Glad to be back with you. Friday was an exhausting day and it took me most of the weekend to recover and get back into a computer mindset. Thankfully on the whole the baseball weekend with the series against the Brewers was an enjoyable one, even if it had a down note to end it.
Hero: Jon Jay. In his first at-bats since his shoulder injury, Jay rapped out three hits, drove in three, and scored once. Guess the shoulder isn't bothering him too much!
Goat: When you score 13 and only allow one, it's tough to find anything negative. I guess you have to go with Carlos Beltran, who only went 1-4 with a run and an RBI. The only others that were hitless were the guys coming off the bench for one or two at-bats. As I've often said, not all goats are created equal.
Notes: That third inning was incredible, wasn't it? No matter who Milwaukee threw out there, the Cards just kept getting solid hit after solid hit. That inning still might be going had Rickie Weeks not speared Beltran's frozen rope and turned it into a double play. If that ball's just a couple of inches either way, that inning continues to build.
Great to see Matt Holliday break out, at least for a game. Holliday went 3-3, but the problem for him so far is that he's not been able to carry that forward and keep that momentum going. It's still early, of course, but it's getting later every day and it'd be nice to see a Holliday tear start any time now.
On the pitching side of things, Jake Westbrook did a phenomenal job. It's so easy, when you have a huge lead, to just sit back and start throwing slop, knowing if they score a few runs it's no big deal. Instead, Westbrook continued to dominate like he's done all season long and added five strikeouts and no walks in his seven innings of work. The whole rotation is doing an incredible job (especially if Adam Wainwright's last outing is a sign of things to come) and it's a joy to watch.
Hero: Yadier Molina. 4-4 with a home run makes for a very good day. What may be more impressive is that he did all of that and only saw five pitches on the afternoon. Apparently they skipped how to pitch Molina in the Brewers' pitchers' meeting before the game!
Goat: Rafael Furcal. 0-5 in the leadoff slot, which meant his average took a bit of a hit this weekend as he went 0-2 (with two walks) on Friday as well.
Notes: Not the best outing for Kyle Lohse, but I guess it all evens out. He didn't get a win in a stellar outing earlier this season, but did in this one. Lohse didn't have his command, which almost cost him the game as he walked in the tying run (after walking Alex Gonzalez to load the bases). Molina bailed out his pitcher, and Lohse's season numbers are still strong. We'll see if he rebounds from this in his next start.
Hero: Matt Carpenter. Two for four with a run scored on a day where there just wasn't a whole lot of Cardinal offense.
Goat: Jaime Garcia. It was impressive to see two hits out of him, but his baserunning blunder, where he didn't tag up on a Holliday fly ball (that guy can't catch any breaks at all) in the fifth, kept the game at 1-0 instead of putting an insurance run on the board. It seemed like he took that frustration with him to the mound, as he immediately gave up three runs right after that. They weren't big hits, just a lot of singles and a Jonathan LeCroy double, but Garcia couldn't make the pitch when he needed too.
Notes: Then there was the way the game ended, with Tyler Greene getting thrown out at home plate on either a delayed double steal or a busted hit and run. Whatever the case, Milwaukee wasn't fooled and the play at the plate wasn't close.
There's no doubt that Mike Matheny has been miles more aggressive on the base paths this year than we've seen in a long time. Every game seems to have stolen bases, hit and runs, and various other runners in motion. Sometimes it works out and you wind up with runners on the corners or someone scoring from first. Sometimes you line into a double play or strike out into a double play.
If it hasn't been done yet, I'm sure someone's going to do a cost/benefit analysis of Matheny's philosophy and see if it's hurting the Cardinals or helping them. It seems like the failures stick out more than the successes, so it's going to take someone really looking at the numbers (instead of going by their gut feeling) to see if he should ease up or not. It makes for some exciting baseball, though, and at 14-8, it's been pretty successful baseball as well.
Again, though, the Cardinals weren't able to finish off a sweep. All the caveats (I'll take two out of three any day, it's a first place team, etc.) are still valid, but it gets frustrating to win the first two in a series, especially in such authoritative fashion as they did this weekend, and be unable to finish the job. Cards are up three on Cincinnati, though, and are tied for the second-best record in baseball, so complaints are muted and it's like saying that million-dollar check someone handed you has a bent corner.
It seems apparent now that Skip Schumaker has taken over the second base job, at least for a while. Greene has struggled, belying the idea that a more comfortable environment and more regular playing time would unlock his talent. Daniel Descalso has also not done well, perhaps proving that Dirty Dan is best being deployed strategically instead of getting out there every day. However, I don't think that this team goes with Schumaker all year long. Keep an eye out on Kolten Wong. Wong is hitting .295 with two home runs and a .882 OPS down in Springfield. If he keeps that up through May and into June and the second base job still is unsettled then, Wong may skip Memphis and go straight to the bigs.
If not, if Wong (as is likely) needs more time in the minors, I think second base is one of the few slots the Cards would need to upgrade as the season goes along. However, there's no real interesting player on the free agent to be list (well, except Robinson Cano but that's not happening) and it's not likely the Cards would want to get a long-term contract due to Wong's ascent. Something to keep an eye on, at least.
