The St. Louis Cardinals are a good team, but are they good enough? Coming into a must-win series against the Chicago Cubs this weekend, the Cardinals had no room for error or for the first-half team to show up.
But they did.
Carlos Martinez carried some swagger to the mound and the slumping John Lackey would oppose him. The young gun and the old cowboy squaring off. If Martinez was to show he was the ace that the Cardinals needed, today was a fine day for a showcase. It was going well until one inning ruined everything.
The sixth inning doomed the Cardinals on Friday afternoon, a frame that saw the Cubs score seven times to take an 8-2 lead. Take a look inside this chaotic shop of horrors and every single complaint with the Cards comes to light.
Superstar Kris Bryant singles to center field. OK, he's a stud and singles are a walk in the park to him, so you take that. Then Anthony Rizzo walked.
Alex Avila, whom the Cubs acquired at the trade deadline, singles on a ball that glanced off Martinez's glove and into center field. A 2-1 Cardinals lead was gone and there was nobody out, but it got worse.
After a Kyle Schwarber popped out, former Cardinal Jon Jay floats a JJ special into center field, a dying quail that nobody would catch or get close to. The Cubs were in the lead, but wait, there's more.
Former Cardinal Jason Heyward walks. Javier Baez comes to the plate, takes a few pitches, and bounces a harmless grounder back towards Martinez.
The chosen one fumbles it, and on one leg fires a one-hopper to Yadier Molina at home plate, but Molina drops it. 4-2, Cubs.
Then, Matt Bowman enters. Who cares if his arm is relatable to swiss cheese due to an innings load that would rival a Dusty Baker run Cubs team in 2002-03. Bowman allows a two-run single to stretch the lead to 6-2.
After a Ben Zobrist sacrifice fly and Kris Bryant's second single of the inning make it 8-2, Zach Duke is summoned to finish the inning.
Now that you've heard the details, let's break down the ugliness.
Will Carlos Martinez ever field a clean grounder with runners on second and third this season, or ever? I can remember three different plays that resulted in runs for the opposing team that involved a Martinez error. He had time to nab Avila at home plate, but rushed the throw to the plate. Add that to the deflected single and Martinez needs more work in the field.
Part of being an ace is remaining calm in desperate situations. Constantly, Martinez reacts too quickly, messes up and can't recover. That should improve. Martinez hasn't reached elite territory yet, and still represents a young and lethal pitcher, but there's still work to be done.
Yadier Molina, eight-time Gold Glove winner, should have handled the soft one-hopper.
Isn't it amazing how the Cubs go from first to third and don't get thrown out? The Cardinals should study their baserunning after this depressing loss so they can one day emulate a team that knows how to take two bags.
In the top of the eighth, Stephen Piscotty would be thrown out at second base trying to stretch a single into a double. He's a worse baserunner than Matt Carpenter, and that's not a good thing to hang your hat on.
My Redbird Daily colleague Adam Butler had a good point about the Bowman decision. Why put Bowman — whose arm is cooked and ready to serve at a family barbecue — out there instead of Tyler Lyons? When under fire, go with your best. Juan Nicasio is clearly the team's ninth-inning option, so that frees up Lyons to be the everyman. Mike Matheny is a bad in-game manager, example No. 2,709.
An ace breaking down. Bad defense. Lack of fundamentals. Bad bullpen decisions. There are your 2017 Cardinals. While the breakout of journeymen players like Tommy Pham and Jose Martinez and the eruption of the Memphis Mafia has created bright spots this season, this team is still incapable of doing the right thing at the right time.
I'm not sure if a 6-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds or an 8-2 loss to the Cubs sits worse, but I'm going with the latter.
With a chance to directly gain on your division leader, the Cardinals collapsed. The loss puts them four games back with 15 to play.
How about the wildcard? The Brewers crushed the Marlins and the Rockies topped the Padres. The Cards now sit 3.5 games back of the second wildcard with the Brewers between them.
The Cardinals are now 28-33 against the Central this season. They are 13-18 against the Cubs and Brewers, against whom nine of their last 15 games will be played.
Without a Carlos Martinez single, the Cards wouldn't have held a 2-1 lead to begin the sixth inning with. That's three games in a row against the Cubs in which the Cards have scored three runs or fewer.
Time is running out on this Cardinals team. That's not being overly negative or hateful, just the facts. The Cardinals will have to turn the tide against their own division and hope for a couple slumps elsewhere to make it into the playoffs. Their walking-wounded list only grew with Kolten Wong leaving Friday's game with a back problem. Adam Wainwright isn't close and Dexter Fowler's knee still isn't right.
Saturday, Michael Wacha enters a stadium where he has allowed 11 earned runs in 10.1 innings this season. Can he reverse the trend? Can Wacha take down Kyle Hendricks?
In order to at least match last year's win total, the Cards would need to go 9-6. An even better record is required to catch the Cubs or Rockies. If not, a playoff-less October awaits the Birds again.
No offense, but I don't care much about the Memphis Redbirds great run. That team is set up to support the big league club, so I take the great wins with a grain of salt. If I take away anything, it's that the coaching down there is a lot better than at the MLB level.
Playoffs or not, the Cardinals need a lot of work. The sixth inning at Wrigley today showed that. The game showed even more.
The Cardinals were a good team last year, and they are again this year. But they aren't good enough and that needs to be fixed. If they aren't practical about the current situation, 2018 will be another troublesome "crawl without walking" season.
15 games to go. Do the Cardinals win half? Let's talk about it in the comments.
Thanks for reading,