For the third straight night, the St. Louis Cardinals meshed good pitching and just enough hitting to take a game from the Pittsburgh Pirates. For the third straight night, that win has been good enough to shave a game off of the Milwaukee Brewers’ lead (and, incidentally, been necessary to stay ahead of the Cincinnati Reds).
We’ve seen this before, of course. Strong wins building up a level of excitement, getting fans giddy with the possibilities. Only to see some crushing losses and the downhill run of the rollercoaster. Why should this time be any different?
It’s tough to say it will, but the Cards have won six of their last eight and should have won the first of those losses as well. The bats aren’t scorching by any means (well, save maybe for a couple) but they aren’t ice cold, either. While people may not be saving money at On-The-Run, for the most part there aren’t a string of goose eggs on the scoreboard either.
It’s also good to see them taking advantage of Milwaukee’s stumble. So often they’ve just matched what the Brewers have done and not been able to gain any ground. Now they sit just two games back and, depending on tonight’s games and what the Reds do over the weekend, it’s possible to be at least tied for first at the All-Star Break with just a series win this weekend at Miller Park.
As most know, when Han Solo tries to jump to lightspeed in The Empire Strikes Back, the hyperdrive fails and they are sitting ducks. It took R2-D2 later in the film to fix it and let them escape from Darth Vader’s clutches. I’m hopeful that R2 has had a chance to work on the Cardinal offense and we’ll see them take off from now on.
Last night’s game was an enjoyable one to watch. It didn’t take another walkoff win, being that we weren’t on the edge of our seats in the ninth. (We might have moved closer to them when Trevor Rosenthal walked the leadoff guy, but he quickly got out of that, helped out by Peter Bourjos‘s catch at the wall.) The Cards never trailed and we saw Kolten Wong go over the wall yet again for his second homer in two nights. All in all, it was what we expect out of Cardinal baseball, but not what we’ve gotten much of this season.
There were many options for Hero, but I’m going to go with Matt Adams. Adams drove in the first two runs of the game, giving Lance Lynn his initial cushion, and should have had his fourth triple of the year, though St. Louis’s replay challenge came to naught. (So glad we are getting all the calls right with this replay bit. That’s important.) Adams had three hits, though is one failure came not at a dark side cave (hey, it was Star Wars Night, you are going to get these references in a recap) but when the Pirates went to their bullpen in the fourth with the bases loaded and one out. A hit there and this game could have been put out of reach, but he popped it up. Still, his overall body of work last night was very strong.
Like I say, though, many could have laid claim to the tag. Matt Holliday had two hits and two walks and scored twice. Matt Carpenter had two hits in the leadoff role. Oscar Taveras had his second multi-hit game–let’s talk about those hits real quick. Both were singles, but the first one was smashed so hard down the line that it took a good play by Ike Davis to knock it down enough to make it a single. That easily should have been extra bases.
The second was on a pitch a bit outside that Taveras had to reach for. Usually those kind of swings produce weak grounders or a lazy pop in the infield. Taveras smashed it back up the middle for a very solid single. It was the first time that I’d seen him back up that Vladimir Guerrero comparison that everyone makes. It was exactly the kind of swing–and kind of result–Vlady would have had back in his day.
Lance Lynn should get a good bit of credit as well for last night’s win. If it hadn’t been for Neil Walker, who cracked a home run and a double, Lynn might have had no blemishes in his work and might also have made it through the seventh. Lynn allowed eight baserunners in his 6.2 innings, but got the key double play before he left to make sure the damage was minimal. With the weakness in the rotation–weakness is the wrong word, more like uncertainty–having a guy like Lynn be someone you can count on is huge. The opinions on Lynn, including my own, have come a long way since the beginning of the season. As long as he avoids his traditional second-half swoon, they may go even farther.
Good starting pitching, good bullpen work, the offense put up 14 hits, where in the world do you look for a Goat? Sadly, you look in one of the regular spots. Allen Craig was the only starter without a hit and never had much of a chance for one. He also hit into a double play in the top of the fifth after Tony Cruz–more on that in a second–led off with a single. There’s no good answers for Craig, save the fact that everyone that’s gone to Memphis has returned with a better bat. While many joke he should be disabled and then sent to Memphis for a rehab assignment, you do wonder if there is some truth to that. Is he having a physical ailment he’s not letting the trainers know about? It’d be nice if that was the cause of this slump. Otherwise, there’s no clear way to get him out of it.
Tony Cruz was in the game because Yadier Molina went from second to third on Craig’s groundout in the second and hurt his hand while sliding in. Molina wound up spraining his thumb and there is no clear timetable on his return. You hope it’s not serious, mainly because you want Molina in there against the Brewers but also because having Adam Wainwright pitch to Molina in the All-Star Game was going to be one of the true treats for Cardinal fans. We’ll probably know more this afternoon, but let’s hope it’s not a terribly serious thing.
Before they get to Milwaukee, though, the Cards still have business with the Pirates. With brooms in hand, the Redbirds will send Shelby Miller to the mound tonight. Miller, who famously struggled against the Pirates last year, which snowballed into him missing most of the playoffs, is in a stretch of starts that has seen his ERA spike from 3.42 to 4.15. He gave up three in 5.1 innings to the Marlins last time out, though two of those runs scored when Seth Maness allowed a home run. He’s not dominant, but just like he was pitching worse than his stats showed earlier in the season, I think he’s pitching better than they indicate now. That doesn’t mean he’s doing well, of course.
The Pirates have been hit or miss against him, at least via these stats. Pedro Alvarez tends to take him yard, but 1) everyone takes Miller yard and 2) Alvarez takes every Cardinal pitcher yard. If he can contain Russell Martin tonight, things should go much better. Miller has faced the Pirates three times this season, getting rocked the first time, shutting them out the second, and allowing two runs in 5.1 innings the third. He’s never made it through the sixth against them in 2014.
St. Louis has faced Edinson Volquez this year as well, with better results. The first time, they only got one run in 5.2 innings off of him, but the next two starts, they scored nine runs in 10.1 innings. Hopefully we’ll see more of that kind of offensive display tonight, but Volquez has had three straight strong starts and really has only stumbled once since the middle of May. Last time out, he gave the Phillies one run in seven innings.
Molina might have gotten a rest in this game anyway. I sure hope Mike Matheny doesn’t look at these numbers and start Mark Ellis due to his history instead of Wong. That would be wrong on so many levels. Which means it’s a strong possibility.
Even though tonight won’t be Star Wars Night (for which the people that follow me on Twitter are probably quite grateful after my constant SW barrage last night), let’s hope the Force is with the Cardinals anyway!