The Cardinals got killed in the first two games this series and finally came back and took the last one. All of that you know, so no need to go into all of that. But I do a have a few random thoughts about this series. So, in no particular order, here we go…
1) 3 starters aren’t enough
Part of the reason we got killed the first two games, besides the O’s being super hot right now, is that we had shaky starting pitching. They have their moments, but overall, Wainwright, Lynn and Miller and reliable. In a short series, that’s fine. But in a 7 game series, you need one more guy. Right now, we have the possibilities of Lackey, Masterson and Wacha. Each of these 3 have question marks for different reasons. This needs to get straightened out ASAP.
2) We have to get better off the bench
A lot of these guys will do okay when you plug them into the starting lineup, but when they come in off the bench, not so much. In their defense, there is nothing harder than sitting cold on the bench for 2 hours and then have to come in and swing at a 95 MPH fastball off the other team’s best reliever. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what they’re getting made millions to do and they need to get it figured out.
3) Yadi has to get well pronto
Most of Yadi’s worth is not measured by his offensive number or the number of runners he throws out, as good as both of those things are. It’s measured on all the guys who didn’t dare run on Yadi’s arm who have no problem going now. It’s measured by how he handles his staff, the pitches he calls and the leader he is on the diamond. Cruz and Pierzynski are doing fine in the offensive category. But they don’t strike the same fear in the hearts of runners. And you have to wonder that if Molina is behind the plate, do the Cardinals get blown out like that? Maybe. But there’s simply no way to know.
4) The Cardinals have to start playing like a playoff team
There’s this stigma that AL teams are better than NL teams. Of course, that’s not always the case. But in this series, it really seemed like a bunch of rookies trying to play with the big boys. The Cardinals looked outmatched in every way until this final game. What was the difference this last game? Look no further than the team RISP. The Cardinals have not been scoring a lot of runs this year. And the first two games, every time the Orioles, threatened, they delivered. In this game, Lynn kept them at bay.
Cardinals team RISP = 7 for 16 Orioles team RiSP = 2 for 13
5) Instant replay
This is more funny to be than anything. Buck Showalter motioned several times that he wanted the headset to talk to the guys who reversed the out call at 2nd base. Matheny said something similar about a week ago. “If they’re not going to give me the headset to yell at that guy, then it’s going to be someone on the field.” I’ll be honest, you need a good manager / umpire fight every now and again. As long as it doesn’t get carried away, it’s part of the game.
Conclusion: Everyone takes it for granted that the Cardinals are going to make it to the postseason every year. And my money is on them making it rather than not. I think until they show differently, the division is always theirs to lose. But they also need to get on a roll. It’s a little scary to still be 2 games out with just a little over a month to play. I don’t want to win the wild card; they need to win the division. One game for everything is too stressful.
Hope to see better results in Miami,
I keep telling myself that a win is a win. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if your team wins 20-0 or clings to a 6-5 victory, it all goes into the win column.
And technically that’s true.
But when your team almost loses in walk-off fashion for the 2nd day in a row against a last place team after being up 6-0 going into the 8th inning? It’s hard not to be concerned. Every team will have these moments here and there and obviously the Cardinals are no exception. But when you follow the team, it just feels like they are having these moments more than anybody.
The bullpen is becoming downright scary. I know it’s easy to say it’s not all their fault because there were a couple of defensive miscues in those last innings. But a good bullpen is supposed to hold the ship, even in despite of miscues. Remember in Game 7 of the NLCS when Scott Rolen made an error and the bases were loaded? Wainwright wiggled out of that jam in a tie game. That’s how good he was. And in a game with a 6 run lead, that should be more than enough wiggle room.
It shows you, though, that every run is valuable and you can never have enough. The two home runs, courtesy of Holliday and and Greene going deep, seemed like it would be enough. But as it turned out, it was important that we tacked on those four runs late in the game. The best part of that was that all of that happened with 2 outs. (And much of it also with 2 strikes.) I’ve said previously and I will continue to say that hitting with 2 outs is a major strength of this club. Hitting with 2 outs and hitting in late innings was something missing from the 2010 Cardinals and I’m glad to see that it’s different this year.
I looked up the stats just to see how much they’re doing this compared to other teams. As it turns out, the Cardinals are 1st in batting average, runs scored and RBIs and 2nd in slugging with RISP and 2 outs. Last year with RISP and 2 outs, they slugged .384 and hit .255. This year they are slugging .492 and hitting .336, a huge improvement. So while shaky defense and a shaky bullpen continues to give us Cardinal fans fits, there is a lot to be happy about.
