While yesterdays blog was for the general wordpress mass, this one is for my Cardinals insiders only. The devoted following. Here are some things to keep in mind for today’s 4:07p.m. starting time matchup.
*Keep a short leash on Kyle Lohse. He finished 16-3 with a fine ERA and produced a fantastic closing season in Redbird colors and that’s quite lovely, but today he is just another arm taking the ball for what could be the final day of the Cardinals 2012 season. I don’t expect Lohse to last more than 4-5 innings. If he gets into trouble, Mike Matheny has to pull him. The third time through the lineup, Lohse’s contact pitching becomes more visible, so that may be the time to pull him. This is no insult to Lohse or Matheny. This is do or die baseball. Matheny has to be so careful today that I dare call him the X-factor in today’s game. He makes the decisions and will hang the grief on his head at the end of the night. Rookie or not, Matheny is in the shit now and needs to react accordingly. If Lohse gets into dire straits in the 3rd inning, get an arm or two loose. Lance Lynn is your following bullet. Unleash that wicked smoky 4 seam fastball on those Braves hitters in the middle of the game. Lynn was a key part of the playoff run in 2011 and here he assumes that long relief role once again. Don’t forget about Joe Kelly. Kelly has a nasty array of pitches that can’t be overlooked when the Braves start to knock Lynn around. The general idea here is maintaining the equilibrium of the game. Don’t let it get out of hand because as we all know, this is it.
*The Cardinals have a lot at stake here. To me, they aren’t really IN the playoffs yet. Technically, they are but until they get past the Braves and come home to host a series with the Nationals, the Birds are sitting in the lobby of the playoffs waiting for a ticket upstairs. It’s that kind of situation. I won’t go run out and buy postseason hats, shirts and jerseys just yet. I want to see a win today and a series. This could be the biggest hurdle in the pennant chase. Getting past the Braves in Atlanta on a one game playoff against a pitcher who has been filthy in the final two months of the seasons. Kris Medlen won 8 of his last 10 starts, moves the ball all over the plate like Maddux and fools hitters. Any true Cardinals fan can’t think about today without the 1996 NLCS in their mind. Seeing Donovan Osborne on the mound take a brutal beating in Atlanta to lose a grip on a series that once was 3-1 in the favor of the Cards. Hearing those tomahawks flying and the loud chant raining down on your eyes. This is Chipper Jones’ sendoff and the Braves won’t go lightly. I am sure Freddy Gonzalez will empty his bullpen and bench as well if needed. A professional needs to know what is at stake today. If the Cards get past this team, they get at least 3 more games, two of them at home against Washington. I don’t care if its Gio Gonzalez or Jordan Zimmerman. Gio had 21 wins but he also had 8 losses, many of them coming on the road. Zimmerman was beat by the Cardinals once this year. Fuck them. They are mortal. Speaking of Medlen, guess what he is mortal at well and is due for a beatdown today. His experience against the Cards is only as a reliever. He hasn’t had to run through the hottest lineup in baseball more than 1 time. Today will be a test for him as well. Fuck Kris and everything named Kris. He is going down!
*To bring one of my favorite(and local) actors to mind here in Jon Hamm’s character Adam Frawley in Ben Affleck’s masterful crime saga The Town, the Cardinals have to turn into “the no fucking around crew”. We have to be killers today. Take good at bats. Don’t make bad errors. Pitch to contact yet remember you can throw it by the hitter as well. Resist the walk because free passes come back to haunt a team in the playoffs. Do whatever you have to in order to keep Michael Bourn off the bases. Hit with authority and don’t stop piling on runs until the scoreboard reads 17-1 Cardinals. Something like that.
