C70 At The Bat

Who’s Your Padre?

Most people mark the current “Golden Era” of St. Louis Cardinals baseball from 1996, when Tony La Russa came to the club, the DeWitts were just beginning their tenure, and the Cardinals returned to the playoffs for the first time in eight years.  Since that time, there’s no team that they’ve beaten with more regularity in the National League than the San Diego Padres.  Baseball Reference notes that the Cards have won 94 of the 149 meetings between the teams, but that’s 1) not updated for yesterday’s win and 2) does not count the postseason, where St. Louis has also dominated.  They faced the Friars in the 1996 (3-0), 2005 (3-0), and 2006 (3-1) NLDS.  All that combined, the Cards beat the Padres at a .650 clip, which is a pretty solid bit of ownership over 20 years.  This weekend wasn’t terribly different.

Friday (4-1 loss)

Hero: Randal Grichuk.  His solo homer, briefly cutting the deficit to 2-1, really was about the only good thing to come out of this one.

Goat: Matt Carpenter.  While many folks had a rough night, Carpenter’s was so bad it got him a day off on Saturday.  0-4 with two strikeouts would be bad enough, but to go down looking when the tying runs were at second and third with one out in the fifth was just devastating to the Cardinals’ chances.  Normal Carpenter at least puts a swing on the ball and hopefully gets in one run.

Notes: It was great to see Mike return to the Conclave over the weekend and he had a lot of good stuff about this game.  (I’m glad he mentioned Jon Jay‘s attempted sacrifice with a runner on second and nobody out late in the game.  Either Jay learned way too much from Mike Matheny or other managers make the same ridiculous call.)  We also talked about some of the early bit of this one on Best Dans in Baseball, since it was going on as we were recording.

The BDIB discussion really focused in on Adam Wainwright, who started this game and, while he probably had his best start since his opener (and was a very similar line to what he did against the Pirates), still hasn’t alleviated all the worries that the Cardinal fan base has for him.  Meeting the quality start minimums used to be a middling outing for the staff ace, now it’s the best we’ve seen.  What’s going on?

I had a discussion on Twitter with our good friend Bob Netherton (@CardinalTales) and some others and their opinion was that, even though Waino made it back at the end of last season in a relief role, the rust of missing another season was still on him.  If that’s the case, we should see some strong comparisons to April of 2012, after he returned from Tommy John surgery, and indeed we do.

Year GS IP H ER HR K BB ERA WHIP
2012 4 19.2 24 16 5 21 5 7.32 1.475
2016 4 22.1 29 18 2 10 9 7.25 1.746

There are a lot of similar numbers up here, which does help back up the rust issue.  Wainwright had a much stronger season from May on in 2012, so perhaps we’ll see the same out of him going forward as well.

There are a couple of differences, though.  You’ll note that in 2012, he allowed more home runs, a fairly significant number given the small sample size.  (A hat tip to Tara Wellman, who remembered that fact as I was doing some digging into the numbers last night on Gateway to Baseball Heaven.) Once Wainwright started keeping the ball in the ballpark (he allowed 10 more home runs the rest of the season in roughly 180 innings), things got better.  That’s not the case so far here in 2016.

Even after Tommy John surgery, where command is supposed to be the last thing to return, Wainwright had a 4:1 K/BB ratio.  This year, he barely has it over 1:1.  While some of that is inflated by the five walks he issued in his second start, the fact is that he’s not striking anyone out, putting up just four K over his past two starts.

Put that alongside something Bill Ivie from I70 Baseball mentioned to me earlier this week, that he felt batters were just sitting and teeing off on Wainwright’s first pitch because they knew he was going to throw a strike and not want to walk anyone.   Indeed, the first pitch stats from Waino should come with a parental advisory.  When the first pitch is put in play, batters are 14-for-21 with seven doubles and a home run (that’d be Mr. Wil Myers from this last start) for a .667/.667/1.143 slash line.

As I’ve stated before, I’m not a pitch type expert, but just looking at the lines over here at Brooks Baseball (assuming I’m reading them right, of course), there’s no obvious change in speeds from last April (when Wainwright had an 18:3 K/BB while putting up a 1.44 ERA before his injury) and this April.  It appears to be one of approach and if he does figure it out as he says he will, he can be successful again.  We’ll just have to wait and see how long before all of his research and work pays off.

Final notes on this one: Matt Adams had another rough night, striking out three times and leaving three on base.  The competition between him and Brandon Moss is quickly descending into “which one hurts you least.”  I still think there’s potential in Adams, but there’s no doubt days like this hurt him badly…..Like Mike (if I could be like Mike), I was trying to figure out exactly who was going to play middle infield if the Cardinals had tied it up in the ninth.  I mean, it was a long shot and I don’t blame Matheny for trying to win and then figuring out the issues later, but I wasn’t really sure why he pinch-hit for Kolten Wong in the seventh, even with the lefty reliever coming in.  And, if he was going to do so, why he didn’t just plan to leave Aledmys Diaz (who did the pinch-hitting) in and, when you needed another PH later in that inning, go with Jeremy Hazelbaker there instead of Jedd Gyorko.  It felt like a situation where Matheny didn’t plan far enough in advance, but I’ll admit it was late while I was watching it and I may have been too tired to keep up with it all….Seth Maness had a good second inning of work.  The problem there is that if you continue to wait until your second inning to get folks out, you won’t get many first innings.  The ball was hit hard off of Maness and if it wasn’t for Jay’s strange bunt, that could have been a much worse inning.  If Jordan Walden ever gets healthy, Maness is the obvious guy to go.  Same if folks in Memphis start needing to be promoted.

Saturday (11-2 win)

Hero: Aledmys Diaz.  Five hits pretty much always locks up a Hero title, though Hazelbaker’s pinch-hit home run was pretty big and started the late inning monsoon, so I could have gone that way easily.  Diaz, besides just torching the Padres all weekend long, had two doubles, two RBI, and scored a run.  He did make an error, but with days like this, it’s much easier to deal with the occasional glitch in the field.  I know, I know, the Cardinals have a baseball-high 19 errors and many of them, including some from Diaz, have come in key situations.  However, it’s not like there’s a Pete Kozma-like glove being buried on the bench in favor of the offensive juggernaut that is Diaz, and even if there were, I think we’d have Diaz out there anyway if it were up to the fan base.

Goat: Kolten Wong.  Wong got his chance to lead off with Carpenter getting the break, but couldn’t do anything with it, going 0-3 before being pinch-hit for in the seventh.  I didn’t realize, I don’t think, that Ruben Tejada had actually been announced to replace Wong.  San Diego then countered by bringing in former Cardinal Carlos Villanueva, then Matheny went with Hazelbaker and it paid off handsomely.  For all those that thought that activating Tejada was going to bury Diaz, that’s been far from the case.  You do wonder, though, given the apparent propensity for pinch-hitting for Wong, if Tejada doesn’t eventually see some time at second over the Hawaiian.

Notes: Jedd Gyorko apparently enjoyed being back in his former stadium, going 3-5 with a three-run homer in this one and having another solid game on Sunday.  Reports say that folks booed Gyorko, which is a little surprising.  I mean, I don’t know what the dynamics of the situation were out there before he left, but it’s not like Gyorko signed as a free agent with someone.  He was traded off, which meant he didn’t choose to leave.  Now, perhaps they weren’t pleased with him before he left, but booing him for a trade seems pretty silly.

Stephen Piscotty had three hits, including the game-tying home run in the sixth.  Piscotty’s quietly hitting .270 on the season and continues to contribute, but sometimes gets overlooked in the good and the bad that is with this team.  There are a lot of extremes going on right now and “extreme” is never a label that’s going to be slapped on the outfielder.

A fairly solid start for Michael Wacha.  He had a lot of fly balls, a couple of which might have been home runs in other parks (and one that was almost a home run in that park, backing up Matt Holliday to the wall before he could haul it in).  Four walks and no strikeouts isn’t exactly a wonderful omen either and had it been a better overall team, Wacha could have really been burned in this one.  Instead, he allowed two runs in six innings on just four hits and now has an ERA under 3.00 for the season.  You take what you can get, of course, but there’s still going to be some wariness around Mr. Wacha for a bit, I believe.

It was nice to see Hazelbaker get that key homer, but he’s still (after Sunday) in a 1 for 24 slump.  The problem with guys that don’t have a lot of positive history either in the bigs or in the minors is that you don’t know whether that’s actually a slump or the league has figured him out and it’s going to take some serious adjustments to stay out of Memphis.  As we’ve said, baseball is littered with one-hit wonders, those that start out of fire but flame out quickly.  The good thing for Hazelbaker is that his spot in the big leagues is pretty much contingent on Tommy Pham‘s health, which is more job security than a lot of folks have.

Sunday (8-5 win)

Hero: Jedd Gyorko.  It was actually a bit hard to come up with the Hero here, as you have three guys with three hits, two of them with homers.  Gyorko, though, mixed in a triple as well and was just a double shy of the cycle the last couple of times he came up.  All in all, it was a good trip back to his old stomping grounds.

Goat: Stephen Piscotty.  Talk about evening out.  Three hits and a homer on Saturday, 0-5 with three strikeouts and six left on base on Sunday.  Man really believes in keeping an even keel.

Notes: Grichuk and Diaz were the other two with three hits and both had an extra-base knock as well, Grichuk with a double and Diaz with a homer.  Diaz went 9-12 in this series and is still hitting well over .400, so it’s been a very fun ride so far.  Obviously that’s going to come down to earth sometime soon, perhaps as soon as tonight, but it’s a grand moment in the sun for him.

Hazelbaker was in the starting lineup, which led to this amazing tweet by Dan Moore:

If that doesn’t explain Matheny to a T, I don’t know what does.  What have you done for me lately is an interesting way of making out a lineup, but that does seem to be a huge factor in things.  Granted, it’s not always a determinant–Mitchell Boggs could tell you stories, if you can wait until his lunch break when he’s off the clock–but it definitely plays a big part.

I only got to follow this one by updates and occasional glances at Gameday, at least until the late innings, but it was a frustrating start for Mike Leake.  Again, I don’t know how much of it was his fault–he did have two unearned runs, so obviously the defense didn’t completely help him out–but it seemed every time the Cardinals got him a run and a lead, he gave it right back.  Then again, he also drove in a run, finally letting us see some results of the “good hitting pitcher” theme that’s been around since the signing, so that was nice.  Still, five runs in five innings, even if two were unearned, is not really an exciting outing, nor is it one that will often keep the team in the game.

The Cardinals move out to Arizona tonight, starting a four game series with the Diamondbacks and their closet full of uniforms.  It should be an interesting one tonight as Zack Grienke goes up against Jaime Garcia.  Greinke has some ugly stats, but that’s mainly from his first couple of starts.  His last two outings have been more in line with the Greinke we know (and, when St. Louis faces him, don’t care for much).  Those last two were in San Francisco and San Diego, two pretty good pitcher’s parks, so we’ll see if his troubles in Chase Field (11 earned runs in 10 innings in two starts) continue tonight.

(Gyroko’s struggled against Grienke in a small sample but has had two good games in a row.  This seems like a tough conundrum for Matheny, given how we’ve seen him do lineups.)

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Holliday 45 43 12 1 0 2 7 2 8 .279 .311 .442 .753 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 35 33 9 2 0 0 3 1 4 .273 .286 .333 .619 0 1 0 0 3
Matt Carpenter 26 22 7 2 0 1 1 4 7 .318 .423 .545 .969 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 17 13 1 0 0 0 0 4 3 .077 .294 .077 .371 0 0 0 0 1
Matt Adams 15 14 3 1 0 1 2 1 5 .214 .267 .500 .767 0 0 0 0 0
Ruben Tejada 9 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 9 9 3 2 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .556 .889 0 0 0 0 0
Jaime Garcia 7 7 2 0 0 0 1 0 2 .286 .286 .286 .571 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Moss 7 7 2 0 0 1 2 0 2 .286 .286 .714 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 181 166 39 8 0 5 16 12 41 .235 .285 .373 .658 2 1 0 0 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/25/2016.

Garcia’s done pretty well against these Diamondback hitters, though it’s funny to see that Greinke actually has one of the best averages in the table below.  There’s a lot of folks he’s not seen, though, but Garcia’s been very good all season long.  Even given the venue, this game would seem to be shaping up to a fairly good pitchers’ duel.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Rickie Weeks 39 32 7 2 0 1 1 7 7 .219 .359 .375 .734 0 0 0 0 1
Jean Segura 24 23 6 1 0 0 0 1 2 .261 .292 .304 .596 0 0 0 0 1
Paul Goldschmidt 9 7 2 1 0 0 0 2 3 .286 .444 .429 .873 0 0 0 0 0
Welington Castillo 6 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Zack Greinke 6 5 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .400 .400 .400 .800 1 0 0 0 0
Nick Ahmed 5 5 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 .200 .200 .800 1.000 0 0 0 0 1
Yasmany Tomas 5 5 3 2 0 0 3 0 0 .600 .600 1.000 1.600 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Owings 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Robbie Ray 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Wagner 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 98 87 21 6 0 2 5 10 19 .241 .320 .379 .699 1 0 0 0 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/25/2016.

