I'll start this off with a caveat that should surprise no one: I didn't see about half this game. I don't think many did that aren't in college or at least didn't have to go work today. It's not a pleasant thing to stay up until 2:30 in the morning when you have to get up before six to write this post.
"Not pleasant" also describes the Cardinal pitching staff from last night. Both teams traded punches, but the Cards were usually the one with the upper hand, the team that got in the first punch. The problem was, Arizona wouldn't fall, erasing four St. Louis leads before winning 10-9 in the 16th inning.
You could make the case for any number of pitchers to be the Goat in this outing. You've got Mitchell Boggs, who given a lead in the 12th immediately put the first two runners on. A pitcher can wriggle out of that kind of inning, but it's not often they can do it without giving up a run, which Boggs did to let Arizona tie the game and send it deeper into the night. Not exactly what we were hoping for from our newly minted temporary closer.
Of course, it wouldn't have gotten to that point without Joe Kelly, who scuffled greatly. His first pitch was hit out of the park for a two-run homer that gave Arizona a brief lead, then he allowed another long ball that let Arizona tie it up again. Kelly also gave up two other hits and only struck out one of the batters he faced. Can't say he covered himself with glory in this one.
You also had flamethrower Trevor Rosenthal get scuffed up. Handed another of those one-run leads, Rosenthal gave up three straight one-out hits and let Arizona get back even. He did have a better ninth inning, keeping the game tied, but obviously he'd have liked a better result in his first real setup action.
However, the Goat of the night on the pitching staff was Lance Lynn, because as it so often does, it all starts with the starter. Lynn got out to a 4-1 lead, the largest either team had all night, but was unable to even get an out in the fifth inning. Lynn threw 94 pitches and is going to have to do better than that quickly. There are too many arms that will take that slot in the rotation if he can't get deeper into games. As we know, Lynn may still be trying to adjust to his lesser weight, but again, that's something he needs to get under control quickly.
It's hard to fathom, but there were a couple of good pitching performances last night. Edward Mujica came in and did his job, allowing just a two-out walk in the seventh. Marc Rzepczynski threw two scoreless innings, striking out three and even being in line for the win until Boggs blew the save. We also saw the Cardinal debut of Randy Choate which was more mixed, as he got his man but allowed a sacrifice fly while doing so. Still, when he comes in with runners on second and third and one out, a sac fly isn't the worst thing you could get out of him.
Offensively, it was a big night. If the pitching staff hadn't produced so many Goat possibilities, Matt Carpenter might have been in line for it, going 0-6 with three strikeouts. However, he was the only starter that didn't get at least one hit and he and Matt Holliday were the only ones without multiple knocks. Matt Adams got the start at first and contributed three hits while scoring a run. Yadier Molina went 2-7 with a tiebreaking homer in the seventh, something that of course didn't last. Pete Kozma got two hits and the RBI in the 12th that Boggs couldn't hold.
I think the Hero tag will go to Daniel Descalso, though. A four-hit night is pretty impressive no matter how many at-bats it takes to get it and two of those hits were doubles, including one in the fourteenth with two outs that gave the Cards another chance, but Shane Robinson was unable to get him in.
All in all, it's not a game that the Cards want to remember long-term. Thankfully the club has an off day today so that everyone can get some rest. If this had been two weeks from now, when the Cardinals were in the middle of a 13-game stretch without a day off, it could have had long term repercussions. With no game today, St. Louis should be able to contain the damage.
After saying it was a bit iffy to see David Freese back on the roster by the home opener on Monday, the Cards backtracked on that yesterday, mainly on the insistence of Freese. Freese will be heading to Memphis to play in games this weekend, giving him the at-bats needed to really see if he's able to be activated from the disabled list. Everything sounds good, Freese says he's not limited by anything, and as a native St. Louisan, it's not surprising he wants to do everything he can to be there for Opening Day. He knows what that is like in baseball heaven and, frankly, if he didn't want to push it to get back, you'd have to wonder what was wrong with him!
As mentioned, St. Louis does have the off day today so there likely won't be a post in the morning. With that in mind, let's go ahead and take a look at the starters for that afternoon tilt against the Giants. (Major plus: with Friday being a day game, no more West Coast late night action for months!)
Jake Westbrook will take the mound for the Redbirds. This hasn't exactly been the best matchup for him in the past.
Hunter Pence has been a Cardinal killer in his career, so it's not surprising to see him on this list. The only person who he's had much success against is Marco Scutaro and I'm pretty sure Cardinal fans wouldn't be hurt if he went hitless this weekend!
Giants counter with Barry Zito. Now, obviously, we know that the numbers don't always tell us something. After all, we expected the Cardinals to, you know, actually be able to hit Zito in Game 5 last year, the turning point of the offseason. While it won't make up at all for last year's failure, getting to Zito on Friday might help assuage feelings a little bit. Still, the numbers aren't all that encouraging.
Molina and Allen Craig (who really has to be careful when he's out in the outfield. I know I wasn't the only person having flashbacks to his injury in Houston when he went sliding into the wall chasing a foul ball last night) have done well in the past against Zito. If Carlos Beltran hadn't had the night off last night, perhaps he'd take a pass here since he's not quite figured Zito out. Then again, there's always a first time!
