Last night Jeff Passan tweeted out that you could argue Wainwright has been the best pitcher in baseball so far this season. While some contrarians immediately jumped on that, it does certainly seem that he's in the argument with a very small number of other pitchers. In all of baseball, he's fourth in pitcher wins above replacement, first in wins, (obviously) first in walks per nine innings (and just walks in general), first in innings pitched, third in strikeouts, owner of one of the six shutouts so far this season, (again, obviously) first in strikeout to walk ratio, has yet to give up a home run while facing more batters than anyone save CC Sabathia (who has faced the same number), has a WHIP under one (though that puts him just 20th in baseball right now), an ERA under 2 (15th), the most quality starts in baseball, seventh in average game score.....OK, I guess you get the picture. Has he been unquestionably the best pitcher in baseball? No, I wouldn't say that. Matt Harvey, Clay Buchholz, and Matt Moore (among others) have their names scattered about the leaderboards just like Waino does. Is he a strong contender in the conversation? I can't see a reasonable person saying differently.
All of those stats do reflect that Waino was Waino yet again last night, going 8.1 scoreless innings before being lifted for Edward Mujica, who got his second save in as many nights. Wainwright's walkless streak stopped at 34.1 when he walked Bryce Harper, but there's no shame in that one. It set him up to get Adam LaRoche to strike out again and got Wainwright out of really the only jam he had all night.
So obviously he's the Hero of our piece. It was a good thing that he was on his game, because Ross Detwiler was no friend to the Cardinal offense. It was almost like they were on a break or something, because even though they mustered eight hits on the night, they could only get a couple of them in, hitting into double plays like they were back in 2011. Wainwright twice bunted into double plays, which is pretty hard to do. The latter came when Pete Kozma tried to catch the Nationals napping and go first to third on a bunt. Not exactly the smartest move that the shortstop has ever made, but perhaps he just wanted to hear some more boos from the crowd.
Kozma did get two hits, which was more output than we've seen from him in a while. Perhaps being in Washington did get him focused or motivated. It's too bad that didn't work for David Freese, our Goat of the evening. Freese went 0-4 and left five men on base, something that could have loomed even larger had it not been the ace of the staff on the mound.
Jon Jay got a night off and Shane Robinson responded in the leadoff role with a hit and a walk. It's not enough to have Jay lose the job outright, but I wouldn't be stunned if Robinson is out there again this afternoon. With a very tough pitcher on the mound for the other side, it's not the kind of situation that screams confidence-builder.
Take it with a grain of salt, because you know the track record of the Cardinals and injuries, but it looks like Matt Adamsmight avoid the disabled list. He'll not play today, but hopefully will be ready to get back out there during the Cardinals' series with Pittsburgh this weekend. Selfishly I hope so, because I'll be there Sunday and would like to get a chance to see him at least pinch-hit.
Afternoon matchup in our nation's capital. Looking for the sweep, something they've not been able to do yet this year, the Cards send out Jaime Garcia to the hill. Garcia was atrocious in his last start in Philadelphia, but beyond that had pitched pretty well this year with little to show for it. We can only hope last week was a blip and an aberration, but anytime Garcia is on a road mound, you get a little concerned.
There's not much there to be encouraged about. Of course, last time he faced these guys he was pitching hurt in the playoffs, but that doesn't account for all of those numbers. It's going to be a challenge for him, but perhaps Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz can work up a plan like they did for Wainwright last night, who had struggled against the Nationals as well in his career.
They better figure out something, because Washington is bringing their ace out to stop the broom. Stephen Strasburg hasn't been overwhelming in the early going, with a 1-3 record and three home runs allowed, but his ERA is still a hair under 3 and his K/BB ratio is right at that mark. It's not going to be a walk in the park here.
Those numbers don't give you a ton of confidence either. Granted, they are all from just one game, an early September matchup between the two teams last year. Cards lost that game 4-3 but neither starter factored into the decision. Hopefully we'll see Good Jaime and this could be another enjoyable pitching matchup. We can hope!
It's that time of year again. When hope is new, the grass smells clean, and people foolishly put down what they think will happen in the baseball season to come. The United Cardinal Bloggers are no different.
