Alternate headline: Cardinals win 3-0 in Innings 2-8 with a dominant bullpen
Unfortunately, "play a hard nine" is a phrase for a reason. That's not to say the Cardinals didn't play hard, but all nine innings count. The two innings that were the Cardinals downfall were the dispiriting kind. Lance Lynn, arguably the staff ace, lasted 0.2 IP and exited the game having allowed six runs. The seventh would score immediately after he left (it was "charged" to Lynn although it was unearned.) The ninth inning didn't necessarily matter according to the score, but there's a big difference between going into the 9th being down 2 and being down 5.
The game started ominously when Gregory Polanco worked a 1-2 count to 3-2 and then hit a hard hit ball to Peter Bourjos for the first. The next batter, Neil Walker, hit it harder and farther on a ball that Bourjos misplayed. I don't know that most CFs catch that, but most CFs also don't allow that to become a triple, And Bourjos, with his defensive ability, almost certainly could and should have caught it. Andrew McCutchen then laced a rope down the left field line for a double of his own.
If there was a theme to the first inning, it was hard hit balls and poor defense. Jung-ho Kang hit a bullet towards Matt Carpenter. Carpenter made a nice play to snag it, but then sailed the ball over Stephen Piscotty's head. McCutchen would score and Kang would make it to second. Pedro Alvarez then hit a ball to deep center that Bourjos certainly had no chance at catching because it was well over the wall. Just like that, the score was 4-0. Unfortunately, the scoring wasn't done. Lynn hit Francisco Cervilli, allowed a single to Travis Ishikawa, and struck out Sean Rodriguez on a 3-2 count that should have been a walk if Rodriguez had plate discipline.
He then somehow gave up a hit to Francisco Liriano - A man who backs away from any pitch in the vicinity of inside. After Polanco singled, Lynn was done for the day. 41 pitches and a bullpen that needed a savior. Luckily, Tyler Lyons was available. He hadn't pitched in 10 days when he entered the game. So naturally he probably wanted to get a quick first-pitch strike over. Walker recognized this, or just saw a pitch he liked, and hit a rope over Jhonny Peralta's head. He was more careful against McCutchen, throwing a near perfect sequence on a slow rolling groundout to end the damage.
In a soul-crushing inning like that, one needs to quickly rebound and rebound the Cardinals did. Liriano did help although laying off his nasty pitches was also a function of patience from the Cardinals' hitters. Matt Carpenter walked on four straight pitches to start the game. If there's any sign that a potential comeback could occur, it most certainly is when a starter starts the game with a four-pitch walk. Randal Grichuk followed with a single. Peralta hit a bullet right at Walker for the first out. A little bit to either side and it's probably a hit. But a little bit lower and it probably hits the ground and it's a double play. That's baseball. Jason Heyward walked to load the bases and most of his pitches weren't that close. Yadier Molina came up. The Molina of last week would have hit into a double play. The Molina of today lined a single over the shortstop's head to score two runs. Kolten Wong ended the rally quickly on a first-pitch out. I don't necessarily begrudge Wong for swinging at the first pitch, but if you're going to swing at the first pitch against a pitcher who can't throw strikes, it sure as hell better be a better pitch than the one he swung at to end the inning on a slow roller to Pedro Alvarez.
Lyons settled down. He sandwiched two singles by Alvarez, one in the 2nd where he was removed by a double play ball and one in the 5th with one out, with eight straight outs. Liriano also got into a groove. The bottom of the order went down without much of a fight in the second. (It says a lot when the best PA was by Lyons, who had a seven-pitch groundout.) The Cardinals squandered a potential run scoring oppurtunity in the 3rd when Liriano walked both Carpenter and Peralta, but he fooled Heyward with his pitch selection more than the pitch itself which was high in the zone. Molina, who has decided to undertake the strategy of swinging at literally every first pitch he sees, flew out on the first pitch to end the threat.
