April 4 – Mets 10, Cardinals 0

On Wednesday night, the New York Mets completed a convincing three-game road sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the opening series of the 2007 season.

The New York Mets continued to impress with a razzle-dazzle defense, exceptional pitching, and a wicked offensive attack in a 10-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday evening at cold Busch Stadium. The series sweep lowered the Cardinals won-loss record to a less than stellar 0-3 to start the season.

The Mets relied on starting pitcher John Maine's amazing consistency on the mound to get the job done. Maine carried a perfect game through four innings before allowing a single to Scott Rolen. He allowed no more hits leading up to being removed in the eighth inning. Maine walked Jim Edmonds twice and struck out six batters in his seven innings on the mound.

His counterpart, Cardinals starter Braden Looper, was able to match him early on, striking out two batters in the opening inning of the game. Looper had the Cardinals in the game through the sixth inning, giving up only four hits to that point and allowing no runs to score. It was Looper's first career start, and it came against his former team. He looked impressive, but in the sixth inning, things started to fall apart.

Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca, who was already 2-for-2 off Looper at the time, lined a base hit to center field. In the next at-bat, centerfielder Carlos Beltran belted one deep to right field, wrapping it just around the foul pole for a two-run home run. A few at-bats later, David Wright scored on a Shawn Green base hit. Looper had a mound visit, but was left in the game to face Jose Valentin, who he promptly retired.

In the seventh inning, Josh Hancock came in to pitch, and struck out Maine swinging. The next batter up was shortstop Jose Reyes. Reyes was 0-for-3 at this point, but took a Hancock fastball to deep right for a solo home run. Hancock stayed in the game and got Lo Duca out for the first time in the game, but Beltran came back up to the plate and continued to take out revenge for his season-ending strikeout last year in the playoffs, hitting yet another home run, putting the Mets up 5-0.

If the seventh inning seemed bad for the Cardinals, reliever Russ Springer's performance in the eighth certainly was worse. A leadoff walk to David Wright and a single by Moises Alou started the trouble, but Springer then walked Shawn Green to load the bases. After striking out second baseman Jose Valentin, Springer thought he could get out of the inning with ease, but Julio Franco pinch hit for the tiring Maine. Franco got underneath a pitch and lofted the ball to right field, but it bounced off of Preston Wilson's glove for an error, allowing two runs to score.

After that, it was the top of the order again, and Jose Reyes ripped a double to the outfield, knocking in Green and Franco for two more runs. Before the inning was over, St. Louis removed Springer and replaced him with Brad Thompson, who threw a wild pitch and allowed Reyes to advance to third. After that, he got Beltran to ground out to third, but Reyes was able to score, putting up the tenth and final run of the night.

On a bright note, Jason Isringhausen pitched a perfect ninth inning, getting two fly outs and one ground ball out of Wright, Lastings Milledge, and Green. Those who did not have bright notes include Josh Hancock and Russ Springer, who raised their ERAs to 27.00 and 40.50 on the season, respectively. Braden Looper's stat line in his first career start was respectable enough. In six innings pitched, the former setup man gave up eight hits, three runs, walked one, and struck out three. His ERA is now 4.50 on the season.

The Cardinals offense looked lost at the plate for the most part on Wednesday against the Mets. John Maine had nasty stuff and made it nearly impossible for St. Louis to get on base. As noted above, his perfect game was broken up on Rolen's single in the sixth inning. Rolen's base knock was followed by a walk to Jim Edmonds, but Wilson, Molina, and Miles made three quick outs to end the inning.

The Cardinals only had one other base runner against Maine, which was another walk to Edmonds in the seventh inning. The only other Cardinals hit came from Chris Duncan, as he hit a double to deep right center in the ninth inning. In aggregate, the Cardinals offense was horrid, striking out eight times and getting only four total men on base.

