Baseball, as we’ve noted before, has its stubborn streak, at times determined not to follow the script. So it wasn’t as much of a surprise to see a struggling Cardinal team on a three game losing streak face Max Scherzer, one of baseball’s top pitchers, with a getaway-day-looking lineup and win, just because we’ve gotten a feel for how twisted baseball can be at times. When everything is pointing one way, that’s about the time baseball goes the other. It can be frustrating, but this time it was very, very welcome.
While the Cardinals did some damage against Scherzer–with a little help–the biggest reason they won was the starter, the Hero, Mike Leake. Leake looked like he was contracting whatever the rest of the rotation had this week when, having been staked to a 1-0 lead, had runners on first and third with nobody out in the bottom of the first. This was about the time everyone expected the roof to cave in, but Leake picked off Anthony Rendon then struck out Bryce Harper and got Danny Murphy to ground out. Everyone sat up a bit straighter.
Rendon’s single would be the last base runner Leake allowed until Murphy singled with two outs in the seventh. Leake was masterful, throwing seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts tossed in for good measure. You don’t know how long this will last, as the defense is still not quite as improved as we hoped it would be, but right now Leake is the best pitcher in the rotation. (We’ll see if Michael Wacha has anything to say about that on Friday night.) It was a shot in the arm to see him have such success.
The offense, at least for the most part, did just enough to help him. You’d think if Scherzer struck out 10 and allowed just four hits over six innings he’s probably going to be winning, but three errors behind him and three wild pitches (possibly indicating he and catcher Matt Wieters weren’t on the same page) did him in. Stephen Piscotty had a case for being the Hero, doubling in the first run and singling in the third run. He also put the game out of reach in the ninth, clubbing a three-run homer off of Joe Blanton. We’ve worried about Piscotty some, what with the quiet spring and then a slow start to the season, but it would seem that he’s starting to get back to the level that earned him that contract extension. This offense will look much better if Piscotty’s there in the fourth spot quietly producing.
He didn’t do much at the plate (1-4) but Jedd Gyorko might have saved the game in the eighth. Trevor Rosenthal started the inning and the good feelings that Rosie had engendered with his dominant first outing took a hit as the Nationals, well, hit. After striking out the first batter (giving him four straight over his two outings), he gave up three hits in a row, plating Washington’s only run and leaving runners at the corners. Mike Matheny went to Matthew Bowman, who did his job by getting a ground ball that got one out but left runners at the corners for Harper. Matheny then went to Brett Cecil, which put knots into people’s stomachs. It looked to do more than that when Harper hit a rocket to left, but Gyorko snagged the ball in a very nice play (that Jhonny Peralta doesn’t make) that saved at least one, possibly two runs.
If that had gone the other way, our Goat is probably Cecil or Rosenthal. Instead, it’s a bit of a tossup between two players that I like a lot but are making it harder and harder to defend them. Matt Adams again started in left and, while I didn’t see much of the game, I don’t think he had any atrocious fielding chances. However, he went 0-3 with two strikeouts and three left on before Randal Grichuk took over for defensive purposes. I could select him, but I think I’m going to go with Kolten Wong, who looked terrible in a couple of his plate appearances from all accounts. Wong went 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on as well. Hopefully Wong uses the off day to clear his head and not carry this with him. If he’s going to earn that second base spot–and that’s becoming much more of an if than when–he’s got to be able to put the bad days behind him, something that’s not always been easy for him in the past.
There’s no doubt that it’s a much better feeling to go into an off-day with a win than otherwise. A lot of the problems the Cardinals have been having still showed up Thursday–the offense was pretty quiet other than Piscotty and the bullpen almost took an amazing Leake performance and….I feel there’s a crude pun here but I don’t think I’ll walk that path–but there were some hopeful signs. We’ll see how the regular lineup (such as it is with the various swaps and such) performs on Friday night before getting too euphoric.
As mentioned, Wacha will go up against Masahiro Tanaka in the opening game in Yankee Stadium Friday evening. (I loved the factoid from Jenifer Langosch–the last time the Cardinals played the Yankees in New York, Matheny and Joe Girardi were the catchers. Now they’re the managers.) Tanaka has a 11.74 ERA on the young season, having been blasted in his first outing before giving up three in five last time out. Baseball the way it is, it would be just like this team to beat Scherzer and then lose to Tanaka. None of the Cardinals have ever faced Tanaka, and you know how that goes sometimes.
Wacha looked very good in his first outing and hopefully will continue to do so in this one. In a small sample, the few Yanks that have faced him (including Starlin Castro from his time with the Cubs) have done pretty well, but with Wacha it is all about how healthy he is when you see him. Now that he’s sharp, there’s a good chance these numbers mean less than they normally do.
The Cardinals also get to see old friend Matt Holliday in this series. I bet dinner plans are already made between him and Adam Wainwright at least. It’s a great historical matchup when these two franchises get together and it should be a fun one to watch this holiday weekend. I hope you and yours have a blessed and meaningful Easter and we’ll see you back here Monday!