CINCINNATI – At risk of dropping their first series in a surge that followed a historically-slow start, the St. Louis Cardinals embarked on a four-game series finale Thursday without three notable veterans – Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Willson Contreras – in the lineup.
The Cardinals ended up winning Thursday and splitting the series with the Cincinnati behind late heroics from Nolan Gorman, who hit a tiebreaking double and scored on a wild pitch in the eighth inning of a narrow 2-1 victory.
Resting three established veterans, even against a struggling team in the Reds, is a bit unconventional. Thursday marked the first time this year that Goldschmidt, Arenado and Contreras were held out of the lineup at the same time. Each of the big three had played in at least all but two games prior to Thursday as well.
So what gives? Thursday’s contest was an early 12:30 p.m. start time after a 6:40 p.m. game, a quick turnaround after a blowout loss Wednesday.
Manager Oli Marmol, following the win, told media members that wasn’t the only reason behind the decision to rest the three veterans.
“All those guys, we weren’t using them today,” said Marmol. “They were in turfs. They weren’t going to come in and pinch hit. They had a full day off. They deserve it. To get a win without them, other guys stepped up, and it worked out.”
Marmol also gave MLB.com’s John Denton the following perspective ahead of Thursday’s game:
“They needed a day [off]. They’ve been going really hard. There’s a reason we’ve gained ground [in the standings], won some games of late and gone on a little run. It’s because those guys have gone every day. [They] haven’t had a day off and have posted. They’re deserving of this day game [off] in order to reset and be ready for Cleveland and Kansas City.”
Marmol also defended the lineup decisions by saying all three wanted in for the finale of a recent four-game set with the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. He adds the previous games against the Reds, against left-handed hurlers and fastball-throwing starters, would not have been favorable to rest all three.
It’s unclear how often Marmol might opt for Goldschmidt, Arenado and Contreras off on the same day. He has been mixing up lineups on occasion to slot all three at designated hitter or give one of them specific days off.
One other consideration in resting all three is the sophomore surge of Nolan Gorman. The 23-year-old is hitting .297 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI this season. Nearly half of his runs driven in have come in the eighth inning or later. He has proven capable of playing third base and second base at the big league level, allowing for some versatility to insert platoon players – like Brendan Donovan and Juan Yepez – in place of starters.
“He’s been hitting regardless of the situation,” said Marmol. “Whether there’s guys on or nobody on. He’s just taking really productive at-bats and not taking any pitches off.”
Also, the Cardinals are nearing the end of a busy stretch of games in which Marmol likely hoped to give the three some rest. After three this weekend against the Cleveland Guardians and two more against the Kansas City Royals, the Cardinals will have completed a stretch of 19 consecutive days of games. It’s their longest stretch without an off-day until the All-Star break.
The Cardinals now stand at 23-29, winning 13 of their past 18 games and rebounding from a 10-24 start, one of the worst skids to open a season in franchise history. The Cardinals are only five games back of the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers with nearly one-third of the season complete.