It was incredible yesterday. The Cardinal offense....how do I describe this.....they put on something that was so rare. It was....well, I believe they call it a rally.
On the afternoon after having all their runs score on a Matt Holliday home run, in a series where they had only put up three runs entirely before yesterday, the Cards were able to string together four hits and a walk to score three runs in the sixth and basically put the Reds away. You'd have to go back to the eighth inning on Friday night to find a comparable inning, where the Cards scored more than one run on multiple hits.
This lack of consistent offensive production isn't a huge surprise when you look at those that are making up the lineup. Batting average obviously has its flaws, but when you have two regulars (David Freese and Daniel Descalso) hitting under .170 and another just barely over .200 (Jon Jay), there are going to be a lot of gaps in an attack, meaning the offense just won't fire. Whether you clump them together or spread them out, the result is the same, a bucket of water on flames that are just starting to find purchase.
The biggest Hero had to be Matt Carpenter, getting three hits including two doubles and driving in a run. We discussed this some on last night's UCB Radio Hour, but Carpenter has to be putting some pressure on Freese. Josh noted that Freese didn't get a long-term extension this offseason and that the club drafted a lot of third basemen. Couple all of that with the fact Kolten Wong could be coming up soon, meaning Carpenter would need more playing time at third base, and you wonder if Freese is trying too hard due to the external pressure. While he's a local hero and a fan favorite, that's not going to protect him if John Mozeliak feels it'll help the team to do something else with him.
Of course, they didn't get all their runs via stacking single on top of single. Carlos Beltran may not be on the power kick that he was last year, but he's doing a reasonable imitation of it. Beltran's seventh home run cracked the lid on the scoring and was his seventh of the year, four ahead of The Three Matts for the team lead.
Lots of kudos to Lance Lynn as well. I said yesterday that we needed to see another good start out of him to stop worrying about whether he's the next Jaime Garcia, an inconsistent but talented pitcher. (Garcia's been less Garcia this year as well, but that's another topic.) Lynn provided that against Cincinnati yesterday, going seven innings, allowing just one run and striking out five. Lynn ran his record out to 5-0, leading the team in that department.
Then the game was turned over to Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica. It looks like Rosenthal has finally figured out this bullpen thing. Save a home run he gave up in Washington, which was in a 4-1 game at the time, Rosenthal hasn't been charged with a run since April 17 against Pittsburgh, after which his ERA sat at 5.00. It's down to 3.72 now and while reliever ERA typically isn't much of a measure, since inherited runners scoring affect the starter (or other reliever) rather than the pitcher who actually allowed them to score, since Rosenthal typically starts an inning it's a pretty good indication of how he's doing.
Getting a trustworthy eighth inning guy is huge because Mujica apparently owns the ninth now. Mujica got his sixth save in six chances yesterday. Which was meaningful, because he had six career saves coming into this season. Whatever he's doing is working, even if he did allow a home run and a Daniel Descalso error brought the tying run to the plate. $99.99 to Cardinals Care later, St. Louis was out of danger.
About the time you start thinking Jon Jay might be snapping out of it, he has another game worthy of the Goat. Jay went 0-4 and left three men on in his leadoff role, something that has usually kept the offense from clicking. Thankfully, they were able to work around that yesterday.
Cardinals head off for a four-game set with the Brewers in their park starting this evening. Jake Westbrook again goes for his 100th win, as he's been beset with bullpen problems and a lack of support the last few times he's gone for it.
The Brewers have had some success against Westbrook, most notably Ryan Braun. You'd expect those kind of numbers from Braun, I guess, but Alex Gonzalez with an OPS of 1.000? Yuniesky Betancourt slugging .545 off of him? Let's hope that Westbrook's current run of good pitching outweighs what he's done against these guys in the past.
The Cards have to face Wily Peralta. That's something that they've never done, so it's hard to know exactly what to expect. Peralta's ERA is over 5 this season and the worst of that came against the Giants in Miller Park. The Giants aren't exactly known for their offense, either. The only time he's given up less than three runs, he was facing the Cubs. If the Cardinal offense was rolling, I'd say they'd put up some solid numbers against him. I guess we'll have to wait and find out!
You know when you were in school and you would study just enough to pass the test or get the B or whatever you had to have not to fail/ruin your GPA/stay eligible for scholarships? That was pretty much the attitude the Cardinal offense had last night.
Let's start by giving credit where it is due. Jaime Garcia pitched a whale of a ballgame last night. He went eight innings, allowing seven hits and striking out three. It seemed like he put the leadoff man on a number of times, but he was always able to get around it. Well, every time except the fifth inning, when a leadoff single to Devin Mesoraco wound up costing him when Shin-Soo Choo doubled with two outs.
