I’ll be honest. When the Cardinals got down 4-0 yesterday, I wasn’t sanguine about their chances. (Unless you mean the bloody definition, which might be more suitable to my mood at the time.) While we’ve seen the Cards stack together those long, drawn-out innings where everyone gets a hit and runs start scoring in bunches, it just seems like it’s been a while for that.
So, of course, as soon as I think that (and step away from checking the game due to going to meet my kids’ teachers), the Cards rally in just that way for five runs against A.J. Burnett, who had pretty much owned them all season long. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, you know nothing, C70.
Unfortunately, at least for those who have certain heart conditions or like their baseball in a nice and tidy nine innings, that five run rally wasn’t quite enough. In the eighth, the Pirates showed why it’s nice to have a little pop, tying the game off of Goat Trevor Rosenthal. There was a lot of concern about Rosenthal after that, given what happened two outings ago against the Cubs. Was he wearing down? Is there something wrong?
Fatigue might play a part, but looking at things, I don’t know if it’s not more than a little bit of law of averages. After all, he threw two innings yesterday and, after the leadoff homer, he only gave up a one-out double. Sure, you’d rather not see him give up extra-base hits like that, but that was it in two innings of work. If he was really tired or really damaged, you’d think he’d have trouble doing one inning or fall apart if he went out for the second. Instead, his second inning of work was two strikeouts and a lineout. Seems all right to me. While Rosenthal might not engender the same lockdown confidence that he had earlier in the year, it seems more a slight blip than anything overly wrong.
The rest of the bullpen was fairly outstanding as well. I’m not giving Randy Choate the Hero tag or anything, but his strikeout of Pedro Alvarez with the bases loaded (after an intentional walk to Andrew McCutchen, a true “pick your poison” scenario) was huge given Alvarez’s history against the Redbirds. Choate made it exciting, running it out to a full count, but got the job done.
There was some griping about Choate during that at-bat by a Twitter follower of mine, saying that he was just barely good enough to keep and it was a mistake of John Mozeliak to acquire him this offseason. I’ll agree that a three-year contract was very questionable and Choate’s been anything but perfect, but it seems to me that he’s done his job fairly well.
His last four outings, for example, have been perfect. He’s not been charged with a run since July 27. If I’m looking at the stats right, only 17% of his inherited runners score. He’s holding left-handed batters to a .194 BAA and a .254 SLG. He’s also thrown more complete innings this year than I would have ever expected as well. I wasn’t high on Choate when the signing was made or when he struggled in the spring, but he’s far from a major problem of the club now.
Speaking of Twitter, it was also fun to see another fan base griping about bunts. I follow enough Pirate fans to know this has been one of their concerns with Clint Hurdle for quite some time, just like Cardinal fans with Mike Matheny. Just like Matheny, Hurdle had to get the runner over to third after a leadoff double and used Starling Marte to do it, which seems insane on the face of it, especially since Marte had tripled already in the game. Of course, while the bunt was successful, the strategy was not. We feel you, Bucco fans, we really do.
Let’s talk about the offense. Again, they crammed it all into one inning (save the last rally in the 12th) but, as seems to be the case at times this year, they got what they needed there. I’m going to give the Hero to Matt Carpenter because, dude, four hits, two runs, and an RBI just can’t be overlooked, but I really leaned to Matt Holliday for a bit. Holliday had two hits and I think the biggest thing is he got a hit there in the twelfth with runners on the corners and one out. Because if that situation didn’t scream double play for the man with the largest number of them, I don’t know what does.
Again, given that basically everything happened in the fifth, there wasn’t much more offense to talk about. Jon Jay got two hits in the second spot in the order, but as we’ll discuss, last night’s big news probably means he can’t get comfortable up there. So eight of the Cards’ 12 hits came out of the first three guys. Good in some ways, not so good in others. Plus extra innings meant that Yadier Molina had to go long his first day back on the DL and he still had a bit of rust on his swing, going 0-5. Apparently the knee held up, though, which is good.