The Cards may get an offensive boost on Tuesday as Allen Craigis expected to be activated before the series with the Pirates. That means, of course, that there are going to be roster decisions to make and, even though Shane Robinson is hitting .419 in his time in the bigs, he's likely Memphis-bound. The bigger decision comes later on in the week when Lance Berkman is eligible to come off the disabled list, though there's been no indication yes or no whether he will or not.
St. Louis has the off day today. We'll look at the pitching matchups for Tuesday's series opener with the Pirates tomorrow!
(Programming note: If you are looking for today's post or the Brewers/Cardinals pitching matchup for Friday, you want to keep reading below.)
The "bring your dog to the park" idea didn't originate in St. Louis and has spread well beyond the city under the Arch. So it's not surprising that, even with noted animal lover Tony La Russa no longer occupying his corner of the clubhouse, the organization is still putting on this event. Tickets go on sale tomorrow, so check with your dog and see if they've got anything on their schedule for this event.
TICKETS GO ON SALE APRIL 27 FOR THE EIGHTH ANNUAL
PURINA® POOCHES IN THE BALLPARK
Costume Parade on Busch Stadium Field Kicks-Off Game Day Festivities
ST. LOUIS (April 26, 2012) - It's time once again for St. Louis canines to "bark" on the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Saturday, June 16 for the eighth annual Purina® Pooches in the Ballpark event, presented by Schnucks®.
WHAT: More than 200 dogs, along with their owners, are invited to sit in a special "pooches" section of the ballpark. Tickets for this year's event go on sale at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 27 at cardinals.com/pooches. The cost is $115 per person (dogs get in the stadium for free) and will be available on a first come, first served basis. Tickets to last year's game sold out in under a week, so St. Louis dog owners are encouraged to act fast to secure their seats and enjoy a day at the ballpark with their four-legged friends.
· Canine Cardinals Fan Costume Parade: 11:45 a.m.
o All four-legged ticket holders (and their owners) will show off their favorite Cardinals gear in a pre-game costume parade on the Busch Stadium field.
· Purina® Incredible Dog Team Performance: 12:00 p.m.
o Watch as these incredibly talented, athletic canines will snatch flying discs out of the air while performing some amazing tricks. The Purina® Incredible Dog Team travels across the country performing at sporting events, on television shows and a variety of other public events.
· Purina® Pooches in the Ballpark: 1:15 p.m.
o More than 200 canine Cardinals fans will join their owners in the designated "pooch" section of Busch Stadium.
WHEN: Tickets go on sale starting at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 27 for the eighth annual Purina® Pooches in the Ballpark day, happening Saturday, June 16. To purchase tickets and learn more about the parade and game day rules, please go to cardinals.com/pooches. Tickets are available on a first come, first served basis.
The Cards are having a good start to the season, I don't think anyone would deny that. However, the fastest way to start thinking real negative thoughts about this team would be if they were swept by the Chicago Cubs. It's a moot point now, thankfully.
A lot has been said locally about Lance Lynn and how well he is doing, but now that he was the first pitcher in baseball to get to 4-0, there's a good chance the national attention will follow. Lynn now has a 1.33 ERA and a WHIP of 0.941. Whatever your measure, Lynn is succeeding in it and has probably done even better than Chris Carpenter would have done in that slot. There's been no dropoff at all in the spot of the rotation.
We've talked a lot about not getting all fired up about a strong start due to what Kyle McClellan did out of the gate last year. I went back to look at what McClellan did in his first four starts and compared it to Lynn's start this season.
Lynn's success seems more sustainable. He's able to strike out more batters and isn't relying as much on the defense behind him. He does have a fairly low BABIP (.203, compared to a .312 mark for McClellan last year) so he's not likely to stay this dominant, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a bit of a rotation controversy when Carpenter is ready to come back, whenever that may be.
Of course, as great as Lynn was yesterday, going eight innings and allowing only one run, he couldn't win the game alone. The stagnant offense didn't necessarily break out, but it stirred some and kept the Cubs from being able to stage one of those late-inning rallies that they've been so good at in this series.
I like what I read in the P-D story about Carlos Beltran. Mike Matheny was going to give him the day off, but he didn't feel right about that when the Cards hadn't won a game in the series yet. That's some pride and character right there, something that seems to be pretty prevalent in the Cardinal clubhouse. I think that's got to be part of what John Mozeliak and company look for in players, because you don't just wind up with a bunch of good human beings by accident.
It was a good day for Beltran, with a single, a walk, and two stolen bases. Plus he doubled in the tiebreaking run and scored when David Freese unloaded on a Chris Volstad pitch and parked it into the bleachers. Freese drove in another run in the eighth with a double, being the power for the day. While we are highlighting offensive performances, Shane Robinson went three for four and continues to make a case to stay up in the bigs once players start getting healthy. I'm not sure that's a case he can win, but I don't mind him continuing to argue it in that fashion! He may also have been extra motivated as he's scheduled to become a daddy today.
