Yesterday was filled with so much negative pitching news off the field, it was great to get some good news on it. That's exactly what the Cardinals got in another late night (for us) in San Diego, as Tyler Lyons made his debut and stated his case for staying around a while.
First off, even before he took the mound, he became the Patron Pitcher for this blog.
I'll admit, after I got done hosting UCB Radio Hour with Kevin Reynolds last night, I turned on the game and was fascinated to see that big 70 out there on the field. The number has only been worn twice in Cardinal history, the other time when little-known Miguel Mejia donned it in Tony LaRussa's first season under the Arch. Mejia played in 45 games, got 23 plate appearances, and hit .087. Something tells me we can easily say that Lyons is the best player in Cardinal history ever to wear 70 and all it took was one game.
Lyons, who probably didn't get a lot of say in his number but likely would have been the Hero just for wearing it, went out and earned the title as well, giving up just a solo home run to Jedd Gyorko in the seventh. Gave up four hits, struck out four, and did it all in 81 pitches. Unlike his other rookie counterpart (no, not that one, the other one), he didn't tire in the sixth and let the Padres have some life. Whether he'll be able to do that when teams are more patient with him, we don't know, but for a major league debut it's tough to do much better.
Of course, it helped that the Cards gave him a nice cushion so he didn't have to get nervous. Lyons came to bat in the top of the first, which means that your day is off to a rousing start. Burch Smith probably pitched his way back to the minors after giving up four runs in an inning-plus of work, allowing five hits and three walks in that span. The Cards tacked on another later in the game but were quieted by Tim Stauffer, so I'm glad the Padres didn't start him last night.
Offensively, you give kudos to Yadier Molina, who snapped out of his brief slump by going four-for-five (though he did get caught stealing once), to Matt Carpenter (2-3, two walks in the leadoff role), Carlos Beltran (3-5) and Matt Holliday (2-5, RBI, though he struck out with the bases loaded in the sixth and hit into a double play in the second, driving in the fourth run).
While Edward Mujica did give up two runs in his first non-save appearance in a while, I think I'll go with Jon Jay as our Goat. Both he and Pete Kozma went 0-fer, but Jay did have an extra at-bat and struck out an extra time. Rough night for both those guys after being so hot for the last few days.
There was a lot of skepticism when the team put Salas on the DL, thinking this was just a made-up injury to get Lyons on the 25-man roster. However, that doesn't seem to track. Both Salas and Kelly had options, so it's not like their hands were tied there. The team has shown they have no compunction about sending people down (see Salas last year, Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski this season), and, with starters dropping like the Cubs' playoff chances, it was easily justifiable to send Kelly down to get stretched out, thus solving the problem. So there's no real reason to fake an injury here, so it would seem Salas is going to have some examinations to go through.
If Salas is out for an extended period of time--and if it's the shoulder, that can be pretty tricky--that won't necessarily affect things too much in St. Louis. Salas hasn't been quite as bad as he gets the blame for, but it's true he's not a high-leverage pitcher in the Cardinal bullpen now. They could do a number of things with that position and it wouldn't likely have a significant impact on the team. (In other words, this is not the place for Michael Wacha to come up.)
Westbrook is a bit more problematic. With him out for at least another couple of starts and perhaps more, it would seem that Lyons and John Gast are going to be starters for the time being. That means that, besides Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn is the grizzled veteran of the rotation, what with about a season and a half of major league time and just one-plus season in the rotation. You can win with young pitching--look at the Braves of the '90s or the A's with Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito--but that's really young pitching. There become a lot of questions when you have that many youngsters running around. Do you try to limit their innings? Can they be consistent? What's it going to be like the second time around the league?
Then there's Garcia. We knew in the winter that surgery was a possibility and many of us thought that he should have gone through with it then. That said, he put together six weeks of pretty good pitching (well, five maybe, since his last two starts--when he admits he was feeling pain--were pretty shaky) and helped the Cardinals get to where they are today. Would things be different if Garcia had done the surgery and been out for the year? Would they have made a move for another veteran to go in the rotation? I don't think so. Odds are that if Garcia had been out from the beginning of spring training, we'd possibly have seen Trevor Rosenthal stretched out to be a starter, but that means right now there'd be no eighth inning guy. Would the bullpen have been even a bigger mess with Rosenthal out?
