So the website was down for awhile, while MLBlogs was switching over to WordPress. So this is my first attempt to post with the new blog. I know it basically looks the same now, with a couple of minor changes, but if I can figure this thing out, I’ll add stuff as we go along.
Too much has gone on to catch up on, so I’ll make this short and sweet and just pick up where the Cardinals are now. And where they are is just having completed a two game sweep of the Phillies. Not too bad considering their mammoth rotation and that we had one of our worst starters (Jake Westbrook) going. But solid performances out of him and Garcia got the job done, together with a little bottom of the 9th excitement from Berkman. How many times has he done that against us in his career?
The only blemish on the game was once again poor defense. With the exception of a couple of guys, this is not a team that is going to be routinely making stellar plays. Which means making the routine plays is all that much more important. But that, too, has been a struggle this year. Tonight’s culprit? Tyler Greene. He booted the most routine pop-up ever in the 8th inning, which led to the game being tied up. Being that we won, I’m not as upset as I would normally be. Although these moments make me have visions of Matt Holiday dropping the ball in the postseason. Something needs to be done about this defense.
But in the end, it was another day, another win. Need another one tomorrow.
Let’s go ‘Birds,
After an off day, it’s back to work for the boys in Red. And no better team to compete against than the Chicago Cubs. It’s usually a pretty good series with a lot of intensity. It doesn’t matter that the Cubs are playing under .500 and completely irrelevant this year. It’s ALWAYS fun to beat the Cubs.
I think Brandon Phillips was jealous of the rivalry we’ve had with
most of the division besides the Reds, which is probably why he’s always
trying to start crap. He’ll soon realize that the Reds are not here to
stay and will fade away just as quickly as they came on the scene.
A Votto-less Reds team beat the the Astros yesterday, meaning they were able to pull up a half game on the idle Redbirds. So it’s time to turn the engines on full force. You don’t want the Reds pulling even and thinking they have a chance.
And it starts today with sweeping or at least getting a series win against the Cubbies. Let’s go Cardinals!
First pitch in an hour,
I’ve never watched a perfect game or even a no-hitter live. And while I watch partial innings or games of various teams, I normally only watch complete Cardinal games. So I probably never will unless a Cardinal tosses one. Jaime Garcia sure thought about it last night. In the end he threw a 2-hit complete game, but I’ll take it.
One of the big keys this year for the Cardinals to be successful was Garcia being the same guy this year that he was his rookie year. And he has yet to disappoint. The southpaw has been nothing but dominant for the Redbirds this year, tied for 3rd in wins, 3rd in ERA and 9th in strikeouts in the NL. Not to mention being only one of two guys to throw to complete games and the only one to throw 2 shutouts.
The other big key was Lance Berkman. Could he stay healthy? Could he be the threat he once was? Check and check. Berkman has been tearing up the league, leading in RBIs (32), 2nd in average (.392), tied for 2nd in home runs (10), and 4th in runs scored (25) and the season is barely a month old. He easily has to be one of the most feared hitters in the NL right now. And it doesn’t hurt that the guy who is leading the league with a .410 average is hitting right in front of him. In fact the these two are also 1-2 in slugging percentage as well. What pitcher wants to face that? Albert’s not hitting like he once was, but having him be the 3rd best hitter on a team isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And at the end of the year, his numbers will be right there. The offense has been absolutely torrid.
Watching this team this year has certainly been frustrating at times (nearly every 9th inning), but it has also been a lot of fun, watching them hit well, score runs and have fun themselves. I rarely saw that last year. They are winning series after series (except when they split a 4 gamer with the Fish) and leading the league by 1 1/2 games. Time to sweep the Brew Crew and hope for a few more Cincinnati losses.
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The bullpen held and Gerald Laird hit a TRIPLE. Somebody check hell ’cause I think it just froze over.
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,
I keep telling myself that a win is a win. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if your team wins 20-0 or clings to a 6-5 victory, it all goes into the win column.
And technically that’s true.
