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,
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,
Man, today was the kind of game that is absolutely heartbreaking when you lose, but so fun when you’re on the winning side. Sadly for me, the Cardinals were not on the winning side of this (mostly) well played game.
Carpenter was extremely sharp, save one minor hiccup, where he allowed the game to be tied up at 2 runs a piece with a walk and a home run by the reigning MVP, Joey Votto. For all those that thought he had a lucky year last year, let me tell you right now that he’s here to stay. He’s no Albert Pujols (who is???) but he definitely has what it takes to be in the thick of the competition.
Now I have begun to dread games started by our ace because he normally gets no run support. The one game he did get run support he was not good at all. And if it’s neither of these things, the bullpen will probably blow it for him, as was the case today.
He left, still in line for the win, because of Albert’s solo home run. So 3-2, he hands the ball off to the bullpen, where the implosion happens. First, an error by David Freese. Normally a top tier defender, it’s possible he was dealing with a slick ball from the wet conditions. Or maybe he just made a bad play. Whatever, the case, he flung the ball far out of reach of Albert, letting the tying run get onto 2nd. At this case, Votto is intentionally passed and I agree that’s what you gotta do here. You make the guys behind beat you and not the most dangerous hitter on their team.
With an 0-2 count on Gomes, I was pretty confident we were going to escape the innning without damage. And then Batista plunks him. At that moment, all of my hopes sank. The bases are loaded and I just had one of those feelings that this was not going to end well. Indeed Trevor Miller comes in and walks the next batter tying the game. I was still nervous, but as long as we could escape tied up, there was still a chance. And then they bring in Franklin. Not one person in Cardinal Nation has hope in Ryan Franklin right now. And because of his comments to the media nobody really is crazy about the guy either. But the fans didn’t boo, as they have before. That’s the thing. They were going to give him a chance. Ok, Franklin, you say you’re so misunderstood, that it’s been “one bad outing,” let’s see. Show us that closer like mentality and get the out. The bases are loaded but you only need one out. Let’s see you do it.
Instead, he proceeds to give yet another game-winning hit, a single by Miguel Cairo, that would drive in two Cincinnati runs. And that, Ryan Franklin, is why you should only pitch with no runners on base. The ironic part is that Batista gets the loss because that error was made while he was on the mound, so Franklin’s ERA actually GOES DOWN despite his incompetent pitching.
Winning this game would have guaranteed yet another series win at worst and in line for another sweep at best and put us a very nice 2 games up on the Reds. As it stands we are back to being tied with them, but hopefully can still pull out the series win in the rubber match.
Tomorrow is Easter, which I will be spending with my family. Luckily, they are all die hard Cardinal fans so the TV being turned to Cardinal baseball is pretty much a must at any get-together we have. I hope you have a wonderful Easter whatever your plans are for the holiday and let’s hope the Redbirds get back to having 1st place all to themselves again soon.
Needing another series win,
Simply put, the Cardinals are playing good baseball right now. No doubt you have heard either on last night’s broadcast or by reading it today, that the Cardinals 5th game in a row with 14 or more hits is something they have not done since the 1930s. While that’s an excellent accomplishment, it has nothing to do with the assessment that they are playing good baseball at the moment.
Anyone who follows this team is able to see that there is something very different about this year’s team than last year’s. There is a spark that is happening, a chemistry with guys feeding off of one another. There was not a shortage of hits last year. But there was a shortage of hits at the right time. I have yet to go back to look at the exact numbers, but the Cardinals have been getting an extraordinary amount of 2 out hits, something they couldn’t must in 2010. Not only that, but in the last week they have been getting runners in when they are in scoring position. My biggest complaint last year was when they were within a run or two ahead or behind the other team, they could never get the “big hit” to blow the game open. It might be 5-4 with bases loaded, they would strand those runners and blow the game in the 8th or 9th. And that’s what we were seeing in the beginning of this season. But these days they are getting that big hit and then some. And it sure is fun to watch.
Some of the differences may be the intangibles. Personalities of teammates, a certain chemistry you can’t really put your finger on. But I think some of it can certainly be traced to the performance of a few individuals.
Lance Berkman – Berkman has been the biggest contributor to the “big hit” that we so desperately needed last year. He has been consistent through Pujols’ early season struggles and seems to have even sparked him to start getting hot. This 3-4-5 is as good as any we have had since the days of Rolen and Edmonds when they were in their prime. It’s nice to have this ex-Cardinal killer finally doing the damage for the good guys.
Colby Rasmus – We had Rasmus on the team last year, but this is a different Rasmus. Last year he was often platooned, not allowed to hit against all pitchers and seemed to be constantly worried about his job. He ran his mouth to the media about a trade and was still working his way from being an inexperienced kid to a star player. Once Ludwick was traded and he was handed over every day duties, we saw him start to excel. This year he seems very comfortable and we knew going into this that his success at the #2 role would be a huge factor in the Cardinal lineup. He has proved himself admirably. Whether he’s bunting his way on and stealing 2nd, hitting a leadoff double or smacking a triple, the guy is a beast this year. Look for him to have his highest run total of his career this year.
David Freese – After he was hurt last year, the Cardinals never really recovered. There was a constant band-aid put on 3rd base, where we had always had star caliber players before. With Holliday’s huge contract and Albert’s looming on the horizon, we didn’t have the funds to go get someone with that kind of bang. So Freese being back this year and healthy thus far has been huge for these Redbirds. A guy would probably would have been a #5 hitter for the Cardinals is an even bigger asset at #6.
Tony LaRussa – Yes, the manager. A guy that is known for always tinkering with the lineup has actually controlled himself in this area. Granted, when Matt Holliday was out of the lineup, some tinkering was necessary. But since that time, as long as the main guys have started, the lineup 1-6 has been:
The only change has been Molina and Schumaker swapping back and forth in the 7 and 8 positions and then the pitcher hitting 9th. This has only changed on days when Freese is sitting or when Molina or Berkman are given a day of rest. This is the ideal lineup and for the first time ever LaRussa seems to be aligning to the mantra, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
This ride will inevitably only last so long. They will eventually stop getting 14+ hits a game and they will eventually lose. But as for now, I’ll just be enjoying it for as long as possible.
Enjoying the ride,
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!
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,