The Cards have now played the Brewers 10 times this season. They wish they could play them 100 more.
After winning two of three against the Milwaukee squad, St. Louis has now won eight of 10 against them this season. David Freese loves to hit against the Brewers--even when he can't hit against anyone else--and pretty much everything has worked well in those games where the two teams get together.
Let's take a look at this weekend's games, then talk about what happened away from the field, as that might have more relevance to the rest of the season.
Even though Freese finally got into the home run column in grand fashion, giving the Cards a 5-0 lead, the Hero wasn't so clearly defined. If Freese had added another hit to that mix, I think I'd have gone with him and maybe I should anyway--after all, the Cardinals needed all of those runs. Matt Carpenter, though, had three hits in the leadoff role and scored two runs, which isn't a bad night either. Then again, Allen Craig went 3-3 plus added in a walk for a perfect night at the plate.
All are good choices, but I think I'm going to go with Matt Holliday. Not only did Holliday have a couple of hits, but he scored a run and drove in two, giving the most well-rounded performance on a night when there were a lot of offensive performances to choose from.
If I was one that chose more nebulous concepts for the tags, the bullpen in general might have gotten the nod. Coming into a one-run game in the sixth, Seth Maness, Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica combined for 3.2 innings, two hits, no runs, no walks, and three strikeouts. In a game that became as tight as they come, those relief outings were huge.
Even tempered by the idea that he was hurting (something we'll discuss after the recaps), the Goat has to go to Jaime Garcia. Aramis Ramirez has been a Cardinal killer for a long time, but to serve up two three-run home runs to him is tough to swallow, and that's not because the crud has hit me and my throat is hurting this morning. Especially when you factor in that he was hurting badly through it but not letting anyone know. That's what we saw out of him in the NLDS last year (though someone--I think Bernie Miklasz--pointed out that it'd have been tough for him to walk past Chris Carpenter and all he represented then and ask out of a playoff game) and it doesn't help the team. It's understandable to want to grit it out when you are up 7-0, but when the game gets a little closer you have to say something.
Tough night for Carlos Beltran as well, who went 0-5 and struck out twice. Thankfully the offensive slack was picked up by others.
You hate to lay this one on Daniel Descalso. Sure, it'd have been nice if he could have gotten the winning hit in the ninth. It'd have been good if he could have laid off of pitches out of the zone. That said, he's a pinch hitter (and not necessarily the one you wanted up there, but there wasn't a lot of option by that time) coming off the bench cold with two outs. There were a lot of ways that could have ended badly and the odds of it working out were slim, really.
So I'm going to go with Joe Kelly on this one, even though part of me doesn't want to do that as well. Going into extra innings means it is always dicey, but it was Kelly's first inning of work and he's the one that created the jam. He faced some tough hitters in that inning, there's no doubt of that, but he didn't get enough of them out. This was the first time Kelly had given up runs in five outings, though, so he's gotten more reliable. He just didn't have it on Saturday.
Of course, Lance Lynn could have gotten into that conversation as well. After throwing 124 pitches in his last outing, he likely didn't quite have the reserves he has had before, only making it through the fifth and giving up eight hits and four runs in that span. Throw in two walks and it's pretty impressive he only gave up four runs. Hopefully with that early exit, he'll be more rested up for his next start. He'll have an extra day of rest as well with the off-day Thursday and be playing in a pitcher's park, so you'd expect his next time out against the Dodgers will go much better.
It was another one of those games that we've seen numerous times out of the Cardinals, whether this year or in years past where they score all of their runs in one inning. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. This time, it did, though not without some drama along the way.
If Maness had gotten out of a bases-loaded jam that wasn't of his own making, I'd have probably have considered him as yesterday's Hero. However, not really the spirit of the thing to award for something that could have gone horribly wrong, even if he did work his way out of it with some key pitching. No, I'm going to go with Jon Jay for the title, as he got two hits, scored a run and drove in another. Freese and Craig also had two hits on a day where the offense was just good enough but nothing spectacular.
Some kudos have to go to John Gast as well, picking up his second major league win in part because Mike Matheny didn't try to ride him too long. When he put a couple of runners on in the sixth--the same inning he struggled against the Mets in his first outing--Matheny yanked him and while Maness allowed those inherited runners to score, the Cards still had the lead. Gast hasn't shown yet that he can get past that wall of the sixth (or hitters are starting to adjust to him the third time around) but hopefully he'll be able to make the adjustments needed to start going a little deeper.
I guess I'll invoke my "leadoff man tiebreaker" rule and give the Goat to Matt Carpenter, since he had an 0-4 day at the dish yesterday. Weren't many that didn't get a least one knock, so he'll have to wear that tag.
Some drama as well yesterday, as Kyle Lohse (who very well may have been getting frustrated by continually getting beat by rookie Cardinal pitchers, thereby justifying them not resigning him) started complaining about Gast pulling back on his bunt and looking to swing. (I didn't get to see it, being at my daughter's sixth birthday party. And yes, we played this.) Perhaps this is some of those inside baseball unwritten rules, but I've never heard any complaints like this that I can remember. Again, from the outside looking in it looked like Lohse was irritated and frustrated and took it out on that situation, but maybe that's a bigger baseball breach than we are aware of.
The big news from this weekend was, of course, that Garcia was going on the disabled list with the surgery that he didn't have in the offseason a strong possibility now. It seemed like the Cardinals had finally won an injury gamble, but apparently not so much. Shoulder issues are so dicey as well--look at what's gone on with Johan Santana since he's had his--and you wonder what Garcia you'll get whenever he does return. When John Mozeliak is saying stuff like, "All indications are this is not good," it's not good. The only other time I remember Mo being so negative before all the tests were in was Adam Wainwright in the spring of 2011. We all know how that turned out.
