Their First Steps Into a Larger Season

After all the stops and starts, the Cardinals actually took the field this weekend.  They did so in double masks, without touching anyone, and even masked up in Zoom calls after the game.  No one can say they aren’t taking this seriously, because another stoppage would put an end to their season.  (Sadly, their reworked schedule is already in danger of fraying as the Reds had their own positive COVID-19 case this weekend and we’ll have to wait and see if that affects them coming to Busch on Thursday.)  Even though they played more seven inning games than the normal nine, even though many of the names on the roster would be at Memphis or lower in a regular year–even in August!–it was Cardinal baseball and it was, save for one inning, a pretty successful return to the diamond.

Of course, most of the focus was on the Official Prospect of the Blog Dylan Carlson, who made his debut and was one of the few players to not get some sort of rest this weekend, managing to play all three outfield positions and played a full game in all three outings.  When John Mozeliak said, “I believe he’s going to play” when he was called up, he wasn’t joking.  Carlson looked like he belonged, as well.  We talked about not putting too much pressure on the young man and he didn’t break the door down, but he got a couple of hits, including one on Sunday that showed his advanced hitting awareness, and hit a couple of other balls hard enough that they usually would have been hits.  If nothing else, he had a better first three games than a rookie third baseman back in 2001, who went 1-9 in his first series.  So if he can just keep being better than Albert Pujols, he’ll have no problems.

Overall, this weekend went about as well as you could expect if you were a Cardinal fan.  The adrenaline and focus that comes with being off for so long and wanting to show that they didn’t want to be a joke any longer probably helped them knock off any rust that they may have had.  Kolten Wong set the tone as he–I almost hate to use the term–ground out a walk to start the game.  That helped show that they weren’t overanxious, they weren’t just going to be flailing away, but that they had a plan and they were going to stick to it.

The question is going to be, of course, what happens when that newness, that adrenaline, fades and you start going through the landscape that sees you play an average of 10 innings a day the rest of the way.  This week is a big one, because they are playing 1/2 of their season allotment against the division leader, their biggest rival, and probably the team most likely to keep them from repeating as division champs.  To cram that into three days is a big challenge.  If they are up for it, though, they could get even closer to returning to the top spot.  (They’d have to sweep to take over first and, while we know what happened the last time the Cards went to Wrigley, trying to sweep a five game series with two doubleheaders really seems to be asking a lot.)

The Cards had yet another Opening Day and, just like the first time, won the series while faltering on Sunday.  Let’s hope they do better against the Cubs than they did against the Twins!

Saturday, Game 1 (5-1 win)

Hero: Adam Wainwright.  There probably wasn’t anyone better to take the mound after a layoff than a veteran guy who has gone through so many different setbacks through his career.  He knows a little about having a lot of time off and then trying to get back to major league shape.  The fact that he was able to go five innings was a lifesaver for the club for the weekend, allowing Mike Shildt not to overtax the bullpen and, in fact, nobody had to pitch twice in the series.  We talked about Wong setting the tone above, but Waino did that on the pitching side.

Goat: Not sure who to go with here.  Carlson went 0-4, but I hate to give a rookie the Goat first time out (although I’m about to make an exception to that).  Wong also went 0-3 in the leadoff spot, but that first walk really meant something and led to the four run first.  I guess I’ll go with Paul Goldschmidt, who did get a hit, but didn’t score or drive in a run and he left four men on.

Notes: Nice to see Andrew Knizner get a couple of hits.  Given that he started here and on Sunday, it could be that we’ll see him a majority of the time while Yadier Molina is out, though with the doubleheaders that might not give him that much of an edge over Matt Wieters.  I didn’t get to see it, but everyone was raving over Giovanny Gallegos‘s inning, where he struck out all three batters he faced.  Gallegos got a late start this year, but he’s pretty much on the same footing as everyone else now and hopefully this is what we’ll see going forward.  Also, I was hoping that with all the craziness the road blues would be ignored in 2020.  Sadly, that’s not the case.

Saturday, Game 2 (6-3 win)

Hero: Tyler O’Neill.  Two hits, including a big home run that gave the Cards the lead right after the White Sox had regained it.  It’s a small sample, but so far O’Neill is justifying those that said he needed to start and be left alone.  His strikeout rate is lower (though he did strike out twice in Game 1) and he’s already got three home runs.  We’ll see how the league adjusts but right now, it’s good to be Canadian.

Goat: Matt Wieters.  0-3 and left three men on.

Notes: Harrison Bader went 0-3 but his speed (and a video review) proved to be vital.  Instead of the White Sox turning a double play, he was safe by a fraction of a step and that opened the floodgates to a four-run inning that saw St. Louis take a lead they would not relinquish.  Dan McLaughlin made a point of saying how rarely he hits into a double play, having done so only five times in his career.  Of course, the next time up…..he hit into a double play.  Baseball, man.  This was also the debut game, it felt like, though as Josh wrote this weekend, there were a lot of major league debuts all weekend long.  Max Schrock got into his first game and had two hits while Jake Woodford make his major league debut as a last minute starter and looked good, allowing only a home run in three innings.  People were stepping up everywhere and it was great to see.

Sunday (7-2 loss)

Hero: Seth Elledge.  There wasn’t a clear pick here but Elledge had a great debut, even if it came when the game was already out of hand.  Elledge went 2.1 innings and struck out five of the seven batters he faced, allowing no one to reach.  Elledge probably isn’t going to be that good going forward but it definitely will let him have some opportunities.  If nothing else, he knows he’s not last on the pecking order when Kodi Whitley and Junior Fernandez are ready to return.

Goat: Roel Ramirez.  Look, I said before, I hate to assign this to a guy making his debut, but what else can you do here?  The Cards were down 1-0 when Ramirez came in and, less than an inning later, they are down 7-0 when allowed four consecutive home runs.  Ramirez was a surprising addition to the COVID Cardinals and, if the first game is any indication, he’s probably not quite ready for the big leagues.  I imagine he’ll get another chance in some low-leverage situation, but when Whitley and Fernandez are ready, he’ll head back to Springfield.

Notes: I’m still not sure that I trust Dakota Hudson, but he definitely gathered himself after a rough first inning.  Indeed, I was glad to see him get out of the first with just one run allowed, so the three scoreless after that were a bit of a bonus.  I feel like that’s kinda what we were going to always have with Hudson–holding our breath and hoping it all comes out right, even as he continues to be effective.  Rob Kaminsky probably dreamed of putting on that Cardinal uniform when he was drafted.  He just didn’t know it’d take seven years, a trade, a non-tender, and a global pandemic.  Doesn’t matter how you get there as long as you get there and he’s got a scoreless major league inning to his name.  Nice to see Matt Carpenter come through and drive in the only runs of the game.  Carpenter hasn’t really shown that stroke that we saw in summer camp yet and it’s fair to start wondering if 2019 was more representative of the future than we were hoping.

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