-- Chad Billingsley
is really, really good
. It isn't often you see a pitcher with that kind of ability, that combination of velocity, movement, and location. Personally, I think Billingsley needs to learn to use both sides of the plate more effectively, as he essentially stays in the same area all game long, especially to right-handed hitters. Working to the third base side of the plate more often would add another dimension to what is already a pretty impressive repertoire.
You might be asking yourself right now, "Why is this guy talking about how good the opposing pitcher was, when the Cards just hung ten runs on the board?" Well, I'm starting with how good Billingsley is because the rest of this column is just going to be salivating over this new Cardinal team, and I wanted to inject at least a little balance in here somewhere.
-- Watching the game last night, I was reminded of nothing so much as the offense the Cardinals fielded in 2004
. In '04, the Cards' offense just steamrolled pitchers, regardless of who they were or how well they were throwing. Even if they couldn't hit a pitcher, that team would just wear them down, taking quality at-bats and putting continuous pressure on the opposition.
Last night, Billingsley was on. He looked virtually unhittable. So what did the Cardinal hitters do? They waited him out. All night long, they ground out plate appearances, forcing Billingsley to work, to execute good pitches. They put pressure on him all night, even as he appeared to cruise along. And it worked. When he finally made a real mistake, issuing a leadoff walk to Skip Schumaker
in the sixth inning, the offense pounced
. Trying to get through a lineup without any holes is hard enough once; doing it a third time, with no margin for error, proved to be just too much. Just as we saw so many times with the 2004 team, even when the Cardinals struggled to put any sort of sustained rally together against a pitcher, they would just grind pitchers down, fighting a war of attrition, and finally break through in the middle innings.
-- While we're on the subject of offense, what the fuck was Tony La Russa
thinking, trying to bunt with Mark DeRosa
in the sixth inning? You finally put the leadoff hitter on against a pitcher who has been hanging tough all night, and now you're going to play for one run? Bunting there, with the meat of the order coming up and a guy at the plate who himself is no slouch with the bat was one of the stupidest managerial decisions I think I've ever seen. I know everybody thinks moving a guy into scoring position there somehow increases your chances of scoring, but it really doesn't. Much smarter people than me have done tons of research, and bunting simply doesn't work
in all but a tiny, tiny number of instances. Giving up an out to move a man from first to second with your best hitters coming up is not one of them.
I understand Billingsley was pitching remarkably well, and Adam Wainwright was matching him zero for zero. Even so, when you put the leadoff hitter on ahead of your big bats, you can't play for just one run there. Not only does the bunt not increase your chances of scoring one run nearly as much as most people think, it dramatically decreases your chances of scoring multiple runs. Luckily, Billingsley started nibbling and the Cardinals were able to put up a big number on him, but it doesn't change the fact that bunting in that situation was completely asinine.
-- Speaking of Adam Wainwright
, has there ever been a less impressive ace pitcher? I don't mean that in a bad way, mind you; I just don't know that I've ever seen a pitcher who so consistently dominates opponents yet never really seems like he's dominating. Last night, he tossed eight innings of shutout ball, giving up eight hits and striking out five against only a single walk. Nonetheless, it never felt like he was just rolling along, until suddenly you look at the scoreboard and realize it's already the seventh inning and there's a zero in the other team's run column. I suppose Wainwright learned it from Chris Carpenter
, who also tends toward rather mundane gems, but Carpenter still has that T-1000 persona, that way of just staring down an opponent that's very impressive. Wainwright's good games, even the ones when he strikes out a bunch of hitters, always just seem to sort of sneak up on you.
-- I'm not sure what exactly is going on with Jason Motte, but it has me worried. Not the fact he's struggling, but the way he's pitching right now. When Motte was going good, he was stalking around the mound, walking halfway to home plate before snatching Molina's return toss out of the air and firing another bullet in there. Watching him the last couple weeks, he doesn't seem nearly as aggressive with his mechanics or anything to me. His velocity isn't where it previously was, and his delivery seems much slower and measured. We saw something similar with Chris Perez, when the coaching staff tried to get him to stay back and on top of the ball in an attempt to gain more sink and control on the ball, with the end result being a loss of velocity, movement, and still no control. I hope the same idea isn't being applied to Motte, but something is most definitely up. He barely looks like the same pitcher these days.
-- I have to admit, I'm a little worried about tonight's game. Chad Billingsley is a remarkably talented young pitcher, but Clayton Kershaw is something else entirely. Kershaw is basically Rick Ankiel circa 2000, only without the head issues. Oddly enough, the fact Kershaw is a lefty has gone from being doubly terrifying to mildly encouraging, as this team is now built to thrash left-handed pitching. I'm looking for Julio Lugo to get the start at second base over Skip, in order to create that right-handed gauntlet of Lugo-DeRosa-Pujols-Holliday-Ludwick at the top of the lineup.
-- Finally, Brendan Ryan had yet another outstanding game. When he made the error on Manny's grounder in the first inning, I groaned inwardly, thinking he was about due for one of those games that would put him squarely back in La Russa's doghouse. Luckily, I was wrong, and Ryan turned in a couple of real gems later on, more than making up for the early mishap. But please, Brendan, don't try throwing overhand any more. It's just not your thing.
-- Actually, I do have one more thing: I thought Dan and Al did a really nice job on the broadcast last night. I don't think there was any point at which I wanted to stick a pencils in my ears just to stop the pain, and there were actually a couple of intelligent conversations stuck in there. I take a lot of shots at our broadcasting team, and I stand by my general disdain for them. However, if I'm going to blast them for being awful, I should at least be willing to give credit when they do happen to turn out a good one. Last night was one of those good ones. Call it the Blind Squirrel Effect.