Does that mean that Chris Carpenter, who might start making rehab starts next month and already was planned to be stretched out in the minors, could return to the rotation instead of the bullpen when he's ready? Tara and I talked about this last night on Gateway to Baseball Heaven and she's concerned about the workload of a starter on Carpenter, that he might make a couple of starts then go down for the count. That's a valid concern and that might be enough for the Cards to continue tapping their pitching depth to replace the innings lost by injuries.
That said, I wonder if bullpen usage might not be even more damaging to Carpenter. Sure, he's not out there for five or more innings like he would be as a starter, but he might be used more than once every five days in the pen, he's got to get ready on a shorter time frame, he's got to come in and be dominant from the get-go instead of easing his way into the game as you can with a longer stint. I've still never been sold that Carpenter's stuff and talents would translate as well to the 'pen as some think, so if he could return to the rotation, I think that'd be my preference. Of course, any idea that the number 29 is going to be back on the mound at all is probably a bit premature, but that's never stopped bloggers from speculating before!
Look, we all want to see Wacha. However, Mo was quite emphatic on the point (and it's a talking point that's been picked up at Fox Sports Midwest as well, I see) that this time last year Wacha was pitching in college. He's still not adjusted to a five-day schedule yet. Sure, he's dominating in Memphis right now, but let's see if that continues into June or July. He definitely doesn't work as a stopgap replacement--Bernie acknowledges this in his post--but I don't think we'll see him until August or September at best this year. There's no doubt that Wacha is close to his ceiling and Mo has agreed that he could probably pitch successfully in the big leagues right now, but there are a lot of other factors including keeping him healthy and getting him into regular condition.
Besides, it would seem likely (as likely as it gets with Cardinal injuries, at least) that Jake Westbrook will be back soon, meaning this could be a fairly moot point as Lyons might only get one or two starts. Of course, it is a Cardinal injury, so you never can be too sure.
Put a guy that has an ERA under 1.50 in Petco Park against a Padres offense that has been middle of the pack (though, interestingly, the Padres have more home runs than the Cardinals--then again, only the Dodgers and Marlins don't) and what do you get? We'll find out tonight when Shelby Miller takes the mound in San Diego. Miller hasn't faced these hitters much before, obviously, so I don't know that the sample tells us even as little as it usually does.
Some good numbers, but the most that anyone has seen him is two at bats, which really tells you little to nothing.
Old Home Week continues when the Redbirds face Jason Marquis tonight. Obviously it's been a while since Marquis was a Cardinal and he doesn't invoke the same general good feelings that Lohse does--mainly because people were ready for Marquis to leave St. Louis well before he actually did--but he was part of the deal that brought us Wainwright, so we have to appreciate him for that much, at least. His career table is interesting:
While we've seen tables before where the pitcher has only faced a couple of hitters, I don't know that I've seen a table like that where everyone on it has faced the pitcher more than 10 times. It's always a little disconcerting when Ty Wigginton has good numbers, because you know Matheny is going to be tempted to start him, but I think that we'll avoid that bullet tonight.
Late games this week on the West Coast, so get your nap in this afternoon or after work so you can be ready!
sinister (adj): singularly evil or productive of evil; also, of, relating to, or situated to the left or on the left side of something; also, of ill omen by reason of being on the left.
That's a long way to say that lefties are pretty much evil when the Cardinals have to face them, and yesterday was no exception. The Cards did hit three doubles off of Jonathan Niese, but nothing ever really came of them. Either because of the pitching, the lineup, or the day game, the Cards seemed fairly listless yesterday, an attitude that carried over to the field as they made two errors, one of which lead to a run.
If Adam Wainwright is cursed against the Mets due to his legendary appearance against them in the 2006 playoffs, I think we as Cardinal fans can handle that. That moment--and the World Series title that came because the Cards weren't eliminated--is worth Waino struggling a couple of times a year, isn't it? It's not like the Redbirds are going to run into the Mets in the playoffs again for quite some time.
Whatever the reason, Wainwright's nemesis got to him again. After taking a no-hitter into the eighth in his last start, Wainwright only went six innings this time, giving up six hits and four runs (one that was unearned). He did strike out eight and only had two bad innings, but when New York got going he couldn't stop them. Daniel Murphy played a huge role in that, doubling in the first run and scoring later, then doubling to lead off the sixth and scoring after that.
The bullpen was OK, though not as dominant as we've seen. Remember when I suggested Mike Matheny should have left in Randy Choate to face Rick Ankiel yesterday? That might not have worked out the way we expected, since Choate allowed a double to Ankiel in this one. Choate gave up two hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning, which is about as dangerous an inning as you can have without giving up a run. Fernando Salas was not so lucky, getting touched for a run in the eighth, and Joe Kelly finished it up with a scoreless inning only blemished by a two-out hit and a fielder's choice where nobody was out.
When you looked at yesterday's lineup, you thought something like this could happen. After all, Shane Robinson (who gets the Goat for an 0-3 day plus an outfield error) and Ty Wigginton (as I guessed he might) were both in the lineup. Given them and David Freese's struggles, there's a third of the lineup that didn't look to be productive and, indeed, none of them had a hit on Thursday. It's tough to get things going when there are significant holes in the lineup, like an engine that just won't catch.
Hero goes to Carlos Beltran, who beat up on his former team with three hits and drove in one of the two Cardinal runs, but even he had issues fielding yesterday, making one of his errors that allowed the runner to take another base. Still, when the whole team just had eight hits, you go with the guy that had 37.5% of them.
So the Cards can't finish off the four game sweep--which isn't terribly surprising, because that's tough to do--but at least they get to stay home and see if they can't take out a little frustration on a Milwaukee team that they've won six of seven from so far this season and are sitting in the cellar of the NL Central.