Every year we take a crack at these things. Sometimes it goes pretty well--Pittsburgh's late fade last year kept me from nailing them being third and over the .500 mark. Sometimes it goes disastrously--I had Boston winning the AL East last year. Yeah, that was pretty much bad from the get-go.
However, terrible performances don't stop us from trying it again anyway. (Kinda like Mike Matheny continuing to use Victor Marte last year.) So we'll do it again on the same kinda schedule--the entire American League today, then each division in the National League gets a day before wrapping it up on Friday with postseason predictions and awards.
Since we hardly pay attention to the American League--we all know real baseball lets a pitcher hit, don't we?--let's try to make a quick pass through there today. If you want to use these as a guide, odds are you better figure the opposite is really going to happen!
When the games on the field aren't that interesting, it seems like the off-the-field stuff makes up for it. The Cardinals were shut out both Saturday and Sunday, capping a week of limited offense, but were quite active in the rumor market at the same time.
The big one on Saturday was well-respected baseball reporter Peter Gammons Tweeting that the Cards were looking for pitching, specifically Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell. This brought a collective "huh" to Cardinal Nation as it would seem the one thing the Cards needed least was more starting pitching, the baseball maxim "you can never have too much pitching" notwithstanding.
If you have listened to the latest Conversations With C70 that went up this weekend (with guest Jon Doble of Redbird Dugout), you know that one of the possible reasons, in my mind, was that the Cardinals might be close to another deal for a respectable shortstop, a long-term answer at the position that would require them to give up some of their young pitching. They'd then make this separate deal with the Astros to replenish their stock, as it were.
Is that reasonable? Well, obviously I think so. I also think, though, that nothing in that realm is likely to happen. The team is saying all the right things about Matt Adams, whom I could see going to Houston in a deal like that. That could be a public build-up of the guy or it could be that they don't plan on moving him. We'll have to see, but I'd figure the chances of any trade deal happening are less than 25%.
What I know about Betancourt is from Royals fans who bewailed him being on their team. When he signed with the Phillies this offseason, their fanbase was so against the deal that a Philly blog actually had to write a post entitled "Defending Yuniesky Betancourt: He's Not The Anti-Christ." So he's got that going for him, but not a whole lot else.
Reading the quote from the article, it really just sounds more like a reporter wanting to talk about Betancourt doing well at the World Baseball Classic and speculating that the Cards might look at him (because Rafael Furcal went down and they aren't paying attention to the rest of the squad) than anything the Cardinals might have said or done. All in all, I don't think we have anything to worry about because John Mozeliak is smarter than that. Right? Right?
All of this helped to distract Cardinal fans from the fact that the club has been shut out in four of their last six games with a number of troubling signs. Tara and I, talking on last night's Gateway To Baseball Heaven, gave all the general caveats (it's spring training, people like Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran are out with the Puerto Rico team--and congrats to them for knocking out Japan last night and ensuring a new WBC champion--you've had Matt Holliday on the bench with the flu and David Freese out with a couple of different nagging things) but it's getting to the point where it's time to see results.
At least Mike Matheny isn't giving all of those platitudes. Matheny wants to win at any time and feels the team is talented enough to at least score even with players out. We'd like to hope that they are getting this out of their systems now, but it's definitely something worth monitoring in the next couple of weeks.
What's also worth keeping an eye on is the pitching staff, as they likely only have a couple of starts left. Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia have looked pretty sharp this spring and most people are fine with the winner of the Joe Kelly/Shelby Miller battle. Jake Westbrook has struggled a little bit, but not to a terribly worrying level.
That leaves Lance Lynn, who gave up five runs in less than four innings yesterday and now has a spring ERA over 7.00. The most common explanation now seems to be him adjusting to the fact that he's 30 pounds lighter than he was last year. That's a logical problem to have, but it still doesn't make people feel much better when he's still not adjusted and the season is getting ready to start.
Lynn has increased his stamina as Derrick Goold reports in the linked article, but until he can start making his pitches, that won't mean a lot. He was in shape enough to throw 84 pitches yesterday but he was still out before the end of the fourth. We see enough of that with Bad Jaime, we don't need another one in the rotation.
If Lynn can make these adjustments and get used to carrying less weight, he could be a significant force in the rotation. If not, his early spring comments about having earned a job last year may come back to haunt him a little bit. With two starts left before the season begins, there's still time for a breakthrough.