Another late night, as the Cards won’t start until 8:40 Central.  It’ll also be on FOX Sports Midwest Plus, as it has been each time a game has conflicted with the Blues during their playoffs.  (A subject I’m not qualified to opine on, though it would seem that being up 3-1 and then playing a Game 7 has never worked out well for St. Louis teams.)  Looking forward to seeing if the offense can figure out Greinke!

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Finally Breaking Through

This wasn’t at all how we wanted this first meeting between the Cardinals and Cubs to go.  We wanted to see the Cardinals put them in their place, cool off their hot start, and show they still were the force in the NL Central.  Instead, the Cubs took the first two pitching duels and made the third game a little more interesting than we’d like.  A win’s a win, though, and that makes things much more optimistic than a sweep would have left them.

Tuesday (2-1 loss)

Hero: Yadier Molina.  Molina had two hits, including a triple, and drove in the Cardinals’ only run.  It would have been better had Matt Adams not been picked off of second before the hit or if Kolten Wong or Ruben Tejada could have brought in Molina from third with one out, but unfortunately neither of those things were meant to be.  For all of our worries about Molina’s offensive decline, he’s hitting .345 with five doubles and a triple on the year, so while the home run power might not be there, I think we can worry a bit less about Yadi.

Goat: Jeremy Hazelbaker.  0-4 in the second spot, including two strikeouts.  I’m still not sold on putting Hazelbaker in the second spot, especially now that he’s struggling.  I remember watching a game recently, may have been Monday’s, where there were runners on and a base open and they pitched around Matt Carpenter to get to Hazelbaker, which was exactly what I would have done in their situation.  Perhaps he can get back on track and be more of a threat up in the lineup, but if I were Mike Matheny I think I’d drop him in the San Diego series to see if that helps start him back up.

Notes: This was a weird game for Jaime Garcia.  He pitched outstanding save for one inning and he almost escaped that inning as well, but allowed a two-out, two-run single to Jason Hammel, his opposite number.  To be fair, it wasn’t a bad pitch, down and in, but still, it’s a tough thing to swallow when the pitcher beats you.  Then Garcia was yanked after five innings, which was a little surprising to me as I’m trying to follow the game during a church meeting.  I thought it was Matheny being a little more pro-active, with a runner on and one out.  It seemed like Matheny was trying to go for it while he had a shot.  Then I look at the box score and see Garcia had 98 pitches then, so that factored in more than any game situation.  I should have known, really.

Adams continues to get a lot of Twitter abuse, but he went two for three with an intentional walk in this one, bringing his season average up to .261.  He says he’s starting to get comfortable at the plate, and while he still probably flails at pitches he shouldn’t have, that’s not a condition that’s limited to him in this lineup.  It doesn’t bother me that much when he starts over Brandon Moss, because we’ve always said they are pretty much two peas in a pod, and while Moss may have been hot recently, he’s also 0 for his last 10 with seven strikeouts.  It’s going to be a balancing act getting them both playing time, especially since Matt Holliday can slide over there as well, but I can’t get all that worked up about Adams not only still being here, but also playing.

A real solid night’s work for the pen, covering four innings and allowing no runs, one hit, two walks (both by Jonathan Broxton) and six strikeouts.  When your bullpen can get half their outs by K, it’s fairly impressive.  We thought going into this year that if you could get a lead to these guys, they’d likely keep it and so far, there’s nothing to change that perspective.

Wednesday (5-3 win)

Hero: Carlos Martinez.  Pitching was not a problem in this series, as the club held what was supposed to be a slugging juggernaut (though the early season results haven’t proven that) to 10 runs, half of those in the opener.  Even so, Martinez’s outing was not only stellar, but a relief.  He had help early on when Randal Grichuk snagged Anthony Rizzo‘s almost two-run homer, but other than that he was magnificent.  Seven innings, three hits, one earned run (an actual homer by Rizzo) and five strikeouts, with the only semi-blemish being he walked three.  Plus he contributed at the plate, getting a chopper over a drawn-in infield to drive in the fourth run of the game, a run that became very big later (much, much later given the rain delay) on.  Martinez is continuing to show that he’s going to be the ace of this staff sooner or later, with the odds on sooner.

Goat: Seung-hwan Oh.  The Stone Buddha finally showed some cracks, allowing two hits, a walk, and two runs in his inning of work after the rain delay, turning the game from a comfortable 4-1 lead to a nerve-wracking 4-3 game.  Obviously he was going to eventually have one of this outings and perhaps the rain delay threw off his rhythm (it has to be weird for all the players to go back out there after a three-plus hour wait), but this was also the first time he’d been used in back-to-back games.  Something to keep an eye on, I guess.  There would seem to be no reason he couldn’t go two days in a row, but if that does become a problem there should be enough quality arms down there to mix and match and keep that at a minimum.

Notes: Grichuk’s home run thievery sparked memories of Jim Edmonds, another #15 in center field who made a habit of that (especially against the Reds).  Grichuk also drew a walk and scored a run, so not a bad day all around.  Molina had another two-hit day, scoring on a wild pitch in the second and driving in a huge insurance run in the eighth.  Adams had a ground rule double, though he struck out twice.  Stephen Piscotty had two hits and scored on Matt Holliday’s homer in the first, a home run that was just huge.  The momentum from stealing a homer then hitting one was intense and, as we saw, Martinez didn’t need a lot to be effective.

We’ve complained in the past when the club tries to steal third base, especially when there are less than two outs.  It’s only fair that we give a hat tip when it works.  Wong stole third after Molina came in on the wild pitch, putting a runner 90 feet away with just one out.  The infield came in, especially with the pitcher batting, and Martinez put it just over the infield.  If they are back, it’s an out, but instead that stolen base led to a run.  It’s still debatable if it’s a good move at times, but there’s no doubt it panned out here.

Congratulations to Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out the side in the ninth to notch his 100th career save.  That’s a pretty nice milestone for a guy that still thinks he wants to be a starter!

Even with the win yesterday, there’s still some ominous signs with this club.  The Cardinals have played six games against division contenders Pittsburgh and Chicago and are 1-5, scoring just 13 runs in those matchups.  Against the weaker teams, the Cards are 7-2 and have scored more than 13 runs in one game, 78 total.  You have to beat those weaker teams, for sure, but you also have to at least hold your own against the good teams to have a chance at contending.  It may be a while before we see how they do against another real good team.  They go to Arizona after San Diego, which may be a test, though offense is not necessarily a problem in the desert.  Washington comes into Busch to start the next homestand, though, and that’s going to be a very interesting measuring stick.

I think it’s absolutely a testament to the mindset and sensibilities of this club that the word “suck” seems to have been banned from T-shirts in the park, though apparently that will at least be modified before the Cubs come back next time, which I think isn’t until mid-summer.  I know most people would probably think it’s overly restrictive, but I think it’s nice that they’ve typically taken this stance, even when the word is used in relation to the opposing clubs.  Again, they don’t toss you out for saying it, just for wearing it.  With their approach that this should be as family-friendly as possible, it makes sense.  It may be mild, but you draw the line somewhere.

I see that the Cardinals were playing chess during the rain delay.  That probably is another way of marking the differences between them and their rivals, though I’m sure Joe Maddon would enjoy the game.  It’s not exactly what you think of with these loosey-goosey Cubs though, is it?

It is interesting to see St. Louis relying more and more on Matt Bowman when it comes to higher-leverage situations.  Part of that, as Derrick Goold writes, is because of the struggles of Seth Maness, but it’s also because Bowman is getting the job done.  When he was selected in the Rule 5 draft, we kinda scratched our head and wondered where he was going to fit in.  Now it’s pretty obvious what the club saw in Bowman, though we’ll see if he can keep his hot start going as well.  Lots of small sample sizes and baseball is filled with stories of folks that were good for the first month and forgotten by the last.  Hopefully that won’t be the case here.  Now, if and when Jordan Walden gets healthy (which, given we’ve heard nothing about him recently, is likely more if than when) there could be some interesting roster decisions to make, but right now, Bowman’s secure in his spot.

Cardinals do some of their NL West work starting tomorrow (another off day today, which is a bit annoying for us fans if not the players), with a three game set in San Diego followed up by that Arizona series we referred to earlier.  We continue to hope that Adam Wainwright will come around and tonight’s his latest chance to take that step in the right direction.  San Diego’s park is conducive to good pitching.  The Padres are in the middle of the pack offensively in many stats, which is pretty surprising given they started the season being shut out all series by the Dodgers.  Things have obviously gotten a little better for them since then.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Kemp 33 30 5 1 0 0 1 2 6 .167 .242 .200 .442 0 0 0 1 0
Alexi Amarista 15 15 3 0 1 0 3 0 2 .200 .200 .333 .533 0 0 0 0 1
Melvin Upton 9 9 4 2 0 0 0 0 1 .444 .444 .667 1.111 0 0 0 0 0
Brett Wallace 9 9 2 1 0 0 1 0 3 .222 .222 .333 .556 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Villanueva 7 7 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Rosales 4 3 1 0 0 1 1 1 0 .333 .500 1.333 1.833 0 0 0 0 0
Derek Norris 3 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 .667 1.333 0 0 0 0 0
Alexei Ramirez 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 83 79 17 4 1 1 6 3 17 .215 .253 .329 .582 0 0 0 1 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/21/2016.

Wainwright will match up against Andrew Cashner.  Cashner had a strong 2013 and 2014, but struggled last year and so far 2016 hasn’t been any kinder to him.  He’s coming off his best start of the year, though, a one-run, six-inning outing against Arizona.  Quirkily, he’s struck out exactly five batters in each start, though the innings total has varied.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Yadier Molina 10 9 4 0 0 0 1 1 1 .444 .500 .444 .944 0 0 0 0 0
Ruben Tejada 10 10 4 1 0 0 0 0 4 .400 .400 .500 .900 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 6 4 1 0 0 0 0 2 2 .250 .500 .250 .750 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 6 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 3 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Piscotty 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Wacha 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 46 42 10 1 0 0 2 4 16 .238 .304 .262 .566 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/21/2016.

We’ll probably see Tejada tomorrow with that career average against Cashner, especially since he probably still needs some at bats to get more fully into game shape.  Late start means Dan Buffa and I will probably be recording Best Dans in Baseball during the game, which should be interesting!

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Baby Bears Bite ‘Birds

After that unfulfilling playoff series, after all the drama and hype of the offseason, the Cardinals and the Cubs finally met on the field last night.  It was not the result Cardinal fans wanted.  In fact, it was much closer to their fears and nightmares.

Over the past 10 days, as the Cardinals have put up run after run, bludgeoning folks with their bats, the question was often debated about how much of it was the offense and how much of it was the fact they were facing lesser pitching lights.  If last night is any indication, there was much more of the latter than we wanted to admit.  Former teammate John Lackey–who, along with Jason Heyward, seemed to be the only two Cub players on the field if you read the leadup and watched the broadcast–completely dominated the Cards, allowing only four hits in seven innings and striking out 11 in that span.  The Cards had actually seemed to do better in regards to the strikeout of late before regressing last night.

Lackey, who always was comfortable at Busch Stadium, is probably the best pitcher the Cardinals have seen since the Pittsburgh series concluded.  Seeing the bats turn cold when stepping back in against that sort of pitching level doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.  It could be just Lackey and the Cardinals do miss Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester if so, but it’s a troubling data point nonetheless.

I thought before the game that if Mike Leake really wanted to endear himself to the people of St. Louis, he’d go out and have a great start.  A solid win last night against Heyward and company, with the stakes what they are, would have gotten him a lot of goodwill.  To be fair, he did have a pretty good outing.  He worked out of trouble in the first and the game was scoreless until Dexter Fowler took him deep in the sixth.  There’s not much more you can do as a pitcher up to that point.

Leake’s trouble started actually in the bottom of the fifth, when he couldn’t get down a suicide squeeze.  (Thankfully Kolten Wong made that an incorrect title by eluding the tag and getting back to third.)  He allowed back-to-back singles to start the seventh, which put him in a bad spot, but that spot was about to get worse.

I hate to give him the Goat tag, especially since he did double in the fifth to put runners on second and third with one out, but the error Aledmys Diaz made in the seventh was a game breaker.  Two errors, actually, though he only got “credit” for one.  If he picks the ball up cleanly, it’s a double play and there’s a runner at third with two outs and Addison Russell up.  Instead, he bobbles it enough that the runner going to second is going to be safe, so then he airmails the throw to Brandon Moss, meaning that a run scores and there are runners on second and third with nobody out, a situation that would have been very difficult for Leake to extract himself from without allowing a run.  Indeed, he couldn’t, giving up a sacrifice fly and then, inexplicably, a single to Lackey to drive in the fourth run.  To be fair, three was going to be plenty for the Cubs and the extra run that Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons gave up in the eighth really didn’t make any difference either.

