C70 At The Bat

May The Fours Be With You

Since we last spoke, the Cardinals have gone 3-1 and been able to cut four games off of their magic number.  (Message to Pittsburgh: You can start losing at any time now.  This 14-3 bit since St. Louis swept you at the beginning of September is getting pretty annoying to us fans that would like to see the Redbirds clinch already.)  For the most part, the Cards are looking like a team that should play in October, which is a good look for the last part of the season.

Friday (2-1 win vs. Cincinnati)

Hero: John Lackey.  He probably wouldn’t admit it, but it looked like the extra rest did him some good.  One run in 7.2 innings, striking out five in the process.  Thankfully the Cards got Good Lackey here, because obviously they weren’t going to be able to overcome anything less than that.

Goat: Given what we learned this weekend about the plague that went through the Cardinal clubhouse, it’s hard to assign a Goat, wondering if someone was out there playing through sickness.  I don’t think Jhonny Peralta was touched by the evil, though, and he went 0-3 in this one, leaving two on, so he’s our pick here.

Notes: It’s nice that the Cardinals generated offense via the long ball.  It was great to see Randal Grichuk and Matt Holliday go back-to-back in the first inning.  It’s not nice to see those be the only runs of the game.  It turned out to be enough, but often it wouldn’t have been.  Again, there was some illness to deal with, but that’s not an excuse that really holds water given how often we’ve seen the bats be completely shut down.

It took four pitchers to get the last four outs of the game.  That’s actually a heartening thing, because Mike Matheny realized that Trevor Rosenthal didn’t have it and didn’t stick with him because he was the closer.  Randy Choate and Seth Maness stranded Rosenthal’s runners and let the Cards take home the win.  Hopefully Matheny will manage with that kind of abandon in October as well, because if there’s any time that “morale building” and “feelings” don’t come into play, it’s the playoffs.

Saturday (8-4 win vs. Cincinnati)

Hero: Kolten Wong.  3-3 with a home run, two RBI, two runs scored and a walk to boot.  That’s a great night for the kid and it was a wonderful thing to see the offense come untracked, even temporarily.

Goat: Jon Jay was 0-3 in the leadoff role.  Sure, he scored a run, but going hitless in the leadoff slot is a real good way to get your name in this section.

Notes: Michael Wacha pitched in this one and while he didn’t overwhelm (only one strikeout), neither did he pitch his way into a season-ending shutdown (he goes against Arizona this weekend).  He threw 78 pitches and was a reasonable facsimile of himself, enough that probably both sides of the debate on whether the Cards were rushing him back had more fuel for the fire.  Wacha’s pitching without his changeup, which has to be a tough thing for him and a huge question mark for the Cardinals.  Assuming he doesn’t find it and Lackey has another good outing tomorrow, Wacha’s going to be pitching out of the playoff bullpen and well might be this year’s Shelby Miller, not getting much time on the mound.

Nice to see Tony Cruz come through with a big home run.  Putting up three runs right there from an unexpected source had to give the team a big lift and put them well on their way to winning the game.  Grichuk went deep for the second straight night while pinch-hitting for Oscar Taveras and has locked up a spot on the postseason roster, which is something I don’t think many of us saw coming even a couple of months ago.

Jason Motte got the last out in the fifth and picked up the win, likely his last such tally in a Cardinal uniform and definitely his last in Busch Stadium in the regular season.  I don’t think Motte makes the postseason roster–there’s just too much uncertainty when he pitches–but getting the out here and having a perfect inning on Sunday at least kept him in the conversation.  With Matheny, you just never know, but it’s hard to justify him over some other well-deserving folks.  It’d be nice if Motte could return to St. Louis on a cheaper contract, but likely there will be someone out there to pay for his experience and betting his velocity will return as he gets further away from his Tommy John surgery.

Sunday (7-2 loss vs. Cincinnati)

Hero: Daniel Descalso.  When Dirty Dan is your Hero, odds are things didn’t quite go the way you planned.  Descalso still gets a lot of slings and arrows going his way even as he’s hit pretty well in his time during the second half.  Even so, he’s not usually the key cog, just a lower level piece.  In this one, though, he went 2-4 and scored a run, which was big for an offense that sputtered greatly.

Goat: Kevin Siegrist.  It’d be easy to go with Sam Tuivailala here and I was definitely tempted to, but if Siegrist can come in and do his job, Tuivailala doesn’t get into the situation that he did.  Siegrist walked back-to-back hitters, leaving the rookie who not long ago was pitching A ball to try to clean up the mess.  Which he did, if you consider the bases empty after a home run cleaning up.  (Most of us don’t, really.)  It wasn’t your typical situation for Siegrist–both batters he faced were right-handers–but he’s still got to do better if he doesn’t want to go home after Sunday’s game.  He’s right there with Motte, I think, easily left off the NLDS roster.

Notes: I do want to apologize to Matheny.  On Gateway Sunday night, as Tuivailala came in, I ripped him pretty good, thinking that he was just acting on his stated wish to get Tui some exposure to the home crowd.  I didn’t know that the clubhouse was ravaged by the stomach virus and so many options he normally had weren’t available.  As Bob Netherton and I discussed on Twitter, even though the results might have been the same, if Justin Masterson wasn’t sick, we’d have used him before Tuivailala.  Better the veteran that won’t be here next year be the sacrificial goat rather than the youngster just getting his feet wet in the bigs.

Lance Lynn started this one and while it wasn’t quite the Lance Lynnish start we’ve been used to for most of this season, it still was an acceptable outing.  Three runs in six innings will keep you in most games and he was able to pile up nine strikeouts as well.  Home runs to Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier did him in, however.

Monday (8-0 win at Chicago)

Hero: Adam Wainwright.  While the offense took center stage in this one, Wainwright snagged win #20 with seven innings of shutout ball.  Wainwright’s had good games this season, but this one was especially dominating.  Eight strikeouts and while he allowed three hits, two of them came with two outs in the seventh.  Wainwright was on from the first pitch, which means that as soon as the Cards could score one run, the game was effectively over.  When they scored four runs in one frame, you could safely change the channel to watch the new TV season premiere if you wanted.

Goat: When the offense puts up eight runs on 12 hits, it’s tough to find someone to single out for this spot.  I don’t feel right about it, but we’ll go with Matt Carpenter.  He went 1-4 with a run and a walk, but he did strike out three times as well.  This was his first game back after the stomach bug, so it’s probably not fair to put him here, but there’s not a lot of other options.

Notes: Eight runs in Wrigley Field and none of them came via the long ball, though Matt Adams hit a ball about as far as you could to right field without it going out.  If that ball was over a bit more, it’d have left the yard, but instead it was just a well-struck double.  It was the fourth double of the night for St. Louis–if the double power sticks for the playoffs, that’d be nice.  Station to station won’t cut it if you want to play deep in the postseason.

So the magic number is now down to 4, obviously currently worn (likely for the last time) by Yadier Molina but also assigned in the past to Fernando Vina, Matty Alou, Marty Marion and some guys named Rogers Hornsby and Jim Bottomley.  It seems unfathomable that 4 won’t be added to the wall out in left field whenever Molina takes it off.  Let’s just hope that’s a long time coming.

The Cards were able to take on Travis Wood and deal with him pretty handily, but the pitching assignments for the Cubs the next couple of nights up the level of difficulty.  First up is Kyle Hendricks, whom the Cardinals have seen twice in the last month or so but still have yet to really figure him out.  In the two starts against St. Louis, Hendricks has gone a combined 12.1 innings and allowed just two runs.  The Redbirds do have 12 hits in that time span and he doesn’t strike out many batters, but the hard contact just hasn’t been there.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Adams 6 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 6 6 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 6 6 3 0 0 1 2 0 0 .500 .500 1.000 1.500 0 0 0 0 1
Jhonny Peralta 6 6 3 0 0 0 1 0 1 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 6 5 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 .200 .333 .200 .533 0 0 0 0 1
Oscar Taveras 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jon Jay 4 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .250 .250 .250 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 1 0
Shelby Miller 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
A.J. Pierzynski 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .500 .500 1.000 1.500 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 48 45 12 1 0 1 3 1 5 .267 .298 .356 .653 1 0 0 1 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/23/2014.

Tiniest of samples, of course, but perhaps seeing Hendricks for the third time in basically two months will help them get settled into a nice offensive groove.  They’ve scored eight runs in two of the last three games and they are playing at Wrigley (though in the cold of night instead of a nice afternoon tilt) so there are some signs things might not be as bad as they look on the surface.

Shelby Miller goes for the Redbirds, looking to extend his streak of strong starts to six (maybe seven, depending on how you count strong starts).  This run started against the Cubs, when he allowed just two runs in seven innings.  If he can do that again tonight, there’s a good chance he’ll wind up with win #11.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Luis Valbuena 9 7 3 0 0 1 1 2 0 .429 .556 .857 1.413 0 0 0 0 0
Welington Castillo 8 7 2 0 0 0 0 1 2 .286 .375 .286 .661 0 0 0 0 0
Starlin Castro 8 8 1 1 0 0 0 0 3 .125 .125 .250 .375 0 0 0 0 0
Arismendy Alcantara 6 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Coghlan 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Rizzo 4 4 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Javier Baez 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jorge Soler 3 2 2 0 0 1 1 1 0 1.000 1.000 2.500 3.500 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Valaika 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
John Baker 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Hendricks 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Travis Wood 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jake Arrieta 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 56 52 8 1 0 2 3 4 11 .154 .214 .288 .503 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/23/2014.

Pretty small sample there as well, though it’s a positive one for the Cardinal righthander.  Interestingly, Hendricks was on the other side of his last start against the Cubs as well, a start that was ruined by a rare off night by Pat Neshek and the power of the young Cub hitters.

In Atlanta tonight, the Pirates will send Gerrit Cole to the mound to face Alex Wood of the Braves.  Could be another strong pitching performance on both sides, but hopefully Atlanta can help drop St. Louis drop that magic number even faster!

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There was no way the St. Louis Cardinals were going to win that game.  There was no good reason why they should and many reasons why they shouldn’t.  It just wasn’t a game that was going to be a good outcome.

Yet we are talking this morning about a magic number of 8 (worn at times by Troy Glaus, Allen Craig, Gary Gaetti, and J.D. Drew when he debuted on 9/8/98) precisely because the Cardinals went out and won a game they shouldn’t have.  Jon Doble has used the hashtag #BecauseMatheny (and oh, are we going to get into THAT discussion in a bit) but this one would fit snugly in the #BecauseBaseball category.

They got their first hit in the fourth inning, which was promptly followed by a double play.  Their next hit came with two outs in the sixth.  Their third came in the seventh, which was again eventually followed by a double play.  Three hits in seven innings.  Their most productive inning of offense was actually the third, when Kolten Wong was hit by a pitch and Matt Carpenter walked.  When that’s how you are building your “big innings”, you might want to start thinking about tomorrow.

And yet, it’s September.  I am coming to the belief that the Cardinals save all those “should lose but win” games for the final month while other teams use theirs throughout the year.  You win a game like this in June, it’s nice but quickly forgotten.  You win a game like this in a pennant race in September, that tends to reverberate.  I mean, we still remember Adron Chambers‘ Wild Run, don’t we?

So Oscar Taveras leads off with a single in the eighth.  Now, for some reason (note the hashtag), Mike Matheny pinch-runs Peter Bourjos there, even though 1) the Cardinals are down two runs, so that run isn’t the difference in the game and 2) there seemed to be no real desire to try to steal a base.  Taveras might not be Bourjos-fast, but he can still go first to third on a hit if necessary.  Wong then grounded out on a ball that could have been a double play had Bourjos not broken it up at second, but I don’t think you pinch-run a guy because he has double-play-breaking-up abilities.

The Cards catch a break when Mark Reynolds forgets how many outs there were and casually fields A.J. Pierzynski‘s foul ball, touching first for the second out instead of firing to second and starting the double play.  When the Milwaukee bloggers start writing their analysis of the breakdown of these Brewers, the mental play is going to get a pretty strong look, I imagine.  It’s September, though, and things like that do tend to go the Cardinals’ way, for whatever reason.

Speaking of going St. Louis’s way, the Cards finally get a replay review to work out for them, making them 1-442 this season.  All right, that’s an exaggeration, and the reviews have gone their way more often of late it feels like, but still, if they could get only one review of the season, reviewing Matt Holliday‘s slide and getting it right–that he was safe–might have been the one to choose.  The umps still blew the call when they forced Carpenter back to third instead of letting him score as he should, but that was negated when Matt Adams drew his second bases-loaded walk of the series.  (Some people don’t get to do that all year long!)

Then you have the ninth and the play that, had the Cards not pulled this out in extra innings, would have been attached to Matheny’s neck for him to wear the rest of the year.  Yadier Molina starts the inning off with a double, firing up both him and the dugout.  They are stoked.  Tommy Pham comes into the game to run for Molina.  That’s understandable, though since Pierzynski has already been used, you really need to try to score here and not have to play a long time with Molina out.

With nobody out, of course the main thing is to move Pham over to third.  While Pham has some speed, trying to steal third probably is low on the idea list.  Bourjos steps in and tries to bunt Pham over.  He’s not really close, and it’s strike one.  He botches it again and it’s strike two.

Now, I want to go on the record as saying these first two bunts, while they wouldn’t have been my choice (with a runner on second, you aren’t likely–LIKELY, since this team seems to be exceptional in the art of the double play–to hit into a twin killing, so I’d have let Bourjos try to hit the ball to the right side) but they are defensible.  A successful bunt has Pham at third with one out, and while that’s no guarantee, you like your odds.  After two ugly bunt attempts, though, and with a real hitter up there instead of a pitcher, you take off the bunt sign.

