Checking Off One Box

It was a successful weekend in Milwaukee for the Cardinals, the last they will spend away from home in the regular season.  While it wasn’t perfect and it helped crystallize an issue that had been brewing, St. Louis did enjoy two wins on the weekend and clinched some sort of playoff activity.  If the goal is to play after game 162 (or any tiebreakers), mission accomplished.

Friday (7-6 win in 10)

With the Reds and Pirates battling it out this weekend, the Cardinals knew that if they won, they’d gain ground on someone.  However, there was no requirement to do it easy, apparently.

Aramis Ramirez yet again tormented the Redbirds, cracking a three-run homer off of Shelby Miller in the first and adding on a sac fly later.  If it hadn’t been for Ramirez, Miller might have had a pretty nice night.  He went six and the only runs he gave up were Ramirez-induced.  He’s not the first Cardinal pitcher to have that kind of situation happen to him.  Miller did allow seven hits, but struck out four in six innings.  You’d have liked him to keep the hits down, therefore the pitch count down, therefore being able to go into the seventh, but on the whole it was a pretty tolerable performance.

The Cards took him off the hook for a loss with a seventh-inning rally, making it 4-4 when the game went to the ninth inning.  That’s where our Hero and Goat stood out.

Matt Adams has been well and truly hot lately.  In this game, he got three hits and drove in three runs, but none were bigger than the two-run shot in the ninth that put the Cards up 6-4.  The power outage this season has been pretty unexplainable, so it makes it fun to see Adams come up with the knowledge he may hit the ball a long way.  I think with many of the others now we expect doubles or extended innings, not necessarily long balls.

Others that played into the Hero discussion were Matt Holliday, who has also been en fuego, with three hits and two RBI, and Matt Carpenter, who also was three for five and scored a couple of runs.  Remember the MV3 from 2004 of Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen?  This is a new MV3–just with Matt instead of Most.

So two runs up in the ninth and things are feeling all right.  At least, they should have been, but I think most every Cardinal fan was holding their breath when Edward Mujica came into the game.  We know that Mujica has had a wonderful season overall, but the last week or so has made the ninth inning a roller-coaster.  Still, two runs on one of the weaker teams in the league should be doable, shouldn’t it?

It wasn’t. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I’m not talking about Joe Kelly.  He immediately allows a double to Jeff Bianchi, who was hitting in the low .200s.  He got out Yuniesky Betancourt, but then had to start with the top of the lineup and that went downhill quickly.  Norichika Aoki, who really has become a pest for the Brewers, put runners on the corners.  Logan Schafer drove in a run.  Then Mujica walked Jonathan Lucroy and that was all for Mujica on the night.

On every one of those hitters, save Lucroy, he was able to get two strikes on them but was unable to finish them off.  Whether it’s fatigue affecting his mechanics or people just figuring him out, it’s not working and there are fewer things that can demoralize a team than losing a game in the ninth, especially when they could have gained ground on their closest competition.

Luckily, the trade that the Cardinals made in August came back to help them in two ways.  One, John Axford came into the game with the bases loaded and a one-run lead.  He got Cardinal-killer Ramirez to hit a little dribbler to third, but Daniel Descalso couldn’t come up with it, tying the game.  However, Axford was undaunted and got a double play to end the inning and force extras for a second straight day.

Cards score one in the tenth off a Kolten Wong walk, a Carpenter double, and a Carlos Beltran sac fly and Carlos Martinez, with help from a pep talk from Yadier Molina, closed it out for his first save.  No harm, no foul, save to the status of Mujica.

I argued Friday night on social media that, to put it in those terms, this was the outing that went viral.  There seemed little way that Matheny could allow this to continue with back-to-back blown saves and an outing in Colorado that almost became one.  There was too much happening in such a short span of time that Matheny was almost forced to make a move.  Sure enough, on Saturday Matheny said that the closer situation was “fluid” and they’d probably play matchups for a while, which makes a lot of sense.

