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,
Last night’s game was about as intense of a playoff like contest that you’re going to have in April. If that same game was played in late September, it would have been crazy in that stadium. Luckily for us Cardinal fans, the victory came down on our side. But I had my doubts all the way through that we were going to maintain that slim lead.
The gamemanship started before even the first pitch was thrown. LaRussa made a last minute switch to put in a bullpen guy to start in case the rain caused a delay. With the same expert-like calling of a pitchout when you just know that other guy is running, he was 100% dead on for this one. Normally, LaRussa drives me crazy with his constant lineup tinkering, but for once I was happy about it and it paid off. He was able to bring McClellan in for “relief” after the delay, essentially giving him the start, while Dusty Baker had to dip into his bullpen after one batter.
McClellan continued the awesomeness that has been the Cardinal pitching (minus Westbrook) and good things happened all the way around. Not to say this game didn’t make me nervous. In the first inning, the Cardinals should have put up a few runs. Ramsus not advancing on a ball in the dirt and putting himself in scoring position for the next basehit resulted in only 1 run. As it turns out, the runs they did get were enough.
I hate to say it this early, but this team and especially this game is awfully reminiscent of the 2006 Redbirds. That team was never overpowering, but they always had enough to get the job done. And when it looked like they wouldn’t win, they always did. It always just seemed to happen. It’s not just because they’re winning, although that helps. Just their attitude and everything about the way they are playing is different. They have an intensity that was not there last season and wasn’t really there in the first week of this season. I don’t know if it’s chemistry, Berkman’s influence or what, but I’m liking what I’m seeing.
The bullpen was great finishing out a close game and Boggs getting his second save since Franklin was demoted. And of course Yadier Molina continued in his defensive prowess. I never get tired watching him pick guys off of 1st base. It’s hands down my favorite play of the Cardinals. Especially when he does it to end an inning. Or like last night, when he does it to end an inning in a 2 run ballgame with runners on 1st and 2nd. Beautiful.
So far today the Redbirds are up 2-0 on the Reds. Could Carp get his first win of the season?? Say it ain’t so.
1st place Cardinals,
The offense has been so hot lately that when it finally cooled down, I expected it to happen gradually. Instead, it went from red hot to freezing in about 30 seconds. After at least a dozen hits in the last several games, today they only mustered a total of 4.
The sad part was this was my prediction once I realized it was Carp’s turn in the rotation. The Cardinals have notoriously given Carp little to no run support in many of his starts. Yes, he got clobbered earlier this year, but for the most part he turns in very solid performances and even sometimes bordering on great.
He kept the Cardinals with the Dodgers all game long, matching Chad Billingsley 0 for 0. Finally, in the 9th inning, the Cardinals broke through. Matt Holliday’s 3rd hit (yes, that’s right, he’s hitting .441!!!) led to a run giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.
After Trevor Miller failed to get the leadoff guy out, the Cardinals made a couple of bad moves.
Bad move #1 – LaRussa calls in Ryan Franklin, who has been very unsuccessful so far
this year in closing games.
Bad move #2 – Franklin is allowed to pitch to Matt Kemp.
Kemp has one previous at-bat against Franklin, also a home run. I understand LaRussa wanting to stand up for his players and that every guy is going to have bad games, but how many games does Franklin have to blow before he doesn’t have a job anymore? At least Minnesota closer Joe Nathan had the guts to go to his manager and ask for a different assignment until he got his control back.
This is not just one bad day or luck. Franklin is not getting beat on good pitches or lucky fall-in hits. He’s leaving the ball up in the zone and watching it get knocked out of the park. Only 1 converted save in 5 chances and an ERA above 11.00 is ridiculous. I dread to think how many more he would have blown if we hadn’t won our games by such huge margins.
Overall, I am ecstatic about this road trip. I expected 4-6, hoping for 5-5 and got 6-4. I don’t believe the Cardinals home record will be anywhere near as bad as it was to open the season and playing above .500 ball on the road is awesome.
The Cardinals missed an opportunity to gain a game on the Reds with their loss, but actually gained passed up the Brewers since they lost both games of their doubleheader today. So I guess it’s a good day when you can lose a game and still gain in the standings.
One team left to pass,
If you had told me prior to tonight’s game that the Cardinals would back Carp with 8 runs, I would have breathed a sigh of relief. A pitcher that has notoriously been under run-supported would finally be vindicated. His 0-1 record so far this year is terribly unfair for how he has pitched.
And yet? 8 runs would not be enough and Carp would be chased after 4 innings giving up 8 earned runs on 8 hits and 3 walks. It was a very un-Carpenter like performance. Last year, he gave up 6 or more earned runs only twice. And the last time he gave up at least 8 earned runs? I had to go all the way back to September 23rd of 2005. In fact 8 earned runs is a typical months worth of starts for Carp.
Hopefully, this is a fluke and he’s still right and will come back to his normal self next game. And speaking of flukes, Pujols started to show signs of breaking out of his early season slump. He went 3 for 5, although he’s yet to find his power stroke. His swing still looked very awkward on his first hit and it was just as much luck as anything. But as the game progressed, he started looking better at the plate. If that continues, expect him to have a multiple home run game in the near future.