To be fair, the Cards already had a 3-1 lead when Bell entered the ball game. Though Trevor Cahill had pitched pretty effectively, striking out seven in just under six innings of work, he'd made one "mistake" to Matt Holliday (quotes because when Holliday hits a pitch off his shoe tops for a home run, is it really a mistake?) that had given the Cards their cushion.
However, the offense hasn't done anything all year that came close to Bell's third of an inning. Pete Kozma led the seventh off with a home run to center that smacked off a D-Backs fan. Shane Robinson followed with a walk, then Jon Jay bounced a home run off the foul pole. Matt Carpenter doubled, then Bell got his only out by striking out Holliday. Being that Holliday was 1 for 13 with six strikeouts against Bell to that point in his career, if Bell HADN'T gotten Holliday out he might have had his retirement ceremony right there on the mound last night. Allen Craig singled to center and that was all for Bell. Josh Collmenter kept anyone else from scoring, but the damage had been done.
Bell is their problem, though. What Cardinal fans were concerned about before the game was which Jaime Garcia was going to show up. I've said before you are going to get 100 pitches out of Garcia, you just don't know if it's going to take him through the eighth or if he'll be done before the fifth.
Last night, for the most part, Good Jaime showed up. He struggled in his last inning, walking the bases loaded before being relieved by the Hero of our piece, Edward Mujica, who struck out Jason Kubel to preserve the lead. On the night, though, he got a lot of ground balls and, save for Miguel Montero who homered, singled and walked against him, he was able to control the Diamondback hitters. It was a good first start for Garcia, made better by the fact that he was on the road where he never has been comfortable. As Bernie Miklasz writes, this rotation with Good Jaime is pretty outstanding.
I was thinking that he might be able to go seven innings, what with his pitch count in the mid-70s to start the sixth, but his command wavered and he wasn't able to even finish the sixth. Mujica got the big out, then pitched the seventh after the Cards had taken the commanding lead. Trevor Rosenthal and Mitchell Boggs came out to do the eighth and the ninth, because of course they did. The Cards had a lead, didn't they? While normally I'd complain about it and Mike Matheny's inability to get away from a set formula, even when it's not necessary, those guys hadn't pitched since at least Friday, so they needed to get in. It'd been different if they'd been in the game on Monday night.
Gotta find a Goat for last night's game as well. It looks like it'll be Daniel Descalso, the only starter without a hit last night. He didn't get many chances to overcome that defensively either, as a large portion of the grounders went to Kozma and Carpenter.
Many of those balls would have been chances for David Freese, had he been healthy enough to be on the roster. It sounds like the club isn't as confident as they once were that Freese is going to be ready for the home opener on Monday. It sounds less like he's had a relapse and more like there aren't going to be a lot of games down in Florida, but that seems a bit strange as well. I mean, is there a schedule for that kind of thing? Do they play other teams? I always got the idea they could have scrimmages or whatnot. I will admit, though, I'm not up on exactly what happens in extended spring training.
Cards try to take their first series of the year in another late game in Arizona. Lance Lynn takes the mound for the Redbirds. He's not thrown that much against the Diamondbacks--as you can see, Martin Prado has the most at-bats against him and that was when Prado was with Atlanta--and the results have been a bit mixed when he has.
He's been able to corral Miguel Montero, which is more than happened last night, though the first game's big bat, Gerardo Parra, does have a triple against him.
Cards will try to get it going versus Twitter favorite Brandon McCarthy. Making his first major league start since having his skull fractured by a comebacker last season, he's going to be a cypher to the Redbird hitters.
It would have taken a lot better numbers for Ty Wigginton to get a start in this one. Even though he's got the most experience, it's not a positive one.
While you are watching the game tonight, feel free to mute Dan and Al and tune into the UCB Radio Hour at 9:30. Josh from Pitchers Hit Eighth will be joining me to talk about the beginning of the season and anything else that strikes our fancy. Chat room will be able so you can talk about the game with others while we're rambling on. Should be fun!
There's a lot of hope and excitement that surrounds Opening Day. The problem is, by the end of the night only one team continues to feel that way. Last night, that team wasn't the Cardinals.
There wasn't one facet of the game that the Cardinals didn't struggle in last night. They managed only five hits, two of them in the first inning which led to one of their two runs. Ian Kennedy had a stretch where he struck out four consecutive batters, and it could have been five had the umpire been a little more generous with the strike zone of Pete Kozma.
Adam Wainwright goes as the inaugural Goat because, while there were some strong innings out of him, he kept some pitches up especially in the fourth and the Diamondbacks capitalized. Fernando Salas came into a three-run game and immediately made it five, not even recording an out. Marc Rzepczynski and Joe Kelly pitched well, but it was pretty much decided before those guys got into the game.
Defensively, Allen Craig's inability to come up with a Daniel Descalso low throw led to another run (to be fair, Descalso got the error and it was a tough play, but if Craig corrals it the runner doesn't score) and Carlos Beltran came up short on some fly balls that appeared (from 1200 miles away, granted) catchable. The Redbirds were even thrown out a couple of times on the basepaths on some questionable decisions. All in all, it wasn't what you wanted to see out of an Opening Day start.
Somebody's got to be the Hero of the piece, so we'll go with Yadier Molina, who not only was 1-3 with a double and a run scored (one of the better batting marks of the night) but threw out his first baserunner of 2013 on a play that wasn't even close. Anytime you get to see Yadi show off the arm, well, it's not a completely wasted outing.