You take off the bunt sign.

Hello??  Are you listening?  YOU TAKE OFF THE BUNT SIGN.

Someone tried to tell me on Twitter that Bourjos might as well have bunted the 0-2 pitch because he was a strikeout guy anyway.  First of all, you NEVER bunt with two strikes unless it’s 1) a pitcher, the definition of a strikeout guy or 2) a very talented bunter who you have confidence in getting it down even with that 0-2 hole.  Bourjos is neither one of those things.  Bourjos is the guy that’s hit .291 in the second half of the season.  Yes, his strikeout rate is a little high, but it’s far from a sure thing, which bunting the way he was bunting surely was.

Matheny doesn’t remove the sign, Bourjos bunt-strikes out, which means the Brewers walk Wong because they know the Cardinals can hit into double plays.  Even with two speed guys on the base paths, they don’t attempt anything and watch Randal Grichuk and Carpenter strike out to end the frame.

If the Brewers hadn’t finally put Jimmy Nelson into this one, a guy St. Louis has just torched everytime they have seen him, the two teams might still be playing.  Thankfully the Cards wound up on top, because the Red Sox had already been useless, losing to the Pirates after the tying run on third got hit with a live ball.  (How many times are you told to take your lead in foul ground?  Granted the guy was diving back but still, such a tough way to go out.)

In all that mess, it’s easy to forget that Shelby Miller pitched yet another good game, allowing two runs (one earned) in six innings, but he could have gone seven had he not been hit with a line drive to the shin in his last frame.  The unearned error was on him as well, given his ugly throw in the direction of second that wound up in center field.  Watching that, it looked like he never really got set, being partially turned to first thinking he was going to go that way.  It wound up costing him, but eventually he got off the hook.

Hero gets to be Matt Holliday, who along with the dive also had the leadoff hit in the 13th before being erased on an Adams groundout.  Goat will be Peter Bourjos, because everyone else did just enough to get out of consideration.  I really was tempted to break my rules and name Matheny, though.

Cardinals start the last home series of the year against the Reds this evening.  So hard to believe that Busch Stadium is about to close its doors for the 2014 season (and, most likely, open them back up for the 2014 postseason).  It’s been an amazing and frustrating season and now we are just 10 days away from it ending.

John Lackey hopes his dead arm has revitalized like Adam Wainwright‘s as he goes out there to start this evening’s game.  Lackey, as you know, was skipped over his last start given the fact that he’s put up a 9.00 ERA in his last two starts and it’d have been worse over the last three if you’d counted the unearned runs.  We can only hope rest was the cure for what ailed Mr. Lackey.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Ryan Ludwick 12 10 2 1 0 1 3 2 3 .200 .333 .600 .933 0 0 0 0 0
Brayan Pena 11 10 4 1 0 0 0 1 0 .400 .455 .500 .955 0 0 0 0 0
Jack Hannahan 10 10 2 0 0 1 1 0 2 .200 .200 .500 .700 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Phillips 10 9 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 .111 .200 .111 .311 0 0 0 1 0
Ramon Santiago 9 9 2 0 0 1 2 0 2 .222 .222 .556 .778 0 0 0 0 1
Jay Bruce 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Todd Frazier 4 3 2 0 0 1 3 1 1 .667 .750 1.667 2.417 0 0 0 0 0
Devin Mesoraco 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 1
Zack Cozart 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Billy Hamilton 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Alfredo Simon 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Heisey 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Total 75 69 15 3 0 4 9 5 18 .217 .280 .435 .715 0 0 0 1 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/19/2014.

The table shows Lackey having good success against the Redlegs, and his first start against them in Cardinal red wasn’t bad at all (six innings, two runs, seven strikeouts).  His last outing was also against the Reds, and it wasn’t nearly as nice.  Two runs still, yes, but two innings plus is all before being ejected from the field of play.  We’ll see if he sticks around longer tonight.

I said last week if the Reds wanted to play spoiler, they’d find some lefties with terrible stats and run them against the Cards.  Meet David Holmberg.  David throws with his left hand, has a six ERA in five appearance, and shut down the Cards for 5.2 innings two outings ago when he came in and was the emergency fill-in when Dylan Axelrod went down.  To be fair, his last start he gave up just one run in six innings to the Brewers, so he’s trending the right way.  However, this is just one of those type of pitchers that usually gives St. Louis fits.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Adams 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Jon Jay 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Shelby Miller 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Oscar Taveras 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 23 20 4 0 0 0 0 2 5 .200 .273 .200 .473 1 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/19/2014.

It’s September, right? Let’s put that to the test and see if there’s not a way the Cards can win this one tonight as well!  But before then, be sure to read the latest edition of Dugout Thrones at Viva El Birdos.  It’s parody like I could only dream of doing!

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In the poster and press release for the current Instagram outing by the Cardinals, #BirdToTheFuture, the pitching ace for the Redbirds is billed as “Sir Adam Wainwright“.  While I’ve had a chance to see the full outing and have seen why that’s the case (it’s pretty humorous), the real reason that he should have the title is because, like last night, he’ll do all he can to help a damsel–or, in this case, an offense–in distress.

(BTW, if you missed it, the nominee for Worst Acting By A Blogger In An Official Production was released yesterday as part of the #Nestflix outing.)

There was a serious chance of seeing this team sink to depths we could never even imagine–being no-hit in the middle of a pennant race.  Mike Fiers was dealing death to the bats, it seemed.  Nothing was really even resembling a hit.  By all rights, he should have been cruising along to a win that would get the Brewers that much closer to the Cardinals.

That probably would have happened had Wainwright not stood on the bridge in the mines of Moria, yelling at the Balrog “You shall not pass.”  Wave after wave of Milwaukee hitters came to the plate, and even though a few of them would reach base, none of them came around to score.  The closest they came was in the fourth, when the Brewers loaded the bases with two outs, but Sir Wainwright would not break, getting Jean Segura to fly out to center field.

Then, seeing that his offense apparently needed an example, he roped a two-out, sixth-inning single to center field.  He was only the second batter to reach base and the first, Daniel Descalso with a leadoff walk in the third, was caught stealing.  While Matt Carpenter couldn’t bring in Wainwright, the seal was broken and that apparently was good enough.

The seventh saw some aggressive base running by Matt Holliday, scoring from first on a single to center once Carlos Gomez slipped while chasing after the ball.  I thought Jose Oquendo was going to get Holliday nailed at the plate by sending him there, but Jonathan Lucroy couldn’t get the tag around to touch the Cardinal outfielder, even though the ball beat him there.  Jhonny Peralta followed with the first traditional RBI of this series, giving Wainwright a bit of a cushion.

Not that he really needed it.  Until a 10-pitch at bat by Gerardo Parra in the top of the ninth, Wainwright had a chance for an elusive Maddux, a complete game shutout in less than 100 pitches.  After the bases-loaded situation in the fourth, the Brewers could only come up with three more hits, and one of them was erased on a double play.  Wainwright may not be able to be in Clayton Kershaw‘s class consistently, but he’s there often enough to leave some of his stuff there for when he visits.

We’ve got our obvious Hero, but how do you determine who should be the Goat out of that kinda night for the offense?  Only three hits and two walks, with seven strikeouts in there.  We’ll have to go with the tiebreaker and give it to Matt Carpenter, who as the leadoff guy was the only one to go 0-4 and wasn’t able to do anything with Waino’s single.  That said, he did have a nifty pick over at third base of a hard-hit ball, so the night wasn’t a complete waste for him.

Pittsburgh won again, because the Red Sox will do anything to get the Cardinals apparently.  That means the magic number drops to single digits at 9, meaning most would call this the Enos Slaughter number.  (Appropriate, given Holliday’s run last night.)  However, fans of the Runnin’ Redbirds might remember Terry Pendleton wearing the number for a good while and Joe Torre wore it while he was a player and a manager here.  A couple of catchers-turned-broadcasters, Tim McCarver and Bob Uecker, put that digit on as well.

The Cardinals finally decided their rotation for the last home series of the year this weekend against Cincinnati.  We knew John Lackey was going to pitch in it, but now we know he’ll go Friday.  Saturday will feature the return of Michael Wacha, which has a number of Cardinal fans concerned or unsure if this is the right move to make.

Wacha says his body is ready for this and, barring evidence to the contrary, I think we have to believe him.  I know it’s fashionable to beat on the Cardinal medical staff–and often with good reason–but this isn’t an arm injury.  Could the stress reaction be re-aggravated?  Sure, it’s a possibility.  However, it doesn’t seem like it’s a very strong one.  We look at Brandon McCarthy for how these things go, since he’s about the only one that’s had it, and he’s been able to come back and pitch good stretches between flare ups.  It seems likely Wacha will have this again, but not that he’ll have it between now and the end of the year.

Does Wacha have the stuff to be competitive?  That’s what we’ll find out.  Wacha feels like he knows what went wrong with his pitches from an approach and technical standpoint, so if he can make those adjustments and be effective, this could be a very good thing for the Cards.

I think it’s good that Matheny doesn’t necessarily have a pitch count for him either.  You can’t treat this game as a rehab game, not with the Pirates just 2.5 behind right now.  Hopefully they are much farther back by Saturday night, but I don’t think you can count on it.  If Wacha struggles early, hopefully Matheny will not be hesitant to go to Marco Gonzales or whomever in the pen, instead of focusing on him getting his pitches in.  Because, honestly, if Wacha struggles Saturday, that’s likely the last time we see him in 2014.

Shelby Miller looks to keep the good times rolling tonight.  He’s actually not faced the Brewers since April, when he faced them twice and allowed a total of four runs in 12 innings.  The Miller we’ve seen the last four-five starts is not the same Miller that we saw the rest of the year, however, and hopefully we’ll see a continuation of the pitcher that has a 1.00 ERA over his last four starts with few walks.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jonathan Lucroy 20 17 5 0 0 0 2 2 0 .294 .350 .294 .644 0 1 0 0 0
Carlos Gomez 17 16 2 0 0 1 1 1 5 .125 .176 .313 .489 0 0 0 0 0
Aramis Ramirez 15 13 6 0 0 2 5 1 1 .462 .467 .923 1.390 0 1 0 0 0
Jean Segura 15 15 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Scooter Gennett 14 13 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 .462 .462 .462 .923 1 0 0 0 0
Ryan Braun 9 9 3 0 0 0 0 0 3 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 2
Khris Davis 8 6 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 .000 .250 .000 .250 0 0 0 1 0
Rickie Weeks 7 5 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 .000 .286 .000 .286 0 0 0 0 0
Mark Reynolds 5 3 1 0 0 1 2 2 2 .333 .600 1.333 1.933 0 0 0 0 0
Marco Estrada 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 .000 .250 .000 .250 0 0 0 0 0
Elian Herrera 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Lohse 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Martin Maldonado 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 .000 .667 .000 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Lyle Overbay 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Gerardo Parra 3 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Wily Peralta 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Logan Schafer 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Garza 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 137 119 26 1 0 4 10 13 27 .218 .296 .328 .624 2 2 0 1 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/18/2014.

As every Cardinal pitcher does, Miller struggles with Aramis Ramirez and Scooter Gennett has been a problem, but Miller’s had success in the past against most of the rest of the Brewers.  (It also wouldn’t bother me if Miller got the same strike zone that Wainwright did on Ryan Braun last night–that last pitch that was called a strike was a gift no Redbird fan was going to return!)

Old friend Kyle Lohse goes for the Brewers, who have an elimination number of 6 for the division.  It’s really a must-win, since it’s their last direct shot at the Cardinals and they have a tough weekend series with the Pirates looming.  Lohse has struggled in the second half, like most Milwaukee starters, putting up a 5.07 ERA in his last ten starts.  He righted the ship a little last time (two earned in 6.2 innings against the Reds) but we’ll have to see if that’s a course correction or a momentary shift in a downward spiral.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Holliday 32 29 10 1 0 1 4 3 6 .345 .406 .483 .889 0 0 0 0 1
Jhonny Peralta 25 22 8 1 0 1 2 3 4 .364 .440 .545 .985 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 22 20 11 3 0 3 8 1 1 .550 .545 1.150 1.695 0 1 0 0 0
Mark Ellis 19 19 3 1 0 1 3 0 5 .158 .158 .368 .526 0 0 0 0 1
Matt Carpenter 18 14 1 1 0 0 1 3 4 .071 .222 .143 .365 0 1 0 0 0
Jon Jay 14 13 4 2 0 0 3 0 2 .308 .357 .462 .819 0 0 0 1 0
A.J. Pierzynski 12 10 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 .200 .333 .200 .533 0 0 0 2 0
Matt Adams 11 9 4 1 0 1 3 2 2 .444 .545 .889 1.434 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 8 8 5 1 0 1 4 0 1 .625 .625 1.125 1.750 0 0 0 0 1
Pete Kozma 7 7 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .286 .286 .286 .571 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 5 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .200 .000 .200 0 0 0 1 0
Oscar Taveras 5 5 2 1 0 1 4 0 0 .400 .400 1.200 1.600 0 0 0 0 0
Justin Masterson 4 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 1 0 0 0 0
Shelby Miller 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 1
Daniel Descalso 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Peter Bourjos 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Tony Cruz 2 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 1.000 2.000 3.000 0 0 0 0 0
John Lackey 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 0 0 0 1 0
Total 202 179 55 13 0 9 33 13 38 .307 .367 .531 .898 3 2 0 5 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/18/2014.

Overall, St. Louis has typically hit Lohse well.  It’s strange to see Carpenter with an .071 and you wonder, given the way Mike Matheny likes to use small sample sizes and the fact Carpenter is only hitting .228 with two extra-base hits in September (though he does have eight walks so his OBP is around .320), if someone like Jon Jay will get the start at leadoff tonight.  Just something to look toward this afternoon.

