Adam Wainwright has said from Day 1 that he wants to be in St. Louis. He has said that's where he grew as a player, where he's learned to be the pitcher that he is today. He's said a lot of complimentary things about the organization.
Yesterday, Wainwright showed that he really meant them. It's one thing to be appreciative of a big contract, but Wainwright was emotional about what that meant, tearing up on occasion as he tried to get the words out.
"I feel like my heart is in St. Louis," Wainwright said. "I love it here. I love driving to the field and seeing the (Gateway) Arch, driving up and seeing the amazing Busch Stadium. It's a treat to work there everyday, and it's something that continues to catch me off guard and make me feel like I'm way too blessed than I deserve."
As great as Wainwright's stats are, it seems like his character was what won the day. Mike Matheny told the organization they needed someone like him to mentor the upcoming generation, just like Chris Carpenter had mentored him.
There's a lot of great reasons to be glad about this deal and there's a lot to say about Wainwright. It's refreshing to see an athlete have such a tie to the community and be willing to forgo some leverage and every last penny to stay there. My son has an autographed baseball from Wainwright and I'm prouder of that after this whole situation than ever before.
They did play baseball yesterday, though you have to wonder how much heart the hitters had into it. A 1-0 game this late in spring training may have been in part due to the fact that players are ready to get the season started. I was watching the Twins and Red Sox last night and Bert Blyleven was asked about the length of spring. He said it was just about right for the pitchers, who are just now getting to the level they need to be for opening the season, but hitters have been ready to go for about a week or so.
I'd much rather credit Lance Lynn for the situation, but you can't be sure. No matter what, though, an outing like that from Lynn makes everyone breathe a lot easier. He allowed only two hits, one a bunt single, and retired the last 14 he faced. It looks like Lynn went back to some of his old training and it appears to have paid off. He only went six innings, but said afterwards he could have gone more, but Matheny needed to get other pitchers some work in.
Which allowed Matheny to use his new-fangled late-inning combination in a close game situation. Edward Mujica (one hit, two strikeouts), Trevor Rosenthal (perfect inning) and Mitchell Boggs (perfect inning) shut it down with ease and, again, that's what you like to see in likely their last spring outing.
The Cardinals did tally nine hits, but only Matt Holliday was able to take advantage, driving in Jon Jay in the first. After that, though they had other opportunities, the Marlins were able to work around them. Again, it's hard to believe that these guys were going 100% on this. You know how it is on those last couple of days of school. Nobody's working hard, you just want it over. That's gotta be what the end of spring is like.
They do have one more game, however. Jake Westbrook gets his last start as the Cards take on the Mets a bit earlier than they have been, an 11:00 start so the Redbirds can head out to Phoenix and get ready for Monday's start of the season. Doesn't look like there will be any TV or radio for this one and I'm betting it's a quick affair like yesterday's was.
Housekeeping: I was invited onto Mets Public Record last night to talk baseball in general and the Cardinals in particular. That was a lot of fun and I encourage you to check it out when you've got a chance.
Soccer is coming to Busch Stadium. There will be a press conference today at 12:30 to discuss an International Soccer match coming to St. Louis. I know soccer is the trendy thing among a lot of the people I follow on Twitter, so there's probably going to be a lot of excitement about this.
The last of the predictions come your way this morning and I hope to get a Playing Pepper summary page up this afternoon, but this will be the last discussion post before Easter from me, so I want to wish you the best from this holiday. Even more than Christmas, the reason for Easter needs to be thought about not only at this time, but everyday. May you come to know that reason if you do not already!
OK, we took care of the American League yesterday. Now it's time to move on to real baseball and tackle the National League East. Remember, the United Cardinal Bloggers are doing this all week long and you can keep up with everyone's posts right over here.
The NL East promises to be an interesting division this year, with a lot of young talent and some changing of the guard. Oh, and the Marlins are there as well.
