Without that error, it's extremely possibly we're talking about a third straight shutout of the league's most dangerous offense. An offense that perhaps took a bigger hit than it gave out with Rafael Furcal coming out of the game with a pop in his elbow, a pop that likely will put him on the shelf for the rest of the year.
If you look up the definition of "wheels coming off", there just might be a picture of this team. It looks almost like they are going to do the opposite of last September, instead of pushing for a slot, sliding out of one. They aren't there yet, and there's plenty of time to right the ship as it were, but that ship is taking on water and someone's got to start bailing.
Before Zimmerman's error, it looked like even though owner Bill DeWitt is a noted Republican, the Cards were doing the Democratic response to the GOP's convention, because they were all about the Big O. The Cardinals wound up setting a season high by not scoring in 28 innings, which is all the more frustrating since this team shouldn't go scoreless for 28 minutes, as people pointed out on Twitter. As bad as they are, Houston has only been shut out four times since the All-Star Break, never back to back. When you start comparing your team to Houston and you don't come out the obvious winner, there's a problem.
Not to take away from Edwin Jackson, because if he'd thrown a low scoring game I wouldn't have been surprised. Jackson's a solid pitcher and has done a good job for Washington this year. It's not that the Cards lost, it's just the total ineptness of the hitters on this team.
I mean, four hits all night long. I've got to give the Hero tag to Bryan Anderson just because he was able to find second base, let alone score. As a team in the last three games, the Cards are hitting just .149 with a grand total of 14 hits. To put that in perspective, in the last game in Cincinnati, the Cards pounded out 17 hits alone.
It's completely feast or famine with this team. Joe Strauss likened it to a python on Twitter and the analogy has stuck. It seems St. Louis will go out and indulge in runs for a while (the 10 games before the last three, they hit .304/.325/.421, though with only five homers) and then, well fattened, they laze around before getting hungry again.
(Even though he didn't get a hit, kudos to Yadier Molina for getting back out on the field so quickly. He's a vital cog and a respected player, so it's good to know his injuries weren't major.)
Even with all the offensive ineptitude, though, the Goat still has to go to Jaime Garcia. With the issues this team is having, to be down 2-0 before there's an out in the first is a problem. As Derrick Goold said on Twitter last night, before this road trip Garcia had only given up three homers to lefties in his career. He's now done it in back-to-back starts, and while all of these lefties are solid, even All-Star level players, that's not right.
Things didn't get much better as Garcia allowed six runs in just over five innings. Lance Lynn was ineffective as well and so, instead of having everything click, it was a complete meltdown--offense, starting pitching, relief pitching.
If Furcal is lost for the season, that's going to likely create a huge problem for St. Louis. Furcal's offense hadn't been up to par anyway, but losing him on the defensive side of things will hurt. Plus his absence means that Daniel Descalso will likely get the bulk of playing time, which won't be as much of a drop off as it could be, but Descalso is hitting even worse than Furcal is and that's not likely to change with regular exposure.
All in all, this does not look like a team ready to make a charge into the playoffs. They lost a half-game on Pittsburgh and stand only 1.5 ahead of the Dodgers, meaning that they are going to have to shake off these problems and start winning soon or the only Red October will be in Cincinnati.
Of course, when the season is over, whenever that may be, that means John Mozeliak is going to be working on Adam Wainwright's extension. It's a positive sign in my book that Mo has already approached Wainwright's camp about this, but Waino wants to wait until the season is over. That doesn't seem ominous to me at all, being that Wainwright came up under Tony La Russa, who often reiterated that mindset of doing things later so as not to distract from the field. I think there's a very strong possibility Wainwright gets extended this offseason--we know the money will be there (due to the reworking of MLB's contract with ESPN, teams should have $12 million or so extra coming to them, and that's before the deals with TBS/FOX get reworked this offseason) and the desire is there. After the Albert Pujols incident, I don't think the club will wait until free agency is a real option to engage and it seems like they haven't. So, if I was a betting man, I'd bet on an extension for Wainwright, probably announced sometime before Winter Warmup in January.
Wainwright gets to keep working on his extension case tonight against the Nationals. If anyone is going to stop a losing streak and get this team back on its winning ways, it's big number 50.
Waino's done pretty well against these guys, limiting them up and down the lineup. Save for a couple of guys that did well in one game (the smallest of samples), nothing stands out. While that's no guarantee--a shutout's only a winner if your team also scores--you have to like the Redbirds' chances with the ace on the hill.
He goes up against Gio Gonzalez, who's a cipher to the Cards. That's usually not a good thing. Only Carlos Beltran (who is still in a fairly extensive slump) has faced him, and he went 0-3 in that game. It's not the matchup you'd like to see when you are in an offensive drought, but maybe the lack of familiarity will work for the Cardinals tonight, as Gonzalez hasn't figured out what works (unless he talked to Jackson after the game last night!)
It's pretty close to a must win, as you don't want to need to split the series facing Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasberg. The Cardinals can change the story line with a big showing tonight and I'm hopeful they can do just that!
After Monday night, when the Cards had won to put the Pirates three back and to make ground on about everyone else in the wild card race, things were looking good. It seemed likely that the Cardinals had put everything together and were starting off on another late season run.
Little did we know that was the last semblance of offense we'd see in the series.
For the second straight night, Pittsburgh held the team scoreless and Pedro Alvarez provided more much than the league's best offense in total. Instead of a team that looks primed and ready to take on all comers, they fall to eight games behind Cincinnati, eliminating that an as an option in all reality, and see them clinging to the last wild card slot, just one game ahead of Pittsburgh and a game and a half ahead of the Dodgers. (They are now 2.5 behind Atlanta for the top wild card slot.)