If the Cardinals can win this one, it just about knocks the Brewers into a cold winter.  Brandon Workman is going for the Red Sox against Gerrit Cole for the Pirates, so it’s not likely St. Louis is going to get a lot of help there.  Just gotta keep winning!

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Nothing New Under The Sun

We knew, didn’t we?  If this had been a network TV show, we’d have watched the first inning, said “This is a rerun” and turned it off.  It’s rare when a game can be pretty much decided after the fifth at-bat, but that was the case last night against the Brewers.

I was on my way home from a church meeting during the bottom of the first and was quite excited when Matt Adams walked to force in a run.  Bases were loaded, nobody out and the Cards were up 1-0.  Wily Peralta was scuffling badly.

In steps Jhonny Peralta, who (even though there’s competition) gets the Goat for not only this at-bat, but his 0-5 night in general.  B.J. Rains used to make a big deal about batters that swung on the first pitch after a walk.  (To be fair, it might have been after a four-pitch walk mainly, but I think in general applied as well.)  While there are good and sound arguments for offering at the first pitch in that situation–pitcher may be laying one in there to make sure he gets a strike, for instance–when Peralta was looking so out of sorts, maybe taking a pitch wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world.

Instead, our Peralta hits into a double play.  A run scores, of course, but instead of a hit, a walk, a sacrifice fly, anything keeping some options open, now there’s a runner on third with two out, a runner stranded when Yadier Molina grounded back to the pitcher.

And we all knew.  We all knew that the scoring was probably over and this game had a good chance of not ending well.

The only reason that it took so long for that result to materialize was the quality work of Lance Lynn, who gets the Hero tag.  Lynn continues to put those late-season woes of past years well out of mind, going seven innings and allowing just one run, a home run to Gerardo Parra that, honestly, looked like a fluke.  (Given Lynn has one of the lowest home run rates in baseball, I guess any home run is a bit of a fluke.)  Parra’s ball didn’t look like it was going to be any problem for Jon Jay, but it just kept carrying, apparently caught in some sort of breeze.

Normally, that’s no big deal.  However, with the offense dormant (after three hits in their first three batters, the Cardinals only mustered four more hits the rest of the extra-inning affair), that one run could be significant, which it was in the ninth.

Trevor Rosenthal has been very good of late, enough that a lot of the tensions that used to go along with him being called into the game had eased.  He hadn’t allowed a run since August 25 and while he was still often putting runners on, he was able to strike out his way through a lot of issues.

I think all of those worries probably flooded back after his first pitch went to the backstop.  When Rosenthal is working well, his control is good.  He didn’t have that at all last night.  Walking the leadoff batter in a one-run game when your offense hasn’t scored since the first?  That’s a classic setup for a disappointing outing.  There’s no drama there, you know that it’s not going to work.  Especially when Aramis Ramirez comes up next.  If there is a way to hurt the Cardinals, the Sith Lord will find it.

Maybe if Matt Holliday had been able to put his throw from the outfield closer to the runner Molina could have tagged him out, but when you are relying on an outfield assist to keep the lead, you’ve already painted yourself into a corner and odds are you are going to have to stay there until it dries.  Holliday’s throw was up the first base side, Hector Gomez scored, and the game played on.

From Matt Carpenter‘s at-bat with two on and one out in the eighth inning (Parra was such a force for Milwaukee in this one, making two good catches in the eighth to keep things at a run, plus he had a great moment with a fan after an inning, taking a ball to the child of the guy that had almost interfered with a catch earlier in the inning and had apologized to Parra for doing it),  the Cardinals sent 15 men to the plate.  One–ONE–of them reached base, when Carpenter singled in the 11th.

With that kind of offense, it’s not surprising that the Cardinal pen broke first.  There was good work out of Carlos Martinez in the 10th, Seth Maness did well (save for a double by–yep, you guessed it, Frank Stallone, otherwise known as Parra) in the 11th, but Kevin Siegrist couldn’t get around a walk in the 12th, though he was almost able to escape.  If the Brewers hadn’t scored there, who knows, they might still be playing.

This was the kind of game that the Cardinals we saw most of the summer played with depressing regularity.  It’s not the kind of game that we’ve seen the Cardinals play much since the end of August.  Perhaps the day off killed a little momentum, I don’t know, but they can’t play any more of these games if they want to take this division.  The Pirates aren’t going to let up on them.

Unsurprisingly, the Red Sox were not able to help out the Cardinals last night, losing to Pittsburgh and helping keep the magic number at 10.  The division lead is now just 2.5 games with 11 to play.  Things are still in St. Louis’s favor, of course, but you never want to see that magic number get hung up.  Those numbers are supposed to decline daily, one way or another!

The Cardinals are still sorting out their rotation as well, with John Lackey going sometime this weekend, we just don’t know when, and Michael Wacha throwing another bullpen today.  It’s a bit disconcerting to have these kind of conversations with less than two weeks in the season, but with Lynn pitching the way he does, Shelby Miller coming on strong and the ace of the staff going out there as well, there could be worse issues to have to face.

Sir Adam Wainwright, the aforementioned ace, will take the mound tonight and try to knock the magic number into single digits.  Wainwright was strong against the Brewers last time out, allowing only a single run in seven innings of work.  (Lynn would like to point out that doesn’t mean squat at times.)  He also allowed seven runs to them at the beginning of August during his dead arm phase.  Let’s hope we get more of the former and less of the latter tonight.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Ryan Braun 66 61 13 4 0 2 7 2 17 .213 .258 .377 .635 0 1 0 2 2
Aramis Ramirez 61 56 23 8 0 3 8 3 10 .411 .459 .714 1.173 0 0 1 2 1
Rickie Weeks 47 43 7 4 0 0 1 3 14 .163 .234 .256 .490 0 0 0 1 2
Carlos Gomez 20 18 5 1 0 1 2 0 3 .278 .350 .500 .850 0 0 0 2 0
Jonathan Lucroy 20 19 5 1 0 0 5 1 0 .263 .300 .316 .616 0 0 0 0 0
Mark Reynolds 20 18 4 1 0 0 0 2 4 .222 .300 .278 .578 0 0 0 0 1
Gerardo Parra 17 17 4 1 0 0 0 0 3 .235 .235 .294 .529 0 0 0 0 1
Jean Segura 12 11 5 0 0 1 2 0 1 .455 .455 .727 1.182 1 0 0 0 1
Martin Maldonado 11 11 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .182 .182 .182 .364 0 0 0 0 1
Khris Davis 10 10 3 0 0 0 1 0 3 .300 .300 .300 .600 0 0 0 0 1
Tom Gorzelanny 8 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 .143 .143 .143 .286 1 0 0 0 0
Scooter Gennett 7 7 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .143 .143 .286 .429 0 0 0 0 0
Lyle Overbay 7 6 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 .167 .286 .333 .619 0 0 0 0 0
Yovani Gallardo 6 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 .167 .167 .167 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Elian Herrera 5 4 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 .500 .600 .500 1.100 0 0 1 0 0
Logan Schafer 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Zach Duke 4 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 .667 1.333 1 0 0 0 0
Kyle Lohse 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Wily Peralta 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Matt Garza 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Jimmy Nelson 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Clark 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Rogers 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 339 312 79 22 0 7 27 14 73 .253 .299 .391 .690 5 1 2 7 10
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/17/2014.

There’s no doubt the Brewers have seen Wainwright plenty.  Those numbers by Ramirez are just scary, but given that apparently the birds on the bat make the ball look three times its normal size to Ramirez, that’s not surprising.  It won’t be a cakewalk tonight by any means.

Especially because the young Mike Fiers is going for the other side.  Fiers allowed two runs in 6.2 innings when he faced the Cards last, which is actually a bad game for him when you realize his ERA for the year is 1.84 (11 games, seven starts).  It will be interesting to see how his last start affects Fiers.  While the numbers were fine–he threw five shutout innings against the Marlins–he also hit Giancarlo Stanton in the face, causing him to leave on a stretcher.  (Then hit his replacement in the box, causing a brawl.)  Will he be more tentative about pitching inside?  We’ll have to see.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Yadier Molina 11 11 2 1 0 0 0 0 2 .182 .182 .273 .455 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 10 7 0 0 0 0 0 3 2 .000 .300 .000 .300 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Descalso 9 8 2 0 0 0 1 1 1 .250 .333 .250 .583 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 8 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .125 .125 .125 .250 0 0 0 0 0
Jon Jay 7 7 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 .429 .429 .429 .857 0 0 0 0 0
Peter Bourjos 3 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 3 3 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 .333 .333 1.333 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Pierzynski 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
John Lackey 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Mark Ellis 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Oscar Taveras 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 64 58 13 2 0 1 3 5 13 .224 .286 .310 .596 1 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/17/2014.

Not as much there and what is there isn’t encouraging.  There’s a real good chance tonight’s game will be another 2-1 affair.  Let’s just hope the end result is different!

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#BirdToTheFuture

Last year, the Cardinals tried something fairly unique in the realm of baseball promotion.  Under the label of #Nestflix, they created their own version of the TV show The Office, inspired in large part because the actresses that played Phyllis and Pam were St. Louis natives and big Cardinal fans.  They wrangled Phyllis to play a similar part and played up the rivalry between Fredbird and Rally Squirrel in a front office show that ran about 50 15-second episodes, which is all the time you have on Instagram.  It was pretty neat and I know I enjoyed it.  The Cardinals “reran” them last week and it was fun to see them again.

Despite those that complain on Instagram that they want real news instead of such promotion*, apparently #Nestflix was a hit.  So much so that another production under that banner is underway.  This time, instead of showing a front office parody, they are tapping into one of the classic movies of our generation to tie into the new Cardinals Hall of Fame in Ballpark Village.

*Seriously, folks, you want information, follow the Cardinals on Twitter rather than Instagram.  The whole purpose of that service is to share pictures and now short videos.  If that’s your news source, you’ve got more problems than we can go into right now!

You can watch the trailer for #BirdToTheFuture right here.  I’m going to admit something here that might change your opinion of me, but the Back to the Future movies never grabbed hold of me like they did so many of my generation.  Sure, I’ve seen them, though I think just once.  Maybe because I watched them well after they were in the theater, but they’ve never been a big thing for me.  I think I’m still allowed on the Internet after saying that, though if my Twitter account goes quiet, you’ll know I was wrong on that score.

However, even the casual observer knows the beats, knows the references and from the trailer, it looks like the Cardinals are going to do a pretty good job with tying that into their story.  Obviously, if you are talking about the Hall of Fame, time travel is the way to go.  Who wouldn’t want to go back in time to see Stan Musial or Lou Brock in their prime?  If you were going to set up a museum, having a Delorean that can send you back to get the artifacts would make your job a lot easier as well.  (Of course, given my tastes, I’d have preferred a TARDIS, especially since John Mozeliak is a Time Lord, but I can acknowledge that parody might have been harder to pull off and not necessarily reach a broad audience like this one should.)

I applaud the Cardinals for doing something unique.  So much of baseball’s marketing and promotions are run on a macro level, where the campaigns and such are directed from New York, with minor modifications to personalize it to the teams.  This is pure St. Louis, with nothing else out there that can be compared to it at all.  Having such a new and fun thing is a–yes, we’ll go there–feather in the cap of this organization.

Is it cheesy?  Sure.  Is it self-promoting?  Yeah, which is what you expect out of a promotions department.  Is it a whole lot better than dry commercials and print ads?  I surely think so.  If nothing else, it should keep people coming back to check out what’s going on.  (The first five episodes, by the way, came out yesterday on their Instagram account.  John Rooney is getting plenty of extra work these days!)

It’s also some quality work.  From what I understand, they’ve gotten an actual Hollywood director to come in and run this thing and I think it shows.  Not that last year’s Office-run wasn’t quality, but the first five episodes so far have seemed to have a different feel to them, something more cinematic.  Which it should, since last year they were parodying a TV mockumentary and this year a movie.  However, it’s easy to do a thing half-way, but so far it doesn’t look like that’s the case with this one.

John Rooney on the field filing some of #BirdToTheFuture

John Rooney on the field filing some of #BirdToTheFuture (Photo credit: St. Louis Cardinals)

Plus the great part is it can only encourage talking about Cardinal history, which should be great news for folks like Bob Netherton and Mark Tomasik.  Cardinal history is so full of amazing moments, great personalities, wonderful games that the more we get to bring that up, the more we get to reference it, the better it is for the fan base as a whole.  Heck, just the title of this thing invoked a not-so-high-light of Cardinal history on Twitter.  We can talk about Cardinal history while we hope the team on the field makes some more of it.  (If you’d like to talk about Cardinal history, what you would change or where you would go if you could go back in time, we’re talking about it over here at ReplyAll.  I love the response of Christine Coleman–just imagine if you could tweak something that made Rick Ankiel stay on the mound!)

Day3_BTTF - MAKING - 3RD DAY - OZZIE - FB - BILL - DOC - DELOREAN2

I guess, when you think about it, Doc Brown really was some sort of Wizard. (Photo credit: St. Louis Cardinals)

Here’s what also tickles me about this project.  I’ve been given to understand that one of the characters in the story is a blogger, which is a nice hat tip to what we do here and around the UCB.  (Wait, I say that, but I don’t know if the blogger is a good guy or not!  Maybe I should wait on drawing that positive conclusion!)  I have no idea if the blogger is a big part, a little part, or more an offhand reference, but just the fact that they are acknowledging the community in something like this is a great thing for us, I believe.

Fredbird and John Rooney share a quiet moment.

