How many ways are there to say ‘…and then the bullpen blew the game’?
When the Cardinals lose in 2017, that’s been a common refrain. It was technically true again Thursday in the 4-2 loss to the Padres at Busch Stadium. With the score tied, St. Louis required four relievers to traverse the ninth inning, allowing two runs and sealing the team’s fate when the offense couldn’t muster enough to tie the game in the bottom half.
But while the bullpen was the goat again, this loss featured all the markings of the Cardinals recurring struggles this season: inefficient offense, boneheaded defense, and yes, an ineffective bullpen.
On a routine comebacker with the bases loaded in the sixth, Carlos Martinez sailed the throw home over Yadier Molina’s head to score a run. The offense grounded into four double plays to squash the opportunity for big innings throughout the night. The bullpen was just the cherry on top.
"Unfortunately those are the errors that will cost you a win and I take that fully," Martinez said through an interpreter of his errant throw. "That's on me."
While Martinez still pitched a fine game–seven innings of two run ball–the error was a black mark on his performance. Errors of that nature are inexplicable, unexplainable, and for a team intent on contending for a division, they can’t continue to happen. Martinez said all the right things about it after the game, but there comes a point in the Cardinals season where equity carried by post-game apologies simply runs dry. That point may have already arrived.
Most frustrating is the realization that the Cardinals are making these mistakes against an opponent ripe for the picking as time to make up lost ground rapidly dwindles. Coming into a homestand against the Padres and Rays, it should have been a prime opportunity to flex on lesser competition. Instead, the Cardinals have squandered the opening series against San Diego.
“We thought we should have won this series,” Paul DeJong said. “We were right there in it. It just was one of those things that slipped out of our fingers, but it’s over now and all we can do is worry about tomorrow’s game against Tampa.”
Again, that’s the right response–the emphasis placed on each individual game at this point in the year must be tremendous as the Cardinals margin for error continues to evaporate. But Thursday night wasn’t an aberration within the Cardinals season: it was a concoction of all the most irritating elements of the Cardinals struggles in 2017 all rolled into one.
It was familiar, and that fact should speak more to this team’s playoff hopes than anything the players or manager could say about them.
“Just one of those games where you make a play or two, and it looks completely different,” Mike Matheny said. “(Carlos) did a great job holding it together, keeping us there, giving us a chance–but we just couldn’t put more on.”
Just one of those games. The Cardinals seem to have more than their fair share of them.