One of two things needed to happen today in order to make a Cardinals win on Labor Day possible. Johan Oviedo would have had to had a great outing or Kyle Hendricks would need to have a poor outing. Neither thing would have guaranteed a win either, but the Cards needed one of the two or it was never a possibility. Obviously neither thing happened.
Through four starts, it is safe to say that Oviedo is simply not ready to be a major league pitcher. It’s not his fault. His highest level last year was at Springfield and he wasn’t especially good there either. Good for his age sure. Showed promise sure. But given the 12.4 BB% and 5.65 ERA, there would be a discussion on whether to even promote him to Memphis, especially with the bananas offensive environment that would bring. But instead of that discussion, injuries and COVID have forced him into the rotation at the major league level.
There was also the matter of the doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins tomorrow, which brings about a pitching situation that could best be described as “two probable losses.” Yeah tomorrow is a nightmare. When you encounter a pitching matchup as lopsided as Kyle Hendricks and Johan Oviedo, the best goal for the game is simply to not use any good arms out of the pen. Coming into the game, Oviedo has looked better than he has any right to look (look above), but with a heavy dose of luck.
Blue is bad if you’re wondering. Or “poor” to be specific. He has allowed hard contact, high exit velocities, and has had few strikeouts to pair with that. And with all these Statcast numbers, it came with a .195 BABIP. So make no mistake that Oviedo’s okay first three starts have been a mirage. And that mirage was shattered today. And it was made worse by a Cardinals defense that seemed to want him out of the rotation.
Things started poorly. Well, actually that’s not completely true. Kolten Wong hit a leadoff single off Kyle Hendricks to start the game. Which was ruined when he was picked off at 1st with Paul Goldschmidt batting. No matter. There was little about what followed that would have suggested Wong would have scored anyway. Thanks to the pickoff and weak outs by both Tommy Edman and Goldschmidt, Hendricks exited the 1st with just six pitches thrown.
Things did start poorly literally for Oviedo though. He allowed a opposite field double to Ian Happ - hardly his fault given nobody else is getting Happ out right now. Tyler O’Neill leaped to attempt to catch it at the ivy but couldn’t jump quite high enough. One of these days, O’Neill is actually going to make a great catch instead of almost making it. On 0-2 on Kris Bryant, Oviedo made a bad pitch and Bryant singled it to put runners at the corners. A long at-bat by Anthony Rizzo resulted in a slow grounder double play ball made possible by Wong quickly and alertly tagging Bryant before throwing it to 1st. The inning stretched longer on an infield single by Javy Baez, but Kyle Schwarber popped up to end the inning.
A 2nd inning from the Cards produced nothing more than a lineout by Paul DeJong to left field. The other two outs were weakly hit. The bottom of the inning is a pretty good example of Oviedo’s early outings. He allowed two lineouts to the outfield along with a groundout. So it appeared like he might be able to keep the magic act going for a little longer.
The Cardinals threatened in the top of the 3rd, but unfortunately the threat did not come until there was already two outs. Matt Carpenter had just about the worst at-bat you can have, looking at two strikes and then check swinging at a pitch at his head for a strikeout. But with two outs, Harrison Bader hit a hard ball to left center that hit off Schwarber’s hand (but wasn’t an error and shouldn’t have been). Wong then hit a ball in the hole at short, which Baez reached but couldn’t get a solid grip to throw to 1st. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, since Wong would have been safe. With runners on 1st and 3rd, Edman struck out on a fastball right down the middle (he was clearly fooled because he was expecting a change).
In the bottom half of the 3rd, Jason Kipnis singled and Happ walked to put runners at 1st and 2nd. Bryant hit a ball between short and 3rd that Carpenter needed to dive to make and he threw out Happ at 2nd to put runners at the corners with one out. Unfortunately, Rizzo didn’t hit into a double play this time, but hit a flyout that was neither shallow nor deep to Bader. I was expecting a play at the plate, but Bader fumbled the transfer to his hand and it became a sacrifice fly. To be clear, odds are very good that Kipnis would have been safe anyway. Baez hit a swinging bunt and Schwarber walked to load the bases, but Oviedo got Willson Contreras to ground it back to him, and he proceeded to just run to first base on his own.
In the 4th, the Cubs added another run. Back-to-back doubles by Kipnis and Cameron Maybin put the score at 3-0 Cubs and put a runner at 2nd with just one out. After he walked Happ again, he got Bryant to pop out and Rizzo to ground out. For whatever other issues that Oviedo had with the Cubs offense, he had few issues with Rizzo, which is great since the rest of the Cards pitching staff seems to just walk him all the time.
