Sinking The Pirate Ship and Its Effect

What does one series win mean for a team?   For the Cardinals, it was the difference between being 2 games out today or 4 games out of first place.   It was premature for any Cardinals fan to think the Pirates would lay down after being outlasted by the Birds on Tuesday night 4-3.   Francisco Liriano came out last night and shut the team down on 94 pitches, scattered a few hits and made short work of our team.   The Pirates were back to 3 games up and took a 4-0 lead today early on.  How would the Cardinals react?

The crazy thing about the Rogues in red is that they are so streaky and can fall asleep at the wheel so easily.  The Cardinals can look so confounded by a pitcher after seemingly getting back on track.  Liriano is so pushover but seeing the team muster zero energy against him was frustrating for any Cards fan with a pulse.  Losing is one thing.  Ghost walking is quite another.   I remember the first series of the season where the Cards were playing San Francisco and Matt Cain shut them down the first two times through the order.  We were losing and on our way to a shutout.  Suddenly, we scored 9 times in the 6th inning and routed the Giants and ended up beating Cain again later in the year.  That’s our offense in a nutshell.   Power lacking, no need to steal, magnificent with RISP but streaky as a plate of Mexican food’s durability to cold temperatures.  We are down yet not out.  We are hitless and suddenly, like today, get 5 runs on 6 hits off A.J. Burnett, erase a 4-0 lead and take a lead.   Following the Cards is as rough as it gets.  We know this team will compete every single year.  We know they will dominate early on, sputter in June, nearly collapse in August and finally find their footing.  Heading into tomorrow action’s against the Cubs on August 16th, is that finally the time this team finds their feet and makes that push.   Let’s look at the schedule.

6 game road trip against The Cubs and Brewers.  Two painfully bad teams looking to play spoiler.  Jake Westbrook takes the mound tomorrow for the first time in 9 days to find his sinker and right his own ship.

Next, a pivotal home stand against the Braves(revenge) and the suddenly closing in on the division lead Reds.  3 games apiece.  The Cardinals have been good at home lately and need to keep that up.  The Dodgers and Cubs series losses withstanding, the second half has seen this team make Busch a comfort and not a hazard.

The end of the month closes with a road trip through Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.  CRUCIAL games at the start of the final push.  We come home and face the Pirates at BUSCH for the last 3 times in 2013.  These are nine games that can’t be wasted.

After the Bucs leave, we get the Brewers here for 3 and the Seattle Mariners for 3 games to finish interleague action.  Yes, we may face Mr. Felix.  Knowing our ability against great RH pitchers, we will shell him for 5 runs.

The last road trip of the season takes us to Colorado for a potentially hazardous 4 game set in the middle of the month and finally to Milwaukee one more time.  We got 9 games with the rough Brewers who don’t have Ryan Braun anymore and are very beatable.

The season comes to an end with the Nationals and Cubs at home for 3 apiece.  Two under .500 teams that will be hungry to spoil.   Watch out.

The last 40 games won’t be easy but there are a lot of matches against less than .500 clubs which overall the Cards thrive on this season.   The Braves, Reds, and Pirates won’t be easy at all but hopefully with the callups, renewed energy and maybe a waiver deal in there somewhere, the Cards will be ready to finally put their foot down and roll.  This team didn’t spend 3 months with the best record in baseball for no reason.  We don’t lead the Majors in run differential for no reason.  We don’t own the most runs scored, 3rd best rotation ERA and best batting average in the NL for no reason.  We are strong, formidable and now ready to push.

What else about the Birds?

*Kolten Wong is finally being called up.  He will meet the team in Chicago.  He was ripping up AAA pitching and was our 1st round draft pick last year.  He will push David Freese for playing time with Matt Carpenter either starting at 2nd or moving to third for Wong.  This is good news.  A fresh set of legs and a speedy basepath guy, Wong can hit the ball to all fields.  He is a welcome addition.  He isn’t Oscar Taveras, but he will do.  I don’t expect him to start every day, but look for him to get in there at least 3-4 times a week.  This also provides a valuable bench bat in Freese late in games.