Still, I'll go with Joe Kelly. While things could have been much worse, his hanging pitch to Alvarez took just about any hope of a win away from St. Louis. To be fair, take that out and he allowed just two runs, but you have to remember that there were two on for Alvarez as well. He's not completely blameless here. Of course, we didn't know it but the run he gave up in the first was all they needed, but I can't just put "offense" down as the Goat.
On the positive side, I'll go with David Freese as the Hero since he had two hits, but Tony Cruz also did a good job filling in for Molina with a couple of knocks and Jon Jay drew three walks, which is exactly what you want to see out of a leadoff guy. I've been very impressed with Jay in the leadoff role and hope he can keep this up. Give a lot of credit to Trevor Rosenthal as well. Three scoreless innings with only one hit allowed. Obviously there's less pressure coming into a 5-0 game, but that's impressive work nonetheless.
Mike Matheny says Kelly will stay in the rotation, which I'd expect, though you'll note he said the same thing after Lance Lynn's last start. I'd guess if Kelly falters again they might go with Rosenthal, they might return Lynn to the rotation, but if I were to guess I'd say Kelly is there for the duration, barring some major blowup. I'm still interested to see if they bring up Shelby Miller and if they do, he could get a start here and there. I don't think he'll make the trip up from Memphis, but it's still a reasonable possibility.
Yadier Molina was doing well yesterday, pestering Matheny to let him play and calling the hit by Josh Harrison "a clean play." Nobody knows that better than Molina, so hopefully that puts paid to any controversy. Also, given his improvement, hopefully we'll see Molina back on the field tonight or tomorrow, which is great news to anyone not named Bryan Anderson.
Just like last night's offense, it was pretty quiet around the Cardinals the last day or so. We'll see if that changes this weekend when the callups can start. Memphis's season ends Monday, so I'm guessing we won't see a lot of people coming to St. Louis until Tuesday at the earliest. Miller should pitch tomorrow night, so he could come up after that if he's coming.
Seems strange to be almost in September and talking about a team we've not seen yet, but the Cards and Nationals will meet for the first time this evening. Obviously, this is going to be another tough series for St. Louis, with Washington being in first place and having the ability to throw out a lot of good pitching at the Redbirds.
That run of good pitching starts tonight with old friend Edwin Jackson taking the mound for Washington. Jackson was in a Kyle Lohse-like situation last year, as he pitched well enough that the Cardinals would have liked to bring him back, but there really wasn't room for him. (Though if they'd known about Chris Carpenter, I wonder if they'd done things differently.) Jackson's record isn't all that strong, but his ERA is under 4.00 and we well know how strong he can pitch on a given night.
Jackson's bounced around enough that many have had a chance to face him, but no one's had a chance to face him very much. Matt Holliday's done well, Molina has flat out owned him, but other than that not much stands out. We'll see if his time in St. Louis gave him any insights on how to pitch to these guys and vice versa.
Matching up against Jackson is Jaime Garcia. Garcia has pitched well since his return from the disabled list but also shown that lack of mental toughness that he has been labeled with in the past. We know the road is not usually kind to Garcia, but maybe that'll change.
These guys have done fairly well against Garcia also, again in a very small sample size. He has been able to handle Jayson Werth, though.
They all are from now on, but this is an especially key series. If they can't at least split this one, there may not be any reason to be excited about a wild card run after all. Let's see if they can do it!
And to think, we almost made it through the season without an Incident.
You know, one of those moments where the national press and those that think the worst of the Cardinals get a chance to moralize or condemn the squad as "whiners". Without Tony La Russa, we'd been relatively free of the drama that had surrounded this team in the last few years.
This time, though, we aren't talking about lights on the field or a blowup with a reporter. We're talking the health and continued playability of Yadier Molina, something much more important (and much less deserving of the crybaby label that some love to put on this team).
You know by now that Josh Harrisonplowed into Molina at the plate last night, throwing a forearm shiver at his head instead of trying for the hook slide or at least crashing into the body. If you for some reason haven't seen it or want to refer to it, this is what it looked like.
Looking at the responses on Twitter, even Pirate fans were not pleased with what Harrison did. As they pointed out, if he tries to hook slide, he's probably safe and the game goes on. Instead, he wanted to be the football player and tried to take out Molina, which you have to know isn't happening. I heard that in some versions, they replaced Gandalf with Molina for the famous "You shall not pass" scene because it made it more believable.
Folks, you know it's serious when Molina has to be helped off the field. Molina is a rock in this lineup, already playing on a bad ankle because he wants to help the team. To see him roll around on the field and have to leave the game, well, it's not surprising that it stirred up some passions in the clubhouse.
When you have a former catcher whose career ended due to concussions and a TLR-trained team that (for whatever your opinion of it) feel like they've been trained to play the game the "right way", a dirty play like that is not going to go unanswered. (To be fair, I don't think Harrison intended to harm Molina, but ignorance isn't necessarily a defense.) Sadly, one of the highlights of Jake Westbrook's night was his plunking of Harrison later on, to send a message that his sort of play wasn't tolerated.
Both sides were warned after that, of course, but Clint Hurdle came out to argue that ruling. Apparently, that didn't set well with the keeper of the flame. The Warrior was with the team in Pittsburgh and in fine form as well. We heard earlier in the day that Chris Carpenter had thrown a bullpen session (more on that in a bit), but I'm pretty sure he was wanting to fire one past Hurdle right then. If nothing else, sitting on the bench hasn't diluted Carp's fiery competitiveness. I know I would never want to be on his bad side!
