First Half, First Place

A split of the weekend plus a little help from the Mets means that the Cardinals go into the All-Star Break with a lead in the division.  It might be only one game over the Pirates (though a bit-surprising five games over the Reds), but it’s a lead and better than most of the alternatives.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of drama, second-guessing and late inning dramatics to discuss, though.  We’ve already hit Friday’s game, so let’s get into the last two Chicago/St. Louis tilts we saw.

Saturday (6-4 loss)

Here’s the way Mike Matheny has described the last three losses by Lance Lynn: “erratic execution”, “fluky” and “weird”.  At some point, descriptions like that stop sounding like reasons and start sounding like excuses.

Given Lynn’s short history, it’s hard to say that this is or isn’t a pattern, but this year, since May he’s combined for a line of 4-3 in 8 starts, throwing 49 innings and allowing 54 hits and 30 runs (ERA 5.51) with 45 strikeouts and 16 walks.  Last year in June and July, 5-3 in 10 starts, 57.1 IP, 61 H, 28 ER, 63 K, 21 BB, ERA 4.40.  Of course, he ran off the rails in August last season, so we will have to wait and see what next month provides, but his tendency to slump mid-season is concerning.

This one was really rough for him.  He couldn’t get out of the fifth, having allowed six runs and leaving two men on for Keith Butler to clean up.  (Is Butler just a niche pitcher for Matheny?  He hadn’t pitched in 10 days before being thrown into that situation, which granted was a 6-1 gap at the time, but gets the two outs and then is replaced the next inning, even though the pitcher spot didn’t come up when the Cards were hitting.  Instead, Matheny double-switches Rob Johnson in and brings in Carlos Martinez.  I’m again not saying that’s wrong, but I’d like to see Butler throw more than 12 pitches every week and a half.)

Lynn allowed 11 hits and two home runs, though granted he had some rough luck.  Some grounders got through that shouldn’t have, some errors prolonged innings, etc.  So it’s not to say that the whole debacle goes on his shoulders.  That said, games like this don’t exactly inspire confidence that he’s going to be able to shake off whatever he had last year and be a rock down the stretch.

It’s too bad that it was such a rough beginning because the Redbirds just about overcame it.  Bases loaded in the eighth with Matt Carpenter up, but he was just able to hit a sacrifice fly, which was good, but the Cards needed more.  St. Louis had another chance in the ninth off of Kevin Gregg (in what turned out to be a bit of foreshadowing) but Pete Kozma had to hit for the pitcher and extended his hitless streak.

If you are giving the Goat to Lynn (which we are), you’d give the Hero tag to Jon Jay, who shook out of his season-long offensive woes for one evening at least, racking up four hits, including a double, scoring a run and driving in one as well.  Matt Adams also had a couple of hits as he looks more and more comfortable playing every day.

Sunday (10-6 win)

I said on Twitter last night, whatever the managerial version of BABIP is, Matheny’s has to be off the charts.  Decision after decision that he makes that should blow up on him doesn’t, or if it does, it becomes a moot point.

Examples of that abounded last night, mainly in the late innings.  The biggest of them was the decision to let Trevor Rosenthal bat with the bases loaded in the top of the eighth inning with the team up by two.  Conceding that you have enough runs seems to be the best way to prove that you don’t really have enough runs and, sure enough, that was the case.

The argument for leaving Rosenthal in there seemed to be weak on the face of it.  He’s already thrown 19 pitches in the bottom of the seventh, and while I know he used to be a starter, it’s been a while since he’s gone deep into games.  He’d thrown 20 pitches in an outing once in July and while he threw 28 pitches against Texas in June, he also allowed two runs in that outing.  Twenty-eight was also his season high (excepting a 39-pitch outing his first time out this season versus Arizona) so even if he threw 10 more pitches in the eighth, he was going to be hitting some upper limits.  It’s not like he’d just sliced and diced his way through the seventh.

