Three days ago, Mike Matheny shook up the lineup and placed all three Matts in a row in the batting order. Who knew that close proximity would multiply their effectiveness?
Now, granted, the lineup maneuvering came against a struggling, underpowered squad in the Phillies, so it’s tough to know how much weight to give the change, but so far it’s been pretty good. Here’s the last three days for Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday, and Matt Adams:
Carpenter: 4-11, 2 2B, 1 3B, 3 RBI, 3 BB, .364/.500/.727
Holliday: 5-11, 3 2B, 3 RBI, 2 BB, .455/.538/.727
Adams: 8-13, 3 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, .615/.571/1.077
Combined: 17-35, 8 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 5 BB, .486/.550/.857
That’s not a bad three games at all, is it? Again, I know, they’ve faced some not-so-great pitching (thankfully the game against Cole Hamels was before the lineup swap so it’s not counted here) but we’ve also seen not-so-great pitching shut down this lineup from time to time as well. I don’t remember the last time we had three games of such offensive skill by the whole squad, not just these three. While it’s not likely to continue this weekend, with the Cards seeing A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Vance Worley, it’s great to see while it lasts. Who knows, maybe the Mattitude will keep things rolling for a while.
Yesterday’s game started off a little worrisome. Whether it was nerves, a bad matchup, an off day, or him just not being ready, Tim Cooney‘s major league debut wasn’t anything to remember. He escaped the first inning without a run when Jon Jay ran down a very deep fly by Ryan Howard, but after his teammates staked him to three runs in the bottom of the first, he immediately gave one back, then the other two in the third before leaving. When you give up more baserunners (8) than you get outs (7), that’s a rough day at the office. To Matheny’s credit, he didn’t fiddle around, pulling Cooney with just one out in the third when it was pretty obvious things weren’t going to go his way.
Which leads us to our Hero of the game. Much as I would like to go with Big Fill in the Blank, who went three for five, hit a home run, and drove in three, a lot of that might have gone to waste had it not been for Carlos Villanueva. You gotta figure the role of the swingman is a tough one. You don’t know if you are pitching that day when you come to the park, but you might wind up going multiple innings if you do. Villanueva went 3.2 innings, not just allowing no runs but no baserunners, though he did allow a sac fly to the first man he faced. Villanueva even got more outs than batters faced since one of those he inherited was caught stealing. That doesn’t happen every day (unless your Seth Maness and you get your first pitch double play, but Maness doesn’t do it over almost four innings).
Could you see Villanueva move into the starting rotation for a time or two? It’s possible, given what we’ve seen, but I don’t expect it’s likely. For one thing, as we talked in the spring, his starting numbers aren’t nearly as good as his relieving numbers. Either it’s because he can go all out more out of the pen or batters adjust to him and get to him after the first time. Also, his flexibility is a major asset to the Cards, who need that guy that can go multiple innings at the end of a game, especially the way Matheny goes through a bullpen at times. I don’t see them messing with a good thing there.
However, since he’s out of commission for a couple of days given his extended stint, the Cards could make a pitching move today. They still have a pretty stocked bullpen, of course, since they are carrying 13 pitchers (which, honestly, is just insane). You’d like to think they could get by with a bullpen of seven for a day or so, but maybe not. If they do, we could see Cooney go again on Tuesday against the Cubs. If not, we could see some short-term swapping, like bringing Sam Tuivailala up for the weekend, then swapping him with the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons before Tuesday’s start. We’ll see how things play out.
Anyway, lots of great offensive performances yesterday. There was the brief thought that this would be one of those many games we’ve seen where the offense scores a lot in the first inning, looking like they are on their way to a rout, before shutting it down and not scoring any more. Thankfully, that was not the case at all. Almost everyone got on base in one form or fashion, which leads us to our Goat.
In any other day, Cooney would get this. It really was a rough start, but how do you hang the Goat on a guy making his major league debut? I can’t do that. There are so many extenuating circumstances there. Too much adrenaline, not knowing exactly what to expect, facing more experienced guys than you were down in Memphis, all things that factor into tough first starts. So with Cooney out of the picture (and the bullpen doing great in this one, with Randy Choate evening up his YOU HAD ONE JOB outings tally to four successful, four not-so-much), you look at the offense. Yadier Molina went 0-3, but drew a walk and threw out a baserunner. Which, unfortunately, leads us to Jason Heyward again. 0-4 and hit into a double play in the first, bringing home the last run but also shorting out the inning that had seen the first five men reach. I still think we’ll see some great things out of Heyward this year, but some of our expectations from the spring just may not be met. Which then makes the free agent discussion much more difficult.
The win, coupled with the Tigers’ loss to Kansas City last night, means the Cards finish April as the best team in baseball. Save for the last three days, they haven’t really felt like a juggernaut (and, to be fair, they are just barely ahead of a lot of teams for that “best team” title) but they’ve been winning even when things haven’t been easy, which says a lot about this team. We’ve seen strong starts in the past go by the wayside, strong starts built mainly on outstanding pitching, so it’s too early to say this is a special team, but you do start wondering. Heck, the 2004 team was 12-11 in April and they won 105 games. Who knows what this team can do, but it should be fun finding out.
Adam Wainwright had his surgery yesterday and everything went well. Of course, with surgery you never know if it was successful or not until the recovery. I mean, it was a successful surgery in that the patient didn’t die and the doctor didn’t leave his new Apple Watch inside of Waino, but we’ll have to wait and see how well things went when Wainwright starts the rehab process. Though the fact that George Paletta did the surgery probably would have gotten a few long-time Cardinal fans worked up had they known about it ahead of time. Paletta’s reputation with the fanbase isn’t exactly top-notch, though I don’t know how much of that is earned. (That said, I remember Scott Rolen wanting a second opinion after going to him and getting his surgeries done by other doctors, which wasn’t a vote of confidence.)
I hope the Cards enjoyed the breather, because things get a bit tougher starting tonight. A six-game set against the current top challengers in the Central, starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates. As noted above, A.J. Burnett will go for the Pirates in this one. Burnett is off to a strong start, putting up a 1.80 ERA over his first four starts. He gave up one run in seven innings against the Diamondbacks last time out but had a no-decision to show for it. That’s not uncommon this season, as Burnett is 0-1 over those four outings. The last time St. Louis saw him as last June when he was with the Phillies. All he did was throw a complete game, allowing just one run. His history is a bit mixed with the Cards, shutting them down at times but having some bad blowups against them as well.
Lance Lynn will take the mound for the Redbirds. Lynn’s last outing was that tough game against the Brewers after the news about Wainwright had been announced. That was Lynn’s first real bad outing in about a year and there’s no reason to think he can’t bounce back to his normal form in this one.
That said, the Pirates have been tough on him in the past. The last time he saw them was September, when he allowed three runs in six innings and got a no-decision in a game St. Louis finally won. We’ll hope that the same final result happens tonight!