Thankfully, there doesn't seem to be any lasting injuries with Molina, who was diagnosed with multiple strains but no concussion or anything of the sort. Molina is the player this team can probably least afford to lose for an extended period of time. The Cardinals are covering just in case, sending down Brandon Dickson (who wouldn't be able to help more this week anyway and will possibly return when the rosters expand) and Ryan Jackson (who barely has gotten to play in his time in the bigs) so as to recall Trevor Rosenthal and Bryan Anderson. If it's like the last time Anderson came up, he'll never get into a game, but it's good to have that insurance behind Tony Cruz.
At the time of the Incident, it was 1-0. Sadly, it didn't stay that way but even if it had, it likely would have just added to the pile of one-run losses that the Cards have endured. James McDonald has been able to get no one out since the All-Star Break except those wearing the birds on the bat. McDonald now has a string of 14 scoreless innings against the club in the last two weeks, allowing only two hits over that span. Pedro Alvarez continues to destroy Cardinal pitching, launching two home runs and going 4-5. Nothing about last night went the Cardinals way. (Versus the Cards, Alvarez has four home runs in 49 at-bats and his hitting .347/.429/.633, well above his season totals of .240/.321/.462.)
Westbrook gets the Goat, throwing his second straight ugly start after signing the contract extension. It got away from him in the fifth, where trailing by 3-0 he let it run up to 7-0 before he got an out. Mike Matheny left him out there to save the pen, because it seemed unlikely the club was coming back anyway, and it gave him the chance to retaliate against Harrison. Dickson was able to absorb the rest of the game, allowing just one earned run (two total) in his three innings and looking much better than what we saw from him in Cincinnati.
Tough to give a Hero to a team that only got five hits, so let's give it to Molina. He had one of those and obviously gave his all for the team last night.
The better and more intriguing news of yesterday was the bullpen session of Carpenter and the resulting speculation that, just maybe, Carp's not done for 2012. The club isn't completely ruling out that Carpenter could be a bullpen option down the stretch, which would make for an exciting option in September. I don't expect it will happen, but those involved were being awfully noncommittal. You'd have expected a more definite "no, he should be ready for spring but not going to push him before that" if that wasn't at least on the minds of those making decisions. If nothing else, seeing Carpenter on a major league mound would put John Mozeliak's mind at ease when he goes into the offseason.
We've never seen Carp in the pen. Would he be able to get out of that starter mentality and go right at people? Uh, yeah, probably. The problem might be controlling that aggression! The bigger issue would be if he could go on shorter rest, if he could warm up quickly, those things that are different about a starter than a reliever. I'd definitely be willing to find out, though!
Big rubber game of the series tonight. Cards need it to keep any sort of momentum going, Pirates need it to stay relevant in the wild-card hunt. The Cardinals have to put last night behind them and, to their credit, we saw them do that in just the last series, getting blown out by Cincy and then coming back to take the last game. Need a little repeating history here.
Joe Kelly gets back into the rotation and goes today. He was solid against the Pirates in that extra-inning game, giving up one run in 5.2 innings. Obviously, Pittsburgh hasn't seen him much, but he's gotten them out when he has faced them.
He was able to handle Alvarez, which is huge. If he pitches like he has most of the year, the Cards should have a good chance to win.
Of course, they are going up against one of their nemeses in Wandy Rodriguez. Rodriguez often handled the Cardinals in Houston and pitched the last two innings of the extra-inning affair, getting the win.
Matt Holliday has done well against him and, if Carlos Beltran wasn't "lost" (his words), this might be a good matchup for him as well. The Cardinals are really going to have to battle tonight and show that they want this win. Here's hoping they get it!
Are we sure that was the 2012 Cardinals playing last night? I mean, it's a fair question. So often this season we've seen the Cards have a strong series, only to come out flat in a game that matters. Instead, they took two of three from Cincinnati and then continued to roll by taking the first game against the Pirates. I'm not sure who these guys are, but I could come to like them!
The closer role is a difficult one. When Jason Motte blows a save, he winds up with the Goat tag because he let a winnable game get away. When he locks down the game, he doesn't necessarily get extra credit because, basically, he's doing his job.
While there could be arguments made about others (and I will in a moment), Motte was the Hero of last night's game. Coming in with two on and two out in the eighth, with the game starting to feel like it was slipping away, Motte got Josh Harrison to ground out to shortstop then put away the Pirates in the ninth with little drama. A loss last night would have been pretty devastating, but Motte made sure it didn't happen.
Of course, there might not have been a lead to protect if it wasn't for Matt Holliday. Not only did Holliday hit the tie-breaking home run, he had limited some damage in the fourth when Pittsburgh scored two of their runs. Harrison hit a fly ball with the bases loaded that Holliday made a nice play to track down, keeping it as a sacrifice fly rather than a double that cleared the bases. That was key later when the Cardinals rallied. Two runs was doable, four runs might have made for a different game. The only downside to Holliday's night was that he struck out with Jon Jay at third when that insurance run would have felt really good to the fans watching.
That was the only bit of trouble Kyle Lohse ran into. Well, save the elements of course, as the rain not only eventually knocked him out of the game but the mud may have slowed him down enough to get thrown out at the plate. Still, I think we'll take five innings of two run ball and a game-tying RBI. Pretty good night for Lohse and, again, it was the rain knocking him out of the game and not the Pirates, so you feel good about that.
Carlos Beltran gets the Goat for his 0-4 night. It's been a rough stretch for Beltran, who is batting .149/.231/.213 over his last twelve games and hasn't hit a home run since August 10. Whether it's nagging injuries or something else, he's not helping the team much right now and hopefully he can get back to his early season form. It doesn't seem that there are many better alternatives right now, but you hate to have a dead spot in the lineup if you can help it.