*I like Freese.  He’s a good hometown kid and has given the team a bargain barrel of production at third base.  He was a World Series hero and will always have that.  He was an all star in 2012.  However, this is a business and you have to keep hitting on one year deals.  Wong is young and ready,and Freese looks misguided and over-matched at the plate.  He will have to earn his at-bats.  The Cards know this is their time.  That is why they called up Wong.  Team needs a bump.

*The Matt Holliday haters and critics won’t like this but he has been on fire since he returned on July 27th.  He has been consistently hitting and taken his average from .268 in late July to .294 today.   In his last 10 games, Holliday is hitting .457 with 8 RBI, 16 H, and more BB than K.  On Thursday, he had two go ahead hits.  The man is thrashing the ball and that includes a MLB leading 27 double play balls.  Most of those come when Holliday scorches a one hopper to a fielder.  That’s not an excuse but only a mere detail.  Holliday is a typical 2nd half slugger.  He starts slow, finishes strong and laughs at his critics.  Maybe some people still want Carl Crawford’s 24 million dollar tag here instead of watching him lead off in LA.  Jayson Werth anyone?  Holliday, even at 17 million, is a bargain bat and will finish with his strong expected numbers.  He gets hot when the team most needs him and that is in the last two months of the season.  Shit on his defense but please don’t compare him to Chris Duncan.  Holliday doesn’t have a good arm, makes the occasional bad play, but only has 3 errors and makes most plays.  He is here for his bat and right now, that’s red hot.

*I will buy into the theory of Matt Carpenter’s bat leading this offense up or down.  On this homestand he is hitting .413 and collected 8 hits in 15 at bats against the Pirates.  He is hitting .315 with a league high 40 doubles.  He reached base 5 times in Thursday’s comeback win.    The guy is having a fantastic season and has reheated after a slow start to the second half.

Beating the Pirates with 2 walkoff wins was huge for a number of reasons.   Mainly, it gave this team revenge for a horrible 5 game series in Pittsburgh that upended the Cards and rerouted their season.   If we lose this series or get swept here, the rest of the season looks pretty dim.  You have to take advantage of head to head battles because of the two game swing of each contest.  The Cards didn’t wilt and grabbed their two biggest comeback wins of the season.   Today, down 4-0, in the 5th, the game looked sealed until we started hitting.  The one thing you can count on with this 2013 team at the plate is timely hitting.

MVP of the Pirates series-The BULLPEN.   Fired 7 scoreless frames on Tuesday, 3 scoreless on Wednesday and delivered 6 innings on Thursday and allowed a single run.   16 innings in the series and 1 run allowed.   Superb performance from the pen.   Edward Mujica has calmed the scares that arose in July with brilliant work in August.  He throws strikes, keeps the ball down and barely walks hitters.  His walk on Thursday was his 2nd since April.   Ridiculous control.  Mujica fired 3 consecutive 2 inning games the past 4 games.  Man is a horse and on our side.

What’s next?  Cubs at Wrigley for 3 games.  NEED to dominate and start strangling the Pirates and Reds in the central.   Pittsburgh gets the tenacious D-Backs for 3 this weekend, a team that may play a role in the wild card standings.  Lot of season left, the road doesn’t look so dark now and with the arrival of Wong, the Cards may be finding their way.   Having a guy named Yadi Molina back may also help.

That’s it.  I have to watch another movie before I hit the bed.  4 movies this week, blogging, article writing for film-addict, job applying.  All in a week’s work.  I don’t stop writing.  EVER!  Craft is always fresh and the material, via my Redbirds, is always in front of me.

Thanks for reading,

Dan Buffa

-@buffa82 on Twitter

-United Cardinal Bloggers

-Red Wolf Roll Call on Wednesdays at 4 p.m.

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