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Looking For Some Bats

Posted on April 19, 2010 at 11:10 AM
Filed Under: Arizona Diamondbacks | Heroes and Goats | New York Mets | St. Louis Cardinals
Whatever you may think of this weekend series against the Mets, one thing is certain: it was definitely memorable.

While Saturday's game will be the most talked-about of the three contests, being the type of guy I am I have to go in order.  Besides, Friday's game had a lot of the same components as Saturday, just with a better (and shorter) ending.

Friday's Hero was, of course, Felipe Lopez for smashing the grand slam that, eventually, the Cardinals needed every bit of.  It was an unexpected jolt of offense against a Mets team that was shutting down the Cards in every aspect.

Probably the more important story line that came out of that game, though, was the re-emergence, if you will, of Chris Carpenter.  After giving up five home runs in his first two outings, and looking very bad against the Brewers last Sunday, there wasn't really concern in Cardinal Nation, more like general unease.  Is there something wrong with Carp?  Is the magic gone?

Carpenter stopped a lot of that talk before it got started, allowing just one unearned run and four hits over seven innings.  While the Mets offense has its problems as well, as we saw Saturday, it was still a legitimate effort and one that eased the minds of a lot of St. Louis fans.  It's good to know that we can still trust that, every five days, the Cardinals are going to get a great pitching performance and have a strong chance to win.

(That's a misleading statement, though.  With a rotation ERA that stands at 2.09 now, EVERY day the Cardinals are getting a great pitching performance and have a strong chance to win.  Which is an awesome feeling.)

On the down side Friday, Ryan Franklin again stirred up the embers of the negative talk directed his way.  Franklin had been efficient in his last outing, so when Fox Sports Midwest analyst Al Hrbrosky started talking about how they'd found a flaw in his delivery and they'd fixed it, I could believe that.  Until three of the first four batters reached base, that is.  Franklin eventually gave up two-thirds of the three-run lead he was staked to, but finally locked the door.  While the bullpen performed spectacularly on Saturday, the doubts are still there on some of these guys.

Then you have Saturday.

You feel like any game that goes 20 innings, you should give out two Heroes and two Goats, since you basically played two games and then some.  I should probably dedicate a whole entry to that game, to the ins and outs, to the questionable decisions made by Tony La Russa, to the highs and lows and just general craziness.  Then Nick goes out and does it better than I could anyway, so you get spared some of that.  Still, after the jump, we'll get into a little discussion about one of the games that will definitely be remembered from this year for a long time to come.

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Where to begin.  Well, as they say, the beginning would be a great place and Jaime Garcia provided an amazing beginning.  Making only his third career starts, he holds a lineup that includes Jose Reyes and David Wright to just one hit in seven innings, carrying that no-hitter into the sixth.  While even if he'd completed the no-hitter (assuming the Cards could have scored and he could have done so in nine innings) that's no indication of his future (ask Bud Smith and Jose Jimenez), it still would have been an indication of the talent that he has.  

Garcia pitched a whale of a game, even beating out his last start (also on a Fox Saturday game) which was amazingly solid as well.  Five strikeouts, only two walks and the one hit.  Twelve ground balls.  He could have been a little better about getting strike one (did that on only 10 of 24 first pitches), but that's nitpicking what should have been a game all about him.  In a sane world, the Cards would have gotten a run or two off of Johan Santana (hey, at least they were being shut down by the best) or a reliever and given Garcia a deserved win.  Instead, for most (but not all), his outing was overlooked in the craziness that followed.

If I believed in giving the Goat tag to non-players, it was a night where Tony La Russa might have taken home the title.  I can at least buy his reasoning on taking out Matt Holliday when he did.  Holliday has been sick, hasn't looked right at the plate, etc.  I get that.  Not sure I'd have done that, but you don't expect the game to go on as long as it did and there's reasoning there.