While the Cardinals did play yesterday and actually scored, snapping another of those long scoreless streaks, the best news that came out likely was in Derrick Goold's weekly chat. Goold noted that there was no truth to the idea that the Cardinals were currently looking at either Bud Norris or Lucas Harrell, that the club might have asked in the winter but more as an informational move (gauging the market for one of the Cardinal arms) than actually wanting to deal. When asked about the depth of interest in Yuniesky Betancourt, Goold replied "not even kiddie-pool depth." Goold also twists the knife with "the Cardinals already have a shortstop better than Betancourt on the roster. Ronny Cedeno." This, of course, after often hinting in the chat that Cedeno is not long for the Cardinals.
I think we all knew that there was nothing much in either of these. We knew--or at least we were hopeful--that the Cardinal front office was smarter than that, especially in the case of Betancourt. We've come a long way from fearing that every scrappy veteran on the market was going to be picked up and become a crucial part of the strategy. In Mo we trust, right? So far, John Mozeliak isn't indicating we should change that philosophy.
On the field yesterday, Jake Westbrook looked like the pitcher we saw a lot of last year, throwing six innings and just making one mistake, a two-run home run to Lucas Duda. If Westbrook can put up numbers similar to his pre-contract extension 2012, that helps out the rotation quite a bit. Marc Rzepczynski, making his second appearance since whacking something off his eye, gave up a double and a single to let the Mets take the lead that decided the game. Both of those hits were from right-handers, though, which Scrabble probably won't see a lot of during the season.
Speaking of the bullpen, Edward Mujica and Jason Motte got closer to their regular season roles--Mujica threw the eighth instead of the seventh and both came in while the team was behind--and they seemed to respond, both throwing scoreless innings. With just two weeks left until the season starts, seeing the bullpen come in and be effective relieves some heartburn that we have been having this spring.
Goold indicates, as many have suggested, that the final roster spot is going to come down to Cedeno and Matt Adams. Cedeno did get two hits and has raised his average to .290 for the spring, but Adams doubled in a run and scored one as well, keeping his average just over the .300 mark. Mozeliak has indicated that this is Adams' battle to lose recently and so far, he's not lost it. I think I should have made Jon a bet during our conversation this weekend on who would take that last spot!
Chris Carpenter made a surprise visit to Cardinal camp yesterday, as his family talked him into swinging by on their way home from Puerto Rico. It sounds like he'll be around for a week or so, starting to get adjusted to the baseball afterlife. There's been no change in his condition and he's really not expecting that to change, though he is still willing for a miracle and will be consulting doctors shortly to see if there are any real options barring surgery, which he says he's not going through again.
It's tough not to read that story and really feel for Carp. To have what you love taken away from you suddenly with no real hope of regaining it because of something that no one completely understands has to make for a difficult adjustment. I didn't fault him for not going to Jupiter this year, because it's likely going to take some time to get used to this new reality. That said, I'm glad his son talked him into going this year. Maybe it'll help the healing process and make it easier for him to come into camp in the years to come as an instructor.
Cards get the Marlins today before the last off day of the spring tomorrow. Shelby Miller gets to start this time with Joe Kelly relieving, so you have to expect they'll both be bringing all they can to this one. Game is on Fox Sports Midwest if you have the opportunity to watch. Come back this afternoon for the Pirates Playing Pepper!
We've hit the midpoint of spring training. Three weeks from today, we're avoiding stupid April Fool's jokes and focusing on the pitching matchup out in Arizona. It's a long spring this year, what with the World Baseball Classic going on, but you can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
If Allen Craig can't see that light, now he can afford some glasses that help. Craig signed a five-year, $31 million deal Friday, a contract that bought out all of his arbitration years and his first year of free agency. This is the kind of deal that we've come to expect from the Cardinals, a contract that gives them cost-certainty and keeps them from having to make some forced decisions down the road.
Since Craig is older for the amount of experience he has--he's already 28--this means that all of Craig's prime years will be in St. Louis. This will possibly also be his biggest contract, though if he continues to rake like he has been, he could get another five year deal or so when it's up with payment for what he's done in the past built in. It's just a good thing to be able to put solid numbers in the payroll matrices for the next few years and at a pretty reasonable rate as well. Kudos to John Mozeliak and the front office for getting this done.