The team is hopeful Garcia will be ready by spring training next year. That seems pretty optimistic to me, especially the track record the Cards have with injuries. Even if he returns, you have to wonder about the command and the health that we'll see going forward with Garcia. Johan Santana may be the biggest name with shoulder problems and, barring that no-hitter, hasn't really been the same since his first surgery and is now out with a second. The idea that we'll see the Jaime Garcia that we've been intrigued with the last few years seems more farfetched than I'd like.
All of this likely means that John Mozeliak will be hunting around the pitching market as we get closer to the trade deadline. I don't think he wants to expose Wacha too much if he doesn't have to and he's going to want to limit innings by Gast and Lyons and Shelby Miller. If there is a Westbrook-like veteran who isn't going to cost much and is a free agent at the end of the year out there, I think Mo would take a look at that, even if it does look like Chris Carpenter can make a return to the rotation. Problem is, there's not a lot of those kind of guys out there.
Cardinals get a nice day off in sunny California after having bussed from San Diego up to Chavez Ravine to take on Vin Scully and the Dodgers. OK, they don't "take on" Vin, but you know everybody that has the option will be listening to him call the action this weekend. If you have the option and don't take it, shame on you! Scully will start the series talking about the exploits of Lance Lynn, who has faced the Dodgers before.
Lynn's had success in limited action against the boys in blue, though he had a little trouble with Adrian Gonzalez the only time he's faced the first baseman.
The Dodgers counter with Chris Capuano. St. Louis faced Capuano a number of times when he was with the Brewers, and not only is he still in the league, he's doing fairly well save a couple of rough starts.
I don't think Capuano is all that excited about seeing those red (or blue, who knows) caps tonight. Molina's had a bit of trouble with him, but on the whole, it's a matchup that works well for the Cardinals. At least until first pitch!
As my closing note, I want to say happy birthday to my own red-topped offspring, as my daughter turns six today. I was going to wake her up with the following the morning, but she got up before I could. She's serious now!
After hitting the AL and the other two NL divisions, we finally go out west, where the living is easy, but it surely isn't free. At least, not if you want to keep up with the Joneses in LA. Remember, if these don't float your boat, we've got others that will! Continue Reading
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.
Los Angeles Dodgers
86-76, second in the NL West
It was Extreme Makeover: MLB Edition. To begin the year, the Dodgers were in limbo, having an ownership battle after years of the McCourt divorce taking its toll. However, in the middle of the year an ownership group fronted by Magic Johnson came in and promised changes.
It didn't take them long to deliver.
Throwing money around like a Congressman with re-election coming up, the Dodgers took on a large part of the underachieving Red Sox, adding Nick Punto, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford just to get their real prize, Adrian Gonzalez. The move almost worked, as they led the second NL Wild Card race with just over a week to go before stumbling and watching the Cardinals pass them.
They didn't sit on their laurels in the offseason, either, competing with their regional rivals for the most headlines. But the question remains, will all of that money and all of that freewheeling provide some October glory this year?
For that answer and others, we turn to our friend Scott Andes of Lasorda's Lair. Scott's the co-editor at that site and can be found on Twitter @formatallan. Stick around to see what he has to say about the pressing issues in Big Blue Country.
The Cardinals will be playing after Wednesday night, after Game 162. Last night's win clinched at least a share of the second wild card, meaning that at worst they'd have a playoff with the Dodgers before a playoff with the Braves to get to the NLDS. Let's take a look at the last few games, then talk about the next couple.
Hero: Allen Craig. 4-4, two runs, two RBI. That's a good night's worth of work. There were heroes all around, but Craig had the best line.
Goat: Talk about a tough game to find a Goat! Even with all that offense, though, there were a couple of hitless games. Daniel Descalso gets the nod over Matt Holliday, even though both were 0-3, because Holliday drew a walk and Descalso left four on base instead of three. On the whole, though, not much went wrong in this game.
Notes: Adam Wainwright's start was overshadowed because he had a 9-1 lead after two innings, but he threw six innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts. Hopefully (we'll get to that) his next start will be the NLDS, so this is a great outing to go into postseason with. Jon Jay had two hits from the top of the lineup and Carlos Beltran may have gone 0-1, but he did walk three times. When the Cards are drawing walks (six of them in this contest) they usually are clicking.
Hero: Pete Kozma. The September Surprise continues, as Kozma tallied three hits and a nice diving catch. He had the only extra-base hit, scored two runs and drove in two runs. I just hope whatever pixie dust he's using, he got enough for a long postseason run.
