Tag Archives: Nick Punto

Cards take Game 1

What elbow problems? Chris Carpenter silenced the doubters who suggested that his elbow injury might limit his ability to shut down the high powered Texas Rangers offense on Wednesday night. When it was all said and done, Carpenter allowed just 5 hits and walked 1 over 6 innings. Two runs were all that the Rangers managed to put on the board, those on a one runner on mistake that Mike Napoli crushed in the top of the 5th.

The tone of the night was set early. Ian Kinsler singled to lead off the game. Kinsler, one of the two 30-30 guys this season, was caught by Yadier Molina after Elvis Andrus whiffed on an attempted hit-and-run. And it didn’t even look like Molina tried. It seemed effortless.

The Cardinals offense got the action going in the bottom of the 4th. Rangers starter C.J. Wilson had his moments, but was mostly inconsistent from the mound. That was illustrated by a pitch that bounced well before the plate and hit Albert Pujols in the shin. Then Matt Holliday doubled to give Lance Berkman an RBI opportunity in his second plate appearance of the World Series. With men on second and third, Berkman singled to right field allowing Pujols and Holliday to score easily. 2-0 Cardinals.

The Rangers answered quickly in the top of the 5th. Adrian Beltre singled to right field himself. Then a mistake to Mike Napoli was parked in the right field bleachers. That quickly evened it up, 2-2.

It was Allen Craig, pinch hitting for Chris Carpenter with two out in the bottom of the 6th, that broke up the tie game. David Freese hit a one-out double and then Nick Punto was walked to put men on first and second with the pitcher’s spot due up. This was to make Tony LaRussa pull Carpenter and go to the bullpen. The gamble is, of course, that the pinch hitter does nothing.

Tony LaRussa went with the hook and sent Allen Craig up to the plate with two outs in a tie game in the World Series. No problem with pinch hitting or coming off the bench or the pressure situation, Craig hit a line drive down the line that Nelson Cruz nearly caught with a slide. The ball bounced out of Cruz’s glove, allowing Freese to come around to score the go-ahead run. The Cardinals were now up 3-2 with 9 outs remaining, as us UCBers on Twitter have taken to tracking games by.

With Carpenter out of the game, LaRussa called upon Fernando Salas for his first choice out of the bullpen. While Adrian Beltre grounded out to start the inning off, Salas quickly found himself in trouble with a Nelson Cruz single and a Mike Napoli walk. Was the bullpen starting to show it’s first cracks from it’s heavy use in the National League Championship Series? That was the question at the forefront of Cardinals’ fans minds as LaRussa made the walk out to the mound to bring in left hander Marc Rzepczynski to face the left handed David Murphy.

In a counter move, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington went to his bench with Craig Gentry, a right handed hitter to eliminate the lefty-lefty matchup. It didn’t matter. Rzepczynski would use 7 pitches and strike out Gentry and Esteban German who pinch hit for Rangers pitcher Alexi Ogando.

To start the 8th inning, in came Octavio Dotel. He got Ian Kinsler to ground out and then struck out Elvis Andrus before Tony trotted back out to the mound with another change. In came left hander Arthur Rhodes, in his first World Series (ironically matched up between the two teams he played for this year), to face Josh Hamilton. He got Hamilton to fly out to center field and we were on to the 9th. Three outs remained between the Cardinals and a Game 1 win and early lead in the World Series.

In came the pitcher who just happens to typically come in in the 9th inning of games when it’s a save situation, Jason Motte. Some teams would call him the closer. Motte slammed the door shut on the Rangers, keeping his impressive streak of playoff performance alive. Motte has faced 25 batters over 8 innings of work this post-season and has allowed just 1 base runner.

Carpenter becomes the first Cardinals pitcher to earn a quality start in the playoffs since himself. That would be that complete game shutout that he hurled in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series against Philadelphia.

There was some debate about whether Ron Washington managed his game properly or whether he was trying to out-manage LaRussa. Personally, I think Washington managed the game well. The worst part of it was really that he took a few gambles that didn’t pay off.

First, running on Molina in the top of the first was a huge gamble. It can be a huge momentum turner but, while Kinsler has some speed and steals bases at a better than 86% clip, if you mess the play up you end up turning the tables. In the end, Chris Carpenter gets out of lead off hit and the St. Louis crowd explodes.

Second, walking Nick Punto in the 6th was designed to get Chris Carpenter out of the game. Now, granted Punto did hit .350 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position this season, but I think you need to go after him. For one, you can be sure you’re getting only a base-hit if he gets a hit, after all he’s only hit 14 home runs in 11 major league seasons. Making the Cardinals bullpen work is one of the keys to the series for me for the Rangers, but with Allen Craig being the first man off the bench in those situations, I don’t (intentionally) walk Punto to force that. Especially when Carpenter wasn’t all that sharp tonight. Plus, you may have seen a pinch hitter anyway if Punto had reached.