It was a little interesting that Mike Matheny lifted Mitchell Boggs in the eighth, going with Marc Rzepczynski to face Pedro Alvarez with one on and two out. Scrabble did have better numbers against Alvarez, though both had a very small sample. I also think it might have been the right call because Alvarez has made his season against the Cardinals, it seems, and any little advantage might be key. Of course, Rzep got him to ground to Furcal, but the shift was on and Furcal could only get to the ball, with no chance to make a play. That set the stage for Motte, which is where we came in.
We also got to see Lance Lynn make his first relief appearance of the year, coming in after the rain delay to take over for Lohse. Lynn got some help in the outfield, including a ball that Jay had to go a long way for to get, but he threw a scoreless frame. We'll see if the bullpen adjustment takes and we see the Lynn we saw down the stretch last year.
Cincinnati won, staying six ahead of the Cards, but both Atlanta and Los Angeles lost, meaning that the Cards are now 2.5 ahead of LA and three ahead of Pittsburgh for the last wild card slot and only 1.5 games behind Atlanta for the first one. Getting that home field advantage for the one game playoff sure would be a nice thing.
St. Louis looks to take the series early tonight and sends out Jake Westbrook to do it. Westbrook struggled last time out against the Astros, but has been very consistent otherwise this season. Westbrook has had trouble against the Pirates this season, though, going 1-3 with a tolerable 3.71 ERA.
Andrew McCutchen has done well against him, which could be a problem. The Cards held down McCutchen when they faced Pittsburgh in St. Louis a few series back, but that's not going to last long. Jose Tabata has done a number on him as well, so this doesn't look like the best matchup for Westbrook.
James McDonald has only thrown once against the Cardinals this year, but it was that Friday night game two weeks ago where the Cards didn't score until he was out of the game. Historically, these Redbirds haven't done much against him either.
Of course, the Amazing Whacker Guy Allen Craig has hit him, but that's about it. While McDonald has been in a bad place for most of the second half of the season, this still isn't a great matchup for St. Louis.
Here's to bucking the numbers and taking home a win tonight. Also, if you've not done it yet, be sure to enter the Egraphs giveaway. A good number of entries so far but not enough that your odds are astronomical. You've got until the UCB Radio Hour tomorrow night to enter!
You hang over the rail, waiting for your favorite player to come out of the dugout and start working his way through the line. Maybe he gets to you, maybe he doesn't. Most likely, at best you get a head nod and a scribbled name. While nothing is ever going to take the place of being in the same limited area with "your guy", there might be something that will be right up there with it.
There's a new company out there called Egraphs, and as you might guess from the name, it's all about autographs with an electronic flair. You don't have a piece of paper with the major league name on it, but what you do get might be even better.
"How could an electronic signature ever compare to the real thing?" you might ask. Ah, but the difference is that the electronic version actually gets personalized to you. Not just your name, but also a message from the ballplayer. If that's not enough, each Egraph also comes with a recorded message from the player, also personalized.
How does that work? Well, you can read all the technical details on their website, but basically players sign the pictures using an iPad app and record through the same manner. Egraphs verifies the signature and voice and then sends it on to you. You can share them via Facebook and Twitter, keep them stored on your computer, or there's even a printing option (for an extra cost, I expect, though I've not been able to find what it was. Update: per the folks at Egraphs, that'd cost you another $45, but that would definitely not be out of the realm of the possible for most.)
You can read a few articles about Egraphs here, here, and here, but I got a chance to talk to Gabe Kapler, former MLB player and now the director of player development for Egraphs. Kapler's the one that talks the players into joining up with Egraphs. He's also recently wrangled some Cardinals into his new company, including Matt Carpenter, Daniel Descalso and Jason Motte.
I asked Mr. Kapler how he got involved with this company and he said it went back to his days with the Rays. The brother of David Auld (the CEO of Egraphs) worked for the Rays at the time and brought this to his attention, thinking he would be a good fit for it. "I thought the idea was brilliant," said Kapler. "There was a need for a warmer, more personal way for fans, players, celebrities to interact."
As mentioned, Kapler is the one responsible for putting the idea in front of the players, showing them how it works, and getting them to buy in. I asked him what kind of success rate he was having in this regard. "A pretty remarkable success rate," was his response. His contention is the players want to have this kind of interaction with the fans but it's difficult to do in a traditional setting. With Egraphs, they can have a connection with a fan even as they are miles apart. "There's only upside and very little downside" to the process for the players and the company goes the extra mile to make sure this isn't a huge burden on them.
The connection is really the selling point. "We found when the player wasn't rushed to go to batting practice or wasn't rushed to go watch video, they put their hearts and their souls into the Egraph and therefore the fan felt that genuine, warm nature," said Kapler, who also provides Egraphs on the site and so sees the company from both sides of the pipeline.
Of course, you know in this day and age, there's always a smart aleck out there wanting to taunt a player or try to goad them into something embarrassing. Maybe it's a Yankee fan wanting Pedro Martinez to say, "Yankees rule" or something of that nature. Kapler says that not only are requests screened on the way in, but the product is screened on the way out before it gets to the fan as well.
"We're a wholesome company that believes in creating life-changing moments for a fan," said Kapler. "We don't want a player to say something he didn't mean and we want to give him a chance to make it right." In this day of social media, an Egraph written on the wrong day could be halfway around the Internet before the sun came up if they didn't have these sort of controls in place.
