After their six-game winning streak was snapped, the Cardinals were in the ugly position of possibly getting swept at Wrigley Field by the last place Cubs. (That's what a short series will do for you.) Now, anytime you are going to be swept by the Cubs, it's a bad thing, but when they are in last place, it's especially bad. Well, they often are in last place, so maybe when they aren't in last, it's incrementally not as bad? Anyway, you get the idea.
That idea looked much more possible in the fourth, when the Cubs scored three to take a 4-2 lead. Thankfully, the Cardinals were able to put together some single runs in three innings and the umpires actually made a correct interference call, something we obviously can't take for granted. The Cardinals escaped with a 5-4 win and gained ground on most of the NL Central, pushing their lead out to three games over the Pirates and the Reds.
Our Hero of the day has to be Seth Maness. Mr. Double Play came into the game with two on and one out in the sixth. Two pitches later, everyone was heading for the dugout. He actually allowed a single to lead off the seventh, but like I said on Twitter, that was just to guarantee he could get another double play. Sure enough, after the batter interference on the bunt got him one out, Maness coaxed David DeJesus into yet another double play.
Derrick Goold breaks down Maness's amazing and efficient start to his career in the gamer today, but Adam Wainwright's question about whether Maness could get to 100 wins before 100 pitches says it all. He's got more innings pitched than batters faced. He has three double plays in three outings. Of his 18 pitches to get 10 outs, 83% have been strikes. The man chews doublemint gum, for crying out loud!
So far, Maness has been what we expected Brad Thompson to be, a ground-ball specialist with that uncanny knack of getting the double play. Obviously Maness is a better, more talented pitcher than Thompson was, but there are some similarities so far in their careers.
You have to give some love to Jon Jay as well. His sacrifice fly gave the Cards a 2-1 lead and his base hit in the ninth drove in the winning run. Like Daniel Descalso last year (and what has happened to that progress, I don't know), Jay reworked his swing radically on the fly and, so far, it's working like a charm. On the road trip, he hit .500 with two home runs, raising his batting average 50 points. Having Jay clicking is big for this lineup, because he's never going to be the power source, but he can be the guy that scores the runs or gets the hit that keeps the line moving.
I think the Goat has to go to Jake Westbrook, who wasn't quite on his game yesterday. He allowed four runs (three earned) in just over five innings, being bailed out by Maness when he left as well as a comebacker double play the inning before. Westbrook danced with trouble all day long (10 baserunners allowed) and was lucky to be able to keep the score as close as he did to allow for a Cardinal comeback.
Mike Matheny made a curious move as well, but that's pretty much par for the course. I'm not talking about double-switching out David Freese and bringing in Descalso. With Freese still not hitting and the game situation, I could understand that one. What I was surprised with--well, not surprised so much because I know what he was thinking, but I'm not sure it was necessary--was the fact that he brought in Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out Starlin Castro and then walked Luis Valbuena. That's not the problem part.
The issue was that instead of sticking with Rosenthal, who even this year has been more effective against lefties than righties, he brings in Randy Choate to face the left-handed Anthony Rizzo. Could be he was remembering the fact Rizzo took Rosenthal deep last year in Wrigley, I guess. However, Rosenthal has faced Rizzo two other times and gotten him out. (Rizzo was 0-1 with a sac fly off of Choate, if you want to deal with small samples.) Choate then blew the whole hand advantage by allowing a singe to Rizzo, but got Nate Schierholtz--who was the Cub hero this series with his homer on Tuesday and his two-run double earlier in the game--to hit into yet another double play.
Edward Mujica continues to prove that those that thought he'd struggle out of the seventh inning (yes, that's my hand in the air) were wildly incorrect, nailing down his ninth straight save with no drama whatsoever. Just the way we like it.
Cards get their second off day of the week today, then head home to take on the Rockies in Busch. The Rockies are off to a solid start, 19-14 and just a half-game out of the divisional lead. (They'll finish off their series with the Yankees this evening, so that record will be a little different at the start of play.) Going to the mound for Colorado will be Jon Garland.
Being that Garland spent most of his career in the American League, it's not a huge surprise that most people on the team haven't seen him. Molina's destroyed him in his limited sample and Beltran's seen him the most and will be glad to renew acquaintances.
Shelby Miller gets the ball for the Cardinals. Obviously the rookie is doing quite well so far--four wins and an ERA under 2 into May kind of indicates that--but he's never faced the Purple Mountains Majesty.
Should be a good series! Come back tomorrow when I'll hopefully have up a review of Out of the Park Baseball 14 as well as iOOTP 13!
Lance Lynnmade one mistake on the evening, but that kept him from being able to run his record to 6-0 for the second consecutive year. A fourth-inning, two-run homer by Nate Schierholtz was all the Cubs needed to take the game 2-1. Someone pointed out that Lynn lost the game even though he never threw a pitch with a runner in scoring position. Ironically, it was just last Tuesday when the Cards won a game without a runner in scoring position, with Matt Holliday playing the Schierholtz role. Baseball is a fickle game.
A lot of attention, and rightfully so, will be focused on Yadier Molina trying to steal third in the eighth inning off of Carlos Marmol. I can understand, generally, what Mike Matheny was trying to do there. Marmol is erratic--we know from first hand experience that he can throw a wild pitch at the wrong time--and the extra base might have helped. Plus, Pete Kozma was at the plate and while he could chip in a single at the right time, he's hitting eighth for a reason.
All that said, it still seems like a fairly crazy thing for Matheny to try to do. Sure, the offense was struggling, but Marmol could have easily walked Kozma or something of that nature. It seems like the risk of Molina being thrown out and ending possibly your last threat of the game would have overruled the benefit of one extra base. With the quotes from Dale Sveum after the game about being aware of Molina's sneak attacks on the bases, I don't know that we'll see Yadier trying to steal too much against them the rest of the year.
Lynn has to take home the Hero label, even if his winning streak snapped. Seven innings, eight strikeouts, four hits and two runs is going to win you a lot of games. He's put up four very good outings in a row, putting to rest (at least for a while) any worries about inconsistency from him. We'll have to wait and see if the weight loss means that he can take this success deeper into the season than he did last year.
I'll give the Goat to Matt Holliday, who went 0-3 with three men left on base. David Freese actually went 0-4, but Holliday followed a two-out single by Matt Carpenter and double by Carlos Beltran with a groundout, something that would turn out to be key. Do hate seeing Freese have back-to-back hitless games, though, as it makes you wonder if he wasn't quite out of his slump (or that Milwaukee pitchers were just that bad).
Kudos also go to Allen Craig, who came into May with no home runs and now has hit two in three games. He's already been driving in runs, but it's good to see his power bat is warming up as well. Matt Adams returned last night as well, so Craig might be traveling around the diamond again soon.
Jason Motte had his Tommy John surgery yesterday, and as is the case in just about every news report after a pitcher's surgery, it was successful. Successful in this case has a pretty low bar--I would assume that Motte walked out with both arms still attached. Whether he'll be able to pitch again at his normal level still remains to be seen after rehab, though there's no particular reason to think that he can't.
Cards have an afternoon affair in Wrigley this afternoon before another day off and back home to Busch. Jake Westbrook goes for win 101 in his career.
Good numbers for Westbrook there, assuming he can deal with Starlin Castro. Of course, the Cubs offense wasn't really the problem for Lynn last night either, was it?
St. Louis will face Carlos Villanueva, whom most of us remember from his days with the Brewers. Perhaps that Milwaukee connection will help out? Villanueva does sports a 2.85 ERA this year, so he's been fairly effective, especially for a Cubs pitcher.
Not a good look for the Cardinals either. Holliday's really the only one with much extended success against him. Could be a low scoring game, though it is a day game at Wrigley, so you never know when things will just explode. Worth watching to see!
I know, the traditional cleaning implement in this situation is a broom, but sweeping up spilled product from a brewmaster just isn't going to get you very far. The Brewers were thoroughly cleaned up and out this weekend, so any cleaning tool you want to use is pretty appropriate. We've already talked about Thursday's game and Saturday's game, which leaves us two others to quickly discuss.
If you've been following the Cardinal minor league system for any extended period of time, this game was what you've been waiting for. Shelby Miller, followed by Carlos Martinez (making his debut) followed by Seth Maness (also making his debut). Fernando Salas, another minor league product, cleaned up the ninth. Offensively, you had Matt Carpenter with a hit and a walk, Allen Craig with three hits, Yadier Molina, David Freese and Jon Jay with two and Pete Kozma with a hit of his own. Prospect gurus probably sniffed and wiped a tear of joy while watching all of this minor league talent mesh together at the big league level.
While all of those guys did a wonderful job, you have to give the Hero tag to Matt Holliday. Holliday had three hits, including a two-run homer that got the scoring started off of old friend Kyle Lohse. It's extremely hard to pick a Goat in this one since everyone had a hit and all of the pitchers went well, but we'll go with Pete Kozma since Carlos Beltran won the tiebreaker since his hit was a home run.
Martinez and Maness both looked very good in their first appearances in the bigs. Martinez gave up an infield single to his first batter, but then got a double play to erase him. Maness came in and threw the Dave Duncan special--three ground ball outs. It may be the newness of the players or the fact they were up against the Brewers, but I have a feeling confidence in the bullpen is at possibly the highest point it has been at all season long.
It didn't take long for this one to get out of hand. The second six-run inning that the Cards had while spending time in Milwaukee gave Jaime Garcia all that he was going to need. Even Bad Jaime might have had trouble squandering that lead, but he didn't show up yesterday. Garcia went eight innings, striking out three and allowing just one run. He did all of that in just under 100 pitches as well, meaning he was unusually efficient. No doubt that he was Hero of the action.
There were plenty of other people to make their claim on the Hero action, though. Allen Craig drove in three in that six-run second and added another RBI later on. Matt Holliday went 2-3 with a home run and three RBI. Jon Jay, back in the leadoff slot as his average is getting back to reasonable levels, got two hits and scored two runs. Pete Kozma had a multi-hit game. Lots of fun at the old ballpark for the Cardinal hitters yesterday.
There were a couple of hitters that didn't get into the fun. Daniel Descalso didn't get a hit, though he did draw two walks. However, the Goat of the action is David Freese, who had multiple hits in each of the first three games, but went 0-5 with three strikeouts and six left on base. Freese was starting to look much better, so hopefully that's just an off day rather than the reemergence of whatever had him in that slump.
In the middle of this series, there were a couple of pieces of news--one expected, one not-so-much. The first was that Jason Motte was going to have Tommy John surgery after all. Even with the news last week that Motte was feeling better and was throwing, few believed that the Redbirds were going to dodge that bullet. Some will say that Motte should have gone under the knife as soon as the irritation showed up at the end of March, but that seems a bit extreme to me. For one thing, they didn't even a clearer picture of the problem until the exam on April 9. Which means that, at most, they lost less than a month. Sure, the odds weren't good for them, but three weeks in the long run isn't likely to affect Motte's return all that much.
Frankly, I think we've seen the end of Motte closing for the Cardinals anyway. Assume that Motte isn't able to come back until early June next year, which would seem reasonable. We don't know that he can heal up and return as quickly as Adam Wainwright did, though he does have the advantage that he doesn't have to build up as much stamina being a reliever. If the Cardinals don't have an established closer by then, they've got bigger problems than a couple of weeks on Motte's recovery. You'd figure someone was locked into that role and even if they weren't, we saw the erratic nature of Wainwright when he returned. By time Motte really gets back to full strength, the '14 season is likely over and Motte's a free agent. Would the Cards resign him to be the closer? Guess that depends on the situation at the time, but it would seem a bit unlikely.
