A good craftsman never blames his tools. A great Carpenter never stops using his. I’m expecting Mike Matheny to go the Whitey Herzog route and start doing commercials for St. Louis’s Carpenters Union, given how much one has helped him out and one might be about to do so.
Let’s start with Matt Carpenter first. Our Hero from last night vultured another win for Seth Maness and kept the Cards from the ignominy of splitting the season series with a Houston team that the best team in baseball shouldn’t be having this much trouble with.
We talk a lot about Matheny’s interesting managerial decisions and we’re going to get to some more of them in a bit. However, it’s only fair to do a little second-guessing on Bo Porter as well. Jordan Lyles, his starter, had done fairly well all night long against the Cards. He was given a 4-3 lead to start the seventh inning and hit Tony Cruz with a pitch before striking out pinch-hitting Yadier Molina.
He’s at 95 pitches right there. The runner on first is a slow runner, so it’s likely going to take two hits to score him (or one massive hit, as we saw). Lyles had a severe groundball split going on, getting 13 grounders for two flyouts, so a double play is a serious possibility. Instead of keeping him in, Porter, perhaps doing the Matheny/TLR move of not wanting a pitcher to take the loss in a game they’ve pitched well, takes him out right there to bring in left-handed Wesley Wright.
As soon as Porter did that, I felt like it was an advantage for the Cards. Carpenter doesn’t have as notable of a weakness against left-handed pitching as some lefties do and removing a guy that was getting the job done gives a bit of a lift to the opposition. Sure enough, Carpenter crushed a home run that gave the club the 5-4 lead that they’d never relinquish. Go-ahead home run late as your only hit? That’ll often get you Hero status, even if you flub a ball in the field.
So let’s pick apart a couple of decisions by our manager as well. First off, in the eighth inning, Allen Craig walks and, after a couple of strikeouts (and a stolen base by Craig), they intentionally walk Daniel Descalso to get Cruz up with two on and two out. St. Louis is still just up by a run, so some insurance would be handy for a lot of reasons, not the least of which deals with the next managerial move that we are going to discuss.
Carlos Beltran trots out of the dugout. The FSMW guys and most everyone else expects that we are going to see the third catcher thing pay off and Beltran will hit for Cruz. Instead, Beltran stays on the on-deck circle while Cruz takes his at-bat and eventually turns around and goes back to the bench when Cruz grounds out.
Why do you not hit Beltran there? The odds of him getting an RBI hit are extremely better than Cruz’s. You still have Pete Kozma on the bench if Beltran comes through and you need to pinch-hit for the pitcher (who was coming up after Cruz, explaining the Beltran appearance) or even let the catcher coming in, Rob Johnson, get his first AB of the season. Granted, neither are likely to come through with a clutch base hit, but odds are Beltran wasn’t going to single there or, if he did, it was unlikely to leave the bases loaded.
And even if you don’t want to hit for Cruz, why go ahead and put Beltran in the on-deck circle? Why not put out Kozma or someone, letting the opponent (at least in theory) believe that’s who is coming up next? I figure the sight of Beltran in the on-deck circle focuses a pitcher’s mind mightily, giving Cruz even less odds of getting a mistake. Not sure Kozma has the same effect.
Then, with the Cards up just one in the ninth, Matheny goes to Edward Mujica. Now normally that’s not a controversial move in the least. Mujica’s the closer, that’s what you do with closers usually. However, you don’t typically go to the closer in six straight games. There was an off-day in there, sure, but still it’s a lot of overwork.
Baseball, being what it is, will get you if you try to fool it. Matheny knew that Mujica was tired but put him in anyway and told him “just throw your best pitch and the infield will come through for you.” Hoping for a quick 1-2-3, instead it was a 22 pitch inning that saw runners on first and second with one out after a sliding Matt Holliday couldn’t come up with a Brett Wallace fly ball and Descalso, who had just slid over to third so Kozma could come in to provide fielding insurance, misplayed a grounder. Mujica did get Carlos Pena to hit into a double play, or the whole thing could have blown up in Matheny’s face.
