If you took yesterday’s game for the Cardinals, stripped it of all the Opening Day festivities, and dropped it in the middle of 2014 or 2015, nobody would look twice. Nobody would wonder, “huh, what’s this game doing here.” Besides a few new names, it was the same old song for the Redbirds as they lost to Pittsburgh 4-1.
Which is why, I think, people took this harder than just Game 1 of 162. I mean, it’s true that today’s immediacy tends to have people neglecting the bigger picture as a whole anyway. Win two or three and the club can be a World Series contender. Lose two or three and you flip the LEGO song, declaring everything is awful. Today’s immediate reaction, Twitter-fueled baseball fandom has blown up things to extremes. However, there was more to yesterday’s reactions than just that. Tara and I talked about this on Gateway last night and agreed that when you see all of the frustrations you saw last year after a winter of relative inactivity, it’s going to create strong emotions. When you are expecting a brand new episode of your show and you get a rerun, it’s not a pleasant thing, even if it was just one week out of 52.
If you are new to the blog since last fall, first off, welcome, but secondly I probably should quickly explain Heroes and Goats. Every game, I’ll designate one person as the Hero of the Game, one person as the Goat. It’s not necessarily the person that had the best or worst statline, though that does come into play. It could be someone that came through in a big situation or didn’t come through when it was really needed. All you need to know is that 1) it’s my choice and 2) it’s more subjective than some things. Oh, and if there’s a tie between Goats, a leadoff hitter going 0-fer will tend to break the tie.
Finding a Goat in yesterday’s game is like picking out a goat at a goat petting farm. I mean, when the club strikes out 14 times on the afternoon, there’s no drought in trying to find out who had the worst game. However, I think I’m going with Kolten Wong for our first Goat of the year. I wasn’t able to watch or listen to the entire game, but I was around for the top of the fourth, when the Cards were able to load the bases, only to have Wong strike out. I was also around for the sixth, when St. Louis got runners on the corners with one out, only to see Wong pop up and not get the runner in from third. Toss in another strikeout and it wasn’t a memorable start for the second baseman. He did get hit by a pitch in the ninth in the mini-rally the Cards put on, but that’s almost adding injury to insult given the situation and that he didn’t score.
Of course, I should be careful even mentioning the word injury in conjunction with a player because it just might keep them out of action. The Matt Holliday At First Experience didn’t last long as Tommy Pham was hurt and out of the game before the third inning. As Tara remarked, that might be the most Tommy Phamish thing ever. The Cardinals will find out more about this oblique injury today and hopefully they got it before it became a big deal, but you have to figure even in the best case he’s sitting for a couple of days to make sure things don’t get worse.
As StlCardsCards pointed out in his post-game podcast (which, fair warning, is more blue than his appearance on Conversations With C70 this weekend), the bench when Pham is in the game is decidedly lefty. Yesterday you had Matt Adams, Brandon Moss, Greg Garcia, and Jeremy Hazelbaker all as left-handed hitting replacements. The only person that hit from the right side was Eric Fryer, who wasn’t going into the game since he’s the backup catcher. (That’s due more to injuries than design, I think..Without the loss of Ruben Tejada this week, it’s possible Tejada plays short, Jedd Gyroko second yesterday, sparing Wong from facing the lefty.) Anyway, when Pham left the game yesterday, there really wasn’t a good choice to replace him given Francisco Liriano was carving up everyone from the port side. Adams, who had the best career numbers against Liriano, got the call but it likely didn’t matter. At least Adams put the bat on the ball a couple of times, though only once against Liriano.
I feel like we’re going to be talking about roster construction for a lot of this season as the minor leagues have run dry at some positions the Cardinals could really use. John Mozeliak is going to do everything he can to keep Aledmys Diaz in the minors for a while, which is legitimate given that he still needs to prove those last six weeks from last season weren’t just a Pete Kozma-like mirage. That said, it feels OF/1B heavy and I’m not sure the best way to correct that. Without some sort of trade, but it would be very much out of Mo’s character to do a deal before early July.
Finding a Hero in this one, that’s much harder. I guess we’ll go with Matt Carpenter, because he didn’t strike out, had one of the five Cardinal hits, and drove in the only run. You could have made a case for Yadier Molina, the only Redbird who had multiple hits. Perhaps that thumb is healing up nicely after all.
So the offense kept us thinking it was 2015, but the pitching staff wasn’t able to reach that same level. As we’ve said all winter long, we’ve got to expect that. Last year was historic, not a new baseline. In the part of the game I watched, Adam Wainwright looked pretty good. Not as sharp as he could be, but he was getting outs. Of course, I missed the second, where he allowed two runs, one coming off the bat of Liriano. He allowed another run later, but for a number of teams, that would have been good enough to win or at least get a no-decision. Instead, Waino starts off 0-1.
We also got to see the vaunted bullpen go into action, albeit in a game they were trailing instead of trying to protect a lead. Seung Hwan Oh made his debut and after getting the feel of things by sandwiching a groundout between two walks, he struck out the last two batters of the inning to keep his major league ERA at 0.00. Seth Maness was not so lucky, allowing a run on three hits. We continue to hear that Maness needs to pitch and pitch often for him to get his feel, so if that’s true, it’s not surprising that he struggled after a couple of days without baseball. However, that’s going to happen from time to time, so it’d be really nice if Maness figured out a way to adjust. I mean, granted, he’s on a Mike Matheny team and so may make 100 appearances this year, but occasionally he’ll have a bit of an extended rest. That’s assuming that the “gotta pitch” rationale is rooted in fact. It’s also a great way of making sure you still get into games even if you aren’t quite as good as some others. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that 48 hours off won’t hurt him, because you know if there’s a chance he’s getting into Tuesday’s game.
All in all, it was a pretty lousy Opening Day. I still feel the Sunday start, especially when it’s not the ESPN game, takes a lot away from the opener and the play didn’t inspire me to overlook that. Plus, with this schedule, there’s way too long between the end of that game and the 6:05 start tomorrow evening for the next one. (To be fair, I guess that’s a little normal, as often there would be a day off after Opening Day for weather insurance, but still.) Hopefully we’ll feel better after tomorrow’s game, though on the face of it, there’s no guarantee.
Jon Niese will go for the Pirates after they picked him up in the winter. Another left-hander, he’s 4-3 with a 3.10 ERA against the Redbirds in his career, so while he’s no Liriano, he’s still not exactly the easiest nut to crack. Niese faced the Cards twice in 2015 with two very different results. The last time he saw them, he threw 7.2 scoreless innings right after the All-Star Break. The first time, in May, St. Louis got to him for 11 hits and eight runs in five innings. Let’s hope for more of the latter in this one, huh?
Michael Wacha goes for St. Louis in game two. Wacha had a strong start in his last outing of the spring, which was very good to see given the struggles he had down the stretch last year as well as some uninspiring spring starts. Wacha’s had some memorable games against the Pirates, but the last time he saw them was his last regular season start of 2015, when he gave up six runs in four innings in the first game of the doubleheader that saw the Cards clinch the division in the nightcap. (Thanks to Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons, of course.)
Andrew McCutchen has done well against him, but McCutchen does well against everyone. I do think Gregory Polanco has a chance to be the next big Cardinal killer, which meant that five-year extension he signed yesterday wasn’t a great thing for the boys in red. All in all, we move on to the next game, hoping that we can get some fresh new material instead of the same old stuff.