Cardinals Gain Ground, Pirates Continue Falter
Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
After a terrific start to the season, the Pirates may be running out of steam. On August 8, they were 16 games over .500. Since then, they’ve lost seven of their last ten games.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals have been in a bit of a holding pattern this past week, but they’ve gone 3-2, taking two of three from Arizona and splitting thus far against the Bucs. In the month of August, they’re 10-7, and they now trail the Pirates by a game in the Wild Card standings (although they now also trail the Trolley Dodgers by a half game).
Who’s Been Hot
It’s kinda hard to describe a utility guy as being on a hot streak, but Matt Carpenter has excelled in that role all season. Were he on a different team, Carp could likely be a starting third baseman. Or first baseman. Or after that catch he made yesterday, a corner outfielder.
Carpenter’s been one of the best pinch-hitters all season long, and his 10 pinch-hit RBI ties him for second in MLB in that category, one off the lead. In the month of August, in 21 at-bats, he’s slashing .475/.522/.714 with 8 RBI. He’s played in 12 games this month, but only three of them have been starts, although he has gone 7 for 14 in those starts.
The man just keeps pitching, but for some reason the Cardinals don’t always like giving him run support. His last two games, he’s given up one earned run in 13.2 innings, but has no decision to show for it, and the Cardinals have dropped both games. The game Thursday was a heartbreaker, as Jason Motte blew just his fifth save in 33 tries so far.
Looking at the season, Lohse has received a whopping eight no-decisions in games in which he threw at least six innings and allowed two or fewer runs. In two of those games, he allowed zero; in three of those games, he allowed one. With a little luck, he could easily be at the top of the leaderboard in the NL in wins.
Waino, on the other hand, has been piling up wins to bolster his record. While Lohse has just 14 decisions in 25 starts, Wainwright has 21 in his 24 starts, and his past four decisions have been wins. In that stretch, going 35.1 innings, he’s allowed just eight earned runs (2.04 ERA), and hitters have slashed just .224/.261/.304 against him. He’s allowed 6 BB against 31 K, a phenomenal ratio.
As strange as it sounds, Furcal’s one of the most underappreciated Cardinals. Yes, he started the All-Star game at short, so it’s not as though he’s gone unnoticed, but in a lineup of mashers, people forget how important it is for guys like Furcal and Jay to get on base and set the table as well as drive in the occasional run. Furcal’s been dealing with some back and lower leg issues, and as a result, his production has dropped rather precipitously. He received an epidural this past week, the effect of which has been obvious. In his last six games, he has eight hits, five of them for extra bases (three doubles, two triples).
He’s just awesome. Eight game hitting streak, slashing .394/.444/.636 in that time. 13 hits, eight for extra bases.
Who’s Been Struggling
Thankfully, Carpenter, Craig, and Furcal have been hitting, because the heart of the order has been pretty stagnant recently.
Matt Holliday, who’s gone on a tremendous tear since the beginning of May to perch himself near the top of most of the major batting categories, has really struggled the past ten games, slashing .128/.171/.282. He does have 5 RBI, but all of those came on two swings of the bat.
Carlos Beltran is a notoriously streaky hitter, and he’s likely to rebound very quickly. In his last ten games, though, he’s hitting just .194 and has struck out 13 times in just 36 at-bats.
David Freese has also had a pretty rough August, going 11 for 57 (.193). July was the first month in his career in which he recorded more walks than strikeouts (15 to 11), and not coincidentally he slashed .458/.562/.625. This month, though, he’s struck out 16 times and walked just five, and his slashline has dropped to .193/.266/.281.
Molina hasn’t really been struggling numbers-wise, but his back and oblique have been barking, causing him to miss time. His absence was notable Friday night, when the Cardinals suffered a wild pitch and a passed ball in the same inning, allowing two runs that proved to be the difference. Molina returned yesterday and made an immediate impact: three hits, two doubles, two RBI that proved to be the game winners.
By the way, that really wasn’t meant as a knock on Tony Cruz. He’s one of the least utilized bench players for the Cardinals, and in the games he’s started, he’s actually done respectably. In his last nine starts, he’s hit .313 and driven in eight runs. He simply doesn’t compare to Yadi.
Steve’s Fun Bits
– I was actually somewhat surprised that the Astros cleaned house yesterday, firing manager Brad Mills, hitting coach Mike Barnett, and first base coach Bobby Meacham. Not that the Astros have done decently under Mills; they’re 39-82 this year, by far the worst record in baseball. The problem is, nobody could have managed that team and done well. They’re obviously in a rebuilding mode, and Jeff Luhnow appears to have at least the minor leagues trending in the right direction; the farm system’s combined winning percentage is the highest in baseball.
– Here’s an interesting fact. At one point, the Astros went 4-34, the worst stretch of NL baseball in the past century. The last time an NL team did that badly was in 1899, when the infamous Cleveland Spiders went 1-40 to close out their 20-134 season.
This team actually has some very close ties to the Cardinals franchise. The Robison brothers, who owned the Spiders, bought the St. Louis franchise, then known as the Browns, in 1899 and renamed them the Perfectos. Figuring St. Louis would make a better baseball town (!), they decided to transfer all of Cleveland’s good players to St. Louis, including several future Hall of Famers such as Jesse Burkett, Bobby Wallace, and some pitcher named Denton (Cy) Young.
In addition, the Robisons also brought the Spiders’ uniforms along with them, which contained some red trim. Sportswriter Willie McHale heard a female spectator observe the uniforms contained “a lovely shade of cardinal” and dubbed the team the Cardinals; the name became official in 1900.
The Week Ahead
Thanks to my superlative editor Kevin, I’ll be attending the series against Houston Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. After that, the team begins a road trip that could help clarify the post-season situation, heading to Cincinnati, then Pittsburg, then Washington.
One thing at a time, though, and the Cards are getting ready to face off against Pittsburgh today. Jaime Garcia’s set to make his return after missing two months with a torn labrum and rotator cuff.