The other news was that Chris Carpenterwas throwing again, with the idea of returning to the club as a reliever. The words "Chris Carpenter" and "throwing again" are going to make any Cardinal fan giddy with dreams of yet another comeback. There's nothing wrong with that and, indeed, this seems to have more substance than just a columnist's flight of fancy. Having Carpenter back in uniform would be a huge boost to this team psychologically if nothing else, plus you'd figure his veteran wiles would be handy in the sixth or seventh inning or wherever trouble might strike.
That said, even though John Mozeliak is quoted that he was optimistic and excited about the idea and putting a late June/early July timetable on a possible return, we've seen this before. We've seen Carpenter start to look good and plans be made for him to go out on a rehab start or something of that nature, only to have a setback. That seemed to be the order of the day last year, as he'd be good until he hit a throwing level that brought him back down. Until we see him on a minor league assignment and having success, I don't think we can count too many chickens.
If he did return, though, it would like be the past, present and future of the Cardinal pitching staff all in one spot. Carpenter, Wainwright, Miller, Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal all on the squad at the same time? That's an incredible sight. I really hope this happens and, of course, you never rule Chris Carpenter out or he actually comes to your house and beats you about the head and shoulders while spewing profanities. Matt Whitener had horror stories about it last weekend.
Off day today, then the Cards start a two-game series in the Friendly Confines on Tuesday. Lance Lynn puts his perfect record (and the Cards' six game winning streak) on the line against the Cubbies, who currently sit last in the division and are wishing that Houston had never left.
Wood's not been as successful as Lynn has and it's not all from that game last year. Molina and Holliday will be excited about this one and Jay looks to continue his fine hitting. Freese might be able to make yesterday's game an aberration and even Daniel Descalso has done pretty well against the hurler. Everything is in the Cards' favor here, but we know that doesn't always translate to the field.
In case you missed it (and you might have--I was unusually active here on the blog this weekend), I had Star Wars questions for the players and a recap of UCB Weekend posted, so be sure to check them out if you haven't already!
After sorting through the American League and the National League East, the middle of the week brings us to the best division in baseball. It's not perhaps the best as in the strongest or best as in the most star-laden, but it has the Cardinals in it. Therefore, best. We're all in agreement here, right?
Remember that if you don't agree with these picks, well, there are a bunch of others that you can look through and see if someone else is more to your liking!
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.
As always, I have strict rules about this series. No matter the thoughts of some of the readership (which, to be fair, tend to keep their thoughts about anything on this blog to themselves), we cover every team. Even those baby bears from the north side of Chicago.
The arrival of Theo Epstein before last season was hailed as a major milestone for the club, but nobody expected him to wave a magic wand and turn the Cubs into contenders instantly. Which is good, because the only thing they contended for was the basement of the NL Central, giving Houston quite a run before falling "short" of that dubious distinction. Still, the Cubs lost 101 games and this year don't have the cushion of the lowly Astros to keep them out of the cellar.
Of course, there are good things happening in Chicago as well. To find them, I gathered information from some of the passionate Cub fans. (As you'll see, terminology is important here.) Rob Harris writes the blog Blue Batting Helmet and can be found on Twitter @rlincolnharris. Rob's a familiar face from Peppers past, as is Brian Corbin, whom you'll find at Bullpen Brian and @bullpenbrian. New to the scrum is Andrew Denny, who writes at FanSided's Cub site Cubbies Crib and Tweets @Denny__Andrew (yes, that's two underscores).
Given the Cubs' national reach, it's not surprising that when I opened this year's Pepper up to some general baseball bloggers, there were a couple that jumped at writing about the baby bears. Justin Jabs has Baseblog as his writing base and can be found on Twitter @justinjabs. Stevo-sama writes the blog entitled The Baseball Enthusiast, Tweets @yoshiki89, and probably wouldn't want his fellow Cub writers to know that he has a Cardinals hat. I'll let him explain that last part sometime!
Stick with us as we unravel the mysteries of the offseason and the potential changes to Wrigley Field.
After Friday, while there wasn't necessarily a state of panic within Cardinal Nation, there was definitely some unease. The Cards had blown a ninth-inning lead and stood just a game and a half ahead of a surging Milwaukee squad. With eleven games left on the schedule, the panic button wasn't pushed, but the glass case over it had been raised.
Two days can make a difference. While the lead isn't much larger, it is larger--2.5 games. Couple that with the fact that there are just nine games left and while no one is crowing or claiming the race is over, there's no doubt that fans can breathe just a bit easier for a day or two. Let's look at those games.
Hero: Carlos Beltran. Beltran has heated up of late, but he's still nowhere close to where he was the first half of the season. That said, he picked a perfect time for his 30th home run. If the Cards had lost that game, it would have raised a lot more questions about this team's final destination. Instead, he turned around a Carlos Marmol pitch in the ninth and sent the game into extras. Plus he had another hit and scored two runs in the game, so there's still life in him after all.
Goat: The offense got 10 hits and eight walks, which makes it a bit difficult to find an obvious Goat, even though they only got five runs out of it. As much as I hate to, especially since he wound up leaving the game with back troubles after Marmol almost hit him with a pitch, I'll have to go with Yadier Molina, who went 0-3, though he did walk and drive in a run with a sacrifice fly. Not all Goats are created equal.
Notes: Adam Wainwright had a bad sixth inning, but otherwise looked pretty solid. He gave up only six hits, but four of them came in the sixth when the Cubs scored three runs to take the lead. Again, the offense had plenty of chances to get him more of a cushion, but they couldn't do it. Jon Jay would have been the Goat for an 0-5, but his sixth at-bat he drove in the winning run, which seems incongruent with the Goat status.