Jaime Garcia gets the ball for St. Louis. Garcia threw eight innings of one-run ball against the Brewers last time, which is reflected in these career numbers.
If only he can keep the threat that is Yuniesky Betancourt contained, Garcia's done pretty well against the Brew Crew. Ryan Braun's gone deep twice, but that's not a terrible number in 40 plate appearances.
Cardinals get to face Wily Peralta. They feasted on him last time, getting six runs in one inning (he pitched 4.1). Which is where all of the career numbers come from, as that was the only time they've seen him.
I know, the traditional cleaning implement in this situation is a broom, but sweeping up spilled product from a brewmaster just isn't going to get you very far. The Brewers were thoroughly cleaned up and out this weekend, so any cleaning tool you want to use is pretty appropriate. We've already talked about Thursday's game and Saturday's game, which leaves us two others to quickly discuss.
If you've been following the Cardinal minor league system for any extended period of time, this game was what you've been waiting for. Shelby Miller, followed by Carlos Martinez (making his debut) followed by Seth Maness (also making his debut). Fernando Salas, another minor league product, cleaned up the ninth. Offensively, you had Matt Carpenter with a hit and a walk, Allen Craig with three hits, Yadier Molina, David Freese and Jon Jay with two and Pete Kozma with a hit of his own. Prospect gurus probably sniffed and wiped a tear of joy while watching all of this minor league talent mesh together at the big league level.
While all of those guys did a wonderful job, you have to give the Hero tag to Matt Holliday. Holliday had three hits, including a two-run homer that got the scoring started off of old friend Kyle Lohse. It's extremely hard to pick a Goat in this one since everyone had a hit and all of the pitchers went well, but we'll go with Pete Kozma since Carlos Beltran won the tiebreaker since his hit was a home run.
Martinez and Maness both looked very good in their first appearances in the bigs. Martinez gave up an infield single to his first batter, but then got a double play to erase him. Maness came in and threw the Dave Duncan special--three ground ball outs. It may be the newness of the players or the fact they were up against the Brewers, but I have a feeling confidence in the bullpen is at possibly the highest point it has been at all season long.
It didn't take long for this one to get out of hand. The second six-run inning that the Cards had while spending time in Milwaukee gave Jaime Garcia all that he was going to need. Even Bad Jaime might have had trouble squandering that lead, but he didn't show up yesterday. Garcia went eight innings, striking out three and allowing just one run. He did all of that in just under 100 pitches as well, meaning he was unusually efficient. No doubt that he was Hero of the action.
There were plenty of other people to make their claim on the Hero action, though. Allen Craig drove in three in that six-run second and added another RBI later on. Matt Holliday went 2-3 with a home run and three RBI. Jon Jay, back in the leadoff slot as his average is getting back to reasonable levels, got two hits and scored two runs. Pete Kozma had a multi-hit game. Lots of fun at the old ballpark for the Cardinal hitters yesterday.
There were a couple of hitters that didn't get into the fun. Daniel Descalso didn't get a hit, though he did draw two walks. However, the Goat of the action is David Freese, who had multiple hits in each of the first three games, but went 0-5 with three strikeouts and six left on base. Freese was starting to look much better, so hopefully that's just an off day rather than the reemergence of whatever had him in that slump.
In the middle of this series, there were a couple of pieces of news--one expected, one not-so-much. The first was that Jason Motte was going to have Tommy John surgery after all. Even with the news last week that Motte was feeling better and was throwing, few believed that the Redbirds were going to dodge that bullet. Some will say that Motte should have gone under the knife as soon as the irritation showed up at the end of March, but that seems a bit extreme to me. For one thing, they didn't even a clearer picture of the problem until the exam on April 9. Which means that, at most, they lost less than a month. Sure, the odds weren't good for them, but three weeks in the long run isn't likely to affect Motte's return all that much.
Frankly, I think we've seen the end of Motte closing for the Cardinals anyway. Assume that Motte isn't able to come back until early June next year, which would seem reasonable. We don't know that he can heal up and return as quickly as Adam Wainwright did, though he does have the advantage that he doesn't have to build up as much stamina being a reliever. If the Cardinals don't have an established closer by then, they've got bigger problems than a couple of weeks on Motte's recovery. You'd figure someone was locked into that role and even if they weren't, we saw the erratic nature of Wainwright when he returned. By time Motte really gets back to full strength, the '14 season is likely over and Motte's a free agent. Would the Cards resign him to be the closer? Guess that depends on the situation at the time, but it would seem a bit unlikely.
The other news was that Chris Carpenterwas throwing again, with the idea of returning to the club as a reliever. The words "Chris Carpenter" and "throwing again" are going to make any Cardinal fan giddy with dreams of yet another comeback. There's nothing wrong with that and, indeed, this seems to have more substance than just a columnist's flight of fancy. Having Carpenter back in uniform would be a huge boost to this team psychologically if nothing else, plus you'd figure his veteran wiles would be handy in the sixth or seventh inning or wherever trouble might strike.
That said, even though John Mozeliak is quoted that he was optimistic and excited about the idea and putting a late June/early July timetable on a possible return, we've seen this before. We've seen Carpenter start to look good and plans be made for him to go out on a rehab start or something of that nature, only to have a setback. That seemed to be the order of the day last year, as he'd be good until he hit a throwing level that brought him back down. Until we see him on a minor league assignment and having success, I don't think we can count too many chickens.
If he did return, though, it would like be the past, present and future of the Cardinal pitching staff all in one spot. Carpenter, Wainwright, Miller, Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal all on the squad at the same time? That's an incredible sight. I really hope this happens and, of course, you never rule Chris Carpenter out or he actually comes to your house and beats you about the head and shoulders while spewing profanities. Matt Whitener had horror stories about it last weekend.