Rick Hummel talked to Mozeliak this weekend and broke down the team with the general manager. There are a lot of interesting comments, but I think I was most encouraged by his comments about Adams, who Mo said he was more "bullish" on than he was at the beginning of spring. From all indications, Adams is going to make this team, but what that means in terms of roster construction is still murky.
Before the Cards take on the Mets today, take some time to listen to the latest I70 Radio show. Bill got a chance to talk to a couple of players and Kayla, one of the Fox Sports Midwest girls, about Spring Training for the Troops, a project Fox Sports undertook this offseason. Definitely worth your time to check that out.
Cards and Mets will be on Fox Sports Midwest and MLB.tv today, so hopefully you'll be where you can watch a little bit of the action!
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.
55-107, sixth in the NL Central
If anyone needed a fresh start, Houston was on the short list. After years of being one of the dominant teams in the NL Central, the bottom completely fell out last year as they cracked the 100-loss mark and became the punch line for numerous baseball jokes.
While the long-term future may seem bright with former Cardinal Jeff Luhnow in the general manager's chair, it seems unlikely that this year will be much brighter for the Astros and shifting divisions to the AL West, home of the free-spending Angels and the Rangers, who have made deep October runs lately, doesn't seem to ease the degree of difficulty.
To talk all things 'Stros, I've got Steve Duer from Appy Astros and Jayne Hansen from What The Heck, Bobby? You can find Steve on Twitter @AppyAstros and he focuses a lot on the Greenville Astros, the Rookie level team of the club. Jayne is @whattheheck57 and she tends to focus on the minor league system as a whole. With the state of the Astros today, there may not be any better people to chat with!
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.
To give myself a reason to look back on this season, I've started this series of blog posts to review each player that spent time in St. Louis during 2012. More summaries than anything, I imagine the player coming into Mike Matheny's office and having a short conference before heading home for the winter.
This series is brought to you by Burton History Trees. You already know that the code c70 gets you 10% off your order, but did you know that, for a limited time, the Cardinal tree is already 25% off? Combine the two and you'll get a $40 tree for $27 or a framed $135 version for $91. Don't miss this chance for unique Cardinal memorabilia. Get yours today!
Positives: There weren't a lot of them in Greene's first chance to be the regular shortstop. He had a two-homer day against (ironically, as it later turned out) Houston in May. He scored the game-winning run in an extra-inning game against Cincinnati in April after pinch-running. He could occasionally turn in a spectacular defensive play as well. Other than that, it's tough to come up with much more positive other than, "Well, at least now we know."
Negatives: I really wanted the Greene experiment to work. I thought that getting regular play under someone not named Tony La Russa might help him out a lot. However, for whatever reason, it didn't. Greene never hit higher than .240 for any month while he was with the Cardinals and made a number of botched plays in the field, including one that brought the boos (and some intemperate comments from Greene) the day before he was dealt.
Outlook: Greene had a bit more success after his trade to Houston, popping seven homers there and hitting at a .246 clip. That may have been because he was more relaxed, it may have been that bandbox they call a ballpark down there in Houston, it may have been just a fluke. I don't know that Houston is going to hand him a starting job next year, but he easily could win one, especially on a team that lost over 100 games this season.
Last night, the Cardinals played the Astros for the last time as divisional rivals. While I'll miss the rivalry and think the whole concept of moving the team to the American League is absurd, there is one thing I want to say to Bud Norris.
Norris's magic against the Cardinals borders on magical. Ever since he dominated them in his first big league start, he's been able (many more times than not) to keep them in check, to weave some sort of spell that keeps them off the scoreboard. Whatever deal with the devil that is, I'm glad St. Louis won't be on the other side of it for quite some time. (Watch Houston trade Norris to Milwaukee or something this offseason now that I've said that.)
At least you can't blame Chris Carpenter for this one. On the contrary, he's got to be the Hero. He allowed three of his hits in the same inning, one a home run to Jose Altuve, one an RBI single to Brett Wallace, who isn't quite in Norris's league as a Cardinal killer, but he's getting there. He's another one that I won't mind is taking their turn in the AL West instead of the NL Central next season.
