Remember when Jason Heyward started slow this season? When he hit .217 in April with five double plays to just two home runs and a section of the fanbase was ready to write the trade of Shelby Miller off as a loss? You kinda have to peer through the mists of time to remember that, because the Jason Heyward that started this season bears little resemblance to the one we’ve seen for most of it. And the one we’ve seen this summer, we like. We like a lot.
Heyward added another tally to his Hero column last night. Before the 10th, he was 2-for-3 with a walk, had scored the only run of the game, and basically been the offense for the night. So when he came up with a runner on in the 10th, I really was trying to be realistic. He’d done so much already, how do you ask him to keep the inning going when there are two outs? Could you fault him for a ground ball or a fly that found a glove? I don’t think so.
However, Heyward decided he needed a topper to an already great outing, pulverizing a 3-1 pitch from Tyler Thornburg into the right field seats and giving the Cards that 3-1 lead that Trevor Rosenthal was happy to lock down. It was a huge moment and only added to the fire that is the Sign Jason Heyward movement.
This is a situation that the Cardinals really haven’t been in for quite some time. We all wanted the club to sign Albert Pujols, of course, but that was a little different because he was a home-grown Cardinal and there were folks that, knowing the Cardinals would have to sign him to a record-breaking deal, were hesitant due to what it would do to the payroll and how old he was getting and would be as that contract progressed. (Concerns that have appeared valid as we’ve watched him play in Anaheim.) There’s a different feel when you are trying to sign your own long-time guy versus signing a guy you traded for and brought in recently to the organization, I think.
Which means you probably have to go back to Matt Holliday. Holliday came over in July of 2009 as a free agent at the end of the year. In 63 games with St. Louis, he hit .353/.419/.604 with 13 homers and was a major factor in the stretch drive. If Twitter had been a big thing back then, I believe there’d have been a lot of #SignMattHolliday hashtags flying around. (Well, that dropped fly ball in the postseason might have had some folks questioning that idea, I guess.) Looking back, it appears that the Cards had the same approach with Holliday as they do with Heyward, to not discuss an extension during the season.
All well and good, and I can’t fault the club for that, but it would sure feel good to know that Heyward was going to be a Cardinal for the next few years, wouldn’t it? He’s proven to be what we expected he would be, a very good all-around ballplayer. I don’t know that we knew how good of a baserunner he was, but he’s seemingly (without looking at the baserunning metrics) great at taking the extra base and being aggressive on the base paths. We knew he’d be a stellar defender and that’s been the case. We knew he’d be an addition to the offense, which isn’t even debatable even with only 12 home runs now. When you start looking for stable pillars to build a team around going forward, I’m not sure they come any more anchored than Heyward. Factor in that he’s only 26 and should/could even get better as he gets settled into place and it’s really, in my mind and in most people’s minds, a no brainer.
Sure, some would say why spend the money when you have an outfield next year with Holliday, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty. That’d be a good outfield, but it comes with a lot of questions. Will Holliday be able to stay healthy? We’ve seen how streaky Grichuk can be, though he’s been better than many expected. Will that continue? Can Piscotty play like he has since his callup or will the league catch up to him?
That’s an outfield that, if you have to go with it, I think you can do well. However, Heyward makes that group better and given the fact that the club has the money to spend, both now and when the FOX Sports Midwest contract kicks in, you might as well get a guy that you’ve seen can be a core player going forward. It’s not like ticket prices are going to go down if they don’t sign him. There’s no other free agent that makes much sense for this club (save maybe Justin Upton, but even he would be a runner-up). Watch, if they don’t sign Heyward, there will be a section of the fanbase calling Bill DeWitt cheap for not making improvements to the team in the offseason. The overlap between that group and the don’t-sign-Heyward group might be bigger than you think. Some men just want to watch the world burn, after all, and some men (and women) just want to complain.
As much as Heyward did, though, he didn’t do it alone. It was very nice to see Jhonny Peralta get a couple of hits, including an RBI single that tied up the ballgame in the sixth. I’m still not sold on him hitting fourth like he did last night, but he didn’t hit into any double plays, which was a good thing. Perhaps the rest has helped him. We can only hope, because if Peralta actually gets on a roll going into the postseason, that’s a huge shot in the arm for this offense.
Carlos Martinez had a pretty big hand in the whole outcome as well, going eight innings and allowing just one run. He had to pitch out of some jams at times, especially late, but he got some key double plays and struck out nine, helping him to keep the game afloat until the offense could come bail him out. That was his best start since those eight shutout innings against the Braves in July. Like Peralta, if Martinez is going to get on a run, that is 1) a great thing and 2) complicates even more the postseason roster, a complication we’ll all gladly take.
