The last two weekends, the Cardinals have taken on the top two teams in the AL West. Since they are the top teams, you would expect that they wouldn’t be pushovers and give the Cardinals quite a challenge. That said, going 1-5 against the Rangers and the A’s isn’t quite what we expected out of a team that, until recently, had the best record in baseball.
Friday (6-1 loss)
This one was over in a hurry. St. Louis has won a number of games this year with all or almost all of their offense in one inning. Twice in the past week they lost the same way. Oakland pushed across five runs in the second inning and, given that Bartolo Colon has found some sort of fountain of youth in the last couple of years, there wasn’t any real drama in this one.
Which means our Goat is most obviously Shelby Miller, whose last few outings have done more than raise eyebrows. This was the third game in four starts that he gave up at least four runs, but the amount of innings he’s thrown has gotten progressively shorter. In this one, he couldn’t get out of the second inning, needing Joe Kelly to come in and retire Yoenis Cespedes to stop the bleeding.
Miller threw 61 pitches to get five outs, walking two and striking out no one. He thinks he’s got an idea what the problem is and threw an extra-long bullpen yesterday, so we’ll have to wait and see whether this solves the problem or whether the Angels might get to have a lot of fireworks on the Fourth. There’s encouragement to be gained from looking at last year, when Miller struggled in Memphis until about this time, then something clicked and he dominated the rest of the way.
While Kelly’s work was good and saved a bullpen (which should have been fairly rested, but you never know what you’ll need out of them the rest of the way), I think the Hero tag will go to Matt Holliday. Returning to a stadium that he briefly called home, Holliday went two for three, drew a walk, and scored the Cardinals’ only run. Consideration also goes to David Freese (2-3, RBI) and Matt Carpenter (2-4). When your 2-3-4 guys go a combined 0-12, though, chances are any heroics are going to be of the not-enough variety.
Saturday (7-1 win)
Every five days, you know that things will be right with the world. There’s no guarantee that the Cards will win, though there’s like a 80% chance of that. But when Adam Wainwright takes the mound, you know you are going to see a competitor who, more likely than not, will shut down the opposition. That’s what an ace does and no one in baseball doubts that Waino is an ace.
It happened again in Oakland, as Wainwright went the distance for his fourth complete game and took a shutout into the eighth inning. His ERA is now 2.22, his WHIP less than one, and he has almost as many wins (11) as he does walks (12). Yadier Molina may be the big dog offensively, but Wainwright does that from the mound. It’s a joy to watch him pitch and just another reason to be grateful that he signed a contract in the offseason. The way pitching is today, there’s no doubt he’d have gotten much more from the big-market teams if he’d wanted to go that way.
However, even though Waino was Waino and always is in the running for the Hero tag, we’re going in a different direction on this one. I mean, when the team is 11th in home runs and averages less than one a game, getting two out of the same guy has to be heroic, right?
Matt Adams did just that, crushing a three-run home run off of the first pitch Jerry Blevins threw to him. Which, given that the A’s had brought in Blevins because he was left-handed, was a pretty nice feat. That took a 3-0 game to 6-0 and then he took Pat Neshek deep next time up to get the Redbirds to their final tally. We talk and talk about getting Adams on the field, trying to figure out how to keep him sharp. There’s no doubt that Mike Matheny has appreciated the DH this week (even though, despite what Grabowski says, it’s still an abomination) and Adams, at least for one day, took advantage. It’s games like this that indicate that John Mozeliak is going to have to do something in the offseason, because having him waste away on the bench for another season would be very detrimental.
Adams had the big day, but Allen Craig also had a couple of hits and scored a run. The rest of the team’s 10 hits were spread out pretty evenly throughout the lineup, leaving David Freese as our Goat for his 0-3 day, even though he did score a run.
Sunday (7-5 loss)
I didn’t worry much about this game (mainly because I hadn’t given it a lot of thought) until I heard the stat from Dan McLaughlin right before the game started. Dan noted that lefties were hitting roughly .344 against Jake Westbrook for the season and Oakland had put seven of them in the lineup. Would he be able to overcome that? Not in the least.
Staked to a 3-0 lead when the home runs started flying (which was quite surprising given the discussion above plus the fact that Oakland’s ballpark isn’t known as a hitter’s paradise), Westbrook immediately gave two of them back. Matt Carpenter hit another home run in the third and the Cardinals tacked on another run due to some glitches in the Oakland defense, but the A’s got those two back in the bottom of the inning as well.