Other than that, Carp looked pretty well, at least in the box score. Marc Rzepczynski got to pitch in the first time in what seems like forever and Shelby Miller finished up with an inning. All in all, the pitching was pretty much what you'd expect when you are facing a team with over 100 losses.
The Cardinals constructed a 4-2 road trip despite scoring only 25 runs against two of the league's three lowest-ranked pitching staffs. Rookie shortstop Pete Kozma provided two of the trip's four home runs. Wednesday, the Cardinals took only six at-bats with a runner in scoring position.
There's no doubt that this is a tired, banged-up group of guys. It's also true that in the postseason, oftentimes the games are lower scoring as the pitching comes to the forefront, and pitching they've got. No matter, you have to score something to win and struggling to put up runs against the Astros and Cubs doesn't make you confident for taking on the Nationals and Reds, either for the last six games or for the playoffs.
As much as he's been the positive spark lately, last night Kozma got the Goat, going 0-3 with three strikeouts and leaving two on base. I sincerely hope his magical potion doesn't run out before the playoffs are done, because there's really no other option. I mean, it's possible we could wipe the dust and cobwebs off of Ryan Jackson, but since he's had a grand total of four at-bats in September, none in two and a half weeks (with only one defensive appearance in that time), I'm not sure that it would make any difference.
The Cards couldn't even catch a break from their wild card opposition. Both Milwaukee and Los Angeles went out and dominated yesterday, cutting the St. Louis lead back to 3.5 games. However, the Cards have today off while both of them play, meaning that the lead could be four with the last six to play.
The Brewers and Reds meet up at 11:35 CDT, with Wily Peralta going against Mat Latos. Latos has really been effective lately and he's coming off eight shutout innings of the Dodgers in his last start. Since St. Louis beat him around back at the end of August, at worst he's allowed four runs in over seven innings. Peralta is basically a September callup with only 23 innings to his credit this season. He's been pretty good, though Washington tagged him for three runs in 2.2 innings his last time out. Reds have the pitching edge here and they are playing in Great American Ball Park, so we'll see if they can't help the Redbirds out a little bit.
After playing an afternoon game yesterday, the Dodgers will visit the Padres at a more regular time tonight, which means 9:05 PM here in the middle of the country. Chris Capuano for LA, Casey Kelly for SD. Capuano is the wily veteran, but he's faded some down the stretch. Last time out, he gave up four runs (three earned) in five innings against Washington and the time before that the Cards touched him for three home runs in less than five innings. Kelly is a highly touted prospect who, like Peralta, has done most of his pitching in September. His overall numbers are rough (5.55 ERA) but most of that damage was done in his second and third starts. Over his last two, he's 1-1 with four earned runs in 10.1 innings (3.49 ERA). Kind of a toss up game because you don't know what you'll get from Kelly, though it is his first time to face the Dodgers, which may be an edge.
Tomorrow, all three contenders go home. Milwaukee hosts Houston (Edgar Gonzalez vs. Yovanni Gallardo, clear edge to the Brewers), LA gets the Rockies (Jeff Francis vs. Clayton Kershaw, I think I know who I'd pick there as well), and the Cardinals take on the Nationals.
Adam Wainwright goes for the Cardinals in a game that could be big. After all, there's a good chance that the lead could be three going into Friday and you have to expect the Brewers and Dodgers to win. A loss to the Nationals could cut the lead to two and get a lot of stomachs churning. Wainwright is coming off a game with the Cubs where one bad inning doomed him, though St. Louis was able to rally to win that game. He's had his problems this month as well, so this is no slam dunk.
Waino's faced a lot of these Nationals before, with middling success. He got lit up by Washington at the end of August, allowing six runs in 2.2 innings. He's got to be better than that tomorrow....right?
Cards get to face off against old friend Edwin Jackson. Jackson limited the Brewers to one run over eight innings in his last start and was very, very good against the Cardinals in August, allowing only an unearned run in eight innings of work. Gotta hope that, from both sides of the matchup, things are different this time around.
Well, you know Yadier Molina is looking forward to this, at least. He's about the only one with much success against Jackson in the past. On paper, this doesn't look like it's going to go the way you'd like to see the last homestand go, but they do have to get out there and play. You never know what'll happen, but I don't know if they'll have to worry about their clinching celebration much this weekend. This race may go into the Reds series.
