It takes a lot for a team to climb out of the depths of late summer dog day dread, but the Cardinals have pulled it off. They have done so by doing things that have propelled them the entire season and also incorporating some new weapons and tactics. Let’s roll over it.
Since losing to the Cubs on Saturday at home on August 10th to lose the series and reach their worst point in 2 months, the Cardinals have gone 10-3 and won series’ against the Pirates, Cubs, Brewers and Braves. Today, we go for the sweep of an Atlanta team that swept us in their home park 3 weeks ago. A lot of things can change when your team gets the little things done. Today we start the game tied with the Pirates for first place in the division after the Giants shut down the Bucs on Saturday night to help us pull even. It’s a brand new game in the division and the Reds aren’t out of it yet.
The Cards got this far and turned things around by introducing a few new abilities.
-They came from behind twice against the Pirates at home to win the series and show that they had a few lives after the 8th inning. Before that first extra inning win in 13 innings, the Cards had lost every game they trailed heading into the 9th inning. They were 24 out victims for about 4 months. Without that series win against the Pirates, I’m not sure any of this is possible.
-The Birds bounced back from a 7-0 defeat against the Cubs on August 16th where Jake Westbrook walked the first three batters and our bats were shut down by a rookie. We took the next two games on starting pitching and outscoring the opponent 10-1.
-We scored another late inning come from behind win against the Brewers only to watch Lance Lynn blow a 3-0 lead the following night and nearly saw Westbrook give back a 7-0 lead on Wednesday afternoon. The series win against the Brewers brought us back to 20 games over .500 and into a crucial 17 game stretch against premium teams the likes of Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.
In taking the first three games of the series, the Cards have established their home dominance by taking advantage of the injury plagued Braves and taking away their much beloved long ball. In three games, the Braves have 2 home runs that have only accounted for 3 runs. A home run hungry team has been befuddled by Joe Kelly, Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller to the tune of 22 innings pitched with only 2 runs allowed. We have received timely hitting from Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday and find ourselves starting today tied for the lead in the Central. It took every ounce of effort to pull it back in after seeing everything spiral out of control.
The Cards have indeed relocated their starting pitching dominance at Busch this weekend. Look at Miller’s big game start last night in a swing contest. He allowed a first inning home run to Freddie Freeman but proceeded to allow 2 hits over the final 6.1 innings with 6 strikeouts. Miller was more economical with his pitches. He didn’t try to strike everyone out. He had around 55 pitches in the 5th inning, a plateau usually reached in the 3rd or 4th inning. The best part of Miller’s start was the fact he didn’t allow a single walk. It was only his second start where he allowed zero walks and the first since a win over the Phillies on July 23rd. The rest and caution over the rookie righthander may have been worth the stress levels because if he is starting to figure out how to shut down HR happy heavy hitting MLB lineups like the Braves, the next two months could be the young man’s best moments.
-I could tell you how brilliant Wainwright was on Friday but I am afraid a lot of people beat me to it and its something that is a given. After struggling on the vital road trip against the Braves and Pirates, Wainwright has reestablished his dominance with two big starts. He won the series at Wrigley a week ago with a 7 inning performance and threw his best game of the year against the Braves on Friday. Using 128 pitches yet looking stronger and sharper than ever in the 9th inning, Wainwright threw a complete game. He struck out 9 and walked no one. It was the kind of big game performance you need from your ace in a crucial stretch of play. He raised around 100,000 dollars for local charities in the morning with his fantasy football tournament and went out and threw a gem that night. Wainwright is becoming Chris Carpenter in every way and its a great thing. He wears his heart on his sleeve, donates plenty of time to charity, doesn’t bullshit in interviews, and happens to be a commanding presence on the mound and a hilariously loose teammate in the dugout. If there is a leader on the team not named Molina, it’s Waino. 7 years ago those team collided at the mound for a World Series celebration. Friday night, they did a more subtle celebration after Waino’s complete game and it reminded me how sharp and alert this franchise is. The Cardinals don’t put out phonies and players that lack the gall to lead others. We craft veteran minded young men ready to lead. In Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig, you see the youth movement. In Holliday and Beltran, there is the guided direction from proven players. This team is one of the most well rounded teams I’ve watched in years.