And while they are hitting well with runners in scoring position and 2 outs, it doesn’t mean they are hitting well all the time. Sure, many of our guys are lighting it up and hitting over .300, but they are still grounding into an awful lot of double plays as a team. In fact, they lead the Majors in this awful stat. Of course a surprising reason for this is Albert Pujols, who accounts for over 25% of the teams GIDP. He leads the National League in that stat and has more than twice as many as any other Cardinal. But since he is tied for the 2nd in the NL in home runs and by the time it’s all said and done, will probably be top 5 in average and RBIs as well, it’s not so bad.
One other great thing I just realized. Matt Holliday finally “officially” leads the league in average. He’s always had the highest average of every day players in the NL, but since losing time to his appendectomy, he’s never had enough at-bats to qualify. He finally got enough at-bats and now with another 3-4 performance last night, is literally blowing everyone else out of the water. He’s hitting .429 and no one else is even close. Berkman who has been on his own tear is third with .385.
So there are definitely some positives for this club hitting-wise. And even with pitching, who thought Kyle Loshe would ever be this good? I thought he had a shot to be decent, but he is pitching incredibly. He’s tied for first in wins in the NL and is 2nd in ERA, with 1 shutout under his belt. That’s Waino territory, minus the strikeouts.
And I continue to be super impressed with Eduardo Sanchez. He gave up a couple of runs last night, his first of the season. But he has some flat out nasty stuff. He’s probably not ready yet, especially because of all the immense speculation that the closer role is drawing in St. Louis, but I hope this is our closer of the future. He doesn’t mess around, but goes right after hitters. They are only hitting .185 against him and he has a mere 1 walks against 14 strikeouts in only 8 innings pitched. And you can see why. The two guys he struck out last night looked like little leaguers against him. Again, it brought me back to the NLCS and the way that Wainwright would throw that big hook and nobody could touch it. I definitely like this guy.
But as a whole the bullpen has to get it together. Because now when we have a lead late in the game against a team, they are starting to think it’s possible. They think if they can just get past our starter, into our ‘pen, they have a chance to come back. You can’t have opposing teams thinking that. They have to look at scoring early or else, they will be shut down in the 7-8-9 innings.
Someone found my blog by googling, “How many times have the Cardinals lost in the 9th inning?” Let me help you out. In 12 save chances in the 9th, as as team, they have blown 7, which is the highest deficit in the NL.
Needing another series win,
For the first time in 2011, the Cardinals have won two in a row. And they did so in a big way, finally showing off the power that we have known is in that lineup all along.
Berkman hit his first home run as a Cardinal and deciding that wasn’t enough, went deep again a couple innings later. The base hits were coming quick and coming often, something we haven’t seen at all yet this season.
Every Cardinal starter got in on the action, including starting pitcher Kyle McClellan who went 2 for 3 and got the Cardinals on the board with the first RBI of the game. The TV announcer said,
“I’m trying to think of how many times we have said Yadier Molina scores from first on a 2 out double by Kyle McClellan. I’m thinking this is probably the first time.”
I’m sure he’s right.
But that’s just how the game went yesterday. The Cardinals were getting the long ball, they were getting base hits with 2 outs and they were getting extra base hits. The offense was starting to look alive. Last or nearly last in every major offense category, the Redbirds are slowly climbing out of the cellar in regards to team stats, as they now stand just 2 games under .500.
In pitching they continue to do well as McClellan not only showed off his bat, but pitched a great game too, especially for a 5th starter. If he pitches this good all season, I will be highly impressed at his move into the starting rotation.
Overall, the Cards are at the top in most team categories. They’re posting a low ERA, striking lots of guys out and even have a shutout and a complete game to their credit. They are one of only two games to have that complete game thanks to Jaime Garcia’s fantastic performance. All this and we still have our ace going to tonight, who surprisingly hasn’t recorded a win yet.
As much as things are starting to go right, it stands in deep contrast to the silent bat of our big man, Albert Pujols. Albert went 1 for 5 last night, raising his average to a mighty .150. This is Pujols and 10 seasons of record setting baseball speak for themselves, but he is going to have to get on track if the Cardinals are going to have a shot at winning the thing.
We’ve said since the beginning that it will be an uphill battle. Wainwright is gone, the defense is questionable, the health of prime guys like Berkman and Freese was up in the air. Add in the unknowns like an emergency appendectomy and it’s no doubt the Cardinals have their work cut out for them. So they need every player to contribute and they need their 3-4-5 to stay hot.