The Cardinals best hitters (Eckstein, Duncan, Pujols (pictured after striking out in the ninth), Rolen, and Edmonds) were a combined 1-for-16 at the plate. The rest of the lineup was 0-for-13. The Cardinals' anemic offense has too many holes and too many hitters going cold at the wrong time.

Game Notes:

-Wednesday was Scott Rolen's 33rd birthday, and this game was certainly no gift to the Cardinals. Happy birthday to him.

-The Cardinals have not led in any game so far this season as the Mets outscored St. Louis by a score 20-2 in the three-game series. The Cardinals looked bad on the mound, at the plate, and in the field.

-As for pitching, Russ Springer has not impressed at all so far this season or even in Spring Training. He showed a lack of command and poise on the mound Wednesday. Of course, the game was already out of hand, but Springer certainly put it out of reach. Josh Hancock was exceptionally prone to the home run, and that is not a good sign. For a team whose starting pitching is already starting to slip (with Carpenter hurt and Looper going into a new role), the bullpen needs to be strong. It was good to see Isringhausen get through the ninth inning unscathed though.

-At the plate, the Cardinals have been disastrous. To prove my point, look at the following players' batting averages during the sweep:
David Eckstein: .333 (the best job of anyone)
Chris Duncan: .375 (Duncan had limited at-bats and struck out twice Wednesday)
Albert Pujols: .100
Scott Rolen: .222
So Taguchi: .167
Jim Edmonds: .286
Preston Wilson: .125
Yadier Molina: .200
Aaron Miles: .000
Adam Kennedy: .143
Skip Schumaker: .250

That's a combined average of .200 for those players. That is inexcusable at the Major League level. That's inexcusable at any level. For all regular starters, Albert Pujols has the worst batting average. David Eckstein hasn't been knocking the cover off the ball either, and he went 0-for-4 with one strikeout Wednesday.

I honestly believe it would be a wise move to make some kind of a deal for a power hitting outfielder. Preston Wilson and Skip Schumaker will not get the job done unless something changes soon. Jim Edmonds is actually seeing the ball the best of anyone right now, as he drew two walks today and has a few base hits during the young season.

-The Cardinals' defense has been mediocre as well, although I will say that there is one major concern with the stadium lights interfering with outfielders' vision on routine fly balls. It happened to So Taguchi in game one, as he bobbled an easily catchable ball. It happened to Skip Schumaker in the second game, as he dove for a ball that literally bounced off his head. It happened again on Wednesday to Preston Wilson twice, once when he lost the ball in the lights and allowed what could have been a fly out to drop and take a bounce into his glove, and another time when the ball hit his glove and rolled to the wall, allowing two runs to score on what was ruled an error. This was not a game-changing occurrence, and neither were the others, but it definitely is affecting the outfielders in these night games. Something needs to be done to fix that.

-Braden Looper looked great on the mound up to his three-run inning in the sixth. He got out of jams and kept the Mets' hitters at bay. If this offense comes around soon, Looper could have a fairly decent year. The same can be said for Kip Wells.

-The Cardinals have an off day for travel Thursday, as they head to Houston to take on the Astros. I like the Cardinals chances in this series, especially with Adam Wainwright on the mound for Friday's game. He should set a tone that helps the Cardinals get back to their winning ways. As of now, Wainwright looks to be the Cardinals best starter (only because Carpenter is missing his next start). He is consistent and has amazing stuff - as he showed in the Civil Rights Game. Look for the Cardinals to come alive in hitter friendly Minute Maid Park, especially with a less-than-extraordinary starting pitcher (Wandy Rodriguez) on the mound for Houston.

-One more quick note: the Cardinals won their first three games last year, but immediately lost all three games of their next series to the (at that time lowly) Cubs. St. Louis typically starts slow and builds into their winning ways, but the offense is starting to worry me. Let's hope things get better soon, or the Cardinals are in for a few weeks of rough baseball.

Brady Holzhauer can be reached via email at sportswriter5@gmail.com.

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