Kevin Siegrist was warming up.  While there weren’t a lot of lefties coming up (and the one that was scheduled got pinch-hit for anyway), Siegrist has been dominant against right handers as well.  Perhaps you don’t want to use a rookie in that situation.  Then why was he warming up?  More than that, why not use him in the seventh instead of Randy Choate and leaving him in there until he had trouble, then bring in Rosenthal if necessary?

Rosenthal puts two runners on (and becomes our Goat for that) and Matheny goes to Edward Mujica.  That I have no problem with–if you are going to have a closer, occasionally they have to get more than three outs.  Unfortunately, Mujica gave up a double to Cody Ransom (after, as numerous people on Twitter pointed out, having a couple of third strikes be called balls) and it looked like Matheny’s chickens had come home to roost.

Perhaps it’s because Matheny is a guy that people are inspired to play for.  Perhaps his leadership leads to good things.  Perhaps he’s the luckiest guy you’ve ever been around.  Whatever the case, the Cards go out and just paste Gregg in the ninth, scoring four runs capped by a long home run by our Hero of the night, Yadier Molina.  (More on him in a bit.)

So, four run lead, you’ve given the knockout blow, your closer is vulturing a win right before he heads to the All-Star Game.  Do you use this time to give people like Siegrist or Butler an inning?  No, you leave Mujica out there.  Thankfully there is a four-day break, otherwise that could have been a much bigger deal.  All I can think is Matheny didn’t want to be caught short if there was another meltdown like Michael Blazek had earlier in the month.

Yadier Molina is an amazing piece of work.  Three hits last night coming out of an 0-17 and it easily could have been five.  Plus he was taking extra bases even on that beat-up knee, decisions that became huge twice when Pete Kozma, who had three hits that didn’t add up to Molina’s fly out in the eighth, had a safety squeeze and later a flare over Starlin Castro‘s head that drove in Molina to tie the game at 4.  I wouldn’t say Kozma was out of his slump–be nice to see a line drive–but you can’t argue that he wasn’t a big contributor last night.

Adam Wainwright wasn’t on his game last night, and yet until one fateful pitch, was well in line for a victory.  Wainwright, who can throw complete games in around 100 pitches, needed 110 to get through the sixth and it was the next to last batter, Darwin Barney, who did him in, hitting a three-run homer that just got into the baskets in the outfield.  That one is caught and Wainwright’s day looks a lot better.

I expected Matheny to go get him when he put two runners on in the sixth.  He’s over 100 pitches, he obviously doesn’t have his A game, you have a huge break so there’s no worry about wearing out the bullpen for later games.  Plus so often a manager wants to take his pitcher out when he can still win the game but not lose it.  Probably due to the backlash he got from the Texas game, though, he left Waino in and it was costly, though not as much as it probably should have been.  BABIP, indeed.

Cards put up 21 hits last night, which is pretty insane.  Allen Craig also had four hits and Adams chipped in another two.  In fact, Jay was the only starter to just have one hit, so the Cardinals had plenty of opportunities.  They cashed in on enough to take the game.

(Speaking of memorable Cards/Cubs games, you’ll find me later today over at Baseblog talking about some of them from the past 15 years.  Amazing how many of those late-inning rallies have happened on Sunday Night Baseball, just like last night.)

St. Louis will be thinking about what to do with Martinez over the break, but I really can’t see him not going back to Memphis.  He came up as bullpen insurance, but with the Cards not needing a fifth starter until the 29th (meaning Joe Kelly will be available in that role) and the bullpen rested from the break, it would seem to do him more good to return to Memphis and get regular work in.

I thought I saw the TV screen show John Mozeliak in the stands this weekend and, indeed, that was our Time Lord out there absorbing the action.  Mo is, of course, doing plenty of work trying to determine what, if any, move he’ll make before the July 31st deadline.  There have been rumors of the Cards looking at Matt Garza, but that doesn’t make sense for a lot of reasons, mainly due to dealing within the division.  Giving the Cubs prospects (and it’d be a high price) that would likely be trying to beat us for a long time to come?  I’d pass on that, thanks.

Home Run Derby tonight, then the All-Star Game Tuesday before two days of utter boredom.  How will we ever survive?

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