photo: John Gant (Michael McLoone/Imagn)
The St. Louis Cardinals managed a 3-2 week, but lost a home series to San Diego as the bullpen struggled. John Gant earned a win and save in two extra-inning victories in Pittsburgh. In our weekly history feature, the worst-starting Cardinals team of all time, the 1997 club, is remembered.
The St. Louis Cardinals played two at the Pittsburgh Pirates to begin the first full week of the season. Monday was the Pirates home opener but the Cardinals soured it for them with an extra inning comeback win.
Adam Wainwright took the mound for his first start of the season. It was a disappointing outing for the veteran, as Wainwright pitched four inconsistent innings, giving up four runs on four hits. Four was also the number of walks he issued, with only three strikeouts.
It took six pitchers to complete the 11 inning game, but they delivered an outstanding collective effort. First up after Wainwright was John Brebbia, who tossed two scoreless innings. Dominic Leone pitched 2/3 scoreless innings. Andrew Miller was brought in to get the final out, but he was unable to record it. Miller walked the first batter and hit the second with a pitch. Mike Mayers got the final out of the seventh. Mayers gave up a leadoff home run in the eighth. The right hander hit a batter and gave up a single but no further runs scored. Winning pitcher Jordan Hicks pitched a scoreless ninth and 10th. John Gant closed with a scoreless 11th for the save.
The Cardinals fell behind 4-0 in the first three innings and the offense failed to score until the seventh, when Kolten Wong hit a two-run home run. Harrison Bader singled, Tyler O’Neill reached on an error, and Matt Carpenter walked to load the bases. Paul Goldschmidt drew a walk and Bader scored.
Jose Martinez tied the game in the ninth on an RBI double. In the 11th, the winning run scored in an anti-climactic fashion, when Paul DeJong ran in from third on a passed ball.
The game also featured Dexter Fowler caught stealing, and a fielding error by Bader.
Tuesday, April 2 – Off day
It was déjà vu in Game 2, as the Cardinals mounted an extra inning comeback again. It followed the same formula, with the Cardinals falling behind early, 3-0. Again, it was the seventh inning when the comeback began.
Paul DeJong opened the inning with a solo home run to left center field. Kolten Wong led off the eighth with a walk and Harrison Bader followed with a two run shot to center field to tie the game.
As the game went into extra innings, Wong hit a lead-off triple and Bader walked. Tyler O’Neill followed with a ground ball single that scored Wong for a 5-4 lead. Two batters later Bader scored from third on a wild pitch to add an insurance run.
The Pirates added one run in the bottom of the 10th, so the extra run in the top of the inning proved to be decisive.
Starter Miles Mikolas tossed five innings, giving up three runs on seven hits, one of which was a home run. The right hander struck out two and walked two. Dominic Leone, Mike Mayers, Andrew Miller, and John Gant combined for four scoreless innings. Alex Reyes began the 10th and gave up a run while recording one out. Dakota Hudson came in to get the final two outs to earn the save. Gant was the winning pitcher.
Dexter Fowler stole his first base of the season, but also made a fielding error.
Thursday, April 4 – Off day
St. Louis’ home opener was scheduled for Thursday, but rain resulted in a postponement until Friday.
The delayed home opener was, as always, a winner in terms of pomp and circumstance, but it was not a winner in terms of the baseball played. The first of the three-game series with the Padres began with disappointment.
Jack Flaherty took the mound, and he was not a disappointment. The young right hander pitched five scoreless innings, allowing six hits, fanning six and walking two. The bullpen was less than stellar, however. Dominic Leone surrendered two runs in the six and was tagged with a blown save. Alex Reyes gave up three runs on a two run home run and three walks to take the loss. John Brebbia finished with two scoreless innings.
The Cardinals offense took the early lead via Paul DeJong’s solo home run in the fourth inning. Marcell Ozuna’s RBI single in the sixth, and Paul Goldschmidt’s solo home run in the eighth were not enough to overcome the Padres lead. The Goldschmidt home run was his fifth and the first at Busch Stadium for the new first baseman.
Saturday’s game was another bitter pill to swallow, as the Cardinals bullpen coughed up another lead.
St. Louis got on the board in the second inning. Yadier Molina led off with a single, Dexter Fowler reached on an error and both runners advanced. Kolten Wong’s sacrifice fly plated Molina to give the Redbirds a 1-0 lead. In the fifth, after Matt Carpenter singled, Marcell Ozuna hit a two run home run, his first of the season. The Cardinals led 3-1, as the Padres scored one run in the first.
The Padres scored again in the seventh and four runs in the eighth to steal the lead. The Cardinals added another run in the bottom of the eighth on Tyler O’Neill’s RBI single, but it wasn’t enough.
