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Heroics, rallies not enough to keep Cards in first place

Posted Friday, May 25, 2012, at 9:43 AM


The Cardinals did (almost) everything in their power Thursday night to cling onto first place, but with no such luck.

A lack-luster first inning from Westbrook ,combined with a missed double-play opportunity and a fifth inning error by David Freese, combined with the pitching staff's roughest outing of the season to give Philadelphia the edge.

Cardinals pitchers gave up a total of 18 hits, but the offense managed to dredge on, putting together a pair of rallies in the third and fifth innings. They managed to tie the game up on multiple occasions, but never could pull out in front with a lead.

The offense put up a great night. It's always a shame to score that many runs (9) on that many hits (15) and not get a win out of it, but the struggles of Westbrook early on and the bullpen later were simply insurmountable.

Catcher Yadier Molina continues to show why he deserved his monster extension in the spring and he is definitely earning his paycheck. Last night, he went 4-for-5 with a homerun and 3 RBIs. He started Thursday night hitting below .300, but ended up well across the line. He's now hitting .314 on the season, but has really turned up the heat in the last 10 days. Since and including the home series against Chicago, Molina has gone 14-for-38 with 2 HRs, 7 RBIs, a pair of walks and 4 runs scored.

The Cardinals have done a good job of weathering offensive adversity, but the real "make-it-or-break-it" is coming from the bullpen.

Here's a quick breakdown:

* Mitchell Boggs - Boggs has put together a good season. With a record of 0-1 and a 229 ERA in 19 appearances, he has shown that his offseason adjustments are really paying off. He's gone from being somewhat inconsistent to being a legitimate late inning pitcher.

* Victor Marte - After struggling in early April, Marte has really come together as well. This is a guy who still has potential to grow despite being 31 years old. He's also capable of going more than an inning if need be, and that's something the bullpen is badly lacking at the moment. That's why the loss of Kyle McClellan hurts so bad right now.

* Marc Rzepczynski - Over his last 10 games, Scrabble hasn't been the lights-out lefty-specialist we saw in 2011. He's given up five runs in eight innings and that's not what is needed of him. He'll come through over the long haul - he's just hit a rough patch. His overall ERA is 3.86 in 2012 compared to 3.34 in 2011. Like I said, he'll get there. He has only issued four walks 25 percent of the season into 2012, but gave up 26 in 2011. Basically, he's on pace for a third fewer walks.

* Eduardo Sanchez - He's only had three outings in his short return from Memphis and two of them were fantastic. Saturday against the Dodgers he gave up a pair of runs in .2 innings, so his ERA is a bit artificially inflated. It's still too early to make a judgment on Sanchez in my opinion.

* Brandon Dickson - Similar to Sanchez, I'm not ready to rule on Dickson. In 2.1 overall innings, he's given up 3 hits and no runs. It would be wonderful if he could stay at that pace all season, but I wouldn't hold my breath. He has potential to be a solid innings eater though, and the Cardinals are in desperate need of just that. I'm anxious to see how he develops.

* Jason Motte - Motte is Motte. He sports a 0.79 ERA over the last 10 games with 5 saves in 11.1 innings and has given up only one run. His season statistics are looking pretty good as well, but in the last 10 games he really seems dialed-in. (On a completely unrelated note, his new walkout song and video are absolutely perfect for him).

* Fernando Salas - Sigh. Last season's hero has turned into this season's zero. He's had the worst season in the bullpen and still doesn't look comfortable at the mound. He's missing location, lost some velocity and seems easily shaken. In his last 10 appearances he has given up 8 runs, 9 walks and 13 hits. That's simply unacceptable. He is very close to spending some time in AAA Memphis and it's probably what needs to happen. That would likely have already happened if there was an obvious choice to bring up.

The Cardinals will still come through, and I expect some bullpen juggling over the next week to make up for the sad performance in recent days.

The offense held up Thursday night, but that won't hold forever if something is not done soon.


To submit a question for the Balls & Strikes Mailbag, either e-mail cnoles@dailystatesman.com, call (573)624-4545, or fill out the form at dailystatesman.com/blogs/coreynoles/

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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.

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