No, we’re not going to blame Yadier Molina’s glove turning into a jack-in-the-box near the plate as Jackie Bradley, Jr. scrambled back to touch it after sliding past it. But the Cardinals have gone 6-8 since Molina’s Muff, and in that span they’ve played only one serious or semi-serious contender while losing enough close ones to teams who weren’t supposed to be equal to them.
And the natives are getting restless.
Especially after the Cardinals decided veteran starter Mike Leake, having a none-too-great bounceback from last year’s shingles as a back-of-the-rotation man, was finally expendable enough to deal. They included some ready cash and international bonus slot booty, to get minor league decent field-indecent hit middle infielder Rayder Ascaino from the Mariners’ organisation.
As a matter of fact, several Cardinals had no clue the deal was doing until they saw it done on screen-bottom television crawls. “I said, ‘Is this a joke?” said outfielder Tommy Pham to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “April Fool’s was months ago. It was shocking to all of us.”
None more so, perhaps, than to pitcher Lance Lynn, whom a number of reports are now suggesting is disgruntled enough with the Cardinals’ direction, or lack thereof, that he isn’t even sure he will or wants to stay in St. Louis too much longer.
“If you look at everything that’s happened so far,” the customarily thoughtful righthander told the Dispatch, “there’s been no acquisitions. There’s been taking away—whether that’s been injuries or trades. Whoever’s coming up to make that start, we’re going to need something good from them—testing our depth from within.”
The Redbirds brought 21-year-old Jack Flaherty to take Leake’s rotation spot. The reports out of Memphis suggested the kid was Cardinal-ready enough that manager Mike Matheny has him penciled in to get his feet wet against the already-eliminated Giants in San Francisco Friday night.
A saviour Flaherty ain’t, yet—but he’s likely to be huge improvement over Leake. If you’re a Cardinal fan, who do you want filling out the rotation, a veteran with a fielding-independent pitching rate 14 points above his ERA when both are over four; or, a fresh chick up from Memphis who only allowed three runs or more once in fifteen AAA-level starts?
Put it this way: When Lynn, Pham, and other Cardinals lament the loss of Leake, they’re thinking more about the guy who ended May with an unlikely 2.24 ERA, not the guy who approached August’s end suffering the kind of inflation a pitcher doesn’t need and his club doesn’t want.
Flaherty’s no howitzer. As Dispatch columnist Benjamin Hochman says, Flaherty’s more of a surgeon. Memphis pitching coach Bryan Eversgerd told Hochman the kid has a low-velocity fastball but moves it around the plate while mixing in a well-executed slider, a curveball he likes to use as a secondary breaking pitch, and a changeup that’s just occurred to him to bring to the operating table.
But he’ll need a little better than he showed against the Giants Friday night. His Show debut was a rousing success—for the Giants, already mathematically eliminated in a season they can’t wait to forget. They slapped the kid around for five runs and eight hits and it took the Cardinals nine runs in the final three, including a six-run ninth, to survive with an 11-6 win.
Flaherty may not be Hawkeye Pierce, but if it’s meatball surgery the Cardinals must rely upon from now through the possibly bitter end, they’ll settle for Trapper John McIntyre. Now, if only they could sew up a couple of other question marks, including showing Lynn . . . whatever they might, making it enough to keep him thinking he’s home.
Because some observers think the Leake addition-by-subtraction trade includes freeing up the remainder of Leake’s contract, which the Mariners took on, and thus freeing up some extra money to think about offering Lynn a contract extension. Lynn, however, isn’t one of them.
“You can’t say that. There’s been no talks,” he told Dispatch columnist Rick Hummel. “There’s been zero communication, whatsoever. I’m sure whenever the time comes— when the World Series is over and five days after, I’m sure somebody will talk to me. I just don’t know who it is. They’ve had a whole season. Five days isn’t going to matter. But I just work here.”
Ask team president John Mozeliak, and you get this not-so-cryptic answer: “I don’t think I would draw any conclusions by what we did today to determine what we’re going to do in the offseason in that regard. But, clearly, you look at our young pitching, we certainly feel that’s our strength and that’s our future.”
Translation: You wouldn’t be in a big hurry to assume the Cardinals plan to extend a 30-year-old Lynn who’s pitching this season after missing last year due to Tommy John surgery, and who’s still good but not that good. (His 2017 ERA: 3.14. His 2017 FIP: 4.77.)
Perhaps not, especially, when they’re still on the hook for one more season from an Adam Wainwright who’s now down with elbow trouble, and who hasn’t looked like Adam Wainwright as the world remembers him since, oh, somewhere near the 2013 World Series.
The Cardinals split a pair with the Brewers to stay two and a half behind them in the NL Central and the wild card standings. As of today, they’ve split with the Giants in San Francisco, losing Saturday after Matheny inexplicably pulled a cruising Lynn—pitching well over his own head with eight shutout innings and less than a hundred pitches.
The bullpen surrendered Lynn’s 1-0 lead tie on a single, a sacrifice, and Buster Posey’s paper airplane single, then blew Dexter Fowler’s leadoff triple in the top of the tenth when his pinch runner Harrison Bader was dead at the plate on an infield grounder. Setting it up for Nick Hundley to end the game hitting a 1-0 slider the other way over the right field wall.
They’ve also gotten more impatient with the current roster, bringing pitcher Kevin Siegrist (forearm) back from the disabled list and then designating the lefthander for assignment. Thanks for the occasional memories, bud, and don’t let the door hit you in the tail feathers on the way out.
But the DL is a cruel mistress and she currently has three key Redbirds in her bosom, Wainwright, closer Trevor Rosenthal (gone for the season, facing Tommy John surgery, likely to miss all of next season, and unlikely to remain a Cardinal afterward), and third baseman Jedd Gyorko. (Ten-day DL, right hamstring strain.)
It almost doesn’t matter how the Cardinals expand their roster for September. The other guys will, too. When you’re losing too many close games to teams beneath you as well as the guys you think you’re chasing, you may notice the light at the end of the tunnel is a right turn arrow, instructing you to turn away from October and get busy about 2018 and beyond.