But when your team almost loses in walk-off fashion for the 2nd day in a row against a last place team after being up 6-0 going into the 8th inning? It’s hard not to be concerned. Every team will have these moments here and there and obviously the Cardinals are no exception. But when you follow the team, it just feels like they are having these moments more than anybody.
The bullpen is becoming downright scary. I know it’s easy to say it’s not all their fault because there were a couple of defensive miscues in those last innings. But a good bullpen is supposed to hold the ship, even in despite of miscues. Remember in Game 7 of the NLCS when Scott Rolen made an error and the bases were loaded? Wainwright wiggled out of that jam in a tie game. That’s how good he was. And in a game with a 6 run lead, that should be more than enough wiggle room.
It shows you, though, that every run is valuable and you can never have enough. The two home runs, courtesy of Holliday and and Greene going deep, seemed like it would be enough. But as it turned out, it was important that we tacked on those four runs late in the game. The best part of that was that all of that happened with 2 outs. (And much of it also with 2 strikes.) I’ve said previously and I will continue to say that hitting with 2 outs is a major strength of this club. Hitting with 2 outs and hitting in late innings was something missing from the 2010 Cardinals and I’m glad to see that it’s different this year.
I looked up the stats just to see how much they’re doing this compared to other teams. As it turns out, the Cardinals are 1st in batting average, runs scored and RBIs and 2nd in slugging with RISP and 2 outs. Last year with RISP and 2 outs, they slugged .384 and hit .255. This year they are slugging .492 and hitting .336, a huge improvement. So while shaky defense and a shaky bullpen continues to give us Cardinal fans fits, there is a lot to be happy about.
And while they are hitting well with runners in scoring position and 2 outs, it doesn’t mean they are hitting well all the time. Sure, many of our guys are lighting it up and hitting over .300, but they are still grounding into an awful lot of double plays as a team. In fact, they lead the Majors in this awful stat. Of course a surprising reason for this is Albert Pujols, who accounts for over 25% of the teams GIDP. He leads the National League in that stat and has more than twice as many as any other Cardinal. But since he is tied for the 2nd in the NL in home runs and by the time it’s all said and done, will probably be top 5 in average and RBIs as well, it’s not so bad.
One other great thing I just realized. Matt Holliday finally “officially” leads the league in average. He’s always had the highest average of every day players in the NL, but since losing time to his appendectomy, he’s never had enough at-bats to qualify. He finally got enough at-bats and now with another 3-4 performance last night, is literally blowing everyone else out of the water. He’s hitting .429 and no one else is even close. Berkman who has been on his own tear is third with .385.
So there are definitely some positives for this club hitting-wise. And even with pitching, who thought Kyle Loshe would ever be this good? I thought he had a shot to be decent, but he is pitching incredibly. He’s tied for first in wins in the NL and is 2nd in ERA, with 1 shutout under his belt. That’s Waino territory, minus the strikeouts.
And I continue to be super impressed with Eduardo Sanchez. He gave up a couple of runs last night, his first of the season. But he has some flat out nasty stuff. He’s probably not ready yet, especially because of all the immense speculation that the closer role is drawing in St. Louis, but I hope this is our closer of the future. He doesn’t mess around, but goes right after hitters. They are only hitting .185 against him and he has a mere 1 walks against 14 strikeouts in only 8 innings pitched. And you can see why. The two guys he struck out last night looked like little leaguers against him. Again, it brought me back to the NLCS and the way that Wainwright would throw that big hook and nobody could touch it. I definitely like this guy.
But as a whole the bullpen has to get it together. Because now when we have a lead late in the game against a team, they are starting to think it’s possible. They think if they can just get past our starter, into our ‘pen, they have a chance to come back. You can’t have opposing teams thinking that. They have to look at scoring early or else, they will be shut down in the 7-8-9 innings.
Someone found my blog by googling, “How many times have the Cardinals lost in the 9th inning?” Let me help you out. In 12 save chances in the 9th, as as team, they have blown 7, which is the highest deficit in the NL.
Needing another series win,
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,