(However, can we dispense with the "Wizard of Koz" moniker? El Hombre made sense for Albert Pujols. Pujols was the first Cardinal that could legitimately be compared with the great Stan Musial and having a Spanish takeoff of Stan's nickname was reasonable. Pujols said he wasn't worthy, which I respected, and people started using it less, but again, the production was there. It wasn't that they started El Hombre in Pujols's rookie year--it took years of that level of play.
Kozma, on the other hand, can't compare with Ozzie Smith, which is where the nickname really comes from. While Kozma has made some nice defensive plays, I'm not sure that anyone thinks of Ozzie regularly when they watch him play. Kozma's having a nice September, but let's see 3-4 years from him before we even think of tying him to Ozzie.)
Goat: Fernando Salas. Sam Freeman could have gotten this, because he issued a leadoff walk in the 10th after the Cardinals had rallied to tie up the game. However, Salas got the second out of the inning, then intentionally walked Danny Espinosa, a move that backfired when Yadier Molina had a passed ball that advanced both runners. (That was one of the weirdest things I've seen. I'm not sure if the ball knuckled on Yadi or what, but it hit his glove as he stood to catch it, so you'd think he'd have pulled it in.) However, the passed ball, at best, only added a run because Kurt Suzuki hammered a hanging pitch for a double. Talk about a deflating turn of events.
Notes: Kyle Lohse gave up a grand slam in the first inning, but that was all. (Can anyone explain why all the batters had to return to their bases and then Michael Morse had to pretend to swing again? Mike Shannon and John Rooney couldn't believe that at all and it doesn't seem to make much sense. Just let them continue their trot like they always have done--there's no need for playacting.) It looked like that would be all the offense for both teams until a late three-run rally (highlighted by Kozma's double) and a sac fly in the bottom of the ninth. If nothing else, the Cards didn't give up against one of the top teams in the NL.
Hero: Carlos Beltran. Two home runs in this one, plus another RBI single. The rest that Beltran was getting seems to be making a difference, as he's hit .280 in September with an .866 OPS. That's still not to the levels he was at in the first half, but it makes him a dangerous threat. Couple that with the fact that he's been effective in the postseason and he could make an impact if the Cards continue to play.
Goat: Tough day for Molina, who went 0-4 but did score a run. He did draw one of the six walks for the Cards, though.
Notes: Kozma again shone, going 3-3 with three RBI. Jay had two hits and three runs. Even Descalso got in on the fun, getting a couple of knocks. Lance Lynn gave up four runs in just over five innings, but it's tough to judge how bad he pitched because he did have a 7-0 lead when he gave up those runs, which very well may have altered his pitching style. At the very least, he didn't worry about challenging hitters when he needed to--something that Bryce Harper and Espinosa made him regret a little bit.
Hero: Jaime Garcia. Not just for his pitching, though he did pretty well there, allowing two runs in 6.1 innings, but also for the fact that, after allowing the first Reds run, he immediately got it back himself with a longball off of Bronson Arroyo. That sparked a three-run inning and put the Cards on the winning path.
Goat: Jay. A rare (at least lately) 0-4 for the man from The U in the leadoff slot.
Notes: Beltran continues to hit, getting two singles, but Matt Holliday also joined him with a couple. If Holliday can get healthy (or at least manage the injuries) and be productive, this team could go into October (well, the postseason part) at full throttle. Strong work by the bullpen as well, as the Cards were able to go to the Edward Mujica/Mitchell Boggs/Jason Motte bridge that has worked so well the last couple of months. It's actually been a while since St. Louis was able to go that route.
Since the Dodgers apparently have forgotten how to lose (now winners of six straight), the Cardinals have a chance to win this wild card slot on their own tonight, with Chris Carpenter going up against Mat Latos. While you have to like St. Louis's odds (a win either tonight or tomorrow OR a loss by the Dodgers either tonight or tomorrow and they are in without a playoff), this is no sure thing.
Let's look at the Dodger side of things first. Tonight Barry Zito (14-8, 4.19) goes against Chris Capuano (12-11, 3.69). I don't think that many in baseball have just a ton of confidence in Zito, while Capuano has been known to be very effective at times. It may be a close game, but I think you give the edge to LA. Which means that if Latos shuts down the Cards tonight, you could go to the last day of the season still with that magic number of one.
