The old gray mare ain’t what he used to be, but he’s still got a powerful kick if you stand in the wrong spot.
I guess that’s not entirely fair. Ryan Howard is probably playing at the level that he’s played at the last few years as he’s dealt with the issues around that Achilles rupture he had at the end of one of the greatest games ever in Cardinal history. His OPS+ this year is the lowest of his career, save 2012 when he had limited time, but it’s still 108, meaning he’s a bit above average.
However, if Howard played all his games against the Cardinals, he’d earn that much-derided contract of his. Last night proved that most likely, the Phillies could roll Howard out there at 81 and he’d shakily stand out of his wheelchair, cock the bat, and put one over the wall. It might have made sense to put Tyler Lyons on the roster this weekend so you could have three lefties (plus Jaime Garcia, who goes tonight) because that seems to be the only way to get him out. Do the old Whitey Herzog, put your starter in the outfield for a minute, bring in the lefty for Howard, and then let your starter get back to business.
Shelby Miller gave up four runs, but it still wasn’t a terrible start. Howard’s home run barely got over the wall (of course, it doesn’t matter how far it goes past the boundary, but the point is it easily could have stayed in the park) and Miller would have given up just two runs without that. You do wonder how much his slide into first to get Reid Brignac affected him, as the Howard homer came in the next inning and he didn’t finish the seventh due to some physical issues. I don’t think that’s an excuse and it might not be a reason, but it’s something to consider.
Of course, if you have a real offense, perhaps four runs isn’t this insurmountable barrier. Just when we think the Redbirds have finally turned the corner, there are back-to-back days where they barely can get a hit, much less score. It wasn’t unexpected against Bartolo Colon, but a rookie that had never given up less than two runs and had only once made it into the seventh?
The Cardinal hitters talked about not being prepared for the movement on his pitches. And, who knows, maybe last night was the best game he’s pitched yet, that he just had everything working and the pitches were moving like crazy. However, the Redbirds got four hits. One, two, three, four. The lowest David Buchanan had given up before last night was five, in his first start, and that was limited to five innings. He went 7.2 last night in his longest outing ever.
A lot of people will point to this example and there’s a reason: if the fact that Miller doubled to start an inning and still didn’t score with the top of the lineup coming up doesn’t tell you how off this team is, nothing will. When your pitcher has 25% of your hits and 100% of your extra bases, it’s not likely going to be your night.
Miller’s offense means that he can’t get the Goat for his pitching (though I’d be unlikely to do that anyway) so the Hero gets to be Matt Carpenter, who did drive in the only Cardinal run in the eighth, and the Goat is Jon Jay, who followed up Carpenter’s leadoff walk in the first with a double play and still left three men on in his 0-4 night. Though, to be fair, you could throw a dart at the lineup and probably find a reasonable Goat.
Let’s talk about some other stuff, shall we? Last night isn’t worth dwelling on.
Michael Wacha is going to get skipped this time through the rotation, with Carlos Martinez getting the call on Sunday for UCB Weekend. The only problem I have with this is that the bloggers (and my family) are going to be at Busch on Sunday and I wanted to see Wacha pitch. Martinez is a great consolation prize and I expect his pitch count will be up a little bit from his outing last Monday. Interestingly enough, he’s not pitched since then, which will give him a little extra rest, though I guess he could get an inning tonight without causing issues.
That does mean that the Cards are playing even more shorthanded than they’ve been playing. Since Monday, they’ve had the 12 hitter/13 pitcher split, which is crazy enough, especially given how Tony Cruz is never going to be used and the bench is weak enough as it is. Now you’ve got another pitcher that you are carrying but can’t use, so you go into each game of this series with roughly a 23 man roster. If things go right, it’ll be OK. But let’s just hope there are no extra inning affairs on the horizon.
It looks like we might have an end in sight for the Joe Kelly injury situation. Kelly, who says he won’t run full speed the rest of the year, could start his rehab next week. You’d figure, given reasonable results, he’d probably make 2-3 starts in the minors and be ready for a call up. That’d put him ready for a call up right before the All-Star Break. You wonder if John Mozeliak might not manipulate when the rehab officially starts and keep him down longer than maybe necessary just to try to give him more time to work out how they are going to get Kelly back on the roster. Does the All-Star Break count against rehab time? Asking for a friend……
Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons came off the disabled list yesterday and, as expected, was “sent” to Memphis when he did so. Lyons will start down there and be ready if a starter is needed, which might have been the call if he’d been ready when Adam Wainwright needed the off day on Monday. Then again, it may depend on how much stretching out they can do of Martinez in these spot starts and whether he goes to Memphis to become a starter as well. I don’t know when we’ll see Lyons again, though I imagine the Cards don’t want to see him until September, because that means everyone is doing well.
Hopefully tonight will be much more enjoyable for Cardinal Nation. If nothing else, if Garcia is on his game, he can hopefully neutralize whatever cheat code Howard uses to tear up Busch Stadium.
He’s gotten Howard in the past, though the big first baseman did go yard on him once. As for the rest of the squad, they’ve not had a lot of success against Garcia, save John Mayberry, whom I thought had the big home run against Garcia in the 2011 playoffs, but checking I see that was Ben Francisco. My mind is going and it was never really here to begin with.
Anyway, Cards get to go up against an old friend in A.J. Burnett. And I’m not really being sarcastic when I say friend, either. Last year was a little better for Burnett, but St. Louis beat him up in 2012, when he posted an 8.80 ERA against them in three starts. Overall, St. Louis has been able to hit him, though he (like so many others) can shut them down at times.
Burnett has had his issues this year (he comes into the game with a 4.17 ERA, but it’s closer to 5 over the last 10 games) but he’s had back-to-back good starts, including a three-run, eight-inning affair against the Cubbies last time out. His K/BB rate is nothing special, though, and he seems to be striking out less than normal. Some may assume that this will be a good game for the offense to break out. It well might be, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Burnett limit the damage, either.
As usual, there won’t be any posts this weekend. Take that back, I have a book review set to go on Sunday morning, but no recaps or discussion posts, most likely. As mentioned above, I’ll be in St. Louis, driving up tomorrow with the family and leaving after the game on Sunday, so depending on how late it is when I get in, there may not be a Monday post either. Eventually, though, there will be pictures and descriptions from this weekend’s activities, the ones that don’t take express written consent from Major League Baseball. If you are in the St. Louis area, we are having dinner at Joe Buck’s downtown at 6 PM tomorrow and you are welcome to come by and join us. Have a great weekend!