Some people say that you can’t predict baseball. I’m not so sure about that at times. It seems like if you take what you expect to happen, turn it on its head, and make that your prediction, you’ve got an excellent chance of being right. A pitcher has a 6.00 ERA going against a team that owns him? Pick a seven-inning, one run game. A hitter has hit a home run the last five times he’s faced a team? Pick him to take the collar. The best team in baseball hasn’t lost a series in forever and is playing a laughable cellar dweller? Of course, the best team is going down.
Friday (5-4 loss)
Jake Westbrook made his return from the disabled list and the Cardinals finally decided that Michael Wacha should return to Memphis to accommodate that move. Even given what happened the rest of the weekend, the move made sense because there were things that Wacha needed to work on. The Cardinals, if they’d had their way, wouldn’t have had to promote him yet and this way it is easier to skip starts or limit innings. My gut feeling is that, unless there are a number of injuries or some sort of trade maneuvers, we won’t see Wacha again until September.
Anyway, Westbrook did make the start and looked like a guy that hadn’t made a big league start in a while. St. Louis staked him to a two run lead before the Marlins even got to bat, making this look like the rout of a series it was supposed to be. Unfortunately, Westbrook couldn’t hold it, giving up five runs (three earned) in five innings and taking the Goat for the evening. The most galling bit may have been allowing a game-tying single to Jose Fernandez, the opposing pitcher.
After facing Matt Harvey on Thursday, the Redbirds had to contend with another of the top young pitchers in the game and this time around didn’t have as much success. (To be fair, they didn’t have much success with Harvey either, but you can afford that when Adam Wainwright is going for your side.) Fernandez struck out 10 and only Allen Craig, who will get the Hero tag, had more than one hit in the game. Craig went 2-4 with a run and an RBI, meaning he was a significant part of the offense in this one.
Saturday (13-7 win)
If you give up seven runs to almost the worst team in baseball, do you deserve to win the game? Probably not, but the Cardinals will take it anyway.
There’s no doubt that the Hero of our story on Saturday was Carlos Beltran. Not only did he go 3-6, not only did he hit two home runs, but he hit them from each side of the plate, showing he’s still got plenty in the tank. That was the 11th time he’d gone yard from both sides and he reached the 350 home run milestone at the same time. It wouldn’t seem to take much more to push Beltran into serious Hall of Fame consideration, if he’s not there already. While his future is still fluid about where he’ll play and how much, there’s no doubt he still will be playing in 2014, something that’s not always been as clear-cut. And his third hit? Just a triple. Talk about filling up a box score!
Of course, he wasn’t the only one that put up some gaudy numbers. It’s not like you can score 13 runs in a game with just one person doing all the work. David Freese and Daniel Descalso both had three hits, with Descalso having two doubles and Freese the other home run of the contest. Yadier Molina had two hits and three RBI. Matt Holliday also had two hits as the Cards put up 17 knocks in this contest.
One of those was a two-RBI single by Lance Lynn. Now, oftentimes with this pitching staff, producing at the plate would have gotten Lynn the Hero tag because he’d have added that to what he did on the mound. Not this time. In fact, even that offensive production can’t keep him from the Goat moniker. When you are staked to a 5-0 lead before you take the mound and you almost immediately give it all away, that’s not a good day. Lynn gave up seven runs in five innings and hopefully thanked every hitter in that lineup a number of times for bailing him out as often as they did.
Lynn bailed out his manager from some questionable decision making with that single as well. Given that Lynn had nothing–which was pretty obvious–and the Cards just had a 7-6 lead with the bases loaded and two out, it seemed like a textbook situation to pinch-hit for Lynn. After all, it was almost a given he’d allow that run (which he did in the bottom of the inning) and, as such, you needed to add on there. Granted, the options on the bench aren’t great there–you probably don’t use Matt Adams in that spot in case you need him later, so you are looking at Ty Wigginton or Shane Robinson, neither of which is a huge upgrade over the pitcher–but still, that’s a lot of gambling to do on a pitcher that’s not shown you much.