It does make you wonder a bit on what the outlook is for David Freese, however. Freese was in a similar situation this year--he actually had arbitration on his side, whereas Craig did not--and he only got a one-year deal. There are differences in the situation, of course, but there are a lot of similarities. Will Freese get a deal similar to this next year if he's proven he can stay healthy? Does Freese not fit into the Cardinals' plans as well as Craig does? That's something for much later, of course, but worth considering when you are talking the bigger picture with the Cardinals.
Also, the article relating to Craig's contract points out that the team signed him for his bat, not necessarily to be the first baseman. That seems to indicate that Craig will need to keep his outfielder's glove handy, which may mean we'll be seeing Matt Adams in a Cardinal uniform this year as well. Someone is going to have to spell Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran and if Oscar Taveras isn't going to do it, it might as well be Craig, though I'm sure Shane Robinson (who seems to have played his way into starting the season with the big club) and/or Adron Chambers will get a whack at that too.
One of the more intriguing stories to come out this weekend was the fact that the club now considers Matt Carpenterto be acceptable at second base, not only as a temporary measure but also as a starter. Apparently--and to be fair, this is spring and spring coverage, which can at times run more optimistic than the regular season, Joe Strauss notwithstanding--Carpenter has impressed all those involved and has been fielding well and correcting any errors that he may make. We all know that Carpenter has been able to hit, though we'll have to see if having a new position on his mind affects that--it hasn't so far this spring, as he's hitting .370/.469/.519 in 27 at-bats--so being able to put his bat in the lineup without creating a significant defensive liability is huge.
If he is being so proficient, that means a few things: 1) that Daniel Descalso might see time at short if Pete Kozma fails there. If nothing else, Dirty Dan will become a utility player and defensive replacement; 2) that Carpenter might not have to be taken out in the seventh or whatever for defensive purposes, at least not consistently; 3) that the bench becomes a little weaker in that regard, again pointing to the need for someone like Adams. If Carpenter starts, the bench would be Descalso, Tony Cruz (who will never get into a game as a pinch-hitter, of course), Ronny Cedeno, Robinson and Chambers. While Robinson has played lights-out this spring and Descalso has a couple of home runs to his credit in Florida, there is no one on that bench that you bring up when you are down by two and need a double or a homer. Adams is more likely to be that guy, so we'll see if he bumps Chambers back to Memphis.
We saw Joe Kelly have a bit of trouble Thursday against the Yankees in his bid for the fifth slot in the rotation. Shelby Miller came out against the Nationals on Friday and seemed to impress some people, most notably during an 11-pitch at-bat against Bryce Harper that ended with Miller blowing a pitch past him. Miller did give up a couple of runs, though it sounds like part of that was due to a bad hop over Craig's head on Harper's next time up. All in all, if it had been a tie for the last slot before these outings, Miller likely pulled a smidgen ahead after them. They both will probably get one more start, maybe two, before the decision is made.
All in all, the pitching was pretty good this weekend, but the offense didn't show up at all. Maybe it was due to Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina being in the Puerto Rico lineup instead of the Cardinals, maybe it was due to Matt Holliday still being sick, but whatever the case, the team that scored 16 against the Nationals scored two against a Marlins' split squad team and none against the Mets in back to back games. The roller coaster continues.
For all the talk about Rafael Furcal and how he should have had the shoulder surgery earlier, no one is pointing out (which is a classy thing for Mo to do, because I think many would say, "Hey, look there.") that Jaime Garcia also was in a situation where most people thought he needed surgery, but Garcia has been fine this spring and, indeed, hurled five scoreless innings against the Mets. Garcia is giving up a few extra hits--his BAA sits right at .300 in the spring--but he's not letting those turn into runs. Dare we hope that Garcia's game has matured? Because if he can consistently be the left-handed guy we've seen him be on occasion, this rotation takes another step up.
