OK, we took care of the American League yesterday. Now it's time to move on to real baseball and tackle the National League East. Remember, the United Cardinal Bloggers are doing this all week long and you can keep up with everyone's posts right over here.
The NL East promises to be an interesting division this year, with a lot of young talent and some changing of the guard. Oh, and the Marlins are there as well.
Yesterday's game was billed as the deciding factor for the fifth starter slot. Joe Kelly would start the game, Shelby Miller would come in afterwards, and we'd all get a good idea of who was going to take the last place in the rotation. Mano a mano. Let's get it on. Mike Matheny even provided what could be the opening day lineup, save that Oscar Taveras and Tony Cruz were in for the World Baseball Classic guys.
And after all of that, we know....about as much as we did before. Kelly was a hair better than Miller, if it was to come down to what they did yesterday. He allowed a run, but didn't walk anyone (which was his major issue coming into the game) and went four innings with his pitch count. Miller wasn't quite as sharp, going only 2 2/3 with his pitch count and being charged with three runs, though two came when Trevor Rosenthal allowed the runners he left on to score. He did strike out four and was working on his changeup during the game.
Even though we still don't know who the pitcher will be (though Matheny is talking a lot about what Kelly did last year, which may mean he's in the lead), this had to be a fun game to watch and Fox Sports Midwest couldn't have gotten any luckier with the game that was their first broadcast. You had Kelly, followed by Miller, followed by Rosenthal, followed by Michael Wacha. All of the young guns of the spring in the same game makes for some wonderful baseball watching.
That's the last time that'll happen, though, as Wacha was reassigned after the game to the minor league camp. We knew that was going to happen and with the minor league games starting up, it makes sense, but there's no doubt Wacha is moving up the lists with a bullet. Springfield seemed to be the default place for him when the spring started, but now Memphis isn't out of the question at all. It was an incredible spring for him, as he finished with 11.2 scoreless innings (well, OK, he had one unearned run against him) and struck out 15 against one walk. If he can keep that up at whatever level he's at, he'll be in St. Louis before the end of the season.
Derrick Goold writes that the moves help clarify the Cardinals' plan for the hurlers this season. He writes that it seems it's down to Fernando Salas versus the loser of the competition for the last spot in the 'pen. To me, that means that Kelly has the lead, because I'm pretty sure they'd take Salas north and I don't think they'd send Kelly to Memphis. It would make sense to see Kelly as the fifth starter (to at least start the season), Salas in the 'pen and Miller to Memphis, much more than Miller in the rotation and Kelly to the 'pen and Salas to Memphis or vice versa.
Miller's the exciting one, there's no doubt about that, and part of me starts to feel disappointed that Kelly is going to get the slot (apparently). Really looking at it, though, as much as it is going to be fun to see Miller eventually in St. Louis, Kelly isn't a bad hurler at all. He may not be quite as exciting, but he's proved he belongs in the big leagues and the rotation doesn't take a hit with him in there. This isn't one of those cases as we saw during the La Russa era with a boring, mediocre veteran getting the time over an exciting prospect. Kelly has a legitimate claim on the spot and should be fun to watch as well.
Also being reassigned, according to the article, were Victor Marte and Eduardo Sanchez. There's not much to say about Marte--if he were going north, the bullpen was in more trouble than we thought--and I don't think it's a big surprise about Sanchez either. While he's looked better in the spring than he did last year, he needs to prove he can do it on a regular basis down in Memphis before trying his luck in the big leagues. If his command really is back, though, he could well be the first callup from the minors this season.
For all the focus on the pitching during yesterday's game, the Cards did hit the ball a little bit against the Braves. The Cards scored four runs in the fifth inning, batting around and featuring a two-run triple by Matt Carpenter (who also had a double in the game). After the Braves came back to tie it, Matt Adams pinch-hit in the eighth and doubled in the winning run. As Matheny said after the game, "The guy can hit. He doesn't really have to prove that to us." More and more, it looks reasonable for Adams to be on the bench this season as he's proving he can pinch-hit with the best of them. It's not likely a coincidence they keep using him as a pinch-hitter in big slots.
Being that I've taken a couple of days off this week, let's double up and finish off the approval ratings, what do you say? Our first player up is the closer, Jason Motte. Motte's had a busy offseason, getting a new contract and becoming a new dad, and there's no doubt that his 2012 season was a great one as well. This is Motte's first year on the ballot and he checks in with a very respectable 86.9%. Of course, closer opinions can fluctuate depending on the last outing, but Motte's got a lot of goodwill built up.
Our last player is Adam Wainwright. Looking back over things, Albert Pujols lost 8% of his approval rating the spring that he came into camp looking for a contract. Contract talks didn't affect Yadier Molina last year, though, as he upped his by 3.5%. So how will people view Wainwright as he is in the midst of negotiations? He slipped last year (due to missing a year, I'd guess) but still ranks very highly.
This year, he checks in with a 88.2%, his lowest mark yet and down 3.7% from last year. While one commenter said that Waino still hadn't proven in his mind that he was back from surgery, I'm not sure what the rest of the decrease is from, unless it is the vagaries of a smaller sample this year or maybe there is a little downgrading because he hasn't gotten a contract. I would hope that people aren't just knocking him for last year's bottom line and I think that the fan base is smarter than that.
On the media side of things, somehow I miscounted and only got eight of them in there instead of the expected nine, so all we are looking at today is Joe Strauss. Which might be appropriate, because I don't know of anyone outside of the FSMW booth that engenders more angst than Strauss does. Commenters said things like "goes too far trying to play the heel" and "how does he still have a job?" One, though, summed up my feelings on Mr. Strauss pretty well: "Strauss has a huge network of contacts inside the organization and lands a lot of scoops. As an internet presence and team writer, he is/was a hateful troll. As a columnist, he's been surprisingly good."
I don't think there's any doubt that Strauss is able to break news and to write well, but his snark doesn't always play well when you are trying to read a game story and heaven forbid you get on the wrong side of him on Twitter. I do think a lot of it is an act--those bloggers that covered the Warmup in 2012 said that he was nice enough to them--but it still is a wearying one. Strauss did get a few high marks, but the overall negativity toward him brought him down to a 54.3%.
Some people wondered why I put Albert Pujols on the list this year. After all, he's not a Cardinal anymore and we should all move on. That's really what I wanted to see. Last year's voting was taken while the move to Anaheim was still fresh, as evidenced by the plunge from around 90% to Straussian levels. (Heck, Joe rated OVER Pujols last year.) I wanted to see if the wounds had healed some, if people were able to appreciate what Albert did in St. Louis and separate that from the way he left.
For the most part, it seems people still are holding a grudge, at least the ones that voted here. There were some high marks, an 100 and some 90s, but there were a good number of single digits and more than one 0. All of that summed up to a 59.2% mark, which is about five percent better than last year, so maybe there is a bit of thawing. I'll probably wait a couple of years before returning Pujols to the ballot for another check of the temperature.
The final one on the ballot is the United Cardinal Bloggers. Now, obviously, this is a personal favorite of mine (and, since it's my ballot, I get to put it on here). I always want to see if the UCB name is getting out there and getting favorable reviews. I don't know about the former--fewer people expressed an opinion on this than any other, and being that we had less than 60 to start with, that may say something--but the latter seems to be coming along well. The UCB is up to an 85.2% mark this year, something that we'll continue to try to improve on during the year.
Cards host the Nationals today in another game that'll be on Fox Sports Midwest. Should be able to see just about every game between now and the end of the spring!
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.
94-68, second in the NL East and first NL Wild Card, lost in inaugural Wild Card game
When the dust--and the trash--cleared on Atlanta's 2012 season, there were a lot of great things to be proud of. They had been competitive with the team that had the best record in baseball, they had easily won a wild card spot and, were it not for the whims of baseball changing the rules to add a winner-take-all game, they could have made a significant October run.
Now there's a changing of the guard, as Chipper Jones rides off into the sunset while the Upton brothers come to town. Even with these shifts, though, there seems to be little doubt that Atlanta will be in the thick of things yet again in the coming season.
To talk Braves baseball, I've rounded up Jeff Schafer, who writes for the FanSided blog Tomahawk Take. Jeff is also the editor of the place as well as a very proficient writer about anything Braves. Find him over on Twitter @TomahawkTakeFS.
I've also reenlisted Leslie Koerdt again this year. Leslie writes for the Aerys Sports network at the site She Is Out Of Your League. You can find her on Twitter @LK_Comm and I found out last year that she grew up just 25 miles from me, which automatically makes her a really cool person.
An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.
When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare Infield Fly for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the baselines, the umpire shall declare Infield Fly, if Fair.
The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul.
If a declared Infield Fly is allowed to fall untouched to the ground, and bounces foul before passing first or third base, it is a foul ball. If a declared Infield Fly falls untouched to the ground outside the baseline, and bounces fair before passing first or third base, it is an Infield Fly.
Rule 2.00 (Infield Fly) Comment: On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder not by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass, or the base lines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire's judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder. The infield fly is in no sense to be considered an appeal play. The umpire's judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately.
When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05 (L). The infield fly rule takes precedence.--MLB Rule 2.00
No, no particular reason for quoting that, why do you ask?
Oh, that's why.
While the Cardinals won the first ever Wild Card Play-In Game by a 6-3 mark over the Atlanta Braves, that historic accomplishment is always going to be overshadowed by the play above. So, before looking at the other moments (some that could have been just as controversial), let's break down this one moment in time.
Let's first give the caveat that this is a pretty tough call. I don't think that it should have been called and I completely understand why Atlanta fans were feeling robbed. (That doesn't excuse the sickening display they put on, though. There was no call for raining trash onto the field and causing such a delay. If it had been a regular season game, there's a good chance that would have caused a forfeit for their team. MLB was never going to call a game that had this much import, but if the Cards had lost I think they could have protested the fact that it wasn't.) I'm not going to defend the umpires, but there are arguments that they made the right call.
The most important of which is right there in the rule book comment. Pete Kozma easily could have caught that with reasonable effort. When you watch the replay, he was under it and ready to catch it before being spooked in some manner. Kozma says that he just missed it, but it also looks like he thought Matt Holliday was calling for it. Whether he was hearing the umpire calling the infield fly (which was posited on Twitter) or just the roar of the crowd got to him in his first postseason game, we don't know. However, based on that comment, the infield fly could have been reasonably called.
(The flip side of that, also brought up on Twitter, was that it needed to be called immediately. It's a little questionable whether the umpires did so, though to be fair they are working in a six-man format that is different from their regular season configuration. There may have been a little hesitation on who should be signalling that.)