*The bullpen plan is simple. Fernando Salas and Marc Rzepczynski are your last options. In other words, they can supply the gatorade and towels today. They don’t need to pitch in this game. Salas isn’t effective enough to be considered before Trevor Rosenthal, Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs, Lynn, Kelly or Motte. Salas in October doesn’t get the job done. You know what helped saved the bullpen in the 2011 playoffs. Octavio Dotel. He became the older wiser better version of Salas. Fernando’s problem is simple. He is too inconsistent. Handing him a treacherous situation right now is like handing a 2 year old a grenade. Bad for business. Salas is a liability and his culprit is the 90 mph soft, straight, hittable fastball of his. It’s right there and easy to pounce on. Anyone who gives up a game tying home run to Darwin Barney against the wind in Wrigley doesn’t need to participate in a one game playoff. That’s it. Unless the score is indeed 17-1, keep Salas in the bullpen. He can play catch with the outfielders between innings. Rosenthal needs to be your next bullet after Lynn and Kelly. Please don’t bring Rzepczynski for the lefties in this game. He is damaged goods, carries little faith in himself or his pitches and will fail. He had a horrible 2012 season because he doesn’t believe he can get hitters out with his pitchers. He stopped throwing the changeup that made him so effective a year ago. Use Sam Freeman IF you have to. If I were Matheny, I would politely thank Salas, Rzep and Freeman for their work in 2012 but they can watch this game. It’s too important. Rosenthal, Kelly and Lynn are all born and bred starters so they can handle lefthanded hitters. Keep Mujica, Boggs and Motte for your shutdown crew.
*If the game is on the line and Motte gets into a little trouble in the 9th inning during a save, leave him in and let him deal with it. Here is the opposite situation of Salas or the other relievers. Motte earned the right to wear the blame in this one game sudden death match. He was tied for the league lead in saves, finished strong and deserves to be the last man out. Your closer, by definition, is your last line of defense. Your final bullet. The silver lead shot. Give it to Motte and let him close it. Unless he encounters a Rick Ankiel breakdown in control, it’s his game. Judging from his solid work last season in October, I think he will do just fine. In Game 2 of the World Series in 2011, Tony La Russa wrongfully pulled Motte after runners reached base and the lead of the Cardinals began to dwindle. Instead of sticking with his closer to the end, La Russa’s itchy trigger finger rose up and knocked Motte out of the game. I hope Matheny holds back, puts his own stamp on this team and lets his closer hold the fate if the Cards have a close lead in the 9th inning.
*The roster was exactly how I imagined. 15 position players and 10 pitchers. Adron Chambers, Bryan Anderson, and Ryan Jackson all made it. Chambers is a speedy runner and a decent outfielder but he should only be a pinch runner in this game. Under no circumstance does Matheny pull one of the outfielders from the game. Anderson is a pinch hitter and Jackson is a defensive replacement. Matt Carpenter and Skip Schumacher are your top utility players and pinch hitters. Carpenter is Freese’s backup and Skip is the everyman on the bench.
*The Starting Lineup is exactly as I predicted.
-Jay, Beltran, Holliday, Craig, Molina, Freese, Descalso, Kozma, Lohse.
Stay with what works. Die by your preferred order. Matheny isn’t rocking the boat yet.
*Here is one thing that isn’t predictable. This team. The 2012 Cardinals are fiercely and frustratingly unpredictable. They zig when we think they will zag. When they are down on their back or against the wall and we count them out, they surge back. When we think the game is in hand, they hand it back. They keep it interesting. Blood pressure high, nerves shaved, and patience dwindling. That’s St. Louis Cardinals baseball and that’s life as we know it. Nothing is guaranteed. I have no prediction for today’s game. It’s hard enough predicting a series of 5-7 games but in a one game playoff all we can do is get the right mindset and hope for the best. If we fall, I’ll be mad but not enraged. This team was hit very hard by injuries, overcame many obstacles and deficits and outlasted the Brewers, Pirates and Dodgers to earn a chance to get into a playoff series. That’s impressive. However, as fans of a team with 11 World titles, we want more. What do you want when you are happy? More happiness. Success only breeds a future of additional prizes. Here’s to the Cardinals getting the job done today and advancing to a division series matchup. Win today and we come home tomorrow.
*Also, how about those Rams? They are 3-2 and over .500 for the first time since the Cardinals celebrated their World Series…in 2006. Jeff Fisher’s team is definitely turning into the physically imposing wild bunch and I love it. Last night, we destroyed a 4-0 team and left Kevin Kolb with teeth stuck in his ass. Chris Long, James Lauranitis and Steven Jackson have been around for all the losing seasons, so seeing them after the game talk about Fisher’s style and the new outlook is just exciting. With baseball coming down to its final stages and the NHL locked out through the first two weeks of the regular season, Rams football may be something to look forward to in 2012 and not something you dread being a part of. If the Rams offense ever catches up with the defense, watch out for this team.
That’s it. Thanks for reading. Goodnight. I don’t think I will be writing tonight, win or lose, so just follow my lead and enjoy the outcome one way or another.
Dan L. Buffa