Eight baseball games left
For playoff magic
In the intro blurb, I called this a "much-needed" victory, only because I don't really like the term "must-win" unless literally the season is over if the game isn't won. But if you are the type who uses that phrase more loosely, then today's game really was a must-win. In fact, every game for the rest of the season is a must-win for the boys in red. The Cardinals entered play today one-half of a game back from the Mets for the second wild card spot. The Giants are one game up on the first wild card spot. The Mets are an empty husk of a team right now, and yet somehow they are still hanging in there. The Cardinals have the toughest remaining schedule, so truly, every game is terribly important. If you can steal one from the Cubs at Wrigley against their worst starter, you really ought to give it your all to make that happen. For once, the Cardinals did not disappoint.
Of course, mind you, it sure seemed like we were doomed from the outset. Today's lineup included Brandon Moss, Jhonny Peralta, and Matt Adams hitting in the 3-4-5 spots. Objectively, this was an awful decision. Much hand-wringing ensued. Peralta, he of the .659 OPS, hitting cleanup?! Mike, no. But, because baseball, things worked out just fine.
The Cardinals struck first. With two outs in the first inning, Moss drew a walk. Peralta followed with a base hit on a ball he barely swung at. Adams then reached after instant replay revealed a hit-by-pitch missed by the home plate umpire. With the bases loaded, Yadier Molina stepped to the plate. There was a time, in the not so long ago past, that this scene would have brought despair upon Cardinals fans, or at least a half-hearted "ugh." But the times, they are a changin' - back to how the times used to be before the times were bad. Today, Yadier Molina at bat with the bases loaded inspires our hearts to swell with hope, or at least to utter a quiet "oooOOoo." Molina did what he has been doing so well the second half of the season: he hit a well-placed double down the third base line, scoring Moss and Peralta. 2-0 Cardinals! Randal Grichuk - who has been an absolute monster since his August call up from Memphis - got a base hit to score Adams and Molina. 4-0 Cardinals after 1.
Nice way to start a ball game, but the Cubs are still the Cubs. And these days, when we say "Cubs are gonna Cub," we don't mean they're going to make a silly baserunning error that somehow turns a hit into a triple play. No, in 2016, we mean they are going to be good and tough. So naturally, the Cubs got two runs back in the bottom of the first inning. Alex Reyes struggled with control early on - a struggle that continued sporadically throughout his five innings of work - at times getting ahead of hitters, but then unable to finish them off, or at other times, appearing to have almost no understanding of the strike zone. After Reyes gave up a hit to Dexter Fowler and a walk to Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist followed with a triple on a long fly ball to deep right field that Stephen Piscotty took a painfully long time to dig out. 4-2 Cardinals. In between the madness, Reyes struck out two.
Piscotty atoned for his less than ideal fielding the following inning with a no-doubter off the bat that actually left the stadium. It was pretty cool! 5-2 Redbirds. But those pesky Cubs scored again in the bottom of the second, and you started to wonder if this was going to be a game where the Cardinals' early lead was eventually erased.
Peralta led off the third inning with another base hit. Molina got one for himself, as well, and with two on and one out, Joe Maddon decided that was enough for his starter Jason Hammel. Mike Montgomery came on in relief. Grichuk promptly smoked a line drive to the gap in left center field, scoring Peralta to bring the score back to a more stable 6-3.
Reyes started to calm down and got through the third and fourth innings unscathed. Unfortunately, he was also at 91 pitches after the fourth. To be fair, Reyes was getting some bad calls (more on that in a bit), which didn't help, but as mentioned above, he just seemed to have a hard time finishing off hitters. Reyes came out for one more inning in the fifth (gotta get him the chance at the win, you know?!), and finished the game with 5 IP, 3 R, 6 H, 3 BB, 6 Ks, and ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN PITCHES. He should have been done after four; I hope his damn arm doesn't fall off. Overall, a good outing for a rookie against a tough lineup. A couple of borderline calls go his way, and who knows, maybe that line looks even a little bit better.
Bowman relieved Reyes and was back to being good. He pitched two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit.
The Cardinals put the heat on again in the seventh. Piscotty led off with a base hit through the infield that just kept rolling, and to everyone's surprise, he ended up at second base. Moss grounded out, but moved Piscotty to third; Peralta followed with a walk. Adams got a base hit, scoring Piscotty, then took second on the throw home. Molina followed with a line drive to the opposite field, scoring Peralta and Tommy Pham (pinch-running for Adams) easily. At this point, Felix Pena was on the mound for the Cubs, who used eight pitchers today. 9-3 Cardinals. We added another in the eighth after a Jose Martinez double and a base hit from Piscotty.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Cubs brought out three pinch-hitters in a row: Chris Coughlan, Matt Szczur (yes, that is a real name; pronounced like "caesar"), and Munenori Kawasaki (no, that's not a real name... kidding! it is). They were mowed down by Zach Duke.
Seung Hwan Oh pitched the ninth in a non-save situation because he hadn't pitched since Monday. He gave up a home run to Willson Contreras, who bat-flipped and stared at his work like he'd just won the game or something. But all he did was make the score 10-4 and no one really cared. Oh finished off the other hitters and we won the game!
1. After all the hand-wringing about Peralta hitting fourth, he went 3-for-4 with a walk. Bad process, good results. I fully expect to see him hitting clean up the rest of the season.
2. Yadier Molina is just the best. He had a couple of key hits today and seems to have really found his groove again. Since the All-Star Break, he's hitting .348/.383/.500 with a wRC+ of 139 in 222 PAs. (Hat tip to HeadofState for the info.) A healthy Molina makes a big difference in this lineup, so let's hope he can keep it up.
3. Here is Reyes' strikezone plot for the day, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net:
This proves a couple of my points in the recap. First, Reyes really was all over the place. I mean, there are three pitches that don't even make it into the plot here, and a few more that barely did. Second, I count four balls that should have been called strikes and one that arguably could have been. But, I suppose when your command is all over the place, the umpire is less likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.
4. Scoreboard watching: At the time of this recap, neither the Giants nor the Mets had played yet. Madison Bumgarner gets the start for the Giants tonight in San Diego, and the Mets face the Phillies at home. I hope Bumgarner gets shelled and Mets manage to blow another lead.
5. I wrote this sober. So weird.
The Cardinals play the rubber game against the Cubs tomorrow night on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Carlos Martinez (:heart:) faces off against Jon Lester (:vomit:) at 7:08 CT. I'd like to see one inning where the strategy is just hitting ground balls to Lester to see if he can manage the throw to first base. Happy Saturday, everyone!