The biggest disappointment in yesterday's game was seeing Eduardo Sanchez have a relapse. Sanchez, who had not walked anyone all spring, walked the first two batters he faced yesterday, both of which came around to score insurance runs. Before that, though, he'd gone 5.1 innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. If yesterday was just a blip on the radar, Sanchez has a good chance of making the bullpen. I think he'll start in Memphis but, well, more on him later today.
Mike Matheny has headed back to St. Louis to have back surgery. When I hear back surgery, I think of a significant procedures that's going to keep you out for an extended period of time. Apparently medical technology and advancements are some impressive things, because Matheny is having the procedure today and should be back in the dugout on Thursday. That's just amazing to me, really. I understand that he's not playing and so the recovery time is quicker, but still, to be able to fly just two days after having your back opened up? That's something. Best wishes to the skipper and hope the surgery goes without a hitch.
Today's approval ratings focus on Lance Lynn, John Rooney and the general manager. It's the first year for Lynn on this ratings, as he didn't crack the list after his 2011 stint in the bullpen. You had a tale of two seasons for Lynn last year, though, and I was curious to see how people reacted to him. Some of this voting was done around his comments about "his job to lose" in the rotation, which didn't sit well with some folks either. All that combined, Lynn comes out with a 79.5% mark. That's a pretty solid standing for a guy that we aren't completely sure what we have with yet. A good 2013 and that number might jump by double digits.
Lynn's on his first approval rating, but Rooney has been here since the very first one. He's been remarkably consistent as well--his lowest mark was 76.2% in 2010, his highest was this year's 84.5%. I think the partnership between Rooney and Mike Shannon has been a great one for Cardinal radio and hopefully it will continue for a long, long time.
Finally, we get to the architect of the team. There are always going to be critics--though how people put 0 and 10 on this rating form is beyond me--but for the most part, Mozeliak has done an exceptional job at keeping a small-market team competitive and viable even with a larger-than-mid-market salary. The farm system has been rejuvenated under his watch and the team has always been competitive, even when major injuries strike. The fan base seems to agree, giving him an 86.5% score, his highest ever.
Besides the fact that the Cards play the Yanks today on ESPN for your afternoon enjoyment, there's plenty coming here at the blog. Later this morning, I'll be posting the transcript for the last UCB roundtable question and this afternoon, we play pepper with the Milwaukee Brewers. So continue to check back through the day!
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.
69-93, fifth in the NL East
It was going to be different this time.
Gone were the days of peaks and valleys, of fire sales that started with the last out of a World Series title. This time, the Marlins were going to do it right. They had a new ballpark which would attract fans and casual passersby alike and went out and pre-spent that windfall on a number of marquee players. It was time for a change.
Until it wasn't.
The ballpark opened to mixed reviews, the team struggled out of the gate and, eventually, plummeted into the cellar. Anibal Sanchez was shipped out at the trade deadline, but that was just a precursor of the massive trade that was to come, as almost every Marlin with a name or a significant salary was sent elsewhere, mainly to Toronto, in a deal that was mocked and derided from just about every corner of the baseball world.
In all of this mess, sometimes it's hard to remember that there are fans that still follow this team, that take the gut punches. Ehsan Kassim is one of those fans who writes about Miami at Marlin Maniac, part of the FanSided network. You can also find him on Twitter @MarlinManiac.
Stick around as we go over that rough offseason and talk about what Marlins fans can expect going forward.
It was almost like an episode of Oprah yesterday. "You get a home run, and YOU get a home run. Everybody gets a home run!"
While it wasn't quite that bad--the Cards didn't score 20+ runs or anything--all of their scoring did come via the long ball. Oscar Taveras started it off with a two-run shot in the first and the bombs continued from there. Heck, even Ronny Cedeno got one, which would make you think the wind was blowing something fierce in Jupiter.
What was also nice to see in the pitching department was Eduardo Sanchez have a smooth inning. No walks, no hits, and a strikeout to add to what's already been a pretty good spring for him. He's gone 4.1 innings with no walks, his major bugaboo, and has struck out six in that span. If he's got his command, he immediately becomes a viable bullpen option and could be in St. Louis very early on.
