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June 29 Recap: Once Again, Not Quite

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Cardinals come up one run short (again) at home (again)

this is a picture of a royals player getting a good outcome at the plate. i don't get it, either.
this is a picture of a royals player getting a good outcome at the plate. i don't get it, either.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The I-70 Series shifted to St. Louis tonight, with Carlos Martinez and Edinson Volquez taking the mound for their teams as the Cards took on the Royals in the third game of (effectively) their four-game series. The Cardinals started the same guys as usual lately (including Kolten Wong in CF), except Greg Garcia got the call at SS. Aledmys Diaz fouled a ball off his face two days ago and was hit by a foul in the dugout yesterday, so his focus was, appropriately, staying safe tonight:

Volquez is another one of Those Guys who it's painful not to do damage against. He isn't very good -- and works so slowly that tonight it took nearly three hours to play the first seven (scoreless) innings -- but tonight he went 6 2/3 innings, and despite a fair amount of loud contact (Statcast had nine batted balls over 90 mph by my count) gave up no runs. So it goes.

Martinez was good. The Case of the Missing Strikeouts is still ongoing with him (he had a subpar 19.5% strikeout rate coming into the game, and only struck out three), but he consistently induced ground balls and weak contact. The Royals being the Royals, of course, weak contact was no bar to them racking up eight hits off him -- most of which were of the variety that makes one sigh at the television. But he kept them off the board for six innings.

In fact, Martinez was rolling along when he gave up a single to Alcides Escobar to lead off the 7th inning. Martinez was at only 90 pitches, but with a lefty, a switch-hitter, and another lefty due up, Mike Matheny made an aggressive move and went to the bullpen. This was, frankly, a great move: third time through the order, lefties due up, etc. It was impressive to see Matheny take a guy with a shutout out of a game with a relatively low pitch count. And sure enough, Kevin Siegrist came through.

The game stayed tied until (of course) Jonathan Broxton came in to pitch the 8th, and the Royals (of COURSE) scratched out a classically infuriating Royals run to take a 1-0 lead. It's hard to fault the big fella: he did walk a guy, but Christian Colon and Whit Merrifield (note: 20-grade baseball name) hit singles that were excessively dinky even by Royals standards. With the bases loaded, Escobar hit a sac fly to give the Royals the lead, and your recapper is not ashamed to admit that he began writing up the game as if it was over, because Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis are great.

Herrera lived up to that billing, but Davis didn't. St. Louis rallied against him: Wong worked a nice walk, pinch-hitter Jedd Gyorko lined a single to center, and Peralta came through this time, with a clutch game-tying single through the left side. Then Tommy Pham (who had entered to pinch-run for Matt Holliday earlier) torched a ball into center, but of course tonight hitting the ball softly was the name of the game, so it was just a hard-hit third out instead of a game-winning hit.

Free baseball! Trevor Rosenthal's been deposed, so it was Seung Hwan Oh in the 10th. He walked the leadoff guy, and then threw away a pickoff throw to put that guy on third with one out. Matheny called for an IBB to light-hitting Jarrod Dyson (eh, okay) in hopes of getting a double-play ball.

And Oh got it! But Matt Carpenter booted it (if you are keeping track, at that point in the game Kolten Wong was standing hundreds of feet away, in left field). 2-1 Royals. This marked the first time this season the Cardinals had literally driven me to drink. I stood up, turned of the TV, walked over to the booze cupboard, and poured more bourbon than I needed into a coffee mug.

Then Stephen Piscotty did this to lead off the bottom of the 10th and, in addition to feeling warm and more gregarious, I felt better:

Then Rosenthal came in and had a dominant 11th (cool!), but the 2016 Cardinals can't have nice things. Seth Maness (he's back! and is the last man in the bullpen, I guess) gave up a couple doubles in the 12th, and the Royals reclaimed a one-run lead. And this time, they held it.

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So, lately, the Cardinals have been losing this game a lot more often than they win it.

The Cardinals are (whatever optimistic noises we or they might want to make about catching the Cubs) in a crowded wild-card field this year, alongside several other teams projected to win 85 to 90 games. And the difference between winning 91 and winning 86 isn't actually profound -- it's either losing one extra winnable ballgame every month, or not doing that.

And I don't want to make it sound like a failure of will or talent or something like that, because it's neither. "Wanting it more" doesn't help in baseball, as the helpless feeling of watching yet more weakly-struck Royals hits drop mockingly on the outfield grass in the late innings should make clear. Nor has there ever been a squad so talented that they're not subject to going 10-20 in one-run games through no real fault of their own; people who treat stuff like this as a failure of talent either haven't been watching baseball for very long or just don't know what they're talking about. But this is, eventually, a mathematical fact: the Cardinals will need to win more games like this than they have so far, or they will miss the playoffs. They're good enough to do it, and there's no magic way to make it happen, but it needs to start happening more often.

Stray Notes

  • Encouraging game at the plate from Wong, with two walks and a hit in five PAs.
  • Chien-Ming Wang? Chien-Ming Wang. Apparently this is what he's up to these days.
  • The game-winner was the Royalsest hit of the night, somehow. Not well hit, looked foul but was fair, and should probably have been caught but wasn't. Tonight I flipped from indifferent about the Royals to hating them forever.
  • I don't know if Matt Adams' back hurts or what, but he's back to looking bad out there. It was nice while it lasted.
Chris Young and Mike Leake are your starters tomorrow. 6:15 CST start time, for some reason.