Cardinal70

Marking McGwire: #9

Home run #: 9

Date: April 21

Opponent: Montreal Expos

Location: Olympic Stadium

Pitcher: Trey Moore

Score: 0-0

Inning: 3

Outs: 2

Runners on: 1

Distance: 437 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 3

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 8

It was a weird quirk but, until April 21 of that legendary season, Mark McGwire had yet to hit a home run in a ballpark that wasn’t Busch Stadium (save any spring training shots, of course).  A good part of that was the schedule, of course.  This was their 19th game but only their eighth away from home.  Surprisingly, he hadn’t hit one in the team’s first trip to Colorado, even as they put up double-digits in two of the three games.  Not getting one in Candlestick Park, where they went after leaving Colorado, was less surprising, given the conditions that old ballpark used to provide.

It wasn’t until reaching Montreal that McGwire reached the seats.  The game started as a pitching duel between Trey Moore for the Expos and Todd Stottlemyre for the Cards.  Moore got around the slugger in the first, striking him out after Delino Deshields singled and tried to steal second, only to be caught by Chris Widger.  Stottlemyre worked around F.P. Santangelo reaching on catcher’s interference by Tom Lampkin to start the game, then retired the next six in order.

So it was a scoreless game when the top of the third rolled around.  Stottlemyre tried to bunt his way on but was unsuccessful and Royce Clayton flied out.  Then, in what had to be a rare situation, Deshields drew a five pitch walk to bring up McGwire.  Big Mac wasted no time, jumping on the first pitch he saw from Moore and driving it in that left-center area that he loved so well.

The lead didn’t last long–Stottlemyre gave up a three-run shot to Shane Andrews in the fourth to put the Expos on top–but Brian Jordan had an RBI single and Ron Gant a solo homer in the fifth to put St. Louis on top to stay.  McGwire finished the day with a flyout, a strikeout, and a walk, leaving his average at .355 as the day ended.  We focus on the power but we forget Big Mac had a .299 average that season as well.  There were plenty of non-long ball hits to go around.

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As we know, running through a road trip undefeated is a tough chore for any team.  Last year, the Cards had that trip through Atlanta and Miami, but those things are pretty rare (and, sadly, that was not a sign of things to come).  So when the Cardinals went into Thursday’s game with an extra day off, with no rhythm, and with a five game winning streak, you could almost expect that it wasn’t going to turn out their way.  I don’t think anyone thought it would go as badly as it did, though.

I’ll admit, I just listened to a little of the early part of the game before work and other issues distracted me.  By time I returned, the game was to the point that I just checked Twitter to see if the gap closed.  I guess it’s a testament that the 8-1 score got to the point where the Cardinals brought they tying run to the plate in the eighth, but they couldn’t pull off another July 20, 2004.

It’s pretty obvious that Luke Weaver has to be our Goat of the game, given that he allowed nine hits and six runs in four innings.  It’s not that that he was beat up, as only one of those hits went for extra bases, but it piled up to the point where there was basically no return.  Weaver now has given up 16 earned runs in 11 career innings against the Northsiders (a 13.09 ERA) and while I still probably would have thrown him instead of Michael Wacha in this one, you might start trying to figure out why the Cubs seem to have his number, especially since he’ll likely see them a lot more this season and beyond.

Save for Matthew Bowman allowing a two-run homer to Jason Heyward, which is significant salt in the wound to Cardinal fans, the bullpen did its job.  Luke Gregerson made his debut and it was significantly better than Greg Holland‘s, retiring both batters he faced.  Even with the injuries, Gregerson had a more normal spring and had more time in the minors (though by innings it wasn’t much).  It would seem that he’s more prepared to be on a big league roster than Holland was and perhaps is, though Holland did throw a scoreless seventh (with one walk, because of course).  It was interesting that Holland came in right after the Cardinals made it close, but given that Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina were both out, it was probably still a low-risk situation.

Taking Molina out of an 8-1 game makes sense and, indeed, Francisco Pena had a single and scored in the big seventh inning.  We want Yadi to get rest when he can, even though he’d had two of the last three days off and there is another off day coming on Monday.  With all that time off though, double-switching out Carpenter in the bottom of the sixth was a little less defensible.  Not completely, of course–Carpenter had just batted and all that, and though the pitcher’s spot wasn’t due until fifth in the next frame you probably didn’t want to have to hit for Gregerson should a couple reach–but it is one of those white flag maneuvers that, baseball being baseball, does tend to blow up in your face.  (And, in fact, the Cards almost batted around and Tommy Pham had to pinch-hit for Gregerson anyway.  Baseball!)

Don’t take that as a complaint about Mike Matheny.  95% of the time an 8-1 game doesn’t get that interesting and while the weather-induced staggered schedule should mean that your starters don’t need as much rest, we say all the time folks like Pena need to get some ABs here in there.  It was a reasonable time to do it and I have a feeling the result wouldn’t have been any different had Molina and Carpenter stayed in the game.

We need a Hero and we’ll give it to Jedd Gyorko, who was the only player with two hits and he contributed two walks and a run as well.  Games like this are going to get Gyorko more playing time, which would likely come at the expense of Kolten Wong, who didn’t start this one but came in with the double switch.  It’s hard to argue that he shouldn’t, given the early results.  That four-starters-for-three-spots balancing act has returned and right now Wong is going to get the short end of it given his early play and the fact that he’s not Matt Carpenter.

Fairly crazy to think the Cardinals scored five runs and none of them scored via a hit.

Harrison Bader scored in the first on a wild pitch (after reaching by a hit-by-pitch and stealing a base while moving to third on an error)
Paul DeJong walked (yes, walked!) with the bases loaded for the first run in the seventh.
–Wong was up next and was hit by a pitch to force in the third
Dexter Fowler hit a routine ball to short that Addison Russell flipped to Javy Baez, who flipped it to Fred Mackle from Buffalo Grove who was taking in the game yesterday afternoon, allowing the last two runs to score.

If there’d been a key hit–like maybe if DeJong hadn’t watched strike three with two runners on in the eighth–things might have been a bit different.

Still, it’s a rare time when these two teams have met lately that the Cubs really needed the win more than the Cardinals did.  A Cubs loss would have had them 7-9, three games behind the Cardinals and having been swept by their rivals.  While St. Louis would have liked to have that game, they went 5-1 on the road trip and still are in second by percentage points and have the Reds coming to town while the Cubs go out to Colorado.  You want all the wins, especially against the baby bears, but I’d rather the Redbirds’ current position.

(Oh, and we should probably note that Tyler O’Neill made his major league debut, striking out as a pinch-hitter in the fifth with a runner on.  As the score was already lopsided, I’m surprised that they didn’t let O’Neill stay in the game, but I guess anyone he would have double-switched with would have had the pitcher coming up in the next inning.)

Speaking of that Reds series (and if you haven’t, you can still get your Cardinal Six picks in!), it opens tonight with Wacha going up against Brandon Finnegan.  Finnegan is sporting a 10+ ERA because he’s only had one start, which was last weekend against the Cards when he gave up five runs in 4.1 innings.  Wacha gave up four runs (three earned) in five innings in his last start, also against the Reds, so this might not be a pitcher’s duel.

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O’Neill Being Promoted?

Per Joe Trezza, the Cardinals are expected to promote Tyler O’Neill on Thursday.  Trezza also says that a reliever would be sent out, which would seem to be John Brebbia unless they can talk Greg Holland into another minor league stint.

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Finding Some Urgency

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!

 

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Marking McGwire: #8

Home run #: 8

Date: April 17

Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies

Location: Busch Stadium

Pitcher: Matt Whiteside

Score: 3-3

Inning: 4

Outs: 2

Runners on: 1

Distance: 419 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 3

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 7

Apparently Mark McGwire did more than rain homers.  After his three homer game against the Diamondbacks, the next night’s game was washed out, causing a double header on the 16th.  McGwire played in the first game, going 0-4, then got his first rest of the year in the nightcap.  The Phillies quickly found out that rest wasn’t the way to slow this big red machine down.

Philadelphia jumped out to a 1-0 lead in this one as Rico Brogna doubled off of Cliff Politte in the first.  McGwire was walked in the bottom of the frame–while not likely intentionally given there were two outs and nobody on, probably Garrett Stephenson (who would be a Cardinal the next year and for the rest of his career) was still really, really careful–and nothing happened.

The game stayed that way until the third inning.  David Howard, who was batting leadoff that night in a move that probably only made sense to Tony La Russa, singled and went to third on a Delino Deshields double.  Unsurprisingly, that led to a five-pitch walk for McGwire, bringing up Willie McGee.  McGee (who was hitting cleanup–a getaway lineup in the first game of the series!) grounded out, tying the game, and Brian Jordan did the same, putting the Cards on top 2-1.

Politte couldn’t hold that lead long at all.  Even though he got the first two outs of the inning (including a strikeout of now-Cardinals Hall of Fame nominee Scott Rolen), the Phillies put together three hits and a walk plus a stolen base.  Alex Arias drove in the final run with a single that scored Bobby Abreu and put Philadelphia up 3-2.

The 1998 Phillies weren’t all that good, which meant this game was far from over.  Matt Whiteside had come in after McGee’s grounder in the third and now was tasked with holding the line.  His grip wasn’t very good.  Tom Lampkin, the backup catcher starting that night, put Whiteside’s first pitch of the inning over the wall to make it 3-3.  Politte and Howard struck out but Deshields singled to keep the inning alive.