The way the Cardinal offense has been going lately, there was a real fear (at least to me) that that run would be the difference in the ballgame. It might have been had not our Hero, Matt Holliday, followed a Carlos Beltran single with a full-count home run. With Garcia dealing, that's all they needed.
I've joked that the solution to the Cardinals' bullpen woes is just to have the starters pitch complete games. If they'll go eight and turn the ball over to Edward Mujica, that'll work as well. Mujica has locked down all five save opportunities that he's seen since Mitchell Boggs was removed from that role, so far showing that he is a much different pitcher than he was the last time he had closer responsibilities in Miami.
While Jon Jay may be finally stirring out of that deep slump that he was in, he still was in the running for the Goat after last night's 0-3 back in the leadoff role. He drew a walk in that slot as well, though, meaning that we'll move down the lineup to Allen Craig for that tag. Craig also went 0-3 and finished April with 0 home runs. Zero. I'm pretty sure nobody had that in any prediction pools.
(Speaking of, I have bad news about that Egraphs contest that I was running. I didn't find out until Friday that Egraphs has gone out of business and, as such, I have no prizes to award. I do still have a copy of Game 6 and of the World Series film, so I will contact the person who won April's contest--when I determine who that is--and see if they want one of those instead. The May contest is completely cancelled.)
David Freese wasn't in the lineup last night and may not be for a few games more. Like Mike Matheny did with Jay, he's going to hold Freese out for a bit and see if he can't get his head straight. I understand that Freese wants to keep playing through it, but 1) when there are other options and 2) playing through it isn't helping, there comes a point where it isn't in the team's best interest to let you figure it out on the big stage. Hopefully the break will be good for him.
Matt Adams is getting closer to returning, something that could help the offense just a tad. Adams is heading to Memphis for a rehab assignment this weekend and hopefully will be ready to be activated when he's eligible for that on Tuesday. The players he would be affecting aren't struggling like Freese is, but any thump in the lineup would be welcome right about now.
Jason Motte is still throwing and throwing harder than he had been. John Mozeliak has been quoted as saying he's still not optimistic Motte will avoid surgery, but they have to give him every chance if it's possible. With the Cardinals' luck with injuries, it seems like this is just delaying the inevitable and making it deeper into 2014 before Motte could return, but every once in a while they have to win one of these bets, don't they? If Motte is throwing relatively painlessly now, can't we have at least some hope that we'll see him again this season? It's not a hope I'm going to stake a lot on, but I think it's stronger than it was a few weeks ago.
With the win (and a Pittsburgh loss), the Cards bounce back into first by a half-game. It'll be up to Lance Lynn to keep them there.
Those aren't the numbers you want to see, really. However, Lynn has already faced the Reds once this year and allowed just one run in six innings, striking out 10 in the process. He's also put together back-to-back good starts, so if he wants to avoid the inconsistent tag, putting up another tonight would be a must.
The numbers don't look that good, but Bailey has been tough on the Cards in the past. The difference between him and Lynn is that in the one start Bailey has made against St. Louis this year, he allowed seven earned runs in five innings. In his other four starts in 2013, though, he's allowed a total of three earned, so there's a good chance that was an aberration and shouldn't be counted on in predicting this evening's game, Mr. Tasker.
It'd be quite nice to see the Cards take the series and break out the bats tonight. Let's see if it happens!
UCB Weekend was, as always, a completely enjoyable time full of great people, good times and memorable moments. I hope to sit down and write about the dinner and the event with the Cardinals shortly, but in the meantime, the games go on. We've got a lot to catch up on, so let's get to it.
Hero: Carlos Beltran. Before he came down with the flu this weekend, Beltran had himself a night, hitting home runs from both sides of the plate to account for his three RBI night.
Goat: David Freese. There always seems to be someone who can't join a nice offensive party and this time it was Freese's invitation that got lost in the mail. Freese is admittedly struggling (currently hitting .163) and went 0-4 in this one.
Notes: As the meme says, that escalated quickly. When the home team leads off by going home run-home run-hard single-hit by pitch and then the starting pitcher for the visitors is ejected, well, that's the beginnings of a wild night. Mitchell Boggs continued to struggle--that's a phrase we'll get back to before this entry is done--but Randy Choate bailed him out and the offense piled on more to create the final margin. Two hits each by Matt Carpenter, Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Jon Jay (there IS life in that bat) helped Lance Lynn get the win, though more credit might be due to Lynn's scattering two hits over seven innings and striking out nine. All in all, this was the kind of game you expect to see more of from this team. Sadly, it was the last glimpse of anything relating to an offense.
