Before yesterday’s game, the issues being discussed were a lack of offense and the fact that you could really only trust the bullpen these days.
Baseball has a quirky sense of humor.
As they’ve done before, the Cardinals jumped on A.J. Burnett early, so much so that he was pinch-hit for (with two runners on) in the fourth. They then stayed quiet until an epic seventh inning which saw nine straight batters–including Pete Kozma!–get a hit and seven of them score, the final ones on a Yadier Molina three-run homer. You feel pretty comfortable with an 11-run lead, especially with this bullpen.
Which is why, five outs later, Edward Mujica is coming in for a save. Because baseball, at its heart, is a funny game.
Let’s talk about the Hero first. It was good to see Molina flash a little power, as he’d been scuffling of late. You wonder just how much his ailments, most especially the wrist, are keeping him down. It was his only hit of the night, but it turned into a big one. But I don’t think he’s the Hero.
Joe Kelly did a great job dancing out of trouble. If he gives up a hit with runners on in the first, chances are this game takes an entirely different path. This is a lot of what we’ve seen out of Kelly, a lot of getting out of trouble with runners on. It’s the difference between him and a lot of the rotation who don’t seem to have that knack. The Cards are now 10-1 in his starts since he joined the rotation, one of the major reasons they are still contending for a division crown. But I don’t think he’s the Hero.
I thought about Matt Carpenter, what with his 2-3 (including a triple and, of course, a double), three runs, RBI, walk night and that wouldn’t be a bad choice. Instead, though, I’m going with Jon Jay, who had an outstanding night and hopefully is an indication he’s back on the rise. Three hits, three runs, 3 RBI–you’d take that most every day out of your second spot, wouldn’t you?
While there were a couple of people that you could put the Goat on, such as David Freese going 0-3, but the Goat would really seem to have to come from the eighth or ninth innings, where the Pirates scored seven runs.
There are mitigating circumstances–Kozma’s error drastically effected his line–but I think you still have to go with Jake Westbrook as the Goat in this one. I know, he got thrown into the game earlier than expected given the ump’s tossing of John Axford and Mike Matheny after Axford hit Tony Sanchez after a warning had been issued the inning before and, again, he got the double play ball he was looking for but Kozma booted it. That said, Westbrook did get two outs before giving up a two-run home run. That plus his ineffectiveness in the ninth, which has fewer reasons to excuse it, give him the Goat in this one.
No matter how pretty or ugly, they all count the same and now the Cardinals are just 1/2 game back of the Pirates, with Cincinnati just two back of the divisional lead. I’d say it’s a bit of a race.
It’s a race that will have to do without Allen Craig for a while. Craig’s optimistic that he’ll return before the end of the season, but nobody seems to have a good timetable for when. That might be the last series against the Cubs for all we know. What we do know is that it won’t be for a while. He’s out all this weekend and most likely the Milwaukee series as well. If he returns at all during this homestand, I’d be surprised.
The winner of today’s game will be in first place in the NL Central. Which is why, even given his recent struggles, it’s good to see Adam Wainwright‘s name on the starter line. Waino thinks he has things figured out, that he might have been tipping his hand somewhat. We hear “he’s tipping his pitches” a lot these days and it starts to sound like an excuse. Anytime some struggles, the first fallback is tipping pitches.
However, in today’s environment of all-pervasive video, it seems reasonable that more than ever people are picking up tells. Stuff that would have been imperceptible before when you just had your eyes during the game can now be found by mining the video, slowing it down, searching frame-by-frame. It’s a constant battle of adjustment and it’s possible that Wainwright really was indicating something. Seems just as likely, though, that he found a flaw in his delivery. After all, I don’t think it’s all tipping pitches that has made him walk more in the second half of the season than he did the entire first half.
He better have figured out something because the Pirates have done damage against him in the past. He gave up three runs in seven innings against them when he faced them last in Busch, the Starling Marte error game. Hopefully it won’t take those kind of dramatics to win this evening.
Jeff Locke is the scheduled starter for the Buccos. Locke, who just recently returned from the minor leagues after a second-half slump, was pretty hitable last time out against the Cards, giving up four runs in four innings in Pittsburgh. That started the stretch of bad starts that sent him to the minors and this will be his first start in the bigs since his return.
If momentum meant anything to this club, they should ride last night’s offensive exploits into today, combined with a strong Wainwright, and take over the top spot in the Central. However, we know what momentum has meant to them in the past, so all bets are off!