-for-5 HR, 2B, 2 RBI), Gonzales’ line through three innings was encouraging - 3 IP, 2 H, 2 K, 1 HR. Really the only bad pitch of the night through that point was a Keon Broxton no-doubt homer on a misplaced sinker, a streaky player so far in 2017, who showed off his impressive power-speed combo in this game.
The fourth inning is where it all fell apart. Jesus Aguilar and Travis Shaw went back-to-back to lead off the inning, marking the second and third balls off Gonzales that made me cringe on contact. After salvaging an out, Manny Pina proceeded to double, followed by a Broxton triple that I still can’t fathom how Bush Stadium kept within its walls. After that pitch, which seemed like a sure bid for Gonzales’ fourth relinquished homer of the game, Matheny had seen enough and removed the young southpaw. Opting for a combo of Brebbia-Cecil-Siegrist through the middle-innings of this game, the trio managed 3.2 clean innings and only one baserunner.
While it started smooth for Gonzales, my take on the outing is that getting a second look at a pitcher who really only bounced between his sinker and changeup the whole game (three curveballs thrown, 5%), must have some bearing on how experienced major league bats fair a second pass. It’s hard to view a way in which Gonzales would have succeeded in this game with that in mind. Matheny’s removal after only 58 pitches with the pen already drained of four innings in the game prior, speaks to his lackluster confidence in the 25 year old settling in. While it’s great to see Gonzales on the mound after an involuntary vacation to the DL for all of 2016, some work may still need to be done in order for a major league rotation spot to become a viable option. I’d expect Luke Weaver (2.92 FIP in 26.2 AAA innings) to get the nod next if another AAA arm is needed in short order. Fellow writer Ben Markham wants Weaver in the pen right now.
With the score sitting at 5-2 after Gonzales’ exit, the Cardinals drew it back to a one-run deficit after squeezing two more runs out of Jimmy Nelson in the sixth. Carpenter’s game-tying homer in the seventh against Jared Hughes drew the game even. A sinker off the plate was what Carpenter took into the right-center seats, a great piece of hitting and an impressive pitch to pull in the first place. Carpenter now has hits in each of his last six games, with three homers and seven RBI over the same span.
Unfortunately, the comeback was short-lived as Trevor Rosenthal’s bid to keep the game tied in the eighth wasn’t of the admirable variety. He walked the first two batters he faced and then allowed two singles to the bottom of the Brewers order, showing his lack of command at a time when the exact opposite would’ve been appreciated. If you thought opting for Seung-Hwan Oh was a better option, he managed to let his first two batters reach after replacing Rosenthal. Three runs later, the Cardinals were looking at a late-game deficit which they couldn’t overcome. Corey Knebel closed out the game for his eight save of the year, tying a bow on the loss.
While it would’ve been great to take both games of the doubleheader, I’m pleased with the current state of this offense after an anemic period of confusion and anxiety. The bullpen however, remains a concern, yet not in the same respect we were used to seeing with this game. Brett Cecil and company had been the issue for the majority of this season, yet tonight, critical eyes turned to the eighth and ninth inning “anchors” on which Matheny has relied. If the Cardinals are to seriously see themselves as a wild card contender past the All-Star break, a bullpen that isn’t 18th in the league in FIP would be a much more encouraging base to build this team off of moving forward.
The Cardinals are 30-33, 2.5 games back of the first-place Brewers in the NL Central.
- Lewis Brinson, the Brewers #1 prospect, notched the first hit of his major league career off Marco Gonzales after being called up Saturday. Despite the saying, “It looks like a line drive in the book,” he topped a ball to third which Greg Garcia attempted to bare-hand, and failed to do. Many more to come for this prospect whom was the focal point in the Jonathan Lucroy trade, a player Cardinal fans know very well (for what it’s worth, Chad Huffman also notched his first hit of 2017 tonight and his first at the major league level since 2010).
- If anybody in the Viva El Birdos universe plays fantasy baseball, I also write for Razzball.com, and my latest column dealt with the Brewers’ starter in this game, Jimmy Nelson. While this start wasn’t his greatest, coming into this outing he strung together multiple starts of elite numbers both on the surface and peripherally. You can read my breakdown of his rest of season value, and whether I think the impressive control-strikeout combo from his last few starts will stick right here. Even with his lowered arm-slot and increased curveball usage versus lefties, the Cardinals still seem to be his kryptonite.
- In games I have recapped, the squad is 3-7. Let’s just say I may not be their good-luck charm this season.