Another rough day for Matt Holliday, who gets the Goat with a 0-4, three left on base performance. Holliday slipped back close to .200, though he's had some good outings last night and every time I hear the game on the radio, John Rooney and Mike Shannon are talking about how close he looks. I haven't been able to see too many of his at-bats lately, so I can't tell if that's consoling the faithful or their baseball experience shining through, but he has had a few good days lately, so I'll go with the latter. It'd be great to see Holliday go on a strong offensive tear, though. Do wonders for his mindset and Cardinal Nation's as well!
Allen Craig's on his way to Memphis to continue his rehab. Assuming no setbacks when he gets out onto the field, he's likely to be back on the big league roster sometime in the next week or so, which is exactly where we thought he'd be before spring training. That surge at the end of the time in Jupiter gave us a little false hope, but at least it's not one of these things where he's out until July.
I won't be writing in this space tomorrow (nor, as per my usual, likely through the weekend) due to the annual church chicken BBQ, which has me down there at around 3:30 AM and working all day long. Thankfully, the Cards have an off-day, which should be little to talk about anyway. Since I won't be here, let's go ahead and look at the tables for the Milwaukee series opener.
First off, the Cards send out Jake Westbrook. Westbrook's strong spring (unlike Holliday's) has carried over into the season and he sports a 2-1, 1.31 mark. He missed the Brewers when the Cardinals were in Milwaukee, but here's what he's done in the past against this guys:
Kind of a grim look there. Ryan Braun has destroyed him and Corey Hart, who beat up on Cardinal pitching in that last series, has taken him deep twice. Westbrook has looked better than ever this year, though, and if he's able to tame these guys you'd have to think the change is for real.
The Cards go up against Marco Estrada, someone who also didn't pitch in the earlier series. St. Louis hasn't seen a lot of him, but what they have seen, they like.
If you go by those numbers, Daniel Descalso will likely be at second base in this one and Holliday might get a jump start on a recovery period. Hopefully it'll be a better series than the last time these two got together!
I don't like to complain about the umpires. They have a tough job and often complaints about them are tinged with the bias of whatever side you are rooting for. Even last night, the focus probably should be on the fact that, save for Matt Holliday, there wasn't much offense. But when the umps blow two calls badly that directly lead to the deciding runs, well, there's an obvious place to start looking.
Being out at a church softball game (and yes, I'm barely moving this morning), I missed seeing the first bad call, which was fairly egregious seeing that the umpire was looking right at the play. Yadier Molina surely appears to have tagged out David DeJesus, but was called safe. That call loomed large all game long as the Cards had trouble figuring out Jeff Samardzija.
Holliday provided the Hero moment, blasting a two-run shot in the eighth to give the Cardinals the lead. However, that didn't last as long as we'd have liked because Goat Marc Rzepczynski allowed a longball to Brian LaHair in the ninth to tie it up. LaHair has been a thorn to the Cardinals so far this season. I'm not sure where this guy came from, but it wouldn't bother me a bit if he went back there.
Fernando Salas got the loss in the 10th, but again it's debatable whether he should have. Tony Campana singled with one out and then took off for second. Molina's throw to Tyler Greene was perfect, Greene applied the tag.....and Campana was ruled safe. Replays showed that he never touched the bag and, again, the umpire was right on top of it. So instead of two outs, nobody on, there's a runner on second with one out, which became huge when Greene couldn't handle Alfonso Soriano's shot, allowing Campana to score. If Campana had been out, the inning would have been over by then and we'd have moved on to the 11th.
There's no doubt that the Cardinals should have put this game away and not had to worry about the umpires not going their way. That said, the umpires should have also made the right calls instead of influencing the game in this manner. I mean, you know it's bad when Mike Matheny gets ejected. He's not a naturally combative guy, but when the calls stink, the calls stink.
Sadly, the controversy overshadowed the best start of the year out of Adam Wainwright. Waino put together six innings of one-run ball (which, as we've noted, could have been better) and was able to buckle down in tough situations. He kept the ball in the ballpark, which has been his real issue so far this season, and it's good to have our concerns eased a bit. Of course, it was bound to happen, but it is still good to see.
What these last few games have shown, to me, is the importance of Lance Berkman to this lineup. It seems once Carlos Beltran moved out of the second slot and into the cleanup role, the offense has started sputtering. Could be a coincidence, but I'd rather lead off games with Rafael Furcal and Beltran than Furcal and Skip Schumaker, wouldn't you? Beltran hasn't looked comfortable in the cleanup role, going 0-4 again last night. Whether that was just an expected cooldown from his earlier run or it does have to do with where he's hitting, I'm not sure. I just know it'll be good to have Puma back in this lineup.
Away from the field, the news is that Jon Jay's shoulder is separated. The shoulder and the rest of the body hope to give it another go, maybe after some counseling, but right now felt like they could use the time apart. Seriously, though, it doesn't look like he'll be back before this weekend, which will be 8-10 days after the initial injury. At what time do the Cards backdate his DL stint and get someone else on the bench? The decision may be complicated by the fact there's no obvious person to bring up. We've gone over the Matt Adams bit before, Allen Craig isn't ready yet, and nobody else just jumps out at you. Still, playing with a short bench is just another handicap right now.
It's Lance Lynn vs. Chris Volstadin today's afternoon tilt at Wrigley. Both of these pitchers got into the series last week, matching up in a 5-1 win where Lynn went 5.1 and gave up a run, Volstad six and gave up four (three earned). Let's hope for another game like that today, so that the Cards aren't unthinkably swept by the baby bears. The numbers for Lynn:
Eventually, a night like last night was going to happen. Closers aren't perfect, not even the best of them. The way last night was going, I'm not sure anyone was terribly surprised at the final outcome.
Even though it was old friend Joe Mather who issued the killing blow in the game, all accounts indicate the game turned on the 12-pitch walk to Brian LaHair. You have to figure that did inspire the Cubs as well as deplete Goat Jason Motte's stamina. Watching on GameDay last night as I tried to do a few other things, I thought the following walk to Geovanny Soto might have been more questionable, as it looked like every pitch could have (or should have) been called a strike, but a more accurate plotting shows that it was a fair walk. With two walks in the inning, it was just a matter of time before a hit came. I think that's one of those games you have to tip your cap to the opposing team, which is real frustrating when that's Chicago.
It's also very frustrating when it comes on the heels of Good Jaime showing up. Jaime Garcia was easily the Hero last night, going 7.2 innings on just 85 pitches. When I heard on the radio coming home from church that Garcia was in the seventh with just 70, I knew it was a good night even without hearing the score. When Bad Garcia is on, Jaime throws 70 in the first four. When he's efficient, it's a wonder to behold. Very glad to see him be able to do this on the road, but let's see if he can do it in back-to-back starts. Helps that his next one will be at home, of course.
While Matt Garza is a strong pitcher, the Cards really shouldn't have been in a one-run game to start with. Anytime a team gives you five walks, you should really take advantage. However, the old double play bugaboo came back to haunt the Redbirds. It looked like St. Louis was going to get an insurance run with two on and one out, but Carlos Beltran lined into a double play when Shane Robinson was caught off second base. A week ago, Beltran's ball probably gets past Starlin Castro. This week, little to nothing has gone right for the outfielder.
Besides Garcia's start, it was good to see Matt Holliday with two hits, including a double. That pushes him up to .216 and may be an indication that the slump is about over. We've thought that before, of course, but maybe we are right this time.
All in all, that's a game you just hope to put behind you and see if the Cards can win the last two like they did against the Cubs in St. Louis. It's not an easy task, but it's a doable one.
Allen Craig had a successful night at Palm Beach, going three-for-four. I don't think anyone was worried about Craig's bat, though, especially at that level. The biggest thing is going to be whether he can move on that knee and be able to play some outfield, something that hasn't been tested yet as he's been the designated hitter. Hopefully he'll get some field action in the next few days and we can start hearing about a timetable to get him to the bigs.
Adam Wainwright was torched last week in Busch Stadium against Chicago, so he takes the mound at Wrigley looking for a little payback. He's also looking to limit the long balls (which is often hard for anyone to do at that park) and get a little deeper into the game. Counting last week's numbers, here are his career marks against these hitters:
Again, it's hard to know what to make of these. Are these guys going to be able to hit him like they did last week? Will Wainwright have made some adjustments or have more of his normal stuff back and be the guy that most of these numbers were made against? We'll have to wait and see.
Speaking of people that have been seen recently, the Cardinals get to face Jeff Samardzija, who they reached for five runs in the home opener. That'd have been a bigger deal, of course, if Wainwright hadn't already given up eight by that time. The numbers:
As it was last week, the numbers look good for the Cards. We'll see if they are able to get to Samardzija again and have a better chance of winning the game. It's likely to be a cold night tonight, so the ball may stay in the yard. That'd be a great thing for Wainwright, at least!
Over the last couple of years, Pittsburgh has been like a home away from home for the Cardinals. Even without Albert Pujols destroying Buc pitching, this weekend proved to be little different. A quick recap:
Hero: Lance Lynn. It was another strong outing for the fill-in. Lynn went seven, allowing only the inside-the-park homer to the first batter (which was aided by Skip Schumaker hitting the wall) and struck out four. Lynn has been extremely good in his role as the Chris Carpenter replacement and hopefully will continue this until Carp returns.
Goat: Erik Komatsu. Komatsu came into the game in the bottom of the first, after Schumaker went down, and was the only person to not get either a hit or a walk.
Notes: The idea that Matt Holliday had it figured out after his home run and single against Cincinnati on Thursday proved to be premature, as Holliday went only 1-5 here and, as we'll see, had a rough weekend in general. Daniel Descalso popped a home run to get him even with Tyler Greene, but that was his only hit of the night.
Hero: Matt Carpenter. While Little Carp has struggled some since his breakout day against the Cubs last weekend, he was able to manage two hits when the rest of the team only came up with three.
