C70 At The Bat

We kicked off the second week of the Greatest Cardinal Moment Tournament this morning, so if you missed out on that one, be sure to check it out for a great battle of huge postseason home runs.  This afternoon, we’re going with a pivotal postseason at bat against a legendary regular season moment.

#6 Matt Carpenter battles Clayton Kershaw in NLCS (2013)

vs

#11 Glenn Brummer steals home (1982)

Technology is a great thing.  Even though my 20th high school reunion was going on, watching the current football squad as part of the festivities, I could continue to refresh my phone as the Cardinals and the Dodgers matched up in Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS.  Kershaw was what he is now, one of if not the best pitcher in the game.  It was before all those ideas that St. Louis could beat him in the playoffs.  Indeed, this game is when it all started.

You can read a good description of the whole at bat over here, as Joe Schwarz recapped it the next February.  With one out in the third, Carpenter came to the plate, apparently determined that no pitches were going to get past him.

Games can turn on small things.  I kept refreshing my phone, trying to figure out when this at bat would end.  Carpenter kept battling and battling, the pitch count kept growing and growing, and finally Kershaw made his mistake.

That opened the floodgates.  Whether Kershaw was a bit worn or everyone wearing red was just so fired up or they’d been able to see some of everything the Dodger ace had, the hits just kept coming in that inning and the Cardinals wound up with four runs.  While it was still early, that seemed to be the knockout blow that Los Angeles never recovered from.  St. Louis would win 9-0 and move on to face the Red Sox in the World Series.

While that at bat was amazing and dramatic, it was right in line with the player that Matt Carpenter was.  That’s not the case with this other highlight, one that can just be summed up in three words.

Brummer Stole Home.

It was August 22, 1982.  The Cardinals were 70-52 and playing a Giants team that was sitting right around .500.  Even with their success, the Cards were just a couple of games up in the NL East (which is what happens when there are only two divisions).  The Cardinals got out to an early 3-0 lead, but future Cardinal Jack Clark drove in two with a double off of Joaquin Andujar, then Darrell Evans tied it up and, after a pitching change, Milt May gave the Giants the 4-3 lead.

The ’82 team wasn’t a quitting team though, and they put together a Whiteyball run in the bottom of the ninth to tie it up.  David Green was hit by a pitch, stole second, went to third on a Tom Herr groundout, and scored on a Ken Oberkfell double.

The score stayed 4-4 until the 12th.  Gary Lavelle got George Hendrick to fly out but then Brummer singled and so did Willie McGee.  After a foulout by Julio Gonzalez, Ozzie Smith singled to load the bases.  With two outs, David Greene was up, but Brummer, with a lefty on the mound, got another idea.

For some reason, I can’t embed the video of this amazing moment, complete with call from Mike Shannon, so you’ll have to check it out here to see it in all its glory.  It was a full 20% of the career stolen bases of Brummer, but it made him a legend in St. Louis for all time.

So it’s your turn.  Cast your vote below!

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We’re one week into the Greatest Cardinal Moment Tournament (#BestCardsMoments) and we’ve had some fun matchups already.  It’s not surprising, given the seeding on the ones we voted on in the first outing that there’s not been a real close one yet, but it’s still been fun to relive a few moments.  Let’s take a look at the current bracket.  (If you want to open it up in a different tab, here’s the link.)

Today, we’re moving down the bracket to take a look at a couple of huge and memorable postseason home runs.

#8 Albert Pujols staves off elimination, NLCS Game 5 (2005)

vs.

#9 Jack Clark makes the Dodgers pay, NLCS Game 6 (1985)

I’ve admitted before that I’m a terrible postseason game watcher.  I get way too nervous to actually watch the games and I can’t stand to see the season come to a close without the trophy going home to St. Louis.  So when the Cardinals were down two to the Astros in the ninth inning of Game 5 in 2005, my hand started fidgeting with the remote.  (Actually, now that I start to think about this, I may have gotten called away to help with our son, who was closing in on a year old at the time.)

With Brad Lidge on the mound, things looked well in hand for Houston to celebrate at home and Busch Stadium II to never see another game.  Two runs was pretty big for a guy that had made his first All-Star team that season and had put up 103 strikeouts in 70.2 innings while accumulating 42 saves.  Lidge had allowed two or more runs (earned or unearned) seven times that season in 70 appearances, but only once had he given up three.  This really, really should have been a lock.  Instead, it played out like Mighty Casey at the Bat, only Casey comes through.  (As I am writing this, I realize I did this before.)

In the poem, it’s Cooney and Barrows “dying at first” where here it was John Rodriguez and John Mabry striking out (though J-Rod did have to be retired at first).  Then Flynn–um, David Eckstein–let drive a single (and advanced on defensive indifference) while Jim Edmonds walked (unlike Jimmy Blake, who doubled, but in this day and age runners at second and third with two outs would have just brought about an intentional walk.)

Casey, in the form of Pujols, came to the plate.  We know the rest.

As Houston flew into St. Louis, their pilot noted that if they’d look outside their windows, they’d see the ball Pujols hit last night.  A massive rocket that easily would have left the ballpark had there not been windows in the way.  Even though Roy Oswalt came into Busch and did what Roy Oswalt usually did to the Cardinals, meaning that this was just a temporary reprieve, it’s still one of the most indelible memories of St. Louis’s run from 2004-2006 and probably will be the first highlight played when Pujols retires.

Twenty years before that, though, there was another big home run.  The 1985 NLCS against the Dodgers is more known for Game 5 and Ozzie Smith‘s “Go Crazy” shot that is the top seed over in the Walt Jocketty Regional.  However, Ozzie’s shot only sent the series back to Los Angeles and there was no guarantee that the Cardinals would wind up prevailing.

In Game 6, neither starting pitcher (Joaquin Andujar and Orel Hershiser) had been especially effective, each giving up four runs.  The difference was that Andujar gave up his early, while Hershiser faltered in the seventh, giving up three and letting St. Louis knot the score at four.  Todd Worrell came in and worked around a leadoff triple in his first inning, but allowed a home run to Mike Marshall to lead off the bottom of the eighth.  Though that was the only run that came across, it seemed like it’d be enough to force a Game 7.

Tom Niedenfuer was actually responsible for the last of Hershiser’s runs scoring, as Ozzie got to him again when he came into the game in the seventh for an RBI triple.  He didn’t allow anything else and got through the eighth unscathed as well, but the ninth would be different.  After a strikeout of Cesar Cedeno, Willie McGee singled and stole second.  Wanting nothing to do with the Wizard, Niedenfuer walked Smith and both runners advanced on a groundout by Tom Herr.

Remember we said earlier that, with the game on the line, two outs, and runners on second and third the big bat would typically be intentionally passed?  Tommy Lasorda would have none of that.  Niedenfuer was no stranger to multiple inning stints, but he hadn’t gone more than two since the beginning of September.  Jack Clark, the only real home run threat, came to the plate.  Niedenfuer pitched to him.

While the Dodgers still had to bat, that blow basically sent St. Louis right into a collision course with the Royals in the World Series and a moment that, well, isn’t in our bracket.

So which is the biggest moment? Pujols destroying Lidge or Clark smashing Niedenfuer? Vote below then talk about it on Twitter! Plus come back this afternoon for a little more ’80s magic.

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If you read the 10th anniversary post, you know that in 2007, the Cardinals went into the All-Star Break with some hope.  They went into the break 7.5 games out, but had cut three games off that deficit in just over a week.  Chris Carpenter was rumored to be on his way back.  Things were looking up.  Then the Phillies beat Kip Wells 13-3, won 10-4 the next night, Carpenter had a setback, and things just seemed to go south.  (They did wind up rebounding in August, cutting the gap to 2.5 games, and actually got within a game in September before tailing off, so maybe not everything is terrible?)  That sort of gutting of hope seems awful familiar after watching the last three games.

History doesn’t repeat, but at times it does rhyme.  Like that 2007 team, this squad went into the All-Star Game a bit upbeat.  They were two games under .500 but that was closer to break even than they’d been in a while.  They were tied for second with the Cubs and 5.5 behind a Brewers team that many expected to slip in the second half.  Things could be better, of course, but there was some light coming through.  Then this weekend in Pittsburgh happened.  Let’s dig through the muck and talk about it.

Friday (5-2 loss)

Hero: Jedd Gyorko.  His two-run homer in the first was all the Cardinals could muster.  It’s not the only time this team has put up runs in the first frame and nothing else, but it doesn’t get any less frustrating.  The offense went into the break averaging 5.5 runs per game over the last 20.  They wound up scoring a total of nine in this series.  Just when you thought they could wait until the offseason for that big bat, they prove that the need is still there.

Goat: Seung-hwan Oh.  Well, he didn’t blow the save and going into the ninth or extras tied on the road is asking for trouble, but that doesn’t mean you have to surrender to it that easily.  Adam Frazier started the inning with a double, which put the game in jeopardy immediately.  Josh Harrison flew out and Stephen Piscotty wound up hurting himself on the throw in to try to keep Frazier from advancing.  (Piscotty wound up on the disabled list, something that didn’t really concern Allen during our Meet Me at Musial taping.) While Jose Martinez was getting on the field and loosened up, Mike Matheny decided to walk Andrew McCutchen.

On the face of it, and in a different situation, that makes a lot of sense.  You get the double play set up (or at least force outs at each base) and you keep a dangerous hitter from batting with the winning run on second.  McCutchen was 1-3 with a walk and had a .295 mark on the year.  All that makes sense.

The problem is, that brings up Josh Bell.  Bell is not the hitter that McCutchen is, but he’s still hitting cleanup for a reason.  He already had one hit in this game.  The key point though–Josh Bell bats left-handed.

We’ve talked about Oh’s issues this year with the lefties but they are just so extreme we should point them out again, as it appears Matheny might not be aware of them.  Lefties–after the home run that Bell launched here, which only the details surprised folks; they knew Bell was going to win the game somehow–have an OPS of 1.077 against Oh on the season.  To put that in some perspective, the only player with an OPS higher than that in the majors is Aaron Judge, he of the 30-home runs and the face of baseball campaign.  That’s more than Joey Votto (1.042) or Bryce Harper (1.038).  Oh has allowed seven home runs in 88 plate appearances to left-handed batters while allowing just one in 95 PA to righties.  Right now, Oh should never face lefties, yet not only did he come in and have a lefty (Frazier) start his inning, Matheny walked McCutchen so that Oh could face another one.  The odds were better to walk Bell as well and face Freese than to let Oh face Bell.

