I Love It When A Team Comes Together

In some ways, this season for the St. Louis Cardinals has been like a season of a television show.  You’ve got your main storyline (dominant pitching) and your overarching issue or adversary (inconsistent offense).  You work all season to get to where you can take on that adversary, then the last few episodes are just packed with action, with everything jelling, with foreshadowing paying off, all to an exciting season finale.

The Cardinals wouldn’t have won last night’s game two months ago.  They probably wouldn’t have won it even a month ago.  After the last couple of weeks, though, it’s not quite as shocking to see them rally like they did, even though it’s still somewhat surprising and very, very sweet to see that they did.

It was a night full of heroes, at least in the later innings.  Our official tag is going to go to Brandon Moss, who has been justifying John Mozeliak’s faith in him over the past week.  Moss’s two-out, three-run blast sent everyone in the stadium (save the opposing team) home happy, but he also was part of the rally in the eighth, scoring after being hit by a pitch, and doubled to lead off the sixth on a ball that, with an extra foot on it, would have tied the game on its own.  Moss wasn’t able to score that time in part to a stellar play by Anthony Rendon at second and partly because of our Goat, but none of that was his fault.  It was a great night for the beleaguered first base/outfielder.  Even when he struck out in the third with the bases loaded, two outs and the Cards down by one, it was less his fault than a creative interpretation of the strike zone by the home plate umpire.  After how wild Joe Ross had been in that inning, my guess was that anything Doug Fister through semi-close looked much better in comparison, because Moss really did get robbed in that at bat.

While he may get the capital-H designation, there were a number of other heroes that helped lead to the big moment.  The ninth inning was proof of that.  With two outs and Cody Stanley up, who among you expected we were heading to extra innings?  I’ll admit that I did.  Stanley, who was called up from Memphis yesterday when the rosters expanded, had all of three AB in the big leagues and hadn’t been just a dominant force in Memphis either.  That didn’t stop him from lacing a double down the line and keeping the game alive.

Kudos also go out to Tommy Pham.  Pham led off the eighth with a single and came around to score the fourth run of the game as part of the rally that pulled the Cardinals even.  Then, in the ninth, he got down 0-2 but wound up working a walk to keep the game going and get it to Moss.  Whether it was great strike zone knowledge or just freezing and hoping, some of those pitches to Pham I expected to be called strikes.  They weren’t, thankfully, and Pham’s walk was a huge piece of the winning puzzle.

If we’re talking about heroes, we can’t leave out Carlos Villanueva.  Called into action in the third when Marco Gonzales just couldn’t get the final out, Villanueva went 3.1 innings, allowing just one hit and striking out six.  Plus, after that Moss double, he laid down a sacrifice that the Nationals threw away when they went to third, so he reached base as well.  Man, that inning should have been so great.  Villanueva has a role on this team that isn’t always used, but it might be more in September with the idea of resting pitchers and limiting some innings.  He’s been outstanding whenever he’s come in, save that last time against the Padres.

Stephen Piscotty had another good game, going two for five.  He did hit into a double play with the bases loaded in the eighth, but did it in such a way that Washington basically had to go 6-4-3, which when there is nobody out and a one-run deficit means the game gets tied up.  I guess there was confidence they could rally for a run?  It would have been a pretty tough play at the plate, so a throw home by Ian Desmond could have easily left the Nationals with the bases loaded, nobody out, and the game tied.  Still, it’s strange to see a team concede the tying run in that fashion.

It’s rare when I do this, but even though he got a hit, a run and an RBI, dadgumit if Jhonny Peralta isn’t my Goat in this one.  Bases loaded in the sixth, down by a run, Peralta can’t get the ball into the air, instead hitting into a double play that looked so costly, especially when the Nationals added on a run in the top of the seventh.  Eighth inning, runner on third, tie ballgame, Peralta fouls out to Bryce Harper, who, to be fair, made a nice play on the ball.  Still, failing to come through it two key spots, that’s my Goat for the evening.

Of course, if you find that too harsh, you could probably go with Gonzales.  Two fine innings, but he didn’t have the ability to fool anyone the second time around.  The inning started with the pitcher getting a hit and it didn’t get any better for the young man.  Not even that famed rally killer, a home run (by Ryan Zimmerman) was able to stop the bleeding as two of the next three batters singled.

You hate to draw any sweeping conclusions from a bad start, but it seems to me that, given what Gonzales has been through this season, still coming back from the shoulder injury, if you are going to use him on the big league roster, it’s going to be just as a reliever.  SSS, as I’ve not followed him in Memphis other than to look at the game logs, but it seems like he could get people out once, but couldn’t put them away a second time.  If you let him be a long reliever that can eat some innings when Villanueva can’t pitch, there could be value there.  Would you use him as a LOOGY?  I don’t know.  He doesn’t strike me as a guy that can come in and get one man, but he might be able to.  This September might be the time to try that.

Also, I want to apologize to Seth Maness.  On Twitter last night, I indicated that both he and Kevin Siegrist were alternating good outings and bad outings.  While Maness has done some of that in the past, last night’s outing really wasn’t his fault.  He got soft ground ball after soft ground ball, but his defense had trouble picking them up or getting outs out of them.  The one run he gave up was unearned and he didn’t really get hit around, so I probably shouldn’t have picked that moment to make a comment like that.  We cool, Seth?

