This wasn’t at all how we wanted this first meeting between the Cardinals and Cubs to go. We wanted to see the Cardinals put them in their place, cool off their hot start, and show they still were the force in the NL Central. Instead, the Cubs took the first two pitching duels and made the third game a little more interesting than we’d like. A win’s a win, though, and that makes things much more optimistic than a sweep would have left them.
Tuesday (2-1 loss)
Hero: Yadier Molina. Molina had two hits, including a triple, and drove in the Cardinals’ only run. It would have been better had Matt Adams not been picked off of second before the hit or if Kolten Wong or Ruben Tejada could have brought in Molina from third with one out, but unfortunately neither of those things were meant to be. For all of our worries about Molina’s offensive decline, he’s hitting .345 with five doubles and a triple on the year, so while the home run power might not be there, I think we can worry a bit less about Yadi.
Goat: Jeremy Hazelbaker. 0-4 in the second spot, including two strikeouts. I’m still not sold on putting Hazelbaker in the second spot, especially now that he’s struggling. I remember watching a game recently, may have been Monday’s, where there were runners on and a base open and they pitched around Matt Carpenter to get to Hazelbaker, which was exactly what I would have done in their situation. Perhaps he can get back on track and be more of a threat up in the lineup, but if I were Mike Matheny I think I’d drop him in the San Diego series to see if that helps start him back up.
Notes: This was a weird game for Jaime Garcia. He pitched outstanding save for one inning and he almost escaped that inning as well, but allowed a two-out, two-run single to Jason Hammel, his opposite number. To be fair, it wasn’t a bad pitch, down and in, but still, it’s a tough thing to swallow when the pitcher beats you. Then Garcia was yanked after five innings, which was a little surprising to me as I’m trying to follow the game during a church meeting. I thought it was Matheny being a little more pro-active, with a runner on and one out. It seemed like Matheny was trying to go for it while he had a shot. Then I look at the box score and see Garcia had 98 pitches then, so that factored in more than any game situation. I should have known, really.
Adams continues to get a lot of Twitter abuse, but he went two for three with an intentional walk in this one, bringing his season average up to .261. He says he’s starting to get comfortable at the plate, and while he still probably flails at pitches he shouldn’t have, that’s not a condition that’s limited to him in this lineup. It doesn’t bother me that much when he starts over Brandon Moss, because we’ve always said they are pretty much two peas in a pod, and while Moss may have been hot recently, he’s also 0 for his last 10 with seven strikeouts. It’s going to be a balancing act getting them both playing time, especially since Matt Holliday can slide over there as well, but I can’t get all that worked up about Adams not only still being here, but also playing.
A real solid night’s work for the pen, covering four innings and allowing no runs, one hit, two walks (both by Jonathan Broxton) and six strikeouts. When your bullpen can get half their outs by K, it’s fairly impressive. We thought going into this year that if you could get a lead to these guys, they’d likely keep it and so far, there’s nothing to change that perspective.
Wednesday (5-3 win)
Hero: Carlos Martinez. Pitching was not a problem in this series, as the club held what was supposed to be a slugging juggernaut (though the early season results haven’t proven that) to 10 runs, half of those in the opener. Even so, Martinez’s outing was not only stellar, but a relief. He had help early on when Randal Grichuk snagged Anthony Rizzo‘s almost two-run homer, but other than that he was magnificent. Seven innings, three hits, one earned run (an actual homer by Rizzo) and five strikeouts, with the only semi-blemish being he walked three. Plus he contributed at the plate, getting a chopper over a drawn-in infield to drive in the fourth run of the game, a run that became very big later (much, much later given the rain delay) on. Martinez is continuing to show that he’s going to be the ace of this staff sooner or later, with the odds on sooner.
Goat: Seung-hwan Oh. The Stone Buddha finally showed some cracks, allowing two hits, a walk, and two runs in his inning of work after the rain delay, turning the game from a comfortable 4-1 lead to a nerve-wracking 4-3 game. Obviously he was going to eventually have one of this outings and perhaps the rain delay threw off his rhythm (it has to be weird for all the players to go back out there after a three-plus hour wait), but this was also the first time he’d been used in back-to-back games. Something to keep an eye on, I guess. There would seem to be no reason he couldn’t go two days in a row, but if that does become a problem there should be enough quality arms down there to mix and match and keep that at a minimum.