That being said, nothing is trending Oh’s way.  In his last five games, batters are hitting .368/.429/.737 against him.  Batters hit over .300 against him in June and so far into July.  It’s almost like he’s got Eugene Koo on the mound with him telling the hitters what the pitch is.

Notes: Only six hits out of the club and two of them came unsurprisingly from Tommy Pham, who also scored on Gyorko’s homer.  That limited offense was almost enough and might have been save for Oh and an uncharacteristic bout of wildness from Mike Leake.  Leake only went five and allowed two runs, but the second one game after he had gotten a double play to erase a leadoff hit.  Then he walked the next three batters and allowed a hit to Gregory Polanco that thankfully just allowed one to score.  Leake got out of it, but Leake walked just one batter total in his first three starts this season, so it was a surprise to see him have that many walks in a row.

That said, Leake is definitely coming back to Earth after that Cy Young-like run at the beginning of the season.  Since the beginning of June, he’s got a 4.47 ERA and the Cards are just 3-5 in his eight starts.  We talk about hitting, we talk about the bullpen, but the starting rotation has a few potential holes in it as well.  Trying to patch all these leaks is probably more than Michael Girsch wants to try to tackle at the trading deadline.  (I almost wrote treading deadline, which might have been a Freudian slip.)

The bullpen, save Oh, was solid here as Matthew Bowman, Brett Cecil, and Trevor Rosenthal combined for three scoreless innings.  There was an interesting development this weekend as the ninth inning rotated but Rosenthal always pitched the eighth.  You could say matchups, though we have already shown why Oh shouldn’t have been pitching the ninth here.  Rosenthal faced 7-8-9 here, which I know Rosie’s been struggling but this might have been better for Oh, since the first two were righties and then it would have been a pinch-hitter for the pitcher.  Possibly Clint Hurdle would have done some swapping to attack Oh’s lefties weakness, but better there than in the ninth.

Saturday (4-0 win)

Hero: Lance Lynn.  Not only because he threw 6.1 scoreless innings but because he may be rebuilding his trade value.  Look, I like Lynn and he’s done some excellent work as a Cardinal.  But he’s a free agent and this team is not likely to be playing in October.  There are pieces like Luke Weaver that can fill in and give you 80% or so of what Lynn is giving you.  If there’s a good deal out there, the Cardinals would be foolish not to take it.  Lynn pitches again Thursday against the Mets and then we’ll see if he gets to make his next start at home.  Lynn allowed eight hits but no walks and got a couple of double plays to help him out, including one he started.

Goat: Dexter Fowler.  Matt Carpenter had two hits and Tommy Pham three, so there were plenty of opportunities for Fowler in this one, but he wasn’t able to come through at all.  0-4 and he left four on base.  Thankfully Lynn and the bullpen pitched well enough so that the little offense that did come through–Cards scored three of their four runs in the fifth–was enough, but it’d have been nice to get a big hit from Fowler somewhere along the line.

Notes: As noted, Carpenter and Pham did a lot of damage and each of them scored a run and drove in one.  Pham had two doubles among his three hits, proving that the All-Star Break vacation wasn’t enough to cool off his scorching bat.  Luke Voit got him a hit before he was double-switched out of the game (I am still not sure that moving Carpenter to first and taking Voit out is a defensive upgrade) and Lynn helped himself out with a left-handed stroke to left-center that Andrew McCutchen bobbled, allowing Voit to score and opening the two-out floodgates for the top of the lineup.

Lynn left the game in the seventh with runners on first and third with one out.  Matt Bowman came in–because he’s basically one of the only trustworthy arms in Matheny’s opinion, he’s back to throwing almost every day (seven of the 11 July games so far)–and got the second out, walked Adam Frazier to load the bases, then retired Josh Harrison to relieve the threat.  After that, it was smooth sailing.

Again, Rosenthal pitched the eighth but let’s give Matheny some credit.  This time he faced the heart of the Pirates order and we’d rather see Rosenthal go up against McCutchen, Josh Bell, and David Freese than the bottom of Pittsburgh’s lineup, wouldn’t we?  I think that was underscored by the fact that the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons took the ninth, facing 6-7-8 (and, after giving up a leadoff double, 9) instead of one of the more normal options for the final frame.

Sunday (4-3 loss)

Hero: Magneuris Sierra.  Sierra, recalled on Saturday when the club put Stephen Piscotty on the disabled list, got four hits and scored a run from the eighth spot in the lineup.  He tossed in a stolen base for good measure and reminded folks of why we got so excited to watch him earlier in the season.

Goat: Brett Cecil.  I don’t fault Mike Matheny for running Cecil out in the ninth.  We’ve talked about the issues with Oh and again Matheny had used Rosenthal (which, I will say, I was surprised to see for three days straight) against the bigger bats in the lineup, facing 1-4 (after plunking Adam Frazier to start the inning, he retired the next three).  Cecil hadn’t been charged with a run in over a month and really showed no signs that such a blowup might be coming.

Again, you have a questionable intentional walk here.  The Pirates had already tied it up, but there were two outs and a runner on second when David Freese was announced as a pinch-hitter.  As with Oh on Friday, the logic makes some sense–get the force in order and don’t let a big bat drive in that run from second.  The problem is, again, you bring up a lefty in Frazier.  Which, on the face of it, should work in the Cardinals’ favor.  However, for the year Cecil has been remarkably better against right-handers than lefties.  His OPS against righties: .549.  Versus lefties? .923.  Of course, the flip side of THAT is that Freese is hitting .304 against lefties this season, though in only 46 at-bats.  It’d have been a gamble, but the stats indicate it’d have been a gamble worth taking.

Instead, Matheny walks Freese and Frazier singles in the game-winner.  The best idea would have not to get into that situation, because I’m not sure there was a winning way out of it.

Notes: As always, Carlos Martinez deserved better.  Seven innings, two runs, five strikeouts, one walk, plus he drove in a run with a single in the sixth to get back the one he allowed on a home run to Max Moroff, the first of his career.  Martinez looked more like the ace we know he is and perhaps playing in the All-Star Game revitalized him a little bit.

Real tough day for Jedd Gyorko, who would have been the Goat had it not been for Cecil’s demise.  0-5 with seven left on base?  Ouch.  He also hit into two double plays.  If he’d come through once or twice, it’s possible that Cecil’s issues wouldn’t have been deciding the game.

Two hits each for Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, and Kolten Wong.  There were a lot of opportunities in this one, with the Cardinals pounding out 13 hits, but they just weren’t able to get them across the plate.

So the Cardinals come into Monday in third place, two games behind the Cubs that made their big trade and look reinvigorated (though Baltimore pitching, as we know from experience, can do that to you) and 6.5 behind the Brewers, who took two of three from Philadelphia.  Looking at that, what do you do in the next two weeks?

Sell.

Not a complete tear-down (though I don’t think anyone save Martinez from the major league squad should really be off the table) but let’s be realistic.  This team sits three games under .500 and hasn’t shown any ability to really go on a run.  People want to talk about 2011 and never giving up, which is fine, but do you know where that 2011 team was after games of July 16?  First place, 1/2 game ahead of Milwaukee.  People also tend to forget, as I noted when I looked at John Mozeliak’s trade history, that the Colby Rasmus trade didn’t immediately solidify this team.  They struggled a lot in August, which is why they were 10.5 out close to the end of the month.  A big bat, a bullpen arm, any of these things could help, but would they help enough and in time for this team to shake off months of meh and really kick it into gear?  The idea that this team not only should get an addition but deserves one doesn’t really sit well with me, nor does it feel like it is in line with what the Cardinals’ philosophy is.

Any deal needs to be made looking for the future and I’m not real sold on that future being just 2019.  A Josh Donaldson trade, for instance, would be nice, but you get less than a year and a half out of him now.  What does this team look like for next year?  Can they make a run?  You have to figure the Cubs will be better and the Brewers likely aren’t going away.  Even the Pirates and Reds might be stronger.  I think the Cardinals can definitely be in contention in 2018, but I wouldn’t empty the larder to get a bat that can only help this year and next.

At the beginning of June Mozeliak said they’d review over the next 4-6 weeks and decide what to do.  That time is basically up and this team looks no better than it did at that point.  There are new points of interest–seeing how Voit and Paul DeJong and Sierra are playing is much more interesting than Jhonny Peralta getting time–but the overall picture isn’t much different.  Which is why investing in it and hoping for some sort of miraculous turn-around isn’t really smart.

The Cards get to try to prove that they do still have something as they take on the Mets in a four-game series starting tonight.  They took two of three when the Mets were in Busch last week and will need to take at least three of four here to inspire any hope in folks.  Adam Wainwright has been pitching better of late, even on the road, and obviously has some fond memories of New York.  Can he make some more tonight?  I’m cautiously optimistic but I also realize that could fall apart at any time.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jay Bruce 49 44 13 2 0 3 11 5 15 .295 .367 .545 .913 0 0 0 0 0
Curtis Granderson 19 18 2 1 0 0 0 1 7 .111 .158 .167 .325 0 0 0 0 0
Yoenis Cespedes 18 17 3 0 0 1 2 1 4 .176 .222 .353 .575 0 0 0 0 1
Lucas Duda 17 13 3 1 0 1 6 2 3 .231 .294 .538 .833 0 2 0 0 0
Jose Reyes 16 16 3 0 0 0 1 0 3 .188 .188 .188 .375 0 0 0 0 0
Asdrubal Cabrera 10 10 2 1 0 0 0 0 3 .200 .200 .300 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Travis d’Arnaud 7 7 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .286 .286 .286 .571 0 0 0 0 2
Wilmer Flores 6 5 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 .400 .333 .600 .933 0 1 0 0 0
Rene Rivera 6 5 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 .200 .333 .200 .533 0 0 1 0 1
Michael Conforto 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
T.J. Rivera 3 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 .667 1.333 0 0 0 0 0
Seth Lugo 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Zack Wheeler 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 158 145 34 6 0 5 21 10 39 .234 .278 .379 .658 0 3 1 0 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/17/2017.

Zack Wheeler went up against the Redbirds last Saturday and gave up eight hits but just two runs in six innings, which was his longest outing since June 7.  Will familiarity help out the Cards or Wheeler in this one?  We’ll have to wait and see.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jedd Gyorko 6 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 3 3 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 .667 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy Pham 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 .500 .667 .500 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Luke Voit 3 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Paul DeJong 2 2 2 1 0 1 1 0 0 1.000 1.000 3.000 4.000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 22 21 8 4 0 1 2 1 7 .381 .409 .714 1.123 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/17/2017.

