Don’t look now but the Cardinals seem to be actually on a roll. Don’t confuse this with the team getting hot. Yes, they’ve won 3 in a row and 6 of their last 7, but I wouldn’t necessarily call the way the Cardinals have been doing it, “getting hot.” 4 of their last 6 games, including, their last 3, have all been 1 win margins. Most of that has come from wins in the late innings, including the walk-off variety, because they have dug themselves in a hole in the early innings, or blew the save.
Nevertheless, a win is a win and the standings only show the wins, not how it happened. I’m just hoping that these squeaker wins will truly spark the Cardinals into getting themselves going on all cylinders. A lot of the pieces seem to be right there: Adams has begun to heat up again, Descalso is producing off the bench, Yadi has begun to catch again and Wacha’s rehab is going well.
If by September, the Redbirds can get going in the way I know they are capable of, the central division could easily be in reach. Of course, the Brewers will have to help out, as they have been going like a team who is ready to win it all. Hopefully with their 5 game winning streak, they have peaked a little too soon and we’ll see them slip into 2nd before long.
For now I’ll just take the wins, however we can get them.
A win’s a win,
There’s no doubt about it – the Redbirds are struggling right now. Not “it’s time to hit the panic button struggling,” but struggling nonetheless. No matter what they do these days, they seem to fall just a bit short. And it’s frustrating to watch.
Yesterday, they were foiled by good defense and Stanton’s 2 homers to lose by a run. Today, a decent outing by Wainwright is spoiled, as they get shutout. Adams, is slumping big time and struck out to end 2 games in a row. It’s frustrating.
I have to remind myself that back in 2006 the Cardinals did everything they could to not make the postseason before catching fire and winning it all. The main difference this time is not having that big bat that you know is just going to come through. For years it was Albert and even last year Beltran always seemed like a sure thing. Holliday has been on a tear, but he’s such a streaky hitter that you never know how long that will last. Taveraz hasn’t materialized into that big power bat yet either.
Once again, as I mentioned in a previous post, as a normal bench player (Mark Ellis) got the start, he went 2 for 3. But ask him to get a hit of the bench? Impossible. The same as been true for Descalso, Jay, when he was hitting off the bench and so many others.
Bad mangerial move of the day: putting in Adams to pinch-hit for Taveras.
There’s two problems with this. You say you’re giving Adams a “mental and physical break,” by giving him a day off. He got the physical break, but not the mental one. In fact, it was probably made worse. He had already struck out to end the game the day before. So basically unless he homers, you are setting him up to fail again. It doesn’t matter that he had no control of the rest of the game. What he’s going to be thinking about tonight was ending two games in a row via the K.
The second problem is Taveras. Both he and Adams are left hitters. So by subtituting one lefty for another, you are flat out telling Taveras, you don’t have the confidence in him coming through in a big situation. And of course, we don’t, but don’t tell him that! There’s no other explanation for that move unless you think Adams is more likely to get the big hit.
Every game I think, maybe this is when they break out of their slump. But it just hasn’t been happening. And unless something magical happens, I’m just not having my normal confidence in this team making a long post-season run. At least without Wacha and Molina returning pronto. Their hitting, their pitching has all been mediocre. I’ll give them credit for their defense.
It just feels like the whole team has been in a funk and it’s time for them to snap out of it real fast!
Break the slump,
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,
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?
What a roller coaster series. Taking the first game against the Reds was awesome. But the celebration couldn’t last too long because the next thing you know, the Cardinals bullpen is completely imploding in the 8th inning. A loss is never fun, but this one was a total group effort.
Quick: How many Cardinal pitchers does it take to blow a game?
And now the rubber match. And of course it was on national TV, so instead of enjoying a nice 1:05 start time, we had to wait until 7:15. I was still hanging out with my family for the holiday, so we turned the game on. And the next thing I know, Westbrook is neck deep in a pitchers duel. Being that Westbrook has a track record of pitching good for 3 innings or so before falling apart, I kept waiting for the bottom to drop out. But despite 3 walks, Westbrook managed to throw 6 scoreless innings. I’ll take it.