There are a lot of current players on the site, but there are some retired players as well plus, as represented by Mike Olt, some hot new names on the scene. Kapler says they hope to expand on both sides of the player continuum. "Egraphs was built and created for any celebrity that has a fan. Our job is to match that celebrity up with that fan." No word on whether they are going to then expand out into the blogging community for their next version, but I'm pretty sure Dennis would be a huge seller.
As Egraphs are currently configured, you get the signed picture plus an audio component. I asked if there were any plans to add video at some point and time and Kapler said that was on the drawing board. I don't know that it'll be anytime in the immediate future, but it does sound like that will be coming which will make for an even cooler experience.
Before I let him go, I had to ask what celebrity he really wanted to add to the site. Interestingly, he wanted to go away from baseball (though he said Cal Ripken Jr. in that sport) to tap Charles Barkley, who was his favorite athlete growing up. So if you see Barkley as the face of Egraphs in the near future, you'll know why.
It was great to talk to Mr. Kapler and you can tell he's got a lot of passion for the Egraphs product. It looks like a wonderful thing all the way around and now you can get a chance to see just how great it is. Egraphs is letting me give away one free egraph to a lucky reader. All you have to do is comment on this post before the beginning of Wednesday night's UCB Radio Hour. I'll randomly select one person to receive the egraph, so be sure to leave some sort of contact info, whether it's a Twitter handle or an email or something of that nature.
The Cardinals were able to take two of three this weekend from the Reds. While that's a good thing for their playoff hopes, it's more like a mosquito bite to the chances of actually taking the division. Whether that matters or not depends on your point of view, but I know I'd have much rather left Cincinnati four back rather than six back and it easily could have happened. Let's recap.
Hero: Tony Cruz. The Cardinals never quite got on track, but it was never the fault of Cruz. Filling in because Yadier Molina's ankle was bothering him, Cruz got two hits and scored the only two runs of the game. He had the misfortune of leading off innings and his hits couldn't be productive in driving in runs, but Cruz did a great job all around.
Goat: Brandon Dickson. It's more on Mike Matheny on putting a guy that hasn't pitched much in the bigs and had just been recalled into a game that was still winnable. Sure, it was getting tight because you knew that the Reds had Jonathan Broxton and Aroldis Chapman in the pen, but Broxton's not been impervious to being hit since moving to Cincy. There was still a chance this team could come back until Dickson allowed four more runs and put the game out of reach. What Matheny was thinking there (and why he was slow to go get him) is debatable.
Notes: Nice to know that the rehab hasn't changed Jaime Garcia much. Garcia was rolling along pitching a very good game until the sixth. It looked to me that he had Todd Frazier struck out with runners on the corners, but the pitch was called a ball. The next pitch was a grounder that could have been called a double play, but Frazier beat it out. That didn't seem to sit well with Garcia, and as we've seen before, when he gets unsettled, bad things happen. This bad thing was a home run by Jay Bruce that added on to the Reds' lead, only the fourth home run by a lefty off of Garcia in his career.
It's surprising that Matheny didn't go out to settle Garcia down before he faced Bruce. Knowing Garcia's temperamental history, you'd have thought that would have been high on his list of things to do. It also may not have served Garcia well there to have Cruz as the catcher instead of Molina, as Cruz might not know or have the weight to go out and get Garcia's head on straight.
Hero: Matt Holliday. Huge all-around day for Holliday, needing only a home run in his last at-bat to reach the cycle. While he didn't get it, he did get his fourth hit and fourth RBI, pacing the attack that was tempered somewhat by Homer Bailey, but not enough.
Goat: He was playing on a bad ankle, one that was obviously causing him a lot of pain in his last at-bat (and may have kept him from a home run, as he still launched a pitch to the warning track), but with an 0-5 day, I have to go with Molina here. Again, it was impressive that he crouched on that ankle for as long as he could, but it got so bad that they had to double-switch him out when the game got out of hand. Of course, it's possible Matheny did that just so he could warm up the pitcher.
Notes: Allen Craig continues to be the Amazing Whacker Guy, wrenching another home run that gave the Cards a 5-0 lead, something that proved big in the bottom of the sixth. Adam Wainwright cruised through five innings, but stumbled a bit in the sixth. Then again, it wasn't entirely his fault as he got not one but two double play grounders and both times Rafael Furcal botched the play just enough to get only one out. Wainwright wasn't as sharp in the inning, it's true, but the difference between him and Garcia (besides the fact Waino was pitching with a comfortable lead) was that Wainwright didn't give up, continued to battle and gave up some flares and grounders instead of a big fly that would tie the game.
Speaking of tying the game, the bullpen did an outstanding job overall, but Marc Rzepczynski did his darndest to give everyone heart attacks. Coming in after Wainwright left two on and a three-run lead, Scrabble ran the count to 3-0 on the lefty he was supposed to get out before getting him to fly out to medium left field. Thankfully the rest of the relief crew did their jobs with more aplomb. The fact that the Cards immediately answered with two runs of their own helped as well.
So the Cards are six games back of the Reds. Now, if your goal is a divisional title, you have to be a bit disappointed about how Saturday's game turned out. If the Cards had swept this series, that would have put some pressure on Cincinnati. With a three-game series to end the season in St. Louis, the Cards would have only had to pick up one game along the way to have a chance of controlling their fate. Instead, they have to gain three on the Reds, which would take a lot of consistent play from St. Louis and a pretty good stumble by Cincinnati. The Reds don't have that tough of a schedule from here on out, with only the Dodgers and Pirates being teams that stand out.
