St. Louis Cardinals: The Week That Was
The week that ended with a run of pitching few have ever seen began with some of the worst pitching of the season. The Milwaukee Brewers sprayed hard bit balls throughout Busch Stadium and finished off a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, pulling ahead to a two game lead over the then-second place Chicago Cubs, three games ahead of the Cardinals.
How the times have changed.
While the Brewers have cooled losing three of four, the Redbirds have won five straight and pulled into a tie for first with Milwaukee, three-and-a-half games ahead of Chicago. The story is not just that the Cards have climbed up the standings, but how.
Struggling to recover from their beating at the hands of Prince Fielder and Co., the Cardinals sent Joel Pineiro to the mound against the rival Cubs. Having started hot but fallen on recent hard times, no one was sure what to expect out of Pineiro.
The right-hander then proceeded to toss a three-hit shutout that would set the tone for the rest of the week.
Oft-injured staff ace Chris Carpenter returned to the lineup in the second game of the series against Chicago, and worked five shutout innings. Derrek Lee called him "the nastiest pitcher I've seen all year."*
Adam Wainwright has struggled much of the young season with control and efficiency on the mound, but on Thursday, he was just one out away from the second Cardinal complete game in three days, tossing eight-and-two-thirds innings and giving up just a single run.
Albert Pujols provided the defining moment of the week during the final game of the three game sweep of the Cardinals' longtime rivals when he hit a monster home run that knocked the power out of the "I" in the lit "Big Mac Land" sign.
Visions of Roy Hobbs surely ran through some fans' heads.
The statistic that jumps out most is that the Cardinals were able to sweep the Chicago Cubs, but only managed six total runs and a .205 batting average for the series. The pitching was good enough that it didn't matter.
As Memorial Day Weekend dawned, another rival came to town. This time, the Kansas City Royals were in town to renew the I-70 Series. Cardinal fans entered the game wondering if Todd Wellemeyer, who had been struggling all season long, could replicate the performance of his teammates.
Those questions were answered by six innings of scoreless pitching.
Relieving Wellemeyer was Jason Motte, who entered the season as the flamethrower of the team. The problem was that there had been a shortage of flames in his pitching. Not so on Friday night, as for the first time all season, Motte routinely hit 96 and 97 miles per hour on the radar gun. He even hit 98 a few times.
This newfound heat came at a good time, as he used the firepower to strike out two Royals' batters in the game's most dramatic moment.
Every member of the Cardinals' rotation had had his turn to shine during this streak except Kyle Lohse entering Saturday. In the second game of the interstate rivalry, the second year Cardinal turned in a gem, going eight strong innings without surrendering a run.
Lohse was hit by a pitch attempting to sacrifice in the eighth inning, and manager Tony La Russa saw no point in taking any risk by sending Lohse back out for the ninth.
Through an entire turn in the rotation, Cardinals' starters combined for a 0.24 ERA in over 36 innings. Let's also remember this was directly after the Brewers hit everything Cardinal pitchers threw their way.
The five-game winning streak is all the more impressive given the absence of outfielders Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel, both on the disabled list.
Besides the obvious improvement in pitching, two factors contributed to the Cardinals' success this week: Albert Pujols ending a slump and Nick Stavinoha coming through in clutch situations.
Pujols ended a five game RBI-less streak and raised his batting average nearly 20 points to its current .331 average. He also was presented with his 2008 MVP plaque Friday.
Called up when Ryan Ludwick went to with an injury, Nick Stavinoha twice provide clutch doubles, each time driving home two runs. He also has a stolen base to his credit. He hasn't hit the ball well every time he's been up, but he has when it's counted most.
The week that was for the St. Louis Cardinals has turned the club around, leading them back into a tie for first place in the NL Central. Next week will show if this is a random fluke of consecutive gems from the starters or if the staff has turned a corner, as the team will face off against the Brewers once again.
*= I did not get this quote from Lee myself, I heard it through some source of media that slipped my mind. Credit will be given to the source if I can remember who it was.
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