My compatriot Dan Buffa asked a couple of days ago “Who are these St. Louis Cardinals?” After last night, you might be asking the same thing, but with a little different meaning and inflection. Because, wow, that didn’t look like the team we’ve been following the last few months. (It looked like the team we thought we’d be following at the beginning of the year.) Then again, when you look at Thursday and Friday’s game together, maybe the roller-coaster is more predictable.
Thursday (9-1 loss vs. Pittsburgh)
Hero: Kolten Wong. By the benefit of a hit by pitch, he had the best average of the night at 1-2. Add to that the stolen base, the fact that he reached a beautiful bunt single after beating the Pirates with the long ball in the series, and he stole a base and it’s pretty clear he should get the tag.
Goat: While Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons didn’t cover himself in glory (especially since it was his error that led to all the unearned runs), I’m still giving the Goat to Shelby Miller. Given the fact that the team was a bit down from the Yadier Molina news, getting down 4-1 after five innings wasn’t a great way to win a game. The biggest thing was the command again, though–four walks and only one strikeout? Putting nine runners on base and throwing close to 100 pitches in five innings is not a way to win a ballgame, especially if you can’t actually punch your way out of trouble. There has to be something off with Miller, either physically or in his coaching. Whatever it is, I hope it gets tinkered with during the break.
Notes: Really, the less said about this one the better. It looked like it might be a game when the Cards tied it up in the third, but it went downhill quickly after that. Tony Cruz allowed a passed ball and Andrew McCutchen to steal second and third in the first inning, but as many noted at the time, Yadier Molina had given up even throwing when runners took off on Miller. He’s doing nothing to hold them and at least give the catcher a fighting chance. It was disappointing not to get the sweep and not to take advantage of another Brewers loss, but four-game sweeps are hard to come by and at least the Reds also lost, keep the Cards out of third place.
Friday (7-6 win at Milwaukee)
Hero: So many choices. After all, you don’t rally from down 6-0 without a lot of folks chipping in. However, a tiebreaking home run in the ninth kinda carries a ton of weight. Besides, Matt Holliday had three hits, scored three runs, and had a walk as well. That home run, though, incredible, especially given the lack of power we’ve seen out of Holliday this season.
Goat: Maybe it was too much excitement, too much rest, something, but Joe Kelly didn’t have it last night. He did stop the bleeding eventually, but giving up six runs in the first two innings is normally a recipe for a disastrous evening. His teammates and his bullpen bailed him out thankfully for what, right now, would go down as the game of the year.
Notes: I missed most of the game last night, out at my regular poker game. It was the same place that I watched the 2012 comeback against the Nationals in the NLDS as well, so next time the Cards get down 6-0, I guess I should head on out to the felt, whether there’s a game going or not! Great to see Wong with another home run–his confidence has to be through the roof and hopefully he’s gotten Mike Matheny convinced enough to let him battle through whatever slumps may come. Big Fill-In-The-Blank went yard again, showing that Matt Adams needs to be on this team no matter what trade partners might say. Jhonny Peralta had three hits, including another home run.
The bullpen was outstanding. Sure, Trevor Rosenthal gave us a scare in the ninth when he allowed a leadoff single to Aramis Ramirez, but that was actually a victory given Ramirez’s certified status as Cardinal killer and Sith Lord. To keep him in the park at all in that situation was pretty impressive. Rosenthal ran some deep counts, but he got the job done. Pat Neshek and Seth Maness did what we’ve come to expect out of them, but give some credit to Nick Greenwood. Greenwood came in when the game seemed out of reach but put up scoreless frames and allowed the team to be in a position to come back. Greenwood’s had a couple of rough outings and his K/BB ratio isn’t pretty, but he’s done pretty well in low-leverage situations and has stayed with the club longer than I expected.
As you saw when we posted the press release yesterday, the Cardinals sent down Lyons, activated Kelly, put Jaime Garcia on the 60-day DL (all expected moves) and signed free agent catcher George Kottaras. Seems like he’ll be put on the roster today, which probably mean Audry Perez will be going back down. I don’t think that the club would carry three catchers, because I think it’d have to be at the expense of a reliever. Seems unlikely they’d do that unless they wanted to game the system by sending Greenwood down. He’d have to be down 10 days, but four of those days would be off days due to the All-Star Break and he probably wouldn’t pitch again in this series anyway. That said, the simplest answer is usually the right one.
Kotteras actually hit fairly well for Cleveland this year, but it was pretty small sample. He has some pop but he’s not likely to hit for much of an average. As a backup to Cruz with the option to pinch-hit, he’s not a bad choice. I don’t think we’ll see him supplant Cruz as the starter, though.
The Cardinals could be tied for first by the end of the afternoon. Or they could be in third place at the end of the day. That’s because, as well as they’ve been playing, the Reds are playing even better. They beat the Pirates last night, meaning that they are still just a half-game behind the Cards and 1.5 behind the Brewers. (Pittsburgh’s fourth, 3.5 games out. You think the Cubs are feeling all lonely there in the cellar? Then again, they are used to the place. I mean, they paint the walls, put up their pictures, everything. It’s like their own little home.)
If you are going to take a stab at first place, it’s very good to have your ace on the mound. Adam Wainwright has been spectacular all year long, but has an ERA around 0.75 since the beginning of June. He’s not allowed a run in his last two starts and the start before that, it was the eighth inning before the Dodgers could dent the plate. He’s good enough for you, old man.
I told you Aramis Ramirez was a Sith Lord. Anyone that can hit .404 against Wainwright must have abilities some would call unnatural. Other than that, Waino’s done pretty well against the Brew Crew. He hasn’t faced them yet this year.
He’s not Wainwright, at least not yet, but Jimmy Nelson has had a very good start to his career. He’s only made six appearances, but he’s got a career 0.57 ERA in those trips to a major league mound. His only work this year in the bigs was five scoreless innings against the Marlins in May, but he’s been dominating the minor leagues and the Brewers are sliding him into the rotation. He’s a young, good pitcher that the Cardinals have never seen before. This could be a quick, very low-scoring affair today. At least he throws righthanded.
Game’s on Fox Sports 1 here in a couple of hours. Let’s hope Waino is on and we’re talking about a first place team tomorrow!