I think the basis behind letting a reliever hit with the bases loaded and two out not once but twice in extra innings is a little weaker.  I know, you want to keep using that player, but a base hit in that situation and you don't have to worry about using anyone.  When it gets that late in the ballgame, you have to take your shot and realize that, if it doesn't pan out, things might get iffy.  It's like Tony to keep preparing for a future, a future that may never come and may never have to come.  We all remember him keeping Albert Pujols on the bench in the 2007 All-Star Game in case it went to extra innings.  Of course, if AP had hit, it might have and/or they might have won, but saving him just meant the team lost.

What it boils down to, in my opinion, is that TLR has absolutely no faith in Bryan Anderson, for whatever reason.  Yadier Molina caught all of Friday night's game, catches 20 innings on Saturday, and then catches a complete game with Adam Wainwright on the mound the next night?  There's a reason you have a backup catcher and it's not just in case the brick wall behind the plate gets a chink in it.

I was afraid, after seeing Anderson's one spring training at-bat, that he was called up to SL just to sit and wait.  In case something terrible happened to Molina, he'd be there, but other than that he was just an ornament on the bench.  I think I'd have rather had Matt Pagnozzi get the callup and actually rest Molina occasionally with Anderson playing every day in Memphis.  Even with Pagnozzi's atrocious bat, that'd do some good for everyone.

Really don't know which player to go with as a Goat in this game, but I think I'm going to go with Ryan Ludwick.  It may not be for the reason you think, though.  It's not for his ill-advised attempt to score in the 16th, when he was thrown out.  It's not even really for being thrown out on the hit and run with Pujols in the 19th (which really made no sense.  I know you want to try to manufacture runs, but it's AP.  If Ludwick steals, they walk Pujols, the pitcher bunts them over, you walk the next guy and get set for the double play.  If the hit-and-run works, probably same result.  I'm sure Tony was trying to push for that run, but it almost backfired.)  It wasn't even for his game-ending groundout with Pujols looming on deck waiting to tie or win the thing.  Heck, Ludwick even got two hits in the game, which was more than a lot of people.

No, my Goat moment for Ludwick was in the top of the 14th.  The first two batters reach, and after a stolen base by Brendan Ryan, there was second and third with nobody out.  You have to score in that situation.  Skip Schumaker struck out, but that (while disappointing) was manageable.  You have Ludwick, who has to get a hit or at least get the ball out of the infield. You know that Pujols will walk and the pitcher's slot is coming up.  At best, you'd have a rookie with one at-bat hitting with two down.  You've got to do something there, but instead he struck out.  That inning may have done more to contribute to the loss than any other.

One of the great things about the Baseball Bloggers Alliance is that after the game, I was contacted by two different Mets bloggers to talk about it.  Kerel even used some of our chat in a blog post over at his site.

Of course, it's possible some good will come out of this.  It was great to see the team cheering on Lopez and Joe Mather while they were on the mound and Kyle Lohse when he made his catches in the outfield.  When you get past the frustration and embrace the insanity of the whole thing, you really can come together as a group.

After an outing like that, it was good that the Cardinals could wait until Sunday night, again on national TV (six of their first 12 games have had that kind of audience) to come back at it.  It looked like more of the same offensively, but then Colby Rasmus got into one to tie it up at 3 and then later Ludwick won it with a two-run blast.

Normally, Ludwick probably would have gotten my Hero vote.  After all, he did hit a late HR to win a ballgame.  As we've proven this weekend, though, this series wasn't normal.

Adam Wainwright, though, earned Hero status and more with his outing Sunday.  Not only did he get the win, he pitched a complete game, resting a pen that needed the time off.  It wasn't just a complete game because of that, though.  He kept his pitch count low (hitting 100 in the ninth, I believe) and, save a second inning that got away from him a bit, was completely dominating.  No batter reached after the fifth inning.  He retired the last eleven men he faced.  He took that game on his shoulders and wasn't going to let it go.