Off day today, then the Cards start a two-game series in the Friendly Confines on Tuesday. Lance Lynn puts his perfect record (and the Cards' six game winning streak) on the line against the Cubbies, who currently sit last in the division and are wishing that Houston had never left.
Wood's not been as successful as Lynn has and it's not all from that game last year. Molina and Holliday will be excited about this one and Jay looks to continue his fine hitting. Freese might be able to make yesterday's game an aberration and even Daniel Descalso has done pretty well against the hurler. Everything is in the Cards' favor here, but we know that doesn't always translate to the field.
In case you missed it (and you might have--I was unusually active here on the blog this weekend), I had Star Wars questions for the players and a recap of UCB Weekend posted, so be sure to check them out if you haven't already!
Welcome into the UCB studios as we recap what happened in today's game, the details of which are thoughtfully supplied by the whole crew, from Aaron Miles' Fastball to Cards Tied For First. There was plenty to keep people busy with!
I'm glad to report that the UCB Progressive Game Blog jinx seems to have been at least temporarily suspended, though it surely didn't look like it when Adam Wainwright looked un-Waino-like by giving up two runs in the first inning and having to work out of a bases-loaded jam to keep it at that.
As you know, the game went back and forth, with the Cards taking a lead, then giving it up to the Brewers before finally making the ninth the last time the lead changed. The Hero of the day has to be Jon Jay for his outstanding contributions, most notably a three-run home run to immediately get Wainwright back into good standing and then a run-scoring single in the ninth that put the Cards on top for good. It seems like Mike Matheny's policy of sitting slumping hitters down for a couple of days is working--Jay has raised his average around 50 points since his benching and David Freese is on fire right now, having multi-hit games in every one of the games held in Miller Park.
There's a reason that sabermetricians have tried to emphasize that decision stats aren't nearly as important as they used to be. For instance, look at the bullpen for the Cardinals today. Fernando Salas comes in and gets the last out of the seventh, then starts the eighth with two of his three batters getting hits, putting them at the corners. Randy Choate comes in and gives up a squeeze bunt that barely gets past Yadier Molina and ties the game. Then Seth Maness comes in and gets the double play ball. Yet Salas gets the hold and Choate gets the blown save. Fascinating how that works. (And, of course, congrats to Maness for getting his first major league win!)
As much as Wainwright struggled and as dicey as the bullpen made things, I'm going to give the Goat to Matt Carpenter. An 0-5 day is just so tough to overlook from your leadoff hitter. Sadly, Carlos Beltran in the two hole had the same line, but he only had one strikeout to Carpenter's two. Tiebreakers don't have to be large.
The biggest discussion point, of course, was Matheny's predilection for double switches. Swapping in Daniel Descalso to play second and removing David Freese looked really strange on the face of it. It worked out since Descalso hit the two-run homer that put the Cards on top for a bit, but as pointed out if Jon Jay hadn't gotten thrown out at third (what is with all the baserunning in this series?) Dirty Dan would have been bunting. And anyway, why not just pinch-hit Desclaso there if you want to? Freese was actually hitting over the last few days and losing a bat like that is normally going to cost you.
Matheny doubled down on the double switches later, taking out Matt Holliday (which, granted, was 0-4 but still is one of the biggest bats on the team, as evidenced by his home run last night) to put Maness in his spot so that Shane Robinson would be in the original Freese spot. Yes, Robinson doubled, stole third and scored the winning run, but is that the way you'd expect things to go? If the game had stayed tied, Ty Wigginton might have had to bat in a crucial spot and that's really not likely to go well. At least, we say that. Everything Matheny did today turned to gold, so maybe it would have. Wigginton might have hit his first homer today the rate things were working out. Expecting that to happen every day, though, is a recipe for disaster.
All's well that ends well and the Cards not only have a nice two-game lead on the Pirates, they have the best record in the National League. Doesn't seem possible, does it? Jaime Garcia versus Wily Peralta tomorrow as St. Louis tries to work a broom. Thanks for joining us on the Progressive Game Blog! Hope you enjoyed and we'll see you back here next year at this time!
There's a reason while the Cardinals have been recognized as one of the more environmentally-conscious teams in baseball. Some teams would have seen a six-run lead as something to waste, using that cushion and cruising to a 6-2 win or something. Not these Cardinals, though. They were committed to not wasting a single bit of that 6-0 lead they had and, by golly, that's exactly what they did, winning with not a whit to spare.
It's fitting that last night's Hero should be one of those former starters that's being reused in the bullpen. Trevor Rosenthal came into a bases-loaded, two-out, 6-3 game and got perhaps the biggest out of the night. When the bullpen has struggled as much as this Cardinal one has, having a shut-down moment is huge. Rosenthal then pitched the eighth and while he was nicked for a run, it was unearned due to Daniel Descalso muffing a ball. Rosenthal wasn't hit hard in that inning at all and caught some bad breaks, but is really starting to look like a pitcher we can rely on again.
(I've said it before, but Descalso can get away with hitting under .200 if he'll be a reliable glove to bring into late innings. That was Descalso's fifth error of the season, one of the higher totals in Major League Baseball. Something's got to get better or Dirty Dan could be the odd man out if Kolten Wong forces the issue.)
While the Goat tag is going to go to Joe Kelly, who came in and started that bullpen meltdown that we've seen so many times this year, it wasn't completely his fault. He could have gotten out of the inning with just one run allowed had Mitchell Boggs been at all successful in his outing. Boggs got ahead of Rickie Weeks--a batter who'd never gotten a hit off of him--1-2 before throwing three straight pitches that weren't even close to the plate. Seriously, you could tell when the ball left his hand these weren't going in the right direction.
