In 2014, the Cardinals shut out their opponent 23 times. They were also shut out 12 times. So far, 2015 looks like they took 2014, kept it in the fridge all winter, then thawed it out for use this season. An Opening Day shutout gave us the good side of the equation, while yesterday in Wrigley Field brought the bad.
Now, let’s be fair, many teams would have had trouble scoring in the conditions found in Chicago yesterday. It was cold, damp and foggy, none of which are really conducive to an explosion of runs. As Matt Holliday pointed out, who would have guessed Chicago in early April would have been miserable? What the schedule makers were thinking by starting the season on the North Side, given construction as well, is unfathomable.
Mix in a pitcher that the Cardinals can’t hit and you have the recipe for a miserable afternoon. Jake Arrieta had a career 0.92 ERA against the Redbirds going into the matchup, a number that only got better when he left it. St. Louis had a number of chances early, including a first inning that featured two walks, but couldn’t capitalize on any of them. If you let a pitcher get away with things, chances are he’ll accept the gift and then stop letting you have opportunities. That was the case in this one, as the Cards had two on in both the first and the third, but were unable to finish things off with a big hit. Yes, it was quite the familiar scenario.
Even though he was the one that made the crucial error, I’ve still got to give the Hero tag to Lance Lynn. Lynn pitched superbly for six innings, giving the Cubs nothing. The seventh would be his undoing, as he plunked Anthony Rizzo, then threw the ball away while trying to keep him close at first. Lynn then gave up only his second hit of the ballgame, but that was enough to do him in. Kevin Siegrist came in to limit the damage, but he was unable to do so completely, allowing a sacrifice fly that gave the club the final 2-0 margin.
Lynn really did look good, though, showing that, if anyone doubted, last year’s maturity and growth as a pitcher was no mirage. In the fourth, Jorge Solar got the first hit of the game, a triple. Lynn worked carefully and walked Rizzo and, this time last year, we’d have thought we were on the verge of a Lynning. Instead, like we’ve now come to expect, Lynn worked out of the jam like a pro. If he doesn’t hit Rizzo, could be that game is still going on.
Like Derrick Goold pointed out in his game recap, the Cards really haven’t been able to get into a rhythm, what with a game, then two days off, a game, and now another day off. The early sputtering of the schedule (the Redbirds have another day off on Tuesday after the home opener), compounded with a rainout, does make it difficult to find footing. The weather hasn’t helped at all. If it wasn’t for last year’s struggles, I don’t think anyone would even think twice about scoring three runs in two games. Heck, that’s a buffet for the Twins, who have two games under their belts and no runs to show for it. (On the flip side, Adrian Gonzalez now has five home runs. When do you think the Cardinal team will have five home runs? I know they are going to Cincinnati but it has to be middle of next week, right?)
You can’t draw many conclusions from 18 innings, save that perhaps the pitching is going to be all right, which we already knew. Three starters have yet to get a hit, including Yadier Molina. Jason Heyward got hits in his first three at-bats, but now is riding an 0-6. Holliday is 3-8, but with no extra base hits. Again, it’s two games. It’s something to point out, it’s something to watch, but it’s not anything that means anything yet. A weekend in Cincinnati facing the back of the Reds rotation and everything may be all right.
If I’m giving the Hero to Lynn, I’ve got to find someone to take the Goat. It was a tossup, but I’m going to take Jon Jay over Heyward. Both went 0-4, but Heyward did reach on an error while Jay came up with two on and two out in the sixth and couldn’t get anyone in, which proved costly. Again, both struggled (Heyward had opportunities with runners on as well) but that’s where the coin flip lands.
MLB’s started asking fans to vote for the Franchise Four of their favorite team, with the winners being announced at the All-Star Game. It caused quite a bit of discussion on my Twitter feed yesterday, mainly because of Rogers Hornsby. There’s no doubt he’s one of, if not the best second basemen ever and he would definitely be a worthy choice for this honor. He’s second in career WAR to Stan Musial (though just two ahead of Bob Gibson). In fact, if you go by WAR it’s Musial, Hornsby, Gibson and Albert Pujols, which is a pretty solid ballot right there.