However, that bullpen is going to be a bit crowded because it looks like Rosenthal is headed that way. Nothing official, of course, but Rick Hummel tends to read between the lines of the facts that Rosenthal is still relieving and Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly are getting starts. Hummel has been doing this longer than any of us have, but that seems to be a tenuous, if logical, position. With as many pitchers as are in camp and the trouble getting them all innings, I don't know if we can read that far into it. If this continues a week or so from now, when arms have been pruned and there are fewer to battle with, then I'd agree.
Not saying he's wrong by any means. One of the options the Cards had was to put Rosenthal in the bullpen, Kelly in the rotation and Miller to Memphis (or flip the last two). It's entirely possible that Rosenthal will be coming out of the pen for the Cardinals, but again, that relief corps is getting crowded. It would seem just as likely that Rosenthal gets to start at Memphis. (Of course, as I write this, Twitter notes that they are having a starting pitchers meeting and Rosenthal isn't a part of it. So probably scratch everything up there. Twitter also says a Rafael Furcal presser will happen in an hour, so I know what we'll be talking about tomorrow.)
One of the players that went deep yesterday was Matt Adams, who hit his second pinch-hit homer of the spring. We've known that Adams wasn't going to get a full-time starting role in the big leagues this year, but there was the line of thought that had him going north as a part-time player and a bench threat. Hitting pinch-hit home runs tends to add luster to that idea. John Mozeliak has said that Adams doesn't have anything else to prove in Memphis, something Mike Matheny has reiterated, so it'd be a shame if that's where he wound up. That doesn't mean he'd be playing in St. Louis--slugging first basemen might not be the rarest thing out there, but they still have trade value--but he should be in the major leagues somewhere.
One of the recent UCB roundtable questions (the transcript's not up yet or I'd link to it) asked about ownership and how we rated them. (While Bill DeWitt is one of our Cardinal Approval Ratings today, that's not a segue.) One of the points that was brought up was ownership's deep appreciation for the history of the Cardinals. That was underscored yesterday as the team announced long-time fan favorite (and pretty good ballplayer) Willie McGee was being added as a special assistant to the general manager. (Mo must need a lot of help, being that he already has Ryan Franklin with that title as well.) Willie's going to focus on the minors, but this is probably as much about keeping him in the organization as it is about his teaching skills. No matter what the motivation, it's a good thing.
NOW we can segue into the approval ratings. Today's player in the spotlight is Matt Holliday, who was one of those going yard yesterday. Holliday has been consistently good-to-great while in St. Louis, but has done it pretty quietly. With that, the fact that he's often streaky, and that contingent of the fan base that gets on him for "not being clutch," I was pleasantly surprised to see that he came out with an 88.4% rating, which puts him at the top of the player pile so far. That's about a percentage increase from last year, even.
On the media side of things, today we take a look at Jenifer Langosch. Jenifer didn't have the easiest of tasks when she came to St. Louis last year, replacing the extremely popular Matthew Leach on the Cards MLB.com beat. However, she's done a very professional job and made her mark in St. Louis, though one commentor felt that she was too "company liney". I'm sure it's a fine line to talk at that employer. Jenifer's final rating: 79.5%, a solid mark for her first time out.
Finally, we come to Mr. DeWitt. Two World Series titles and an always competitive team have damped the "greedy" charges that were leveled at the Cardinal owner throughout the early part of his tenure. I've defended ownership before and I think all you have to do is look at Miami to appreciate what we have here in St. Louis. People must be agreeing with that sentiment because he rang up an 85.1% mark, his highest in the five years we have been doing this by a noticeable margin. Now, if Adam Wainwright walks this offseason, we'll see if that takes a hit next year.
Cardinals get to face the Yankees in Jupiter today, assuming there are enough Yankees left from the punishing spring to field a team. We'll talk about the Dodgers in Playing Pepper this afternoon, so come back for that!
