For all intents and purposes, it was a successful weekend. The Cards won a series against a Colorado team that, while not a contender, still had some thump and a dangerous edge. For their trouble, the Cards dropped to five games behind Milwaukee when they wouldn't lose to the Pirates. (A really frustrating weekend for Pirates fans, as they lost 1-0 on Saturday and then were leading 1-0 in the eighth on Sunday before things came unraveled with a wild pitch on a strikeout. I can't imagine the headache people like Pat at WHYGAVS must have from beating on walls these last couple of days.)
Of course, the Cards were able to shave a game off by beating the Brewers themselves on Thursday, keeping them from sweeping their way through St. Louis. Let's see what the last few games have looked like.
Hero: You could go with either of the pillars of the team, I think, but I'll go with Albert Pujols, if for no other reason than he made sure Chris Carpenter's great start wasn't wasted. Pujols went 4-4 with a home run and finally showed some life against the Cards' main competitor, after struggling most of the year. He tied the game up in the first with a home run and that was all Carp needed.
Goat: Allen Craig. In his second start after returning from his knee problems, Craig didn't look all that good, going 0-4 with a strikeout. In fact, through Sunday Craig hasn't gotten a hit since he returned from the DL, proving the difference between AAA (where he had started to look ready) and the bigs.
Notes: Carpenter shook off his rough first inning to go eight strong. He did allow 10 hits--something more common lately, as more of the swings against him are finding holes--but was able to work around that and give the Cards the win that they had to have. Rafael Furcal had an unexpected leadoff home run, showing that St. Louis must agree with him. He's hit two in the red uniform after hitting just one for the Dodgers. Also, it was nice to see the Cards turn four double plays instead of hitting into four. It's not something that happens all that often.
Hero: Kyle Lohse. Lohse has struggled so much lately, though part of his innings issue has been that his slot in the lineup has come up when there were runners on and a pinch hitter was called for. (I was afraid that was going to happen in this game, as around the fifth he came up with runners on, but Tony La Russa let him stay in the game this time around.) Perhaps benefiting from the extra rest gained by being pushed back in the rotation, Lohse got into the seven for the first time in a long while, allowing only one run and four hits. The Cardinals are going to need for Lohse to have more outings like that if they are going to chase down Milwaukee.
Goat: Yadier Molina. Not only was he 0-3 and not only did he hit into a double play, but Molina only saw six pitches in the game. A little more patience might have helped him out some there.
Notes: Another multiple-hit game for Albert as he pushes toward that .300 mark. Lance Berkman had the polar opposite game than Molina had, getting one hit and then walking three times. David Freese had a big game as well, helping break the game open in the sixth with two RBI.
Hero: Marc Rzepczynski. With the offense pretty inept (six hits scattered throughout the lineup) and the starting pitcher ineffective, the tag falls to a reliever that held the line. I've been complaining somewhat about Rzepczynski's usage, thinking he could be much more than a LOOGY (and he was sold as more than that during the Colby Rasmus trade justification), Apparently TLR has been holding back because he has to have a LOOGY and Scrabble was the only one that fit the bill. With Arthur Rhodes now on the team, that frees up Zep to be used in bigger roles, and he proved he can do that with three scoreless innings. It'll be interesting to see how he's used going forward.
Goat: Jaime Garcia. What is it about Colorado? Garcia was pummeled out in Coors and left in to take a beating. Since Garcia has been so good at home, you'd have thought the tables were going to be turned in this game. Instead, Garcia allows a three-run home run to Carlos Gonzalez and then two more runs in the fifth, ending his night. While the offense surely didn't help him out (if they can get a run or two, would things have been different?), Garcia can't afford many more of these games if the team is going to stay in the hunt.
Notes: Perhaps we should have seen this coming as Colorado threw a pitcher the Cards hadn't seen before. Jason Hammel had an ERA over 5 as well coming into that contest, so all the ingredients were in place for a shutdown of the offense. Albert did go 0-3 but drew a walk, which is key as he said he's been too impatient at the plate this season.
Hero: Octavio Dotel. He was named player of the game last night on ESPN and they nailed it. Dotel came into the game in the top of the seventh. Kyle McClellan had allowed hits to two of the three batters he faced and Rhodes, apparently reading the manual Trever Miller left behind, walked the left-handed batter he was supposed to get out. So bases loaded, one out, and Dotel strikes out Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton to end the threat. Then he strikes out two of the three batters he faced in the eighth as well, turning the game over to Fernando Salas for the ninth. A huge lift for the team.
Goat: Jon Jay. Rafael Furcal also went 0-fer, but he turned in a spectacular double play. Jay went 0-5 with two strikeouts, though he did play some solid defense of his own. Jay has continued to struggle after the Rasmus trade much like he did after the Ryan Ludwick trade of last season. If he isn't able to turn it around some by the end of the campaign, will the Cardinals look for another outfielder in the offseason, relegating Jay to the fourth slot again?
Notes: Albert went 3-4, raising his average to .288 (a season high) and smashing--almost literally--his 29th home run, a rocket that was the longest home run in Busch Stadium III history. Freese went 2-3 with a double, Molina had three hits, and the offense was able to get runners on most of the night, even if they had trouble getting them in after the four-run first.
Edwin Jackson, who took a long time to throw just five and a third innings, left last night's game with what was termed a "severe hamstring cramp". While the bullpen filled in admirably for him, most notably Dotel and Jason Motte, we'll have to wait and see if Jackson is going to miss a start. He was pitching a solid if slow game before he left, so it'd be nice if he didn't have to miss any time, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was skipped once in the rotation. Not sure if they'd move McClellan back for a game or one of La Russa's famous bullpen games, but I doubt they'd bring up anyone for just one start.
Before I get to the preview of today's game, a few links. I mentioned earlier this season about Stadium Journey and how they were doing writeups of all the different stadiums around the country. They've moved on to the Cardinal affiliate in Palm Beach, who play in the spring training home of the Cards, Roger Dean Stadium. Be sure to check that out if you are planning a trip or if you are just interested in some of the stadiums the baby birds play in.
Also, this weekend I took the plunge and started my own personal podcast. I've not been able to get it into iTunes yet (I have an idea what the problem is, but if that's the case it might be a while before I can), but you can listen to it over at a blog dedicated to it, called Conversations With C70.
Couple of notes on that. One, that's my daughter introducing the show this week. Not sure if that'll be a permanent thing or not, but it was fun. Two, I'd really like to hear what you thing, what works, what doesn't. I'm looking forward to doing a test run with a guest very soon to see how much the quality improves when it's not just me. Finally, if you are a blogger and you'd like to record a promo similar to what Tara did in this one, please let me know. I want to get a lot of those so I can reuse, mix and match, and always be able to fill the normal structural gaps that I'm going to have in the setup of the show. Cardinal blogger or no (yeah, I'm looking at you, WilliaminMaine), I'd be glad to have you. All you have to do is call a number and record a message. How easy is that? Email me and I'll get you the info.
Cards head off to Pittsburgh for a series that isn't nearly as chock full of excitement as the last time that they went there. With the Pirates falling off back to more expected levels (they are now fourth, seven games under .500 and 13 games out), it's not the battle of first place teams that it was just a month ago. That said, the Cards need to go into Pittsburgh and play at the level they usually do at PNC Park. Milwaukee gets the Dodgers while they are playing the Pirates, so it's a chance to maybe make up a game or so if they can sweep.
Jake Westbrook goes for the Cardinals tonight, hoping to give them another solid outing and have the offense pick him up. The numbers: