Going into this series with the Atlanta Braves, owners of the best record in the National League, I think most Cardinal fans would have abided a split and hailed three of four as good times. So while the Cards weren’t able to break out the brooms this weekend, it still was a very good weekend, especially since they got some help from their friends in San Fran.
Saturday (6-2 win)
When Freddie Freeman launched a home run with two outs in the first inning, a lot of concern raced around Cardinal Nation. After all, you just can’t be sure what you are going to get out of Shelby Miller. He’s a talent for sure, but he’s a bit on the raw side. Sometimes he’s great, sometimes not so much. Which Shelby were we going to see?
We got the good one.
Given the fact that Miller came into this game with an ERA around 2.00 in Busch Stadium, I guess it wasn’t too hard to imagine. What was good to see was that his night, for the first time since the beginning of June, went past the sixth inning. Miller was efficient with his pitches, even as he struck out six. One run in seven innings will get you a win most nights with this team and Saturday was no different.
I’ll go with Miller as the Hero, because when you are facing Julio Teheran, you tend to have to be on the top of your game. Three hits in seven innings would count. That said, Miller had some competition for the title. Matt Carpenter made sure that Atlanta lead was short-lived by launching a home run to start off the home half of the fifth as one of his two hits. Carlos Beltran had three hits, including a home run that broke the tie, and drove in two. Matt Holliday also drove in two with a double in the seventh, giving the Cardinals some much-needed insurance. Give Shane Robinson some props as well, as he went 2-2 after coming in as part of a double switch.
Unfortunately, got to give the Goat to Kolten Wong. He went 0-3 like Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso did and all three of them drew a walk, but Wong left more runners on. Tie goes to the (left on) runners.
Even a win like this wasn’t without some controversy, though. If a starter can’t go a complete game, it seems like Mike Matheny is going to do something with the bullpen that is going to infuriate or puzzle a good chunk of the watching audience.
The Cards get a 6-1 lead and Matheny brings in Randy Choate to start the ninth. All well and good. Choate has pitched complete innings numerous times this season and has a good bit of padding here should things start to go south. He gives up a hit but immediately induces a double play, so there are two on and nobody out. Then he allows a hit to Brian McCann.
Now, keep in mind that there is a five run lead and you only have to get one more out. It would seem logical to see if Choate can’t finish this up, right? I mean, Andrelton Simmons has some pop, but he’s also known more for his defense. Simmons’s line against lefties this season is .229/.311/.390, so it’s not like he’s been lighting it up against southpaws.
However, this is too logical for Matheny’s bullpen usage. He yanks Choate, who didn’t seem too happy about it, and brought in Seth Maness. Remember, the team doesn’t need a double play here. Just one single out will get you out of this game. Maness gives up a single to Simmons (who has a higher BA but a lower OPS against righties) and then a double to our old friend Gerald Laird. At this point, there are runners at second and third and a run in, making it 6-2.
Even as Maness struggled, you’d think Matheny would give him another shot. I mean, we’re talking about a young guy just getting a taste of the ninth. Give him a chance to get out of his own mess, right? You’ve got the padding. Let him build a little confidence since the next guy up is Elliot Johnson, hitting a whopping .180 on the season.
Instead, the rigidity of Matheny’s thought processes came into play again. As soon as it became a save situation, he popped out of the dugout and waved in Edward Mujica. Granted, Mujica was available, but given the issues he’s been having, if you didn’t have to use him, wouldn’t it have been better not to? Mujica came in and threw all of three pitches to strike out Johnson and get one of the easiest saves of the year.
I get that it was a game you couldn’t afford to lose and perhaps if you use some of that rope, you’ll get to the end of it faster than you’d think. I just think that if all you need is one out and have a five (or four) run lead, most any pitcher worth their salt can do that. No need to bring in the sledgehammer to take care of the ant.
Sunday (5-2 loss)
You wonder if it wasn’t a blessing in disguise for the Braves to have to replace Brandon Beachy for this game with Mike Minor. I mean, it’s not good long term, what with Beachy going to the DL and heading to a chat with everyone’s least favorite baseball doctor, Dr. James Andrews, but that meant they could put a quality left-hander out on the mound and see if he could baffle and befuddle the Redbirds.
I don’t know that Minor was all that dazzling, but he surely was effective. He allowed six hits, but it seemed like he could have given up a number more if it weren’t for some solid plays behind him. St. Louis struck the ball well, but they didn’t find gaps or get down before the outfielder could get to it. An inch here or there and maybe this game plays differently.
So you can’t get down on Lance Lynn. His “big inning” was two runs in the second, then he cruised before giving up a home run in the seventh. He struck out five in his seven innings of work and while it won’t be framed as one of his best ones, it was good enough to win on a lot of days.
The Hero goes to Allen Craig, who went three for four and drove in a run. The Goat goes to Carlos Beltran, who seemed to be off from the very first batter in this game. Jordan Schafer drove one to the outfield and instead of Beltran running after it, he seemed to watch it like he was sure it was going to bounce into the stands for a ground-rule double. (To be fair, that’s what I thought sitting at home, but then again they aren’t paying me a significant amount of money to chase after those things, either.) The ball didn’t bounce, Schafer wound up on third and came home on a single by Elliot Johnson. Would he have scored anyway? Possibly. Figure the infield might have played differently and Lynn might have had a different sequence of pitches. Still, it was a costly blunder. Beltran also went 0-4 with a double play, so he didn’t redeem himself there either.
As noted above, St. Louis got a little help from the lowly Giants, who split their four-game set with the Pirates to push the Cards into a tie for first. They also got some help on the other end as Milwaukee took two of three from Cincinnati, so the Cards will head into the Queen City with a 2.5 game lead on the Reds.
Really, save for seeding, the National League playoff races are over. Atlanta has a 13 game lead on Washington, so they are in. Los Angeles has a 10 game lead over Arizona, so they are in. The three teams of the NL Central have at least a seven game lead over the Diamondbacks for the last wild card slot, so that’s a pretty safe assumption as well, especially since Arizona is barely playing .500 baseball. If there was just one wild card, it’d be pretty intense between Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis, but with two, we already know all of them are going to be in the postseason, at least for a day.
Cincinnati gets a chance to directly do something about their chances today as the Cardinals host them for three games. While the Pirates are off (thus giving the Redbirds a chance to get a half-game lead in the division with a win), they then take on the Brewers at home starting Tuesday. You figure that’s good for at least two wins, so the Cards can’t afford to stumble before heading off to PNC Park this weekend.
Tyler Lyons, Official Pitcher of CATB, goes for St. Louis in the first game of this matchup. He struggled against Cincinnati his first time facing them this season, giving up four runs in 5.1 innings. However, he’s been able to refine his stuff since then and had some good work done in Memphis. We’ll see if he’s able to take those lessons and apply them in the heat of a pennant race.
Mike Leake is having a pretty solid year for the Reds and will take the mound tonight in St. Louis. That said, his last couple of outings weren’t so hot and his last time against the Redbirds, he allowed seven runs in five innings as the Cards pounded Cincy 15-2. He also faced them in June and gave up three runs in five innings, so he’s not that enthused about seeing those guys with the birds on the bat again.
The career numbers don’t give him much sliver of hope either. Beltran and Craig haven’t done a lot, but even at that Beltran’s taken him yard. It might not be the tight pitching duels we saw some this weekend or at other times recently, but as long as the Cardinals come out on top, that’s fine with me!