Aside from the Cardinal loss, this was a great game. It had everything. And I really do mean EVERYTHING. 4 Cardinals had home runs, 5 had RBIs, 3 with 2 outs. 3 separate D-backs had home runs as well. Pitcher Bryan Augenstein recorded his first Major League hit immediately after giving up a 4 run inning and then left with a groin injury. We even had a heated ball cap to cap argument between the home plate ump and D-backs manager Kirk Gibson, leading to the ejection of Gibson. The only thing this game was missing was an inning-ending pick-off by Yadi.
It was really a great game, but it’s hard to enjoy when your team still ends up in the loss column. The main positive is that the offense continues to roll. So I have to feel that we will be winning more than we will be losing as long as the pitching staff continues their overall success.
Rubber match is tomorrow,
I looked up at the top of the screen to realize that it’s only just now the bottom of the 6th inning. That seems crazy because this game has been very intense and full of action right from the beginning. Not something I would have expected with the matchup going tonight: former Cy Young winner vs. near perfect game thrower.
But you never know what to expect in baseball and neither of these guys brought their A-game tonight.
So far the Cardinals have 3 homers by Berkman, Freese and Rasmus. The problem is they were all solo shots. Had there been runners on, the Cardinals would easily be in the lead right now. 2 D-backs have gone deep (Jason Upton and Chris Young) for a total of 5 runs.
But the Redbirds haven’t given up; they’ve continued to chip away at Arizona’s lead and have not pulled within one. But Arizona won’t be caught up to quietly. So far they’ve put runs on the board in every inning.
This is easily the kind of game I would LOVE to be there for in person. And the kind of game where I can’t understand why anyone would ever think baseball is boring.
As I type this, Arizona just scored again to continue their scoring in every inning. So round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows!
The Cardinals opener left a lot to be desired. Yes, they were playing the always difficult Padres, but throwing Chris Carpenter on the mound gave me confidence that they could walk away with the W. Carp did his part, but shoddy defense and a faulty closer led to a devastating 11th inning loss.
If you’re on the Padres side, it’s the stuff that dreams are made of. Your team is down to their last out and of your guys jacks a home run to tie the game up and you go on to win in extras. But as a Cardinal fan, it was more than heartbreaking.
Normally, I hate the 2nd day off day right after Opening Day. You gear up for baseball and then you have to wait. But in this case, I think it’s probably the best thing for the team. Gives them an extra day to forget this mess, forget the errors, forget giving up the game tying and winning home runs. It’s a fresh start. Almost like a second opening day.
But in order for there to be a better outcome, these are the things that will need to happen:
- Better defense
ESPECIALLY the middle infield. Yes, errors happen. But to have two routine plays bobbled that lead to runs is unacceptable. The up the middle guys have got to get their timing down, both individually and working with each other. Theriot’s miscue was especially bad, since it was just pretty much taking the ball from his glove. Come on. I know we didn’t trade Brendan to see that happen.
- More running
Or about just running in general, since it’s basically been non-existent in St. Louis since the 80’s. The Cardinals hit into four double plays in their last game. Granted, three of them were by Pujols, which is a rare thing that is not likely to reoccur. Nevetheless, double plays are a part of the game. Something that would be eliminated somewhat by the running game. With guys like Theriot, Rasmus, Schumaker, etc in the lineup, there’s no reason we can’t run more. Heck, even Holliday and Pujols have the ability to steal bases in the right situation. LaRussa has never been a big base stealing manager and I don’t understand why not. This team is equipped for speed in certain places and we need to see that happen.
Here’s a breakdown of Pujols’ 3 double plays
- 1st – Theriot on 2nd and Rasmus on 1st
- 2nd – Rasmus on 1st
- 3rd – Rasmus on 1st
In any of these situations, if the run was on, at least the double play would have been avoided and who knows what that leads to. You score one more run and the Padres don’t tie it up in the 9th. If LaRussa refuses to run with these guys this year, it will be completely ridiculous.
- Franklin to show he is capable of closing
A lot of people have been down on Franklin. I have not been one of those people. Unless you have a guy like Mariano Rivera closing your games, people tend to think that a closer is lousy unless he is closing at 100%. Still, Franklin is not the easiest guy to watch in the 9th. He will often make it more interesting than I would care for. Bottom line is you want the kind of guy closing your games that you don’t question it. He comes in, he closes the game, end of story. I hope Franklin is able to be that kind of guy in ’11. If this is just one hiccup in a great year of closing games, fine. This game will soon be forgotten. But if this is just a prequel of what’s to come, it’s time we start looking elsewhere for someone to lock it down in the 9th.
Being .500 to start the season isn’t so bad. Now being down 0-2 is pretty cringe worthy. Especially since the Reds are enjoying the walk off kind of wins. It’s time to prove to everyone that St. Louis is in it to win it in 2011.
11 in ’11,