Fredbird and John Rooney share a quiet moment. (Photo credit: St. Louis Cardinals)

I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of folks poking fun at the project, but that’s the nature of the internet.  No good thing goes unsnarked and all that, which is fine.  I don’t think anyone is taking this so seriously that they are going to be offended by some gentle ribbing.  Still, it’s a fun little thing to do and I’m glad that they are continuing to make projects like this.  Besides, apparently they had the pull to get this guy knighted, which is definitely a worthy endeavor.

Sir Adam Wainwright (Photo credit: St. Louis Cardinals)

Sir Adam Wainwright (Photo credit: St. Louis Cardinals)

So keep checking Instagram for new episodes over the coming days.  It should be a hoot!

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Sweeping Some of That Magic Away

After the struggles against Cincinnati, it was good to see the Cardinals come home and take care of business against one of the worst teams in the league.  The sweep against Colorado was pretty necessary as well, since Pittsburgh just dropped one this weekend.  With two weeks to go in the season (really?  Where did 2014 all go?) St. Louis is looking like the team we thought they would be.  Finally.

Saturday (5-4 win)

Hero: Matt Holliday.  It’s tough to say which Matt homer was more important.  After all, Matt Carpenter‘s two-run shot in the second put the Cards out to a comfortable lead.  However, Holliday’s blast in the first put the Cardinals on the board and gave Shelby Miller some early breathing room.  Holliday also walked twice, even though he didn’t come around to score.

Goat: Sam Freeman.  Given a 5-1 lead in the ninth, Freeman started the inning with a walk, which is one of those baseball no-nos.  He almost got out of it with a line-drive double play, but the runner got back safely and scored when Matt McBride doubled.  That was all for Freeman and while Pat Neshek wasn’t his normal efficient self, allowing not only his inherited runner to score but one of his own, he did eventually get the save.

Notes: Miller continues his late-season resurgence, crediting the return of Yadier Molina for giving him the confidence to diversify his repertoire.  Miller only threw 83 pitches, so he could have easily thrown another inning had his spot in the batting order not come up with runners on and two outs in the bottom of the sixth.  (Oscar Taveras made Mike Matheny‘s decision to pull Miller pay off with an RBI single.)  For the second straight game he didn’t walk anyone and he allowed only one run, which actually snapped his scoreless inning streak.  His combined line for his last four starts? 2-0, 27 IP, 17 K, 5 BB, 1.00 ERA.  No wonder there’s less angst around Michael Wacha being skipped.

Carlos Martinez again looked sharp, throwing a scoreless 1.1 innings and looking more and more like that late-inning option we saw him be in the playoffs last year.  Matheny also used him on Sunday, perhaps getting him used to going on back-to-back days and seeing what he can do if he has to face a team twice in that short span.

Sunday (4-1 win)

Hero: Yadier Molina.  Three hits in this one, including a double, and he scored on a wild pitch.  There’s every indication that Molina’s strength is returning and we’ll start seeing the offensive exploits we are used to from the erstwhile catcher.  Molina had six hits over the weekend, which goes to prove that there’s nothing an iffy pitching staff can’t fix.

Goat: Kolten Wong.  Wong went 0-3 before being replaced by Mark Ellis late in this one, striking out twice in the process.  He’s riding an 0-10 and only played in one game this weekend.  Wong’s struck me as a streaky hitter this year, riding waves of good and ill, and it could be that he’s just on a downward slope now, with another upward one on the horizon.

Notes: Marco Gonzales filled in well for Wacha today, striking out nine batters in 5.2 innings.  He might have gone deeper than that, however, if he’d not walked four in the process.  Gonzales didn’t quite have the command we are used to seeing out of him, but obviously he still had plenty of good stuff.  The bullpen did their job, Trevor Rosenthal got the save with no drama whatsoever, and there was much rejoicing.

Offensively, #21 for Jhonny Peralta, which puts him just seven off of Ozzie Smith‘s total.  Oh, wait, that’s Ozzie’s career total.  The Cardinals have never had a shortstop be one of their main power weapons and every bomb that Peralta adds to his total is just that more impressive.  It’s going to be interesting to see how much support he gets for the Cards’ MVP when the Cardinal Blogger Awards are done in November.

Two hits both by Holliday and Taveras.  Taveras is a bit warm lately, hitting .435 over his last 10 games.  They’ve mainly been singles–only one double and one homer out of the 10 hits–but it looks like he’s making adjustments and starting to settle into the big leagues.  At the very least, he’s become quite a weapon off the bench, which may be his role in the playoffs depending on how the outfield situation shakes out.

This weekend, the Cardinals also announced that John Lackey would be skipped the next time through the rotation, meaning that he wouldn’t go against the Brewers.  Unsurprisingly, Lackey’s not real thrilled about this, but when you have a .982 OPS against you in your last three starts, taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.  Lackey’s ERA over that span would be much worse had he not allowed three unearned runs against the Cubs (that came off of his error) and it’s still 6.28 anyway.  Thank goodness (from our point of view) that Allen Craig hasn’t figured it out in Boston or this trade and the Justin Masterson deal would put a significant dent into John Mozeliak’s sterling reputation.

Lackey can bounce back, of course, and we’ve seen some good outings from him in St. Louis.  He’ll get a chance to start the last home series of the year this weekend against the Reds, who haven’t been afraid of him in his two starts (assuming you can call two innings before being ejected a start) against them since the trade.  If Lackey can keep them in check, maybe we can start being cautiously optimistic about him going in the playoffs.  Right now, though, the first round is Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Miller.  It’s completely possible that a guy that was acquired for his postseason experience won’t even get the chance to use that quality this season.

Speaking of starters that have been or will be skipped, Wacha threw a bullpen yesterday to focus on his command.  No word on if that helped him knock the rust off after his lengthy absence, but so far there’s no talk of shutting him down for the season.  It’s possible that he’d be used in relief, but I don’t think you want a guy that is having issues with control and his stuff to be brought into any crucial situations.  It’s easily possible that he’d wind up being like Joe Kelly was at the beginning of last year, a guy that never got into the game because a long man was never needed.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wacha take the mound Friday against the Reds, especially if the magic number continues to drop significantly.

Speaking of, that magic number is now 10, which is of course most often tied to Tony La Russa in Cardinal history, especially now that it’s been retired for him.  However, don’t forget folks like Mike LaValliere (hated when they dealt him to the Pirates, though Tony Pena seemed worth it at the time) and Ken Oberkfell, plus Johnny Mize, Harry Walker and Pepper Martin all wore it as well.

Day off for the Redbirds today, their next-to-last one of the year.  The Brewers come into town on Tuesday just trying to fight for their playoff lives.  The number is 8 to eliminate them, so they’ll still be alive for the Central at the end of this no matter, though it may be the thinnest of ropes.  More importantly for them, perhaps, is the fact they are 1.5 games behind Pittsburgh, who they go visit after the Cardinal series.  They have to stay close to the Pirates (who will be hosting the Red Sox) so they can have a shot at the wild card when they go to the Steel City.

Of course, they are going to have to go through the three best Cardinal pitchers to do so, which is a tough task for any team.  Up first is Lynn, who is having an outstanding year and has had back-to-back starts where he only allowed one earned run in each game.  One of those was against Milwaukee (where he did allow a couple of unearned tallies, though they weren’t really his fault) and on the season he’s 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA against the Brewers in three games.  They’ve put up an OPS of .614 against him, so he’s been able to limit any damage by that club.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Aramis Ramirez 23 21 2 0 0 0 0 2 4 .095 .174 .095 .269 0 0 0 0 1
Jonathan Lucroy 22 18 5 2 0 0 0 4 6 .278 .409 .389 .798 0 0 0 0 2
Ryan Braun 19 19 5 0 0 1 4 0 5 .263 .263 .421 .684 0 0 0 0 2
Carlos Gomez 19 18 3 0 0 0 0 1 9 .167 .211 .167 .377 0 0 0 0 0
Scooter Gennett 17 13 5 2 0 0 1 4 2 .385 .529 .538 1.068 0 0 0 0 0
Jean Segura 16 15 7 1 1 0 2 1 3 .467 .500 .667 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Gerardo Parra 15 14 7 2 2 1 1 1 2 .500 .533 1.143 1.676 0 0 0 0 0
Khris Davis 12 12 1 0 0 0 1 0 3 .083 .083 .083 .167 0 0 0 0 0
Lyle Overbay 11 7 2 1 0 0 2 3 1 .286 .545 .429 .974 0 0 0 1 0
Rickie Weeks 10 10 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .100 .100 .100 .200 0 0 0 0 2
Logan Schafer 9 8 3 1 0 0 1 1 1 .375 .444 .500 .944 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Lohse 5 2 1 0 0 0 2 0 1 .500 .500 .500 1.000 3 0 0 0 0
Martin Maldonado 5 4 2 0 0 0 0 1 2 .500 .600 .500 1.100 0 0 0 0 0
Mark Reynolds 5 4 1 1 0 0 0 1 2 .250 .400 .500 .900 0 0 0 0 0
Marco Estrada 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Matt Garza 4 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .250 .250 .250 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Elian Herrera 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Fiers 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Yovani Gallardo 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Matt Clark 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 204 179 46 10 3 2 14 19 49 .257 .332 .380 .712 5 0 0 1 7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/15/2014.

The Brewers have seen their fair share of him over the years and while you don’t care to see that line by Jean Segura, the fact that he’s been one of the only Cardinal pitchers ever to handle Sith Lord Aramis Ramirez is impressive, most impressive.  We can only hope that trend continues, because Milwaukee is going to pull out all the stops in this series.

They get to start the series off right as well by sending Wily Peralta out there to the mound.  The Cardinals scored three off of Peralta in six innings last time they faced him, but he struck out seven in that span as well.  He’s faced the Cards four times this year and is 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA, with the only loss coming two weekends ago.  In Peralta’s last start, he allowed one run in 6.2 innings against the Marlins.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Carpenter 22 18 8 1 0 1 2 4 2 .444 .545 .667 1.212 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 21 18 8 0 0 2 5 1 2 .444 .524 .778 1.302 0 0 0 2 1
Jon Jay 20 20 6 0 0 0 1 0 4 .300 .300 .300 .600 0 0 0 0 2
Yadier Molina 18 16 5 0 0 0 3 2 2 .313 .389 .313 .701 0 0 0 0 1
Matt Adams 15 14 2 0 0 0 1 1 3 .143 .200 .143 .343 0 0 0 0 1
Kolten Wong 13 12 2 0 0 0 1 1 4 .167 .231 .167 .397 0 0 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 12 11 2 0 0 0 0 1 2 .182 .250 .182 .432 0 0 0 0 0
Pete Kozma 9 8 3 0 0 0 2 1 2 .375 .444 .375 .819 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Descalso 7 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .143 .143 .143 .286 0 0 0 0 0
Peter Bourjos 6 4 1 1 0 0 0 2 2 .250 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Pierzynski 5 5 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Oscar Taveras 4 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .250 .250 .500 .750 0 0 0 0 0
Mark Ellis 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Xavier Scruggs 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 1 0
Tony Cruz 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Shelby Miller 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Marco Gonzales 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Wacha 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 167 150 40 3 0 3 16 13 28 .267 .337 .347 .684 1 0 0 3 5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/15/2014.

Carpenter and Holliday have done all right against him in the past, for whatever that is worth.  Peralta’s been a much better pitcher this year, though, and I expect it’ll be quite a pitcher’s duel on Tuesday night.  Hopefully the Cards can come out on top!

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After scuffling in Cincinnati, the Cards came home to take on a Rockies team that doesn’t have to worry about .500, they have to worry about staying above .400.  Putting a very bad team in front of your very good pitcher is a great way to end a losing streak.

Before we get to that one, though, we have to talk about Thursday’s loss to Cincinnati, which let the Reds take the last series between the two for 2014.  We knew that it was going to be a pitchers’ duel, of course, what with Johnny Cueto and Lance Lynn taking the mound.  It definitely was that, with the only run of the game not scoring until the eighth inning.

Of course, in a tight game like that, decisions (and lack thereof) are magnified greatly.  Most of us squawked on Twitter when Mark Ellis came in for Matt Adams at the end of the game with the tying run on first base.  Granted, Aroldis Chapman is a left-handed relief ace, but when you think about game-tying extra-base hits, Ellis’s name isn’t quite at the top of the list.

It was noted that, before this series, Ellis was 3-3 against Chapman in his career.  That obviously factored heavily into Mike Matheny‘s thinking since he used Ellis in three straight games against the Reds’ fireballer.  Ellis now is 3-6 against Chapman, which is a surprise to basically no one that doesn’t wear the number 22.

Look, I know that we look at the pitcher’s history against hitters every game here, so it’s a little disingenuous for me to complain about using it, but there’s really little predictive value in this matchups, especially when they are less than 10 at-bats.  If you are making decisions on three AB, that’s a problem.  Maybe it works as a tiebreaker between two equally good choices, but that’s about it.  Our friend Marilyn Green pointed out this 2011 article on FanGraphs that states the reasons why.  I think they are fun to look at and, again, could possibly be a feather on the stack of reasons why to use a player, but you can’t decide major choices that way.

If you are going to replace Adams, which I understand (though Adams does have three of his homers this year off left-handers and Matheny left him in against a left-hander in the eighth the night before), why not see if Xavier Scruggs can run into one?  At least he’d have the advantage (such as it was) of Chapman having never seen him.  Why not Yadier Molina?  Was there a specific need to keep Molina away from Chapman, given he had been hit for in Wednesday’s game when Chapman came in?

Of course, 95% chance that ANYONE that came up there was going to end the game, so it’s tough to get terribly worked up about it save for the fact that the online fanbase has to get worked up about something.  If Adams’s ball goes about six inches higher or further in the eighth, the Cards are the one with the 1-0 lead and probably approach their pitching a little differently then.

