May 4th, 2013 – Cardinals vs. Brewers: It’s time once again for the annual UCB Progressive Game Blog. If you’re not familiar with our little May project, it works like this: Each year we pick a game. For the lucky game picked, we break it up by inning. Each inning gets a different blogger assigned to it (for us, it’s the 2nd). The assigned blogger writes about only his/her assigned inning and then links to the post for the inning before and after it. Throw in another blogger for the pre- and post-game, and you’ve got the gist of it.
After Pete Kozma (The Kozma-Naut!) turned a beautiful play to end the first and bail Wainwright out of what could have been a very ugly inning, the Cardinals have some work to do. Watching your ace struggle in the opening frame of a road game is not ideal, but the Redbirds enter the 2nd knowing two things: 1) They historically knock Gallardo all over the field, so any mental edge has to belong to the Cardinals’ hitters. 2) Adam Wainwright is going to use that Kozma play to get fired up, reload, and battle his way through the next few innings. There’s no quit in that arm when it comes to trying to give his team a chance to win. Here comes the top of the 2nd…
Allen Craig leads off the inning. He continues to amass RBIs but is still looking for his first home run. Despite the lack of long ball power, Craig maintains a line drive bat with consistency and gap ability. Even without runners on, he’s a good bet to leadoff a potential rally inning. ……Bam. Right on cue, Craiger casually places a line drive gently between the center fielder and left fielder. A single to start the rally.
(Interesting note…it’s clear the Cardinals baserunners are taking Mike Matheny’s aggressive approach seriously. Even on that immediately-fielded single, Allen took a very wide and hard turn at first, obviously salivating for two if the fielders gave him even a hint of an opening.)
Yadier Molina steps into the box with the chance to move the runner at first to second or hopefully third with less than two outs. Yadi has a wonderful ability to stroke an outside pitch to right field and push baserunners along. A pitch on the outside corner with just a touch of velocity would be ideal here, and should be likely. Remember, it wasn’t but just a few years ago that Molina was one of the “toughest hitters in baseball to strike out” – and after posting a career year in all offensive categories last season, Yadi is just the kind of hitter you want up in this position. …Gallardo starts off with a fastball on the outside corner. You have to wonder if he’s baiting Molina for later in the at-bat. Aaannnddd…sure enough, he moves back inside on the next pitch, and Yadi fouls it off. Get him thinking about that outside pitch he would love to have, and then jam him. 0-2 count…and Yadi gets the outside pitch he wants…except Gallardo wisely elevated it and got Molina to pop out in foul ground. 1 out.
Next up…David Freese. Freeser has been hitting much better recently, with comfortable at-bats while taking the ball up the middle, exactly what Cardinals hitters aim to do. Again, Freese is a great opposite-field threat for the Redbirds, but he’s gotten away from that a bit since his 2011 heroics. Part of that is likely due to pitchers adjusting to his strengths and weaknesses…but part of it might also be due to Freese’s statement before the 2012 season that he wants to be a complete hitter, not just a hitter known for going the opposite way. Clearly trying to pull the ball more often in 2012, he displayed a bit more power while also struggling a bit in a few key positions that could have benefited from a nice, opposite field stroke. …And right on cue, David takes another ground ball up the middle. This time, the pitcher botches the play for all involved and the Redbirds end up with a man on first and second with only 1 out.
Jon Jay walks to the plate in a key spot - trailing by 2 early in the game with two men on and less than 1 out. Jay has struggled mightily this season, but his recent off days and clear change in his swing – specifically the lack of exaggerated “helicopter” motion he previously used to time pitches – seem to have had an impact. This could be a great at-bat to just keep the inning going and push the runners up a base or two. …Wow! Jay does the wildly unexpected and drills a home run to right center to give the Cardinals the lead 3-2! He got in a hitter’s count by being patient early on – something he struggled with just last month – and stroked a pitch up and over the plate to punish Gallardo for an ill-timed mistake. Still 1 out.
(Interesting note…I wondered when we would see a powerfest in Milwaukee. This stadium seems to breed unexpected homers.)
Pete Kozma walks nonchalantly into the box (doesn’t he do everything nonchalantly?). He could keep the inning going and really pile on Gallardo to change the course of this game. Kozma has been a consistent producer this season – both in the field and at the plate – exactly what the Cardinals desperately needed at SS once Furcal went down. Pete’s been able to take the shortstop position from a point of concern to an off-handed afterthought. He has the ability to keep this inning going, but pitchers like Gallardo tend to settle down after a rally-killing homer like Jay’s. …Kozma gets a pitch up as well, but it’s just a bit inside, and he swings over the top of it. The result is an easy comebacker to the mound. He’s out at first, no contest. 2 outs.
Waino’s at the plate now. Honestly, just getting Adam up before the end of the inning is sometimes a success. I hate starting the next inning with the pitcher. And, no matter what happens here, if Waino can just settle in and pitch well the next few innings, he’s done his job. …He goes after a pitch in the dirt and strikes out. 3 outs and on to the bottom half of the second…
(Interesting note…Waino has the most ability as a hitter among the starting five, but he’s recently become a sucker for low and away pitches – especially sliders. He could probably help himself greatly each start if he could just learn to layoff those pitches.)
Wainwright takes the mound in the bottom half of the second after a wild and wooly inning and a half. He started in the hole and down 2 runs to none, but his offense turned it up and retook the lead to give their ace a shot. Waino now has two goals: 1) Turn in a shutdown inning in response to a 3-run top of the second – and a lead change. 2) Restore some order and rhythm to this game. Aces are at their best when they can lull the lineup to sleep. It’s hard to do that when everyone is scattering hits around the outfield every inning. …And he starts off the bottom half with a fly ball out to right field. It’s clearly a luxury – in this scenario – to get to start the inning with the pitcher hitting. 1 out.
Aoki is next – the little bugger who tends to find unique ways to get on base. You can tell Wainwright is determined to turn in a stingy inning here, starting off the at-bat with two nasty strikes and potentially a third on a check swing. The hitter gets the call and we have a 1-2 count. …There’s the Waino hook, but he just misses the outside corner. …And there it is. Aoki is drilled in the thigh. Miller Park boos in response – an utterly stupid mistake on the part of the fans. Aoki’s odd step/plant maneuver that he uses to time pitches makes it nearly impossible to change momentum and get out of the way of inside pitches…not that he would try to anyway. The dude leads the league in hit-by-pitches (or something like that). How do you boo a pitcher for drilling him in the leg in a 1-run game?! Know the situation, fans. Sheesh. Man on first and one out.
Segura is the hitter that touched Wainwright for an unexpected, 2-run homer last inning. He’s in position to do damage again with speed on the bases and Waino struggling a bit with command. …And that’s what I’m talkin’ about!!! A 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. Waino puts up a zero and the offense goes back to work.
That’ll do it for the 2nd. Wainwright is positioned to return to form and hold the Brewers to a couple of runs, but with 5 runs being scored on two homers in just two innings, you get the feeling this game is going to require a few more runs to take it. Also, it should be noted that Wainwright’s velocity is a bit down from previous starts. Touching 93 and even 94 mph at times in other starts this season, Adam seems to be dancing between 88 and 90…maybe 91…through the first two. Considering his difficulty hitting his spots as well, it’s likely Waino is simply in for one of those days – maybe his stride is too long or maybe he just doesn’t feel right on the mound, but either way, I would bet on a few more runs on both sides before this game is over.
And now CLICK HERE to read Pitchers Hit 8th’s account of the 3rd.