Blast it, I'm starting to get used to this type of game, the large-offense, small-pitching type which leaves the Cardinals comfortably in hand by the end of nine innings. I know it won't continue, but even in spring, it's fun while it lasts.
It's a lot of fun when Oscar Taveras gets in on the action as well. He was only one for four (though he was robbed of extra bases in his third at-bat) but the one was as potent as they come, a grand slam that led the Cards to an 8-2 win over Miami. We've had the debate about where Taveras starts and probably will continue to have it, but this gives just another bullet to the "start him in St. Louis" crowd.
The pitching side of things was pretty nice as well. Jake Westbrook started before leaving after being hit on the knee, though afterwards he said that was just a precaution and he was fine. Since he only threw 1+ innings, it's tough to say how effective he was, especially since he gave up a run. We'll have to reserve some judgement until the next time he throws.
What we can say is Trevor Rosenthal looked much better yesterday than he did in the spring opener. He went three innings, allowing only two hits, a walk and a run. It would seem we could chalk up that rough first outing to nerves and overanxiousness, at least hopefully. Out of the rest of the pitchers, only Randy Choate and Boggs seem to be ones we'll see in St. Louis and both of them threw scoreless innings, though Boggs did walk two people and was helped out by that double play Carpenter turned.
Besides Westbrook getting hit by a line drive, Carlos Beltranalso left the game after being hit on the little toe by a pitch. After the game, X-rays proved that it wasn't broken, but it was swollen up. Beltran doesn't know if it'll affect his World Baseball Classic eligibility (that starts tonight, BTW, if you've not noticed) but it would seem to put a crimp in those plans, especially if it's still swollen today.
Today's action looks to be worth checking out on MLB.tv, because Joe Kelly makes his first start of the spring in his bid for that last spot in the rotation. Also, the Cardinals are going against Bud Norris and the Astros. Does Norris's stuff work in the preseason? Can he keep the rampaging offense down? Tune in to see.
With just over an hour left before the non-waiver deadline, St. Louis finally pulled the trigger on a minor move, sending former first round pick Zack Cox to Miami for reliever Edward Mujica.
Obviously, Cox's status had dropped significantly in the past year or so. It's a situation that reminds me of Brett Wallace, only the Cardinals were able to get value for him before people figured out he wasn't quite a top prospect after all. They weren't able to move fast enough with Cox and, as such, he's traded for a middle reliever.
Cox was only hitting .254 with nine homers in Memphis this season and I believe the Pacific Coast League is supposed to be fairly hitter-friendly. He had a torrid June (though with only two homers) before slipping back somewhat in July. With David Freese staying healthy and looking more like a long-term solution at third, Cox was expendable.
I expected Cox to be dealt at some time, but thought he'd be part of a package deal that brought in a bigger reward that a middle relief guy. Mujica has struggled some this year, posting a 4.38 ERA. Looking just at his 10 game log, at the front and end of that span were games were he gave up two runs in less than an inning, but in between were eight scoreless appearances.
Skimming the rest of the year, it looks like he's either lights out or he gets roughed up quite a bit. Very few one run outings, more 2-3 runs or nothing. Which, if the nothing happens quite often, is probably tolerable.
He was very good last year (2.96 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) but that was easily his best year in the bigs, though he has had a lower WHIP than that. He seems to have a bit of a propensity for the long ball, giving up six this season in 39 IP and averaging 1 every seven innings in his career. If he's able to keep the ball down, he could be a guy that they use to try to bridge that seventh inning gap.
It seems like they sold low on Cox, but if Mujica firms up that bullpen even more, it could be a good move. As always, In Mo We Trust. One of the downsides, though, is that this probably means Trevor Rosenthal goes back to the minors with the memory of Anthony Rizzo going yard as his last big league memory for a while. He'll be back in September, though, I'd think. Until then, the bullpen seems to be fairly well constructed. Now, if the bats will just figure out how to get those timely hits.............