Tomorrow is the next United Cardinal Bloggers project, where we come up with our lists of the top seven prospects in the Cardinal system. So be sure to tune in for that!
Recently, I've been running through episodes of Fringe on Amazon. (I'm almost done with season 3--no spoilers!) If you aren't familiar with the show, it's (at least so far) a show about two separate dimensions, this universe and "the other side," where things took a slightly different path. (Zeppelins are used instead of airplanes, Ronald Reagan was in Casablanca, the 9/11 attacks took out the White House instead of the Twin Towers, etc.)
So it seems obvious to me that we saw the alternate universe version of Jaime Garcia last night. That's really the only logical way to explain what we saw, because last night's performance, while stunning, didn't fit at all with our preconceptions.
We know one thing for truth: Garcia can't pitch on the road. We know another thing that isn't as obvious a truth but still pretty truthful: Garcia struggles against the Astros. Put those two things together and you have a recipe for disaster. Unless you bring in Faux Jamie. Faux Jaime has no road issues and that's what we saw last night. Faux Jamie is our Hero, because that was quite a performance.
Garcia threw seven scoreless innings, allowing six hits, no walks and striking out five. As both Jenifer Langosch and Joe Strauss note in the links above, Garcia was also able to shake off distractions or miscues behind him, something he's not been able to do much of in the past. Throw a double and a run scored into that mix and you've got one of the best nights we've seen out of Garcia ever, much less on the road.
Garcia did this with the thinnest of margins as well. The Cards scored one in the first, one in the second and that was it while he was in the game. (Not sure anyone was that surprised to see a bases loaded, no out situation go up in smoke. While it's been a little bit since that kinda thing happened, it was a typical Cardinal move. Carlos Beltran gets the Goat for hitting into that double play and going 0-3 on the evening with two strikeouts, though he did draw a walk.) Thankfully the Redbirds were able to add on a few in the late innings so as to keep Jason Motte in the pen for another night.
St. Louis has done what they are supposed to do--win games against the worst team in the league. Last night, they were rewarded for that when Milwaukee and Los Angeles both lost in their games, pushing the wild card lead out to 4.5 with just seven (for St. Louis, eight for the other two) to play. While you never say never until the final clinching, especially when you saw what happened last year in the last week, you have to feel very good about the Cardinals' chances of being in Atlanta next Friday for the play-in game.
Right now, the best Milwaukee and LA can do is go 87-75. For St. Louis to do that and thus need to play a tiebreaker game, they can go 3-4 over their remaining games. If they can win four, which is pretty reasonable even with their schedule, they are in. Milwaukee has two more with the Reds before coming home to take on Houston and San Diego. 8-0 could be tough for the Brewers, but 6-2 is not out of the question. The problem with 6-2 from Milwaukee's point of view is that, if the Cards win one game such as this evening in Houston, they've guaranteed a tie.
The Dodgers have two more in San Diego before finishing with the Rockies and Giants at home. That's a tougher road to hoe--especially if the Giants want to use that last three game series as a tuneup for their postseason run and have the taste to keep their hated rivals home for the winter. I'm not sure they could get to 6-2 over that span, but 5-3 means they are out of it with one more Cardinal win. That's a tough spot.
All in all, the Cardinals are in much better shape now than they were last year, but until that magic number (sitting at 4 right now) flips down to 0, you can't take anything for granted.
There was the idea that, before this nine game set with Houston and Chicago, the Cards needed to go at least 7-2. Tonight they have a chance to go 8-1 over this span and they'll send out Chris Carpenter to do it.
Obviously we still don't know what we have in Carpenter. He was able to have some good results last time and seemed to get stronger the farther he went into the game. Still, these numbers probably aren't that relevant.
Still, if they aren't relevant, they are still pretty to look at. Nobody's faced him much--one of the side effects of a young team and a guy that hasn't pitched against them in 2012--but they haven't liked what they've seen. We'll have to see whether Carp has strengthened some from his first start and can have a bit more control of his pitches tonight.
It's possible that the Redbirds will need a good one from Carp tonight because he goes up against Bud Norris. The Cardinals have figured out Norris some, beating him in his last three times out there, but they don't necessarily clobber him. Part of the reason they've beaten him is that he's not getting the offensive support. For instance, last week they scored five runs off of him, but three were on a first-inning home run by Allen Craig and the last two were in the sixth inning and were let in by a reliever after he'd been pulled.
