Sweeping Out 2013

It’s tough to ask for a better weekend to close out a season than the one the Cardinals just had.  Wonderful weather, plus three wins and a myriad of attained goals?  All against their rivals, the Chicago Cubs?  Yes, please!  Let’s do our last recap of regular season games for six months, shall we?

Friday (7-0 win)

If you were looking for drama in regards to the clinching of the divisional title, you were sorely disappointed.  I don’t think anyone in Cardinal Nation cared how they got there, however.  A quick three-spot in the first inning off of Travis Wood (what was up with just throwing him one inning, anyway? I get that it got him to an even 200, but why did it have to be even?) and Pittsburgh found themselves in a coffin with the last nail firmly in place.

There were so many possibilities for the Hero of this one.  Matt Holliday went 2-2 with two walks and a home run.  Yadier Molina went 2-4 with a double and three RBI.  Jon Jay had a couple of knocks and a ribbie as well.  David Freese smacked one out of the park.  All very deserving of the title.

However, we’ll go to the pitching side and give it to Lance Lynn.  Lynn, who has seemingly turned a corner since realizing that 18 wins last year and double-digit ones this year didn’t guarantee he’d stay in the rotation all season long, threw six scoreless innings and struck out nine in the process.

In Lynn’s last four starts, he went 2-0 (the team went 3-1) and he put up a 1.09 ERA, striking out 30 and walking seven.  His OPS against was .543.  There’s no other way to put it but that he was dominant.

All that comes with a caveat, however.  The four teams he faced were Milwaukee, Colorado, Milwaukee and Chicago.  While it’s still obvious that he made some corrections, as he’d struggled with teams like this beforehand, there’s still that lingering question of if he’ll be able to take this same roll into the postseason, when the caliber of competition jumps significantly from what he’s been facing.

As a point of reference, he was similarly good his last four starts of 2012, which coincided with his return from the bullpen.  He went 4-0 in those starts with a 2.19 ERA and a .641 OPS against, facing Los Angeles, Houston, Houston, and Washington.  We know what happened when he stepped up in competition in the postseason.  Hopefully he’ll be able to continue this run instead of repeating history.

It’s tough to find a Goat in this one.  All the starters save one had a hit, none of the relievers allowed a run.  I guess I’ll go with Shane Robinson, who came in for Carlos Beltran and went 0-2 with a strikeout.  Pete Kozma was the hitless starter, but he did draw two walks (one intentional) so we’ll spare him due to that.

I’ll also make a mea culpa here as well.  I questioned a lot of Mike Matheny‘s bullpen moves in this one, mainly the fact that he pulled Kevin Siegrist after he got two outs in a 7-0 game instead of letting him finish the inning.  That I don’t apologize for–I think Matheny could have been less hands-on with the ‘pen in that situation–but I did question why he’d bring Trevor Rosenthal into a blowout in the ninth.  It was pointed out by a number of people that it was more about the moment than Matheny being hide-bound to use Rosenthal.  Given Matheny’s loyalty to the players, I’ll accept that and agree that it was a nice gesture.  That said, given Matheny’s often inexplicable usage of the pen, it’s not like I didn’t have cause to be wondering.

Saturday (6-2 win)

There’s a point of view that Cardinal fans are a bit spoiled.  I mean, the team makes the playoffs so often that apparently even the games after the clincher aren’t immune to criticism from the fan base before they start.  This was really notable on Sunday and we’ll get to that in a bit, but Saturday’s lineup, with no Beltran and no Freese, had people thinking Matheny wasn’t pushing as hard as he could to get that best record and home field advantage.

I expect that HFA meant a lot more to the fans than it did to the players.  Sure, they wanted it, but odds are you are going to have to win some on the road as well.  HFA disappears once someone comes into your turf (or vice versa) and wins just one game.  Besides, given Atlanta’s history in the playoffs, you’d have to assume the Cards would face them in the second round for it even to matter.  If they got bounced, St. Louis would have hosted the second round anyway.

Of course, all of that boiled to a fever pitch after Saturday, when the Phillies helped out St. Louis by beating the Braves and the Cardinals again took it to the Cubs.  Adam Wainwright has been amazing at Busch on Saturdays this season.  If I’ve caught them all from his game log, he threw five games in the new alternate uniforms, counting this one.  Here’s his total line:

5-0, 39.1 IP, 18 H, 1 ER, 42 K, 4 BB, 0.23 ERA, 10.5 K/BB, 9.6 K/9, 3 complete games

Those are some amazing numbers.  I say the Cards were those alternate jerseys every time Wainwright starts in the postseason, what do you think?

With Waino being Waino and the bats again working, there wasn’t much drama in this one either.  I’ll give the Hero tag to Yadier Molina for his 2-2, two RBI day.  Holliday hit another home run and that got him to an even .300, which he sat on after drawing a walk in his next at-bat.  Kozma got a double as part of his two-hit day, which makes you wonder if September has woken his bat up a little bit.

There were a couple of offensive performances that might have gotten the Goat in other days–Matt Carpenter went 0-3 with a walk, Matt Adams did the same while scoring a run, but when all the runs the Cubs scored all weekend come off the same pitcher, it’s pretty obvious where you go to for the Goat.

Matheny used Edward Mujica to get one out in the seventh in Friday’s game.  Why he didn’t let Mujica start an inning, I don’t know, but that didn’t let you know what Mujica had as he got the last out on one pitch and didn’t come back for the eighth.  So Matheny used him in Saturday’s game for a more extended look, letting him start the ninth with the Cards up 6-0.  Great place for him, low pressure, everything you could want.

