Lets push all the useless information to the side and talk Cardinals baseball for a few here. Follow me.
The Cards threw the first punch last night, taking a nailbiter 3-2 over the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of this title bout. How did they do it and who came up huge last night? Lets look at the stars of the game.
1.)Chris Carpenter grinded out 6 tough innings, the most innings pitched by a starter in 7 playoff games this month. While he hates the comparisons, Carpenter is the closest thing this team has since Bob Gibson. It has nothing to do with stats or history. Just look at the two on a pitching mound. They make you feel like the game is in hand and the result is favorable. They give the players behind them a higher dose of confidence. Gibson had a swagger and presence on the mound that few can match, but Carp comes close. He is the pitching equivalent to Albert Pujols. You expect him to get it done. He is a true gamer. Who else slides into first base on a play in the first inning to get an out and puts their arm and face in danger? Carpenter. Bill Simmons tweeted that “Really enjoy watching Carpenter pitch. Hard to believe it’s the same guy from the Blue Jays eons ago.” Baseball purists love Carpenter because he is old school in his manner and ruthless in his practice. Six innings was enough last night, and if his elbow is truly sore and needing rest, the extra couple of innings can be saved for next time. Carp would take the mound right one legged right now. You can’t teach intensity.
2.)Albert Pujols’ gold glove at first base. Once again, the guy delivers in various ways all over the field. He went 0-2 with 2 walks and a run scored, but he made a game changing play at first base. After putting his pitcher’s life and career at risk in the first inning, Albert made a diving snag to save a run and end the 6th inning. A ball heading down the right field line came into Albert’s area and he grabbed it and fired to Carp at first. A game of inches is defined by great plays. Albert made another.
3.)Allen Craig won the first round of an extended matchup with Texas reliever Uganda(no idea on his first name, who cares), who looks like a Dominican gangster on the mound. Tall and angry. Craig whiffed on two high fastballs and then plugged a sinking liner to right field in the 6th that produced the game winning run. Craig is the secret weapon off the bench for the Cards. At home, he is the pinch hitting power threat. On the road, he is the DH who can burn ANY pitcher. A great thing to have in your back pocket.
4.)The Bullpen was the true star of the game. After Carp left and handed the lead, the Cards pen pitched 3 scoreless innings and only allowed 2 base runners. Fernando Salas had a mini meltdown and midseason flashback, but Marc Rzepcynski came in and delivered 2 strikeouts to end the 7th with a runner on base and truly knock out the Rangers. With Salas in flux and putting two runners on , Rzep came in and slammed the door, getting the pinch hitter Gentry on a nasty changeup away. That’s Rzep’s bread and butter pitch that strangled Prince Fielder’s bat. The fading changeup off the plate. Rzep is becoming a real weapon at the right time and is here to stay in 2012. Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes combined for the 8th inning and Jason Motte delivered another 1-2-3 ninth inning. Motte looks unhittable right now, firing puzzling heaters and cutters at hitters. He mixes a 4 seam and 2 seam fastball and is pitching lights out at the moment. While Feliz gets all the attention in Texas, Motte is becoming the real deal. Not bad for an ex-catcher. His keys to success are location and his use of the secondary pitch. See him get Nelson Cruz to reach last night to end the game.
Looking towards Game 2-
*The Garcia complex. Who long will he go and where will his head slip down the hill? Garcia is talented yet mentally unstable on a mound. When he toughens up and takes a setback in stride, this kid is top of the rotation material. Now he is middle ranged and insecure. He gets a big start at home tonight and La Russa will have a quick hook waiting for him. If he can produce 5-6 solid innings, I would be a happy guy. Garcia must keep the ball down and limit the mistakes. The kid has to step up right now.
*Edwin Jackson will be waiting behind Garcia, as my early thinking is Jake Westbrook gets a start in Texas over Jackson. If Jackson pitches, he must must keep the ball down and not overuse his fastball. Jackson gets into trouble when he throws heat over and over. These guys have to keep the ball down against the Rangers. You get the ball up and a 7th place hitter like Mike Napoli bombs one to right field. The Cards pitchers have to be the smarter men in this series.