So we know that the Cardinals aren't going wire to wire this year. It would appear nobody in the NL Central will, unless you think the Cubs or Brewers are going all the way. If you believe that, especially the former, you might want to consult your doctor.
Perhaps the rust of two-plus days and the change from day games to night games will be fully implemented tonight and the Cardinals can get into the form that we hope we see from them often this year. Jaime Garcia will take the mound on the road for the first time this season, hoping to slay those demons that he's had in his career. A consistent Garcia would be a major boon to the Cardinal club, assuming he consistently had his home form no matter where he was.
Garcia hasn't seen many of these hitters before, which could be a good thing for him.
Martin Prado's seen him the most, but he doesn't look like he'll be thrilled to see him again. Nobody's had a lot of success in the small, small sample, which is hopefully a good thing.
He'll be opposed by Trevor Cahill, who was the Diamondbacks' best starter in the spring. Unsurprisingly given Cahill's short career, the Cards haven't seen him much either and when they have, Cahill has been effective.
Matt Holliday's had success, with his two hits being long balls, but that's about it. Perhaps Holliday can put the Cards in the HR column tonight, then.
For those of you that played the April Egraphs competition, the entries are below. Bookmark this post and keep coming back to see how you are doing. I'll try to keep a running total at the bottom of the spreadsheet, which should update the one here.
Another late night in the desert. We'll see if this one is worth staying up for!
We've waited all winter for this. We've dealt with injuries, trades, and questionable signings to get to this moment. We've debated ideas and made predictions. Ever since Matt Holliday popped out to Marco Scutaro last October, we've looked for this day. And now, now it's here.
Opening Day 2013.
A full season stretches out before us. 162 games of possibility. Will we see a no-hitter? Will someone have a three-homer game? Can Pete Kozma continue his magic run? How exciting will the young pitchers be? We don't know and that's why we watch.
It all starts tonight in Arizona. I've argued before that baseball should respect the tradition of certain crown jewel teams and always have them open the season at home. St. Louis, Cincinnati, the Yankees, Boston, those are teams and communities that fully embrace all that baseball is and all that Opening Day means. Cincinnati does usually get the home opener, but in another kick to the teeth of tradition, this year they open with the Angels. That's right, interleague play, one of the banes of modern baseball, will be held in the most storied of Opening Day traditions. There's a lot wrong with that.
Today is not about recriminations or pointing out what baseball should be doing. Today is about what baseball is. It's about casting off the winter (for good, hopefully) and looking forward to short sleeves and sunny days. It's about hope, even for teams that are usually hopeless. The rational parts of some fans (thankfully, not Cardinal ones) might doubt that their team has much of a chance, that they can't win. The heart believes on Opening Day, however. Opening Day is not about logic. It's about love.
The soundtrack of our lives returns this evening. Mike Shannon and John Rooney on the radio. Dan McLaughlin, Al Hrabosky, and Rick Horton broadcasting on television. Whatever your personal opinions of these guys, you can't deny that it's good to have them back. Even if it's to complain about them.
While Han Solo and others in the Star Wars universe might have said it with a bit of snark or irony, baseball fans wholeheartedly can speak this phrase today. Here IS where the fun begins.
The Cards made a few things official this weekend. The first is that there will be no juggling of the rotation this week. With the off-day, there was the possibility that Wainwright would go on normal rest and Shelby Miller's turn would be skipped, but instead they'll start the rookie against the defending World Champs in San Francisco. Tara and I discussed this last night on Gateway To Baseball Heaven and I think that it shows a bit of confidence in the rookie. Granted, the Giants' offense isn't their major strength and their ballpark is conducive to pitching, but Miller did give up a couple of runs to them last October. I think this means they aren't likely to coddle Miller during the year, forcing him to sink or swim and believing he'll do the latter. It's going to be fun to find out. Miller had a final tuneup after everyone else left Florida, striking out seven minor leaguers in 4.2 innings. Sounds like he's ready to go!
We also know the lineup for tonight's game. Over the weekend, Mike Matheny said that lineup slots aren't set in stone, that he'll juggle them some depending on performance and slumps. (Tony La Russa just called and said, "That's it? Amateur.") This is what we'll see for the first time this evening.
If the middle infielders are as strong as we saw in Jupiter, there could be a lot of runs scored not just tonight, but many nights. That's a pretty strong lineup and it doesn't even have David Freese in there. Should be able to win some games that way!
As regular readers know, the regular season brings a couple of things to this blog. After every game I name a Hero and a Goat, and the running tally will be on the right sidebar. (Might have to scroll a ways down to see it.) Some games either of those tags isn't quite fair, but it's a way of noting who had the best game and who had the worst or who did or didn't come through at the right moment. Plus the top Goat every year has either been traded or, in the case of Rafael Furcal, been injured and unable to play the next year. So there's a little weight to that, even if it is coincidental.
The second is the tables from Baseball-Reference's Play Index. Most games I like to show what the Cardinal starter has done against the current hitters of the opposition and vice versa. Today, let's see what Waino had done against those that might be in the Diamondbacks' lineup:
Miguel Montero's a pretty good hitting catcher and he's had Wainwright's number. All in all, there's some D-Backs that have done pretty good against the Cardinal ace in limited exposure. He'll have not only harness his emotions but also make some adjustments to harness those hitters as well.
