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St. Louis Cardinals take opener 4-1 over Pirates

The Cardinals' last series before the All-Star break and a critically important one for the season has started promisingly.

This picture is apt for NL Central opponents to Cards - so close, yet so far
This picture is apt for NL Central opponents to Cards - so close, yet so far
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After playing a four-game series in three days that featured more up and down moments than any series this year, it was nice to begin the four-game Pirates series with a normal, solid win.  Last night's win is why it's worth it to be a fan of a sports, but tonight's win counts just the same.  Plus, winning is fun.  Heart-attack inducing, blowout, or otherwise.  A win is a win is a win.

The start of the game did not exactly lead one to believe that the Cardinals would be heading to a relatively comfortable win.  The Cardinals went down easy in the 1st, making Jeff Locke throw just 10 pitches.  Carlos Martinez struggled in the bottom of the inning and it seemed like it could be a long start for him.  Gregory Polanco led off the game with a double and was followed by a Neil Walker single that put runners at the corners.  Andrew McCutchen came to the plate with nobody out and two men on.  Now, if you happened to miss the game, imagine all the scenarios that could have happened here where the Pirates didn't score.  Well you're wrong.  I don't care what you said, there's no actual way you guessed what happened.  McCutchen grounded it to third, who threw it to Matt Carpenter at 2nd base for the first out, who threw out Polanco at home for the double play.  Your regular old DP 5-4-2.  This was made possible when Polanco immediately hesitated when it was hit to Mark Reynolds.  Unbeknownst to him, Reynolds completely ignored him and threw it to Carpenter right away.  Carpenter made a heads up play, noticing there was a play at home and throwing an accurate throw to Molina who made a perfect tag.  Jung Ho Kang then grounded out to end the inning.

The second inning went better, but not really for the offense.  Reynolds took a walk, Grichuk grounded into a fielder's choice, putting him at first in exchange for Reynolds, and then got thrown out trying to steal.  In the bottom half, Martinez threw a total of five pitches, inducing three straight groundouts.  Once again, the offense wasn't there in the top half of the third, this time getting at least 14 pitches out of Locke for the 8-9-1 hitters.

In the bottom half of the inning, Martinez struggled mightily, being unable to find the zone.  He walked Sean Rodriguez, who advanced to second when Locke sacrificed him over.  He then walked Polanco, making it runners on first and second.  Then Martinez flipped a switch or something and struck out Walker and McCutchen back-to-back. (Both swinging and both looked basically helpless against his change and slider)

The 4th started the same way the rest of the game had to that point: with the offense not doing anything.  Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta both grounded out.  With the rain falling hard overhead, Heyward was able to work a two-out walk.  At this point, the ump called a rain delay, which was expected to be short and it actually was this time.  37 minutes after the ump called the game, Molina wasted no time and hit a single on the first pitch he saw.  Reynolds didn't go down easy with two men on, but he eventually succumbed and struck out swinging to end the threat.

Martinez came out of the rain delay and basically began the inning like he had all game: putting runners on.  He hit Kang with an 0-2 count and then allowed a single to Francisco Cervelli.  While pitching to Pedro Alvarez, he threw it way high and outside for a wild pitch.  He threw two more balls making it 3-0 with men on 2nd and 3rd and one out.  Shall we play "how did he get out of this" again?  No? You just want me to tell you?  Ok fine.  Alvarez hit a line drive right at Martinez, which he snagged.  Kang was running on contact and considering it was a line drive, it's hard to blame him for assuming it would get past Martinez.  Nonetheless, Martinez threw it to a still-running towards third Reynolds who caught it and tagged third before Kang got there for yet another improbable double play.  Not really wanting to depend on luck anymore, he struck out Jordy Mercer to end the inning.

The Cardinals offense showed up in the bottom half of the 5th, with the help of a key defensive mistake by Mercer.  Grichuk led off with a bullet single with a 1-2 count on him.  Kind of seems like Grichuk's either striking out or killing the ball when he's behind in the count somehow.  No in between.  Anyway, Xavier Scruggs hit a slow roller towards Mercer, who could not field it for some reason, making everybody safe.  After a Martinez sacrifice,  Peter Bourjos took five pitches for a walk - well it was a hit by pitch, but Bourjos just did not even move when the ball was about to hit his elbow.  Matt Carpenter then hit what is as of late a Matt Carpenter speciality by hitting a bloop single over the infield to score two.  With two men on and one out, Peralta struck out.  I think we can forgive him for this.  Heyward didn't take his bat off his shoulder and walked to make the bases loaded.  Molina again swung at the first pitch and again got the result that he wanted, singling home two runs to make the score 4-0.  With Reynolds up, Molina stole second without a throw, which proved awesome yet ultimately unimportant when Reynolds flied out.

At this point, it turned into the Carlos Martinez Show.  The offense had done it's part and was done for the day.  The Pirates probably had objections but they were too busy swinging and missing.  In the bottom of the fifth, he struck out two batters and the batter he didn't strike out tried to bunt for a hit with the operative word being "tried."  In the 6th - where the only notable offensive contribution came from a surprising pinch-hit single by Kolten Wong for Scruggs - Martinez only struck out one guy, but did not allow a hit or a baserunner.  In the 7th, he got a slow roller from Cervelli and then finished his outing by striking out both Alvarez and Mercer.  Oh wait, he came out for the 8th with 98 pitches in an appearance which was interrupted by a rain delay.  It didn't go well.  Rodriguez hit a DEEP fly ball that Bourjos just barely reached and then Travis Ishikawa - who was pinch-hitting for three scoreless innings from Vance Worley - hit it just as deep but it wasn't caught by Bourjos.

So Mike decided that enough was enough and took out Martinez.  Randy Choate came in and got a poor swing from Polanco on a flyout to left.  He then brought in Seth Maness who was able to get a groundout - shocker - from Neil Walker.  Besides a probably intentional HBP to Wong - Martinez had hit Kang earlier in the game on an 0-2 count which was totally on purpose - the offense was quiet in the 9th as well.  In the bottom half of the inning, Maness couldn't quite put McCutchen away as he kept fouling off pitches.  Maness then threw a pitch right down the middle, which McCutchen thanked him for by hitting a home run in dead center that was hit quite a long way.  Trevor Rosenthal relieved him and had a spotless three outs including two strikeouts.

WPA Graph

Source: FanGraphs


- Peter Bourjos - many of you are aware I am an avid fan of his - needlessly hit leadoff today because... SPEED.  Look, his defense is why he's good at baseball and while he's a somewhat underrated offensive hitter, that doesn't make him a good offensive hitter.  He went 0-4 with an HBP (that was basically a walk)  Put him towards the bottom of the lineup please.

- As a noted follower of the BB totals of hitters who have had trouble walking to begin the season, I was pleased by Heyward's 2 BB night, which puts his season BB% at 7.1. (His career is 10.7% and he was much, much lower earlier in the season)

- For people who complain when Molina swings at the first pitch after the pitcher struggles to throw strikes - of which I am a guilty party - he got two singles from that strategy tonight.

- Martinez final line: 7.1 IP, 4 HA, 2 BBs, 8 Ks and of course zero earned runs

- Randal Grichuk got a hit tonight and it was not an extra base hit.  Weird.

Tomorrow the Cardinals continue their series against the Pirates and hopefully make it to where they at least tie it.  It should be a great matchup as both teams have their ace on the mound.  Lance Lynn, who yes I am calling him the ace, is facing Gerrit Cole, who well that's probably not a controversial statement to make.  It will also be at 6:05 PM Central Time so make sure to not miss the first hour, which some of you probably did for tonight's game.