April 2011

Friday tidbits: Holliday, Greene and more

Hello from what, for my money, is the best ballpark in America.

* Matt Holliday worked out pretty extensively this morning, and sounded like he hopes to play Sunday. TLR sounded less enthusiastic about that possibility but didn’t rule it out. There’s something going up on the site about this very topic as I write though, so be sure to check it out for more details.

* Tyler Greene got his first start of the year today, but it might not be his last this series. There’s a possibility he’ll play on Sunday against  Barry Zito.

* Meanwhile David Freese is playing today and will play Sunday, but could also go Saturday as well. That would mark his first time playing three straight this year, something TLR has said they don’t intend to do much in the early going. If it’s not Freese tomorrow night, it would be Descalso at 3B against Matt Cain.

* The Cardinals will stay on rotation in Phoenix, going with Kyle McClellan on Monday and Chris Carpenter on Tuesday, rather than moving Carpenter up to his fifth day and bumping McClellan back.

* Tomorrow’s game will start at 9:05 p.m. CT, not the 8:05 time originally listed. The Giants will receive their World Series rings prior to the game.

And, finally, the playlist is a Bay Area special (but no Train):
Sly and the Family Stone, “Dance to the Music”
Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Fortunate Son”
Big Brother and the Holding Company, “Piece of My Heart”
Jefferson Airplane, “Somebody to Love”
Grateful Dead, “Truckin’”

-M.

Holliday getting closer

I’ll flesh this out in a little while, but we were just told by Cards media relations that the plan is for Matt Holliday to have a “full workout and BP” today, and depending on how that goes, they’ll make a decision on a next step.

That doesn’t guarantee anything, of course, but it is at the least good news, and jibes with TLR’s statements last week that they expected Holliday back more than a couple of days before 15 days. Today marks eight days since he had the procedure.

I’ll have more on the site, and likely on the blog, later this afternoon.

-M.

Friday lineups

Friday lineups from AT&T Park on an absolutely gorgeous, if slightly cool, afternoon:

Cardinals
1. Theriot SS
2. Rasmus CF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Craig LF
5. Freese 3B
6. Berkman RF
7. Molina C
8. Greene 2B
9. Westbrook RHP

Giants
1. Torres CF
2. Sanchez 2B
3. Huff RF
4. Posey C
5. Sandoval 3B
6. Burrell LF
7. Belta 1B
8. Tejada SS
9. Sanchez LHP

-M.

Chess Match: Staying with the ace

The situation: Bottom of the fifth. Cardinals trail, 2-0. Daniel Descalso hits a one-out double, bringing the pitcher’s spot to the plate. Chris Carpenter has allowed two runs, one earned, over five innings on 89 pitches.

The decision: Carpenter stays in the game and hits for himself.

The outcome: Carpenter grounded to short, advancing the runner to third with two outs. After Ryan Theriot walked, Colby Rasmus flied out all the way to the wall in right field and the Cardinals did not score in the inning. Carpenter pitched the sixth, allowing a single but no runs, and was lifted after that.

The analysis: This, in my opinion, is a great situation to start Chess Match for the year, because there’s a ton of stuff packed into this one moment.

The arguments for pinch-hitting basically come down to two main points, I think.

One, the Cardinals hadn’t been scoring any runs, and I don’t just mean today. As you all saw, this team has been searching for offense all week. This was a chance to get on the board. You have David Freese and Jon Jay on the bench. Freese has extra-base or even home run potential, though right now it seems like maybe he’s a bit of a long shot for a base hit. Jay, meanwhile, seems like a good option to get a single against a right-handed pitcher.

Two, Carpenter had worked hard. He was pleased with his stuff, and said he felt strong. But he’d thrown 89 pitches, a large majority of them with runners on base, over just five innings. Eighty-nine pitches in five innings is a lot different from 89 pitches in seven or eight innings. It’s not that I expected him to crumble in the next inning or anything, but this was a different five innings, a different 89 pitches, than in some games.

Additionally, with an off day coming up tomorrow and most of the bullpen rested, getting through four innings with the ‘pen shouldn’t have been a big worry. Say you don’t score — it’s another opportunity, like on Saturday, to get Mitchell Boggs those innings that TLR has already said that he needs. If you do score, one, it’s a good problem to have, and two, there are enough pitchers out there to match up for 12 outs. I know some people are panicking about the bullpen, and if you really think they can’t get 12 outs, then you probably see this issue differently from me. But I’m not as worried as some are.

The primary argument against pinch-hitting, for me, is the fact of a short bench. With Matt Holliday unavailable, the Cardinals are playing with a four-man bench. You’re not going to use Gerald Laird or Tyler Greene there, so you really only have two options: Freese and Jay.

Freese, as mentioned above, can run into a homer, but he’s also slumping a bit to start the year. Correia was having a good game, and you don’t necessarily do him any favors by putting him in there. Tony La Russa also has a long history of preferring to save his biggest bench weapon, which on Wednesday Freese certainly was, for a later situation. Jay, meanwhile, might have been the best option to get the single that gets the Cards on the board, but using him is even more problematic. If you bring in Jay, you no longer have any outfielders available on your bench, and it’s the fifth inning.