Tomorrow night, Clayton Kershaw is supposed to take the mound for the Dodgers, going up against Ryan Vogelsong. Vogelsong has been slumping and Kershaw is, well, Kershaw, so that's another one LA would be favored in. While the Cards would have Wainwright going against Homer Bailey and would probably be favored there, it's not a huge edge depending on which Wainwright shows up.
All that to say that I'd really like Carpenter to come out and shut the Reds down tonight.
We still don't know how much you can read into these numbers given that it's only Carp's third start in his return, but at least it's not a team that's been able to tear him up. Carpenter has contained players like Brandon Phillips (which probably makes Carpenter smile a little bit) and hopefully means he can work out of trouble. However, this is still a very potent team and if Carp isn't Carp, they could get to him. There's not a pitcher Red fans dislike and fear more than Carpenter, so you know everyone is going to be up for this one.
Latos has had a tough time with St. Louis this year. He gave up eight in 5.2 innings in April, two in five innings during a July start, and seven runs in five innings last time he faced the club. On the year, though, he's 13-4 with a 3.52 ERA, so either the Cards have his number or he's due for a good one.
Lots of good numbers there. Hopefully St. Louis can come out, put up three or four in the first and just cruise from there. I'd much rather see Shelby Miller start tomorrow night than Adam Wainwright, wouldn't you?
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.
With both teams doing their darndest to let someone else take the wild card, the Cards were able to break through and get a 2-1 win. Obviously, offense was again an issue, but it's come to the point where beggars really can't be choosers. A win is a win, though these days it feels like more than that. Not only did they push LA back a game, but everyone else surrounding the wild card either lost or did not play. Even the Braves lost, though St. Louis still sits six back of them and really can't entertain any ideas of playing the wild card game at home, 2011 notwithstanding.
We gave a lot of grief to Mike Matheny about his choice of letting Lance Lynn take the spot vacated by Jake Westbrook and his troublesome oblique. Given Lynn's troubles and the fact that shiny new toys Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal were already on the roster, it seemed irrational to let Lynn go out there in a pivotal game. Lynn shut everyone up, though, with six innings of one run ball, striking out seven to go along with it. The late inning trio of Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte worked exactly like they were supposed to (it's been a while since they have), with a hit against Motte in the ninth the only blemish.
If we are giving the Hero to Lynn, as he well deserves, it's not surprising that the Goat does come from the offensive side, which had chances often during the night to break things open, only to come up short in those situations. 10 hits and five walks equals only two runs? My old scoring efficiency formula would say that's pretty terrible. They should have scored about six with that many base runners, but unfortunately it is something we've gotten used to.
Anyway, the Goat goes to Daniel Descalso. Not only did he go 0-4, he struck out with the bases loaded and only one out, depriving the Cards of a great chance to break the game open. Two others didn't get a hit last night, Jon Jay and Matt Holliday. Both drew a walk, but those are some tough places in the lineup to be hitless.
Yadier Molina went three for four and threw out Dee Gordon and Matt Kemp trying to steal, which just reinforced the fact that You Don't Run On Yadi. Allen Craig drove in the game-winning run in the seventh as one of his two hits. Encouragingly, Carlos Beltran went two-for-two with two walks mixed in hitting down sixth in the lineup. Whether he is coming out of it, the change in the batting order worked for him, or it was just a fluke game we'll have to wait and see, but anything out of him lately is awesome.
Cards can't relax, though, because they've got to do it again tonight. While their margin of error might be a little greater than it was yesterday, they still need to win two of the next three in LA to feel more comfortable. Joe Kelly gets to go up against the Dodgers tonight and hopes to do a little better than when he faced them earlier in the year, when he gave up three runs in six innings. Of course, that was in a stretch of games where Kelly did that to about everyone. Kelly's a California boy and will have a lot of friends and family there, so we'll see if he can keep his focus.
Smallest of sample sizes and he faced Hanley Ramirez when he was a Marlin, but at least these numbers are in his favor. We'll see if that means anything tonight.
Opposing him will be Chris Capuano, who the Cards mainly know from his Brewer days. St. Louis got to him back in July, tagging him for six runs in 4.1 innings. The career numbers don't look much better.
Holliday has done some damage and so has, in limited time, David Freese. Both of them are heading off to Scranton, Pennsylvania before the game today. No, they aren't flying across country, they are visiting the set of "The Office". I expect Freese will try to big-time Holliday with all of his acting experience, even if it never saw the light of day.
The Cardinals have to find some traction. Last night was the wheels catching. They need to start driving with a win tonight!