We talk a lot about base runners being hesitant to run in front of big power threats and rightfully so.  Deshields didn’t subscribe to that philosophy.  On the first pitch to McGwire (which was called a ball), Deshields took off for second and slid in safely.  Now the Phillies had the option to walk McGwire and face McGee.  Instead, Whiteside continued to go after McGwire.  McGwire took a strike, then swung and missed, making it 1-2.  The fourth pitch was a ball.  The fifth was mashed into left center field, giving the Cardinals the lead.  This helped him stay ahead of the sweet-swinging Griffey, who hit his seventh later that evening.

In what was fairly representative of the ’98 Cards, Politte immediately gave those two runs back to the Phillies.  In the bottom of the frame, Ron Gant pinch-hit for Politte with two on and two out and smoked one over the left field wall, giving the Cardinals a lead they would not relinquish.  In fact, nobody else would score in the remainder of the game, a surprise given how the first few innings had gone.

After this one was over, McGwire was on pace for 81 home runs.  Nobody expected him to get that, but few believed he’d get as close as he did.

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A snowed out game in April is just another reason I’d never want to live in Chicago.  I can’t imagine how miserable it would have been to play in those conditions last night.  However, it did work in my advantage as getting up to write yesterday just wasn’t happening, so we only have three games to recap and all of them wins.  Things could be much worse in that department!

Friday (5-3 win at Cincinnati)

Hero: Yadier Molina.  Cincinnati may not love Yadi but boy does Yadi love Cincinnati.  He’s got a .321/.362/.508 line hitting in Great American Ball Park and has more home runs (14) there than any place that’s not Busch Stadium III.  Johnny Cueto is gone to the Giants and Brandon Phillips left a couple of years ago, so Cardinal fans don’t have any reason to really bring up that brawl that cost Jason LaRue the rest of his career, but Cincy fans (the few that make it to the park) get to relive it all the time with Molina’s exploits.  In this one, he went 2-4 with a home run and a two-run single that proved to be vital later on.

Goat: Paul DeJong.  While DeJong had a fairly good start to the season, it’s taken a nosedive of late.  Here he went 0-4, the only starter to not get at least one hit, and struck out twice.  Hopefully this is just a slump and he’ll be able to make some adjustments soon but everyone gets scared because of how Aledmys Diaz went last year.  I still don’t think it’s going to be anything close to that.

Notes: Molina led five players with double digits in hits.  The Cardinals left eight on base and hit into two double plays so the scoring could have been more plentiful but thankfully that didn’t matter, mainly because Luke Weaver continues to be on top of his game.  Weaver went into the seventh before allowing a two-run homer by Devin Mesoraco with nobody out to break his scoreless outing.  Six innings and just two runs will do it most every time with this lineup and bullpen, though.  Weaver struck out seven and allowed just four hits and continues to be the brightest of bright spots in the rotation with an ERA that just barely clears the 2.00 mark.  The biggest test for Weaver, of course, is how he does against teams when they’ve seen him before and how he does in the late part of the season.

We continue to be a bit concerned about the Patron Pitcher.  Tyler Lyons started off the eighth by walking Billy Hamilton (who, as we’ll see, bedeviled #70 later in the series as well).  Hamilton should never be walked, of course, though Cardinal pitchers did it twice in this game.  A leadoff walk is of course even worse with a speedster like Hamilton, but some of that speed was negated by the next batter, Jose Peraza, bunting him over.  Perhaps he was bunting for a base hit, but really, don’t you let Hamilton try to steal (especially with his success rate against Molina) before doing anything like that?  Especially when you are down four?  If that came from the bench, it’s nice to know that other managers besides Mike Matheny do some fairly inexplicable things.

That brought up Joey Votto.  Now, left-on-left doesn’t usually matter much to Votto, who basically hits everyone.  However, many will remember how Lyons carved up Votto in a game last year.  That didn’t happen in this one, as Votto singled in a run.  Lyons got Scooter Gennett to strike out and then was pulled for Dominic Leone, who actually picked off Votto on first to end the frame.  Still, it feels like last year Lyons would have done a little better in that outing.  It could well be the weather (which is a possible reason for so many things this year)–Lyons didn’t make his debut last season until April 27, well past any cold snaps.  He also didn’t settle into the dominance we remember until the second half.  It could be he’s still searching a bit.  Not that he’s really a liability, he’s just not what folks have been expecting this season.  Mo’s Algorithm, making his debut over at The Redbird Daily, wrote a bit about Lyons yesterday and it feels like there’s been a bit of being unlucky, what with the high BABIP and the solid K rate.  Command has been the issue and that honestly was always my worry with our Ty Fighter earlier in his career.  While I don’t know that he’ll be a superstar reliever like he was last year, I do think he’ll be better than this going forward.

Oh, and the Cardinals had a save opportunity and didn’t use the closer they just acquired.  Nobody noticed that at all, as I’m sure you’d imagine.  Still, it makes sense that they’d want to give Greg Holland a few more opportunities that didn’t have the game on the line.  It’s just too bad they didn’t think of that before they activated him.

Saturday (6-1 win at Cincinnati)

Hero: Greg Garcia.  The biggest sign over the weekend that the world could be coming to an end was not the bombings in Syria but the bombs in Cincinnati.  Garcia, the little guy that could apparently, went deep twice against Brandon Finnegan and added a double to boot.  There are going to be inexplicable happenings this season but I don’t know that any will match this level of “Say what?”  And who would have expected Garcia to be a Hero before Marcell Ozuna?

Goat: Yairo Munoz.  An 0-4 day with three strikeouts probably cemented the Cardinals’ decision to send him down once Jedd Gyorko was healthy and ready to be activated.  Here again is the reason not to get so enamored with spring training statistics.  After such a hot spring (which, without looking, I feel like had cooled even before camp broke), Munoz hit .111 with one extra base hit in 18 AB.  His one RBI came on a bases-loaded walk.  Kyle Reis was talking about this quite a bit in spring, how Munoz needed more time in the minors to develop and it showed.  Hopefully he’ll be able to work on things in Memphis, have a good few months, and return to the big leagues with more confidence and skill.

Notes: Another solid outing by Miles Mikolas.  Seven innings, one run, four hits, four strikeouts.  It was his best start so far and whether that’s a function of the competition or some growth, it’s hard to know.  (Though Cincy, for all its problems, can put up some runs.)  He’ll get to face the Reds this weekend as well so we’ll see what happens when they see him twice.  We know things didn’t change much when the Brewers saw him in back-to-back starts, so maybe it won’t here either.

Greg Holland pitched an uneventful eighth and Jordan Hicks, with no save on the line, took the ninth.  It was the first time I have really gotten to watch Hicks this season and it was interesting.  Hicks loaded the bases (though he could have been out of it had Munoz been able to get an out on a grounder to him) with one out.  Watching the close-ups of him on FSMW, you couldn’t tell that anything was out of the ordinary.  There didn’t seem to be any concern or anxiety, just a casual look in to Yadi.  I’m sure that there were some nerves and worry, but he was pretty composed out there and it was great to see.  He got Cliff Pennington to strike out and Alex Blandino to fly out and escaped without damage.  I’m still not sure that trading Hicks the starter for Hicks the reliever is the best long-term play but there’s no doubt he adds something interesting to this season’s bullpen.

Outside of Garcia and Tommy Pham having three hits and two steals, the offense was pretty quiet in this one.  It was a rainy day (though not nearly as cold) and maybe that affected things, but Finnegan is actually one of Cincinnati’s better pitchers usually so probably some credit is due him as well.

Sunday (3-2 win at Cincinnati)

Hero: Carlos Martinez.  Martinez continues to put that weak Opening Day start behind him (and, given the Mets’ success so far this season, maybe we didn’t give enough credit to the opposition…but there were those walks….) by dominating the Reds.  Martinez threw seven innings and allowed just two hits while striking out 11.  Again, that “it was the Reds” caveat applies, but also again, the Reds’ lineup isn’t their major problem.  Being able to shut down any major league lineup that effectively, though, is a big deal.  The four walks are a little concerning but that concern is significantly muted when Martinez is on his strikeout game.

Goat: Dexter Fowler.  Both Fowler and Matt Carpenter went 0-4 with two strikeouts, but Fowler gets the prize because he was the leadoff guy.  (This is the true reason Carpenter doesn’t want to flip his spot in the lineup.)  It was another cool, overcast day and the getaway day to boot (though only Marcell Ozuna and Paul DeJong got the day off and, as we know, boy did DeJong need it) so maybe it was hard to be too invested in this one, but if the offense is going to be muted a bit, it’s probably not surprising that it was Homer Bailey on the mound.  Bailey’s had his issues but he’s still probably the best the Reds have.

Notes: Harrison Bader came through with a big two-run homer in the second and, Yadi being Yadi, Molina drove in the third run with one of his two singles on the day.  The three runs looked like plenty when Martinez was in the game but the bullpen made it feel a little small.  Tyler Lyons, as we referenced above, allowed a home run to Billy Hamilton to lead off the eighth, which really is mind-boggling.  Though, to be fair, it’s possible to understand the mindset if Lyons thought, “Hey, Hamilton’s hitting under .200.  If I walk him, like I did last time, that could lead to issues.  I’m going to just make him hit his way on.”  Unfortunately, Hamilton got all of it for his first homer since September 4th of last year.

It should be noted that Lyons, after an error by Kolten Wong, got out of the inning by getting Joey Votto to hit into a double play and Scooter Gennett to ground out.  There’s still life in that Patron Pitcher, my friends.

Bud Norris again got the save, though really made it interesting by also allowing a home run then having the tying and winning runs on before getting Hamilton to line out.  Yes, folks, he really is a True Cardinals Closer now.

