As the afternoon burns through my Italian skin and reminds me that STL brings the heat more than any Cardinal reliever in August, I throw out some quick thoughts on my first place team via the bullet.
- Last night’s win was a clear cut example of this team’s new found dogfight attitude in August. After going 4 months without a comeback late in a game, the Cards have scored 3 huge miraculous comebacks against their tougher competition in the NL Central. We got down 4-0 last night and things looked dismal. Tyler Lyons was pitching well but getting bad luck before you knew it, the game was starting to fade away. Suddenly, Matt Holliday hits a baseball halfway towards Asia and it’s a one run game. In the 7th, with the bases and down by a run, Allen Craig stepped to the plate. This guy thrives with the pleasure on his shoulders. With RISP, he is hitting .433 or other words destroys pitchers in clutch spots. He didn’t slap a base hit to score 2 or beat out an infield hit. He cranked an opposite field first pitch grand slam that sent a jolt through Busch Stadium. The Cards won 8-6 on the heels of solid bullpen work, Lyons’ recovering from a rough start, Mujica closing it down for save #35 and the lineup’s ability to keep pushing. The Cards are dominating at home in the second half of the season and that’s a key factor because we play a lot of games at Busch in the last month.
- I didn’t give Lyons much positive spin for his start because he seemed to be figured out by major league hitters in his last 4 starts. Last night, he got better as he went and struck out 7 Reds batters. He fooled Joey Votto twice on a breaking ball that had the MVP twitching back to the dugout. He limited the damage after the early assault. In my mind, he hushed a few critics and earned another start. Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez are holding down the long inning roles in the pen so the team has options, but Lyons earned another start with his gutsy performance.
- Let me just say this. I don’t think Ryan Jackson is the genuine article. He won’t be a long term option for the team. He will probably burn out after a certain number of at-bats. However, if he doesn’t get called up on September 1st and doesn’t get a little playing time, I really want to get an idea of where John Mozelaik’s head is at. Pete Kozma is exposed folks and while his defense is solid, it’s not gold glove worthy at shortstop and he is an automatic out in the lineup. Kozma is 3-42 in the month of August with 10 strikeouts. He has 4 total bases this month. Kozma is a liability now so more than ever and when you look at a lineup with him in it, the opposing pitcher has two soft spots in the 8-9 positions in our lineup. Daniel Descalso is fine but his defense(as seen last night in the 1st inning) is average and error prone. Jackson is noted as having stellar defense and can at least provide a fresh bat in the lineup. He has earned the right to prove his mettle at this level. Or we can watch Kozma trip his way towards the Mendoza line.
- The Pirates made a big move today, acquiring two cheap productive bats in Marlon Byrd and John Buck to bolster their lineup. Their once weak looking offense is looking mighty bulky and explosive these days. Byrd was hitting .285 with 21 HR and 70 RBI for the Mets and Buck had 15 HR and 60 RBI at the time of the trade. The Mets are cutting major pieces after they found out ace pitcher Matt Harvey is out for the season and may require Tommy John surgery. The Pirates jumped on this whole sale and improved their team. Will Mo and the Cards react or stand pat? We do lead the league in a number of offensive categories but can use some help up the middle and on the bench. With Tony Cruz out for another week or so, finding a backup catcher may have been wise. Buck would have been a great find but the Bucs beat everybody to him and nabbed Byrd as well. As the final month of the season gets underway, the Pirates have positioned themselves for the drive. Will the Reds beef up? Will the Cards make a move? Don’t ask Mozelaik because at…the….end…of…the….day……who knows?
- If David Freese can find a way to explode, our offense isn’t that vulnerable. If he can hit more and produce on a more consistent basis, the need to replace Kozma weakens a bit. Freese is an X-Factor. He was a huge factor when we made those late season pushes in 2011 and 2012. If he remains stagnant this year, the lineup looks weaker because Kolten Wong isn’t ready for extended duty and doesn’t offer that game changing bat that Freese can when he is on. We need that 2011 October Freese to step up, knock hits into RF and improve his defense. If he can heat up, the lineup is stronger than ever. Without him hitting, our boys look a little weak towards the bottom of the order. When Freese is down the 7-8-9 spots of himself, Kozma and the pitcher look very easy for a decent opposing pitcher.
- Carlos Beltran is getting hot again, stroking a double in that pivotal 7th inning last night. He is hitting .366 in his last 10 games.
- The Cards have 5 hitters in their everyday lineup hitting .280 or better in Molina, Craig, Carpenter, Beltran and Holliday.
- I find myself watching Holliday HR over and over again because they are so majestic. The one he hit last night traveled 442 feet and was simply obliterated off the bat. Later, in the 7th inning, he drew an important walk that set up Craig’s slam. A 3-2 pitch right off the outside corner takes guts to let sail by and Holliday did it. His numbers are slowly perking up. With his two 3 run bombs in the past week, Matt now has 18 HR, 70 RBI and 85 Runs and 25 doubles.
- With 31 games remaining after last night, the Cards are in prime position to stay right in the thick of the race. The next 12 are against the Reds and Pirates with the final 19 coming against sub .500 teams. Things are working themselves into our advantage to secure a division title if we can split the next 12 games at least.
- Tonight the Cards face their true 2013 nemesis(not named Francisco Liriano or Mike Minor) in Matt Latos. He has shut us down twice this year and is 13-4 and easily the Reds strongest starter this year. Speaking of Liriano, we face him Friday in Pittsburgh.
- If the Cards win tonight and the Brewers can wreck the Pirates’ part, we could be 2 full games ahead of Pitt and push the Reds 4.5 games back. These games against Cincinnati are nearly as important as the Pirates showdowns because with every win we push them further into that wild card game one off. To tell it simple, every game matters. Baseball is a test of endurance and not streaky skill. You do the best with the 162 games and get into the playoffs and then go for the gold. Where will the Cards end up? Apparently, a lot better than the many Cards fans on twitter who were ready to bury the team on August 10th. Fans often forget there are so many games in a baseball season. So much time left to turn things around. Once again, the Cards did.
That’s all from the pregame desk. Go Cards!