I also need to apologize to Mark Reynolds. Yesterday, I said that the difference between him and Piscotty at first wasn’t huge and he wasn’t going to be winning any Gold Gloves over there. While he still may not be an upper-echelon first sacker, last night showed that he is definitely an upgrade over Piscotty at times. Nothing against the rookie, but I don’t know that he turns that double play in the sixth, when Adam Lind hit the ball down the line and Reynolds came in, got it, stepped on first and pretty much on the run threw home to get Shane Peterson. Then, two innings later, he’s able to take the Martinez pickoff smoothly and get Logan Schafer tagged out. Reynolds, who came into the game to replace Matt Adams after six innings, made a huge difference that could easily be overlooked.
Speaking of Adams, I spent some time grumbling at Mike Matheny before I found out that it was, this time, not warranted. I was at a church meeting for the first half of this one and listening to the radio on the way back, right after Peralta had tied the game up, he was on first with Adams batting. The radio guys (it seemed) said that the Brewers then brought in Will Smith to pitch, lefty on lefty. So I’m saying that Adams needs to be pinch-hit for with Reynolds there. I get home in the middle of his at-bat, find out that he hit into the double play, and then is immediately replaced in the field by Reynolds, which completely blew my mind. I have no idea what John Rooney was talking about, though, as the Brewers had brought in Corey Knebel, another righty, and Smith pitched later in the game. So I take back anything I might have mentally said about the manager. This time.
Pretty good game all the way around, but we’ve got to find a Goat. Kevin Siegrist threw a scoreless inning, but he did walk two in the process, making everyone hide their eyes and stop breathing for a bit. He was able to get a strikeout to end the ninth, though, and we moved on to extras. Game theory would probably say that Rosenthal should have gone there, especially as rested as he was, but thankfully it worked out. So the Goat is going to go to Matt Carpenter, who had an 0-5 night with, of course, two strikeouts. The strikeout I saw was a called third strike on the outside part of the zone, so Carpenter could have had some issues with it, but it was close enough that, with two strikes, you try to at least foul it off and stay alive. That used to be the key part of Carpenter’s approach. It seems to be missing these days.
We can say the offense should have done more (and they should have) but that was a classic 2015 St. Louis Cardinals win right there, save for the fact they won it on a home run. We’ve gotten used to these kind of games, though we’ve been out of practice with all the blowouts of late. These are the kind of games that we’ll probably see all October, so if you need to see your cardiologist to see if your heart is healthy enough to have postseason baseball, please do so.
Holliday was activated before last night’s game, which I said I expected in yesterday’s post, but he didn’t get into the action. Holliday, like Adams, isn’t 100% yet and will have to rehab at the major league level since the minor league seasons are over. That’s the main reason Adams was pulled after six innings last night, though in a game like that having Reynolds come in does give you a defensive advantage over a guy still not ready to make some plays. We may see the same thing from Holliday tonight, a start that lets him get 2-3 at-bats, then get pulled. That’d likely mean Piscotty starting at first, then sliding over to Holliday’s spot, but it depends on if they want to do the same for Adams. Piscotty’s only had one day off since the beginning of August, so if we see a lineup tonight with Holliday and Adams and no Piscotty, I don’t think there is reason to panic. Try telling that to Twitter, though. Reading over the Post-Dispatch article, though, it makes it sound like Holliday won’t get the partial game treatment until Chicago, so maybe we can be spared that meltdown for a bit.
Pirates split their double header with the Cubs yesterday, so they are now three games behind the Cardinals. If everything had gone wrong, it could have been one, so that’s at least a comfort. Magic number is now 16, so at least it’s dropping. Tonight it’s Jake Arrieta versus A.J. Burnett, so it should be a good game but one the Cubs would be favored in, I’d think. We need another Cub win and a Cardinal win to keep pushing that lead out to a more comfortable place.
To get that win, they’ll turn to Jaime Garcia. Garcia got blasted last time out, but that was really the only misstep on what’s been a very strong season. There’s no reason to think that he won’t be back to form this evening, especially since the last time he pitched at Miller Park, he threw seven scoreless innings. In fact, he’s thrown 14 innings against the Brewers this season and allowed just one run. You have to like your odds there.
For the Brewers, it’ll be Wily Peralta. Peralta’s been tough on the Redbirds in the past, even though his season ERA is just over 4.00. The Cardinals have seen him three times this year and he’s been pretty strong each outing save the first. Last time against St. Louis, he gave up three runs in seven innings but took the loss. He’s been a bit erratic of late, but last time out he allowed just two runs in six innings against the Pirates. I have a feeling this will be another close, tight game.
Let’s see if Heyward has some more heroics in him!