PHOENIX – It’s safe to say the St. Louis Cardinals weren’t thrilled the first time they glanced at their schedule and noticed the last of four games in Arizona was scheduled for 8:40 p.m. CT. When they realized it would cause them to get in their beds in St. Louis sometime after the sun comes up Friday, on a day they have to face Stephen Strasburg, they were even less thrilled.
Manager Mike Matheny said it was “ridiculous” the Arizona Diamondbacks would schedule a night game on getaway day, but it was, in fact, within the rules stipulated by the collective bargaining agreement.
All of which raises the question: Did the Cardinals mail one in Thursday night during their 3-0 loss to the Diamondbacks? That thought can arise when a team manages just three hits in a game, strikes out 10 times against a pitcher with a career 4.58 ERA and completes a game in under two-and-a-half hours.
Then again, there are other explanations besides the conspiracy theory.
“It doesn’t really matter your approach if a guy is throwing 95-97 [mph], putting movement on it and putting it on the corners. It’s going to be a long day,” Matheny said. “That’s all there is to it.”
The Cardinals got overpowered by a pitcher, Rubby De La Rosa, who rarely puts it all together but did Thursday night. The best thing they did against De La Rosa was “let” two runners reach base ahead of his spot in the order in the seventh inning, prompting Arizona manager Chip Hale to pinch-hit for him during a two-hit shutout with a pitch count of 94. The Cardinals nearly rallied against Arizona closer Brad Ziegler in the ninth, but Yadier Molina hit into a double play and Matt Adams hit a soaring drive to the wall in deep right field to end it.
The upshot was the Cardinals’ second shutout loss this season and a downer of an end to an otherwise rip-roaring trip for the offense. Going into Thursday, the Cardinals were leading the majors in runs and OPS and had averaged 9.8 runs per game in the first five games of this road trip.
Yet the final two games also fanned hope for a pitching staff that has been surprisingly mediocre. Adam Wainwright began piecing his mechanics back together Wednesday in an encouraging start after a rough month, and Michael Wacha looked as dominant as he had in 10 months on Thursday. He struck out nine and allowed just five hits over seven innings. One of those hits was a popup lost in the twilight and another was a good changeup that Chris Hermann reached for and somehow willed over the right-field fence of one of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in baseball.
Wacha’s game plan, tailored to Chase Field, was to keep all his pitches down in the zone.
“It’s a crazy ballpark and a couple swings can beat you,” Wacha said.
As hot as their offense has been, the Cardinals still haven’t proven they can overcome top-tier pitching. They managed 11 hits and seven runs in a loss to Zack Greinke Monday, but Greinke has been nowhere near as dominant as he was last season when he had a 1.66 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
They’ll have their chance this weekend against the pitching-rich Washington Nationals. Friday, after the three-hour flight and nap before game time, they get Strasburg. Saturday, they face Joe Ross, who has a 0.54 ERA, then on Sunday they get St. Louisan Max Scherzer, who is off to a slow start but can be as dominant as any right-hander in the league when he’s on.
No rest for the weary, indeed.