At times, you’d think baseball is a contrary child. Just when you have it all figured out, just when you know what’s going to happen, baseball goes and takes a sharp turn to throw you off.
Going into this weekend, the numbers looked dismal for the St. Louis Cardinals. Their offense was sputtering and their pitching, while fairly good overall, had hit some rough patches. They were facing a Toronto Blue Jays team that was leading the American League East and was an offensive powerhouse, as it only took about two of their hitters to equal the home runs the Redbirds had hit as a team. Their pitching was pretty good as well, including a Cy Young candidate in Mark Buehrle. Run this through a computer simulation like Out Of The Park Baseball and 95% of the team, it’s a rough trip to the Great White North.
They play the games on the field, though, and after a trip north of the border, there’s at least a temporary era of good feelings around this St. Louis squad.
Friday (3-1 loss)
Hero: Allen Craig. Two of the club’s seven hits came from the bat of Mr. Craig, including the lone RBI. It was almost two, but Matt Holliday got thrown out at home plate, something we’ve seen happen to him a time or two. No one else had a multiple-hit game, though Matt Carpenter did walk twice in the leadoff spot.
Goat: In some regards, it’s tough to give Lance Lynn the Goat. After all, he only allowed two runs in five innings, both on solo home runs. That said, it was not one of his better games. He was at almost 100 pitches by the end of the fourth, which tells you something, and left the bases loaded in the first and the fourth. He was in trouble all night, but give him credit, he worked out of it.
Notes: Seth Maness is well known for his ability to get double plays, so perhaps we shouldn’t have been too surprised that he was on the mound for the first triple play the Cardinals have turned since 2005. I think it very well may be the first triple play I’ve actually watched live and I was almost certain that the Jays were going to challenge and we’d see it overturned, because that’s just the way things go. It was a fun thing to see and probably was the only reason the game stayed as tight as it was–been difficult to extract from a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation without it.
There was a questionable call in the ninth, as Tony Cruz‘s foul ball wasn’t caught by Jose Bautista, but he was given the out anyway due to fan interference. The prevailing thought on Twitter was that it seemed a bit of an advantage for the home team–what’s to stop fans from doing that anytime a ball seems uncatchable, to try to get the call and the out? Folks seemed to think that if it’s the visitors trying to field the ball, the call should be made, otherwise not. That would seem to be the most logical thing to me. Having fan interference work in the home team’s favor just seems to open a door that we don’t want opened.
Saturday (5-0 win)
Hero: Shelby Miller. A shutout wasn’t unexpected in this game. After all, the Cardinals were going up against Mark Buehrle, who was 10-1 with an ERA in the two range going into this one. With the sputtering Redbird offense, it would have been no surprise at all to see them put up the goose egg.
Instead, the Miller we’ve been waiting to see all year, the Miller we saw glimpses off in his outing against the Royals, came out to play. That’s not entirely true–Miller still just struck out five, though that’s a higher number than we’ve seen in a lot of games from him–but it’s awfully darn close. Miller kept one of baseball’s best offenses from doing much of anything, taking a perfect game into the fifth and a no-hitter into the sixth. Even when Jose Reyes broke up the no-hitter and Melky Cabrera followed that with a double, he didn’t rattle, striking out Bautista to preserve the one-run lead.
If Miller can really start to be as effective as he’s been the last couple of starts–remember, against the Royals he threw six scoreless before stumbling–that’s going to make this rotation even more impressive. Which, granted, doesn’t solve all the problems until they figure out how to pitch so that the opponent scores negative runs, but it’s helpful.
Goat: Matt Holliday. The only person without a hit in this game (which is pretty surprising with Buehrle going, but the bullpen helped there as well), Holliday did draw a walk (as did almost everyone else–the team got as many walks as it did hits with nine) but he left four on base. Not a terrible day, just in my opinion the worst of the group.
Notes: Randal Grichuk got his first home run off of Buehrle, who didn’t have his best stuff (five walks and five hits in seven innings) but still was good enough that Grichuk’s blast was the only thing he gave up. Glad to see the young man get his first big league homer and hopefully he’ll have many more to come. Also two hit games from Allen Craig and Peter Bourjos, which was nice. The Jays’ bullpen had a meltdown in the eighth, with two walked-in runs in the middle of all of it, so it’s nice to see someone else have some issues for once.