What hasn't been pointed out is what would have happened if the play had stood as it happened. People have compared this to the Don Denkinger World Series game (you really shouldn't need this link if you are a Cardinal fan, but on the off chance your fandom started recently and you've not heard about it, click here) but the different in that situation was that the Cards were already winning and the play allowed the other team to come back.
There's no guarantee that would have happened here. Sure, the Braves would have been in business, with the bases loaded and one out, but Brian McCann (who was coming up in a pinch-hitting role) hit .230 this year and grounded into 15 double plays. There was a reason the Braves had started David Ross in this game instead of McCann, who granted did have 20 home runs and had the potential to put the Braves ahead. I think Jason Motte would have come in anyway (and not had that delay to worry about) and could have easily gotten out of the inning with no damage done. It's not a slam dunk that it was the defining moment of the game, even if it'll always be the most memorable one.
What had more of a chance to be a Denkinger move was the last at-bat of Chipper Jones's career. Daniel Descalso rushed the throw to first (which was more apparent when Chipper just jogged to first, expecting to be thrown out) and it pulled Allen Craig off the bag, but it looked like Craig got his foot back on the bag before Chipper got there.
When Freddie Freeman doubled a batter later, suddenly Atlanta had the tying run at the plate with two outs in the ninth. Motte got Dan Uggla to end it, but that call could have also gone down in history as a game-changer as well.
There were strange plays and wild calls all through this one and Andrelton Simmons might be wondering just why he's such a magnet for these things. Of course, it was Simmons's fly ball that landed between Kozma and Holliday, but he was also involved in another play that looked like it was going to go the Braves' way but didn't. Simmons bunted in front of the mound in the fourth and it looked like the throw got away from Kyle Lohse, causing more Braves runners to score, but instead Simmons had run well into the grass and, as such, was out for leaving the baseline. The Cards danced out of that trouble with an out a batter later.
Then, of course, the ball found Simmons in the field, bobbling a ball hit to him by Kozma with Adron Chambers on third. With the bobble, Chambers was going to score anyway, but the Simmons compounded it by throwing the ball away trying to get him at the plate, allowing Kozma to go to second, where he scored on an infield hit by Matt Carpenter. Say what you will, but the Cardinals came to play last night.
The biggest story really is the error-filled play of the Braves. Jones's error in the fourth led to the three-run rally by St. Louis and punctured any thoughts of invincibility that the Cards might have had about Kris Medlen. If it hadn't been for that play, the rest of the game might have been very difficult for the Redbirds.
After all this it would be easy to say that Atlanta gave the game to the Cardinals, but that really understates how well the Cards did play yesterday. Lohse allowed a two-run home run to Ross in the second that put St. Louis in an early hole, but even that had controversy as he struck Ross out with the pitch before, only to see the umpire award a late "time-out" and nullify the pitch. It was very late--note what this article says about the fact Ross was a catcher and wasn't confident time would be given--and while it's completely to the umpire's discretion, it would seem to be me a good rule of thumb that if the pitcher is into their delivery, time shouldn't be granted. Another play that will be overshadowed nationally because of the infield fly and the fact the Cardinals won, but it should be noted.
Very good to see Holliday starting to warm back up. His solo homer was the first long ball out of him since 9/14 against the Dodgers and he only hit three in the whole month of September. (One of those was against the Nationals, which might be a point to note.) Craig also played a big role in the offense, which was also good to see.
There were worrisome signs, though. The outfield infield fly will overshadow the fact that Mitchell Boggs was not doing well on the mound. A walk and a single put the runners on and while he did get two outs (one controversially) he didn't look very effective. Whether he was too pumped about pitching in front of the hometown fans (he's a Georgia boy) or not, I don't know. Having that solid seventh-eighth-ninth is important, though.
We also saw Mike Matheny doing his double-switching magic again. During the 19-inning delay when the Atlanta fans did their best imitation of a toddler not getting his way, Matheny double-switched Holliday out of the game, replacing him with Shane Robinson. David Freese had already been pinch-run for with Chambers (which panned out, as we've seen), so any extras would have seen a couple of potent bats already out of the game. Thankfully, it didn't come to that.
Now the Cards get to fly home and start the NLDS against the Nationals on their familiar turf. We'll see Adam Wainwright vs. Gio Gonzalez in the first game, we wonder if Jaime Garcia will go in Game 2 with his home/road splits, and we get to hear a lot about the Nats not using Stephen Strasburg. I'll try to come back later today and take a shot at looking at the first game matchup. Until now, enjoy the win--don't let anyone tell you it was tainted or they shouldn't be moving on. The Cardinals earned their continued postseason life and here's hoping it continues to be a charmed one.
In his first start in the majors, Shelby Miller went five and two-thirds innings before finally allowing a flare off the bat of Wilson Valdez that went over the head of a leaping Ryan Jackson and landed in the outfield grass. Miller finished up with a groundout and left after six innings of one-hit shutout ball, a remarkable accomplishment for his first time out.
Not only did Miller only allow one hit, he garnered two of his own. He smoked a double in his first time up, hitting the wall on a screaming line drive, then singled his next time up. The noted rivalry between Cardinal pitchers on their hitting prowess must have inspired Miller, who had no hits at all in 27 at-bats in Memphis this season. In fact, he had all of two hits in his entire minor league experience, going 2-11 in Springfield during 2010. (Lower levels use the DH more, I believe, as he didn't record any plate appearances before then.)
