One of the lovely things about baseball is the fact that there is rarely a must-win game or series. This isn't football where a game for a a few games can make or break a season. Sometimes you'll see what I'll dub the football mentality creep into baseball fan commentary. Losing to such and such a team is unacceptable. This is make or break. That kind of thing. It's virtually never true with respect to baseball. Good teams lose a series to bad teams multiple every single season. Often multiple times. The football season lends itself to peaks and valleys due to its length. The baseball season more resembles the wide open plains. Over 162 games, the terrain changes underfoot gradually. It's often tricky to know when a downward slope will continue or stop and bend upward.
The Cards looked awful for two games against the Padres after flying halfway across the country for a west-coast road trip. The Pirates and Cubs were playing good ball at the time, which didn't help matters. Pittsburgh had closed the gap in the National League Central standings to 3.5 games. On the podcast, Scooter and I mused about whether it was time to panic and concluded that it wasn't. At the time, there were about 40 games left in the season. That's about 24% of the 162-game regular season. In other words, there was (and still is) a lot of baseball to be played.
The Cards managed to avoid being swept at Petco on Sunday and escaped San Diego for Arizona, where the Diamondbacks would host a four-game series. I should confess that four-game series on the road always worry me. I usually hope El Birdos can manage a split. A series victory seems too greedy and a sweep impossible. So naturally the Cards transitioned from perhaps their worst two back-to-back efforts of the season to a five-game winning streak that included a thumping of the Diamondbacks for a four-game sweep on the road.
The listlessness at Petco feels like forever ago. A winning record on the west-coast swing now seems not just possible but probable. If Heather and I recorded a podcast this morning, perhaps we'd be talking about the need for the Cards to avoid complacency in San Francisco. Today, the Cardinals currently own a 4.5-game lead on the Pirates and are 8.5 games up on the Cubs. The increase in one game between last Sunday and today isn't much but with the Redbirds riding a five-game winning streak it feels a heck of a lot larger and stronger than it is. Such is the nature of baseball. During the 162-game grind, the lows are rarely as low as one feels in the moment. The same goes for the highs. I suspect we'll be feeling panicky and cocksure interchangeably throughout the remainder of the season.
Let's have a look at a few developing situations this Friday morning.
When Matt Adams returns from the disabled list, it will be like getting a lefthanded-hitting slugger without trading away any prospects. Except the Cards traded away one of the five (if not three) best prospects in their system for a lefthanded-hitting power bat at the deadline in Brandon Moss. As a Cardinal, Moss has posted underwhelming stats. Okay, so his .180/.317/.280 line is horrible. Isolated Power (ISO) is a stat that excludes a player's singles and focuses solely on extra-base hits. How weak was his hitting for St. Louis? Last night, Moss cracked his first home run for the Cardinals. That pushed his ISO to .100 with the Cards. One wonders how much playing time Matheny will find for Moss if and when Adams, Matt Holliday, and Randal Grichuk return from the DL.
You'll recall how injuries decimated the St. Louis bullpen. Prior to the trade deadline, general manager John Mozeliak acquired veteran former closers Steve Cishek and Jonathan Broxton. The moves signaled that the injured Jordan Walden and Matt Belisle were not sure bets to return as healthy contributors to the Cardinals' relief corps. It also gave Matheny options other that Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness, and Trevor Rosenthal in the late innings.
Immediately after the trade, Matheny deployed Broxton predominantly in the eighth inning. It appeared that the manager had earmarked Broxton for the role of righty-eighth-inning complement to Kevin Siegrist. But Broxton has appeared in the seventh inning in each of his last four appearances. Last night, Matheny deployed Cishek in the eighth inning. Both Broxton and Cishek were rested. Thus, it appears Cishek may be getting a tryout as the righthanded eighth-inning setup man.
Uncharted IP Waters
By now you probably know that in a regular season, Michael Wacha has never thrown more than 147 2/3 innings in a regular season—which he did between the minors and majors in 2013. If we include the postseason, Wacha totaled 178 1/3 innings from April through October that year. In 2014, Wacha notched 107 IP in the regular season a 107 1/3 if we include October. (Who could forget that 1/3 IP in the decisive game of the NLCS?) Wacha presently sits at 151 1/3 IP for 2015. If the Cards qualify for October, the righty will be in uncharted waters as far as workload is concerned.
Carlos Martinez is already in uncharted waters in terms of innings. The righty has not notched more than 108 IP in a regular season. That was in 2013. If we include his workload from October, Martinez totaled 123 1/3 IP that year. El Gallo has been for awhile now. With last night's quality start, Martinez has tossed 154 2/3 innings in 2015.
Based on IP totals, which starter do you think is most likely to be moved to the bullpen if the Cardinals qualify for the NLDS?