Note of the night:
I hesitate to make too much of good guy/bad guy, leader, set-an-example stuff. I think those of us who do what I do tend to use that stuff as a crutch far too often, and we write it in retrospect, using it to explain things rather than noting it in advance and getting any kind of predictive value.
It’s with that preface that I point this out.
I was really struck by how Chris Carpenter answered a question tonight about the error charged to Pujols. He was asked if he’d be happy taking his chances with that ball being hit to that spot again, and of course he said yes. But he really went further than that in talking about the expectations placed on Pujols.
“That ball was hit good.”
(you have no problem taking your chances with that ball being hit to him) “Not at all. He makes that play all kinds of different times. What’s come to be expected of him at times is… tough for him. I don’t know how to put it, but the expectation level is above all the rest.
“Is that ball a hit? Probably. That ball is hit hard. Takes a funny hop. But in the past, he’s so exceptional at what he does, they probably look at it like he should make that play. It’s a hit, to me.”
I dunno. Maybe not earth-shattering. But in being there, it was clear to me that it was important to Carpenter to make this point. It wasn’t just boilerplate, I’m not going to blame my teammate and be the bad guy stuff. It was a sincere point that he wanted to make sure got made.
Stat of the day: Carpenter’s strikeout to unintentional walk ratio is significantly better than it was last year. He has 78 strikeouts in 98 2/3 innings, a higher K rate than he had last year. He has 21 unintentional walks, a lower BB rate than he had last year. So his K/UIBB ratio is 3.71. Last year it was 3.03.
You want a reason to feel good about Carpenter going forward? That’s it. Guys with those kinds of peripherals get sorted out. He’s going to be fine. Heck, he was more than fine on Friday night. He was outstanding and unlucky.
And, finally, a late-night playlist:
Foster the People, “Pumped Up Kicks” (love this tune)
Foo Fighters, “Rope”
Freelance Whales, “Hannah”
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, “Belong”
Note of the night: How it got to that point
We had a lengthy chat with TLR about the bullpen and the sequence of events in the 7th inning after Tuesday night’s game. Lots of things came up, lots of possibilities tossed about. Here are a few of the things at play:
1, Eduardo Sanchez was unavailable. This is something to follow up on tomorrow, since he had thrown one inning and eight pitches over the previous four days. But per TLR, Sanchez was not available. Worth noting in this context: Sanchez threw three fastballs in his last outing, all at 88 or 89 miles per hour. In his previous outing, he consistently sat at 94-95 and touched 96 once.
2. He also was not going to use Franklin in that game, especially once runners were on base. TLR consistently referred to his options as we discussed the inning — Salas was going to close, Sanchez was unavailable, Motte was going to pitch the eighth and Boggs was, in his mind, still something of an uncertainty as he returns to relief work after being in the Minors. He never mentioned Franklin’s name. So I brought up Franklin, and he basically acknowledged that in a game like that, again ESPECIALLY once there were runners on, he wasn’t going to bring Franklin in.
3. Which means there’s a problem here. If Franklin isn’t really an option in a close game with a lead, and Sanchez is for whatever reason unavailable (and, again, still no exact word on what “unavailable” meant in this case or how long it would be true), and Brian Tallet has gotten strafed since his return from the disabled list, and Miller has been effective at times but also somewhat spotty… it’s a really, really short list of guys who the manager is willing to turn to with a lead. There’s Salas. There’s Motte, but they clearly choose their spots carefully with Motte; they like him against certain types of hitters, and they like him with runners on. There’s Batista.
4. And there’s Boggs, who looked very good. TLR seemed to second-guess himself, just a bit, regarding Boggs. As mentioned above, he didn’t want to throw Boggs into the heat too soon, but I think it’s a pretty safe guess that that may be changing soon. I suspect you’ll see Boggs in increasingly high-leverage situations before too long at all.
5. As for why Batista was in the game in the first place, the manager noted that Batista has been very effective against right-handed hitters this year, and the first lefty he was scheduled to face was Espinosa, who has struggled mightily hitting left-handed this year.
6. For the Miller-Rodriguez at-bat, TLR’s reasoning was this: if he went to Motte for Rodriguez, Motte was going to have to face both Nix and Stairs. He preferred to take his chances with Miller-Motte.
I think that covers the bulk of it, but if you have more questions, leave ’em below and I’ll try to answer them. It’s definitely a difficult situation right now, and I would have gotten Batista out of there sooner. None of this is an attempt to absolve the manager or the pen tonight; both had a rough night. Instead, I just wanted to share some of the thought processes that occurred and the conversation we had after the TV cameras left.
