MILWAUKEE — A mess of a game became an ugly game, and then rapidly slid toward the makings of a costly, painful loss.
But it's not without some drama.
Mike Shildt and catcher Yadier Molina have both had animated conversations in the later innings here as Milwaukee thundered away for a 18-3 shellacking Tuesday at Miller Park. The loss left the Cardinals with welts -- physically, mentally, and in the box score. Molina left the game after catching a few innings with a possibly injured hand. He told a team official he did not have any answers on his condition.
Jack Flaherty shouldered nine runs allowed on eight hits in three innings.
Shildt was clearly furious during the incident that got him ejected.
The biggest brouhaha of the game came in the fifth inning after Braun’s bat clipped Yadier Molina’s mitt and sent the catcher reeling away from home plate in obvious pain. Manager Mike Shildt, trailed by a trainer, reached Molina as he cradled his left hand. At some point while he was leaning over Molina, Shildt pivoted and stalked toward the Brewers dugout. He appeared to have heard a comment from the Brewers’ dugout that also caught the ear of former Cardinal Jedd Gyorko.
Gyorko acted quickly to intercept Shildt as the Cardinals’ manager shouted into the opponents’ dugout. Every player on the field gravitated toward the entry to the Brewers’ dugout, and eventually the bullpens would clear, too.
Shildt’s fury was clear at the field, and in photos.
Even with Gyorko near the top step of the Brewers’ dugout, Shildt pressed toward it.
At one point, Molina had regrouped and joined the cluster of players to get between Shildt and the Brewers. Pitching coach Mike Maddux also joined Gyorko as a buffer. The only incident – which violated all sorts of COVID-19-related social distancing protocols – resulted in the ejection of Shildt and Brewers manager Craig Counsell. No players were bounced as a result, and much to the surprise of several Cardinals Molina remained in the game.
He was still flexing and looking at his left hand as Shildt and teammate Matt Carpenter approached him to talk about yielding to Matt Wieters.
Wieters had his gear on, was standing near home plate.
That Molina stayed proved important later on as he had an animated conversation with home plate umpire John Bacon as rookie Nabil Crismatt finished his warmup. It was not immediately clear the precise issue that Molina had, though it is possible that Crismatt had his warmup pitches cut short. The rookie waved as if to start the inning, end the discussion and insisted he was ready to pitch. The discussion between Molina and Bacon brought Maddux, bench coach Oliver Marmol, and other umpires over before the inning could begin.
Crismatt did what the previous pitchers in the game could not – keep Milwaukee from batting through its order in an inning.
The Brewers have batted around in the fourth and fifth innings against the Cardinals and scored 13 runs total in that stretch.
They've bounced starter Flaherty from the game, chewed up long reliever Jake Woodford, expelled reliever Rob Kaminsky, and now brought Crismatt into the game. The Cardinals still have six outs to cover in the game and are starting to run out of pitchers if they want a full complement for the doubleheader on Wednesday.
Not all losses are created equal.
This one traces back to Flaherty's trouble with the Brewers.
Milwaukee greeted the Cardinals' opening day starter with nine runs on eight hits and two walks. The Brewers hit back to back homers off the righthander in the first inning, and that was but a flesh wound compared to what came in the fourth inning. Flaherty did not record an out, and yet he allowed five of the runs in the inning.
In his last 33 1/3 innings against the Brewers, he's allowed 30 earned runs.
Flaherty looks to fill a hole in his resumé — a win at Miller Park
Of all the places the Cardinals go during a regular season, the only place outside of Busch Stadium where Jack Flaherty has pitched more often in his career than Miller Park is, predictably, Wrigley Field.
His career ERA is higher at Wrigley (5.22) and the Cubs have a higher on-base percentage at their home against Flaherty than the Brewers do at their home, but there is something else glaring from the young righthander's resumé at the ballpark in the valley near Milwaukee.
He's yet to get a win there.
In five starts at the Brewers' screwtop ballpark, Flaherty is 0-2 with a 4.68 ERA. The Brewers have slugged .495 against him at one of the finest fields when it comes to hitting in the division. This is, after all, the place that Albert Pujols tossed a ball to himself and knocked it to the scoreboard just to show us he could, and Matt Holliday often raved about it as a hitter's ballpark because of the large, single-color batter's eye created by the center-field scoreboard.
Not that the Brewers have taken advantage of it this year.
