UCB Weekend was, as always, a completely enjoyable time full of great people, good times and memorable moments. I hope to sit down and write about the dinner and the event with the Cardinals shortly, but in the meantime, the games go on. We've got a lot to catch up on, so let's get to it.
Hero: Carlos Beltran. Before he came down with the flu this weekend, Beltran had himself a night, hitting home runs from both sides of the plate to account for his three RBI night.
Goat: David Freese. There always seems to be someone who can't join a nice offensive party and this time it was Freese's invitation that got lost in the mail. Freese is admittedly struggling (currently hitting .163) and went 0-4 in this one.
Notes: As the meme says, that escalated quickly. When the home team leads off by going home run-home run-hard single-hit by pitch and then the starting pitcher for the visitors is ejected, well, that's the beginnings of a wild night. Mitchell Boggs continued to struggle--that's a phrase we'll get back to before this entry is done--but Randy Choate bailed him out and the offense piled on more to create the final margin. Two hits each by Matt Carpenter, Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Jon Jay (there IS life in that bat) helped Lance Lynn get the win, though more credit might be due to Lynn's scattering two hits over seven innings and striking out nine. All in all, this was the kind of game you expect to see more of from this team. Sadly, it was the last glimpse of anything relating to an offense.
Hero: Jake Westbrook. There are things you can gripe about with this team, but starting pitching really isn't one of them. Six was serious for Westbrook, who went six innings, allowed six hits, and struck out six. Mike Matheny pulled him because he seemed to be laboring a bit, but at just 91 pitches (and with the bullpen the way it is), I think I'd have left him out there. Then again, maybe Mike thought it was better to start the bullpen with a fresh inning, which would have made sense, even though it proved to be irrelevant.
Goat: Joe Kelly. Westbrook leaves and Kelly gets to play in back-to-back games instead of back-to-back weeks. Whether he wasn't used to the extra work or if the Pirates just had him measured, he allowed a single and then a home run to Russell Martin to immediately tie the game, then a single and a walk (sandwiched around a sacrifice bunt) before being pulled. Trevor Rosenthal allowed those inherited runners to score, meaning Kelly's ERA took a hit. Then again, what reliever's ERA hasn't (save Edward Mujica and Choate, I guess)?
Notes: Rosenthal had a wild pitch, a hit batsman, a bases-loaded walk and then got an RBI groundout and a flyout. Whether some of that was due to a wet mound and a slippery grip, I don't know. Rosenthal had been doing better, so perhaps some of that was due to the weather. We'll hope so, at least. The offense did more against A.J. Burnett than they did the time before, when he threw a one-hitter at them, but not a lot. Beltran had a couple of hits, the only batter with more than one. Daniel Descalso did walk twice, but that was more a function of batting in front of the pitcher than it was any keen eye of his. It was a cold, rainy, depressing day and this game fit into that.
Hero: Really, the Hero for us was the Cardinal organization, as they treated us so well during this game. That's for another entry, though. I guess you give the award to Matt Holliday, one of only three hitters that got a hit. Holliday also drew a walk, meaning he was on twice and no one else could say that.
Goat: Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski blew up in the ninth, allowing five runs between them, but the game was over by then. Fernando Salas allowed an inherited runner to score and gave up a home run, but did go over two innings and, honestly, that probably wasn't the difference in the game either. So let's look to the offense and, when there are an equal number of crappy options to choose from, the leadoff guy usually breaks ties. Matt Carpenter went 0-4, but he did lead off the game reaching on an error. I'm going to go with Yadier Molina, who went 0-3, left four on base, and actually was pinch-hit for with Tony Cruz in the ninth. Seriously, though, it was a game where just about anyone could have gotten this.
Notes: Shelby Miller didn't have his best game, obviously, but he wasn't bad. The two runs were solo homers and his inherited runner wouldn't have scored had Holliday been able to catch a bloop hit by John McDonald. Miller struck out seven, but ran up a high pitch count (113) and needs to be a bit more efficient so he can go deeper in games. Because I think the only solution for this bullpen may be the starters going at least eight innings.
Hero: Yadier Molina. Three hits, including the double that brought in the only run of the game. Plus was heads-up enough to continue wave Freese to second when he was caught in a rundown created by Freese's groundout after that double.
Goat: David Freese. 0-4 on the night including that groundout. He limited the damage by moving to second while Yadi was going back and forth, but if he was to ground out I think we'd have rather had one on the right side, moving Yadi to third with one down.
Notes: While it wasn't a perfect game by Adam Wainwright--he tripled his season walk total in this one--he did just give up two runs in seven innings. That should win you a lot of games, but the Cards had no answer for Mat Latos, which is a bit surprising given the poundings that they've given him in the past. Craig continues to come around, getting two hits and his average up over .270, though he's still lacking a long ball. Rosenthal went an inning and a third of scoreless relief, striking out two and allowing nothing else. He may well be coming around, at least to be a bit more reliable.
There's been some bullpen news off the field as well in the last few days. First, it was the fact that Jason Mottethrew this weekend and felt OK. This could be a bad thing disguised as a good thing, as it may just delay the inevitable, but if Motte can get around having Tommy John surgery, you really want that to happen. It seems inconceivable, but you have to give it every chance you can. If you could get him back at the end of games, that could stabilize a lot of things. It's still a longshot, but it's a better chance than we thought.
Then, yesterday, the first bullpen move of the year was made, sending Rzepczynski down to Memphis and bringing up Seth Maness. While you could have flipped a coin or used a dart board to determine who to send down and not likely come up with a wrong answer, I was surprised to see Scrabble get the demotion, one because I didn't know he had options left and two because of his tenure with the team. However, John Mozeliak said that not only were there performance issues with Rzepczynski, but that there were some personal issues as well. His body language and drive didn't seem to be there and the team hopes this is a wake-up call for him.
The rest of the bullpen is on notice as well. Mo has said that they can't keep doing what they are doing and pitchers like John Gast are waiting in Memphis. Mozeliak also hasn't completely ruled out Michael Wacha in a bullpen role either, though he'd prefer to wait to bring him up, noting that this time last year he was pitching at Texas A&M on a once-a-week schedule and getting him used to the every-five-days routine of professional baseball is a good thing. It seems to agree with him--Wacha threw six innings of one-run ball last night to lower his AAA ERA to 1.86 over five games. I believe Carlos Martinez is also on the radar, as Mo indicated he won't be in Springfield much longer.
Cards get another crack at the Reds this evening, throwing Jaime Garcia at Busch which usually is a good thing.
The table doesn't split it out into home and road results, so it's hard to know if Cincy has hit him this well everywhere or gotten a boost when he plays in Great American Ball Park. He's been able to contain Joey Votto, as you might expect lefty-on-lefty, but the same situation with Jay Bruce hasn't panned out for Garcia.
Bronson Arroyo goes for the Reds. I always think that Arroyo has dominated the Cards, but he's 8-14 with a 4.60 ERA in his career against them, including a 3-7, 5.43 ERA in the new Busch. The hitting numbers bear that out as well.
Amazing how three straight wins over a serious contender can give you a new perspective on a team, huh? The Cardinals limped into Washington with a leaky bullpen and questions about what this team was going to be like. They leave Washington with the bullpen issues solved (for the time being) and a spring in their step.
It was Good Jaime Garciaon the mound yesterday. Whether that means that the Philadelphia game was just a blip or whether having a three-run lead before he threw his first pitch settled him enough, it's tough to say. Garcia didn't make it through the sixth, who left with the bases loaded, but he was good enough to turn it over to a bullpen that was much sturdier than the one he's turned leads over to before. That said, you know he was having flashbacks to that last home stand, wondering if this was going to be the third game he didn't get credit for the win.
That didn't happen, because of our Hero of the day. Joe Kelly got to play twice in one series after his stint as a Monday pitcher and the results were outstanding. Kelly struck out Ian Desmond to clean up Garcia's mess, then after allowing a couple of singles in the seventh, struck out Steve Lombardozzi, which turned into the exciting strike-'em-out-throw-'em-out double play.
Kelly's coolness under fire (and his fire-breathing fastball) are surely going to be noticed, especially in a time of trial like this has been. With Mitchell Boggs indefinitely shelved (he didn't pitch at all in this series), Kelly's days of pitching once a week would seem to be over. Will we see Mike Matheny go to a Kelly-Trevor Rosenthal-Edward Mujica end of game triumvirate? I'm actually betting that we won't. Matheny used Rosenthal as the fireman last year, bringing him into situations like bases-loaded, two-out to get the strikeout. I wouldn't be surprised if Kelly slides into that role as well, giving Matheny the option to keep him out there for another inning if he gets out of the jam or just letting him get the key out.
As for Rosenthal, I'm of two minds about his outing yesterday. On the one hand, he did give up another home run and therefore another imperfect outing. On the flip side, he wasn't out there giving up multiple hits like he has in the past and struck out two of the other four batters he faced and the home run was to Jayson Werth and he walked Bryce Harper, two salty bats. I think I'm still on the "he's coming around" bandwagon but I'm sitting on the edge of it. I'd like a couple of more strong outings so I could get back into the middle of the vehicle.
There were a few offensive stars as well. Matt Holliday saw seven pitches all day long, but swatted three of them for hits, including an RBI single in the eighth that meant Werth's home run wasn't as dramatic as it could have been. Matt Carpenter took to the leadoff role, also getting three hits, and Yadier Molina drove in the first two runs of the day with his only hit.
We'll have to give the Goat to Allen Craig. 0-4 is rough enough, but three strikeouts meant that it just wasn't his day. Not the strongest day for Carlos Beltran either, though he did get a walk and a run out of his 0-3.
With the bullpen starting to come around, the demand for a fresh infusion of pitching is subsiding somewhat. That doesn't mean we aren't going to get regular Michael Wacha updates from Memphis, though. Wacha threw seven scoreless yesterday with, interestingly enough, John Mozeliak in attendance. Wacha has had one iffy game in his four starts and sports an ERA under 2.00. We still haven't seen him struggle and need to see how he can bounce back from adversity, but if he keeps this up, Mo might be thinking about ways to get him a spot in St. Louis.
The Cardinals keep the Eye On Baseball Heavyweight Title Belt that they snatched from the Giants earlier in the season and will have to defend it against the Pirates this weekend. If you a long-time reader (if such a thing exists) you might remember me mentioning before that my church does a fundraising BBQ this time of year. So tomorrow will be spent from well before dawn to probably about first pitch doing all the things that entails and there won't be a post. Then, Saturday I head to St. Louis for UCB Weekend (have you downloaded the Bonfyre app to stay up with things yet?) and Sunday I'll be at the game. I don't promise a post on Monday either, depending on how late I get back on Sunday. All that to say, let's go ahead and look at the starting matchups for tomorrow.
Lance Lynn tries to stop this whole good-start, bad-start thing when he heads to the mound on Friday night. Lynn looked quite good against the Phillies, but two starts ago, he got beat around by these Pirates, though he was able to get the win due to an explosive night for the bats.
Jonathan Sanchez goes for the Bucs. It's been an awful season so far for Sanchez, who still has two digits to the left of the decimal point in his ERA. His best start was probably the one against the Cardinals last time out, where he hadn't given up a run before the rains came and rained it out. He's yet to go five innings--the only game he got that far was his first--and, in theory, should be a great tonic for some fairly quiet bats.
The historical numbers do say otherwise, of course, and he is a lefty which is sometimes a drawback for this team. We'll see what gets more weight, the past or the present, when the two teams take the field on Friday evening.
Should have a press release from the Cards for you later today and I plan to put up the May Egraphs contest this afternoon as well. Hope you have a wonderful weekend and I'll see you back here next week!
There have been some yucky games over the past few years, but last night's might have ranked right there at the top of them. Which is saying something, given that this team was no-hit last season.
At least with the no-hitter, there was a history aspect in play as well. It didn't make it any more fun, but at least you knew it was a game that was to be long remembered in minds of Mets fans. It was a game that most of their fans would take again, even as they traded in the Met career of Johan Santana for it.
I'd think last night was worse because, while A.J. Burnett is a fine pitcher that is a bit underrated at times, he doesn't have the cache that a Santana does. Plus there's no history in this one, as Burnett wasn't even going for his first no-hitter. All that aside, no hits is a historical night. One hit is a miserable offensive outing.
Again, it was Carlos Beltran who broke up* the no-hitter, but unlike the one in New York, this one was obviously fair. However, that and a hit batter was all this team, a team that has scored double digit twice already this year and beat around Burnett last season, could manage offensively.
That in itself would be bad enough, but there were a number of defensive woes as well. The Goat goes to Daniel Descalso because, even though he was one of the only two to get on base, he struggled last night at the shortstop position. He rushed a throw trying to do to much in the sixth when it was still 1-0, putting Andrew McCutchen on second base where he wound up coming in to score. He also was unable to come up with a couple of other balls hit toward him late in the game as well.