Hero: Jake Westbrook. There are things you can gripe about with this team, but starting pitching really isn't one of them. Six was serious for Westbrook, who went six innings, allowed six hits, and struck out six. Mike Matheny pulled him because he seemed to be laboring a bit, but at just 91 pitches (and with the bullpen the way it is), I think I'd have left him out there. Then again, maybe Mike thought it was better to start the bullpen with a fresh inning, which would have made sense, even though it proved to be irrelevant.
Goat: Joe Kelly. Westbrook leaves and Kelly gets to play in back-to-back games instead of back-to-back weeks. Whether he wasn't used to the extra work or if the Pirates just had him measured, he allowed a single and then a home run to Russell Martin to immediately tie the game, then a single and a walk (sandwiched around a sacrifice bunt) before being pulled. Trevor Rosenthal allowed those inherited runners to score, meaning Kelly's ERA took a hit. Then again, what reliever's ERA hasn't (save Edward Mujica and Choate, I guess)?
Notes: Rosenthal had a wild pitch, a hit batsman, a bases-loaded walk and then got an RBI groundout and a flyout. Whether some of that was due to a wet mound and a slippery grip, I don't know. Rosenthal had been doing better, so perhaps some of that was due to the weather. We'll hope so, at least. The offense did more against A.J. Burnett than they did the time before, when he threw a one-hitter at them, but not a lot. Beltran had a couple of hits, the only batter with more than one. Daniel Descalso did walk twice, but that was more a function of batting in front of the pitcher than it was any keen eye of his. It was a cold, rainy, depressing day and this game fit into that.
Hero: Really, the Hero for us was the Cardinal organization, as they treated us so well during this game. That's for another entry, though. I guess you give the award to Matt Holliday, one of only three hitters that got a hit. Holliday also drew a walk, meaning he was on twice and no one else could say that.
Goat: Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski blew up in the ninth, allowing five runs between them, but the game was over by then. Fernando Salas allowed an inherited runner to score and gave up a home run, but did go over two innings and, honestly, that probably wasn't the difference in the game either. So let's look to the offense and, when there are an equal number of crappy options to choose from, the leadoff guy usually breaks ties. Matt Carpenter went 0-4, but he did lead off the game reaching on an error. I'm going to go with Yadier Molina, who went 0-3, left four on base, and actually was pinch-hit for with Tony Cruz in the ninth. Seriously, though, it was a game where just about anyone could have gotten this.
Notes: Shelby Miller didn't have his best game, obviously, but he wasn't bad. The two runs were solo homers and his inherited runner wouldn't have scored had Holliday been able to catch a bloop hit by John McDonald. Miller struck out seven, but ran up a high pitch count (113) and needs to be a bit more efficient so he can go deeper in games. Because I think the only solution for this bullpen may be the starters going at least eight innings.
Hero: Yadier Molina. Three hits, including the double that brought in the only run of the game. Plus was heads-up enough to continue wave Freese to second when he was caught in a rundown created by Freese's groundout after that double.
Goat: David Freese. 0-4 on the night including that groundout. He limited the damage by moving to second while Yadi was going back and forth, but if he was to ground out I think we'd have rather had one on the right side, moving Yadi to third with one down.
Notes: While it wasn't a perfect game by Adam Wainwright--he tripled his season walk total in this one--he did just give up two runs in seven innings. That should win you a lot of games, but the Cards had no answer for Mat Latos, which is a bit surprising given the poundings that they've given him in the past. Craig continues to come around, getting two hits and his average up over .270, though he's still lacking a long ball. Rosenthal went an inning and a third of scoreless relief, striking out two and allowing nothing else. He may well be coming around, at least to be a bit more reliable.
There's been some bullpen news off the field as well in the last few days. First, it was the fact that Jason Mottethrew this weekend and felt OK. This could be a bad thing disguised as a good thing, as it may just delay the inevitable, but if Motte can get around having Tommy John surgery, you really want that to happen. It seems inconceivable, but you have to give it every chance you can. If you could get him back at the end of games, that could stabilize a lot of things. It's still a longshot, but it's a better chance than we thought.
Then, yesterday, the first bullpen move of the year was made, sending Rzepczynski down to Memphis and bringing up Seth Maness. While you could have flipped a coin or used a dart board to determine who to send down and not likely come up with a wrong answer, I was surprised to see Scrabble get the demotion, one because I didn't know he had options left and two because of his tenure with the team. However, John Mozeliak said that not only were there performance issues with Rzepczynski, but that there were some personal issues as well. His body language and drive didn't seem to be there and the team hopes this is a wake-up call for him.
