Here’s where narrative makes all the difference.
For the second straight night, the Cardinals rallied and won in walk-off fashion. So, if you are the optimist, the narrative is that this team is finally showing some spirit, they are coming together at the right time, they are starting to jell.
On the flip side, look at these numbers on the Cincinnati bullpen since Sunday: 10.2 IP, 26 H, 19 R (18 earned), 12 BB, 4 K. That’s an ERA of 15.18 over a span of four games. If the Reds pen was bacon, you’d have taken it off the stove and thrown it away because it was burnt to a crisp. (Assuming you don’t like your bacon black, which my wife tends to, actually. I don’t understand it.) Perhaps it’s less about the Cardinal fight and more about the fact anyone wearing Reds and not starting is almost worthless right now.
I mean, look at the ninth last night. Matt Holliday walked on four pitches. Matt Adams singled, then Jhonny Peralta stayed alive long enough to walk on a full count. Bases loaded and the first pitch to Jon Jay was terrible, right in on the knee. Four batters and the game is over. Credit the Cards for taking advantage, but they weren’t facing Craig Kimbrel out there.
I think the Cards should get some points for rallying, even if the bar to clear there was much lower than with other teams. After all, they did get down 4-1, which in times past could have been the end of the game, no matter who was throwing. John Lackey probably deserved a little better, though his was one of the three errors behind him that led to two unearned runs. (Of course, his error really was moot, since it just allowed Billy Hamilton to go from first to third and Hamilton came in on a home run by Todd Frazier.) If it weren’t for Holliday and Matt Carpenter having issues, Lackey could have easily matched the two runs in seven innings that he’s done twice for the Redbirds. Instead, due to the extra pitches and the fact his spot came up with runners on, he was done after six. Still, a good outing that might not get the credit it deserves.
What’s more impressive is that this American League veteran went 2-2 at the plate, helping create St. Louis’s first run. In fact, the ninth spot in the Cardinal lineup went 4-4, with both Shane Robinson and Daniel Descalso turning in big pinch-hits that led to runs. Robinson got it to within one and Descalso doubled in the tying run. Both of those guys came through with two outs, so tip your cap to them. They get a lot of grief and a lot of criticism, but (especially Descalso) have been coming through lately.
We’ll give the Hero tag to Jon Jay, because besides the walk-off plunk, he went 2-3 with two runs scored and tossed in a walk as well. Jay’s now hitting .307 with a .378 on-base percentage, which might mean he moves up in the order. Yes, Jay’s on a hot streak, batting .500 over his last 10 games, but to say his stats lie might be overstating things. We’ve got a pretty good sample size here and while you might make the case that he’s not really a .300 hitter, he’s still a very productive bat in the lineup, especially when there aren’t a whole lot of those. It’s been heartening to see Peter Bourjos adapt to his role (hitting .333 over the last 10 games, though obviously in fewer at-bats) and he’s got a place on this team, but Jay’s laid a solid claim to playing every day in one outfield position or another.
As for the Goat, that’s a tough call. I think I’m going to go with Kolten Wong, even though he had a hit, because he left six men on during his 1-5 night. The other choice was Tony Cruz, who went 0-3 (the only starter without a hit) before being pinch-hit for by A.J. Pierzynski (who then got a hit, so Cruz was the only person that came to bat and didn’t get a hit last night), but I think Wong’s inability to come through with runners on is probably more worthy of the tag.
Oscar Taveras got two hits last night, raising his average to .222. In his last five games, he’s 6-13 (.462), perhaps showing that he’s starting to adjust to the steady diet of fastballs he is receiving. He did get thrown out on the bases and did strike out in a big spot last night in the eighth, but he seems to be coming around, which could be really big for this club. Of course, he gets the Joe Strauss treatment in today’s paper, which means some interesting points heavily coated with snark and the enjoyment of belittling folks that have been high on him for a long while. Goodness, how glad am I that Strauss doesn’t write about the Cardinals as regularly as he did.
Thankfully the Cardinals rallied last night, because if they needed to win tonight to take the series, it was going to be a tough chore. Johnny Cueto, the man that many St. Louisians still hold a grudge against (I am fine with the Reds, but I’m never going to like Cueto for what he did to Jason LaRue), is having what would be a Cy Young season if Clayton Kershaw moved up to the next league. He has a chance to pass Waino in the win column, has an ERA a shade over 2, and strikes out basically a batter an inning. This isn’t what you want to see.
The Redbirds have been able to get to him in the past–look at that line by Jay!–but that may count for little given the way Cueto is pitching now. He’s had three straight starts of at least eight innings and two earned runs and the last one was in Colorado. The best thing to try to do is likely make him throw pitches and see if you can get to that bullpen, but given how well he throws strikes, that might be problematic as well. It’s a tough task.
At least the Cardinals counter with Lance Lynn. Lynn’s turned himself into a solid #2 starter this season and has had only one game where he allowed three earned runs in the second half of the season this year, belying that late-season meltdown that we’ve come to expect out of him. The Reds roughed him up in the first two games of the season, but Lynn’s a little different now.
We’ll see if that difference matters. He’s struggled at times against the Reds but he’ll need to be on his game tonight. Should be a fun one!