Oviedo’s last inning was the 5th, which started poorly thanks to an error by Carpenter. It was about as easy a play as a third baseman is ever going to get, but Baez was running so I assume Carpenter panicked and threw it too high. Schwarber then hit a ball to Wong who threw it too high to DeJong, which put runners at 2nd and 3rd with nobody out. Contreras, who did very much have Oviedo’s number, lined a single to left field to score both. And just to add onto the bad defense, Yadier Molina couldn’t handle a wild pitch that put Contreras on 2nd base. But his last batter of the evening, on his 95th pitch, struck out looking. Tyler Webb came into the game, and no joke, got Jose Martinez to swing and miss at three 90 mph fastballs.
Oh yeah I skipped the Cardinals offense. Well, not much to say here. A leadoff single by Goldschmidt turned into a double play ball in the 4th. A ball that hit Wong with one out turned into another double play ball, this time by Edman in the 6th. In the 5th, the ump apparently thought Molina got hit by a pitch and I legitimately do not know how he ever thought this. Or maybe he thought it was catcher’s interference? It was clearly a foul tip, and after some review on the play, it was called as such. And then it turned into a 1-2-3 inning.
Webb, who replaced Oviedo to end the 5th, also pitched the 6th. He walked Happ on four pitches, but got both Bryant and Rizzo out without Happ moving an inch, but Baez hit another single to put runners on 1st and 2nd. Schwarber made Webb throw 14 pitches, but ultimately he’s still Schwarber against a lefty so he struck out on that 14th pitch.
The Cardinals showed a bit of life in the 7th. Goldschmidt hit another leadoff single - both singles were to be honest of the BABIP variety in that they weren’t hard hit and were directly on the ground but found holes. Miller grounded to 2nd again, but they couldn’t turn two this time. Back-to-back singles by DeJong and Matt Wieters - who had replaced Yadi at this point - gave the Cards their first run of the ballgame. Matt Carpenter ruined the rally with a double play ball of his own.
Seth Elledge replaced Webb, and pitched not particularly great as he had trouble both throwing strikes and putting hitters away. He got to 1-2 on Contreras, but then walked him. On 2-1, Victor Caratini grounded into a double play ball with a nifty play by Wong where he threw it to DeJong with his glove. And then he had Maybin 0-2, but couldn’t put him away until the count was full and Elledge was on pitch #8, whereby he flew out. Former Cards prospect Rob Kaminsky fared better in his inning, getting three straight groundballs, one of which found a hole, setting the stage for Rizzo to fly out.
Hendricks meanwhile pitched a flawless 8th. He struck out both Bader and Wong, and got a groundout hit right back to him from O’Neill. He had thrown near 100 pitches at this point and was done for the day, giving the way for Rowan Wick. Wick didn’t have to work much. Edman worked him into a full count before grounding out, but Goldschmidt hit a first pitch flyout and Miller hit a flyout of his own on a 2-1 count. Cards lose, but take the series 3 games to 2. Oh well.
- It’s getting hard to justify Carp’s continued presence in the starting lineup. He just looks hopeless up there. Throw a fastball up high and he’s unable to resist, which is bad because he is also unable to make contact on those pitches.
- Speaking of, Tommy Edman’s continued presence batting 2nd is also hard to justify. He’s a below average hitter with good defense - if he’s playing the infield - which is a perfectly acceptable starting position player, but not one who should bat 2nd ever.
- Onto the lines: Oviedo: 4.2 IP, 96 pitches, 8 hits, 3 BBs, K, 5 runs (3 earned) - On the one hand, he got screwed by the defense in the 5th. On the other, he was sort of lucky to have only allowed three runs in the first place to that point.
- Nobody really had that great of a day. The player of the game is maybe Goldschmidt with two singles? Wong had two hits himself, plus got hit, but also had the baserunning mistake in the 1st and committed an error later. Wieters did get his first hit of the year, driving in the game’s only run.
- Honestly, escaping an Oviedo start where the defense lets him down and only using three relievers, none of whom you’d really want in a high leverage spot, is a win for today. An actual win was always pretty unlikely given the pitching matchup, as we saw evidence of in the results.
- The Wong baserunning mistake was deadly however, not necessarily because they would have drove him in, but is potentially responsible for Hendricks lasting 8 innings. A 6 pitch first inning certainly goes a long way towards making that easier to do.
Tomorrow, the Cards play another doubleheader against the Twins. I’m not optimistic. I’m hoping for one win and will be thrilled at that. I think we’re looking at a Carlos Martinez start and a bullpen game? First game starts at 2:15 and the second game starts like 30 minutes after that game ends. You probably know the drill by now.