The rest of the bullpen is on notice as well. Mo has said that they can't keep doing what they are doing and pitchers like John Gast are waiting in Memphis. Mozeliak also hasn't completely ruled out Michael Wacha in a bullpen role either, though he'd prefer to wait to bring him up, noting that this time last year he was pitching at Texas A&M on a once-a-week schedule and getting him used to the every-five-days routine of professional baseball is a good thing. It seems to agree with him--Wacha threw six innings of one-run ball last night to lower his AAA ERA to 1.86 over five games. I believe Carlos Martinez is also on the radar, as Mo indicated he won't be in Springfield much longer.
Cards get another crack at the Reds this evening, throwing Jaime Garcia at Busch which usually is a good thing.
The table doesn't split it out into home and road results, so it's hard to know if Cincy has hit him this well everywhere or gotten a boost when he plays in Great American Ball Park. He's been able to contain Joey Votto, as you might expect lefty-on-lefty, but the same situation with Jay Bruce hasn't panned out for Garcia.
Bronson Arroyo goes for the Reds. I always think that Arroyo has dominated the Cards, but he's 8-14 with a 4.60 ERA in his career against them, including a 3-7, 5.43 ERA in the new Busch. The hitting numbers bear that out as well.
We talked yesterday about calling Matt Adams AP&L. He definitely jolted the team yesterday with a double, a home run, and three RBI. He was joined on the power line by Jon Jay, Carlos Beltran and Matt Carpenter who all put a charge into the ball and sent it over the wall. Carpenter even added a double among his four total hits as the Cards ran away with the game 10-0.
The Hero, though, is the guy who flipped the switch and kept a potent offense in check all day long. Jake Westbrook might not have been commanding--he walked more than he struck out--but he allowed only five hits and went the distance, garnering the shutout on 111 pitches. He only had a couple of situations where the Reds threatened, but was able to get the outs he needed to keep the Cincinnati offense under wraps. Plus Westbrook tossed in a walk and a run-scoring single as well to make it a well-rounded day.
14 hits and 10 runs for the Cardinals, 5 hits and 0 runs for the Reds. I know it's early in the year, but there's a statement to be made there. Bernie Miklasz says the Cards showed remarkable resiliency after that epic meltdown on Monday and he's right. Not folding against the Reds lets them know that the Cards aren't going to be an easy chore for them this year. They are going to be around and, if this week's series is any indication, Cincinnati can't be liking that.
Another game where it's tough to find a Goat. All the starters had at least one hit. Yadier Molina only went 1-5, but he did throw out Jay Bruce trying to steal before the offense got on track. I guess I'll give it to Pete Kozma for his 1-4 and three left on base, but I don't really want to. That was totally a team effort there.
Off day today, but a rainout of the Brewers means that old friend Kyle Lohse gets to return to Busch Stadium, just on the opposite side of the field. Lohse was with the Cardinals for a long time and most of these guys haven't faced him. Still, a few do remember Lohse pre-Cardinals.
This really doesn't mean much, in my opinion. Ty Wigginton isn't the hitter that he used to be and is unlikely to see Lohse in this one anyway. Carlos Beltran might have gotten some of those numbers against the new and improved Cardinal version of Lohse, but probably not a lot of it. The Cards will know what he throws and what he likes to do on the mound, so maybe that will be enough to give their former teammate a rude welcome back to Busch.
Shelby Miller, the man that necessitated that Lohse move on, will take the mound in opposition. Miller hasn't faced any of the Brewer hitters before, so that can work for or against him. The Brewers still have Ryan Braun, of course, but he's been dealing with some neck issues (though they've not affected him when he's in the game, as he's hitting .500/.609/.833. Aramis Ramirez is out with a knee issue, which is good for St. Louis as he tends to be one of those Cardinal killers.
It'll be another celebration of Stan Musial on Friday, as it's harmonica night and the actual game balls will be stamped with a Musial logo. Anytime we get to celebrate Stan, it's a good night. Looking forward to it!
I mean, you can't call a guy Grizzly Adams if he's clean shaven, can you? The Royals already call Billy Butler Country Breakfast, so something like that is out. Adams really needs a nickname, especially if he's going to keep up with the heroics. (Hang on, I'm seeing at the Fox Sports Midwest site that Big City is making the rounds in the clubhouse. Can't say that really works for me, though.) Until Entergy bought them out, around here we got our power from AP&L. Replace Arkansas with Adams in that and I think it'll work.
Pinch hitting for an extremely effective starter and down 1-0, Adams launched a two-run home run to start the Cardinals on their way to a 5-1 win over Cincinnati last night. Adams' shot was only the second hit for the Cards, who had just broken up Bronson Arroyo's attempt at perfection two batters earlier when Daniel Descalso doubled. Adams turned the narrative from "great pitching but again no offense" to "what a bounce back for the Redbirds" with one powerful swing. It's nice having that kind of power around, isn't it?