Unfortunately, not taking advantage of Liriano's lack of control is the the reason they couldn't come back. In the 6th, the Cardinals loaded the bases with singles by Peralta and Heyward and a walk by Molina. (Don't worry, he still managed to foul off the first pitch before learning to be patient) Wong grounded out to second and easily avoided a double play ball to score the third run and make it runners on the corner with one out. An uncharacteristically awful night at the plate from Piscotty produced a weak flyball to shallow right and a characteristically awful night at the plate from Bourjos produced a weak foulout.
After Cishek pitched a perfect 1-2-3 7th inning, the Cardinals managed to actually take advantage of poor control from newly acquired Joakim Soria. Brandon Moss nearly hit a homer to begin the inning, but it was caught at the track. Carpenter easily reached first on his bunt single thanks to the shift. Soria threw it wild on the first pitch and Grichuk had a runner in scoring position with one out. He ended up working a nine-pitch walk (!!) to make it runners on first and second. Peralta followed with a single, scoring Carpenter. Heyward loaded the bases on an bloop single over Walker's head. The Pirates responded by bringing in the elite lefty, Tony Watson. Molina got good contact on the ball and flew out to right, allowing Grichuk to score without much of a problem. Wong struck out to end the threat.
The Cardinals didn't threaten again after that making six straight outs to end the game. In the 9th Seth Maness struggled, allowing the first four batters to reach, with two of them being walks surprisingly (the second of which was intentional). In a repeat of the first inning, Kang hit a bullet at Carpenter, who momentarily bobbled it, but recovered enough to step on third and throw out Kang at first. Without the bobble, it's possible he could have thrown it home and prevented another run. But it probably didn't matter anyway. Aramis Ramirez hit a single for the Pirates 10th run of the ballgame. I'd wonder how the bottom of the 9th would go if Maness throws a scoreless frame, because it didn't feel like it was over until he allowed a few runs.
The Cardinals WPA never got past 25% after that first inning, but it was also at 4.3% before the top of the first even ended so I guess that's an accomplishment.
- Kolten Wong had a deceivingly bad game. He went 1-4 with an RBI, which doesn't sound bad. But he hit a weak groundout with a man on 2nd to end the threat in the first, struck out with men on first and second to end the threat in the 7th, and weakly grounded out with the bases loaded for his lone RBI. His lone hit happened because Walker fell.
- Good night overall from the 6-9 hitters. Piscotty could not identify Liriano's changeup (I think) repeatedly swinging at the same pitch in his 0-4 night. Bourjos, who also couldn't identify that pitch, went 0-3 with his best PA being a two pitch groundout. And Lyons, a .300 hitter before tonight, went 0-2. Reynolds and Moss were both double switched in and combined for 0-3. So a 1-12 night with the lone hit being an infield single from the last four hitters. That right there is why the Cardinals lost.
- Lance Lynn final line: 0.2 IP, 7 runs, 3 ER, K - I guess the lone positive is that he didn't walk anybody somehow in his 10 batters faced and 41 pitches.
- Tyler Lyons final line: 5.1 IP, 3 hits, 2 Ks, BB - It kind of sucks that he picked this night to be efficient with 69 pitches thrown. He probably could have thrown seven innings at his pace.
- Carpenter, Heyward, and Peralta all got on base three times. Molina and Grichuk got on base twice. You really should not lose games when your top five hitters in the lineup combine to get on base 13 times. (None of them were extra-base hits. Actually the Cards hit no extra base hits at all tonight.
- Aren't you guys happy we won't face Pedro Alvarez anymore? Or Kang for that matter? Or Ramirez? Jeez they have a lot of guys who hit the Cardinals hard.
- Two things i didn't mention: Molina received a strike from Grichuk in the first that he failed to catch somehow for one of the runs. The throw beat the runner by a few steps. And Heyward got thrown out trying to reach third on the RBI single by Molina. So this game featured a poor defensive play by Bourjos and Molina and a "bad" baserunning mistake by Heyward (I don't think it was that bad of a play and it was worth the risk). This was a weird game.
Tomorrow, the Cardinals begin a three game series with the "competing for last place in the NL East with the Phillies" Miami Marlins. Tom Koehler takes the mound for the Marlins. He is an extremely unexciting player and not that great. He will face Jaime Garcia, who is an extremely exciting player and kind of great.