In fact, our former cohort in crime Josh Gilliam texted after Brandon Phillips singled to lead off the eighth that he’d have gone to the bullpen.  (Let me be clear, he did this at the time, not in retrospect.)  Two lefties were coming up and it’d have been a good time to go to Kevin Siegrist (if we are ready to trust him) or Sam Freeman (has anyone seen Randy Choate these days?  Just checking.) instead of letting Lynn face them.

That would have been a tough sell, though.  Phillips was the first batter to reach since the third inning and Lynn was still under 100 pitches and not laboring at all.  Now, as we know, it turned out to be a key part of the game, but I think in the moment I’d have left Lynn in there as well.  That said, the Cards might have won the game had Matheny had the same idea Josh did.  (Of course, if Jon Jay comes up with the shallow fly ball Ramon Santiago hit, maybe Lynn is able to work out of it as well.)

Let’s name our Hero and Goat before we move on to Friday.  The Hero has to be Lynn, even if he did take the loss.  One run in eight innings with six strikeouts?  I’d take that every time out.  The Goat is tough to pick, given that the club only had three hits all day long.  I’m going to go with Jay there, because he went 0-2 and he was key on that run scoring.

Thankfully Friday night got off to a much better start thanks to Hero Matt Holliday.  Holliday’s three run home run surprisingly didn’t take out Big Mac Land, just landed in it, but it was stroked and the tone was set.  Holliday was instrumental in the fourth run as well, stealing second and coming around to score on a base hit by Jhonny Peralta.

Of course, three was all that a good Adam Wainwright needs and last night was the good Adam Wainwright.  As I said about Lynn’s outing, eight innings, one run, eight strikeouts is something you are going to win with most every time out and it was good to see out of him after some iffy work this summer.  If Waino is rounding into shape, that makes the odds of going deep into October look much, much better.

It’s good that he was on, because yet again the offense really wasn’t giving him much to work with.  They did walk (five) almost as many times as they got a base hit (six) but when three of those eleven batters come before an out is recorded in the game, that makes for a pretty quiet middle.  Four of them (two walks, two hits) came in the eighth as well when they tacked on what proved to be a pretty helpful insurance run.  You really hate to see quiet bats when the team is playing Colorado, so hopefully the rest of the weekend won’t be that way.

We’ll give the Goat to Peter Bourjos since he went 0-3 with no runs or RBI and left three on.  He and Ellis had pretty similar nights when it comes down to it, with the extra AB he had to end the eighth the real difference.

The magic number dropped just to 13 since Pittsburgh (nor Milwaukee, which doesn’t impact the number, just the division race) would be so nice as to lose last night.  13 is, of course, currently worn by Matt Carpenter and unsurprisingly doesn’t have a great Cardinal history outside of him.  I mean, when you start reading Jeff Fassero and Sidney Ponson on the list, you know it’s not one people want.

The bigger news from yesterday probably would be the fact that Michael Wacha is going to be skipped from his next start, with Marco Gonzales taking his place.  There’s no indication yet that this is going to be a permanent thing or that there’s any more injury, but given how he looked in his last outing, this isn’t a terrible idea.  I don’t think we can yet rule him out for the postseason, even though our friend Doug wants to have him shut down for the year.

Shutting him down isn’t the worst thing and it well may come to that, but given his injury is one of those things that is still fairly new to baseball, I’m willing to play it by ear a little bit.  If the doctors say he’s going to be fine, let him try to get into baseball shape.  Now, if they aren’t sure or they are afraid he’ll reaggrevate, of course you shut him down.  This team is better with Wacha on it, even if he’s not to 2013 levels, and if there’s a chance they can take him on the postseason roster, I’d like for them to do it.

A lot of those feelings could be relieved, though, if Shelby Miller continues on his hot streak.  If Miller can keep putting up strong outings, the need for Wacha probably diminishes.  Miller brings a 14-inning scoreless streak into today’s game, having thrown seven innings his last three times out.  If he really has turned it around, October is going to be fun for him and for us.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Brandon Barnes 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Wilin Rosario 5 5 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .400 .400 .600 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Nolan Arenado 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Justin Morneau 3 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Josh Rutledge 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Charlie Blackmon 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Jorge De La Rosa 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Corey Dickerson 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
DJ LeMahieu 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 1 0 0
Jordan Lyles 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Drew Stubbs 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 31 27 4 1 0 0 1 4 7 .148 .258 .185 .443 0 0 1 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/13/2014.

I know, I know, we’ve talked above about how these don’t mean much, but they are still kind fun to look at.  At least the Rockies haven’t beaten up on him much in the past and given their record away from Coors this year, today’s not likely to be the day they start.

Franklin Morales seems to have been with the Rockies since they started business in 1993.  Not quite that long, though 2007 has been a while ago (he did bounce around a couple of years before returning to the Mile High City).  Morales is struggling this year with an ERA over 5, an ERA that would have even been higher had he not thrown six scoreless innings last time out against the Padres (remarkably, he did that in Colorado, not Petco).  Cards faced him in June and got three runs off of him with just one hit (an Adams home run after Morales had walked two batters) in two innings of relief.  We’ll see if they can have some of that when he starts as well.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jhonny Peralta 6 3 1 0 0 0 1 3 2 .333 .667 .333 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 1 1 1 0 0 1 3 0 0 1.000 1.000 4.000 5.000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 0 0 0 1 0
Mark Ellis 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jon Jay 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 15 10 3 0 0 1 4 4 4 .300 .533 .600 1.133 0 0 0 1 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/13/2014.

They’ve done well against him in the past, as much as you can say that about 15 plate appearances.  Let’s hope that’s the kind of game we get this evening as well!

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That Old Familiar Story

Every time this Cardinal team starts to get us excited, they do their darndest to temper that excitement.  While the most recent good times were the longest of the season, it feels like the roller coaster might be going through another dip right now.

Of course, you wonder how things would have been different if John Lackey had been able to stay in the ball game.  I’m not quite as certain as some folks that the result would have been much different.  Lackey struggled through the first two innings (which, granted, might have had to do with the strike zone that was being called) and then got tossed in the third, but he’d already allowed four hits and two runs.  Given what we’ve seen of Lackey since he came to St. Louis, he could have settled in but he could have easily allowed more runs.  When Lackey’s not sharp, it can get ugly.

For all those that say that pitchers coming from the American League to the National League should improve given the idea that the NL is the “lesser” league, Lackey and Justin Masterson would like to have a word.  Lackey’s last three starts look like this:

vs. Chicago: 6.1 IP, 9 H, 5 R (2 ER), 6 K, 1 BB
at Milwaukee: 6 IP, 9 H, 6 R (6 ER), 6 K, 1 BB
at Cincinnati: 2 IP, 4 H, 2 R (2 ER), 1 K, 2 BB

Except for the walks, Lackey was on pace to have another not-so-great game.  Now, you can’t quite extrapolate from there–Alfredo Simon had a 2-0 deficit before he got a chance to sit down, but did pretty well the rest of the way–but given his recent history, you can’t say for sure that Lackey wouldn’t have been much worse than what the club had to replace him with.

I’m going to go ahead and give Lackey the Goat because he couldn’t hold the lead and he put the team in a tough position by getting tossed out.  That said, it was kind of a mediocre night for just about everyone.  Nobody was just terrible, but nobody was all that good either.

Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons got the call to be the emergency replacement and didn’t do a terrible job.  He did allow the go-ahead runs, though, and one of those came on a double by Simon, who had two doubles on the night.  When the pitcher has two extra-base hits, you aren’t doing your job.  Especially when they come with two out.

Let’s give the Hero tag to Carlos Martinez.  Two innings, three strikeouts, only one hit allowed.  It wasn’t much, given the Cards were down, but it was enough to keep them in it and let them have a chance to rally in the eighth inning.  Seth Maness also did some good work out of the pen as the Cards minimized their bullpen usage as much as you can when your starter leaves in the third.

Offensively, Oscar Taveras and Matt Adams drove in a run, but nobody had two hits.  Adams had the best chances to do damage, but was robbed by Brayan Pena in the third with two on and one out, a smash that turned into an unassisted double play (exactly when did Pena become a Gold Glove first baseman?  He denied A.J. Pierzynski on Tuesday and then Adams last night.) and then struck out against lefty Ryan Dennick in the eighth with two on and one out.

You could fault Mike Matheny a little there, I guess.  I mean, we know that Adams struggles against lefties and you have Xavier Scruggs available, who hit lefties pretty well in Memphis.  Given that you still have Jhonny Peralta on the bench to hit for the pitcher after Adams if you want, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea.  Then again, Adams does have three homers against lefties this season and this wasn’t a dominant portsider by any means.  I’m not saying Matheny did wrong, just that there was a different path he could have tried.  I’m not sure that I’d have done it differently though.

However, running up Tommy Pham in the ninth against Aroldis Chapman just doesn’t seem fair.  I imagine our friend Bob Netherton, who can get quite paternal about the minor leaguers, had something to say about that on Twitter last night, but I’d already logged off by that time.

Not much turnaround time as the Cards have an afternoon matinee and it’s no easy task.  Johnny Cueto has been pretty sharp all year long, though the Cards kicked him around for four runs in five innings when they faced him back in St. Louis last month.  Since then, though, he’s given up six total runs in three starts, with his last one being a one-run affair against the Mets.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Holliday 39 32 10 4 0 0 6 5 6 .313 .410 .438 .848 0 1 0 1 2
Yadier Molina 35 31 8 1 0 2 5 0 4 .258 .294 .484 .778 1 1 0 2 1
Jon Jay 26 23 12 1 0 3 7 1 2 .522 .560 .957 1.517 1 0 0 1 0
Jhonny Peralta 15 14 3 0 0 1 3 1 5 .214 .267 .429 .695 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Descalso 11 10 3 1 0 0 0 1 1 .300 .364 .400 .764 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 9 9 2 1 0 0 0 0 2 .222 .222 .333 .556 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Pierzynski 7 7 1 0 0 1 1 0 2 .143 .143 .571 .714 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 6 5 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 .400 .500 .600 1.100 0 0 0 0 0
Mark Ellis 6 5 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 .600 .667 .800 1.467 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Oscar Taveras 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 .500 .667 .500 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Peter Bourjos 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Tony Cruz 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 171 150 46 10 0 7 23 13 26 .307 .373 .513 .886 2 2 0 4 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/11/2014.

It’s interesting how well the Cards have done against him in the past.  I don’t know if they get up for a game against him more than some others or it’s just some statistical noise, but whatever the case, I hope it happens again today.  I’ve said before that Cueto’s the only Red I still hold somewhat of a grudge against.

If the Cards can get some runs, chances are Lance Lynn can make them stand up.  He’s not been quite as sharp his last couple of times out, though his last start against Milwaukee had some errors early before he settled in.  Still, it’s been a wonderful year for Lynn and he is hoping to get the Cardinals the split today.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Zack Cozart 27 26 6 1 0 2 3 0 2 .231 .259 .500 .759 0 0 0 1 0
Brandon Phillips 27 26 8 2 0 0 5 0 6 .308 .296 .385 .681 0 1 0 0 0
Jay Bruce 25 22 11 1 2 2 8 2 6 .500 .520 1.000 1.520 0 1 0 0 1
Todd Frazier 24 20 3 0 0 2 2 3 10 .150 .292 .450 .742 0 0 0 1 1
Ryan Ludwick 11 9 1 0 0 0 2 1 3 .111 .182 .111 .293 0 1 0 0 1
Billy Hamilton 9 9 1 0 0 0 1 0 4 .111 .111 .111 .222 0 0 0 0 0
Devin Mesoraco 6 6 2 2 0 0 0 0 2 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Brayan Pena 6 6 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Ramon Santiago 5 4 2 0 0 0 0 1 1 .500 .600 .500 1.100 0 0 0 0 0
Jake Elmore 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Heisey 4 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .250 .250 .250 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Donald Lutz 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Tucker Barnhart 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Johnny Cueto 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 1
Jack Hannahan 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Mat Latos 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Skip Schumaker 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 1
Total 161 148 38 6 2 6 21 8 38 .257 .298 .446 .744 0 3 0 2 5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/11/2014.

Lynn shut out Cincinnati over seven innings back in August. I’m pretty sure we’d take that again today, right?

The magic number stayed at 14 last night as the Cards lost and Pittsburgh and Milwaukee both won.  The Pirates finish their series in Philadelphia tonight as Francisco Liriano goes up against former Pirate A.J. Burnett.  Milwaukee wraps with Miami with Mike Fiers hosting Nathan Eovaldi.  Would be nice to get an early win and put the pressure on those teams, right?  Let’s do it!

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They’re Good. Not Perfect.

The Cards have played two games in Cincinnati and split the two.  Earlier in the year, I think we’d have been fairly happy with that result.  Right now, when they are winning almost every game put before them, any sort of loss is a reason for anguish.  (Oh, who am I kidding, anguish is part of any loss, no matter when it is.)

Monday (5-0 win)

Hero: Shelby Miller.  Bernie Mikalsz talks about Miller adding his curve.  There’s rumors that Justin Masterson taught him the sinker.  Yadier Molina‘s return has helped.  Whatever the reason, this looks like the Miller we always thought was going to be here, the top prospect that was going to head up a rotation.

Well, not exactly.  Because many of us thought that he’d be a flame-thrower, piling up the strikeouts.  In his last three starts, he’s thrown 21 innings (seven in each one) and has a fancy 0.86 ERA, but only has 12 strikeouts in that time.  That’s not bad, of course, and I don’t think anyone is complaining about the results, but it’s just not what pops to mind when you think of Shelby Miller, I don’t think.