The bullpen did their job in this one as well, though I still worry about Mike Matheny riding some of these guys too hard. (More on that in Sunday's discussion.) Trevor Rosenthal really did some good work, going an inning and a third with no runs, though he was bailed out by Mitchell Boggs after allowing two hits (well, one of them deflected off of David Freese's glove) with two outs in the ninth.
Been a long time since you've been able to get cheap drinks at Mobil On The Run (though it has been since this version of the commercial, since the prices have now gone up). We discussed that very thing in my post from Saturday, so I'm glad that became relevant so quickly.
Hero: Pete Kozma. Wow, who would have ever thought we'd be saying that, huh? Kozma has been derided ever since he was a first round selection ahead of Rick Porcello but has been making the most of his playing time since being called up due to Rafael Furcal's injury. (Ryan Jackson is sitting on the bench going, "How exactly did this happen again?") Kozma got his first major league home run yesterday, had two hits and drove in another run with a sacrifice fly. Not exactly sure what kind of magic he's worked up, but I hope it lasts a few more weeks.
Goat: Love Jay in the leadoff role, but it does give him more opportunities for this tag. An 0-4 day gets him listed here, though he did score a run. Jay only hit .200 for the series, a mark that's equal to what he's done the last 10 days, so you wonder if he's running down a little bit.
Notes: Kyle Lohse gets win #16 and pitches--well, pretty much pitches like he has been all year long. Six innings and three runs will win you a lot of games. I'm sure Matheny would have liked to run him out there for another inning, but he had reached the 100 pitch mark and it was a one-run lead, so he couldn't risk it.
That said, when the Cards tacked on two more in the top of the eighth, I'm thinking that the bullpen usage could have changed. It seems like Boggs and Jason Motte have pitched in a lot of games recently. For instance, Motte has had just two games off out of the last week, including the game against Houston where he came in to protect a 5-0 lead.
I mean, is Motte available today in a close game? Wouldn't you think Fernando Salas might like to get back on the horse after giving up the home run on Friday? He didn't pitch on Saturday either and had gone just three times in the past week. I'm not suggesting toss Victor Marte out there (though if you can't trust him with a three run lead in the ninth, exactly when are you going to use him and why is he on the roster) but you'd think there were other options than your main weapon, especially since it was the bottom of the order coming up.
All that said, congratulations to Motte for his 40th save. That's a milestone very few Cardinal pitchers have ever achieved, so he's in select company. Only one Cardinal (Lee Smith) has done it more than once, so he has something to shoot for next year.
Back problems are flaring up on this team. Molina left Saturday's game with them, but he should be ready to go in Houston today. At the time, pinch hitting Shane Robinson for Matt Holliday was fairly inexplicable, but it seems like his back issues have recurred. Apparently the Cards don't stay at a hotel with the Sleep Number beds. I would think Holliday would be able to go today, though may be a late tactical maneuver if necessary.
Jake Westbrookhad a setback this weekend, making it unlikely that he'll return from the oblique, at least in the regular season. And if you don't get a chance to see him in the regular season, the odds would seem small that they'd throw him onto a postseason roster. I always thought that a return this season for Westbrook seemed a bit optimistic. Those oblique injuries can cause some long-term issues.
A lot of lasts in this series coming up with Houston. It's the last time the Cardinals will play on the road in the 2012 regular season. It's also the last time the Cardinals will play in Houston as divisional rivals of the Astros. They will go to Houston for a two game set next June, but it just won't be the same.
The Cards have to win this series and a sweep would not go amiss either. They'll send out Lance Lynn in game one of the three game tilt. Lynn shut down the Astros for six and a third innings last week, allowing no runs and only three hits.
Of course, with this small of a sample its disproportionately weighted with what he did last time out, but it's still some positive reinforcement. It's also nice to see that Lynn, at least, has figured out Brett Wallace so far. Not many Cardinal pitchers can say that.
Fernando Abad will be the hurler for the Houston nine. Abad wasn't, well, bad last time out, allowing just three runs in five innings while striking out six. Unfortunately for him, he was going up against Lohse and also was a member of the Astros, who weren't putting up runs in St. Louis last week.
Again, not much here. Beltran's done OK against him, but nobody's seen him all that often. We'll have to find out whether facing him twice in a week will help the hitters. I wouldn't think it would hurt any.
Wild card watch: Milwaukee stands 2.5 games out and finishes up their series with Washington this afternoon. Marco Estrada goes for the Brewers, Jordan Zimmermann for the Nationals. There may be a slight edge there to Washington, but chances are it's a low scoring game. On the plus side, at least the Cards will know that result before they take the field tonight.
The Dodgers are three back and they actually have the day off today before heading to San Diego, so St. Louis can tack on another half-game with a win.
Arizona is 4.5 out and Philadelphia five, so I feel pretty confident they aren't going to overtake all three of the teams in front of them. It looks like it's down to the Brewers and Dodgers now. We'll have to see if the Cards can hold them off!
For the third time in less than two weeks, the Cardinals were just a pitch away from winning a big ballgame, only to see a home run tie it up. A week ago Sunday it was Jason Motte allowing a two-run home run to Norichika Aoki, sending the game against the Brewers into extras before the Redbirds won it in the 10th. Last Saturday, it was the Dodgers scoring two in the ninth with none on and two strikes on Andre Ethier against Motte for the victory.
Yesterday, Fernando Salas--who was the Hero just the day before with his key work out of the pen--had a two-out, nobody on, two-strike situation. A hit by David DeJesus and a home run by Darwin Barney--only his seventh of the year--and the Cards had another key loss, which hurt even more painfully when Tyler Clippard couldn't preserve a ninth-inning lead in Washington, allowing the Brewers to rally and cut the wild card lead to 1.5.
(I actually turned on that Mil/Was game in the ninth and saw them trailing. I thought to myself that, if they were able to win this game, it'd be a lot like the games the Cards won on their 2011 push. Suffice it to say I'm really worried about the Brewers now.)
