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Martinez a bright spot, but Cards fall to Mets

March 31, 2018

NEW YORK -- When clicking, the Cardinals feel the top of their batting order could be one of the best in baseball. It's a group full of accolades and pedigree, a unit manager Mike Matheny doesn't plan to deviate from much this season.So it came as little surprise when Matheny's

NEW YORK -- When clicking, the Cardinals feel the top of their batting order could be one of the best in baseball. It's a group full of accolades and pedigree, a unit manager Mike Matheny doesn't plan to deviate from much this season.
So it came as little surprise when Matheny's lineup card for Saturday's 6-2 loss to the Mets at Citi Field looked identical to the one he wrote out on Opening Day. Across the field, Mets manager Mickey Callaway used a different approach, largely rewriting an alignment that produced nine runs on the season's first day.
The results, though -- on both sides -- remained consistent. The edited top of the Mets' order scored quickly against Cardinals starter Michael Wacha. Meanwhile, St. Louis' top hitters continued their early-season chill against Jacob deGrom, who combined with a triumvirate of relievers to hold an early lead without much incident. deGrom struck out seven and allowed one run over 5 2/3 frames to earn his first win.
"It's early," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Today we had some opportunities we didn't capitalize on. When you get an opportunity with guys in scoring position, you've got to get it done. Some days are harder than others."

On this day, Todd Frazier's two-run double put the Mets ahead in the first. Travis d'Arnaud and Yoenis Cespedes added solo home runs off Wacha, who became the second of two Cardinals starters this season to not escape the fifth inning. He allowed four earned runs; the Mets added one more apiece against relievers Ryan Sherriff and Sam Tuivailala.
"I was able to find the zone today, just really not my location, not where I wanted to be," Wacha said. "Missed too many spots and ended up giving up too many runs."

Matt Carpenter's eighth-inning home run and Jose Martinez's two hits proved rare bright spots for a lineup that has struggled through two games. The top four spots in the Cardinals' order, specifically, combined to go 3-for-32 over the first two contests of 2018. Cardinals hitters went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position Saturday.

"I like our offense against anybody," Matheny said. "We had opportunities. They have the swing-and-miss stuff that can get them out of a bind."
To his point, St. Louis hitters struck out 17 times over 11 2/3 innings this weekend against deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, two of the game's preeminent strikeout pitchers. William Fowler, Tommy Pham, Carpenter and Marcell Ozuna -- the top four -- combined for 13 of the team's total strikeouts.
The calendar and the chill in the air remind the Cardinals that it's early. The lineup will have ample time to click over the remaining 160 games, despite the slow start. Cardinals hitters sought to balance some frustration with a need to keep their early struggles in perspective.
"We're going to get there for sure," Martinez said. "Everybody knows what we're capable of doing. And we're going to show up tomorrow and try to win games."
Salt and pepper: Frazier, who has abandoned his signature "thumbs-down" celebration for the Mets' "salt and pepper" shaker, had an early opportunity to break it out when he doubled to deep left field in the first inning, plating Cespedes and Jay Bruce. Asdrubal Cabrera had sparked the Mets' first rally off Wacha with a leadoff double.

Fire department: Unable to mount a consistent threat against deGrom, the Cardinals greeted Robert Gsellman with consecutive singles to open the seventh inning in a 4-1 game. But Gsellman responded by inducing a Kolten Wong groundout, before Anthony Swarzak set down pinch-hitter Greg Garcia and Fowler to end the threat. The Cardinals never brought the potential tying run to the plate again.

Excuse me, coming through: An awkward play developed in the seventh inning, when Cards center fielder Pham ran in front of left fielder Ozuna to catch what eventually became a Frazier sacrifice fly. Pham then threw off balance, giving him little chance at nabbing Cespedes trying to score from third.

Cespedes crossed the plate representing the Mets' fifth run. But the play mattered more because it spoke to the health of Ozuna, who has played through lingering shoulder issues since last season. The injury wasn't serious enough for Ozuna to miss time in 2017, but he continues to receive treatment.
"If his arm is healthy, I don't do that," Pham said.
"I misread a fly ball, and I'm striking out way too much. I've got to play better. Can't speak about nobody else but me." -- Pham
Martinez began the season 5-for-5 off Syndergaard and deGrom, in stark contrast of many of teammates. He became the first Cardinals player in six years to collect five or more hits over the season's first two games, since Rafael Furcal and David Freese did so in 2012. Showboat Fisher set the club record by recording eight hits over the first two games of the 1930 season.
After featuring the same lineup for the season's first two games, the Cardinals could shuffle their infield alignment for Sunday's series finale. Jedd Gyorko is a good bet to make his first start with the Cardinals set to face a left-handed starter for the first time. Luke Weaver makes his season debut for a St. Louis team searching for its first win.
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Joe Trezza is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.