The Cardinals have struggled to maintain any semblance of consistency with the offense, and yet the Cubs at Wrigley and the Brewers anywhere have had the same difficulty, arguably more. Of the bottom 10 teams in the majors when it comes slugging, the NL Central has half of them.
Put another way, all five teams in the National League Central rank 21st or lower when it comes to slugging percentage. This is the division that has Miller Park and Great American Small Park and the wind blowing out at Wrigley, and still there they are -- 21st, 22nd, 24th, 26th, and 30th when it comes to slugging percentage as a team.
The Cardinals are 24th, at .391.
The Brewers are 26th, at .380.
The results of those struggles was clear Monday in the doubleheader split between the two teams. Combined they managed to score eight runs in 14 innings. Half of those runs came in extra innings, where teams now have, by rule, a runner in scoring position to start every inning. It took the offense getting a goose for them to get a gander at runs.
Into this staring contest for offense enters Flaherty and his on-the-job strengthening and sharpening. His most recent start resembled the final start of spring training -- one where the pitches are there, the arm strength is there for 90 throws, and the efficiency is not. It was similar to how he spent the first half of 2019, before his game, as he says, "clicked."
If that's the case, then this start Tuesday night against the Brewers would fit with the timing of the clicking.
Where efficiency meets readiness and that combination meets results.
With the current schedule, the Cardinals face the Brewers eight more times. Flaherty will have two starts against them in that span. It's likely that those eight games will determine whether the Cardinals reach the playoffs -- or don't have to bother with that last week in quarantine to be ready for a bubble.
And that brings us to some pregame notes:
• Johan Oviedo is traveling to Milwaukee with plans of starting Game 2 Wednesday. He is driving. He will take a rapid test for COVID-19 on Wednesday morning and if he gets a negative he will be cleared to pitch with seven consecutive days without a positive test.
• John Gant went running with some of the other non-throw relievers today (Alex Reyes, Genesis Cabrera, because of use) and if his groin injury/soreness has subsided he could be ready to pitch Wednesday.
• Many of the Cardinals packed for the possibility that this road trip will leak right into their quarantine time for the postseason. That could mean what equates to a 50-day road trip.
• Mike Shidt did wear a batting practice cap during the game Monday. No one told him he wasn't wearing the game cap, he said.
Here are the lineups for Tuesday's single, nine-inning game at Miller:
1. Wong, 2B -- a late scratch, so here's the new lineup.
1. Edman, 3B
2. DeJong, SS
3. Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Ravelo, RF
5. B. Miller, DH
6. Molina, C
7. Carpenter, 3B
8. O'Neill, LF
9. Bader, CF
Starting pitcher: Flaherty RHP (3-1, 3.08 ERA)
1. Garcia, CF
2. Yelich, LF
3. Braun, RF
4. Vogelbach, DH
5. Hiura, 2B
6. Gyorko, 1B
7. Peterson, 3B
8. Arcia, SS
9. Narvaez, C
Starting pitcher: Brett Anderson LHP (2-3, 4.64 ERA)
Check back throughout the evening here at Cardinal Beat and STLtoday.com for coverage from Miller Park. In a rookie move, the cheese curds were left behind at the hotel room and thus there will be less snacking than planned. But there will be more reason to meet deadline since there will be curds awaiting as a midnight delicacy.
CARDINALS QUICK HITS
THE CASE FOR BRINGING BACK CARLSON — NOW
QUESTION: What is best at this point purely for the long-range development of Dylan Carlson: to pull him back out of the frying pan into the fire this month, or to call it a season for him to digest and build from?
COMMISH: If nothing else, Carlson can help defensively or as a pinch runner. He is better than some of the players who are here and he might help the club win a big game, either in the regular season or the playoffs. He doesn't have to win it by himself.
I bring him back. Development can come next spring.
TOO SOON TO FIND FAULT WITH FRONT OFFICE?
QUESTION: 'Mo' has said he hasn't been looking much at analysis of the roster and is instead focused on surviving the day-to-day games. Do you think there has been enough sample size for the front office to make that analysis in the offseason and make the necessary changes to get this team above the .500 level?
COMMISH: Not to ignore the question, but virtually no one's thoughts in the front office are on next season yet. First goal: Finish the season. Second goal: Make the playoffs. Third goal: Get as far as you can with what you have -- or what you have left.