Nobody covered themselves in glory. David Freese had a throwing error that led to a run against Trevor Rosenthal, who allowed three hits and two runs in an inning plus. It's getting to the point where you wonder if Rosenthal might not benefit from a little more time in Memphis because he's not having much success in the big leagues. Randy Choate allowed one of Rosenthal's runners to score then gave up a run himself, which didn't endear him to the Cardinal faithful. When Fernando Salas is your most effective reliever, it's a rough night.
I say that nobody covered themselves in glory, but that's not quite true. If there was one person who lived up to expectations last night and actually had a good night (and, thus, gets the Hero bit) it was Shelby Miller. Miller deserved a much better fate than a loss out of his pitching last night. He allowed two runs in six innings, but one of those was in the first after a leadoff triple and one of those was in the sixth after Descalso's error let McCutchen move to second. He struck out six, including Pedro Alvarez to end the threat in the sixth, and walked just one (Garrett Jones in the sixth as well). Miller had a stretch where he sat down 15 in a row from the end of the first to McCutchen's at-bat in the sixth. Miller has had long stretches like that in each of his starts, proving that he can play at a high level. We'll see what adjustments the league will make to him shortly, I figure.
The Cards stay in Pennsylvania, moving on to Philadelphia to take on the Phillies in a four-game set. It's unlikely there will be much more offense in this one, as Cole Hamels goes for the Phillies. Hamels has struggled this year so far (0-2, 7.56 ERA) but you always know you are in for a battle when he's on the mound.
The Cards know full well what happens when Hamels is on. I can't imagine that small sample is enough to get Ty Wigginton in the lineup tonight, but hopefully he can share some of that knowledge with the rest of the lineup and they can have more success than they have historically.
The good thing about going up against Hamels tonight is that Adam Wainwright takes the mound for the Cardinals. We all know what Waino can do when healthy and there's no doubt he's back to that level.
Wainwright's done to the Phillies what Hamels has done to the Cardinals. He's been able to curtail Ryan Howard as well, which is pretty impressive given the fact that Howard seems to always do well against his hometown team.
There doesn't seem a strong likelihood that there will be much more offense tonight. However, that doesn't mean it will be as miserable of an evening. Let's hope the Cards are on the up side of this pitching duel!
We've seen some good things out of this offense this season. We've seen a few double-digit games and we've seen them adjust in mid-game, going the first four or five innings without denting the plate, then exploding to take over the game. Those adjustments are something we didn't see last year and it's heartening to see them.
However, there are some bad habits that seem to persist and one of those is to have the bats explode early, then shut down. Now, to be fair, when you get up 10-1 like the team did last night, you shouldn't need any more runs and, in fact, they did win 10-6. Still, it got a little dicier in the ninth than most of us expected after the third.
There were a lot of offensive highlights in those first three innings, though. Of course, there were some baserunning lowlights in the first which may have kept the Cardinals from scoring more, though whether they could have done the same amount of damage in the second had they piled on in the first is a matter of conjecture. We'll give the Hero label to Jon Jay, who went two for four, knocked in two, and scored three. That's a solid all-around day. Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina both had two hits as well, with Molina's second being the infield version. Molina's caught every inning this year and still has enough oomph to leg out an infield hit. That's almost superhuman in my mind.
(My guess is that Yadi sits tonight, though. You have the crafty veteran Jake Westbrook on the mound who needs his services less than Shelby Miller will tomorrow night. Seems like the best shot Tony Cruz has had in a while to actually play.)
However, just about all 10 of those runs were needed because the pitching staff stumbled again. This time, however, it was the almost-impervious starting rotation that fell down on the job. If you want to read into patterns, Lance Lynn has had a bad outing, a good outing, and a bad outing. Either he's set up for another good one in Philadelphia or he's been taking lessons from Jaime Garcia and is only going to be good at home. Either way, it's not a rhythm you like to see a starter get into.
Lynn was given a 1-0 lead after the top of the first and immediately snapped the starters' scoreless streak by giving it back to Pittsburgh. Once he got his large margin, you could argue he was "pitching to the score" and not worrying too much about the repercussions, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Lynn threw almost 100 pitches in five innings, showing he was laboring and not being efficient with getting his outs.
Lynn gets the Goat because an outing like that could have been a disaster. If the Cardinals hadn't been pounding James McDonald, this would have been a closer game or a game where the Pirates might have held the lead. Also, you know the bullpen has been struggling, yet on a night where they should be able to rest or come in with no pressure, you've turned it over to them very early. Lynn has starts of four innings, six innings and now five innings--the team is going to need him to go deeper into games if he's going to be a productive member of the rotation.
Now, it also worked out for Lynn that some guys in the bullpen actually needed to work. Joe Kelly reemerged from a week-long sabbatical to throw two scoreless innings, but Marc Rzepczynski wasn't nearly as lucky, allowing two runs in the eighth. Scrabble did face a majority of right-handers, but he has had some perfect innings this year. That's two rough outings in a row for Rzepczynski, though to be fair those two outings were a week apart.
Then there was Mitchell Boggs, the beleaguered closer who came into a non-save situation and forced the bullpen to start warming up. Boggs walked the leadoff batter, then got a double play ball, then allowed a hit, then struck out the last batter. It was scoreless, it got the job done, but that's not exactly what you want to see from that outing. Mike Matheny said they were one batter away from going to Edward Mujica, which just shows how tight the leash is getting on Boggs right now. Maybe that'll give him the confidence to get the job done, but with 20+ pitches there and having thrown on Sunday, it seems likely that any save situation this evening will be handled by someone else.
Even if Boggs was available, though, Matheny might look elsewhere for his ninth inning solution. He's stated that those duties might be spread around for a while until they figure out exactly what they have and who will take over the job. I'm personally going to be interested to see if Kelly gets a shot at closing out a game and what the results will be there. Kelly, who was drafted as a closer out of college, doesn't look to be in the rotation anytime soon (unless Lynn struggles and they don't tap Trevor Rosenthal to replace him) so getting some regular work as the closer might be a way to get him more involved.
Cards try to win yet another series tonight, sending Westbrook to the mound with that mission. The numbers are not in his favor.
Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez, some of the usual suspects when it comes to Pittsburgh hitting Cardinal pitching, have worked over Westbrook in the past. We'll have to hope Westbrook has a little magic from that last start left in his tank.
Cardinals get to face Jonathan Sanchez, who has struggled in the past few years since a dominating season in San Francisco.
Often a lefty will confound the Cardinals and Sanchez seems to be no exception. When the best results come from Ty Wigginton, you know it's got a chance to be a rough night. We'll see if Sanchez's recent struggles (he's 0-2 with a 12.96 ERA and a 2.28 WHIP) take more precedent than his historical dominance does. Let's hope so!
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!
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!
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.
79-83, fourth in the NL Central
For the longest time last year, I looked really smart.
On the annual pre-season NL Central show that I host on Blog Talk Radio (the 2013 version should be coming next weekend), I said that I thought the Pirates not only would snap their sub-.500 streak that was going on two decades long but also finish ahead of the Brewers for third in the Central. The Pirates made me look good by not only being around third, but actually challenging yet again for the divisional title. Sadly, their second straight post-All Star slump knocked them out of the upper division, continuing that sad streak.
Even so, there has to be more optimism in Pittsburgh now than since I graduated from high school. (Class of '93, baby! Reunion this fall!) The Pirates seem closer and closer to being a contending team. Will this be that fateful year that they finally get over the hump?
Pittsburgh may have a bit of a tortured history, but in spite of (or maybe because of) that, the fanbase can turn out some talented bloggers. I've got two of them for today's entry. Brian McElhinny writes Raise The Jolly Roger! and can be found on Twitter @rtjr. Pat Lackey is the author of Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?, celebrating that fine Cardinal centerfielder (that, yeah, spent some time in the Steel City also). You'll find him @whygavs.
So stick around to find out if they can buck the recent second-half trends and what rookies might help out if so.
After Monday night, when the Cards had won to put the Pirates three back and to make ground on about everyone else in the wild card race, things were looking good. It seemed likely that the Cardinals had put everything together and were starting off on another late season run.
Little did we know that was the last semblance of offense we'd see in the series.
For the second straight night, Pittsburgh held the team scoreless and Pedro Alvarez provided more much than the league's best offense in total. Instead of a team that looks primed and ready to take on all comers, they fall to eight games behind Cincinnati, eliminating that an as an option in all reality, and see them clinging to the last wild card slot, just one game ahead of Pittsburgh and a game and a half ahead of the Dodgers. (They are now 2.5 behind Atlanta for the top wild card slot.)
Still, I'll go with Joe Kelly. While things could have been much worse, his hanging pitch to Alvarez took just about any hope of a win away from St. Louis. To be fair, take that out and he allowed just two runs, but you have to remember that there were two on for Alvarez as well. He's not completely blameless here. Of course, we didn't know it but the run he gave up in the first was all they needed, but I can't just put "offense" down as the Goat.