That loaded the bases for Carlos Gomez. Gomez is not known as a patient hitter. Get it around the plate and you should be able to take care of him. Which is why it was even more telling when Boggs went to a 3-0 count on him, again with pitches that weren't anywhere close. (To be fair, the third one was. If Boggs had been more consistent in the strike zone before that, he probably would have gotten the call.) He came back to get a couple of strikes, but wound up walking him on a ball in the dirt.
That was all for Boggs, whose time with the Cardinals has now been reduced. Per Derrick Goold's story, Boggs is heading to Memphis for a head-straightening. We were talking in the Bonfyre last night about if that would happen and who would be the replacement. The 40-man roster is full, but they'll move Rafael Furcal to the 60-day disabled list to free up a spot. I don't think they'll go with Carlos Martinez here, but I guess it's possible. I don't see them bringing up another Memphis starter (such as John Gast) to throw because we've not seen Seth Maness yet. I think they are more likely to grab a guy that's already in the bullpen or that, in the case of Martinez, they'd be willing to use as something more than a long relief guy. Nobody like that stands out on the Memphis roster, though. Michael Wacha's name is going to get brought up as well, but I think they want to continue to condition him as a starter for a while before letting him work in the pen and, again, that's not likely to be a one-inning role for him anyway. [EDIT: Martinez is the call, which really did seem to be the only one when you think about it.]
Offensively, the Cards looked like they broke out, scoring six runs and 12 hits. However, St. Louis recycled one of their favorite scripts, having one big inning and letting that take care of it all. All six runs and seven of the hits came in the third and, as we know, that was just barely enough. It was good to see David Freese get a couple of hits after sitting down for a couple of days. The offense could really use him on track. Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina and Jon Jay also had two hits, but save for that one inning when the line got moving, nothing came of them.
Even with the drama, even with Edward Mujica making it as tight as possible by allowing a run and having the tying run on base, the Cards have now won three in a row and lead the Central by a game. Milwaukee and Cincinnati are tied for third at just 2.5 out, so there's no comfortable lead there but it's nice to know that, given all the problems so far in St. Louis, they are still right now the team to beat. So if they start firing on all cylinders, look out.
A rematch game tonight as Shelby Miller faces off against Kyle Lohse. When the two met in Busch a couple of weeks back, Lohse gave up just two runs, but that was enough to take the loss as Miller gave up just one hit and struck out eight over seven innings. That outing is the only time the Brewers have seen Miller, but here's the table for Lohse against the Redbirds.
Again, as encouraging as those numbers are, Lohse is definitely a different pitcher than he's been in the past and I would expect something more like his first outing against St. Louis rather than what these numbers show. Would be fine with the latter, though!
It was incredible yesterday. The Cardinal offense....how do I describe this.....they put on something that was so rare. It was....well, I believe they call it a rally.
On the afternoon after having all their runs score on a Matt Holliday home run, in a series where they had only put up three runs entirely before yesterday, the Cards were able to string together four hits and a walk to score three runs in the sixth and basically put the Reds away. You'd have to go back to the eighth inning on Friday night to find a comparable inning, where the Cards scored more than one run on multiple hits.
This lack of consistent offensive production isn't a huge surprise when you look at those that are making up the lineup. Batting average obviously has its flaws, but when you have two regulars (David Freese and Daniel Descalso) hitting under .170 and another just barely over .200 (Jon Jay), there are going to be a lot of gaps in an attack, meaning the offense just won't fire. Whether you clump them together or spread them out, the result is the same, a bucket of water on flames that are just starting to find purchase.
The biggest Hero had to be Matt Carpenter, getting three hits including two doubles and driving in a run. We discussed this some on last night's UCB Radio Hour, but Carpenter has to be putting some pressure on Freese. Josh noted that Freese didn't get a long-term extension this offseason and that the club drafted a lot of third basemen. Couple all of that with the fact Kolten Wong could be coming up soon, meaning Carpenter would need more playing time at third base, and you wonder if Freese is trying too hard due to the external pressure. While he's a local hero and a fan favorite, that's not going to protect him if John Mozeliak feels it'll help the team to do something else with him.
Of course, they didn't get all their runs via stacking single on top of single. Carlos Beltran may not be on the power kick that he was last year, but he's doing a reasonable imitation of it. Beltran's seventh home run cracked the lid on the scoring and was his seventh of the year, four ahead of The Three Matts for the team lead.
Lots of kudos to Lance Lynn as well. I said yesterday that we needed to see another good start out of him to stop worrying about whether he's the next Jaime Garcia, an inconsistent but talented pitcher. (Garcia's been less Garcia this year as well, but that's another topic.) Lynn provided that against Cincinnati yesterday, going seven innings, allowing just one run and striking out five. Lynn ran his record out to 5-0, leading the team in that department.
Then the game was turned over to Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica. It looks like Rosenthal has finally figured out this bullpen thing. Save a home run he gave up in Washington, which was in a 4-1 game at the time, Rosenthal hasn't been charged with a run since April 17 against Pittsburgh, after which his ERA sat at 5.00. It's down to 3.72 now and while reliever ERA typically isn't much of a measure, since inherited runners scoring affect the starter (or other reliever) rather than the pitcher who actually allowed them to score, since Rosenthal typically starts an inning it's a pretty good indication of how he's doing.
Getting a trustworthy eighth inning guy is huge because Mujica apparently owns the ninth now. Mujica got his sixth save in six chances yesterday. Which was meaningful, because he had six career saves coming into this season. Whatever he's doing is working, even if he did allow a home run and a Daniel Descalso error brought the tying run to the plate. $99.99 to Cardinals Care later, St. Louis was out of danger.
