We sometimes think that September 2011 was this completely frantic rush toward the postseason. While it was better than most months, it still had its issues.
The Downward Swing
I hope all of you and yours had a wonderful Labor Day weekend. Heaven knows the Cardinals sure didn’t.
I said on Sunday’s Gateway to Baseball Heaven (or perhaps it was the end of the most recent Conversation with C70 after I talked with Bill Ivie–download ’em both and see!) that this season has been like a kid’s rollercoaster. The highs aren’t that high (a four-game winning streak, the sweep of Milwaukee) and the lows follow immediately, but they aren’t an unexpected plunge (losing two of three to the Reds, dropping back to 10.5 games behind). This team again refuses to show any consistency, any sort of oomph to put together a run, and now it’s beyond too late to do so.
Let’s recap the last four games:
Goat: Marc Rzepczynski. As bad of a game as Chris Carpenter had and as back-breaking as the home run Kyle McClellan gave up, giving up that two-run homer after the Cards had completed their comeback to tie the game is a tough, tough thing.
Notes: Carpenter had a terrible inning, but that’s all it takes at times. Getting this team down 5-0 is not a recipe for a good night, so I was impressed to see them rally back to tie it up. It was almost like they were about to make that kind of run. The Brewers were losing early and so it allowed you to dream a bit before Milwaukee rallied and the bullpen blew up. Until McClellan’s home run, it was one of the first times all season I thought they might be able to get something done in the ninth and at least tie it up. That wasn’t to be when the lead bloomed from one to four.
Goat: Arthur Rhodes. Giving up a two-run homer to a lefty isn’t doing your job. Thankfully the lead was four at the time.
Notes: Jaime Garcia pitched a game we were more used to seeing out of him at home. He still only went six innings, but he limited the damage, got some strikeouts, and didn’t let things unravel on him. Don’t know if it was the extra rest that allowed him to adjust his mindset or what, but it was welcome. Jon Jay, Matt Holliday and Skip Schumakerall had two hits as well.
Sunday (3-2 loss vs. Cincinnati in 10)
Hero: Edwin Jackson. The Cards may have lost, but it’d be tough to pin it on him. Just two runs in seven innings, and eight strikeouts to boot. A very solid game, one that shows why so many teams will take a chance on him.
Goat: You can just about pick one. I’m going to go with Fernando Salas, who allowed a hit-walk-hit rally for the winning run after two were out in the tenth. You could also pick on Rafael Furcal, who went 0-5 leading off. While the numbers don’t look terrible in the box score, the fact that the team only scored two runs in this game speaks for itself.
Notes: I wasn’t able to watch a lot of this game, but apparently it was a bit controversial when Tony La Russa pulled Lance Berkman after a hit and pinch-ran with Corey Patterson. (I say that because my dad indicated he disagreed with the move when I saw him that evening.) It seems reasonable enough to me, though. Not that using Corey Patterson ever is the right move, but Berkman hasn’t hit much lately, is often pulled for a pinch-hitter, and Patterson’s speed could have been the difference in scoring an eighth-inning run that might have been the game winner. It seems like a reasonable move to me, at least.
Monday (4-1 loss vs. Milwaukee)
Hero: Almost by default, you have to go with Jake Westbrook. Westbrook did his best to keep the Cards in the game, allowing only three runs (two earned) in six innings. Of course, he did only go six and he gave up nine hits in that span, but he struck out nine, a data point that reinforces a complaint his teammates had (more on that in a bit).
Goat: Another game with plenty to choose from. The team only had four hits, with one of those coming when Gerald Laird pinch-hit. Rafael Furcal went 0-3 at leadoff, but at least he drew a walk. Kyle McClellan gave up a home run again in his inning of work. So I’ll give it to Ryan Theriot, who went 0-3 batting second, with a strikeout and a double play.
Notes: Pujols got a hit, so he’s still in the hunt for .300, sitting at .295. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Cards play the next few weeks, especially if he gets over that mark. Will they sit him more? Or do they want to make sure that people get to have what could be their last looks at him in a Cardinal uniform?
