The St. Louis Cardinals have won eight of their last nine. They are just 3.5 games out of the divisional lead. (I was sure it was 2.5 since Arizona had a nice lead on the Brewers when I went to bed. Way to go, Diamondbacks.) And yet, they aren’t even the best team in their own state.
Well, I guess they are technically 1/2 game better than the Royals, but Kansas City has won nine straight, including pummeling Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer on back-to-back nights, and now leads the AL Central. The Show Me State is showing the rest of baseball how it is done right now.
However, covering the entire state is something for our friends over at I70 Baseball. We’re just going to look at a Cardinals team that, right now, is having trouble doing anything wrong. Whether it’s the opposition (though it’s tough to discount the sweep over a Washington team that still leads the NL East), some progression to the mean, or some mixture of causes, St. Louis finally looks like the team we hoped we’d see from the beginning of the season. Great pitching, timely hits, and a whole lot less drama.
I mean, when you can run out a lineup that has Peter Bourjos leading off and Mark Ellis AND Daniel Descalso at the bottom and still put up five runs? You are living right, my friend. No Matt Carpenter, no Matt Adams, no Kolten Wong, no problem.
(To be fair, I knew Carpenter had been struggling, but I didn’t realize how much of a slump Wong was in. Before last night, he was hitting .097/.152/.258 in his last 10 games. His average has dropped from his high-water mark of .283 to .238 before last night’s pinch-hit single. I hope Mike Matheny doesn’t think he needs another trip to Memphis to jump-start him, though. That .238 is still 50 points higher than Ellis’s season mark.)
After our discussion about how Michael Wacha was seeing fewer and fewer strikeouts, it was good to see him go out there and strike out seven. It was New York, of course, the team he struck out 10 against earlier in the season, but no matter the opposition, a return to form is always welcome. (Hopefully we’ll see a similar strong outing in his next start on Sunday, when the bloggers will be in the house.)
The Hero of the night, though, has to be Jon Jay. Two hits, including a triple, drove in a run and scored a run. He did leave four men on base, but on the whole it was a very impressive night for Jay. I know that we have an adamant section of the fan base that thinks Bourjos should be starting every day and there’s an argument for that. However, it’s becoming harder and harder to see Jay out of the lineup.
Not counting last night (because Baseball-Reference isn’t updated as I write this and I don’t feel like doing the math on my own), Jay’s line over the last month is .353/.392/.412. I’ve not looked, but I expect that’s better than anyone else on this team over that stretch. (Bourjos over roughly the same span is .179/.242/.286 and he did have 15 starts in that stretch.) I’ve not watched him enough nor am I expert enough to know, but the general consensus is his defense is sharper than it was last year as well. He’s never going to be Bourjos, of course, but if he can hold his own, his bat is worth playing.
I feel like I’ve said before that Jay seems to play better when he’s got the competition, when he’s not handed the job. Of course, we just have one year of him actually having a job to go by, but his history seems to have been if there’s a starter in front of him, he’ll knock them off. So as long as we don’t tell Jay that he’s the regular center fielder, perhaps we’ll continue to get this kind of performance.
Anyway, Matheny’s makeshift lineup worked out tolerably well. Bourjos had a hit and a walk, which is more production out of the leadoff role than we’ve seen in a few days. Descalso reached on an error, was hit by a pitch, and beat out an infield single. That, well, that’s kind what you’d expect out of Dirty Dan, isn’t it? Hopefully that won’t get him off the bench much more going forward, however. (Apparently he’ll be in the lineup today for Jhonny Peralta. We’ll see if lightning strikes twice.)
Yadier Molina hit a home run, continuing a run where we’ve seen the ball leave the yard much more often in the last week to 10 days than we were earlier in the season. Nobody’s mistaking this team for Murderer’s Row, but it’s nice to not have to string three hits together to get a run. It’s also nice to see the return of the two-out RBI as four of the runs scored in that fashion. This team is at its best when there’s a relentless pounding on the pitcher, hit after hit and they aren’t going to let you get that last out. It’s been a long time coming, but it seems to be returning to at least MLB-average.
For a Goat, it’s tempting to say Jason Motte, given that he faced two batters and gave up a home run and a double. However, the Cards were up 5-1 at the time and Pat Neshek came in and sealed the deal, so little damage was done. We’ll give him a pass this time, but don’t let it happen again, Bearded One.
(By the by, how intriguing and completely unMathenylike was the fact that Neshek got to come in when the game reached the save situation? After all, Trevor Rosenthal had Monday off and it’s been almost automatic for the manager to call for the closer when a save situation becomes available. I’m glad that he didn’t–Rosenthal probably needed a little more rest and right now we probably have more confidence in Neshek–but it’s notable. Apparently Rosenthal was still a bit sore, so maybe I’m giving Matheny more credit than I should, however.)
If we aren’t going with Motte, we’ll have to go with Allen Craig. 0-4, two strikeouts, three left on. The game might have gotten into serious territory if he’d been able to get a hit or two. Ellis was right there in the discussion, also going 0-4, though he didn’t strike out and just stranded two.
The Cardinals signed their second pick in the recent draft yesterday, getting Jack Flaherty to agree to a $2 million bonus to skip college. As Drew Silva commented on Twitter, the club seems very excited about him, perhaps even more so than Luke Weaver, whom they took first. The club isn’t one to just throw around their bonus money, especially now that they only have a pool to deal with, and if they are going to give him more than the slot recommendation, that’s a sign they really didn’t want him slipping through their fingers. Both Weaver and Flaherty sound intriguing and we’ll see how fast they move through the system. Sadly, if they take the normal amount of time to progress, we’ll find them disappointing after the quick rise of the last couple of first rounders!
Lance Lynn takes the mound today to try to finish off the second straight sweep by the Cardinals. Lynn, who had eight scoreless innings in his last outing against the Nationals, has a ERA just over 3 in his last 10 starts. Of course, two of those he allowed no runs, two of those he allowed four. (And one of those he allowed a few unearned runs, which don’t show up in the ERA, of course.) Lynn is still a bit erratic, but he seems to have settled down somewhat over the last few games to give more consistent performances.
Lynn threw 6.1 innings in New York the last time he faced the Metropolitans and gave up just four hits (two runs) and struck out nine. I think we’d take that again today, assuming the offense can continue to stir like it has been. The Cards are averaging close to four runs per game in this recent hot streak and have scored five in three straight contests.
Bartolo Colon, the ageless one, goes for the New York squad. Colon hasn’t been quite as successful as he was the last couple of years in Oakland, but he’s still pitching better than a large 41-year-old should be. He’s got a 4.15 ERA for the year, but over his last 10 starts that’s a little lower (3.65). His last time out, he limited the Padres to two runs in 7.1 innings and you have to go back six starts to find a really bad performance.
Colon’s had a lot of success against these hitters as well. As noted, Peralta will be out of today’s lineup, but that’s no loss when you look at this table. St. Louis just got one run off of him in seven innings when they saw him back in April. Let’s hope the warmer weather lets those bats continue to cook!