After an off day, it’s back to work for the boys in Red. And no better team to compete against than the Chicago Cubs. It’s usually a pretty good series with a lot of intensity. It doesn’t matter that the Cubs are playing under .500 and completely irrelevant this year. It’s ALWAYS fun to beat the Cubs.
I think Brandon Phillips was jealous of the rivalry we’ve had with
most of the division besides the Reds, which is probably why he’s always
trying to start crap. He’ll soon realize that the Reds are not here to
stay and will fade away just as quickly as they came on the scene.
A Votto-less Reds team beat the the Astros yesterday, meaning they were able to pull up a half game on the idle Redbirds. So it’s time to turn the engines on full force. You don’t want the Reds pulling even and thinking they have a chance.
And it starts today with sweeping or at least getting a series win against the Cubbies. Let’s go Cardinals!
First pitch in an hour,
So after taking 2 of 3 from Houston, it was time to see if the Cardinals could take their recent success to Atlanta, and beat a tougher team and a tougher pitcher in Tim Hudson. The Cards sent their ace, Chris Carpenter, to the mound to do the job.
Big surprise: once again we did not get Carp a win. Are there any other teams who have sent their #1 guy to the mound 6 times and still haven’t gotten a win for him? He’s pitched well. There was one game where he let it get out of control, giving up 8 runs over 4 innings. But besides that, he has gone deep into games, getting out of jams and deserving a win. But every game either the Cardinal bats or the bullpen have conspired against him.
Last night, it was the bats. For all the talk of bullpen trouble, they actually held their own. Sanchez was again impressive. I could watch that guy pitch all day. There was unnecessary drama in the 9th. The tying run was once again at the plate with a runner on. And he flew out to Matt Holliday who made a pretty decent over the shoulder catch on the warning track, just shy of home run distance. The drama has probably given me ulcers, but I’ve grown to accept that may just be the way it is with the Cardinals. And as long as they win, I probably won’t complain (too loudly) and last night they were able to win. Combine that with the Reds loss and it was a pretty good night. Unfortunately, the Cubs won.
After a night when the big boys ripped the cover off the ball, it was not so big guys making the noise last night. Yadier and Descalso each had an RBI to knot the game at 2-2 and after the Braves homered to make it 3-2, Descalso hit a sac fly to again tie the game at 3-3 in the 9th inning. Then it went to extras where things got interesting. You figure the 10th inning is where they have to make it happen. They have Pujols, Holliday, Berkman coming up that inning. Back to back to back jacks, perhaps? Nope. They go down easy, 3 up, 3 down.
But in the 11th inning, the Cardinals start to make some noise. With 2 runners (via a HBP and walk) and 2 out, Nick Punto steps to the plate. Punto was brought to St. Louis to be an all-around utility guy, because he’s decent with his glove. Not because of his extraordinary bat. In fact, going into this at-bat, he’s already 0-5 on the night, hitting .160 for the season. But on some nights the cards fall just right. (No pun intended.) Normally, Theriot would be leading off and in this spot and not Punto, but he was recovering from rib cage soreness. But the stars aligned and Punto ripped the ball down the right field line for a 2 RBI triple. And that would be the game. 5-3 Redbirds.
I really do feel bad for Carp. I know they always talk about team wins rather than personal wins, blah, blah, blah. But it has to be bad on the morale to go out their game after game and not be able to secure the win. And Carpenter is equally responsible for their win last night because he kept the game close despite a couple bad breaks. One that jumps to mind was the play in the 7th inning. Berkman made a decent throw to try and get the base runner at 3rd and instead hit him in the back. Nothing you can do about that. But it meant runners on 2nd and 3rd with only 1 out. So they walk Chipper to load the bases and face Brian McCann. Carp induces the double play and they get out of that inning that could have been a lot more damaging.
Speaking of that Berkman throw, it would have been nice to see him throw a runner out. The Cardinals have not had one outfield assist this year. Not one. I mentioned before how bad the Cardinal defense is. This is just a team that is more offense than defense, which has not usually been typical of Cardinal clubs. I mean, when Edmonds was in the outfield, he would have had several assists this year, not to mention many runners being scared to go on him. But I do have to give it up for Nick Punto. He did make a nice play last night. And with the lack of quality defense has a whole, it’s nice to see the occasional great play.
I’ve been watching the 76 second Reebok recaps of the games. Sometimes they will include home runs or game winning doubles, but mostly it’s just great defense packed into 76 seconds, which I love. I watched probably a week’s worth last night. And not one Cardinal play was on there. That should tell you something about Cardinal defense.
The only other scary moment of the game was when Gerald Laird got hit in the head in the 9th inning with a bat. I mean he got hit hard. So hard that he fell over and looked pretty dazed. Molina was already out of the game, so if Laird had to come out, it would have called for an emergency catcher situation, which the announcers were saying was Daniel Descalso. That would have been interesting to say the least. I had to be the emergency catcher one time on my college softball team. It was a lot of fun, but I also wasn’t catching a 97 MPH Jason Motte fastball.
So after a horrendous beginning, the Cardinals now have won 5 series in a row. A win today or tomorrow would give them 6. They aren’t dominating teams and sweeping them, but that’s okay. If you win every series, you have yourself a championship. It’s just one series at a time. And that seems to be the way the Cardinals are handling it. And while you have guys like Schumaker and Craig out, or Freese sitting, you need to see guys like Descalso and Punto deliver. One thing in common of all championship teams is that they don’t just look to their 3-4-5 guys to get it done. Production comes from surprising places at times and it comes from up and down the lineup. For maybe the first time this year, I believe the Cardinals really do have a shot to play in October and to play well. They have this way of rising to the occasion when everyone has doubted them. Hopefully they can keep it going today.
Takin’ down the chop,
This is not the first time this season, we have seen the Cardinal offense errupt. Normally, it is over 9 innings and not in one, but nonetheless, when these guys are clicking, it’s clear what they can do. And that’s good because our pitching is shaky at times, especially the relief pitching, as well as our defense.
The defense is actually painful to watch at times. The Cardinals have the fourth highest number of errors in the NL and the only teams that have poor are sub .500 teams. Over the years the Cardinals have been known for outstanding defense. In the 80s you had the Wizard and even more recently, guys like Edmonds and Rolen were just fun to watch. Rolen was a vacuum at 3rd base. Not only did he make the routine plays with ease, but he made the ridiculously hard plays look easy. Edmonds had a flair all his own, laying out to catch fly ball after fly ball or hopping the fence to rob a home run.
These days the defense is abysmal at best. Only Yadier’s cannon is exempt. With the rest of them, if they make the routine plays I’m happy because that doesn’t always happen. And spectacular plays are certainly few and far between. Most of our outfielders aren’t going to be throwing runners out at the plate and our infield has struggled to catch anything hit sharply.
This combined with a not so strong effort from the bullpen last night again allowed a last place Houston team to feel like they had a shot to win, even as the Cardinals led by 6 runs in the late innings. And indeed they did. For the second day in a row, the ‘Stros had the tying run at the plate. Fortunately, after a wild pitch by Salas, backup catcher Laird dove over home plate as Hunter Pence raced home, just in time to get the inning ending out. If it wasn’t for that, who know what would have happened that inning?
Of course for the Cardinals the big inning was the 6th inning, where they put up 9 runs on 9 hits and 1 walk. Most remarkably, all of the hits, minus Berkman’s home run, were singles. Small ball at its best. In that inning, 4 players (Freese, Pujols, Holliday and Berkman) each had 2 hits.
Overall, the Cardinals scored 11 runs on 15 hits. Lance Berkman had quite the game against his old team, as I mentioned here that he probably would. The only two extra base hits of the game, a double and a home run, belonged to Berkman. He went 4 for 5 with 5 RBIs, heavily contributing to that powerful middle of the order lineup. The 3-4-5 guys went a total of 8 for 14 with 8 RBIs. And that’s what these guys are paid to do. To continue to go after opposing pitchers, unrelenting hit after hit. Many people have questioned the contract of Matt Holliday, but I think he has showed himself worthy of every penny. He hasn’t had the career of Albert, of course, but he has proven himself quite valuable and a much more affordable price. And you can’t say enough about Berkman. He was gambled on, in the offseason and Cardinal fans everywhere are so glad he was. He has continued to rake and has now hopped to 2nd in the NL in average, behind none other than? Matt Holliday.
In today’s game, it would be nice to finally get Chris Carpenter a win. It’s an unfair world where Carp is 0-2 and Kyle McClellan is 4-0. The biggest reason for that, of course, is run support. Carp has only allowed more than 2 runs, in one of 5 starts this season. But his teammates have not returned the favor. He has the worst run support on the Cardinals staff and the 11th worst in the NL. On the other hand McClellan has the 6th best run support in the NL, at a crazy 9.10.
Taking on the Braves,
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,
Looks like Theriot is out of the lineup again tonight as he was a late scratch from last night’s lineup. It scares me when our guys are breaking down and it’s only April. But Pujols is back in, so perhaps, some of these “injuries” are not as bad as they first appear.
This does mean another lineup shakeup though, especially because Rasmus is sitting tonight as well. Theriot and Rasmus have consistently been the 1-2 punch all year. There’s no word on him being injured, so I’m guessing it’s just a preventative day for him. I’m sure LaRussa loves to have an excuse to shuffle his lineup because even when he’s got all of his regulars starting, he’s known for shuffling his lineup more times than a blackjack dealer in Vegas.
So today Punto (still filling in for the injured Schumaker) is our leadoff guy and Freese sits in the 2 hole. 3-4-5 look standard. Other notable changes are Jay is batting 8th and playing CF and Greene is batting 7th, playing shortstop. I truly believe our lineup is the best thing we have going for us and very deep, so even with a few key guys down, I still think we have the pop to get it done.