With the snow/rain/cold out from yesterday, the Cardinals are adjusting their pitching rotation.  The initial reports were they weren’t going to, which had some people pretty worked up.  After all, without modification that meant Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha would be going up against the best team in the division (if the last few years and preseason picks override 15 or so games, which they probably do).  That wasn’t necessarily a recipe for success there.  Yes, Waino through a good start last time out, but against those hitters in Wrigley?  And Wacha’s probably been the weakest link in the rotation so far.

They did decide to modify things and while Wainwright will still go today, Wacha has been pushed back to face the Reds this weekend, leaving Luke Weaver on turn to pitch Wednesday.  (That is, if there’s a game Wednesday.  Right now, Chicago weather shows a 90% of rain throughout the day and night, with a high of 38 and snow flurries possible.  If that holds you gotta wonder if this is going to be a one game series.)  I’d guess the original thought was as much rest as possible for Weaver, but he’s proving that you don’t have to baby him.  You couldn’t swap both of these guys so I’d probably take my chances with Wainwright right now over Wacha.

The Cubs will be sending out new acquisition Tyler Chatwood this evening assuming conditions are playable.  Chatwood was one of those trendy sleeper picks this offseason as he had some good non-traditional numbers that indicated he was ready for a breakthrough.  So far, he’s still chipping at that wall, putting up a 4.91 ERA and losing both of his starts.  He last pitched on the 10th–starters all over baseball are winding up with varying days off with this weather–and gave up five runs in five innings to the Pirates in Wrigley.  He allowed just one run against the Reds in six innings in his debut, though, so we’ll see which one shows up tonight.

It’s supposed to be 80 here today so I’m having some trouble identifying with the fact that it’ll be 37 with a 30 wind chill at game time in Chicago today.  But with all the cancellations, there’s nothing to do but the players to bundle up and do their best.  Hopefully the Chicago bats will be cold and the Cardinals can keep this winning streak alive!

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Home run Pitcher Score Inning Outs Runners on Distance
5 Jeff Suppan 1-0 3 1 1 424 feet
6 Jeff Suppan 4-4 5 2 0 347 feet
7 Barry Manuel 11-5 9 0 1 462 feet

Opponent: Arizona Diamondbacks

Location: Busch Stadium

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 2

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 6

To hit 70 home runs in 162 games is an incredible feat, of course.  If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be marking the 20th anniversary of it happening.  For one thing, it’s hardly ever 162 games.  Players take days off here and there and, in fact, McGwire appeared in just 155 games in 1998.  Even with 162, though, you basically have to hit a home run every 2.3 games.  If you go 21 innings without a home run, you’ve got to catch up.

Now, Big Mac got off to a strong start as we’ve noted, hitting four homers in his first four games, so the “drought” that he went on afterwards, where he had no homers for eight games, didn’t hurt as much.  Still, he had slipped below that 2.3 pace until he met up with the Diamondbacks on April 14 and trailed Griffey in the overall home run race, though he obviously still led in the National League.  Running into an expansion team is often a good cure for the home run blues.

Future Cardinal Jeff Suppan walked McGwire in the first inning, but he was left on second base after an RBI single by Brian Jordan.  He was less lucky in the third.  Royce Clayton grounded out to short but then Delino Deshields singled back up the middle.  With a runner on first, Suppan threw over, then started McGwire out with a ball.  He got a called strike, then McGwire swung and missed at the next pitch.  He didn’t miss the fourth one, a pitch down and in the middle of the plate, letting McGwire unleash that legendary swing and send it on a line drive to the left field seats.

Jordan followed later in that inning with a home run, putting St. Louis up 4-0, but Kent Merker started the fourth inning allowing a single to Devon White, a walk to Chris Jones and Jay Bell, then a grand slam to Matt Williams.  He righted the ship after that, but the game stayed tied until McGwire’s next at bat in the fifth.

Clayton had grounded out again and Deshields had lined out, so even in a tie game the situation dictated you had to pitch to the red-haired slugger.  Again, Suppan started him out with a ball before getting a called strike, but this time McGwire launched one on the next pitch, roping it just over the wall in left.  In fact, this one was the second shortest homer of the season for Big Mac and it looked very similar to the one that was actually the shortest.  (You might know that one as #62.  We’ll get there in September.)

Nothing happened on the scoreboard until the seventh, when Kelly Stinnett tied the game with a home run off MIke Busby.  The Cardinals broke in open in the bottom of that frame, though, scoring six runs, all except Clayton’s leadoff double coming with two outs.  Realizing the game import, McGwire was intentionally walked with two outs and Clayton at second, but Ray Lankford, Jordan, Tom Lampkin, and Willie McGee all had RBI hits, pushing the score out to 11-5.

With 10 men coming to the plate in the seventh, that allowed McGwire another chance to hit in the eighth.  Sometimes, with the game well in hand, you’d think you’d see the big slugger get pinch-hit for, but everyone already felt something was magical about this year.  Besides, the Cardinal faithful had come to see McGwire.  Deshields walked against Barry Manuel to start the frame and stayed on first to watch the show.  Manuel ran the count to 2-0 on the first baseman before trying to challenge him.  That rarely works out well.  McGwire launched one to just left of dead center, capping his first–but not last–three run homer game of the year.

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I imagine there’s a contingent of fans who are wanting to discount last night’s game because it was Cincinnati and their pitching staff is less than stellar.  Indeed, their team ERA after last night is over 6, the worst in the major leagues.  Their reliever ERA is even worse, over seven.  Their record is 2-10 and the fans have already started not showing up for games.  So yeah, I get that it’s tough to say scoring 13 runs means the offense is finally clicking or this is what a fully armed and operational lineup looks like.

On the flip side, Cincinnati gave the Cardinals so much trouble in the early going it is good to see them get a win and hopefully avoid that pitfall this year.  Last April, in the first matchup between the two teams, they were shut out twice in dropping the series.  The first time they went to Cincinnati, they were swept in a four game series in June (and the Scooter Gennett game happened) which led to the big (well, size depends on your point of view) shakeup press conference.  The Reds were a problem for the Cardinals in the first half last year so a win feels nice.  Plus we’ve seen the Cardinals struggle against weak pitching before so even as bad as these guys have been it’s hard not to believe they aren’t going to throw a one-run game at the ‘Birds at some point.

Most of the damage came in a seventh inning unlike anything most of us have seen.  I mean really, what are the odds an inning starts like this?

Jose Martinez homers
Yadier Molina homers
Paul DeJong walks
Kolten Wong walks, DeJong to second
Pitching change
Pinch-hitter Greg Garcia walks, DeJong to third, Wong to second
Dexter Fowler walks, DeJong scores, Wong to third, Garcia to second
Tommy Pham walks, Wong scores, Garcia to third, Fowler to second

Because baseball is a remarkably funny game, who stopped the streak of walks?  Of course, walker extraordinaire Matt Carpenter, who ran the count full before hitting a sacrifice fly for the first out of the inning.  Then, after Marcell Ozuna lined out, Martinez got another chance in the inning and doubled in two runs.  Six total bases in a frame isn’t too bad, Mr. Martinez.

In fact, Jose Martinez gets our Hero of the game not entirely for that inning but that had a lot to do with it.  Martinez was four for five with six RBI, driving in a run in the top of the first and, yes, walking with the bases loaded in the fifth before doubling in another run in the ninth.  This could have been a rout anyway, but Martinez made sure that it was.

Before that big inning, though, it looked like another shaky game.  The Cards scored two in the first but Michael Wacha, who I am going to give the Goat to given the offensive exploits (though there were options there we’ll talk about), gave them right back.  Ozuna broke the tie in the third, but Wacha then allowed two runs in the bottom of that inning.  One of the first inning tallies was considered unearned due to an Ozuna error, but I think the runner would have scored anyway.

Let’s look at Wacha’s lines for this season:

2018 Pitching Game Log
Rk Date Tm Opp Rslt Inngs Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP BF Pit Str StS LD GSc
1 Mar 31 STL @ NYM L,2-6 GS-5 L(0-1) 4.2 5 4 4 2 2 2 1 22 95 52 3 7 38
2 Apr 7 STL ARI W,5-3 GS-5 W(1-1) 5.0 4 2 2 5 5 0 0 23 89 48 7 2 51
3 Apr 12 STL @ CIN W,13-4 GS-5 W(2-1) 5.0 5 4 3 3 5 0 0 23 93 57 11 6 45
2-1 W-L:2-1 14.2 14 10 9 10 12 2 1 68 277 57% 8% 33% 45
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/13/2018.

So far, 2018 has been decidedly mediocre for Mr. Wacha.  You know, if you gave me these numbers before the season and didn’t let me know whose they were, I’d have guessed Adam Wainwright.  There was an expectation–and this was on the positive side–that Waino would be a five inning pitcher and give up three or so runs each time out.  (I’d have thought he’d been better than that 5.52 ERA right now but many wouldn’t have.)  Wacha was supposed to be better than this, though.  While there was a lot of talk about him having that third-time-through penalty and that he might not go overly deep in games, I think many of us thought six innings would be about right.  Who’d have guessed Wainwright would throw a quality start before Wacha?

The early frames have been trouble for Wacha.  In the first inning against the Mets, two doubles and a walk accounting for two runs.  Against the Diamondbacks, three walks and a single, which surprisingly led to just one run.  Last night, a walk, a double, and a single, bringing in two.  Factor that first inning out and Wacha’s ERA drops to 3.86, so I wonder if he’s having some trouble getting loosened up for games.  I mean, exactly half of his walks on the season are in the first.  I’m sure that’s something that Joe Schwarz might take a look at, seeing if there are differences between Wacha in the first and Wacha the rest of the game.

