The Cardinal offense had been sputtering, never reaching the heights that we had expected out of such a robust lineup. Runs were hard to come by, opportunities were squandered, and it just felt like the engine couldn’t catch.
Then the Chicago Cubs came to town, and while that engine isn’t at a full-blown roar, it does seem to have caught and is ready to go.
Friday (6-3 loss in 11 innings)
Not that it all happened immediately, of course. Friday was another example of things not quite firing on all cylinders. (With that, I have now exhausted basically all of my car knowledge.) It took a two-run ninth-inning rally not to lose the first game have scored only one run. And, to be fair, the Cubs gave the Redbirds that one. Jose Veras couldn’t have missed the strike zone more in that inning if it’d been a excitable Chihuahua on caffeine.
Still, they took advantage of the walks and the hit batsmen and Wellington Castillo (who, by hitting the three-run homer that won the game, helped make up for the wild pitch and stolen base he allowed in that inning) and came back, which was good to see, a little bit of that quick-strike lightening we saw often last year. Just too bad it was wasted.
While there are a few offensive players to choose from–Yadier Molina and Matt Adams both had two hits and a run scored, Molina tossed in an RBI as well–I think I’ll go with Joe Kelly has the Hero in this one. Kelly has often had to work out of jams, but in this one he went six innings, allowing just an unearned run and didn’t walk anyone, so the six hits he gave up for the most part didn’t hurt him. More performances like that and anxiety medication might not be so hard to find in the St. Louis area.
When you give up the long ball that loses the game, you are pretty much going to be the Goat. Trevor Rosenthal has had a rough start to this season, usually giving up runs when it doesn’t matter, when the Cards have a big enough lead. This time, Mike Matheny ran Rosenthal out there for a second inning, even though that required him to bat in the tenth with the bases loaded and two outs.
Of course, Rosenthal might not have had to bat had there been anyone but Pete Kozma and Tony Cruz on the bench. (Cruz, though, was covered in cobwebs since he’s only had one plate appearance all year. Just like last year, you don’t see much of him in the early going.) It seems odd that most of your bench is gone by the 10th inning, doesn’t it? Granted, Matheny had to do a lot of maneuvering in the ninth just to keep the game going, so that is the price you pay, but double-switching out Jhonny Peralta in the top of the eighth meant that you 1) didn’t have him batting in that spot in the tenth and 2) used up Daniel Descalso, who you might have pinch-hit with in that spot had it been necessary.
And for what? Descalso’s defense isn’t significantly better than Peralta’s. If you taking Peralta out for a defensive replacement, bring Kozma in there. That’s what he’s on the team for. (Well, he’s mainly on the team to hold down the bench until Mark Ellis returns, but that’s neither here nor there.) The pitcher’s spot was due up first in the bottom of the eighth, which would be the nominal reason to make a double switch when you bring Kevin Siegrist in, but then to start the ninth, Pat Neshek comes in. So you could have hit for Siegrist in the bottom of the eighth with Descalso anyway and still had Peralta on the field.
It’s not the first time Matheny’s been caught short-handed in the early extra innings, forcing things like Rosenthal to bat. Again, you’ve got to do a lot to get to that spot, but seems like moves come back to bite Matheny quite often.
Saturday (10-4 win)
Hello, offense. We’ve missed you.
St. Louis tallied 13 hits, though only one walk (and that was an intentional pass to Molina). I guess the pitches were too good to lay off of and, given the results, I don’t think anyone would disagree. Allen Craig even got a hit, so you know things were going the Redbirds’ way.
Let’s give the Hero to Matt Carpenter. Two for five in the leadoff spot with two RBI, both coming in the big innings that the Cards had and were important tallies. He also scored a run while he was at it as generally everyone had a grand old time at the ballpark.
Molina was two for three with that walk and a RBI. Adams went yard for the first time this year, which was really good to see. He’s been great at beating the shift and picking up the base hits, but the power is what he can bring to the table that nobody else can, at least to that level. There was talk going into this season about whether the Cards would have enough power, given their home run leader left for the Yankees. The idea was that some folks had down power years last year and they’d bounce back this season.
So far, though, that’s not held true. The Cards have seven–you know it’s low when general grammar styles force you to write out the number–home runs on the season. That’s tied with the Padres, who have Petco Park as an excuse, for last in the NL. The next closest teams are the Cubs, Mets and Marlins, all whom have 10. (Of course, it could be worse. Texas–TEXAS, that well-known slugging team–only has five and the Royals have an unfathomable one. Alex Gordon is the only thing keeping them from the shutout, and he hit that one on the 9th, meaning Kansas City had the goose egg for over a week.)
Adam Wainwright wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen him much of the season, but he didn’t have to be. He allowed a home run on his first pitch to Junior Lake, but he got that run back with an RBI single. His last two runs came when the Cards were already up 9-2 and it’s unlikely Waino was completely bearing down, perhaps trying some things in a game setting. He still had eight strikeouts and no walks, so the little ERA bump wasn’t anything to worry about.
