It’s hard to go terribly wrong with Opening Day in St. Louis. Even if there’s rain, even if the game isn’t much of a game, the tradition and the excitement of a new home season makes up for a lot of that. Which is good, since before yesterday the Cardinals were 3-7 in home openers since Busch Stadium III came into existence.
However, when the clouds break and the sun shines brightly on the green grass, when the red jackets pop against their background, Opening Day goes to another level. When the bats break out, it’s a party unlike any other.
You have to go all the way back to 2003–against this very same Milwaukee organization, even–to find a home opener that saw double-digit runs for the home team. Unlike the 2003 outing, which required a six-run eighth to see St. Louis take a lead, yesterday’s game was fun all the way through, from the first inning until the last.
Ten runs. Nineteen hits. It’s a joy when finding a Hero is a tough chore because everyone has a claim to it. We should do this more often. Bob Uecker told the Brewer fans in the fifth that “if you joined us late….you’re kinda lucky.” Cardinal fans that missed this one (and, sadly, I’m in that mix) missed the most fun game in quite some time.
So who does get the Hero tag? Like I say, there are a lot of possibilities, but even when the offense is clicking like that, it’s tough to go against a guy that had a four-hit game. Jeremy Hazelbaker has now been the Hero in three of the first seven games, so it’s been a great first week in the majors for him. Four hits is impressive enough, but when you mix in a double and a triple, plus an RBI and a run, you’ve made a strong case for the title. Again, you don’t know how long Hazelbaker will be cooking, but it’s a fun ride while it’s lasting.
Listing out the other contenders for the Hero tag would be basically taking the boxscore and going down the line. Aledmys Diaz had three hits in his first time on the Busch Stadium diamond, including two doubles. He’s hitting .533 on the season, which just edges out Hazelbaker who is at .526. I meant to talk about Diaz’s playing time in yesterday’s post (we covered the topic on Gateway this week) but it’s becoming less and less of an issue. We’ve had our complaints about how Mike Matheny uses players from time to time, but if Diaz can continue to hit well, like Hazelbaker it is going to be tough to get him out of the lineup, especially since there aren’t a ton of options at short without him anyway.
Yadier Molina also had three hits, plus drove in two and stole a base. Molina may not be what he once was, but there are still flashes of vintage Yadi in there. Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, and Matt Carpenter all had two hits and it was good to see out of all of them. Grichuk and Carpenter especially needed to start clicking and it appears they might be. Grichuk has been drawing walks the last couple of days, which has led him to be able to jump on good pitches instead of flailing at anything the pitcher might throw up there. As key as he is to this offense, that’s a wonderful thing to see.
As fun as all this offense was, it was perhaps most heartening to see Michael Wacha have a strong outing. As we talked about yesterday, the bad starts were starting to add up and there was a lot of concern about what kind of pitcher Wacha was going to be going forward. While one start doesn’t completely alleviate those worries, it was very nice to see something more like prime Wacha out there. He did throw 94 pitches in six innings, which doesn’t bode well for deep games, but pitch counts will pile up when you strike out seven. Two of the four hits he allowed came in his first inning of work and, all in all, that was a line that you could be excited about. If he can do something similar on Sunday against the Reds, the confidence level will only increase.
The lopsided score meant that a lot of the end-of-bullpen arms got a day off, which coupled with today’s actual day off should have them fully rested for the end of this series. Matt Bowman went two innings and was touched for a home run, but that’s a minimal concern when you are up 9-0 at the time. Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons threw a scoreless eighth. I’m glad that he got a chance to play in a home opener!
Just because everything was peaches and cream doesn’t mean that everyone joined in the fun, but it does mean that you can’t obsess too much over the parts of the game that didn’t live up to the standards of the day. I’m still a bit concerned with the slow start of Matt Holliday. Holliday doubled in the first run of the game and scored the second one, but after that wasn’t able to do much, making the third out in the second, third, and fifth before being replaced by Matt Adams. It’s not even that he’s a traditionally slow starter–for his career, his April line is .301/.374/.473. While the power may not show up until the weather warms, usually the singles and doubles are there. He is 4-15 since the Pittsburgh series, so maybe it’s trending in the right direction, but when you factor everything in such as age, the loss of most of last year, etc., you start to wonder when or if the real Matt Holliday will appear.
Holliday didn’t get the Goat for yesterday, though. That went to the only man in the starting lineup (besides Mr. Wacha, of course, who mitigated his offensive woes with that good mound start) not to be able to break through for a base hit, leaving five men on in the process. Kolten Wong did drive in a run with a sacrifice fly and helped turn a 1-4-3 double play, so his day wasn’t a complete zero, but when the bar is set so high given everyone else’s performance, that’s not going to save you from the Goat label.
There’s a nice article about Diaz and what all this last week has meant to him up at the Post-Dispatch, written by the new columnist Jose de Jesus Ortiz. Again, you’ve got to temper some things, since some of us lived through Bo Hart, but obviously Diaz has a talent and ability far above a lot of other flash in the pans. The key is going to be in the next few weeks as video and scouting gets around and folks start making adjustments. Will Diaz and Hazelbaker be able to succeed then? Can they make their own adjustments? We shall find out.
Marco Gonzales is trying to determine exactly what treatment option he’s going to take on his elbow. However, when Tommy John surgery is one of the options, you have to figure it’s likely to be the choice, just because there’s a strong possibility you’ll wind up there anyway. Perhaps it’s not that severe and perhaps they can heal it up with a different method, but if I were to guess, I’d guess not. It would be tough to lose Gonzales after he was out so much of last year with shoulder issues, but you have to wonder if that’s not the best thing long term. As the article notes, Adam Wainwright did OK with it for a while, but eventually succumbed. Would it be better for Marco to lose this year than in a couple of years when he might have a chance at a regular spot in the rotation?
It looks like there may be some roster decisions to make soon, as both Tommy Pham and Ruben Tejada are getting close to rehab assignments. Of course, their replacements are the hottest hitters on the team, so those rehab assignments may have to last a little while. How John Mozeliak juggles all of this should be worth watching over the next week or two.
Day off today, then with all the opening festivities and days off and such behind them, the real rhythm of the season can get underway on Wednesday. Mike Leake makes his first start at Busch Stadium as a member of the Cardinals. He’s had six starts in his career at Busch and is 2-2 with a 3.19 ERA. I saw him pitch last year as a member of the Reds when he shut down the Cardinals over eight innings, so another game like that would be nice, this time for the Redbirds.
Looks like the Brewers have done pretty well against him in the past, save Ryan Braun, who typically does well against the Cardinals in his own right. We’ll see if maybe Leake can even things up a little bit tomorrow evening.
Chase Anderson will take the mound for the Brewers. Anderson made his debut last year but St. Louis saw him just the once, when he allowed two runs in six innings back in May. So a pretty small sample size to try to take anything from.
Anderson is coming off five scoreless innings against the Astros in his first start of the season, so hopefully the Cards can give him an ERA for 2016!