All in all, Miller made a case for his being in the Cardinal rotation next season. He wound up giving up two runs in 13.2 innings during his time in the majors (1.32 ERA) and both of those came in the same inning against the Padres. Other than that, he hasn't allowed much of anything. Last night, not only did he face a team that almost had the best record in the National League, he faced them with their starters in the lineup. Unlike the Cardinals, who ran out a lineup that you wouldn't even see in spring training, Cincinnati had their regular lineup out there to begin the game. Now, I can't say how focused they were or anything, being that there was nothing for them to play for, but it's not like he flirted with a no-hitter against the Astros or Cubs.
It's tough to see Miller going to Memphis next season. Then again, it's a very full rotation, with Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly competing with Miller for that last slot barring any sort of trade. It's something to keep an eye on this offseason and next spring down in Jupiter.
It's a good thing Miller was working on the no-hitter because he wasn't getting any support behind him. When your third-place hitter is Skip Schumaker, I don't think that's unexpected. Tony La Russa got a lot of grief for some getaway lineups, but as far as I can see, he never did anything like this. Here are the lineups for (as far as I can tell) the day after they clinched a division or wild card slot.
1996: Pretty similar to this one, though a lot of the backups that played were more than bit players. Only starter I see was Luis Alicia. This game was also played on the road, it should be noted.
2005: Again on the road in Wrigley, with David Eckstein and Pujols being really the only regulars in there.
2006: Clinched on the last day of the season.
2009: Another road game (what is up with the team clinching away from Busch?) that had Pujols and Ryan Ludwick in the lineup.
2011: Clinched their wild-card slot on the last day. You may have heard that story.
I wouldn't say that there was a high level of outrage over last night's lineup, but it did raise some eyebrows. Obviously you want the players to get a little rest, to not get even more banged up in a game that doesn't mean anything. That said, giving them a chance to get an at-bat and maybe an ovation from the fans isn't a bad thing either. There was only one batter used as a pinch-hitter last night and that was Lance Berkman, who got a well-deserved, tear-inducing response from the fans who likely witnessed his last at-bat in a major league uniform. It'd have been nice for the paying fans to have a chance to honor some of the other players in a similar fashion, since there's no guarantee of another home game. I believe they came out after the game onto the field, which is something.
Long way of saying that it was tough to pick out a Goat for last night's game. Obviously Matt Carpenter is exempt due to the fact he drove in the only run of the game. The Cards also did wind up putting together nine hits, so we'll give the tag to Schumaker, who went 0-3 in his debut in the three hole, though he did draw a walk.
The Cardinals are now in Atlanta, having flown there after the game to prepare for the first-ever play-in game. To use a poker term (and no pun really intended), both sides have gone all-in and turned over their cards and they are just waiting to see what the flop brings.
Atlanta has an ace in their hand, sending out Kris Medlen to combat St. Louis. Medlen has had an outstanding season, going 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 50 games (but only 12 starts). You've all heard that the Braves have won 23 straight when Medlen has started a game, which has to give them a lot of confidence going into this one-game playoff. The numbers don't do anything to diminish that either.
Limited sample size may be the best lifeline Cardinal fans can hold on to. He hasn't started against St. Louis this year and, interestingly enough from these numbers, he didn't exactly dominate. A scoreless inning on May 11 with two strikeouts, but he gave up a run in two innings on the next day. Finally, he faced them on May 28 and gave up two runs in 2.2 innings, after which it looks like he went down to the minors to get ready for a starting role.
That said, Medlen is coming off of back-to-back Pitcher of the Month Awards. He'll be a tough nut to crack but the Cards have to get to the Braves early, because they don't want to get behind and have to worry about Craig Kimbrel with their playoff lives on the line. Kimbrel may have stumbled last year, but looks even better this year and that's not a gamble I'd like to take.
There's been some talk about Kyle Lohse and him getting the start for this game, with some wondering if Adam Wainwright shouldn't take the hill. There is always going to be second-guessing (if St. Louis wins this game, you think there will be Atlanta fans that wonder why they sent out untested Medlen instead of reliable Tim Hudson?) but Lohse has been the most consistently good pitcher on the Cardinal staff all season. It's a no-brainer that he should take the mound in this game, especially given its import. Because Wainwright might give you a better game, but we've seen he might not and the odds are close to 50/50 either way. The chances of Lohse getting lit up seem smaller given their 2012 seasons.
That's not to say it's going to be easy by any means.
These Brave hitters know Lohse and have done well against him in the past. I was hoping that, if you filtered those numbers to just show the last couple of years when Lohse has been so good that things would be different but, well, not so much. However, that's a very small sample size as it looks like Lohse may have only faced the Braves once in that span. He faced them once this year and had one of his worst starts of the year, giving up five runs in five innings on May 30. That doesn't necessarily add to the confidence factor.
Like last year, the toughest test for the Cardinals may be their first one. If they are able to get past Atlanta on Friday, they could be set for a nice long run. That's a big if, though. We'll have to tune in tomorrow afternoon and find out!
Where exactly do you lay the most blame for last night's loss? Kyle Lohse didn't have a good start, which put the Cards in a hole early. Two home runs allowed, five runs total in five innings. There aren't many nights where that is going to win a ball game and Lohse was lucky not to factor into the decision.
What may be the most frustrating thing about that outing was that he could have easily kept it at three runs (which, granted, was bad enough as they all came in the first) when he got a double play in the third that left no one on and two outs. Then single-double-walk-single and the Braves have two more. The Cards have been bad this year about not closing out innings and it almost always comes back to haunt them.
