Cardinals take opener of series versus Dodgers

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In a lineup with Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina, it’s Allen Craig who has been chosen to hit cleanup of late. He showed why yet again Thursday, singling home the go-ahead run in the seventh as the Cardinals took the opener of a four-game series against the Dodgers 2-1.

Both the Cardinals and Dodgers had lost three straight entering the night, leaving St. Louis with the one-game edge as they battle for what will likely be one wild card spot. The Cardinals jumped further ahead in the competition thanks in part to a strong effort from All-Star Lance Lynn, who was filling in for the injured Jake Westbrook and making his first start since being bounced from the rotation last month.

Lynn allowed one run in six innings and struck out seven on the night. He and Josh Beckett pitched to a draw after Beckett allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings.

Beckett’s night will be better remembered for the single that wasn’t, as he was thrown out at first by Carlos Beltran on his hard shot into right field in the third inning.

The Dodgers got their only run on an Adrian Gonzalez single in the first. The Cards came right back and tied it in the top of the second on a Skip Schumaker single.

The Cardinals, who racked up 10 hits and five walks (two intentional), wasted several opportunities after that. They had 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position, yet only twice converted (though they had four hits; two of them didn’t score runs). Before Craig’s single in the seventh, the Cards got leadoff hitter Shane Robinson on via a walk from Paco Rodriguez in his third major league appearance. Instead of remaining patient, Jon Jay decided to sacrifice him along, only to pop up the bunt. Fortunately, Matt Carpenter singled afterwards and Craig delivered his hit with two outs.

For Craig, it was his 77th RBI in 102 games this season. He’s driven 37 runs in 47 games as a cleanup hitter. Obviously, that’s less than one-third of a season worth of action. However, it’s a better rate of driving in runs than Albert Pujols maintained in either of his last two seasons with St. Louis.

Players are waking up and getting ready to fight

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There’s this idea out there that the owners have been eating the players’ lunch at the bargaining table in recent years because the players are, generally, rich and happy and maybe don’t care about a lot of the stuff the previous couple of generations of players did. There is probably some degree of truth to that. The difference between a good deal and a bad deal, in both collective bargaining and on the free agent market, is way less dire now than it used to be and thus the urgency may not have been there over the past several years the way it was in 1981 or 1994.

But it goes too far to say that such a mindset is universal among players. Or that it’s a mindset which, even among those who hold it, will always persist. Players may not have been as vigilant about labor matters over the past several years as they used to be, but they’re not idiots and, at some point, the owners are gonna push ’em too far and they’ll respond.

As we find ourselves in the second straight offseason in which teams simply don’t seem all too keen on signing free agents, it’s starting to happen already.

Earlier this week Dallas Keuchel tweeted out some things critical of the current market and teams’ approach to it (and took another swipe today). This afternoon Giants third baseman Evan Longoria chimed in on Instagram, posting a picture of Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and saying the following:

We are less then a month from the start of spring and once again some of our games biggest starts remain unsigned. Such a shame. It’s seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents. As fans, why should “value” for your team even be a consideration? It’s not your money, it’s money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of. Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team. And as players we need to stand strong for what we believe we are worth and continue to fight for the rights we have fought for time and time again.

Most of that is common sense, the sort of which we’ve been arguing for around here for some time. Fans should care about good players and winning baseball games, not whether or not their front office can get a great bargain for its own sake. It may be interesting to talk about payroll and salaries and wins/$, but the point of baseball is to win, right? When so many teams seem rather uninterested in that, it’s a problem that all of the interesting analytical insights can’t really make up for.

The second part is worth keeping your eyes on. Maybe players have not been on a war footing the likes of which their predecessors were in the 1970s through the 1990s, but it doesn’t mean they won’t get back there if pushed. As is abundantly clear, the owners are pushing. Salaries are dropping in both an absolute sense and, especially, compared to baseball’s revenues. Players are getting a smaller piece of the pie than they have in a while and ownership seems quite pleased to see that continue.

If players are saying stuff like this publicly, it means that players are talking about it amongst themselves privately. The last two years have likely served as quite a wakeup call for them, and they seem to be waking up. Evan Longoria is. Dallas Keuchel is. So are some others. If current trends continue, more and more will wake up.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2021 season. What happens over the rest of this offseason and the next two is going to determine the mood of the players. The mood of the players, in turn, is going to dictate the tenor of negotiations. If they were to begin right now, those negotiations would be very, very rocky.