We’ll see how this one shakes out tonight.  Hopefully either the Cards will get up big or someone will figure out how to break the ninth inning curse (because you know Rosenthal isn’t going tonight).  Also, come back this morning and this afternoon for the next matchups of the Greatest Cardinal Moment Tournament!

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If you’ve read the blog, listened to the podcasts, or followed my Twitter account, you know that I’m not much about talking myself up.  I’m much more comfortable on the self-depreciating humor level, in part because it’s often very true.  Folks that have been on this ride for a long time know it’s not often I try to draw attention to something that I’ve done.  When I marked five years in the blogging game, Dennis Lawson took me to task for being too blase about it.

So when I tell you that I’m proud of the fact that today marks a decade of putting my thoughts down about the Cardinals on my blog, that should mean something to you.

Most of you know the story by now, but coming out of the All-Star Break in 2007, there were a few embers of optimism, embers that Kip Wells took a blanket to with a disastrous outing against the Phillies.  From time to time, I’d been commenting on Cardinal news and activity on my personal blog, but I realized that most folks went to that page to catch up with my family and kids (this was before most folks, including myself, used Facebook for that) and they didn’t need to be burdened with what I thought of the daily grind.

So I went to WordPress, picked out a domain, spent a little time trying to figure out a blog name, and wrote up my first post.  You’ll be surprised to know that there wasn’t a Star Wars reference in that first post–that came later in the month.  I also wrote a post in that first month that people kept coming back to month after month.  Of course, that’s mainly because they couldn’t spell “Harry Potter pictures” right.  Which, to be fair, may well be a microcosm of my entire blogging career.

After a few months, I moved over to the (now-defunct) Blogs By Fans, where I had the benefit of the cardinal70.com URL.  Unfortunately, I never owned that domain and even though the owner promised me he’d keep it up, it slipped out of his hands a year or so ago.  Thank goodness for the Internet Archive, because there are a few posts in there that were worth keeping.  There was the fairy tale ending to 2011, for instance.  Plus thoughts on the departure of Walt Jocketty, Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols.  Historical artifacts of my thinking at the time, as right or wrong as time has proven them to be.

Finally, Nick of Pitchers Hit Eighth fame and I started up the Conclave, and while it’s not been exactly what we planned, it’s good to have my blog at a place that can bring you other Cardinal thoughts as well, even if some of those thoughts come from Dennis.  Heck, judging from our traffic numbers, I’m likely just getting folks that came for them and decided to poke around a little bit.  I have no problem with that, mind you.

Over the past decade we’ve done Exit Interviews and played Pepper.  I’ve started podcast after podcast after podcast.  There’s been parody songs and Star Wars mashups.  Series of posts on ownership, a FSMW trip, Cardinals twitter, and John Mozeliak’s trades.  Guides to blogs and podcasts.  Heroes.  Goats.  Figuring out the deeper meaning of your wardrobe.  Twice.  Questions about strategy, excitement over new players, dreams of the future, frustrations with the present.  I even was able to use this space to honor the passing of my father-in-law, a post that was actually read at his funeral.  Heck, we covered the entire term of Mo as GM, from his initial hiring (that opinion looks really bad now) to the bump to his new title.

We’ve done it all.  We’ll do it all again.  Just because we’re hitting a milestone at this place doesn’t mean that I’m going to shut it down, you know.  As fun as Twitter is, there’s still something about having the space to go over all the angles, to think things out as you are writing them down, to even occasionally do a little research or focus on an issue.

2007 was a frustrating year.  2017 has been the same so far, though there’s been some hope as of late.  And that’s OK.  Maybe not OK, but it’s still baseball.  We’re still here talking about it, watching it, discussing it.  Even in the off years, even in years worse than this one, we’ll want to watch and talk about the Cardinals.  Tara Wellman recently went into this with her Bird Seeds, but most of us aren’t those bandwagon folks that latch on to a good team, then somehow find their grip loosened when the road gets bumpy.  In fairness, some Cardinal fans aren’t old enough to remember the rough times, but even then, they love this team.  They are going to love this team, no matter how they do.  Does that mean folks should just accept the way things are?  Not at all!  Most of the reason blogs and podcasts and Twitter accounts exist are to talk about how things could be different or better or to just air their frustrations so they don’t go home and kick the dog.  Part of the enjoyment of sports is the interaction with other folks who live and die with the same 25 players you do.

That’s the best part of the last 10 years of being a blogger.  As you know, I started up the United Cardinal Bloggers very shortly after putting keystrokes to screen and the people I’ve met and gotten to know through that association have been wondrous.  Bloggers have come and gone over that span, but I treasure the friendships I’ve made with all of them.  My podcast partners are folks that I can text in the middle of the week and discuss things with, fleshing out ideas that might not need to see the light of day just yet.  The Twitter interactions, both with those that follow me and those that don’t, is great as well. I try to respond to as many as possible, but somehow over the course of the last decade I acquired over 5000 folks following my usually nonsensical musings.  I have been encouraged, accepted, and treated as someone that knows something by complete strangers, which testifies to the power of fandom.  For that, I thank you profusely.

I’m not the longest tenured blogger–Kevin Reynolds has been writing since 2004 and I know Tom Knuppel was around when I started up the UCB.  I’m far from the best writer or the most knowledgeable–you’d probably want to hit up Viva El Birdos, The Redbird Daily, The Intrepid STL, or others for that sort of thing.  What I’ve got going for me is being prolific–just over 3,000 posts in that 10 year span.  To compare myself to another Arkansas institution, I’m the Walmart of Cardinal blogging–it’s cheap and not fancy, but it’ll get you what you need.

I’m also hopeful that I can be an example that most anyone can do this if they want to and a help to those that do.  For instance, when Joe Schwarz–currently with The Intrepid STL, recently of Viva El Birdos, and noted pitching expert–started writing on his own site, I got him set up with the UCB.  I didn’t realize that made an impact until he left his blog for VEB, but I’m glad that it did.  There are so many great folks out there with Cardinal opinions and if I can help even in the smallest of ways them enjoy and be recognized for getting those opinions out there, it’s been worth it.

Tonight, just like 10 years ago, the Cardinals return from their All-Star Break, hopefully with a better outing than Kip Wells gave them all those years ago.  There will be moves, there will be joy, there will be disappointment, there will be anger.  And those emotions, and more, will be with us for years to come.  Someone should write them down, right?

Ten years in the books. Let’s see how far we can go.

Logo credit–this version as well as the slugging bird that has been our icon for numerous years–goes to Jon Doble of Redbird Dugout.  Jon’s updated the bird a bit, so you may see this different version from time to time going forward.

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Man, these days without baseball are rough, aren’t they?  I mean, I know we’ve complained a lot about the Cardinals this year and some have said that they spend their evenings avoiding the team, but not having the option to turn on a game and pass 2 1/2 hours or so watching the Redbirds is pretty tough to swallow.  Unfortunately, the winter will be here before you know it.  We’re already technically past the halfway point of the season, assuming there’s no playoff baseball.  Which isn’t completely ruled out yet, but it will be an uphill climb.

The players, save for Yadier Molina who had a full All-Star Game and Carlos Martinez who had the best pitching outing of any NL pitcher, have had four days of fun with their families.  Some took mini-vacations, some just hung out and enjoyed being home.  However, now they’ve all likely gathered and headed to Pittsburgh (or will on Friday morning) and are ready to get after it.  They’ve got a 5.5 game gap to make up on the Brewers.  Whether they’ll be able to do it alone is the question.

The Cubs didn’t waste time trying to cut their own 5.5 game gap, trading four prospects for Jose Quintana today.  There’s no doubt that shoring up their pitching staff is a huge thing and they really needed to do that, but how long can they keep John Lackey on the DL and off the field?  Quintana won’t be replacing Jake Arrieta and his 4.35 ERA.  Nor will he bump Jon Lester, whose ERA is about that high.  Quintana will help the team and definitely make them potent in a short playoff series, but I don’t think he solves all of the Cubs’ pitching woes.  Maybe a deal like this snaps them back into this dynasty-in-the-making team we kept hearing they were, but it seems just as likely Quintana won’t be enough to get them over the hump.

The Cardinals made some internal moves over the break, sending down Luke Weaver and Alex Mejia for Kolten Wong and Kevin Siegrist, both coming off the disabled list.  Wong for Mejia is unremarkable–we knew that Wong was about ready to go and Mejia wasn’t playing a whole lot in the bigs anyway.  Nothing of note there.  What is a bit surprising is the quickness that they went to get Siegrist, who hadn’t exactly looked like a major leaguer among boys in Springfield during his rehab.  He got all of two innings, allowed four hits and two runs, and walked one while striking out two.  If he’d been on a roll in the big leagues before his injury, maybe you could pass that off as a hitter’s league and he’s just trying to get his timing down.  He’s had an up-and-down year in St. Louis, though, and on the face of it Weaver would make more sense for the bullpen than Siegrist would.

Then again, maybe they are hoping that Siegrist will show some flashes and they can package him in a deal.  I was listening to the new podcast from the guys at The Redbird Daily and they pointed out that, with Zach Duke flying through his rehab–he’s thrown five innings over three levels, including two at Memphis, and allowed three hits, no runs, one walk and five strikeouts–the Cardinals could soon have four lefties on their roster.  Duke, Siegrist, Brett Cecil, and Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons.  That doesn’t sound like a situation that’s going to last.  Duke will be the LOOGY, Cecil would probably be the seventh inning guy, and that puts it down to Lyons or Siegrist.  You’d think Lyons has more trade cache right now (as much as it would hurt me to lose #70) but the fact that Siegrist still has a minor league option could be attractive.  It would feel like something has to give here.

Speaking of something having to give, you’ll note that Luke Voit did not return to Memphis.  Which means now the Cards and Mike Matheny have to juggle him and Matt Carpenter at first, or Carpenter and Wong at second, or Carpenter and Jedd Gyorko at third.  While the rotating idea of always giving someone a day off is great in theory, there are two problems with it.  One, Matheny’s never shown a knack or a real desire to have such a regular rotation.  Two, the whole idea of moving Carpenter to first was to keep him from having to keep bouncing him around the infield.  Given the number of errors Carpenter made in limited second base time, that was an idea with merit.

So does it just boil down to Voit being an occasional starter and a regular bat off the bench?  It may have to be for a few weeks.  We keep thinking that there’s going to be some new faces, that this can’t be one of those regularly quiet deadlines that we have become used to over the past five years.  Yet every time I think John Mozeliak has to do something, he proves that he doesn’t have to do anything.  Often it works out, but I don’t know that it will here with a team that is scuffling so much.  Yes, the week before the break was encouraging, but there’s still so much work to be done.  Whether it can be done with this group is very questionable.