Jason Motte? The closer came into a one-run Atlanta game just trying to keep it close for his team to have at least a shot in the ninth. Three walks (one intentional), a sac fly and a single later, the Braves are back up to their three run lead and, with Craig Kimbrel coming into the game and the Cardinal lineup looking like it should be in Memphis, the game was effectively over.
Yet neither of these guys get the Goat. I think that "honor" has to go to Marc Rzepczynski. This game was very similar to the game against the Phillies last week. The Cardinals get in a big hole early, battle back to tie it up, then immediately the bullpen allows the tiebreaking runs. All momentum is lost and, while the Cards continue to battle, they can't get back over the hump.
Scrabble had actually been getting back into form. In his last three outings he'd allowed only one hit and had lowered his ERA (which, obviously, is never a great measure for a reliever) to 3.44. Last night, though, nothing went right for him. Jack Wilson got a double, which is always a telling sign that your night is in the trash. He threw a wild pitch and Yadier Molina had a passed ball. Brian McCann, who Rzep should have been most effective against, got a two-run single. (Granted, McCann beat the exaggerated shift, so some of that has to go to Mike Matheny, but he could have easily gotten out of the inning before that.) Some days you just wish the phone never rang.
There were positives, of course. I'll give the Hero to Matt Holliday for his two hits and two RBI. Rafael Furcal also had two hits and Tyler Greene had a big single in that four-run sixth as the Cards pushed to tie it up. Mitchell Boggs also was the only effective pitcher of the night, pitching a clean seventh inning.
(By the way, it took Freddie Freeman like a week to get those new prescription goggles. They couldn't have been delayed one more day? Three for five with a home run. Apparently seeing is the most important thing.)
You give credit to the Cardinals for not giving up--a lineup that had Greene, Skip Schumaker, Daniel Descalso and Shane Robinson in it all at the same time isn't necessarily the juggernaut we've gotten used to, but they put together a rally--but at the same time, they've got to figure out a way to stop the bleeding.
That means on AND off the field. Not only did they stumble their way to the end of the month, they did so with new injury concerns. Jon Jay is returning for a second opinion on his shoulder, which is not a positive development at all. Jay is eligible to return from the DL, so having him still in pain and discomfort isn't a good sign. I think Jay's been a huge loss for the Cards, because having his bat in the two hole and him playing center field seems to help set everything else for the club. Obviously the offense is still running without him, but it could be better. I really miss him out in center field, though.
Then you have Jaime Garcia who went for an MRI yesterday on his throwing elbow. While the official word is that everything looked fine and that Garcia will only miss one start, it's still a troubling thing. Will this be a recurring problem? Will it really only be one start? If it's more than that, what happens then? It looks like the off-day helps and it means everyone just moves up a slot. If Garcia's out for any length of time, though, does the Shelby Miller watch begin? Or do they go with Joe Kelly who is having a better season in Memphis? Hopefully these are moot questions, but the way this month has gone for the Cardinals, you have to be prepared. (That also is a bummer for me, because I was going to see Lance Lynn when I was at Busch next week. Now, it looks like Jake Westbrook. THAT should be fun.)
Finally, Schumaker left last night's game with a hamstring injury, most likely causing him to return to the disabled list. Allen Craig is supposed to be returning, so they'll likely swap places and not have to raid Memphis again, but it's still not helping the Cards put out the optimal team. Does mean that Adron Chambers gets a little longer in the bigs, though.
Plus you have the nagging injuries of David Freese and Carlos Beltran. Freese was able to come into last night's game when Schumaker left and get a couple of at-bats, but that wasn't the optimal situation for the Redbirds. An off day today, though, and hopefully he's good to go for Friday. Beltran's knee was again barking at him, limiting him to pinch-hitting in the eighth instead of starting. It sounds like that was more precautionary and he'll be ready to go Friday as well, but I don't think any of us will be surprised if his leg actually detaches on the flight to New York.
I'm likely not to blog tomorrow for various reasons, so let's take a look at Friday's matchup. Adam Wainwright gets to return to New York, site of one of the highlights of his career (though now in a different park), and take on a Mets team that sits just 1.5 games out of first and is a game better than the Cards record-wise. Waino's not seen a lot of the Mets, but he's done well against them when he has faced them.
Not much there and we'll have to see what holds--past history or David Wright's hot start to the season.
It's a matchup of aces coming off of injury as the Mets will throw Johan Santana. Like Wainwright, he's had his ups and down this year and, like Wainwright, he's thrown a shutout against San Diego, doing that last time out.
In retrospect, when you see stories like, "Jake Westbrook gets to sleep in his own bed, maybe that'll make a difference in his pitching outing," you catch a little whiff of desperation there. It's not exactly sound sabermetric reasoning, at least. As it turns out, it wasn't accurate reasoning at all.
Westbrook seems to not be able to get his pitches down, which was notable from the first batter when Michael Bourn took him deep. Save for that and the three-run shot given up to Dan Uggla, it was probably a tolerable outing, but unfortunately those runs count in the box score as well.
After a stellar April, Westbrook is 1-3, 5.67 ERA in May. He's given up five home runs in 33.1 innings and gone from a .210 BAA against in the opening month to a .314 mark now. There's no doubt about it, Westbrook is struggling. All those numbers include his one good outing in the month, seven scoreless innings at Arizona. Take that out and the ERA climbs to 7.18.