The real problem was that Reds starter, Edinson Volquez was matching Westbrook inning for inning. That is….until the bottom of the 6th. It was a small rally and short lived, but it would be more than enough against the non-producing offense of the Reds today. It started with a 1 out Matt Holliday double down the line, followed by the intentional pass to the red-hot Lance Berkman. And can you blame them? Berkman ended up 2 for 3 and continues to have multi-hit game after multi-hit game. Daniel Descalso popped up for the 2nd out and it looked like the Reds just might wiggle out of the jam. Then Yadier Molina stepped to the plate and cranked a 3 run shot for his first long ball of the season. And what a time to debut it. Yadi isn’t known for his immense power, but he is known for his great timing. He has a history of hitting well-timed home runs.
Funny how Phillips and Molina, the two guys who started the scuffle with each other last year have seemed to hit the other team well. Maybe their adrenaline gets up for these kind of series? Who knows? But on this one Yadi got the last word loud and clear. So Phillips can go back to playing around on Twitter. He seems to be more interested in hearing himself talk than playing baseball and that’s fine by me.
The bullpen pitched an uneventful 7th and 8th inning, including Eduardo Sanchez who continues to impress. We’ll see if he ends up being as great as he appears to be, but for now I can’t get enough of this guy. His scoreless inning today makes 6 innings over 4 games that he has pitched without a single run and only 2 hits. And the really ridiculous part? 10 strikeouts. Yup, 10 Ks over 6 innings. That’s a quality I like in a relief pitcher. No drama, no fuss, no mess.
The 9th inning came and Votto hit a 1 out double. Uh-oh. This sounds familiar. Luckily, the Reds don’t have the kind of protection that Votto deserves, so no free passes for the Reds team. With a runner on 2nd and one out….time to bring in Franklin! Oh wait. No just kidding. Boggs settled down and struck out two for the save. That’s how you do it!
Cool fact: The Cardinals were able to give the Reds their first shutout of the season!
Back to 1st place,
I drove to Kansas City and watched the Royals play the Indians on a very, very chilly night of baseball. Felt like I should’ve been watching the Chiefs, as cold as it was. I rooted for the home team, but they eventually fell in extras thanks to some poor work out of the bullpen. But I got to see my first Major League game of the season. I’ll be going soon to Busch.
On to Cardinal baseball.
Today was a double header, which the Cards ended up splitting with the Nationals. You always want to win 2 obviously, but I’ll take the split and hopefully tomorrow we will take the series win as well. As the saying goes, if you can win every series, you’re doing pretty good.
It was even better combined with the Cubs splitting their double header and losses by the Reds and Brewers. These four teams are now tied for first atop the central division, all at .500.
Both games with the Nats and the Cards, the teams were two runs apart. In the first game of the doubleheader, Westbrook was far from sharp. But he also didn’t get a lot of help behind him. The problem with the Cardinal defense is that it is simply ‘adequate.’ Sometimes things that aren’t recorded as “errors” is still sub-par defense. A ball that Theriot only knocks down that a better shortstop would record an out on. Tyler Greene making a poor throw to 2nd, allowing them only to get 1 out instead of the double play. And then the obvious errors: the drop balls, the missed catches, etc. We knew from the beginning that the defense would not be the best it’s ever been. And that’s why the pitching and the hitting needs to be as sharp as possible.
Ankiel getting his first plate appearance in the first inning of the first game got a nice round of appreciation applause, which was great to see. Ankiel took out a half page ad in the paper thanking them for their support. Great move, Rick.
In the second game, Jaime Garcia was again plagued by poor defense, but managed to pitch good enough to nail the win, both for himself and the team. Also in the night game was the first save opportunity since LaRussa announced that Ryan Franklin would no longer be his pitcher of choice in save situations. Mitchell Boggs got the nod and locked in the save. And all of Cardinal Nation breathed a sigh of relief.
In both games, the Cardinals continue to rake. Everyone was getting hits, even guys like Punto and Descalso. And the big guys continue to do what they’ve been doing. 23 hits among the two games is certainly not too shabby.