I did think about giving the Goat to Wong, because he continues to struggle.  0-3 in this one, though he did draw two walks and, as noted above, scored a run.  However, this time last year Wong was hitting .167 and wound up being at .300 by early August.  April has been a tough month for him in his career (though not his toughest) and hopefully he’ll have the time to work his way out of it.  Jedd Gyorko could begin rehabbing by the end of the week, however, which might not bode well for his continued chances to do so.

Nice to see DeJong get a home run and that walk, but he struck out another couple of times tonight, running his season mark to 21, which leads the league.  I know we are all fairly cool with strikeouts in this modern age, but when you are whiffing at around 40% of your plate appearances, you better have a lot of home runs to back that up.  I feel like DeJong will turn it around but if he doesn’t, we really need to consider the possibility that the shortstop position for the Cardinals has been cursed.  Maybe bringing David Eckstein back this season for a theme night with his wife Ashley will be enough to lift it.

Luke Weaver goes up against Tyler Mahle this evening as the Cards look to continue to feast on the Reds’ misfortunes.  Weaver’s been the best pitcher on the Cardinals in the early going while Mahle is coming off a five run, 4.2 inning affair against the Pirates.  (To his credit, his first start was six scoreless innings against the Cubbies, so we like him for that.)  He shut out the Cardinals over five innings in his last start in 2017, so we’ll see if they can do a little better against him this time around!

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We so often talk about the impact of a signature win.  A big win that can spur a team on to greater heights because they dug deep and did the improbable.  A huge outing that let them know what they are possible of and they ride the crest of that for a week or so if not more.

If that’s something that is real, if it’s not something that we just try to tie some narrative to, it’s not something the Cardinals are really able to do.

This has been the case for quite some while now.  Even way back in 2013, I wrote a post entitled “Laughing in the Face of Momentum“.  Momentum isn’t something they typically do well and they didn’t do it well here either.

Before we get into the aftermath, though, we should probably get to the math.  Wait, that doesn’t work.  Anyway, let’s talk about Tuesday’s game.

Tuesday (5-3 win)

Hero: There aren’t many easier calls on this than a guy who hits a walkoff homer.  Matt Carpenter not only had the two-run blast that sent everyone home but had another hit and two walks as well.  That kind of night makes you think that Carpenter is getting closer to being on track.

Of course, that almost didn’t happen because Carpenter squared to bunt before smashing his long ball.  I’m not completely anti-bunt–there are situations where you need one run and a bunt, while giving away an out, can increase the odds of getting one tally (while lowering the odds of a big inning)–but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been happy to see that.  (I’m old, folks, and it’d been a long day.  I was asleep by time this finished up.)  I don’t think you can place the blame for that idea anywhere but Carpenter and that’s more of how he’s been brought up.  But when J.J. Hoover is on the mound, don’t give him any outs.  It’s going to be hard enough for him to earn them–even harder now since the Brewers released him after the game.

Goat: I think I’ll go with Yadier Molina, who went 0-5 with two strikeouts.  You could talk about some of the bullpen guys here–and they won’t escape our eye, don’t worry–but if the Cards had put up more than one run before the ninth inning maybe some of these dramatics wouldn’t have been necessary.

Notes: Carlos Martinez had a fine start, going six innings and allowing just one run.  Two out of three starts have been good to great, two of three starts have been against the Brewers, who he now has a career 1.95 ERA against.  So it’s hard to know if Opening Day was the outlier or the Brewers really just don’t match up well against the Cardinal ace.  Most likely it’s some of both but we’ll find out when he takes on the Reds on Sunday.

Jordan Hicks came in and threw two scoreless innings, striking out two but walking two as well.  I know I’ve heard Bernie Miklasz rail about not bringing Hicks in for more than one frame and I imagine Twitter had a few things to say about that as well.  This worries me now because Mike Matheny‘s broken the seal.  Now that Hicks had a good two innings, it’ll be easier for Mike to go to him for longer stints.  Nobody wants Hicks to become the next Matthew Bowman.  Or, even worse, the next Trevor Rosenthal.

We’ve talked positively about Bud Norris in this space but we do have to note when he doesn’t get the job done as well.  Coming into the top of the ninth, the game was tied up at 1 and Norris quickly got the first two outs.  It looked like the Cardinals were going to have a chance in the bottom of the frame to walk it off, but then Eric Thames doubled and Domingo Santana singled and suddenly it was 2-1.  It’s hard to fault giving up something to Thames, who is pretty hot right now and a fine hitter in his own right.  Santana’s not been bad in the early going either, so while you still don’t to see it, that combination is somewhat understandable if frustrating.

After the Cards tied it up in the ninth (I want to go through the bullpen in order, so we’ll come back to how the Cards kept the game going later), Bowman got his regular call.  However, I can’t even complain about that.  We just said in this space that Bowman should come into clean innings.  He’d had Sunday off and while that might not be enough given his usage, at least it was something.  Bowman allowed an infield single to Ryan Braun to start the frame but got the next two out (though one was a bunt that moved Braun over).  He then walked Jett Bandy, but that did put a force into effect.  Unfortunately, Orlando Arcia roped one back up the middle to score Braun.  Maybe Bowman could have used more rest but it’s not the most egregious use of him.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work.

When the game moved to the 11th, Dominic Leone took over and looked like the guy we were hoping we’d see.  Two strikeouts and three straight outs and he got rewarded with a win when Carpenter went yard.  With Greg Holland still not completely ready, Leone might get a chance or two again for a save, though I expect Norris would get the call before Leone does.

Let’s talk about the hitters.  After doing a lot of nothing in the first eight frames, they did just enough in the ninth and tenth to keep the game alive.  Well, in the ninth, they didn’t even really do that as Tommy Pham walked, moved to second on a Greg Garcia sacrifice, then scored after Jacob Barnes threw not one but two wild pitches.  Dexter Fowler walked, but Paul DeJong–as he alarmingly has done a lot–struck out.  Fowler stole second, though, and Carpenter got intentionally passed to get to Marcell Ozuna, which is slightly ironic since part of the reason the Cards got Ozuna was for him to be that fear factor that made pitchers go after their other hitters.  It worked, though, as Ozuna grounded out.

The Cardinal batters were a bit more active in their fate in the 10th and, if replay actually worked the way it was supposed to, they might have ended the game there.  With one out, Harrison Bader hit a ball that Domingo Santana appeared to trap after it bounced off the turf, but the umpire called Bader out and a long, long replay didn’t change their opinion.  The two out rally of Yairo Munoz drawing a walk (between this one and the bases-loaded one he drew earlier, walking is the most offense he’s put up so far) and Jose Martinez and Greg Garcia singling could have been a little more potent had Bader been on base.

All right, that was probably more than we needed to go into.  Let’s talk about Facebook Wednesday.

Wednesday (3-2 loss)

Hero: Tommy Pham.  The only person with two hits and his home run in the ninth at least made it interesting, even if it was ultimately only good for hampering the Cardinals’ record in one-run games.

Goat: Kolten Wong.  Moved up to the sixth spot on a day that saw Yadier Molina serve his one-game suspension and Paul DeJong and Dexter Fowler get needed days off, Wong went 0-4 and left four runners on, not counting a double play.  The biggest failure came in the ninth, where after Pham’s homer Matt Carpenter struck out but Marcell Ozuna and Jose Martinez singled to put runners on first and second.  A hit here would have tied the game in the ninth for the third straight day.  Even a ground ball in the right spot would have at least moved the runners up.  Instead, Wong fouled out and Fowler, pinch-hitting for Harrison Bader, struck out to end the game.

Notes: I couldn’t give him the Hero tag (though perhaps, if Bader had been able to pull back Eric Thames’s home run like it briefly looked like he had, the decision could have gone his way) but Adam Wainwright showed that he’s not completely done yet.  First of all, I wasn’t sure we’d ever see him go seven innings in a game this season.  Even if Waino was successful and contributing, I thought he’d be a six inning pitcher.  Yet after his first outing saw him leave in the fourth with almost 90 pitches under his belt, he threw just 91 to get 3.1 more innings in this time.

The two solo homers weren’t great, but that’s probably what we are going to see on Waino’s best days now.  Any mistake he makes has the real potential to be crushed because he so reliant on location and deception instead of power now.  Yet no frame truly got away from him in this one.  The fifth looked like it might be ugly, with Orlando Arcia singling and Jett Bandy doubling to start the frame.  Runners on second and third with nobody out is not where you want any pitcher to be, especially with the top of the order lurking, but after striking out his opposite number in Junior Guerra, he allowed an RBI groundout to Jonathan Villar and popped up Thames.  Given Wainwright’s limitations, that was a stellar recovery.

Of course, the fact that Mike Matheny left Waino in had some controversy as well, because in the bottom of the fifth, after Wong’s double play, Harrison Bader and Francisco Pena singled, putting two on with two out and Wainwright’s spot coming up.  It’s 3-0 at this point but a solid hit would at least get you on the board and turn it over for the top of the lineup.  However, instead of going for it right there, Matheny let Wainwright bat.  And yes, I know, last year Wainwright was a Silver Slugger and maybe that played into it a bit.  There was also a very short bench with Molina unavailable.  The bullpen shouldn’t have been terribly worn down but asking them to cover four innings after two consecutive extra-inning affairs might have been tough.  There were a lot of considerations here but especially at the time when no one expected Wainwright to give you more than one more inning it felt like you should take the chance when you had it.

