I figured that the key for the Cardinals would be home cooking after playing 26 of their first 38 games on the road and, sure enough, they’ve taken two out of three in the first two series of this stretch of 18 of 21 at home. The keys are as obvious in victory as they were in defeat as the Cardinals returned last Monday with a 19-19 record. When they were losing, the top of the lineup wasn’t getting on, and when they did reach base, Allen Craig wasn’t hitting enough to drive them in. Since the Cardinals opened this stretch at Busch last Monday against the Cubs (OK, let’s go with Tuesday since they lost the Monday game 17-5), Marp (Matt Carpenter, for the uninitiated), Wonger (Kolten Wong for the similar “Fast Lane” outliers) and Craiger have helped the offense at least score some runs, if not slug their way to victory.
Carpenter’s batting average has been poor for the last week (he’s gone just 5-for-19), but in the last five games, he drove in a run in the first two and has scored a run in each of the last three. Carpenter needs to be productive. Yes, we’d love to have him match last year’s .392 OBP, 55 doubles and 126 runs scored. But this is a different offense. Hopefully he will get that on-base percentage back on track, but if he’s producing a run via driving one in or scoring one every game, the Redbirds have to be happy with that.
Kolten Wong went to Memphis for 15 games to get straightened out, and it appears he’s reached a comfort level now in the major leagues. He’s gone 4-for-8 with three runs since his return and, as importantly, has generated energy with his speed. Wong has done a great job of taking the extra base when the opportunity has arisen, and has stolen two bases in four games since returning. After starting off hitting just .225 before his demotion, Wonger is playing with vigor and confidence in the field and at the plate. If he can be a legitimate on-base guy in the two-hole, the Cardinals’ sluggers will benefit greatly.
One of those sluggers is Craig, and we’ve seen early in the season that he is the lynchpin to the offense. He hit .348 last week with an OBP of .400, and drove in four runs in four of the last seven and a total of seven in five of the last nine games. Craig’s game is driving in runs, and he was woeful in that regard early in the season. The last nine games, in fact, have produced 39 percent of Craig’s RBIs. Sixty-one percent of his runs batted in have come in 78 percent of his games, while those 39 percent have come in just 22 percent of his games – the last nine. So Craig, the lynchpin, is hot.
The Cardinals have now won four out of five, but all is not well. The starting pitching set up Jaime Garcia perfectly with seven inning outings by Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller before Garcia pitched on Sunday. In a rather stunning development, Garcia gave them seven innings, too, and put the club in position to win. But for the second time in the last five games, Trevor Rosenthal suffered a blown save. Yes, he did have saves in the three games in between, and yes, Sunday was his fourth straight day to throw and his fifth appearance in six days. That being said, with two walks to set up his loss to Atlanta, Rosenthal has walked at least one batter in nine of his last 12 games, and has walked 11 in his last 13 1/3 innings. That’s simply too many baserunners for a closer, who comes in with a one-run lead the majority of the time.
Rosenthal needs to find his control. Last season his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 5.4-1, and in the postseason it was 6.6-1. This year, he’s walked a batter for every 2.17 strikeouts. He tried to overthrow a 2-1 pitch to Jordan Schaefer and almost threw a wild pitch before he walked the Braves’ hitter, who had been 0-for-15, with the bases loaded to tie Sunday’s game. The bullpen has become somewhat of a concern. It will be good to see Jason Motte this week. Even if he isn’t available every day, having the presence of a guy who has thrown the final pitch to win a World Series will benefit the inexperienced group down there now.
The Diamondbacks are in town this week. Those players will want to impress their new chief baseball officer, former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, so that series won’t be as easy as it looks.
The Cards then go to Cincinnati before coming home to face the always-tough Yankees, the NL West-leading Giants and then Kansas City. With their quality starting pitching and perhaps a return to form of their most important offensive parts, the Cards should be able to continue winning at a .667 clip for a couple of weeks. But danger lurks on the horizon with their ninth-inning troubles. Manager Mike Matheny better get the back end of his bullpen straightened out if we’re going to have the summer we expect in St. Louis.