Get Back To Where You Once Belonged

Before we get into the interesting and unique ways that the Cardinals used to sweep the Marlins (there’s probably a better way of putting that–hooked the Marlins?  No, that conjures up slightly awkward things.  Netted the Marlins?  Sorry, got distracted.), we should acknowledge that, for once, the Cubs were actually useful.  Their ability to take two of three from the best team in baseball (record-wise) meant that the Cardinals were able to return to the top of the NL Central, even if it was just as part of a tie.

It wasn’t easy for the Redbirds this weekend.  As with the series last month, you’d expect that a team with such a good record would have little problems with a team gutted in the offseason.  However, the Marlins had been playing better of late and, especially since St. Louis lost the series when they traveled down to Florida, you’ll take the wins no matter how easy, hard or, well, unique.

Friday (4-1 win)

Jaime Garcia might be out for the season, but his influence apparently lives on.  How else to explain Jake Westbrook dominating at home but being much more human away from Busch?

You can’t even use level of competition argument, as Westbrook has faced Pittsburgh and Cincinnati at home while teams like Chicago and Miami in their ballpark.  Yet when Logan Morrison took him deep in the second inning, it was the first run he had allowed at Busch Stadium all season long.  So far, it’s still the only one.

Three hits in seven innings is enough to get Westbrook the Hero tag, but he had some competition from the hitting side of things.  Jacob Turner came in with an ERA under 2.00 for the season, but the Cards were able to score one in the first and then three in the third to bump that up a notch.  Matt Adams, showing that he should play even when the team can’t use the DH, went 2-2 with a double and an RBI, plus drew a walk.  Matt Holliday had two doubles, one that drove in a run.  Allen Craig drove in two, one with a double, one with a sacrifice fly.

The Cards were never able to add on to their early scoring, something we’ve seen from them on occasion this season, but thankfully with Westbrook rolling it didn’t matter.  Edward Mujica proved this weekend that the Fourth of July fireworks he lit were limited to that day, as he had a perfect inning for the save here and locked down saves in the other two games as well.

We’ll need a Goat for this one.  While Yadier Molina went 0-4, there were some extenuating circumstances that we’ll discuss in a bit.  David Freese went 0-3 and left three on, so he gets stuck with it this time.

Saturday (5-4 win)

On Friday night, Fox Sports Midwest had a typo in their graphic.  Instead of saying “Hot Marlins”, referencing their recent strong play, it said “Hot Malrins”.  Given how Saturday’s game ended, using Malrins was probably the best move.

Miami was anything but “mal” early in the game, as Nathan Eovaldi was showing why he had been included in the Hanley Ramirez deal last year.  Eovaldi allowed two runs in the third inning when his opposite number Joe Kelly beat out a hit and then Matt Carpenter tripled him in before scoring on a sacrifice fly, but otherwise seemed to be in complete control.  Since the Marlins had put up four on Kelly, it appeared everything was coming up Miami.

Until the seventh, when with one on and two outs, Mike Matheny sent up our Hero of the day, Matt Adams, to pinch-hit.  The Marlins made the reasonable move of removing Eovaldi, who was at 97 pitches, and brought in the left-handed reliever Mike Dunn.  Dunn ran the count to 1-2 before Adams proved that, left-handed pitcher or not, he still has amazing power.  He drilled one deep into the bleachers to tie the game up at 4.

The final inning was due to some heads-up play by Jon Jay.  With two outs, Jay draws a walk.  Shane Robinson comes up to pinch-hit and strokes a single to right.  I was working on something as I watched the game and went back to it as Robinson’s ball rolled into the outfield.  I looked up a moment later to see the game was over, which didn’t seem possible.  It shouldn’t have been, but Jay was running on the pitch and had gotten to third.  Then, as the relay throw got away from the cutoff man and the pitcher in the middle of the diamond, Jay alertly scampered home, giving the Cards their first walk-off win of the season.

I almost gave another Goat to Freese, given he was 0-4 with a strikeout, but this time it goes to Daniel Descalso.  Not only did he got 0-3, but he made two errors while at shortstop.

Sunday (3-2 win)

The Cardinals are not only last in the National League but last in baseball in stolen bases.  Probably at least three players of the 1980s jackrabbits would have as many swipes as this entire team does.  So when a game turns on a successful steal of home by the boys in red, you know we’ve entered the Twilight Zone.

While it was a steal of home, at least in the books, it wasn’t quite what you picture when you hear the phrase.  With runners at the corners, one out and a fresh 2-1 lead, Matheny put Holliday in motion with the 3-2 pitch.  Matheny’s aggressiveness on the basepaths looked like it had bitten him for the 1,832nd time this season when Freese struck out and Holliday was hung up between first and second.  However, having two veterans on the bases helped them make gold out of straw.

