There was a lot of talk this weekend about this series being payback for the last time St. Louis went down to Atlanta, when they won the inaugural wild card game in a controversial manner last postseason. Seems to me you could use this series as a reverse allegory for the Civil War, though. Then, Sherman’s superior force burned its way through the town. This time, the superior force (if you go by records and such) came in but the resistance emphatically threw them out.
It’s tough to win a series when you only score three runs. While the Cardinal pitching was acceptable, if not perfect, the offense seemed to go into hibernation. Let’s hope that the bats were just misdirected to Pittsburgh when they left St. Louis, because they’ll be needed in the coming series.
Friday (4-1 loss)
We’ll give the Hero tag to Yadier Molina in this one, basically because he was all the offense the club had. His home run in the second inning gave the Cards the only lead they’d have all weekend. It was his only hit, but when the club only musters four, it meant something.
The Cards have hit two home runs since July 10, both by Molina. They are now 13th in the National League in the category, though they are 20 ahead of San Francisco and even more ahead of Miami, so it could easily be worse. The thought was that a diversified offense is less likely to be corralled. Maybe this weekend was the exception that proves the rule; maybe we aren’t as smart as we thought.
Adam Wainwright didn’t have one of his best outings and I expect it was exceptionally galling to him to give up what turned out to be the game-winning RBI to his opposite number. Still, he’s not why the Redbirds lost this one. Giving up four in seven innings, especially when one is unearned, is nothing to be terribly embarrassed about.
Let’s see, Goat. I think this is one of the rare times we could and will go with Allen Craig. 0-4 on the evening and struck out twice, which is completely out of character for him.
Saturday (2-0 loss)
There has to be some anxiety when you are playing a tight game against the Braves. You know that the later you slip, the less likely there will be any second chances. When Craig Kimbrel looms as that ninth-inning force, you best not stumble right before he can swoop in.
Unfortunately, that’s what the Cards did on Saturday. A wonderfully taut game that had great pitching performances on both sides turned on an RBI double in the eighth inning. That put paid to St. Louis right there, because if you haven’t scored but one run in the series to that point, you aren’t likely to score two off of Kimbrel.
Joe Kelly, the clear Hero of the game, deserved much better out of his first start in the second half. He gave Atlanta chances–10 base runners in his 6.1 innings–but was able to get out of his self-created jams. (He did have some help with his last one, as Seth Maness came in and did that one-pitch, double-play thing that he does.) There will be little talk of who the fifth starter should be for a while, assuming Kelly hasn’t pitched himself onto the trade radar screen.
The problem was that St. Louis couldn’t reward him for his outstanding play. You thought four hits was an offensive problem, it was a veritable outpouring compared to the two hits they got in this one.
Which makes for an interesting decision. Where do you want to place the blame? I think I’m going to put it on Randy Choate, but there are a number of possibilities. Trevor Rosenthal allowed the double to Andrelton Simmons that won the game for the Braves. Every hitter besides Matt Holliday and Jon Jay went o for the afternoon. There are choices that could be made.
Choate, however, came into a tied game and faced a left-hander, whom he promptly walked. Walking the leadoff guy in the eighth of a scoreless game is a darn good way to have things go badly, especially when your one job is to get left-handers out. After he struck out right-handed Evan Gattis, he gave up a base hit to left-handed Brian McCann and was done for the day. Rosenthal almost cleaned it up, but couldn’t.
Choate had pitched an inning in relief of Wainwright on Friday. Why not Kevin Siegrist there? Choate might be your number one lefty, but Siegrist can’t be too far behind and would have been more rested. It’s a small thing, but small things get amplified in scoreless ballgames.
Sunday (5-2 loss)
You have to hand it to Shelby Miller. After seeing the limited offensive production the rest of the series, he decided if he was going to win, he was going to have to do it himself. He almost succeeded.
He only allowed two runs while he was actually on the mound and one of those came after an error by Carlos Beltran that turned a two-out single effectively into a two-out triple. He accounted for those runs with an RBI double (his second hit of the night) and then scoring on a single by Beltran.
While he didn’t have any long innings from the aspect of putting runners on, he did run his pitch count out to 112 before being replaced. It’s not as efficient as we’d like to see out of him, but we’ve also seen him be worse in that regard. If he’d been closer to 100 pitches, you wonder if Mike Matheny would have left him in there to finish the sixth.
