As the noise of the fireworks reverberates around my neighborhood, it seems only appropriate to spend the last part of the holiday weekend catching up talking about the all-American sport. Little known fact: The Continental Congress used a home run derby to decide vital points. The Declaration would have started out "King George sucks and is a bully" instead "When in the course of human events" if Thomas Jefferson hadn't raked nine longballs to John Hancock's six.
I've been meaning to catch up all weekend long, with the excitement of the Baltimore sweep then somewhat tempered by the collapses against the Rays. With Albert Pujols making noise and a number of injured guys looking like they'll make an impact soon, it's time to take stock of this team. Recap time!
Goat: Jaime Garcia. A lot of nights, five runs in just over five innings is going to be a problem for this team. Thankfully, they'd built an 8-0 lead and were able to absorb it, but it still points to a strange issue with Garcia.
For his career, Garcia has a 1.74 ERA at home vs. a 4.60 mark on the road. That's not the only indicator that he likes his home cooking, though. His K/BB ratio, his BAA, his home runs allowed, his WHIP all are worse, most of them significantly, when he's not pitching at Busch Stadium, even though the number of innings for home and road are fairly compatible.
What does this mean? Besides the fact that Garcia would start any Game 7 pitched under the Arch but none away from it, I don't know. It's obvious that something is different, though. Perhaps he has trouble with distractions when he's out of his routine. Perhaps there's something about the lighting or the appearance of Busch that works wonders for him. I don't know what it is but it's pretty obvious there's something and Garcia is going to have to figure out what it is and how to change it before he becomes an elite pitcher in this league.
Notes: Another strong night for Jon Jay, who had three hits, drove in three, and could be pressed for playing time soon. (More on that in a bit.) David Freese had two hits as he continues to show that he's not rusty at all, though he did make an error.
Hero: Colby Rasmus. His three-run home run, besides being part of an inning that had just about all of the Rays tossed out of the game, was the key to the game after a troublesome bottom of the eighth for the Cards.
Goat: Lance Lynn. Lynn's been doing pretty well out of the bullpen, but allowed three runs in an inning in this one.
Notes: Nice to see Fernando Salas come out on back-to-back days and have uneventful ninth innings. Perhaps whatever glitch he had in June has been ironed out and the end of games will be a little cleaner. Jake Westbrook also pitched a very solid game, allowing no runs in seven and striking out twice as many as he walked. If he can be more of an innings-eater (and I mean that he pitches good innings), that'll help a lot going forward.
Hero: Lance Berkman. Put the only run on the board with yet another long ball.
Goat: Kyle McClellan. For a while there, McClellan looked pretty good. He put up five straight scoreless innings and went into the sixth leading 1-0. He never saw the end of it, allowing five runs in two-thirds of a frame before Jason Motte put out the uprising with a strikeout.
What exactly does the team do with McClellan? Do they hope this is just a rough patch? Because the numbers aren't looking all that good for McClellan after his strong start. Save for his stellar one run, seven inning outing against the Phillies three starts ago, he's not gotten past the sixth since May 19 and hasn't completed the sixth since 5/24. From his start on the 24th at San Diego until now, he's posted a 5.73 ERA and opponents have an .807 OPS against him. Also, he's only gone 33 innings in those six starts, meaning that the bullpen is always going to be working more than three innings on his days.
Could he bounce back? It's possible, I guess, but I'm not holding my breath. We saw Chris Carpenter have bad results this season, but his underlying numbers were good and it wasn't surprising that he started to return to form. (The fact that he's apparently decided never to give the ball to the bullpen if he doesn't have to is also working for him.) Carpenter also had a long history to point to and give some confidence to a doubtful fan base. McClellan doesn't have that, and the odds are he's not going to turn around now and start going seven or so innings into games on a regular basis.
Notes: Brandon Dickson made his debut and did a fine job, getting Trever Miller out of yet another sticky situation. The Cardinals had plenty of chances here, piling up 10 hits and three walks, but two double plays really took the wind out of their sails.
Hero: Lance Berkman. Folks, if you'd have said that Berkman would have 22 home runs this year, I think every Cardinal fan in the world would have taken it. To have him have that many home runs the week before the All-Star break? Most Cardinal fans would have sat you down and lectured you about the evils of drugs, because you were apparently on something.