Mike says that he would take Adam over Chris Carpenter in a must-win game right now.  I don't see how you can disagree too sharply with that.  Some of us (and I'll put myself in that category) wondered if last year was just a career year for Adam.  If that he'd continue to be good, but not necessarily top of the league class.  So far this year, he's shown that this is his level, he's not stretching to get there.  Tim Lincecum, Stephen Strasburg, Roy Halladay--these guys will get the press (and deservedly so, don't get me wrong--well, Strasburg still has to prove it in the bigs), but Adam looks like he can be in that class for a long time to come.

On the flip side, the guy you expect to be a rock faltered last night.  Three starters last night didn't get a hit.  I will not fault Yadier Molina at all for that, given his iron man act from this weekend.  Skip Schumaker was disappointing, especially out of the leadoff slot, and I think he should have seen more than 14 pitches in that role.  However, Albert Pujols went 0-5.  I think I read this was his 24th 0-5 in over 1400 career games.  That's good stuff.  But when it happens, it has to be noted.

The Cardinals get a little extra time to get ready for the next series as they head out to Arizona, who is an hour behind St. Louis time (I said a little!).  If the Cardinals want to win this series, they really better win tonight's ball game.  Tuesday and Wednesday see Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson start, which won't exactly be what this struggling offense wants to see.  Tonight, however, it's Rodrigo Lopez.

Albert Pujols 6 5 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 1 0 0 1
Felipe Lopez 5 5 3 0 0 2 2 0 1 .600 .600 1.800 2.400 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 2
Matt Holliday 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Ludwick 3 3 2 0 0 1 1 0 1 .667 .667 1.667 2.333 0 0 0 0 0
Skip Schumaker 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Jason LaRue 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Brad Penny 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Lohse 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Colby Rasmus 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 30 29 8 2 0 3 4 0 4 .276 .267 .655 .922 0 1 0 0 3
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/19/2010.

Not a lot of history with Lopez, who spent the early part of his career in the American League.  I'd guess Lopez will start, perhaps at third, though David Freese has been coming around and made some nice plays in that Saturday game.

Cards counter with Brad Penny, who is familiar to the NL West team:

Stephen Drew 21 17 3 0 0 0 1 2 5 .176 .250 .176 .426 1 1 0 0 0
Conor Jackson 21 19 9 4 0 0 3 1 0 .474 .524 .684 1.208 0 0 0 1 0
Adam LaRoche 20 17 5 0 0 2 6 3 5 .294 .400 .647 1.047 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Young 15 14 2 1 0 0 1 0 3 .143 .143 .214 .357 1 0 0 0 0
Chris Snyder 11 7 0 0 0 0 1 2 1 .000 .273 .000 .273 0 1 0 1 0
Mark Reynolds 10 9 4 0 0 1 4 1 3 .444 .500 .778 1.278 0 0 0 0 0
Justin Upton 10 10 3 1 0 0 1 0 4 .300 .300 .400 .700 0 0 0 0 0
Miguel Montero 9 9 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 .222 .222 .222 .444 0 0 0 0 0
Kelly Johnson 6 6 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Gerardo Parra 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Roberts 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Webb 4 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .250 .250 .250 .500 0 0 0 0 1
Augie Ojeda 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 136 121 31 6 0 3 18 9 25 .256 .313 .380 .694 2 2 0 2 1
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/19/2010.

Conor Jackson and Mark Reynolds have hit him well in the past, and Penny will need to make sure he's getting the grounders tonight to keep the ball in the ballpark, as Chase is known as a hitter's playground.

If you want to recap this week, my Baseball Digest column is up.  Also, one of our BBA members is hitting all the major league ballparks.  Follow his travels and see what he thinks of everything over here.


1 Comment | Leave a comment

Arizona just got swept by the Padres. Their bullpen is awful. Haren will be a stiff test, but if they can get Jackson out of the game after 6 innings, they have a great shot at winning their 5th consecutive series. They should handle Lopez tonight.

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Cardinal Nation Approval Ratings (March 2013)
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Chris Carpenter 89.8% (down 0.3%)
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Rick Ankiel 83.9%
Chris Duncan 69.1%

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