So it was 5-4 after three innings. Westbrook wasn’t fooling anyone and was already around 70 pitches. There was a strong argument on Twitter for Westbrook to be pulled right then. Of course Kelly wasn’t available, given his work on Friday and the fact that he is starting later this week, but the only other arm that had been used since Wednesday was Kevin Siegrist, who just threw the eighth on Friday. Plenty of arms that needed some work and, with an off day today, chances are they could all be ready by Tuesday. In fact, Seth Maness was ready to go into the game if Westbrook hadn’t gotten the third out of the third inning.
Instead Matheny, in that loyalty that we see often and, to be fair, was part of the reason he got the job in the first place, sent Westbrook back out there. The results were in line with the rest of the game. Seth Smith doubles and, one out later, Jed Lowrie gives the A’s the lead with a home run. They get another long ball off of Rosenthal in the seventh, but that was pretty much it for the scoring.
Would the game have been different had the Cards gone to the bullpen? It’s hard to know. Tommy Milone was getting lit up in the first few innings, but wound up settling in and went through six, throwing three straight scoreless frames. Given the arms that are out in the Cardinal pen, though, you’d like your chances of them holding a one-run game for six innings. Might not have happened, but it was a stronger possibility than Westbrook doing it, at least yesterday.
So Westbrook is the Goat. The Hero comes down to two people. Matt Carpenter went 3-4 with a home run in the leadoff slot, but did pop out with runners on first and second and two outs in the top of the fourth (though it took an outstanding play by Josh Donaldson to get him). We’ll give it to Carlos Beltran, who also went 3-4 with a home run, but his was a two-run shot that put the Cards on the board in the first. His out was a tough to handle as Carpenter’s, though, as he and Molina followed a leadoff Carp double by both popping out to the second baseman.
St. Louis went into this weekend tied with Pittsburgh for the divisional lead and for the best record in baseball. The Pirates took care of business against the Brewers, sweeping them and meaning the Cards are now two games out of the lead. The Cards are up 3.5 on the Reds, so they don’t have to be as concerned about dropping into third just yet, and they have a lot of games left against Pittsburgh so there’s no alarm just yet, but the trends on this team aren’t going the right way. Mozeliak may be going to swing a deal at the deadline after all.
Off day for the Redbirds today then they go to Anaheim to finish up this road trip. The focus is, of course, going to be on Lance Lynn in the first game. Lynn has an ERA approaching six in his last….four…..starts….why are you looking at me like that? Lynn’s not going to be the focus? Are you sure?
You mean that the guy that left the Cards a year and a half ago is going to dominate the headlines? Yeah, probably so. While it is understandable that people are going to talk about Albert Pujols facing his long-time team for the first time, it also needs to be pretty clear that the two are in completely different places than they were in December of 2011. The Cards had a successful season last year and are doing so again today. Pujols is no longer the face of baseball and doesn’t seem to be quite the player that he once was. Lots of water under the bridge. It’ll be strange to see AP again, but I don’t think we have to spend all series on him.
Back to Lynn. We saw this fade last year around the All-Star Break, as he was named to the squad and then slumped fairly badly. We also know that last season he had to go to the bullpen for a while. I don’t think that Lynn will necessarily retrace that route this year, but it’d be nice to see some stronger starts out of him and relieve those worries.
Unsurprisingly, most of the Angels are going to be unfamiliar with him. Pujols might be able to tell them a bit about what he throws, etc. but he’s never faced Lynn save in intra-squad action. The only player that has faced him in actual competition is Josh Hamilton, who went 1-3 off of him in the 2011 World Series.
Los Angeles sends out Jered Weaver to kick off this holiday series. Weaver, who will never supplant his brother Jeff in the hearts and minds of Cardinal fans, has struggled this season. He spent some time on the DL and so has only made eight starts, but is 1-4 with an ERA over 4 in those contests. He pitched well his last outing, giving up just one earned run in seven against Detroit, but gave up four in six to the Pirates the time before that.
The hitters that have faced him is a small group, but they’ve liked what they’ve seen. Given some good past history and a struggling pitcher, hopefully the Cards can start this last leg of the road trip off right!