Cardinal Baseball: The Return

Ah, the return of baseball.  Even if it wasn’t the perfect weekend by Cardinal standards, it was great to see it back on our TV screens.  Of course, then we have to deal with an off day immediately after that series, but that’s kinda needed for the run this team is about to go on.  To the recaps!

Friday (9-6 win)

If the bats had worked this well all weekend long, we’d have had a lot more fun with this series.  Of course, when one of the big bats belongs to that day’s starting pitcher, perhaps it’s not as surprising that the offense wasn’t quite as robust during the other games.

Jake Westbrook might have been in the running for the Hero tag with just his pitching.  After all, he continued his excellent run at Busch Stadium in 2013 with two runs allowed in 6.1 innings.  Granted, he did allow eight hits and walked three while striking out just one, so if the offense hadn’t come to play or he didn’t get a couple of nice defensive moves behind him (including a pickoff of his own), that could have been a lot less pretty.

However, what really sealed the deal for him is that Westbrook also went 3-3 at the plate, scoring one run and driving in another with a bases-loaded single that kept the inning alive.  Westbrook had a whopping two hits all season going into this one, so it’s believable that the Padres weren’t really sure what just happened after all was said and done.

Of course, the usual suspects got in on the fun as well.  Matt Carpenter had three hits and the same number of RBI.  Allen Craig had a couple of base knocks.  Pete Kozma even got a couple of hits, which was nice to see even if it didn’t inspire anyone to think that a reprise of his second half last year was on the way.

The only real downside came in the ninth, when Carlos Martinez came in with the score 9-3 and promptly turned it into a save situation.  Four of the five batters he faced reached and three of them scored before Edward Mujica came in to get the last two batters out.  You’d like to see more out of Martinez, but he hadn’t pitched in a week, which might have been a factor.  I’m thinking the club may well send him to Memphis to keep him in regular work, but with that five game series with Pittsburgh looming in a week, they might want to keep him around for that.

Saturday (5-3 loss)

I keep flashing back to last season, where Lance Lynn built up some great numbers, enough to get him into the All-Star Game, then faltered enough to get sent to the bullpen before coming back to the rotation, in a large degree because Joe Kelly couldn’t hang on to the job.  We thought a more fit Lynn might be able to overcome that this season, but so far 2013 is having a strong 2012 vibe to it.

Counting this outing, where he only went five innings but yet allowed four runs and had no command, walking three and, like Westbrook, striking out only one, Lynn has given up more than two runs in four of his last five starts.  His ERA starting with a disastrous game in Miami a month ago is 6.37 (and, honestly, the start before that Marlins game wasn’t real great either).  His K/BB ratio is just over 2.00 in that span and opponents have a .781 OPS against him.  Contrast that to the first portion of the year, when he had a 3.00 ERA, a K/BB ratio much closer to 3.00 and an OPS against of .617.  That midseason slump seems to be happening yet again.

It’s not just the results that have been an issue either.  Lynn’s body language when things don’t go right has always been one of his bugaboos and it is rearing its ugly head yet again.  It’s to the point where Lynn and Mike Matheny had a discussion about it on Sunday, but it’s not anything Lynn hasn’t heard before.  Whether he will take it to heart is a different story.

The bullpen pitched well behind him, though Trevor Rosenthal gave up a run late, but the Cards couldn’t quite get to Edinson Volquez.  They had a chance in the fifth, when there were runners on second and third with nobody out.  Brock Peterson got one of those runs in with a groundout–we’ve talked about that situation already this weekend–but Carpenter and Jon Jay were unable to tie the game up and the moment was lost.  The Padres bullpen came in and didn’t allow a hit over the last four innings, effectively snuffing out any threat.

We’ll give the Hero tag to Allen Craig, whose base hit in the fourth drove in two runs and therefore made him the most effective batsman of the evening.

Sunday (3-2 win)

Too often, we’ve seen St. Louis score all their runs in one inning early on and then see them try to hang on as the other team chips away.  Sometimes it is enough, sometimes it isn’t.  Thanks to Allen Craig, it was on Sunday.

You could easily make the case for Adam Wainwright or David Freese as the Hero of this one, but given the fact that the game, like Schrodinger’s Cat, was either alive or dead as that ball tracked toward Craig in the ninth, I’m going with The Wrench since he pulled in that ball and kept the go-ahead runs from scoring.

That’s not even including the fact that Craig drove in the game-tying first run and scored the last one on Freese’s double.  Put that together and he nudges out Wainwright, Freese and Carpenter (who also had two hits in this one) for the honors.