Then comes the gnashing of teeth as to whether this season has been a legitimate sample size or not. In some cases, whatever sample size there was is going to have to be enough to make a decision.
I don't think the front office views this team as a .500 team, but others would say you are what your record says you are. There will be changes.
Follow-up: The offense wasn’t good last year and isn’t in most cases this year, so when is DeWitt going to start holding Mo, Girsch, Shildt and (hitting coach Jeff) Albert accountable?
COMMISH: There will be time for all this in October, either early in the month or later, depending on how things shake out in the next couple of weeks.
Little has been normal about this season and the analysis part of it will have to factor that in. But everyone is accountable if the Cardinals don't make an eight-team playoff field.
HISTORICALLY BAD OUTFIELD?
QUESTION: Some arguments online are focused on whether this is the worst Cardinals outfield ever, or just in the last 30 years. With Fowler out, how does the Cards outfield rank?
COMMISH: Other than yesterday's ball lost in the sun, this actually is a good Cardinals outfield defensively.
Offensively, it is one of the worst I've seen in my nearly 50 years here.
But, remember, there have been only 40 games played by mid-September, rather than the 150 that would have been played.
DROP CARLOS FROM THE ROTATION?
QUESTION: Roughed up in his first two starts. Given an early lead Sunday, he coughs it up. Given a 3-1 lead, he coughs that up. 90 pitches net the team four innings. ERA still over 10.00. How long will the Cardinals continue to prop up Carlos Martinez as a worthy starter?
COMMISH: If Dean catches that fly ball, it's still 3-1, but 90 pitches nonetheless are too many for four innings for Martinez.
He's got two certain starts left — at Pittsburgh and Kansas City —and then he might find himself back in the bullpen again for potential postseason play, because Flaherty, Waino, Hudson and Kim all would start ahead of him.
Follow-up: Carlos was successful as a closer last year, and he's bombing now as a starter. And the team doesn't have a closer. DUH. How about they make Carlos the closer?
COMMISH: I wouldn't rule out Martinez being a late-inning man in the playoffs, perhaps even the closer, but he would have to be convinced that is the best thing for him and the team.
CARDINALS' HOPE FOR THE FUTURE?
QUESTION: How do you assess the Cardinals’ pitching for the next few years? Seems there's is a never-ending flow of decent prospects. Should we be optimistic?
COMMISH: We're seeing enough of Reyes that we can imagine him in the rotation next year with Flaherty, Hudson, Kim, Waino, Mikolas and maybe even Martinez.
Hicks should be back in the bullpen with Cabrera, Gallegos, Gomber and Helsley. And Liberatore and Thompson are not far off as young lefties who could help.
But none of these guys can hit, with the exception of Waino. You can be bullish on the pitching, but some of it likely will be sacrificed to get more offense.
PLAYING .500 GOOD ENOUGH?
QUESTION: All the Cardinals need to do is continue to play .500 ball the rest of the way to claim second in the division. What odds do you give that of happening?
COMMISH: Very good actually, as long as that .500 includes winning five out of 10 from Milwaukee, which is two games behind the Cardinals, but four losses behind. The Cardinals also have eight games left against last-place clubs Pittsburgh and Kansas City.
CARDS-CUBS MATCHUP IN OCTOBER?
QUESTION: On the chance that the Cards face the Cubs in a 3-game series in the first round of the playoffs, what would you see as the pitching matchups? Who do you think would be favored in such a series?
COMMISH: Flaherty-Darvish; Waino-Lester; Hudson-Hendricks, if the schedule works out that all would be on proper rest. That leaves the Cubs with a no-hit pitcher, Mills, in the bullpen.
Cubs would have to be favored because they've played better, and their bullpen may not exposed as much in a very short series as it would be in a longer one.
COMMISH'S BOTTOM LINE ON THE 2020 CARDINALS
COMMENT: Much of the Cardinals' current situation is really just a collection of self-inflicted wounds. They were a bit lax on protocols at first and that led to their jammed schedule. They have a number of players who have simply under-performed this season. This team put itself into a bad place and appears to have hitched its proverbial wagon to the wrong horses.
COMMISH: I refuse to spend too much time analyzing this season when it is not over.
Has it been a good one? No, not by anyone's standards other than that the Cardinals are going to reach the finish line, it seems, when there had been some serious doubt. They could be hitting their stride now. Or they could have no stride.
This is not a great team. I think we all can see that. But could they win a playoff round or two? Of course they could, because they can pitch.
