Bird Bytes on the Cardinals-Cubs series at Busch Stadium…
1. Disappointing start to the season: In their first set of the new campaign, the Cardinals had an immediate chance to reverse two negative trends from last year: winning at home, and taking the a series from the Cubs. In 2016, the Cards tripped to a 38-43 record at Busch Stadium, with the Cubs taking six of nine games on St. Louis soil. The rivals went against each other in six series last season, with the Cards winning only one of the six, and settling for a four-game split in another. In taking two of three from the Cardinals to open their defense of the 2016 World Series championship, the Cubs have now won five consecutive series at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals haven’t won a home series against the Cubs since late June, 2015. The Cards have lost 10 of their last 15 home games to Joe Maddon’s club. Last offseason there were a million variations of this question: What can the Cardinals do to catch the Cubs? It won’t be easy. But here’s a way to start: beat the Cubs in head-to-head matchups; take care of business against the Cubs at Busch Stadium.
2. Frustration: The opening series was seemingly in the Cardinals’ hands. After the teams split the first two games, the Cardinals took a three-run lead into the seventh inning Thursday, needing nine outs to lock in a victory for the game and the series. But then Goo Gate happened, and you know all about that, and how a baseball stuck to a chest protector led to a Cubs’ comeback for 6-4, happy-trip triumph. An underdog team just can’t screw up that game, and the Cardinals did just that.
3. The Cardinals batted went 4 for 27 with runners in scoring position in the series, a .148 batting average that added to a left-on-base total that reached 38 in the three games. The Cardinals had too many poor at-bats in those RISP situations, striking out 32.4 percent of the time … overall, the Cardinals struck out 27 times in the three games. Randal Grichuk, Matt Adams and Kolten Wong combined to go 4 for 8 with runners in scoring position; the other Cardinals were hitless in 19 at-bats with RISP … Jedd Gyorko, Jhonny Peralta and Stephen Piscotty each went 0 for 3 with RISP. Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina were 0 for 2 … Grichuk left nine runners on in this series; Gyorko was next with six LOB.
4. The Cards scored four runs and struck out 20 times in their 17 innings of at-bats against Cubs starting pitchers Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. The Cardinals’ failure to tack on multiple runs after taking a 3-0 first inning lead was a significant factor in Thursday’s loss. After the first inning Cards’ hitters went 3 for 26 with two walks and 10 strikeouts.
5. The Cardinals defense needs a lot of work. As Derrick Goold pointed out in his game story, seven of the Cubs’ 11 runs in the series were directly or indirectly attributable to Cardinals mishaps or misjudgments afield. You can’t give the potent Cubs extra outs, and the Cubs happily exploited the Cardinals’ mistakes. And then we saw Matt Adams get completely overwhelmed in left field on the first ball hit to him that actually tested his dexterity in his new spot. Adams’ inability to make the catch set up the Cubs’ first run. According to statcast, Adams had a probability of 69 percent to make that catch. He tripped and fell instead.
Don’t blame Adams. He doesn’t set the lineup. I’ll say it again: sooner or later Matheny and the Cardinals have to make a decision here. Does defense really matter, or not? You can spend the entire winter talking about how you’re making defense your top priority for 2017, but if you don’t follow through and actually make defense a priority, the words were junk.
6. Cardinals’ cleanup hitters went 3 for 11 in the series with five strikeouts. They were 0 for 4 with two strikeouts with runners in scoring position. Matheny used Peralta at No. 4 in the first two games and put Molina at cleanup Thursday. It’s way too early to start howling about the No. 4 spot … but for those of you who were worried about this before the season, the opening series did nothing to ease your anxiety. But there’s 159 tilts to play, so we’ll see how this develops. In his MLB career Stephen Piscotty has a .348 OBP and .449 slug for a .797 OPS at the No. 4 spot. He’s also batted .367 with runners in scoring position. And .352 with runners in scoring position and two out. Whatever.
7. A positive from the first series: Cardinals’ starting pitching. Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn combined to pitch 17.2 innings, giving up four earned runs for a 2.04 ERA. The three starters struck out 20, and walked only three. Obviously most of those strong numbers were shaped by Martinez and his dynamic start (seven shutout innings, 10 Ks) on Sunday. And yes, you’d like to see Wainwright go more than 5 innings, and Lynn get deeper than 5.1 innings. But Lynn threw 98 pitches, and there was no reason to push it with him. I liked the way Wainwright and Lynn pitched; they found new ways to keep hitters off balance. They can build on their first outings. Good job by the starters — and against a tough lineup.
8. I’m thinking that when the NL’s reigning MVP, Kris Bryant, comes into your building and goes 0 for 13 with six strikeouts and leaves THIRTEEN runners on base … you probably should win the series. Right?
9. I assume that lefty reliever Brett Cecil will be better. I know he’s much, much better than what we saw during his terrible seventh inning Thursday. And I still believe this was a terrific signing, even at $30.5 million. Walking Jon Jay with a three-run lead was awful. Getting mashed by Kyle Schwarber for a three-run homer … well, the big man will do that to a lot of pitchers. I give Cecil a mulligan. Hopefully he got a bad one out of the way. Now he has to settle down and pitch up to his talent level. And he will.
10. I think it was good, and mentally healthy, for Dexter Fowler to get his first series against the Cubs, his former team, out of the way. And to get his first series for his new team in a new work environment out of the way. Fowler scuffled in the series, reaching base four times in 14 plate appearances (.286 OBP) with five strikeouts.
Thanks for reading and have a swell weekend …