The Cardinals entered play today atop the National League Central Division, and 1.5 games up on the Chicago Cubs. I know that sounds weird, but the math checks out. The Cubs actually started the game in fourth place. Six weeks into the season, the NL Central is remarkably close.
The Cubs scored first today, on the most unlikeliest of contributions from Jon Lester. Lester, if you recall, spent his entire career in the American League before joining the Cubs in 2015. He had 43 total plate appearances in that time, and they...were not good. In fact, he did not have a single hit. Since coming to the National League, Lester has accumulated 11 hits, good for a career .064 average. Anyway, you wouldn't know it based on the way he smoked a 95 mph fastball from Martinez in the second inning. The ball nearly went over the fence and scored Javier Baez. 1-0 Bad Guys.
The Cardinals struck back in the bottom of the third inning, again with help from the starting pitcher. Tommy Pham walked to start the inning off, then promptly stole second base, because according to Jim Edmonds, Pham DNGAF. Apparently as long as you don't CARE, you'll be successful against Lester. Who knew it was that easy? (I think about this again in the fourth when Pham is tagged out on a stolen base attempt. Edmonds says nothing about it.) Anyway, Pham drew a rare bad thrown from Wilson Contreras and made it all the way to third base. That brought up Sierra, who looked absolutely lost against Lester. Like exactly how you would imagine a high A player would look against a top 10 National League pitcher. So, yeah, he struck out. Carlos came up with a runner on third and one out. He bunted! A perfect squeeze play! And Lester, true to form, couldn't field the bunt at all. Pham scored, tie game.
Jedd Gyorko gave the Cardinals the lead in the fourth on a solo shot to left field. Yadier Molina followed up with a single to right field, then stole second base. Greg Garcia - who got the start today over Kolten Wong - bunted Yadi to third, and he scored on a Pham single. 3-1 Cardinals.
The top of the fifth was interesting. Kyle Schwarber drew a one out walk, and Matt Carpenter bobbled a ball hit by Ian Happ to put runners at the corners. Anthony Rizzo, who has struggled in this young season, grounded the ball right back to Martinez. Martinez flipped the ball underhand to Diaz, and Happ took a hard slide past second base to break up the double play. The runner at third scored....OR DID HE? The umpires called a double play anyway, based on Happ's illegal slide. Edmonds hates that rule, by the way. Did he mention how much he hates that rule? Well, let me tell you: he hates it. The call was upheld on the replay review. Score remains 3-1.
Martinez led off the bottom of the fifth with a hard hit ball to left field. He hustled all the way, taking second on a head first slide. He is my literal hero. Too bad he was stranded at second that inning.
Never fear, more runs ensued in the sixth. After two quick strikeouts to start the inning, Lester walked Garcia. That was his last hitter of the evening, as he was relieved by Pedro Strop. Pham greeted him with a long double to score Garcia. Sierra followed up with a single to score Pham. 5-1 Cardinals.
Carlos Martinez's 99th pitch of the day became a two-out, two-run home run to Happ - his first major league hit. El Gallo's final line: 6.2 IP, 3 R, 5 H, 4 BB, 7 SO.
Bowman finished out the seventh. Fine. Trevor Rosenthal pitched the eighth and HOT DAMN, Rosie. He threw exactly one changeup (getting a swinging third strike); the rest were fastballs between 97 and 100 mph. Whew. Oh allowed a base hit, but saved the game. Cards win 5-3!
Notes and Musings
1. Lester's jersey is way too big for him, isn't it? The sleeves go almost to his elbows. What's up with that?
2. The Cardinals lead all of baseball in RBIs from the 9th spot in the order. They had 26 going into today's game, with the next closest team (the Yankees) at 19. Incidentally, the Cubs are third with 17. It is a pretty meaningless stat, but fun nonetheless. I just assume Carlos will have a hit in pretty much every game he starts.
3. I've thought a lot about the hard slide rule. Edmonds (who really hates this rule - did you know that?) thinks that we should punish players who intentionally try to hurt people with fines and other disciplinary measures, but that we should just let "let guys play the game they way they were taught." This is problematic on several levels, with the most obvious one being, how can anyone know the intent of the runner? How often do runners intentionally try to hurt someone? My guess is that this is extremely rare. Breaking up the double play is just that - it isn't about hurting people, it's about, what can I do to make sure that the ball does not make it into the first baseman's mitt before the hitter reaches the bag? Edmonds' solution sounds fine in theory, but I don't think it is a practical solution. And I don't think it would actually cut down on injuries - mostly because hasn't this always been the rule? Now, obviously the Cardinals benefited from the call today, but I think I come to this conclusion even if the situation had been reversed. People in San Francisco pay money to see Buster Posey play; they don't file into the park to watch his AAA replacement. In my opinion, the best thing for baseball is keeping players healthy and on the field. I think this rule is trying to do that, and I support it.
4. The Treasure of the Sierra, Magneuris continues. After looking helpless in his first at-bat against Lester, he hit a single in his next at bat, then singled against the relief pitcher Pedro Strop, notching his first career RBI.
5. I'm not that worried about Carlos' walk total today. The strike zone was all over the place, and Lester was upset about it, too. I'm not in favor of robo-umps. But I AM in favor of umpires just being better.
6. TOMMY PHAM, YOU GUYS.
7. Adam Wainwright faces off against Jake Arrieta for the rubber game tomorrow at 1:15 CT.