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Cardinals Drop Post-Deadline Opener

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A quiet deadline for Mozeliak and company was followed by the inability to dig Carlos Martinez out of an early hole.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We had an “ace-off” Tuesday night in Milwaukee as Carlos Martinez and Jimmy Nelson faced off in each team’s first game since the passing of 2017’s trade deadline. A vital series to establish momentum towards a shot at the division, this game’s results were foreshadowed by the mixed feelings around Cardinal Nation of the organization’s actions (or rather, inaction).

The Brewers’ bats scored all that was needed to seal the 3-2 victory in the first inning, as Carlos Martinez continued an unnerving trend of failing to start off on the right foot. This is now the third game in a row Martinez has allowed multiple runs to score before the Cardinals record three outs. Falling behind three of the first five hitters on Tuesday, it was a pair of singles on elevated two-seam fastballs that netted the second and third runs of the inning on hits by Domingo Santana and Manny Pina.

Martinez managed to settle in well after the first, finding his rhythm to the tune of three consecutive scoreless innings. His five strikeouts in that window helped buoy the first inning blunders, but after surrendering a pair of walks in the fifth and amassing 102 pitches with only 54% strikes, Matheny went to the bullpen and got three scoreless between John Brebbia, Tyler Lyons, and Matt Bowman.

Turning our attention to the Cardinals’ bats and starter Jimmy Nelson, my eventful Tuesday recaps have continued along the path of disappointing play. It seems like every time I write, I’m citing missed opportunities, and Tuesday was no different. The third inning brought the first notable highlight, with the main story documented in the cover photo of this recap. Kolten Wong led off with a single, which Randal Grichuk backed with his first extra-base hit in his last 23 at bats (in which he hasn’t drawn a walk and slugged only .348). Notoriety came when the Cardinals decided to test the arm of a budding shortstop, Orlando Arcia, which he happily showed off with a pristine throw to Manny Pina (the kid is a great defender). Was Pina giving Wong a lane? I’d probably argue not, but to play devil’s advocate, Pina had to make a play on the ball, and the throw forced him into that position; blocking the plate. Regardless, I’m not sure sending Wong in a 3-0 game with nobody out is the most efficient of moves. Runners on second and third with nobody out, on average, results in 1.964 runs by the inning’s end (the assumed scenario if Wong was held). The Cardinals still had a goose egg as the third inning came and went.

Two runs cut the Brewers’ lead to only one, after Yadier Molina and Tommy Pham both singled with two outs off Nelson. On top of the missed opportunities, these bright spots helped to raise the Cardinals’ chances to put up a fight, but the Brewers bullpen was just a bit too strong. Newly acquired Anthony Swarzak walked Matt Carpenter and then proceeded to demolish the heart of the Cardinals’ lineup; striking out three in a row with his fastball-slider two-pitch mix. Corey Knebel then entered to earn his 19th save of the night on 10 pitches. Unfortunately, I would bet Knebel is available tomorrow if a save opportunity arises, and with his success this year, I’d be worried for the Cardinals’ chances late in a game if they dig themselves another hole.

Nelson is an impressive pitcher. After changing his arm slot and opting for a different approach with his curveball against lefties this season, he has blossomed into a one of the main reasons the Brewers find themselves four games above the .500 mark. His FIP is one of the best in baseball, and has peripherals that back up the results we’ve seen against some of the better offenses around (most notably the Nationals last week - 10K, 1 BB, 7 IP). It may be easy to look at other pitchers in this division and fear for the matchup, but I’m more concerned with offensive production versus Nelson than guys like Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, or Jameson Taillon (although that may be a bit of recency bias).

Notes

  • With the Trade Deadline now in the rearview mirror, all the Cardinals have to show for it is the power-laden Tyler O’Neil. I’m relatively skeptical at reports by Ken Rosenthal that the Cardinals actually offered Piscotty and Weaver/Flaherty for Sonny Gray. Never in a million years would I question Rosenthal’s reporting, but the word ‘floated’ does not mean offered, or even ‘entertained,’ to me. James Kaprelian, Dustin Fowler, and Jorge Mateo is a package full of upside; with embedded injury risk. Piscotty and Weaver/Flaherty is a package of players who can make an impact now, and have all been ranked ahead of any of those three on prospect lists (albeit, over different time periods). Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get why Billy Beane would actually favor the Yankees package over the Cardinals - if said package was actually on the table. As you can tell from my skepticism, my completely unsourced guess is that this may have been a Billy Beane counter to a Cardinals’ offer. To which I’m more than pleased the Cardinals rejected for obvious reasons.
  • I saw some griping on Twitter post game that the umpires were rough in this game. While I agree in many instances that umps can have an unnecessary, I thought they were pretty average tonight. Martinez was on and off with his control, and aside from a few late calls going against the Cardinals’ bats, I didn’t think there was anything noticeably egregious about how Chad Whitson called this game from the plate. I combed back through some of the pitch-by-pitch data and it seemed to confirm my thoughts, more than those of Twitter. I’m interested to hear if there was anybody who felt strongly one way or the other on this. Average night behind the plate? Maybe leaning the Brewers’ way? Definitely leaning the Brewers’ way?
  • Luke Weaver versus Brent Suter is the matchup tomorrow night in Milwaukee. Very excited to see round two for Weaver. His 2017 debut was better than his line indicated; one pitch to J.D. Martinez was all the damage and the command looked on point for the most part. This will be a good test against a competitive team.
  • My site, BigThreeSports.com, just released a top 100 prospects list. If you’re at all interested in another look at a set of ranks, feel free to check it out right here.