Ian Kennedy goes for Arizona, getting the nod to start their season. Kennedy has some rough numbers in his career against the Cards, but against the current incarnation of them, he's been able to hold his own:
It'd be great to see Holliday and Beltran both get off to a hot start this evening. I also feel fairly safe in suggesting that if Wigginton sees Kennedy tonight, it probably means Kennedy's throwing a complete game win. Nothing good can come of that matchup for the Cardinals.
Remember, the April Egraphs contest is still open until first pitch tonight. Make your picks and win a free Egraph of your choosing! Only six entries at the moment, so your odds are pretty strong if you still want to get into the mix.
There are good things and bad things about the Cardinals not going until this evening. It doesn't quite seem like Opening Day if it's not in the middle of the afternoon, with sunshine and blue skies. Opening Day should be, well, a day game.
That said, it does mean that if you are around a TV or a place where you can watch MLB.tv, you can see a ton of good pitching today in the leadup to the main event tonight. CC Sabathia goes for the Yankees. Stephen Strasburg for the Nationals. Jered Weaver and Johnny Cueto match up in that Angels/Reds tilt. Matt Cain and the Giants take on Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. King Felix Hernandez goes for the Mariners (though that's at the same time as the Cards game). If you love pitching, this is the day for you.
What am I saying? If you love baseball, this is the day for you. The journey of this season stretches before us. It's time to take that first step. Happy Opening Day everyone!
After hitting the AL and the other two NL divisions, we finally go out west, where the living is easy, but it surely isn't free. At least, not if you want to keep up with the Joneses in LA. Remember, if these don't float your boat, we've got others that will! Continue Reading
For the fifth straight year, Playing Pepper returns to C70 At The Bat. If you aren't aware, this series helps get a feel for the other 29 teams in baseball by asking those that follow them the closest--their bloggers. We've got spring training action going, so it's time to play a little pepper.
81-81, third in the NL East
When much of your season is overshadowed by the will-they, won't-they trade talk surrounding one of your biggest stars, it's probably an indication your season isn't going as well as you'd hoped.
Coming off a division title and just one run shy of playing in the 2011 NLCS, the Diamondbacks seemed to be primed and ready to go in 2012. Instead, the team sputtered to a .500 record and fell well behind San Francisco in the NL West.
With the trade talk silenced with the dealing of Justin Upton, this team looks to try to take a step forward in 2013, but will have to go through the defending champs as well as the motivated Dodgers to do so.
To talk the outlook of the D'Backs, I've rounded up a couple of great voices to enlighten us. Jim McLennan is the manager of AZ Snake Pit over on the SB Nation blog network. You can also find Jim on Twitter at AZSnakePit.
In addition to the team bloggers, this year I reached out to some bloggers that cover all of baseball to see if they wanted to pick a team to contribute. One of those that responded was Aaron Somers of Call To The Pen, the general baseball blog on the FanSided network. You may remember Aaron from Episode 18 of Conversations With C70 and you can find him on Twitter at AaronJSomers.
After the jump, we'll talk about the Arizona offseason and what the pitching staff might do in the coming season.
So close. So close to a sweep and going into the Pittsburgh series tied with the Pirates for a playoff slot. But just as the Cards got the broom out of the closet, the handle snapped off and they were unable to sweep up the Diamondbacks. Let's look at the last two games.
Hero: Rafael Furcal. He didn't homer like a couple of the other guys did, but he doubled, tripled and drove in two runs. That epidural shot must have been a good one!
Goat: It was a tossup, but I think I'll have to go with Matt Holliday. 0-4 with two strikeouts trumps Jon Jay's 0-3 with a walk and a strikeout from the leadoff slot.
Notes: First off, it was Social Media Night, moving the Cards to 5-0 in such events since they started them back in 2010. Hopefully this streak continues next month, when the bloggers converge on Busch Stadium.
On the field, you have to love it when Adam Wainwright takes the mound. It wasn't his most dominant outing--he only went six innings in his 100 pitches--but he struck out five, allowed only two runs, and kept that ERA in its free-fall. It's so great to know that, barring the occasional glitch every pitcher gets, we're going to see a great performance when Waino's on the mound. The bullpen did just what it is supposed to--Edward Mujica turned it over to Mitchell Boggs, who turned it over to Jason Motte--and everyone went home happy. Home runs by David Freese and Allen Craig helped the mood as well.
Hero: Kyle Lohse. Another stellar outing by the pitcher that, from day one, has been the ace of the staff this year. I think it's telling that if the Cards did have to use Wainwright in the "winner-take-all" wild card game, they'd be all right to start the NLDS because they could follow him up with Lohse. No runs in 6.2 innings, though he did walk three.
Goat: Motte. A lot of people on Twitter last night were savaging Motte, but blown saves happen. No pitcher runs through a season without a few of them and in that regard, Motte's really been better than most. It's just frustrating to see a tight game like that unravel in just a couple of pitches on back-to-back home runs.
Notes: Of course, Motte gets a lot of the blame, but again the Cards only scored one run. Nice to see the RBI hit from Craig, but then Holliday followed it up with a double play when a runner was on third. Even a fly ball there and those homers just tie the game. Furcal got a couple of hits, again nice to see. Jay had his second straight hitless game at the top of the lineup, so it wouldn't surprise me to see Furcal back up there against the Pirates. Not saying I agree with it, just that I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen.