If nothing else, most of the Cardinals have seen a lot of Norris. Craig really likes him and Matt Holliday, who has been quiet lately, could use this as a chance to get jump started. All in all, though, the Cards are going to have to come out and have some good at-bats this evening. After all, it could be their last chance to beat up on Norris!
Looking at the other wild card games, as noted the Dodgers are in San Diego for a (strangely) afternoon affair, with Aaron Harang going against Clayton Richard. Harang has been a pretty consistent three-runs, five-innings pitcher lately and Richard has bounced from a shutout eight innings against the Giants to three runs in less than five innings in LA a week or so ago. No guarantees what we'll see in this one, so if you've got MLB.tv this afternoon/early evening, might keep an eye on that one.
The other game worth watching is the Brewers in Cincinnati, with Shawn Marcum going against Bronson Arroyo. Marcum pitched well against Washington last time out, but otherwise has been struggling, allowing four runs in less than six innings. Arroyo is always a tough pitcher to face and has been pretty good of late, save for a hiccup against the Marlins. Until last night, the Brewers hadn't lost back-to-back games since June. If they lose again tonight, they may have to start getting ready for a cold offseason.
Happy Chris Carpenter Day to you! Here's to the Cardinals taking care of business tonight!
No, the best number that came out of last night was 3.5. That's the lead in the wild card race with eight games remaining over both Milwaukee (who lost to Washington yesterday afternoon) and Los Angeles (who was idle).
In some alternate universe, perhaps the results were flipped and the Cardinals only had a 1.5 game lead. That's when you start tugging at your collar and get really nervous about trying to hold off some hard-charging teams. Instead, if the Cards can split their last four games, they win 87. To get to 87 and force a one-game playoff, both the Brewers and the Dodgers would have to go 8-1. They'd have to be perfect to avoid the playoff entirely. Both of those things are a tall order for any team. Not saying that it can't happen, just that St. Louis is breathing a lot easier now than it was on Friday night.
As for the game, we'll give the Hero tag to Lynn for his great line, though he did cause some angst early on. However, the difference last night was that even when Lynn put runners on in the first couple of innings, he was able to work his way out of it. Part of that is due to the relative lack of strength to the Houston lineup, but it was still good to see him be able to get the outs and not put the Cardinals in a hole. Then he got some early support and started to roll, going seven innings and allowing just the one run, plus adding those nine strikeouts.
The Kozma Experience played another town last night as well, as the shortstop crushed a two-run home run in the second to push the Cardinal lead to 3-0, something that was big when Lynn allowed his only run in the bottom of that inning. He also added in another hit and a walk, leaving his batting average just shy of .300. It may be a small sample and the league may catch up with him, but it's an enjoyable ride while it lasts.
Of course, what everyone was talking about during the game was this play by Jon Jay.
An incredible example of sticking with the play. Of course, it's difficult to say that's the catch of the year when the reason it was so difficult is that Jay misread it to begin with. I've seen him have problems with those balls straight at him before, though I was told on Twitter those are the toughest ones to deal with and, as I have no experience in the matter, I'll go with that. That catch saved Jay from being the Goat, as he went 0-4 in the contest.
We'll give the Goat to Carlos Beltran for his 0-5, two strikeout night. Interestingly, for the fact that the Cards scored six runs, Jay, Beltran and Allen Craig all were hitless on the night. None of them even got on base, though that's not as surprising as the Cardinals only drew three walks. You wouldn't expect a win like this powered by the bottom of the lineup, but there you have it.
Matt Carpenter went two for three with a run and a walk, which was pretty impressive given that he wasn't in the starting lineup. Unfortunately, David Freese hurt his ankle in batting practice and likely will be out for a few days. It's hard to believe we almost made it through the entire season without a Freese injury. Thankfully 1) it shouldn't be a long-term deal and 2) Carpenter can fill in more than adequately. Getting his bat into the lineup is not a sacrifice on St. Louis's part.
Jason Motte didn't have to pitch last night, but he did pick up the Player of the Week award. I don't remember a reliever winning that award very often, but Motte did have five saves in the week. Hopefully he doesn't have to have five saves this week, that the Cardinals can win games without him having to close them down. Odds are he's going to be an important part of any postseason run.