It's too bad Salas blew that game, because otherwise Chris Carpenter Day went pretty darn well. Carp wasn't full-blown Carp, of course, but save for the third inning, when the Cubs seemed to hit everything he threw up there extremely hard, he was a very effective pitcher. His command was erratic, but he was able to make the pitches he need to and seemed to make some adjustments after that third inning as well. In other words, Carp is back and it's a wonderful thing. We'll give him the Hero tag as well because, hey, being effective just a couple of months after surgery deserves something, right?
While the pitching staff will get a lot of the focus and blame for today's loss--and there's obviously good reasons for that--the offense again disappeared. Yesterday you could blame the conditions, as the ball tended to not carry and even get knocked down by the cold and heavy air. Allen Craig's sacrifice fly sounded and looked like a three-run homer. That could have made a difference in the game, though the Cubs had a couple of drives like that as well.
But let's just take a look at this offense from some of the basic measures. Of course, Mobil On The Run says that a game of six Cardinal runs is "serious", meaning you get the discounted drink when they score six. How many of those games have there been this season?
I was a little surprised to count up so many in August, but it seems like the second half of the season especially has seen a marked decline in offense. Here are the splits for some major hitting categories pre- and post-All Star Break:
Pre-ASB: .275/.340/.434, 4.95 runs per game, 1.12 HR per game
Post-ASB: .267/.332/.407, 4.40 runs per game, 0.83 HR per game
While most fables seem to encourage that storing up for winter, don't wait until the end to do things mentality, it doesn't work that way in baseball. You can't apply runs you scored in April and May to games in September. People talk about the Cardinals being a top offense, about them having five 20 HR players. Which is true, as far as it goes. Let's look at those 20 HR guys.
Carlos Beltran: 29 total home runs. 20 were hit in the first three months of the season, including 10 of them in May. He's hit one in September.
Matt Holliday: 27 home runs. Pretty good split--12 in the first three, 15 in the last three. Has hit three in September.
Craig: 22 home runs. Talk about consistent--five in April, May, June, July and August. Two in September.
David Freese: 20 home runs. 13 in April-June, 7 July-September. Does have three long balls this month, his best month since June.
Yadier Molina: 20 home runs. Almost as even as Craig--four in every month save the last two, when he had one in August and three in September.
So, save for the disappearing act that has been Beltran's power, those splits weren't as drastic as I originally thought. The problem may be that, after those guys, the next highest home run total on the team is Matt Carpenter's six. The longballs are only going to come from these guys and if they aren't going well, it can be a problem.
Last notes from yesterday: How neat was it to see the past followed by the future, as Carpenter gave way to Shelby Miller. I'll admit that I was unable to see that inning, but I was a bit surprised that Miller only went two-thirds when you have a depleted bullpen that had Motte and Mitchell Boggs unavailable. I understand there were two on and the game could be hanging in the balance, but even though Brian LaHair has burned the Cardinals, I'm not sure it was worth trying to force him out of the lineup by bringing in the lefty Sam Freeman. I mean, LaHair means so little to the Cubs that they immediately replaced him when Freeman came in. It's little decisions like that that pile up and have consequences down the road. Like when Motte saved a 5-0 game and wasn't available for today. Same thing with Trevor Rosenthal--why use your starters in the pen for less than an inning? These are the guys that should be able to go 2-3 innings and give your pen a breather.
Jon Jay was the only person with two hits yesterday. The Cards worked Chris Volstad over, picking at him with six hits and three walks and running his pitch count up, but he wouldn't ever break. You wonder if one well-placed hit would have opened the floodgates, but it never came.
Can't blame Joe Kelly too much for the loss. He threw a great 10th and anytime you are in extras on the road, things are going to be tough. A leadoff double in extras and, well, you'd have to be a pretty good Houdini to get out of that unscathed. Kelly tried, but couldn't get that last out. Where have we heard that before?
So with the race tightened up, the Cards get to send out yet another ace to try to take care of the baby bears. Adam Wainwright follows Carpenter for the first time since 2010 and hopes to build on what he did yesterday.
Waino looks like he'll have to be careful with DeJesus and Barney, yesterday's heroes, and there's some other potholes along the way as well. This isn't the best matchup for Wainwright, so we'll have to see how it goes this afternoon.
The Cards get to face Travis Wood, who they've seen in Cincinnati and in Chicago during his career. (Full disclosure: Wood's an Arkansas boy like myself, but that won't get him any rooting points today!)
Unfortunately, Lance Berkman isn't available for this one as he loves facing this pitcher. Then again, it's not like Wood has had success with very many of the guys in this lineup. If the numbers mean anything, this could be a high-scoring game today.
Looking at the games around the league that matter, Milwaukee and Washington are going on at the same time as the Cubs/Cardinals today. Washington sends out their Cy Young candidate in Gio Gonzalez while Milwaukee counters with Wily Peralta. I'd say the pitching matchup favors the Nats, but if Milwaukee is channeling their inner 2011 Cardinals, that may not matter much.
Cincinnati has a magic number of 1 to clinch the division and they could do that today against the Dodgers and Cardinal fans wouldn't fault them in the least. The Reds have Mat Latos while the Dodgers have Stephen Fife, the rookie fill-in for Clayton Kershaw. Again, the edge would seem to go to the Reds and the Dodgers haven't been so on fire that I worry about this game, though obviously things could go south in a hurry since they are playing in Great American Ball Park. Game starts at 3 Central and likely will be on the big Fox if you want to flip over there after the Cards game.
Philadelphia's three-game deficit in the wild card hunt is probably the last one that has a reasonable chance here. They take on Atlanta today, also at 3 and also a game that might be on your major Fox station. Roy Halladay goes for the Phils, which means they have an excellent chance to win this one. Mike Minor takes the bump for the Bravos, which doesn't negate the Halladay edge in the least.
