Game 17: Nationals 8, Cardinals 6

For Jake Westbrook, it wasn’t a fun game. Once again Westbrook battled through the game, leading many Cardinals fans believing that he may be fighting some sort of injury. While the previous starts this season haven’t been outstanding, Westbrook turned in his worst game of the season. He only went 3 innings, threw 68 pitches and allowed 7 runs over 7 hits and 2 walks.

If there was a shining moment for this game, it was the three scoreless innings tossed by Fernando Salas in his second appearance of the season for the big league club. Salas allowed just one hit over those 3 innings and struck out 3 of his own. The unsung hero of the game was the bullpen who threw six innings and allowed just 3 hits.

Unfortunately one of those hits was a home run allowed by Ryan Franklin. Afterwards, Franklin heard it from the St. Louis faithful and he was bitter about it afterwards, questioning whether they earned the naming as the best fans in baseball. In his statements to B.J. Rains of Fox Sports Midwest, Franklin said that he didn’t understand them booing him because he made one mistake. But honestly Ryan, have you not seen the “4” in the BS column? And you reached it quicker than anyone in recent memory. And you are kidding yourself if you think that the boos would have waited this long to come in any other baseball town that actually cares about the performance on the field.

The offense tried to win this game, Ryan Theriot went 4-for-5 and Albert Pujols and Colby Rasmus each added a solo shot and 3 RBI, but it wouldn’t be enough as the team did manage to claw their way back into the game.

Hero of the Game: Fernando Salas. What? Yeah, for a pitcher that Tony LaRussa called a one inning pitcher after selecting Bryan Augenstein to the big league club, Salas threw three shutdown innings that helped the Cardinals sneak back into the game with the potential to win it. (3.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 K)

Zero of the Game: Jake Westbrook. Was there any doubt? His season ERA stands at 9.82. Only slightly higher than Franklin’s at this point. (3.0 IP, 7 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 1 K)

Off Day Thoughts

It’s been awhile since I wrote something other than a game recap, right? I agree. Very little time for me as I hit the end of my last fulltime semester of college. Silly me is taking more than the maximum hours that they allow without the right kind of permission. Seems like a big mistake now, will be the best decision I made come May 4th.

But this is a Cardinals blog! Let’s talk baseball and the thoughts and concerns of Cardinal Nation as we prepare for a six game homestand where we face the Washington Nationals and the team that loves to be hated by Cardinals fans, the Cincinnati Reds.

First, the big news: Lance Berkman has been named the NL Player of the Week. Was it really a surprise? The first year Cardinal hit .417 over the 6 games the Cardinals played this week and added 6 home runs and 12 RBI. He was hitting just .214 heading into the series against the Diamondbacks where the Cardinals’ bats exploded with offense at a historic rate. He finished the road trip with a .308 average.

Injuries have hit the Cardinals offense for the first time this season in a big way. Skip Schumaker and Allen Craig are both being looked at to determine whether they will need a stint on the disabled list. Schumaker is apparently dealing with a hyperextended elbow and Allen Craig with a groin strain. The popular question is, who gets the opportunity?

Daniel Descalso probably stands to get the most increase in playing time. Descalso has played mainly second base in his professional career and started there Sunday in Los Angeles. While a similar hitter to Schumaker, Descalso has a much better glove.

But who will get the call from Memphis? That is a really good question. In the infield your options sit with Pete Kozma, Mark Hamilton, and Zack Cox at Memphis. I’d expect Hamilton to be out of the running as he is primarily a first baseman and we don’t have that need. Kozma has played short stop and a couple games at third base in his minor league career, but has mostly disappointed since being drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft. Meanwhile Cox was playing college baseball for Arizona State at this time last year.

The intriguing thought for Schumaker’s replacement would be whether Nick Punto is ready to go. They expect a late April return and he is capable of playing every position in the field and would be a valuable piece to have for that fact.

As far as outfielders, only one outfielder is on our 40 man roster other than the ones in St. Louis. That would be Adron Chambers, who is a big favorite of our minor league writer Jerry Canaday. Chambers has a lot of talent, but is probably not major league ready.

Because of this, the Cardinals have their hands tied for injuries to position players on their 25 man roster. Nobody that they have sitting on the 40 man roster in the minor leagues is really ready to come up to the big leagues yet.