Hero: It's tough to know who to give this to, because both of the obvious candidates from the box scores have their own flaws. David Freese went 3-4, but made two errors and another misplay or two and allowed the Marlins to take the lead. Jake Westbrook went almost seven and gave up just one unearned run, but let the go-ahead run score when he overthrew first. Given that, I guess I'll give it to Rafael Furcal for his two-hit night.
Goat: Freese or Westbrook could be considered here but, as noted above, they did some very good things in the game as well. I guess I'll go with Tony Cruz, who got the start when the Cards put Yadier Molina on the bereavement list due to the passing of his wife's grandfather, since he went 0-3 and was pinch-hit for in the ninth.
Notes: Cards did try to rally, showing the never-say-die spirit that would serve them well later in the series. (Apparently that spirit is kindled by Heath Bell being on the mound!) They were able to score one in the ninth and had two on with two out in the ninth for Carlos Beltran, but they just weren't able to complete the comeback.
Hero: Kyle Lohse. On a 100+ degree day, Lohse went out there and continued to keep the Marlins off balance. He allowed only three hits, the biggest of which was the home run by Justin Ruggiano. Other than that, he did a great job of not allowing the Marlins anything and keeping his team off the field, which was crucial in that heat.
Goat: Rough day for Beltran, who went 0-4 and struck out twice.
Notes: Cruz had the big hit, a ball that was ruled a triple (camera work wasn't spectacular on that play, but it did look like the outfielder misplayed it somewhat) that drove in two and gave the Cards the lead they wouldn't give up. Nice work out of the bullpen for Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte as well. Strong game for Allen Craig as well with three hits.
Hero: Rafael Furcal. Two hits and three RBI, including the game-winner in the ninth as Bell completed his meltdown.
Goat: Victor Marte has to get the tag since he gave up the three-run home run that put the Cards behind, but Maikel Cleto didn't help matters by giving up a hit and a walk to the only two batters he faced. Marte could have worked out of that jam, but it was a tough situation for him to be in anyway.
Notes: This season, Bell is 0-1 with a 19.64 ERA against St. Louis. And he's got two saves in that span! His WHIP is 3.27 and he's allowed eight runs to the Cards. Think he's glad he doesn't have to face them anymore? Huge kudos to Boggs who could have easily been the Hero of the piece as well, getting the last out in the ninth with the bases loaded to keep the game where it was and in a spot where the team could rally to win.
So the Cards go into the All-Star Break in third place, 2.5 games behind the Pirates and a game and a half behind the Reds. This actually isn't too different than last season, when the Cards were bunched with the Pirates and Brewers until the end of July. I don't think the Pirates fade as sharply as they did last year, but I do think St. Louis can run them down. As for the Reds, it's a big series to start the second half as the Redbirds go into Cincinnati.
(Side note: At my house we had a draft of players to root for last night. My wife took Fielder and Matt Kemp, so she did all right. The daughter selected Bautista and Trumbo. The boy had the first pick in both rounds and took Beltran and Robinson Cano and I had Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gonzalez, so I was out of the running real early.)
Tony La Russa has been a big focus of this All-Star Game, getting grief from a lot of different quarters about some of his decisions. I think that's less about the decisions (all of which are justifiable and have been justified by TLR, assuming the critics want to listen) and more about how polarizing La Russa can be. Tony could say that he's having Coke in the dugout and people would go ape saying he's biased against Pepsi and that this shows he has to do things his way whether it's a good idea or not. There's no winning with some people.
It is interesting to note, though, that La Russa's playing career started in Kansas City and it seems his baseball career (at least the managing portion) will end there. Given that, it's great to see all the old faces back in uniform and together. I gotta say, though, Dave Duncan looks strange with the goatee.
The Cardinal players are excited about playing for him one more time, though, and I think that's the highest compliment. These are the guys that have been there with TLR and they want to go to battle for him one more time. That'd mean something to me, I know.
Should be a fun contest tonight and I look forward to the introductions and seeing all the Cardinals on the field. Best of luck to the National League!
Hero: Matt Holliday. There were a number of ways you could go with this one, but Holliday had another three-hit night and tossed in a home run to boot. In a game where scoring was at a premium, that was big.