Hey, I was trying to set the table and I'm missing something. I've got the spoon, I've got the knife....
Oh, there the fork is. Sticking out of the back of the Cardinals.
OK, that's an overexaggeration. The point still holds, though. The Cards got swept in San Diego, which can't happen to a team that's supposed to be trying to get into the postseason. If it wasn't for the magic of the UCB, we'd be staring at a seven-game losing streak. It doesn't really matter that the Dodgers have been equally bad. This is not a playoff team right now.
Matt Carpenterhad an interesting game, what with misplaying a double and letting a run score with his errant throw back in, then making up for that run with a two-run home run. There was too much good for him to be the Goat, too much bad for him to be the Hero.
We'll give the Hero tag to Kyle Lohse, who is understandably frustrated about how little support he's getting and the downward spiral of this squad. Lohse gave up three runs (only two earned) in six innings of work. While that's not a dominant result by any means, it still should be a winning proposition, especially with this offense.
We often say that--with this offense. And yet, perhaps the offense we have isn't the offense we remember. The Cards haven't had a "serious" game (i.e. six runs or more) since September 1. Before that, August 26. They did have 10 of those games in August, which was more than I remembered (one of them was a loss), but still they are scuffling at the plate as well as in most other facets of the game.
I was fully prepared to give the Goat to Yadier Molina in this one. Bunting a runner to third with nobody out was exactly what I was tearing into Mike Matheny for earlier this season and even with Yadi's explanation that he wasn't comfortable facing Luke Gregerson's slider, I'm still not fond of it. You have Adron Chambers on second, so a base hit scores him. You have David Freese behind you, sure, but then it's Daniel Descalso scheduled, so if Freese can't get Chambers in (which he didn't), you have to hope Descalso can get a hit (Matheny did pinch-hit with Carlos Beltran, but the odds were pretty similar) or, if he walks (which Beltran did) that Pete Kozma (or, as it turned out, Skip Schumaker) can get a two-out hit (which he couldn't).
It just seems to me that the team was better served with Molina trying to get the hit himself. If he grounded out, hopefully that moved Chambers over. If he struck out, the situation was a little worse but not much. Molina's always been one of the best clutch hitters on this team and I'd much rather have seen him take a rip there instead of sacrificing himself.
I can't give him the Goat if he used the "uncomfortable against the pitcher" bit instead of "fundamental baseball" line (which, basically, Matheny used after the game--no, it's not good baseball there, Mike. Besides the issues with playing for a tie on the road, you only have three outs left at that time. Voluntarily giving one up doesn't pay the best of returns.) At least there was something rational to Molina's mindset. Which is why I'm going with Freese as the Goat. 0-4 plus he didn't get that fly ball, so Molina's sacrifice was in vain.
Four hits on the day is pretty sad, even more so when Carpenter has two of them. Jon Jay got one in front of Carpenter's home run (so half the hits came in the span of two at-bats) and Allen Craig had the double in the ninth which caused all the controversy (he was pinch-run for with Chambers). Clayton Richard is a good pitcher, but he's not that good.
I've started in on my review copy of One Last Strike, Tony La Russa's book, and I am struck by his talk of intensity, of focus. While that shouldn't be a surprise, knowing TLR and watching him and his teams, it just seems like that's missing from this team. I don't know that it is--sometimes it seems easy to attribute lack of intensity to lack of results--but it does seem a very plodding team from a distance.
If the Cardinals don't want the wild-card, neither do the Dodgers or Pirates. Both lost again last night (Pittsburgh now is just two games over .500, running the risk of not snapping their streak after all) to keep the Cards with a one game lead in the race. However, two teams that do want the position are coming on strong. Milwaukee and Philadelphia are now just three games out and coming on strong, with Philly winning seven in a row. Arizona's still in the picture as well, only four out. If the Cards could have just played .500 baseball recently, those leads would be large enough to doubt any charges. Now, though, it seems not if St. Louis will give up the lead, but when.
While we are in the neighborhood of questionable decisions, it seems like the braintrust has gone ahead and decided Jaime Garcia will take the mound Saturday in Dodger Stadium. Talk about a roll of the dice. I know the Dodgers have been going poorly lately, but there's no reason to run Garcia out there in a pressure situation given his road history. Do you really think that is going to help his focus and outlook? The rationale given for Lance Lynn making the start today was because you didn't want the rookie pitchers to make their first start in the cauldron that is the pennant race. But running Garcia out there is better? He'll be under a ton of pressure to show he can do something on the road and we know that it seems he doesn't stand up well to that. Hopefully Garcia will justify Matheny's trust in him on Saturday.