It’s not like Lynn is a raw rookie (like the rest of the staff, huh?) that needs the boost of confidence. Obviously Mike Matheny knows his personnel much better than I ever could and situations such as these is the reason he was hired–not for the tactics but for the managing of people. So if he thought Lynn needed the confidence boost by staying in there and batting, I guess he did, but on the outside looking in, it seemed a Grand Moff Tarkin moment–“I’m taking an awful risk, Vader.”
Sunday (7-2 loss)
The beneficiary of Wacha’s return to Memphis was Tyler Lyons, who got to extend his time in the rotation. How long that extension was is up in the air at the moment.
There’s one general rule of pitching. OK, there’s more than one general rule of pitching, but one of the big ones is Don’t Walk The Opposing Pitcher. Even more demanding is Don’t Walk The Opposing Pitcher With Two Outs. You are playing with fire then and you have to be a heck of a pitcher not to get burned by it. Tyler Lyons, even though he has impeccable taste in numbers, is not a heck of a pitcher.
Our Goat in this one might have been able to salvage his game had he followed that general rule of pitching. Trailing 2-1 in the fourth inning, he got the first two out before allowing a Placido Polanco single. He then hit Jeff Mathis on a 1-2 pitch. Which was a bad break, but hey, the pitcher is coming up. You get him out and start fresh in the fifth, maybe even with a lead if the hitters can come through for you. Instead, he walks Ricky Nolasco and pays for it when Juan Pierre hits a broken-bat single that scores two. After that, the writing was pretty much on the wall and the Cards never recovered.
Nolasco pitched well, as he has a history of doing (and likely is hoping that he can showcase himself out of Miami), though he did have some of the sloppiest curveballs I’ve ever seen in the early going. St. Louis hitters just watched them out of the zone, but when he started finding the zone, they couldn’t do much at all. Our Hero tag will go to Daniel Descalso, because he was the only person to get multiple hits, getting two of the five the team collected and one of their runs.
As for Lyons, there’s no guarantee that he’ll get another start. Matheny says it’s too early to decide that (remember, this is a team that didn’t decide on a move until hours before Westbrook came off the DL) but that means it is under consideration, otherwise he’d say Lyons would make his next start. I would expect that would mean a swap of Lyons and Joe Kelly, with Kelly getting into the rotation and Lyons being the long lefty in the pen, freeing up Randy Choate to be more of the LOOGY he was signed for. It’s also possible Lyons would go down and someone like Michael Blazek would come up for the pen slot vacated by Kelly. It’s also possible, though much less likely, that Lyons and Carlos Martinez could just swap slots.
While it’s disappointing to lose a series for the first time since the end of April and a road series for the first time since the season opener in Arizona, it’s not the end of the world. Thankfully Cincinnati and Pittsburgh had a cooler weekend as well and the Cards still A) have the best record in baseball and B) still have a 2.5 game lead on the Reds and a three game one over the Pirates. Since the two teams play each other this week while the Cards take on the Cubs at home, there’s a chance to gain a little ground or at least maintain the status quo.
It’s always fun when the Cubs come into town, though as I said last night on Gateway to Baseball Heaven, it’s one thing to lose to a bad team, it’s another thing to lose to a bad Cubs team. Hopefully we won’t see that this week and the Cardinals can take care of business.
They are definitely lined up to do so in the first couple of games, as Wainwright goes Tuesday while Shelby Miller takes the mound tonight. Miller scuffled a little bit last time out against the Mets, having what was probably his worst major league start ever. That worst start was four runs in six innings when he struck out 10. Lots of pitchers are in line for that to be their worst start. Then again, given how the Cub hitters have just dominated him in the past, maybe they have some hope.
Travis Wood pitched well against the Cardinals earlier in the year, allowing just one run over 6.2 innings, striking out eight. On the whole, though, Cardinal hitters have liked what they have seen against him.
Expect that Jon Jay will get another start with these numbers. Some good power numbers there as well, so maybe the homestand can get off to a rousing start with a lot of runs scored by the home team tonight.
This weekend I (and my kids) were privileged to participate in William Tasker’s regular game picks. My son dominated both of us, which means that apparently actually knowing about teams isn’t helpful! Still, we are all picking the Cardinals tonight!