Pittsburgh, from what I understand, is a great place to go see a ballgame. The views of and from PNC Park are spectacular every time I see them on TV. The Clemente Bridge, the city skyline, all of that makes for a visually appealing event.
That was about the only appealing thing that came out of the Steel City this weekend.
For the second weekend in a row, the Cardinals went to the home park of a team that, at least in the standings, was inferior to them, lost the first two, then had to battle on Sunday Night Baseball to avoid the sweep. Even more frustrating than those games last week with the Cubs, the Cardinals had leads in every game and came within a hairsbreadth of losing all of them. Only an aggressive swing and a timely double play got the Redbirds out of the Steel City with a win. Let’s hit the recap.
Friday (6-4 loss)
Hero: Allen Craig. Two for three with a home run and three RBI. Craig started to look like that hitter we came to know and love the last couple of years in this series. It’s too early to say he’s back–we saw him appear to come back to form before going 0-20–but there are good signs that we should see a more recognizable form of Craig going forward.
Goat: Carlos Martinez. Entering a game with a one-run lead isn’t easy, there’s no doubt about that. However, when three of the first four batters you face get a hit, including a big three-run homer, it’s tough to avoid the criticism. Coming right after the Cards had retaken the lead made this meltdown even more painful.
Notes: It’s possible–just possible–that Pittsburgh had been burning for a rematch against Michael Wacha. Wacha allowed more hits in the first two batters than he did in seven innings against the Pirates in Game 4 of last year’s NLDS. After a shaky first when he gave up two, Wacha settled in somewhat, but still wasn’t completely the Wacha we’d become adjusted too. It wasn’t a terrible outing, and with a little more offensive pop he might have gotten a win, but it just wasn’t to the level we’d expected out of the big guy.
Two hits, including his eighth homer, for Jhonny Peralta. That means you now have to add up the home run totals of the starting shortstops for the past four years to get a number bigger than what Peralta’s done by himself this season. Peralta’s average is climbing as well–after this game he was hitting .393 with a 1.148 OPS in May–which has helped the offense put a few more runs on the board lately.
Peter Bourjos got the start and, while he only had one hit, it was a triple. It came with two outs and right after Craig’s homer so he wasn’t able to score on it, but it’s good to see him continuing to swing the bat. As we’ll see, it wasn’t his biggest hit of the weekend. With the swap of Joey Butler for Randal Grichuk, we should see Bourjos on a much more regular basis, which may also bring out the best in Jon Jay as well.
Saturday (4-3 loss)
Hero: A bunch of mediocrity in this game. Nobody had more than one hit and the relief pitchers, while doing a good job, didn’t have a lead to hold. I guess I’ll go with Mark Ellis, whose one hit drove in the first run of the game and was the only RBI, given the other two runs scored on a double play and a wild pitch.
Goat: Lance Lynn did nothing this weekend to stop infuriating a good portion of the fanbase and I expect even some of his supporters threw up their hands and said, “Lance, man, give me something to work with!”
I don’t know how to do it besides a manual examination of box scores, but I would love to see how Lynn compares to other Cardinal pitchers in “all runs given up in one inning”. Our friend Ben Tweeted out that Lynn had given up three runs or more in an inning 28 times in his career. Without comparison (yes, Ben notes that Joe Kelly has done it four times, but I’d like to see a few more data points), that seems like an awful lot. It also seems like Lynn just has the one innings–in other words, so often he may give up four runs which wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but they all come at one time instead of two and two or split up in any fashion.
Again, that might be selective memory and I wish I know how to use some of the data tools that folks have to get into some of that, but for the most part, when people start coming up with The Lynning to explain your starts, that’s not a good thing.
Notes: The Cards had a 3-0 lead in this one and that’s been a problem for them much of the year. There’s been at least three different games where they got out to a 3-0 lead only to watch it wither away. (That’s why I was very glad to see them get that extra run in the first on Sunday.)
Sunday (6-5 win)
Hero: Yadier Molina. Two hits, a run, an RBI, playing the pivotal (pun intended) role in the final double play and dusting off that beautiful pickoff move that we thought had moved out West with a certain first baseman. As they said on ESPN, just another night for the best catcher in baseball.
Goat: Matt Holliday. 0-5 and while he did score a run, he also left seven men on base. This game might not have given Cardinal fans ulcers if he had been able to come through just once with runners on.
Notes: You hear about people doing crazy things, like walking thin strands of wire over Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. Just thinking about it can tighten up stomachs. That’s pretty much what watching the pitching staff of the Cardinals was like last night.
The most obvious example, of course, was the fact that Trevor Rosenthal came into the ninth with a two-run lead and promptly gave half of it away after two batters. After a base hit from that Cardinal Killer Pedro Alvarez put runners on the corners, the Pirates tried to help out the Redbirds by sending up Clint Barmes, who is hitting .189 this season and hasn’t hit much in the past couple of years.
Rosenthal walked him on four pitches.
Four pitches! Heck, a guy like that you should have probably been able to lay it in there 3-0. Maybe he was swinging away, but likely he’d taken a strike. Instead, the bases are loaded with nobody out and St. Louis fans are looking around, trying to figure out exactly what they are going to throw at their television set when this one is over.