On the positive side, I'll go with David Freese as the Hero since he had two hits, but Tony Cruz also did a good job filling in for Molina with a couple of knocks and Jon Jay drew three walks, which is exactly what you want to see out of a leadoff guy. I've been very impressed with Jay in the leadoff role and hope he can keep this up. Give a lot of credit to Trevor Rosenthal as well. Three scoreless innings with only one hit allowed. Obviously there's less pressure coming into a 5-0 game, but that's impressive work nonetheless.
Mike Matheny says Kelly will stay in the rotation, which I'd expect, though you'll note he said the same thing after Lance Lynn's last start. I'd guess if Kelly falters again they might go with Rosenthal, they might return Lynn to the rotation, but if I were to guess I'd say Kelly is there for the duration, barring some major blowup. I'm still interested to see if they bring up Shelby Miller and if they do, he could get a start here and there. I don't think he'll make the trip up from Memphis, but it's still a reasonable possibility.
Yadier Molina was doing well yesterday, pestering Matheny to let him play and calling the hit by Josh Harrison "a clean play." Nobody knows that better than Molina, so hopefully that puts paid to any controversy. Also, given his improvement, hopefully we'll see Molina back on the field tonight or tomorrow, which is great news to anyone not named Bryan Anderson.
Just like last night's offense, it was pretty quiet around the Cardinals the last day or so. We'll see if that changes this weekend when the callups can start. Memphis's season ends Monday, so I'm guessing we won't see a lot of people coming to St. Louis until Tuesday at the earliest. Miller should pitch tomorrow night, so he could come up after that if he's coming.
Seems strange to be almost in September and talking about a team we've not seen yet, but the Cards and Nationals will meet for the first time this evening. Obviously, this is going to be another tough series for St. Louis, with Washington being in first place and having the ability to throw out a lot of good pitching at the Redbirds.
That run of good pitching starts tonight with old friend Edwin Jackson taking the mound for Washington. Jackson was in a Kyle Lohse-like situation last year, as he pitched well enough that the Cardinals would have liked to bring him back, but there really wasn't room for him. (Though if they'd known about Chris Carpenter, I wonder if they'd done things differently.) Jackson's record isn't all that strong, but his ERA is under 4.00 and we well know how strong he can pitch on a given night.
Jackson's bounced around enough that many have had a chance to face him, but no one's had a chance to face him very much. Matt Holliday's done well, Molina has flat out owned him, but other than that not much stands out. We'll see if his time in St. Louis gave him any insights on how to pitch to these guys and vice versa.
Matching up against Jackson is Jaime Garcia. Garcia has pitched well since his return from the disabled list but also shown that lack of mental toughness that he has been labeled with in the past. We know the road is not usually kind to Garcia, but maybe that'll change.
These guys have done fairly well against Garcia also, again in a very small sample size. He has been able to handle Jayson Werth, though.
They all are from now on, but this is an especially key series. If they can't at least split this one, there may not be any reason to be excited about a wild card run after all. Let's see if they can do it!
And to think, we almost made it through the season without an Incident.
You know, one of those moments where the national press and those that think the worst of the Cardinals get a chance to moralize or condemn the squad as "whiners". Without Tony La Russa, we'd been relatively free of the drama that had surrounded this team in the last few years.
This time, though, we aren't talking about lights on the field or a blowup with a reporter. We're talking the health and continued playability of Yadier Molina, something much more important (and much less deserving of the crybaby label that some love to put on this team).
You know by now that Josh Harrisonplowed into Molina at the plate last night, throwing a forearm shiver at his head instead of trying for the hook slide or at least crashing into the body. If you for some reason haven't seen it or want to refer to it, this is what it looked like.
Looking at the responses on Twitter, even Pirate fans were not pleased with what Harrison did. As they pointed out, if he tries to hook slide, he's probably safe and the game goes on. Instead, he wanted to be the football player and tried to take out Molina, which you have to know isn't happening. I heard that in some versions, they replaced Gandalf with Molina for the famous "You shall not pass" scene because it made it more believable.
Folks, you know it's serious when Molina has to be helped off the field. Molina is a rock in this lineup, already playing on a bad ankle because he wants to help the team. To see him roll around on the field and have to leave the game, well, it's not surprising that it stirred up some passions in the clubhouse.
