On July 26, 2004, the Cardinals won an 11-inning affair in Cincinnati. Woody Williams had given up three in the first and five overall, but the bullpen held and St. Louis put up four in the 11th to give the ball to Jason Isringhausen, who closed out the win. That made the Redbirds 63-36 after 99 games.
Which helps put last night’s win over Philadelphia into some context for me. All year long, it’s been tough to really see how good this team is. I mean, it’s obvious they are good, but when you think back to that 2004 team, you think of a dominant team than ran roughshod over the league. (They did, of course–they were up 10 games at this point in the season.)
This team, however, is now 62-37 after 99 games, not far off of that pace. For whatever reason, they don’t necessarily inspire that same kind of dominant feeling. Most likely it is because we always have to be checking the standings–this team would probably have a better feel, as it were, if they didn’t have the second and third best teams in the NL in the same division with them. That 2.5 game lead isn’t quite the same as what 2004 was doing.
Plus there’s the long ball issue. I wrote about it yesterday and Bernie Miklasz did it much better yesterday afternoon, but this team is winning with singles and doubles and the prenatural ability to hit with a runner in scoring position. The 2004 team was able to smash their way to victory to some degree–in that game against Cincinnati, all three of Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen went deep.
Speaking of the MV3, can we revive that nickname? While Edmonds, Pujols and Rolen batted together in the heart of the order, there’s no doubt that Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina are all going to be getting plenty of attention at the end of the season for the big award.
Even after their earlier stumbles, this team is still on pace to win 101 games, which would give St. Louis three 100+ win teams in the last decade. That’s one last reason it’s tough to put this team with the others–we’ve gotten somewhat spoiled by greatness!
Let’s look at last night’s game, which put the Cards +25 for the first time this season. While it wasn’t the most dominant game he’s pitched, we’ll give the Hero tag to Lance Lynn for what really was a solid performance. He ran his pitch count up and walked four, but he gave the team seven innings of one-run ball and you can’t ask for more than that and still be a reasonable person that folks like to be around.
Apparently the talk with Mike Matheny worked as Lynn seemed more focused and dedicated to his task last night. It helped that his defense was working for him, getting three double plays turned behind him. Well, the phrasing is double plays are turned behind the pitcher, but Lynn had a hand in all three of them, though just that in one that bounced off his hand and went to Carpenter for a traditional version.
It’s good that Lynn was on his game, because the offense was pretty quiet last night. They bunched four of their five hits along with one of their two walks together in the third and that was enough to account for the three runs. The other one was off the bat of Shane Robinson to lead off the fourth. After that, not a single Cardinal reached base. There was a reason this one was almost over by 9 PM!
Even though I got a little hesitant when Edward Mujica came in and allowed the first runner he faced to reach, the bullpen did their job splendidly last night, which means we have to look for our Goat on the other side of the box score. Ironically, after touting them as the next MV3 above, two thirds of that group didn’t get a hit last night. We’ll give the Goat to Yadier Molina, just because he left an extra man on. Could have been a number of people, though. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many infield popups in a game.
As noted on here as an aside yesterday (yes, I do love our little quick-hit option), Marc Rzepczynski came back to the bullpen yesterday in exchange for Carlos Martinez. It’s a bit interesting that the Cards didn’t keep Martinez up here to make that doubleheader start in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, but probably figured he wasn’t ready to go long in that game since he’d been sitting around some up in St. Louis. It looks like Tyler Lyons or Michael Wacha will get that spot start and, with the new rule that allows you to expand your roster to 26 for a double-header, they can be brought up and sent back without having to affect the rest of the squad.
As for Rzepczynski, he’s been pitching well in Memphis but Sam Freeman has been pitching somewhat better (at least, that’s what the Prospect Preacher tells me). The public reason for that does make some sense–the Cardinals are going to be facing a number of tough left-handed batters on this roadtrip and they wanted the veteran experience for that. However, you have to wonder given the fact that there are already two lefties in the pen and Freeman in the minors if Scrabble isn’t being showcased to be part of a deal. If he can get major league hitters out again, his stock does go way up.
Of course, that would assume John Mozeliak is going to make a trade, but the signs increasingly point to him standing pat. The Cards did monitor Jake Peavy‘s last start (which seems to have turned out pretty well) but I expect that there are enough teams in that mix that the price in prospects is going to get pretty high pretty quickly. Unless Mo is working on his ninja skills and will pull off something no one sees coming (which is completely reasonable), it would seem that this team is going to win it with what they have. Good thing what they have is enough for the best record in baseball.
The Cards took care of their homefront, but now they have to walk through some dangerous territory, starting with Atlanta. While the Braves haven’t been as successful as they were earlier in the season, they still lead the NL East by eight over the Phillies and Washington. (That’s just not fair, is it? If the Braves were in the Central, they’d be in fourth place. Instead, they have three times the lead the Cardinals do.) The Braves are 4-6 in their last 10 and are probably still a bit emotionally worked up over losing Tim Hudson for the season.
With Hudson out, Mike Minor ascends to the top spot in the rotation. Minor has had a solid year, posting a 2.98 ERA in 20 games. His last three starts he’s allowed two runs or fewer, including a game against Cincinnati in Turner Field. He’s actually been better away from home this year, however, though he tends to get more grounders at home (for whatever reason).
Minor isn’t a complete unknown to St. Louis, but he’s pretty close. He got roughed up last year in Busch, giving up six runs in less than five innings, though the Braves eventually won that game. Hopefully the bats can do the same while the pitching will be better in this one.
Odds are it will be because Adam Wainwright is going for the Cards. It’s always got to be fun for Waino to go pitch in Atlanta, close by family and friends and against the team he grew up watching. He’s done pretty well in Turner Field as well, with a career mark of 3-0 and a 2.35 ERA. We know what it’s like when Wainwright bears down and he most likely doesn’t want to disappoint those that have come to see him.
Unsurprisingly given the preceding paragraph, the Braves hitters haven’t done just a lot against the Wagonmaker either. Let’s hope that keeps up and Waino can extend this winning streak out to five.
As you know, last night’s broadcast from Fox Sports Midwest was their “This One’s For You” telecast, honoring those that are serving in the military. Bill Ivie did a great symposium over at I70 Baseball talking about the military and what it all means. My contribution is here, but I encourage you to check out all of those posts.
We’ve got three of the Game 6 DVD contests going, but don’t forget to enter mine you have to get me your email by midnight on Saturday. I’ve got three good entries already, but there’s always room for more.
Enjoy your weekend and hopefully you’ll see a lot of winning Cardinal baseball!