Michael Wacha had a rocky start, but despite eight walks, managed to keep the Cardinals in the game by giving up only one run, on three hits. Wacha fanned seven in 5 2/3 innings. John Gant followed and surrendered one run in 1 1/3 innings. Andrew Miller entered in the eighth and was pounded for four runs, three earned, on two hits, while recording two outs. The runs came on two home runs. Mike Mayers got the final out of the eighth and pitched a scoreless ninth. Miller was charged with the loss and a blown save.
Paul Goldschmidt made a fielding error after failing to catch a popup in foul territory. It was his second miscue of the season.
The Cardinals avoided the sweep with a 4-1 victory on Sunday. Adam Wainwright pitched like the Wainwright of old, going six innings and giving up one run on five hits. The veteran right hander fanned nine and issued no walks while picking up the first win by a Cardinals starter this season to date. John Brebbia, Andrew Miller, and Jordan Hicks combined for three scoreless innings of relief.
Though the Padres took the early 1-0 lead, the Cardinals offense got on the board in the fourth on Paul DeJong’s two-run double. Matt Carpenter walked, and Paul Goldschmidt reached on a fielding error ahead of DeJong. The Cardinals took the 2-1 lead and never relinquished it.
In the seventh, back to back singles by Kolten Wong and Jose Martinez led to Matt Carpenter’s sac fly. In the eighth, Yadier Molina singled for his third hit of the game and advanced to third on Harrison Bader’s single. A base running blunder by Bader took him off the bases. With Molina on third, Kolten Wong executed a perfect two-out drag bunt RBI single to give the Cardinals the 4-1 lead.
Wong and Bader had two hits each.
Molina made a throwing error on a pickoff attempt at second base. Bader had a magnificent outfield assist, throwing a runner out at third with a bullet throw from the outfield. The assist stopped a potential scoring situation.
The Big Picture
The Cardinals continue with a slow start to the season, ending the week 3-2 and losing the home series with the Padres. The hot Padres combined with a struggling pitching staff was the recipe for the losses. St. Louis managed two wins in Pittsburgh against perhaps the weakest team in the division, but had to go extra innings both times. Nothing has appeared easy in the early going.
Starting pitching, which was rough in the first go-round of the rotation, improved in round two. Wainwright and Flaherty pitched much better in their second starts, Mikolas mildly improved, and Wacha remained fairly consistent, though the eight walks in his second start were concerning. Due to many off days, Dakota Hudson’s second start was skipped. He will start this week against the Dodgers.
The bullpen, however, has struggled. Andrew Miller hasn’t looked good, and Alex Reyes struggled enough in his outings to merit a demotion to the minor leagues to get more work. Jordan Hicks had a rough outing, but he pitched well on Sunday. John Brebbia has pitched well, earning him opportunities in higher leverage situations.
The offense was meager in the Padres series. It didn’t help that the bullpen coughed up what small leads the offense managed. The bottom of the lineup has produced, while the rest of the lineup has been hit or miss. Wong at .433 is the only regular hitting for higher average than Harrison Bader’s .269. The rest of the lineup is at .231 and below.
Errors came from unusual quarters, as Gold Glove first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has made two and the generally consistent Bader has also struggled with some outfield plays and made at least one bad decision on the bases.
St. Louis finished the week in third place behind the Brewers and the Pirates with a record of 4-5. The Cardinals face the hot Dodgers this week but end the week with the struggling Reds, a team they took advantage of in April 2018. Will it repeat?
NL Central Standings
Cardinals strengthen struggling bullpen
The Cardinals announced on Sunday that they optioned RHP Alex Reyes and infielder Yairo Muñoz to Memphis.
Reyes has struggled in the early season. Over his last three appearances, the right-hander allowed five earned runs and issued six walks. The demotion is expected to be of short duration, and is meant to give Reyes more scheduled work to improve what ails him. The right hander began the season in the bullpen after essentially not pitching in two years. The Cardinals plan to have Reyes pitch to build up to 30-40 pitches per outing. There are no plans at the moment to transition Reyes into a starting role.
Munoz’ demotion is a result of a need for fresh arms for the bullpen. The Cardinals called RHP Giovanny Gallegos and LHP Tyler Webb in the corresponding moves. Munoz may return to the roster for the series in Mexico at the end of the week, as the teams are allowed to have an extra player on the roster for that series. The rule that an optioned player must stay in the minors for 10 days will be waived in this instance.
Trade and Acquisition Rumors
There are no trade or acquisition rumors to report.
- 4/4 The Cardinals sent RHP Luke Gregerson on a rehab assignment to the Palm Beach Cardinals.
