What’s not to love? A weekend sweep of your closest (in the standings) divisional rival. Moving into the first wild card spot. Getting great starting pitching and a continuation of the good offense we’ve seen most of the year. I mean, if I’m paraphrasing a line from Episode I as a post title, you know it must be a time of love and good cheer.
Saturday (5-1 win)
Hero: Carlos Martinez. You could make a legitimate case that Mike Matheny left him out there too long, as 122 pitches is a pretty good workload in this day in age. He was at 108 when he led off the ninth inning with a base hit, a situation that most people probably would have pinch hit for him. That said, there is a difference between pitches thrown under stress and pitches thrown free and easy. A 75 pitch game with runners on constantly and the lead often in jeopardy can do more damage than 100 pitches with few tough situations. Martinez was definitely having the latter game, allowing just one run and striking out five while walking three.
That said, given the lack of depth at Memphis in the starting pitcher section, perhaps any risk on Martinez was a risk too great. I appreciate Matheny wanting to get him a complete game and I do think there is value in giving Martinez a chance to experience that and know what it’s like, but maybe when he’s more like 100 or so pitches instead of 110 to start the ninth. Again, it was a very good outing for Martinez, but we’ll have to wait and see how his next starts go to see if there are any lasting repercussions.
Goat: Randal Grichuk. Given the nagging injuries the club had, especially to Matt Carpenter, there weren’t a whole lot of other options for the leadoff spot, but seeing Grichuk’s name up there was pretty surprising. It didn’t work, as Grichuk went 0-4 with two left on, though he did score a run. (I probably technically should have gone with Matt Adams here, since he also went 0-4 but didn’t score and left three on, but I didn’t have as much to talk about with him as I did with Grichuk’s leadoff debut. It was a coin flip and that weighted the coin a bit, I guess.) With Carpenter scheduled to return to the lineup today, we shouldn’t have to worry about seeing these odd leadoff choices any longer, but it is a function of this team’s bulk and fair lack of speed that there’s no classic leadoff guy that comes to mind from the roster.
Notes: There’s a comic book story called Old Man Logan, which (from what I gather) follows Wolverine as an older man. I think we are starting to see Old Man Holliday, because Matt Holliday, after hitting a three-run homer in this one to provide insurance in a 1-0 game and his work on Sunday, is now on pace for around 30 home runs. Like Adams and Brandon Moss, who were given a lot of grief earlier in the season, he seems to have found his stride or at least a very nice hot streak. Just because the core is aging doesn’t mean it can’t be productive (which, if you wanted to be slightly snarky, might be more than Jason Heyward is doing these days).
Four runs in six innings off of Francisco Liriano helps to show just how much he’s struggled of late. While that’s not a bad line, especially when you factor in that all of those runs came in the fifth, normally he’d have held the Cards to just one over seven innings or something of that nature. To beat Liriano at all is a nice change of pace for the Redbirds, one that I’d hope they’d be able to do more in the future. Of course, only one of those was earned and he struck out eight, so he still had some of that anti-Cardinal magic he has.
Moss (2) and Holliday (3) were the only folks with multiple hits in this one as almost all the offense was concentrated into the fifth inning. When Martinez is on his game, though, one inning of scoring is really all you need.
Sunday (8-3 win)
Hero: Matt Holliday. Another three hit game, another home run, another win. I’m pretty sure most Cardinal fans could get used to that really, really quickly. Holliday has his average up to .265 after being at .227 a couple of weeks ago. He’s only hitting .343 with four homers and an OPS of 1.046 in that span. That’s all, no big deal.
Goat: Jedd Gyorko. After Grichuk’s turn in the leadoff spot, the wheel spun to another unlikely candidate and, much like Grichuk, he didn’t really take to it. 0-5 with two strikeouts, a double play, and the only starter in an offensive blowout to not get a hit is not really the way you want to spend your Sunday, but there always seems to be someone that doesn’t get to join in on the fun.
Notes: Mike Leake returned to form after stumbling against his old team last time out, allowing just six hits and three runs (only two earned) in seven innings. He struck out six, which is a pretty high total for him honestly, and finally showed a little bit of that offensive prowess we’ve heard so much about with a couple of hits and a run scored. He’s got a long way to catch up to Adam Wainwright in the pitchers hitting competition, though. It was good to see that his Cincinnati outing appears to be an outlier from what he’s been doing lately and not the start of a downhill slide. I’d imagine there were some emotions and issues returning to the only place he’d ever played before last year’s trading deadline, stuff that might have affected his focus.
Stephen Piscotty was back in the lineup and had two hits (both doubles) and Yadier Molina, showing that either his issues of late weren’t fatigue related or that the eight innings he had off on Friday were a lot of help, banged out three knocks, driving in one and scoring one. This lineup is showing that it is so strong up and down and even when someone like your leadoff man is having a slow day, you can still put up eight runs. I hope the Mobil On The Run folks banked some money during last year’s offensive wasteland, because six is becoming serious on a regular basis in 2016.
The Cardinals are now seven games over .500 and are on a five game winning streak, marks that seemed completely out of their reach given their inconsistent play over the first couple of months. It could be a bit of luck, it could be catching Pittsburgh at a bad time, but it also could be the team has jelled a bit since the return of Jhonny Peralta. Not that Peralta has lit the world on fire, though he has played better than I expected, but maybe something in that veteran presence got them on the same page. Or it could be complete coincidence that they are 5-1 since his return.
We’ll get a chance to see how much of a step this team has taken this week facing both Texas teams. The Astros are first up and it’s surprising to look at the standings and see them sitting at 30-35. I’ve sent some questions off to our friend James at Astros County, one of which is what is the issue with the club, and will post those answers when I get them. Still, this is a pretty talented team, one that was in the playoffs just last year, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Then again, anyone with a memory of those epic Houston-St. Louis battles would never do such a thing.
Jaime Garcia goes for the Cardinals tonight, in the throes of a pretty awful stretch of games. Given Garcia’s history, you don’t rule out some sort of injury he’s not telling the club, but allowing 13 hits in less than five innings against Cincinnati last time at least shows that he’s having problems getting the ball past folks. We’ll see if that continues against a team that is kinda scuffling offensively when you look at the overall stats, though they are ninth in baseball in home runs.
Doug Fister will be on the hill for the Astros this evening. The Cardinals got a look at him when he was with the Nationals and while it’s not a big sample, of course, they seemed to do all right. Fister is having a pretty strong season, though, with a 3.34 ERA that has been dropping steadily since he gave up six runs in his second start of the season. In his last two starts, he allowed a total of one run in 12 innings. He doesn’t often go past the sixth, but he’s good while he’s in there.
It’s the first time (as far as I can tell) Colby Rasmus will play in Busch Stadium since July of 2011, right before John Mozeliak’s big trade that eventually paid huge dividends. It’ll be interesting what kind of reception he gets from the crowd, as most former Cardinals return faster that that (Albert Pujols excepted, of course). My guess is tepid applause, because the return of a not-quite-beloved player five years out seems to be tough to work up much emotion for. We shall see!
Oh, and if you are interested, I answered some questions for Baseball Reflections. Check those out here!