We’ve talked about it numerous times, but the weight of each game this season is 2.7 times a normal season. Now, with the farce of expanded playoffs, you don’t need as many of those wins, but it’s still mathematically true that 162 divided by 60 is 2.7. Which means that every win or every loss is almost like a sweep of a regular series.
And so far? The Cardinals have got some fine broom work going on.
It’s still a little hard to know what this team is, given that they are playing a Pirates team that no one expected to be any good when 2020 looked like it was going to be a full season. Even with just 60 games and the randomness that comes with it, there’s still nobody touting them as a dark horse candidate in an NL Central that looks to be very competitive with the top teams. Pittsburgh is exactly the kind of opponent you want to ease your way into this sort of full season.
Still, even with that, you have to like what you’ve seen over the last two days. One, because it’s baseball and we weren’t sure that we’d be getting any of that this season, but two the offense has been solid and much more of a powerhouse than we saw out of last year. There were a lot of people questioning how bats that were so quiet last year would get better in 2020, especially since there were no real additions and there was the subtraction of Marcell Ozuna. Two games may not tell us anything in regards to that, but it also might be an early indication that Jeff Albert’s lessons are starting to sink in a little more with time and repetition.
Let’s take a look at Friday’s game first. Before we get into that, though, let me first do a quick reminder. Every year since 2008, I’ve picked a Hero and a Goat for each game. The Hero isn’t always the person with the best line, but it could be someone that came through in a big moment. Likewise the Goat doesn’t necessarily have the worst line, but it’s a rare time when they do have a big day and still get it. Also I have a general rule that, if there’s a tie on the Goat, one of the tiebreakers is the leadoff guy gets extra weight because of how important it is. (So if there are a couple of 0-4s that are vying for the “title” and one is the leadoff guy, he probably gets it.)
Friday proved that Jack Flaherty is still the guy that we saw in the second half of last year. He got nicked a little bit in the seventh, but even though the Pirates got two runs off of him, they didn’t hit him hard. There was one that bounced off Tommy Edman that, in a slightly different spot, is an out instead of a baserunner. Flaherty almost worked out of the bases-loaded, one-out jam anyway. He threw 89 pitches in seven innings, remarkably efficient, and did so in his first stint after a short Summer Camp. Not that anyone thought that the run he had last year was a fluke but there was some discussion on how he’d be able to build on such a historic stretch. If Friday is any indication, we’re in for a treat this season.
Last year, the Cardinals finished 12th out of 15 National League teams in home runs. The team won by pitching, defense, and excellent baserunning. All those aspects still seem to be with the club in this season, but the thunder has come as well. Tyler O’Neill started it off by flat out muscling a high fastball out of the park to give the Cards their first lead. (And, so far, they’ve not trailed in a game.) Dexter Fowler, to my untrained eye, didn’t really look good in his first at bat and was looking ugly in his second….until he got a pitch to drive to make it 2-0. Later in the game, Paul DeJong smacked a two-run shot. It was only Yadier Molina‘s flare with Paul Goldschmidt on third that brought in a run without the ball leaving the yard.
For a while, it was feast or famine. It seemed like the only hits were the ones soaring deep into the night. However, the offense came around and wound up with nine hits (so six of the non-HR variety) and also drew three walks. The only sour note might have been Tommy Edman getting caught stealing, but replays showed he might have been safe, but it was close enough Mike Shildt didn’t want to challenge it (especially since he’d challenged an out call that was reversed–as it should have been, as it was almost Denkinger-like–to get Edman on base).
So who gets the Goat? I really hate to do this to a guy making his debut, but Kwang-Hyun Kim just about let a lead slip away, revisiting all the painful memories Cardinals fans have about the various closers that have made things much more interesting than you’d like. Perhaps it was a bit of nerves, but the Pirates didn’t have a lot of trouble early on with Kim. In fairness, he might have gotten the first guy out but Edman had a miscue, but after that it was a double by Colin Moran and then a two-run single by Jose Osuna. Give Kim credit, though–with the tying run at first and nobody out, he got a flyout and a double play and ended the threat. Hopefully now that he’s gotten his feet wet, we’ll see more of the Kim we saw in the exhibition game on Wednesday rather than what we saw last night.