Rosie got the popout and the double play and somehow survived unscathed, but this is not what we need to see out of the closer. It’s an indictment of the whole save stat that Rosenthal is 10-10 but has an ERA a shade under 5.00. Just over half of his outings have been scoreless this year, which isn’t exactly high praise. Whatever the issue, Rosenthal is going to have to figure it out, because Jason Motte is likely to return this week and while he’s not going to jump right back into the ninth, he’ll be an option soon enough.
It was another frustrating outing for Shelby Miller as well. Staked to a 4-0 lead before he even took the mound, Miller gave up just two runs, but walked four and it took a mid-inning lecture from Mike Matheny to seemingly straighten him up. Miller again allowed a home run and leads the league in walks, which means that ERA isn’t likely to stay pretty very long unless something changes.
Bourjos didn’t start this game, given Jay’s history against Charlie Morton (and that paid off as Jay got a couple of hits), but he did pinch-hit in a key situation and drive in a run that turned out to be crucial. Bourjos isn’t doing anything to give Matheny a reason to keep him out of the lineup for any length of time–watching him cover ground to get an out in Saturday’s game was a wonderful treat–and it helps settle those Oscar Taveras discussions a little bit.
Before the game yesterday, the first real big trade rumor of the season started making the rounds as Ray DeRousse posted that he was hearing some discussion about shipping Miller and Craig to Miami for Giancarlo Stanton. While even Ray didn’t rank it as extremely credible, it did create a buzz because when you are talking about a power threat like Stanton, you get a little giddy.
Ray puts up some good discussion points in his post, though I’d differ with his evaluation of the Marlins’ desire to trade off Stanton. We all jumped on the “Jeffrey Loria is a cheapskate owner” bandwagon again after the big trade in the winter of 2012 sent so many big-name guys up to Toronto after Miami had just signed them. However, look at what’s happened since then. Toronto scuffled last year and right now is fourth, two games under .500. (To be fair, they are not far out of first, but that’s because the AL East doesn’t have anyone playing well in it.) Miami, on the other hand, has turned those young players into a team that briefly led the NL East and even now sits just two games behind Atlanta, a half-game ahead of the more vaunted Nationals.
In hindsight, it very well may be that the Marlins realized that they weren’t going anywhere with those players and instead of just resigning themselves to the sunk cost of folks like Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes, they took the PR hit to improve their team for the long haul. Did payroll have something to do with it? Of course, I’m sure that it did. I just think our stereotypical thinking of, “Oh, the Marlins have a good player, of course they’ll trade him” is flawed. They aren’t as willing to sell as we may naturally assume.
Also given the fact that Miami is doing just fine right now makes it seem unlikely they’d move their powerful outfielder. (Interesting note: Miami is 3-13 on the road. Either that’s going to get much better or the Marlins aren’t going to be in the race all that long. Hmm.) Stanton also is a large part of their offense, as he has 11 home runs and the next two players on the roster have just six. Unless they believe this is a mirage of a start for the team, it just seems extremely unlikely they’d trade him, especially when they still have a couple of years of him under team control.
Even if you got Stanton in here (which, to be on the record, if it cost just Miller and Craig, I’d be all in favor of), it doesn’t solve the current outfielder problem of what to do with Taveras. Instead, it makes it more acute. Taveras could fill in and play center field for a year or so, but if Stanton came to the Cards, they’d most likely try to lock him up with a long-term deal and that would block Taveras until Holliday moved out of left and freed up a spot. (Which then you have no place for Stephen Piscotty.) Of course, that could make Taveras an interesting trade chip, but if Miami didn’t take him for Stanton, they’d be slightly crazy.
All in all, it’s a nice little thing to dream about, but it’s not going to happen. It just doesn’t make enough sense for either side, though having someone be able to come to the plate with the expectation they could drive it out of the park would be a nice experience. The Cards don’t have that now at all.
Cardinals come home for 19 of the next 22 games, with only a quick jaunt to Cincinnati breaking that up. There has been a lot of talk about how, if the Cards could get home for a while, they’d play better. These two weeks well may be the most important weeks of the year. If they are still hovering around .500 on June 1, John Mozeliak may have some significant work to do.
It all starts tonight with Tyler Lyons, Patron Pitcher of the Blog, going out there against the Chicago Cubs. Lyons has continued to pitch well in the rotation–though not getting a lot of runs to work with–and threw a scoreless inning against the baby bears up in Wrigley two weekends ago. That 1-2-3 inning against Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Nate Schierholtz is the only time the Cubbies have seen Mr. Lyons.
On the flip side, the Cardinals have seen plenty of Travis Wood and what they’ve seen, especially recently, they’ve liked. Of course, last time out he limited them to three runs (two earned) in seven innings, which is par for the course with this team this year.
Even with that game, the Cardinals are still hitting over .300 against him and hopefully that 3 for 7 won’t get Daniel Descalso in tonight’s lineup. I continue to hope we’ll see Kolten Wong back up here soon, though Ellis is really starting to come around with some key hits and would be a great bench presence, which is what he was signed for.
Cardinals and Cubs is always fun. Enjoy the renewing of the rivalry tonight!