When you have a former catcher whose career ended due to concussions and a TLR-trained team that (for whatever your opinion of it) feel like they've been trained to play the game the "right way", a dirty play like that is not going to go unanswered. (To be fair, I don't think Harrison intended to harm Molina, but ignorance isn't necessarily a defense.) Sadly, one of the highlights of Jake Westbrook's night was his plunking of Harrison later on, to send a message that his sort of play wasn't tolerated.
Both sides were warned after that, of course, but Clint Hurdle came out to argue that ruling. Apparently, that didn't set well with the keeper of the flame. The Warrior was with the team in Pittsburgh and in fine form as well. We heard earlier in the day that Chris Carpenter had thrown a bullpen session (more on that in a bit), but I'm pretty sure he was wanting to fire one past Hurdle right then. If nothing else, sitting on the bench hasn't diluted Carp's fiery competitiveness. I know I would never want to be on his bad side!
Thankfully, there doesn't seem to be any lasting injuries with Molina, who was diagnosed with multiple strains but no concussion or anything of the sort. Molina is the player this team can probably least afford to lose for an extended period of time. The Cardinals are covering just in case, sending down Brandon Dickson (who wouldn't be able to help more this week anyway and will possibly return when the rosters expand) and Ryan Jackson (who barely has gotten to play in his time in the bigs) so as to recall Trevor Rosenthal and Bryan Anderson. If it's like the last time Anderson came up, he'll never get into a game, but it's good to have that insurance behind Tony Cruz.
At the time of the Incident, it was 1-0. Sadly, it didn't stay that way but even if it had, it likely would have just added to the pile of one-run losses that the Cards have endured. James McDonald has been able to get no one out since the All-Star Break except those wearing the birds on the bat. McDonald now has a string of 14 scoreless innings against the club in the last two weeks, allowing only two hits over that span. Pedro Alvarez continues to destroy Cardinal pitching, launching two home runs and going 4-5. Nothing about last night went the Cardinals way. (Versus the Cards, Alvarez has four home runs in 49 at-bats and his hitting .347/.429/.633, well above his season totals of .240/.321/.462.)
Westbrook gets the Goat, throwing his second straight ugly start after signing the contract extension. It got away from him in the fifth, where trailing by 3-0 he let it run up to 7-0 before he got an out. Mike Matheny left him out there to save the pen, because it seemed unlikely the club was coming back anyway, and it gave him the chance to retaliate against Harrison. Dickson was able to absorb the rest of the game, allowing just one earned run (two total) in his three innings and looking much better than what we saw from him in Cincinnati.
Tough to give a Hero to a team that only got five hits, so let's give it to Molina. He had one of those and obviously gave his all for the team last night.
The better and more intriguing news of yesterday was the bullpen session of Carpenter and the resulting speculation that, just maybe, Carp's not done for 2012. The club isn't completely ruling out that Carpenter could be a bullpen option down the stretch, which would make for an exciting option in September. I don't expect it will happen, but those involved were being awfully noncommittal. You'd have expected a more definite "no, he should be ready for spring but not going to push him before that" if that wasn't at least on the minds of those making decisions. If nothing else, seeing Carpenter on a major league mound would put John Mozeliak's mind at ease when he goes into the offseason.
We've never seen Carp in the pen. Would he be able to get out of that starter mentality and go right at people? Uh, yeah, probably. The problem might be controlling that aggression! The bigger issue would be if he could go on shorter rest, if he could warm up quickly, those things that are different about a starter than a reliever. I'd definitely be willing to find out, though!
Big rubber game of the series tonight. Cards need it to keep any sort of momentum going, Pirates need it to stay relevant in the wild-card hunt. The Cardinals have to put last night behind them and, to their credit, we saw them do that in just the last series, getting blown out by Cincy and then coming back to take the last game. Need a little repeating history here.
Joe Kelly gets back into the rotation and goes today. He was solid against the Pirates in that extra-inning game, giving up one run in 5.2 innings. Obviously, Pittsburgh hasn't seen him much, but he's gotten them out when he has faced them.
He was able to handle Alvarez, which is huge. If he pitches like he has most of the year, the Cards should have a good chance to win.
Of course, they are going up against one of their nemeses in Wandy Rodriguez. Rodriguez often handled the Cardinals in Houston and pitched the last two innings of the extra-inning affair, getting the win.
Matt Holliday has done well against him and, if Carlos Beltran wasn't "lost" (his words), this might be a good matchup for him as well. The Cardinals are really going to have to battle tonight and show that they want this win. Here's hoping they get it!