The third is one that many others have questioned, using Esteban German to pinch hit with two on and two out in the 7th rather than Yorvit Torrealba. While Torrealba hit just .256 against left handed pitchers like Rzepczynski, German (who has hit .292 against left handed pitchers in his career) hadn’t taken at at bat since September 25th. I think Washington made the right decision there. You have to expect that each player on your bench can equally perform to their averages whenever you want to use them.

Trying to take the crowd out of it early and trying to get the Cardinals to use their bullpen, both are things that you’ve got to do to win while on the road. You hope you can catch a reliever on a bad night and capitalize on a mistake. Unfortunately for the Rangers, it didn’t work out for them.

Winning Game 1 puts the Cardinals at a huge advantage as far as history shows. In 13 of the 16 World Series’ in the Wild Card era, the winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the series. When the home team wins Game 1, they’ve won the series every year since 1993. Good news for the Cardinals, but while history shows it will be a difficult road for the Rangers, it’s never over until it’s over.

Game 2 will matchup the Rangers’ Colby Lewis against the Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia.

Lewis is 1-1 in two postseason starts for the Rangers this season. He threw six one-hit innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 4-3 win, unfortunately that hit was a solo home run. Against the Detroit Tigers just over a week ago, he allowed 8 hits and 4 earned runs in 5.2 innings in a 5-2 loss. In the final two months of the season, Lewis was 4-2 with a 5.23 ERA, which could bode well for the Cardinals.

Only 5 current Cardinals have faced Lewis before. Lance Berkman has 13 plate appearances against him, hitting just twice. Gerald Laird is 3-for-8, Nick Punto is 0-for-1, Ryan Theriot is 2-for-2, and Albert Pujols is 1-for-1.

Garcia is 0-2 in three starts for the Cardinals in the playoffs. He allowed just 1 run in 4.2 innings in Game 5 of the NLCS, a game the Cardinals won, but was given a quick hook when the fifth inning began shaping up like that of Game 1 where Prince Fielder hit a go-ahead home run off of him. The advantage for Garcia is that he will be pitching at home, where he is a much more confident pitcher. Garcia finished the season off going 3-2 with a 4.58 ERA in the final two months of the season.

Only 2 current Rangers have faced Garcia before. Coincidentally, their two backup catchers. Matt Treanor, who was just added to the roster for the World Series is 1-for-4 against Garcia with 3 strikeouts. Yorvit Torrealba is 0-for-2.

The question for Garcia and the Cardinals is how will he handle the Rangers. According to ESPN’s Team Stats, the Rangers led the league with a .282 batting average against left handed pitchers and were second in slugging percentage at .459. Garcia also struggles against left handed hitters, allowing them to hit .308 with a .418 slugging percentage. The Rangers have a premier left handed hitter in Josh Hamilton. They also have David Murphy who has had a great postseason so far.

This is the game that I predicted to be a slugfest. Unfortunately, I think the Rangers are better suited for that type of game and will win Game 2, taking us to Arlington tied up at 1 game a piece.

The game is once again scheduled for an 8:05 pm Eastern start on FOX.

Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. You can find me on Twitter as well, @jondoble.

Cardinals prepare for playoffs

What fans didn’t give up on the Cardinals season? You had a good portion who mailed in the Cardinals’ chances when it was announced that Adam Wainwright was due to have Tommy John surgery. Another portion who called it quits after a sweep by the Dodgers in August left the Cardinals 10 games out of the NL Central race. Yet another who saw the writing on the wall after walking away from a September series with the Brewers 8.5 games out of the Central and 6 games out of the Wild Card.  Then me. Who decided it was all over on September 26th after they lost in extra innings to the Astros.

We all know what happened next.

Injuries plagued the Braves down the stretch as they lost their top two starting pitchers, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, for the month of September. Many call it a choke, but just realize how many fans considered the Cardinals’ chances over when Wainwright was injured. Imagine if we lost Carpenter too.

Game 1 is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at 5 o’clock in Philadelphia. Kyle Lohse will be on the mound and he carries a career record of 3-4 with a 3.43 ERA against the Phillies, but all three wins come at Citizen’s Bank Park. Beyond the Cardinals and the Rays, Lohse is best against the Phillies. This season, he’s 1-1 with a 1.76 ERA against the “other” red team. In his only start at Citizen’s Bank Park this year he threw 7.1 innings and was tagged with just 1 unearned run. That was just about two weeks ago.

Game 2 looks to be Chris Carpenter working on just three days rest from his dominating two-hitter against Houston on the final day of the season. The move would set him up to go in Game 5 if need be.

