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,
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,
You know the Redbirds have seen better days when they have to scratch, bite and claw their way to a 4-3 win over the Pirates. But hey, I’ll take it.
It looked bleak at the beginning. A decent start by McClellan (2 ER over 6 innings) and good pitching by the bullpen looked like it would be wasted by the absence of hitting once again. The Cardinals were already 2-0 by the time I turned the game on in the bottom of the 1st thanks to another Pirate home run. This time the culprit was Lyle Overbay.
But slowly and surely the Cardinals fought their way back. It was one run at a time and every run was hard fought and earned. No home runs to show for our guys. The first run was the easiest. It came by way of a Lance Berkman leadoff double followed by an Allen Craig base hit. Berkman seems to be running great and I have to say this surprises me. He’s faster than I thought he’d be. And Craig just continues to impress. He’s been driving in runs left and right, hitting .364 on the season with 4 RBI on the young season. He seems to be who Jon Jay was last year and I like what I’m seeing from him.
In the 5th, the Cardinals manufactured their second run. Theriot and Rasmus got back to back bases hits putting runners on the corners and Albert came through with a sac fly which tied the game at two runs a piece.
The 7th inning ended up being the decider. Theriot drew a one out walk and Rasmus moved him into scoring position with a base hit and again it was Pujols with the RBI. He hit a ‘just enough’ ground ball that was perfectly placed between short and third to score Theriot.
The only moment of worry after that came in….what else? The 9th. Franklin got his first two outs easy before giving up a hit to Ryan Doumit. Flashes of a 2 out Padres comeback went through my mind, but this time he settled down and struck out the final Pirate batter to secure the win as well as his first save of the season.
Now many people might think Albert deserves all the credit for this game, but I would disagree. Albert was important, but to me the hero was Ryan Theriot, so I was happy to hear him on ‘star of the game’ afterwards. After all, all Pujols really did was get an out and a lucky base hit. If Theriot is not on base, those amount to nothing. Theriot did just what the leadoff guy is supposed to do; get on base however he can. And he did that tonight by getting on base 3 times. He hasn’t been particularly productive so far this season (than again, what Cardinal has?) but if he can continue to get on base at a high clip, there is no doubt runs will be scored. The Cardinals have plenty of guys who don’t strike out and can get the sac flies or the base hits to score those runs if he can get on and get into scoring position.
Nearing .500 ball,
I guess you really can’t fault Loshe’s performance, but you can’t credit
him either. If he had pitched like that as our #5, I would have
thought it was fantastic. But as either #3 or #4 (can’t really figure
out yet where Westbrook is going to fall), he needs to be a bit better.
The first two runs were the result of a double to the corner of the
outfield. That happens. But the home run he gave up next was the nail
in the coffin. And it’s that kind of pitching that he needs to avoid.
It’s all about better location. Get the ground ball outs.
All things considered though he looked sharp as he breezed through the
first few innings, even without the offense backing him up. We again
lacked that “big hit” that plagued the Cardinals all last year and seems
to be repeating itself this year. It doesn’t help matters that
Holliday had surgery and Pujols hasn’t caught fire yet. Pujols playing
the Pirates mid-season? That’s money.
My favorite moment though was Berkman coming up lefty with runners
aboard. I literally laughed out loud as I realized that this was the
exact situation I used to fear Berkman’s bat on when he played for the
‘Stros because he seemed to ALWAYS come through no matter who we had
pitching. As he strode to the plate, I said, “Ok, Lance, I expect you
to do that kind of damage for us now.” (You talk to the players during
the game too, right? No? Just me then? Um….)
But Berkman the ex-Cardinal killer did exactly what he had done against us a million times. He drove in the runner. Beautiful.
Time to see if McClellan deserves the 5th starter spot that was handed to him when we lost Adam Wainwright. All I ask is that he hold it close and let the offense do their thing. Surely, the offense has to start breaking out here at some point. And I feel that one of these games Albert’s going to have to hit 5 home runs or something crazy. It seems the bigger the slump, the bigger the break out game for him. Why not let it be tonight?