Are we sure that was the 2012 Cardinals playing last night? I mean, it's a fair question. So often this season we've seen the Cards have a strong series, only to come out flat in a game that matters. Instead, they took two of three from Cincinnati and then continued to roll by taking the first game against the Pirates. I'm not sure who these guys are, but I could come to like them!
The closer role is a difficult one. When Jason Motte blows a save, he winds up with the Goat tag because he let a winnable game get away. When he locks down the game, he doesn't necessarily get extra credit because, basically, he's doing his job.
While there could be arguments made about others (and I will in a moment), Motte was the Hero of last night's game. Coming in with two on and two out in the eighth, with the game starting to feel like it was slipping away, Motte got Josh Harrison to ground out to shortstop then put away the Pirates in the ninth with little drama. A loss last night would have been pretty devastating, but Motte made sure it didn't happen.
Of course, there might not have been a lead to protect if it wasn't for Matt Holliday. Not only did Holliday hit the tie-breaking home run, he had limited some damage in the fourth when Pittsburgh scored two of their runs. Harrison hit a fly ball with the bases loaded that Holliday made a nice play to track down, keeping it as a sacrifice fly rather than a double that cleared the bases. That was key later when the Cardinals rallied. Two runs was doable, four runs might have made for a different game. The only downside to Holliday's night was that he struck out with Jon Jay at third when that insurance run would have felt really good to the fans watching.
That was the only bit of trouble Kyle Lohse ran into. Well, save the elements of course, as the rain not only eventually knocked him out of the game but the mud may have slowed him down enough to get thrown out at the plate. Still, I think we'll take five innings of two run ball and a game-tying RBI. Pretty good night for Lohse and, again, it was the rain knocking him out of the game and not the Pirates, so you feel good about that.
Carlos Beltran gets the Goat for his 0-4 night. It's been a rough stretch for Beltran, who is batting .149/.231/.213 over his last twelve games and hasn't hit a home run since August 10. Whether it's nagging injuries or something else, he's not helping the team much right now and hopefully he can get back to his early season form. It doesn't seem that there are many better alternatives right now, but you hate to have a dead spot in the lineup if you can help it.
It was a little interesting that Mike Matheny lifted Mitchell Boggs in the eighth, going with Marc Rzepczynski to face Pedro Alvarez with one on and two out. Scrabble did have better numbers against Alvarez, though both had a very small sample. I also think it might have been the right call because Alvarez has made his season against the Cardinals, it seems, and any little advantage might be key. Of course, Rzep got him to ground to Furcal, but the shift was on and Furcal could only get to the ball, with no chance to make a play. That set the stage for Motte, which is where we came in.
We also got to see Lance Lynn make his first relief appearance of the year, coming in after the rain delay to take over for Lohse. Lynn got some help in the outfield, including a ball that Jay had to go a long way for to get, but he threw a scoreless frame. We'll see if the bullpen adjustment takes and we see the Lynn we saw down the stretch last year.
Cincinnati won, staying six ahead of the Cards, but both Atlanta and Los Angeles lost, meaning that the Cards are now 2.5 ahead of LA and three ahead of Pittsburgh for the last wild card slot and only 1.5 games behind Atlanta for the first one. Getting that home field advantage for the one game playoff sure would be a nice thing.
St. Louis looks to take the series early tonight and sends out Jake Westbrook to do it. Westbrook struggled last time out against the Astros, but has been very consistent otherwise this season. Westbrook has had trouble against the Pirates this season, though, going 1-3 with a tolerable 3.71 ERA.
Andrew McCutchen has done well against him, which could be a problem. The Cards held down McCutchen when they faced Pittsburgh in St. Louis a few series back, but that's not going to last long. Jose Tabata has done a number on him as well, so this doesn't look like the best matchup for Westbrook.
James McDonald has only thrown once against the Cardinals this year, but it was that Friday night game two weeks ago where the Cards didn't score until he was out of the game. Historically, these Redbirds haven't done much against him either.
Of course, the Amazing Whacker Guy Allen Craig has hit him, but that's about it. While McDonald has been in a bad place for most of the second half of the season, this still isn't a great matchup for St. Louis.
Here's to bucking the numbers and taking home a win tonight. Also, if you've not done it yet, be sure to enter the Egraphs giveaway. A good number of entries so far but not enough that your odds are astronomical. You've got until the UCB Radio Hour tomorrow night to enter!