CARPENTER COMING AROUND?
QUESTION: How much should we read into Carp's good homestand? A blip or a lasting improvement?
COMMISH: I would choose to look at it as water seeking its level. Carpenter is not a .170 hitter. How much higher than that is debatable, but the ball looks better and sounds better coming off his bat.
He has only to be good for a few more weeks, not a few more months. You worry about next year's contract whenever the offseason comes.
Follow-up: Good news: Carp's bat has come to life. Bad news: Carp's bat has come to life ... so now we'll have to suffer through 4-5 months of sub-.200 hitting during the 2021 season while we wait for the one hot stretch.
COMMISH: If you are a fan, perhaps it is better not to fret yet whether this is another tease. A productive Carpenter gives the Cardinals a lot better chance to contend this season. Their offense needs all the help it can get.
WHAT'S BEHIND ALL THE BULLPEN BREAKDOWNS?
QUESTION: Have the breakdowns in the bullpen lately been due to overuse because of the number of games?
COMMISH: The Cardinals have been very careful, to the extent of giving up on a couple of games, not to work relievers two days in succession.
I suspect that it's just that the Cardinals have been playing catch-up all season, both in the games played and the games behind, and pitchers are stretching the limits of their bodies, which probably aren't as in good a shape as they would be in a normal season.
PLAYOFFS IN A BUBBLE?
QUESTION: Are you anticipating that the postseason is headed into a “bubble”? If so, is that good for baseball? Would you worry about future postseasons, or perhaps just the World Series, slipping to neutral sites?
COMMISH: I would be OK with just the World Series in a neutral site in future years, but there will be "bubble" ball for the final three rounds this season and I'm not exactly sure why. Teams have been traveling all season, so why stop now? The weather won't be that bad anywhere in mid-October.
ADD EDMONDS TO THE COACHING STAFF?
QUESTION: Jim Edmonds really amazes me with all his baseball knowledge. Would love to have him as our hitting coach, even part-time. Do you think there's a remote chance of that happening?
COMMISH: I don't think Jim wants to be on the road all season long or put in all the extra hours a coach has to on a full-time basis. I believe he prefers the part-time aspect of any coaching he would do. He has a high Baseball IQ, yes.
MOLINA AND THE MONEY
QUESTION: This year’s salaries are prorated. Does that apply to offering a free agent like Yadi a reduced contract, or is a reduction offer still based on his full-year salary?
COMMISH: Since Molina made $20 million this season -- if there had been a full season --the Cardinals couldn't cut him any more than 20 percent, or down to $16 million. So the contract offer would not be pro-rated.
The play will be for Molina to file for free agency and then see if the two sides can agree on something mutually beneficial.
NO CHANCE FOR JUSTIN WILLIAMS?
QUESTION: 'Mo' hinted about Justin Williams being added to the taxi squad. Any chance that we see him play in the next week or so?
COMMISH: For whatever reason(s), Justin Williams is not high on the Cardinals' radar and he did not do particularly well in either training camp this year.
Anyone on the taxi squad is only an injury away from being activated. And there have been plenty of injuries. But would Williams play much? No.
ALBERT THE GREAT
QUESTION: El Hombre is back in the news with another milestone homer. What's your favorite Albert Pujols memory? What are the qualities that made him extraordinary for 11 seasons here?
COMMISH: It would have to be the game-winning home run off Brad Lidge in Houston, keeping the Cardinals alive for another game in the National League Championship Series in 2005.
Pujols' work ethic, equal to his talent if not surpassing it, was his best quality. And his knowledge of the game and its history was extraordinary for someone who was not born in the U.S.
Follow-up: Do you think Pujols will ever catch A-Rod in home runs (696)?
COMMISH: It will be hard to do unless Albert becomes a regular player again, which doesn't seem likely. I don't see Albert hitting 36 home runs the rest of this year and then next year. Once he lost the chance to play a full season this year, he also lost his best shot at 700 homers.
LINDOR ON THE RADAR?
COMMENT: The Cards should take a run at shortstop Francisco Lindor in the offseason. Even if it costs a Hudson or a Liberatore or a Thompson. Lindor is something they don't have, anywhere on the field!
COMMISH: I would take a run at a Lindor every year. But what does it cost? In both players and money? A lot.
But you're right. They don't have a Lindor-type talent. Not many clubs do.
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