In that same period of time, though, he’s only walked five batters, which is really key.  Being more diverse but being able to keep it in the strike zone is what makes good pitching and right now, Miller definitely is doing that.  It’s still going to be tough for him to make the postseason rotation, but if there’s any crack in that door, Miller’s going to be able to jam his foot in there and keep it open.

Goat: As much as he might be helping the youngster, Monday was not Yadier Molina‘s night.  0-5 with two strikeouts and four left on.  Which, given the pain it gives Reds fans when Molina does something good, was really a missed opportunity.

Notes: Matt Adams went yard again, tacking on a nice cushion in the ninth.  That’s two homers since sitting for a couple of days.  Perhaps a healthy and refreshed Adams can give this team a little jolt from time to time.  I mean, this team is still dead last in home runs in the National League, so it’s not going to happen much, but everyone once in a while it would be nice to see.  (The good thing about the Cards being last in homers?  How often do you see stories about a team that couldn’t do X in the regular season doing X in the playoffs?  I feel like baseball does that often, so maybe they’ll have a power surge in October.)

A number of folks had two hits on the night, but the most impressive might be Randal Grichuk, who came in as a pinch-hitter in the seventh (starting the first run-scoring rally) and got another knock later in the game.  Pretty much anyone in the outfield is producing some now, aren’t they?

Tuesday (9-5 loss)

Hero: For a team that had 14 hits and five runs, coming up with a Hero while looking at the box score is a little tough.  The hits were spread out (which is usually good) and only a couple got more than one of them.  Plus the bench got emptied, which is saying something in September.  We’ll go with Big Fill-In-The-Blank Matt Adams for this one, since he had two hits and scored a run.  Matt Holliday was the only other player to get two safeties.

Goat: Looking at the box score and not having watched the game, you might think Michael Wacha was the shoe-in for this award.  Most of you, though, watched the game, and even though Wacha wasn’t sharp, the score was just 4-1 when he left with a couple of runners on.

Why Mike Matheny thought this was the time for Jason Motte, it’s hard to know.  Motte is a great guy and you respect what he’s done not only for this organization but off the field as well, but right now he’s not the player he used to be.  Motte eventually got three outs, in part because Mike Leake grounded into a double play, but he allowed three hits and not only his two inherited runners but also one of his own to score.  A 4-1 game became 7-1 and, while the Cards tried to rally, you pretty much felt the game was over right there.

Again, Motte’s been a key part of this team and we shouldn’t discount that, but you can’t put him into a game that you have a chance of winning now.  You just can’t.  Our friend Joe Schwarz has written about Motte’s decline in velocity and given that’s how he earns his money, it’s a major issue.  You could have an Adam Wainwright return from Tommy John in a year because he has other weapons.  Motte needs his fastball and right now, he doesn’t have it.

Put it this way: If Matheny puts in Motte when it is 7-1, it’s not a big deal.  To put him in to make it 7-1 is.

Notes: As stated, this was a bit of a step back for Wacha, though he’s still fine physically (as far as we know).  There’s a reason why rehabbing a pitcher in the middle of the pennant race is problematic.  With Marco Gonzales ready behind him, most likely we should have seen Matheny pinch-hit for Wacha at the top of the inning and let Gonzales start the bottom of the fifth.  However, Wacha only had 61 pitches at that time and was supposed to get closer to 75.  Matheny left him in, even though we could tell that it wasn’t prime Wacha-ness.

Now, to be fair to Wacha and Matheny, Wacha could have gotten out of the fifth undamaged.  After a leadoff walk, Todd Frazier hit a grounder to second that Kolten Wong couldn’t come up with as he tried to tag Brayan Pena going from first.  If Wong gets a handle on that, he at least gets the runner at first and possibly turns the double play.  The game might have gone a little differently than that, though since no one else was warming up, unless Wacha finished the frame Motte would have still come in and there’s no reason to think the results would have been much different.

Matheny did his best to use everyone last night, with 24 names showing up in the box score, including all three catchers.  Tommy Pham and Sam Tuivailala both made their major league debuts and quickly found out that they weren’t in Memphis anymore.  Pham struck out batting for Holliday in the ninth and Tuivailala allowed two runs on three hits and a walk and couldn’t finish the eighth.

The Cards did try to rally in the ninth, but the problem with any ninth inning rally against Cincinnati is that, eventually, they just bring in Aroldis Chapman and usually that’s when you reach for the light switch.  Chapman against Mark Ellis, which is how the game ended, was a pretty obvious mismatch, though give Ellis credit for battling him for 11 pitches (five which went over 100 mph) before striking out.

The Pirates and the Brewers lost (man, the Brewers–you just have to shake your head.  Bases loaded in the eighth in a tie game with nobody out and you don’t score.  You aren’t winning that game.) so the Cards keep their lead and whittle on the magic number.  It’s down to 14, which doesn’t have oodles of history.  Obviously, it’s Ken Boyer‘s number and that’s plenty, but other than that, the only people of semi-recognizable fame to wear it were both Mort and Walker Cooper and Dave Ricketts wore it as a coach in the ’70s.

Joe Strauss has an article up about Matheny, and shorn of its mockery and snark (well, if you take that out of a Strauss article, there’s very little left), there is a point.  We’ve done a darn good job of cataloging Matheny’s errors, as we should.  He’s made them and they should be discussed.  However, you also have to give him credit where it is due.  This team is in first and they’ve battled to get there.  This hasn’t been a cruise-control team.  You could argue he’s pushed the wrong buttons at times and perhaps made it more difficult than it had to be, but the team is winning and the manager has to get some of the credit for that.

The general manager does as well, of course, since John Mozeliak limited his options with Allen Craig and apparently interceded on behalf of Trevor Rosenthal, which seems to have worked.  There are a lot of factors that go into play with a first place team, especially one that right now sits just five runs to the good in run differential.  We have to acknowledge that Matheny has had some positive impacts on this team as well.  It seems likely that another manager would have had much worse results.

Talking about worse results leads us into today’s game.  John Lackey has been hit or miss while he’s been in St. Louis and part of that reason seems to be declining velocity.  He better have the speed today, because Great American Ball Park is no place to try to get by with less than your best.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Ryan Ludwick 11 9 1 1 0 0 2 2 3 .111 .273 .222 .495 0 0 0 0 0
Jack Hannahan 10 10 2 0 0 1 1 0 2 .200 .200 .500 .700 0 0 0 0 0
Brayan Pena 9 9 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .444 .778 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Phillips 9 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 .125 .222 .125 .347 0 0 0 1 0
Ramon Santiago 9 9 2 0 0 1 2 0 2 .222 .222 .556 .778 0 0 0 0 1
Jay Bruce 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Todd Frazier 3 2 1 0 0 1 2 1 1 .500 .667 2.000 2.667 0 0 0 0 0
Billy Hamilton 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Devin Mesoraco 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Zack Cozart 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Alfredo Simon 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 64 60 11 2 0 3 7 3 17 .183 .234 .367 .601 0 0 0 1 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/10/2014.

At least he’s had some good success with the Reds in the past, though he’s obviously not seen them terribly often.  If he can limit them, you feel good about what the offense has been doing lately and you would expect a win.  However, those five-plus run games that Lackey has a habit of tossing get you worried about what you’ll see in this one.

Cardinals will have to try to do damage against Alfredo Simon.  That wasn’t too hard last month, as they got eight hits and three runs off of him in 5.1 innings.  Another day like that wouldn’t go amiss, I don’t believe.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Holliday 15 11 2 0 0 0 1 3 2 .182 .400 .182 .582 0 0 0 1 0
Jon Jay 13 11 4 0 0 0 0 2 2 .364 .462 .364 .825 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 9 7 2 1 0 0 2 0 0 .286 .222 .429 .651 0 2 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 9 9 2 1 0 1 1 0 0 .222 .222 .667 .889 0 0 0 0 3
Yadier Molina 8 8 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 .375 .375 .375 .750 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Descalso 7 6 1 0 1 0 2 1 0 .167 .286 .500 .786 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 5 4 2 1 0 1 2 1 0 .500 .600 1.500 2.100 0 0 1 0 0
A.J. Pierzynski 5 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .250 .250 .250 .500 1 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Tony Cruz 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 1
Mark Ellis 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Pete Kozma 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Peter Bourjos 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
John Lackey 2 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Oscar Taveras 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Total 94 81 20 3 1 2 8 8 10 .247 .315 .383 .698 2 2 1 1 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/10/2014.

Simon’s last start was a four-inning, six-run affair against the Mets.  It’s hard to believe that he was once the league leader in wins, but the second half has not been good to him.  He’s 1-7 with a 5.27 ERA since the All-Star Break.

Hopefully this team gives us less to complain about tonight.  I mean, we’ll always find something, but at least make us hunt for it!

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The September Magic Returns

Is this the same team?  The same team that caused heartburn medication to be at a premium, the same team that couldn’t string together quality wins if they were spotted the needle and thread?  Is that the same team we just saw roar through Milwaukee?

This last week, the Cardinals took on the two serious threats to their throne at the top of the National League Central.  They went 6-1.  Couple that with the wins in the last two games of the Cubs series and they’ve won eight of their last nine.  A team that never could seem to get out of its own way now routinely puts together complete efforts, winning with hitting, pitching, and defense.  This is a wonderful thing to watch, even if we are a bit befuddled by why it is happening now.  Let’s recap this past series.

Thursday (3-2 win)

Hero: Matt Holliday.  Holliday did all he could do, going 3-4 and scoring one of the few Cardinal runs.  He also got clocked by another pitch, but thankfully it didn’t do any damage.

Goat: Jhonny Peralta.  Not many times you’ll see Peralta completely fail, but he went 0-4 and left six men on.  In a game that became pretty gut-tightening in the ninth, one of those LOB being scored could have made a huge difference.

Notes: So, so much to come out of this game.  The first point is, of course, Michael Wacha managed to do fairly well with his 60 pitches.  He wasn’t terribly sharp–at one point, Mike Matheny had someone (Jason Motte, I think?) warming up to replace Wacha to finish an inning before Marco Gonzales could come along for the long relief–but he got the job done and didn’t have any physical problems afterwards.

Wacha had a very encouraging night and so did Gonzales.  Making his second appearance since his return to the big leagues, Gonzales did a fine job of keeping Milwaukee at bay.  His only run was a home run to Rickie Weeks in what turned out to be his final batter.  It’s too bad, to some degree, that the Cardinal rotation is so stocked because it’d be nice to get a little longer look at Gonzales in that role.

The person out of the pen that it is difficult to watch right now is Motte.  Motte did come in to relieve Gonzales, but he did little to warrant the call, allowing a hit and a walk while only getting one out and forcing Matheny go to go Seth Maness to make sure the Brewers didn’t tie it up.  Motte wasn’t used in the next three games, so we’ll have to see if and how he’s used down the stretch.  It seems unwise to put him in any sort of high-leverage situation, but bullpen management has never been listed high on Matheny’s list of attributes.

Trevor Rosenthal made it interesting in the ninth, though he didn’t get any help from the home plate umpire, seeming to strike out Jonathan Lucroy with one on and two out.  However, the pitch was called ball two and Rosenthal wound up losing him.  He pitched out of the jam, though, which is his typical MO–it isn’t going to be easy, but it’s usually going to be done.

Offensively, three hits from Matt Carpenter and two from Jon Jay and Kolten Wong.  Xavier Scruggs made his debut and got hit but didn’t get a hit.  There were a few opportunities in this one, but the Cards capitalized on just enough of them.

Friday (6-2 loss)

Hero: Peter Bourjos.  Two for four and scored a run.  Not a lot of offense to choose from, but obviously we weren’t going to the pitching staff for this spot.

Goat: John Lackey.  When the Cardinals traded for Lackey, I think they were hoping for a few less blowups.  I guess it’s hard to fault him since he’s only had two games where he’s had more than two earned runs, but in the seven starts for the Redbirds, he’s had games where he allowed nine, five (three were unearned) and now six.  We’ve ragged on Justin Masterson quite a bit–and deservedly so, because Masterson couldn’t get but one game under the five run mark–but Lackey’s not quite lived up to standards either.

Beyond his pitching, however, the game may have turned on what Mike Fiers could do and what Lackey couldn’t do.  In the top of the third, with the leadoff runner on, Lackey couldn’t get the bunt down, instead popping out to leave Daniel Descalso at first.  Carpenter popped out but Jay singled, a hit that likely would have send Descalso home had he been on second.  He wasn’t and Holliday made the third out, meaning no run scored.

In the bottom of that frame, Fiers came up with runners on first and second and successfully moved them along.  Scooter Gennett then singled them both home, putting the Brewers up 2-0 and giving them a lead they would not surrender.

I know Lackey’s been in the American League his whole life and, as such, hasn’t had much call for bunting.  Still, if he’d been able to get that down, perhaps the game would have changed.  Likely not–Lackey was off pretty much all night–but we’ll never know.

Notes: Good on Oscar Taveras to handle this lack of playing time in a positive way.  I think most of us have agreed that, for now, Jay-Bourjos-Holliday is the way to go.  However, Taveras should 1) still play and 2) is still important to this team.  We saw that with him driving a single in a pinch-hitting role, scoring Bourjos with the second run.  I think Taveras could be a great PH option in the playoffs if he doesn’t start a game, because he does tend to come through in those situations, or has a lot in my perception.

Interesting to see Masterson pitch a scoreless inning out of the pen.  Sure, it was in a four run game, but maybe there is something to moving him out of the rotation instead of just completely burying him.  If Motte can’t get things together, they well may have need of a right-handed option down there.  And, of course, we must note that Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons also threw a scoreless frame.  So many starting options, so little time.