Let's take a look at tonight in the WC race. The Brewers travel to Cincinnati as Mike Fiers takes on our old friend Johnny Cueto. Cueto was talked about in the mix for the Cy Young earlier this year, but that talk cooled after three really rough starts. He looked good against Chicago his last time out, though, and has dominated Milwaukee this season, going 1-1 with a 1.71 ERA and a 11.50 K/BB ratio. Could be a tough one for the Brew Crew this evening, especially since Cincinnati hasn't said they'd shut people down like Washington did.
That game starts an hour before the Cardinals' matchup with Houston does, while the Dodgers and the Padres start two hours later. Josh Beckett goes up against Edinson Volquez in Petco Park, and while Beckett has been serviceable if not much better since he trade from Boston, Volquez is 0-2 with a 6.30 ERA in four starts against Los Angeles. Could be a higher-scoring game than you'd expect out of Petco, but the Dodgers seem to hold the advantage.
While all of that's nice, the important game will be in Houston. This one is going to be tricky, because Jaime Garcia is going for the Redbirds. Garcia's road issues are well-documented, though he pitched a little better in LA a couple of weeks ago than expected. The bigger thing is, for some reason, Garcia has a lot of trouble with Houston. He struggled with them in Busch last week and in his career is 1-5 with a 7.55 ERA against the 'Stros. Little known fact: it was Garcia that gave Bud Selig the idea about moving Houston to the American League.
Surprisingly given his results, the numbers aren't that bad. I mean, he doesn't want to see Jose Altuve or Justin Maxwell, but other than that he could probably get by. We'll see how that works tonight.
Cards get another crack at Lucas Harrell, who gave up three runs in just under six innings last week in Busch. Harrell's had a pretty solid season, especially when you look at what surrounds him.
After Friday, while there wasn't necessarily a state of panic within Cardinal Nation, there was definitely some unease. The Cards had blown a ninth-inning lead and stood just a game and a half ahead of a surging Milwaukee squad. With eleven games left on the schedule, the panic button wasn't pushed, but the glass case over it had been raised.
Two days can make a difference. While the lead isn't much larger, it is larger--2.5 games. Couple that with the fact that there are just nine games left and while no one is crowing or claiming the race is over, there's no doubt that fans can breathe just a bit easier for a day or two. Let's look at those games.
Hero: Carlos Beltran. Beltran has heated up of late, but he's still nowhere close to where he was the first half of the season. That said, he picked a perfect time for his 30th home run. If the Cards had lost that game, it would have raised a lot more questions about this team's final destination. Instead, he turned around a Carlos Marmol pitch in the ninth and sent the game into extras. Plus he had another hit and scored two runs in the game, so there's still life in him after all.
Goat: The offense got 10 hits and eight walks, which makes it a bit difficult to find an obvious Goat, even though they only got five runs out of it. As much as I hate to, especially since he wound up leaving the game with back troubles after Marmol almost hit him with a pitch, I'll have to go with Yadier Molina, who went 0-3, though he did walk and drive in a run with a sacrifice fly. Not all Goats are created equal.
Notes: Adam Wainwright had a bad sixth inning, but otherwise looked pretty solid. He gave up only six hits, but four of them came in the sixth when the Cubs scored three runs to take the lead. Again, the offense had plenty of chances to get him more of a cushion, but they couldn't do it. Jon Jay would have been the Goat for an 0-5, but his sixth at-bat he drove in the winning run, which seems incongruent with the Goat status.
The bullpen did their job in this one as well, though I still worry about Mike Matheny riding some of these guys too hard. (More on that in Sunday's discussion.) Trevor Rosenthal really did some good work, going an inning and a third with no runs, though he was bailed out by Mitchell Boggs after allowing two hits (well, one of them deflected off of David Freese's glove) with two outs in the ninth.
Been a long time since you've been able to get cheap drinks at Mobil On The Run (though it has been since this version of the commercial, since the prices have now gone up). We discussed that very thing in my post from Saturday, so I'm glad that became relevant so quickly.
