"Boy these pitchers are making some pitches today. If they miss, they miss by.... a nano half-inch."
The above quote by Tim McCarver, mentioned sometime in the middle innings, provides a good summary for the Cardinals 2-0 loss to the Cubs. This was a classic pitcher's duel between two starters who left hitters so helpless it would take a mental lapse or defensive ineptitude to determine the winner. That's exactly what happened in the top of the seventh when Lance Lynn hit Anthony Rizzo, inexplicably tried to pick off the man with a short lead and 16 career stolen bases and throwing it wild, and grooved a pitch right down the middle to Starlin Castro. Due to a weak throw from Matt Holliday and a missing cuttoff man, Castro went to second on the single and then later scored after a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly.
The game started promisingly enough with the Cardinals taking advantage of Jake Arrieta's lack of control. Lack of control isn't quite right as his pitches were all around the corners. He was trying to be too precise, too perfect and as a result he walked the leadoff man, Matt Carpenter, and Matt Adams on four straight pitches. (Edit: I'm not sure why I thought Adams had walked in the first game, but he does appear more patient to me.) The Cardinals didn't take advantage of this, although I don't think Arietta was pitching badly so much as trying to paint the corners too much. Jason Heyward and Holliday both weakly hit ground balls and Peralta struck out looking.
The Cardinals had very few opportunities to score and when they did, they failed to take advantage. In the third, Lynn led off with a single (you read that right). Carpenter then had an uncharacteristically bad at-bat striking out looking on a clear strike. Heyward weakly grounded out again, and after a classic Holliday opposite field single, Adams struck out in a way he usually only reserves for left-handed pitchers. Eight straight out later, Matt Adams walked again and Jhonny Peralta hit a line-drive double over the head of the third baseman. Alas, Jon Jay grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning.
Despite the seventh inning, Lynn pitched one of the best games he'll probably pitch this year. (If that statement is false, he will by a Cy Young candidate). He had a perfect game through three innings and one out in the fourth. Then McCarver mentioned that he had a perfect game and laughed about how mad people will get at him for doing that. Then he allowed a triple to Jorge Soler. I mention this not because I believe he actually ruined the perfect game (ignoring the fact that it was the fourth inning and he had six innings to go still), but because it's just weird it always seem to work out that way. (Necessary caveat that hey, it probably doesn't always work out that way, it just seems to because you ignore when the announcer has no impact.)
Anyway, after he purposefully pitched around Rizzo (his only walk of the game), he struck out Castro in masterful sequence. With two outs and men on first and third, Chris Coghlan hit a line drive right to Jon Jay. When you're pitching good or bad, it's sometimes easy to forget that Lynn would be pitching just as good a game if Coghlan's hit went a little more to the right, probably scoring both runners. That's just the luck of baseball.
But I skipped the good part of the game! Lynn's run through the first nine batters of the game was some of the best pitching you will see. Jorge Soler, pretty well-known for striking out a lot (Edit: I had mixed my impression of him with the other Cubs prospects and quickly glanced at his MLB stats; he is not known for striking out a lot), had a surprisingly patient at-bat against Lynn. The count was 1-2 and he laid off two close pitches that were nearly perfected placed if you want to get a free swinger to chase. But Soler laid both pitches off making it a full count. Of course, Lynn rewarded him with straight heat on the low part of the strike zone that Soler did not catch up to. He basically did the same thing to Castro and Miguel Montero in the 2nd inning, with both hitters getting behind quickly, fighting off a tough pitch to stave off a strikeout, only to swing through the next pitch to go back to the dugout. His performance against Jake Arietta seemed to say: "Ok pitcher I don't have time for you, let me get back to the real batters." (He threw three straight strikes in such a quick and economical fashion, if you look at your phone, when you looked back up the next batter would be up.) Through the first nine, he had struck out four batters, and none of the five who managed to hit the ball made any sort of strong contact.
After the Cubs scored, the Cardinals went down without much of a fight. Yadier Molina hit a line drive that Castro frustratingly caught after jumping as high as he could. Then Kolten Wong struck out. Lynn, who would get removed the next inning without recording an out, struck out. Carpenter struck out for the second time. Heyward got on base from an error by Castro (though I suspect Heyward is safe anyway on the slow roller). And that was the last time the Cardinals got on base, with one out in the 8th inning. The last five batters all made weak contact, with the exception of Adams, who lined out to Castro.
- Carpenter, if you couldn't gather from above, had a pretty bad game. Despite the leadoff walk, he struck out twice and flew out to left-field in the other after only two pitches. I wonder how differently this game goes if Carpenter doesn't stare at a pitch that he knew was a strike and fouls it off. Oh well, as Kurtis Blow would say, "these are the breaks."
- If you're one to be worried about Heyward's power, this game probably didn't help. All four at-bats were groundballs, and none of them were hit that hard. But seriously, second game of the season so don't be that guy.
- Jon Jay: 0-4. I'd be remiss as Co-President of the Peter Bourjos Fanclub not to mention that there's no way Soler gets a triple if Bourjos is in center (and he might even catch it). Jay didn't have a real good game, although his first at-bat was marred by two straight questionable strikes, the second of which he maybe should have swung at because it was in a near identical location to the first.
- Lance Lynn final line: 6 IP, 2 runs (one earned), 9 Ks, BB, HBP, 2 hits (His unearned run was I believe due to his own error)
Jake Arietta final line: 7 IP, 7 Ks, 3 BBs, 3 hits allowed - I actually think he pitched even better than this line shows as he was pretty dominant in the first inning to batters he didn't walk.