Goat: It was a fairly solidly played game, so it's tough to say, but Allen Craig had another 0-4 day. Bit of a "slump" for Craig recently, as this was the second of three ofers in a row.
Notes: Very good to see Adam Wainwright bounce back from his outing against the Pirates. He wasn't extremely efficient--over 100 pitches in just six innings with eight hits allowed--but he did have command and was able to get the strikeout when he needed it. And as well as the bullpen has been going in the last week, I still was very glad to see David Freese get those two insurance runs in the eighth. Skip Schumaker also got two hits before losing his spot in a double switch.
Hero: Lance Lynn. Even though the Rockies' offense isn't the strongest, they still have some pop and you'd expect to win slugfests against them instead of pitching duels. Lynn looked rough early, but righted the ship and made an adjustment to become more like the All-Star he is. If that adjustment gets him back to his early-season form, the Cards will be very happy.
Goat: Craig at least got an RBI, so I'll give this goat to Yadier Molina, who also went 0-4. Though when he's wearing all that catcher gear in 100 degree weather, it doesn't seem fair to criticize him for his production!
Notes: I thought Mike Matheny was a little too itchy on the trigger in the ninth. Victor Marte had given up a two-run homer to--who else--Tyler Colvin in the eighth, but the Cards still had a four-run lead. Mitchell Boggs started the ninth and got a strikeout and a ground out before allowing a solid single to Dexter Fowler and a infield hit to Marco Scutaro. Rafael Furcal just couldn't come up with that play, but it wasn't like Boggs was suddenly going to get beat around.
Now, Carlos Gonzalez was coming up, but he could only make it a one-run game. Having used Jason Motte in the three-run game the night before, it seemed to me that he should have stuck with Boggs and then, if something bad happened, gone to Motte. Instead, Matheny made the switch, Gonzalez grounded out, and everyone went home happy. Except that now Motte has been used two nights in a row and probably isn't available this evening against the Marlins. We'll see how that works out for everyone.
Nice to see Barret Browning continue his perfect streak. Since he's come up, the 'pen has looked a lot better. Marc Rzepczynski has gone well (and was good Wednesday night), Fernando Salas has looked sharper, and until Marte's slipup against Colvin, the bullpen was really rocking. We'll see if it's a small sample size or if the 'pen is starting to become something we can trust again. It would make John Mozeliak's work at the trade deadline a lot easier, no doubt.
Of course, the most notable thing that happened last night came before the game, when the lineup card was turned in and Matt Carpenter's name was on it--at second base. This meant a few things:
1) If you ever wondered, Mike Matheny paid attention when he was a player under Tony La Russa.
2) Tyler Greene is done in St. Louis. Bob Netherton pointed this out on Twitter last night, but while a left-handed starter would keep Schumaker and Daniel Descalso out of the lineup, it shouldn't have affected Greene if he was in good standing. Instead, they put out a better bat that had never played the position before. That'll get your attention.
3) They want to find a spot for Carpenter, but with Lance Berkman about ready to return, there's really going to be limited chances for him to contribute where he's comfortable. It's learn a new slot or learn a new team, because he might be attractive as part of a trade package.
Cards get to host their spring training co-tenants tonight, seeing the Marlins for the last time this season. Jake Westbrook is on the mound and looks to continue his nice run. He allowed four runs to the Pirates last time out, his highest run total since 6/3 against the Mets. When he faced Miami last week, he allowed only two runs in six innings. The numbers:
The Marlins have added Carlos Lee since the last time Westbrook faced them and that could be a problem for him. Other than that, if Westbrook can keep Jose Reyes off the bases he should be in good shape.
Miami counters with Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco held the Cards in check last time out, giving up nothing in six and two thirds. Of course, that was the game the Cards rallied in the ninth and wound up winning, but that had nothing to do with Nolasco. His career stats:
The Cardinals really shouldn't have been shut out by him and, in theory, the law of averages should work out to their advantage tonight. Theories are fine and good, though, until you actually take the field. We'll see if it holds this evening!