Goat: Carlos Beltran. 0-4 with three strikeouts, including what may have been a game-changer in the first, when the Cardinals had bases loaded against A.J. Burnett with nobody out and weren't able to score. Burnett settled in from there and the Cards really never had another chance until the ninth.
Notes: It's sad when a guy comes into the game hitting under .100 and yet gets the two RBI singles to beat a team. Even though I've watched him the last couple of years, I was just saying to my family that there's no way they should let Pedro Alvarez beat them when he did just that for his second hit. Something wrong there. Holliday misses out on being the Goat due to his walk in the first, but he also struck out three times and wasn't able to get a hit.
Hero: Rafael Furcal. As well as Kyle Lohse pitched, Furcal's three hits at the top of the lineup helped to make sure that Lohse didn't suffer the same fate as Jake Westbrook did on Saturday. Furcal also scored twice and walked once plus stole a base, showing that his weak spring wasn't indicative of what he can still do.
Goat: Carlos Beltran. Another 0-4 which "beats" Carpenter's o-fer due to the addition of a strikeout. We're seeing a few people start to cool off, but if the pitching staff continues to roll along as well as they are, the Cards will still be able to pull off a few wins.
Notes: Lohse again had a very strong outing, keeping his season ERA under 1.00 by going seven-plus innings and only giving up a single tally. Mitchell Boggs had a good day as well, making sure the Pirate eighth didn't get any bigger. Holliday garnered one hit, but still his average sits at .197.
All in all, a good weekend at PNC Park. The Cardinals did sputter offensively though. In just the first inning of Saturday and Sunday, they got one run combined out of two bases-loaded, nobody out scenarios, and that run only scored because of a Beltran double play ball. With Lance Berkman still out, Jon Jay on the shelf (more on that in a bit), Holliday scuffling, and Carpenter and Beltran coming down to earth, while this still may be the top offense in baseball, there are a lot of weak spots right now.
The pitching has been impeccable. ERA is, of course, not a great measure of how a pitcher is doing, but look at a few of these. Lohse is at 0.99. Westbrook is at 1.31. Lynn, 1.42. Jaime Garcia's 3.06 looks outrageous in comparison (and we won't even talk about Adam Wainwright's). The bullpen has been strong as well, with the only troublesome one being Fernando Salas's 4.50. Salas has seemed to be not as sharp as he was last year, though he did pitch a scoreless inning this weekend.
Hopefully by time the pitching starts to take a hit the offense will be coming out of its current problems. This has a chance to be a very balanced, very competitive club and if they ever fired on all cylinders, the rest of the league would have to watch out.
Right now, the division isn't putting up much of a fight. Of course, some of the issues for the other teams are that they've had to play the Cardinals, but at the moment there's no other NL Central team over .500 and the Cards own the biggest divisional lead in the National League. (Man, Texas is going to run roughshod over the AL West at this rate, already up 5.5 games.) It's good to win the games in April so you don't necessarily have to win them in September and it is especially valuable to win them when you are in the midst of a long stretch of playing those divisional rivals. There couldn't be a much better start to the Mike Matheny era, could there?
As mentioned above, Jon Jay had to return to St. Louis for more tests on his shoulder. Jay got to pinch run on Saturday and everything looked good for a quick return, but somehow the shoulder took a turn for the worse and needed to be reevaluated. There's nothing that says that he'll be making a trip to the disabled list, but it can't be ruled out right at the moment.
If Jay does have to be shut down, the corresponding roster move isn't necessarily clear. You could see someone like Pete Kozma come up, even though he's struggling in Memphis, just because he's on the 40-man roster and could give some insurance to the middle infield since Skip Schumaker would have to play more outfield. Zack Cox would be an intriguing idea, since he's also already on the 40-man, but he's hitting even worse than Kozma at Memphis right now. You might see someone like Adron Chambers come up for a week or so until Allen Craig, who homered in his first rehab appearance down in Palm Beach, is ready to go.
There's talk, of course, of Matt Adams coming up for a bit, but I don't see that happening. One, the only way he could is if Chris Carpenter goes on the 60-day DL, which isn't a problem--the club can back-date it and it's likely Carp's going to be out the 60 days anyway--but it just kicks the roster problem down the road a bit. Two, Lance Berkman should be back in about a week, at which time there's no obvious place for Adams to play. He's not going to ride the bench in St. Louis this year, I don't think. It's already going to be tough to figure out playing time for Matt Carpenter and Craig when everyone gets healthy.
Hopefully it's all just theoretical and Jay can be back with the team shortly. It's never good to have to use it this early, but it's nice to see the depth the Cards have at a lot of positions.
Cardinals head up to the Windy City for three with the Cubs, including back-to-back night games in the famed ballpark, which I don't remember happening often. Tonight, Jaime Garcia goes for the Redbirds. Garcia missed the series last week with the little bears, but here's his career numbers against these hitters:
Not exactly what you want to see if you are Garcia. Only one longball against him, that by a guy that otherwise hasn't hit him well, but a lot of high averages. Going to be interesting to see what Garcia we get tonight, as he's traditionally weaker on the road anyway.