Lynn gets back into the rotation tonight, however briefly, to open up a crucial four-game set against Los Angeles. Of course, if there was any way for both teams to lose these games, I think they'd find it.
Lynn was actually roughed up by the Dodgers earlier in the year there in LA, giving up four runs in six innings. This Dodger team looks a lot different than that one did, of course. Whether that's good or bad still remains to be seen.
Part of that different look is Josh Beckett, who goes up against St. Louis tonight. Beckett hasn't faced the Cardinals since 2005, which is why this table looks as it does:
Sadly, we'll have no Lance Berkman in tonight's game and these numbers, coupled with Beltran's .200 average since the beginning of July, tend to argue he should be on the bench as well. We'll see if Matt Holliday remembers anything about Beckett and can share with the rest of the group.
As hard as it is to grasp, the Cardinals still are the wild-card race leader right now. All it takes is a strong series out in LA and they could tighten that grip. Hopefully that starts tonight!
As you know, from time to time I'm sent baseball books to read over and review. Thankfully, I've never actually been asked to do this quickly, because 1) they all seem to come at the same time and 2) I don't get to sit down and read as much as I used to, grabbing bits and pieces here and there at meal time or other moments. So, to all those book promoters out there that are reading this, thanks much for your patience!
One of the great features of the 1970 book was the fact that no matter how long their time with the team was, anyone that got into a game got a biography in the book. That feature carried over to this Dodger tome as well, as players such as Erv Palica (three innings pitched) and Don Lund (20 at-bats) get covered as much as Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson.
The biographies cover most all aspects of the players' lives. You'll find players that stayed married for 70 years and players that wound up with three or four different wives. You'll find players that hung around in the minors for years after their brief time in the major league sun. You'll find out how they died and be pleasantly surprised that a few are still living today (or, at least, when this book was written).
Also like the previous book in this series, the biographies are broken up by short recaps of each game, divided by months or, as in this book, half-months. One of the things I enjoyed more about the Orioles edition was the fact that these previews included the headline from the Baltimore paper relating to that game. That didn't carry over to this Brooklyn book, though perhaps because there were many different papers to choose from.
This book also goes off the field, providing biographies for the famous owners Branch Rickey, John L. Smith and Walter O'Malley. There's also coverage of the broadcasting team, which was mainly Red Barber but also included a man named Connie Desmond, who apparently had all the talent in the world to be a broadcaster, but couldn't control his alcoholic tendencies. Just like with the players, not always does talent win out.
What this book did that the Orioles book did not was to include essays about different tangents related to the '47 squad. There was coverage of the team's spring training in Havana, Cuba, done so to ease a little of the transition for Robinson, an examination of Rickey and his relationship with the press, and how the Jewish people of Brooklyn came out in full support of Robinson's integration of the game. For the most part, these essays added a little bit more depth and context to the team and the players of that time.
One of the drawbacks of a book like this, however, is that it's not written by one author. While Lyle Spatz edited it, many different people contributed and, as such, some topics seem to get covered a little too often. There were at least three or four discussions about the suspension of manager Leo Durocher, including its own essay, and it got a little wearisome after a while. Still, even though it was addressed often, each time was a slightly different way of looking at it, which helped temper any aggravation of reading it again.
All in all, I'm really enjoying these books that SABR is putting out and I look forward to any that they do in the future. For Dodger fans, having a chance to relive this historic season, to go beyond the surface of Robinson breaking the color barrier, makes this book a wonderful resource. Fans of baseball in general, especially those of an age that can remember some of these names and players from their parents, will find it enjoyable as well.
The Cardinals finished up a 6-1 home stand. Yes, you read that right. No 4-3, no win one, lose one, an actual good run of baseball. Let's talk about the last two games before we get into whether we can expect it to continue.
Hero: Fernando Salas. Salas has struggled often this season but finally looks like a reliable option out of the bullpen again. He's allowed one run in his last ten outings and pitched crucial innings in this one, throwing scoreless frames in the 11th and 12th before being rewarded with the win.
Goat: Rough night for Jon Jay. 0-4 with two strikeouts.
