The Cincinnati Reds came to town this weekend. We continue to wonder when the bats might start to go silent. The answer: not this weekend.
Friday (14-3 win)
Hero: Matt Holliday. We’ve wondered if Father Time was catching up to Holliday a bit, given his slow start and the injuries sustained by Holliday last year. Holliday made sure to put a little distance between them in this one, though, clouting two home runs, walking once, being hit by a pitch, and driving in four. Holliday set the tone for this one with a three-run shot in the first inning and the team never looked back. It was good to see Holliday Hulk out, giving everyone hope that there’s still something left in his tank.
Goat: A rough day for Stephen Piscotty. While everyone else was out there hitting bombs and running bases, Piscotty went 0-5 and left four runners on base. There’s always someone, even in the most offensive-minded of games, that doesn’t seem to get the memo. This time, it was Piscotty.
Notes: Six home runs in this game. That’s like two weeks of regular Cardinal offense! Two pinch-hit home runs as well, from Brandon Moss and Matt Adams. The bench has been absolutely amazing in the early going. Through Saturday (I don’t think Baseball-Reference has updated for yesterday’s games yet), Cardinal pinch-hitters were 10-for-18 with six home runs. Last year, all year long, the Cardinals had four pinch-hit homers. They had two in 2014. So already the Cards have equaled the long-ball production from the bench of the last two seasons! In three weeks! Granted, it’s a low bar to clear, but still, that’s incredible. You have to go all the way back to 2009 to find a season where the Cardinals had more than six PH HR, and that’s eight (led by Rick Ankiel‘s two). It seems so novel and exciting to see this because, well, it is novel!
It was good to see Adams join the fray as well. Adams is going to continue to struggle to find playing time with Holliday in the mix at first, so he’s got to take advantage of the moments he does get. There’s a lot of negativity around Adams as of late and it’s possible that some of it, most of it may be accurate, but it’d still be to the Cardinals’ advantage to see if they could get him going, if nothing else to increase his trade value.
Aledmys Diaz continues to rake, getting two hits including his second home run. There was a thought that Ruben Tejada would be activated Sunday, and while that didn’t happen, it does appear he’ll be on the active roster for tonight’s game against the Cubs. Tara and I talked about this on Gateway last night and while it would seem impossible for the club to actually demote Diaz, given that he’s proven that right now he can play regularly in the big leagues, that doesn’t mean they won’t try it. However, given Tejada’s just $1.5 million, my feeling is that Greg Garcia gets optioned out while they try to see what they have in Tejada. If you were to tell me that just one of them (Tejada or Garcia) would be on the roster in August, though, I’d put my money on Garcia. In other words, I might not rush out and get a Tejada jersey if I were you.
All this talk about the offense, but the pitching was pretty good as well. Carlos Martinez got nicked for a couple of bloopers before Joey Votto took him yard, but otherwise was outstanding, going seven and striking out six. Perhaps the Cardinals should shuffle the rotation order to put Martinez and Jaime Garcia at the front of it! It was good to see that, even with the offense rolling, the pitching wasn’t trying to “pitch to the score” but was still quite effective.
Saturday (9-8 loss)
Hero: Stephen Piscotty. After being left out the day before, Piscotty had two hits, a walk, and four RBI, including a big three-run homer in the second that seemed to set the stage for another Cardinal romp. Some days, that would have been enough. Saturday was not one of those days.
Goat: Adam Wainwright. The linescore really says it all: 5.1 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 2 K. We’ve seen outings like this from Wainwright before, but they were just blips, random bad nights that you didn’t see coming. Wainwright’s made three starts this season and they’ve gotten progressively worse, with more runs in fewer pitches each time out. The pattern needs to change or the Padres will be clipping him for 10 runs in 50 pitches on Friday.
The default for everyone is “it’s early, no need to panic” which is fairly true. You’d have to figure that things will start working for Waino–he did have a couple of scoreless innings at the beginning of this one that made people more optimistic he’d figured it out, before the Reds started doubling and doubling and doubling. As I said last night, we took that return late last year as a positive, thinking that Waino could have a regular offseason and we wouldn’t have to see any side effects from the layoff in 2016. Now, it’s a negative for Wainwright, at least in the way we view him. If he’d returned this spring instead of last fall, more people would probably be willing to allow for rust and other returning issues.
Still, that return happened. Wainwright’s not using that as an excuse, though he allows that it might be playing a factor. Even though it was relief and, as such, a different approach and mindset, Wainwright looked better last season, immediately after the injury, than he does months removed after a winter of regular training. We shouldn’t panic, for sure, but there’s going to be a lot of wary concern for the next few Wainwright starts until he proves that the ace we know and love is truly back.
Notes: Two hits for Moss, including a two-out, ninth-inning home run that brought the Cards to within one run. For a moment, it looked like the Rally Cards were returning, but one run with nobody on and two outs is a tough thing to try to get. Diaz also had two hits, though he popped out to end the game with a runner on first.
