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This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Posted on August 25, 2010 at 8:20 AM
Filed Under: Heroes and Goats | Pittsburgh Pirates | St. Louis Cardinals
On the face of it, it wasn't a terrible loss.  Most discussion of the next 10 games had the Cardinals going 8-2 if they wanted to make a run, so they haven't ruined that.  Cincinnati lost and so did Philadelphia, so they stayed right where they were in regards to the postseason.

And yet.....

It was a very bad loss.  If the Cardinals are going to make a serious run at October and making up these deficits, they can't lose with Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright on the hill, especially to inferior opponents.  They just can't do it.  They have to win those games and then see what they can do with Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook or Kyle Lohse on the mound.

With Matt Holliday staking Wainwright to that 2-0 lead in the first, I thought that things were well in hand.  However--and this is my fault, because I should have known this--I wasn't thinking that they wouldn't score again until one of their patented fall-just-short rallies in the ninth.

Even if I had, though, I'd have thought things were OK, because giving Wainwright a lead is just about as sure of a thing as there is in baseball.  Granted, I wasn't aware of his over 5 ERA at PNC and I didn't remember that ugly game last year where he lost his quality start streak in Pittsburgh by giving up something like five runs in four innings.  But it's Wainwright, the Cy Young candidate.  Surely he can hold things together.

With rookies Jose Tabata and Neil Walker doing the majority of the damage off of Wainwright (combined 4-6 with two runs and all four RBI), you wonder if not having a good enough book on them came back to haunt the Wagonmaker.  With the preparation that these guys do with Dave Duncan and all the charts and graphs, having a couple of talented guys that you've not seen (or seen much) and that don't have a big body of work in the majors might have led to some of the results last night.

Even with that, though, this game turned on two coaching decisions.  The first was letting Tabata steal in the seventh.  I was going back and forth putting the kids to bed during the inning last night and, until reading the recaps, was completely impressed Tabata had scored from first on that ball, not realizing that he'd been on second at the time.  Matthew Leach covered that decision on his blog last night, and I agree with him: they should have held Tabata on.  I understand the logic, but you have to trust that either Wainwright will pitch Walker in a way that he won't ground the ball there or that the fielders will be able to get to it. Because the way it worked out, you got the worst of both worlds--Tabata went to second and Walker got the hit anyway.  That run proved huge, but you knew at the time that even a one-run lead would be a problem, while two might be insurmountable.

And will all of that, the Cards still had a chance to at least tie up the game in the ninth.  Of course, no matter what the opponent's lead is, they always seem to have that opportunity.  An RBI single by Jon Jay put two on with one out and Albert Pujols at the plate.  (Side note, Brendan Ryan gets the goat for going 0-4 in the leadoff role.  The ninth would have been a great place for him to at least draw a walk or something.)  Pujols got his third hit of the night off the glove of Ronny Cedano.  Randy Winn turns the corner and....gets held up by Jose Oquendo.

Now, I can again understand where Oquendo was coming from.  You hate to make an out at the plate in that situation.  However, I'd have sent Winn like there was no tomorrow, for a couple of reasons:

1) Cedano still hadn't gotten to the ball when Winn reached third.  Winn would have been at least a quarter of the way down the line, with full momentum, while Cedano would have had to plant and throw a strike, then have Doumit put the tag on Winn.  It seems to me that the Cards had the advantage there.  Make the other team make the play.

2) Look at the resulting situation.  Bases loaded, one out.  However, as we know, Holliday has struggled at times in that situation, including recently.  All it takes is one ground ball and the game is over.  If Holliday gets out without getting the run in (as he did with a first-pitch weak popup), then your fifth place hitter is Felipe Lopez.  Which, being that you just need a base hit in that situation, isn't terrible, but it's not like Lopez has been lighting it up anyway.  There's a strong chance that you aren't going to get anything out of that situation, a chance that sadly came to fruition.

Too bad not everyone is like Pujols.  If it'd been him coming from second, he'd have ignored the sign and gone anyway.  Then again, if everyone was like Pujols, it'd have been a 25-0 game and it wouldn't have mattered.

