The St. Louis ball club received bad news on the status of ace pitcher Chris Carpenter, who is said to have elbow soreness after struggling on his opening day start. Carpenter will miss his next turn, and the team is hoping for the best.
The Cardinals relied on starting pitcher Kip Wells to get the job done on Tuesday, trying to prevent losing the first series of the season to the NL East's Mets. Wells had a shaky first inning, giving up an unearned run on a Carlos Beltran sacrifice fly. Mets' shortstop Jose Reyes had a leadoff walk, then reached second on Wells' throwing error. The next play, catcher Paul Lo Duca sacrificed to allow Reyes to reach third, and with one out, Beltran's sac fly brought Reyes home.
Wells did start to show promise in the second inning, striking out third baseman David Wright and outfielder Shawn Green in a one-two-three inning. It was not until the fifth inning that Wells started to slip again, allowing Jose Reyes to score again, this time on an error by right fielder Skip Schumaker.
Then, in the top of the sixth, Wells made a mistake. The inning started with a leadoff walk to first baseman Carlos Delgado. Wright singled, putting Delgado on second base. After retiring outfielder Moises Alou, Wells threw a wild pitch that allowed both runners to advance into scoring position. He then stuck out Green, but intentionally walked second baseman Jose Valentin in the next at-bat in order to reach pitcher Orlando Hernandez. This was Wells' biggest mistake, as Hernandez hit a two-run double, putting the Mets up by a score of 4-0.
The Cardinals were not able to get much going on offense, as the team continued to find themselves grounding into double plays. In the first inning, David Eckstein was hit by a pitch and Chris Duncan promptly grounded into the double play. Ironically, Albert Pujols doubled in the next at-bat. In the second inning, Jim Edmonds singled to lead off the inning, but Adam Kennedy grounded into another double play to help out the Mets again. In the sixth inning, Scott Spiezio led off pinch hitting for Wells and singled. Eckstein quickly erased the base hit from memory with yet another double play.
Luckily, at least one hitter came around and was able to put the ball in play and make something happen with the offense. In the bottom of the seventh inning, third baseman Scott Rolen took the Mets' Hernandez yard with around a 380 foot blast. The Cardinals were finally on the board, and Adam Kennedy nearly hit his first home run as a Cardinal in the next at-bat - but unfortunately it barely ended up foul.
The Cardinals did get one more big chance to make a game of it again in the eighth inning, but surprisingly enough Albert Pujols was not able to come through in this clutch situation. With two outs, Eckstein drew a walk. Chris Duncan quickly got behind in the count, 0-2, but came back and found himself with a full count on his hands. He ended up with a single after a foul ball and the Cardinals had runners on the corners with two outs in the best situation possible - with Pujols at the plate. The anticipation built up in the ballpark, but Pujols, who hit a double earlier in the game when it mattered least, was not able to come through and lined out to center field for the third out.
New York closer Billy Wagner was able to retire all three batters he faced in the ninth inning, picking up his first save of the season.
Kip Wells looked skittish at times but dominant at others. Over the season he should become more consistent, but his seven strikeouts on the game were no laughing matter. He gave up only two earned runs on five hits while walking four.
-Bottom of the eighth inning, down 4-1, two on, two out, Albert Pujols at the plate. In 2006, this situation most likely ended up with at least one run scoring, at times even producing a three-run home run and a tied game. Not to say this will not change soon, but Pujols has not looked impressive so far in the first two games of the season - and somewhat ironically, the Cardinals lost both games. Pujols has not been the clutch power hitter he was in the past, and he was not even able to put up Pujols-like numbers against Spring Training competition. Is there reason to believe he will start hitting? Yes, because he is Albert Pujols...but then again, his lack of performance early on is hurting the team and keeping them in a hole that could be tough to dig out of in the long run.
-Chris Carpenter's injury worries me greatly. After missing a lot of 2004 with a shoulder injury, it would be in the best interest of the Cardinals to ensure this soreness is taken care of soon. If it makes a difference, look at 2004 without Carpenter. The Cardinals lost the World Series in four games. With Carpenter at full health in 2006, the Cardinals won the Fall Classic in only five games. It helps to have an ace to set the tone of a series, and Carpenter definitely set the tone of this Mets' series - negatively. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this is nothing serious, but Carpenter definitely did not look normal in his opening day start.
-Glad to see Chris Duncan in the lineup. I saw that Tony La Russa addressed the issue of the questions about his lineup with negativity today, but it was essential that he had Duncan in the lineup today. Even if it was a loss, Duncan was able to put the Cardinals in position to make a run in the eighth inning - it was just that Pujols could not come through. Dunc had two singles, going 2-for-4 in his first start of the season.
-Kip Wells looked inconsistent Wednesday night, but overall did not do a horrible job. His lone true mistake was the two-run double given up to his counterpart, Orlando Hernandez. Take that away and Wells gave up no earned runs and two unearned runs in his start, giving the Cardinals a decent chance to come back and take game two. Unfortunately, the offense has not been able to get hits off these Mets' pitchers, and it is becoming a problem. This anemic lineup is not going to get any better unless Pujols starts producing, although for now there is one other player who is coming on strong...and that leads us to the next game note:
-Scott Rolen hit his personal and the team's first home run of the season today, a solo shot off Hernandez in the middle innings. It was good to see Rolen make this happen at the plate; it was a huge step forward in the process of Rolen having a full, healthy season. I personally believe Rolen can put up monster numbers, and if he does, it will definitely help Pujols. With Rolen batting fourth in the lineup and being able to produce (especially these power numbers), Pujols will get more strikes because no one wants to pitch to the hot-swinging Cardinals third baseman either. If Rolen keeps hitting, Pujols will gain some confidence and be back in no time. If not, and Pujols has no protection in the lineup, I have a hard time seeing reason for optimism.
-The Cardinals are going to stop hitting into so many double plays and start getting more runners in scoring position. The team needs to start working on this immediately because it is hard for many players to advance into scoring position without base hits, and if the players keep hitting ground balls right to the defense rather than slap a base hit into the opposite field, things are not going to change.
-On the bright side, the Mets offense seemed to have cooled off somewhat, and Wednesday's matchup of Braden Looper and Mets' starter John Maine should be a good first MLB start for the Cardinals pitcher. It is better for Looper to catch the Mets at the back end of a lost series rather than any of the first two games. I expect him to start out a little shaky but work his way in and make things happen much like Wells did today. My worries about the pitching staff have nothing to do with Wells or Looper, and especially not Wainwright or Reyes, but more with the status of Chris Carpenter as noted above.
-I think the Cardinals will take game three because by now they have realized it is time to wake up and play real baseball, something they should hear from La Russa and Co. My keys to a win Wednesday are Looper gaining confidence as the game goes on, more production from Pujols, continued results from Rolen, and the team hitting into fewer double plays. I also think the bullpen really needs to continue their hard work, as they have not gotten hit very often so far in these first two games. If they keep holding up, they will soon be able to relieve in a game where they actually have a chance to help a Cardinals starter to secure a win.
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