The relief of Wainwright was a mixed bag. Seung-hwan Oh threw two scoreless innings and Kevin Siegrist got an out, but Seth Maness continued to struggle, allowing a sacrifice fly, a double, an intentional walk, and another double before being replaced by Siegrist. Maness now has an ERA approaching nine, which is a terribly scary thing because as a reliever his ERA doesn’t factor in those runs he allowed to score that were charged to other pitchers. As the MLB.com story on him noted, it is especially worriesome because he’s not getting ground balls, but fly balls. As we know, that’s not at all Maness’s typical work history. Maness wasn’t nearly as effective last year either, which may mean that the workload is getting to him or the league is. The shelf life of relievers is pretty short, after all, as they tend to lose their potency when the sample size gets big enough.
Sunday (4-3 win)
Hero: Eric Fryer. For a man who was supposed to be minor league insurance, Eric Fryer is doing everything he can in the big leagues. (Which, to be fair, could also describe Diaz and Jeremy Hazelbaker.) Going into this game, he was 3-3 in three pinch-hit/late game appearances. Nice way to start the season, sure, but three lone singles in games that were well decided didn’t mean much. Apparently, though, Fryer just isn’t going to get out this year, getting three hits and drawing a walk in his first Cardinal start. The last hit was the biggest, doubling in Diaz in the eighth to break the tie and set up Trevor Rosenthal for the save. This well may be the highlight of Fryer’s season, but it just continues the theme that you never know exactly what to expect from these guys that “aren’t supposed to be here.”
Goat: Seven hits in this one and they were concentrated on Fryer and Greg Garcia (2), so there were plenty of 0-fers to choose from. We’ll take Brandon Moss as our Goat because he had two strikeouts to go along with his hitless day, but we easily could have taken Piscotty or Randal Grichuk, who had similar lines without the Ks. Adams might have joined them in the 0-4 club but Diaz pinch-hit and walked in his last AB, setting up the go-ahead run.
Notes: Michael Wacha wasn’t quite as sharp as his last outing, but his defense (both the folks behind him and his actual defense, given that he made an error) didn’t help. Only one of the three runs he allowed were earned and he just went six innings, though that was more because his spot came up at a key moment and Mike Matheny sent up Hazelbaker, even though Wacha had only thrown 80 pitches. (Not exactly your normal Matheny maneuver, but it was the right thing to do.) The bullpen was solid, allowing just one baserunner, and Siegrist and Rosenthal combined to strike out five of the seven batters they faced. That’ll do, folks, that’ll do.
Matheny played the getaway lineup on a day the Cardinals weren’t getting away to anywhere, with Kolten Wong, Holliday, Yadier Molina, and Hazelbaker all on the bench. Matheny continues to sit Wong and play Jedd Gyorko against right-handers more often that it would seem he should, given Gyorko’s history with them and Wong’s ability to hit them. If the entire point of that contract extension was to give Wong the confidence to go out and succeed, I’m not sure regularly benching him is really reinforcing that message. Granted, Wong has been in a bit of a slump, but it’s tough to see a guy like that get shuffled out of the lineup so often. When your “starter” has eight starts in 12 games, especially this early in the year, you start wondering how long he’ll have the “starter” label. As Wong says, it’s nothing to be concerned about yet, but we have seen Matheny’s player usage be questionable in the past and with Tejada returning, it gives a little pause. We’ll see how it develops.
The Cubs come into town for the first time this season and for the first time the Redbirds face old teammates in Jason Heyward and John Lackey. They don’t have to wait for Lackey either as he’s up first thing in the rotation. One of the quirks of his career is that, given he was in the AL before coming to St. Louis, there’s not a lot of history on the field between Lackey and many of the Cardinals.
Holliday has struggled against him, Moss and Matt Carpenter have done pretty well in a limited sample. I doubt that Matheny would keep Holliday out of the lineup two days in a row, but letting Moss play first tonight might not be a terrible thing.
Mike Leake hasn’t had to deal with the Cubs as a Cardinal before nor did he have Heyward or Lackey as a teammate, so perhaps he’s the perfect person to throw into the fire of this meeting. No baggage, no sentiment, nothing to distract him from hopefully having a great outing.
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Heyward is 1 for 14 and I don’t think there are going to be many Cardinal fans that will be disappointed if his struggles against Leake continue in this one. Leake’s done pretty well against the Cubs overall, though Anthony Rizzo–who is continuing to build his Cardinal-killer resume–has been a thorn in his side.
The players aren’t going to get terribly worked up about this one, but you know that the fanbase will be. I’m sure there will be boos for Heyward and Lackey, though the latter makes less sense given I don’t know the Cardinals really actively pursued him (and I’m pretty sure most of us didn’t want them to, given his age). For myself, I won’t be torn up about it if Heyward goes 0-4 with two strikeouts and Lackey is chased by the fifth, but I’m not someone that can get stirred up enough to actively wish them ill or boo them until the cows come home. Some can and they have that right, but that’s not the way I’d approach it.
Whatever attitude and lens you bring to your viewing of this game, there’s no doubt it’s going to have much more intrigue and excitement than a normal April series does! For the Cubs, this will be like playoff baseball! (You see, because they don’t have much October experience and….oh, never mind.)