These first three games against the Pirates actually could be very pivotal.  Lose two of three (or worse) while the Brewers and Cubs are winning?  That really might trigger the “sale” protocol in the front office.  Win these games and go into New York on a roll?  Maybe the club looks to add a piece instead of removing them.  Every day may change the calculus of what this team needs to do and what position it will take.  It’s not exactly an easy situation for a new GM to be thrown into.  Good thing Mo is still around to help Michael Girsch out in these uncertain times.

It’s not going to be an easy start to the second half either, not with Gerrit Cole going for the Pirates right out of the gate.  Cole may not be having one of his finest seasons–he sits at 7-7, 4.43 right now, with that ERA right in line with his FIP–but he’s still going to be a handful for St. Louis.  He’s faced the Cardinals twice this season and both times has gone six innings.  He’s combined to give up 11 hits, three runs, 13 strikeouts, and four walks in those 12 innings.  Cole gave up seven runs three times in June and July, but in the other four starts he gave up a total of five.  It seems to be feast or famine and the Redbirds rarely get anything to eat.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Carpenter 41 37 12 1 0 4 6 4 5 .324 .390 .676 1.066 0 0 0 0 0
Dexter Fowler 30 28 10 1 0 3 3 2 7 .357 .400 .714 1.114 0 0 0 0 1
Yadier Molina 28 27 5 0 1 1 2 1 2 .185 .214 .370 .585 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 28 28 4 1 0 1 2 0 4 .143 .143 .286 .429 0 0 0 0 1
Jedd Gyorko 14 10 2 0 0 0 0 4 2 .200 .429 .200 .629 0 0 0 0 1
Stephen Piscotty 12 12 4 0 0 0 1 0 3 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 11 10 3 2 0 1 3 0 5 .300 .300 .800 1.100 1 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 8 8 2 1 0 0 0 0 4 .250 .250 .375 .625 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Wacha 8 7 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 .000 .125 .000 .125 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 6 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .167 .167 .167 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy Pham 6 6 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .667 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 5 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 .000 .200 .000 .200 0 0 0 0 0
Paul DeJong 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Eric Fryer 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 205 191 46 7 1 10 17 13 44 .241 .289 .445 .734 1 0 0 0 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/13/2017.

On the other side, Mike Leake had one of the better first halves we saw from the hometown team.  While his record is under .500, that belies the 3.12 ERA that he posted over the first half.  In fairness, his FIP is closer to 4.00 and his ERA is 4.57 since June 1 (and that doesn’t include the five unearned runs he gave up in his last start before the break) so it could be that the magic is starting to wear off and we’re going to get the Leake we expected for the rest of the way.  The Cardinals have won both Leake’s starts against Pittsburgh this year, including one on June 25 when he allowed three runs (two earned) in six innings.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Andrew McCutchen 91 83 22 2 0 2 6 5 18 .265 .330 .361 .691 0 0 0 3 1
Josh Harrison 44 39 9 1 0 1 4 1 2 .231 .256 .333 .589 1 2 0 1 0
Jordy Mercer 37 32 12 2 0 0 2 3 2 .375 .417 .438 .854 1 1 2 0 0
David Freese 35 34 16 4 0 1 6 1 2 .471 .486 .676 1.162 0 0 0 0 0
Gregory Polanco 32 28 5 1 0 0 4 4 4 .179 .281 .214 .496 0 0 0 0 0
Francisco Cervelli 16 15 4 2 0 0 3 1 3 .267 .313 .400 .713 0 0 0 0 1
John Jaso 14 14 3 1 1 0 0 0 1 .214 .214 .429 .643 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Stewart 9 9 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 .222 .222 .222 .444 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
Josh Bell 6 5 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 .200 .333 .200 .533 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Frazier 6 6 2 0 1 0 2 0 0 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Philip Gosselin 5 4 2 0 0 1 3 1 0 .500 .600 1.250 1.850 0 0 0 0 1
Chad Kuhl 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Juan Nicasio 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Hudson 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Jameson Taillon 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Total 314 285 79 13 2 5 32 17 41 .277 .324 .389 .713 5 3 2 4 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/13/2017.

It’s a rare evening post because there’s something special coming in the morning and I didn’t want either post to conflict with each other.  It’ll be good to have the ‘Birds back on the TV screen tomorrow night, with Danny Mac giving us the #scoops!

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Hopefully you were around this morning as we kicked off the Greatest Cardinal Moment Tournament.  (Or #BestCardsMoment on Twitter.)  If you’ve not voted in that yet, go ahead and do it after you vote in our next matchup.  Also, feel free to check out our tournament preview podcast!

#3 Mark McGwire hits #62 (1998)

vs.

#14 Allen Craig scores winning run via obstruction in World Series Game 3 (2013)

As you probably are aware, given the numerical association, I’m a big fan of McGwire’s run at the record in 1998.  I still remember watching his grand slam on Opening Day via ESPN’s GameDay-like page.  I remember vividly seeing the ones up to the record, especially #59, #60, and #61.

I also remember going out to my parents’ house on a Monday night in September to watch a rare evening game on FOX.  I remember watching this moment and seeing history unfold.

It’s a night that resonates with folks. Yes, I know it probably is discounted by a number of people given the revelations that came out afterwards, that McGwire was using steroids during this time. However, stepping away from that, the home run race in 1998 was the most exciting, most fun thing that baseball had seen in a long while.  With McGwire and Sammy Sosa going at it (and Ken Griffey Jr. as well, for a time), every night there was something happening, every at bat something big.

For it to come down to this, when McGwire ropes a laser to left and takes the crown while Sosa stands in right and watches, defies logic.  How could something like this happen unscripted?  It happened in his first game after #61 as well, which meant not drawing it out, not letting people get impatient.  It was a huge, huge moment.

The rest of the run to #70 was quite remarkable, especially after Sosa passed Big Mac for a few moments.  That final homer will wind up over in the Jocketty Regional over at Redbird Rants eventually, but as great as that was, the perfect storm that was 62 will never be forgotten.

Going up against a major baseball moment, not to mention a huge part of Cardinal history, isn’t easy for anyone.  However, the challenger also occurred on a national stage and will be something not many will ever forget.

With the Series against the Red Sox tied at one game each, the Cardinals had runners on second and third with just one out in the ninth inning.  The score was knotted at four, so the runners were extremely valuable to the idea of St. Louis victory.  Jon Jay was at the plate.  Then, well, this happened.

It’s baserunning that, frankly, wouldn’t be that out of line with what we’ve seen out of the 2017 Cardinals.  However, thankfully Will Middlebrooks couldn’t come up with the throw from Jared Saltalamacchia and, in his dive for it, tangled up with Craig.  Obstruction was called, the run automatically scored, and the Cardinals went home winners.

Thanks to this play, Cardinal fans for a generation will know what obstruction means.  It was also the last game the Cardinals won in the Series, showing that perhaps they needed every trick in the book to compete with the Red Sox.

So, which one is the bigger Cardinal moment?  Vote below and be sure to talk about it on Twitter.  As mentioned this morning, voting will stay open for three days.  Check out The Intrepid STL tomorrow for the first round kickoff of their regional!

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As you may have heard, this site, along with The Intrepid STL, Redbird Rants, and Cardsblog, are doing a tournament to determine the greatest moment of the last 125 years of Cardinal history.  That tournament kicks off today with the first matchup in the Branch Rickey Regional.  If you are following along with the bracket, the Rickey Regional is the bottom left group of 16.  We’re opening up the tournament with our top seed going against a 16 seed with some memories attached.

#1 Bob Gibson strikes out 17 in World Series Game 1 (1968)

vs.

#16 Yadier Molina and Brandon Phillips start a brawl in Cincinnati (2010)

Let’s talk about our top seed first.  While the top seeds in the other divisions are more recent, Gibby’s achievement is one of those moments that every Cardinal fan has heard about, even if they weren’t able to experience it in their lifetimes.  Thankfully, it is recent enough that we have some video.  You can watch the entire game here, but if you don’t have the two hours for that, let’s boil it down for you.

It’s the greatest pitcher in Cardinal history at the very peak of his game.  By definition, especially since this was before expanded playoffs, he’s facing the best the other league has to offer and just methodically mows them down like no other pitcher had done to that time, nor has any pitcher done so since.  Given the expanded use of bullpens, especially in the playoffs, it seems quite unlikely that this record would be broken any time soon.  The Cardinals might have lost the Series, but they gave us one of the great moments in their history.

Our challenger is something many of us remember vividly.  If we didn’t, FOX Sports Midwest often reminded us when the Reds and Cardinals got together, though with Phillips now gone and the incident almost seven years in the past, it feels like it’s finally faded.  For those that don’t remember, Phillips went on the radio the night before and took some shots at the Redbirds.  The next day, as what I guess is a typical greeting, when he came up to bat he tapped Molina on the shin guards.  That didn’t go over well.

When the dust had settled, Molina was person non grata in Cincinnati, Phillips and Johnny Cueto were the same in St. Louis, and Jason LaRue‘s career was over due to a concussion.  While this looked to be a rallying point, pushing the Cardinals past the Reds and into first place, it didn’t last.  St. Louis faltered down the stretch and missed the playoffs while Cincinnati wound up winning the division.  There’s no doubt, though, that this brawl is still seared into the memory of most of the Cardinal faithful.

So which one is the greatest Cardinal moment?  Do you go with a Hall of Famer in one of his finest moments or do you go with the underdog brawl that many of us were around for?  You make the call!  The voting will be open for three days, with the winner moving on to face the winner of the 8/9 matchup.  Make your pick below!  Also, if you are on Twitter, be sure to talk about this matchup and others using the hashtag #BestCardsMoments!

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If Mike Leake had been more like the Mike Leake we’d seen much of this year against the Marlins or if Carlos Martinez had been more like himself on Friday, the Cardinals would have managed, with all the problems, angst, and miserable play so far, to reach the All-Star Break at .500.  Which isn’t exactly a huge achievement, mind you, but it would have been something given where they’ve been since those heady few days when they led the division in May.

That’s looking at the negative, though.  St. Louis wound up winning the last two games against the Mets, giving them a nice little boost as they head into the break.  They even tied the Cubs for second place and, given the fact the Cubs had games this week when Jon Jay pitched and when they gave up ten runs in the first inning–those were different games!–you could argue they’ve got more momentum heading into the second half and, if Milwaukee stumbles like most expect, they could be the ones to capitalize.  That’s the dream, at least.

There’s no Cardinal baseball until Friday, which is either a good or bad thing depending on your current mindset about the team.  Before we take the break, there are two games to look over.