Holliday got into a rundown and while he was running back to first, Beltran took off for home.  By time the first baseman got the ball and fired it that way, Beltran slid safely under the tag and Holliday went on to second.  Two steals (10% of the season total up to that point) and a run on a botched play?  Yes, please.

We’ll give the Hero tag to Carlos Beltran for that heads-up play, plus the fact that he had two hits (including a bunt single) on the day.  There weren’t just a ton of hits to go around on Jose Fernandez, though Holliday got a big one in the first when he quickly staked the Cards to a 1-0 lead.  Still, only six hits against Fernandez and the following pitchers.

Which means it’s a good thing Lance Lynn was pretty much on his game.  Lynn threw seven innings and, even though he seemed to always have someone on base, he didn’t allow much to cross the plate.  Seven strikeouts in his outing helped limit the damage.  Trevor Rosenthal did his best to blow the game, but he was too awesome to sabotage himself, getting a bases-loaded groundout to end an eighth-inning mess of his making.

The Cards drew almost as many walks (five) as they had hits (six) and so every batter reached base at least once.  Matt Carpenter, though, was the only one that did it without either one of those results, so I’ll give him the Goat, since he struck out twice as well in the leadoff role.  He did score a run, though, which mitigates that somewhat.

St. Louis got the sweep, even if it was in unique and not-quite-dominating fashion, but what they really won was a big sigh of relief, as Molina, who missed Saturday’s game due to knee pain that had most everyone worried, got a clean bill of health from an examination and just needs some rest.  With two days off this weekend and a day off today, Yadi hopes to play Tuesday, though I’d expect the Cards are going to want to have him wait another day or so.  He still wants to go the All-Star Game, but it’s going to be a day-by-day thing seeing how he feels.  We know that Yadi will play through the pain now that he knows it’s not something more serious, but that doesn’t mean he should.

We saw the return of Pete Kozma from his enforced break yesterday and the results, well, they weren’t much different than before he sat down.  Not that you can read much into one game, because he was facing a strong pitcher and he did about what everyone else did, even drew a walk, but I still wonder if John Mozeliak’s focus during this trade deadline will be for a position that there’s not an obvious minor league solution for.

The Chris Carpenter saga has another chapter in it and it’s good reading.  Carp threw a 106-pitch simulated game and was excited afterwards, leading the club to start laying out the next steps.  Carpenter will throw to major league hitters on Wednesday and then head down to Jupiter to face some of those hitters on a regular basis.  He could be on a rehab assignment as early as a week from Saturday, with a return in mid-August, similar to what we saw last year.

I’m not sure what else needs to be said about a Carpenter return.  We know the questions: Can he hold up?  Will he be a starter or reliever?  How does that affect the trading deadline?  There are lots of things still to be determined, but Carpenter appears healthy and that can only be a good thing for the club.  I’m excited to see how he does on his rehab.

I mentioned above that Molina was going to the All-Star Game next week in New York.  He’ll be joined by four of his teammates–Wainwright, Beltran, Carpenter and Craig.  I was a little surprised to see Craig make the list.  Not that he isn’t worthy at all, but I thought he might be a little under the radar.  Wainwright may forfeit his roster spot due to the Sunday pitcher rule, but still go to the game.  I’d like to see him pitch and it’d be on a day where he’d be throwing anyway, but you can understand where he’s coming from.

After the day off, the Cards have six games before the break against underperforming teams.  That starts with two at home against Houston, with Wainwright moving past Shelby Miller to take the first one.

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP
Ronny Cedeno 21 19 6 1 0 0 2 2 5 .316 .381 .368 .749 0 0 0 0
Jason Castro 13 12 5 0 0 0 0 1 2 .417 .462 .417 .878 0 0 0 0
Jose Altuve 10 10 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 .300 .300 .300 .600 0 0 0 0
Bud Norris 7 5 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .400 .400 .400 .800 2 0 0 0
Brett Wallace 6 6 1 0 0 0 1 0 2 .167 .167 .167 .333 0 0 0 0
J.D. Martinez 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Carlos Pena 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0
Lucas Harrell 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Total 64 58 17 1 0 0 3 4 13 .293 .339 .310 .649 2 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/8/2013.

Interestingly enough, some of the Astros have good numbers against Waino and the sample size is growing.  Still, you feel good about the ace of your staff going against this team.

You have to feel good about that, because you likely have dread about the other half of the matchup.  St. Louis missed him last time when they were in Houston, but there’s no avoiding Big Bad Bud Norris for too long.  We know what he’s done against the Cards (though the spell seems to be lessening a bit) but here are the numbers.