Finding a Hero in that morass isn’t easy, especially when nobody had multiple hits and one of the two extra base hits came from your Goat.  I guess I’ll go with Yadier Molina, who had a hit and a walk plus guided Leake well through the Cubs order, at least for the most part.

The big story, obviously, was the return of Jason Heyward to St. Louis.  It sounded like he got a solid, if mixed, reception last night, but then I also realized later there were a lot more Cub fans in the stands for a Monday night game than I was expecting.  It’s hard to know if it was Cubs cheering and Cardinals booing, though I did see some Cards fan giving him a standing O when he was announced.  Whatever your reaction to Heyward, I don’t think anyone was terribly disappointed to see him go 0-4 and drop his average to .188.  Of course, after 13 games in St. Louis last year he was hitting .193, so it might be about time for him to start heating up.  As long as he does it after he leaves Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals activated Ruben Tejada from the disabled list yesterday, sending out Greg Garcia.  Obviously, this was just a roster crunch decision as Garcia had done quite well in limited time.  However, Tejada was healed up and the Cards aren’t in the habit of just throwing away $1.5 million.  There was a lot of Twitter angst about this move yesterday, but it was really the only move that could be done besides delaying it a bit and keeping Tejada on the rehab assignment, something that doesn’t often happen.

Some wanted Tejada just to be waived outright, but beyond the noted fact that St. Louis tends to limit situations where they pay someone not to play for them, especially before they actually get a chance, you have to keep Tejada around for a while in case Diaz is a small sample size fluke.  I don’t think he is and I don’t think the club thinks he is, but in case the league starts to adjust and Diaz doesn’t, you want to have someone who can take on the role on a regular basis.  Jedd Gyorko is much more suited to second, so there’s not a true shortstop behind Diaz.  Now, once Diaz gets out of the small sample size realm (or we get a little closer to the return of Jhonny Peralta), I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tejada let go depending on what he does here.  As I said yesterday, by the end of the season I’m betting Garcia is on the roster and Tejada is looking for work, but we are assuming a lot for a guy that hasn’t gotten into a game with the team yet.

Then there was the contingent that wanted to banish Matt Adams.  It’s true, Adams has struggled and it’s difficult to find him playing time.  It’s also difficult to think that Memphis would be much good for him.  Look, two years ago Adams hit .288 with 15 home runs.  Granted, a lot of that was in the first half (.329 with 11 HR) so it’s not surprising people have a long-running negative opinion of him.  Last year was a tough year, sure, but he was out for a large portion of the season with the quad injury.  Adams has value to a major league team–witness the two-run pinch-hit bomb he hit on Friday night–and while I don’t know how long he’s a Cardinal, to completely write him off because he’s struggled and been injured is a little strong.

The idea that he’d get regular at-bats in Memphis does have merit, but again, Adams has over 1100 AB in the big leagues.  I’m not sure what hitting against minor league pitching does for him.  You also don’t see four-year vets with that much experience go down to the minors all that often, either.  It’s just not a typical baseball practice.  Not saying it doesn’t or can’t happen, just that it’s not common.  Add to that you’d have five middle infielders on your roster (Tejada, Diaz, Gyorko, Garcia, and Kolten Wong) and that doesn’t necessarily seem to be the optimal roster configuration.  I know many disagree and that’s fine, because I understand where you are coming from, but I just don’t think there was any other move that was going to be made.  Now, when Tommy Pham returns–if he does, of course–that’s a different conversation, though Jeremy Hazelbaker is 0 for his last 10, so we’ll keep an eye to see if that situation doesn’t resolve itself.  (I’m not saying Hazelbaker is done by any means, but folks do tend to watch slumps by surprising players a little more than ones with more of a track record.)

Tonight’s a big game for the Cards, assuming you can actually have a big game in April.  I don’t think they want to hear more conversation about “the torch has been passed” and “there’s a new kid in town” and “it’s their year” and those choruses only get louder with every Cub win over the Redbirds.  The pitching side of things should be handled, as Jaime Garcia returns to the bump for the first time since his one-hitter against the Brewers.  Save for one inning against the Braves, Garcia’s had a very strong 2016 and there’s no reason to think that can’t continue.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Dexter Fowler 14 11 1 0 0 0 1 3 3 .091 .286 .091 .377 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Heyward 12 12 2 0 0 0 0 0 3 .167 .167 .167 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Miguel Montero 4 2 2 0 0 1 1 2 0 1.000 1.000 2.500 3.500 0 0 0 0 0
Clayton Richard 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
David Ross 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Kris Bryant 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Trevor Cahill 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Hammel 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jorge Soler 2 2 2 1 0 1 2 0 0 1.000 1.000 3.000 4.000 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Hendricks 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Anthony Rizzo 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Addison Russell 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Total 47 40 7 1 0 2 6 5 15 .175 .267 .350 .617 2 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/19/2016.

Jason Hammel goes for the Cubs.  He’s made two starts and only allowed one total run, which isn’t really what you think of when you think of Hammel.  The Cards got him for two runs in three innings during last year’s NLDS and have had some success against him previously, so we’ll see if that holds true tonight.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Holliday 16 13 4 3 0 0 0 2 4 .308 .438 .538 .976 0 0 0 1 0
Matt Carpenter 14 14 3 1 0 0 1 0 6 .214 .214 .286 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 14 13 6 3 0 0 2 1 1 .462 .500 .692 1.192 0 0 0 0 1
Brandon Moss 11 11 3 1 0 0 1 0 3 .273 .273 .364 .636 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 8 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 .125 .125 .125 .250 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 7 7 2 0 1 1 3 0 2 .286 .286 1.000 1.286 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 6 6 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 .333 .333 .500 .833 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Piscotty 5 4 2 0 1 1 2 1 1 .500 .600 1.750 2.350 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 4 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .250 .250 .500 .750 0 0 0 0 0
Ruben Tejada 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Wacha 3 3 1 0 0 0 2 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jaime Garcia 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 94 88 25 10 2 2 12 5 25 .284 .330 .511 .841 0 0 0 1 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/19/2016.

It was a tense game last night, at least for most of it.  It could be that way all season long between these two teams, but let’s hope today it’s St. Louis’s turn to come out on top!

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Frying Up a Series Win

The Cincinnati Reds came to town this weekend.  We continue to wonder when the bats might start to go silent.  The answer: not this weekend.

Friday (14-3 win)

Hero: Matt Holliday.  We’ve wondered if Father Time was catching up to Holliday a bit, given his slow start and the injuries sustained by Holliday last year.  Holliday made sure to put a little distance between them in this one, though, clouting two home runs, walking once, being hit by a pitch, and driving in four.  Holliday set the tone for this one with a three-run shot in the first inning and the team never looked back.  It was good to see Holliday Hulk out, giving everyone hope that there’s still something left in his tank.

Goat: A rough day for Stephen Piscotty.  While everyone else was out there hitting bombs and running bases, Piscotty went 0-5 and left four runners on base.  There’s always someone, even in the most offensive-minded of games, that doesn’t seem to get the memo.  This time, it was Piscotty.

Notes: Six home runs in this game.  That’s like two weeks of regular Cardinal offense!  Two pinch-hit home runs as well, from Brandon Moss and Matt Adams.  The bench has been absolutely amazing in the early going.  Through Saturday (I don’t think Baseball-Reference has updated for yesterday’s games yet), Cardinal pinch-hitters were 10-for-18 with six home runs.  Last year, all year long, the Cardinals had four pinch-hit homers.  They had two in 2014.  So already the Cards have equaled the long-ball production from the bench of the last two seasons!  In three weeks!  Granted, it’s a low bar to clear, but still, that’s incredible.  You have to go all the way back to 2009 to find a season where the Cardinals had more than six PH HR, and that’s eight (led by Rick Ankiel‘s two).  It seems so novel and exciting to see this because, well, it is novel!

It was good to see Adams join the fray as well.  Adams is going to continue to struggle to find playing time with Holliday in the mix at first, so he’s got to take advantage of the moments he does get.  There’s a lot of negativity around Adams as of late and it’s possible that some of it, most of it may be accurate, but it’d still be to the Cardinals’ advantage to see if they could get him going, if nothing else to increase his trade value.

Aledmys Diaz continues to rake, getting two hits including his second home run.  There was a thought that Ruben Tejada would be activated Sunday, and while that didn’t happen, it does appear he’ll be on the active roster for tonight’s game against the Cubs.  Tara and I talked about this on Gateway last night and while it would seem impossible for the club to actually demote Diaz, given that he’s proven that right now he can play regularly in the big leagues, that doesn’t mean they won’t try it.  However, given Tejada’s just $1.5 million, my feeling is that Greg Garcia gets optioned out while they try to see what they have in Tejada.  If you were to tell me that just one of them (Tejada or Garcia) would be on the roster in August, though, I’d put my money on Garcia.  In other words, I might not rush out and get a Tejada jersey if I were you.

All this talk about the offense, but the pitching was pretty good as well.  Carlos Martinez got nicked for a couple of bloopers before Joey Votto took him yard, but otherwise was outstanding, going seven and striking out six.  Perhaps the Cardinals should shuffle the rotation order to put Martinez and Jaime Garcia at the front of it!  It was good to see that, even with the offense rolling, the pitching wasn’t trying to “pitch to the score” but was still quite effective.

Saturday (9-8 loss)

Hero: Stephen Piscotty.  After being left out the day before, Piscotty had two hits, a walk, and four RBI, including a big three-run homer in the second that seemed to set the stage for another Cardinal romp.  Some days, that would have been enough.  Saturday was not one of those days.

Goat: Adam Wainwright.  The linescore really says it all: 5.1 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 2 K.  We’ve seen outings like this from Wainwright before, but they were just blips, random bad nights that you didn’t see coming.  Wainwright’s made three starts this season and they’ve gotten progressively worse, with more runs in fewer pitches each time out.  The pattern needs to change or the Padres will be clipping him for 10 runs in 50 pitches on Friday.

The default for everyone is “it’s early, no need to panic” which is fairly true.  You’d have to figure that things will start working for Waino–he did have a couple of scoreless innings at the beginning of this one that made people more optimistic he’d figured it out, before the Reds started doubling and doubling and doubling.  As I said last night, we took that return late last year as a positive, thinking that Waino could have a regular offseason and we wouldn’t have to see any side effects from the layoff in 2016.  Now, it’s a negative for Wainwright, at least in the way we view him.  If he’d returned this spring instead of last fall, more people would probably be willing to allow for rust and other returning issues.

Still, that return happened.  Wainwright’s not using that as an excuse, though he allows that it might be playing a factor.  Even though it was relief and, as such, a different approach and mindset, Wainwright looked better last season, immediately after the injury, than he does months removed after a winter of regular training.  We shouldn’t panic, for sure, but there’s going to be a lot of wary concern for the next few Wainwright starts until he proves that the ace we know and love is truly back.

Notes: Two hits for Moss, including a two-out, ninth-inning home run that brought the Cards to within one run.  For a moment, it looked like the Rally Cards were returning, but one run with nobody on and two outs is a tough thing to try to get.  Diaz also had two hits, though he popped out to end the game with a runner on first.

The relief of Wainwright was a mixed bag.  Seung-hwan Oh threw two scoreless innings and Kevin Siegrist got an out, but Seth Maness continued to struggle, allowing a sacrifice fly, a double, an intentional walk, and another double before being replaced by Siegrist.  Maness now has an ERA approaching nine, which is a terribly scary thing because as a reliever his ERA doesn’t factor in those runs he allowed to score that were charged to other pitchers.  As the MLB.com story on him noted, it is especially worriesome because he’s not getting ground balls, but fly balls.  As we know, that’s not at all Maness’s typical work history.  Maness wasn’t nearly as effective last year either, which may mean that the workload is getting to him or the league is.  The shelf life of relievers is pretty short, after all, as they tend to lose their potency when the sample size gets big enough.

Sunday (4-3 win)

Hero: Eric Fryer.  For a man who was supposed to be minor league insurance, Eric Fryer is doing everything he can in the big leagues.  (Which, to be fair, could also describe Diaz and Jeremy Hazelbaker.)  Going into this game, he was 3-3 in three pinch-hit/late game appearances.  Nice way to start the season, sure, but three lone singles in games that were well decided didn’t mean much.  Apparently, though, Fryer just isn’t going to get out this year, getting three hits and drawing a walk in his first Cardinal start.  The last hit was the biggest, doubling in Diaz in the eighth to break the tie and set up Trevor Rosenthal for the save.  This well may be the highlight of Fryer’s season, but it just continues the theme that you never know exactly what to expect from these guys that “aren’t supposed to be here.”

