World Series Slump? Not For These Cards

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: St. Louis Cardinals’ third baseman David Freese knocks in a two-out, two-RBI double. After a stellar starting pitching performance, Jason Motte takes over and uses his trademark “straight heat” to notch the final, pressure-packed outs, and Yadier Molina gives a double-fist pump on his way to congratulate his pitcher on the mound.

No, I’m not talking about Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.

But I like how that story ended, so I’m okay with the fact that the 2012 campaign started in similar fashion!

As strange as a one-game “series” start to the season is, that’s all we got to see how the weeks of spring preparation would translate to regular season action. And what we learned, in short, is that spring training tells us nothing. 

But, last night we did get a taste of the kind of numbers that do tell us something. In the opener, the numbers meant a 4-1 victory over the New-Look Marlins in their shiny new ballpark, a win for Kyle Lohse, and a complete 180 from spring training for a couple of key offensive starters.

What worked well …

Kyle Lohse. For a guy who was the wins leader last season, he doesn’t often get the credit for strength in his abilities as a starter. Add to that fact that he got tonight’s start only after Chris Carpenter’s injury, and there weren’t a lot of positive expectations.

So, a certain former Cardinal isn’t the only one starting the season with a chip on his shoulder. Lohse’s “chip,” though, resulted in 7.1 innings pitched where he surrendered just 2 hits and 1 run (which wasn’t even his fault … apparently the umpires aren’t in mid-season form yet). He didn’t issue a single walk, and he notched three strike outs. He lost his chance at a perfect game when he hit Emilio Bonifacio in the fourth. For you scoring at home, that makes his ERA 1.23 after one start.

I’ll take it. (Every five days, please, Kyle!)

David Freese. After a sub-par spring, the World Series MVP looked to be in fine form, going 3-for-5 with a pair of runs batted in, and a run scored. With Lance Berkman being intentionally walked in front of Freese, he’ll need to tap into that “Pressure? What pressure?” mentality from last postseason to be long-term protection. But this was the kind of start we were all hoping he’d have. 

Aggressive play. From the very first inning, we got a sense that the more aggressive, running-oriented “Matheny Ball” was more than just a spring training talking point. When Lance Berkman stretched a single into a double by sliding around a tag at second, you knew it was all systems go!

Later in the game, Rafael Furcal stole a base, Jon Jay was caught stealing and Yadi raced around the bases for a double of his own.

They’re playing aggressive. Running often. Scoring early. And I, for one, love it!

Mike Matheny. Of course, it’s good to see the new Skipper get his first win under his belt. That will certainly shake off some of the jitters, and the success means he has a great foundation to build off of heading toward the home opener next weekend.

Jason Motte. He’s back! And like Freese, he picked up right where he left off. His fastball touched 99 miles per hour tonight, and he threw a nasty slider to get Giancarlo Stanton swinging for his first save of the year.

No home runs, no GIDPs. Yes, we successfully avoided both the hideous home run feature in the new Marlins Park and the dreaded ground into double play!

What didn’t work so well …

Matt Holliday. While guys like Freese and Rafael Furcal dismissed their spring training lulls (Carlos Beltran also went 2-for-5), Holliday couldn’t quite live up to his red-hot spring training marks. He ended 0-for-5 on the night with two strike outs (one of which, though, was on yet another questionable call!). Hopefully his Opening Night jitters are gone, and he’ll be back to business as usual this weekend.

Umpires’ contacts. Speaking of the officials, I’m a bit concerned that they should have checked their prescription before the season started. As I mentioned, Lohse’s one “earned” run came after he’d left the game with a runner at first. In what should have been an inning-ending double play, the runner was called safe at first … and later scored. (He was not safe. Not even close,)

Runners LOB. Okay, who’s in charge of bringing the lucky lobsters to Milwaukee? Despite racking up 13 hits, the Cards left 10 runners on base, and were just 2-of-14 with runners in scoring position. That’s … less than ideal. Hits are great, but they need to do more than just pile up. They need to pile on to the crooked number on the score board!

But really, when you’re looking at an Opening Night, 4-1 victory where your potential No. 4 starter pitched into the eighth inning? There really isn’t much to complain about! No signs of rust, a rejuvenated clubhouse and some hot hitters? That’s the kind of Opening Night we had our fingers crossed for!

The worst part about it, though? We have to wait until Friday for the next dose of Cardinals baseball!

 

Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.

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