The Cardinals limped into Atlanta having lost their first three games and not looking especially noteworthy doing it. However, as many teams are likely to find out this year, the Braves can be good for what ails ya.
Friday (7-4 win)
Hero: Aledmys Diaz. With the score tied at 4 in the eighth and the pressure of a potential 0-4 start riding on the next couple of innings, Diaz stroked the second of a record three pinch-hit home runs. It was a key moment and for a rookie to come through like that was big. (Of course, modify a little scene-setting and we could put Jeremy Hazelbaker, who hit the game-tying blast an inning earlier.)
Goat: Another tough night for Randal Grichuk. 0-4 with two strikeouts, one of only two Cardinal starters without a hit, and that included the pitcher.
Notes: Jedd Gyorko had a rough start to his night at shortstop, making errors on the first two Atlanta batters. Without his fourth-inning single, which proved key when Jaime Garcia followed with an RBI single, we’d have been measuring Gyorko for the Goat….Garcia worked his way out of the Gyorko-fueled problems in the first, but ran into trouble in the fourth with a flurry of singles. Other than that, though, he looked fairly good, especially in comparison with some of the other outings by Cardinal starters….Greg Garcia completed the trifecta of pinch-hit homers with one in the ninth, which was followed up by Stephen Piscotty‘s first long ball of the year….Yadier Molina was the only other starter to not get a base hit….Trevor Rosenthal locked this one down for his first save of the year and did so with no scares for the fans.
Saturday (12-2 win)
Hero: Kolten Wong. A three-hit night for the second baseman, all singles, but what might be more interesting is that, even though he hit seventh, he scored three times. That either says something about the bottom of the lineup or Atlanta’s effort, but whichever it’s not something you see every day.
Goat: Matt Holliday. With the way Atlanta was going in this game, going 0-5 and leaving eight men on base is really saying something and what it says is not positive. He ended a lot of innings and threw in a double play to boot. It’s not been a great start to the year for Holliday, which gets people a little anxious given his age.
Notes: This was the only game I got to watch much of over the weekend and it was excruciating. Atlanta walked nine, threw three wild pitches, had one passed ball, and generally made this a pretty ugly game. The Braves’ bullpen got repeatedly torched, while Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons and Seth Maness combined for three scoreless innings, with a Matt Adams error the only reason there weren’t nine set down in a row….Carlos Martinez looked better than any starter had yet in 2016, only hitting a small bump in the third after getting up 3-0. He settled down, though, and got out of the inning only allowing two and pretty much cruised from there. It’s going to be fun watching Martinez this season, I believe….No homers in this one, but Aledmys Diaz got the start and got two hits, including a triple. Out of 14 hits, the Cardinals only mustered three extra base versions, which may speak to a bigger issue but wasn’t much of a factor in this one….Matt Carpenter had two hits, which was a very good sign after his rough start.
Sunday (12-7 win)
Hero: Jeremy Hazelbaker. The rookie got yet another start in this one (something Diaz is finding it tough to manage, but maybe we’ll touch on that in a bit) and again showed his worth, with his eighth-inning, game-tying single being one of his two hits. That was twice this weekend that he tied a game up in the latter part of the game, which is great to see. Not often that rookies can come through like that. We’ll see if the league starts to get a book on him, but right now there’s a reason he’s regularly starting.
Goat: Adam Wainwright. When you stake Uncle Charlie to a 4-1 lead against the worst team in the league, you expect that lead to stay staked. Instead, he allowed a three-run homer to Drew Stubbs in the fourth that tied everything up, then let Atlanta take the lead in the fifth. Five walks isn’t a normal Wainwright outing either, something he was angry at himself about afterwards. Wainwright’s not looked sharp at all in his first two starts of the season. Everyone thinks it’s just a rough start and he’ll be back to his old self soon. I surely hope so and I hope that “soon” is “this week against the Reds” soon.
Notes: Another day, another beating of the Atlanta bullpen. Cards scored two in the eighth and five in the ninth to put the game out of reach. If only they could do that every day….Cardinals had more runs than hits, which is probably an indication of Atlanta’s issues. Nine walks by their pitchers, with two wild pitches tossed in to boot. Like I say, it’s going to be a very long year for Braves fans if this weekend was any indication. (In case you are wondering, they don’t come to Busch until August. Which could be a nice break in the summer schedule!)….Hazelbaker and Stephen Piscotty were actually the only players with multiple hits, though Greg Garcia walked three times to go with his lone single….Seth Maness came in for the second time in as many days and this time allowed a double to one of the two batters he faced. Mike Matheny then went to Kevin Siegrist, who allowed a double of his own to allow that runner to score. Not exactly what you wanted to see out of those guys in a game that had just been tied.
There’s an interesting note here from Matheny, which probably indicates he reads very different people than I do. Trevor Rosenthal came in to get the last out of the eighth inning after Matheny had Jonathan Broxton intentionally walk Freddie Freeman to load the bases. Nothing strange there, given the situation, and Rosenthal got the out. He also pitched the ninth, even though the game was well out of reach, which is a different topic. But here’s Matheny’s quote from the above-linked Post-Dispatch article:
Matheny said he realized there is an element that will criticize the inning-plus move as over-use.
“It’s amazing the voices out there, telling closers they shouldn’t be doing that, and that starts to influence people,” said Matheny. “It’s a shame.
I don’t think anyone on Twitter with a soupcon of thought about things ever is worried about Trevor Rosenthal coming into a game in the eighth if the situation demands it. Many folks, in print or in the spoken word, have often taken Matheny to task for not doing just that. Again, Matheny’s getting input from many different sources, most of them different than the ones I hear, but it’s very strange to see Matheny trying to stand as the defender of the multiple-inning use of guys.
In the same article, Matheny talks about how he had to leave Rosenthal in because “it’s a save situation and we’ve got to give him a shot.” So just in case you thought Mike was all of the sudden a champion of the sabermetric school of thought, that will probably put a little cold water on that idea. Of course, as he’s noted before, contracts do come into play there.
The home opener is this afternoon with all the pomp and pageantry that goes with it. It also seems that rain often goes with it and, with Michael Wacha on the hill today, would you expect anything less? Thankfully, it looks like the rain will move out over the morning hours and by game time it might be a bright and sunny start to the 2016 home season. Wacha struggled in his first start, which coupled with the end of 2015 makes folks nervous that he’s either injured or just not able to regain the heights that he had in 2013. A good outing here against the Brewers would help calm some of those worries, at least until his next rough start.
Taylor Jungmann faced off against Wacha last September and allowed six runs in five innings while Wacha allowed three in five. If those hold, today’s game might be a scoring fiesta. Facing Jungmann and the Brewers is a good measuring stick for this offense. It’s tough to know how much of the production from this weekend was based on awakening bats and how much on terrible Atlanta pitching and defense. The Brewers are a step up from the Braves–it seems most everyone is at least a step up from the Braves this year–so we’ll get a better inclination on whether this offensive awakening will continue or the bats will go back to sleep. If it’s the latter, there’s going to be some problems.
Enjoy the Hall of Famers, the Clydesdales, and the ceremonies!