Big afternoon for National League baseball. Hopefully everything breaks the Cardinals' way!
Anyone that thought this day would come this year after Chris Carpenter had his surgery, please raise your hand.
Yes, you in the back? With your hand up? Please move away from the rest of us so that we will be safe when the lightning hits you.
There's little that could overshadow a series sweep by the Cardinals, especially at this time of year when every win is precious and the wild card lead is so tentative. Yet even though the Cards were able to dispose of the Astros yet again yesterday afternoon, there's little thought of that today. Cardinal fans are always out in force in Wrigley, but today they may outnumber the Cub faithful. This is big.
Before we get into Carpenter's return, a return that got it's own movie-like trailer on Fox Sports Midwest a couple of days ago, let's take a look at Monday afternoon's contest, a contest that the Cards should have broken open, a contest that the Cards easily could have lost. Eventually the ball went their way, but it gave a lot of heartburn before that 27th out was recorded.
Jaime Garcia struggled early--for a while there, people were wondering if he thought he was on the road or if something had upset that precarious routine that he seems to have. He made it through six innings and only gave up three runs, though, which isn't a bad day's work overall. He worked out of some trouble, leaving the bases loaded in the first (though walking in a run beforehand) as part of allowing six hits and two walks. Garcia put the team in a position to win, which is about all you can ask out of a starter.
Of course, the biggest reason they were in that position was that the Cards solved Bud Norris early, with Allen Craig smashing a three-run homer in the first as part of his two-hit day. Carlos Beltran provided the other scoring with a two-run double in the sixth off of the first Houston reliever of the day, Wesley Wright.
The offense had other chances, though. They left the bases loaded in the third, Jon Jay was caught stealing in the fourth with just one out, Craig was caught stealing (on a busted hit and run) in the seventh, and David Freese's leadoff hit in the eighth was wasted as well. This would have been a very frustrating game to lose in so many ways.
Lose this game they well might have, though, had it not been for our Hero. In the eighth, Mitchell Boggs had some trouble with the strike zone, walking two of the three hitters he faced. In comes Marc Rzepczynski (who surprisingly didn't come in for Jed Lowrie, the last man Boggs walked. Lowrie was hitting .192/.292/.321 against lefties instead of .273/.355/.489 against righties. If Scrabble is coming into the game anyway, why not press your advantage? Then again, it may not have mattered, as you'll see). Rzep, continuing to struggle, walks the pinch-hitter Matt Downs. So we have bases loaded, one out, with a bunch of walkers.
In steps Fernando Salas and he may have just saved the season. Jason Motte will get the save in the books, but nobody did more to assure the win that Salas did, coming in and striking out Jose Altuve and Brett Wallace, two guys that have hit the Cardinals very well in the past. The Cards held on to their 5-4 lead and that turned out to be the final score. Huge kudos to Salas for a job exceptionally well done.
Our Goat also comes from the pitching side of things. I'm starting to wonder if the expiration date has been reached on Edward Mujica. Not really, but I guess with the law of averages he was going to come off of that strong start he had with the Cardinals. His ERA now is up to 3.11 in his last 11 games (basically, September) which is exorbitantly high when compared to that 0.00 ERA he was having. Of course, that doesn't count inherited runs either, at least one I can think of that he's allowed recently. He's still very good, just not the automatic piece he was in August. Yesterday he came into a two-run game, allowed a run before he got an out, and it took a remarkable double play to keep him from blowing the lead entirely. Way too scary for my taste.
So the Cards are able to sweep the Astros, which was big because Milwaukee was able to do the same to Pittsburgh, dropping the Pirates under .500 and basically eliminating them from any wild-card concerns. Milwaukee now becomes the biggest threat, sitting 2.5 games behind and 1/2 game ahead of the Dodgers. I said before the Brewers came into Busch earlier this month that I didn't see them making up those seven games that they were back in the race because 2011 doesn't happen every year. However, I'm wondering that, with this extra wild card and the fact that it means often some very flawed teams are going for it, that situations like last year won't happen a bit more often. I still like where the Cardinals are sitting, especially since the Brewers now go to Washington (who clinched last night) and aren't a good road team, but it's still a bit nerve wracking.
Which means St. Louis really can't let up in this last rivalry series with the Baby Bears. I can't imagine there's many scenarios where winning just one of three is acceptable. There has to be the focus and intensity that has been the hallmark of the Cardinal teams of the past. I'm still reading One Last Strike (I'm up to Game 5 of the World Series, so it's almost done) and one thing that comes through time and again was Tony La Russa's insistence on that intensity, to come out and play hard and good things will happen. Hopefully Mike Matheny can channel his inner TLR and get that message to the players this weekend.
Not that they'll need it today, though. Would you like to be the guy that didn't play hard during Carpenter's return? The man that embodies intensity? The man that is going to make bracelets out of one of his ribs? Yeah, didn't think so.
I'm putting the numbers out there just because that's what I do, but I think you can rely on them even less than normally. We have no idea what Carp will have after the long layoff and a surgery to boot. He's looked good in bullpens and simulated games, but will that carry over to the mound? He's not likely to have quite the command he's known for and we saw how Adam Wainwright struggled some with that in his return this year. What will we see out of Carp? I don't know, but it's going to be fun to find out.
Chris Volstad gets the unenviable task of opposing Mr. Carpenter in his return. The numbers aren't good for Volstad, though last time he faced the Cards he was tolerable, giving up four runs in six innings.
Good numbers for the Cardinals. Mix that with a focused, excited group and, well, today has a chance of being a lot of fun. Remember, it's an afternoon start, so be sure to leave work at noon if that's relevant for you!
There was a lot of momentum going with the Cardinals into Wrigley Field this weekend. It looked like the team we'd hoped would be around all year had finally showed up. Friday seemed to confirm that things were different, but the rest of the weekend was so sadly familiar. Let's take a look.