I'd like to give the Hero tag to Adams, because pinch-hit dramatics are pretty cool, but there's little doubt Lance Lynn earned that tag last night. Bouncing back from a start in Arizona where he couldn't get through the fifth, Lynn cruised through six innings last night, being bailed out of his one bad stretch by a nifty sliding catch by Matt Holliday, turning a two-run base hit into a sacrifice fly. Lynn struck out 10 and earned himself a lot more leash in the rotation with the fanbase.
Holliday had a pretty good game as well, going one for three plus a walk along with that great catch. He'd have had a run scored as well but Shin-Soo Choo apparently can throw the ball better than he can catch it, nailing Holliday at the plate to end the four-run sixth inning after Carlos Beltran had singled in Matt Carpenter.
Gotta find a Goat for this one, but it's tougher as most everyone chipped in. I'll go with Allen Craig, who did drive in a run with a groundout, but I think he was reaching a bit on that one. The way Arroyo was going, a little more patience and he might have gotten a much better pitch to deal with.
What was also encouraging--and, as we'll see, it needed to be--was the fact that the bullpen put yesterday's meltdown behind them and got back to it. Edward Mujica wasn't part of that, of course, but he did his normal good work in the seventh. Then Mike Matheny, either because he wanted to give them confidence or he doesn't know what else to do with a lead, sent Trevor Rosenthal and Mitchell Boggs back out there. Rosenthal held his first lead of the year and then Boggs, after the team had tacked on their last run, went out there in a non-save situation and had a perfect inning.
A lot of people wanted to claim that it was just one bad day and last night was proof that Boggs, especially, was fine and dandy. That may well be, but I wonder. Looking at his usage this year, there may be a pattern. When he's pitched with a comfortable lead (3 or more), he's done fine. The two outings where he's come in with the game on the line, the Arizona game where he had a one-run lead and yesterday's tied Cincinnati game, that's when he's struggled. Yesterday, it was another big cushion for him. I'd like to see him get a "hard" save or two before I'm going to feel extremely comfortable with him coming out in a close game.
However, no matter the comfort level, there seems to be a strong chance that we'll be seeing Boggs for quite some time to come. Jason Motte had his MRI yesterday and the results weren't what the team expected nor wanted to hear. He's to rest for the rest of the month, but if that doesn't do it, odds are it's Tommy John surgery. Meaning that it's very good for Motte, if not so much the Cardinals, that he signed that two-year deal in the spring.
The recovery time on Tommy John seems to be about 12-15 months, which is why the Cardinals aren't going to wait around too long on this thing. They've been burned in the past by being overly optimistic and they don't want this to be one of those times. If Motte returns on the shorter end of that window, you'd see him back early in next season. Even then, though, we saw with Adam Wainwright that it takes a while to get the command and everything back. Motte wouldn't be needing to deal with a curveball or anything, but you really can't have your closer being erratic. Do you put him right back out at the end of games? It would seem that you wouldn't, especially if someone (Boggs, Rosenthal, another option) settles into the role and does it well. If he's back closer to the end of that range, that's only a couple of months left in the '14 season, which would be a huge disappointment.
It's always something with this team, isn't it? They can't have the normal injuries that put a pitcher on the disabled list for a couple of weeks. No, they have to go all out, have them miss the whole season if not more.
Cardinals can fully bury that Monday meltdown by taking today's afternoon matchup and tying the Reds for first in the division. Jake Westbrook will be taking the mound, trying to allow as few runs as he did last time with a significant reduction in the number of baserunners. Perhaps that's easier said that done.
Reds have had success against Westbrook in the past, most especially Chris Heisey who Westbrook can't keep in the yard. If the ground balls are working, Westbrook should be able to win this one. Westbrook was 1-1 against the Reds last year, going at least seven innings in both outings. Neither of them was in Busch, which makes the combined five runs in those two games more palatable.
The last time the Cards saw Homer Bailey, he was on the opposite end of Shelby Miller's first start and was pitching almost as well as Miller was while the rookie was working on a no-hitter. He only went four innings in that game but struck out six and didn't allow a run.
These stats may be a bit misleading. Bailey has been a much different pitcher the last couple of years from the one that was getting beat around the park all the time. However, the Cardinals did hit .333 as a group against him last year, with Holliday and Yadier Molina doing a lot of the damage, so maybe they aren't as much misdirection as I thought.
Afternoon affair today, which means it'll be over in plenty of time for you to hear Dathan and Chris on tonight's UCB Radio Hour!
I'm a big believer in the Golden Rule. As a Christian, it's one of those basic foundations of how I try to live my life. The world would be better if we all did that, I'd suggest. That said, every rule has its exceptions. I'm pretty sure this one doesn't cover nine run innings in baseball. Just because you got one on Sunday doesn't mean you need to turn around and allow one on Monday.
