Watching the St. Louis Cardinals go from flat line corpses to adrenaline junkies this weekend, I found myself trapped in a Queen song.
“Is This The Real Life/Is This Just Fantasy”
The phrase begs repeating and quite a bit of investigating due to the way the 2014 team has treated the home crowd. It hasn’t been easy to watch this team all year. It has been as fun as watching a Transformers movie. The Cardiac Cards are lucky that both my parents work in a hospital because there have been nights where I felt like blogging with an IV drip dangling from a pole next to me. They say baseball is a game of endurance or a game of attrition. Sure. Let me cut it precisely for you. I think it’s more simple than that. Baseball is a second wife in my life.
It comes around nagging me in February about pitchers and catchers reporting, asking for extra attention. April rolls in and it starts to cut into my free evenings. Around July, when it gets hot and I want to get extra rest, it denies me fair sleep. August and September are full proof Death Star Warhead clashes in the living room. October is an option month. Bags are packed just in case I can cut this second wife out of my life but the Cardinals guarantee that the heartache and passion extend for another 30 days, culminating right before Halloween occurs. November is when we break it off for a few months. Divorce. Shouting. That’s baseball. An extra weight of hope, despair and delight all rolled into one giant batch of emotion.
The only way I can relate to a Cubs fans is when I tell myself next year I won’t be as stressful. I will walk away after losses and not feel the need to pound the dust off my punching bag. I won’t need to sit down at the computer and figure out problems with a keyboard. One day, I will just shrug my shoulders and let the chips fall when they may. Until then, I analyze, give a take and drink tons of coffee. To the keys we go.
Five Quick Takeaways from The Dramatic Turn of Events On this Hol(7)iday weekend-
Matt Holliday Is a Bad Man
The Hulk of Stillwater went into super beast mode this weekend. Holliday collected 12 RBI in the last three wins, including 3 home runs, 3 game winning hits and a lot of sore or deceased baseballs. The man is locked in, focused and sees the tiny baseball as if it is a beach ball floating towards home plate. Albert Pujols said it best on David Letterman years ago. When things are good for a hitter in this league, the baseball looks like a beach ball. When they are bad, it resembles a golf ball. Right now, Holliday is mashing. Suddenly, he is 5th in the NL in RBI with 81. He has 16 home runs. He is hitting .269 and slugging .435. Holliday started September off exactly the way he ended August. On a tear. Eating up big steaks at the plate. The man always hits baseballs hard. Right now, they are finding holes in meaningful times. How clutch is he? 59 of Holliday’s 81 RBI have come with runners in scoring position. I like the clutch stat. It shows me that when the stakes are high and the big hit needs to happen, a player can come through. Holliday is hitting .338 with RISP this season. He’s suddenly the catalyst for big wins. After going 0-4 in Game 1 on Saturday, Holliday is 7 for his last 11. He is still the most under appreciated man in St. Louis.
Lance Lynn and John Lackey Show True Grit
My good friend P.J. made a fair point last week. The quality start stat is a bunch of BS. Especially for top of the rotation guys. A big game pitcher going out there allowing 3 earned runs and lasting 6 innings is nice, but Lackey’s work on Sunday deserves a mention because it was a different kind of quality. Lackey got tagged for 5 runs, with a couple coming due to his own error. He didn’t wilt under pressure. He stayed in and lasted 6.1 innings. He saved the pen, unlike recently departed starter Justin Masterson(bullpen mop up duty for the rest of the season). Lance Lynn got tagged for 3 early runs on Monday and could have given up more if not for a fine catch from Jon Jay in center and other good plays. He stuck in there, threw 115 pitches and gave the team 6 innings. The starters stepped up in these three wins. The bullpen was key as well but the starters didn’t let the bridge burn between the early going and the late innings. Credit where credit is due. The Baseball Card Mafia may not like the Lackey and Lynn starts and Fantasy addicts will whine but I can see fine work in their darker efforts.
Pete is a pro. He took unfortunate heat in 2013 for being placed in a position where he would be overexposed. Kozma hit horribly over 130+ games and his defense wasn’t enough for a passing grade. He spent the majority of this season in Memphis. He didn’t pout or complain. He kept his hair salon award worthy and put together a great season in the minors. He stayed ready. Kozma came up on Sunday and delivered a big pinch hit to start a key rally. He hadn’t got an at bat in the big leagues since April 14th against Milwaukee but he didn’t waste any time flashing the September magic today with another rally starting hit. Kozma’s biggest moment came on a bunt attempt by Pittsburgh where Matt Adams dropped a Yadi Molina throw but Pete backed it up and fired a strike to Molina to nail a sneaky Josh Harrison at home. A key moment in a key game. The Cards might not win the game if Pete doesn’t play big right there. He’s done nothing but wait for his turn and he will make the most of it. September is only beginning. This is like Kozma and Daniel Descalso Scrap Appeal Month.
I had it typed on my twitter app and ready to tweet. Trevor Rosenthal saves a perfect inning for the perfect time. And then an infield hit happened and Rosenthal had to blow white smoke past Gaby Sanchez to secure his 41st save. Rosenthal has made little look fine and dandy this season but the results are there. He has 41 saves in his first full season as the closer. I don’t think he will ever be a starter and why would he want to leave a spot that will make him rich. Rosenthal has delivered results in 2014. Hard to look at but solid returns. His walks are up and he raises the stress level, but Trevor closed down two big games these past couple days. If he didn’t deserve to close games, he would have blown these close nail biters. One run thrillers. Instead, Rosenthal saved them from danger and dead bolted the door shut. Hopefully, he has saved his best pitches for last.
Mike Matheny Doesn’t Get It Right or Mess It All Up
The skipper has been maligned this season for bad decisions, horrible game management and a few other things. Most of the flack has been justified. The use of Oscar Taveras or the overuse of Rosenthal. You name it and it’s Matheny’s fault. The construction delays on your way to work? Matheny. The horrible Chinese food you ate? Matheny. He is a third year manager who has failed to truly excel in this rough and tumble dried season. Today, he made a classic Matheny mistake and let a newly returned and not sharp Kevin Siegrist pitch to the heart of the Pirates order. Andrew McCutchen launched a 450 foot home run to give the Bucs a 4-2 lead. This came a day after letting Randy Choate serve up a home run to a right handed hitter. He also let Daniel Descalso play first base. Matheny did use Carlos Martinez in a good situation today, letting him protect a 5-4 game. He used Pete Kozma on Sunday well and started him on Monday. Matheny’s reliance on Rosenthal closing may pay off. He hit Oscar Taveras in the #2 hole today(the rookie drew 2 walks and scored a run). Matheny may be driving Cardinal fans mad every day but he can silence the critics by wisely using his bench, soaking the virtues of his expanded roster and managing the bullpen correctly. The pieces are there Mike, so don’t mess it up. John is always watching. Leading men is one thing. Leading them in the right direction is quite another.
Thanks for reading folks. Come back for more this week. The Cards continue their series with the Pirates before heading to Milwaukee this weekend.
The Cardinals are in first place all by themselves for the first time all season. Soak it up and keep the medication close. The season, 25 games left in the tank, is only getting more stressful, thrilling and revealing.