The Monday Morning Scrappy Utilityman

It’s difficult to write a big picture, positive column in the aftermath of one of the most hideous losses of the season.

So, before going big pitcture and positive, I’ll vent…because my guess is many of you are still irritated by yesterday’s 6-5 loss.

What bothered you the most?

The 12 runners left on base?

The Cardinals going 1-13 with runners in scoring position?

Mike Matheny pitching Trevor Rosenthal for the fourth straight game?

Eric Cooper not calling the 3-2 pitch from Rosenthal that walked in the game-tying run a strike?

Carlos Martinez coming in and throwing a wild pitch to give the Braves the game-winning run?

Jhonny Peralta bailing out Craig Kimbrel by swinging at ball four on a 3-1 pitch with Matt Adams at second and Kimbrel all over the place?

It was a really bad loss, but it shouldn’t have gotten to that point in the 9th inning in the first place.

Gavin Floyd was absurdly vulnerable early, and the Cardinals failed to capitalize. A Matt Carpenter rocket off of Freddie Freeman and a Kolten Wong walk gave them runners at first and second and nobody out in the first. A Matt Holliday slow roller back to Floyd for the 1-3 putout gave them second and third and just one out. But, with Allen Craig (who went 0-for-5) swinging at crap in the dirt with two strikes and Yadier Molina flying out, the Cardinals didn’t get anything out of it all.

That set the tone for the day offensively.

The biggest hit of the day (Kolten Wong’s bases-clearing 2B) only occurred after Gerald “The High Stepper” Laird misplayed a two-out strikeout of Peter Bourjos into a baserunner.

But, the Cardinals had opportunities galore…and they just didn’t convert.

So, after Jaime Garcia gives the Redbirds their third start of the series of seven innings, the Cardinal bullpen---which shouldn’t have been spent---was spent.

In his postgame comments, Mike Matheny acknowledged using Rosenthal again was a “push.” And the push didn’t work out. On one hand, Rosenthal threw a damn good pitch on 3-2 that was 50-50 as to whether or not it could’ve been called a game-ending strike…making the previous 400 words irrelevant. But, on the other hand, this is Rosenthal’s second blown save in four chances…and this comes after dancing with the devil multiple times and somehow escaping everytime…up until Wednesday night against the Cubs.

With Rosenthal’s recent issues and Jason Motte’s return, we could have a #developing situation in the Cardinal bullpen. Motte will be activated before Tuesday’s game against the Diamondbacks, and while he was quite vocal and understanding of Matheny anointing Rosenthal the closer in the offseason, he was equal vocal this past week in appearing on The Ryan Kelley Morning After.

“I definitely have a preference. It was definitely fun closing games and doing stuff like that,” Motte said. “I don’t want to just come back up and be like, ‘Hey, I’m here.’ It’s kind of like when Wainwright had his stuff. He wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I’m back in the Big Leagues. I made it. That’s great.’ He worked his butt off . He’s back in the situation he was beforehand. For me, it’d be great to be back out there and closing games out.”

With as much as both Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez have been used through the first 25% of the season, if and only if Motte is showing signs of his 2011/2012 self, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him closing out games by early June. He wants it, and the Cardinals may need it.

Now, I’ll attempt to transition to the positive stuff…although I’m not sure I’m really feeling it with how crappy that loss was.

I’ll attempt anyway:

With the exception of the Cubs’ bludgeoning of the Cardinals on Monday night 17-5, you have to go back to Saturday April 26th against the Pirates to find a game in which the Cardinals were out of a ballgame. I realize “out of a ballgame” is a rather arbitrary observation…but for the purpose of this one, I’m determining out of a ballgame to mean trailing by three runs or more before the 7th inning. They’ve either won…or lost by three runs or less every time out since April 26th with the exception of the Monday Night Massacre last week. As a matter of fact, they only have one loss in that time period in which they lost by more than two runs (a 3-0 shutout at Chicago).

I would’ve thrown this paragraph out there win or lose yesterday. It’s something I’ve been paying attention to quite a bit. The reason I notice it is because in 2004, when the team was scuffling along around .500, they had the same deal: playing close games…but not winning as many as you’d have thought based on the quality of the starting pitching they were getting.

Now, looking at the two lineups (2004 vs. 2014), at least as of this moment, they’re in different galaxies. However, this team is two games above .500 with some subpar numbers for almost every position player…and just like it was likely that there’d be a regression with the team batting average with RISP this year vs. last year, it also is a probability that some of these guys will start to move upwards toward their historic offensive production.

And…then there’s the Oscar Taveras/Stephen Piscotty/Randall Grichuk factor in the next couple of weeks.

My point? They’ve lingered despite poor offensive production…and they’ve still got support coming in the bullpen (Motte and Kelly) and in the outfield (The Memphis Three). And if those fail, this rotation is too damn good to waste, and so that logjam in the outfield would lead to a mid-season trade…if I had to wager.

You’ve got Wainwright, Wacha, and Lynn lined up against one of the worst teams in baseball this week. Going at least 6-3 on this homestand is well within the range of outcomes.

Keeping things in the context of the fact that they went up against a couple of the crappiest offenses in the National League over the last four starts, it’s still quite encouraging to see Wacha, Lynn, Miller, and Garcia go deeper into games. Iffffff Jaime Garcia is back to his 2011 form, then it’s quite a boost to the club…not just in terms of the obvious (the rotation), but in terms of solidifying the bullpen (Kelly) when the young right-hander returns.

Allowing one’s self to get emotionally re-attached to Garcia’s potential is like getting back together with the significant other who you just know is going to go batshit on you again…and soon. But, in the meantime, you’ll enjoy it.

Even if/when Garcia gets hurt/implodes, you still have a corps group of starters that can’t really be duplicated by anybody else.

That’s not a surprise.

The performance of the offense and the backend of the bullpen is.

I’m confident the offense---whether it be with this lineup or some additions from Memphis or elsewhere---will find its way. But, I’m starting to wonder about this bullpen…both in its performance and its usage.

It goes back to what I wrote last week: it depends on how you want to look at it…they’re hovering around .500 despite a brutal schedule and bad offensive performances…or they’re only hovering around .500 despite getting some of the best starting pitching in baseball.

Quick Hits

-If you didn’t get a chance to hear Rick Ankiel on The Edmonds And McKernan Show, here’s a link.

-We’ve been lucky enough to have some big names on the show since we started up April 7th, but the Ankiel interview was my favorite. I’ve never heard him talk like he did when talking to his former teammate.

If you can’t listen to it, you may get a chance to read his story soon. Ankiel says he’s in the process of writing an autobiography. From what he told us, nothing will be left out…including the struggles of his childhood and the pitching implosion in 2000.

But, man…does he ever sound happy?

“Life is good, man. I’m going to start my charter fishing business and sail off into the sunset.”

-Three of the Cardinal starters are in the top 17 in National League ERA (Wainwright, Miller, and Wacha). Lance Lynn is 37th.

-The Cardinals don’t have a home run since May 9th. They have 23 total on the year…the worst in the National League, and 36 home runs behind league leaders Colorado.

-I’ll be heading to Las Vegas for The World Series of Poker and Venetian DeepStacks Events after Wednesday’s shows. We’ll be returning on June 2nd. In the meantime, Charlie Marlow will be filling in on The Ryan Kelley Morning After.

-And, finally…an image from Ballpark Village sent to me via Twitter by @fill_up_larsen:

 Log-in to post your comments, or you can email me at tmckernan@insidestl.com.

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