Saturday (5-3 win)

Hero: This one is tough.  Two different players hit two-run homers and both could lay a claim here.  I think I’m going to go with Matt Adams, because his shot gave the Cards the lead (one they would immediately relinquish, but hey, better than being down 2-0 after the first) and given Adams’s insertion into the lineup was a little debatable, it was a really hopeful sign.

Goat: Lance Lynn.  Lynn scuffled all night, getting bailed out a little by Holliday throwing out Ryan Braun at the plate to keep the game tied after one (which, granted, Holliday owed him after making two errors on the same play earlier in the inning) but still walking four and not ever seeming to be in a rhythm.  In another instance of questionable Matheny management, Lynn went out there for the sixth after already throwing almost 100 pitches.  There are a lot of arms down there in the pen, so you’d think getting Lynn out of there before he could do too much more damage (he allowed his third run in that frame) would have been a priority.

Notes: Great to see Taveras respond to a start by cranking one out of the yard.  If he gets hot, it’s going to make for some tough decisions for Matheny down the stretch when it comes to playing time.  The Cards actually only got four hits–the two walks issued by old friend Kyle Lohse came back to hurt him–but they were much more potent hits than we’d been accustomed to seeing.

Oh, and we saw nasty Carlos Martinez again on the mound and this had nothing to do with his Twitter favorites.  Three strikeouts in 1.1 innings?  We’ll take that any day of the week, my friend.  Keep that going strong.

Sunday (9-1 win)

Hero: Adam Wainwright. Oh, Uncle Charlie, how good it is to see you again.  That guy that’d been wearing your number and pretending to be you just wasn’t the same.  Please don’t leave us again, will you?  Eight scoreless innings and then a minor Twitter controversy occurred when he ran out there for the ninth.

On the one hand, he only had thrown 87 pitches and had a shutout going.  On the other hand, the score was 9-0 after Peralta hit a homer and the man has been complaining about a dead arm.  I might have sent him out there, but I’d have pulled him after Gennett doubled to lead off the frame.  I definitely would have gotten him once Carlos Gomez ruined the shutout.

As Tara said on last night’s Gateway to Baseball Heaven, if 13 pitches for Wainwright become the tipping point, we have bigger problems, but still, you’d like to think that Matheny would be a bit more aware, try to save a few bullets for down the road.  That seems….unlikely.  (I did see someone on Twitter suggest skipping Waino’s next start against the Rockies and letting him pick it up again against the Brewers.  I’m for that, but I’m pretty sure Adam and his manager wouldn’t be.)

Goat: Everyone seemed to contribute something on offense, though a couple of them did it without getting a hit.  We’ll give the Goat to Matt Adams for going 0-3 behind Peralta’s big day at the plate, even though he drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.  Yadier Molina also went hitless on the day, though he scored a run after drawing a walk.

Notes: Peralta had three hits, including his 20th home run.  A Cardinal shortstop has hit 20 home runs.  Think about that for a little bit.  It’s pretty mindboggling.  Taveras went 3-4 with a run and an RBI, proving that Holliday can be rested down the stretch without a significant drop off.  The Brewers did their best to give this one to the Cards by throwing the ball all around the yard and generally looking like a team running on fumes.

After the game, Lucroy stated that he felt the Brewers were still the better team.  Of course, he’s welcome to his opinion and perhaps he can find some reasons to back that up.  However, in September, both teams are turning out to be the teams that we thought they would be.  Most everyone expected Milwaukee to come crashing back to earth, though many thought it would be before this time.  Most thought the Cards would be the class of the division, though they didn’t think they’d have to work so hard to prove it.  It’s possible if that the Brew Crew had as much fight on the field as they do off, this would have been a very different weekend.

We asked last week if the switch had been flipped.  Given the results of this weekend, it seriously looks like it has.  Whatever magic September holds on this franchise, it seems to have picked it up again.  That said, a word of caution–switches go both ways.  Just because the Redbirds tore through this section of tough teams doesn’t mean they won’t get bogged down in the soggy morass of teams that are waiting for them from now until the end of the road.

That soggy morass starts in Cincinnati, where St. Louis finds a beaten and broken Reds team.  The Reds started spiraling when the Cards went through and swept them earlier last month and they’ve not been the same since, now residing 12 games out of first and worrying about the Cubs catching them.  Shelby Miller, who has looked so good in his last couple of outings, tries to carry that momentum forward against a team that has had middling success against him in the past.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Brandon Phillips 14 14 4 1 0 1 1 0 5 .286 .286 .571 .857 0 0 0 0 0
Jay Bruce 12 8 1 1 0 0 1 3 3 .125 .333 .250 .583 0 1 0 0 1
Todd Frazier 11 11 3 0 0 1 3 0 2 .273 .273 .545 .818 0 0 0 0 1
Zack Cozart 9 9 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 .111 .111 .111 .222 0 0 0 0 0
Billy Hamilton 7 5 2 0 1 0 0 2 0 .400 .571 .800 1.371 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Heisey 7 7 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .286 .286 .286 .571 0 0 0 0 0
Devin Mesoraco 7 7 2 0 0 1 2 0 1 .286 .286 .714 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Ludwick 4 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .250 .250 .250 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Jake Elmore 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 .000 .667 .000 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Ramon Santiago 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Skip Schumaker 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Brayan Pena 2 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1.000 .500 1.000 1.500 0 1 0 0 0
Total 85 76 19 2 1 3 8 7 18 .250 .306 .421 .727 0 2 0 0 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/7/2014.

Miller last saw the Reds back in May, when he allowed four runs in five innings while taking a loss.  Again, Miller’s been looking better of late, so if that Miller shows up, the Cards should like their chances.

At least, assuming they can figure out Dylan Axelrod.  Axelrod will be making only his fourth start of the season, but he’s not exactly a prospect, having bounced back and forth from the bigs since 2011 with the White Sox.  Not exactly a huge sample size to work with then, unsurprisingly.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jhonny Peralta 9 8 2 0 0 0 0 1 1 .250 .333 .250 .583 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Pierzynski 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 10 9 3 0 0 0 0 1 1 .333 .400 .333 .733 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/7/2014.

At least he’s not a lefty, otherwise St. Louis might be well and truly in trouble.  Axelrod has done well for the Reds, striking out more than a batter per inning and keeping his walk total low, so he might have finally started to figure it out.

Whatever lineup the Cards run out there, it seems like a couple of other moves will be made to the roster now that Memphis’s season is over.  Tommy Pham seems to be a lock, but it’s interesting to see that hard-throwing reliever Sam Tuivailala is also in consideration.  Tuivailala, who I will pretty much always just call Sam in actual conversation, pitched in the playoffs for Memphis but started the year in A ball.  The Cards must be really high on him if they are willing to add him to the 40-man this quickly.

Hopefully we’ll see the team that was completely clicking this past week go on a run this week as well.  If so, we’ll be dropping that magic number quite quickly!

1 comment

Hey You Guys, Get a Broom

What is it about the stretch run that invigorates this franchise so?  It doesn’t always happen, of course, but it seems more likely than not that when the seasons start to change and the games begin to get precious, the Cardinals have a way of finding that extra gear and roaring ahead.

Now, let’s still not get to far ahead of ourselves.  It’s still just five games.  Five games that have thankfully coincided with a tailspin of epic proportions by the Miller Park crew.  We have seen September pushes look good and then fall by the wayside, just not many of them.  (I honestly thought 2010 was that way, when the Cards swept the Reds in the famous brawl series to take the divisional lead, only to fritter it almost immediately away.  Looking it up, though, that was early August.  Not sure why I thought it was later.)

I always credited the strong stretch runs under Tony La Russa to his penchant for mixing and matching lineups earlier in the year so folks were rested come September and TLR could start running them out there more regularly.  However, Mike Matheny doesn’t do that–Matt Adams can testify–and yet, here we are, early September and the Cards are starting to look like the team we thought they could be.

Of course, yesterday couldn’t be easy.  After four games where they’d scored at least five runs, the offense again went into hibernation.  Now, to be fair, Edinson Volquez has been pitching well of late, but taking a no-hitter (well, no base hits, though two Cardinals in a row were plunked) into the fifth was a little extreme.  Then, of course, the few favorable offensive situations they did get into, such as runners at second and third, one out, top of the lineup coming up, went quickly by the wayside as well.

Meanwhile, the Pirates had their own issues.  Five times, including each of the last three innings, Pittsburgh got its leadoff man to reach base.  However:

Nottoday

The Cardinal pitching staff got it done and stranded every one of those runners in one fashion or another.  All it took was for a well-timed hit and the Cards aren’t using their brooms today.  Instead, the well-timed hit came from an unexpected source.

I say unexpected, but Peter Bourjos has been playing much better of late.  Over his last 10 games, he’s hitting .389.  He may not be showing any power (three extra-base hits since the beginning of August) but that’s not what they need from him.  Leave the doubles and homers to the big bats (hopefully), but getting on base and getting key hits can win just as many games.

I said yesterday that I think most people would be pretty satisfied right now if Bourjos played center and Jon Jay played right.  Both of them had significant contributions yesterday (though Bourjos does get the Hero tag for ending the game with a walkoff single) and I would hope we would see that again tonight in Miller Park.

Bourjos got the Hero tag, but Shelby Miller really deserved it as well.  Anytime Miller can go seven innings, you know you are getting something good, but to get seven scoreless innings?  That’s even more impressive.  Miller allowed just three hits (though he did walk three batters) and struck out five in one of his best pitching performances of the season.  That’s back-to-back starts where Miller has gone seven and he’s only given up two runs total in that span.  It would be amazing if things started clicking for him right now, because that would give the Cardinals some great insurance if Michael Wacha isn’t going to be able to be available or effective come the postseason.  A resurgent Miller could also be an effective long man in the bullpen, allowing Matheny to go TLR 2011 and pull his starting pitcher early if necessary.

When you are looking for a Goat from yesterday’s game, you are probably going to look at the top of the lineup.  Batters one through six in the St. Louis lineup went a combined 1-20 with two walks.  One of those walks, granted, was the pass to Yadier Molina that started the final rally, but on the whole it’s tough to win a game when only your seven and eight hitters are actually hitting.

Kolten Wong and Jhonny Peralta had the exact same line yesterday–0 for 4, two strikeouts, three left on.  However, Wong made a spectacular play in the eighth inning to perhaps save the game, so we’ll go with Peralta for the Goat today.

By the way, one of the reasons I never was highly impressed with Bobby Cox, at least for a long time, was the fact that he didn’t pinch-run someone like Tom Glavine for Sid Bream in the 1992 NLCS.  It worked out–Bream slid in safely with the game-winning run when Orlando Cabrera got his unlikely hit–but it wasn’t smart managing.  I’d say the same about not pinch-running for Molina yesterday.  Granted, you’ve burned through a lot of bench already, but you have two catchers sitting there and a guy with speed in Pete Kozma.  If you go into extras and all that entails–perhaps messing up your bullpen for the Milwaukee series, even with the extra arms–because Molina’s out by a step or two, is that really smart managing?

Matheny has his reasonings–part the fact that Molina’s experience could be big in extra innings, part loyalty to his player–but I’m not sure they really stack up.  Do you want Molina, still only back about a week, to catch deep into this game?  We know he can do 20 innings or so, but should he with a big battle against the Brewers this weekend and especially since this was a day game after a night game?  Weren’t we sold on the fact that Tony Cruz was like a sponge and had soaked up a ton of Molina knowledge?  So why couldn’t he catch the extras?  Again, it worked out–we’ve noted before that Matheny seems to live a charmed life–but I’m not sure it was the wisest decision.

Speaking of iffy decisions, Jay was caught stealing third in the seventh inning of a scoreless ballgame with one out.  After the game, Matheny said Jay was “encouraged to go” because Tony Watson was slow to the plate.  I don’t care if he pitched like I run, it’s highly questionable to be running there.  Get a nice lead, fine, but Jay is going to be able to score on a base hit and the way yesterday was going (and turned out), one run could win you a ballgame.  Third is nicer than second, but it’s not THAT much nicer than second.  An inning that started nicely then went up in a puff of smoke as Randal Grichuk (who had a 3-1 count before swinging at the pitch while Jay was running, making folks wonder if it was an insane hit-and-run) struck out for the final out.

All I can say is that I hope the Cardinals don’t play too many more important games where one run is the difference.  Much of the fanbase has some real questions about the decision making process in the dugout.  Obviously, it’s much easy to second-guess than first-guess and it’s easier to make these calls from the couch than the top step of the dugout, but hearing the reasons doesn’t necessarily fill folks with confidence.  Then again, this isn’t exactly new, is it?

As for the whole Andrew McCutchen flap, I don’t know what to say.  If the Cardinals did try to hit him, that’s ridiculous.  Yes, Volquez plunked Holliday and Adams back-to-back, but it’s pretty obvious (given no score and the fact he was no-hitting the club at the time) that it wasn’t intentional.  Did Miller mean to go inside and the ball got away from him?  It’s possible, though given Matheny didn’t explain it away like that makes me wonder.  Not only was there no reason for it, the game situation didn’t warrant it either.  Sure there were two outs, but putting a runner on in any situation when it’s 0-0 and your team is struggling to even get hits seems like tempting fate.  We saw in the ninth what could happen in that situation.  So if Matheny did request a message pitch, that’d be a third questionable call from him yesterday.  How St. Louis managed to pull it out beating both Pittsburgh and their own manager is beyond me.

In the span of a couple of weeks, the Cards have gone from trying to get over the hump to having the second-biggest lead in the National League and actually being within shouting distance of the best record in the NL.  They are just 3 1/2 behind the Nationals for that mark, 1 1/2 behind the Dodgers to at least host an NLDS.  Though folks will tell you differently, there’s not just a ton of baseball left to be played (23 games, which is about 15% of the season) and the Redbirds are peaking at the right time.