Derrick Goold Tweeted last night that this club is 12-20 in one-run games. While I've heard that one-run game records are a bit deceptive--a bad team can beat a good team in a close game, but they aren't going to win a lot of blowouts--that's still a rough stat to look at. Winning just five more of those games, a record of 17-15, would have the Cards two games behind Cincy and tied with Atlanta for the top wild card slot, comfortably head of the other challengers.
While the bullpen has been doing better of late, that record is really a reflection of the entire team. For instance, I think it was Bernie Miklasz, again on Twitter, who pointed out that in Lohse's six no-decisions, the club hasn't scored more than 2 runs for him and usually, it's been less. When this team clicks, you get a game like Wednesday. When it doesn't, you get a game like Thursday. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of in-between.
Of course, it didn't help last night that Yadier Molinasat for the second straight game with a sore back. It must have been quite serious as well, because Mike Matheny didn't use Molina to pinch-hit for Tony Cruz in the ninth, possibly figuring that even if Molina could tie it up with a long ball, he couldn't go out there and catch extra innings. Hopefully the full two days off will get him back in the lineup this weekend, when he'll really be needed.
I got a little confused last night as I turned on Fox Sports Midwest and saw Chris Carpenter on the mound. Of course, that was just their rain-delay programming, but it fit because Carp is now allowed to throw as part of his recovery from surgery. Of course, the end of that article is a bit ominous--Carpenter expects to know by season's end whether he can compete next season--but it seems to be that the big guy is on his way back. Let's hope so, at least!
Since I last wrote, Matheny has noted that Jaime Garcia will pitch Sunday and Joe Kelly has been moved to the bullpen. (That probably means Trevor Rosenthal best keep his bag packed--he just got up here, likely to go back on Sunday, and will be back when the rosters expand September 1.) It's good to have a guy like Kelly available in case Garcia has one of those Garcia starts, where he's going 3-2 on every batter and can barely get through the fifth. With the season getting shorter and the race getting more urgent, not having to let Garcia stay out there because you don't want to destroy the bullpen is a good option to have. Kelly can soak up three innings with no problem and keep everyone else fairly fresh.
The Cards get to host the Pirates in a very big series. I don't think it's a must-win, though they do need to take at least one, but if they can win two of three or sweep, that's going to put a lot of doubt into a young Pittsburgh team. (By the way, if you aren't signed up for the UCB's Bird's Eye View, the email newsletter that previews each series, you need to do so. J.D. Norton of Bleed Cardinal Red With Me did this series and it's well worth your time.) If the Cards win the series, they should be back leading the way on that second wild card slot, even if they aren't really looking at the wild card yet.
James McDonald will be on the mound for the Pirates and his second-half struggles have been well-documented. However, if the historical numbers hold, he might be able to get somewhat better in St. Louis tonight.
Craig's done OK against him (which is not surprising for the Amazing Whacker Guy) and it'd be great to have Molina back, but otherwise it's not that inspiring. Then again, lately the Cards have been turning these kind of numbers (both good and bad) on their head, so it probably doesn't mean anything.
Jake Westbrook hopes to continue his roll this evening. Westbrook's won five in a row and comes into this 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA. That's not bad at all for your scheduled fifth starter, is it? However, here there be Pirates awaitin' for him, ready to make him walk the plank.
Pedro Alvarez has killed a lot of Cardinal pitchers this year, so you have to figure he's looking forward to the weekend. Andrew McCutchen also has done well against him, but Andrew McCutchen does well against a lot of pitchers.
The Cardinals have all the pieces to sweep through this series. We'll have to see if they can put their broom back together.
(Side rant: I never watch ESPN anymore. Maybe occasionally a few minutes of a ballgame, but on the whole, not really. Part of the reason is because, apparently, there are two all-football channels, the NFL Network and ESPN. The week after the season, they are breaking down teams for the next season. The schedule gets a three-hour special. It's gone extremely over the top. If there was a zombie apocalypse tomorrow, ESPN would spend their time predicting how zombies would affect the NFL. "You know, Mike, if the Rams got a couple of them zombies on their defense, they could make some noise. Zombies might not be quick to the quarterback, but they are tenacious." I know I have readers that are big football fans--hi, Robert!--but to me, I don't think it's a coincidence that the rise of football comes at the same time as the general decline in society.)
While St. Louis might have won even without the two errors made by Ian Kennedy, those errors back to back in the sixth really opened the game up. Kennedy may have been unjustly accused once--it looked like Rafael Furcal slapped the ball out of the glove of Paul Goldschmidt--but his airmail attempt of trying to get Skip Schumaker at third on Shane Robinson's bunt opened the floodgates and took the air out of any Arizona comeback. A three-run eighth by the 'Birds just put icing on the cake.
Even though he botched a ball in the third inning, a ball that I had a number of Twitter followers note to me was the toughest kind of ball for an outfielder to judge, Jon Jay has to be the hero of the piece. Not only did he get two hits and get the Cards what turned out to be the winning run on a long ball, but he made a spectacular catch to keep Arizona from starting a rally.
Also, credit has to be given to Matt Holliday, whose two-run homer started the scoring, Allen Craig, who had two hits and an RBI, and Matt Carpenter, who pinch-hit and drove in two with a double. There was a hole in the middle of the lineup--Carlos Beltran gets the Goat for striking out three times on his way to an 0-4, but David Freese and Yadier Molina also took the doughnut--but the offense definitely was cranking last night.