Goat: Seven hits in this one and they were concentrated on Fryer and Greg Garcia (2), so there were plenty of 0-fers to choose from.  We’ll take Brandon Moss as our Goat because he had two strikeouts to go along with his hitless day, but we easily could have taken Piscotty or Randal Grichuk, who had similar lines without the Ks.  Adams might have joined them in the 0-4 club but Diaz pinch-hit and walked in his last AB, setting up the go-ahead run.

Notes: Michael Wacha wasn’t quite as sharp as his last outing, but his defense (both the folks behind him and his actual defense, given that he made an error) didn’t help.  Only one of the three runs he allowed were earned and he just went six innings, though that was more because his spot came up at a key moment and Mike Matheny sent up Hazelbaker, even though Wacha had only thrown 80 pitches.  (Not exactly your normal Matheny maneuver, but it was the right thing to do.)  The bullpen was solid, allowing just one baserunner, and Siegrist and Rosenthal combined to strike out five of the seven batters they faced.  That’ll do, folks, that’ll do.

Matheny played the getaway lineup on a day the Cardinals weren’t getting away to anywhere, with Kolten Wong, Holliday, Yadier Molina, and Hazelbaker all on the bench.  Matheny continues to sit Wong and play Jedd Gyorko against right-handers more often that it would seem he should, given Gyorko’s history with them and Wong’s ability to hit them.  If the entire point of that contract extension was to give Wong the confidence to go out and succeed, I’m not sure regularly benching him is really reinforcing that message.  Granted, Wong has been in a bit of a slump, but it’s tough to see a guy like that get shuffled out of the lineup so often.  When your “starter” has eight starts in 12 games, especially this early in the year, you start wondering how long he’ll have the “starter” label.  As Wong says, it’s nothing to be concerned about yet, but we have seen Matheny’s player usage be questionable in the past and with Tejada returning, it gives a little pause.  We’ll see how it develops.

The Cubs come into town for the first time this season and for the first time the Redbirds face old teammates in Jason Heyward and John Lackey.  They don’t have to wait for Lackey either as he’s up first thing in the rotation.  One of the quirks of his career is that, given he was in the AL before coming to St. Louis, there’s not a lot of history on the field between Lackey and many of the Cardinals.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Holliday 15 13 1 0 1 0 0 2 3 .077 .200 .231 .431 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Moss 9 8 4 1 0 0 2 1 0 .500 .556 .625 1.181 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 7 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .143 .143 .143 .286 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 7 7 3 1 0 0 0 0 1 .429 .429 .571 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 7 7 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 .286 .286 .286 .571 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 6 6 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 .167 .167 .167 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Eric Fryer 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 54 51 12 2 1 0 4 3 8 .235 .278 .314 .592 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/18/2016.

Holliday has struggled against him, Moss and Matt Carpenter have done pretty well in a limited sample.  I doubt that Matheny would keep Holliday out of the lineup two days in a row, but letting Moss play first tonight might not be a terrible thing.

Mike Leake hasn’t had to deal with the Cubs as a Cardinal before nor did he have Heyward or Lackey as a teammate, so perhaps he’s the perfect person to throw into the fire of this meeting.  No baggage, no sentiment, nothing to distract him from hopefully having a great outing.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Anthony Rizzo 33 30 10 2 0 2 5 3 5 .333 .394 .600 .994 0 0 0 0 2
Dexter Fowler 14 14 3 1 0 0 1 0 6 .214 .214 .286 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Heyward 14 14 1 1 0 0 1 0 3 .071 .071 .143 .214 0 0 0 0 1
Miguel Montero 12 11 3 0 0 1 2 0 0 .273 .333 .545 .879 0 0 0 1 0
Jorge Soler 9 9 1 0 0 1 2 0 4 .111 .111 .444 .556 0 0 0 0 0
Kris Bryant 8 8 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 .375 .375 .500 .875 0 0 0 0 0
Addison Russell 7 7 1 1 0 0 0 0 4 .143 .143 .286 .429 0 0 0 0 0
David Ross 6 5 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .167 .000 .167 0 0 1 0 0
Jon Lester 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Travis Wood 5 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 .000 .500 .000 .500 1 0 0 0 0
Kyle Hendricks 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Ben Zobrist 3 3 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 1.333 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Trevor Cahill 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy La Stella 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Szczur 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 125 116 24 8 0 4 11 6 29 .207 .252 .379 .631 2 0 1 1 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/18/2016.

Heyward is 1 for 14 and I don’t think there are going to be many Cardinal fans that will be disappointed if his struggles against Leake continue in this one.  Leake’s done pretty well against the Cubs overall, though Anthony Rizzo–who is continuing to build his Cardinal-killer resume–has been a thorn in his side.

The players aren’t going to get terribly worked up about this one, but you know that the fanbase will be.  I’m sure there will be boos for Heyward and Lackey, though the latter makes less sense given I don’t know the Cardinals really actively pursued him (and I’m pretty sure most of us didn’t want them to, given his age).  For myself, I won’t be torn up about it if Heyward goes 0-4 with two strikeouts and Lackey is chased by the fifth, but I’m not someone that can get stirred up enough to actively wish them ill or boo them until the cows come home.  Some can and they have that right, but that’s not the way I’d approach it.

Whatever attitude and lens you bring to your viewing of this game, there’s no doubt it’s going to have much more intrigue and excitement than a normal April series does!  For the Cubs, this will be like playoff baseball! (You see, because they don’t have much October experience and….oh, never mind.)

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2016 HOF Ballot

For the third year in a row, the Cardinals have opened the voting for the new class of Cardinal Hall of Famers to the public after providing a quality ballot.  The top two in the voting will be added to the 2016 HOF class and inducted in August.

Many of the names on the ballot are the same, as the club seems to be taking the route of leaving a player on if he didn’t get enough votes in the past to make the cut.  For the most part, at least.  Steve Carlton was removed from the year’s ballot, which would lead me to believe he will be selected as the veteran’s committee pick this year. Keith Hernandez, Joe Torre, Mark McGwire, and Matt Morris are all getting their third crack at getting in while Edgar Renteria is back for his second.  The newcomers this year are fairly legendary in their own right: Chris Carpenter, Jason Isringhausen and Scott Rolen.

Before we get into this year’s group, let’s review who was elected by the fans the last couple of years.  In 2014, outfielders Jim Edmonds and Willie McGee made the cut.  (McGee was so obvious that you’d almost swear they came up with the HOF concept just to honor him.)  Last year, things went a little more historical with Ted Simmons and the late Bob Forsch getting the nods.

So after two years, there’s been a good mix between positions and eras.  How would I rank this year’s ballot?  This is just my personal opinion, not a guess how it will shake out.

8) Keith Hernandez.  I know that Hernandez started out in St. Louis and had his first bit of success here, sharing the 1979 MVP with Willie Stargell and helping win the 1982 World Series.   However, I really can’t help but thinking of him as a New York Met.  He had his best years there, won another World Series there, and is still one of their broadcasters.  I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve to be in the Cardinal Hall of Fame, just that I’d put a few folks in before him.  Sorry, Pip!

7) Joe Torre.  Another quality guy that gets associated with a lot of different teams.  Obviously, he made the Cooperstown Hall as the Yankees manager, he played longer with the Braves than the Cardinals, and he was a Met as well.  Torre’s managerial stint in St. Louis was not necessarily overwhelming, though when you factor in all the variables it could have been worse.  He won the 1971 MVP in St. Louis, but only had about three or four good years under the Arch.  Again, I think others have stronger cases.

6) Matt Morris.  I was a huge fan of Morris when he was playing, as he was one of the first homegrown pitching prospects to pan out when I started paying more attention to the sport.  Morris was one of the reasons the club moved into contention in the early 2000s.  Things started to go downhill in 2004 and he wound up with a little time in Pittsburgh and San Francisco to end his career, but he was a great representative of this club for most of his career.  Plus, we’ll never forget how the loss of Darryl Kile impacted him.  Morris was the only Cardinal representative to the 2002 All-Star Game (and wasn’t eligible to play due to health) but took the DK 57 jersey with him to honor Kile on a larger stage.

Morris and DK

5) Edgar Renteria. Those early 2000s teams had a lot of players that captured the fan base’s imagination and Renteria was right in that mix.  Acquired from the Marlins, for which he already had a legendary World Series-winning hit, for Braden Looper and two other players that never amounted to much, Renteria became a key supporting player in the MV3 era.  He never hit fewer than 10 home runs in a season while in St. Louis (for comparison, you could about combine the numbers of the starters between him and Jhonny Peralta and come up with 10 total) and hit over .300 twice for the club.  Renteria’s six years with St. Louis were more than anywhere else, but he won World Series in Florida and San Francisco.  Add to that the fact that he left for Boston right after the 2004 World Series for a minimal amount of more money and he’s probably one that gets in at some time, but not this year.

4) Mark McGwire.  There’s no doubt that McGwire has a mixed legacy in St. Louis, given the revelations that came out after his playing days.  However, there’s no doubt that 1998 and 1999 were some of the most exciting times in St. Louis and made his imprint on the city.  When you think of Mark McGwire the player, you don’t think of him as an Oakland A, but rather a Cardinal.  He was also a pretty good hitting coach and it seems like a lot of fans would like to see him back in that role, even though he’s now the bench coach for the Padres.  For just the impact he had on baseball history–perhaps positively and negatively–I’d like to see him in.  Of course, I’ve always been a McGwire fan and apologist, so I realize I may not be in the majority here.

3) Jason Isringhausen.  We tend to remember the wild and crazy Izzy, the guy that could put the winning run on base before getting the last out.  Some may remember some relief when he went on the disabled list in 2006, letting a guy named Adam Wainwright be the closer for that postseason run.  That’s all fair, but we also should remember that Isringhausen holds the career saves lead for St. Louis, a club that has had a lot of premium closers pass through town.  (To continue to be fair, folks like Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter, Tom Henke et al didn’t spend as much time in St. Louis as Izzy did.)  Isringhausen had seven years of at least 30 saves, including a then-record 47 in 2004, a record Trevor Rosenthal just topped last season.  Isringhausen has stayed around the organization, doing a little TV for FOX Sports Midwest here and there as well as continuing to make appearances in spring training.  He definitely should get in one of these days.

2) Scott Rolen.  I’m a complete Scott Rolen homer, because I’ve never seen defense like the way Rolen played third base, especially when he was in St. Louis.  (Defense so strong that, even in just a season and a half in Toronto after leaving St. Louis Blue Jay bloggers could put up a top 10 list from his time there.)  Whether it was throwing out a runner from the seat of his pants, snaring anything that came into his airspace, or just basically making anything hit to third an automatic out, Rolen was a joy to behold in the field.  It’s not like his offense was anything to sneeze at either, of course.  There’s a reason they called it MV3 not MV2.  I will always claim that if David Eckstein was anything other than the definition of scrappy (and, as such, providing a wonderful narrative), Rolen would have been the World Series MVP in 2006 and should have been anyway.  I hated the Rolen trade at the time (though I’m still impressed that John Mozeliak was able to get such value in Troy Glaus for a guy that everyone knew he had to trade) and I still wish Rolen had spent a long, fruitful career under the Arch.  It would be wonderful to see him again in St. Louis this summer.

1) Chris Carpenter.  Nothing has to be said about Carp, honestly.  He was the fire of this franchise for a significant amount of time.  When he was healthy, they won.  When he wasn’t, they didn’t for the most part.  The only Cy Young winner the club has had since Bob Gibson, if you ever wanted to see the competitiveness and fire and absolute ability Carp had, the 2011 NLDS Game 5 is on DVD and on YouTube.  People pointed to Carpenter as the face of the Cardinals (along with Albert Pujols, I guess), which was either a positive or a negative depending on the person doing the pointing.  If there’s a slam dunk on this ballot, Carpenter is it.  Get that man a red jacket.

If you want to do your own voting, you can head over to the official site and cast your ballot.  You really can’t make a wrong choice with this great group of nominees!

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Book Review: Taking Flight

Taking Flight

When I heard that Rob Rains had a book coming out that, included in the subtitle, was the phrase “the building of baseball’s best franchise,” I immediately wondered how that was going to compare with Howard Megdal’s The Cardinals Way.  After all, both seemed to be approaching the idea of how the Cardinals had been so successful over the past 20 years.  We’ve taken a look at Megdal’s book in the past and Mr. Rains was kind enough to send along a copy of his book Taking Flight, which let me compare the two.  It wasn’t long to see that my initial thoughts on this were a bit off track.

In retrospect, it’s not surprising that the books diverge fairly significantly.  Megdal was an outsider, coming at this from a more analytical approach, looking at the systems, at the interactions of folks, things like that.  Rains, of course, is well embedded in the organization, having written a myriad of books relating to the Cardinals and the Cardinal players over his career and still covering them at STL Sports Page.  His son, B.J., was a writer at FOX Sports Midwest before moving on to Idaho to write for a paper up there.  Rains has the perspective of someone that knows the history of the club because he’s been around for a lot of it.