Notes: Rafael Furcal was in the running for Goat until he got the game-winning hit in the 12th. This would have been a very frustrating game to lose, taking the lead in the fifth to give it right back up in the sixth and only being able to tally six hits all night long.
Also huge kudos to Lance Berkman. Up there basically like Kirk Gibson, looking rough on swings due to his throbbing knee, he was able to stay alive enough to draw a walk which turned out to be the winning run after Joe Kelly pinch-hit (and had his adventures on the basepaths again--no wonder Berkman termed him Baby Giraffe!)
Another stellar performance by Kyle Lohse. Seven innings, two runs will win you a lot of games and thankfully the Cards didn't make him a hard-luck loser this time around. Lohse continued the streak of starters going at least six innings, a streak that reached 21 on Thursday. There are starting to be discussions about whether the Cards should bring Lohse back next year--which is mindboggling when you think of all the grief Lohse got during this contract when he was hurt.
Hero: Matt Holliday. Two for four with a home run and, as noted in the game story, a key baserunning play that helped the Cardinals regain the lead.
Goat: When you scatter 18 hits around the lineup, it's definitely a day where the Goat isn't as bad as you normally find. Going to go with Furcal just because he only had one hit, didn't score or drive in a run, and left three on base.
Notes: This is the kind of game they'd have lost even a week ago. Grab a two-run lead then let the Dodgers immediately score four? That'd usually be about the time that the bats went quiet and we have a quick rest of the game. Instead, they immediately responded and took the fight out of the opponent for once.
Wasn't Jake Westbrook's best game, but it really wasn't completely his fault that he gave up four runs. One was unearned, for one thing, and some defensive miscues went along with a number of singles, so he wasn't beat around. He went seven innings, meaning that treacherous step from the sixth to the eighth was avoided as well. Solid work for the man.
So, as referenced earlier, is this sustainable? Are we finally starting to see the team that we've been wanting to see all year long?
Winning six out of seven is (without looking it up) probably the best stretch of games that the Cards have played since April. The Cards get the Cubs again starting today, then out to Colorado and home against Milwaukee before hosting San Francisco. It would appear that the Cards are in good shape to pile up some wins and then see how they measure up against another strong team in the Giants.
So often we think they've turned a corner and they fall back the next day. Yet there seems to be a little different feel to these last few games, like they've gotten their focus and they are really tuned into it. I'm hopeful that they'll carry that through these next few series and (if the Reds could ever lose) put some pressure on the teams in front of them.
The trade deadline is fast approaching, but with the resurgent play of the squad it seems less and less likely that a deal is going to get done. I know Joe Strauss continues to mention an interest in James Shields and I have a hunch the Cards have some statistical backing in the front office that makes Shields look even better than he normally would (save this slump he's in). However, he won't be a buy-low option with Anaheim and Texas going after him as well, so I don't think the Cards wind up spending the talent needed to get him here.
Other than that, what would the Cards do? The bullpen is looking good again, though we still haven't seen Brian Fuentes pitch. The starters are rocking and rolling. The only offensive place you'd question is second, and Skip Schumaker is doing admirably there. You even have a pretty solid bench due to the whole carousel of players that play the same positions. I'm not sure what you do that really improves this team, though getting some depth could be nice. Even there, you have Jaime Garcia looking like he's on target for a mid-August return, so that helps as well.
One year after the Colby Rasmus deal, it seems unlikely any such shakeup is coming today. However, they will play a ball game in Chicago and the Cards will have to be careful. It's Ron Santo Day in Chicago, which means the baby bears could be playing with some emotion and dedication today.
Lance Lynn will get the chance to shut them down, just like he did last weekend. Lynn threw six shutout innings against the Cubbies on Sunday and hopes to do more of the same today. He's beaten Chicago three times this season and has an ERA under 1 to show for it, so there's at least a strong possibility he'll get his wish. The numbers:
Brian LaHair still seems to have his number, but other than that Lynn's done pretty well against this crew, as you'd expect from those season numbers.
Travis Wood takes the ball for the Cubs, just like he did Sunday when he was touched for seven runs (six earned) in six innings. His ERA has jumped from 3.05 to 4.33 in his last two outings, so we'll have to see if he can continue that downhill slide or if he's back to his early season form.
Lots of small sample sizes and mainly the work of Sunday, but you can't feel good about that if you are Wood.
Early start time today as the Cards play in the second of their four straight afternoon affairs. Hope you've got other plans for this evening! Come back in a little bit as I'll be posting my submission for this month's UCB project.