Saturday (4-1 win)

Hero: Paul DeJong.  If there’s someone hotter than DeJong at the plate, I don’t know who it is.  4-4 in this game with a home run and three doubles, driving in two of the four runs.  He was 9-12 in this series against the Mets with four doubles, three homers, and four RBI.  Over his last 15 games he’s slashing .385/.411/.731 with four longballs.  As I mentioned last night on Gateway, the real test for DeJong could come next week when the Cardinals face the Mets.  That will be the first team to see him twice, especially in close succession.  Will they be able to make adjustments to him?  Will he be able to make adjustments back?  It’s great to see the young guys succeed but the key is seeing them adapt.

Goat: Randal Grichuk.  It was said earlier that at some point Grichuk has to sink or swim.  Right now, it feels like he’s taking on a lot of water.  He was 0-4 in this one with two strikeouts and five left on base.  Since his return from Memphis, he’s got a .196/.250/.500 line.  When he hits the ball, it’s hard–five homers and two doubles in his 11 hits–but he just doesn’t hit it all that often (20 strikeouts in 60 plate appearances).  That slash line gets worse if you take out the first two games when much of the damage was done (.152/.220/.391).  If this final chance is why he stayed up instead of Jose Martinez, he’s not exactly seizing it by the throat.  You do wonder how much rope he has.

Notes: Adam Wainwright was at home and so did those things we associate with Adam Wainwright at home.  One earned run in 6.2 innings with only five hits allowed and seven strikeouts.  He did allow more flyouts (6) than groundouts (5), so you still have those worries that balls will be carrying when he goes on the road, which he’ll do in his first two starts of the second half, facing the Mets again in New York followed by the Cubs in Wrigley.  If it wasn’t for those six runs against Miami (and that was at Busch!), you might start thinking (like we did earlier in the year) that Wainwright is back.  I’m still going to be holding my breath on these road starts especially, but really on any of them.

Perhaps Mike Matheny didn’t switch bullpen roles after all.  Even though he’d pitched three of the last four days, Seung-hwan Oh was the one coming in to get the save.  Trevor Rosenthal did finish up the game on Friday (which obviously wasn’t a save situation as the Cards lost) but in theory he could have come in on back-to-back days.  Looking at his game log, though, it seems like that is just a theory.  He did come into two consecutive games in Arizona, though he allowed runs in both of them.  (I’m wondering if those games changed his standing in the manager’s mind.)  You’d have to go back to the beginning of June to find a similar working situation.  Rosie did this a few times in May and had no problems, so I’m not sure what the deal is here, besides the fact that apparently Oh is back to being the closer.

And, honestly, Oh seems to have been more effective in July, allowing just one run in 4.2 innings since the calendar turned.  He’s struck out six and walked just one in that span as well, so maybe he’s made some adjustments.  His year seems to have gone in waves, where he’ll be good for a while, then struggle for a while, then be good for a while, so it could be that we are just at the crest of another wave.

Luke Voit continued his nice run as well, getting two hits and a walk, and Yadier Molina had two knocks as well.  Matt Carpenter continued to draw walks (two) but had a hit to add in there with them.  It was a double and it was his 500th career hit, so congratulations to him.  That was also his first extra-base hit of the month.  You have to go back to June 24 for a home run out of him.  Since that home run, for an arbitrary endpoint, he’s slashing .244/.410/.333.  It feels like getting on base is the biggest focus for Carpenter.  Which is a laudable goal–you’ve got to get runners on to score, basically–but if he’s going to be the key to this offense, he’s got to do more than walk, doesn’t he?  I’ve been down that road before, so there’s no need to rehash it, but it just feels like his skill set is valuable to a team, but it can’t be the centerpiece.

Sunday (6-0 win)

Hero: Lance Lynn.  I could easily have put Tommy Pham here, what with his three-for-three day with a home run and two RBI.  However, seeing Lynn go out and throw seven scoreless innings was such a nice change from the Lynn we’ve seen of late.  Three hits and just one walk, though he only struck out two.  He got a couple of double plays behind him, got some support, and could just cruise, basically.

If nothing else, that probably helped his trade value a little bit.  The Cardinals announced the rotation coming out of the All-Star Break and Lynn will go on Saturday against the Pirates.  His start after that will be Thursday in New York.  It’s possible that this was the last time Cardinal fans saw Lynn take the hill in Busch Stadium as a member of the Cardinals, as his next start in Busch would be against Colorado on July 25.  If the Cardinals are going to trade him–which is no guarantee, especially if the next couple of weeks bring them closer to Milwaukee–they could do it before that start.

Goat: Jedd Gyorko.  He did drive the first run of the game in with a groundout, but on the day was 0-4 with two strikeouts.  Gyorko’s hitting .273 with one homer in July with back-to-back hitless games finishing up the first half, so he might well be happy with the days off.  He’s on pace for a career high in plate appearances, and his current career high was back when he was a rookie.  He’s not been over 458 since then and he’s currently at 305.  How he handles the workload in the second half may be something to keep an eye on.

Notes: Pham had his big day, but then left the game late with hip soreness.  It doesn’t sound too severe–though with Pham’s injury history, anything will get you concerned–but it sounds like the break may have come at a real good time for him to heal up and be ready to go in the second half.

DeJong and Voit added into the power surge, both having home runs as well as Pham.  DeJong added a single as well.  There’s no doubt that the young guns have provided a spark to the club, even if the record overall doesn’t show it.  Whether they’ll be able to do this in the second half, like we talked about above with DeJong, is still debatable.

All in all, yesterday was just the kind of game we hoped to see out of St. Louis more often this season.  Solid pitching, some pop, and a nice easy win on a Sunday afternoon.  Yes, the Mets aren’t all that great, but the Cardinals went 8-5 playing Arizona, Washington, Miami, and New York.  It’s not a record that gets you all excited or makes you feel like this is a World Series contender by any means, but when their overall record has been under .500 since June 3, you take what you can get.

If you told us at the beginning of the season that this team at the break would be 1) tied for second place or 2) tied with the Cubs, I think most everyone would have taken that.  As Vanessa Williams once sang, “It’s not the way I hoped or how I planned, but somehow, it’s enough.”  I don’t know if it’s really enough, but there’s dreaming possibilities here.  If the Cardinals did make an impact trade, it might be enough to vault them past the Cubs and a Brewers team that you’d think would eventually come back to earth.  (There’s no guarantee on the latter–it could happen, but Milwaukee might be able to have enough to hold off folks.)

Of course, the All-Star Break of 2007 had a similar hope to it, even though the club was under .500.  That didn’t last long after play resumed again.  Hopefully this team is better than their counterparts from a decade ago, however.

Be sure to come back later this morning and then again this afternoon to vote in the opening matchups of the Greatest Cardinal Moment Tournament!

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The Yo-Yo Continues

You know what it’s like when you get your car stuck in mud?  You give it some gas, but the wheels just spin.  You might inch forward, you might slip backwards.  That feels to me like a pretty good description of the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals.  They win some games, get some hope built up, then lose some games and get back right where they were.  They start losing and folks talk about selling, then they win some games and get a little closer to the divisional lead.  The last couple of days haven’t been any different.

Thursday (4-3 win vs. Miami)

Hero: Luke Voit.  Voit basically did it all in this one, hitting a solo homer to tie the game up at one and a double with the bases loaded to give the Cards a 3-1 lead.  Voit got removed in the ninth so the Cardinals could improve their defense by shifting Matt Carpenter over to first, but a 2-4 day is a pretty solid one any way you look at it.

That move in the ninth, though, does make you wonder just how this Voit experiment is going to pan out.  After all, Carpenter isn’t any better than Voit over there, at least to the naked eye, but he’s been rough at second base, making three errors in four games over there after Friday’s action.  However, you have to keep Carpenter’s bat in the lineup, or at least his eye.  (Carpenter’s hitting just .221 with seven extra base hits in the 21 games he’s played since June 15, but he has a .409 OBP over that span.)  So when Kolten Wong comes back, as he should right after the All-Star Break, whither Voit?  He’s been a breath of fresh air, maybe not to the extent of Magneuris Sierra earlier in the year, but still something more than the same old same old.  Yet it feels like he’s probably going back to Memphis, at least to start the second half.  Which is a shame.

Goat: I hate to do it, but it’s probably fair to give Tyler Lyons this one.  The Patron Pitcher of the Blog came in to start the seventh and gave up two hits (and a stolen base to Dee Gordon) before getting a strikeout and then being replaced by Brett Cecil.  (Which, given the way Cecil is going, begs the question why he didn’t start the frame.  I guess they were saving him for the eighth–he pitched that as well.)  Cecil allowed Gordon to score, the first inherited runner he’s not stranded in quite some time, but got out of the rest of the mess.

I’ve noted this on Twitter and Allen and I talked about this last night on Meet Me at Musial, but I’m possibly the biggest Tyler Lyons fan there is but I’m not real excited about this move to make him the everyday guy like Matthew Bowman has been in the past.  Lyons has always been either a starter or a long relief guy.  Even earlier this year he was the guy coming in and pitching two, three innings in a stint, something that’s pretty valuable when the starters aren’t going deep.  With Kevin Siegrist injured, though, it feels like Mike Matheny has shoved him into that mold whether he fits it or not.

Now, in fairness, he’s probably done better than I am thinking over this span.  He last went multiple innings on June 26.  Since that time, he’s appeared in seven games counting last night, thrown 4.2 innings, and has an ERA of 3.86.  Of course, that doesn’t count runs he allowed for other folks and does count, like Thursday, runs that he left out there.  He’s struck out six, walked two, and has a BAA of .222, so I guess it’s more me than anything, but it just feels like he has more trouble outings, like when he allowed runs on back-to-back days in this series, when he’s out there more often.

Notes: Even though it was the third day in a row for him to pitch, Seung-hwan Oh got the save in this one, though apparently Trevor Rosenthal was warming up behind him.  While he walked one, he struck out two and looked a bit better than he has been.  I never did see why Matheny went to Oh with no rest when Rosenthal had not pitched since Tuesday.  Normally you would guess matchups or something but I don’t know what matchups would have led to an tired Oh being better than a less tired Rosenthal.  It worked out, it was just strange.

Randal Grichuk had a home run, which may or may not have played a part in him staying in St. Louis when Friday’s moves were made.  Probably not, but I guess you never know.  Jedd Gyorko also had two hits, but for a guy that came in just reeling, Tom Koehler did a fairly good job of containing the Cardinal offense.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about what that means.

