happy may day, ev’yone; what a great month april was. i'm filling the chair for dan while he gets the last of his undergraduate assignments out of the way. some random items:
i) boggs tossed another nice game. i'd like to say his slider was unhittable, because when the nationals swung at it they almost always missed; he got 6 swinging strikes on the pitch, vs only two balls in play. unfortunately, one of the latter was zimmerman’s home run in the 1st inning . . . . . . but never mind that. seems fair to say it’s a big-league pitch. boggs also got some swing-misses on his high fastball, including one by adam dunn to start off the 6th inning. that pitch was clocked at 93 mph, so don’t chalk up the unhappy events that immediately ensued to fatigue. boggs was still bringing it.
austin kearns swung through another fastball right before the hbp, which was the only real mistake pitch of the inning. the triple and double both came on pitches at the bottom of the strike zone -- a sinker to flores, a changeup to anderson. not great pitches, but neither was terrible. the fastball to zimmerman that ended the 5th was far worse, a fastball belly-button high down the middle; zimmerman drove it to the wall and nearly put the nationals ahead right then. indeed, that was a far more troublesome inning in my estimation; boggs hit cabrera, an automatic out if ever there was one (19 strikeouts in 20 career at-bats, or something on that order), and had to face the top of the order with men on base. he kept throwing his slider in the dirt, which enabled the nats to sit on his fastball; johnson whacked one for a single, and zimmerman almost blasted another one over the wall. boggs was lucky to escape that frame with the lead intact.
all in all, a very encouraging outing. boggs now has 4 walks vs 15 strikeouts this year; i'd a lot rather have him in the rotation than (for example) jon garland. i'm looking forward to his next outing.
ii) the game-tying and game-winning hits came from a man i derided in the Maple Street Press 2009 Annual as "the automatic out" in clutch situations. if you haven’t seen that article (and for shame, if that’s so), last year ankiel was beyond bad in high-leverage situations: in his 30 highest-leverage at-bats of 2008, he only got 3 hits and struck out 18 times. before last night, ankiel was sucking in his key 2009 at-bats, too: 1 hit in his 10 highest-leverage situations to start the year, with 3 whiffs. his woes last year were mostly due to overagressiveness vs breaking balls; luckily for rick, he saw only fastballs in the 7th and 9th last night. he did show some discernment during his 7th-inning at-bat, when the cards trailed 4-3 and had the tying run on 3d with one out. the first pitch was a borderline fastball, just outside; ankiel let it go, got the call, and went ahead in the count. that forced the pitcher to keep throwing fastballs, insofar as the sacks were jammed.
so far this season, in 18 at-bats deemed "high leverage" by baseball-reference (leverage index of 1.50 or higher), ankiel has 5 hits (.278 average), including 2 doubles, and only 3 strikeouts. signs of growth; may they continue.
iii) tyler greene became the 5th member of the 2005 draft class to play for the cardinals; indeed, fully 1/3 of last night’s lineup (boggs, greene, rasmus) came from that draft. if bryan anderson and daryl jones make it to The Show (as seems likely), they’ll bring the 2005 tally up to 7. the last cardinal draft to produce as many as 7 big-league players was the 1999 draft, which yielded 8 (including pujols, chris duncan, and coco crisp). only 6 of those guys broke in with the cardinals, though. the last draft to produce as many as 7 cardinal players was the class of 1991, which graduated 10 guys to st louis: dmitri young, allen watson, brian barber, john mabry, doug creek, allen battle, mike difelice, mike busby, john fracatore, and rigo beltran. . . . . ok, so quantity does not necessarily equal quality.
iv) the cardinals finish april with a 3.65 era, extending a run of fine first-month performances from the staff. the challenge has been to pitch well after april:
the last time they pitched well all year was 2005 -- which, not coincidentally, is the last time they went through a whole year without a significant injury on the pitching staff. the 2009 team has already suffered the injury (carpenter), so if things hold to form we can expect the staff to begin unraveling any day now . . . . . but maybe this year will be different. maybe (fingers crossed) the farm system has now had time to produce the depth that was lacking in previous years. in addition to boggs, the cards can look south and bolster the staff with clay mortenson (1.45 era at triple A after his win last night), jess todd (1.46 era in relief), or big-league vets brad thompson and josh kinney. even blake hawksworth might become an option; he threw a gem the other night and has posted much better peripherals so far this year (0 hr in 22 innings, 6 strikeouts per 9 innings) than we’ve seen from him at triple A. we can hope there’ll be no mike maroths this year, nor any kelvin jimenezes, randy keislers, jorge sosas, or (praise god) "rehabbed" mark mulders to muck up the warm-weather pitching line.
having said that, the rotation merits close watching. wainwright still hasn’t found a groove, wellemeyer’s struggling like crazy, pineiro could turn into a pumpkin at any moment, and boggs still has everything to prove. in spite of the rotation’s terrific april line (13-2, 3.26 era), i'm holding my breath until carpenter returns. and will keep holding it every time he pitches, sneezes, or bends at the waist. . . .