Of course, as St. Louis proved last year (and many other teams have as well in the 15+ years of the wild card), you only have to get to the playoffs to make a difference. The Dodgers are a game and a half behind the Cards and Pittsburgh is two out, meaning the Pirates come into this series starting today in a role reversal from a couple of weekends ago. If the Cards are able to take two of three, that could be the end of Pittsburgh's postseason hopes. St. Louis also has to keep an eye on Atlanta, because playing that one game wild-card play-in game at Busch would be much more palatable than playing it at Turner Field.
Joe Strauss spent some time in the land of blues and BBQ this weekend, which meant he got to report on both ends of the career spectrum. We've talked about his interview with Lance Berkman, how Berkman is looking likely to retire at the end of this season. He also chatted up Shelby Miller, who is rolling in Memphis right now. In his last 10 games, he's 6-3 with a 3.40 ERA and 65 strikeouts to just 11 walks. Miller seems to have matured after his rough stretch earlier this season, a stretch that will likely cost him seeing St. Louis this September.
While it'd be intriguing to put Miller in the bullpen for the stretch run, he isn't on the 40-man roster at the moment which causes some logistical issues. Besides that, the club has spent a lot of time trying to rework his thinking from "fastball only", but that's mainly what he'd be expected to do in the 'pen. Now, if Kelly stumbles a couple of times? Maybe Shelby gets the call for some spot starts. I just don't think it's going to happen, though.
Good start to the road trip for the Redbirds and they hope to keep it going tonight in a good pitching matchup in Pittsburgh. Kyle Lohse goes for the Cards and he's not gotten a loss on his record since June 15 in Kansas City. Lohse has a 1.01 ERA--yes, barely over a run per nine innings--in the month of August and with a strong start tonight it will be the third month of the season where his ERA has been under two. Lohse is clicking right now and hopefully that will continue this evening.
The Pirates have hit him in the past, though. Andrew McCutchen has been strong against Lohse, but as we saw last time in St. Louis, he's been slumping lately, just hitting .190/.320/.190 in his last 10 games. Whether he's pressing or what, I don't know, but I know that he's too good for this to continue long-term. Hopefully he'll snap out of it once the Cards are out of town. (I know Christine surely feels the same way.)
The last time the Cards saw A.J. Burnett, they put up 12 runs against him in less than three innings. The time before that, he shut them out over seven innings in his first Pittsburgh start. Burnett's had a strong year, even factoring in that shellacking. He's scuffled some since a shutout on the last day of July against the Cubs, but he's still 15-4 with a 3.63 ERA.
Six runs on six hits in the sixth inning. Usually, a collection of three sixes in a row indicates devilish activity, but last night that mixture wound up heavenly for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Heaven knows, though, that the game surely didn't start out that way. Lance Lynn gets to be the Goat of the piece, as he didn't get an out in the third inning before having to be replaced. As Derrick Goold pointed out in the game story, Lynn has a 7.94 ERA over his last six starts. It's getting to become less of a slump and more of a problem. It's fairly obvious Mike Matheny realizes this as well, because he had Joe Kelly warming up in the second before bringing him into the game in the third. Whether this fairly obvious lack of confidence in Lynn exacerbates the problem or not, I don't know. Matheny hasn't said that Lynn is going to lose his slot in the rotation, but if he can't get to the fifth inning (and he's not gotten past the fifth in his last three starts), is he really a starting pitcher?
Lynn did some great work for the Cardinals earlier in the year, but this is obviously his worst patch of the year. The six starts in June weren't good either, but even then his ERA was just 5.67 because he mixed in a game of seven scoreless innings in the middle of it. You hate to chance horses mid-stream, but there's got to be serious consideration given to swapping out Lynn for Kelly. (Though, if Lynn's first inning problems continue, he wouldn't be that great in the bullpen. I don't expect they would, though.)
While Kelly did do a great job of keeping the Cards in the game last night, going three innings and allowing one inherited runner and one of his own to score, the Hero comes from the offense. Allen Craig's three-run homer tied up the game and was just one of his three hits on the night. While Yadier Molina broke the tie (to the significant consternation of Reds fans) with a home run right after him (also part of a three-hit night for the catcher), Craig's home run revitalized both the players and the fans and gave them the confidence to believe this actually was their night.
Lots of kudos go out to Carlos Beltran as well. Only one hit, but it was the hit that set everything in motion. You know, it's one thing to see Skip Schumaker dive for first base. That kind of "gritty" play is what you think of when you think of players like Skip. To see a million-dollar, 25+ home run guy diving into first? That's got the potential to get you really fired up. It shows how much they want to win this thing and it seemed to work for the clubhouse last night.
Speaking of Schumaker, he also got three hits on the night as everyone in the lineup hit safely at least once. People kept saying that the Cardinals hit Mat Latos well (as we saw in yesterday's table) and though it took them awhile, they finally proved that right. When you can stay out of the way of Aroldis Chapman, you can do some damage against the Cincinnati bullpen, though obviously the Cards didn't see the top guys last night.
David Freese was hit on his hand in last night's game and wound up leaving early. While there was no initial worry and he didn't need X-rays, we'll have to see if he's feeling up to playing today. As of this writing the lineup isn't out so we'll have to wait and see.
There was some roster shuffling yesterday as Barret Browningwas sent to Memphis and Brandon Dickson returned to the team. That leaves the Cards with only one left-hander (just a week or so after having three in the 'pen), but if you are struggling to get people out, it doesn't really matter what hand you throw with. Browning likely will return next weekend when the rosters expand, but he may have had his moment in the sun earlier this summer.