For my money, that’s the strongest argument against: Jay is probably the best choice, and it’s a really tough spot to put yourself in to play four full innings with no available outfielders except Greene, who as you know is an infielder.

There’s also the simple fact that Carpenter is the ace, and La Russa as a general rule will almost always live and die with his horse. That seemed to be his main contention when I asked him after the game (see the quote below).

The comment: “I don’t even think it’s a close call. You’ve got a starting pitcher giving up nothing and you’re going to get him out in the fifth inning and pitch the bullpen four innings? I don’t even think it’s a close call. For me it wasn’t.” — TLR.

My verdict: The more I look at it, the less sure I am about my initial view. At the time, I really though the play was to get Carpenter out of there and play for the runs. But the matter of the short bench really is a significant one. Say you get the lead, and you want to play defense in right field. Well, you’ve already burned Jay.

But even so, I think in the end that the play is to go for the runs. And I think the play is Jay. You deal with getting through the innings with your bullpen, or playing defense in the outfield, when you get there. If you don’t get any runs, the game stays 2-0, none of the rest of it matters. Those are problems that you’re HOPING you have to deal with. And the way you make it so that you have to deal with them is by scoring some runs. I don’t think Freese is the play, early and against a right-hander. He’s the guy for when one swing can actually win or lose you the game.

I think what it comes down to is a strategic question rather than a tactical one. Play to score runs or play to avoid preventing more runs. When you’re down 2-0, the other guy is pitching a good game and you have 14 runs in six games, for me, the correct strategy is to play for the runs. It’s certainly not black and white, but I think it’s the way to go.

-M.

Wednesday tidbits: Punto, Holliday, Boggs, Greene, etc

* Nick Punto will be headed to Florida when the Cardinals leave town for the West Coast. He’ll work out with the extended Spring Training folks for a few days, and could start playing EST games as soon as Monday.

* Matt Holliday continues to get closer. He ran on the field today and took some swings.

* Mitchell Boggs warmed up last night and would have come in the game in the 8th if the pitcher’s spot had come up in the bottom of the seventh. TLR said he’d still prefer to get Boggs one or two more low-leverage outings before really throwing him in the fire, but if the games don’t allow that, then the games don’t allow it.

* Tyler Greene will likely get a start over the weekend in San Francisco. He would play 2B against either Jonathan Sanchez on Friday or Barry Zito on Sunday. Greene is the only Cardinal hitter who has not started a game.

* ESPN announced that former Cardinal Mark Mulder will be doing some work on Baseball Tonight.

* Though TLR said yesterday that David Freese could have started today, in the end it was Daniel Descalso who got the call at 3B. The plan all along has been for Freese to play two out of three in the early going, so this isn’t a setback but rather just a case of staying with the plan.

And, finally, the playlist:
Letters to Cleo, “From Under the Dust”
New Order, “Elegia”
The Knife, “Neverland”
Nina Gordon, “Horses in the City”
R.E.M., “Gardening At Night”

-M.

Wednesday lineups

Cardinals
1. Theriot SS
2. Rasmus CF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Berkman RF
5. Craig LF
6. Schumaker 2B
7. Molina C
8. Descalso 3B
9. Carpenter RHP

Pirates
1. Tabata LF
2. Walker 2B
3. McCutchen CF
4. Overbay 1B
5. Alvarez 3B
6. Doumit C
7. Jones RF
8. Rodriguez SS
9. Correia RHP

-M.

Tuesday tidbits: No DL for Holliday

Greetings from Busch Stadium on an absolutely gorgeous day. There are almost no clouds in the sky, the temperature reads 63 degrees on the signs in the bullpens and it appears we’re in for a very nice evening for baseball. And now on with the tidbits…

* Matt Holliday will not, for now, go on the disabled list. The club expects that he will be back before 15 days are up, and in fact more than a day or two before 15 days are up. So they’re going to play short in the interim. Holliday has done some running and throwing, and could swing a bat tomorrow.

* Gerald Laird is in for Yadier Molina, but it’s a scheduled day off for Molina. He suffered no significant ill effects from being jammed on a pitch last night.

* TLR said that there are no longer any real plans to go to 13 pitchers for the road trip. That idea was pretty much scuttled when Holliday became unavailable.

* The rotation has been announced for the start of the road trip, and it’s as expected. They’ll just roll the guys over: Westbrook on Friday against Jonathan Sanchez, Garcia against Matt Cain on Saturday and Lohse against Barry Zito on Sunday.

* David Freese may play tomorrow, which wouldn’t seem all that newsworthy except that it would be three straight games — something La Russa suggested was unlikely to happen much in the first couple months of the season.

And, finally, the playlist. It’s a themed one, all Nirvana in honor of the 17th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death.

“School”
“Come As You Are”
“Breed”
“Heart Shaped Box”
“Where Did You Sleep Last Night”

-M.