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP
Yadier Molina 42 38 8 0 0 0 1 3 3 .211 .286 .211 .496 0 0 0 1
Matt Holliday 38 36 9 2 0 2 5 2 9 .250 .289 .472 .762 0 0 0 0
Jon Jay 28 26 7 2 0 0 4 1 4 .269 .296 .346 .642 1 0 0 0
Daniel Descalso 23 18 6 3 1 1 4 5 7 .333 .478 .778 1.256 0 0 1 0
Carlos Beltran 21 21 7 5 0 0 2 0 6 .333 .333 .571 .905 0 0 0 0
Allen Craig 18 17 7 1 0 2 7 1 3 .412 .444 .824 1.268 0 0 0 0
David Freese 17 15 4 2 0 0 2 2 7 .267 .353 .400 .753 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 14 12 1 0 0 0 0 2 4 .083 .214 .083 .298 0 0 0 0
Pete Kozma 7 6 1 1 0 0 1 1 4 .167 .286 .333 .619 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 7 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .143 .143 .143 .286 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Total 217 198 51 16 1 5 26 17 51 .258 .319 .424 .744 1 0 1 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/8/2013.

Maybe Yadi should take that extra day of rest after all……..

  • David Keys

    No disagreements here, although Tony Cruz is no substitute for Molina when Yadier needs a day off. The Redbirds need to search for another moderate hitting catcher, which anyone knows is a tough order. Maybe Matt Adams should to be schooled in the tools of ignorance? Molina’s sore right knee is going to mean he is playing first base if his bat is going to be in the lineup or so it seems. In such a scenario Craig is in left field and Holiday, well isn’t. Third base will become an issue, as Freese has turned 30 and has never managed to turn in a full season at that position or live up to his offensive promise. Adams? Craig? Holiday? Who will succeed at 3B? LaRussa always stated “Freese will hit.” It’s been true to a certain degree, but the certainty of what happens to most ballplayers over 30 is not guesswork. The issue of shortstop is always nagging at a Cardinal manager and Kozma presents us with the problem yet again. Is he an everyday player or defensive substitute at the end of the game? Descalso is going to hit. Yes he is developing into dangerous bat, that may hit his way into the shortstop position. Daniel can undoubtedly thrive in the clutch as he has proven. My money is on Descalso. He has the fire in his belly. Beltran is having a career year and has earned the right to be given his head. If he is injury free, we should Beltran’s power and speed in the lineup for another 2-3 years. Matheny seems to play him just enough. As it stands I think Holiday will be history long before Carlos Beltran hangs it up. Of the senior citizens, look for Chris Carpenter to rise yet again. Maybe for a must win game later in the season or in the playoffs. This guy is driven and he understands the greatest victories are those bought with willpower and guts, a lesson Freese, Jamie Garcia, Kozma, and anyone else who shrinks from a tough task, could well internalize.

    Lastly, the pitching staff has the greatest potential and this element has least clarity. The young pitchers (e.g. Gast, Lyons, Siegrist, Kelly, Butler, Wacha) should be watching Chris Carpenter closely. The Cardinal pitching coach, Derek Lilliquist needs to demonstrate that he capable of handling younger talent or make way for someone who can. Matheny is a good judge of young pitching and is patient with them, but development is another issues altogether. Gast hurting himself and Wacha failing to solidify into a major league talent, are serious problems for Lilliquist who is unproven at this level. Lynn will be at a turning point soon, perhaps next year when he begins to lose something off his fastball and should turn, as most experienced starters do, to a variety of pitches to continue to dominate. His fastball should converted to a cutter, the out pitch might be sinker (Westbrook could teach it), and Lance might work on a better change-up because he is not fooling hitters as he did a year ago. Really the most immediate needs are middle relief men who can shut down a game for 1 inning or so. We need 2-3 of them. Choate is good but long in the tooth. Rosenthal will move into the closer position eventually the bullpen becomes the first order of business. Having the team’s first walkoff in July is a telling detail. It means that the bullpen is unreliable and this hole in the performance of the team needs to be plugged now, right now! Maness, Martinez, and Butler, maybe Cleto have to be utilized now and cannot be shelved for a rainy day. Lastly, Miller is also going to be at a make or break soon, if not now. A smart pitching coach would not lose him, but Lilliquist is questionable. Can he mold Shelby MIller into a reliable starter? We don’t know. Beside the development of Craig and Matt Carpenter, Matheny is the most important detail of all. LaRussa was like a 10th player. Matheny has yet to establish himself in such a capacity, but my feeling is he will. He should concentrate on developing young players by investing in their development and “standing in the rain” for the team as he did in the ALCS in 2012. It was inspiring to see him show his resolve in the way he did. More of this please!

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