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With Anxiety Abundant, Cards Edge Pirates

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Leake strong again as Oh bent but didn’t break, leading Cardinals to fifth win of young 2017

Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

In a game where the featured story was the suspension of Pirates’ star outfielder Starling Marte, the Cardinals mustered just enough offense behind another fantastic start from Mike Leake to take their second game in a row. With identical 2-1 victories on back-to-back nights, it’s not ideal to squeak out wins of this fashion, but after a tough road trip that saw only one victory on the East Coast, the Cardinals have finally locked up their first series win of the 2017 season.

Player of the night?

Without a doubt the honor goes to Mike Leake. The Arizona State University alum has emerged as the Cardinals’ most trustworthy starter through the early part of this season, as he earned his second win coasting through 6.1 innings, allowing only one run on seven hits. Unlike Leake’s previous two starts, this one came with much less in the swing-and-miss department.

Striking out a combined 13 batters in his first two starts, Leake managed only one strikeout in Tuesday’s battle behind a total of six swinging strikes, two of which came against pitcher Chad Kuhl.

Although it wasn’t the most peripherally sound outing, you really can’t complain with how Leake has gotten the job done. It’s simply just nice to see some additions to the win column night in and night out. Throwing an efficient 95 pitches, with 60% of them for strikes, vintage Leake makes for a quick game due to both his pace on the mound and the sound defensive play from the gloves behind him. This bout lasted 2hr31min, about 45 minutes quicker than the average game this season. Maybe all pitchers should throw sinkers and work as quick as Leake!

The Improving Pen?

After Leake surrendered two hits in the seventh inning to Josh Bell and Jordy Mercer on sinkers up in the zone, Matheny pulled the righty, opting for southpaw Brett Cecil with a 2-1 lead. The Marte replacement, Jose Osuna of the Pirates, quickly grounded into a 6-4-3 double play on one of the more important pitches up to that point in the night. After a rocky start to his career in St. Louis, Cecil has now been perfect in his last four appearances.

What seemed like a bullpen full of holes, has now shown life two nights in a row as bridging their way to closer Seung-hwan Oh hasn’t seemed like a laborious act. Since all things can’t be perfect, Oh has still yet to give Cardinal Nation a chance to calmly exhale in the late innings this year. Allowing multiple hits in five of his six outings, Tuesday night was no different as he struggled to start the inning sharp, as he did so well last season. Oh surrendered three hits before converting Phil Goselin and Adam Frazier into the last two outs of the game with the bases loaded.

So where does the panic meter sit with Oh at the moment?

From my perspective, it may be a bit higher than the majority of other writers and analysts in the St. Louis media. Matheny has rightfully gifted him a long leash after a dominant 2016 campaign, even with Trevor Rosenthal’s resurgence looming in the set-up role. With Oh’s velocity down in his first two appearances, I’m settled slightly by the fact that it has ticked back up to the 93-94mph window it should stabilize around moving forward. However, I’d still like to see the swinging strikes climb back to the ~18% he dominated with last season. It’s early, and it takes some time for these peripherals to stabilize, but if we’re looking at Oh with a K/9 more in line with 8-8.5 than doubt digits, his stability in the role is one that I will worry about for a longer period of time. It is essential to miss bats in the ninth inning, evidenced by 13 of the 19 arms with 25+ saves last season maintaining K/9s over 9. Four closers with sub 8.0 K/9s and 25+ saves - Sam Dyson, Jeanmar Gomez, Ryan Madson, and Jeremy Jeffress - have all seem themselves phased out of the closer role. The remaining two with K/9s in between 8.0 and 9.0 in the prior year with 25+ saves were Mark Melancon and Francisco Rodriguez.

No need to panic at the moment, but the situation is one to keep an eye on. The words ‘stable’ and ‘closer’ can quickly become detached as we have already seen in 2017.

Four hits = Two Runs

Just like Mike Leake, this is efficient, but not exactly how Matheny, or any fan, would draw up a W. It’s not often that a team gets nearly tripled in the hits column and musters a win. The Pirates tallied 11 total hits to the Cardinals’ four, but it’s when those hits came that mattered.

Dexter Fowler led off the game with his first triple as a Cardinal, eventually driven in by a Stephen Piscotty fielder’s choice chopper. The Cardinals’ second run came on a double Greg Garcia smoked into the right field gap, scoring Jose Martinez. Garcia tried to stretch it into a triple, but a great relay throw nabbed him at third. I was impressed with Chad Kuhl overall, as he has made some strides in the strikeout department since the last time I saw him in 2016. Although that wasn’t particularly on display tonight, he really didn’t make many mistakes that the Cardinals could have capitalized on.

Kuhl is not the caliber of pitcher Jameson Taillon or Gerrit Cole have become, but the Pirates rotational depth as you dig into their farm’s system is second to only a few other teams in baseball. Ray Searage will be pleased to work with more young arms in the coming years, but let’s hope they don’t all develop like Taillon for the sake of the Cardinals’ bats.

Notes

  • Only note I have this week is to take a look at the video below and Andrew McCutchen’s reaction after making a great play in right-center field. After the aforementioned suspension of Starling Marte, McCutchen figures to slot in as the everyday body in center, a position he roamed for years without critique. Well, until the defense-savy Neal Huntington and Co. realized that Cutch was a putrid defender in centerfield last season (-16.5 DeF according to Fangraphs). Make of the video what you will, but Cutch seems like he still has the confidence to roam one of the most important defensive positions on the diamond.
  • #ThisIsMySpot - And by “this is my spot” I mean, Tuesday nights are my Viva El Birdos recap night, so I’ll see you back here next week.
  • Follow me on Twitter for perpetual Cardinals and MLB entertainment - @LanceBrozdow