Finding Some Cardinals Bright Spots

None of us as Cardinals fans enjoy what we’ve witnessed on this 0-4 road trip. Longest losing streak of the season — ugh. But how about a little perspective?

sunshineOf course it’s easy to panic and be all doom and gloom and think trades have to be made right this second since the trade deadline is tomorrow and things are terrible today.

And it was terrible to watch Allen Craig and Yadier Molina strike out five times between them last night, a season first. (They did strike out twice each on Opening Day in Arizona — which, after their second back-to-back Ks last night prompted me to see if they’d each struck out that many times in the same game before.)

But we know the team can, and has, played better.

And will again.

So here are some bright spots — in general and from last night in particular.

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Oh, THERE You Are, Offense!

Nothing like a good, old fashioned slugfest to break an ice cold offense out of a slump, eh? Also, the Astros. Nice to have a few games with the Astros again.

Cardinals_Astros_If you listen to or read many quotes from the team, though, you’d certainly not think it was a 13-run night for the NL Central leaders. Words like “weird,” and “off” were common. Most of the frustrated comments were in relation to an odd strike zone. Despite the 15 hits and 13 runs, the team also struck out a season-high 14 times. “Odd” certainly seems apropos.

Matheny agreed that it was “odd” for his team to strike out so many times, yet have so many hits (15) and score so many runs.

“Guys on our club were having called strikeouts you just don’t see very often. Something was a little off tonight,” said Matheny.

This was a gentle way of suggesting that home plate umpire Marvin Hudson’s strike zone took some getting used to, both for his hitters and even for Westbrook.

“There were a lot of things on both sides,” said Matheny. “The strike zone was tough tonight.”

Still, the power plenty to make up for the frustration with the strike zone. Every starter but Jon Jay had at least one hit (Jay walked to force in a run, though) and nine different players had at least one RBI. It turned into a party — a home run party — in the Crawford Boxes, with Allen Craig as the guest of honor.

The Amazing Whacker Guy was 4-for-5 on the night, scoring two and adding three runs to his already impressive RBI total (his 61 rank 5th in MLB). He knocked in the first run in the fourth inning, then Matt Carpenter did what he does and broke the game wide open with bases-loaded triple, making it 6-0. They’d add one more run in the inning … and that’s as many runs as the team had scored in the entire weekend series against the Rangers.

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Surprise — It’s Yadi Again As Cardinals Win

You’ll never guess who hit a tie-breaking homer for the St. Louis Cardinals last night.

Shockingly, it was Yadier Molina.

Yadi-4Can you believe it?

Yes, of course we all can — not much of a shock anymore. Just Yadi being Yadi again … and again and again.

And Yadi’s BAMF-ness on Wednesday came in the form of a homer with Allen Craig on base in the bottom of the 6th to give the Cards a 3-1 lead. It was his only hit of the night, so he knows how to make them count.

And the Cubs just expect it from Yadi — even before last night’s game, as Chad Thornburg wrote at Cardinals.com:

When asked before the game how his team could get Yadier Molina out, Cubs manager Dale Sveum had a simple answer — you don’t. You just have to hope he hits it at someone.

“He’s that locked in,” Sveum said. “You really have to make a great pitch now to get him out and make him have a bad swing. It’s very hard to make adjustments to those kinds of hitters because they’re hitting everything.”

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Catching Up With The Cardinals: Saturday Edition

Welcome back, Jake Westbrook. Welcome to the 10-win club, Adam Wainwright, and congratulations on strikeout number 1,000 (and numbers 1,001 through 1,005).

And the performances by Westbrook and Wainwright — and Friday night’s and Thursday afternoon’s games — proved that great pitching and pitchers’ duels are a lot more fun, and a lot less frustrating, to watch.

Westbrook-WainwrightYet both games are just part of baseball. It’s trite but true — can’t win ’em all. Sometimes the worst team in baseball beats the best team.

Which is exactly what happened Friday as the Marlins beat the Cardinals 5-4. Westbrook allowed all 5 runs, though only 3 were earned, and 8 hits in his return from the disabled list while the Cardinals struck out 13 times on their way to scoring those 4 runs. Ouch.

And sometimes expected pitchers’ duels — like Wainwright vs. the Mets only good pitcher this season, Matt Harvey — actually live up to expectations. The Cardinals prevailed 2-1, Waino won his major league leading 10th game and Edward Mujica earned a shaky-yet-successful 19th save.

Ah, well, both of those games are now baseball past. Today is a new game — and today is also the 30th anniversary of a trade that Chris Jaffe describes at The Hardball Times as “one of the most incredible and obviously one-sided trades of the 1980s occurred” — the Cardinals trade of Keith Hernandez to the Mets for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey.

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Catching Up With The Cardinals: Joe Kelly Birthday Edition

Seems like every St. Louis Cardinals fan around (well, the know-it-alls on Twitter anyway) knew going into last night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds they would lose.

They did, 4-2.

Plus Thom Brennaman was just as annoying and Reds-slanted as every Cards fan — Twitter know-it-all or not — predicted. (And I even missed the first three innings.)