Of course, momentum is today’s starting pitcher.  The Cards could stumble today against the Brewers and a lot of this era of good feelings would start to come unraveled.  I was 0-2 picking games yesterday, which made me happy as that means St. Louis goes up to Milwaukee with a three game lead, needing to win only one to guarantee going to Cincinnati as a first place team.  However, it seems unlikely that the Brewers are going to run out their losing streak to 12 games, so the Cards will probably fall at least once this weekend.  Still, a series split does wonders for St. Louis, much more than it would have this time last week.

A split seems reasonable as well with the starting pitching the Cardinals have lined up.  Today we see the return of Wacha to the mound.  Wacha will only go about 60 pitches and then be followed by Marco Gonzales, which is a spring training way of approaching September baseball but it makes sense.  If all goes well, this will probably be the only time they’ll have to do this piggy-back approach.  Let’s hope all goes well, though that’s no slight against Marco.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Gerardo Parra 6 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Scooter Gennett 5 5 3 0 0 0 1 0 1 .600 .600 .600 1.200 0 0 0 0 0
Khris Davis 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Gomez 4 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .500 .333 .833 0 0 0 1 1
Jonathan Lucroy 4 4 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 .250 .250 .250 .500 0 0 0 0 1
Aramis Ramirez 4 2 1 0 0 1 2 1 1 .500 .750 2.000 2.750 0 0 0 1 0
Elian Herrera 3 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 .667 .667 .667 1.333 0 0 0 0 0
Mark Reynolds 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Yovani Gallardo 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Lyle Overbay 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Logan Schafer 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jean Segura 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 38 35 12 0 0 1 5 1 11 .343 .395 .429 .823 0 0 0 2 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/4/2014.

We’ve not seen Wacha since he left the mound against the Mets on June 17 having thrown six innings of one-run ball and garnering seven strikeouts.  We won’t see that again this evening, but there’s no reason to think that Wacha can’t be effective in the limited time he’s out there.  Gonzales looked quite good last time out as well, so the one-two punch of former #1 draft picks should make for an interesting game.  Wacha’s only game against the Brewers this year (in Busch) saw him strike out nine and allow three runs in 6.1 innings.  His roughest outing last year was at Miller Park, when he allowed three runs in one inning of relief.

Cardinal bats will have to get going against Wily Peralta and that’s easier said than done.  Peralta is 15-9, though the ERA is working its way to 4.00 territory.  That ERA has gone up over half a run after his last two outings, seven runs in five innings against the Pirates and six runs in three innings against the Giants in the pitcher’s haven that is AT&T Park.  That said, he’s started twice against the Cards since the All-Star Break and his combined line is 2-0, 13.2 innings, eight hits, two runs, four walks, eight strikeouts.  No one said it would be easy.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Carpenter 19 15 6 1 0 1 2 4 2 .400 .526 .667 1.193 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 18 16 6 0 0 2 5 1 2 .375 .444 .750 1.194 0 0 0 1 1
Jon Jay 17 17 5 0 0 0 1 0 3 .294 .294 .294 .588 0 0 0 0 1
Matt Adams 15 14 2 0 0 0 1 1 3 .143 .200 .143 .343 0 0 0 0 1
Yadier Molina 15 14 4 0 0 0 1 1 2 .286 .333 .286 .619 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 10 9 1 0 0 0 0 1 4 .111 .200 .111 .311 0 0 0 0 0
Pete Kozma 9 8 3 0 0 0 2 1 2 .375 .444 .375 .819 0 0 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 9 8 2 0 0 0 0 1 1 .250 .333 .250 .583 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Descalso 7 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .143 .143 .143 .286 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Pierzynski 5 5 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Oscar Taveras 4 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .250 .250 .500 .750 0 0 0 0 0
Peter Bourjos 3 2 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 .500 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Tony Cruz 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Mark Ellis 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Shelby Miller 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 140 127 33 3 0 3 13 11 21 .260 .324 .354 .678 1 0 0 1 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/4/2014.

The Redbirds have done OK against him in the past, but given that Peralta is really just now coming into his own, it’s hard to know how much of that past history you should factor in.  Odds are this is going to be another tight affair tonight, though probably not 1-0 like yesterday’s contest.  Still, if you have a seat belt on your couch, this might be the time to buckle up!

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Has The Switch Been Flipped?

When an author sits down to write a script or a novel or some other work of literary fiction, they can set the narrative.  If they want their characters to fall in love, they’ll have them “meet cute” and develop their relationship.  If they want the princess to be rescued, they’ll have her been kidnapped and let the heroes find out about it.  Narrative in fiction is, well, the underpinning of the story.  Without narrative, there is no story.

Sports, however, are the complete opposite.  There’s the famous xkcd comic that equates trying to weave a thread through games to doing the same to random numbers.  What we’ve seen are four baseball games.  Four, which is 2.5% of the entire season.  The Cards have won four games in a row before, which is usually when we start talking about corners and clicking and things of that nature, only to see them slide back into their bad habits.

This time seems a bit different, however.  For one, the Cardinals are in first place, which makes everything seem brighter and more cheerful.  It’s much harder to be disgruntled or cynical when your team has, for the first time this season, moved ahead of all the other teams in the division.  Secondly, all the facets of the game seem to be going well for St. Louis right now.  They’ve hit much better, with even those usually derided for their continuing baseball existence (hello, Daniel Descalso!) being a positive offensive contributor.  The pitching has not necessarily been as good as we’ve seen (the first couple of months of the season were outstanding) but the starters have kept the team in the game and the bullpen has done an exceptional job.  The defense has been sharp as well, with fewer mental lapses.  Put it all together and it’s hard not to say that the switch has been flipped.

Yet it is just as likely that they’ve happened to play four good baseball games and that nothing really has changed.  Momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher and all that.  When we retroactively look for a narrative, it works up until it doesn’t.  We can’t predict when that time will be.

Last night, the Cards took down the Pirates 6-4 while Milwaukee was losing again to the Cubs, meaning St. Louis moved out to a two game lead in the division and guaranteed that they’d be in first place when the two teams meet on Thursday.  Adam Wainwright allowed three home runs, allowing many of the “Yadier Molina makes a difference” skeptics to have a field day on Twitter.  Maybe they are right, but even with the home runs, that seemed like the best Wainwright start we’ve seen in a while.  For instance, last time Wainwright allowed eight hits and a walk in six innings, so he seemed to be always working with runners on.  This game, two of the three shots were solo and there was rarely anyone on.  Wainwright allowed seven hits, but of the four outside of the long balls, two were end of the bat flares and at least one other came with two outs.

I’m not saying that Molina was the whole reason that Wainwright was scuffling and I don’t think any of the folks that espoused that opinion believed that either.  However, Ricky Horton may have said it best last night–when a pitcher is going well, it doesn’t matter who he’s throwing to, but when he’s got another issue like a dead arm, that’s when a catcher earns his money.  Wainwright looked better last night, even if he wasn’t completely Waino.  That improvement might be related to Molina, at least in some small part, given his knowledge of Adam and how to call the game to maximize what he had.

Still, Wainwright did allow four runs, but when you drive in three on your own, you are staying out of Goat territory.  That would go to Matt Adams, who continued to scuffle by going 0-4.  Adams also had probably the worst at-bat of the game in the first inning.

Jeff Locke had just walked the two previous hitters and so Adams came up with the bases loaded.  I know some people gave B.J. Rains grief on Twitter when he in the past has emphatically declared that a hitter should take a pitch after a walk and I understand where they are coming from.  That said, after two walks, it seems even more conducive for the batter to be patient.  Add to that the fact that Locke is a left-hander and Adams has struggled all year against lefties and there’s no doubt he should have waited for a strike.  Instead, he swings at a pitch well inside and pops it straight up, playing a huge part in the Redbirds being unable to capitalize on that big opportunity.  It turned out not to matter, but it easily could have.  Since Adams had three hits in the first game of the Cincinnati series, he’s gone 6-49 (.122).  Whatever the reason, whether pitchers are adjusting to him, his elbow is hurting, or just a bad slump, giving him a few more days off wouldn’t be a bad thing, especially whenever Memphis’s season ends and Xavier Scruggs becomes available.

While Wainwright did have a better night on the mound and a good night at the plate, that last home run to Starling Marte took him out of the running for the Hero tag.  There were a couple of options for that award, but the best of them was Randal Grichuk.  Grichuk had himself a game last night, tallying three hits and one really big diving catch in the third that kept the game tied at the time.  A number of our minor league experts and folks that have kept an eye on Grichuk do not expect he’ll ever develop into a starter, that he still hasn’t adjusted to breaking pitches.  That well may be the case, but since his return, he’s pushed Oscar Taveras to the fifth outfielder slot, I believe.

Right now, many of us would go with Matt Holliday-Peter Bourjos-Jon Jay in the outfield, given the way they are playing.  Bourjos had two more hits last night and, as we’ve always said, brings speed and defense to the table.  With September games so vital, having Bourjos’s defense could be huge and, right now, the offense seems to be going well enough that it could handle his bat (which, at least lately, hasn’t been that bad–he’s 7-19 in his last 10 appearances).  Grichuk looks good at the plate and has been hitting the ball pretty well, making him the more likely selection when someone needs a day off.

Does that mean Taveras needs to be buried?  Not at all.  Obviously, most everyone agrees that Taveras will be good at this level.  The question is whether the Cards can afford to have that develop now while they are in such a heated pennant race.  We’ll still see Oscar and I still believe he can be huge in St. Louis, but it just may not be this year.

Other general observations from last night’s game: After stating that this offense goes the way Matt Carpenter goes, he of course went 0-3 as the team scored six runs.  He did chip in with a sacrifice fly, but most of the time the 7-9 hitters aren’t going to get on five times, score four runs and drive in three.  Also, Holliday seemed to be feeling his recent hot streak.  I noticed him swinging very aggressively a few times, including on pitches he needed to leave alone.  He went 0-3, but was robbed by a very nice catch by Andrew Lambo on a ball that would have driven in two.  I don’t think his hot streak is over yet unless he tries to force its extension.

Wainwright’s night would have looked better if Mike Matheny had gone ahead and pulled him after the ninth with 91 pitches thrown.  After all, your ace has been talking about a dead arm, so bank the quality start and let the expanded bullpen take over.  Once they did come in (and since Wainwright didn’t get an out, they covered the same territory) Seth Maness and Pat Neshek did quality work.  There aren’t many arms out there in that pen that you worry about when they come in right now, which is a great feeling to have as the season comes to a close.

Matheny announced before the game yesterday that Michael Wacha will be the starting pitcher on Thursday.  We already knew that Justin Masterson was taken out of the rotation, but most figured Marco Gonzales would get the start.  Wacha will be limited to around 60 pitches (at which time Gonzales will come in) in a move that some think seems desperate.  I think it would seem more desperate if the Cards were two or three games behind the Brewers still with this series looming.  With a lead in the division, there’s less reason to push him back if you don’t think he’s ready.  If the minor league seasons were still going, they might have done another rehab start.  They could have put him in Memphis’s rotation for the playoffs, but if he’s going to play in a meaningful game, it might as well be in the bigs.

Now, let’s be honest when we talk about today’s action.  The Brewers have lost seven in a row, so while it’s still a gambler’s fallacy to suggest they are more likely to win today, baseball winning and losing streaks rarely get much longer.  If I picked games daily like my friend William Tasker, I’d pick they’ll snap that and win tonight against the Cubs.  (Though Kyle Hendricks is going for the Cubs against Matt Garza.  Could be a tight game no matter who wins.)

On the flip side, it’s tough to sweep a team, especially a team that’s contending like Pittsburgh.  The Pirates would be five back if they lost today with no direct shot at the Cardinals for the rest of the season.  We know about the struggles Shelby Miller had last year against the Pirates–struggles so large they impacted his entire postseason–and he allowed four runs in five innings to them back in July, the last time he saw the black and yellow in the batter’s box.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Pedro Alvarez 23 20 5 1 0 3 3 2 6 .250 .348 .750 1.098 0 0 0 1 0
Andrew McCutchen 22 20 7 1 0 0 1 2 2 .350 .409 .400 .809 0 0 0 0 2
Neil Walker 21 18 6 4 0 0 3 2 2 .333 .429 .556 .984 0 0 0 1 1
Russell Martin 16 13 5 1 0 2 4 3 2 .385 .500 .923 1.423 0 0 0 0 1
Starling Marte 14 13 5 1 2 1 3 1 0 .385 .429 1.000 1.429 0 0 0 0 1
Jose Tabata 12 11 4 1 0 1 1 1 2 .364 .417 .727 1.144 0 0 0 0 0
Ike Davis 11 9 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 .000 .182 .000 .182 0 0 0 0 0
Travis Snider 11 9 1 0 0 0 1 2 2 .111 .273 .111 .384 0 0 0 0 1
Jordy Mercer 9 8 1 0 0 1 2 1 0 .125 .222 .500 .722 0 0 0 0 0
Clint Barmes 6 5 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .167 .000 .167 0 0 0 0 0
Francisco Liriano 5 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 .000 .500 .000 .500 1 0 0 0 0
Tony Sanchez 5 5 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 .600 .600 .600 1.200 0 0 0 0 0
Gerrit Cole 4 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 1 0 0 0 0
Josh Harrison 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Andrew Lambo 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Gregory Polanco 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Gaby Sanchez 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jeff Locke 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Edinson Volquez 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0
Total 175 147 38 9 2 8 19 22 25 .259 .363 .510 .873 4 0 0 2 6