Hot Freese, Steady Pitching Means Balance And A “W”

While the critics are content to ramble on about the “missing pieces” for the Cardinals this year, the reigning World Champs are content to, well, win. And keep winning, all in different ways.

Blow outs? Been there, done that. Pitching duels? No problemo. And how about close games where the opponent scores late in the game and gives themselves a chance against the bullpen?

Got it covered.

Cardinals 3, Reds 1

Tuesday, it was a win of the latter kind. The trend of scoring early continued for the Cards, as did the fascination with the long ball.

Carlos Beltran got it started with a solo homer in the first. Then, Lance Berkman and David Freese did their 2011 post season thing and backed each other up in the sixth inning. Berkman hit a triple (yes, a triple! Puma can run!) but turns out, he didn’t need all that effort. Freese followed with a one-out, two-run homer of his own.

As red-hot as Freese is (batting a blistering .444 through six games and leading the National League with 10 RBI), his counterpart on the mound may be just as impressive. Kyle Lohse — the first Cardinals’ starter to make his second start of the season — pitched another gem.

He went six innings, giving up four hits, one earned run, walking one and striking out two. That makes two quality starts in two attempts. Another trend I like!

It was a combination of Mitchell Boggs and flame-thrower Jason Motte responsible for closing out the two-run game. While Devin Mesoraco had Redbirds fans cringing on a long ball in the seventh, Matt Holliday made a play that surprised even Mike Shannon and John Rooney to save the run.

Those long, loud outs still count just the same! 

It wasn’t a flawless game, though.

The only Cardinals runs came on the homers by Beltran and Freese. So, while they collected nine hits total, they stranded seven base runners.

Plus, when Berkman stretched an easy double into that triple? He tweaked a calf muscle. Rafael Furcal replaced him as a pinch runner in the eighth inning.

But honestly, six games in, we can’t get too worked up one way or another. While the win total is nice, what’s nicer is the way the club is winning.

No, I’m not talking about number of runs, strength of pitching, or a lack of errors and GIDPs. I’m talking about the confidence. This isn’t a team playing to find its identity. It’s a team playing to prove its point — to say, “We’re good. We know it. And we’re determined to show you what we already know.”

According to Jeff Wallner’s MLB.com recap, Tuesday night’s winner was no exception to that vibe.

“These starters keep giving each other something to measure up to,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. “They talk a lot of smack to each other about their starts, trying to better the guy before them. It’s healthy competition. But Lohse did it again. He sets the bar high for these guys to follow.”

Freese then said that it’s not just one element that has this team looking strong.

“It’s unbelievable, you’re going to win a ton of ballgames if your starters do what they’re doing,” Freese said. “The bats aren’t always going to be there. The arms won’t always be there. But when everything is clicking we’re a tough team to beat.”

Well, David, I’d say things are clicking.

And to think, all this before even playing a game at home in St. Louis. The schedule sure hasn’t been a gift, taking on the greatest division rivals in the first week. But to weather the first six and impress even Buster Olney in the process?

 

Small sample size or not, I’ll take it!

Jaime Garcia takes the mound in an early, 11:35 start today, going for the first sweep of the season. And against the Reds, that’s always a good thing.

Here’s hoping these determined birds keep clicking right along!

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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