If St. Louis wins that game, they are 1.5 out of the division title and tied with Philadelphia and San Francisco for the wild card.  Instead, they still have that larger deficit to climb over and one less game in which to do it in.  Games like this are why the odds of them having a nice playoff berth are getting longer and longer.

On the positive side, Pujols's three hits puts him just a point (well, actually, .692 of a point) behind Joey Votto (who didn't play last night) in the batting race, which means he's thatclose to leading all the Triple Crown categories.  If Votto plays today, he'll face Madison Bumgarner, who we saw last week stifling Cardinal hitters, while AP gets Daniel McCutchen.  Of course, both of them are hoping that Omar Infante will take a few days off or going into a big slump, because if he triggers the plate appearance threshold, he's 20+ points ahead of both of them in the batting race.  Infante went 1-4 last night leading off for the Braves, dropping him to .349.  You'd hate to see a guy with (right now) 140 less AB than Pujols and 100 less than Votto deny either of them the Triple Crown on that kind of technicality, but it may well happen.

You have to wonder by now if Fernando Salas ever bothers unpacking, whether he's here or in Memphis.  I mean, it'd be a hassle to get home, get things unpacked, and then get sent right back out.  He's flown around 7,000 miles with his callups, but he never lets it bother him on the mound, at least.  Salas got his most recent callup when Dennys Reyes was placed on the disabled list yesterday.  Reyes's stint was backdated to August 16, so that means that he can come off the DL right before rosters expand.  Which means that Salas might get one more trip to Memphis (and a return flight to St. Louis) before it's all said and done.

In other news, the Post-Dispatch panel (and, while I love that they added VEB founder Larry Borowsky to the mix, they really could use a blogger or two in there, couldn't they?) discussed whether they believe Tony La Russa will return for the 2011 season.  I have maintained during the year that he and Dave Duncan seem to be checking off their bucket list, so the possibility that he won't return seems pretty strong to me.  If this team misses the playoffs, he may decide that, with this much talent (an MVP, a Cy Young and a ROY candidate), there may need to be a shakeup for it to really step up.  While I have no doubt that TLR is still very competitive, it is his 31st summer as a manager, not to mention those few seasons as a player.  It's got to get wearing at times.  I really won't be surprised either way, whether he stays or goes.

Also, Ozzie Smith was at the Cards' minor league affiliate Quad Cities and spoke to the crowd for a while.  He mentioned that he's getting the bug again and might like to get back into baseball.  I'm not sure exactly how that'd work.  I mean, Ozzie Smith coaching fielding?  He could do some, but so much of what he did was instinct and reactions.  I know he worked hard at it, but you know it is, sometimes the great ones have trouble really translating what they could do to what they can teach.  Still, if Ozzie's going to be working somewhere, it better be with the Cardinals.  (Which opens up the whole TLR thing again, but let's not go there.)

Tonight, Jake Westbrook goes for the Cards against Daniel McCutchen.  Westbrook, not surprisingly, hasn't faced Pittsburgh this year.  Hopefully he can give another performance in line with what he's done since coming to St. Louis, 2-3 runs in 6-7 innings.  McCutchen is having a terrible year (6.65 ERA) but was (of course) tolerable against the Cardinals in his only appearance against them this season, allowing four runs (three earned) in just under six innings.  'Course, he walked 6, so maybe patience is the key tonight.

The Reds play this afternoon, so St. Louis and Albert will already know what they need to do. (Pujols may be the Triple Crown leader if Votto doesn't have a big day.)  After the game, check out Bill and Justin from i70baseball as they host the UCB Radio Hour at 9:30 Central.  Tonight, they have a number of guests scheduled, including author Rob Rains, so be sure to check it out!

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Oquendo was faced with the classic 'no win' situation.

If he sent Winn, and then Winn got cut down at the plate, many of us (perhaps not you and I, but anyway) would have griped 'Why send Winn with Holliday coming up?'

He didn't send Winn and we ask why not.

I can see both sides of it. But given the situation, bases loaded, 1 out, #4 & 5 hitters due, I think I hold him up too.

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