Hero: Matt Holliday. He got the power show started with a home run in the first, drove in another run later, and had three hits. That's what we call a big day.
Goat: Lance Lynn. It's a good thing the offense was clicking, because Lynn was erratic. Three-run homer to Anthony Rizzo in the first, another three runs allowed in the third. So typically baseballish--the worst pitching performance of the weekend is the only one that gets a win.
Notes: Home runs in five straight innings? That's not bad at all. You can't even say you wish they'd saved those runs, though, because they needed pretty much all of them. A good first outing by Brian Fuentes, who relieved some of the worries we had about the signing. Not all of them, but it did look like he has some good stuff left. All in all, the bullpen did a mighty fine job on a day when it wasn't that easy to put up zeros.
Notes: So tough to lose on a squeeze bunt, especially after all the times we saw Tony La Russa win a game that way. Fuentes wasn't as sharp in this one, allowing the walk, but the bunt play was a brilliant call there that nobody on the Cards saw coming. It's hard to assign a lot of blame there, it just was the way baseball should be played.
Saturday did stir up some Twitter controversy, though, and depending on what you believe about tipping points, the first inning could have been where the game was decided.
In the first inning, Jeff Samardzija walks the first three batters of the game. Not just by a little, either. He had thrown 12 of his first 16 pitches outside of the strike zone. Carlos Beltran then comes up and swings at the first pitch, topping one to second that just barely avoided the double play.
There is a line of thought which, ironically given their normal propensity to encourage walks and deep counts, said that was the right play. Beltran should have been looking for a pitch in a certain area, he thought he got it, could have been the best pitch of the at-bat. Odds are that the pitcher is likely just going to lay it in there to get ahead in the count and that's a pitch that could be hammered.
There's a lot to that line of reasoning and I've got to say that they were very persuasive. For my part (and others with me in this mini-Twitter skirmish), the thought is the batter should go up there waiting for the pitcher to throw a strike. You only help him out by swinging at the first pitch and, indeed, after bases loaded nobody out, the Cards only managed the one off of Beltran's groundout and didn't score again until late in the ballgame.
As wild as Samardzija was, even if he starts you out with a strike, he's likely to come back with something either appetizing to hit or be wild out of the zone again. If you make him throw a strike, he still has to repeat the outcome again. Perhaps just getting one strike would gain him confidence, I don't know. But he has to throw more pitches and you work him a bit more.
Now, obviously, Beltran could have roped a double or hit a home run and kept the momentum going. In fact, if the pitch had been a "get me over" fastball like Beltran apparently was expecting, he likely would have. Instead, though, it was a slider that Beltran got on top of and drove into the ground. With the run that Beltran is on right now (hitting .250 going into that at-bat), the result wasn't all that surprising. Of course, if he'd been more in tune, he might have recognized it wasn't a fastball and held up, who knows.
Again, I think there's valid arguments on both sides. I just would have rather seen him take there instead of giving Samardzija a chance to get out of the inning with no further damage. Too bad there's no way to back up that game and run it again with him taking to see what would have happened!
Hero: Carlos Beltran. His homer in the eighth gave a little life to the Cardinals and made it believable that they could pull it out. Sadly, that wasn't the case.
Goat: Trevor Rosenthal. You hate to give it to the rook, but when you face two batters and neither of them get out, that's going to be hard to avoid the tag. Give a lot of kudos to Starlin Castro, though. He hit it against the shift that was on for him--a regular alignment and he's out--and that likely changed how Rosenthal approached Rizzo.
Notes: Lots of patient batters this weekend, but it wasn't doing a lot of good. Six walks against Samardzija on Saturday, four against Paul Maholm on Sunday, but there weren't enough hits to go with those walks to make them viable. The bullpen, save Rosenthal, did their job, but made it interesting. Most especially Marc Rzepczynski, who faced two lefties and walked them both, but got the righty in between out. That's mind-blowingly frustrating!
Since the Reds have decided never to lose again, apparently, doing their best 2011 Milwaukee Brewers imitation, the Cards now stand 7.5 games behind in the division and 3.5 back in the wild card. Can something be done before the trade deadline? I think the question now is, should something be done?
The more I think about it, the more I expect that this deadline is going to pass without any moves by the Cardinals. They've dug themselves a hole and they have the talent to get out of it, but there doesn't seem to be any reason to throw the Hail Mary and give up some quality talent for a guy that probably won't make enough of a difference anyhow.
The only thing that might happen is a trade for James Shields. He's been very high on the Cardinals' want list for a long time now and seems to be more available than he ever has been. Shields could help some this year--though the way the rotation is going, it's hard to see just how--but he's a great economical piece going forward. He has a $9 million option for 2013 and a $12 million one for 2014 and to be able to get his sort of quality on the open market for those prices is pretty unfathomable.
For instance, Kyle Lohse is close to $12 million this year and likely will get a raise in the open market. Now, the Cards could try to do what they did last time with him and come to a contract agreement before the end of the season, but Lohse is two years older than Shields and would come at a higher price.
Shields also is an innings eater, which could be a big thing depending on how Chris Carpenter comes back next season and what the next step in Jaime Garcia's evolution is. A rotation of Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Shields, Garcia and Lynn would be a very potent one and it would allow Shelby Miller another year at AAA to try to get back to the form we expect out of him.
I'm starting to feel about the idea of a Shields trade the way I felt about a Scott Rolen trade in 2002--that this is what the Cardinals want to do and they are going to do it. I was all for the Rolen trade, but it seemed so inevitable that I traded for him in my fantasy league a week or two before the actual deal. It made sense and it seemed like something the Cards really wanted. My gut feeling is, if Shields is traded at all, he is wearing Cardinal red. The price may seem steep to us, but I don't think John Mozeliak lets him get to another team.
Cards are off today, but let's take a look at the pitching matchups for Tuesday's game against the Rockies, in case I don't get around to writing tomorrow.