However, there’s no way I could leave off Ozzie Smith, who is fifth in WAR. Granted, much of Ozzie’s number is coming from his defensive side, but he redefined shortstop play, which ought to be taken into account. Hornsby’s defense was (according to the metrics, which obviously are tough to use accurately on games from back then) pretty rough, with negative values assigned. In other words, should defense take a back seat to offense? If Ozzie’s head and shoulders above in the field and Hornsby’s the same at the plate, where do you draw the line?
Plus, Hornsby played for the Cubs after leaving St. Louis. That’s got to have some negative cache, doesn’t it?
I’ve always thought of St. Louis’ Mount Rushmore as Musial (the hitter), Gibson (the pitcher), Ozzie (the defender) and Lou Brock (the speedster), but more for what they represent than the fact they are the top four players ever to wear the birds on the bat. It’s a fun discussion and there was a lot of back and forth over it. I don’t fault anyone with their choices, not even if they pick Dizzy Dean and Red Schoendienst, though I think you really have to stretch to include Dizzy. Red’s got a lot of different things going for him so I can see that case, but as much as I’m a fan of the Arkansas boy, Dizzy’s qualifications come up a little short, especially when Gibson’s in the discussion.
I realize that I’ve still not released all the Cardinal Approval Ratings. Let’s quickly do that for three more. Ironically, Lynn is our player for today. Over the last couple of years, he’s been in the mid-70s for the most part, as folks liked him but weren’t completely enamored with him. After seeming to turn a corner last season, I expected that to grow. It did, soaring to a career-high 85.0%. Our media focus today is Dan McLaughlin, who we finally got to hear yesterday for the first time this season. (Well, those of you that weren’t working and could watch the game did.) Dan’s had his ups and downs, of course, but save for his first year on this sheet he’s stayed pretty consistent in the upper 70s. This year is no exception, as he clocks in with a 75.6%. Which may not seem that high, but when you think of what his partners come in at, that’s fairly nice. Finally, we look at the manager. Mike Matheny has not necessarily been a polarizing figure, but he’s taken his share of the heat in the past. However, his numbers here have been pretty good since he was announced as manager before the 2012 season, never dropping below 85%. That is, until this year, when his decisions caught up with him and he posted a low water mark of 70.1%.
After this off day (which, I will say, works for me because I don’t usually write on the days after off days, meaning I can sleep in some tomorrow), John Lackey will take the mound for the Cardinals in Cincinnati. (That’s slightly disappointing because I started writing about Michael Wacha before confirming that Lackey was supposed to get the start. I assumed Wacha would be number three in the rotation, but I guess this is another way to space out innings for him.) Lackey faced the Reds twice last year, getting himself tossed out of the first game after two innings, then coming back his next time out and allowing just one run in 7.2 innings. That one was in Busch, so we’ll see if Great American Ball Park is what gets him worked up or if he can stay in the game a little longer this time.
He’s had some problems with Marlon Byrd in the past, it appears, and playing in that smaller ballpark isn’t going to help matters. That said, he’s done OK in the limited exposure to the rest of the Reds so hopefully he can just work around Byrd. Looks like it’s going to be wet in Cincy today but clear out by tomorrow night. It might be chilly, but it won’t be Chicago chilly, so we’ll see if the bats can warm up.
If they do, they’ll do it against a familiar face in Jason Marquis (assuming the Reds get this afternoon’s game at least started, which looks likely). Marquis, who as you remember was part of the deal that brought Adam Wainwright to St. Louis, pitched for St. Louis from 2004-2006 and got himself a ring even though he was left off the postseason roster that final year a 14-16, 6.02 ERA mark will do that). Marquis has bounced around since then, never being anything but average, and last year was hurt and didn’t play in the big leagues, spending time in the Phillies organization before their release. The fact that he’s found himself a starting job is actually a bit hard to believe, but a great perseverance story, I guess. Either that or it tells you just how hard up the Reds were for pitching after making trades this offseason (though odds are, Marquis will have a better first start than Mat Latos did in Miami). I know we said you shouldn’t draw conclusions this early, but if the Cards can’t hit Marquis, we need to talk.
Nothing in this historical numbers really stands out as thinking they’d punish him, though. Like I said, Marquis been middling for much of his career, so I guess it’s not surprising that people have had success but not domination against him. I’d say maybe this was a time to let Mark Reynolds get a start, but as little as the Cards have been able to play this week, I think the starters will play unless there is a lefty on the mound.
Really tough to feel like the season has started with all these starts and stops, isn’t it? Hope you enjoy yet another off day!