For the Cardinals, you have to think positive about their chances, or at least I do. This season they’ve gone 6-3 against the Phillies, 9-9 against the Brewers (5-1 in last two series’ against them, and 4-3 against the Diamondbacks. So they are .500 or better against each of the other playoff teams in their league. The only other team in the playoffs who can say that is the Tigers.

The Cardinals have some definite question marks with Matt Holliday and Rafael Furcal. However, you don’t lose much performance with Allen Craig on the field and defense is priority number one for the Cardinals at short stop, Nick Punto and Daniel Descalso can provide that well enough.

The interesting news today was that Kyle McClellan will likely be left off of the NLDS roster for the Cardinals. The club said that he has been suffering from a condition they called “dead arm.” Also the news that both Edwin Jackson and Jake Westbrook will not only make the roster, but be available in relief. Color me surprised.

Now, I didn’t know that McClellan was having arm issues, but he has been struggling with performance lately. I figured Edwin Jackson was going to get a start. Meanwhile Westbrook has struggled a bit lately and I expected him to be the one left off the roster in favor of a position player.

If I had my way, it would be a position player who brought some speed to the table like Tyler Greene or Adron Chambers. And honestly, having them both would be a benefit to this team. And instead of Westbrook, I’d be bringing along Eduardo Sanchez. I’m much more confident in Sanchez’s ability to get the job done out of the bullpen in a high leverage situation than I am about Jake Westbrook, who would be making his first relief appearance since April 19, 2004.

But, I’m not the manager (though I’d love an opportunity, Mr. Mozeliak give me a call!)

Either way, I’ll be glued to my couch and the TV as I root on the St. Louis Cardinals with everything I have over what I hope will be a prolonged playoff run.

The lefty-lefty matchup

I don’t like playing armchair manager the next morning after a game and saying how I would have done things differently in order to bring my team to victory. Though, I’m sure we’ve all done it at some point. However, there are times where the manager makes decisions that the statistics dispute and should you really be surprised when it goes bad?

I’d say that over the last year, I have been heavily critical of Tony LaRussa. Last year, I felt that he spent a lot of time managing the Cardinals out of games while he tried to make something happen. However, praise is definitely in order for the job he did in the first half of the season as we balanced injuries and underperforming players and pitchers who just lost their ability to pitch. Then we came back from the All Star Break.

Fans have been quick to call out Fernando Salas for his blown save and his two losses over the last few games, the one in Cincinnati and the one last night. I don’t think the entire blame needs to be put on Salas, because it never should have been a tie game or a one-run lead in the first place. I read one Cardinals’ writer who claims that LaRussa doesn’t have faith in his left handed relievers. But can you have faith in their handling after seeing how he has handled them over the last few days?

Let’s take a look at the situations.

Against Cincinnati, LaRussa brought in Raul Valdes to face Joey Votto in a lefty-lefty matchup in the 6th inning. Votto would single off of Valdes and was standing on third base when P.J. Walters got out of a bases loaded jam. The next time Votto came up to the plate, LaRussa brought in Trever Miller to face him. Votto would rip a ball for a ground-rule double and plate the go-ahead run of the inning. Continue reading

Cardinals’ Approval Ratings: June

After missing May due to life circumstances (it was mid-June before I even thought about them), the Cardinals’ Approval Ratings are back with the June numbers.

The Cardinals’ June swoon leaves me really wishing I had results from May so that I could really have an accurate look at how badly it hurt peoples’ numbers.

The Cardinals wrapped up the month of June having gone 11-15. The offense scored 114 runs in 26 games in the month of June. That’s an average of 4.4 runs per game and that puts them in a tie with the Dodgers for 9th in the major leagues. On the other hand, the Cardinals had the worst pitching staff in the majors, allowing 132 runs in those 26 games, that’s 5.1 runs per game. Their team ERA of 4.72 was 29th of 30 teams, only beating out Toronto.

On the offensive side of the baseball, Lance Berkman took over the role of the highest rated Cardinal, though he dropped from a 9.4 to a 9.3 rating. Matt Holliday dropped from a 9.8 in April to an 8.6 at the end of June. The biggest drop in the starting lineup was Colby Rasmus tumbling 1.4 points to a 6.8, reflecting his struggles over the last two months. The biggest jump was Yadier Molina who recovered his losses over the first month to receive an 8.1 rating at the end of June. Skip Schumaker jumped 1.3 points himself, vaulting himself to a 7.4 rating.
Continue reading

Pujols out approximately six weeks

Last night in the sixth inning, a Pete Kozma throw drifted away from first base. After catching it and tagging the runner, Albert Pujols collapsed in pain.

My first reaction at the time was that it reminded me of the type of hit my favorite player, Scott Rolen, took a couple times. He wasn’t the same player for years. Thankfully, it’s not the same injury.

The verdict? Pujols will miss approximately six weeks with a broken bone just above his left wrist.