Kyle Lohse has put together a strong run of starts lately and continues to add money to his free agent account. He'll take that streak into Colorado, which could be a challenge.
Todd Helton isn't what he used to be, so those numbers worry me less than they normally would. Other than that, Lohse has done all right, but he does carry a career 6.43 ERA and 1.62 WHIP at Coors Field which makes for some anxious thoughts.
Rockies send out Jeff Francis. Francis contained the Cards earlier in the year, allowing just two runs in five innings. That wasn't anything out of the ordinary, as shown by these numbers.
Rafael Furcal has seen him the most, but there's no telling whether his stiff back will feel well enough to get out there. Hopefully after sitting two games and an off day, he'll be back in the lineup. Otherwise it might be a long night for the offense.
Enjoy the off day and hopefully the Cardinal bats will have already landed in Colorado!
The Cardinals finished up a 6-1 home stand. Yes, you read that right. No 4-3, no win one, lose one, an actual good run of baseball. Let's talk about the last two games before we get into whether we can expect it to continue.
Hero: Fernando Salas. Salas has struggled often this season but finally looks like a reliable option out of the bullpen again. He's allowed one run in his last ten outings and pitched crucial innings in this one, throwing scoreless frames in the 11th and 12th before being rewarded with the win.
Goat: Rough night for Jon Jay. 0-4 with two strikeouts.
Notes: Rafael Furcal was in the running for Goat until he got the game-winning hit in the 12th. This would have been a very frustrating game to lose, taking the lead in the fifth to give it right back up in the sixth and only being able to tally six hits all night long.
Also huge kudos to Lance Berkman. Up there basically like Kirk Gibson, looking rough on swings due to his throbbing knee, he was able to stay alive enough to draw a walk which turned out to be the winning run after Joe Kelly pinch-hit (and had his adventures on the basepaths again--no wonder Berkman termed him Baby Giraffe!)
Another stellar performance by Kyle Lohse. Seven innings, two runs will win you a lot of games and thankfully the Cards didn't make him a hard-luck loser this time around. Lohse continued the streak of starters going at least six innings, a streak that reached 21 on Thursday. There are starting to be discussions about whether the Cards should bring Lohse back next year--which is mindboggling when you think of all the grief Lohse got during this contract when he was hurt.
Hero: Matt Holliday. Two for four with a home run and, as noted in the game story, a key baserunning play that helped the Cardinals regain the lead.
Goat: When you scatter 18 hits around the lineup, it's definitely a day where the Goat isn't as bad as you normally find. Going to go with Furcal just because he only had one hit, didn't score or drive in a run, and left three on base.
Notes: This is the kind of game they'd have lost even a week ago. Grab a two-run lead then let the Dodgers immediately score four? That'd usually be about the time that the bats went quiet and we have a quick rest of the game. Instead, they immediately responded and took the fight out of the opponent for once.
Wasn't Jake Westbrook's best game, but it really wasn't completely his fault that he gave up four runs. One was unearned, for one thing, and some defensive miscues went along with a number of singles, so he wasn't beat around. He went seven innings, meaning that treacherous step from the sixth to the eighth was avoided as well. Solid work for the man.
So, as referenced earlier, is this sustainable? Are we finally starting to see the team that we've been wanting to see all year long?
Winning six out of seven is (without looking it up) probably the best stretch of games that the Cards have played since April. The Cards get the Cubs again starting today, then out to Colorado and home against Milwaukee before hosting San Francisco. It would appear that the Cards are in good shape to pile up some wins and then see how they measure up against another strong team in the Giants.
So often we think they've turned a corner and they fall back the next day. Yet there seems to be a little different feel to these last few games, like they've gotten their focus and they are really tuned into it. I'm hopeful that they'll carry that through these next few series and (if the Reds could ever lose) put some pressure on the teams in front of them.
The trade deadline is fast approaching, but with the resurgent play of the squad it seems less and less likely that a deal is going to get done. I know Joe Strauss continues to mention an interest in James Shields and I have a hunch the Cards have some statistical backing in the front office that makes Shields look even better than he normally would (save this slump he's in). However, he won't be a buy-low option with Anaheim and Texas going after him as well, so I don't think the Cards wind up spending the talent needed to get him here.
Other than that, what would the Cards do? The bullpen is looking good again, though we still haven't seen Brian Fuentes pitch. The starters are rocking and rolling. The only offensive place you'd question is second, and Skip Schumaker is doing admirably there. You even have a pretty solid bench due to the whole carousel of players that play the same positions. I'm not sure what you do that really improves this team, though getting some depth could be nice. Even there, you have Jaime Garcia looking like he's on target for a mid-August return, so that helps as well.
One year after the Colby Rasmus deal, it seems unlikely any such shakeup is coming today. However, they will play a ball game in Chicago and the Cards will have to be careful. It's Ron Santo Day in Chicago, which means the baby bears could be playing with some emotion and dedication today.
Lance Lynn will get the chance to shut them down, just like he did last weekend. Lynn threw six shutout innings against the Cubbies on Sunday and hopes to do more of the same today. He's beaten Chicago three times this season and has an ERA under 1 to show for it, so there's at least a strong possibility he'll get his wish. The numbers:
Brian LaHair still seems to have his number, but other than that Lynn's done pretty well against this crew, as you'd expect from those season numbers.
Travis Wood takes the ball for the Cubs, just like he did Sunday when he was touched for seven runs (six earned) in six innings. His ERA has jumped from 3.05 to 4.33 in his last two outings, so we'll have to see if he can continue that downhill slide or if he's back to his early season form.
Lots of small sample sizes and mainly the work of Sunday, but you can't feel good about that if you are Wood.
Early start time today as the Cards play in the second of their four straight afternoon affairs. Hope you've got other plans for this evening! Come back in a little bit as I'll be posting my submission for this month's UCB project.