It was a night game in Wrigley and the temperatures were frigid. While it’s a stretch to say that’s not the only way last night’s game seemed like a playoff game, it definitely didn’t seem to be a typical game in April either. It was a game the Cardinals–most notably, Mike Matheny–were making a more-than-normal effort to win.
It’s hard to put a finger on why it felt like that except to point at the pitching changes. While Matheny did leave Adam Wainwright through five innings when a very aggressive manager, seeing the number of walks Waino put up in the first four frames, seeing the one-run lead, seeing that the Cubs’ 3-4-5 hitters were coming up might have gone to the pen, he removed Wainwright after five innings of one-run ball instead of pushing to see how far Waino could go. (Of course, Wainwright was also at 93 pitches, which might have forced his hand a bit.) Matheny went to Dominic Leone and Jordan Hicks first instead of immediately tapping Matthew Bowman. When Greg Holland went walk-homer-walk, Matheny didn’t leave him out there to figure out it out but went to the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons to get Jason Heyward. He didn’t leave Lyons in either (which I think he could have) but instead went to Bud Norris for the five out save.
Could this be that Mike Maddux is finally starting to have some impact? Could it be that Matheny has figured out that you have to win these kind of games by any means possible? I don’t know but I like what we saw last night. With a strong chance of this being a one game series, getting a win against the team that you’ll likely be battling all year in their park was huge.
Let’s talk a bit about a couple of those pitchers, though. Wainwright last night turned in the gritty performance we expected to see out of him this year, this crafty veteran who can bend but not break, who can use his knowledge to get out of dangerous situations. Basically Indiana Jones in his next movie, you have to figure. This outing was like the positive version of his outing in the home opener, where he was able to work around the walks and get the big out when he needed it. Getting Addison Russell to pop out on a pitch up (and maybe above) the zone to end the fifth was indicative of what we’ll see this season, or at least the situations. Hopefully most of the time the results are like that but sometimes that’s going to be a line drive that scores two. You just never know from start to start.
As for our Goat Greg Holland….let’s just say I expect there will be some questions about the need, the timing, and the treatment of Holland at the blogger event this Sunday. Why did the Cardinals sign Holland so late? Why did he get called up after just a couple of minor league outings? What was Holland’s offseason training? All of these–or some variation–will probably be brought up because so far, this has not been a good thing for Holland. I mean, all you really need to know is that Holland has pitched 2.1 innings and allowed 7 walks. That 11.57 ERA and the one strikeout is just icing on the cake.
We continue to think that Holland is going to get right and it would be pretty surprising if he just fell off the cliff after a solid season last year. However, I think it’s fair to start wondering just when this is going to happen. It’s going to be harder and harder to throw Holland in even semi-close games at this rate. Last night he came in with a four run lead, which is as close as you’d want to see him right now, and proceeded to have the tying run come to the plate after four batters. Maybe once he gets the command issue figured out things will start to click but it’s not like he’s going to get regular work until it does. Sort of a chicken-and-egg thing.
And with the way Norris is rolling right now, how hard is it going to be to have Holland supplant him? I don’t guess you have to, given that a sunk cost is a sunk cost and if Holland winds up setting up Norris instead of vice versa it still works out to the Cardinals’ advantage, but you don’t usually spend $14 million on a setup man. (Brett Cecil got a lot, but he didn’t get that much.) The money isn’t really a huge issue for an organization that basically prints it but it still is a bit frustrating that the move was made, Josh Lucas was lost off the 40-man, and a draft pick is going to be sacrificed when, right now, it doesn’t look the reward is going to be there. Again, it’s early and perhaps by September we’re talking about how great it is Holland is there and these early season hiccups are forgotten, but I’m not seeing a lot to be optimistic about right now.
The Hero of the piece has to be Matt Carpenter. I was frustrated with him in the fifth, when he struck out looking with a runner on first, but that was one of his rare missteps last night. His double in the third drove in the first two Cardinal runs and his bases-loaded single in the eighth provided what turned out to be the winning margin. There’s no doubt that Carpenter’s still trying to find himself–Joe Trezza writes in the game story on the official site that Carp admits it can come and go from plate appearance to plate appearance–but if he is starting to turn it around, if he’s starting to click, then this team could be about ready to take off. He’ll have to have more than a couple of games of this for people to get confidence in him, of course. Then again, he could play at a high level for two years and some folks still wouldn’t believe he’s an asset.
Paul DeJong cracked a home run to lead off the eighth to give the Cards a bit of breathing room before they added on later in the frame. Unfortunately, that homer was accompanied by four more strikeouts. DeJong has 62 at bats this season and 29 strikeouts. That’s literally almost half the time. Factor in his five homers and his three walks and he has a Three True Outcomes rate of 57%. The home runs are nice, of course, but there’s got to be more than this from DeJong. I imagine he’s feeling pretty lost at the plate right now and the coaching staff needs to try everything possible to get him back on track. Not only did he sign that contract (which is starting to feel like a jinx, isn’t it?) but there’s no real option for replacement. I can’t see how they can do the patented Memphis Revival like they did for Randal Grichuk and Kolten Wong, among others, without leaving such a gaping hole at the major league level. Then again, with Jedd Gyorko back, maybe they run the risk of Greg Garcia at short for a couple of weeks. It wouldn’t be optimal, but if they thought it could help DeJong click, maybe it’s worth it. I really have no idea.
The forecast for Chicago is rain and snow all day long so odds are we’re talking about not seeing the Cardinals until Friday night against the Reds. Maybe that’ll change, maybe they’ll try to play early to beat the elements, but if not, there are worse ways to go into a weekend than on a five game winning streak. Luke Weaver will go against Jon Lester if they get the game in. If they don’t play, I may not talk with you again until after this weekend, since both podcasts aren’t going to record until a combined show on Monday. Keep an eye on Twitter for the next Cardinal Six, though!