Opening Day has come and gone for 2009. Cardinal fans will be forgiven if it seemed more like a continuation of 2008 than a new beginning.
As we return to another season, that means that the Heroes and Goats device returns for another year. Remember that this is just my personal opinion. It's not necessarily the person with the best or worst game, just the person that made the most difference (positive or negative) in my eyes.
For example, until the ninth, Josh Kinney was in the running for the goat. Walking the pitcher with two outs is just unacceptable and it led to Pittsburgh tying up the game, and they'd have likely taken the lead had Paul Maholm not been a little reckless on the basepaths.
Yadier Molina came under consideration as well. A rally-killing double play, a passed ball and a stolen base allowed (on a play where a stronger throw probably gets him) wasn't the way Molina really wanted to start his season.
However, with the ninth inning, there is no other place to go than Jason Motte. Allowing four runs after being staked to a two-run lead is just crushing, especially when last year's bullpen woes are taken into account.
Fungoes has a great illustrated piece on the problems Cardinal pitchers had in finishing off key hitters, mainly because they pitched to the hitter's strengths. You have to remember that, though they may play for a weaker team, Pittsburgh's hitters are still major leaguers. There's a reason they play in MLB. There are things they can do, so you should stay away from those things if possible.
Let me stipulate that yesterday's loss was crushing. Two outs, two strikes on Jack Wilson and the game gets away. All that said, let's not start screaming that the sky is falling. I was not shocked to log into CardsClubhouse last night and find a thread such as this. The football mentality of some fans, where one game makes or breaks a season and things are always so immediate, really can't be done in baseball. At least not if you plan on keeping your sanity.
For example, the Yankees went out and shored up their hitting and pitching by signing CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. Are you going to say their offseason was a total flop because Tex went scoreless and failed to drive in key runs and Sabathia didn't have his fastball yesterday? Are you comfortable in saying that the Yanks should pack it in for '09?
I'd hope not. And the same should apply to the Cardinals and Motte. All closers are going to blow 4-6 games in a season, most likely. If Motte can do that, it doesn't really matter when the games come, does it? In other words, what if he'd saved 6 games before blowing one like yesterday. Would you still call the bullpen makeover a failure?
It's not what you want to see out of a revamped pen, I realize. Motte knows that as well and says he's shaken off the loss. It's sad to see people booing him this quickly. The instant gratification of our society seems to have infected the Cardinal Nation as well. It went wrong and it's frustrating, but there's no need to take it out on the players, especially not after one game.
It wasn't exactly the greatest of days for Adam Wainwright, either. He didn't actually give up any runs (though Trever Miller allowed the runners he put on to score), but five walks in less than six innings? He seemed to be missing low in the zone a lot early in the game. The weather may have had something to do with it and hopefully we'll see a better command of the zone in his next outing.
On the positive side, the Hero of the game has to be Ryan Ludwick, mainly for his tie-breaking home run in the 8th that should have won the game for the Cardinals. Nice to see that the late surge in his spring has carried over into the beginning of the season. Consideration was also given to Albert Pujols for his three hits and a walk and David Freese for getting a sac fly RBI in his first major league game.
As I said on the radio show Sunday night, this might be one of the rare times where the second game lineup is more interesting than Opening Day. Colby Rasmus makes his major league debut tonight, and you have to assume that Freese will start at third and Skip Schumaker at second. There is going to be a lot of interest in seeing what Rasmus can do tonight. Hopefully people won't declare his career over if he goes 0-4.
Troy Glaus is heading to Phoenix to continue working on his rehab. You continue to hope that he'll return this year, but the longer he goes without an estimated return date, the more it seems likely that he may not. If he's back before the All-Star Break, it'd be a major accomplishment.
Tonight, Kyle Lohse takes the mound against Ian Snell. Lohse has had pretty good success against the Pittsburgh batters in his career, though there's not a huge sample size on any of them. Chris Gomez has hit him at a decent clip, but no one just has great power numbers against the Cardinal hurler.
We all know that Snell has troubles with Pujols, but he actually had more success against the MVP last year, so perhaps he's made some adjustments. Still, the Cardinals as a whole have done some damage against Snell in the past. Last year, at least twice they piled on runs in the first inning, only to go quiet and lose the game. Let's hope in this regard that 2009 actually is different and they can put the game away.