It also means he can’t be the Goat and finding someone that is in a game like this is usually difficult to manage. Every starter got one hit, the bullpen was crisp (good to see a scoreless inning out of Seth Maness, even if it was in a very low-pressure situation), so who do you go with? I guess, in a totally unfair decision, I’ll go with Matt Holliday. Just one for five, same as Adams, but he didn’t go yard. He did score two runs, but left three on. Seriously, there’s no good option for the Goat in this one, there really isn’t. Which is exactly the kind of game we always want to see.
Sunday (6-4 win)
You know those cartoons where someone walks around with the rain cloud over their head? I wonder if Michael Wacha relates to those. Every outing so far that Wacha has been the starter has been delayed by rain at some point. So I’m hopeful that, come July, Wacha can be persuaded to come be scheduled to start at a local game here. We’ll need the rain.
Wacha also has been stingy with the runs, though Sunday felt like a veritable flood of offense against him when the Cubs got two runs on a homer in the first and tacked on another one later. That skyrocketed his ERA all the way up to 1.89, which is just unacceptable. (Where’s that sarcasm font?) Putting Wainwright and Wacha back-to-back has meant, so far, two stellar pitching performances in a row and that’s a fun thing for Cardinal fans to watch.
Still, three runs in 6.1 innings probably doesn’t get him the Hero tag, though it’s a good outing. There were a few players to choose from–I probably ought to pick Holliday with his 2-2, 2 BB day, just to make up for the injustice of making him the Goat Saturday–but I think I’ve got to go with Matt Carpenter again. Just one hit, but he drove in three runs including the tie-breaker. He also scored a run, so it’s hard to ignore a guy that was involved in two-thirds of the scoring.
Peralta got his first non-homer hits, having a two-hit day, and Kolten Wong had another nice day at the plate as well. Siegrist, who is getting a lot of work here in the early going, threw 1.2 scoreless innings, another nice performance.
I’m giving the Goat to Matt Adams for his 0-4, 5 LOB day, but Rosenthal again was worrisome. He gave up a run and wound up putting the tying run on base before finishing things out. For the season, his ERA is over 7.00 and his WHIP is 1.36. More troubling, as Tara pointed out last night on Gateway To Baseball Heaven, are the reports that his velocity is not as high as it was last season. It’s still high–looking at the game log from yesterday, I see a number of 96 mph fastballs, with a 97 and 98 as well–but last year you saw him working consistently from 98-100. Even just a couple of miles per off the fastball can be a big difference to major league hitters. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on, even though if he’s still coming at 96, there’s likely not a significant physical issue.
Away from the field, the Cardinals gave out a two-year extension to general manager John Mozeliak this weekend. If you can find someone to argue that it was an unnecessary and unwise move, please let me know, because I’m thinking they are a rare breed. Mo has done a tremendous job in the front office and it’s good to know that he’ll be around until 2018. (Well, you’d think he would be, at least. Sports contracts are notoriously known for not being fulfilled one way or another.)
I think it’s fascinating that if he serves out the term of the contract, he’ll be behind just Bing Devine, whom he said he was able to talk to a lot about the job of general manager before Devine’s passing in 2007, and Walt Jocketty, his immediate predecessor and obviously someone whom he learned from as well. Mo’s already staked out a good place in Cardinal history but he’s got a chance to make it a great one. (Also, side note, did he have corrective eye surgery or something? I’ve seen him a lot more often without his glasses this season, it seems like.)
Cards are up in Milwaukee now, having headed out after yesterday’s game and now have to figure out a way to slow down a rampaging Brewers team that’s won nine in a row and sits atop the NL Central by three games over the Redbirds. There were some thoughts that Milwaukee could be a wild-card contender or at least in the hunt for a while, but nobody expected this. Is it an early season mirage or a sign of things to come? The Cards get a chance to find out while the Brewers get a chance to test themselves.
Matt Garza will take the mound for the Brew Crew. St. Louis has seen him often, of course, as he was a member of the Cubs for years. On the whole, familiarity has bred some contempt.
It’s interesting that the guy on the top of the chart has seen Garza more in his American League incarnation than from his days in Chicago. Perhaps that will help keep Peralta’s bat warm and really get him on track. Nobody has taken Garza over the wall, so that power surge might not be coming tonight.
Lance Lynn goes for the Cardinals. So far, not so good for Lynn, who has continued to confound his supporters and his critics alike, putting up a 2-0 record while fashioning a 6.55 ERA. You’d think something would have to give and we’ll see which does in Milwaukee this evening.
This is the first time St. Louis has faced the Brewers with Ryan Braun in a while, which is never a good thing. Between him and Aramis Ramirez, it’s a difficult task to run through the Milwaukee lineup. Hopefully Lynn can keep the ball in the yard tonight.
It’d be nice to take the Brewers down a peg, wouldn’t it, or at least slow them down? Let’s hope that begins tonight!