Instead of covering the front office, covering the history of the past twenty years, things of that nature, Rains tackles “The Cardinal Way” by talking with those that deal with it on a regular basis.  While some of his subjects are the same as Megdal’s–John Mozeliak and some of the coaches in the organization–mainly Rains talks with a lot of the minor leaguers that are in the system or major leaguers such as Mitch Harris and Aledmys Diaz that have come through it.  Many of them talk about what The Cardinal Way means to them and how the organization approaches training them up.

What Rains focuses on, though, is the stories of the number of folks he talks with.  There are 29 chapters in the book and each focuses on a different individual.  Some of these may be Cardinals some day.  Many likely will not.  It’s the nature of the minor league and it does run the risk of making this book feel somewhat dated in the near future.  I mean, if I said the name Jimmy Journell to a lot of folks that have become fans in the last decade, the response may well be:

Korath

In 10 years, you wonder if that won’t be the response to Blake McKnight or Oscar Mercado.  Which doesn’t diminish what Rains has put down, don’t get me wrong.  I think the stories of players can be entertaining and informative even when you don’t have a memory of them actually playing ball.

Rains approaches this book in a similar fashion as he did his last outing, Intentional Walk.  Each chapter is an interview and discussion about a certain player or coach (or, in the case of Mozeliak, the GM), their history and how they’ve come to be where they are today.  There’s a lot of good stuff in here, as our friend Joe Schwarz indicated in his review over at Viva El Birdos.  As Joe alluded to his remarks, the comments by Rowen Wick were a jarring note to the symphony of “whatever the team wants” “just have to work hard” moments that we are used to and, indeed, are the majority of this work.  The comments are honestly such that you wonder if the attitude behind them could keep Wick from reaching the majors as a Redbird, though he’s going to have to show a lot more in the minors before that even factors into the conversation.

I was pleasantly surprised in the inclusion of Davis Ward in this book.  As I have mentioned before (and I interviewed Davis for a Gateway to Baseball Heaven soon after he was drafted), Davis’s grandfather is a long-time member of my church and it’s been fun to hear about Davis and how things are going as he returns from Tommy John surgery.  I did not read the table of contents and so was a bit shocked to see his picture in one of the middle sections.  (It was also fun to let his grandfather know about the book, since he wasn’t aware!)

I believe most Cardinal fans will enjoy this book, though if you are more focused on the folks on the major league field, the emphasis on the minor leaguers may be less in your wheelhouse.  I also had some stylistic quibbles with the book–Rains writes a number of one-sentence paragraphs and I found the chapter transitions a little clunky and unnecessary–but that is likely just because it runs a bit counter to my personal writing style.  It’s not something that I think many folks would notice nor did it keep me from enjoying the book as a whole.

If you are interested, Rains will be at the following locations in the St. Louis area over the coming months doing book signings.  Head out, get you a copy of the book, and have it autographed!

Thursday April 28 – Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival, Marshfield, Mo. Marshfield Assembly of God. 4:30
(Rains is receiving Ella Dickey Award for Literacy and doing a book signing afterwards.)

Saturday April 30 – Barnes & Noble Springfield, Mo. 10:30 a.m. Carson Kelly is also scheduled to appear, so you can get a two-for-one signing there!

Saturday May 14 – Barnes & Noble, Fairview Heights, Ill. 1 p.m.

Monday June 6 – Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo. 7 p.m.

Even if you aren’t in the St. Louis area, as a Cardinal fan you could do a lot worse than adding Taking Flight to your baseball library!

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Honkin’ For Jaime

A long time ago (at least in blogger years), my good friend Nick coined the phrase “Honkin’ For Jaime” over at the original Pitchers Hit Eighth blog.  While the initial usage was indicating support for Jaime Garcia making the rotation, it seemed well enough suited to celebrate his dominant outing yesterday.

It’s pretty easy to determine the Hero of the game when the starting pitcher has more hits than the opposing team does.  Garcia was outstanding, striking out 13 while being dinged just once.  Besides that hit and a wild pitch on a strikeout, no Brewer reached first base.  Of course, when you are the Brewers, you have come to expect this when you are facing Garcia.  After all, his second-best game in the majors (arguably) came at their expense as well.

It’s never been stuff with Garcia, it’s been health.  Last spring training, it was a foregone conclusion that the Cards would decline his option for 2016 given the fact that he couldn’t stay on the field.  Then he went out and, well, stayed on the field.  The option pickup moved from no question to debatable to no brainer as the year progressed.  The Cardinals are lucky enough to have a reasonable option for 2017 on him as well, and assuming health (which is becoming a little easier to believe after the past year), they’ll be sure to pick that up as well.

Garcia didn’t need much in the way of help yesterday and had all he needed in the second, a rally in which he helped in by snagging his first hit of the day with two outs, allowing Matt Carpenter to drive in two more runs with a double, making the score 3-0.  However, it’s always easier to pitch with a wider margin of error, so Randal Grichuk and Jeremy Hazelbaker added two-run homers to the mix.  Granted, if the Brewers were paying attention to the fact Grichuk went past Brandon Moss on the home run trot it wouldn’t have counted, but since it didn’t really matter in the long run, no real harm done.

Yadier Molina also helped the cause with two hits, including a double that let him pass Albert Pujols for most doubles in Busch Stadium.  (You know you were a force when your cumulative records still stand after you’ve been gone for four years.)  Aledmys Diaz had a double as well, getting back on track after a couple of hitless days, and all in all it was a great afternoon of baseball.

Except for a couple of players.  I went with Matt Holliday as the Goat, given his 0-3 with two strikeouts, but you could have easily given it to Moss (0-3, 3 K) as well.  I guess it was good that the weak part of the lineup was back-to-back so that it didn’t destroy all the rallies, but it’s really not pleasant to see your three and four hitters have that kind of day.  Unfortunately, they are days that these guys have been having often.

Keeping it short today, so let’s just talk about tonight’s matchup as the Cincinnati Reds come to town.  Carlos Martinez goes against Tim Melville.  Melville made his major league debut last time out, limiting the Pirates to one run over four innings.  He walked four, though, and threw 92 pitches in that span, so it sounds like command is still an issue for him.  Then again, the way that the Cardinals tend to approach new pitchers, he may look like a Cy Young candidate when they are done with him.

At least Martinez is likely to keep the Reds from putting up a lot of runs as well.  Martinez probably had the best start of the year in his pocket until Garcia’s outing yesterday and he’s done pretty well against most of these Reds as well.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Brandon Phillips 16 15 4 0 0 0 0 0 4 .267 .267 .267 .533 1 0 0 0 0
Jay Bruce 15 12 1 0 0 1 1 3 2 .083 .267 .333 .600 0 0 1 0 0
Joey Votto 12 7 0 0 0 0 0 5 1 .000 .417 .000 .417 0 0 0 0 0
Zack Cozart 11 10 3 1 0 1 2 0 3 .300 .300 .700 1.000 1 0 0 0 0
Billy Hamilton 11 11 2 1 0 1 1 0 2 .182 .182 .545 .727 0 0 0 0 0
Devin Mesoraco 3 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Scott Schebler 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Eugenio Suarez 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Duvall 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Raisel Iglesias 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 77 67 14 4 0 3 4 8 15 .209 .293 .403 .696 2 0 1 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/15/2016.

While I doubt that we’ll see another one-hitter, following up Garcia with Martinez is a pitching lover’s delight.  Let’s hope that story line holds!

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Three Is the Magic Number

For as long as baseball has been an organized sport, three has been the focal point of the game.  Three strikes.  Three times three innings.  And, of course, three outs.  Last night, the Cardinals learned all about the fact that you can’t switch sides until that third out is made, mainly to their detriment.

In the top of the first, with a runner on second and two outs, Mike Leake couldn’t finish the inning cleanly and allowed an RBI double to Jonathan Lucroy.  That seemed mitigated by the fact that the Cardinals scored their three runs after a two-out error allowed Stephen Piscotty to reach and the inning to continue, but then Leake allowed two-out RBI hits in the fourth and the fifth, putting the Brewers on top.  An out in any of those spots might have been the difference between a win and, well, what did happen.

Part of me would like to give the Goat to Leake for three times being unable to close out an inning, but he did pitch fairly well overall, striking out six and walking just one.  He wasn’t hard hit, save for the doubles in the first by Domingo Santana and Lucroy, but four runs still isn’t the prettiest thing to see on your linescore.  We’ve still not seen Leake put together a start that justifies him in the middle of this rotation, but since we’ve not seen one that justifies Adam Wainwright at the top of it, I think we can wait a little bit.

Unfortunately, the Goat really has to go to Trevor Rosenthal.  It’s a tough position for the closer–do your job and you don’t get a lot of extra notice, because it’s your job.  Fail to do your job and you are automatically the brunt of many complaints and criticisms.  That said, when you are brought into a game that just got dramatically tied up and immediately allow the opponent to regain the lead, that’s going to get you this tag.  Frustratingly, Rosenthal had two outs with nobody on before walking pinch-hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis and allowing a homer to Santana.  Given that it’d taken the Cardinals seven innings to put up another run, the odds of them coming up with at least two in the ninth were pretty much nil, even with the heart of the order coming up.

When we saw bad Rosie a couple of years ago, control was his major issue.  That was the case again last night, as he threw a lot of pitches before being pulled after another walk followed Santana’s shot.  We can hope that it’s just a little bit of early season blues and the more he gets into the rhythm the better it’ll be.  That’s not an unreasonable hope, but it does take a lot on faith.  If there are any mechanical issues, Rosenthal’s not talking about them.  We’re not hearing about release points or shoulder flying open or any of those things, which may or may not be the cause of any ugly results.  So I don’t know what he’s going to do differently going forward to make sure the results are better.  Maybe he doesn’t need anything–maybe he’s just not gotten some calls or had a couple of bad nights.  Still, after feeling like the Cards had this lock down bullpen, it seems to be taking on a little water at the back end.

(Perhaps someone should tell Rosenthal that he’s already probably ruined any thought of reaching 60 saves and getting that golf cart from Wainwright.  60 was a crazy amount anyway and we’d have complained muchly if Mike Matheny had run him out there that often, but two saves in eight games isn’t the pace you’d want to be on if you were really aiming for 60.  Not saying that’s having an impact on him, but since there’s nothing that is being noted that IS having an impact on him, it couldn’t hurt.)

Let’s give the Hero to Brandon Moss.  Pinch-hitting isn’t an easy thing to do, though the Cardinals now have four pinch-hit home runs, which is amazing for this franchise.  Moss not only slammed a homer in his only at-bat, he did so late in the game when the club was behind.  If that’s not a Hero, I’m not sure what is.  Randal Grichuk got consideration for a good AB in the first that led to his two-run double, but all in all the offense was so concentrated into that inning that it’s tough to go with a hitter besides Moss for the tag.

We saw a questionable decision in the sixth, when Jeremy Hazelbaker, who had blooped in a double to start the frame and provide the first hit since the end of the first, tried to steal third with one out.  While I’m not sure that was the wisest idea, I can at least see the reasoning behind it.  The club was down by just a run, so a sacrifice fly could tie it up and you like your chances with the Cardinal bullpen.  Stealing third, the throw for the catcher is somewhat obstructed by Piscotty standing in the batter’s box.  Hazelbaker has good speed and I remember Tony La Russa saying in Men At Work a long time ago that it’s easier to steal third than second.  Factor all that in and I can see why the decision was made, even if I wouldn’t necessarily have made it myself.  A base hit from Piscotty probably scores Hazelbaker from second, though given the way the offense had shut down for the night, maybe playing for the sac fly was the smarter option.

Matt Holliday played first base last night and had some interesting things happen to him.  I don’t say that he did anything wrong, though you could argue he maybe could have come off the bag more on Matt Carpenter‘s errant throw on a Ryan Braun grounder, keeping it from going into the dugout and giving Braun an extra base (something the Brewers would capitalize on) but looking at the replays it was tough to see if he could have done that and not run into Braun coming down the line.  Holliday still is learning at first, of course, but it’s not been a horror show like Pedro Alvarez was for the Pirates last year.  I didn’t expect Holliday to play this much at first, but with the emergence of Hazelbaker, it’s not as surprising.  We’ll see if that changes if Hazelbaker slows down or when Tommy Pham returns.

Off the field, Marco Gonzales has decided to have Tommy John surgery.  As we said Monday, if TJ surgery is on the table, almost always it’s going to eventually be necessary.  That’s going to put a lot of question marks around Gonzales, though, as he’ll basically have two lost seasons–2015 and 2016–plus whatever it takes in 2017 to get back to where he’s been.  Gonzales is still young–he’s just 22 now, which means he’ll be 23, 23 and a half by time he could be ready to return to the bigs–but losing two seasons of development can’t be good for him.  If nothing else, though, he can stay in touch with Lance Lynn and have someone who is also going through the rehab help him out.