About the time you start thinking Jon Jay might be snapping out of it, he has another game worthy of the Goat. Jay went 0-4 and left three men on in his leadoff role, something that has usually kept the offense from clicking. Thankfully, they were able to work around that yesterday.
Cardinals head off for a four-game set with the Brewers in their park starting this evening. Jake Westbrook again goes for his 100th win, as he's been beset with bullpen problems and a lack of support the last few times he's gone for it.
The Brewers have had some success against Westbrook, most notably Ryan Braun. You'd expect those kind of numbers from Braun, I guess, but Alex Gonzalez with an OPS of 1.000? Yuniesky Betancourt slugging .545 off of him? Let's hope that Westbrook's current run of good pitching outweighs what he's done against these guys in the past.
The Cards have to face Wily Peralta. That's something that they've never done, so it's hard to know exactly what to expect. Peralta's ERA is over 5 this season and the worst of that came against the Giants in Miller Park. The Giants aren't exactly known for their offense, either. The only time he's given up less than three runs, he was facing the Cubs. If the Cardinal offense was rolling, I'd say they'd put up some solid numbers against him. I guess we'll have to wait and find out!
With two innings to go yesterday, the Cardinals were on the brink of something pretty extraordinary. Not only were they in position for the sweep, but they just had to get six outs and they could blank the Brewers for an entire weekend.
It all started Friday (well, for this series--the starting pitching run was already in full swing by time the Brewers came to town) with the anticipated matchup of Shelby Miller vs. Kyle Lohse. Old friend versus new hotness, as it were. It didn't disappoint in the least. The Hero had to be Miller, who allowed a leadoff single and hit a batter in the second, but finished his outing by retiring the last 17 batters he faced. He struck out eight, which meant his pitch count was high enough that Mike Matheny was probably glad that he had given up that hit early on as to save him from a really rough decision.
Offensively Friday there wasn't much to talk about. Lohse did a good job managing the lineup that used to back him, though maybe because he used to catch Lohse, but Yadier Molina figured him out for a double and a home run. Those were the only extra-base hits Lohse allowed and a third of all the hits. As is my normal, I'm giving the Goat to Jon Jay for his 0-4 in the leadoff role. I've a personal rule that, when there's no obvious person for that award, the leadoff slot is so important than an 0-fer there breaks all ties.
Saturday's game was different pitcher, same song. Adam Wainwright would have been the Hero anyway as he went the distance in shutting out the Brewers, striking out 12 along the way. However, when he contributes three hits (two in the same inning) and an RBI, it's the easiest decision we'll see all year, I expect. Wainwright still hasn't walked a batter in 2013 and really cruised against Milwaukee, allowing only four hits overall. He got some stellar defense behind him by Jay and Daniel Descalso which helped keep the shutout intact, even if it didn't affect the eventual outcome of the game.
The offense sprang to life in the sixth inning, scoring seven of their eight runs then. You'd get worried about the fact that the bats sometimes go dormant after a big inning, but if they are going to put up seven, they probably can afford to take the rest of the game off. With this pitching staff, even four runs right now is a major deficit to have to climb out of. (Though, as we'll see, sadly three can be done.)
Descalso's defensive gem means that he avoids the Goat even though he went 0-4. We'll give that to Matt Carpenter instead, who went 0-3 in this one, though he did score a run. Carpenter didn't have the best weekend, going 1-12 in the entire span.
So Jaime Garcia had a lot to live up to on Sunday. The last time a Cardinal starter had allowed a run, it was the fourth inning of Tuesday's game against Cincinnati. The shutout streak for the team was at 32 entering the game. Could he keep the ball rolling?
The answer to that was a definite yes, he could. Garcia's shutout outing wasn't as dominant as Miller's or Wainwright's, as he allowed seven hits and two walks while just striking out five, but it would have been the talk of the week on most other teams. He had a tough spot in the second, but was able to work out of that with any damage. Garcia might not have been the most dominant pitcher, but he ran that scoreless streak out to 39 before leaving the game as the well-deserved Hero of the piece.
Rosenthal and Boggs both had a similar issue. They gave up a hit on what looked to be a good pitch, then compounded that with a fat pitch to the next batter. In Rosenthal's case, he made a fairly good pitch to Jean Segura, but Segura was able to bounce it into center field. That mean when Rosenthal left one up for Ryan Braun, the Cards were only up one instead of Braun's home run being a solo version.
Boggs did the same. Carlos Gomez seemed to take a pitch off his shoetops and flare it into right field. Then Boggs left a pitch up to Yuniesky Betancourt and he smacked it into the gap to tie the game and give Boggs the Goat tag.
You have to give significant credit to Randy Choate and especially Edward Mujica for keeping the game tied, though that became less of an issue once Fernando Salas allowed a home run in the tenth, spoiling the sweep and putting a definite down note on what was, on the whole, a pretty good homestand after you got past the first game.
So what does this mean for the Cardinal bullpen? It may be telling that Matheny went to get Boggs so quickly yesterday, not letting him work out of trouble. Matheny said in the press conference afterwards that you can often tell with Boggs that he's going downhill, that he's not as likely to work out of trouble. His quick hook is quite a contrast from leaving him out there against Cincinnati as things were imploding and his unwillingness to give a full-throated defense of his closer after the game yesterday makes me wonder who will get the call tonight should it arise.
Boggs did get a save on Friday night. Those two runs were the closest the game has been when Boggs has gotten a successful save and he made that a bit hairy as well, putting two runners on before coming back to strike out the last two hitters. I was hoping that would give him the confidence to get on a roll. Apparently not.
