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)

Game 11: Diamondbacks 13, Cardinals 8

It was a Cardinals loss to the Diamondbacks. I didn’t even need to watch to find that out because I awoke this morning to a Facebook message from my brother (who is a Diamondbacks fan) enjoying his victory. Of course, he was oddly quiet following Monday’s game.
The offense finally showed up for Chris Carpenter. Unfortunately, we got a different Chris Carpenter than we got in his first two starts this season. Carpenter didn’t even make it to the fifth inning, and ironically, he still has allowed more runs that the offense has scored for him. The Cardinals scored 8 runs in this game and Carpenter allowed 8 runs in his 4 innings of work. 
It was an odd night though as it seemed that no pitcher was good enough to get everyone out.

In what is hopefully a signal of Albert Pujols turning it around, he went 3-for-5 at the plate, scoring a run. I’m a bit wary to fully declare Pujols out of his slow start because everyone hit last night. The only Cardinal player who played the majority of the game and failed to get a hit was Yadier Molina (more on him in a moment). So he’ll have to do it tonight too to show that he’s beginning the turnaround. It’d be good for the Cardinals who need him desperately to stop slowing down the offense.

And now onto Yadier Molina. If memory serves, twice Schumaker was walked in front of him to load up the bases and twice he swung on the first pitch. Now, common sense says when you have a pitcher struggling to throw strikes and the bases loaded, you take some pitches. He had two opportunities to crack this game wide open, but failed to convert.

It was also bad news for the Cardinals on the injury front, as well. Brian Tallet tripped while racing to make a defensive play at first base and fell into Stephen Drew. The end result is that Tallet apparently has a fractured a bone in his glove hand. Tallet will be flying back to St. Louis to get an opinion on his hand. That wasn’t where the triage ended though, Bryan Augenstein strained his right groin while making a pitch in the seventh inning. He has hit the disabled list while they wait and see on Tallet. According to the beat writers, Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez will both be brought to Phoenix to catch up with the big league club. Salas is expected to be promoted to take Augenstein’s spot while Sanchez will wait to hear what will happen with Tallet.

Hero of the Game: Lance Berkman continued his hot streak tonight as he picked up his third home run of the season in just two nights. Welcome to the St. Louis Cardinals, Mr. Berkman. (3-for-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI)

Zero of the Game: Mentioned earlier, bases loaded twice and did nothing. It has to go to Yadier Molina. (0-for-5, 7 LOB)