So where does this leave the Cardinals as they now have to consider a month and a half without the man who has been the best player in baseball over the last decade?

For many fans, their eyes are on the basement as they contemplate a life without the best player in baseball. How can the Cardinals even come close to contending without the team’s game changer? Teams and pitchers alter their approach to the Cardinals lineup because of Pujols’ appearance in it. Now they don’t have to worry about it and as a result, the lineup becomes easier to get through.

While I won’t deny that the Cardinals lineup is easier without Pujols sitting in the #3 spot, the season is far from over.

During Albert Pujols’ career he has had two other DL stints. Ironically, both took place in June. But during those times, the Cardinals teams of 2006 and 2008 each carried on. The 2006 team going 8-7 and the 2008 team going 6-7. That’s a combined 14-14 and hardly something that would kill the chances of either team.

From April 10th to May 29th, the Cardinals posted a 30-16 record in 46 games while Pujols hit .272 with a .338 OBP, 7 HR and 24 RBI. In the 19 games since, the Cardinals are 8-11 while Pujols has hit .343 with a .439 OBP, 9 HR, and 17 RBI. I may catch some flack for this statement, but Albert Pujols isn’t the reason the Cardinals win games.

What’s the common thread? Matt Holliday. That first 46 game span began when Holliday returned from his first DL stint and it ends right before he goes for his second (I didn’t even realize that when I pulled the numbers out for the previous paragraph). Holliday hit .336 with 4 HR and 29 RBI over that 46 game span. Since he returned to the lineup after his second DL stint, the Cardinals have gone 2-2 and Holliday is hitting .417 with already a pair of homers (one of which was a game winner) and 4 RBI.

It’s easy to sit there and pack it in and declare the season over with this news. But the season is far from over. This team has some resilience and has held off injuries before. Fox Sports Midwest had a graphic during a recent game that showed the Cardinals played roughly .750 baseball with one of Pujols, Holliday, or Berkman out of the lineup but were just .500 with all three of them. Of course, Albert’s played every game so far this season.

The Cardinals success over the next six weeks will depend on the bit players stepping it up a little bit and coming through with key hits. It will also depend on the pitching staff keeping us in games. If they can, we have enough offense, even without Pujols to win ballgames.

The injury has relatively good timing. He will hopefully be back in the first week of August and will be manning his first base position in time for the stretch run. He also has a history of coming off the disabled list strong, hitting .372 in 2006 and .378 in 2008 in the 10 games after coming off the DL.

Additionally, the Cardinals aren’t playing a very tough schedule of teams. While we haven’t faced Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa, and the New York Mets yet, the rest of the schedule through the end of July we are 18-10 (.643) against so far this season. Those other teams also have a combined winning percentage of .487, so the Cardinals really only need to be about league average to walk out of this stretch to walk away above .500.

They also play 20 of the next 35 games at home, which can be beneficial.

We also have David Freese and Nick Punto close to coming back off the disabled list. Punto’s rehab assignment began last night with Double-A Springfield and Freese begins his tonight with Triple-A Memphis. Having Freese’s bat back in the lineup and having Punto’s excellent glove back as an option should help this team immensely.

So while having Pujols on the DL and not in the lineup will hurt the team for obvious reasons, it is far from time to call the season over. The next month and a half will tell the story, but I think the Cardinals can and will absorb the loss and still be in contention when he returns.

And a side note, many are also wondering whether this is going to impact Albert Pujols’ contract negotations. The answer is probably not. It depends on what Albert does after he returns to the club. If he’s the same old Albert Pujols, then it won’t. If he struggles like several other high profile players who have come back from wrist injuries, then it might take a little off. He’s still the big name and he still catches people’s eyes. But a slow finish to the season (combined with what has been a fairly slow start) might discourage some teams from opening the wallet as far as they had before.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Pujols out approximately six weeks

Last night in the sixth inning, a Pete Kozma throw drifted away from first base. After catching it and tagging the runner, Albert Pujols collapsed in pain.

My first reaction at the time was that it reminded me of the type of hit my favorite player, Scott Rolen, took a couple times. He wasn’t the same player for years. Thankfully, it’s not the same injury.

The verdict? Pujols will miss approximately six weeks with a broken bone just above his left wrist.

So where does this leave the Cardinals as they now have to consider a month and a half without the man who has been the best player in baseball over the last decade?

For many fans, their eyes are on the basement as they contemplate a life without the best player in baseball. How can the Cardinals even come close to contending without the team’s game changer? Teams and pitchers alter their approach to the Cardinals lineup because of Pujols’ appearance in it. Now they don’t have to worry about it and as a result, the lineup becomes easier to get through.

While I won’t deny that the Cardinals lineup is easier without Pujols sitting in the #3 spot, the season is far from over.
Continue reading