The problem is, even if you think that Boggs is better suited for the eighth inning and would like to put him back there, who are you going to replace him with? If Rosenthal was having a better season, there'd be a lot of clamor to put him there and Matheny might have done it by now. Unfortunately Rosenthal's been as up and down as Boggs has been and seems to struggle more when the Cards are barely ahead than any other time, which isn't a great thing for a closer. Matheny talked about that yesterday, saying he thinks Rosenthal is still using too many pitches instead of concentrating on making two the best they can be and relying on those instead of his starter's arsenal. Still, it's a tough call to slide him into the closer slot right now.
It could be that Matheny just tries out some people in that role. If there are a number of lefties coming up in the ninth, maybe Choate or Marc Rzepczynski gets the ball. I like Mujica to stay in the seventh, but he did do a good job keeping the game tied yesterday. It'd deviate from Matheny's preferred seventh-eighth-ninth rotation, but maybe Mujica gets a chance or two at the ninth. I don't see the Cards promoting anyone and Lance Lynn's last outing seems to have quieted any calls for him to return to the bullpen. There's not a clear alternative, which is why Boggs is still in that role.
As Derrick Goold points out in his game story, the contrast between the starters and the bullpen couldn't be more severe. The starters have a 1.81 ERA. The relievers have a 6.09 mark. That can't continue. There's no way the starters can keep going out there for complete games and you know that they will come somewhat back to earth. When that happens, the bullpen is going to be even more vital.
Let's not let the offense off the hook here either. They scored just two runs on Friday and just three runs yesterday, none after the fourth inning. Even if you want to say Marco Estrada is a solid pitcher that deserves some credit, the Cards had four innings and five relievers to work with after he left the game. There were opportunities that just weren't cashed in, though the play at the plate with Allen Craig loomed large at the end.
On the positive side of things, the Cards are 7-5 and have a one game lead on Pittsburgh for the NL Central penthouse. (It's sad to think that this team easily could be 10-2 and starting to run away with things.) They head off to Pittsburgh today to continues their 13-games-in-a-row run with 10 in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington.
Lynn will take the mound tonight, trying to keep that run of great pitching that he started against the Reds going. The starters are at 32 straight scoreless innings and there's no doubt he'd like to extend that streak out a little more.
Lynn has had some success against the Bucs and with Pittsburgh starting off the season slow (though they did score 10 against the Reds) he may be able to keep that going. He's actually had some success with Andrew McCutchen, but we'll have to see if Pedro Alvarez is going to do that "beat up the Cardinals" thing that he did last year.
Pittsburgh counters with James McDonald. He's 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA this year, giving up just one run to the Cubs before allowing four out in Arizona.
McDonald has held the Cards in check for the most part. Craig and Molina have hit him pretty well in the past, but that's about it. However, that might mean yet again that Tony Cruz sits on the bench. We're 12 games into the season and Cruz is 0-1 with a walk. Exactly where do you sign up for jobs like this? I'm quite interested!
All the opening day stuff is in the past. The Cards are playing night games all week long. The season is well and truly started now. Looking forward to seeing how the Cards do on this road trip!
When you do a series like Playing Pepper long enough, you get to know some of the bloggers and, as such, you realize that when your teams play each other, it's a great chance for some varied content. Old-time readers of this blog will remember that when the Cards and Astros would get together, James at Astros County and I would usually try to do something, whether it was writing for the other blog or answering questions.
Sadly, Houston is no longer with us. Oh, they will tell you that they just "moved to the American League" but we all know that's just a euphemism, like taking your dog to the farm. With the Astros hopefully resting in peace, we're going to hopefully take that interaction and move it to another team.
Nick from The Brewers Bar posed a few questions to me about this Cardinals/Brewers series that starts this evening and I returned the favor. You'll find my answers over at his site this afternoon, but until then, enjoy the insight from the opposition about this weekend!
C70: What's going on with the Brewer bullpen? If there's a lead in the seventh, what's the progression plan for the Brewers?
BB: The Brewers bullpen is the Brewers bullpen. The Brewers have had trouble for years trying to establish a reliable group of relievers and most of the time it doesn't work out well. They've gone through so many closers in recent years (Derek Turnblow, Eric Gagne, Trevor Hoffman, Solomon Torres, etc.), it's ridiculous. 2011 was really an anomaly. The Brewers front office has failed to find the right mix...or the guys have just not performed on the field. Sadly, this year has started out with the Mr. Hyde part of the bullpen showing its ugly mug. John Axford has been shaky at best, but I also don't understand why manager Ron Roenicke has been using him so often and for more than one inning at a time, AND in non-save situations even when he was still the closer. The rest of the bullpen has been spotty as well. Newcomer and ex-Nationals pitcher Michael Gonzalez has been bad, but again, I fell he's been misused by Roenicke. Basically when the guy who was supposed to be your closer has an ERA over 24.00, you're in a lot of trouble. A blown lead by the bullpen is probably the worst way to lose in baseball, and when the bullpen situation has fans guessing about the manager's competence, it's a festering wound. Going forward it's hard to tell what the plan is, other than maybe tinkering to see who can be the most consistent in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. Whatever happens, I don't think Brewers fans' collective sanity can withstand another bullpen debacle a la 2012.
C70: How's Ryan Braun? I know he dealt with some nagging injuries earlier in the week. Stats don't seem to show it's bothered him, though.
BB: As for Ryan Braun, it was definitely rough having him miss some games vs. the Diamondbacks with a stiff neck and whatever else, but I guess as long as he heals up so that he can play the majority of the year, no biggie. Braun misses games from time to time but overall seems to play most of the time whether he's hurting or not. He seems a little rusty at the plate but I expect him to heat up. He's the team leader and they need his offense sorely. It's clear that without Braun this team can't put enough runs on the board most of the time.