On the flip side, Michael Wacha again did OK.  It wasn’t stellar, he didn’t get through six, but it wasn’t one of those three-four inning meltdowns that we’d been seeing.  Wacha allowed two runs in 5.2 innings and Bowman got him out of a jam of his own creation, as with two down Wacha walked Ichiro Suzuki and J.T. Riddle to bring up Giancarlo Stanton as a pinch-hitter.  Those were the only two walks of the day for Wacha and he struck out nine.  I had a discussion on Twitter about how he needs to go deeper in games, which is fair especially with this bullpen scuffling, but if he can regularly go six and give quality starts, that’s not nothing.  That’s basically what he’s done the last three times out.  If he can keep that going, he’ll be OK.  That’s a good-sized if, though.

Friday (6-5 loss to New York)

Hero: Jedd Gyorko.  Two for three, with a home run and a sacrifice fly, which accounted for the only non-solo-homer run the Cardinals could muster last night.

Goat: Carlos Martinez.  Allen and I discussed this as well on Musial, but there were a lot of people criticizing Martinez as not being an ace after his last couple of performances.  I guess maybe it depends on your definition of the term–is he one of the top five pitchers in baseball?  Probably not.  Is he the best pitcher on his team?  Yes.  Is there middle ground?  Yes.  Does he reach that?   There’s the discussion–but it’s not surprising that a 25-year-old starter is going to have some inconsistencies.  We throw around the names Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw, but those guys are older and it took them a while to mature to their automatic status.  (Well, maybe not Kershaw, who had a 1.83 ERA in his age 25 season and had already lead the league in ERA twice before that.)

That being said, when your team needs to sweep a series to reach .500 at the break and get a little momentum going, when they expect you to keep the game close against a quality pitcher in Jacob deGrom, you need to do better than five runs in five innings.  Martinez started the game off with the bases loaded and nobody out and it took a Grichuk outfield assist to keep it at 1-0 after the first frame.  He then gave up a solo shot to Jose Reyes in the second.  The Cards come back and tie, but he gives up two more runs.  The Cardinals tie it up again, and he immediately allows a home run to Jay Bruce.  If nothing else, come out with a shutdown inning before breaking the tie!

Martinez is in a bit of a slump and perhaps the All-Star Break, when he can go and hang out with other players, will be the break and the rejuvenation he needs.  I don’t expect a second-half run at all, but if there’s going to be anything entertaining about July-September, Martinez is likely going to need to provide it.

Notes: Solid job by the bullpen last night.  John Brebbia wound up giving up the deciding run, but it was unearned as the runner reached on a Carpenter error.  All three baserunners Carp has allowed to reach via flub have come around to score, which is small sample luck to some degree but it surely doesn’t sit well when you read it.

If you hit four home runs off of deGrom, you’d think you’d have a good chance to win the game.  The problem was that, until Paul DeJong (who had three hits, including that homer) singled to lead off the fifth, the only four hits they had were homers.  The problem with the singles was they kept getting erased on double plays.  The team actually wound up with 10 hits, but couldn’t get much going at all save for those solo shots.

Before the game, Dexter Fowler was activated and Jose Martinez was sent down to Memphis.  Given that earlier in the week Fowler was having trouble putting on shoes because of the heel pain, it was surprising to see him ready to go this quickly.  (He hit one of the homers last night, so I guess he’s doing fairly well.)

Fowler’s return meant someone had to go and most expected it to be Grichuk but, just a day after hitting third in the lineup, it was Martinez heading down the road.  Which makes you wonder even more about lineups, but that’s a different topic.  The fact that Grichuk not only stayed but played in the game while Tommy Pham, Human Sparkplug sat got a lot of folks worked up.

I will admit that Matheny probably should have been a little more political about this, playing Pham last night and sitting him today.  There’s no doubt that Pham, who as we all know has an extensive injury history, has played hard for a long stretch.  He could use a day off even before the All-Star Break comes and gives him four days as well.  Given that Pham is back in today’s lineup at the expense of Fowler, it really seems like it was more rest than anything.

That said, Allen made a great point last night.  He was hoping to see the best possible lineup out there, to show some urgency at trying to get to the break at .500.  If you lose last night with Pham, it’s easier to sit him down today.  We’ve talked and talked about the team needing an edge, needing a push, and getting back to break even on Sunday could have been a great chance to set that tone, even if it didn’t work out.

As for Grichuk, I do think he’s not going back to Memphis, that this is his time.  If he doesn’t make it work, they’ll probably find him another organization.  I could well be wrong about this, but I think Grichuk has done all he can in Memphis.  He’s got to make those adjustments stick in the big leagues.  It could also be that some other team is already looking at him and the Cards didn’t want to damage his trade value by sending him down yet again.  All in all, especially since Grichuk has hit five homers since he returned (though the slash line is .216/.273/.549, which shows he still needs work), Martinez being the one sent out wasn’t a huge surprise.

The best the Cards can hope for is two games under .500 at the break.  They are already six out, which is the furthest they’ve been behind all year long.  It’d be nice to see Adam Wainwright give them one of those patented home starts today and bring a little hope back to the break.  He’s up against Zack Wheeler, who has had his own problems this year, so maybe the offense will help old Uncle Charlie out.  Wainwright versus the Mets:

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jay Bruce 46 41 12 2 0 2 10 5 14 .293 .370 .488 .857 0 0 0 0 0
Curtis Granderson 16 15 2 1 0 0 0 1 5 .133 .188 .200 .388 0 0 0 0 0
Yoenis Cespedes 15 14 3 0 0 1 2 1 4 .214 .267 .429 .695 0 0 0 0 1
Lucas Duda 14 10 3 1 0 1 6 2 2 .300 .357 .700 1.057 0 2 0 0 0
Jose Reyes 13 13 1 0 0 0 1 0 3 .077 .077 .077 .154 0 0 0 0 0
Asdrubal Cabrera 7 7 2 1 0 0 0 0 2 .286 .286 .429 .714 0 0 0 0 0
Wilmer Flores 6 5 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 .400 .333 .600 .933 0 1 0 0 0
Rene Rivera 6 5 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 .200 .333 .200 .533 0 0 1 0 1
Travis d’Arnaud 5 5 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .400 .400 .400 .800 0 0 0 0 2
Seth Lugo 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 130 117 29 6 0 4 20 10 31 .248 .300 .402 .702 0 3 1 0 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/8/2017.

The only Cardinal Wheeler has seen is Gyorko, who is 0-3 with three strikeouts against him.  Matheny’s not going to let that small sample deter him, though, as Gyorko is hitting fourth in today’s lineup.  Wheeler hasn’t gotten through the fourth in his last three starts, so hopefully that will continue today!

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OK, let’s start off with the optimistic view of things.  We’ve talked about this week against the Mets and the Marlins and said if they could go 5-2 over this stretch, the Cardinals would enter the All-Star Break at .500.  Even with the past two days, that’s still possible!  Winning today against Miami and sweeping the struggling New York team is not an impossibility by any means.  So that dream of .500 (as depressing as it is that THAT’S a dream) is still feasible.

That said, losing back-to-back games to the Marlins is just not what you want to see from a team that’s supposedly trying to contend, albeit in a weak division.  They’ve fallen 5.5 back in the division, two games behind Chicago.  They are back to four games under .500 and any momentum they seem to build dissipates fairly quickly.  Trying to grasp the good in this team is like trying to embrace a ghost.  Optimism withers on the vine.

I guess we need to get to the games, huh?  Fine.

Tuesday (5-2 loss)

Hero: Greg Garcia.  His two-run home run was all the Cards would get in this game.  Jose Urena and company limited St. Louis to seven hits and two walks, while acquiring 12 strikeouts.  The offense just wasn’t really clicking here.  Garcia also got hit by a pitch, so he was an offensive dynamo compared to the rest of the squad.

Goat: Tommy Pham. There were a number of choices, but it feels like right now Pham is the engine of this team, and when that engine sputters (0-4, four strikeouts), nothing’s likely to go right.  It wasn’t much better for Stephen Piscotty, who “only” wound up with three K.

Notes: For the most part, it wasn’t a bad Lance Lynn start, but the fact that he could just get past the fifth is probably not helping the trade value.  That said, he got beat on a home run by Christian Yelich, one guy that everyone is clamoring for the Cardinals to try to trade for.  One of the runners came because Matt Carpenter, playing second base, made an error.  (He did do a good job of knocking another hard-hit Giancarlo Stanton ball down, but he rushed the play.)  The fourth run credited to him was allowed by Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons, who didn’t have the best 2/3rds of an inning in his career.

I thought it was probably the first time Lyons had thrown in back-to-back games, but I was wrong.  He did so the first two games of his season last year.  That said, there’s a difference between going back-to-back days when you are still fresh on the season, another when you’ve pitched most of the year.  That was also his third game in four outings, so it’s possible the extra work made a difference for him.  Again, he was used Monday when he didn’t have to be.  Whether that played into this one, I don’t know.  If this game stays 3-2, though, maybe the rest of the game goes differently.

Scoreless innings out of Trevor Rosenthal and Seung-hwan Oh (pitching in the eighth and ninth respectively, though I don’t figure that means Oh gets the next save chance), which was nice to see.  The Cardinals are really going to need both of them to pitch well to have any chance of either winning some games or them having any value on the trade market.  I’m still not comfortable with saying that’s what we’ll see out of either one, though.

Carpenter made the error (which, you could argue, would have been a hit had he not knocked it down) but went two for four with a walk.  Which compounded Pham’s day, since he often had a runner on and a chance to make an impact and just wasn’t able to do it.

Wednesday (9-6 loss)

Hero: Tommy Pham.  The good thing about Pham is he doesn’t seem to stay down long.  Two hits (both doubles and the team’s only extra-base hits of the night) and three RBI, including a double that brought the Cardinals to within two runs and positioned himself as the tying run.  Unfortunately, Piscotty couldn’t capitalize on the situation and that was the only shot the Cardinals had.  Much like we said about Monday’s game, if you can withstand a big rally and stay ahead, a lot of times that’s all the other team has.  It was right on Monday, it was right here.

Goat: Look, I know the defense betrayed him.  I know that he should have been out of the second well before Stanton came up.  That said, Mike Leake was rough last night.  Three home runs and a double.  Nine overall hits in 3.2 innings.  Again, the line is worse than it probably should have been, but that was a lot of hard contact and Leake doesn’t survive well if folks are making hard contact off of him.  If nothing else, he gave up the first homer to Stanton and the homer to Marcel Ozuna without any defensive miscues.  I’m not excusing the defense (though the ball that Luke Voit mishandled was a pretty tough play for him, I thought), but Leake’s got to be better than that.  It’d been one thing if he’d died a death of a thousand paper cuts, but it was much more definitive than that.