Talking about people that have had their moment leads us to the latest on Lance Berkman. Joe Strauss was down in Memphis to talk to him and Berkman confirmed what most of us already pretty much knew, that he was leaning toward retirement. On one hand, you hate to hear that because Berkman's been such an addition to this team, both on the field and in the clubhouse. His 2011 will always be remembered fondly by Cardinal fans and he'll always get a hero's welcome on Busch. I'll admit that I liked him even as an Astro, but he became one of my favorites quickly when he donned Cardinal red.
On the other hand, it's getting obvious that his body just can't take the pounding that baseball gives it. His knees are shot and, if I were him, I wouldn't want to go through that whole offseason workout that he has to do to stay in shape. There's a selfish component to this side as well. The Cardinals don't have a spot for him next year, but I'd hate to see him somewhere else. I know he'll likely spend his retirement working for the Astros (though perhaps that is less likely given some of the comments he's made toward what's going on down there lately), but I'd like to see him at Cardinal spring training and around the ballpark from time to time.
St. Louis goes for the series win this afternoon, sending Jaime Garcia out to the mound. Jaime was dominating in his first start on Sunday, but as we all know he has been a different pitcher on the road. There's no guarantee just what Garcia we are going to see this afternoon.
At least history is on Jaime's side. While he's had his problems with Drew Stubbs and Ryan Hanigan, he's shut down a lot of the other Reds hitters. If he can keep that up, hopefully the Cardinal offense can get him a win.
Those Redbird rakers will be facing Mike Leake. Leake's had his problems at times this year, putting up a 4.59 ERA and coming off a game where he allowed seven runs to Philadelphia. He contained St. Louis back in July, allowing only two runs in six innings.
I don't think you can sit Beltran, even with these awful numbers. The sample size is too small and his bat is too important. On the positive side, Matt Holliday and Molina have looked good against him, so this shouldn't---SHOULDN'T--be one of those days when the offense goes into hibernation. Look forward to seeing if that's the case!
With two outs in the bottom of the fourth on Thursday, the Cards were down 4-0 and looking very much like the frustrating, non-broom-wielding team that we've seen much more often than we'd like this season. Dallas Keuchel, who gets bonus points for being a University of Arkansas graduate like your humble author, was shutting down the Redbirds like those young, unknown starters tend to do.
As we all know, two-out walks will kill a pitcher. I'm not sure that Keuchel expected the beating to be that bad, but after Carlos Beltran walked, Yadier Molina hit a ground-rule double (just missing an RBI with that) and then the Hero of the piece, David Freese, smashed a three-run home run.
Even though Jake Westbrook (who has to get the Goat because of allowing five runs in five innings) allowed his last run after that, it seemed almost inevitable that the Cardinals were going to win this game and, indeed, a five run fifth not only put St. Louis in the driver's seat but also gave Westbrook a less-than-deserved win. To be fair, that help evens out a bit those times where Westbrook gave up just one or two runs and got the loss. Don't think anyone is going to complain about him getting to 13 wins that way.
While Barret Browning still struggled, continuing that concern for the club, Edward Mujica more than made up for it, striking out three in his 1.2 innings of work. All in all, it was a fun day to be a Cardinal fan as they got the sweep that they really needed to have.
As I write this, the Cards have a full game lead on Pittsburgh and a 1.5 game lead on Los Angeles, while trailing the Braves for the first wild-card slot (and home field advantage in the play-in game) by three games. All save Atlanta, who take on the Giants tonight, are off this evening so the standings won't change much as the Cards go on their biggest road trip of the season.
Back in 2010, the Cards were rolling along, then ran into a weak road trip and fell apart. This year, it's almost the exact opposite as St. Louis will play some of the same teams, but instead find it a very tough road. Three games with Cincinnati, three more with Pittsburgh, then four with Washington. The Cards probably need to go 6-4 in this stretch, maybe more, to keep their playoff hopes strong.
They'll head off to Great American Ball Park for tomorrow night's matchup. While the Reds have a dominating lead in the division, a strong showing could at least put a little down in Cincy's mind. When even the manager says it's a big series, it's a big series.
The pitching matchup is strong to start this series, as Lance Lynn goes up against Mat Latos. Lynn has had his struggles lately and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Mike Matheny pull him at the first sign of trouble, but he's still been able to be an effective pitcher for St. Louis. While he's not faced the Reds much, when he has he's been very good.
Latos struggled early in the year as he transitioned from Petco to the offensively-friendly environment known as GABP, but he's turned it on of late and has been quite effective in the Reds' playoff push. On the whole, though, St. Louis should be glad to see him.
Lots of gaudy numbers there. Jay and Furcal especially have done a number on him and hopefully will continue to do so. Starting off with some offense would be great. We don't want to have to regret that they didn't save some of their runs from today!
There are bare minimums that a team has to do to stay in a postseason race. One of those is beating up on a cellar-dwelling, potentially historically bad team when you have the chance. While they didn't have it easy--it never is, seemingly, when Bud Norris is on the mound--the Cards did do just that last night, ensuring a series win and keeping a potential sweep alive.
However, they very well may not have had it not been for Jon Jay. Jay had a very good all-around game last night, getting two hits, driving in the tying run, scoring the go-ahead run on a wild pitch, and turning in yet another stellar defensive play. In a game that stayed close throughout, Jay's contributions definitely were the difference.
That's not to slight Kyle Lohse at all. It had to be a little tough going out there, knowing that the team isn't looking to reward you for the strong season you've put up. Obviously, Lohse has known for a while that he's probably not in the future plans of the squad, but the extension for Jake Westbrook had to put the nail in the coffin. Lohse says he's not thinking about it and it showed in his pitching last night. He did give up two solo home runs--Brett Wallace is turning into a Cardinal killer in his own right--but just one other hit besides that. He was pinch-hit for after seven innings, but at 87 pitches likely could have continued on.