Something about Albert’s swing looks off to me. It doesn’t look like that pure swing he had going before. And I can’t help but wonder if his contract is looming large in his mind. It’s a lot of pressure, no matter how great a super start you are.
Hopefully we can gain some ground on the Reds tonight as we go against Armando Galarraga and the D-backs. Galarraga, of course, is not famous (or probably more infamous) for losing out on a perfect game due to a bad call from ump Jim Jocye. He will be a trivia answer for decades to come through no fault of his own. Maybe we can make him famous again tonight: “most runs given up by a starter.” I like the sound of that.
Berkman looking good in Cardinal red,
Starting 0-2 was not the ideal way to start the season. Especially when the Reds are busy sweeping their way to the division lead.
Enter Jaime Garcia.
I’ve said previously that Garcia is a huge key to the Cardinals success this year. He was already an important piece in the Cardinal puzzle, but after Wainwright went out for the year, he became an even bigger piece. He had a very iffy spring, but today he was every bit dominant.
Garcia pitched his second career shutout and struck out a career high 9. And it was not luck. He was 100% in the zone, locating his pitches, changing speeds and basically keeping all of the Padres hitters off balance. It was a thing of beauty.
The Cardinals are still concerning me with not being able to string together a rally, but they are missing Matt Holliday right now. I hope that when this lineup is fully healthy they will be able to dominate any pitcher they face. It was nice to see Theriot get an RBI base hit, as he has been struggling a bit to the start of the season.
We’re only a few days into the season and there is still a lot of baseball left to be played. But Garcia’s performance today gave me a lot of confidence in our ability to compete this year. And also made me think of how unstoppable we would be if we still had Wainwright.
I have blogged two previous Opening Days here at MLBlogs. In fact, my first blog entry on here was Opening Day of 2006. It was a great opener and that year I picked the Cardinals to win it all that year, because I thought they had the best team on paper. That was before they lost Mulder and Izzy. I would have not picked them if I had known that. But a young kid named Adam Wainwright stepped up to the plate to fill the role of closer. Wainwright would go on to give me the single greatest moment I have ever seen in Cardinal history….the big strikeout of Carlos Beltran with runners on in Game 7 of the NLCS.
It gives me hope about this season. Yes, we are missing Wainwright, who has since transitioned from closer to ace. Yes, we are missing Punto and there are ridiculous number of question marks in guys like Freese and Berkman. But you never know which young kid is going to step up and hit the game winning shot off the bench.
The 2007 Opening Day was my next and final Opening Day blog. I blogged off and on over the next few years, more off than on. And now here we are in 2011. Five years since that incredible year of 2006 and the impossible run of the team that nobody thought had a chance.
It’s time to prove yourselves again, Redbirds!
And with that here are my notes about Opening Day 2011….in no particular order:
- Hitting – The Cardinals hit plenty and got on base. Rasmus got a first inning triple and Holliday came through with 2 outs. Berkman and Freese, two big questions got back to back hits. But they never got that “big hit.” This was the proverbial thorn in the side from last year. Quite the opposite, as they grounded into way too many double plays.
- Beards – Um, what was with all the man scruff? Carpenter, Berkman and Pujols all had decent beards going on while Schumaker looked like Grizzly Adams out there. And Rasmus looked like he was trying.
- Defense – Defense has been a concern with the loss of Brendan Ryan and this ground ball heavy staff. And the worries proved accurate. Freese made a tremendous play up the line, but the middle infield guys made a couple of huge mistakes. Skip muffed a ball that should have been an easy strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play and instead turned into a run. And Theriot made an 11th inning error that led to the game winning run.
- Pujols – The guy who has 3 opening day home runs to his credit, couldn’t get the job done today. He would end up 0 for 5 and hit in 3 double plays. Pujols wasn’t worried and neither am I. All I got to say is tomorrow’s pitcher better look out because when he breaks out he will break out BIG.
- Bullpen – Franklin looked very uncloser-esque today. I hope this will be the exception and not the rule. The game winning run was given up by Augenstein. This is significant because he was the last guy to get a spot on the Cardinal roster, even beating out Salas who played in the bigs last year.
Overall, it wasn’t a horrible game. But it sure felt like 90% of our games from last year. Decent hitting, decent fielding and good pitching. But….they found a way to lose a game that should have easily been won. So much different than the champion Cardinals who always seemed to find a way to win. It is just the first game of the season so I am willing to cut them quite a bit of slack. I just hope I’m not still saying this at All-Star Break.