Notes: Matt Carpenter has played two games at second and made two errors.  More and more, it feels like this roster tries to work around Carpenter’s shortcomings and there comes a point that makes you ask if it’s all worth it.  Maybe it is, but it feels like if Carpenter’s going to play anywhere, it has to be at first, which means Voit doesn’t get a lot of time in the bigs, at least not starting.  Also, you can’t trade for a first base big bat, because there’s no place else to put Carpenter (unless he goes in the trade, I guess).  He went 0-3 with a walk in this one, so the bat still isn’t coming around (though his OBP, which I guess is the big deal for the leadoff guy, is still sharp).

Two hits for Jose Martinez and another two hits for Garcia, who might be coming around with a bit more playing time.  In his last seven games, he’s hitting .316 with a .435 OBP.  Small sample, of course, but this is probably why John Mozeliak didn’t designate him for assignment a couple of weeks ago.  There’s still a little more to Garcia than we’ve seen all year long, it appears.

The bullpen held the line after Leake left, which was nice to see.  Luke Weaver went two innings and allowed a hit and a walk but struck out two.  Matthew Bowman and Brett Cecil did what they do.  It wound up not mattering (and it likely wouldn’t have in any case) but Oh allowed yet another home run, his seventh of the season.  His HR/9 rate is around triple what it was last year, and when your end-of-game reliever is allowing long balls at this rate, it’s distressing.  Couple that with the downturn in a lot of his categories and you wonder what the future holds for Oh in the big leagues in general.

It was pretty interesting to see that Don Mattingly took Edinson Volquez out of the game after allowing four runs in four innings, even though he had a four run lead at the time.  Volquez was just at 65 pitches, but he obviously wasn’t on the top of his game.  That said, I guarantee you if he’d been pitching for Mike Matheny, he’d have been run out there to get that fifth inning and the win.  Or at least try to get it–Mattingly realized that winning the game was worth more than trying to get some arbitrary stat for his player.  Volquez could have easily given up another run or two in the fifth and then a comeback is much more likely.  After watching Adam Wainwright labor through a fifth inning a couple of days ago, it’s clear the two managers have different views about this issue.

Tom Koehler goes for the Marlins this afternoon as Michael Wacha tries to get the split and keep the .500 dream alive.  Koehler has allowed 15 runs in 4.2 innings over his last two starts.  The Cardinals got to him for four runs in 5.1 innings when they faced the Marlins in Miami back in May.  His ERA is 8.33 on the season.  All of that put together and surely, SURELY the Cardinal offense will put up runs today.

Of course, depending on what Wacha shows up, they may need to.  Wacha’s done pretty well over the last two starts, going six innings in both and allowing a total of just one run.  He didn’t face the Marlins when the Cards went there, so there’s no direct comparison to be made.  If Wacha has turned a bit of a corner and is back closer to early season mode, St. Louis should be fine in this one.  If these last two starts are the mirage, though, there could be a lot of runs on both sides today.

Or Koehler could turn in the game of his life and the Cards get beat by a pitcher that has one win this year.  We’ve seen it happen, so I don’t think anyone would be stunned if that was the outcome.

We started optimistic, we’ll finish that way.  Here’s to a bunch of runs and a good Wacha for your afternoon!

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We talked about last Friday’s game being one of the most enjoyable games to watch this season for the Cardinals.  Last night, save for one terrible inning, possibly rivaled it.

We said yesterday that Jeff Locke had had his struggles and the Cardinals had done well against him, but I don’t think any of us expected this kind of carnage.  Four runs in the first inning.  Seven more in the third.  Locke’s line was even worse than some of Adam Wainwright‘s this season.  2.2 innings, 11 hits, 11 earned runs.  He walked four, including Jedd Gyorko with the bases loaded, and only struck out two.  In other words, he got eight outs and allowed 15 base runners.  To say they had his number is probably an understatement.

What was somewhat sad, from a basic humanity point of view, is that it took run nine or 10 to get the Marlins’ bullpen stirring.  I get why that was, that sometimes you need a starting pitcher to wear one to save some arms later on.  However, Locke wasn’t actually getting any outs.  He was at 84 pitches before he was done.  The bullpen wound up covering about as much as they would have had he left after 5-6 runs.  Of course, you don’t know that if you are Don Mattingly, you hope that he can somehow at least get the Cards to hit it at someone, but Miami had to go to the pen early after all.

Now, here’s what doesn’t make much sense in my mind.  The Marlins, whose starter left in the third, used four pitchers to finish off the game.  The Cardinals, who had a significant lead and their starter pitched five innings, also used four pitchers to finish off the game.  There was no reason for St. Louis to use that many arms to finish up what started as a five run lead and wound up to be eight.  Luke Weaver made his season debut on a night that he was supposed to start for Memphis, yet went only one inning.  It wasn’t the best inning–two leadoff hits and the last out was a rocket off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton–but he only threw 20 pitches and didn’t allow any runs.  I would think that even with two innings he would be able to come back soon.  Or you could let him go the distance and save a bunch of other arms.

Instead, Mike Matheny went to Tyler Lyons for the seventh.  Again, Lyons is a guy that can go more than one frame.  He’s got a three inning save already this season.  Lyons had plenty of movement on his pitches–which is why he wound up walking two as well as striking out two–and could have gone another frame.  Maybe he would have if it wasn’t for his spot coming up in the order, though if Matheny had thought he wanted him for an extra frame he’d have made a double switch.  Heck, it’s somewhat surprising he didn’t make one anyway.

Then, for the eighth up 12-6, Matheny sends out Matthew Bowman again, because it’d been a day since he’d been on the mound.  There’s no doubt Bowman has pitched better of late, but there’s still no reason to go back to overworking him.  Sam Tuivailala took the ninth, which works given the situation.  Like I say, I’m sure it was Matheny not wanting to limit future options by throwing a guy more than one inning and making him off-limits for a couple of days, but it really seemed excessive when you had such a big lead.

The Hero has to come from the offense, but there are so many choices.  Paul DeJong is the only starter that didn’t get a hit, but he did draw a walk and scored a run.  I’m going to go with Tommy Pham, who went 3-3 with two walks, two runs, and two RBI.  Getting on base five times in one game is a tall order.  That said, he had some stiff competition.  Yadier Molina went 3-3 with three RBI, a mark that might have increased by two had the Cardinals asked for a review of his third-inning double that most fans believed was a home run.  (Being that the score was 11-0 at the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if Matheny decided it’d be rubbing it in to challenge that.  Then again, given the reason why Matheny won’t drop Molina in the lineup, I’m surprised Yadi didn’t just glare at him and make him review that so he’d have his grand slam.)

There was also the big day from Luke Voit, who got his first career RBI early in the game, then wound up with four of them after he cracked his first big league homer, a two-run shot, in the eighth.  (I was off Twitter so I didn’t get to tweet: “No, Jarlin Garcia, Luke is your father.”)  It’s fun to see the big guy contributing.  I don’t know how long it’ll last, but I imagine Voit’s going to remain a fan favorite as long as it does.

One thing I DID Tweet early on in the game was that I was very glad that they’d given Adam Wainwright a cushion.  I wasn’t sure he’d need it, but I was very glad it was there.  Given how the game started, with a single and a 19 pitches, it didn’t feel like it was going to be the strong outings that we’d seen out of the former ace of late or in general at home.  However, he made it through four innings without much incident.  The fifth, though, is why he is the Goat of the game.

Four straight hits to open the inning brought in the first two runs.  Waino then gets the top of the lineup, Dee Gordon and Stanton, to make it appear that things are under control.  Not so much.  A walk to load the bases, then back to back doubles that allow four to score.  Suddenly it’s 11-6, which is not the way things were supposed to go.

That said, I can’t quite get on Matheny for leaving him in there, as some folks did.  There are two outs.  It’s still a five run lead and you’ve gone through the heart of the order.  I’ve already complained about how Matheny used so many arms in this game that he didn’t need to.  Letting Wainwright finish, especially when the lead wasn’t currently in jeopardy, would have been the move I made as well.  Yes, it could have come back to bite the Cardinals, but so often in these kind of games, there’s one big push by the other team, then things return to normal.  Which is what happened here–the Marlins didn’t score again all evening.

The Brewers and the Cubs won, so the Cardinal victory just brought them closer to .500 but not to the division.  The Cardinals will try to climb to one game shy of that even-water mark for the first time since June 3.  Lance Lynn goes for the Cardinals, Jose Urena for the Marlins.  Lynn did throw a quality start last time out but June was an ugly month for him.  No matter what his future holds, whether he remains a Cardinal or is on the trade market, Lynn would do himself a great service to get back on track.  Facing the Marlins may help with that.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Dee Gordon 18 16 3 1 0 0 2 2 5 .188 .278 .250 .528 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Ellis 16 14 5 3 0 0 4 2 4 .357 .438 .571 1.009 0 0 1 0 1
Giancarlo Stanton 16 14 4 0 0 1 2 2 6 .286 .375 .500 .875 0 0 0 0 0
Martin Prado 15 13 4 0 0 0 0 1 1 .308 .400 .308 .708 0 0 0 1 0
Marcell Ozuna 14 12 1 0 1 0 0 2 4 .083 .214 .250 .464 0 0 0 0 0
Derek Dietrich 12 7 1 1 0 0 0 4 2 .143 .500 .286 .786 0 0 0 1 0
Christian Yelich 9 9 2 0 0 1 1 0 1 .222 .222 .556 .778 0 0 0 0 0
Justin Bour 6 4 1 0 0 1 3 2 1 .250 .500 1.000 1.500 0 0 0 0 0
J.T. Realmuto 5 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 .000 .200 .000 .200 0 0 0 0 0
Tom Koehler 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Edinson Volquez 4 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
David Phelps 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Vance Worley 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 123 104 21 5 1 3 13 16 31 .202 .320 .356 .675 1 0 1 2 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/4/2017.

Urena, on the other hand, seems to be having a fine season overall but stumbled last time out against the Mets, allowing five runs (three earned) in six innings.  In the four starts before that, however, he had a 2.35 ERA, even if he never got past the sixth inning.  In fact, six innings is the max he’s gone this season, so the Redbirds likely will see the Miami bullpen again this afternoon.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Yadier Molina 5 5 4 1 0 0 1 0 0 .800 .800 1.000 1.800 0 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .667 .500 1.167 0 0 0 1 0
Randal Grichuk 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy Pham 3 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 .500 .667 .500 1.167 0 0 0 1 1
Eric Fryer 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 22 18 7 1 0 0 2 2 2 .389 .500 .444 .944 0 0 0 2 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/4/2017.