Not that Joe Kelly needed that much of it. As both game stories point out, Kelly very likely was making his last start of the season with the club, unless a fill-in is needed at some point. Jaime Garcia pitched in Memphis last night and....well, was Jaime Garcia. One of the more frustrating things about Garcia in the past has been his tendency at times to be quite inefficient. Garcia threw five innings of acceptable results, but threw 93 pitches during it. The pitch count was the key--they wanted it to get close to 100--but I figure people in charge hoped he'd get into the seventh with that kind of limit. Still, you have to figure that Garcia will be activated this weekend, forcing a decision about a spot in the starting rotation.
Kelly didn't make it easy on them, though, throwing six scoreless innings before allowing a two-run homer to lead off the seventh. Kelly also piled up six strikeouts during his time on the mound and has shown that he can handle the starting role. If they do slide him out of the rotation in favor of Garcia (which, to be honest, I can't see them doing anything else), we'll have to see how he can transition into the bullpen role that, honestly, he was drafted for out of college.
Which also means that someone has to go to the minors. If Kelly doesn't get sent down to keep starting in Memphis, somebody else will have to do it. Barret Browning has had a couple of rough outings and he and Fernando Salas are really the only ones with options available to be sent to Memphis. Whomever goes, of course, won't be there long as there are only about two and 1/2 weeks left in the minor league season, meaning they'll return when rosters expand. Of course, now Browning takes on more importance because......
.....technically, there is someone else now in the bullpen with options. In one of the more unexpected stories of the season, Brian Fuentes has told the Cardinals he had some personal issues to deal with, apparently with his family, and has been placed on the restricted list. That basically means he's not in the organization--doesn't take up any roster spots--but the Cards get first rights to him when and if he returns. As Mike Matheny said, though, it's unlikely that Fuentes will return this season and you have to figure it may be the last he plays in baseball, given his age and the results from this season. John Mozeliak didn't sound thrilled with the whole idea, given that Fuentes played a large role in how they approached the trading deadline (and the fact that Fuentes apparently didn't ask to leave the team, he told them he wasn't going to show up), but if there's problems, there's problems and a guy has to be allowed to work to solve them.
That means Trevor Rosenthal returns to the bigs after a couple of turns in Memphis. Rosenthal impressed his first time around and it's good to see him back in the bullpen mix for the club. His power stuff can be pretty nasty and I'm glad he'll be able to get that last outing, when he gave up the game-winning home run to the Cubs, out of his mind soon.
Rosenthal returned instead of Shelby Miller getting the call. Miller has done much better of late and there seems to be a push for bringing him to the bigs when rosters expand and using his fastball in the bullpen. I'm against that and I'll tell you why. (I'm sure you figured I would, since it is my blog and all.) What the Cardinals have emphasized to him all season long is using his off-speed pitches. They put in the "no-shake" rule so that he'd have to do something besides challenging people with his fastball. If he comes up to be a reliever, what's going to be the focus? Throwing fastballs. You don't set up a hitter as a reliever, you try to blow them away. It seems to me you risk undoing a lot of the work you have done this season if you do that with Miller. While I'm as excited as anyone to see him in St. Louis, I don't think this is the way to do it.
One guy that won't be getting a September call-up is Matt Adams, who recently underwent surgery for bone spurs and is done for the year. I don't think that's a huge blow for the Cards, as Adams wouldn't get a lot of playing time with Craig and Lance Berkman floating around and this way he can get an extra month of recovery time and be sure to be ready by next spring.
Tonight is Social Media Night for the Cardinals, which is always a lot of fun. If you'll remember, last year's SMN was on August 25, the day the Cardinals started their run for October. The Cards are 4-0 on either SMN nights or blogger events since September of 2010, when they started having such things. There's a strong chance they'll move to 5-0 as Adam Wainwright goes to the mound for St. Louis.
Not only has Wainwright been Wainwright lately, showing that he is getting stronger and sharper the farther away he gets from surgery, he's also been a Diamondback killer in his career. He only has a 4-3 career mark against the club, but that comes with a 2.48 ERA and, well, look at the historical numbers:
That's not the largest sample, but it's large enough to be ugly if you root for Arizona. When players as a group are hitting under .200 against a pitcher, that doesn't fill you with optimism.
The Diamondbacks send out Joe Saunders. Saunders is one of those soft-tossing lefties that could give the Cardinals some fits and has been pitching well of late. Interestingly, though, many Cardinals have hit him well in the past.
Holliday's had his struggles, but he's one of the few. When you see a matchup like this, you can't help but get excited. Of course, the Cards have found a way to turn these kind of matchups on their heads before, so you can't call it a lock by any means. Let's see a dominate Waino and get a series win, what do you say?
The Diamondbacks closed the roof Wednesday night. That kept the balls in the yard, but it didn't change the outcome and, for once, the Cards were able to complete the sweep. Nice to see that the brooms can work after all!
Let's give the Hero tag to Matt Carpenter this time around. Carpenter's pinch-hit, two-run double put the Cards up 3-1 in the sixth, which was big. The longer this team stayed tied, the more likely they were going to fall behind late and perhaps not be able to catch up. Kevin Reynolds talked about that in his latest podcast, though I'm not sure I agree with his conclusions, to some degree because the Cards have so often been ahead throughout the game that I'm not sure how many games we are talking about when they've even had a chance to rally. It's something that was thought-provoking and I need to find some time to look at more closely.
