GAME 2: All Cylinders
After a joke of an opening day against the hired guns of Miami, the Cardinals went into Milwaukee for some serious competition against the divisional arch-rival Brewers. Many questions remained to be answered. Could budding superstar Jaime Garcia overcome his road woes? Would the lineup continue its dynamic punch-and-run attack? Would we see some strategy from Mike Matheny?
Fortunately, the Cardinals had resounding and convincing answers for everyone. They also had a statement for the Brewers: we might not have Albert Pujols anymore, but we have enough firepower to decimate the league. The Cardinals pounded four home runs en route to an 11-5 drubbing of the Brewers on their home opener.
THE CAB ARRIVED ON TIME: Jaime Garcia’s road troubles were a constant source of concern last year; any little distraction would unravel the lefty on the road, neutralizing his excellent stuff. Early on it looked like Garcia’s troubles might continue as the Brewers jumped on him for two runs in the first, which included a ringing triple by Carlos Gomez. Once Garcia got a lead, he settled down wonderfully. Nothing kills the opposition more than dealing with the kind of corner changeups Garcia twirled at Milwaukee in the middle innings today. Of course, it’s too early to get excited by Garcia (remember his hot start last year, followed by struggles), but this is a definite step forward for him.
LIFTOFF: This is a dangerous Cardinals lineup, much more combustible than most analysts realize. If the leadoff hitter can get on base, what follows is a terrifying series of high-contact power. The Cardinals demonstrated how quickly they can alter the score in the second, when they unleashed four home runs and quickly crushed the Brewers on their home opener. Solo shots by Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, and a two-run dinger by David Freese ripped Milwaukee open. In subsequent innings the Cardinals poured it on from all sides, hustling on the bases as doubles bounced around Miller Park. If these Cards stay healthy, I think the National League is in deep trouble.
SHUT UP: Can we please stop hearing about Albert Pujols? The Cardinals may not have 40-homer power now that Pujols defected to greener pastures, but we have solid 25 homer power all through this lineup and apparently don’t need The Greatest Player Who Ever Lived™ to score a ton of runs. Give the Pujols thing a rest, okay?
CENTER SQUARE: Nobody will confuse Jon Jay with some of the great centerfielders in Cardinal history, but the guy can flat out play. Sure, he looks like a goofy genetic cross between Lonnie Smith and Alfred E. Neuman, but he has terrific instincts and plays the game hard. After watching Jay lay out on a diving catch of Ryan Braun‘s deep liner in the third, I couldn’t help but realize how safe I feel having Jay out there. He’s a keeper.
FIRST MOVES: We finally watched Matheny make some strategic maneuvers late in the game, and every one of them paid off. He took Garcia out at the perfect moment in the seventh, calling on Shane Robinson to pinch hit and producing a run-scoring single. He also deftly used J.C. Romero and Mitchell Boggs to quiet the Brewers in the seventh. Matt Carpenter and Erik Komatsu made Matheny look like a genius in the ninth by producing singles in pinch-hitting moments. This win was a team effort, one orchestrated masterfully by Matheny at the controls. Anybody still nervous about his inexperience?
YOUNGSTERS: Wow … how about that bomb by Matt Carpenter to drive in two runs? The young infielder impressed in spring training, but he continues to show that he’s no fluke. Meanwhile, Komatsu collected his first major league hit by racing down the line like Vince Coleman with a torch up his butt in the ninth with the game way out of reach. With kids like these on the bench, this team looks to have a lot more energy and aggressiveness than we’ve been accustomed to see during the TLR years.
MVP, PART THREE: David Freese is quickly becoming one of the most important aspects of the team. When he’s healthy, the guy is just a machine. His rocket-launch two run homer was just part of another great day for the third baseman: 2-5 with a run scored and 3 RBI. It couldn’t happen to a better guy.
HOMERS: How about that ridiculous, over-the-top ovation Ryan Braun received from the Milwaukee fans! Talk about insecure! And speaking of Braun – he sure looks more vulnerable without Prince Fielder on deck.
LIMITED APOLOGY: I suppose I need to take back some of my whining about the contract given to Rafael Furcal. SO FAR, Furcal has really been incredible in front of the Cardinals’ power alley. In two games, Furcal has gone 6-10 with 2 RBI and a run scored. He has been a huge contributor to the Cardinals’ impressive start. I eat my words.
MAC CHEESED: Two games in, the only sore spot so far was the ninth inning pitched by Kyle McClellan today. A sloppy inning that featured a hit batter led to a three-run homer by George Kottaras. Apparently his control and extra-base hit problems continue. How much longer until he’s gone?
CONCLUSION: Once more, the team looks loose, confident, and determined. The bats are lining up nicely, the defense has been terrific, and the pitching feels poised and focused. It’s a long season, and anything can happen. But this might be the most optimistic start I can remember in a long, long time. So far, so good.