Tim Cooney’s major league career started about as ideally as could be expected. His teammates scored in the opening frame accentuated with a pair of doubles, first Matt Carpenter, regressing to his mean after an uncharacteristic hitless, double-less game, and then from the Matt of Holliday, who is not getting off to a slow start this year.
As this first month of the season comes to a close, we all know about the strange, consistent double power Carpenter has displayed, as well as the uncontrollably electric balls (well, this year mostly strikes) Carlos Martinez has carved up opposing line-ups with. I’d like to point out to our metronome-like hitting machine of a left fielder, who is once again hitting like Coors field is actually his league-wide environment.
Ok, so maybe the Coors field comment comes off a little strange in light of the fact that (HIS OBP IS OVER .500 PEOPLE!) his slugging, a little above last year, is about in line with his expected decline. He’s just getting on base at such a ridiculous clip that his OPS+ is up 40 points. Will these trends continue? I don’t know. There are plenty of examples across sports of players realizing their primary skills were in decline late in their careers and deciding to reinvent the wheel instead of being defined by the skills of their youth.
What do I really expect to happen? Matt is going to continue OBP’ing at a Bonds-esque clip and THEN come into the same second half with the type of power surge that has defined his career, or maybe... with this late career skill reinvention, he’ll have an OBP surge into truly Bondsian territory. Frankly, I’m just excited to see him play.
Maybe these were the thoughts that were going through Tim’s head as he took the mound in the first (second, and definitely third) inning(s). Maybe he was excited and lost focus. Maybe, but he got hit. He survived the 1st with just a pair of singles, but in the second he added a walk to recipe to give back a run, before beginning the third with a home run, a double (to Howard) and a single while only retiring a batter before passing the buck to Carlos Villanueva.
This is exactly why Villanueva’s on the team.
At times, I questioned his value not because of his ability, but instead because of his limited usage. With a high-powered and deep bullpen, the 2015 variety of the Cardinals are especially spoiled in that they haven’t needed to deploy Villanueva very often. Entering the season, the Mozeliak knew he had a particularly fragile starting rotation and, therefore, he might need to test the renowned depth of his system. While in years past, we had top tier prospects from whom one might hope for a starter’s workload, this year’s depth is of lesser quality at the top of the minors.
This is all to say that calling up an arm you’re not confident can escape the third inning might require a specialist of sorts, a Joe Kelly-esque player, with the ability to dance through the middle innings with grace and without surrendering a victory, and who will be content to fill that role instead of a more established one. This type of player just might be essential to the system the Cardinals employ, that of relying on and calling up system depth mid-season in place of late winter retreads.
It’s not an easy contribution as the grass is always greener with success. As Carlos pitched his 3 2/3 innings of perfect baseball the clamor for him (with his decent, but not great track record) to be inserted as the permanent 5th man grew. He pitched very well and perhaps that warrants a start or two of his own. Perhaps this was the Mozeliak’s plan after all. Perhaps the young arms (Tyler Lyons?) will come up to piggyback with Villanueva as he gets stretched out, or perhaps Villanueva is here as insurance as we shovel the next batch of pitchers into the grinder. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive, but as we have seen before, those young pitchers are the future and Carlos Villanueva is not. If he performs, he’ll get a bloated contract with another team and our front office has to know that. For this reason, I think a tally might be in order for Lyons column for the next start, even if there might be 3.2 of them for his counterpart. In the end though, we have to hope that one of these options takes the opportunity and runs with it, Carlos Villanueva having a head start in that race with Lyons recent 8 inning performance in Memphis being not far back.
While rotation drama is a storyline and could have become the dominant theme of this game, the real story is this offense, which has step up in the face of pitching adversity and kept the Cardinals on a healthy pace of 156 wins.
The Cardinals rapped out 12 hits, 5 of which were from non-Matts and 2 of which came from men named Peter. Matt Holliday had two doubles, Carpenter had another. Adams carried the small Matt around to home with a long ball in the third. In all, the Matts hit in 6 of the 7 runs off Buchanan and the Phillies, who apparently did not have the depth/luxury to pull their starter before so much damage was done. They ….. are not good and should probably unload valuable assets in an effort to rebuild.
After Villanueva’s 3.2 innings earning the win, Matheny went to Belisle for 1.1, Choate for .1, Manness for .1 (not even a double play?!?) and Siegrist for a full inning to close out the 6 run lead. The bullpen, as we have seen in this young season, was exceptional with 1 hit and 1 walk over 6.2 scoreless innings.
Mark Reynolds stole a base, but Cesar Hernandez, Yadier freakin’ mind trying to steal second against the man, the legend, Mr. Molina.
Enjoy the last of April everyone, the Cardinals did to the tune of a 15-6 record. I like 2015.