*Kyle Lohse’s start in Texas is something I’m particularly not looking forward to. Unlike Jake Westbrook or Edwin Jackson(sinker pitchers), Lohse has zero out pitches. He basically has to outsmart the competition for 6 innings. This is why the Cards must win tonight’s game at Busch. Get up 2-0, give Lohse a failure cushion and prep for the next game.
*It’s a given that there will be bullpen dominated games in this series. These are two offensive machine teams, and the pitching will get easily tromped at some point. Carpenter and C.J. Wilson played a game of high stakes poker last night, but the starting pitchers will get bombed sooner or later. The Cards bullpen came up big in Game 1. They will have to be sharp throughout the series, as there will be at least 2 games when they log more innings than the starter.
*Tonight, the Cards face Colby Lewis, another hard throwing lefthander. Lewis is a crafty lefthander with power behind his fastball and a carrier of the changeup that offsets the heat. The Cards must continue to attack the first pitch fastballs and be smart late in counts. Be smart and hungry. It’s okay let it rip on a chest high pitch, but if the pitcher isn’t throwing strikes, be patient and take a walk. Every single detail counts in the playoffs.
*Here’s a suggestion. Start Skip Schumacher over Jon Jay tonight. Jon Jay looked lethargic outside a sacrifice bunt attempt last night. Jay is weaker against lefthanders and has gotten plenty of at bats against them in the playoffs. Skip is a tougher at bat right now, deserves the start, and also has a stronger arm and baseball sense in center field. Jay can loom as a pinch hit threat late in the game with Allen Craig to throw off Texas Manager Ron Washington’s decision making. Start Skip tonight.
*Message to Tony. Stop subbing in Daniel Descalso for David Freese in the 7th inning of a one run game. I love D.D.’s defensive capabilities and scrappy bat, but Freese is the hottest most clutch hitter in baseball right now, and needs to play all 9 or more innings. Freese isn’t as sharp defensively, but he has the big bat. With only a one run lead, there was no need to pull him last night.
*I have no problem with Westbrook getting a start here. We need a fresh arm on the mound in the 1st inning. Westbrook has career stats against Texas and has pitched in Arlington. He can do no worse than Garcia, Lohse or Jackson.
*That’s it on the Cards. Game on for the second round. The Cards struck first, savored the flavor of victory and get back at it tonight in the cold tunnel bowl of Busch. The ballet of emotion continues tonight for fans, players and the future.
*The Rams need to sit Sam Bradford this weekend against Dallas. High ankle sprains in football are like elbow pains in baseball. Something to worry about and watch. Unlike baseball, football is hard contact and can cause serious injury. Bradford has a high ankle sprain and needs to sit out. Let Aj Feeley and his 3.5 million dollars get some work. Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is licking his chops right now at the announcement of Bradford starting, waiting to unleash Demarcus Ware on Bradford and end his season. Do the kid a favor and sit him. This is completely on Steve Spagnuolo’s shoulders if something happens to Sam. Feeley can do no worse than the first five weeks of depressing failure. Let the backup get a round of beaten torture while Sam rests for New Orleans at the Dome next week.
*The absence of Danny Amendola crippled Bradford this season as well. Amendola was able to do a lot of things on offense. Third down receiver, punt and kickoff returner and a clutch guy who can catch. Amendola’s injury set this team back, but Clatyon and new addition Lloyd need to rescue the receiving game in Dallas.
*Is it too early to get restless with the Blues? Yes, but they have to be monitored. Trends of play are important here. Going 2-4 in your first few games isn’t life threatening with a 82 game season but if the play continues, there could be trouble. Davis Payne isn’t the cause, but as is the case with Spags, he will be the first one to go. Losing Andy McDonald hurts. The depth on the roster must carry this team through and Jaroslav Halak must string together solid starts. The Blues are entertaining yet come with a frustration that comes with any STL sports team. Nothing is easy in St. Louis. However, Blues fans, now isn’t the time to run away. Bandwagon riders and outside kool aide drinkers are runners. Stick with the Blues and they may surprise you. Just don’t be surprised if its a new coach in March guiding the boat.
That’s all folks. Thanks for reading.