On the flip side, the Cubs send out their ace in Matt Garza. Like Garcia, Garza didn't participate in last week's festivities. The numbers:
Being that Garza has spent most of his career in the American League, the small sample isn't surprising. Schumaker was going to play anyway, but that'll just lock it down. Figures the only other guy that's had success will be shut down for the day.
Could be a tough one tonight, but it's always good to have a chance to beat Chicago!
I've mentioned before that the great people at University of Nebraska Press will, from time to time, send along a book for me to read and hopefully review. Every once in a while, though, they do a foolish thing and send along their whole catalog and let me pick. That means I go through there and basically pick out every possible baseball book they have, providing me hours of enjoyment.
Which is how I came into possession of a copy of Banzai Babe Ruth. While I don't know anything about Japanese baseball, a chance to read about Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and others of that time period seemed to be something I should take advantage of. I'm very glad that I did.
We all have a general idea of Japanese baseball, whether it is from the number of times that Major League Baseball has started a season over there or the former big leaguers that go over there to continue their career or even those players, like Ichiro Suzuki, who come over here after playing in their native land first. Most all of this was unfathomable back in 1934, when an All-Star squad of players went over to play against the Japanese in an extended series of games.
This book is great on the baseball, there's no doubt. We hear about earlier tours of the islands by professionals. We find out that Ruth was dead set against going to Japan, only to eventually be talked into it and then having a superb time while he was there. Author Robert Fitts does an incredible job of setting the stage, bringing you the action, and getting you into the mindset and motivations of not only the Americans involved, but the Japanese as well.
What I wasn't expecting was the political background to this book. Fitts colors in the time and place that these players were walking into, with tensions starting to escalate between the United States and Japan. Less than a decade later, these two powers would be pitted against each other, but at the time it was thought that some "baseball diplomacy" might ease the current tension and, for a while, it seemed to do so.
Fitts writes these characters so well that, at times, you think you are reading historical fiction rather than what actually happened. You are left on the edge of your seat wondering if the Japanese team can really pull off an upset in a couple of the games. (It helps that this is so far away so as to not be a part of general baseball knowledge, so you don't go into it already knowing the results.) He also talks about Ruth's desire to manage and how Connie Mack was using this trip as a dry run for hiring Ruth to replace him. While that never happened, it does seem that Ruth acquitted himself pretty well over in the land of the rising sun.
The only flaw in the book had nothing to do with the writing, but my own limited abilities. With the number of Japanese names (and the fact that I've never done much of a study of the language or the people), it was sometimes hard to keep everyone separated and know who was who. That's a minor detail, though, and it should not keep you from reading the book. In fact, Fitts was kind enough to give a list of recurring Japanese characters in the front of the book so as to be available for easy reference (something I should have done more of).
Like another book I read recently, I wasn't sure exactly how excited I would be about this book (beyond it being about baseball and I'll read anything related to the sport) but I'm very glad I picked this one out. If you are any sort of baseball history buff, I suggest picking this one up. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
For the second time this year, the Cards were unable to pull off the sweep of Cincinnati. Again, winning series is the important thing and if the Cards continue to play over .600 ball, they are going to win a lot of games and be in the playoffs, but it can be just a bit frustrating to be that close to a sweep and not see them finish it off.
Again, Adam Wainwrightwasn't the pitcher that we expect him to be. He allowed a home run to Brandon Phillips and then, two batters later, one to Ryan Ludwick in a three-run fourth that put the Cards in a hole. So far this season, 11 of the 14 runs he has allowed have come via the long ball, which at least means if he gets that corrected, he could be back to the dominant Wainwright quicker than expected. (The P-D says 11 of 15, including the inherited runner that Victor Marte allowed in the Milwaukee game. However, that run scored on a Corey Hart homer, so calculate it as you will. I guess technically 12 of 15 have come from a home run, just not only ones Wainwright allowed.)
Wainwright won't blame the surgery for his early struggles, which is admirable. However, he's throwing his fastball more often than he has the last couple of years, but it's a couple of miles slower than it was pre-surgery. Everything else seems to be right on target in regards to speed, so developing a stronger fastball may be the key to turning around the season for him. That's just going to take time and repetition, most likely.
What's strange is that the Cards, the team with the best offense in the game and the team that so often has given the pitcher a lead even before he gets to the mound, have not scored a single run while Wainwright is on the mound. A strange coincidence, perhaps. It's definitely strange.
On the positive side, we saw a good game out of Matt Holliday. His three-run blast made it a game before Marte gave up a run in the seventh and Fernando Salas (who is another pitcher that has struggled a lot this season) did the same in the ninth. Holliday also singled in his last at-bat, getting his average over the .200 mark.
Other thoughts: Matt Carpenter went 0-4 and is now 0-6 since his big game on Sunday. Since he's going to be the starting first baseman for a while, I sure hope he didn't use up everything he had in that early start. It's going to be interesting to see how he responds to the league preparing for him and focusing on his weaknesses.
Rafael Furcal got another couple of hits from the leadoff slot. I'm not sure how long this will last, but it's nice to see him on such a run. Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene continue their race to see who will yield first and take the second base job, as both of them went 0-3 with a strikeout to drop their averages under .200. If they aren't careful, someone else may get into that mix very quickly.