- 4/4 The Cardinals optioned 3B Drew Robinson to the Memphis Redbirds.
- 4/5 The Cardinals activated 3B Jedd Gyorko from the 10 day injured list.
- 4/7 The Cardinals optioned RHP Alex Reyes to the Memphis Redbirds.
- 4/7 The Cardinals optioned SS Yairo Munoz to the Memphis Redbirds.
- 4/7 The Cardinals recalled RHP Giovanny Gallegos from the Memphis Redbirds.
- 4/7 The Cardinals recalled LHP Tyler Webb from the Memphis Redbirds.
- RHP Carlos Martinez (right shoulder) had an in injection of platelet-rich plasma in early spring training and began the season on the 10 day injured list. Martinez is on a throwing program and will throw off the mound during the week of April 8. Martinez may return to the roster sometime in May.
- RHP Luke Gregerson (right shoulder) began the season on the injured list. Gregerson has been sent on a rehab assignment to Palm Beach and could possibly return to the roster sometime in April.
- LHP Brett Cecil (left arm fatigue) has been placed on the 60 day injured list on March 28. Cecil has been shut down from throwing for an indefinite period after surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. No timetable for a return has been set.
- LF Justin Williams (fractured right hand) began the season on the 10 day injured list. Williams has begun swinging a bat.
The Dodgers come to town on Monday for a four-game series. The Cardinals have another Friday off day following that series to travel to Monterrey, Mexico for two games with the Cincinnati Reds. Miles Mikolas is scheduled for the Monday start. Dakota Hudson will take the ball on Tuesday, followed by Jack Flaherty on Wednesday and Michael Wacha on Thursday.
The Cardinals return to Milwaukee to play the Brewers on Monday, April 15, opening a three game series. After a Thursday travel day, the Redbirds return home for a weekend set against the New York Mets.
The homestand continues as the Brewers come to Busch Stadium for a three game series starting on Monday the 22nd. After an off day on Thursday, the Reds travel in to St. Louis for a weekend series.
To end the month of April, the Cardinals travel to the Washington DC, to play the Nationals for four games. The team then travels to Wrigley Field to take on the Cubs for their first head-to-head action of the season.
The Cardinals’ Regular Season schedule can be viewed here.
Blast from the Past
The Cardinals have gotten off to a somewhat slow start to begin 2019, losing 3 of 4 to the Brewers in the opening series, and losing 2 of 3 to the Padres in the most recent series. While this start is frustrating for fans, it is nowhere near the worst start in franchise history.
That honor belongs to the 1997 Cardinals, who went winless in the first six games. It was Tony La Russa’s second season at the helm.
The 1997 season began on April 1st. The Cardinals played the Montreal Expos in Montreal in a three game series April 1-3. The Cardinals lost the first game 2-1 in a walkoff. With Todd Stottlemyre on the mound, the Cardinals managed only one run on seven hits. However, the lone run scored on a wild pitch. The Expos’ walkoff run scored on a bases loaded walk with Tony Fossas on the mound.
The Cardinals lost the second game 4-1. Like the first game, the Cardinals’ sole run scored on a wild pitch, in the first inning. Starter Mark Petkovsek allowed three runs in five innings pitched and took the loss.
The third game was a 9-4 loss for the Redbirds. Starter Alan Benes gave up seven runs in 4 2/3 innings. The Cardinals scored on a two run home run from Dmitri Young and also an RBI groundout; Royce Clayton doubled in the other run.
The Cardinals moved on to Houston for a three game series. The Redbirds lost 3-2 in the first game. John Mabry drove in both runs; the first on a single in the second inning, the next on a double in the fourth. Starter Matt Morris gave up one run in five innings. The winning run was allowed by reliever Eric Ludwick, who took the loss.
The Cardinals were the 6-2 losers in Game 2. Donovan Osborne gave up five runs in six innings pitched. Delino DeShields hit a leadoff home run in the first inning. Roberto Mejia doubled in a run in the second inning.
The third game was another 3-2 loss. Tom Lampkin and Ron Gant drove in the two runs on a single and a double. Todd Stottlemyre gave up one run in 6 2/3 innings pitched. John Frascatore blew the save and took the loss.
The Cardinals returned home and won their home opener against the Expos 2-1 in a walkoff. The Cardinals finished that 1997 season 73-89, mired in fourth place in the NL Central.
One shouldn’t let a slow start be an omen for bad times. The 2011 World Champion Cardinals began the season 3-6 in their first nine games.
Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation
Order The Cardinal Nation’s 190-page 2019 Prospect Guide now – available in PDF and printed book form, with a special 50% off deal for annual members.
Not yet a member?
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.
Follow Marilyn Green on Twitter @Marilyncolor.
© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.