Gonzales is out and apparently Tim Cooney also isn’t feeling it, though they can’t seem to narrow down what the problem is.  Remember when this team had pitching just running out every crevasse?  Now, not so much.  It’s to the point that Alex Reyes might get to the majors sooner than we expected, especially with that suspension.  Hopefully the starters in the bigs won’t need reinforcement for a while, though I was disappointed to see that Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons wasn’t considered as an option.  I’m sure they like him in the pen, but it would seem easier to find a bullpen arm to come up and fill in than a starter, especially since the options noted aren’t on the 40-man.

Ruben Tejada is going out on a rehab assignment and will be in Springfield today.  He could come off the DL on Sunday, but it seems likely that the club isn’t going to rush him.  The landscape has changed a lot since Tejada went down at the end of spring, with Aledmys Diaz coming up and providing an offensive spark.  Diaz went 0-3 last night, though he was robbed of probably a double in his first at-bat.  It’s difficult to take Diaz out of the lineup just yet.  If he starts to struggle, you could send him to Memphis to work on some things, but right now that’s not happening.  If Tejada does return, there’s really no obvious move to make to put him on the roster except to demote Diaz (or Hazelbaker, which also isn’t likely) so we’ll have to see what happens.  I believe Tejada could stay on a rehab assignment as long as 20 days, so they may try to take their time there.

Afternoon baseball today as the series with the Brewers comes to a close.  Jaime Garcia had one bad inning in his first start and hopes to improve on that against Milwaukee, whom he’s had good success against in his career.  Garcia’s 9-4 with a 2.90 ERA in almost 106 innings against the Brew Crew and I believe it was against them that he had his longest no-hit bid ever.  Add in the fact that he’s pitching at home and you like the Redbirds’ chances today.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Ryan Braun 53 51 11 3 0 2 9 2 8 .216 .245 .392 .637 0 0 0 0 1
Jonathan Lucroy 39 38 11 1 0 0 3 1 4 .289 .308 .316 .623 0 0 0 0 4
Aaron Hill 16 13 3 0 0 0 1 2 2 .231 .313 .231 .543 0 1 0 0 0
Martin Maldonado 12 11 4 1 0 1 3 1 3 .364 .417 .727 1.144 0 0 0 0 1
Domingo Santana 6 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 .167 .167 .167 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Wily Peralta 5 5 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .200 .200 .200 .400 0 0 0 0 0
Yadiel Rivera 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Capuano 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 136 129 31 5 0 3 16 6 24 .240 .272 .349 .621 0 1 0 0 6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/14/2016.

He’s up against Wily Peralta.  It’s a mixed bag when it comes to Peralta.  Sometimes he can be an effective pitcher, sometimes he gets lit up.  Last year, against St. Louis he had one start of four runs in five innings, one of two in six, one of three in seven, one of five in four.  So which Peralta will show up today?

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Carpenter 37 33 15 3 0 3 5 4 3 .455 .514 .818 1.332 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 30 26 10 0 0 2 7 2 3 .385 .467 .615 1.082 0 0 0 2 1
Yadier Molina 29 27 8 0 0 0 4 2 3 .296 .345 .296 .641 0 0 0 0 1
Kolten Wong 26 24 5 0 1 0 2 2 6 .208 .269 .292 .561 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 21 19 3 0 0 0 2 2 3 .158 .238 .158 .396 0 0 0 0 1
Jaime Garcia 8 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Piscotty 6 5 2 0 0 0 2 1 1 .400 .500 .400 .900 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 5 5 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .400 .400 .400 .800 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 2 2 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 173 157 46 3 1 5 23 13 25 .293 .355 .420 .775 1 0 0 2 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/14/2016.

We’ve had a good bit of afternoon baseball so far this season, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.  Let’s hope for another series win today!

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Now THAT’S An Opener!

It’s hard to go terribly wrong with Opening Day in St. Louis.  Even if there’s rain, even if the game isn’t much of a game, the tradition and the excitement of a new home season makes up for a lot of that.  Which is good, since before yesterday the Cardinals were 3-7 in home openers since Busch Stadium III came into existence.

However, when the clouds break and the sun shines brightly on the green grass, when the red jackets pop against their background, Opening Day goes to another level.  When the bats break out, it’s a party unlike any other.

You have to go all the way back to 2003–against this very same Milwaukee organization, even–to find a home opener that saw double-digit runs for the home team.  Unlike the 2003 outing, which required a six-run eighth to see St. Louis take a lead, yesterday’s game was fun all the way through, from the first inning until the last.

Ten runs.  Nineteen hits.  It’s a joy when finding a Hero is a tough chore because everyone has a claim to it.  We should do this more often.  Bob Uecker told the Brewer fans in the fifth that “if you joined us late….you’re kinda lucky.”  Cardinal fans that missed this one (and, sadly, I’m in that mix) missed the most fun game in quite some time.

So who does get the Hero tag?  Like I say, there are a lot of possibilities, but even when the offense is clicking like that, it’s tough to go against a guy that had a four-hit game.  Jeremy Hazelbaker has now been the Hero in three of the first seven games, so it’s been a great first week in the majors for him.  Four hits is impressive enough, but when you mix in a double and a triple, plus an RBI and a run, you’ve made a strong case for the title.  Again, you don’t know how long Hazelbaker will be cooking, but it’s a fun ride while it’s lasting.

Listing out the other contenders for the Hero tag would be basically taking the boxscore and going down the line.  Aledmys Diaz had three hits in his first time on the Busch Stadium diamond, including two doubles.  He’s hitting .533 on the season, which just edges out Hazelbaker who is at .526.  I meant to talk about Diaz’s playing time in yesterday’s post (we covered the topic on Gateway this week) but it’s becoming less and less of an issue.  We’ve had our complaints about how Mike Matheny uses players from time to time, but if Diaz can continue to hit well, like Hazelbaker it is going to be tough to get him out of the lineup, especially since there aren’t a ton of options at short without him anyway.

Yadier Molina also had three hits, plus drove in two and stole a base.  Molina may not be what he once was, but there are still flashes of vintage Yadi in there.  Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, and Matt Carpenter all had two hits and it was good to see out of all of them.  Grichuk and Carpenter especially needed to start clicking and it appears they might be.  Grichuk has been drawing walks the last couple of days, which has led him to be able to jump on good pitches instead of flailing at anything the pitcher might throw up there.  As key as he is to this offense, that’s a wonderful thing to see.

As fun as all this offense was, it was perhaps most heartening to see Michael Wacha have a strong outing.  As we talked about yesterday, the bad starts were starting to add up and there was a lot of concern about what kind of pitcher Wacha was going to be going forward.  While one start doesn’t completely alleviate those worries, it was very nice to see something more like prime Wacha out there.  He did throw 94 pitches in six innings, which doesn’t bode well for deep games, but pitch counts will pile up when you strike out seven.  Two of the four hits he allowed came in his first inning of work and, all in all, that was a line that you could be excited about.  If he can do something similar on Sunday against the Reds, the confidence level will only increase.

The lopsided score meant that a lot of the end-of-bullpen arms got a day off, which coupled with today’s actual day off should have them fully rested for the end of this series.  Matt Bowman went two innings and was touched for a home run, but that’s a minimal concern when you are up 9-0 at the time.  Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons threw a scoreless eighth.  I’m glad that he got a chance to play in a home opener!

Just because everything was peaches and cream doesn’t mean that everyone joined in the fun, but it does mean that you can’t obsess too much over the parts of the game that didn’t live up to the standards of the day.  I’m still a bit concerned with the slow start of Matt Holliday.  Holliday doubled in the first run of the game and scored the second one, but after that wasn’t able to do much, making the third out in the second, third, and fifth before being replaced by Matt Adams.  It’s not even that he’s a traditionally slow starter–for his career, his April line is .301/.374/.473.  While the power may not show up until the weather warms, usually the singles and doubles are there.  He is 4-15 since the Pittsburgh series, so maybe it’s trending in the right direction, but when you factor everything in such as age, the loss of most of last year, etc., you start to wonder when or if the real Matt Holliday will appear.

Holliday didn’t get the Goat for yesterday, though.  That went to the only man in the starting lineup (besides Mr. Wacha, of course, who mitigated his offensive woes with that good mound start) not to be able to break through for a base hit, leaving five men on in the process.  Kolten Wong did drive in a run with a sacrifice fly and helped turn a 1-4-3 double play, so his day wasn’t a complete zero, but when the bar is set so high given everyone else’s performance, that’s not going to save you from the Goat label.

There’s a nice article about Diaz and what all this last week has meant to him up at the Post-Dispatch, written by the new columnist Jose de Jesus Ortiz.  Again, you’ve got to temper some things, since some of us lived through Bo Hart, but obviously Diaz has a talent and ability far above a lot of other flash in the pans.  The key is going to be in the next few weeks as video and scouting gets around and folks start making adjustments.  Will Diaz and Hazelbaker be able to succeed then?  Can they make their own adjustments?  We shall find out.

Marco Gonzales is trying to determine exactly what treatment option he’s going to take on his elbow.  However, when Tommy John surgery is one of the options, you have to figure it’s likely to be the choice, just because there’s a strong possibility you’ll wind up there anyway.  Perhaps it’s not that severe and perhaps they can heal it up with a different method, but if I were to guess, I’d guess not.  It would be tough to lose Gonzales after he was out so much of last year with shoulder issues, but you have to wonder if that’s not the best thing long term.  As the article notes, Adam Wainwright did OK with it for a while, but eventually succumbed.  Would it be better for Marco to lose this year than in a couple of years when he might have a chance at a regular spot in the rotation?

It looks like there may be some roster decisions to make soon, as both Tommy Pham and Ruben Tejada are getting close to rehab assignments.  Of course, their replacements are the hottest hitters on the team, so those rehab assignments may have to last a little while.  How John Mozeliak juggles all of this should be worth watching over the next week or two.

Day off today, then with all the opening festivities and days off and such behind them, the real rhythm of the season can get underway on Wednesday.  Mike Leake makes his first start at Busch Stadium as a member of the Cardinals.  He’s had six starts in his career at Busch and is 2-2 with a 3.19 ERA.  I saw him pitch last year as a member of the Reds when he shut down the Cardinals over eight innings, so another game like that would be nice, this time for the Redbirds.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jonathan Lucroy 32 29 12 1 0 1 4 3 4 .414 .469 .552 1.020 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Braun 18 16 3 1 0 1 3 2 2 .188 .278 .438 .715 0 0 0 0 2
Scooter Gennett 17 16 7 2 0 0 3 1 1 .438 .471 .563 1.033 0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Hill 16 15 4 0 0 1 3 0 4 .267 .313 .467 .779 0 0 0 1 0
Jonathan Villar 4 2 1 0 0 0 0 2 0 .500 .750 .500 1.250 0 0 0 0 0
Taylor Jungmann 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Kirk Nieuwenhuis 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Wily Peralta 3 3 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Carter 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 98 88 29 5 0 3 15 8 17 .330 .392 .489 .880 1 0 0 1 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/12/2016.

Looks like the Brewers have done pretty well against him in the past, save Ryan Braun, who typically does well against the Cardinals in his own right.  We’ll see if maybe Leake can even things up a little bit tomorrow evening.

Chase Anderson will take the mound for the Brewers.  Anderson made his debut last year but St. Louis saw him just the once, when he allowed two runs in six innings back in May.  So a pretty small sample size to try to take anything from.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jedd Gyorko 8 8 3 0 0 0 1 0 2 .375 .375 .375 .750 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 3 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 3 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 .667 1.333 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 1
Kolten Wong 3 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Total 26 26 10 1 0 0 2 0 5 .385 .385 .423 .808 0 0 0 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/12/2016.

Anderson is coming off five scoreless innings against the Astros in his first start of the season, so hopefully the Cards can give him an ERA for 2016!

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The Cardinals limped into Atlanta having lost their first three games and not looking especially noteworthy doing it.  However, as many teams are likely to find out this year, the Braves can be good for what ails ya.

Friday (7-4 win)

Hero: Aledmys Diaz.  With the score tied at 4 in the eighth and the pressure of a potential 0-4 start riding on the next couple of innings, Diaz stroked the second of a record three pinch-hit home runs.  It was a key moment and for a rookie to come through like that was big.  (Of course, modify a little scene-setting and we could put Jeremy Hazelbaker, who hit the game-tying blast an inning earlier.)

Goat: Another tough night for Randal Grichuk.  0-4 with two strikeouts, one of only two Cardinal starters without a hit, and that included the pitcher.