It’s something I’ve said numerous times about Matheny–he gets locked into his bullpen usage patterns and won’t adjust them for situations. Tuesday night was the prime example. Sure, Michael Blazek had gotten the game tighter than we wanted to see and he needed to be removed. However, the tying run is only in the on-deck circle and you need just one more out. Trevor Rosenthal had been used almost as much as Mujica, but he could have gone in. Maness hadn’t been used since Saturday, could have given him a shot at it. Heck, Keith Butler hadn’t been used in a week. Surely he was fresh enough to get one out and, given that he’d only allowed two hits in the almost nine innings since his one meltdown, I’d have been fine with that. If he does anything but bring Mujica in Tuesday, that’s two days off in a row for the closer and last night is not controversial at all.
It’s not a coincidence that Jason Motte got every save last season. Matheny knows that if it’s the eighth inning it’s Rosenthal and if it’s the ninth it’s Mujica assuming it’s anywhere close. I think he limits himself when he goes that way and we’re seeing the results of that now. There would seem to be no way Mujica is available for tonight’s game with Chicago. Will he be able to call someone else’s number if a save situation arises?
All of this and we’ve not even talked about the starter from last night. It was pretty obvious Shelby Miller didn’t have a feel for his pitches last night. Dan and Al talked a lot about him being uncomfortable, forcing his stuff, and you could see that watching the game. (The strike zone didn’t help him much either, at least early on.) It’s a testament to how much talent and ability Miller has that he only allowed three runs in his five innings of work. That could have easily been a lot worse, given that he allowed five hits and five walks in that span. (Also struck out five. It was his way of honoring Jermaine Curtis, #55 when he was up, on his birthday.)
Given the way he battled, I’m not going to give the Goat to Miller. I’ll go instead with Jon Jay, who went 0-4 stuck between Carpenter and Holliday. It seemed like a dead spot between two effective hitters and that’s what it turned out to be last night.
All this game news is very exciting, of course, but it was overshadowed before the first pitch was even thrown. That’s because Chris Carpenter threw a simulated game yesterday afternoon and the results were so positive, they are skipping the planned “work out in Jupiter” step and going straight to rehab starts. Carpenter starts the official road back Monday evening in Springfield in what will likely be one of the largest crowds ever in Hammonds Field. I know I thought about going and I’m three hours away.
Carpenter didn’t face any sluggers, but Shane Robinson has been the constant in these things, always seeming to be in the group that faces Carp as he takes a new step. Robinson reported that Carp’s velocity was up from even the last time he stepped in against the pitcher, and he was pretty glowing back then as well. It sounds like he’s got more stuff than he had last year when he made his late-season return, which is a positive thing.
He’s going to throw 60 pitches in his first rehab start, which is a bit down from the 100 or so that he’s been throwing in simulated games, but given that it’s real action, that’s understandable. He’ll have to be up by this time next month as pitchers get 30 days on their rehab assignments. It was noted that he’d get three starts before the trade deadline, which will likely play a large role in what John Mozeliak decides to do. I continue to maintain that, if he’s got the stamina for it, having Carpenter in the rotation is the best thing for him and the team. With the bullpen the asset that it is now rather than the melee it was when Carp first started this road, I would think that him starting might be more and more the way this will play out.
The Redbirds fly off to Wrigley to end the “first half” of the season. In a strange and possibly historic twist, three of the four games will be played under the lights up in Chicago, with only Friday afternoon seeing day baseball.
For the second time in about a month, St. Louis gets to face off against old friend Edwin Jackson. Given that the first time resulted in four runs in 5.1 innings, I don’t think there will be too many complaints.
The latter part of this series should see some good pitching from Chicago. The odds are not strong that the first part of the series will set that trend, however.
Cardinals counter with Jake Westbrook, who has been dominant at home but much iffier on the road. Westbrook allowed three runs in 5.1 innings last time he was in Wrigley, but shut out the Cubs for seven innings at home. We’ll have to see which one shows up.
Alfonso Soriano has been pretty hot lately, so we’ll see if recent events trump the history between these two.
Cards need to take three of four up in the Windy City this weekend to feel good about themselves going into the All-Star Break. Should be fun watching them try!