C70: Is this a small sample size or are the Brewers likely to be this bad for an extended period of time?
BB: It's really, really hard to say. I think most realistic Brewers fans knew this team could be a train wreck if things didn't fall their way, and we're seeing that side of the team so far. The Brewers don't often seem to start off the first few weeks of the season well. The question will be how they rebound from this. They've played some teams with some real firepower (Rockies, D-backs) and couldn't hang. They need to get the offense rolling to compete; it was one of the top offenses in MLB last year. They are depending on simply outslugging opponents. Unless the pitching can correct itself, I'm afraid the Brewers are capable of being even worse than they've been so far.
C70: What are your initial impressions of our old friend Kyle Lohse?
BB: Kyle Lohse has been pretty good. I've enjoyed watching him so far in that he's very self-contained and clearly knows what he's doing on the mound. I saw him some with the Twins way back in the day and then of course with St. Louis. Compared to his Twins days, I think Lohse has really matured and figured out what he needs to do to get outs and keep the team in the game. Considering how weak the Brewers rotation would be without him, I'm happy to have him on board but of course the fat contract and the loss of a draft pick was a bitter pill to swallow to acquire him. I lobbied all offseason for the Brewers to bring in SOMEONE with significant MLB experience to mentor their young guys. Everyone was so hopeful for the young dudes and all their potential (Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta, and others), but there was no backup plan in case things didn't work out. As a Brewers fan it's hard not to think the front office is sort of eyeing 2014 rather than this year for a real playoff push. They would vehemently deny that, though. The Brewers need to keep the fans happy.
C70: How much is the loss of Aramis Ramirez going to hurt the team in the short-term?
BB: The loss of Aramis Ramirez (and hopefully it's very short term) is rough. Ramirez has infamously started slowly out of the gate in terms of hitting over the years but he was doing pretty well this year, and then of course was among the injured for the Brewers. I was doubtful about him until about June last year; then I started seeing that he really does put up the big numbers. He hit .300 last year, had 27 homers, 50 doubles and 105 RBI. He's absolutely crucial. We need him to come back and once again be the cleanup hitter who made us forget about Prince Fielder.
C70: What are your predictions about this weekend's series?
BB: For this weekend, I hate to say it but I think we're looking at a Cardinals sweep or at least two out of three against Milwaukee. This series at least features some of the better starting pitching the Brewers offer, but having to face Wainwright and Garcia is never fun. I'm sure this Miller kid will be no treat either. The Brewers haven't played particularly well in St. Louis over the years and I'm thinking they'll be lucky to get out of Busch with one victory. I hope I'm wrong! The Brewers could use some of the sunny side of life (and baseball).
We talked yesterday about calling Matt Adams AP&L. He definitely jolted the team yesterday with a double, a home run, and three RBI. He was joined on the power line by Jon Jay, Carlos Beltran and Matt Carpenter who all put a charge into the ball and sent it over the wall. Carpenter even added a double among his four total hits as the Cards ran away with the game 10-0.
The Hero, though, is the guy who flipped the switch and kept a potent offense in check all day long. Jake Westbrook might not have been commanding--he walked more than he struck out--but he allowed only five hits and went the distance, garnering the shutout on 111 pitches. He only had a couple of situations where the Reds threatened, but was able to get the outs he needed to keep the Cincinnati offense under wraps. Plus Westbrook tossed in a walk and a run-scoring single as well to make it a well-rounded day.
14 hits and 10 runs for the Cardinals, 5 hits and 0 runs for the Reds. I know it's early in the year, but there's a statement to be made there. Bernie Miklasz says the Cards showed remarkable resiliency after that epic meltdown on Monday and he's right. Not folding against the Reds lets them know that the Cards aren't going to be an easy chore for them this year. They are going to be around and, if this week's series is any indication, Cincinnati can't be liking that.
Another game where it's tough to find a Goat. All the starters had at least one hit. Yadier Molina only went 1-5, but he did throw out Jay Bruce trying to steal before the offense got on track. I guess I'll give it to Pete Kozma for his 1-4 and three left on base, but I don't really want to. That was totally a team effort there.
Off day today, but a rainout of the Brewers means that old friend Kyle Lohse gets to return to Busch Stadium, just on the opposite side of the field. Lohse was with the Cardinals for a long time and most of these guys haven't faced him. Still, a few do remember Lohse pre-Cardinals.
This really doesn't mean much, in my opinion. Ty Wigginton isn't the hitter that he used to be and is unlikely to see Lohse in this one anyway. Carlos Beltran might have gotten some of those numbers against the new and improved Cardinal version of Lohse, but probably not a lot of it. The Cards will know what he throws and what he likes to do on the mound, so maybe that will be enough to give their former teammate a rude welcome back to Busch.
Shelby Miller, the man that necessitated that Lohse move on, will take the mound in opposition. Miller hasn't faced any of the Brewer hitters before, so that can work for or against him. The Brewers still have Ryan Braun, of course, but he's been dealing with some neck issues (though they've not affected him when he's in the game, as he's hitting .500/.609/.833. Aramis Ramirez is out with a knee issue, which is good for St. Louis as he tends to be one of those Cardinal killers.
It'll be another celebration of Stan Musial on Friday, as it's harmonica night and the actual game balls will be stamped with a Musial logo. Anytime we get to celebrate Stan, it's a good night. Looking forward to it!
After sorting through the American League and the National League East, the middle of the week brings us to the best division in baseball. It's not perhaps the best as in the strongest or best as in the most star-laden, but it has the Cardinals in it. Therefore, best. We're all in agreement here, right?
Remember that if you don't agree with these picks, well, there are a bunch of others that you can look through and see if someone else is more to your liking!