Always nice when there are such unbiased broadcasters on network Cardinals games (as I think back to Brewers broadcaster Brian Anderson being the play-by-play guy for the 2011 NLCS on TBS …) Yes, I almost miss Dan McLaughlin. Almost.

SONY DSCAnyway, with that, time to catch up on some other Cardinals-related news.

Such as today is Joe Kelly’s birthday. Happy 25th, Little Giraffe — we miss seeing those awesome base-running skills, but at least we still get to see that personality of yours shine through regularly.

It was a year ago tomorrow that Joe made his major league debut, back when kid pitchers being promoted to the Cardinals starting rotation was highly unusual and not the weekly occurrence that it has become this year.

One of those pitchers, Michael Wacha, was featured in the Iowa City Press-Citizen earlier in the week — he was born in Iowa City before his family moved to Texas. The article includes a look at his major league debut from his family’s perspective.

Here’s another hometown look at one of the Cards rookie pitchers, Seth Maness, from The Pilot in Southern Pines, N.C.

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Cardinal Love Letter: The Pitching Staff

Dear guys,

Now that the Super Bowl is over, next up — finally — is baseball. It’s just over a week now until you’ll all be in Jupiter, Fla., with Yadi and Tony Cruz and the minor league catchers and the St. Louis Cardinals will finally start moving toward the 2013 season.

Ah … Last October seems like forever ago, so it’s good that our countdown is in the single digits.

As if that alone isn’t enough to get me excited, the season preview articles I’ve read in the past couple days just up my admiration for you collectively all the more. There was this in USA Today last week, “Healthy staff generates optimism in St. Louis,” and a Yahoo Sports preview too. And Jenifer Langosch wrote the “Cardinals boast remarkable depth in rotation,” which of course doesn’t mention all of you in the bullpen who also are a strength of the team.

Pitching, and pitchers, have fascinated me for years, going back to my own very brief and ill-fated softball pitching career. Because you don’t realize, or at least I didn’t, the power the pitcher has over controlling the game. The pace, the momentum, the outcome — it’s all right there, resting on you and when you decide to throw that ball and set the next play in motion.

(And when you walk batter after batter after batter, and your coach ignores your frantic glances to the dugout as you internally plead for him to take you out of the game, so you keep walking batter after batter … well, it stays with you for a very long time. Obviously. Plus, way back in 2000, my own experience made me want to hug Rick Ankiel. And, more recently, made me feel sorry for Ryan Franklin. But enough of that …)

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Yadi Goes Down, Westie Gets Roughed Up In Loss To Pirates

Last time, on “The Cardinals Make Another August Run …”

The Redbirds took the field behind newly re-signed Jake Westbrook to attempt to seal the series victory in game two against the Pirates.

It didn’t go quite as planned, when Westie struggled in the first, giving up a walk and a single, then striking out Andrew McCutchen only to surrender a sacrifice fly that put the Pirates on the board first.

Still, it was only one run.

But there was plenty of drama to come in the next inning.

Yadi goes down … clean hit, or no? (Screen cap)

After a lead-off single and a sac bunt, Josh Harrison was at second base. A single from Jose Tabata dropped just in front of Carlos Beltran in shallow right field, who picked it up quickly and launched it back to the plate where everyone’s-favorite-Molina was ready and waiting.

The catch, the turn, the collision … it all happened fast. What didn’t happen fast was Yadi getting up. Or, at least, attempting to get up.

See, Harrison’s shoulder/forearm/elbow slammed into Molina’s head, ahead of the rest of the full-on crash. The announcers on all three platforms (Fox Sports Midwest, KMOX Radio and Root Sports) called it a clean hit.  Continue reading

Holliday Helps Westbrook Win

Holliday

Jake Westbrook definitely deserved a win Saturday, after allowing only four hits in eight scoreless innings. Thankfully, Matt Holliday came through with a two-run homer in the top of the eighth as the Cards shut out the Royals 3-0.

Wait, that’s not enough on the homer. It was a bomb into the left field fountains at Kauffman Stadium, 433 feet total. And it left male Cards fans on Twitter and broadcaster Dan McLaughlin gushing about their man-crushes on Holliday. I mean big-time gushing — click here for Danny Mac’s call. (He was still talking about it during the bottom of the eighth inning, and probably still talking about it this morning.)

Westbrook

True, it was impressive. And it had been a very frustrating game on offense for the Cards to that point — they were 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position through seven innings. But I was more impressed with Westbrook getting out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the fourth inning.

First, he got Jeff Francoeur to ground the ball right to him for a 1-2-3 double play. (Come on, how often do you see that particular play?) Then, Ryan Theriot (yes, really) made a diving stop of a grounder hit by Billy Butler and an equally good throw to first for the out.

Thankfully, Dave Duncan agrees with me about the importance of that fourth inning, as Rick Hummel pointed out in his Post-Dispatch article:

“That was the real key in the game,” said Duncan. “If something happens there, you don’t know how that game is going to go.”

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