The ninth inning yesterday (and really, you could count the eighth inning in here as well) ruined what was an incredible day in St. Louis up until that point. You had the Hall of Famers, the Clydesdales, the moving tribute to Stan Musial and the unveiling of the same design the Cards are wearing on their jerseys out on the outfield wall You had the largest crowd ever in Busch Stadium III history on hand. You had local boy David Freese making his season debut after his time on the DL. Plus you had perhaps the most unique National Anthem ever for an opener, honoring The Man in a special way.
You also had a really good pitching performance by Jaime Garcia. Garcia went six and two-thirds, striking out 10 batters and allowing three runs. There were questions whether a completely healthy Freese or maybe Matt Carpenter could have gotten to the ball in the seventh that turned into an RBI double and ended Garcia's day, so the line could have looked even better. He did allow a home run to Brandon Phillips, but on the whole, Garcia really deserved to win that game and gets Hero status in this one.
The Goat is fairly easy to figure out. Even though Trevor Rosenthal allowed the game to be tied up in the eighth, which warranted consideration for this title, there's little doubt that Mitchell Boggs gets the nod. In one-third of an inning, he walked four and allowed two hits, eventually leading to seven runs. Some of those scored after he was yanked and Marc Rzepczynski came in and struggled as well, but Boggs was well responsible for the game getting out of hand. When the only effective reliever is Randy Choate, you start getting concerned. Choate came in and did what he was supposed to do--retire Joey Votto with the game riding in the balance--but he got a significant assist from Votto, who swung at a 3-0 pitch and hit a dribbler to second base.
The bullpen is a huge question mark right now, one that may or may not be somewhat relieved after today's examination of Jason Motte. If Motte is recovering and they can start to set a timetable for his return, then maybe they can make some patch work adjustments. If he's going to be out a significant amount of time, though, the bullpen needs to be rethought.
Boggs has struggled in his outings with the game on the line. He was able to preserve the three-run lead on Saturday, but he blew the save in Arizona and then completely melted down yesterday. More than anything, those four walks stand out. He only had one in the four innings before that, so perhaps all of this is just a one-day thing, a blip on the radar. It's just an awfully big blip and takes away any margin of error Boggs may have. If he blows another save in the next week or so, there's got to be consideration about moving him out of the role. The weak bullpen of the last two years forced the Cards into furious second half rallies. Not digging that hole again should be a priority.
Of course, who do you go to? Rosenthal would have been the choice before the season started, but he's had two holds on the young season that have gone by the wayside while he was in. When he comes into games with the Cards behind, he's been effective, even dominant. When he's got to protect a lead, though, it's gone south for him. Small sample size so maybe it's a fluke, but maybe there's something more to it. Again, there's not going to be a change in role just yet, but the thoughts are there.
Beyond those two, I'm not sure who you go to. You need Edward Mujica in the seventh/eighth inning area. I'd almost considered Rzepczynski due to his fairly dominant outings before yesterday, but that went by the wayside and it seems unlikely either of the Cardinal lefties are what you want to be using as your regular closer. Joe Kelly was drafted as a closer, but he's only had one (out of three) scoreless outings this season.
The best case scenario is that Motte gets a clean bill of health and can return in a month or so and that Boggs straightens up until then. The alternatives aren't quite worth thinking about just yet.
The bullpen woes obsured the fact that, offensively, yesterday wasn't the strongest day for the Cardinals either. If the Reds had had a regular centerfielder, there's a strong chance the Redbirds would have been behind in the late innings anyway. Shin-Soo Choo had an awful game, making two errors that led directly to three runs. Other than that, the Cards had four hits and one run, not exactly the offensive performance you wanted to see in an opener, especially against a guy that came in with a 9.00 ERA against the Cardinals. There's no doubt that Mat Latos is a quality pitcher, but the Cards had solved him before so it was disappointing they did not do so again yesterday. That being said, there were a number of balls that were hit deep that might have gone out had they been playing in Cincinnati, so maybe he wasn't completely fooling them.
Still, losing by nine means about as much as winning by 11. The Cardinals can win the next two games and be tied for the divisional lead when Cincinnati decamps and Milwaukee comes in. The only thing that was affected with the Pythagorean record and they don't use that one yet for playoff determinations.
Lance Lynn goes to the mound tonight against the Reds, hoping to have a much more productive outing than he did in Arizona last week. If you want to keep a positive frame of mind about that possibility, you might want to skip the upcoming table.
Yeah, that's not good. Small sample size and all that, but anytime a lineup is hitting close to .550 off of you, they aren't exactly trembling when you walk to the mound. Still, that's just a handful of at-bats, so there's not a lot of predictive value there. Hopefully.