As expected, Skip Schumaker is coming off the DL today, passing Lance Berkman as he goes on it. Schumaker is being hurried a bit because of Berkman's situation and may wind up playing the outfield sooner than expected since Jon Jay ran into the wall yesterday and hurt his shoulder. Jay's injury isn't expected to take DL time, but we've all come to realize that expectations with Cardinal injuries don't always come to fruition.
With Jay out, Shane Robinson might get the start tonight in Pittsburgh if the Cards still want to be cautious. However, you have to figure Schumaker will be out there before the end of the series unless Robinson just takes off.
It's good to hear that Allen Craig is getting some work in down in extended spring training. Since we hadn't heard much about him, I was afraid that his rehab had hit a setback. Instead, it sounds like he could be ready to go in St. Louis by mid-May, which would mean that he and Berkman could come off the DL fairly close to each other. Robinson better enjoy any extra playing time, because odds are he's not long for the big league club.
Lance Lynn gets to go up against the Pirates tonight. (Side note: Ya think Pittsburgh's glad that #5 guy isn't coming with us anymore?) Lynn hasn't faced many of the Pirate hitters before, as you'll see, but right now the Pittsburgh offense is the worst in the league. Which means in theory Lynn should be able to go out there and dominate. In practice, well, we'll have to wait and see. The limited numbers:
Obviously he's faced these guys as a reliever before, so the approach might be a bit different. And with a sample size that small, it really doesn't tell you much anyway.
Charlie Morton, the guy that got a lot of press last year in his early success by being a guy that copied Roy Halladay, gets the start tonight. He tailed off at the end of last season and had a mediocre first start of the season. Facing the Cards may not make it much better.
Really a shame Berkman got hurt, as this is the second game in a row where he has outstanding career numbers against the starter. Lots of good numbers up and down the lineup, though Descalso hasn't done much with him. We'll see if they can keep that up tonight.
Cards still lead the division by three games over Milwaukee and 3.5 over Pittsburgh. If the biggest problem they have this year is the inability to finish off sweeps, it's going to be a lot of fun this summer.
You know hockey fever is sweeping the St. Louis area when the Blues win a scheduling conflict with the local nine. Sure, it's the playoffs, but sometimes spring training games draw big ratings in St. Louis. Anyway, if you are trying to watch baseball or hockey on Saturday, here's what you need to know.
Saturday's Cardinals game to air on FOX Sports Midwest Plus
Saturday's Cardinals-Pirates game will be televised on FOX Sports Midwest Plus due to overlap with Game 5 of the Blues-Sharks playoff series.
Cardinals-Pirates pregame coverage starts at 5:30 p.m. CT, with first pitch from Pittsburgh just after 6 p.m. Below are channel numbers for FOX Sports Midwest Plus.
Blues-Sharks will air on FOX Sports Midwest, with pregame starting at 6 p.m. CT and opening faceoff from Scottrade Center at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 21: Cardinals at Pittsburgh on FOX Sports Midwest Plus
Pregame at 5:30, game at 6 p.m.
FOX Sports Midwest Plus channel numbers
AT&T U-verse 691 (HD 1691)
Cable America-Maryland Heights and Republic 12
Cable America-St. Robert 7
Cable One-Joplin 78
Cable One-Kirksville 3
Charter-Cape Girardeau 94
Charter-St. Louis and Osage Beach 3, 10 or 94
DirecTV 680 (HD 680-1)
Dish 454 (HD 9577)
Insight-Evansville, Ind. 2, 505 or 12.10
Mediacom-Columbia/Jefferson City/Springfield 126
New Wave 16
Poplar Bluff 2
*Time Warner-Newburgh, Ind. 23
*Time Warner-Terre Haute, Ind. 13
*WOW-Evansville, Ind. 7
*Cable systems in Southwest Indiana will receive Indiana Pacers basketball on FOX Sports Indiana and Cardinals-Pirates on FOX Sports Plus.
FOX Sports Midwest Plus is a channel used by FOX Sports Midwest to simultaneously show multiple events on two channels. FOX Sports Midwest Plus is available to all video providers that carry FOX Sports Midwest. Some providers carry FOX Sports Midwest Plus as a 24-hour full-time channel. Others choose to offer selected FOX Sports Midwest Plus programming and designate a channel to show the events.
I still have no idea what that was about, but it said a lot about this clubhouse.
In the third inning, Fox Sports Midwest cameras caught Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook talking with each other next to the dugout steps. Well, talking was just a part of it. Both of them (though especially Wainwright) would gyrate in a way that called to mind a drunk surfer. (Well, not that I've ever seen a drunk surfer, but you figure they'd move in a similar fashion.) It was a fascinating and hilarious spectacle.
However, a few moments later Chris Carpenter walked over to them. Chris Carpenter, the bad mamma jamma of the Redbirds. The Samuel L. Jackson of the clubhouse. You'd expect that he'd also be displeased with serpents on an air-going vessel. This is not a man whose reputation has him smiling often, much less tolerating such frivolous behavior. Surely Carp was going to give them a lecture about paying attention to the game or something of that nature.
