After the struggles against Cincinnati, it was good to see the Cardinals come home and take care of business against one of the worst teams in the league. The sweep against Colorado was pretty necessary as well, since Pittsburgh just dropped one this weekend. With two weeks to go in the season (really? Where did 2014 all go?) St. Louis is looking like the team we thought they would be. Finally.
Saturday (5-4 win)
Hero: Matt Holliday. It’s tough to say which Matt homer was more important. After all, Matt Carpenter‘s two-run shot in the second put the Cards out to a comfortable lead. However, Holliday’s blast in the first put the Cardinals on the board and gave Shelby Miller some early breathing room. Holliday also walked twice, even though he didn’t come around to score.
Goat: Sam Freeman. Given a 5-1 lead in the ninth, Freeman started the inning with a walk, which is one of those baseball no-nos. He almost got out of it with a line-drive double play, but the runner got back safely and scored when Matt McBride doubled. That was all for Freeman and while Pat Neshek wasn’t his normal efficient self, allowing not only his inherited runner to score but one of his own, he did eventually get the save.
Notes: Miller continues his late-season resurgence, crediting the return of Yadier Molina for giving him the confidence to diversify his repertoire. Miller only threw 83 pitches, so he could have easily thrown another inning had his spot in the batting order not come up with runners on and two outs in the bottom of the sixth. (Oscar Taveras made Mike Matheny‘s decision to pull Miller pay off with an RBI single.) For the second straight game he didn’t walk anyone and he allowed only one run, which actually snapped his scoreless inning streak. His combined line for his last four starts? 2-0, 27 IP, 17 K, 5 BB, 1.00 ERA. No wonder there’s less angst around Michael Wacha being skipped.
Carlos Martinez again looked sharp, throwing a scoreless 1.1 innings and looking more and more like that late-inning option we saw him be in the playoffs last year. Matheny also used him on Sunday, perhaps getting him used to going on back-to-back days and seeing what he can do if he has to face a team twice in that short span.
Sunday (4-1 win)
Hero: Yadier Molina. Three hits in this one, including a double, and he scored on a wild pitch. There’s every indication that Molina’s strength is returning and we’ll start seeing the offensive exploits we are used to from the erstwhile catcher. Molina had six hits over the weekend, which goes to prove that there’s nothing an iffy pitching staff can’t fix.
Goat: Kolten Wong. Wong went 0-3 before being replaced by Mark Ellis late in this one, striking out twice in the process. He’s riding an 0-10 and only played in one game this weekend. Wong’s struck me as a streaky hitter this year, riding waves of good and ill, and it could be that he’s just on a downward slope now, with another upward one on the horizon.
Notes: Marco Gonzales filled in well for Wacha today, striking out nine batters in 5.2 innings. He might have gone deeper than that, however, if he’d not walked four in the process. Gonzales didn’t quite have the command we are used to seeing out of him, but obviously he still had plenty of good stuff. The bullpen did their job, Trevor Rosenthal got the save with no drama whatsoever, and there was much rejoicing.
Offensively, #21 for Jhonny Peralta, which puts him just seven off of Ozzie Smith‘s total. Oh, wait, that’s Ozzie’s career total. The Cardinals have never had a shortstop be one of their main power weapons and every bomb that Peralta adds to his total is just that more impressive. It’s going to be interesting to see how much support he gets for the Cards’ MVP when the Cardinal Blogger Awards are done in November.
Two hits both by Holliday and Taveras. Taveras is a bit warm lately, hitting .435 over his last 10 games. They’ve mainly been singles–only one double and one homer out of the 10 hits–but it looks like he’s making adjustments and starting to settle into the big leagues. At the very least, he’s become quite a weapon off the bench, which may be his role in the playoffs depending on how the outfield situation shakes out.
This weekend, the Cardinals also announced that John Lackey would be skipped the next time through the rotation, meaning that he wouldn’t go against the Brewers. Unsurprisingly, Lackey’s not real thrilled about this, but when you have a .982 OPS against you in your last three starts, taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Lackey’s ERA over that span would be much worse had he not allowed three unearned runs against the Cubs (that came off of his error) and it’s still 6.28 anyway. Thank goodness (from our point of view) that Allen Craig hasn’t figured it out in Boston or this trade and the Justin Masterson deal would put a significant dent into John Mozeliak’s sterling reputation.
Lackey can bounce back, of course, and we’ve seen some good outings from him in St. Louis. He’ll get a chance to start the last home series of the year this weekend against the Reds, who haven’t been afraid of him in his two starts (assuming you can call two innings before being ejected a start) against them since the trade. If Lackey can keep them in check, maybe we can start being cautiously optimistic about him going in the playoffs. Right now, though, the first round is Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Miller. It’s completely possible that a guy that was acquired for his postseason experience won’t even get the chance to use that quality this season.
Speaking of starters that have been or will be skipped, Wacha threw a bullpen yesterday to focus on his command. No word on if that helped him knock the rust off after his lengthy absence, but so far there’s no talk of shutting him down for the season. It’s possible that he’d be used in relief, but I don’t think you want a guy that is having issues with control and his stuff to be brought into any crucial situations. It’s easily possible that he’d wind up being like Joe Kelly was at the beginning of last year, a guy that never got into the game because a long man was never needed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wacha take the mound Friday against the Reds, especially if the magic number continues to drop significantly.
Speaking of, that magic number is now 10, which is of course most often tied to Tony La Russa in Cardinal history, especially now that it’s been retired for him. However, don’t forget folks like Mike LaValliere (hated when they dealt him to the Pirates, though Tony Pena seemed worth it at the time) and Ken Oberkfell, plus Johnny Mize, Harry Walker and Pepper Martin all wore it as well.
Day off for the Redbirds today, their next-to-last one of the year. The Brewers come into town on Tuesday just trying to fight for their playoff lives. The number is 8 to eliminate them, so they’ll still be alive for the Central at the end of this no matter, though it may be the thinnest of ropes. More importantly for them, perhaps, is the fact they are 1.5 games behind Pittsburgh, who they go visit after the Cardinal series. They have to stay close to the Pirates (who will be hosting the Red Sox) so they can have a shot at the wild card when they go to the Steel City.
Of course, they are going to have to go through the three best Cardinal pitchers to do so, which is a tough task for any team. Up first is Lynn, who is having an outstanding year and has had back-to-back starts where he only allowed one earned run in each game. One of those was against Milwaukee (where he did allow a couple of unearned tallies, though they weren’t really his fault) and on the season he’s 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA against the Brewers in three games. They’ve put up an OPS of .614 against him, so he’s been able to limit any damage by that club.
The Brewers have seen their fair share of him over the years and while you don’t care to see that line by Jean Segura, the fact that he’s been one of the only Cardinal pitchers ever to handle Sith Lord Aramis Ramirez is impressive, most impressive. We can only hope that trend continues, because Milwaukee is going to pull out all the stops in this series.
They get to start the series off right as well by sending Wily Peralta out there to the mound. The Cardinals scored three off of Peralta in six innings last time they faced him, but he struck out seven in that span as well. He’s faced the Cards four times this year and is 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA, with the only loss coming two weekends ago. In Peralta’s last start, he allowed one run in 6.2 innings against the Marlins.
Carpenter and Holliday have done all right against him in the past, for whatever that is worth. Peralta’s been a much better pitcher this year, though, and I expect it’ll be quite a pitcher’s duel on Tuesday night. Hopefully the Cards can come out on top!