Diamond Diaries

Cardinal baseball, from the girls

Tag Archives: first place

Two Nights and An Afternoon in August

Talk about making a statement.

In sweeping the Reds, the Cardinals provided the heroics and dominated the villainous antics of the Reds to take a one-game lead in the NL Central. The series featured a familiar cast for anyone who’s read Buzz Bissinger’s classic “Three Nights in August”: Tony La Russa, Dusty Baker, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds. Yet the drama and intrigue provided during these two nights and an afternoon went far beyond anything that happened during that pivotal August 2003 Cubs-Cardinals series.

Of course the main antagonist is well known by now: Brandon Phillips. The desperate-for-attention statements he made Monday provided him with the media attention he apparently craved, but also united the Cardinals as a team in a way we haven’t seen all season. Yes, the Cards have played with spark and energy at times – such as in April and during July’s eight-game winning streak – but these three games were different and more intense, particularly when they discovered what Phillips had said about them.

Yet even before the Cards knew how they’d been disparaged, they were on a mission during Monday night’s game when the combination of scoring seven runs in the fourth inning and Chris Carpenter’s pitching brought them victory.

Tuesday night, Yadier Molina played like a true Cardinal: standing up to Phillips’ shallow attempt to play nice after his words were blasted everywhere, and then hitting his most memorable home run since game seven of the 2006 NLCS. (The fact that Reds fans booed him the rest of the series, just like Mets fans still boo him today, proves how monumental the homer really was.) Jaime Garcia was able to rise above the literal fray that happened as he was ready to pitch and provided a solid performance that led the Cardinals into a tie for first place.

Yesterday the Cardinals completed their statement to the Reds and moved to a season-high 15 games over .500, thanks especially to birthday boy Colby Rasmus and Adam Wainwright. Waino further enhanced his Cy Young qualifications, moving into a tie with Ubaldo Jimenez for the league lead in wins with 17 and lowering his ERA to 1.99 (just above current leader Josh Johnson’s 1.97). His numbers for this month are astounding: three wins, one earned run allowed in 23 innings pitched for a minuscule ERA of 0.39, one complete game shutout (and he was certainly on track for another yesterday until the rain came). And those are only through Aug. 11!

His numbers weren’t the only impressive ones of the sweep. Matt Holliday hit .636 (7 for 11) during the three games and had four RBI. Including his Monday grand slam, Skip Schumaker hit .455 and had five RBI. Colby drove in six runs during the series. Yadi hit .417 for the three games, plus had a stolen base on Tuesday in addition to his homer. Jon Jay hit .385. Albert only hit .274, but his four walks definitely had an impact (particularly the intentional ones). Pitching-wise, the bullpen bounced back from last week’s struggles and turned in admirable performances. Fernando Salas especially deserves mention for his 1.2 innings pitched Tuesday night.

It was, by far, the series of the season.

Now, after a 4-1 road trip, the Cardinals return home and enjoy a day off today. Fittingly, after such an impressive sweep, they take on the Cubs this weekend for one night and two afternoons in August. (How can this really be the Cubs first time in St. Louis this season?) With Chicago currently in fifth place, the action won’t necessarily be as important as that August 2003 series – but it is still the Cubs vs. Cardinals, after all. And that always means something.

Now for a few chick comments …

Thanks to Twitter, Erika and I discovered we are not alone in our fascination with the now clean-cut Jason LaRue. His pre-game interview on Fox Sports Midwest to discuss his battle wounds from Johnny Cueto’s unbelievable form of fighting drew plenty of complimentary tweets yesterday morning. (There’s something rugged about seeing those stitches on his lip too, right? In addition to that scruff …) Hopefully Jason will be healed up very soon and, more importantly, hopefully Cueto gets the punishment from MLB that he definitely deserves. If you didn’t have the chance to see Jason’s interview, it’s available here.

In addition, the dugout shots of Jason and his fellow wounded warrior Chris Carpenter sitting side by side Tuesday night were great. When Dan McLaughlin mentioned that the two had just been shown on the kiss-cam at Great American Ballpark and Carp obliged by kissing his pal on the cheek, my immediate reaction on Twitter was where’s the footage of that? My sentiments were not unique, I was happy to find out, although we unfortunately never did see video or a photo of the moment. And I wonder how the camera operator in Cincinnati felt following the kiss? My guess is that person purposely chose Carp in hopes of getting some negative reaction from our fiery ace. So way to go, Chris, for smooching your buddy and showing your softer side to the Reds crowd. Your intensity not surprisingly returned when you were discussing the fight following the game (you can see his reaction on the Fox Midwest link also), and we once again saw the literal and figurative hot Carp who we love.

Photos: top, Gary Landers, Cincinnati Enquirer; bottom, New York Post

First-Place Showdown

So, here we go – Cardinals vs. Reds for three games and a battle for first place on the line. It’s Aug. 9 now, which means there are less than two months left in the regular season. The Cards are two games back going into tonight, thanks to the stellar (ha!) effort by the Cubs this weekend in allowing the Reds to sweep them.

In other words, these games are pretty big.

The Cardinals have a slight lead over the Reds this season, with a 7-5 record, and this will be the fifth series between the two teams. The Cards won two out of three in Cincinnati to open the season (with the winning pitchers being Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright), took two of three in St. Louis in late April/early May (Ryan Franklin and Carp were the winners), lost two of three on their last trip to Cincinnati in mid May (Jaime Garcia was the lone winner) and finally won two of three in late May/early June (with more victories for Jaime and Carp). The last victory over the Reds, on June 2, put the Cards into a first-place tie with the Reds.

In the time since, the Cards and Reds have battled back and forth for first place. No doubt the Reds have held that spot longer, and once had a three-game lead over the Cards, plus right now they are definitely on a roll – they’ve won four in a row and nine of their last 11 games. The Cardinals are 6-4 over their last 10 games (which includes the two unfortunate Diamond Diaries nights at the ballpark) and are only one game back in the loss column, with 49 total losses to the Reds 48. (Cards have 61 wins to the Reds 64.)

The pitching matchups couldn’t be better: our Big Three against their top three.

Tonight
Chris Carpenter (12-3, 2.91 ERA) vs. Mike Leake (7-3, 3.86 ERA)

Carp is 3-0 against the Reds this year, with a 1.29 ERA and has held the Reds to a .157 batting average. Leake is 1-0 in one game started against the Cards with a 3.00 ERA and the Cards have a .190 average against him.

Tomorrow
Jaime Garcia (9-5, 2.53 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (11-2, 3.24 ERA)

Jaime’s won both of his starts against the Reds this season, with a 2.92 ERA and the Reds hitting .245. Cueto has started three times against the Cards and has a 1-0 record with a 6.75 ERA (he’s allowed 12 earned runs in 16 innings pitched) and the Cards are hitting .308 off him.

Wednesday
Adam Wainwright (16-6, 2.06 ERA) vs. Bronson Arroyo (12-6, 3.83 ERA)

Adam is 1-1 against the Reds, with a 4.15 ERA (allowing six earned runs in 13 innings) but the Reds are only hitting .222 against him and he has 12 strikeouts. Arroyo also is 1-1 in three starts against the Cards this season and has a 4.22 ERA, with the Cards hitting .256 against him.

Slugging-wise, Albert Pujols is hitting .381 against the Reds this season with three homers and 12 RBI and is batting 1.000 against Leake. (It’s only one at-bat, but does that matter?) Matt Holliday is hitting .325 against the Reds with two home runs and 10 RBI, while Jon Jay is hitting .438 with one homer and four RBI. And, with Carp pitching tonight, maybe he’ll hit another grand slam like he did against the Reds last season. (Probably not, but I can always hope to see a repeat of that!)

With 12 hours until game time, I can still say that these games are going to be fun. It’s going to be playoff-type baseball, with possible post-season implications on the line. But, by tonight, I know watching these games will be excruciating – like all Cardinals fans, what I want most is a sweep over the Reds. Let’s see how it goes …

And go Cardinals!

P.S.: This is Diamond Diaries post number 100. Thanks to each of you for reading. We appreciate your support!

First-Place Deadline Madness

So, the good news is the Cardinals are back in first place by half a game after that 1-0 win over the Padres early this morning. (Yay Brendan! But too bad you couldn’t have done that in time to get Carp a much-deserved victory!)

Yet all that seems to be very long ago right now, as all the talk on MLB Network and Twitter is that the Cardinals are on the verge of acquiring Jake Westbrook from the Indians (who was scheduled to start this afternoon) and that it’s actually a three-way deal that also involves RYAN LUDWICK going to the Padres. What??? How can we trade Luddy???

Stay tuned …

First by Force

The Cards are back in first! Just writing that sentence brought a smile to my face. But that fact alone is not the best part.

Happy Cards! Our favorite!
Getty Images

The Cards are back in first… and they deserve it! The team has been on fire the first four games out of the gate after the break, sweeping a Dodgers team that is duking it out in the brutal NL West and kicking them out of town in style with a late inning comeback win that featured tough pitching, smart baserunning, key hits and solid defense. We haven’t seen this much of a cohesive unit since I don’t know when.

What’s brilliant is that on his Sunday morning radio show Tony LaRussa admitted that this lineup has basically been triaged together. Can I just say that I love listening to the Sunday morning chats on KTRS? Tony takes every question, and the people that suck up to him with a ‘Thank you Mr. LaRussa, you’re a great manager and I hope you stay here for a real long time,’ always make me laugh. This week’s best caller tag has to go to the guy that requested that TLR not have any more C-team lineups. Tony was trying not to laugh when he said that although he didn’t think there had been any such lineups this year, the caller might not appreciate the lineup for that game. Oops!

People were ready to fight when they saw a lineup that had no Colby Rasmus, no Albert Pujols, no Yadier Molina and no Tyler Greene, but the truth of the matter is that every one of those guys is dinged up, battered, bruised and all around not feeling great! Matt Holliday almost didn’t make it into the lineup yesterday either after fouling a ball sharply off his ankle on Saturday. It was definitely a patchwork lineup that no one expected to play tough, especially not with Jeff Suppan on the mound. I’ll hand it to Sup though, he pitched a very nice game yesterday. (Someone better write that down, because I don’t say things like that often.)

The fact of the matter is that the team isn’t back on top because the Reds finally started to fizzle. In all honesty the Reds just got better by bringing back Edinson Volquez from the disabled list. They have more starting pitching than they know what to do with, and the Cards are running a M*A*S*H unit in and out of the training room. These Cards have been battling lately, and fought tooth and nail to make it back on top. They weren’t handed first, they took it by force. That’s what we like to see.

I wonder what will happen when we get all our boys back? Last I heard Ryan Ludwick is very close and David Freese is still a week or two away. Maybe when they return some of the unwelcome veterans on the team will be given one way tickets to the retirement home (oh, I was going for no snark today… sorry).

Chris has challenged all of us to be Mo and make some plans for the rest of the year. So check it out and make your voice heard!

Speaking of voices, tonight is the second broadcast for i70baseball.com. It starts at 10PM, and for some unknown reason the team has invited me to be the chat host. Head over to BlogTalkRadio and hang out in the chatroom!

Back in First

Hello, first place in the Central. We’ve missed you. Taking back first is made all the more sweet by the fact that the Cardinals did it by taking Bronson Arroyo and the Reds out to the woodshed yesterday. The boys finally gave Jaime Garcia some support with a 12 run explosion after giving him back to back no decisions in his last two starts. What’s worse? In those last two starts before yesterday, Jaime gave up 0 earned runs combined, and received 2 no decisions for his efforts. Terrible.

Chris took a turn over at Baseball Digest this week, and has a great piece on All-Star Game voting. Head over there and tell her your thoughts!

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