Many people are wondering if the Cardinal lineup will produce the runs it will inevitably need to this year. And while there are some question marks there, I feel confident in the lineup we have to put out there every day. I love Rasmus in the 2 spot. I think Berkman gets his swing back. I think Skip is better than a .200 hitter. I think Theriot finds his way as a leadoff guy.
But the pitching is the big unknown. Every year, every team wants more pitching it seems. And the breakout, unknown pitchers of the season are the ones who end up propelling their teams to the postseason.
Every one was excited about the prospect of trotting out Waino, Carp and Garcia out there every week. And then Wainwright went down. Wainwright was about as good as guaranteed every five days, so this is a tough situation.
The problem with people being excited about our top 3 is that Garcia is far from guaranteed. He had a great rookie campaign last year, no doubt. But now the hitters know him. And there is absolutely no way to know if he can repeat that success again this year. And as our number 3, we really needed him to. But now he’s our number 2. I have full confidence in Carpenter filling Wainwright’s spot. He’s been there and done it before. But Garcia now has to be what Carpenter was going to be. Guys like Loshe and McClellan have a little more slack as our 4 and 5 guys. They need to be decent, but they have some margin for error. Garcia, however, has to be consistently good if we’re going to have any kind of shot at this thing.
He has not shown that potential this spring. With a posted spring ERA of 7.94 ERA, I am tired of seeing title after title of, “Garcia looks to positives despite horrible performance” or some variation thereof. I get that the spring is the time to work out the kinks. I get that it’s about locating pitches more than the end result. But I haven’t always felt like he’s been locating real well. And I get that anything is possible until it starts counting. And that’s why I’m not grabbing my pitchfork yet. I’m willing to wait it out and see how he does come April. But I would be lying if I said Garcia doesn’t make me nervous. Let’s hope he can duplicate last year’s success and help make this a world championship team.
Garcia for the repeat,
So I recently read about the latest prominent injury, that of newly
acquired Brewer ace, Zack Greinke. He has a fractured rib and looks to
be out for a couple of weeks and missing about two starts.
A few things about this:
1) Brewer fans are probably livid that he did this playing pick-up basketball.
you’re a Major Leaguer, it’s not that you can’t play any other sports,
but rebounding hard in a friendly game? Probably not worth doing damage
to your $27 million arm, especially when a team pulled out all the
stops to get you. Also not the easiest way to get a fan base in your
Can you imagine if he did something more serious then
just a hairline fracture? The Crew would really be sunk this year. As
it is, a couple of missed starts in April is NOT the worst thing in the
world. Losing ace Adam Wainwright for an entire year? Now that
probably is the worst thing in the world.
2) Isn’t there something in professional contracts about not doing extreme things like skydiving and whatnot?
so, should there be something in there when a player inflicts damage on
himself? Although at least Greinke did this playing a real sport.
Remember Joel Zumaya? He injured a finger on his pitching hand playing
Guitar Hero. That’s right. A video game. And that was during the
ALCS. So horrible timing even though his Tigers did end up moving on to
the World Series that year. So yeah, it’s all perspective. It can
always be worse.
3) Cardinals must take advantage
would never root for an opposing player to be injured. And I do wish
Zack Greinke a quick and speedy recovery, just as I would hope opposing
fans would do for Wainwright. But what’s done is done. He is injured.
He will miss 2-3 starts. The Cardinals must take advantage of this
I know games in April seem to mean less than late
September, but at the end of 162 games when you’re 1 or 2 games out of
contention, suddenly all of those missed chances in April start haunting
you. Greinke will likely be a big winner for the Brewers this year and
be tough to beat. So now, while they’re down a guy is the time for the
Cardinals to start ahead in the standings.
In other news,
Morneau is back for the Twins after missing extensive time with the
Twins because of a concussion. The Twins are my favorite AL team and I
just like Morneau, in general, so I am thrilled to see him back.
Concussions are scary and becoming way too common in baseball and have
ended the careers of far too many players. Most recently was Jason
LaRue who suffered his from a kick to the end during an on-field
skirmish with the Reds and a run-in with Johnny Cueto’s spiked foot.
Edmonds suffered lingering concussion effects after a bad run-in with an
outfield wall. And one of my favorite Cardinals Mike Matheny’s career
ended early as well. Here’s hoping a very productive season for Morneau
and all the Twins!
Greinke out, Morneau in,