So what’s next in the Wainwright saga?  You have to figure he’ll make his next scheduled start, which is against the Cubs in Wrigley.  If he can traverse that terrain with limited damage, we may have something here.  That’s going to be a tough situation and it wouldn’t be surprising if he wasn’t up for it but I don’t see any real way we aren’t going to find out.

The Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons threw a scoreless eighth and Greg Holland walked the first guy he faced (giving him five walks in six batters as a Cardinal) before getting a fly out and a double play.  Perhaps he’s finally knocked the rust off but there’s still going to be a little bit of queasiness until he gets his first uneventful save.

Cards sit at 5-7, which is better than last year’s 3-9 but we were hoping for more at this time.  Then again, that’s nothing that a good weekend in Cincinnati can’t help.  The Reds were pretty successful against St. Louis early last season but hopefully the bats will wake up against Reds pitching.  Michael Wacha is going up against Sal Romano, who allowed four runs in five innings against the Pirates in his last outing.  The Cardinals haven’t faced Romano before, but at least he’s not a lefty!

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That’s Bull….Pen

I’ll admit, I was one of those that thought it’d be different.

I thought Mike Maddux would make a difference.  I thought that the new bullpen arms would be extremely effective.  I thought we’d seen the end of consistently losing games in late innings, especially with questionable decisions.

Instead, it’s like 2017 got dressed up and stayed a while.

We’ve got three games to look at.  One of them was fine but the other two…..some of this discussion could be cut, scrubbed of names, and posted in just about any year from 2012 until now.  Draw your own conclusions about what that means and what should be done about it.

Saturday (5-3 win vs. Arizona)

Hero: Jose Martinez.  It seems to be feast or famine with Jose this season.  He has four multi-hit games on the year and he has six games where he’s hitless.  There’s nothing in between for the first baseman of the Cardinals.  Thankfully, this was feast day as Martinez had two hits, with the big one being a three-run homer off of Zack Greinke in the third, part of the four-run inning that gave the Cards the lead and they were–unlike the rest of this post–able to keep.

Goat: It was a rough stretch–and depending on your point of view, maybe still is–for Paul DeJong.  After striking out four times in the home opener, he followed that up with an 0-4 with three strikeouts in this one.  We knew the strikeouts were going to pile up but I don’t think we expected quite so many in such a short period of time.

Notes: Let’s just stay with the offense as we look at the box score.  It was actually a pretty solid day for the hitters, even though they scored four of their five runs in one frame (which also feels like something we’ve seen before, a concentrated offense instead of one that adds on).  Everyone but DeJong and Kolten Wong had a hit and Marcell Ozuna (3) and Yadier Molina (2) had multi-hit days.  Of course, all of hits were singles except for Dexter Fowler‘s double and Martinez’s homer, but I guess we shouldn’t be too picky.

If Adam Wainwright wasn’t in the rotation, there might be a bit more focus on Michael Wacha.  He got the win here with five innings of work but he’s still not looking like that effective Wacha we thought we might be getting this year.  There’s not been a chance to even wonder about him going deeper into games as the pitch count continues to be high.  He was at 89 pitches in this one, which actually wasn’t as bad as it could have been given that he walked five batters.  Three of those came in the first, so things got better from there, but it’s still not a situation that I, at least, have a lot of confidence in.

The bullpen did OK in this one, holding the lead and allowing just one run because Jordan Hicks was a little less in control than we’ve seen him, walking two and allowing an unearned run since Paul Goldschmidt led off the inning by reaching on a Matt Carpenter error.  However, look at the names used.  Dominic LeoneMatthew Bowman.  Hicks.  Bud Norris.  Pitchers have to go on back-to-back days, of course, and the use of Norris so far feels about right, but some of the seeds for Sunday were planted here.

It was fun to see that, for all the offseason carping and the focus on his spring stats (that, as we know, were pretty skewed by a couple of bad frames), Norris got the first–and still only–save of the Cardinals’ season.  While there’s a lot to be said for the high-octane arms that down in the ‘pen, it’s also been comforting to see a veteran just go out there and do his job without much incident.  Something that, sadly, we don’t get to see enough of.

Sunday (4-1 loss to Arizona)

Hero: Luke Weaver.  There have been a lot of things this season that, so far, haven’t matched up with our winter expectations.  Weaver, however, isn’t one of them.  His second straight solid outing left him with a 1.59 at the end of it, giving up one run on three hits in 6.1 innings, with seven strikeouts to boot.  Well, he was charged with a run, he didn’t actually give it up.  Which is the problem……

Goat: For as much as the controversy came earlier, you probably still look to Dominic Leone as the Goat in this one.  Allowing a single and a homer to the two batters you face in what was a 1-1 game when you came in will do that probably every time.  Leone’s given up four runs this season and all have come via the home run ball.  I asked resident pitching guru Joe Schwarz about it and he replied it’d just been three bad pitches.  I don’t doubt Joe, but I also note that Leone has allowed eight hits in 4.2 innings.  While half of those hits were stranded, it still seems like a high total to me for a guy that should be able to pitching 1-2-3 innings on the regular.

That said, there’s a bit of an extenuating circumstance in this one.  Most of us noted it with Bowman (which we’ll talk about in a bit) but this was also the third straight game–against, significantly, the same opponent–that Leone had thrown in.  Chris Owings, who singled to start the inning, was seeing him for the third straight day (and got two hits off of him in that span).  One of the great things about relievers is that, in theory, the batters can’t get used to them because they don’t see them as long as a starter.  However, when the same guy is out there on a regular basis, a lot of the mystery is erased.  Teams have a fresher game plan for going after them.

Notes: All right, let’s get to the Bowman issue.  As noted above, Weaver left in the seventh having allowed a one-out single to A.J. Pollock.  With Daniel Descalso–feared slugger Daniel Descalso–coming up, Mike Matheny went to Tyler Lyons to match up lefties.  Which is fine, especially since Weaver was at 97 pitches.  I am not suggesting at all that Weaver should have stayed in there nor do I ever complain when the Patron Pitcher makes an appearance.  This move was fine on the face of it.

Lyons strikes out Descalso.  Two outs and everyone is feeling fine.  Until Matheny comes out of the dugout.

Now, as Tara said on Gateway Sunday night, there’s no reason to treat Lyons as a lefty specialist when we’ve seen him go three innings at times.  He’s a converted starter and last year basically was your eighth inning guy.  Sure, right now with Ryan Sherriff and Brett Cecil on the disabled list you don’t have a real LOOGY type, but you don’t have to have one.  Bring Lyons into get a lefty, but leave him in.  Heck, in limited sample size this year, lefties are hitting Lyons much better than righties.  Using a guy like this, a guy that can face both sides of the plate and have success, in a one-run game late (which means a strong possibility of extra innings), for one batter is almost malfeasance.

Pollock had stolen second on Lyons, though, and so there were two outs and a runner in scoring position.  Perhaps you want to go to a righty because Christian Walker is a lefty masher–well, in some universe; in this one he has all of 39 MLB at bats in his career and this was his first appearance of the season, so there’s absolutely no reason to think Lyons couldn’t have handled him.  If you have to go to your bullpen, with a runner on second in a tight game, you go get some guy that’s bringing the heat, that has significant odds of striking a guy out, a fresh fireballer (because there are a lot of those down there) that can reduce the chances of a bloop hit driving in the tying run.

That’s what you do.  That’s not what Matheny does.  Matheny does what he does in any situation–he goes and gets Matt Bowman.

Look, Matt Bowman has his uses.  He’s a fine pitcher, even if he is overrated by the manager.  Bring him into the sixth or seventh to start a frame and, assuming proper rest, I don’t have much problem with it.  Runner on first and one out?  Less enthused, because Bowman isn’t the double play Seth Maness that Matheny seems to think he is, but it’ll probably be OK.  This situation?  Compounded by the fact that, like Leone, he was pitching in his third consecutive game against the same team with only Friday’s off day in the middle?  Nobody in their right mind is going to make that their first choice.

The thing about these bullpen blowups is that, even though I’m writing this a couple of days later, these aren’t takes that are looking back and second-guessing.  This is the immediate reaction of a huge swath of fans as the manager is walking out to the mound and calling for the righty.  It’s like the Farmers Insurance ads.  We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two and we’ve seen this play out especially over the last couple of years.

Maybe if Mike Mayers or Norris or John Brebbia (who was called up for Sherriff before this game) had come into the game here the result would have been the same or worse.  Maybe if Lyons had been left in Walker would have roped a double and things would have started downhill.  I don’t know.  I just know that the decision making for any of those choices would have been stronger and more defensible than bringing in a tired Bowman, who of course walked Walker and gave up a bloop to Nick Ahmed to tie the game.

Mayers did pitch in this game, allowing a home run in the eighth in relief of Leone.  He got three outs around that homer, which was better than much of Mayers’s games in the big leagues, but that didn’t help his confidence, I don’t imagine.  Whether that is because spring training was a bit of a fluke or if it was relating to the fact that he literally hadn’t pitched since Opening Day–not the home opener, but that game in New York over a week before–it’s tough to say.  And being that he was (unsurprisingly) the roster casualty when Greg Holland was activated before yesterday’s game, it’ll be a while before we find out.

Monday (5-4 loss in 10 to Milwaukee)

Hero: Dexter Fowler.  Hopefully Dex is starting to heat up a bit.  Two hits in this one and two RBI, with the big one being a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth to bring home the tying run.  That euphoria didn’t last long, though.

