Snake Biting

Cardinals are on their first West Coast swing of the year, visiting Arizona and San Francisco.  There’s never a good time to visit the Bay Area and play the Lincecums and Cains, but now is a very good time to visit the Desert.  Arizona’s got some capable starters, but their bullpen got blitzed over the weekend in San Diego and is in tatters.  Knocking the starter out of the game early is always a good strategy, and especially so in this series.  

I said as much in the comment section here.  Rodrigo Lopez is no Dan Haren or Edwin Jackson,  so it stood to reason this Cardinal lineup would handle him.  It didn’t quite work out that way.  Turns out, Lopez was riding a 2-game winning streak against the Cardinals.  Here’s an interesting tidbit:  last night marked his fourth start vs St Louis, each one for a different team (SD, PHI, COL, AZ).  The definition of journeyman.

He’d allowed only 3 ER in his two previous starts vs St Louis, and bettered that last night.  Only Matt Holliday’s HR prevented him from turning over a 2-0 lead to the Fire Squad, er, AZ bullpen. The Cardinals did their best to push him out of the game early by seeing 65 pitches in the first 3 innings.  Unfortunately, they followed that up by seeing 53 pitches the next 4, which includes their 2-run fifth inning.  As a result Lopez made it through seven.

At least the score was tied when he left.

Once the bullpen got involved, that was it – two more runs allowed (albeit one was unearned), and the Cardinals had their 4-2 win.  St Louis is now the best NL team based on record (9-4).

Of course that’s only part of the story.  The rest is Brad Penny (more after the jump)

Brad Penny is in the midst of his longest career sustained streak of pitching excellence.  Stretching back to last September, he’s now put together 5 consecutive games where he went at least 7 innings and allowed 2 ER or less.  The Key in 2010 appears to be a renewed emphasis on his change-up, and the two-seam fastball.  Granted, he’s only thrown 187 pitches so far this year, but the transformation is dynamic:

  • Pitch type %, 2007-2009 (per Fangraphs):  69.4% Fastball, 14.9% Curveball, 11.9% Changeup, 2.3% Slider
  • Pitch type %, 2010:  43.3% Fastball, 20.3% Curveball, 24.6% Changeup, 0% Slider, 11.8% Sinker

His GB/FB% is currently the highest of his career.  Ground balls are up 11%, line drives down 4%, fly balls down 7%.  That matches what the 1.74 ratio tells us.  According to the Fangraphs data, his infield fly % is 3x what it was in 2009 (21% from 8%).  What does it all mean?  Guys are beating the ball into the dirt off Penny, and aren’t making good contact when they hit the ball in the air.

This remains one of the two feel-good stories of the early Cardinal season (the other being how well Jamie Garcia has pitched so far).  Penny gets another start in a pitcher’s park this weekend against Matt Cain and San Francisco, then he faces a Cincinnati team he already handcuffed in 2010.  His first real test will be May 6 (projected) against Philly in Philly.  Should he keep it going through that game, boy oh boy did the Cardinals make a steal of a signing this off-season.

And Dave Duncan should have his ticket punched to Cooperstown.  This reclamation project would be his finest hour.

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Filed under Cardinals recap, NL Central, St Louis Cardinals

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