Ha! Get it? Because they are playing in…Kansas City…
Anyway, the St. Louis Cardinals have a 26-20 record after Friday night’s loss to the Royals. They are still in first place in the NL Central, because the Cincinnati Reds dropped the game to their cross-state rivals, the Cleveland Indians. But the Redbirds have utilized a number of specific losing formulas this year. The starting pitching has been lacking in a few games. The biggest problem has been bullpen failure. But the other two glaring hiccups have been defensive lapses and not getting timely hits and those were the ones that cost the Cards in their first Interleague game of 2011.
Chris Carpenter was sharp through the first six innings Friday night. Through the first five innings, he only gave up three hits—one of which was erased on a double play. In the sixth he gave up two hits, but got out of the inning unscathed. In the seventh, the Royals got a leadoff hit from Billy Butler, and Wilson Betemit followed with a deep fly ball to left-centerfield. Rasmus gave chase but hesitated before diving for the ball and missed it. That opened the floodgates and the Royals tacked on three runs on four hits and a couple of sacrifice flies. Carpenter, again bitten by bad luck after pitching a heck of a game most of the way through, was on the hook for the loss.
The Cardinals had a few offensive opportunities they just could not cash in on. In the second inning, Tyler Greene came up to bat with the bases loaded and one out and grounded into a double play. In the sixth, Allen Craig came up to bat with runners at first and second and one out and—you guessed it—grounded into a double play. Greene and Craig are bench players, of course, starting because of a) injuries and b) the great Jeff Francis starting with his baffling left-handedness and blazing mid-80s fastball. Though the Cards had played better against lefties this season, Friday’s performance was a bit of a regression. Colby Rasmus, for instance, went 0 for 4 on the night and struck out three times. The Cards managed to get a couple on in the eighth, but again could not come through. And with the Royals having a closer the caliber of Joakim Soria, you either score in the first eight innings or you don’t score at all.
Carpenter’s performances this season have begun to raise questions about his health and effectiveness, but this loss is not all his fault. Rasmus certainly could have caught the Betemit ball, and probably should have. It may not have kept the Royals from scoring later in the inning, but the cliché about giving Major League teams extra outs certainly applies. Rasmus also rainbowed a couple of throws back to the infield, which made him look even more out of place. I am starting to wonder if Rasmus truly is a centerfielder. I realize Jim Edmonds spoiled St. Louis for a lot of years, but Rasmus seems to lapse at some of the worst times. Running catches don’t seem to be a problem; diving catches, however, always end up being an adventure. Getting the ball back in when there is no threat of advancement doesn’t seem to be a problem; if Rasmus has to keep a runner from advancing or has a play on an advancement, he spikes it or airmails it. Rasmus has a lot of great potential and I am glad he is a Cardinal. But the team needs more in center. Unfortunately, the only other person on the team capable of playing better centerfield is Jon Jay, and all the other guys’ offense is too valuable to have Jay playing every day.
So Rasmus had a bad night, and a banged-up Cardinal offense struggled to get hits and runs. The pitching was good—even Ryan Franklin managed a perfect inning, his first of the season—but has nothing to show for it. A four-game winning streak was snapped, but it did not cost the Cards in the standings.
Such is the mystique of Interleague Play. The Royals are a young team on the rise, and the Cardinals are the stalwart trying to get healthy and keep their slim lead in the division. Like it or not, the rest of this series just became very important. And the Cards can afford no more mistakes.