And Mujica again blew up.

The first batter he faces, Anthony Rizzo, breaks up the shutout with a home run.  Then a double.  After a ground ball right back to him for an out, another double.  That ended Mujica’s night and while Randy Choate and Seth Maness (more Maness with his double-play magic than anything) finished off the baby bears, a whole lot more questions were raised about Mujica’s future.

Before that outing, John Mozeliak said that Mujica would likely be on the postseason roster.  If you listened to my podcast from this weekend, you know that I’m not seeing how that can still be the case after that outing.

I appreciate what Mujica did for this club this season.  There’s little doubt the season would be over right now if it wasn’t for him stepping into that closer role and being so effective in it.  That said, the postseason is about putting your best team out there, not honoring players for their season.  That’s what the last couple of days have been about.  I don’t think you carry an arm that you can only use in a blowout with any confidence, especially when there are so many other arms that are available that can do more.

We’ll have to wait and see if this latest stumble is enough to keep Mujica home in October (metaphorically–I’m sure he’ll still be in the dugout even if he’s not on the roster).  With St. Louis not playing until Thursday, we’ll have a bit of a wait to see.

Sunday (4-0 win)

When the Redbirds came home at the beginning of the week, a lot was up in the air.  Locking down the division and avoiding the wild-card game was the biggest concern, but as you know from following this blog for the last couple of weeks, there was always at least one eye on getting the best record in the National League.

That was a major focus of some of the fanbase after the Cards locked up the division on Friday.  I mentioned that there were some wondering about Matheny’s motivations on Saturday, but the fact that he started Jake Westbrook on Sunday sent them into a frenzy, especially when it was coupled with Holliday sitting out and Molina being pulled after catching Westbrook’s warmup tosses.

The focus on Westbrook starting was absurd in its own right.  If Westbrook had given up back to back hits to start the game, he’d have been pulled.  If he got into trouble at all, he was a goner.  Matheny wasn’t going to leave him out there for six innings just to say he made his last start.  I figured at the longest, Westbrook would go two innings and, in fact, he didn’t even go that long, getting around a two-out double to pitch a scoreless frame.

As for others sitting out, not only have they deserved that, to get that rest and adulation from the fans, but you also have to see what else you have on the bench.  There are still decisions to be made and players that could use a little playing time if they are going to be ready for the playoffs.  We’d have likely seen more of that had the Cards clinched earlier or the best record hadn’t been a possibility.

Matheny put it well after the game. “There could have been a whole lot of things that went wrong….the right move isn’t always the easy one.”  That mindset is one of the reasons that he was selected for this job and why the players have responded to him as well as they have.  This organization is often associated with class and being respectful of its players, so noted by current and past Cardinals as well as others that never got the opportunity.  It’s much better to honor the players, give them their moment, than push for an edge that might be the thinnest of margins.  I appreciate what Matheny did this weekend and I’m also glad it worked out so as to reinforce the message that doing the right thing can also pay off at times.

Let’s see, who gets to be the final Hero of 2013?  Let’s go with Joe Kelly.  Kelly didn’t get the huge number of runs that the other starters this weekend were able to obtain, but it didn’t matter the way he was pitching.  Coming in to relieve Westbrook in the second, he threw five and a third scoreless before letting Choate come in to do his best Maness impression.  He struck out five and allowed only three hits, only one of them coming with less than two outs.  I’ll admit, I’d really thought that Wacha should get into the postseason rotation, but I think Kelly has sold me now.

Not as many offensive fireworks, just a lot of two-out hitting with runners in scoring position.  Which was fitting, given that they absolutely destroyed the old record of average with RISP.  Two hits for Adams, which was nice to see.  A strong day by Jon Jay as well.  Jay ended the season with a 14-game hitting streak.  If he’s warm in October, that’s going to be a major plus for the Redbirds.

Unfortunately, we have to give the Goat to Matt Carpenter.  You wonder if he might have been pressing the last two games, trying to get that last hit to put him at the 200 plateau.  Whatever the case, going 0-4 with a strikeout wasn’t indicative of his season and I look forward to seeing how many MVP votes he gets this year.

And now, we wait.  We wait to see who wins the Cincinnati/Pittsburgh game and comes to Busch on Thursday.  We wait to see who is in and who is out for the postseason roster.  We wait for the run to Title #12 to begin. As the Star Wars quote goes, “Here’s where the fun begins.”  (Or paralyzing angst and worry, depending on how you approach your postseason watching.)

I hope to get up a post looking at my picks for the postseason roster and the pros and cons of either Cincy or Pittsburgh winning tomorrow.  So keep checking back!

  • Ben Chambers

    hahaha you said: “Choate come in to do his best Maness impression”

    on my blog, I wrote: “Choate came in with runners on 1st and 3rd, and channeled his inner Seth Maness”

    That’s funny. But I’m sad to see the regular season come to an end. It’s been a fun 6 months. Hopefully the next month will be just as fun. I don’t know what to do with my spare time between October and February anymore, so hopefully the Cardinals will delay that as long as possible.

    • Cardinal70

      We’re going to be using Maness as a shorthand for double plays for a long time, I expect!

      There is something about the regular season that even trumps the postseason. During the season, you have a game on every day and the pressure isn’t there. You can watch it, come in and out, and you have the regular FSMW guys as well to provide that continuity. Postseason baseball is ridiculously stressful–every moment could be the one that puts the team out early. I’ll admit, often I can’t handle it!

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