Sunday (5-0 win)
Hero: Jaime Garcia. I still want to take a look and see if Garcia’s road reputation is starting to be unjustified, but I haven’t had the time to really look into it in depth. However, this season in his two road starts he’s got an ERA under one and he’s struck out 11 in 12.2 innings. He had four road starts in 2013 before he was hurt and had a 2.82 ERA with 13 K in 22.1 innings. I don’t know that we want to say he’s a road warrior yet, but the first blush response is that we can retire some of those mental headcase cracks.
Garcia threw seven scoreless and while he wasn’t quite as dominant as Miller was, he wasn’t that far off, allowing just three hits and three walks in his seven innings of play. The Cardinals got him some runs early and he just cruised through that potent Toronto lineup. THIS is what we thought we’d see more of from the Cards this year!
Goat: Tough to find one in a game where everyone had a hit and the pitching was spectacular. I guess we’ll go with Allen Craig, because he left the most on base and didn’t score or drive in a run. It wasn’t really a game that lent itself to a Goat, which is a good problem to have.
Notes: Maybe part of Toronto’s power surge comes from their stadium. The Cards came into the series with just 32 home runs. They bumped that up to 35 (which means they hit about 8.5% of their season total in this series) including two on Sunday from Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta. It really was a great all-around game for the Redbirds.
The question is, can they continue it? The headline at the Post-Dispatch says “Cards starting to put the pieces together”. However, I feel like we thought they were starting to put the pieces together during that homestand where they cut the Brewers lead to 1.5 games and were just winning everything in sight. Then they fell apart, going 2-7 on the second half before splitting the series in Kansas City.
It’s going to take more than two strong games to make me think that this team is starting to be the team that we have been looking for. Now, the schedule is in their favor the next few weeks, so maybe they can get something going, but this is a Missouri team. They’ll have to show me as well as most of Cardinal Nation.
John Mozeliak’s job may get a little interesting in the short term as well. Matt Adams is likely to start a rehab assignment in Memphis tonight (I say likely because if all the rain that has been sitting here at my house the last day or so moves that way, it’ll be tough to get a game in tonight) and should be ready to return when his 15 days are up. Joe Kelly is starting to throw from a mound, which is encouraging news even if it’s not at full speed. You’d expect he’ll go out on a rehab assignment soon as well. Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons is ready to start a rehab assignment. Kevin Siegrist isn’t far from returning. People are getting healthy and figuring out where they are going to play is going to be an interesting challenge.
I don’t know that the roster moves are terribly confusing–obviously Grichuk goes down when Adams is ready, not sure as much who would swap out for Kelly or Siegrist, especially with Sam Freeman getting more exposure and doing well with it, Lyons stays at Memphis–but figuring out the roles for folks is something that will give Mike Matheny many options, and that’s not always what we want to see for this manager. Will we see Adams and Craig splitting time at first? We shouldn’t see Oscar Taveras on the bench much, though a day off here and there wouldn’t hurt him. Holliday’s back may play into this as well, meaning we see more of Craig in left to give Holliday a rest.
As for the pitching staff, there’s a lot of good options and not a lot of spots to put them in. Would we see Mozeliak strike early in the trade market? I know he’s always had that mid-July mentality, but if you can get someone in early enough to make more of a difference, maybe it’s worth the higher sticker price. Something to balance as this bounty he’s horded now starts to overfill the barn.
Of course, many folks would like to see Mozeliak use this quick trip through Tampa Bay to pick up David Price while he’s there, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen, at least not right now. If Miller and Garcia are actually going to come around, pitching really is the least of the Cards’ problems, though a top three of Adam Wainwright, Price and Michael Wacha would be pretty compelling come October.
Speaking of Wainwright, he takes the mound Tuesday after today’s break for the club. Wainwright, who also had a bunch of scoreless innings in his last start before the ninth inning went south on him, has had his issues with a few of these Tampa Bay hitters, even though he’s only faced the Rays once in his career (allowed four runs in 5.2 innings in 2008):
It’s never much fun to see the guys with the biggest sample doing so well against your ace. Wainwright’s faced both of those guys recently, since they were on other teams, but hopefully he can shut them down. However, we do get a Molina reunion out of this series, so not all is lost.
Cards will go up against Jake Odorizzi, who is a St. Louis-area product. Odorizzi, who is a highly thought of pitcher but who is also on his third organization, gave up four runs in five innings against the Marlins in his last start and five runs in 3.1 against Boston before that. However, he’s had a number of good outings–he had back-to-back scoreless ones in the middle of May–and as he’s an enigma to most everyone (Bourjos is 0-2 against him, that’s it), he may be able to keep the team off balance.
One of two off-days this week. Hopefully the rest does the Cardinals good!