Goat: Greg Holland.  Welcome to St. Louis, Mr. Holland!  I’d say take a walk around downtown, but you probably don’t have any more walks in you after issuing four free passes–including an intentional walk, in one-third of an inning.  An extra inning, even, which makes the complete lack of control even more painful.

Notes: Holland spent the winter looking for a job.  He spent spring training trying to find employment, which meant he didn’t work out or play in any spring training games.  He got two innings down in the minor leagues to tune up before coming to the Cardinals on the first day he was eligible to do so.

All that to say that perhaps easing Holland into things instead of throwing him immediately into high-pressure situations might have been the better move.  That is a bit of hindsight, though.  I can’t say that I, at least (perhaps Twitter did but I wasn’t on there at the time), though this was going to be a problem.

Walking Travis Shaw on a full count to start the inning probably should have at least gotten some folks stirring in the bullpen.  Going to a full count and walking Domingo Santana next definitely should have.  When Eric Sogard bunted the two runners over, that would have been a good time to think about bringing in Norris.  Matheny then ordered an intentional walk of Manny Pina to load the bases.

Now, overall, I’m not sure that was a bad move.  Pina seems like he’s done damage against the Cardinals, it gives you the force play at home as well as a double play possibility, you already have the runner at third, etc.  However, if you are going to do that, you can’t leave in Holland who has shown that he’s not quite fine-tuned.

You can’t.  I can’t.  Matheny can.

And, as almost everyone saw coming, Holland walked in the go-ahead run.  On four pitches.  I know it’d have been an issue for Norris to inherit the count, but at 2-0 on Orlando Arcia, I’d have been tempted to pull the pitcher then.

After the run scored, Norris came in and quickly got a strikeout and a flyout.  Again, I get it, you’ve got Greg Holland, you just spent $14 million on him, you want to see him in the game.  However, expectations might have been a bit too high for his first outing and, unfortunately for Holland, a number of people soured on him last night.  Hopefully this will be a game that gets washed away with a slew of strong outings but for some, anytime that he issues a walk, they are going to think “Here we go again.”

That decision overshadowed the game but there wasn’t a lot of interesting things in it anyway.  Save for their ninth inning run (which in and of itself was a little disappointing since Matt Albers gave up three straight singles to start the frame, including a bunt by Kolten Wong, but all they got was Fowler’s sacrifice fly), all the others came in the third, on RBI hits by Fowler (single) and Marcell Ozuna (double).  Other than that, the offense was fairly quiet and only Paul DeJong had an extra-base hit besides Ozuna.  The offense still isn’t clicking the way we would like it to but it feels like there are flashes, moments that might come together to make something soon.

Miles Mikolas was serviceable in his second outing, again allowing four runs to the Brewers but this time having less success with it.  He pitched into the seventh, though, which was nice to see.  If more pitchers can start completing six frames and if Holland gets on track, that means just two innings need to be covered by the other seven arms down there in the bullpen, which should (SHOULD) mean less of Mr. Bowman.

I’ll admit, I was a little surprised to not only see Sam Tuivailala out there but to see him go two innings.  Tui actually did quite well, allowing just two hits in his scoreless outing.  There’s the idea that Tui is going to take on the Mayers “gather cobwebs in case of emergency” role, but I wonder if that’ll be the case or not.  On the one hand, Tui seems to be the guy that Matheny has the least confidence in, but on the other he’s not really had the career where he’s a multi-inning solution.  He did go two here, but it feels like the manager usually holds out pitchers that have some starting experience in case they need to pitch three or four innings.  (A situation that rarely comes up, which is why these folks rarely get used.)  That’s not really Tui but that doesn’t mean he won’t get put in that slot anyway.

Let’s talk about who we didn’t see in this game or in Sunday’s game and that’s Jordan Hicks.  It’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong.  For a while there, it felt like Matheny was very enamored with the kid and was going to start using him more and more.  Actually, I believe he currently has as many innings as Bowman, which should tell you something.  However, even in situations over the last couple of games that could use a flamethrower, Matheny didn’t use him.

Which leads me to wonder–is Mike Maddux picking his battles?  We continue to hope that the pitching coach is going to make an impact on the decisions and so far we haven’t seen many of them.  Part of me would like to believe Maddux surveyed the landscape and decided that he was going to protect the young arm of Hicks above all else right now, letting Matheny go his way on a lot of things but holding firm on Hicks’s usage.  It’s a passing thought and I don’t know if we have anything to back it up, but if that’s the case, I think I can live with that.

Cardinals sit two games under .500 and need to win the series to get back to break even.  That starts tonight when Carlos Martinez, who was so dominant against the Brewers last time out, goes up against Brent Suter.  Suter is making his third start and has a 6.30 ERA in 10 innings so far this season.  St. Louis saw him last on August 2 of last season (great day, that) and got to him for five runs (two homers) in 5.1 innings.  On paper, this is a mismatch in the pitching department.  That so often blows up in our faces but let’s hope it holds this evening!

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If most of us could drawn it up (while still being realistic about it), Adam Wainwright would have come out last night and thrown six scoreless innings, leading the Cardinals to an win in the home opener.  We would have seen flashes of the old Waino mixed in with a crafty veteran.  We would have seen that curve buckle some knees and a fastball fast enough to keep hitters honest.

(I say most of us because there was a contingent on Twitter last night that seemed to revel in Wainwright’s less-than-storybook outing.  I’m not saying that everyone should be wearing the red-colored glasses but not being able to root for Wainwright is a sad state of affairs.  Then again, given our ever-widening gap in society, where nothing is allowed to unify us without being torn down or mocked, I guess that’s not a real surprise.)

It didn’t quite happen that way, of course.  Wainwright didn’t get completely shelled or anything–his Game Score was better than Michael Wacha‘s outing against the Mets and a little below Carlos Martinez‘s Opening Day start–but it wasn’t as effective as anyone would have liked.  As Zach Gifford pointed out, Wainwright was having to live on the edges because anything in the heart of the zone was getting hit hard.  Wainwright didn’t get all the calls out there, which is what happens when you live on the edges, and that ran up some pitch counts.  That’s the thing that’s been a bad sign for Wainwright over the past few years, taking 100 pitches to get through five or fewer frames.

Wainwright was running in the low 90s to start the game, when he put up a scoreless first, but the velocity declined as the game went along.  Whether that was planned as Wainwright insists, a method to try to get more command, or the early heat was due to the adrenaline of it being the home opener and being back on the mound, I don’t know.  With only one data point (depending on how you feel about his spring outings), it’s difficult to draw many conclusions.  Well, backed conclusions.  I know plenty of people have already figured out what they think the issues are and what should be done about them.

Which really does lead us to the big question, now what?  Right now, Wainwright should be on schedule to pitch Wednesday against the Brewers at the end of the homestand.  It’s pretty clear that he makes that start, since Jack Flaherty isn’t eligible to return until a week from Saturday.  After that, I don’t know.  I’m one of the biggest Wainwright fans out there, but even I know he will need to show some improvement next time out.  You can’t keep running him out there for four innings and putting yourself in a dangerous situation with both the bullpen and where you might be winning the game.  I don’t know how this winds up, but the more starts he has like this, the harder it is to argue he should have a place over Flaherty, assuming Flaherty is pitching well in Memphis.

I’m not going to give Wainwright the Goat because, even with the four walks and leaving in the fourth, that really wasn’t the reason the Cardinals lost.  After all, if I told you that the Diamondbacks were only going to score three runs in a Wainwright start, you’d feel pretty good about that, right?  It becomes less good when the offense puts up a total of two hits.  They did draw five walks because Robbie Ray had his own control issues, but the difference between Ray and Wainwright right now is that Ray can rear back and get the strikeout where Wainwright can’t do that as much (though he did have three K).

There were plenty of hitters that I could choose for the Goat, but I’m going to go with Paul DeJong.  DeJong’s had a great start to the season but last night wasn’t his night, striking out all four times for the Golden Sombrero.  Not only that, he left four men on base, matched only by Yairo Munoz who was hitting behind him.  Given how hot DeJong had been–I believe this is the first game he didn’t have a hit in–a night like this was going to come.  Much rather it come a week into the season than on Opening Day where we could all freak out about whether that contract was a mistake and if DeJong was going to be Aledmys Diaz.

We talked yesterday about the fact that 40% of Matt Carpenter‘s plate appearances are ending in a walk or a strikeout.  That percentage increased last night as he took two walks and struck out once.  We’re getting close to half here (47%) and while I still don’t know if it means anything, it’s worth noting.  I wish I could find how many of those strikeouts have been looking.  He has been in a full count five times out of those 29 plate appearances, which seems about right for Carpenter, doesn’t it?

The two hits came from Marcell Ozuna, who wasn’t able to come through in the eighth with a runner on unfortunately, and Yadier Molina, who doubled in the only Cardinal run.  It’s funny, I remember someone writing that the Cardinals would be better against lefties this year with the way this lineup is made up.  While that’s probably true, so far they are hitting .159 against left-handers, the worst in the National League.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

If I could give a Hero to a group, I’d give it to the bullpen.  (Wait, you are saying, isn’t this your conceit and you can do whatever you want?  Fair, I guess, but the rules have been in place for 10 seasons and I’m not changing them now.)  Five pitchers combined to pitch 5.1 innings, allowing no runs, five hits, one walk, and striking out six.  I’ll go ahead and give the Hero to Matthew Bowman, who came into a situation with runners on the corners and Paul Goldschmidt (who, in fairness, has struggled to start the season) at the plate and got the out plus pitched another scoreless frame.  Ever since Opening Day, when he had nothing and we worried that he was injured, Bowman has thrown 3.2 innings and given up two hits.  If he is hurt, he’s doing a good job of playing through the pain.