I mentioned yesterday that last night's game would be a good test to see if there was a different approach to the offensive preparation, since there was a pitcher the Cards hadn't faced before (and a lefty, to boot) going for the D-Backs. While the Cards didn't put up a lot of runs on Wade Miley, they didn't seem to be flustered by him. They pounded out 10 hits and drew two walks in his five and two-thirds and had one run cut down at the plate. It's very possible that, had the balls been carrying like they had been the first two games, the Redbirds would have blasted him as well.
Once Arizona ran out some more familiar pitchers, though, it didn't matter how the roof was situated. Matt Holliday doubled in two in the ninth to give a bit of a cushion (and allowing this blogger to feel confident enough to go to sleep) and Allen Craig then kept the home run binge going by getting a two run shot.
The only problem from last night's game was the status of Kyle Lohse. Lohse went only five innings, allowing one run on seven hits, mainly because his hamstring cramped up as he was running the bases in the fifth. Since Lohse went back out there, it's likely that this isn't going to be a lingering problem and hopefully something that with rest and treatment will go away. If for some reason it was more severe, I'm not sure what would happen. Perhaps a bullpen game if it was only one start. If it were a DL move, probably Brandon Dickson would get the call. Again, though, that seems pretty unlikely.
Goat of the Game would go to Tyler Greene, though apparently he made a slick defensive move to start a key double play. Unfortunately, he went 0-5 with the bat when everyone else was getting hits, so he gets stuck with it. I thought about going with Mitchell Boggs, who again had problems, but even though he gave up three hits and got no outs in a 7-2 game, it sounds like some of those hits were pretty fluky, so I'll spare him from back to back Goats.
It looks pretty certain that Lance Berkman will be back on the active roster come Friday night when St. Louis takes on Atlanta. It seems crazy to note this, but as Jenifer Langosch says in her notebook, this will be the first time the Cards are at full offensive strength this season. We're talking about a team that's 20-11 and that's 3.5 games up on its closest competition. The National League can't be happy about this. I can't see that anyone besides Shane Robinson will go to make room for Berkman, and that's a tough break because Robinson has played pretty well. Still, with Berkman back, you have to find room for Craig and that's likely going to be some in the outfield. The at-bats for Robinson just aren't going to be there, I don't think.
Bernie Miklasz writes a nice column about Carlos Beltran and how he wanted to come to St. Louis, comparing that to the fact that Albert Pujols apparently didn't appreciate exactly what he had. I don't really want to get into what Pujols may or may not have been thinking when he left St. Louis--while he's off to a slow start, that doesn't mean he regrets his decision--but it is nice to see that Beltran understood what St. Louis was all about even before he came here. There's a lot of grief given for that whole "Best Fans In Baseball" label, but between a strong and supportive fan base and a smart and accommodating management team, you'd think this would be a desired destination for a lot of people.
In the past, the Cards have been hit or miss in the international market. They signed Carlos Martinez and he's looking like the real deal, sitting as high as second in various rankings of the Cards' minor league system. Of course, they also signed Wagner Mateo, who failed an eye exam and had his contract voided. So it's interesting to hear that they worked out the top international prospect, Gustavo Cabrera. The new CBA puts some limits on what you can spend in that regard (which may or may not be a good thing) so it may come down to where Cabrera wants to play. If he's as good as advertised, I expect the Cards will make a strong offer.
I don't expect I'll write tomorrow, due to various reasons, so let's take a look at Friday's game while we are here. First off, it's Tony La Russa number retirement night. There will be a lot of names in attendance, spanning TLR's connections throughout baseball. I'm half-surprised Ozzie Smith's name isn't on that list. Not because of any reconciliation between the two, more to make sure that TLR is actually retired.
As for the game, Jaime Garcia takes the mound, looking to shake off that last outing against the Astros. When you look at his splits, you see that Garcia has more success at home than on the road, so it's good to see him in the middle of the Busch Stadium diamond. Here's how Garcia's done against the Braves.
Not much exposure there, but what there has been has been positive for Garcia. Keeping Michael Bourn off the basepaths would be a nice thing, especially if Yadier Molina isn't back behind the plate (though he is expected to be).
The Cards get to see if they can keep putting the Mobil On The Run people into bankruptcy (and I don't think it's a coincidence that this year, drinks are 50 cents instead of a quarter on days after the Cards have scored 6) by facing Mike Minor. St. Louis hasn't faced him much, basically just one game two years ago when the Braves won but Minor gave up four runs in five innings. The numbers:
Wow, the lineup has changed a lot in two years, huh? Not a lot of people that played in that game are still around. Minor's better than he was then as well, so this could be a tough game for the Redbirds.
Should be a fun series this weekend. If the Cards can take two out of three against a tough Braves team, the sky may be the limit for this team!
There was no post yesterday because I had to travel out of town to do some work at a client's office. Said client also reads this blog from time to time and gently teased about the title of the last offering, which inspired today's heading. There's no doubt that the Cardinal bats made the trip to Arizona. Let's look at Monday first.
Monday's game started off with a bang, when Hero Rafael Furcal launched a home run in his first at-bat, part of his three-hit night. I didn't expect much offensively from Furcal this season, but right now he's at .342 and has a couple of home runs. He's going to tail off from that, I'm sure, but even a reasonable approximation for that the rest of the year and the Cardinal offense will be primed from the top.