It seems to me that the Cards wind up short-handed faster than you’d expect. When Kevin Siegrist came in to pitch the 12th, it was noted that he was the last available pitcher. Two nights ago, the Cards had nobody on their bench as early as the 10th. That just seems like some roster mismanagement, doesn’t it? I mean, sure, when you get to the 16th or 17th (or even the 14th, if you are generous) you expect pitchers hitting and position players warming up. But in a relatively short extended play? It’s difficult to do with various game situations, but it seems like St. Louis gets caught short faster in these things than they should be.
That was a big win for the Cardinals, though. Being four games back to a Pirates team that had just won both recent series would have been cause for concern. I know that there is a month and a half of baseball left, but like Yogi Berra said, “It gets late early out there.” Two games is much more manageable, especially given that there are six games remaining between the two teams. Win two of three in each series and you make that up. Plus it kept the Reds off their tail for one more day, as they lurk just 1/2 game behind the Cards and now are just 2.5 off of Pittsburgh. I’d about written them off, but they aren’t going away that easily.
So as we put up last night after the initial reports, Kolten Wong is going to be activated today. Numerous fans in various formats have talked about this team needing a little shakeup, a spark, and Wong is the most obvious way of going about that. You wouldn’t expect Matheny, who comes across as fairly cautious and not one to toss a rookie in the deep end, to put Wong about seventh in today’s lineup, but Wong is coming up to play. If they wanted him as just an option or for him to enjoy the experience, they’d have waited two weeks until the minor league season is over. Wong should be in today’s starting lineup, playing second base.
As much as some of us would like to imagine Wong playing short, he’s never done it before. I don’t think you’ll see Carpenter try to move over there either, though if he could, that’d be outstanding. No, most likely the person that is waking up with a little extra angst is David Freese. Freese only has six home runs on the season, though he’s just slightly above average in OPS+ (106). Since his 20-game hit streak ended, he’s hit .251/.337/.383 in 54 games. With no power coming from him, he’s a remarkably replaceable player, though he does give the bench quite a boost.
Will we see Wong in there everyday? I doubt it. There will be days that Carpenter is back at second and Freese is out there. It probably means Daniel Descalso will see a little less time at anything but shortstop (though it might increase his time there).
More importantly, it should strengthen the lineup and, once Wong works his way to the leadoff role, give an added dimension to the game. After all, Wong has stolen 20 bases in Memphis. The whole Cardinal team this season has stolen 30. Imagine Wong and Carpenter leading off games, followed by Carlos Beltran, Holliday, Allen Craig and Molina. Suddenly this lineup just got deeper again, especially if Jon Jay can hit seventh and keep up what he’s doing.
Plus that gives you a better bat off the bench. Right now, Matt Adams is really your only weapon, especially if you need some thump. While Freese hasn’t shown that recently, he still has that ability. On days when he’s playing, Wong could be a great guy to pinch-hit to lead off an inning or even do more, as he’s shown some pop in Memphis.
The Redbirds might need all the offense they can find today as Jake Westbrook takes the mound at Wrigley. Last time he pitched there, he gave up three runs in seven innings but took the loss. However, he’s not looked like that pitcher in a while and hopefully that emergency relief appearance won’t cause any lasting repercussions.
History’s not completely on Westbrook’s side either, given these numbers. He may be able to keep people in the park, but the offense is going to need that jolt and not put up another lackluster outing. They are going to have to come to play.
Whether they’ll be able to or not is debatable as they face Jake Arrieta. It may be that is another reason that Wong is coming up, as you’d expect he’s faced Arrieta in the minors this year. Arrieta came over from Baltimore in the Scott Feldman trade and only has one NL appearance under his belt, which means he’s an unknown commodity for the team. At least he’s not left-handed.
Afternoon baseball with weather that feels like mid-September. Not too much to argue with there. Let’s make it a perfect day with a Cardinal victory!