A short turn around time meant that after going months without Cardinal baseball, we got to see two complete games in basically 21 hours. The Cards had their Saturday home alternates on, though as someone else noted on Twitter, they looked much more white than cream. I’m guessing it was the sun/cameras, because I’ve not heard anything about a change in uniforms. And the cream, unlike those insane powder blues, actually looks good.
Adam Wainwright took the mound and early on I was a little concerned. While he did have some good results, it felt like he was staying away from batters too much, running deep counts and seemingly trying to use their aggressiveness to his advantage. Which is a good plan, but the Pirates weren’t really accommodating and many of his pitches weren’t deceptive or close enough to get them to swing.
That said, there’s a reason Wainwright is in his 15th season and not sitting at home watching his old friends start another year. Wainwright worked with what he had and was an inch away from getting out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation without allowing a run. That full count pitch was called a ball instead and the run came home, but Uncle Charlie got out of it without anyone else scoring and made it through six innings without another blemish on the scoreboard. I love me some vintage Wainwright and laughed at least once as he dropped one of those excellent curveballs in the top of the zone that had the Pirates hitter swinging well out in front.
The offense started early in this one, with Paul Goldschmidt going deep in his first at bat. That was the only homer, though, which shows that the offense is not just boom or bust. St. Louis managed eight more runs with smart baserunning (a hit and run with Yadier Molina getting a flare in there moving Paul DeJong to third, Dexter Fowler going first to third on a Tyler O’Neill single) and some pop as well (Matt Carpenter getting his first hit of 2020 against a lefty brought in to face him with two one, with Carp smacking a double off the wall). Tommy Edman tripled in two runs as well and all in all, the offense looked pretty snazzy.
We’ll give the Hero tag to Paul DeJong, who had two hits, including a two-run single in the seventh that pushed the lead out to 5-1 and made you feel much better about the odds of things going well and getting Wainwright the victory he needed to tie Bob Forsch for third on the franchise leaderboard. However, every starter got a hit in this one except Harrison Bader, who did score two runs as he reached by being hit by pitch twice, but he winds up the Goat by default. Bader had some better at bats today than he did on Friday, but there’s still concern on whether he’s made the adjustments to be an effective hitter. He’s not been able to get one to drop yet and his approach hasn’t been overwhelmingly different either. Still, it’s just been two games so it’s hard to make too many judgements.
Even with his homer on Friday, I wasn’t terribly impressed with Dexter Fowler’s at bats, as I noted above. Saturday started out more of the same, but he did take a hanging pitch and drive it with some authority in the fourth, breaking the 1-1 tie. It was Fowler’s only hit and, just like Friday night, he got replaced late by Lane Thomas, though at least in this one Thomas got an at bat. Matt Wieters also made his 2020 debut, catching the ninth inning. That’ll probably be all he gets to do this week, especially with two off days.
John Gant threw 1.2 innings of very good ball. I’ve been down on Gant given his terrible second half last year, but if he can start the season like he started last year, he’ll be able to be effective all the way to the playoffs. I’m fine with that. Tyler Webb got the last out of the eighth and the first two of the ninth before Mike Shildt let Daniel Ponce de Leon get the last out. We’ve seen the first two starters go about as far (if not farther) than you’d see deep into a season, so Ponce de Leon and Austin Gomber, the long men in the bullpen, might not have a ton to do. When the rosters have to be cut down in a couple of weeks, it’s going to be interesting to see who goes and if these guys adapt to more of a short relief role.
Speaking of pitchers, Giovanny Gallegos threw to batters before the game. From all indications, he looked good. My guess is they’ll see how he feels tomorrow, then activate him for the Twins series on Tuesday.
Again, it’s the Pirates. We have to wait and see just how much of this carries forward, how much the offense is truly this and how much is due to Pittsburgh pitching. In a shortened season, though, starting off 2-0 is a really big deal and hopefully they can make it 3-0 tomorrow when Dakota Hudson takes on Mitch Keller. Let’s hope for a sweep–the real kind, not the practical kinds!