Courtesy of the only pitch Austin Gomber threw Friday night, Miles Mikolas was deemed the loser.
It hardly seemed fair, but when Gomber bounced a curveball off the top of Ender Inciarte’s batting helmet with the bases loaded, it broke a scoreless tie and gave the Braves the run that turned Mikolas into a hard-luck loser. His 6.1 innings of one-run baseball could only take the Cardinals so far, as the offense rolled over and the bullpen—with the help of another bout of poor defense—permitted the Braves four runs between the eighth and ninth innings as Atlanta beat the St. Louis 5-1 at Busch Stadium.
Mikolas matched Atlanta’s Julio Teheran step for step in a pitchers’ duel through the first six innings.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” Mikolas said of watching Teheran throw up zeros one inning after another. “It really doesn’t matter what he does, I have to give us a chance to win.”
And Mikolas did. His teammates failed to reward him for his efforts.
It was just the latest example of the Jekyll and Hyde thing the Cardinals have going offensively this season. It was a fun few days earlier in the week when it seemed as though the Cardinals were going to start putting runs on the board more consistently. Sunday through Tuesday, the Cardinals scored 8, 4 and 11 runs in three wins where multiple guys in the lineup were starting to click simultaneously.
But it didn’t last.
As soon as it stabilized, the offense again disappeared. The Cardinals have scored one run in each of their last two games, both losses. It’s a trend that seems to repeat itself all too often. Whenever the Cardinals manage a scoring outburst or two, instead of parlaying those successes into sustained production over a longer stretch, they typically fade back into acquiescence to opposing pitchers for a spell.
When asked what he makes of this kind of offensive inconsistency from his team over the course of the season, Mike Matheny didn’t exactly offer any theories on the genesis.
“Baseball. It’s hard. Baseball is hard. Hitting is hard,” Matheny said. “Gonna have trouble. When a guy gets locked in on the mound, you’re going to have a tough night, especially if you’re hitting balls hard at people. You’re going to get so many chances. We had a few, and they made the plays.”
Sure, Teheran was good Friday. No one would argue otherwise. But what about the Cardinals' one-run performance against the Indians Wednesday? Was rookie Shane Bieber also just so overwhelmingly dominant that the Cardinals shouldn't have expected to muster more than a single run off him? Does the lack of consistency at the plate bother anyone on this team besides Tommy Pham?
He reached base twice Friday on a couple walks, but did not get a base hit, extending his 0-for streak to his last 25 at-bats. So while other Cardinals dressed to depart the clubhouse shortly after the game's conclusion, Pham was seated at his locker, still hunched over his phone even as media members filed into the room following the manager's televised presser. It's a common sight of late as Pham works through issues with his swing. Where Pham is sometimes too hard on himself, the rest of the team could perhaps use that kind of self-reflection as the low-scoring efforts begin to pile up again.
The day is different. The formula of this kind of quiet loss is all too familiar: The starter gives the Cardinals a chance, the bats don’t back him up and the bullpen and defense make it so a moderate scoring output wouldn’t have been enough, anyway.
The sky never seems to fall around the Cardinals, but the problems that plague them during the rough stretches never seem to really get solved for good.