30 games over .500.
That’s not an easy mark to manage, especially in August. For reference, here’s how some of the more recent Cardinal teams stood after 108 games (which means just one-third of the season remains!)
2014: 57-51 (+6)
2013: 64-44 (+20)
2012: 59-49 (+10)
2011: 57-51 (+6)
2009: 58-50 (+8)
2006: 58-50 (+8)
2005: 68-40 (+28)
2004: 70-38 (+32)
So you have to really go back to that 2004 juggernaut to see a team that’s won like this team has. And by “like” I mean in just sheer numbers, not in style. That 2004 team was a dominant beast, what with the MV3 and the slugging and the good pitching to go along with it. They were up 10.5 games on a Cubs team that at the time led the Wild Card race. There wasn’t any doubts that this was the best team in baseball and, until they ran into a very hot Red Sox team in the World Series, they proved that.
This year’s team, what with it being so reliant on almost historic pitching (and winning a lot of close and low-scoring games), doesn’t feel like the dominant force that 2004 was. In 10 years, will we look back and remember this team as a powerhouse, given the records? I don’t know. Living in the moment, though, it’s a team that worries you constantly instead of a team that lets you kick back and enjoy the ride. They keep winning, though, and that’s what matters.
They did it again yesterday, riding Hero Michael Wacha for seven scoreless innings and getting key hits from Kolten Wong and, stunningly, Tony Cruz. A team that has struggled in key situations at times got all three runs with a two-out base hit. Just when you think you have this team pegged, they go and do some strange stuff. Not that anyone is complaining, mind you.
It was a bit strange to see Wacha go out there for the seventh, though. In the top of the inning, with rain falling and folks on Twitter talking about the field conditions deteriorating, Wacha’s spot led off. Now, for sure, there were probably some tired arms in the pen given the extra-innings from the night before. That said, was it worth risking Wacha slipping or getting hurt in that situation? Again, I wasn’t watching the game so maybe the field wasn’t quite as bad as all that, but when people are wondering why there’s no rain delay, it’s not exactly the best time to be running out one of those young guns that you need. You’d have to think that Carlos Villanueva probably could have handled it, since the inning he threw on Wednesday night was his first of August. Obviously it turned out to be no big deal, but we continue to talk about saving innings here and there, that the bullpen was strengthened for such things, and we don’t see Mike Matheny take advantage of them.
Randal Grichuk gets to be our Goat for this one. Pretty difficult to avoid the tag when you are 0-4 with three strikeouts. And yes, Matheny double-switched him out of the game in the manner made famous by various Matt Holliday swaps. Difference in this, of course, was that it was a three-run lead, not a tied or one-run affair, and it was unlikely that spot was going to come up again in the game anyway (as, in fact, it didn’t).
Other than that, it was a pretty unremarkable game. It’s good to see Wacha back on his horse, now having thrown seven scoreless in back-to-back games. His effectiveness apparently has the club rethinking their earlier ideas on his limits, which seems fine to me. Even though Wacha is starting to get into uncharted innings territory, it’s not apparently straining him at all. Will they space him out in September? I expect so, what with all the arms they can bring up. The bullpen may add Tim Cooney, Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons (who is featured in a subscribers-only article on Baseball Prospectus today), Sam Tuivailala, Miguel Socolovich, Mitch Harris and, depending on health, Jordan Walden and Matt Belisle. (We’ll see about Marco Gonzales, though he scuffled again last night.) Lots of good arms that can go short or long, which would make it easy to occasionally push both Wacha and Carlos Martinez back a day here and there and get a spot start from one of the other arms. As long as he still has something in the tank in October, right? That’s really the major concern for Cardinal fans now.
With Pittsburgh not playing yesterday, the Cardinals have a six game lead with 54 to play. That’s a lead that can shrink since the two teams still have nine games against each other, of course, but it’s a fairly comfortable lead anyway. If the club can plug its way through August, hopefully the cooler weather and seeing the finish line will reinvigorate them somewhat and they can finish the season strong.
Milwaukee is the next team they need to plug their way through as the Redbirds spend the weekend in Miller Park. Lance Lynn will try to rebound from his last iffy outing and he’s always seemed to do quite well against the Brewers, though he did get roughed up against them earlier in the season in their ballpark. There are fewer weapons on the Brew Crew now–no Aramis Ramirez doing those Sith Lord things–so hopefully he’ll be able to just mow them down.
Actually, those number aren’t as good as I thought. In his career, though, he’s 7-3 with a 2.53 ERA against Milwaukee, so he does seem to get the job done, even if some of the batters aren’t that fooled by him.
Tyler Cravy made his big league debut against the Cardinals and did a fine job, coming in on the short side of a 1-0 score (Lynn was on the upside). He only had two more appearances (one start) after that, having spent time going back and forth from the minors. Kyle Lohse got removed from the rotation, though, and Cravy takes his spot. Cravy gave up just four hits in seven innings in that earlier game, with two of those hits coming in the second, a Grichuk double and a Mark Reynolds RBI single. In other words, pretty much the offense we’ve been used to this year.
By the way, if you’ve wanted to listen to be expound on things, this has been the week for you to do it. Sunday night, as always, I did Gateway To Baseball Heaven with Tara Wellman. Tuesday, I put up the latest Conversations With C70. Wednesday, it was me and Chris Greene (with guest Josh Gilliam) on UCB Radio. And last night, Dan Buffa and I recorded Episode 9 of Best Dans in Baseball, which should be up today or tomorrow. You have your options to hear me talk Cardinals, though I wouldn’t blame you for skipping them all.
Here’s to a fun and successful weekend!