As we know, this is becoming a tradition in St. Louis.  Adam Wainwright didn’t pick up his first real save until September 27 in 2006 (game 157) and Jason Motte was a relative old hand, getting his first save in the “closer” role in game 134.  Though, as Tara noted last night on Gateway, he never did actually get the title.

Saturday (7-2 win)

Of course, the best way to resolve the closer situation is never to actually need one.  That’s the method the Cardinals went with on Saturday, beating up on the soft underbelly of the Brewer bullpen to put the game out of reach.

There was a lot of talk going into Saturday about how bad Yovani Gallardo has been against the Cards in his career.  That may be so, but I still remember the game a couple of years ago when, after Jaime Garcia had taken a perfect game into the seventh the night before, Gallardo then took a no-hitter into the eighth on a Saturday afternoon in Busch.  In other words, he’s got the potential to shut you down given the right circumstances.

I’m a sucker for Big Fill-In-The-Blank and I almost gave him the Hero for this one as well.  Adams’s home run in the first allowed St. Louis to have a little more confidence while Gallardo was shutting them down, keeping them in the lead while the bats floundered.  He also singled and scored in the five-run eighth, which put the game out of reach.

However, I think I’ll go with Lance Lynn this time around.  Lynn allowed a run in the bottom of the first after being staked to that two-run lead by Adams, but he didn’t allow anything else.  He pitched into the seventh, striking out seven along the way.  It wasn’t perfect, given his four walks, but it was his third straight good outing, which makes you a little more confident about him being in the starting rotation, though he finished the year strongly last year and was a disaster in the playoffs.  Hopefully he’s learned from that.

With such an outburst, it’s hard to find a Goat.  Almost everyone contributed to the cause offensively and while Seth Maness did give up a run in his 1.1 innings, that was after the big cloudburst came, so it did little damage and pitching with a six-run lead likely affected his approach.  Still, given the circumstances, I guess I’ll go with him for the tag.  Not exactly classic Goat material, but that happens at times.

Sunday (6-4 loss)

St. Louis knew that they had made it into the postseason before Sunday night’s game, as the Nationals lost the first game of the doubleheader and eliminated all possibility the Redbirds weren’t playing in October in some form or fashion.  The idea was that the club wasn’t going to celebrate because there was so much more to do.  However, you wouldn’t have been able to tell given their on-field play that they weren’t recovering from the effects of a grand party.

The Cardinals made three errors, all of which factored into the Brewers’ scoring, and weren’t able to hit Wily Peralta in the way that they’d been able to in the past.  It was a sloppy, ugly game made only somewhat bearable by the fact Cincinnati had won earlier in the day, meaning that the Cards stayed two games ahead of both of them.  Three would have been much better.

If it was difficult to find a Goat on Saturday, it was difficult to decide which Goat to pick on Sunday.  I’m going with Joe Kelly, because he gave up six runs in seven innings.  Even though three of them were unearned, of those was because of his own error.  The biggest problem was the fact that the Cards cut the lead to 4-3 (and to be fair, Kelly contributed to that with a sacrifice fly) but he immediately went out and allowed two more runs, basically putting the game out of reach.

I say basically because there turned out to be still a chance.  With two out in the ninth, the Cardinals started to rally, getting hits from Carpenter, Jon Jay and Beltran to make it 6-4 and bring up Adams to face Jim Henderson, whom he’d taken yard on Friday in the ninth.  Adams was unable to do it this time, striking out to finish his 0-5 night when he left six runners on.  That was the worst game we’ve seen from Adams in quite some time, but everyone has an off night.

Hero for Sunday’s game would be Matt Carpenter, which isn’t a surprise.  Carpenter hit a home run, walked twice, and scored two runs.  He’s had a few off days recently, but Carpenter is still right up there in the MVP talk and he showed it on a national stage last night.

So here are the standings, as the Cards lost out on a chance to keep pace in the race for best record:

Atlanta —-
St. Louis 1.5
Los Angeles 2.5
Cincinnati 3.5
Pittsburgh 3.5

The Brewers go from hindrance to hopefully help today as they travel to Atlanta.  Marco Estrada goes against Mike Minor as the Braves can relax and get ready for the NLDS.  Estrada has been pitching better since returning from the disabled list, so maybe they can do the Redbirds a favor tonight.