Two for one baseball,
So I have decided that the Cardinals are trying to kill me. There is no other explanation for today’s game. And it nearly worked.
They started their first road trip of the season tonight by traveling to San Fran and taking on the reigning World Series champs. The first 8 innings were typical Cardinal baseball of late. Scratch together a hit here or there, plate a runner or two, but fall just short of victory.
And then the 9th inning happened.
In the bottom of the ninth, the first two Redbirds went down quietly to bring Yadier Molina to the plate. And that’s where the fun began. Down to his last strike, Yadi drew a walk. Newcomer Daniel Descalso (who I hope keeps his blog going) somehow magically beat out a dribbler and Jon Jay was just barely grazed by a pitch. Things suddenly had gone from bad to interesting.
It was now the top of the order and the weight of the world had landed on the shoulders of Ryan Theriot. I looked at the TV (as I’ve previously stated, I do talk to players during the game) and said, “Ok Theriot, if you want Cardinal Nation to love you….here’s your opportunity.” He must have heard me because after working the count full and fighting off what seemed like a million foul balls, he hit a single between third and short, plating two Redbirds and giving the Cardinals their first lead of the game.
At that point, I was hoping they’d score a few more because then maybe Franklin wouldn’t be brought in to pitch the 9th if it wasn’t a save situation. No such luck. Rasmus walked and the still cold Pujols flied out to end the inning.
I was at my folks house during the game and my exact words to my mom prior to Franklin starting the 9th were… “You know his MO is to get two quick outs before he walks the bases loaded.” Though that wasn’t 100% accurate, it was pretty darn close. Franklin did get two quick ground outs before the bottom fell out. Aaron Rowand singled, then moved up with a wild pitch by Franklin. He walked Posey and Pablo Sandoval proceeded to tie the game with a base hit.
On to extras.
It was really bad at this point because the Cardinals had no one left on their bench, except for Holliday who hasn’t been cleared to play. This is normally a spot for someone like Adam Wainwright, but he is, of course, out this year. So Kyle Loshe got the nod to pinch hit. Nothing really interesting happened until the bottom of the 11th.
Bryan Augenstein then pitched some of the most nerve wrecking baseball I have ever seen in my life. He gave up a leadoff double to start the inning and it seemed all was lost. If you have a runner in scoring position with no outs, it seems pretty safe to say you will be able to score him. However, he then delivered some of the most important strikes of his career to strike out Freddy Sanchez. Rowand again is trouble when he rips a ball to what looks like will go down the left field line. But the Cardinals are playing with 5 infielders at this point and Allen Craig makes an incredible play to stop the ball and get Rowand into a rundown. He gets tagged out and two batters later we are out of the inning. Major props to Augenstein and Craig for that inning.
In the 12th the Cardinals were sat down 1-2-3. In the Giants half, it was the last Cardinal reliever in Brian Tallet. He struck out the leadoff man to bring up Miguel Tejada who singled to left. A double play would have ended the inning and I thought we had one. It was Pujols to Theriot and back to Pujols. Tejada was out at 2nd, but they called the other runner safe at first. Even with replays I really thought he was out. The inning would have been over with the next batter anyway, except when Tallet tossed the ball to Pujols, he somehow missed it which allowed everyone to be safe.
What happened next I had a bad feeling about as it was happening, although I don’t disagree with LaRussa’s decision. There were runners on 2nd and 3rd, so Tallet intentionally put on Freddy Sanchez to get to Aaron Rowand. With 1st base open it’s pretty much a rule that you put on the next hitter.
The only problem was that from the moment he entered the game, Rowand seemed to have the Cardinals number. He was 2 for 3 and his only out was almost the game winner and would have been if it wasn’t for Craig’s stellar play to the plate. This time he made sure to get the job done, however, as scorched the ball to the warning track.
The Reds are getting killed right now, but it’s the same problem as September of last year. It doesn’t matter how much they lose, if we can’t win and take advantage of it. I do like that the Cardinals did not just roll over and play dead when down to their final strike. But it’s still frustrating that they can’t seem to get that big hit that puts the game away for good.