Notes: Jedd Gyorko had a rough start to his night at shortstop, making errors on the first two Atlanta batters.  Without his fourth-inning single, which proved key when Jaime Garcia followed with an RBI single, we’d have been measuring Gyorko for the Goat….Garcia worked his way out of the Gyorko-fueled problems in the first, but ran into trouble in the fourth with a flurry of singles.  Other than that, though, he looked fairly good, especially in comparison with some of the other outings by Cardinal starters….Greg Garcia completed the trifecta of pinch-hit homers with one in the ninth, which was followed up by Stephen Piscotty‘s first long ball of the year….Yadier Molina was the only other starter to not get a base hit….Trevor Rosenthal locked this one down for his first save of the year and did so with no scares for the fans.

Saturday (12-2 win)

Hero: Kolten Wong.  A three-hit night for the second baseman, all singles, but what might be more interesting is that, even though he hit seventh, he scored three times.  That either says something about the bottom of the lineup or Atlanta’s effort, but whichever it’s not something you see every day.

Goat: Matt Holliday.  With the way Atlanta was going in this game, going 0-5 and leaving eight men on base is really saying something and what it says is not positive.  He ended a lot of innings and threw in a double play to boot.  It’s not been a great start to the year for Holliday, which gets people a little anxious given his age.

Notes: This was the only game I got to watch much of over the weekend and it was excruciating.  Atlanta walked nine, threw three wild pitches, had one passed ball, and generally made this a pretty ugly game.  The Braves’ bullpen got repeatedly torched, while Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons and Seth Maness combined for three scoreless innings, with a Matt Adams error the only reason there weren’t nine set down in a row….Carlos Martinez looked better than any starter had yet in 2016, only hitting a small bump in the third after getting up 3-0.  He settled down, though, and got out of the inning only allowing two and pretty much cruised from there.  It’s going to be fun watching Martinez this season, I believe….No homers in this one, but Aledmys Diaz got the start and got two hits, including a triple.  Out of 14 hits, the Cardinals only mustered three extra base versions, which may speak to a bigger issue but wasn’t much of a factor in this one….Matt Carpenter had two hits, which was a very good sign after his rough start.

Sunday (12-7 win)

Hero: Jeremy Hazelbaker.  The rookie got yet another start in this one (something Diaz is finding it tough to manage, but maybe we’ll touch on that in a bit) and again showed his worth, with his eighth-inning, game-tying single being one of his two hits.  That was twice this weekend that he tied a game up in the latter part of the game, which is great to see.  Not often that rookies can come through like that.  We’ll see if the league starts to get a book on him, but right now there’s a reason he’s regularly starting.

Goat: Adam Wainwright.  When you stake Uncle Charlie to a 4-1 lead against the worst team in the league, you expect that lead to stay staked.  Instead, he allowed a three-run homer to Drew Stubbs in the fourth that tied everything up, then let Atlanta take the lead in the fifth.  Five walks isn’t a normal Wainwright outing either, something he was angry at himself about afterwards.  Wainwright’s not looked sharp at all in his first two starts of the season.  Everyone thinks it’s just a rough start and he’ll be back to his old self soon.  I surely hope so and I hope that “soon” is “this week against the Reds” soon.

Notes: Another day, another beating of the Atlanta bullpen.  Cards scored two in the eighth and five in the ninth to put the game out of reach.  If only they could do that every day….Cardinals had more runs than hits, which is probably an indication of Atlanta’s issues.  Nine walks by their pitchers, with two wild pitches tossed in to boot.  Like I say, it’s going to be a very long year for Braves fans if this weekend was any indication.  (In case you are wondering, they don’t come to Busch until August.  Which could be a nice break in the summer schedule!)….Hazelbaker and Stephen Piscotty were actually the only players with multiple hits, though Greg Garcia walked three times to go with his lone single….Seth Maness came in for the second time in as many days and this time allowed a double to one of the two batters he faced.  Mike Matheny then went to Kevin Siegrist, who allowed a double of his own to allow that runner to score.  Not exactly what you wanted to see out of those guys in a game that had just been tied.

There’s an interesting note here from Matheny, which probably indicates he reads very different people than I do.  Trevor Rosenthal came in to get the last out of the eighth inning after Matheny had Jonathan Broxton intentionally walk Freddie Freeman to load the bases.  Nothing strange there, given the situation, and Rosenthal got the out.  He also pitched the ninth, even though the game was well out of reach, which is a different topic.  But here’s Matheny’s quote from the above-linked Post-Dispatch article:

Matheny said he realized there is an element that will criticize the inning-plus move as over-use.

“It’s amazing the voices out there, telling closers they shouldn’t be doing that, and that starts to influence people,” said Matheny. “It’s a shame.

“But that’s gaining traction, where a guy comes in just for an inning. You can only have so many of those. They’re all a bunch of closers. They’re each closing out their own inning.”

I don’t think anyone on Twitter with a soupcon of thought about things ever is worried about Trevor Rosenthal coming into a game in the eighth if the situation demands it.  Many folks, in print or in the spoken word, have often taken Matheny to task for not doing just that.  Again, Matheny’s getting input from many different sources, most of them different than the ones I hear, but it’s very strange to see Matheny trying to stand as the defender of the multiple-inning use of guys.

In the same article, Matheny talks about how he had to leave Rosenthal in because “it’s a save situation and we’ve got to give him a shot.”  So just in case you thought Mike was all of the sudden a champion of the sabermetric school of thought, that will probably put a little cold water on that idea.  Of course, as he’s noted before, contracts do come into play there.

The home opener is this afternoon with all the pomp and pageantry that goes with it.  It also seems that rain often goes with it and, with Michael Wacha on the hill today, would you expect anything less?  Thankfully, it looks like the rain will move out over the morning hours and by game time it might be a bright and sunny start to the 2016 home season.  Wacha struggled in his first start, which coupled with the end of 2015 makes folks nervous that he’s either injured or just not able to regain the heights that he had in 2013.  A good outing here against the Brewers would help calm some of those worries, at least until his next rough start.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Scooter Gennett 10 10 4 0 0 0 1 0 2 .400 .400 .400 .800 0 0 0 0 0
Jonathan Lucroy 6 6 2 1 0 0 2 0 0 .333 .333 .500 .833 0 0 0 0 2
Kirk Nieuwenhuis 5 4 0 0 0 0 1 1 2 .000 .200 .000 .200 0 0 0 0 1
Domingo Santana 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Hill 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Taylor Jungmann 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Martin Maldonado 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Yadiel Rivera 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Wily Peralta 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 33 31 8 1 0 0 4 2 5 .258 .303 .290 .593 0 0 0 0 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/11/2016.

Taylor Jungmann faced off against Wacha last September and allowed six runs in five innings while Wacha allowed three in five.  If those hold, today’s game might be a scoring fiesta.  Facing Jungmann and the Brewers is a good measuring stick for this offense.  It’s tough to know how much of the production from this weekend was based on awakening bats and how much on terrible Atlanta pitching and defense.  The Brewers are a step up from the Braves–it seems most everyone is at least a step up from the Braves this year–so we’ll get a better inclination on whether this offensive awakening will continue or the bats will go back to sleep.  If it’s the latter, there’s going to be some problems.

Enjoy the Hall of Famers, the Clydesdales, and the ceremonies!

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So the Cardinals lost.  Again.  The Redbirds start the season 0-3 for the first time since 2007, which was not a good year if you aren’t remembering, one of the few missteps over the last 20 years.  Still, things could be worse.

1) They could have been swept by the Cubs instead of the Pirates.
2) In 2007, Chris Carpenter went down on Opening Day and basically missed the next two seasons.  All the Cardinal starters (on the major league level, at least) survived their first encounter with the season.
3) They could be San Diego, who just got swept by the Dodgers and were outscored 25-0 over the three games.
4) They aren’t the 1988 Orioles.  I still remember that 0-21 start, wondering if and when that team would win.  I guarantee this team won’t go that deep into their schedule before picking up a victory.
5) The 1998 Yankees won 114 games, but started their season 0-3.  It’s a long season.
5) Star Wars: The Force Awakens could still not be out on BluRay to give a good distraction from the team.

Yes, things definitely could be worse.  That doesn’t mean things are good now, though.

For the third straight night, the starting pitching was meh at best, the defense was choppy, and big hits didn’t come–hits of any kind were a rare occurrence, honestly.  As Matt Carpenter said in Jenifer Langosch’s writeup, “Once we hit, we’ll be fine.”  However, as we’ve debated all winter long, as we’ve seen the last couple of years, what if they don’t hit?  There are no guarantees with this lineup that they are going to be even acceptable on offense.  I mean, they aren’t going to hit .168 for the season, they are going to hit better than they did this series, but there’s a fair school of thought that wouldn’t expect things to ever fully click.  When in your 87 outs on the year you have 37 strikeouts, that’s pretty ugly.  They’ve struck out more in three games than Tampa Bay has in four.

Finding a Hero in this one isn’t terribly hard.  When the pitching is iffy and the team can only muster four hits, go with the guy that put you on the board.  Jeremy Hazelbaker got his first start in the big leagues, something that we knew was coming sooner or later, and made a difference, smacking a sixth-inning home run to put the Cardinals on the board.  I think it says more about the state of the offense than any sort of positive spin that just shy of half of St. Louis’s runs have come via the home run.  We worried about power and probably still should, but the Cards do have two homers (one solo, one two-run) in three games, putting them right in the middle of the pack in MLB when it comes to that.  (The Rockies already have 10 long balls?  And they weren’t even playing in Coors Field!)  Hazelbaker also beat out a double play ball in the eighth (after it was reviewed) that kept an inning alive and allowed the Redbirds to semi-threaten when Greg Garcia followed with a double.  Unfortunately, Matt Carpenter couldn’t bring either of them in.

Plenty of Goats to go around, and Carpenter’s 0-4 with two strikeouts definitely put him in the conversation, but I think for the second straight night I’ll go with the starting pitcher.  Mike Leake was pretty much doomed from the get-go, throwing 40 pitches in the first, walking in a run (and was only spared more damage when he speared a comebacker for the final out), and having the bullpen start warming before three outs were obtained.  The defense behind him didn’t help, what with the three errors and all, but you couldn’t even use that to really justify what Leake did out there.  Three walks, one strikeout, and given the elevated pitch count couldn’t get out of the fifth.  Not exactly how you want to debut with a new club.

Other notes, Matt Bowman made his major league debut and seemed to do pretty well, throwing two scoreless frames.  We’ll see how often he’s used and what kind of decision the club will make on him later in the season, but so far so good.  Patron Pitcher Tyler Lyons gave up a run on a hit and two walks, which isn’t great.  Lyons’s issues in the past have been with control–his remarkable run down the stretch last year seemed fueled by a better idea of the strike zone–so it’s not good to see him struggle in that regard.

I was a little surprised (not much) to see that Aledmys Diaz didn’t get the start at short last night.  After that key error in Tuesday night’s game, it would have been in character for Mike Matheny to run him back out there to try to get a better experience under his belt.  Instead, Jedd Gyorko started at shortstop.  Given Gyorko has one of the two Cardinal home runs on the season, I guess that’s not a bad thing, but in his career Gyorko has really struggled with right-handers.  It would seem to be better to let Gyorko alternate with Wong and let Diaz get those ABs he needs by playing regularly at shortstop, but we all have questioned Matheny’s lineups from time to time.  And by time to time, I mean basically every time they are posted.

The top four in the lineup went 0-14.  That right there may be the most telling sign.  If Carpenter and Stephen Piscotty are going to struggle, it’s going to be very hard for this lineup to catch fire.  That said, the Cardinals were up against a very good team.  If these struggles continue against the Braves and the Brewers, we’ve got a much bigger issue to deal with.

Marco Gonzales is out with a left elbow injury.  When you start hearing “elbow injury”, you pretty much never get anything good after it, including Tommy John surgery.  He’s getting a second opinion before they announce anything, so maybe it’s not as drastic as TJ, but it’s still not good.  Gonzales needed this season to rebound from last season’s shoulder injury and had looked strong enough in the spring that it appeared he’d be able to do it.  Now, if he’s out for any extended period of time, it becomes harder and harder for him to make it back to the big leagues.  Hopefully it’s not quite that severe, but the pitching depth that we’ve always seen the Cardinals have is drying up.  Tim Cooney was slowed this spring and Alex Reyes is still suspended, so hopefully the big league starters can stay healthy for quite a while.

A couple of articles talking about how Matheny is “evolving” in his usage of Trevor Rosenthal in tie games.  It’s nice to see someone in the front office got him to realize that saves don’t happen if you don’t win the game, and sometimes winning the game means you need your best reliever while it’s still tied.  If the front office didn’t fill him in on this, I know about 1,247 Twitter accounts that could have.

