were very, very close to losing a fifth consecutive game last night. It would have been their longest losing streak of the season, and continued a rather brutal May that has seen the Cards undo a fair amount of the good work they did in April.
On the first day of May, the Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 10-7, to move their record to 15-8. Their lead in the division was 3.5 games, their run differential was tops in baseball, and it looked as if they should have had a relatively easy go of things in the National League Central.
Three weeks later, the Cards have dropped 3 games closer to the .500 mark, their division lead is just a half game over the annoyingly annoying Cincinnati Reds, and they've lost 8 of their last 11 games. The team that looked like world beaters in sweeping Arizona, pushing their record to 9 games above the break-even point, has suddenly turned turtle.
So when the San Diego Padres took a late lead last night, threatening to send the Redbirds to yet another loss and second place in the division, it seemed pretty much par for the course the past week and a half. "At least there wasn't another injury during the game" was the most comforting thought fans could muster.
And then in stepped Tyler Greene, who proceeded to save the season with a single swift swing of the stick.
Okay, so irritating alliteration aside, I really shouldn't say Tyler Greene saved the season. After all, even if the Cards had lost the game last night, they would have had another 120 games to play in the 2012 season, and there's at least a decent chance those 120 games would have had some kind of impact on the standings. So the season might not have ended last night with a loss.
Even so, it felt like a turning point last night, or at least a big moment for this team. The news earlier in the day that Lance Berkman might or might not have a potentially season-ending knee injury seemed unfair; fate just piling on a team already ravaged by various maladies. A loss last night -- and another poor performance by the bullpen to boot -- would have felt much worse than just a single game in the standings in mid-May.
So no, Greene didn't save the Cardinals' season last night. But his home run to center field, off a pitch that clocked in at 100.5 miles per hour, was just the sort of moment that goes on a season-ending highlight reel.
It also capped off another huge night for Tyler, who went 3-for-4 with two extra base hits. It was his third three hit night of the month, and pushed his season OPS to .816. That's good for an OPS+ of 123, putting him in the solidly above league average category of hitters.
More importantly than what that one swing of the bat did for Tyler Greene is what it did for the Cardinals. The Cards needed that game, and they pulled it out. The 21st of May is much too early for a real turning point, I admit. All the same, I can't help but believe we saw one last night.
- Jaime Garcia was absolutely brilliant last night, striking out seven hitters against just a single walk. That's two excellent starts in a row; Jaime struck out nine without allowing a walk his last time out against San Francisco. The one real negative for Garcia so far this season has been the large number of hits he's allowing; his H/9 innings right now stands at 10.3, the highest mark of his career. The good news is his BABIP is .353, which does indicate he's been victimized so far by some bad luck. Hopefully that number starts regressing toward the mean soon and Jaime's ERA can start creeping down toward his FIP, which is over a full run lower. (3.55 ERA vs 2.48 FIP).
- Marc Rzepczynski looked bad last night. Again. He walked the only hitter he saw, lefty Yonder Alonso, on four straight fastballs. That's three outings in a row Scrabble has been scored on, and I have to admit I'm a teensy bit concerned. Not long-term, necessarily; I think Rzepczyski will get it figured out. This is no more than a bump in the road. But in the short-term, the Cards are already running without a second left-handed reliever, and suddenly Scrabble looks very shaky. The team just can't afford for him to endure a prolonged slump.
- The Cards only walked once last night. That's...not so good. On the other hand, they only struck out four times, and one of those belonged to the pitcher. That's a lot of contact being made. The lack of strike outs is good to see, of course, but that lone walk really stands out to me as a negative.
- What's really worrisome, though, is that it seems to be a recent trend for the Redbirds. They did draw four free passes against Chad Billingsley in the finale of the series with the Dodgers, but they managed just one walk in the first two games of the set. They only drew one walk in the two game series at San Francisco before that. So, for the record, that's seven walks in the last six games for this team. The Cards as a team have drawn 139 free passes on the season in 42 games, or an average of almost 3 per game. Their average of ~1.17 per game this past week is, hopefully, an aberration, and one that's going to need to change in a hurry if this offense is going to get back on its early-season track.
- The Cardinals' record this morning is 23-19; their Pythagorean record stands at 27-15. As bad as the last ten days have been, this is still a much better team than they've looked. All we can do is hope they figure that out for themselves pretty soon.