It's been the most effective $8 million the Cards have spent in a long, long time. Even if Berkman does nothing in the second half (which I don't expect will happen), you have to give major kudos to John Mozeliak for realizing how well Berkman would do in the right place and that he had a lot left to give.
Goat: Really not sure who to give the Goat to. I'm guessing Kyle Lohse, because he did give up a lot of doubles, but he didn't have the strongest of defenses going behind him, plus Motte allowed one of his inherited runners to score as well. Lohse not getting through the sixth was a problem coming on the heels of McClellan's outing. While that was two games in a row that he left early, the one before was the Baltimore game where he left due to a rain delay. Lohse may be slowing down from his blistering early season pace, but he's still a very effective mid-rotation starter and I think likely to stay that way.
Notes: Brian Tallethas struggled and did again in this game. The biggest thing that he has going for him right now is that there are no other dominant lefties in the organization and Trever Miller has been almost as bad. If Raul Valdes really gets on a roll, though, Tallet could be the next veteran to be an ex-Cardinal.
Hero: Chris Carpenter. Another stellar outing. It's obvious that Carp has dug down and said he's not relinquishing the ball. Since the beginning of June, look at his pitch counts. 118, 92, 124, 124, 132 and 119 tonight. He's thrown two complete games victory, one complete game loss, and left after eight tonight. Whatever has gotten into him, it seems to be working, which is a great thing for Cardinal Nation.
Goat: David Freese. Tough night for Freese, as he ended at least two innings with a runner on base, once with a double play. In a game where runs were at such a premium, that hurt.
Notes: Nice game by Jon Jay, even if he was tossed out trying to steal. That catch he made to rob a home run in the fourth could have been a difference maker, the way it turned out. Two hits by Colby Rasmus, which means he could be getting on the good side of his streaky reputation.
Of course, many of these games have been overshadowed by the fact that it appears that Pujols will be returning not at the beginning of August as so many thought when he went down, but possibly tomorrow, the first day he is eligible to do so. While I really won't believe that one until Twitter lights up tomorrow when the lineup is posted, it definitely sounds like he'll be back before the All-Star Break.
Obviously, this is good news for the Cardinals. I don't think that they are rushing him back, because the problem with the team lately hasn't been the offense. Sure, having Pujols back is a boon and you'd rather go into games with him than without him, but it's not like the Cards are being shut out every other game and they have to have that bat in the lineup. So I don't think it's a pressure situation here, but that he has healed up quickly. (Though, being the machine that he is, it could be that they just welded over the fracture and oiled him up.)
If he thinks he's healthy and, more importantly, the medical community thinks he's healthy, I'm all for getting him back in the game. Not only does that help the team immensely, but it allows him more time to get to that .300/30/100 level that he probably doesn't think about but is nice to see from a fan's point of view.
Also seen at Busch today were Eduardo Sanchez throwing and Gerald Laird catching. I wasn't able to hear what the prognosis on those two were, but it's just great to see the team coming together again. With Pujols back, you figure Jay goes to the bench, deepening that and giving Tony La Russa some options later in the game. Tony Cruz hasn't embarrassed himself at all in the bigs and, even though he'll probably go down when Laird is ready, you know that he'll get another call up when they need help. As for Sanchez, adding him to the eighth with some of the other arms out there should make for a more stable pen. Lots of excitement about the second half of the season!
Cards are sending Berkman, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molinato the All-Star Game. A little different (but understandable) not to see Pujols going and it seems like it's been a while since a Cardinal pitcher hasn't been on the All-Star staff. If Carpenter had gotten this run going a little earlier, he might have been considered.
Cards are up one on Milwaukee, 1.5 on Pittsburgh (that's no typo, Pittsburgh is within two games of first with less than half a season to go) and three on Cincinnati. Tomorrow (or, more likely, today since it's late on Monday night when I'm writing this and you'll probably be reading it Tuesday morning) Garcia gets a home start (thumbs up!) against Edinson Volquez. Here's Garcia versus the Red hitters:
For the most part, he's done all right. He's kept a lot of the major troublemakers in check, which is good. Jonny Gomes has done some damage, but he seems to have fallen out of favor in the Queen City. Then again, with those numbers, he'll probably get the start.
Cards have been able to deal with him fairly well. Volquez has been tough this year if he can get past the first inning, but that first step has been a doozy for him at times. Hopefully the Cards can get to him early and take another game from the Reds!