Fandom is a strange thing, when you think about it.
Unless you grew up in the shadow of a major league stadium, why do you pick the team you do? If you listened to my most recent Conversation, you heard my friend Robert say he became a Royals fan almost out of spite, while my friend Chad became a Mets fan because that’s what his Little League team was. Sometimes it’s because your family was a fan, sometimes it’s more creative than that.
And even if your reason for liking a team may be “rational”, what about your favorite players? Are they your favorite because they are the stars? Or do you have a soft spot for players for the most random reasons? Perhaps they hit a home run the first time you went to the ballpark. Perhaps they played the same position that you did in teeball. Perhaps they gave you an autograph.
Or, perhaps, they just wore the right number.
Unless you are just joining us (and, if so, welcome in!) you know that Tyler Lyons is called the Patron Pitcher of the Blog around these parts. When he came up in 2013, I took an immediate shine to him because it was the first time I’d seen a player wear #70 since I picked up the moniker Cardinal70. Coming out of the gate strong didn’t hurt anything either, of course, but even when he faltered, even when he went back to the minors, I kept an eye on him and provided a defense for him often on Twitter when he took the slings and arrows of frustrated fans.
While I wouldn’t say he was my favorite player or that I expect him to front a rotation some day, the whole process has made me become very fond of Mr. Lyons. One of the absolute highlights of my podcasting career was getting a chance to talk to him before this season, letting him know that (statistically) he was the best #70 in Cardinal history. Lyons has been a contributor to the last couple of Cardinal teams–not the main one, not even a key one, but one of those that wins you games here and there. As we’ve seen this season, winning those kind of games can be a huge benefit later in the year.
All that to say that, as I kept monitoring the second game of yesterday’s doubleheader, I couldn’t keep a goofy grin off of my face. I don’t know that there were many that seriously thought Lyons would step up the way he did. (Though there were some–I’m not the only one on the Lyons bandwagon, even if I am probably either driving or riding shotgun.) To see him come through in such a manner in a game that had such significance was awesome. I’ve often said that Lyons would be a fine back-of-the-rotation starter for a team that had much less pitching depth than this Cardinal club had and he showed why last night. That could be the best game of his career, but I have a feeling that if it is, he’ll take it.
With all that out of the way, we probably should talk more about the games. Let’s do Game 1 first, partly because of order, partly because that means we end the post on a high note.
For as great and joyful as Game 2 was, Game 1 was almost the exact opposite. It started out fairly well, with Matt Holliday driving in a run in the fourth to erase an early Pirates lead, but then the wheels fell off for Michael Wacha in the bottom of that frame, giving him the Goat for the early game. I went into a meeting right after Holliday was cut down trying to score the go-ahead run and came back out right after Wacha had allowed his grand slam to Francisco Cervelli, so I missed the discussions about the intentional walk to Pedro Alvarez.
While I can see why you wouldn’t want to issue the intentional pass, especially given Wacha’s struggles of late, there is at least some kernel of reason there. We all know what Alvarez has done in the past to the Cardinals, so much so that it seems the strategy toward him changed in this series and he was to be walked intentionally or quasi-intentionally every time he came up in a position to do damage. It also set up the double play, which Cervelli has 11 of on the year. So, in a vacuum, I think you can see what Mike Matheny was getting at. And, if it had worked, I don’t think necessarily folks would have been saying that he “got away with one.”
That said, Cervelli is hitting almost .300 with some power, though not as much power as Alvarez, who is hitting .244 and has over 120 strikeouts. Alvarez doesn’t have a history of hitting Wacha well. Perhaps you just take your chances there and see if you can’t get Alvarez, then walk Cervelli and face Jordy Mercer with the bases loaded.
The way Wacha has been pitching of late, though, I’m really not sure that there was a right decision. Even after the slam, he gave up a walk to Mercer and a run-scoring double to Gregory Polanco. If Polanco isn’t out trying to go for second (mainly to make sure the run scored), who knows how much worse that inning could have gotten. The numbers for Wacha in September are ugly, even if you don’t include this one. However, counting this one he’s had five September starts. In only one of them has he been around for the sixth inning. Two of them had his day cut short after four. He’s thrown 24 September innings and allowed 21 earned runs. His strikeouts and walks are almost even.
There was a great bit of analysis over at Gammons Daily about Wacha, indicating that either fatigue or discomfort is probably playing a big role here. If it’s the latter, that’s of course very worrisome. Would it be enough to keep him off the postseason roster? If Carlos Martinez hadn’t gone down, I’d say maybe it’d move him to the bullpen. After all, there were times yesterday when he looked very sharp, but it fell apart in the fourth. If you could get an inning or two of good pitching out of Wacha, it’d be great to have him in the postseason pen. Even with the strong start by Lyons last night, though, I can’t see Matheny taking Wacha out of the rotation without a doctor’s examination and, apparently, it’s not to that point yet.