So, what to do? There's really nothing TO do at the moment. For all of his May woes, he did have a very good spring and very good April, so if he could rediscover how to get his sinker across low in the zone instead of in the "hit me" range, he could become effective again. It's not like the Cards have a pressing need for a rotation slot anyway at the moment. Shelby Miller still needs some AAA work and Chris Carpenter doesn't come back until July or August, at best. Even the possible free agent route got closed off, as Roy Oswalt agreed with the Rangers yesterday.
The Cards don't really have any choice but to keep working with Westbrook and hope that he can rediscover his form. Even if there was a pitcher to take his slot, do you move Westbrook to the bullpen? You couldn't trade him even if you wanted to, due to his no-trade clause. However, the farther along in the season we get, the less financial pain it is to cut him outright. I think we are a long way from that, but it's something to keep in the back of your mind.
On the positive side of things, Yadier Molina had another outstanding night at the plate, going 4-4 with his eighth home run. Before last year, eight was his career high in the long ball department, coming in his first full season (2005). He's done that in less than a third of a season this year and last year's career high of 14 is well within reach at this pace.
A number of us (and you could probably toss me into that category) weren't all that excited about Molina's contract extension. Not the fact that he got one, of course, but the money involved with it. It seemed like John Mozeliak may have paid market price after Molina's best season, dooming him to disappointment the rest of the way.
There's a reason we have the slogan "In Mo We Trust." So far most everything Mozeliak has done has either worked out or been negligible. (I mean, we can't say Pedro Feliz's time in St. Louis was a huge win, but the cost wasn't that expensive either.) It seems reasonable to assume that the internal metrics indicated Molina's season wasn't a one-off, that even if it was a career year he'd be able to approach it for the next few year. So far, so good.
Someone who didn't play yesterday was David Freese, who is still out with his wrist injury. While he'll probably not play today and, with the off day, not be back until Friday, it doesn't sound like he'll trade places with either Jon Jay or Allen Craig when they return from their stint on the DL. Which is great, if slightly out of place in this season of injury.
In that same link, something to excite some of my good friends in the blogging community. Mike Matheny doesn't rule out hitting the pitcher eighth at some point and time during the season. It worked for the Braves last night, didn't it? I can't believe it's a coincidence that they have a losing streak, but as soon as the pitcher gets out of hitting last, they take a big win. Matheny's got to keep an eye on things like that.
A little bit of super-prospect news, as Carlos Martinez, who came in at number 2 on my Top 7 prospects list last year, gets the call to Springfield and AA ball. Martinez is injured right now, but the Cards decided it was time for him to get adjusted to that area and he could do that without having to worry about pitching as well. I won't be able to see the Springfield team when they come through Little Rock in June, but hopefully I can see him pitch when they return at the beginning of August.
Cards look to take the rubber game tonight. Kyle Lohse goes to the mound for St. Louis, having thrown acceptably well his last couple of times out, though not getting any wins to show for it. While he's not pitching the way he was in April, save for the one bad start against the Cubs he's keeping the team in the game. Hopefully, with Atlanta's offensive woes, he can do that again tonight. Though these guys have had some success against him:
Cards haven't done too badly against him, which is a bit of a surprise. Looks like he's never solved Carlos Beltran, which is a good thing. If everyone lives up to what they've done in the past, the offense could really be clicking tonight.
A reminder that if you've not voted on my wardrobe choice, the polls are still open. You'll also note that I've added a guest poster to the list. Matt Rath isn't a blogger but he wanted to see what the life was like, so he'll make his debut on the Saturday I'm gone, so be sure to check that out.
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend while pausing to reflect on just why we have such a holiday. If you missed it, yesterday I posted the schedule of bloggers that are going to fill in starting next Thursday. Go check that out and vote on the poll that's there as well.
Since we've talked about the games, the Cardinals have been a feast or famine type of team. They went hungry against the Phillies for the most part, then have lived large the last couple of days. Let's recap.
Goat: Jason Motte. Motte pitched a good ninth, but allowed the game-winning two-run homer to Hunter Pence in the tenth. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a quick way to find the stats, but I believe Motte has had trouble before when he's asked to go another inning. While he's usually only going to have to be good for one frame, being able to get through another would be nice as well.
Notes: Mitchell Boggs pitched well on the whole, but couldn't keep the lead he was entrusted with. Kyle Lohse pitched a very good game and deserved better, especially since one run was unearned. Shane Robinson was the only other hitter with a multi-hit game, which was nice to see out of him. His days are likely numbered with the return to health of some players, so he's got to enjoy these while he can.
Hero: David Freese. Two of the seven Cardinal hits in a game that really didn't have many highlights.
Goat: Matt Holliday. 0-4 and two left on base.
Notes: Nice to see solid work out of Eduardo Sanchez, two scoreless innings. Jaime Garcia pitched fairly well, though buckled in the sixth and allowed three runs, which pretty much put the game out of reach the way that Kyle Kendrick was going about things. Chuckie Fick made his major league debut, having been swapped for Fernando Salas earlier in the day.
Hero: Yadier Molina. His grand slam in the first probably was all the Cardinals needed, even if Roy Halladay had stayed in and settled down.
Goat: Rafael Furcal. 0-3 from the leadoff slot, though he did draw a walk and score a run.