Stat of the day: I addressed a similar stat in my game story, but I wanted to get a little more specific with it. When the Cardinals score 5, 6, 7 or 8 runs this year, they’re 14-11. I know that looks an awful lot like cherry-picking, and maybe it is. But I think it’s a relevant segment. Score more than that, and even a team that struggles at run prevention is going to win pretty much every time — the Cards are 9-0 when they score more than 8. But score between 5-8, and a decent run-prevention team ought to be winning a large majority of those games.
By comparison: the 2010 team was 45-13 when scoring 5, 6, 7, or 8 runs. The 2009 team was 40-10. The 2008 team, which allowed the fourth-most runs in the NL, was 51-6. The ’07 team was 40-10. This year’s team is 14-11. That’s simply too many losses in games where the offense has done enough to win.
Stat of the day, 2: The 2011 Cardinals have lost 19 games in which they led at some point. They had 26 such losses in 2010, 31 in 2009, 39 in 2008, 27 in 2007. The season is, of course, about 42 percent complete.
And with that, and with The Pains of Being Pure At Heart’s “Belong” playing on the speakers, I call it a night.
Note of the night: I wrote some about this in my game story last week, but one of the most noticeable changes in Jaime Garcia this year has been how he has handled tough innings.
Last year, both according to the stats and according to the eye test, Garcia didn’t always react well when an inning started to get dicey. He was somewhat vulnerable to the big inning. He was typically either dominant or he labored.
This year he looks different, and the numbers are different too. For anecdotal evidence, look at the eighth inning on Tuesday. The error by Tyler Greene could have sunk Garcia. Instead, he collected himself and moved on. Michael Martinez swung aggressively on the first pitch and hit a decent pitch, but from there Garcia got the job done. A sacrifice fly tied the game, and he got Ryan Howard. It’s easy to envision that inning going a lot differently one year ago.
The numbers bear it out to some degree, as well. Last year, Garcia had an enormous split between when the bases were empty and when runners were on base. He allowed an opponent OPS of 586 with the bases empty, 711 with runners on and 761 with men in scoring position. He averaged a walk every 15 plate appearances with the bases empty, and one every 7.6 with runners on base.
This year, he’s allowing a 543 OPS with the bases empty, 574 with men on and 498 with RISP (entering Tuesday’s game). He’s actually issuing fewer walks with men on base (one per 20 plate appearances) than with no one on (one per 15.75 plate appearances).
Throughout last year, I remained somewhat skeptical about Garcia because although he could be brilliant, he could also have those agonizing, laborious starts where he allowed four runs and needed 110 pitches to get through 5 1/3 innings. It really seems that this year he’s much better equipped to turn those games into better showings. If he can continue doing that, he could have a really outstanding year.
Stat of the day: Ryan Theriot has three straight two-hit games and has reached base by hit or walk nine times in five games. His on-base percentage has climbed from .328 to .358 in that span.
Note of the night: It appeared as though we might get a few extracurriculars on Sunday night, but they never materialized. And according to the interested parties, they weren’t as close as perhaps it seemed from the press box or the stands.
When Yadier Molina went deep in the sixth inning, he celebrated with some… vigor. He raised an arm in the air, and he hustled around the bases in a manner that couldn’t help recalling Brandon Phillips’ spring around the bases two nights earlier.
Cardinals fans were delighted, Reds fans were chagrined, and I tweeted at the time that perhaps Molina might ought to hope that he didn’t hit again — the implication being that the celebration might garner him a fastball in the ear.
So, what do you know, but two innings later, Molina faced Aroldis Chapman. And the first pitch from Chapman sailed well in on Molina. Warnings were issued, and anybody with a sense of the recent history between these two clubs couldn’t help drawing some conclusions.
Except… those conclusions may have been wrong. Molina, for one, said he saw no ill intent in Chapman’s pitch.
“I don’t think so,” he said when I asked him about it. “I don’t think so. I don’t know. I don’t think they did [try to hit me]. But if he did do, I don’t care. We got the win.”
TLR didn’t really have much to say about the warnings, though he seemed to imply that they weren’t really shocking to him.
“[Umpire] John Hirschbeck knows what he sees,” the manager said. “This guy is as veteran as anybody umpiring. … The catcher moved in and he threw the ball inside. You can’t read minds. But he had probably the best view for it, and that’s what he called.”
At least one person on the Reds side said they didn’t really take any umbrage over Molina’s celebration, though. And besides, they pretty clearly thought they still had a chance to win the game — loading the bases on a hit-batter would be kind of silly if you were still trying to win. If they thought that game was out of hand, the pitcher likely would have been someone other than Aroldis Chapman.
Is it POSSIBLE that the pitch from Chapman was a purpose pitch? Sure, it’s possible. But based on people I talked to on the Cardinals side, based on people my colleague Mark Sheldon talked to on the Reds side, and based on taking a longer look at the whole situation, my inclination is that it was not.