On the flip side, the Cards have seen Bronson Arroyo plenty in his career. It seems like, more often than not, Arroyo is able to frustrate St. Louis and get wins that were unexpected.
It would seem that the Cards could get plenty of baserunners against him and Arroyo is 8-13 against the Redbirds in his career, though with a respectable 4.56 ERA. It's too bad Garcia went yesterday--five for six with a home run, a double, and a walk? That's some serious carnage for a pitcher!
With Yadier Molina's history against Arroyo, you wonder if tonight will be his first night off of the season. It would seem more likely that Tony Cruz would go in tomorrow's game, since it's a day game after a night game and would give Molina two days of rest with that off day on Thursday, but it wouldn't be a terrible thing if he sat out tonight.
By the way, if you are interested the official Cardinal browser theme has been updated for the 2013 season. It's created by BrandThunder.com. I installed it last year and thought it was pretty nice, though the search bar popped up just late enough to shift my page down when I was trying to click something. My computer is pretty old, though, so that may well have had something to do with it.
Cards play their first night game since the extra-inning marathon at Arizona this evening. Let's hope it doesn't take that long for them to win it!
"And when I snap my fingers, you will realize you can hit Giants pitching."
Whomever snapped their fingers and pulled the Cardinals out of being mesmerized by anyone hurling the baseball wearing a San Francisco uniform should have done it a day earlier. That said, overall it was a pretty solid weekend for the Cards. Let's recap.
I said on Twitter after Jake Westbrook squirmed out of the fourth that it could have been worse, but the one run he allowed on a bases-loaded walk "might have been enough." Turned out that was the case as Barry Zito did to the Redbirds what he did to them last October, making the bats disappear.
Even though Westbrook got the loss, I'd give him the Hero tag if it weren't for the fact that he walked a whopping six batters. Westbrook put people on all day long, but was able to get out of jams in every inning but the fourth.
He might have gotten out of that one without being touched as well if it weren't for Yadier Molina, who has to be the Goat of this one. Molina bobbled a bunt by Zito in that inning, loading the bases for Angel Pagan, who then walked to force in the only run of the game. (Like we needed another reminder of Game 5 of last year, when Zito bunted for a base hit in the critical inning.) Yadi was also 0-3, so it wasn't one of his finest games.
We'll give the Hero tag to Allen Craig, one of the few batters who wasn't completely useless against the stylings of the former Cy Young winner. Craig rapped out two hits, while his counterparts in the lineup combined for just one more. Coming off of the 16-inning disappointment and a series loss to Arizona, this wasn't the way to start the weekend.
It started to look like more of the same on Saturday. The Cards were able to push across a first-inning run, but the Giants answered with one in the second and third to take a 2-1 lead. Cardinal fans had to start wondering if San Francisco had some sort of hold over this team.
And then someone snapped their fingers.
The Cards scored three runs in the fifth inning. Do realize that, until then, the Cards had scored three runs total in their last 40 innings against the team in orange and white. Three runs was huge and it paved the way for the victory, Shelby Miller's first in the big leagues.
There were a number of options for Hero. You had to like what Miller did in his first start, shutting down the world champs for the most part. He walked his last two batters and got the hook, though I'd have liked to seen if he could get out of it. The bullpen held, unlike what they did in Arizona, and Mitchell Boggs wound up with his first save. It wasn't a tightrope save, having a three run cushion, but it counts nonetheless.
Offensively, things got going. I'll give the Hero tag to Pete Kozma, who went three for four, scored a run and drove in a run. Kozma in the early going is picking up from where he left off last year, and if any team should have been able to shut him down, it was the Giants. He was not much of an offensive factor in last year's NLCS, so either the Giants forgot about how to get him out or he's made adjustments. You figure it must be the latter and that's an encouraging thing.
Carlos Beltran had a good day as well, tormenting Ryan Vogelsong as he's done many times before. Beltran drove in the first run and broke the game open as well, going 2-4 with three RBI. Credit also goes to Matt Carpenter, who had two hits.
We'll give the Goat to Jon Jay, who in his leadoff role went 0-4 and left three men on base. Usually it's tough to get things going when your leadoff guy is silent, but the Cards were able to make do in this one.
Matt Cain has often had trouble with the Cardinals. Not as much trouble as he had yesterday, of course. Nine runs in one inning isn't something that happens regularly, especially when you are as good as Cain is. His career ERA is almost five against the squad and there have been some really ugly games for him against the Redbirds. So it wasn't unheard of for the Cards to get to him, but it was sure a lot of fun to watch.