Hero: Pete Kozma. Wow, who would have ever thought we'd be saying that, huh? Kozma has been derided ever since he was a first round selection ahead of Rick Porcello but has been making the most of his playing time since being called up due to Rafael Furcal's injury. (Ryan Jackson is sitting on the bench going, "How exactly did this happen again?") Kozma got his first major league home run yesterday, had two hits and drove in another run with a sacrifice fly. Not exactly sure what kind of magic he's worked up, but I hope it lasts a few more weeks.
Goat: Love Jay in the leadoff role, but it does give him more opportunities for this tag. An 0-4 day gets him listed here, though he did score a run. Jay only hit .200 for the series, a mark that's equal to what he's done the last 10 days, so you wonder if he's running down a little bit.
Notes: Kyle Lohse gets win #16 and pitches--well, pretty much pitches like he has been all year long. Six innings and three runs will win you a lot of games. I'm sure Matheny would have liked to run him out there for another inning, but he had reached the 100 pitch mark and it was a one-run lead, so he couldn't risk it.
That said, when the Cards tacked on two more in the top of the eighth, I'm thinking that the bullpen usage could have changed. It seems like Boggs and Jason Motte have pitched in a lot of games recently. For instance, Motte has had just two games off out of the last week, including the game against Houston where he came in to protect a 5-0 lead.
I mean, is Motte available today in a close game? Wouldn't you think Fernando Salas might like to get back on the horse after giving up the home run on Friday? He didn't pitch on Saturday either and had gone just three times in the past week. I'm not suggesting toss Victor Marte out there (though if you can't trust him with a three run lead in the ninth, exactly when are you going to use him and why is he on the roster) but you'd think there were other options than your main weapon, especially since it was the bottom of the order coming up.
All that said, congratulations to Motte for his 40th save. That's a milestone very few Cardinal pitchers have ever achieved, so he's in select company. Only one Cardinal (Lee Smith) has done it more than once, so he has something to shoot for next year.
Back problems are flaring up on this team. Molina left Saturday's game with them, but he should be ready to go in Houston today. At the time, pinch hitting Shane Robinson for Matt Holliday was fairly inexplicable, but it seems like his back issues have recurred. Apparently the Cards don't stay at a hotel with the Sleep Number beds. I would think Holliday would be able to go today, though may be a late tactical maneuver if necessary.
Jake Westbrookhad a setback this weekend, making it unlikely that he'll return from the oblique, at least in the regular season. And if you don't get a chance to see him in the regular season, the odds would seem small that they'd throw him onto a postseason roster. I always thought that a return this season for Westbrook seemed a bit optimistic. Those oblique injuries can cause some long-term issues.
A lot of lasts in this series coming up with Houston. It's the last time the Cardinals will play on the road in the 2012 regular season. It's also the last time the Cardinals will play in Houston as divisional rivals of the Astros. They will go to Houston for a two game set next June, but it just won't be the same.
The Cards have to win this series and a sweep would not go amiss either. They'll send out Lance Lynn in game one of the three game tilt. Lynn shut down the Astros for six and a third innings last week, allowing no runs and only three hits.
Of course, with this small of a sample its disproportionately weighted with what he did last time out, but it's still some positive reinforcement. It's also nice to see that Lynn, at least, has figured out Brett Wallace so far. Not many Cardinal pitchers can say that.
Fernando Abad will be the hurler for the Houston nine. Abad wasn't, well, bad last time out, allowing just three runs in five innings while striking out six. Unfortunately for him, he was going up against Lohse and also was a member of the Astros, who weren't putting up runs in St. Louis last week.
Again, not much here. Beltran's done OK against him, but nobody's seen him all that often. We'll have to find out whether facing him twice in a week will help the hitters. I wouldn't think it would hurt any.
Wild card watch: Milwaukee stands 2.5 games out and finishes up their series with Washington this afternoon. Marco Estrada goes for the Brewers, Jordan Zimmermann for the Nationals. There may be a slight edge there to Washington, but chances are it's a low scoring game. On the plus side, at least the Cards will know that result before they take the field tonight.
The Dodgers are three back and they actually have the day off today before heading to San Diego, so St. Louis can tack on another half-game with a win.
Arizona is 4.5 out and Philadelphia five, so I feel pretty confident they aren't going to overtake all three of the teams in front of them. It looks like it's down to the Brewers and Dodgers now. We'll have to see if the Cards can hold them off!