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,
If you had told me prior to the season that the Cardinals would net a 5-0 win over the Nationals, I would have said, ‘Sounds about right.’ If you had told me that 4 of those 5 runs would come from a pair of 2 run homers from our big boys, Pujols and Holliday, I would have said, ‘Sounds about right.’ If you had told me that the shutout would be a result of going the distance? That’s where I would have stopped you.
Carp? For sure. Garcia? Yup. But Loshe? I wasn’t a believer. But he is quickly changing my mind. He has been so good this year. And then here against the Nationals….wow. A 9 inning shutout, striking out 6 against two walks. He is making me a Loshe believer for sure and dreams of pennant races and world championships are dancing through my mind.
Loshes’ #1 fan,
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,
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,
All of the Cardinals bats are on fire. But seriously, how hot is Lance Berkman right now??? Two home runs in his first two at-bats tonight giving him 6 home runs in the last 5 games. He is also hitting at a .500 clip during that same period. It is so good to see him in a Cardinal uniform.
So far tonight Albert has also gone deep, making that two straight games for him, as he’s getting his stroke back.
And of course Holliday is hitting .383 on the season, including his hit tonight and Rasmus’s average is .393, as he has two hits under his belt.
It is looking good….really really good.
Loving Jackie Robinson Day,
After an extended absence of the St. Louis Cardinal bats, when they finally started showing up again, no one wanted to get too excited. Was it permanent? Was it lucky? It was hard to know what to make of the situation. Fluke or For Real? That’s what I asked a week ago. But after a few more games with the same result, I would say it is safe to say that the Cardinal offense has indeed found it’s way back.
Does that mean that we won’t ever have an off game? No. Does it mean that we won’t ever get shutout? No. Does it mean that we couldn’t possibly get no-hit? No.
What it does mean is that the first week or so of games was not indicative of the potential of this Cardinal line-up. Everyone struggled to find their place in the Cardinal line-up, Holliday was out for a bit and it was just plain ugly for awhile. But once they broke out, they broke out in a huge way and they haven’t looked back since.
Not every game will be the 15-5 lashing they gave Arizona two games ago, but I think it shows what the Cardinals are capable of. Tonight’s victim were the Dodgers as they’ve now had 14 or more hits in 4 straight games and are getting production from literally ever part of the lineup, even from guys who had previously been “slumping.”
Although, I think it is safe to say that no one is hotter right now than Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday. These guys are absolutely on fire. Multiple hit games are a regular occurrence as Holliday is hitting .391 and Berkman .311. Berkman also had 4 home runs in 3 games.
One important key this year will be the triple threat of Pujols, Holliday and Berkman. Last year the Cardinals were only a threat when both Pujols and Holiday were hitting. When either got into a mini-slump, it became too easy for a pitcher to pitch around one of them and go after the other. There was no one in that 5 spot consistently for that extra protection. And the guy we did have (Ludwick) got traded away for the just as important need of pitching. This year, as long as 2 of 3 can stay hot, the Cardinals will always be a threat. And if all 3 ever get really going at the same time…..look out.
Garcia wasn’t as sharp as he was his first time out, but was more than good enough to get the job done. And since he’s 2-0 with a sub 2.00 ERA…well I’m not going to complain. Franklin is still the worrisome part of all of this. Coming in with a gigantic lead, he still gives up a home run. What if this had been another 1 run game he was trying to save? Blown again. Hopefully the Cardinals keep the games so far apart that he won’t have the chance to blow too many saves.
Keep the hits coming,
The offense looked like something other than sleepwalking in yesterday’s match against the Giants. The question is was that a one time fluke or was it the outbreak they needed to start consistently pushing runs across the plate? Today’s game just might tell us as the Redbirds open up a 3 game series versus Arizona.
David Freese especially had a banner day. He went 3 for 4, smacking in RBIs every chance he got. And to cap it off, he added a solo shot for his first home run of the year. All in all, the ‘Birds scored 6 runs in 11 hits, which is drastically more than they have been doing and easily at least what this offense is capable of on a regular basis.
When you have guys like Pujols, Holliday, Berkman, Rasmus and Freese, you expect to score runs. Bottom line. I should also say Kyle Loshe has really been quite good. Certainly much better than I expected him to be. Who would have thought pre-season that we would love the pitching and watching a struggling offense? Not I.
So what do you think? Will the Cardinals continue to break out and score runs? Will Pujols figure out how to get above .200 before April is over? Post below!
Fun to watch your team score runs,