Will Tony LaRussa try someone else at closer? Just a week ago, LaRussa was saying that we had no other options in the bullpen to close. “The fact is right now those young guys aren’t better,” said LaRussa in an April 10th article where he and Mozeliak both backed Ryan Franklin. Now, I’m all for having faith in a player, but all this backing of Franklin to help instill some confidence in him has to be hurting the rest of the bullpen to hear their manager say that they aren’t any better than a guy who has a double-digit ERA and has four blown saves.

Mitchell Boggs has been the best bullpen arm the Cardinals have had in this short season so far. I don’t say that simply because we sponsor his player page at baseball-reference. Boggs has thrown 9 innings and has 2 earned runs. Those are two earned runs that were scored against him in his season debut. Since then he has thrown 6 scoreless innings with 8 strikeouts. While I do like Jason Motte more now than I did a year ago at this point, he still has a long way to go before he will be capable of closing out games. Boggs has a greater ability to make pitchers miss and has alternate pitches as he spent most of his career as a starter. He should be the guy that gets the opportunities now.

The current “it” pick is Eduardo Sanchez though. The 22 year old has 8 strikeouts in his 3 innings in the major leagues. He hasn’t shown any signs of being unable to handle the role. Granted his appearances were in games where the Cardinals had a huge lead. Still, I think his stuff has earned him an opportunity to get a couple appearances in the seventh and eighth innings of closer ballgames. At this point it’s my feeling that you have to go with the hot hand, or hot arm in this case, in order to win ballgames.

We’ve already lost four that we should have won, so we need to find a way to make those back up.

That is the extent of my thoughts for this Monday. Hope everyone is enjoying it. Now I’m back to my regularly scheduled class work.

Game 16: Dodgers 2, Cardinals 1

Once again, Carpenter throws a fantastic game. Once again, Franklin blows it. For the Cardinals, the only bright side to today’s game was that it was a getaway day and they’ll be back home on Tuesday against the Nationals. I know I’m excited about that. *yawn* Too many late nights. Maybe that will be one of the excuses LaRussa uses to defend Franklin from valid criticism?
For fear of turning this into a Ryan Franklin post, it’s time to give someone else the closer’s job. Four blown saves in five opportunities so far this season. He hasn’t looked sharp and he’s been hit hard by everyone. Enough is enough. Tonight, Mitchell Boggs turned in a solid 8th inning in relief and he has looked good lately. 
The guy I would love to see is Fernando Salas or Eduardo Sanchez, Sanchez has quickly climbed to the top of the list of intriguing candidates, but there is no way Sanchez even sniffs the closer’s job on a Tony LaRussa ball club. So Boggs is our best option to save us.
That said, I still don’t expect a change. If Franklin was a 22 year old, he’d already be packing his bags for Memphis because of his ineffectiveness. But Franklin is a 38 year old veteran and Tony loves his veterans. Tony will back up Franklin as his closer after the game, he will say that it was his fault for putting him a tough situation, and he will probably add that Franklin wasn’t sharp because he hasn’t been used lately. The problem: Franklin hasn’t been sharp all season, and the Cards have the best record in baseball if their closer closes the games like he should.
Chris Carpenter turns in a stellar effort that was wasted. 7 innings, 5 hits, no walks, no runs. You HAVE to win those games if you want to be a playoff caliber team.
While Holliday turned in a 3-for-3 day, it was David Freese coming through with the go-ahead single that scored Holliday in the top of the 9th to put the Cards on top with the first runs of the game, and setting it up for Franklin to be handed the ball.
Hero of the Game: Holliday’s 3-for-3 day seals it for him. Came across the plate for the game winning run. (3-for-3, 1 R, 1 BB)
Zero of the Game: Any doubt here? Ryan Franklin. (0.0 IP, 1 H, 1 ER)

Games 13-15

Raise your hand if you are ready to get back to the midwest and east coast? *raises hand* While I did end up staying awake for these games, I was too exhausted to write the recap that night and with my busy-ness this week, it got put off and put off and then here we are at the end of the series. So we will recap everything in one, shall we?