Of course, the Cardinal offense worked all the way up and down the lineup on Monday. Five home runs, almost all of them no-doubters, staked Lance Lynn to a 7-0 lead. On the face of it, Lynn doesn't need the 7+ runs a game, what with his ERA being in the low 1.00 range. Whether having that cushion helps him pitch or he'd be just as good in 3-1 games, I don't know. Whatever the case, Lynn has looked much better than I expected in the starting rotation. I was wanting to see him in the bullpen due to his stellar work down the stretch last year, but obviously he's taken that and been able to apply it to the starting job. Which is good, because you don't hear any Chris Carpenter news these days.
Good nights for David Freese and Allen Craig, who went back-to-back with home runs late when Arizona had made it a game. Both had two hits and two RBI and Craig also drew two walks. Craig's reputation is that he's a hitter, that finding a place for him on the field is the difficult part. So far, he's at least living up to the first part of that, as he's come off the DL and started hitting everything in sight.
Pretty obvious who needs to be the Goat in this game. The Cards turned over a 7-0 lead to J.C. Romero in the sixth. He faced five batters, allowing hits for four and walking one. All five came around to score, one after Romero had left the game. Fernando Salas struggled in relief, allowing Romero's run and one of his own before finishing the inning. 7-0 became 7-6 real quick, so having Freese and Craig put some insurance on the board afterwards helped Cardinal fans relax somewhat.
Tuesday, the bats were working early, then got really quiet. I say the bats were working, but really it was just Carlos Beltran's bat. Beltran smoked a two-run homer in the first, then doubled the feat the next time up. Walking the pitcher, especially with two outs, so often leads to problems and I have to give Rick Horton credit, he said, "I would not want to make this pitch to Beltran" just moments before that pitch left the ballpark for the grand slam. Beltran may be a bit of a rollercoaster this year, but he's proven that he was worth the financial outlay.
Other than that, offensively there wasn't much. Matt Holliday had a couple of hits, Skip Schumaker had a couple. Basically, though, Ian Kennedy settled down and got back into the form that had him contending for the Cy Young last year. Of course, six runs is usually enough and it proved to be that way again last night.
Mainly because Jake Westbrookcontinued his strong season. Coming off a rocky outing against the Pirates, Westbrook was able to deal with some control problems early and make sure that they didn't affect the team. Westbrook went seven and allowed the Diamondbacks no runs, dropping his season ERA to 1.76. That still doesn't lead the team, however, as Lynn sits at 1.40. When you have two starters with ERA under 2 in early May, plus another in Kyle Lohse that's just over (2.11), things are going your way.
Not everything came up roses for the Cardinals last night, though. First off, Mitchell Boggs gets the Goat for making a 6-0 ninth inning game become a lot tighter than it should be. Boggs allowed one run and gave up two hits and a walk in the last frame and ran out to 3-0 on another hitter, threatening to load the bases and forcing Mike Matheny to get Jason Motte up. Boggs was able to come back and wound up striking out the side, but you don't want to see that kind of thing when the game is essentially over.
Potentially much more important, though, was the fact that Boggs crossed up Yadier Molina and hit him on the wrist, forcing him out of the game and to the x-ray machine. The Cards will double check today, but it looks like it was just bruised and not broken, so Molina will likely sit out tonight and be ready to go again on Friday evening against the Braves. This team can't afford for Molina to be out long-term, so we'll not even discuss that possibility until there's some reason to do so.
It looks like Lance Berkman should be ready to go on Friday, necessitating a roster move. While the obvious and likely move will be the demotion of Shane Robinson, you have to wonder how safe Daniel Descalso's slot in this team is going to be. Descalso is hitting just .200 and has struck out 19 times in 60 at-bats. Both Dan McLaughlin and Horton last night were talking about how his timing is off and he's not looking well.
Sending Descalso to Memphis might be the best way to get him going again. Right now Memphis is playing Pete Kozma and Eugenio Velez at second base. I don't think the Cards would be hurt by pushing either of those aside and letting Descalso play a few weeks everyday at the position, seeing if he can get back the form that Cardinal fans enjoyed seeing out of him in 2011. You still would have Furcal, Schumaker, and Tyler Greene for the middle infield and that might make it easier to spread the at-bats between the latter two to keep them both working as well.
So now the Cardinals go again for the sweep. They've failed the first four times they've had a shot at this during the 2012 season and while winning two out of three is a good percentage and fans would take that every time, not being able to finish off a team could come back and haunt the club later on. We'd rather avoid a repeat of the Pittsburgh series, where the Cards pounded the Pirates offensively in two games, then came out in the third with no bats and wound up losing the game.
Taking the mound tonight to see if he can stop the rampaging Redbirds is Wade Miley, which should give us another data point on whether things are really different this season. Miley has never faced any of the Cardinal batters and, as such, will have little film for them to study. He's been strong so far this season, 3-0 with a 2.33 ERA, and he went 4-2 for the Diamondbacks last year.
Trying to keep things going will be Kyle Lohse. Lohse didn't pitch quite as well last time out against the Astros as he has most of the season, so we have to see if he can bounce back or if he's starting to come off of his opening hot streak. Lohse hasn't faced the Diamondbacks a lot, but they've liked what they've seen.