And we sure need this win after yesterday’s ugly loss. Every team is going to have those games that are in your reach, but you end up losing, but what you do after it is what’s important. If we can come back now and take 2 of 3 and still win the series, I can live with an ugly loss here or there. (Though I still don’t have to like it.)
It will be interesting to see who gets the 9th inning if a save situation presents itself. Who would you give it to if you were LaRussa? Franklin? Bogss? Someone else? And remember, Miles is not an option anymore. 🙂
Glad Pujols is back,
Same story, different chapter. Cardinals have game in the bag;
Cardinals lose game. Cardinals have lots of chances; Cardinals blow all
chances. Cardinals have lead in the 9th inning; Cardinals blow lead in
9th inning. It’s becoming draining to watch.
Now obviously it’s
so much easier to be a Monday morning quarterback, then in the heat of
the moment, but I really do not understand LaRussa’s decision making
Sometimes it’s like he wants to be the ultimate chess
player, as he will switch pitchers every two seconds. Brings a guy in
to face one guy and then he’s out of there. A great example of removing
a guy that made little sense to me was in our loss against the Reds.
In the 8th inning, Batista had gotten two outs, including 1 strikeout
and would have had 3 outs except for a throwing error by his 3rd
basemen. So they have him give the free pass to Votto. He gets the
next guy 0-2 and then plunks him. Why take him out? He was obviously
pitching well enough to get that last out. Instead LaRussa brings in
Trevor Miller who walks a guy, takes him out and of all things brings in
Franklin to give up the winning runs.
Then today when Boggs was
pitching the 9th inninng and obviously struggling, he leaves him in
there until he loses the game. Why, why, why, why? Supposedly once
Franklin was removed, it was going to be a wait-and-see approach to the
closing of games. Boggs has been doing well, so I have no problem with
him getting the first crack at it. But once he showed he didn’t have
his stuff tonight, why leave him in there? Because he’s the “closer.”
In the 9th inning, Boggs gives up a base hit,
then makes an error allowing the runners to get to 1st and 3rd. This is
followed by a wild pitch that scores the tying run. He gives up TWO
MORE BASE HITS to load the bases and he is still left in. I cannot
figure out why a guy in the 9th inning, who makes a fielding error,
gives up 3 hits and throws a wild pitch is allowed to finish the game.
As you would expect, he gives up one final hit, ending the game for good
as the Astros come up victorious.
I feel most sorry for Daniel
Descalso. He had a heck of a game going 3 for 3 with a couple extra
base hits and 3 RBIs. It’s hard to enjoy it when your team is loses.
Yadi picked another guy off and as I’ve mentioned before, I can’t get
enough of that.
And as I thought Berkman kept up his great
hitting against his former team, going 2 for 5 including a double. I
still expect him to go deep at least once in this series. It was also
awesome to see the great standing ovation they gave to their former
slugger. That is a great organization right there, that the Cardinals
have had some great rivalries with over the years. Yet, there is still a
great deal of respect between the two teams. It’s too bad the Reds
can’t learn something from the Astros in that area. Maybe it’s because
they’ve bad so horrible all these years, they don’t know how to handle
it when they have some success?
No matter how well the Cardinals are doing, they do not get a lot of media attention. So unless they are winning a World Series or one of their guys throws a no-no, you rarely seem them on the front page of mlb.com, which is saying something considering they have a couple of the most feared hitters in the game.
But today they have something that is news. The Cardinals are opening up a series at Houston. Big deal, right? Nobody cares about a couple of NL Central teams duking it out. Except that this means that former ‘Stro Lance Berkman is returning to the place he became a star. Berkman played 12 years with the Astros before getting traded to the Yankees late last season. The Yankee-experiment flopped, which means that he was looking for a new home for the first time since his career began in 1999. And he found it with the Cardinals.
Personally, I was excited about the Berkman acquisition. I know he’s getting older and has some health issues. And some thought his power numbers were declining, but I thought it was worth a shot. If he could be even half as good as he has shown he can be, it could really boost the Cardinals lineup. And you can’t argue with the veteran presence.
Every Cardinal fan knew what it meant to fear the bat of Berkman. Whether the Astros were in postseason contention or bringing up the cellar, they had a way of always coming back and stinging the Cardinals. And sometimes Berkman did it singlehandedly. I used to dread him coming up to the plate from the left side, slightly hunched over stance and watch him unload on our pitchers, making those Crawford boxes the most evil things I knew. I knew if we could harness his power for good…..ok, a bit much there. But you know what I’m saying.
As it turns out, he has been twice the Berkman we thought we were getting. Not that anyone expects him to keep up this torrid pace, but for now, I’ll take it.
He’s hitting .377 / .449 / .725, significantly over his career line of .297 / .409 / .725. He continues to tee off of opposing pitchers, already at 6 home runs on the season, with 15 RBI. The really good news is that when players return to their old ballparks to face old teams, they tend to do really well. I’m hoping this will be no different for Berkman.
So the question of the day is a two parter:
1) How many extra-base hits with Berkman get this series?
2) How many times will he reach the Crawford boxes?
Berkman looks good in red,