I even wore a Cardinal shirt today although I was slightly embarrassed to do so. Hopefully it gets them on a roll. Of course, if it does, I suppose I will have to wear Cardinal shirts until they lose…..
Cardinals 6th starter,
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,
Chris Carpenter – The once obvious clear ace in the Cardinals rotation, though some would now perhaps give that distinction to Wainwright, he is still a part of one of the better 1-2 punches in baseball (Philadelphia beastly rotation aside). Carp has always been a no-nosense type of guy with the media, fellow players, in pitching and it’s one of the things I love about him. He is going to have a lot to prove this year, namely that at 35 years old, he can still deliver the good stuff. Otherwise, it’s very conceivable that it may be his last year in a Cardinal uniform. And even if he does, that could still well be the case. The Cards have an option on him for 2012, but a lot of his future could depend on the Pujols situation. If they can’t sign Pujols and Carp is still healthy, I’m sure they pick up his option. If they do sign Pujols, Carpenter could be a guy that they buy out. They’ll have to save money somewhere and an aging pitcher, however, good, seems the first place to do that.
Adam Wainwright – Maybe Wainwright hasn’t been “the face of the franchise” in so much the same way Carpenter has been over the last few years, but he’s getting there. As I said above, many seem him as overtaking Carp in that ‘ace’ role. For my money, as soon as he K’ed the mighty Beltran to end the NLCS, I was a Wainwright fan for life. I love listening to Adam give interviews. Still a southern boy through and through (though not as much as Colby), he just seems to enjoy talking baseball and pitching. Nothing fancy about him, he just does his job. I fully expect to see him make another run at a possible Cy Young. And perhaps one of these years, the other pitchers will actually let him reach it.
Jake Wesbrook – Now this guy will be interesting to watch. He was a Cardinals for only a little while last year, but now has been signed for two additional seasons. He didn’t do anything spectacular last year, but he was also brought over only in time to try and save an already sinking Cardinal team. What will he be like sitting under Dave Duncan for an entire season? Will he crash and burn a la Brad Penny? Or will he be the latest Duncan testimony a la Jeff Weaver? Time will tell.
Jaime Garcia – Jaime is the player I am most excited to watch in 2011. He had a totally unexpected and awesome breakout season last year. The question on everyone’s minds will be whether or not it was a fluke thing or if he can step up again this year. The Cardinals need him to be as good as he was last year if they’re going to think about getting to October.
Kyle Loshe – The guy that the Cardinals for some reason badly want to be their 5th starter. I have no idea why. This guy is completely maddening to watch pitch. Maybe they feel they have invested too much into him, but at some point you have let him go. Even at his best, this guy’s not a front of the rotation type of guy.
Ryan Franklin – The solid closer. I trust him in a ballgame and he’s cheap for the Cardinals, considering the money they’re pouring in to a lot of other places. But the problem again is that this is his last year before free agency. The plus is that hopefully he’ll want to make a good impression, but the negative is that it serves as a distraction.
Mitchell Boggs / Kyle McClellan / Trevor Miller / Jason Motte / Fernando Salas / P.J. Walters
Various members of the Cardinal ‘pen that have pitched from a little to a lot. A lot of arbitration eligible players in this group and also unclear in what they have to offer. There’s a couple of exceptions to that, such as that Motte throws heat. But for the most part, it’s always hard to know what your set-up men and other various bullpen roles are going to do. We’ll see soon enough how this is going to all shake down.
The Cardinals have a returning starting rotation in Carp, Wainwright, Garcia, Westbrook and Loshe. But that is doubtful to be the starting rotation come the end of the season. There’s no guarantee for some of the staff who will be in St. Louis at the beginning of the season and who will have to work their way up there. Spring Training will help get all of that sorted out.
Next up are the newcomers.
One of the best 1-2 combos out there,