Instead, he went to Maness. That’s an interesting choice right there, in my book. Why do you typically go to Maness? Because you need a double play. That’s what he seems to be good at. Instead, Matheny brings him in with two outs. Now, obviously, the same pitches, the same results could happen in that situation as well, just not needing the second out. I don’t want to say I question it because Maness wasn’t a good move, just that I’m a little surprised they didn’t save him in case the situation arose late that they needed that double play.
Whatever the case, Maness couldn’t repeat Saturday’s outing, giving up two hits, including the base hit that scored the go-ahead run. Siegrist came in and gave up a hit to Jason Heyward that scored another and the Cards were basically cooked. None of the balls were hit all that hard–the description on the first one by Maness includes “pop-up to second baseman” in it–but they found the holes and that was the story of the weekend.
Before we get to the Goat, I wanted to give kudos to Marc Rzepczynski for making it back to the bigs and having a successful debut outing. Scrabble struck out the first man he faced and, while he gave up a hit, was able to pitch an inning without being scored upon. While you wonder if three lefties in the pen is overkill, given that at least Siegrist can get righties out having Rzepczynski reestablish himself as an effective LOOGY frees up Siegrist for those other duties.
I’m going with Matt Carpenter for our Goat in this one. Leadoff rule applies, tie-breaking a number of 0-fers on the night. Cards had eight hits, but they were clustered between Beltran, Molina and Miller, who all had two apiece.
The Cardinals leave Atlanta with their tail between their legs (can birds do that? Seems anatomically iffy, at best) and a major series with Pittsburgh looming. The Pirates are 1.5 behind the Cards and this series has to mean even more to that squad than St. Louis.
Pittsburgh is 5-5 since the All-Star Break, winning three of four against a Nationals team but losing series against the Reds and the Marlins. Given the recent history of second-half fades for that club, losing this series, especially if they lose four of five, could reinforce the idea of “here we go again”. For the mental aspect of things, not necessarily the math of the game, you would think they really want to win this meeting.
Which makes you think that, if they were smart, they’d pull the trigger on any trade they were going to do sooner rather than later. Pittsburgh’s offense has been below-average much of the year and they’ve been linked to players such as Alex Rios. If I’m the Pirates, I want whatever bat that I’m targeting to play the most games possible against the Cards and I make the deal today so that he can play in four of the five games (perhaps) instead of waiting to the deadline and having him play in only one of them. This could be a key point in the season and hesitating could be a tough thing for Pirate fans to swallow.
On St. Louis’s side of things, it continues to seem unlikely that any deal is going to be made. John Mozeliak doesn’t want to work on the edges of this team but would rather make a move that means something. That’s probably because any deal he makes would involve a very solid prospect and you don’t give those away, no matter how many of them you have. While the Cards are still in the Jake Peavy hunt according to many sources, they are also unlikely to pay what the White Sox are asking.
Personally, I think the trading deadline is quickly becoming archaic. We may tell our kids about what it was like waiting for deals and seeing a flurry of moves, but with the extra wild card limiting sellers, the fact that teams don’t get a draft pick if they acquire a free agent, and the increase in value of prospects, July 31 just isn’t what it used to be. Of course, we’ve seen the last couple of years that it’s not the flashiest trade that makes the difference. Edward Mujica and Marco Scuturo were traded at this time last year and made huge impacts, well beyond what anyone thought at the time.
After coming out of a series where the Cards got just 14 hits total, you’d like to face a pitcher that you feel you can just beat around the yard. That’s not going to be the case this evening as Francisco Liriano takes the hill for the Bucs. I’ve been a Liriano fan since he exploded on the scene with the Twins and I’m glad that he’s had this resurgence in Pittsburgh this season, though it’d be nice for it to take the night off this evening. Liriano scuffled two outings ago against the Reds, giving up five in 4.1 innings, but bounced back against the Nationals, limiting them to two hits in 7.2 innings.
A lefty that the Cards haven’t seen before? Oh, THAT’S a recipe for a good time. Maybe because he’s been good they’ll be able to do something with him–they usually struggle against unknown lefties with an ERA around 5.
Jake Westbrook goes for the Cardinals. Westbrook’s been much better at home, but looking at his recent games he usually goes 5-6 innings and gives up three runs away from Busch. If the offense doesn’t get going, that could easily be enough to lose, but it’s not where we have to assume the sky is going to fall tonight.
When you couple his road woes with the above table, though, it doesn’t inspire you with much confidence. Westbrook did shut out the Pirates over six innings back in April, so we’ll hope for that Westy and not the one Pittsburgh is used to.
Big week of games starts tonight. Let’s hope they don’t have any hangover from that Atlanta beating and jump on the Bucs early!