I wanted to give the Hero to Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons for striking out the side in the eighth, but Bowman’s work trumped my personal favoritism.  It did ease my mind at least that his outing against the Brewers was just one of those nights rather than a symptom of a larger problem.  Which is a very good thing, because I want to see #70 keep trotting out there.

Dominic Leone got the last out of the sixth and then pitched the seventh.  At first, I was a little surprised to see him pitching so early in a game, but I think we are starting to see what things are going to look like when Greg Holland is activated, probably on Monday.  Holland pitched last night for Palm Beach, throwing seven pitches in a scoreless inning.  He’s supposed to go again Saturday and, if last night is any indication, should be available for the Brewers series coming up.  Which probably means that Mike Mayers goes to Memphis, given that he’s not pitched but once this season.  Ben Fredrickson is right, we thought the coming of Mike Maddux would get rid of the “gathering dust” pitcher but while Bowman and Jordan Hicks pitch every other day, Mayers is digging splinters out of his backside.

Fredrickson asks who the unused pitcher is after Holland returns will be, but that’s pretty obviously Sam Tuivailala.  It sounds like Luke Gregerson is still some distance away, so that decision won’t have to be made yet, but it’s unlikely Tui gets too many chances to really make an impact on this team and be able to keep his job when Gregerson returns.  That said, all reports are Tuivailala is throwing in the low 90s instead of the high 90s, which combined with his command issues, doesn’t make him a very appealing option out of a bullpen of flamethrowers.

Hicks got the ninth and, even though we continue to worry about him being overused, it had to be a thrill for the guy to get a chance to pitch in the home opener, even if it was after all the pageantry was over and most of the excitement and momentum and buzz was as well.  I’m glad that Hicks is doing well, but somebody has to make sure Mike Matheny isn’t overusing his new toy like he overused his old one in Bowman.  So far, it’s hard to make the case that Maddux is doing that.

I do think it’s funny that, unless something changes this weekend, Holland is going to get the first save of the year for the Cardinals after not even being on their Opening Day roster.  Maybe the Cardinals will win a close one Saturday or Sunday and let someone else notch a save before the big gun comes striding into town.

For the second straight Friday, a quirk in the schedule based on getting more off days in while still finishing in September, the Redbirds don’t play.  This time, at least, they get to hang out with their families and have a relaxing day off rather than dealing with New York.  When they get back at it on Saturday, Michael Wacha will finally take the mound after being bumped from his regular start, meaning he’ll have an extra couple of days of rest.  Whether that will matter or not, we’ll have to wait and see.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Paul Goldschmidt 11 9 1 1 0 0 1 2 5 .111 .273 .222 .495 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Pollock 10 7 3 1 0 1 3 3 1 .429 .600 1.000 1.600 0 0 0 0 0
David Peralta 9 8 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 .000 .111 .000 .111 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Owings 8 7 2 1 0 0 0 1 2 .286 .375 .429 .804 0 0 0 0 0
Nick Ahmed 5 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .200 .000 .200 0 0 1 0 1
Daniel Descalso 5 5 3 0 0 0 2 0 1 .600 .600 .600 1.200 0 0 0 0 0
Jake Lamb 5 5 1 1 0 0 0 0 2 .200 .200 .400 .600 0 0 0 0 1
Steven Souza 3 3 2 0 0 1 1 0 0 .667 .667 1.667 2.333 0 0 0 0 0
Jorge De La Rosa 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jeff Mathis 2 2 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
T.J. McFarland 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 62 54 14 4 0 2 8 8 15 .259 .355 .444 .799 0 0 1 0 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/6/2018.

For the Arizona squad, Zack Greinke takes the hill.  We know how tough Greinke can be and he’s not one you want to face when you need to win both games to take the series.  Greinke had some groin issues in the spring that got him pushed back and out of the Opening Day slot, but in his first outing he limited the Rockies to one run in 5.2 innings.  I’d say he’s pretty much at his normal top-tier level, which is bad news for us that root for St. Louis.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Yadier Molina 44 42 10 2 0 0 3 1 7 .238 .250 .286 .536 0 1 0 0 3
Matt Carpenter 36 32 11 3 0 2 2 4 9 .344 .417 .625 1.042 0 0 0 0 1
Dexter Fowler 23 21 2 0 0 0 2 1 11 .095 .136 .095 .232 1 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 23 19 1 0 0 0 0 4 4 .053 .217 .053 .270 0 0 0 0 2
Kolten Wong 16 16 5 3 0 0 0 0 3 .313 .313 .500 .813 0 0 0 0 0
Marcell Ozuna 12 11 4 0 0 3 4 1 2 .364 .417 1.182 1.598 0 0 0 0 1
Adam Wainwright 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Harrison Bader 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Paul DeJong 3 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy Pham 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Matthew Bowman 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Bud Norris 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Luke Voit 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 171 155 35 8 0 5 12 12 44 .226 .280 .374 .654 3 1 0 0 7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/6/2018.

Off days aren’t much fun when you have to stew over a loss and look forward to one of the best pitchers going against your team the next day.  But at least it’s Friday?  Hopefully that counts for something.  Allen and I will record a new Meet Me At Musial (the 70th one!) tonight with special guest Kyle Reis, so expect some minors talk as well.  Enjoy the weekend!

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The Cardinals ended their road trip last night but in a fitting bookend to the beginning of the trip it was the news that came out before the game that wound up dominating the conversation for a while.  Adam Wainwright was activated off the disabled list in preparation for making the start tomorrow in the home opener and Jack Flaherty was sent down to Memphis.

Apparently Flaherty wasn’t thrilled with the news and neither was a significant portion of Cardinals Twitter, it didn’t seem like.  After all, Flaherty was coming off that nine-strikeout, one-run, five-inning, should-have-been-a-win in his only start.  There’s excitement and newness and potential and, yes, perhaps a better chance of winning with the young righty.  In other situations, in organizations that weren’t so stocked with pitching, Flaherty would easily still be in the rotation.

All that said, and before we get to the Wainwright side of the equation, this is not a surprise.  Ten days or so ago, Flaherty was ticketed to Memphis and was going to start there on the season.  We expected that from the beginning of spring training.  While there’s a lot of talent, we also saw him struggle in the majors last year and while he’s developed a bit, it is not some outrage that the club thinks he needs a little more seasoning.  It’s not like he’s banished there for the rest of the year.  He’ll be back and probably fairly soon.  Expecting him to be the dominant force he was Monday on a regular basis, though, might be a little high of a bar right now.

However, this really isn’t much about Flaherty, it’s about Uncle Charlie.  Allen mentioned to me on Monday that he’d heard Wainwright was pushing to be the home opener starter still and I honestly didn’t think that was the case.  (Allen stays better informed than I do, it appears.)  Given Wainwright’s drive, I guess I should have been more open to the possibility.  This is a guy that wanted–and almost did–to come back at the end of 2011 after his Tommy John surgery.  This is a guy that returned at the end of 2015 after his Achilles tear.  When Wainwright gets focused on something, he’s going to do everything he can, including lobbying the right people, to make it happen.

As mentioned, this didn’t sit well with a lot of people.  People point–fairly–to his last two seasons where he’s struggled as a reason that he should just go away.  He’s not the Cy Young guy anymore.  He’s had trouble getting folks out (though he’s had some pretty good outings over that span as well).  He’s not the newest or the best or the guy to dream on anymore.  Why are we hampering our chances to win for this guy?

To that I say: this isn’t a computer game.  Yes, winning is very important for many reasons, but it’s not the only consideration that should come into play for us.  We don’t sit and watch Out of the Park simulations of the season.  We don’t take the projections, add them all up, and declare a winner.  The game’s the thing, to paraphrase the Bard, and the people that play it, the connections we have with them, are a big reason we stay fans.

Adam Wainwright‘s career predates my blogging one, which makes him one of the rare players on the roster that I can’t point to a post talking about when he came up.  Still, I vividly recall the J.D. Drew trade with Atlanta and knowing that the key to the piece was this young Wainwright pitching prospect.  I remember being excited when he was called up and watching him work out of the bullpen.  Back in those days, the Cardinals came through on an alternate channel on our cable provider and it showed up grainy and black-and-white on my TV (I thought it was because it was on that channel, which only existed from first pitch to last, but apparently it was issues with my connections.)  I remember watching him launch his first home run in San Francisco in those conditions, which made it almost like an old newsreel.

Everyone remembers the Carlos Beltran and Brandon Inge strikeouts that brought title #10 to St. Louis.  Everyone remembers his co-ace days with Chris Carpenter.  Everyone has seen his personality, what he’s given to the organization, and how much he wants to be a Cardinal.

In 1974, Bob Gibson was 11-13 with a 3.83 ERA (which, to put in context, was a 94 ERA+).  It seemed like Gibson might have been ending his career and, in truth, 1975 wasn’t any better and was his last year.  Perhaps people back then were clamoring for Gibson to retire, to go away, but would we do that?  If you could go back and see a Gibson start today, even in ’74 or ’75, wouldn’t you?

In 1978, Lou Brock hit .221 and stole 12 bases.  I imagine everyone thought he was washed up but if Lou wanted to play another year, do you think anyone objected?  And in ’79 he hit .304 and stole 21 bags before retiring at the end of the season.  Sometimes there still is more in the tank than we think.