Instead, Carpenter joined in, adding his own interpretation of what Wainwright and Westbrook had been doing, smiling all the while.
If you want to know what the Cardinals are like without Tony La Russa and without Albert Pujols, that might be a snapshot right there. This wasn't when the Cards were up big, such as the eighth when it was 11-1. This was just at 5-0, though granted that lead felt bigger at the time. Can you imagine anything of that nature going on during the TLR tenure? I mean, I guess it probably did, but an example doesn't just jump to mind, does it?
This has to be the loosest this clubhouse has been in a long, long time. The push to the World Series probably had a lot to do with that, as did adding Lance Berkman last year. However, having the intensity and singular focus of TLR and Pujols out of the way probably allows for a little more casual, a little more relaxed atmosphere. You can debate whether that's good or not--TLR's focus did bring two World Series titles to St. Louis, though some would say it happened in the two years where he loosened up some--but there's definitely a different vibe among those players this season.
Of course, a 9-3 start to the year helps out a lot as well. Tough to be too depressed when you lead the division by three games this early in the season.
It was a fun game for Cardinal fans as well last night. Of course, winning by 10 does that, but it also helps that the Cards got up early and never really were challenged by the Reds. I noted a Tweet by a Reds writer last night that gave Mat Latos's line for the evening with the comment, "This was Latos's best outing in Busch. Seriously." Latos was able to get his Busch Stadium ERA under 25 last night, so that was a positive for him.
I wanted to go with Rafael Furcal for our Hero, since he had four hits and drove in two runs, but I'm going with Jaime Garcia not only because he threw seven innings and allowed just one run, but because he coupled that with a two-run triple in the sixth that wasn't too far from going out of the yard. Hitting and pitching will get you a Hero award most every day.
There were a lot of hitting stars last night, though. It used to be that the home run/stolen base combo was kinda rare in St. Louis, yet Carlos Beltran and Tyler Greene did it last night. I hope that Mike Matheny will put Greene back out there today to see if he can build on what he did last night. Neither he nor Daniel Descalso has laid a full claim to the second base position and, as we'll talk about in a bit, they may be running out of time.
David Freese and Jon Jay both had two hits as the Cards wound up with 14 hits and three walks on the night. The Cards beat up on Latos and the Reds' bullpen, which has to have them wondering if they are going to stack up against what now looks like the class of the division. Again, you can't get too carried away--the Cards were 8-4 at this point in 2010 on their way to a five-game April lead that they would squander--but so far it's been an enjoyable ride.
For everyone except for Matt Holliday, who gets the Goat again today. Holliday was the only starter not to get a hit last night, going 0-5 to drop his average to .182. While there doesn't seem to be cause for concern, it is the worst start to a season that Holliday's had since joining St. Louis. I felt like 2010 might have been in that area because I had the remembrance of Holliday struggling to get runners in, but he hit over .300 during the first 12 games that year.
Most likely for Holliday it's the natural cycle of baseball. Holliday was hot during the spring, so he was going to cool off. It just happens that it was right as the season started instead of being buried in the middle of the year. It's possible that he's pressing a bit now that he's more of the focus of the team and going to be the highest-paid Cardinal for quite some time, but I figure he'll come out of it soon. That said, today's day game would be a great time to let him sit and clear his head a little bit.
The only downside to last night's game (besides Holliday's 0-5, of course) was the fact that Berkman left the game with a recurrence of his calf issue. You have to figure that he's going to wind up on the disabled list if he can't play more than a game before it flares up again. If so, it seems the only logical thing would be to activate Skip Schumaker and let Matt Carpenter play first base while Berkman sits. It'd be a lot more fun to see Matt Adams get the callup, but with him not being on the 40-man roster, that really seems to rule that possibility out. Besides, once Adams comes up, he's likely up for good. I don't think the Cards would want him to play a couple of weeks in the bigs and then go back down. Starts his arbitration clock for no good reason as well.
Wainwright gets back to the mound this afternoon, trying to come back from his disastrous outing last Friday in the home opener. Here's what Waino has done against these Reds.
He's been pretty dominant against these guys. Jay Bruce is really the only guy that's figured him out and even he's under .300. This could be a good matchup for Wainwright to get back into the pitching groove.
Cards have to go up against Bronson Arroyo. Arroyo's off to a pretty solid start this season and has always seemed to be one of those guys the Cards have had trouble with, though the numbers don't really bear that out (7-12, 4.59 ERA in 186+ innings against the 'Birds in his career). The hitters have done OK against him.
Jay really seems to be fond of him, as does Descalso. That may mean Greene doesn't get to build on yesterday, depending on what Matheny wants to do. With a series win already in his pocket, he can afford to let Greene go out there and try to build some confidence. It's too bad Berkman's going to miss the game, though, when you see those five homers off of Arroyo.
Afternoon baseball as the Cards break out the brooms. Here's hoping for some more of that offense and a great Wainwright start!