The Mets go into Cincinnati and pit Aaron Harang against Johnny Cueto.  Cueto came off the DL and threw five scoreless innings last time out, but we’ll see if that carries over to this one.  Harang is a former Red that probably would like to beat his old team, but would seem more likely to help them given the way he’s been throwing.

Pittsburgh leaves the friendly confines of PNC Park for The Friendly Confines, taking on the Cubbies in Wrigley.  Charlie Morton, who was extremely sharp last time out, goes against Cubs ace (unless you count Travis Wood, which I guess you could) Jeff Samardzija.  The only time Samardzija has beaten the Pirates this year was Opening Day, so it’d be a nice bookend to his season to beat them tonight, right?

The Dodgers are off today, their last off-day of the season before going to San Francisco tomorrow.

In St. Louis, the Cardinals kick off what may be a great tuneup for postseason baseball.  The Nationals are still clinging to life, with a tragic number of 2 to be eliminated from the playoffs, which means they could be done tonight.  That said, they’ll likely be coming in playing desperate baseball to try to avoid that fate and keep their season alive a little longer.

There are also three good pitching matchups for this series, starting tonight with a rookie with incredible numbers versus the ace of the staff.  Tanner Roark has a very gaudy pitching line of 7-0, 1.08 ERA.  Most of that, however, has come out of the bullpen.  He’s made three starts, six scoreless innings against Miami, two runs in six innings against the Mets and, most impressively, his last time out was seven scoreless innings against the Braves.  He’s never faced the Cards, which always is a red flag.  He’s been solid but not overly dominant in the minors, so he may just be riding a hot streak, but that streak is active and we’ll see if the Redbirds can cool him off.

Wainwright in on the mound for the Cards in what might be his last start of the season.  Given that the Cards aren’t going to need a tiebreaker game to get into postseason play, they hopefully will avoid the decision of having him pitch a tiebreaker game to win the division or rest him and let him pitch a wild-card game.  There’s a lot to debate there but it’s a question I’d rather not have to worry about.

Wainwright’s been the normal, very good Waino lately and there’s no reason to really think that wouldn’t continue tonight.  He’s 7-6 with a 2.57 ERA at home, about .75 runs lower than on the road.  He faced the Nationals back in April in Washington and just threw 8.1 scoreless innings with nine strikeouts.

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP
Adam LaRoche 39 33 7 1 0 1 9 5 13 .212 .308 .333 .641 0 1 0 0
Ryan Zimmerman 31 31 10 6 0 1 2 0 7 .323 .323 .613 .935 0 0 0 0
Jayson Werth 27 25 6 2 0 1 5 1 6 .240 .259 .440 .699 0 1 0 0
Ian Desmond 15 15 5 0 0 0 1 0 3 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0
Bryce Harper 15 13 7 2 1 1 2 2 3 .538 .600 1.077 1.677 0 0 0 0
Denard Span 8 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .125 .125 .125 .250 0 0 0 0
Chad Tracy 6 6 1 1 0 0 0 0 2 .167 .167 .333 .500 0 0 0 0
Gio Gonzalez 5 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 .000 .250 .000 .250 1 0 0 0
Dan Haren 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0
Anthony Rendon 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Steve Lombardozzi 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0
Total 153 140 38 12 1 4 19 10 38 .271 .316 .457 .773 1 2 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/23/2013.

There are some good numbers against him, at least in part due to them beating him around in last year’s postseason, but if he can contain Bryce Harper, I think he’ll be OK.

If you’ve not read the article about Motte and what he’s been doing with children cancer patients while he’s been doing recovery, you really need to.  It’s obvious this situation has taken hold of him and changed how he looks at life.  It’s a great read and it’ll make you respect Motte even more than you probably already do.

Cardinals need a win tonight, keep the lead at least two with five to play.  Let’s hope they get it!

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