Tuesday lineups

Tuesday’s lineups from Busch Stadium:

 

Cardinals
1. Theriot SS
2.  Rasmus CF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Berkman RF
5. Craig LF
6. Freese 3B
7. Schumaker 2B
8. Laird C
9. McClellan RHP

Pirates
1. Tabata LF
2. Walker 2B
3. McCutchen CF
4. Overbay 1B
5. Alvarez 3B
6. Diaz RF
7. Jaramillo C
8. Cedeno SS
9. McDonald RHP

 

-M.

Note of the night and Stat of the Day, April 4

Note of the night: It was a rough, rough night at the plate for David Freese. The Cardinals third baseman went 0-for-4 with a double play and two strikeouts, despite coming to the plate with at least one runner on base in every one of his at-bats.

He actually hit the ball that brought in the first Cardinals run, grounding into a double play with men on first and third and no out in the second inning. That followed a sweet hit-and-run that had gotten Lance Berkman over to third. But Freese grounded out with men on first and second in the fourth, struck out with a man on first in the sixth, and struck out with a man on second in the eighth.

He’s a better hitter than that, and he’ll do better than that in the future. Moreover, he wasn’t alone — Yadier Molina had a rough one, going 0-for-4 and three times stranding a runner on base at the end of an inning. Those two spots in the order really were the difference on Monday. If the 6-7 hitters had been able to keep rallies alive, things might have looked a lot different.

“I was putting myself in bad counts, and when you do that at the big league level, you’re not going to do too well,” Freese said. “It was a rough night. I had a few opportunities to drive guys in and I couldn’t make it happen. … [Charlie Morton] made a good pitch when he needed to. That’s how you get Ws. They did a good job over there of getting timely hits, playing good defense and obviously pitching well.”

The point of this is not to pick on Freese, but rather to note the fine line. One hit from him (or Molina) in one of those situations, it might be a much different game.

I’ll preach this a lot not only in the first few days but even the first couple of months of the season: it’s four games. If the Cardinals were 4-0 and had scored 30 runs, I’d be cautioning people not to buy World Series tickets. Because they’re 1-3 and have scored 11 runs, the requisite perspective is to know that there are some hitters in this lineup and they shouldn’t hit like this all year.

But for now, yeah, it’s not looking real good on the offensive side of things.

* Stat of the day: Brian Tallet has faced seven batters and none of them has reached base. He’s struck out three without issuing a walk, and 18 of his 29 pitches have gone for strikes.

I tweeted this earlier, and I think it’s true: there haven’t been many pleasant surprises in the early going, but Tallet has to count as one. And his usage pattern has been interesting. He hasn’t been a one batter guy. Two games, seven outs. There’s a role the Cardinals really haven’t had succesffully filled in a while, and it’s the left-hander who’s not strictly a one-batter guy.

If Tallet could be that one-inning lefty, a guy you bring in for an inning with mostly but not all left-handed hitters, he could be quite valuable. Think Steve Kline at his best for an idea of the role (though not necessarily of the type of pitcher). Now, to live by my own guidelines, I’m not turning Tallet into that guy after two games. But I think it bears watching.

G’night…
-M.

Monday tidbits: Holliday speaks

* A clearly still recovering Matt Holliday spoke to reporters in the clubhouse on Monday afternoon. Though his spirits were good and his sense of humor was certainly intact, it was not at all hard to tell that Holliday had undergone a medical procedure recently. He should be fine before long, but he had the look and sound of someone recuperating.

Holliday told us that he has asked the club to keep him off the disabled list if at all possible, and as of now he has not been DL’d. He’s hoping to accompany the Cardinals on their upcoming western road trip. I’ll have a story on all of this on the site before too terribly long.

* Jaime Garcia was named co-Player of the Week in the National League along with Starlin Castro for his shutout yesterday.

* Nick Punto continues to come along well. He participated in pretty much all of the afternoon work, and said he’s feeling quite good. Once he’s cleared to play, he’ll still need a bit of time on a Minor League rehab, since he’s taken exactly zero at-bats against anybody other than his teammates all spring.

* It’s not the nicest day at the ballpark — the sign in the bullpen currently reads 46 degrees — but there’s no rain, the sun is threatening to poke through in a few places and it appears we’re going to get a game in.

* Mitchell Boggs is likely not live tonight if they can avoid it, and ideally TLR would prefer not to use Jason Motte either. But Motte is more in play than Boggs.

* The Cardinals still have yet to announce their starters for the weekend in San Francisco, but the best guess is they’ll just roll everybody over, so it would be Westbrook on Friday, Garcia on Saturday and Lohse on Sunday.

* Gerald Laird will likely get a start either tomorrow or Wednesday, which would leave Tyler Greene as the only non-pitcher on the roster not to start a game.

* As I noted in the lineup post, the pitcher is back in the No. 9 hole today. TLR explained that one factor in that decision is the availability of a hitter who is a good fit to hit seventh. He wouldn’t mind hitting Schumaker ninth, he said. But that would leave Yadier Molina batting seventh, and La Russa has been consistent in expressing his desire to have a faster runner than Molina in front of the pitcher’s spot.

And, finally, the playlist:
Cold War Kids, “Royal Blue”
Radiohead, “Lotus Flower”
R.E.M., “Discoverer”
Telekinesis, “Please Ask For Help”
Buffalo Tom, “Guilty Girls”

-M.

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