Stat of the day: Right-handed hitters are 3-for-27 against Mitchell Boggs this year with one double, one walk and 11 strikeouts. That’s a .111/.172/.148 line on the year.
Greetings, all, from my last stop on this road trip. I’ll be headed home tomorrow, getting a few days off before rejoining the club for the next homestand. I hate to miss out on Dodger Stadium, but two out of three cities on a trip is plenty in most cases. Here are your postgame notes and goodies…
Notes of the night:
* Matt Holliday said he was fine after being hit on the left hand by a pitch. He didn’t even seem to realize we were waiting for him after the game, to check on how he came through it. He said he had no plan to get any further examination.
* Likewise for Ryan Theriot — there were no issues for him after being hit on the forearm.
* Eduardo Sanchez was pretty impressive in his Major League debut, striking out five in two innings. When I approached him after the game, he was just putting down his phone. I asked him how many messages, and he said, “about a hundred.”
Stat of the day:
Despite their slow start, the Cardinals actually now have a positive run differential. They’ve outscored their opponents by four runs on the year.
Note of the night: On just about any other day, Kyle Lohse would have been the hero of my game story. He was simply outstanding, allowing virtually no hard contact through the first six innings. His stuff was strong, his command was excellent. It was a superbly pitched game.
However, when a team scores as many runs in one game as it had in any previous two games, the story is the offense. So Lohse was relegated to second-fiddle status in the game story. Here on the blog, though, a little tip of the cap to Lohse.
When asked about the difference between now and when he was compromised physically, Lohse always points to command. He’s able to locate the ball much more than he was before. But it shows in his stuff, as well. His sinker was particularly impressive on Sunday, moving not only down but left-to-right.
“That’s [the] spin,” he said. “I might have been able to throw it 90 [mph] or whatever it was the last couple years, but there’s a difference between finishing a pitch and just kind of putting it out there and not being able to finish it. I might not have the sinker that you see as huge, but it’s late. That’s part of it and that’s part of why I’m encouraged the way I am right now, is I’m able to do that.”
Dave Duncan also pointed to the late movement on Lohse’s sinker. It’s one way you get weak groundballs, and that’s something that Lohse got plenty of on Sunday.
Lohse stopped short of saying that he can have another year like 2008, but he didn’t rule it out. And while I still think a fairer expectation is for him to return to the slightly less impressive form he showed for most of his career before ’08, I wouldn’t entirely rule out another ’08 either. One thing that’s sometimes forgotten: before Lohse got hurt in ’09, he was off to a very strong start. He had a 3.98 ERA when he first injured his forearm.
Again, it would be somewhat silly to predict a repeat of a guy’s career year. But it would probably also be silly to rule it out.
Stat of the day: The Cardinals are 14th in the National League in batting average, 14th in OBP and 16th in SLG, but they have the third-most walks in the league and the fewest strikeouts.
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.
Note of the night: As you may have heard, Albert Pujols had a bit of a rough one at the plate today. He hit a couple of balls harder than the results might show, but in the end, eight outs in a game is eight outs in a game. And that’s what Pujols had: 0-for-5 with three double plays.
He’s never before had a game with more than five hitless at-bats, and he’s never had an 0-for-5 with more than one double play. It was the 29th 0-for-5 of Pujols’ career. Only eight previous times had he even hit into two double plays. By my rough count, Pujols had never made more than six outs at the plate in a single game, and on Thursday he made eight.
As for the historical context, there was plenty. MLB Network reported that it’s the first time since double plays have been kept as a stat that a player grounded into three in an Opening Day game. According to STATS Inc., it was the 100th time in history that a player has grounded into three or more DPs in any game. Joe Torre has the only 4 GIDP game in history, on July 21, 1975.
“It’s a bad game, man,” Pujols said. “Am I going to shoot myself up? It’s just a bad game and that’s it. That’s the way it goes. That’s baseball.”
You’re probably going to read that quote several different ways tonight and tomorrow morning. The exact words he said were “shoot myself up,” but it was very clear in talking to him that he mixed a couple of expressions together, as all of us do sometimes. I think it’s the unfortunate combination of “Am I going to shoot myself?” and “Am I going to beat myself up?” Many of you may not care about this kind of minutiae, but those of us in the press box all talked about it quite a bit as we were walking back from the clubhouse.
* Note — a good deal of this research is courtesy of the amazing Baseball-Reference.com Play Index.
Stat of the day: Today’s stat of the day looks ahead, but I think it’s a cool one. I discovered it in putting together the “probable starter” blurb for Chris Carpenter’s next start.
The last 13 times Carpenter has faced the Pirates, the Cardinals have won the game. In those games, Carpenter is 10-0 with a 1.85 ERA. He’s racked up 97 1/3 innings, an average of 7.49 per start, with 88 strikeouts, 19 walks and five home runs allowed.
That’s pretty good.