The Hero of the day would have to be Matt Carpenter, who doubled and scored the first run, then hit a ball into the Allegheny River. The home run didn’t make much impact in the game, but it was a cool thing to see as not many players have dunked a ball there. Besides Carpenter, Tony Cruz had a big day with a couple of doubles before he left late in the game to rest up for Game 2. (Ed Easley still can’t get off the bench, though I don’t know that there’s a big outcry for him to do so. Maybe he’ll get a start in Atlanta since everything is wrapped up now.)
Of course, the biggest news of Game 1 was the return of Adam Wainwright. Waino had said from the first interviews after his Achilles tear that his goal was to be back this season and while none of us really believed him, he made it happen, pitching the eighth inning yesterday. It didn’t look like he had a lot of rust either, giving up a run partly because Kolten Wong couldn’t corral a ball. He struck out his first batter and, all in all, reminded us of all that was good in life. Given that the issue had nothing to do with his arm, there’s no reason to think that he won’t be fine going forward and, most likely, we’ll see him when October rolls around.
Game 2 was much more fun, with the Cardinals matching their run total from the first game right out of the gate. There was some talk that Joe Blanton might get the start for Pittsburgh over Charlie Morton and there are probably a number of Pirates fans that wish that had been the case, as Blanton was the only Pirate pitcher that didn’t allow a run, throwing three scoreless innings with just a hit and a walk allowed. Unfortunately for those wearing the black and gold, he didn’t come in until the fourth, when the game was already 6-0. When he left, the game got uglier as well. Let’s just say that if the Pirates need a fourth starter in the NLDS against St. Louis, it won’t be Morton.
As much as you know I want to give the Hero tag to the Patron Pitcher, you can’t go against Jason Heyward in this one. What a perfect time for his first home run since September 15! Heyward sensed the postseason and he wasn’t going to be denied. Not only did he have that grand slam that pretty much put the game away early, he had a single and a double and two nice plays in the outfield. I didn’t see a lot of Heyward in the post-game celebration, but what I did see showed a guy that was right at home in that clubhouse and was having a blast. That kinda thing goes a long way, you know?
Heyward’s game wasn’t the only strong offensive performance, though. Carpenter kept it rolling with two hits, two walks, and three runs scored. Jhonny Peralta had two hits, including driving in the first run of the game with a single. Matt Adams had an RBI double in the first. Cruz had himself a night, getting two hits in the nightcap, including a home run to provide the final margin.
Then there is Jon Jay. Jay was a controversial addition to the lineup in Game 1 but an overwhelmingly criticized part of the Game 2 lineup. Which is reasonable–Tommy Pham has been buried of late and there seemed little reason to start Jay two games in a row. However, maybe Matheny knew that Jay was going to adjust his personal gravity field again as he got plunked the first two times he came up, scoring the second time on Heyward’s slam. Jay also walked twice, which led to the strangest 0-1 you’ve probably ever seen.
Picking a Goat for the clincher may not be fun, but Randal Grichuk did make it easy. He was the only starter with no hits and he left three on base. Thankfully, that really didn’t come into play and nobody really worried about it. I wasn’t on Twitter until late last night but I imagine the griping was pretty much at a minimum!
Cardinals have a day off today, which is big because that means the party hangover (in whatever form that might take) shouldn’t affect their next game. The Atlanta series now is a chance for Matheny to rest the regulars, to let folks like Peter Bourjos and Pete Kozma play without too many people caring, to try to not use Kevin Siegrist or Seth Maness at all. We’ll see how that all pans out.
Jaime Garcia will take the mound for St. Louis, up against Julio Teheran for the Braves. Garcia can make his case to be the Game 1 starter with a strong outing, though his case is pretty solid as it is. It pretty much has to be him or John Lackey, right?
Teheran hasn’t been quite as dominant as most folks expected he would be, putting up a 10-8 record with a 4.16 ERA. (Shelby Miller is wondering how exactly to get some of those wins.) He’s been strong in September, though, not allowing more than two runs in any of his starts and going at least 5.2 innings in each of them. It could be a pitcher’s duel, which is much more fun to watch when playoff lives aren’t riding on the outcome.
100 wins and a divisional title. That’s a good year. But the year’s not over, so let’s see if the Cards can go out strong before the playoffs!