The time of Monday’s game became a talking point again, after Pujols and Holliday both reiterated what Berkman had said earlier in the year. While they made sure to give as much credit as possible to Randy Wolf, it seems the shadows with that mid-afternoon start time make it a very difficult thing to pick up the ball. In fairness, some of the Brewer players mentioned that as well, including Ryan Braun.
As pointed out in the game story, most of those are from the Fox Game of the Week. Nothing that the home team can do about those. It will be interesting, if this is part of the CBA negotiations, to see if that changes for next year. It’s only been a couple of years since they moved them from the earlier 1:05 starts to the 3:05 that they have these days. Could they do as Holliday suggests and make a “Saturday Night Baseball”? Or would Fox move it back to the earlier afternoon slot? Who knows, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Yesterday’s game, of course, wasn’t a nationally televised one. While Pujols mentioned that he asked for the game to be moved and got no response, that’s not surprising. Moving game times on short notice isn’t what the Cards want to do if they can avoid it. That said, I expect that there won’t be any of those kind of games on next season’s schedule, or even if there are when they announce it (and that should be in the next week or so) those times may change over the winter. Who knows, maybe it’ll be a negotiation point in the Pujols contract discussions!
Probably the more relevant news from this weekend is that the club is looking to keep Furcal and he’s completely open to that. In a vacuum, this move as well as the idea that they want to bring Berkman back are solid moves. These are guys that likely can help the 2012 Cardinals.
However, when you start thinking about it, doesn’t that mean that the 2012 version will be very, very similar to the way the 2011 team finished? And didn’t the 2011 team struggle down the stretch? It’d be different if the Cards finished out of the playoffs but had played strong in August and September, so you could say, “Wow, with a full season of these guys….” Yes, the team will get back Adam Wainwright, but would that be enough to keep next season from feeling like a repeat of 2011? Is that the best move for a fanbase that is already a little restless?
I’d like Berkman to return. I could understand bringing Furcal back. But I think some changes need to be made and if you don’t make them there, where else can you make them?
Of course, the same story says that the Cards are going to try to give Tyler Greene a lot of playing time the next three weeks and see what they have with him. I’ve come around to the “stick Greene out there and see” school of thought. I’m not sure if three weeks is enough, but it should give a good representation. Hopefully he’ll bring his bat with him this time and give the Cards a cheap option at short next season.
Greene is going to be coming up today, along with Tony Cruz and Adron Chambers. That’ll likely finish the call-ups, so it’ll be interesting to see Chambers and what he can do over the rest of the season. He’s going to be on a lot of people’s lists when the United Cardinal Bloggers do their Top 7 Prospects next week.
The Cards are back where they were before the Milwaukee sweep last week, languishing 10.5 games behind. As the playoffs are out as a goal, I’d like to see the Cards aim to cut that deficit as much as they can. Five games out sits better with me than double digits. They are still five games ahead of the Reds, so I think they can stay in second, but getting closer to Milwaukee would be nice.
Tonight doesn’t look like the best chance of that, though, as Kyle Lohse goes for the Cards vs. Yovani Gallardo. Interestingly enough, as much as the two teams have gone at each other, Lohse hasn’t faced the Brewers since June 10 (four runs in five innings). In fact, Edwin Jackson, whose been a Cardinal for five weeks, has faced the Brewers more times this year than Lohse has! Here are the career numbers:
Not the worst of situations for Lohse, but it’s still not necessarily a fun evening. He’s been able to keep Prince Fielder in check, but Braun, not so much.
Gallardo has had varying results against the Redbirds, with an almost-no-hitter and some ugly games as well. Cards battered him for eight in less than five innings last week, which was reflected in the numbers:
Albert did some damage against him in that last game, of course, and his career numbers are stellar. Perhaps he can have another big night and get that average even closer to that milestone.
Nothing more to do but watch the last three weeks and know that, way too soon, winter is coming. Appreciate the game while you can!