A day off today–the hardest thing about the beginning of the season is the stop-start nature of it–and then the Cardinals make their last trip to Turner Field, facing off against a Braves team that lost their first two games against the Nationals.  Somebody’s gotta win.  St. Louis will start the series with Jaime Garcia, hoping to improve upon what we’ve seen out of the rotation so far.  Garcia’s last start of 2015 was against Atlanta, after the Cards had already clinched the division.  He allowed two runs in four innings and took the loss.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Drew Stubbs 33 29 9 1 0 1 2 4 11 .310 .394 .448 .842 0 0 0 0 1
Jeff Francoeur 12 11 2 0 0 1 1 1 0 .182 .250 .455 .705 0 0 0 0 0
Bud Norris 10 8 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 .125 .111 .125 .236 1 1 0 0 0
Freddie Freeman 9 7 4 0 0 2 5 1 2 .571 .667 1.429 2.095 0 0 0 1 0
Ender Inciarte 6 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .167 .167 .167 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Kelly Johnson 6 5 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 .200 .333 .200 .533 0 0 0 0 1
Nick Markakis 6 6 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 1
Adonis Garcia 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Pierzynski 2 2 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 .500 .500 1.000 1.500 0 0 0 0 0
Julio Teheran 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 88 78 22 2 0 4 10 7 14 .282 .345 .462 .806 1 1 0 1 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/7/2016.

He’s up against Matt Wisler, who also pitched in that closing series last year and just went 8.2 innings without allowing a run.  In other words, things may not be looking up as much as we’d like.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Randal Grichuk 6 6 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 1
Matt Carpenter 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .250 .000 .250 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 4 3 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 .333 .500 .667 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 4 4 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .750 1.250 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 1
Stephen Piscotty 3 3 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 .667 .667 .667 1.333 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Wacha 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Moss 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 2.000 3.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 30 28 8 3 0 0 2 2 3 .286 .333 .393 .726 0 0 0 0 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/7/2016.

If you can, enjoy the off day. These things would be much easier to deal with after a win, wouldn’t they?

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After two games, we still don’t know much more about the St. Louis Cardinals than we thought we did in the spring or even before.  We thought the offense was going to be iffy.  Check.  We thought the bullpen would be lockdown.  Check.  We didn’t know what we’d get out of Michael Wacha.  Check.  Two games isn’t a lot to try to get answers, of course, but you’d still think there might be a sign of what kind of team there is.  If there has been one, it’s not been a positive one.

Over the last two or three years, the games against Pittsburgh have been tight, often extended affairs and last night was no different, with the Cardinals losing 6-5 in 11 innings.  There are so many different things about the game and the season so far that I want to touch on that I’m not sure where to start, so perhaps we should just start at the starter.  We saw Wacha struggle for an extended period of time last year, posting a 4.03 ERA after July 1 last season, not including his four runs in 4.1 innings outing against the Cubs in the postseason.  We’ve not really seen that Wacha that burst on the scene in 2013 for a while and I do think it’s fair to wonder if we ever will again.

Many may say that we’re overreacting to a bad loss and perhaps that factors in, but Wacha was originally billed as a guy that may not have a high ceiling, but that could reach that ceiling quickly.  It could be that Wacha hit his apex early in his career and now, with the league adjusting, he’s not going to be quite as special.  The key seems to be his fastball command, and while I leave pitch analysis to the professionals such as Joe Schwarz, Wacha threw almost 100 pitches in less than five innings last night.  It would seem that the command would still need a bit of work.  The Cardinals twice dug out of a hole he created and twice he started shoveling again.  Granted, last night was a cold night in Pittsburgh and his first start of the season, so maybe we’ll see better going forward.  However, with the run of starts he’s got going, it’s definitely a concern.  For us, at least.  Wacha says he’s not worried about it, though if he did say he was, it’d be a first for an athlete.

Wacha gets the Goat for last night, though Randal Grichuk was seriously in the running.  Grichuk, who of course is one of the “ifs” that the Cardinals seem to be relying on, the if that he can be the slugger he’s shown in the past, went 0-5 with two strikeouts and five left on base.  He’s 1-9 on the young season, which may be just a rough start, though it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s not pressing just a little bit.  When you are on the cover of the paper’s special about the season, you know how much people are relying on you.  That can’t be easy to manage.

Last night’s game might have had its frustrations, but the bullpen really wasn’t one of them.  We had this idea (especially if Jordan Walden was healthy) that this would be a shutdown staff and it proved its worth last night.  Starting with the Patron Pitcher Tyler Lyons and all the way through Seth Maness‘s second inning of work, the bullpen didn’t allow a single base runner, retiring 18 in a row before Maness walked Gregory Polanco, who wound up being the winning run.  Lyons did come in with the bases loaded and give up two fly balls, allowing the tying run to score, but given the situation things could have been much worse.  (I was pretty scared seeing him leave pitches up, though.)  Seung-hwan Oh was extremely impressive, striking out the side in his inning of work.  Kevin Siegrist looked pretty dominant as well and there were no hiccups from Trevor Rosenthal.  This bullpen really does look like it’s going to live up to the expectations.

I guess you can’t argue with Mike Matheny‘s bullpen usage too much, given that Clint Hurdle ran through five guys as well, but given the way these teams have played, you might think that you could use some of these guys a little longer than just one inning.  I mean, Lyons is a former starter, a guy that’s on the team to be a long man.  He could have pitched the sixth, then the pinch-hitter comes in.  Oh pitches the seventh, Siegrist the eighth, Jonathan Broxton the ninth and Rosenthal the 10th and 11th.  Again, I understand Matheny’s usage and some of this is hindsight, but he got to a situation where he had to stay with Maness because the only other option was Matt Bowman and he understandably didn’t want to put the Rule 5 pick in that situation.  It might have put someone off limits for tonight’s game, but especially using a rested Lyons for just two batters seems like a bit of a waste, especially since it was tied then.  It wasn’t like Matheny was trying to protect a lead and Pittsburgh tied it up late.

Of course, bullpen management was way down on the list of things to be frustrated about with the manager last night.  At the top of the list were two very questionable bunts in the late innings.  Honestly, I thought we were past this.  I don’t remember nearly as many of these kind of frustrating bunting decisions last year.  I was giving credit to Matheny for growing in his knowledge and use of tactics in this area.  Perhaps I was a little premature.

The first one came in the seventh.  As noted, it was a tie game and it was getting late.  I understand the underlying idea here, that if the Cardinals could get a run across, they felt confident (and rightly so) that their bullpen would protect that lead.  They didn’t need a lot, but they needed one.  Kolten Wong pinch-hit for Oh to lead off the seventh and singled.  (Off Tony Watson, a tough lefty reliever, so kudos to Kolten there.)  Wong’s hitting in the ninth spot, which means Matt Carpenter is up.  Carpenter then bunts him to second.  Stephen Piscotty walks, then Matt Holliday strikes out on a check swing and Grichuk flies out.  A wasted opportunity.

Look, I know Carpenter might have had a rough spring and is now 1-7 to start the year.  However, it’s still Matt Carpenter.  He’s the best hitter on the team, even if he’s hitting leadoff.  If you want to frame your tactics over the idea that he’s slumping a bit in a couple of games, that’s crazy, but even so, DON’T LET HIM HIT LEADOFF THEN.  If he’s good enough to hit leadoff, he’s good enough to move the runner over.  Besides, Wong does have some speed even if he’s not been terribly efficient with it.  You could at least try to steal there, then see if Carpenter could either move him over with a ground ball or single him in.  With first base open, they can be more selective with Piscotty, especially seeing who is coming up after him.  I think most of us grasp how quickly 0 outs becomes 3 outs and there’s no need, most of the time, to help it make that progression.

It’s hard to imagine that there would be a more egregious bunting decision, but the one in the ninth probably was.  Jeremy Hazelbaker dropped a flare into no man’s land to start the inning and found himself on second after his first major league hit.  So nobody out, runner on second, only need one run.  Instead of trying to get Wong, who was up next, to hit behind the runner or give him a crack at hitting Mark Melancon (which, granted, is a tough task), Matheny had Wong bunt.  Wong then popped it up, making the situation runner on second two out, a situation that didn’t change when Carpenter and Piscotty flew out.  Again, I get it, you want the guy on third so that maybe one of those flyouts gets you a run, but there would seem to be better ways to do it, especially with a squad that’s had their issues bunting in the past.

Of course, Matheny might have been trying this smallball stuff because it’s starting to look like this squad has a tough time making contact in general.  A day after striking out 14 times, St. Louis whiffed 13 yesterday, meaning that 27 of their 60 outs (45%) have come via the K.  The Cards were able to get a few more hits yesterday and those hits counted for more damage, but that’s a lot of strikeouts, more than anyone in the National League.  (The Blue Jays have 36 but they’ve also got another game in there.)  Hopefully that’s just a factor of seeing a couple of lefties and tonight will be better, but it’s a troubling trend.

It was a mixed night for Aledmys Diaz making his major league debut.  He singled in his first at bat, getting that out of the way, but then made a costly error in the fifth.  With the bases loaded and one out, Francisco Cervelli hit a grounder to Diaz at short.  It was a bit of a tough play, but it looked more like he tried to decide what to do with it before he got it, and so couldn’t get a handle on it.  A smooth pickup and he probably gets a double play, meaning Wacha leaves the fifth up 5-3 and the game probably goes differently, especially with the bullpen going the way they did.  Diaz’s reputation was that defense was not his strongest suit and we saw that come into play, unfortunately.  Still, it’s good to see him starting and hopefully he will be out there again tonight.

All this way and we’ve still not named a Hero.  While you could see any of the bullpen guys (except Maness, obviously) in that slot, I’m going to give it to Jedd Gyorko.  I was stunned to see the At Bat notification that not only had the Cardinals taken a 4-3 lead but they’d done so on a home run and by Gyorko to boot.  I doubt anyone had him down for the player to go yard first for the Redbirds, though he was obtained in part for his offense, of course.  Nice to know the club won’t start the season with an extended home run drought as well.  Gyroko also had a single, tying Piscotty with two hits to lead the attack last night.

Brayan Pena had his knee surgery yesterday and it looks like he and Tommy Pham both may be out for a month.  If I were to guess, and since I’m nothing close to a medical professional I pretty much am limited to that, I’d say Pena is back before Pham.  Pena needs to rehab his knee, get that strength up, things like that.  Those obliques, though, tend to be something that linger and nag and take a long while to heal up completely.  Given Pham’s injury reputation, I’d much rather him be at 100% before comes back, because otherwise odds are he’ll just reinjure himself.

This is the first time the Cardinals have started 0-2 since the 2011 season.  We know all about that year, of course.  (Which reminds me, I really need to get back to that 2011 Revisited series.)  Mike Leake looks to make his Cardinal debut a winning one tonight.  Leake looked strong in the spring and obviously has seen the Pirates plenty in the past.  He’s 8-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 24 starts against the Buccos, which is a nice history to take into this one.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Andrew McCutchen 73 65 16 1 0 2 6 5 14 .246 .329 .354 .683 0 0 0 3 0
Starling Marte 38 36 7 2 0 1 1 0 11 .194 .237 .333 .570 0 0 0 2 1
Josh Harrison 27 24 6 1 0 1 1 1 2 .250 .308 .417 .724 1 0 0 1 0
Jordy Mercer 21 17 6 1 0 0 1 2 1 .353 .400 .412 .812 1 1 2 0 0
Gregory Polanco 18 16 2 0 0 0 1 2 3 .125 .222 .125 .347 0 0 0 0 0
David Freese 17 16 8 2 0 1 4 1 1 .500 .529 .813 1.342 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Morse 12 12 3 1 0 2 4 0 3 .250 .250 .833 1.083 0 0 0 0 1
Francisco Liriano 9 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .125 .125 .125 .250 1 0 0 0 1
Chris Stewart 9 9 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 .222 .222 .222 .444 0 0 0 0 0
Francisco Cervelli 8 8 2 1 0 0 1 0 3 .250 .250 .375 .625 0 0 0 0 0
Gerrit Cole 8 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 5 .125 .125 .125 .250 0 0 0 0 0
Matthew Joyce 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Jon Niese 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 1 0 0 0 0
Ryan Vogelsong 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
John Jaso 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 251 228 56 10 0 7 20 11 44 .246 .297 .382 .678 5 1 2 6 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/6/2016.

St. Louis will face Juan Nicasio.  Last time they saw him, he gave up two runs in a third of an inning last June. I think we’d like to see more like that, wouldn’t we?

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jedd Gyorko 15 15 3 2 0 0 1 0 3 .200 .200 .333 .533 0 0 0 0 1
Matt Holliday 5 3 2 1 1 0 1 2 0 .667 .800 1.667 2.467 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 5 5 2 1 0 0 2 0 0 .400 .400 .600 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 3 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 3 3 2 0 0 0 2 0 1 .667 .667 .667 1.333 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 1 0 0
Jaime Garcia 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 35 32 10 4 1 0 7 3 5 .313 .371 .500 .871 0 0 1 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/6/2016.

Here’s hoping for the first win of the year!

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