With fifteen hits, there are a lot of offensive possibilities for the Hero, though I'm torn between two for the most part. I'm going to give it to Matt Carpenter, who drove in three, scored three, and had three hits. That's a pretty solid day all around, don't you think? Yet Matt Adams was right there with him, getting three hits and two RBI in one less at-bat. He'd have had that at bat if he hadn't been pinch run with Tony Cruz. (I think they did that mainly so they could justify bringing Cruz on this trip. He could have gone straight to St. Louis and waited for them since this was his first game of the season. It's tough catching behind a Molina.)
Jon Jay, Yadier Molina and Ty Wigginton had two hits each....hang on, Ty Wigginton? Really? You mean that there is something left in his bat after all? Given the way many Cardinal fans have taken to this signing and the fact that Wigginton didn't hit at all in the spring, there were likely a lot of people bummed that he was starting yesterday when the Cards had a chance to win the series. While that contract was head-scratching, In Mo We Trust. I believe the Cards knew what they were doing and I'm willing to wait and see if Wigginton comes around. I don't think we'll see a lot of him anyway, so it's probably something of the order of a first world problem.
Adam Wainwright came back from his troubled Opening Day start to have an outstanding outing. He didn't let a leadoff triple faze him, stranding Pagan there with two strikeouts and a groundout. He did get behind 2-0 in the third on a couple of doubles, one of them Adams-aided, but the Cards put up the nine spot and he was good for the rest of the day. Seven innings, six strikeouts. I like that kind of Waino work!
Let's see, Goat for this one. That's tough, of course. Being that all the starters got at least one hit, everyone but Molina had at least one RBI, I'm going to go with Joe Kelly as the Goat. He came into garbage time, granted, and I doubt he was razor-sharp because of it, but he did give up a run in his only inning of work. Being that he got beat around some in Arizona, a clean inning out of him would have better to see than a three-hit one.
Now, now the season really begins. The Cardinals come home to St. Louis for hoopla, ceremony and what really is a holiday for anyone wearing Cardinal red. You saw the press release last week of all the scheduled events for today and Fox Sports Midwest should be covering them all on the TV side of things. One of these days, I really want to get up for an Opening Day in Busch Stadium. I don't know when or how, but there are only a few things on my bucket list and that's one of them!
While I won't be in the sea of red today, there will be one St. Louisian who will be returning to his native land. David Freese had a very solid weekend in Memphis, ate some ribs, walked on Beale Street, went three-for-five yesterday. Which means that Shane Robinson will miss out on all the festivities as he'll trade spots with Freese today.
It's going to be a tough Opening Day for some players. It's going to be tough for Wainwright not to cry, knowing that he's going to be here for a long time to come. It's going to be tough for Robinson to miss out on all the festivities. And it's going to be tough for Chris Carpenter, who will be attending likely his last home opener as a Cardinal player. Carp, who engaged in a little unexpected public relations this weekend, showing up with the Clydesdales to help deliver Opening Day tickets to some lucky fans, knows that it's a very special time and he's going to soak up as much as possible, but it's bittersweet when you know you can't contribute, when you can hang out in the dugout but can't get on the field. Hopefully Carpenter will have more openers to come to, either as a coach in the future or just as a respected player. While in the past they've only honored Hall of Famers, if they retire Carp's number, maybe they'll add him to the parties as well.
Jaime Garcia goes for the Cardinals on this special day against the division-leading (and likely only real competition for the NL Central title) Reds. We know how good Garcia has been at home. How good has he been against these Reds?
Not too bad, actually, especially when you consider some of this had to be done in Cincy's bandbox ballpark (and what Garcia is like away from Busch usually). You'd expect as a lefty he'd have some success against Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, though Randy Choate and Marc Rzepczynski will have to ready to face them later in games as well.
The Cardinals will get to face Mat Latos, who was pretty dominant down the stretch last year for Cincinnati.
St. Louis has been able to hit him in the past, though it's never an easy chore. The Redbirds beat up on him last April in Busch, getting eight runs off of him in 5.2 innings. They also got seven runs in five innings of his work in August. In fact, that 5.2 in the first game was the longest he went into any game against the Cards. Hopefully that trend holds again today.
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.
97-65, first in the NL Central, lost in the NLDS
While the rivalry between the Cardinals and Reds didn't have any legendary fisticuffs this year, there were some similarities to the 2010 season. The Cards got off to a hot start, then the Reds passed them. The Cards got close, but eventually weren't able to seal the deal and put the Cincinnati club away.
With Houston moving away and the rest of the division not necessarily ready for prime time, the NL Central would again seem to come down to these two teams. To find out about our closest competition, I tapped the shoulder of an old friend. Shawn Weaver has been doing Playing Pepper since the very beginning, plus participating in our preseason NL Central show on Blog Talk Radio. You'll find his writing at Cincinnati Reds Blog and him on Twitter @coweaver.
After the jump, let's find out about this past offseason and whether moving the closer to the rotation is really the smartest thing to do.
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!