Notes: Great day all the way around for the Cards, snapping the three game skid in effective fashion. Adam Wainwright put together another very good outing, allowing only one run in six innings, pulled a little early likely due to the heat and the score. Marc Rzepczynski threw a clean frame, which was nice to see as well. Two hits from Adams, including his first career home run, Holliday and Skip Schumaker. All in all, a wonderfully fun game for St. Louis fans.
Hero: Lance Lynn. Lots of great offensive performances, but Lynn made them all worthwhile with a performance more like April than what we've seen out of him the last couple of weeks. Only two runs and eight strikeouts in seven innings, meaning that the idea that the league is catching up to Lynn might be a bit premature. (Then again, Atlanta has been struggling offensively, so this might not be the best test of that.)
Goat: Wow, when everyone is getting hits--multiple hits, at that--it makes for a tough call. The only person not to get a hit was Carlos Beltran, so we'll go with him even though he had a couple of walks. He also got picked off at third at a time when it looked like that might be a big play. Turned out not so much, but it still counts.
Notes: Another big game by Matt Adams, driving in three on three hits and finding himself higher in the order since David Freese sat out with a wrist issue. Furcal had three hits as well and Daniel Descalso not only had two hits, but one of those was the game-breaking home run.
With the Reds finally figuring out a way to lose on the same day the Cards win, St. Louis finds itself a half-game back from retaking the divisional lead. With the fact that the team is looking to get healthy, that lead could be short lived. Allen Craig says he'll be back from the disabled list on Friday, his first eligible day, and Jon Jay has been sent to Florida to get ready for his return. Jay is eligible on Wednesday, but it doesn't sound like he'll be quite ready at that time, though it shouldn't be much longer than that.
The Cardinals got a couple of other pieces of good injury news since we last spoke. First off, Lance Berkman's knee surgery went well and Berkman turned out to be overly pessimistic. There was no issue with the actual ACL and just the meniscus and cleanup work was done. 8-10 weeks is the time frame, making him likely to return sometime around August 1.
If everything goes right, Berkman's return will be shortly after Chris Carpenter returns to this team. Carp should start a throwing program soon, most likely in the next couple of days, as they work to get him back in late July or early August. Carp still sounds very guarded, which is not surprising given the fact that he wasn't supposed to be here and that he's had issues in the past, but just hearing news is a good thing for Cardinal fans. Hopefully the rehab works well and we'll see him on the mound for the stretch run this season.
Cards tackle the Braves again tonight and we'll see if their anemic offense of the past few days continues when they go up against Jake Westbrook. Westbrook has been hit around some in his last outings and the Braves aren't a team he's dominated in the past.
When I got the invitation to review John Smoltz's new book, Starting and Closing, I was of course willing and ready to jump on the chance. When I realized that the framing convention was going to be his last year and, as such, would have a Cardinal presence, I was even more eager.
The book doesn't disappoint. Starting with his season-ending surgery in 2008 and following him through his rehab, his time with Boston, and finishing with his time in Cardinal red, Smoltz uses the events of that last year in baseball to highlight his entire career. While this isn't a standard bio, where he starts with growing up and then moves sequentially throughout his time in baseball, he does still tend to hit the high points of his career in the rough order that they happened by casting them in the context of something that happened in 2009.
Smoltz is open not only about his relationship with John Schuerholz, which was not as strong as I would have thought given his long tenure in Atlanta, as well as other mistakes and events in his life. Smoltz also speaks about his faith, about where he was as a believer versus where he is now in his Christian walk. If you are a Christian (and even if you are not), it's a very interesting discussion and it's something that will make you think about about your own spiritual life, or at least it did for me.
The problem with the book is that, as I said, it is laid out somewhat chronologically through Smoltz's last year. Which meant I kept anticipating the section about his time in St. Louis, what he thought of the team and the city. Smoltz had nothing but good things to say about his time wearing the birds on the bat, comparing it to the atmosphere in Atlanta. That wasn't surprising, because both places had strong pitching staffs that worked together and were headed up by legendary managers. There's not a lot about his thoughts about Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa, but what is there is positive.
Smoltz tells an interesting anecdote about his first bullpen session in St. Louis. Immediately after it, Chris Carpenter comes over and asks if he can tell Smoltz something. Smoltz assents and Carp says, "I knew what every pitch was before you threw it." The legendary "tipping of the pitches!" We saw what Smoltz did in St. Louis, so you already know that Carpenter's help (along with other factors) made a wonderful difference.
Also, Smoltz says this about the fan base. Sometimes we in Cardinal Nation go to the other extreme, mocking our "best fans in baseball" title. Well, in case you didn't believe there was something to it, listen to a possible Hall of Famer with minimal ties to the city:
"The fans in St. Louis are widely considered to be the Best Fans in Baseball, and after August 28, I can understand why. I had built up some equity with the fans in Atlanta over the course of 20 years: I played there, I lived there, and I loved it there, but in three short months St. Louis made me feel like I had been there twenty years as well. I received not one, but two standing ovations, one when I walked out to the mound for the first time and then again when I came up to bat to lead off the bottom of the third. I had never experienced anything like it in my life and it was all the more humbling because I really hadn't done anything for them yet and here they were making me feel like I was about to do something incredible. The fans understood my career, the understood that it was probably the tail end for me, and they acknowledged it. It's one thing to be a fan of a player; I would argue that the folks in St. Louis are fans of the game."
I think that's true to a large extent. I mean, Smoltz was barely in St. Louis, but you know he'd be welcome back to any team functions, player gatherings, or anything of the sort. Once you are a Cardinal (with a few exceptions, of course), you are going to be accepted in this fanbase for life.
