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,
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,
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,
I have blogged two previous Opening Days here at MLBlogs. In fact, my first blog entry on here was Opening Day of 2006. It was a great opener and that year I picked the Cardinals to win it all that year, because I thought they had the best team on paper. That was before they lost Mulder and Izzy. I would have not picked them if I had known that. But a young kid named Adam Wainwright stepped up to the plate to fill the role of closer. Wainwright would go on to give me the single greatest moment I have ever seen in Cardinal history….the big strikeout of Carlos Beltran with runners on in Game 7 of the NLCS.
It gives me hope about this season. Yes, we are missing Wainwright, who has since transitioned from closer to ace. Yes, we are missing Punto and there are ridiculous number of question marks in guys like Freese and Berkman. But you never know which young kid is going to step up and hit the game winning shot off the bench.
The 2007 Opening Day was my next and final Opening Day blog. I blogged off and on over the next few years, more off than on. And now here we are in 2011. Five years since that incredible year of 2006 and the impossible run of the team that nobody thought had a chance.
It’s time to prove yourselves again, Redbirds!
And with that here are my notes about Opening Day 2011….in no particular order:
- Hitting – The Cardinals hit plenty and got on base. Rasmus got a first inning triple and Holliday came through with 2 outs. Berkman and Freese, two big questions got back to back hits. But they never got that “big hit.” This was the proverbial thorn in the side from last year. Quite the opposite, as they grounded into way too many double plays.
- Beards – Um, what was with all the man scruff? Carpenter, Berkman and Pujols all had decent beards going on while Schumaker looked like Grizzly Adams out there. And Rasmus looked like he was trying.
- Defense – Defense has been a concern with the loss of Brendan Ryan and this ground ball heavy staff. And the worries proved accurate. Freese made a tremendous play up the line, but the middle infield guys made a couple of huge mistakes. Skip muffed a ball that should have been an easy strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play and instead turned into a run. And Theriot made an 11th inning error that led to the game winning run.
- Pujols – The guy who has 3 opening day home runs to his credit, couldn’t get the job done today. He would end up 0 for 5 and hit in 3 double plays. Pujols wasn’t worried and neither am I. All I got to say is tomorrow’s pitcher better look out because when he breaks out he will break out BIG.
- Bullpen – Franklin looked very uncloser-esque today. I hope this will be the exception and not the rule. The game winning run was given up by Augenstein. This is significant because he was the last guy to get a spot on the Cardinal roster, even beating out Salas who played in the bigs last year.
Overall, it wasn’t a horrible game. But it sure felt like 90% of our games from last year. Decent hitting, decent fielding and good pitching. But….they found a way to lose a game that should have easily been won. So much different than the champion Cardinals who always seemed to find a way to win. It is just the first game of the season so I am willing to cut them quite a bit of slack. I just hope I’m not still saying this at All-Star Break.
I stated that a returning lineup that includes Albert, Holliday, Rasmus
and a hopefully healthy David Freese should be pretty formidable. Then
throw in the defense and occasional offensive spark of Yadier Molina and
a returning staff that includes Carp, Wainwright, Garcia and Franklin,
the Cardinals should be a force to be reckoned with. Yet, last year
they fell to the the Reds with all of these guys (except, of course, for
So what was missing? It’s hard to say. But with the Reds likely to
contend again and the Brewers making moves to show they want to contend,
the Cardinals better find that missing piece. They are hoping it’s in
one of the new guys they’ve added to the team. So let’s look at this
band of newcomers and see what the potential is there.
Lance Berkman – Arguably, the biggest name added to the Cardinal roster,
this is an interesting move on many levels. It was not long ago that
Lance Berkman struck fear into the hearts of Cardinal fans everywhere.
There are two guys over the years that I would classify as true
“Cardinal killers” and they are Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran. As a
‘Stro Berkman had a big bat, under a team that always tragically
underperformed. Though he’s a 1st baseman by trade, Pujols has the
position well under lock and key. So they claim that he was brought
over as an outfielder. And outfield he will clearly play in 2011. But
we’re stupid here. He’s also provides a safety net. Should the Redbird
brass not be able to retain Albert’s services past this year, Berkman
could easily slide into that spot, while we look elsewhere for a right
fielder. Smart move, I say, with major upside. Berkman underperformed
with the Yankees, but I still believe he has some sting left in that big
bat of his.
Ryan Theriot – The Cardinals had a perfectly capable defensive shortstop
in Brendan Ryan. However, his offense last year was atrocious.
Moreover, he apparently clashed with LaRussa although they claim that’s
not why he was sent packing. In any case, I’m not in the clubhouse, I
don’t know if the criticism of Ryan was fair or not. I do know that if
getting rid of him and signing Theriot is what it takes for this team to
mesh, then I’m all for it. Though I will miss the socks.
Nick Punto – The utility infielder should be an great asset to the
Cardinals. Although, it was just learned today that he will be out for a
couple of months with a strained groin. So, he should be a great asset
if / when he is healthy. The problem for the Cardinals last year was
that if someone went down (Freese) or needed a day off (Ryan or
Schumaker) all that was left to fill the void was Tyler Greene. Greene
was able to fill that need in some areas, but certainly not in all.
Punto serves a great utility man. There are so many options here
LaRussa’s head will be spinning. Punto can play 3rd, should Freese need a back-up again, he could play 2nd, putting Skip in the outfield if one of the outfielders need a day off, he can fill in at short. And as long as everyone stays healthy I expect to see a lot of mix and match here.
Gerald Laird – I’ll be honest. I know nothing about Laird. The Cardinals have brought in him to be a back-up for Yadi. They would like to spell the often played catcher a little more often than they have in the best. From what I hear, his skill set is similar to Molina’s in the fact that he’s a backstop first, a hitter second. What’s really upsetting about this whole situation though is that we had to go find Laird in the first place. He’s a replacement for last year’s backup catcher, Jason LaRue. LaRue was forced into retirement when he suffered a concussion during an on-field altercation between the Reds and the Cards. The Reds’ Johnny Cueto bicycle-kicked LaRue in the head.
Newcomers + Returners = Solid Team,