Waino, though, did what the ace usually does.  After slipping a bit in the first and allowing a two-out run, he cruised along the rest of the way, allowing just one other run in his eight innings of work.  He walked two batters, which is basically unheard of for him and indicates that the umpire’s zone might not have been as accurate as fans and players would have liked.  Still, it’s a good day when the ace shows up and Wainwright definitely showed up today.

While there were a few 0-fer days that could get consideration for the Goat, I’ve got to go with Edward Mujica on this one.  Mujica didn’t blow the game, but that wasn’t for the lack of trying.  If Craig doesn’t haul that one in, that’s the third blown save for The Chief this month, which wouldn’t necessarily cause the team to swap out the closer, but it would raise a few eyebrows.  Overall, though, his July numbers have been strong, even better than June’s, so there shouldn’t be any need for wholesale changes just yet.

Some of the more important news this weekend was made a few miles south, as Oscar Taveras was still being held back from playing and Chris Carpenter made another rehab start, this time in AAA.  Let’s take those in reverse order.

There’s no doubt that Carpenter’s outing in Memphis wasn’t what anyone, inside the organization or outside of it, really wanted to see.  That said, I don’t think the situation is as dire as perhaps was painted in that article.  Carpenter has said from day one that if he can’t help the team, he’s not going to be in St. Louis.  That hasn’t changed.  Carpenter’s also notoriously tough on himself.  He probably expected to be in mid-season form even though this is closer to the first week of spring training for him.  He’s not going to be that dominant that quickly and he’s never going to be what he was at the height of his powers, though he doesn’t have to be to be a valuable addition to the staff.

The key seems to be that Carpenter isn’t feeling pain.  Whether he can tweak mechanics or just get in more repetitions to make his stuff more effective, we’ll have to wait and see.  Carpenter, Matheny and John Mozeliak are supposed to meet today to talk about his future.  I hope that Carp won’t pull the plug on this prematurely.  There’s still 20+ days in his rehab assignment.  He’s not a factor in Mo’s deadline dealing.  There’s no harm in trying to continue for a couple more starts and see if things don’t click.  While Matheny says he trust Carp’s judgement, I also hope he won’t passively accept the decision should Carpenter want to shut it down.  While it’s still a long shot, it’s not unfathomable.

What I found interesting about Taveras’s situation was the quote from Mozeliak which said that the organization doesn’t look at Taveras any differently after these injuries.  To me, that indicates that they still think he can produce at the major league level and, if he can get two or three weeks under his belt in Memphis, he well could get a call up if the need arises.  You wonder if he might have gotten it right now with Holliday out and the bench struggling had he been healthy.  We’ll never know, I suppose.

Today is the last day without Cardinal baseball until August 12.  (Unsurprisingly given how badly I’ve done vacation this year, missing both the Star Wars game in Busch and going through Cincinnati the day BEFORE the Cards and Reds start their series at the end of next week, I get back from a week without regular Cardinal baseball on the 10th, just in time for that next off day.)  Tomorrow, though, the Cards host the Phillies.  You’d think that a series sweep by the Redbirds might get Ruben Amaro Jr. thinking about selling pieces like Cliff Lee or Jimmy Rollins, but from some of his comments, it sounds like he wouldn’t be selling if he was 16.5 games out instead of just 6.5 that he is now.  So this series is unlikely to tip any scales on that front.

Shelby Miller has gotten a little extra rest and hopefully will be raring to go on Tuesday night.  Shelby will have the advantage of newness going for him, as only John McDonald (0-2) has faced him before.  Miller has struggled (a word that comes up with almost every Cardinal starter save the Wagonmaker) since his “perfect game” and we’ll see if having some extra time off will be beneficial or if he’ll be rusty.

Miller is opposed by Jonathan Pettibone, a rookie hurler for the Philadelphia squad.  He’s a right-hander, so the fact that the club hasn’t faced him is at least mitigated by that piece of knowledge.  If he was a lefty we’d be writing this one off already.  Pettibone has been very effective this season, giving up just a total of nine runs in his last five starts.  He’s been lit up on the road, though, putting up a 5.65 ERA in seven starts away from Citizens Bank Park.

Remember, the first of many Conclave Game 6 DVD contests is going on right now.  It’s an off day, so what else better do you have to do than entering and trying to win a classic moment of Cardinal history?  Absolutely nothing, so send in your entry today!

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