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Mike Leake pitches seven scoreless innings in 6-1 win over Nationals

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Mike Leake pitched better than Max Scherzer. Baseball is weird.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals
This looks really painful
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Leake outpitched Max Scherzer, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, in a baseball game. Scherzer pitched like his usual self - with a little bad luck leading to more runs than he’s accustomed to allowing - and Leake pitched better than that. This game retroactively makes me ok with the Cardinals losing the series to the Reds. Because if the randomness of baseball allows Mike Leake, whose own parents even think he’s mediocre, to pitch better than a top five pitcher in all of baseball, clearly baseball is just screwing with us.

Given that this was a game where Mike Leake pitched better than Max Scherzer (it can’t be repeated enough), the first inning was perfect. Scherzer struck out the first two batters he faced, momentarily couldn’t find the strike zone against Matt Carpenter, and then battled Piscotty in an eight-pitch plate appearance. Carpenter was able to advance to second on a wild pitch during this plate appearance. Piscotty found a pitch he liked and lined a single to center to give the Cards the lead. All in all, Scherzer pitched a good inning, but he was down 1-0 after it and had thrown 28 pitches.

Leake meanwhile started badly. He allowed two straight singles to Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon. It put the runners on the corner for the deadly 3-4-5 hitters of Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, and... uh.. Ryan Zimmerman. Rendon forgot that it is legal to slide in baseball and was thrown out on a pickoff attempt. Harper struck out and Murphy grounded it back to the pitcher. Why the Nationals didn’t pack up their bags and go home after that happened is beyond me.

The pitchers traded zeroes for a while after that. The difference between the two was simply the pitch count. Scherzer’s 28-pitch 1st inning put him in a hole that prevented him from lasting too deep into the game. That’s really the only way to beat Scherzer in my opinion. Just work the count and hope he comes out of the game sooner rather than later.

Unexpectedly though, that first run was not the last run the Cardinals would get off Scherzer. In the fifth, Eric Fryer led off with a groundball towards short that Wilmer Difo botched. Dexter Fowler barely got hit by a pitch, but he’s been struggling, so you bet he jumped at the chance to get on base. Greg Garcia did the Greg Garcia-iest thing ever and that was walk. Carpenter came up with the bases loaded and one out. He didn’t do so hot. He hit a pop fly towards the third base foul line. Difo tracked it down, but since he was running away from the plate, Fryer fairly easily was able to score. Piscotty got his second RBI of the day when he singled home the Cards’ third run.

Meanwhile, Leake was as good as you can be. Literally. After the first two runners reached base, he did not allow another runner to reach base for 19 straight hitters. If you math correctly, that took him into the 7th inning with two outs (the 20th straight out was the pickoff). Then he allowed two straight singles. If Leake had been taken out there, I wonder how often that’s ever happened? You start the game with two straight hits and end it with two straight hits, but never allow a hit in between those four hits. In any case, Leake didn’t do it either as he was left to clean up his mess. He did, striking out Murphy to end his night.

The Nationals threatened in the 8th when Trevor Rosenthal came in to hold the lead. He struck out Matt Wieters and then promptly allowed three straight hits. Here’s the thing. None of the hits were hit that hard. You could make a case he should have stayed in the game to face Rendon. Nonetheless, Matt Bowman came in and did exactly what he was asked to do: get a groundball. Unfortunately, it was hit too slow and they only got a forceout at second.

Matheny brought in Brett Cecil in to face Harper with runners on the corner and two outs and here’s where I’m going to praise Matheny. Judging by the fan reaction, not many people would have. This was the right call. Cecil was the best option to face Harper. He overall made Harper look bad in the PA, but unfortunately the last pitch is all people will remember. He put a curve on the corner and it hung a little much and Harper lined it the other way. Jedd Gyorko made a nice defensive play and caught it thankfully, preserving the lead.

In the 9th, the Cardinals removed a lot of the tension from my gut and got some insurance runs. Jose Martinez singled and Carpenter walked again. Piscotty AGAIN came to the plate with two on and two out. He crushed a ball in left for a three-run home run. Seung Hwan Oh had an uneventful 9th, but he didn’t really look good either. No strikeouts, a lineout, two flyouts, and a double.

Notes

  • NOT a good day to be a Matt Adams in LF apologist. He didn’t make any egregious misplays in LF today, though so far as I can tell, he never really got the chance. He got one flyout and it was as routine as they get. BUT he did go 0-3 and strike out twice. Worse though, the two other guys who could have played instead of him did more. His defensive replacement Grichuk went 1-2 and Martinez pinch-hit and singled.
  • Mike Leake final line: 7 IP, 7 Ks, 4 hits allowed, 58.8 GB% - Turns out, if you take a groundball pitcher and give him strikeouts, he turns REALLY good. Leake had a 1.42 FIP and a 2.09 xFIP on the day.
  • Signs you are struggling: when you get a hit, but get thrown out at first because you trip over first base, think you can get a double anyway, decide against it when you’re in the middle of first and second, and get thrown out at first. I can’t wait to see the Dexter Fowler we signed.
  • Leake also flashed his leather a few times, making some nifty plays on balls hit back to him.

Tomorrow, the Cardinals have an off-day, so they can prepare for a three-game weekend series at New York to face old friend Matt Holliday. The Yankees will trot out Masahiro Tanaka and the Cardinals will counter with Michael Wacha.