The bats kept it up in LA. Garcia earned his second win of the season with another solid start against the Dodgers. Pujols is now officially out of his slump and the top-5 in the Cardinals lineup is once again hitting. Franklin closed out the game in the ninth inning, but not before giving up a home run to Matt Kemp.
I considered giving this game’s Hero of the Game to Pujols for his fifth inning home run, but Holliday had too great of a game, going 3-for-5, two runs, and 3 RBI. The Zero of the Game will end up with Skip Schumaker who went just 1-for-5 with 4 left of base. It was still a really tough call and considered giving it to nobody.

Kyle Lohse pitched a brilliant game as the offense continued it’s historic attack. Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman went homer happy as each put up a two home run game. Berkman’s came in consecutive bats against the same pitcher, Jon Garland. 
That game’s hero was Lance Berkman with his 2-for-4, 2 HR performance. Albert Pujols was very deserving as well though, but I only give out one! As far as the zero, it goes to Skip Schumaker again. Skippy struggled again going 0-for-4 with 7 men left on base and one GIDP.
And lastly, the Cardinals got their first real test against a fairly top flight pitcher in Clayton Kershaw and met it with excellent results. Though, when you look at the numbers against Kershaw, the Cardinals have typically hit him well. Holliday, Pujols, and Rasmus all hitting above .300 against him.
Kyle McClellan turned in his best game for the team as a starter. He was in trouble twice and danced out of it with minimal damage, just the one run in the fourth inning. He also managed to go 7 innings before handing it over to the bullpen. Allen Craig was the power behind the night, hitting his first home run of the season off of Kershaw for three runs in the top of the fifth.
The hero, of course, is Allen Craig. He went 3-for-4 with a homer, two runs scored, and three RBI. The zero, for once, may not exist. The only hitter worth getting it was McClellan and his pitching compensated for that pretty well. So no zero in this game, everyone’s a winner!

Game 12: Cardinals 15, Diamondbacks 5

Don’t worry, you don’t need a trip to the eye doctor, you really are seeing 15 runs on the scoreboard. For the fourth consecutive night, the offense put up serious numbers. A tweet from one of the Cardinals’ official twitter accounts claimed that 10 hitters had 5 hits over the previous two days, and three of them were Cardinals. Ryan Theriot, Colby Rasmus, Albert Pujols. It’s amazing what happens when the top of your lineup produces.
Lance Berkman continued his tear, hitting a two-out grand slam home run, his fourth home run in the last three days, in the second inning off Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy. It might have been the only hit that Berkman got all night, but it was the biggest and best.
For the Cardinals, it was the homer act. Not only did Berkman hit his grand slam, but Skip Schumaker also went deep. Now, Schumaker is the light hitter who averages about 4.5 homers per season in his professional career. That’s over 9 years now! The guy has virtually no power and went deep with two-out on Aaron Heilman. 
After two very bad starts for Jake Westbrook, he was given the opportunity to relax and just pitch on Wednesday night, but he wasn’t able to pull it out. Handed a 12-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth, Westbrook gave up a two run home run to Russell Branyan. Then errors in the bottom of the fifth resulted in another three runs crossing the plate. It was disappointing to say the least when given that lead and he was only able to coax it 5.1 innings.
However, the star of Wednesday night’s game would become Eduardo Sanchez, the 20 year old pitcher who found out just this afternoon that he would be active for the game. The relief pitcher who was a first graduate of the Cardinals’ Latin American baseball academy to make the major leagues. He didn’t disappoint either. Sanchez struck out 5 Diamondback hitters in just 2 innings, stealing the show from the offensive slugfest and sending Cardinals’ fans buzzing about the power pitching right hander.
Hero of the Game: Though Sanchez was heavily considering, ultimately I have to give it to Lance Berkman. The man is flat hitting right now. My only concern is that he doesn’t pull a Scott Rolen and fall off hard in the second half. (1-for-3, 2 R, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 BB)
Zero of the Game: Every Cardinal with multiple at bats got on base at least once, except for Jon Jay. Beyond that, the worst performance of the night might be Jake Westbrook, even his impacted numbers don’t hurt the team too badly as he only allowed 2 earned runs, 3 went into the book as unearned. Tough call, but I think it’ll be Westbrook. With a 12 run lead he should be making it deeper into the ballgame. Used up a couple guys from the bullpen when we shouldn’t have had to, but it’s been three lackluster starts for Westbrook this season so far. (5.1 IP, 9 H, 2 BB, 5 R, 2 ER, 3 K)