Mitch Harris, who rode up on the bus with Stanley from Memphis yesterday, pitched two innings and wound up with his second major league win.  Harris wasn’t necessarily overwhelming, but he didn’t allow a run to score off his two hits and a walk.  Harris was doing better before he went to Memphis and I think we’ll more regularly see him in the sixth and seventh, which is likely a great place for him.  Nice to see him do well in a higher leverage situation, though.

When it comes to the game of the year, it’s going to be hard to top that one.  Then again, before last night, Monday’s game had a shot at being game of the year.  So when a team with good pitching gets the offense clicking and has the ability to come back, it gives you a chance for “the game of the year” just about every night.  The team seems to have jelled together in an amazing way since those two losses in San Diego.  We’ll have to see what that chemistry and mix looks like as other players return to the squad and start getting into that mix.

Jon Jay is one of those players and he had a big night in Memphis, with a home run as one of his two hits.  I’d guess he’d be activated in time for Friday’s game against the Pirates, though I don’t know that, given the opponent, they’ll throw him right into a start to get him acclimated to the big leagues.  I do think he’ll start a couple of games soon after his return just to get him some at bats and work on his timing, though when that will be might depend on the results of this weekend.  If the Cards take two of three from Pittsburgh and have a lead around 6 or 7, Jay might get to start a game or two against the Cubs.  We’ll see how that works out.  They may need him depending on how severe Mark Reynolds‘s hand injury is.  Reynolds left after being hit last night and probably won’t play today, but hopefully it’s nothing a couple days off won’t cure.

It was noted in Rick Hummel’s game story that Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons probably would have started yesterday had the 10-days-in-the-minors rule not been relevant.  Lyons had only been back in Memphis for nine days, so he can return today and might as an arm out of the bullpen, especially since Villanueva won’t be available for today’s contest in case something goes sideways.

As for another possible returnee, Matt Holliday has been taking some batting practice (and apparently hitting well) and says he will be back before the end of the season, even if there’s no idea just exactly when that return might be.  Given everything, it would be a surprise if he’s back before the Reds series that starts on September 21.  That’d be the start of the last homestand and would give him about two weeks to play before the postseason.  That’s just my guess and, looking at it, does seem like it’s a long way away.  Hopefully it’ll be sooner–I guess when we hear he travels with the team when they head out to Milwaukee next week, maybe we can expect an earlier return.

While the Cardinals are looking for the sweep tonight, it’s going to be very tough to get it.  Max Scherzer, which as may be mentioned tonight is from the St. Louis area, takes the bump for Washington.  Many things have gone wrong for Washington this year but Scherzer really isn’t one of them, putting up a 2.88 ERA and throwing one of the season’s no-hitters.  That said, he’s scuffled lately, with an ERA close to six over his past seven games.  That’s somewhat skewed by allowing six runs in three innings to the Giants three starts ago, but he’s not had a start where he’s allowed less than three since July 30 when he threw seven scoreless at the Marlins.

Still, no matter his recent trends, Scherzer is going to be a tough one to handle.  When he faced the Cards in April, he limited them to two runs over seven innings, though he still got the loss because Michael Wacha only allowed one over that same span.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Brandon Moss 22 19 4 0 0 1 3 3 9 .211 .318 .368 .687 0 0 0 0 0
Mark Reynolds 15 14 1 0 0 0 1 1 7 .071 .133 .071 .205 0 0 0 0 1
Peter Bourjos 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 3 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Tony Cruz 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Heyward 3 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 .667 1.333 0 0 0 0 1
Jhonny Peralta 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Wacha 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 2 2 1 1 0 0 2 0 0 .500 .500 1.000 1.500 0 0 0 0 0
Total 60 56 11 2 0 1 6 4 21 .196 .250 .286 .536 0 0 0 0 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/2/2015.

Wacha again will be on the other side tonight, looking for his 16th win of the season and keeping his hopes for a 20-win campaign alive.  As noted, he limited the Nats to just one run back in April and while he gave up four runs last time against San Francisco, errors and misplays led to all of those being unearned.  You then have to go back to July 21 to find a start where he has allowed more than three runs in an outing.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Ian Desmond 9 9 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 .111 .111 .111 .222 0 0 0 0 1
Bryce Harper 9 9 2 0 0 0 0 0 3 .222 .222 .222 .444 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Zimmerman 7 6 2 0 0 0 0 1 2 .333 .429 .333 .762 0 0 0 0 0
Danny Espinosa 6 6 2 1 0 0 0 0 2 .333 .333 .500 .833 0 0 0 0 0
Jose Lobaton 6 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Rendon 6 6 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 .167 .167 .667 .833 0 0 0 0 0
Jayson Werth 6 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Yunel Escobar 5 4 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 .250 .400 .250 .650 0 0 0 0 1
Gio Gonzalez 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Wilson Ramos 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 1
Clint Robinson 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Max Scherzer 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 66 63 9 1 0 1 1 3 19 .143 .182 .206 .388 0 0 0 0 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/2/2015.

The first two games of this series wound up 8-5.  I don’t think we’ll see 13 runs total tonight.  Maybe five!  Hopefully this team can continue to come together.  Plus 40 is nice, but there’s no reason to stop there!

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