Big Weekend, Big Innings, Big Players

Daniel ShoptawAnalyst ISeptember 8, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 19:  Chris Carpenter #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals watches batting practice prior to the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on August 19, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

In case you haven't noticed--and judging by the comments, you haven't--I took a long holiday weekend and wasn't able to work my way back to the blogging platform.  I may have watched more of the Cardinals than I have in a while, though, which was great.  So let's recap the last, well, almost week.

Wednesday vs. Milwaukee (10-3 win)
Hero: Skip Schumaker.  A nice 4-4 with a couple of runs and a couple of RBI?  Talk about doing it all!
Goat: It's tough to have a Goat in a game where the team puts up 10 runs, even if Chris Carpenter didn't have his normal spectacular outing.  That said, Mark DeRosa went 0-4, so that's where we'll go.
Notes: So nice to see that offense really click.  It's a tough task to go down this lineup when everyone is dialed in.  Heck, there was even a good game out of Rick Ankiel, so you know things are going the Cards way!  A nice outing by Jason Motte as well, as he struck out five in two innings.  If he can get to being a shutdown option, the post-season bullpen is even stronger.

Thursday vs. Milwaukee (4-3 loss)
Hero: Julio Lugo.  He led off the game with a home run as one of his three hits.  He also mixed in a double in there and looked sharp all the way around.
Goat: Albert Pujols.  Doesn't happen often, but he couldn't come through with the bases loaded in the seventh (which hardly ever happens this year), then had a chance in the ninth to at least tie it up and struck out to end the game.  Don't worry, though, he'll wind up on the plus side before this entry is done.
Notes: Tough game to lose, especially with an early two-run lead handed to John Smoltz.  You knew that he wouldn't be able to keep up what he'd done so far in Cardinal red, though he pretty much did for the first five innings.  He'll be in the rotation for a while now, so we'll get to continue to evaluate his results.

Friday at Pittsburgh (14-7 win)
Hero: Ryan Ludwick.  Five for five, two home runs, two doubles.  Even with Pujols's go-ahead three-run shot, it's hard to go against that line of work.
Goat: Adam Wainwright.  Talk about a terrible innings.  Everything that could go wrong for Wainwright in the fifth seemed to do so.  It was nice that AP bailed him out and got him a win, especially after so many tough-luck losses this year, but that wasn't the Wainwright we know and love.
Notes: Apparently everyone was big on football season starting, since they put up a football score.  (I'll rant about that in a bit.)  We got to see the return of Todd Wellemeyer as well, but it wasn't necessarily all we wanted to see.  A scoreless frame, but two walks.  You could be generous and chalk that up to some rust.  We'll have to see when he gets another opportunity.

Saturday at Pittsburgh (2-1 win in 10)

Hero: Albert Pujols.  Hit the game-winner, get the tag.
Goat: Rick Ankiel.  Most of the offense didn't show up, but Ankiel was the worst, striking out three times in his hitless four ABs.
Notes: Mitchell Boggs had his best game as a pro.  Of course, with Kyle Lohse returning, it might have been his last start (though he probably will get one later in the month as Tony LaRussa starts getting the rotation lined up for post-season).  Nice to see Blake Hawksworth not only coming in to a close game but being able to work out of a bases-loaded situation.  I think he's earned his October ticket as well.

Sunday at Pittsburgh (6-5 loss)
Hero: Rick Ankiel.  Most days, Rick's bomb would have been cause for joyous celebration long into the evening.  Unfortunately, this time it lasted less than half an hour.
Goat: Ryan Franklin.  Blown saves happen.  However, there are some worriesome tendencies in this second half that are a little scary for the postseason.
Notes: One bad inning for Joel Pineiro spoiled his chance to add to the win total.  However, all day he seemed to be getting pitches up more than he does when he's going well and that will eventually bite you.  Motte came into this one also and pitched well again.  In his last five outings, he's allowed no runs, pitched 6.1 innings, struck out 9 and walked two.  These are definitely encouraging signs.

Monday at Milwaukee (3-0 win)
Hero: Chris Carpenter.  He tightened up the Cy Young race again by throwing a one-hit shutout.  He seems to like holidays in Milwaukee!
Goat: Ryan Ludwick.  An 0 for 4 with two strikeouts isn't exactly the way you want to spend  your Labor Day.
Notes: Albert Pujols again comes through, doubling in two when first base was open.  I know Matt Holliday had great numbers against Milwaukee, but you really want to pitch to AP with the game on the line?  You have to know that runs are going to be pretty scarce with Carp on the hill.  Whatever, it works for us!

So the Cards open today with a magic number of Ken Boyer and a solid 11 1/2 game lead on those Cubbies.  However, this puts us just one tick closer to the end of the season.

Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike postseason baseball, obviously.  I want to see the Cardinals playing in October every year.  That said, regular season baseball, in my book, is usually more likeable than postseason baseball.  I realize I could be the only person in the world that thinks that, but hear me out.

I'm a nervous kind of person.  October baseball often finds me flipping channels, not necessarily able to handle the stress of a possible unfortunate outcome.  I will watch the game, then head to another channel for a moment or two before coming back to the game.  (This is how I missed the Bartman play in '03, because I couldn't quite handle watching the Cubs go to the World Series.  Also was away from the TV in '05 with Pujols and Lidge for similar reasons.)  So the stress level of watching the game goes way up for me once the regular season closes.

Besides the fact that what I love about the regular season is its consistency, its daily grind.  You always know that there's a game tomorrow and it takes you throughout the year.  Playoff baseball has big gaps, is covered by announcers and media that have no clue about your team and are not the voices you've heard all year (unless you listen in on the radio, of course), and stops and starts depending on how the teams do.

Of course, if the Cardinals win the whole thing by routing teams, it's the greatest time in the world.

So Franklin blew the save on Sunday and in a fairly efficient manner.  Without the sacrifice that might have gone dreadfully wrong for the Cards if AP had been just a little slower to second base, Franklin wouldn't have retired a batter.  The public reasoning is that he needed some rest, that Saturday's long save got to him.  Hopefully this is true, but he's been walking people at a much higher clip lately, which can cause some fatigue as well.  The Cards need him to be reliable (and able to go whenever) in the post-season to make it very far, so losing some games now with Motte or Boggs or whomever in the ninth will have to be an acceptable tradeoff.

As mentioned above, Lohse looks to return Saturday against the Braves.  Since the five-man rotation is staying in place, John Smoltz will likely miss going against his own team, since Wainwright will go tomorrow, Pineiro the first game of the Braves series, and Carpenter the last.  So while it'd have been a nice story to see Smoltz take on Atlanta, it's probably nice for him not to have to worry about it.

Smoltz faces Manny Parra today in a rematch of that 4-3 loss from last Thursday.  Parra always seems to be one of those that cause the Cardinals trouble, though St. Louis has had some good numbers in the past.  Last year, the Cards would get on him early, but not be able to add on and the Brewers would come back.  You know, kinda like they did last week.  They'll need to keep pushing tonight to make sure the bullpen can be managed correctly.

Smoltz has a lot of data against the Brew Crew as well, but one guy he hasn't faced much is Casey McGhee, who is quickly moving up the "Cardinals Killers" list.  Let's see if the Cards can't keep him in check.

Should be another fun game as the Cards try to add to that winning series streak!