Today we so often want to move on to the next new thing.  Harrison Bader was a guy a lot of folks were excited to see last year but now somewhat feels like an afterthought.  If Flaherty returned and struggled, would people move on to Austin Gomber or Dakota Hudson?  If you wanted to draw grand and likely erroneous conclusions, you could say it’s representative of the short attention spans of our current generation.  Heck, I’m almost 1000 words into this and I imagine the few people that actually clicked the link are mostly checked out.  (If you are still here, let me know and I’ll try to find you a gold star.)

I feel like we are selling Wainwright a bit short.  After all, for the fact that spring training stats don’t mean anything (unless Jordan Hicks throws four good innings), Wainwright sported a sub-1 ERA this spring.  That’s not going to continue, but if Wainwright is healthy and can get some velocity on his pitches, he should be acceptable.  Maybe not as great as Flaherty, but maybe so.  We don’t know where that bar actually is.

Winning is important and it should be the main driver in decisions.  However, if you were to tell me that the Cardinals would absolutely lose tomorrow’s ballgame because they started Adam Wainwright, I’d still start him. Letting him start what probably will be his last home opener–and I believe the reason Waino worked so hard and pushed so hard to get this is because he doesn’t plan to be around for another one–is respect, is honor, is sentiment.

That’s why we come back.  If it was all about winning, folks would be jumping on various bandwagons.  The Cardinals haven’t made the playoffs in two years, which feels like an eternity to most of us.  Yet folks haven’t become Cubs fans or Astros fans or Dodgers fans since they are having a better year.  Even if the team was bad for a decade, most of us would still be here because of the connection and the love we have for the franchise.  That connection and love is made with the players on the field, especially ones like Wainwright that have given so much enjoyment to our days past.

And then there was a game.  I didn’t expect the top portion to take as long as it did, but it’s not too hard to wrap up last night’s victory against the Brewers.  We can do it in four words.

Carlos Martinez was good.

As I mentioned on Twitter last night, it’s games like these, when Martinez shows us all he can be, where he gets into that rhythm and just overpowers batters, that make games like his opener so frustrating.  We know there’s talent there.  We know he can be one of the best pitchers around.  We just want to see him take that step and be there consistently.  So far, that’s eluded him but there’s still time, there’s still hope.

Last night, it was all there.  He allowed a couple of baserunners early but then turned on the lawnmower and started mowing the Brewers down like the weeds that are in my yard.  He gave up a total of four hits and walked two while striking out 10 and, if Yairo Munoz could field a ground ball, likely would have had his third career shutout.  Munoz, who was in for defensive purposes, bobbled what probably would have been a double play ball in the ninth which would have ended the game.  Instead, that left two on and that ended Carlos’s night.  It was a thing of beauty, though.

Here’s what I don’t quite get out of the ninth.  Well, there are a few things.  One, I’m not sure when Munoz developed this reputation of being a guy that should be your defensive replacement.  I’ll talk to Kyle Reis when he joins Allen and I on Musial tomorrow, but I always thought Munoz was bat-first, glove-second.  And while that could still put him ahead of Matt Carpenter, the guy that he’s been replacing on the regular, is the difference enough?  I would have thought that, especially since Munoz didn’t bat last night, you’d go with Greg Garcia as your defensive guy in the infield. (EDIT: I missed that Munoz had pinch-hit for Carpenter, but with a six-run lead, you probably could have let Garcia bat.  It’s not like it was a key situation.)

Secondly, Martinez leaves and Sam Tuivailala comes in, which is a great move.  Tui has closing experience but has struggled with his control so far this spring.  A 6-0 lead gives him a chance to come after folks and have a bit of a cushion if it doesn’t work.  He wound up working the count full on Jonathan Villar, who then singled to center.  Surprisingly, Travis Shaw, the lead runner, didn’t score but it left the bases loaded with one out.

Now, I know we just saw a bullpen meltdown on Tuesday, but even if the next batter (Manny Pina, who has done some damage this series) hits a grand slam, you still have a two-run lead with the eighth place hitter up.  Matheny doesn’t wait, though, and goes to get Bud Norris, who gets Pina to hit into a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.

I’m fine with Norris there and it’s great that Matheny didn’t go with Matthew Bowman, but I’m a little surprised that he decided to pull the plug that quickly on Tuivailala.  It’s not like it was a matchup issue since both he and Norris were right-handed.  If you weren’t going to give him much leash, I’m surprised Matheny didn’t just go directly to Norris.  It’s not a huge thing by any means and I’m sure there was a factor of “we are NOT letting this game get away” but, again, if you are going to put Tui in at all, it’s surprising it was just for one batter.

Pretty solid night for the offense as well, putting up nine hits and making thing serious.  Yadier Molina hit his third home run of the season, which is amazing (and shows what the old veterans can do as well).  Marcell Ozuna and Paul DeJong both had two hits.  Dexter Fowler led off the game with a double and scored the first run, which is a good sign for improved offensive production.  We’ll see if his hitting was due to Brewer pitching soon enough, I guess!

Our Goat for the night has to be Jose Martinez, as we flip the script from the beginning of the road trip.  Martinez and Carpenter were the only starters not to get a hit, but Carpenter did draw a couple of walks.  Martinez had a runner on base each of the first three times he came up but wasn’t able to do any damage.  Going to be interesting to watch Martinez for a bit and see how much that glow he had after the first two games carries over.  The only extra-base hit Jose has so far is that homer in the first game against the Mets, after all.  He’s going to hit, I’m sure, but if he doesn’t how long will it be until we really notice?

Speaking of Carpenter, he had another awkward looking strikeout last night.  He’s up to five in 20 AB (25 PA, with his five walks) and for a guy that was talking pre-season about not worrying about homers because he hated the strikeouts, that feels like a lot.  Right now 40% of his plate appearances are ending in a walk or a strikeout and the team replaces him in the late innings because his throwing isn’t strong.  I’m sure it’ll turn around but remember that debate we had about whether a 75%-80% Carpenter is better than any other option?  That feels like where we are at.  If Jedd Gyorko was healthy, this might be more of a pressing concern.  With Gyorko out, there’s not really any other way the Cards can go except to play Carpenter, even if he is hurting.

Kolten Wong got a hit!  Sure, it was a weird play where the first baseman dived for it, the ball kicked up, the second baseman came in and then threw it away trying to get the runner advancing to third, but it counts as a line drive in the box score.  Getting Wong on track would do a lot of good not only for the team but for Wong’s psyche, I imagine.  Again, if Gyorko was healthy Wong probably is feeling a bit more pressure, but right now he should know he’s the regular starter for a while.

Today’s the home opener, which is at night for the second straight year.  It’s a little weird to not have day baseball as the Clydesdales are running around the track and the Hall of Famers are out in their red jackets, but at least it starts an hour early (6:15 PM) so it will still have some of that day feel, at least during the ceremonies.  As noted, Wainwright will be taking the mound, making perhaps his last season debut.  We don’t really have much idea what sort of Wainwright start we’ll get (and, even though he’s the veteran, he’s got to be feeling some pressure to be as good as Flaherty) but here’s what he’s done in the past.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Paul Goldschmidt 15 14 4 1 0 2 2 1 3 .286 .333 .786 1.119 0 0 0 0 2
Jarrod Dyson 9 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 .125 .125 .125 .250 1 0 0 0 0
Jake Lamb 6 6 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .500 .833 0 0 0 0 1
Chris Owings 6 6 2 2 0 0 1 0 1 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
David Peralta 6 6 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Pollock 6 6 3 1 0 0 2 0 2 .500 .500 .667 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Jorge De La Rosa 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Descalso 5 4 2 0 0 1 1 1 1 .500 .600 1.250 1.850 0 0 0 0 0
Zack Greinke 5 4 1 0 0 0 1 0 2 .250 .250 .250 .500 1 0 0 0 0
Nick Ahmed 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Patrick Corbin 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Zack Godley 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jeff Mathis 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Ketel Marte 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Steven Souza 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 73 68 18 5 0 3 8 3 22 .265 .296 .471 .766 2 0 0 0 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/5/2018.

Paul Goldschmidt has seen him the most and has a couple of homers against him but otherwise, there’s not much here to draw from.  As I keep saying, there’s the sense of the unknown here.  Even last year, Wainwright had a number of good starts.  If he blows up today, I wouldn’t say that bumps him from the rotation.  I do think there’s a short leash and a painful conversation at the end of it but the leash isn’t non-existent.

Robbie Ray takes the mound for the Diamondbacks.  In his last start, he gave up seven runs (six earned) against the Rockies in five innings.  (He also got a win in that game, because baseball.)  He was much better than that last year, of course, and that first start was likely was a bit of an aberration, though if the Cards wanted to do similar damage today, no one wearing red–well, Cardinal red–will stop them.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Dexter Fowler 9 8 5 1 0 1 1 1 0 .625 .667 1.125 1.792 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 7 5 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 .200 .429 .200 .629 0 0 0 1 0
Yadier Molina 6 4 1 1 0 0 1 2 1 .250 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Marcell Ozuna 6 6 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 5 5 1 0 0 1 2 0 2 .200 .200 .800 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy Pham 4 3 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 2 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Paul DeJong 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Luke Voit 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 41 34 14 2 0 2 5 6 4 .412 .512 .647 1.159 0 0 0 1 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/5/2018.

It would be great if those stats meant anything, wouldn’t it? That’s good stuff in a small sample.  We’ll see if it’s a representative one this evening!  Before first pitch, be sure to get in your picks for the Cardinal Six for this series.  I’ll be releasing the Brewer answers sometime this morning on Twitter so keep an eye out!

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