Good to see Matt Holliday get a couple of hits as well. If Holliday can get back on one of his runs, that's only going to help this offense produce in the last five weeks of the season. Also nice to see that the numbers were right for Daniel Descalso. Dirty Dan got the start due to his success against Norris and was able to originally tie up the game with a double.
The Goat of the game would have to be Matt Carpenter, the only starter who did not get a hit last night. Still, with David Freese scuffling, having a guy like Carpenter to come in and be able to easily slide into the top of the lineup is a huge plus for this squad.
While the Cards have one more tonight at home versus Houston, it's not a surprise that they are starting to look at what is going to be a crucial road trip. They go to Cincinnati, they go to Pittsburgh, and they go to Washington. They can't really lose more than two on that trip, I don't think, especially against the Reds and the Pirates. The Cards were able to take over the lead for the last wild card spot with their win and Pittsburgh and Los Angeles losing, but if they want to solidify that and make any sort of late charge at the Reds, this is the time to make that stand.
Hopefully it turns out much better than a similar road trip in 2010. Of course, that road trip wasn't against divisional rivals and one of the best records in baseball. That one was against some of the same teams in their much weaker state and the Cards, after the emotional series in Cincinnati, went on that road trip and fell completely flat. It basically ended their season. Let's hope this road trip turns out much better!
Before that trip starts, though, the Cards do have one more game against Houston, as much of a formality as it seems. Jake Westbrook goes out and hopefully shows why the Cards went ahead and got him locked up for next season. Of course, when you look at what Houston hitters have done to Westbrook, maybe it's not so much of a formality after all.
Wallace, as he tends to be, has been a pain in the side of Westbrook, but a number of these hitters have done well in a small sample. Hopefully Westbrook can drop those numbers significantly with a good outing tonight.
Dallas Keuchel will take the hill for the Astros. Keuchel's numbers aren't outstanding at all--he's 1-5 with an ERA just under 5--but he has pitched better of late, giving up no more than three earned runs in any August start. The Cards have never faced him, so there's that challenge as well. You'd like to think that this team could hit him around the yard, but you never can be too certain about that.
Tough to say this is a must-win, but the Cards really need to take care of business tonight and not get caught looking forward to this weekend. A solid win tonight, a happy flight to Cincinnati and, well, who knows?
Way back in the history of this blog, I used to do a little "around the blogs" kind of link post to see what else was writing about. I've gotten a number of links in my mailbox and wanted to highlight some other posts, so I'm dusting off the concept and seeing if it still runs.
First off, you need to head over to I70 Baseball and read Bill's tribute to his father, who passed at the beginning of the month. Baseball has that timeless way of connecting generations, either through playing the game together or just following the professionals that play it. I know that had to be a tough thing for Bill to write, but I'm glad that he did it.
Over at a different site in the Ivie League Productions universe, you'll find fantasy expert Daniel Aubain writing about some players that might be on your league's waiver wire that could give you a boost down the stretch. That includes Cardinals Jon Jay and Jaime Garcia, both of whom look like they could have strong Septembers.
The gang at Big Leagues Monthly have gotten the second edition of their fabulous e-mag up on their site. Even though it has a Cub on the front of it, there's still excellent writing inside. You'll remember that William Tasker talked about this magazine in our Conversation (and if you've not heard it, cue it up and listen!) and you'll find him writing about Derek Jeter in this one. (I've been asked to get something together for next month for them and I'm hoping I can do that and get to at least their bare minimum threshold of quality.)
Jon took a look at the Jake Westbrook extension over at Redbird Dugout. I really thought it was interesting what Jon found about Westbrook's ERA as it related to the different shortstops that have played behind him in St. Louis. As long as you have someone to plug that hole, odds are Westbrook is going to be OK.
Pip is also talking about the Westbrook extension over at Fungoes and, while he's not as fond of it as some others, he doesn't dismiss it as a false step either. Pip notes that Westbrook's FIP is out of line with previous years, meaning he's likely having a career year and will regress. Something that Pip didn't address is the fact that Westbrook lost a lot of weight and came to camp in such good shape. Does that create a "new normal"? I don't know and there's not enough data to draw a conclusion, but I'd say there's a little bit better chance that he's closer to 2012 than his prior numbers next season.
While we are talking links, I want to again plug the UCB's Bird's Eye View. It comes right to your email box and it's a great way to preview a series from the voices of the Cardinal bloggers you know and love. The Houston version has been delayed, but Bob Netherton of On The Outside Corner should have that out this afternoon, so you still have time to get signed up before it comes out!
Finally, if you've been following me or others on Twitter, you know that the second annual UCB Weekend is coming up September 8 and 9. The Cardinals have graciously invited many of the bloggers to a Q&A session and then to stick around and watch Sunday's game. Saturday night, we'll be convening at Patrick's Restaurant and Sports Bar (also known as St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame Bar & Grill) at 6 pm.
It's likely to be the biggest congregation of Cardinal bloggers ever. I know that many of the members mentioned above are going. We're going to have all three of the Pitchers Hit Eighth guys, at least two of the Aaron Miles' Fastball girls, both Cardinal historians and even more luminaries and talented writers.
We've booked one of the larger rooms and are encouraging our Twitter followers and blog readers to join us for the evening. If you are interested in coming, let me know in the comments or via email so we can keep an eye on the projected numbers. Last year, we ran out of room and we'd like not to do that this year! Come out--I'd like to shake your hand and thank you for reading the site!