The little experience they have with Urena has been pretty positive, so maybe we can see a few fireworks in the daytime today.  Happy Fourth of July to you all and let’s hope for another Cardinal victory!

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On one end, the just-concluded series against the Cardinals and the Nationals heavily leaned St. Louis’s way.  On the other, it was clearly a Washington victory.  The difference between this series being a win or a loss for the Redbirds centered mainly on one pitch in the middle.  It went the Cardinals’ way and we are now talking about two series wins against playoff teams, but it so easily could have been different.

Saturday (2-1 win)

Hero: Alex Mejia.  The recent call-up by the Cardinals got a chance to start and made the most of it.  His first major league hit drove in Luke Voit (and moved Paul DeJong to second, so it was a true Memphis situation) and his second was a solo home run to give the Cardinals some cushion for the ninth, a cushion they desperately needed.  I don’t know that Mejia needs to be playing all that regularly–he’s started three of the four games played since his call-up–but it was great to see him have a night in this one.

Goat: Trevor Rosenthal.  Mike Matheny has flipped roles and proved it by bringing in Seung-hwan Oh in the eighth with good success (though he then brought in Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons to finish it off, which might have not been necessary, but always glad to see #70) and then had Rosenthal try to lock down the game.  Try being the operative word.

He walked Bryce Harper, which isn’t a terrible thing save that you do have the two run lead.  Even if he homers, you have the lead still.  He got Ryan Zimmerman to strike out, but then Daniel Murphy singled.  Two on, one out.  Anthony Rendon grounded to Matt Carpenter, who went to second to try for the double play.  He’d have gotten it too, but Rosenthal couldn’t get over and cover first well enough, completely missing getting his foot on the base.  That left runners on the corners for Stephen Drew, who I wasn’t sure was still playing baseball.  He is and he’s still got some of his bat, singling in Harper.  Rosenthal then walked Jose Lobaton (he of the .135 average this season) on a full-count pitch to load the bases before being removed for Matthew Bowman.

Trevor Rosenthal, as it stands now, is 10 innings shy of his total from last season with almost exactly the same ERA of 4.45.  His WHIP is significantly better, but it’s still not superb for a late inning guy.  Since the beginning of June, and we’ve talked about this before but it doesn’t seem to be getting much better, he’s got an ERA of 7.00, he’s struck out 17 in 12 innings (good) but walked 10 so, coupled with his hits, he has an WHIP of 2.08 in that span.  The last time he had a clean outing (of more than one batter) was June 18 against Baltimore.  While the argument that you should have him over Oh in the ninth because of his strikeout ability makes sense, if he can’t get his stuff under control it won’t last.  This is the kind of pitching that got him removed from the closer role in the first place.  When you are getting into the ninth with a one run lead oftentimes, you can’t go putting the tying run on.

(All that said, there was a pitch in the Lobaton at bat that could have been a strike, which would have at least ended the game before loading the bases.  Given how the game ended, I don’t know that there’s a lot of room to talk about the strike zone, though.)

Notes:

While you’d like to give credit to Bowman for coming into the hardest of situations and getting the job done, there’s no doubt that it was somewhat aided by a wide strike zone.  Some of that might be due to Yadier Molina‘s pitch framing (and the fact that he was halfway to the mound to congratulate Bowman before the umpire actually called it) but whatever the reason, we’ll take it and move on.

It was a quiet night for the offense, perhaps foreshadowing Sunday’s game.  Four hits and two walks, but when you have a lineup that has Jose Martinez hitting third and the new Memphis Mafia (Voit, DeJong, Mejia) hitting 6-7-8, maybe it’s not that much of a surprise, especially given how good Gio Gonzalez can be.

Thankfully, the good Michael Wacha showed up, otherwise this game might have been over early.  Six innings (which is an accomplishment all by itself this year), no runs, just four hits.  Remembering that almost no-hitter he had against the Nats, it may be he just matches up well against them.  (I’m not going to look at his career history against the team.  There are probably times where they got him in there.)  That’s back-to-back solid starts for Wacha.  He might not be able to go past six even on a good night, but if he can give a quality start most every time he’s out there, this rotation improves tremendously.  I don’t know how many more good outings he’ll have to string together before we start believing we’ll see a good one out of him, though.  I think the jury is still out on what we have with Wacha, but it’s definitely good to see his recent results.

Matheny won his 500th game in this one, the second-fastest Cardinal manager to do so.  Whether that’s a testament to him or his players probably depends on your point of view.  Matheny has probably been better of late in many regards, but he can still pull out a whopper from time to time and he did so in this one with a double switch that defied reason.  CardsCards examined it over at The Intrepid STL and his conclusions are what you’d expect, but you should still read through it to see just how that move made no sense.

Sunday (7-2 loss)

Hero: Tommy Pham.  He kept the game from being a shutout with his late two-run home run, plus drew a walk and reached on an error.  So basically he was the offense in this one.

Goat: Carlos Martinez.  It’s tough to assign the blame to the starter here because he got victimized twice by one of the best hitters on the planet.  Harper hit two pitches low in the zone–I’m not sure the second one wasn’t a ball if he doesn’t swing–and took them out of the park.  Still, he gave up five runs in five innings, so perhaps the real problem was having people on base when Harper came up.  He also walked four and allowed seven hits, so he clearly wasn’t on his normal game last night.  That said, anyone that wants to talk about temperament will need to speak with Tara, who addressed this issue well last night on Gateway.

Notes:  Given that the Cards were going up against Max Scherzer, the game was basically over the moment Harper’s first inning home run found the seats.  There’s no doubt that, as much as Martinez was “off”, Scherzer was “on”.  The Missouri native made sure his hometown team knew that not making a run at him a few years ago in free agency wasn’t a great idea.  In fairness, I think if Scherzer was available now, when the Cardinals have a better feel for evaluating and are more likely to make a significant offer to a player, they well might land him.  Or they might finish second again, but they’d have been much more serious about getting him in Cardinal red.  Interestingly, Scherzer is 2-4 in his career against the Cardinals, though he does have a 2.70 ERA against them.

Scherzer struck out 12 and allowed only two hits, so there weren’t many offensive highlights here.  Voit had a pinch-hit double that about took Scherzer’s head off, so I’m sure he will be talking about that for some time to come.  Other than that, most of the damage came against Enny Romero, who allowed Pham’s two-run homer as well as a Stephen Piscotty double.  Even Washington’s bullpen, though, wasn’t going to blow that lead with just two innings to work.

Even with last night’s loss, the Cards own a series win against the second and third best teams (by record) in the National League in the span of a week.  They now get to play seven games against the Marlins and the Mets, both of which sit farther under .500 than the Cardinals do.  A 5-2 record over this span wouldn’t be impossible and that would get them to the break with a 44-44 mark.  It’s hard to believe that being break-even at the break is something that would be inspiring to Cardinal fans, but that’s the state of the team and the division these days.

It’s a big week for St. Louis.  If they struggle against this opposition, it makes it much easier for John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch to spend the All-Star Break gauging interest on players and seeing what prospects they might be able to bring back.  If they win and get to that even mark, that probably pushes them to maybe two games out in the division.  (The Brewers have three with the Orioles, a makeup with the Cubs, then three with the Yankees.  The Cubs, besides that makeup, have two with the Rays and three with the Pirates, so they have a good chance of being in first at the break.)  Even after all this time, it’s tough to really know what to expect.  The club has been playing much better of late, it feels like, but they aren’t that far removed from losing series against Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Baltimore.  Flip a coin and you are just about as likely to figure out what the results are going to be.

It starts tonight, though, as the Marlins come into town while their ballpark is getting ready for the All-Star Game.  (Congrats to the battery of Martinez and Molina, who will be representing the team in Miami.)  Adam Wainwright, as we know, has done much better at home and is coming off a strong outing in Arizona as well.  Again, we’ve been down this road before and we’re not going to put a whole lot of expectations on a Wainwright start, but everything seems to work out well for him to do OK tonight.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Martin Prado 21 19 4 1 0 0 0 2 0 .211 .286 .263 .549 0 0 0 0 1
Giancarlo Stanton 13 9 0 0 0 0 0 4 2 .000 .308 .000 .308 0 0 1 0 4
A.J. Ellis 11 11 4 0 1 1 3 0 1 .364 .364 .818 1.182 0 0 0 0 0
Edinson Volquez 11 10 2 1 0 0 0 0 3 .200 .200 .300 .500 1 0 0 0 0
Dee Gordon 9 8 2 0 0 0 0 1 3 .250 .333 .250 .583 0 0 0 0 0
Jeff Locke 9 8 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .250 .250 .250 .500 1 0 0 0 0
Christian Yelich 8 7 3 1 0 0 0 1 1 .429 .500 .571 1.071 0 0 0 0 0
J.T. Realmuto 7 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .143 .143 .143 .286 0 0 0 0 0
Ichiro Suzuki 7 7 3 1 0 1 1 0 2 .429 .429 1.000 1.429 0 0 0 0 0
Marcell Ozuna 6 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .167 .167 .167 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Derek Dietrich 5 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .200 .000 .200 0 0 0 1 0
Dan Straily 4 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Justin Bour 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 1
Tom Koehler 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
JT Riddle 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 115 102 22 4 1 2 5 9 20 .216 .286 .333 .619 3 0 1 1 6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/3/2017.

Miami will counter with Jeff Locke, who the Cardinals are familiar with as he spent a good bit of time in Pittsburgh.  Locke’s career ERA against the ‘Birds is right about 5, his current ERA is 5.52 (which is about what he had last year as well), and he’s not gone past six innings yet this season.  All the ingredients are there for a big offensive night and a good Cardinal win, but sometimes the recipe doesn’t really come together.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Carpenter 24 19 4 1 0 0 3 3 6 .211 .333 .263 .596 0 1 0 1 0
Yadier Molina 24 21 4 1 0 0 3 2 1 .190 .250 .238 .488 0 1 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 19 18 5 1 0 0 2 1 3 .278 .316 .333 .649 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 12 11 5 0 0 2 7 1 1 .455 .500 1.000 1.500 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 12 11 5 2 0 0 5 0 2 .455 .455 .636 1.091 1 0 0 0 0
Stephen Piscotty 10 8 4 1 0 1 2 1 0 .500 .600 1.000 1.600 0 0 0 1 0
Carlos Martinez 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Lyons 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy Pham 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 111 97 28 6 0 3 23 8 16 .289 .349 .443 .792 2 2 0 2 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/3/2017.

Starting off this stretch with a win is almost vital.  We’ll see which Cardinal team shows up, though!

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