One of the biggest stories in spring was Jake Westbrook, first his significant weight loss, then his stellar pitching. While nobody expected that Westbrook would plump up once the season started, there were concerns that the pitching might not last. At least one game into the season, it doesn't look like it's going anywhere.
Westbrook threw seven innings, and though he had some command problems in the first and made a bonehead fielding play in the fifth, he allowed only three hits and the unearned run that came from him trying to do too much. When he was staked to a 4-0 lead before he even took the mound, that kind of outing is going to work very, very well.
He was staked to that lead because, for the second game out of the last four, the Cards hit three home runs in an inning. This time it was Matt Holliday, David Freese and Yadier Molina doing the damage, all with two outs in the first. Molina had a stellar game all the way around, later rapping a two-run double to pad the lead late. While we thought last year was a career year for Yadi, it's possible that he's just now developing into the hitter he can be.
The Cards got nine hits in the game, all clustered in the 3-7 part of the lineup, while holding the Reds to just three. Keeping the Reds off the bases, especially in Great American Ball Park, is quite an accomplishment. With hitters like Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, you don't expect a guy like Westbrook to go in and just give up an unearned run.
So the offense is clicking. The pitching is cruising. Even the defense is pretty good--Rafael Furcal made an error last night, but then followed it up with a dazzling play, throwing out a runner at second from the seat of his pants--and the bullpen, while it's been a little shakier than we'd like, still has been effective enough and not blown a lead. When you compare this team to last year, the differences are night and day.
Perhaps it's not last year, though, that we should keep in mind during this outstanding run of baseball to start the season. There were some of the same sentiments in 2010, when the Cards went 15-8 in April and had a five game lead during that month as well. It seemed like they were going to run away with the division, but as we know the club faltered, the Reds played good baseball, and at the end of the season the Cards were sitting at home. A week does not a season make.
Every game has its Goat and this one would be Daniel Descalso. Descalso went 0-3 with two strikeouts, dropping his early season average to .154. It'll be interesting how long Mike Matheny sticks with him as a regular second baseman or if he'll start mixing in Tyler Greene a little more. I suspect that Greene will be in the lineup tonight, but there are no guarantees.
Even though it's early, even though it's no guarantee of future results, it is really fun to watch this team right now. Stellar pitching will do that, of course, but it's more fun when that pitching is backed up by some offense as well. The Cards have put up 31 runs over the five games, a number even more impressive when you remember that they were shut out in their only loss. Even with that, they are averaging six runs a game and are going to put Mobil On The Run out of business.
It's great to see the Cards taking care of business against NL Central foes as well. They've gotten out to a 1.5 game lead over the teams that are expected to challenge them, Milwaukee and Cincinnati, though Houston and Pittsburgh are a little closer. Winning these NL Central games, especially when Chris Carpenter isn't available, is going to be key for a return to October.
Kyle Lohse goes tonight against his former team, hoping to continue the form he showed on Opening Night against Miami. There aren't too many parks that are more different than the new Marlins Park and GABP, though, and Lohse won't have a spacious outfield to gobble up deep fly balls. Here is how he's fared against these guys:
He's pretty much held them in check. Joey Votto has hit him, of course, but not for a lot of power and Votto hits most everyone. While it's not likely to be a run at a no-hitter tonight, hopefully Lohse can limit the damage and let his offense carry the load.
That offense will be focused on hitting Mike Leake. Leake is making his season debut and hasn't seen the Cardinals all that much:
Holliday's gotten a few hits, but he's owned Lance Berkman so far. With Tony La Russa, given these numbers and Berkman's hand hurting a bit, I'd project that he'd be out of the lineup tonight. I don't think that'll be the case with Matheny, unless that hand really is bothering Berkman, and he was able to go 1-3 with the soreness last night.
We'll see if this team is able to battle through some unfamiliarity with a pitcher. It's something that's not been talked much about this offseason, but with TLR gone there may be a change in approach and preparation. I'm not sure Leake's the best test case for that--some of the Cards have seen him in a couple of different games--but it may give us some initial impressions.
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball