May 2, 2009

Touch 4 times 4 equals Cards win

All six of the St. Louis Cardinals' runs Friday night were the product of four home runs as Tony La Russa's squad handled the Washington Nationals in an 8-2 win.

Albert Pujols, Chris Duncan, Ryan Ludwick, and Joe Thurston each launched homers.

Home run distribution:

  • Pujols -- 1st inning
  • Duncan -- 4th inning
  • Ludwick -- 6th inning
  • Thurston -- 7th inning

Even the Nats only runs came on a round-tripper, a two-run shot by Willie Harris in the seventh.

Cards' starter Todd Wellemeyer improved his record to 2-2, an outing that wasn't pristine, but another step in a course of steady improvement. Wellemeyer pitched more to contact Friday night, and didn't fall behind as many batters as he had in previous starts.

Wellemeyer helped the bullpen maintain decent a decent usage level (not too much; not too little), throwing seven complete innings, a 109 pitches worth, of which he threw 67 strikes. He issued only two walks while striking out three Nats. He gave up the one homer to Harris, amongst six hits on the night.

La Russa went to his bullpen for Jason Motte as set-up man in the eighth, Motte giving up a couple hits, one of them a defensive mistake when a pop fly fell between left fielder Skip Schumaker and shortstop Tyler Greene. Motte pitched through the defensive lapse, however, mixing a new and improved slider and a fast ball that was mid-90s and under control.

Blaine Boyer got a vote of confidence by La Russa, who chose him to close. Boyer showed much better command of his pitches than his previous work on the hill, especially in locating his slider and curve. His fast ball showed the most improvement, though, a sinker that gives hitters a very late tail to the right at the last second.

Jordan Zimmermann suffered the loss for the Nats, now 2-1, but the young rookie pitcher drew nothing but praise from La Russa in a post-game interview.

The Cardinals have taken the first two games of a four-game set with the Nats.

Next game: Saturday, 12:05 CT, Nationals Park, Washington , D.C.

Probable pitchers:

  • STL -- Joel Pineiro RHP (4-0, 3.76)
  • WSH -- Shairon Martis RHP (2-0, 6.20)

Look for a similar lineup to Friday night, La Russa more than likely willing to load the lineup with left-handed swingers. Rasmus may spell Ankiel as part of La Russa's platooning, rather than start ahead of Ludwick, who homered, and is feeling better, now getting over a short period of sickness.

It would make sense for Jason LaRue to catch Saturday, however, since Yadier Molina was rested on Thursday, and since Pineiro is pitching, look for Molina to catch Saturday again. He may take a seat when Pineiro does, but only if the Cards can score and carry a four-plus run lead against Martis, who carries a high ERA.

The Thurston/Barden platoon at third base is working well so don't look for La Russa to try to "fix what ain't broke."

Tyler Greene is playing in an acceptable fashion for someone just called up for the first time, but if La Russa feels Barden has an distinct advantage plate-wise versus one of the Nats' hurlers, there could be change. The current situation tells us to leave things alone, however, with newcomer T. Greene at shortstop. This, with the idea that there's nothing to panic about. The rookie isn't hurting the team in any way, has contributed both offensively and defensively, and may as well show the skipper what he can do at this level with Khalil Greene nearly ready to return to the infield.

It's not as if the Cardinals have a problem with their lineup right now. The team is hot, the bats are hotter, and the best play right now is simply to let them ride out the hot streak. The club is now 10 games over .500, what is considered by many as a necessary ingredient to maintain in order to reassure a playoff spot.

But if there's any place that might turn the Cards into complete offensive monsters to their opponents, it would be in the two-slot. Because the leadoff hitter has to be strong in order to let a power hitter swat away in the two-hole, the Cards are not quite there. Therefore, Ankiel, who otherwise make a lot of sense for the pre-Pujols slot, doesn't work as well he might under slightly different circumstances. Ankiel simply doesn't make enough contact to sit at number two for long, especially on days where the on-base percentage just isn't there in the leadoff position.

The Cards have a player of big potential for that two-hole in Colby Rasmus, but he suffers from the same problem of not having enough contact. And not that Schumaker is not a good leadoff man, but if you want to put players like Ankiel or Rasmus in the number two slot, you have to have a Reyes, ala Mets' Reyes, type of leadoff hitter.

(An example of how to waste the services of the Met's Reyes is how their awesome three-four-five doesn't take advantage of their great leadoff man. That may change with a bit more season.)

For now, though, the Cardnals are doing just fine, and Cardinal Nation should have no major gripes with the team's performance, especially on the road.

photo by Barbara Moore