Michael Wacha has had an interesting start to the season. More interesting I think for people familiar with advanced stats than those who prefer W-L and ERA. Because the truth of the matter is Wacha has been mediocre this year by his underlying peripherals. Going into the game, he had 42 strikeouts and 17 walks in 63.1 IP. That's not that impressive. His FIP was 3.76. His xFIP was 4.09. If SIERA is your style, it was 4.19. Basically, ERA is the only stat that said Michael Wacha has been an elite pitcher this year.
If Wacha wants to keep his ERA low - 2.18 is probably not realistic even if he was pitching at the level of an elite pitcher - he needs to start striking more hitters out. Luckily, his stats so far are entered in. There is no taking them away. And conveniently, Wacha seems to be pitching a lot better than he started the season lately. In his last four games, he pitched 24.2 IP with 23 Ks and 9 walks.
Tonight's game was probably his most impressive of the season. While he only had 5 Ks in 7 IP, it was his best start by K/BB ratio of the season. He has not struck out five batters without walking at least two yet until tonight. Not all of it was good - he had a low 27.3 GB% so he was probably fortunate to not allow a home run, especially against an offense at the caliber of the Dodgers.
The game started when Joc Pederson crushed a ball that was caught only because Jason Heyward is an elite fielder. In Wacha's defense, Pederson is really good at hitting. In fact, Pederson was about the only Dodger to get good contact on Wacha in the early innings. With the exception of a Justin Turner single in the 2nd and a Pederson double in the 3rd, Wacha was cruising through the Dodgers lineup.
In the fifth, he ran into his first real trouble. Back to back hits by Jimmy Rollins and Kiki Hernandez left runners at 1st and 3rd with one out. Here's where the manager of the Dodgers made his influence on the game. Carlos Frias, the pitcher, was up. He had 85 pitches at the time with five runs allowed (three earned). He did not look particularly good in his outing. Mattingly decided it was a good idea for him to bat for himself. Frias successfully executed a sacrifice bunt to make it runners at 2nd and 3rd with two outs. Pederson, with two crushed balls in his first two plate appearances, was up. Wacha struck him out looking to end the inning.
He came back out for the 6th and had more trouble, mostly due to some bad luck on balls in play. Adrian Gonzalez singled with one out. Turner followed him with a single of his own. Andre Ethier hit a ball right in between short and third that hit off Jhonny Peralta's glove. The ball knocked far enough way that Gonzalez should have scored, but he remained on third to the dismay of the Dodger crowd. It didn't end up hurting them as Alex Guerrero got a good pitch to hit and crushed it to center where Jay was waiting to catch the ball. The broadcast then showed Guerrero getting fives from everybody followed by him throwing his helmet because he probably felt he just missed it. The inning ended with only one run to show for their parade of hits when Rollins grounded out to second.
Wacha came back out despite having 95 pitches. I would have taken him out, but it feels perhaps a bit hypocritical to claim he was suffering from BABIP troubles and in the same breath claim he was spent at that point. Plus 100 pitches is somewhat arbitrary as an endpoint when a pitcher should come out. Either way, he made quick work of the Dodgers in the 7th, only using 12 pitches to get three outs.
The Cardinals started frustratingly enough. Kolten Wong led off with a single only to get picked off one pitch later while Carpenter was up. Carpenter followed with a walk. Holliday grounded into a force out that was originally a double play until a replay reversed it. Tim McCarver shared his opinion that replays should not be used at the end of an inning or in the 1st inning. Ok Tim. Peralta singled, giving the Cardinals three baserunners and no runs. Mark Reynolds ended the inning when he struck out in a not so great at-bat.
In the 3rd, the Cardinals lack of scoring looked to continue when Matt Carpenter hit a ground ball right at Turner with two outs in the 3rd. Turner booted it and Carpenter got on base from his error. The Cardinals then hit three straight two-out singles. Holliday, Peralta, and Reynolds all got hits, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead and Frias two unearned runs. The Cardinals scored again in the 5th, this time started by an eight-pitch Kolten Wong walk. Carpenter hit a line drive right past the second baseman and barely made it to second on the play, leaving runners on 2nd and 3rd and nobody out. Holliday hit a sac fly, driving in Wong. Carpenter also tagged on the play making it to third. Peralta was intentionally walked so the Dodgers could pitch to Mark Reynolds. It worked too as Reynolds weakly hit it to the pitcher. Luckily it was hit so weakly the pitcher was forced to go to first. Heyward then drove both Carpenter and Peralta in for his only hit of the game to make the score 5-0.
Frias improbably pitched into the 7th before being taken out with men on second and third with two outs. Unfortunately, St. Louis native Daniel Coulombe got out of it by striking out Heyward looking. Good fortune did not befall Coulombe in his next inning. He walked Yadier Molina, gave up a double to the pinch-hitting Randal Grichuk (Molina hilariously barely made it to 3rd), and then gave up another double to Wong. After walking Carpenter, he got his next two batters to ground out, making that the last that the Cardinals would score.
- Kevin Siegrist pitched a scoreless 8th (IP, 2 Ks, 2B) and Carlos Villanueva pitched a scoreless 9th (IP, H) to close out the game. Jordan Walden would be nice, but the Cards still have a pretty good pen here. Kind of wish they didn't use Siegrist with a six-run lead, but at least Rosenthal didn't pitch.
- Matt Carpenter had two walks and a double (in addition to getting on from an error, which to be fair to Turner, was hard hit at least). I now deem the 2 BB, 2B game the Matt Carpenter hat trick.
- Let's play: Who got on base twice?!! There's Carpenter, Wong (1B, 2B, BB), Holliday, and Peralta (3 1Bs and a BB). Yes the first four hitters of the Cardinals lineup went 8-15 with 4 BBs and 2 2Bs. They also scored five runs and drove in four runs. Usually, when your first four hitters do that, you win.
- Am I crazy for thinking Matheny would *usually* pinch-hit for a pitcher who is struggling with 85 pitches and a 5-run deficit? This might be one of those things that seems so blatantly obvious that it's inconceivable a manager wouldn't pinch-hit in that situation and yet Mattingly is certainly not the only one who would keep his pitcher to bat.
Tomorrow, the Cardinals try to make it to where at worst they split the series with Carlos Martinez facing Brett Anderson. When his arm isn't falling off, he's a pretty good pitcher. It should be a good game.