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Monday, April 13, 2009

The First Cardinal Sweep Of The Year

Hey, wonder who the Hero of Saturday's game should be? Joe Thurston went three for four with an RBI and two runs, maybe him? Colby Rasmus may have had his best game yet, with two hits and a walk and a couple of runs, does he get consideration? Rick Ankiel went three for five, is that enough? Adam Wainwright threw five scoreless innings--does anyone remember that?

Of course not. Because when Albert Pujols makes a statement, he gets the Hero award. I was listening to the game as I came back from a family outing and knew the slam must have been a monster when Mike Shannon said immediately, "Grand slam!" No "Get up, baby, get up" means that it's a no-doubter.

The next at-bat, I was on the street in front of my house. Knowing I couldn't hurry and get in to see it, I slowed down because I just knew he was going to do it again. (Apparently, I wasn't that subtle about it because the wife commented on that fact.) Sure enough, another long ball. A wonderful day for Pujols, though that won't cut down on the machine theory. (Nice coincidence--the two anchors in that spot were anchoring Saturday night's SportsCenter, which led off with Pujols's big day.)

So who do you give the Goat to on a day when the team pounds out 19 hits and doesn't allow any runs until the ninth? Almost every starter got at least two hits, so I think you have to go with Brad Thompson, who threw two innings but did allow those two in the ninth, unimportant as they might be. All Heros and all Goats are not necessarily created equal.

One other thing that was notable about Saturday's game was that Jason Motte came into the game in the sixth. After Friday's game, Tony LaRussa made this a possibility and didn't waste time having it happen, especially in a game where there was no pressure. It seemed to be effective, as he struck out two in his inning and I believe at least one of them was on the breaking ball. A few more outings like that and they may try him again in the ninth.

If the Hero was obvious on Saturday's game, it wasn't that much more difficult to find one on Sunday either. There was at least one solid alternate choice, with Khalil Greene having his first three-hit day in over a year, including a run, an RBI and a steal in a close ballgame, but I think you have to go with Kyle Lohse on this one.

Lohse was tremendous and, coupled with his first start, has invigorated the fan base that was a little tepid on his resigning. After seeing Kaz Matsui single on the first pitch of the ballgame, I wasn't sure what the Cards were in for. Lohse didn't falter, though, and didn't allow another hit until the ninth. So, in the first week, we've seen a pitcher twice thrown one-hit ball through at least seven innings. That's a good sign for the pitching staff, isn't it?

The interesting thing is that Houston had a lineup of hitters that had pounded Lohse in the past, though that was mostly in the not-so-recent past. It lends some credence to the theory that Dave Duncan has really changed his style and approach, that last year's career year could be relied on instead of seen as a complete outlier. If the first two starts of this year are any indication, last year was a sign of a new Lohse.

I was a little surprised to see LaRussa leave Lohse in after a runner got on in the ninth. I was really surprised to see Lohse face Lance Berkman as the tying run. That could have ruined the afternoon real quickly had he tied into one. I'm glad that it worked out, but I think I might have been tempted to bring in Ryan Franklin or Kyle McClellan to finish that off.

The Goat for this game would be David Freese, I think. 0-3 with two strikeouts and three left on base. Granted, there wasn't much offense against Wandy Rodriguez, but that seems to be the worst line. Rodriguez is reliving '08 again, where he holds the Cardinals in check but still can't get a win.

Various other things to talk about before we look at the Arizona series that start tonight. Chris Duncan is doing much better against lefties this season, part of which he attributes to seeing them more often. That's one thing I don't like about LaRussa pigeonholing these guys so early. I know he's playing for the advantage, but you don't know a guy can't do it until he gets a chance to do it. Once he gets a chance to get adjusted to lefties, he might be able to be an offensive threat, something that Duncan seems to be developing into.

Motte seems to have learned something in his outing against the Astros. At least, if his comments to the paper are any indication, he has. He didn't go out there and try to blow past people. He used the sinker and the cutter to mess with timing, which is so vital. If he can throw a regular second pitch, he'll be dominant. Of course, that's what we've been saying since his callup last year, if not before.

The Cards finish the week 5-2, tops in the NL Central and not too far off the pace of the best record in the NL. Birds In The Busch thinks this week was pretty critical when you look at the rest of the month. If the Cards are able to win 75% of those games, we might have something special going here. More likely we'll have to be happy to win half of them, especially since you've got trips to Arizona, Chicago, and Atlanta in there.
Wellemeyer has been a point of concern so far this year. His spring training was pretty rough and he didn't look good in the loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday either. His numbers against the Diamondbacks as an organization or his career numbers against the hitters that he'll face tonight don't inspire much confidence either, even if those career numbers are pretty indicative of small sample size.

Wellemeyer noted in the paper that he was going to tinker with his hands, mechanics, etc. If he's successful, that may have something to do with it. When I hear tinker, though, I start worrying and thinking about a slide. Hopefully the Colonel will bounce back tonight.

Doug Davis, on the other hand, has struggled with the Cards as an organization but has decent career numbers against the current roster makeup. Albert's got a couple of homers off of him, which is not a surprise, but most everyone else has just been average.

Hopefully the Cards get off to a good start tonight and keep their winning streak going!

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