-Speaking of Matt Holliday, he’s turned it on again in this series, collecting 4 hits in 11 at bats but making those hits count. A big RBI double on Thursday. A mammoth HR to break a tie in Friday’s game. A big 2 run double last night. In the #3 hole where hitters go to live or die, Holliday is doing just fine. His work in left field isn’t that bad either. Keep in mind he has only made 1 error there all season.
-Per one of my radio buddies, Aaron Russell, when Edward Mujica threw those 6 innings last week before his temporary shutdown, all he needed was 42 pitches to do it. Last night, he had to close down a game that two other relievers failed to convert and needed 3 pitches to do it. With every appearance, Mujica is getting sharper and sharper. I’ll say it again. After a slight dip in July, Chief has reasserted himself as a shutdown closer in August. His four out save to preserve a much needed series win in Milwaukee was impressive because he was doing it with considerable back pain. Last night, he quieted fears of an extended injury with a quick blunt performance. In 12 appearances in August, Mujica has 5 strikeouts with 1 walk and has allowed 1 earned run with 4 saves. For the season, even for a closer, his numbers are ridiculous. 34-36 in saves, 43 K-3 BB, opponents are hitting .203 against him and his WHIP is 0.80. Absolutely ridiculous. Go Eddie!
Quickies before I set up for game time-
*Daniel Descalso is looking better and better the more he plays shortstop. Made two very nice plays last night. Pete Kozma gets the start today with his 3 hits in the month of August. Being a light hitting defensive player is fine. Being a non-existent hitter on a playoff team isn’t acceptable. His days are numbered.
*I want Tony Cruz back, No offense to Rob Johnson but he isn’t a suitable backup. His defense is average and his bat is worse. Cruz is a decent backup and I like him in there to give Yadi the occasional day off.
*Sorry to all the Wainwright lovers(and I am one, so this is weird) but Yadi Molina is the team’s MVP. Waino does his work every 5th day and if he happens not to, the impact only gets lessened. Yadi takes that spot 4 out of 5 games and delivers night in and night out. He completely takes away the running game, even from base stealing happy foes. He’s the best. He also swings a big bat. He is 14-30 in his last 7 games with 8 runs scored. He leads the league in hitting with a .336 average. Best catcher. Best batting average. Add it up. BEST.
*The weight falls on Lance Lynn to deliver a decent start and keep the streak going. He loves his four seam fastball and his ability to mix it in with breaking pitches against a homer happy team will be the key. Save me his defense because the man’s 13 wins have come via good pitching but better run support. In his last 2 starts, Lynn hasn’t been sharp. We have a liability on this roster and its called Jake Westbrook. Lance Lynn needs to earn his keep. Go out there today and complete sweep. Earn the victory on the merit of your own arm.
*With Westbrook hitting the DL, Tyler Lyons gets the start tomorrow against the Reds. This guy is a puzzle. He shut down the Padres and Royals but ran into better teams with better bats who had a knowledge of his pitchers in July and he was clubbed for 3 starts in a row. He made another start weeks later and was clubbed at Pittsburgh. He was solid in relief in Milwaukee but faces a mighty lineup on Monday. Will he be beaten up for a 5th consecutive start or will Tyler Lyons be something else. We’ll see. My bets are in front of me because I see no good cards in my hand.
That’s all I got today. Go Cards and keep the streak going. We beat the Braves today and we will be tied for the best record in MLB baseball again. That’s two weeks after looking dead in the water. That’s how fast things can change in this game. You play every day. You can change things every single game. The Cardinals are going to get their chance. Let’s not settle for a series win. Let’s go for the jugular. I wonder what all the fans who thought we were done 2 weeks ago think now. Hmmmm….remember the game they play and what happened in 2011 and 2012.
Thanks for reading,