Notes: Grichuk’s home run thievery sparked memories of Jim Edmonds, another #15 in center field who made a habit of that (especially against the Reds). Grichuk also drew a walk and scored a run, so not a bad day all around. Molina had another two-hit day, scoring on a wild pitch in the second and driving in a huge insurance run in the eighth. Adams had a ground rule double, though he struck out twice. Stephen Piscotty had two hits and scored on Matt Holliday’s homer in the first, a home run that was just huge. The momentum from stealing a homer then hitting one was intense and, as we saw, Martinez didn’t need a lot to be effective.
We’ve complained in the past when the club tries to steal third base, especially when there are less than two outs. It’s only fair that we give a hat tip when it works. Wong stole third after Molina came in on the wild pitch, putting a runner 90 feet away with just one out. The infield came in, especially with the pitcher batting, and Martinez put it just over the infield. If they are back, it’s an out, but instead that stolen base led to a run. It’s still debatable if it’s a good move at times, but there’s no doubt it panned out here.
Congratulations to Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out the side in the ninth to notch his 100th career save. That’s a pretty nice milestone for a guy that still thinks he wants to be a starter!
Even with the win yesterday, there’s still some ominous signs with this club. The Cardinals have played six games against division contenders Pittsburgh and Chicago and are 1-5, scoring just 13 runs in those matchups. Against the weaker teams, the Cards are 7-2 and have scored more than 13 runs in one game, 78 total. You have to beat those weaker teams, for sure, but you also have to at least hold your own against the good teams to have a chance at contending. It may be a while before we see how they do against another real good team. They go to Arizona after San Diego, which may be a test, though offense is not necessarily a problem in the desert. Washington comes into Busch to start the next homestand, though, and that’s going to be a very interesting measuring stick.
I think it’s absolutely a testament to the mindset and sensibilities of this club that the word “suck” seems to have been banned from T-shirts in the park, though apparently that will at least be modified before the Cubs come back next time, which I think isn’t until mid-summer. I know most people would probably think it’s overly restrictive, but I think it’s nice that they’ve typically taken this stance, even when the word is used in relation to the opposing clubs. Again, they don’t toss you out for saying it, just for wearing it. With their approach that this should be as family-friendly as possible, it makes sense. It may be mild, but you draw the line somewhere.
I see that the Cardinals were playing chess during the rain delay. That probably is another way of marking the differences between them and their rivals, though I’m sure Joe Maddon would enjoy the game. It’s not exactly what you think of with these loosey-goosey Cubs though, is it?
It is interesting to see St. Louis relying more and more on Matt Bowman when it comes to higher-leverage situations. Part of that, as Derrick Goold writes, is because of the struggles of Seth Maness, but it’s also because Bowman is getting the job done. When he was selected in the Rule 5 draft, we kinda scratched our head and wondered where he was going to fit in. Now it’s pretty obvious what the club saw in Bowman, though we’ll see if he can keep his hot start going as well. Lots of small sample sizes and baseball is filled with stories of folks that were good for the first month and forgotten by the last. Hopefully that won’t be the case here. Now, if and when Jordan Walden gets healthy (which, given we’ve heard nothing about him recently, is likely more if than when) there could be some interesting roster decisions to make, but right now, Bowman’s secure in his spot.
Cardinals do some of their NL West work starting tomorrow (another off day today, which is a bit annoying for us fans if not the players), with a three game set in San Diego followed up by that Arizona series we referred to earlier. We continue to hope that Adam Wainwright will come around and tonight’s his latest chance to take that step in the right direction. San Diego’s park is conducive to good pitching. The Padres are in the middle of the pack offensively in many stats, which is pretty surprising given they started the season being shut out all series by the Dodgers. Things have obviously gotten a little better for them since then.
Wainwright will match up against Andrew Cashner. Cashner had a strong 2013 and 2014, but struggled last year and so far 2016 hasn’t been any kinder to him. He’s coming off his best start of the year, though, a one-run, six-inning outing against Arizona. Quirkily, he’s struck out exactly five batters in each start, though the innings total has varied.
We’ll probably see Tejada tomorrow with that career average against Cashner, especially since he probably still needs some at bats to get more fully into game shape. Late start means Dan Buffa and I will probably be recording Best Dans in Baseball during the game, which should be interesting!