All in all, this is a fascinating book, giving you a real look at the decisions and the work that Smoltz had to put in to become a closer and then to go back to starting. I thank Harper Collins for sending me a copy to review and encourage any baseball fan to pick it up. You won't be disappointed in the least.
After finishing up their first sweep of 2012, the Cardinals then faced Atlanta and wound up being swept for the first time this season as well. Save for Friday night's game, which we've already discussed, none of the games were all that close either. It's like Atlanta came in with a chip on their shoulder for the way 2011 ended and wanted a little payback.
Saturday's game was disappointing mostly because of how Adam Wainwright took a step back in his return. After a couple of strong starts, Wainwright went just over four innings, allowing five runs and, more troubling, five walks. Two of those walks were with the bases loaded in the first inning, allowing Atlanta to get out to the early lead.
It's probably expected that Wainwright is going to have some games like this and it's good that, by his admission, there wasn't anything physically wrong with him causing his command to waver. He was trying to do too much and it cost him, but hopefully he'll learn from that and be more effective the next time out, since he'll be going against the Giants and Matt Cain, which means that the offense will have its own work cut out for it.
There weren't a lot of positives to take out of Saturday's game. Fernando Salas did pitch 2.2 scoreless innings, showing some hope that he'll get back to the form that we saw last year. J.C. Romero, again stretched out beyond a LOOGY appearance, again struggled, allowing two runs and a home run.
Hero of Saturday's game, though, will go to Rafael Furcal, who continued his amazing start to the season by being the only Cardinal with more than one hit in the game. After Sunday's game, which was another multi-hit affair for him, Furcal is hitting .383 and sits behind only David Wright in the batting race. Not bad for a guy that couldn't buy a hit in Jupiter, is it? I questioned resigning Furcal and I'm still not sure a two-year deal was best, but there's no doubt that he's making the decision look very good (and is aided by the fact that the rest of the middle infielders have been much weaker than anticipated).
Also on Saturday, we saw David Freese again hit into a double play in a key situation. Bill noted last night during Gateway To Baseball Heaven how Freese has been struggling recently and it definitely has not been a great May for the postseason hero. Since the calendar turned, Freese is hitting .237/.356/.474 with a couple of home runs and seven strikeouts. The great thing about this lineup, though, is that someone in it can be cold and the other hitters will pick him up. Freese was hot when Matt Holliday was struggling, now Carlos Beltran is otherworldly while Freese is down. It's going to be very difficult to shut this entire team down for any extended period of time.
As for Sunday, the Cardinals got a taste of their own never-give-up medicine. Atlanta had two three-run innings and all the runs scored with two outs. Lance Lynn suffered his first loss, but on the whole pitched another solid game. His pitch count got high due to the Braves' patient approach--he threw 120 in six innings--but save for the big blow by Jason Heyward, after Heyward had fouled off a number of pitches, he was pretty much unscathed.
I think you have to give the Goat to Victor Marte in this one. He came into a 3-1 game and, while he got two outs, he was unable to finish the inning, turning it into a five-run cushion. As noted in the Post-Dispatch story, there's a strong chance he'll head down to Memphis and give Eduardo Sanchez a shot up in the bigs, if for no other reason than to give a fresh arm to a bullpen that got a lot of work this weekend.
The Hero of the affair was Allen Craig. Granted, the game would have played out differently if Marte hadn't added runs to Atlanta's total, but it made you wonder what could have been when Craig hit the three-run shot in the ninth. That home run was his third hit of the game. As Matthew Leach always said about Craig, "Hitters hit."
There were other high points, such as Furcal's three hits or Beltran's league-leading 13th home run. Unfortunately, they just weren't enough to get the Cards on the winning side of things.
So what does this sweep tell us. Bernie Miklasz says it's likely just a blip and I wouldn't disagree. The only thing that bothered me were the high number of strikeouts this weekend. The Cardinals struck out 14 times yesterday, 13 times in the extra-inning game on Friday, and nine times on Saturday. That's a lot of whiffs for a three-game set, though that obviously wasn't the reason they lost. That also doesn't mean feast-or-famine, as they did score seven on Friday. It's probably nothing, but it's something that caught my eye.
Lance Berkman got activated yesterday and Shane Robinson, as expected, was sent down to Memphis. Now Mike Matheny gets to do his juggling act of getting all these corner bats regular time, but it's nice to know that there will always be one big bopper on the bench for a key pinch-hitting spot.
Cards have a quick dip back with the NL Central before starting out on a West Coast road trip. Jake Westbrook goes today against the Cubs and Ryan Dempster. Westbrook faced the Cubs during the home opener weekend and two runs (one earned) in seven innings. Here's what he's done against the baby bear hitters:
For the most part, he's kept them corralled. A couple of high averages in small sample sizes, but no one has really hit him with a lot of authority.
Dempster has not faced the Cardinals this year, but has done a good job of limiting the teams he has faced, even if it's not showing up in his win-loss numbers. His ERA is just a tick over one and he has 36 strikeouts to just 10 walks. He was able to shut down Atlanta last time out to one run over seven innings, so the Cardinals won't be the first big offense that he's faced. Here's what they've done with him historically:
Berkman's glad to be back for this one and there's no doubt Skip Schumaker will get a start as well. Couple that with Beltran's success and his hot streak and perhaps the Cards can put a few more runs on the board against Dempster tonight. Hopefully so!