The Cardinals closed out a sweep of the Marlins last night to go to 6-0 on the road trip as they head home to take on the Chicago Cubs. They do so with a one game lead in the NL Central. They are 19-14 and on pace to win 93 games this season. Suddenly my 92 win prediction is not looking so unobtainable.
The Cubs meanwhile find themselves in fourth place in the NL Central, 2.5 games out of first place after getting swept by the Yankees and then losing two of three to the Rockies. They have not been getting the same kind of pitching performances that they got from their rotation and their defense has struggled a little bit as well.
For the Cardinals this is an opportunity to see if their success over the last couple weeks has been the result of poor opponents or whether they can continue their stand against a team that is supposed to be the class of the division.
Give me more Sierra
Magneuris Sierra is hitting .353 over the first four games of his career. He has been on base 8 times. And come around to score on 7 of them. It’s been a pretty amazing start for the guy who a week ago was playing in Single-A. He is a small glimpse at the future, and it’s pretty exciting. He can apparently hit, he can run, he can field, and he has good instincts. It will eventually come to an end when the league starts to figure him out, but I am willing to enjoy it while it lasts.
My favorite part about watching Sierra play has been that the moment has never seemed too big for him. He hasn’t looked outmatched or out of place. Something I imagine it would be easy to give in to in his situation.
His performance has also given the Cardinals the opportunity to take it slowly with Dexter Fowler, rather than push him back into service. That ability could pay dividends down the road for this team. He is 2-for-3 with 3 RBI in pinch hitting appearances since he was cleared to swing a bat. Drove in the game winning run on Tuesday night and a go-ahead run on Wednesday night. So he’s making an impact when he gets the opportunity.
Not a fireman
It was a role that Seth Maness and Matthew Bowman both excelled in over the past few seasons, coming in when another pitcher got in trouble and put out the fire. Over the offseason, the Cardinals signed Brett Cecil to a 4 year, $30 million contract and it feels a lot like Mike Matheny has been trying to justify that contract by pushing Cecil into high pressure situations. And Cecil has not come through for him.
Cecil has inherited 16 runners this season and allowed 9 of them to score, good for 56%. Only two other Cardinals relievers have inherited more than three baserunners this season. Bowman has allowed just 2-of-11 to score and Seung-hwan Oh has allowed just 1-of-5 to score. Early in this season, Cecil has been the worst reliever with runners on base and he just keeps getting opportunities.
Cecil is currently tied for the third most inherited runners in baseball this season and of relievers who have more than 10, Cecil has the 5th worst rate of keeping them from scoring. Bowman, for example, has the 7th best. Over the past few years, Cecil is fairly middle of the road when it comes to allowing inherited runners to score so he has nowhere to go but up, theoretically.
Now, I’m sure that Cecil will have the numbers at the end of the season to demonstrate that he was a quality reliever, which means that his overall effectiveness for the Cardinals will come down to one thing: role. And finding the proper role for a relief pitcher has not been one of the manager’s strong suits.
But Cecil should probably not see anything other a clean inning for awhile. For the sake of my sanity, please?
Leave no man on base!
During the Marlins series, Cardinals’ #3 hitter Matt Carpenter left nobody on base. That’s right. Every time he came to the plate with men on, he reached base himself. He may have only had two RBI in the series on a triple that scored Carlos Martinez and Kolten Wong, but the other three times he came to the plate with runners on, he took a walk to load the bases.
If you’ve been around Redbird Dugout for awhile, you know that I like looking at RBI rate. In that department, Carpenter currently leads the team, driving in 25% of runners on base when he comes to the plate. The next closest position player on the team is Stephen Piscotty at 17%. The next closest healthy position player on the team is Matt Adams at 16%.
Carpenter has long been one of the Cardinals’ best at driving in base runners, and it’s one of the reasons why moving him back in the lineup, was one of the best changes the organization could make to their offense this winter.
Take a walk
Something that I noticed while working on this was that in the 8th inning of Tuesday night’s game with runners on second and third and a 13 game hit streak on the line in what would finally be his final at bat of the night, Kolten Wong kept his approach, stayed patient at the plate and took four straight pitches for a walk.
He would get another at bat in the 9th, but came up empty, ending his streak at 13 games. Over those 13 games he hit .353/.441/.510 with 6 doubles and a triple. He scored 10 runs and drove in 5 as he hit well enough to take over the leadoff spot with Dexter Fowler out of the lineup.
He has hit just .179 while batting leadoff over the past six games, but it didn’t seem to be an issue as the Cardinals went 6-0.
It’s been awhile
The Cardinals have now spent four days alone atop the NL Central this season after having spent none there last season.
Bonus: Win a pair of tickets to Pitch Talks
Pitch Talks is happening in St. Louis at Delmar Hall on May 18, 2017. In attendance will be plenty of writers who cover the St. Louis sports and the Cardinals specifically. Tara Wellman, who you may know if you’ve clicked on any of her Bird Seeds video blogs (and if you haven’t, you should!), is having a contest to give away a pair of tickets to the event.
All you have to do to enter is go to her most recent post over on her blog at CardsConclave and leave a comment with your all-time favorite baseball tale. That’s it! Easy, right? So do it!