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Bullpen and defense fail Leake, Cards drop to .500 4.30.17

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Overworked relievers and misguided defenders choke away another good start.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The National League Central Division is starting to fall into line. The Cubs are in first, the Reds are in last, and the Cardinals, Brewers, and Pirates are fighting to sort out the rest. Your Cardinals entered today’s game victors in 9 of their last 11, a streak not achieved since the heady days of September 2015, when Jason Heyward, Matt Carpenter, and John Lackey led our birds to 100 wins, and their last playoff appearance. Their opponents, the Cincinnati Reds, entered as losers in 8 of their last 9, a dubious streak they achieved as recently as last September.

The Cardinals have overcome their early-season deficit by beating up on Milwaukee, Toronto, and Cincinnati, a trio of teams Fangraphs currently projects for an average of ~12 wins below .500. Quality of competition aside, the Cardinals have seen marked improvements from most of their regulars in this upswing, highlighted by Dexter Fowler (289 wRC+), Greg Garcia (342), Kolten Wong (182), and Jedd Gyorko (176), with every regular but Aledmys Diaz posting a wRC+ over 100. Meanwhile, Cardinals starters have, despite Adam Wainwright’s persistent struggles, combined to keep their opponents in check with ample strike outs (26.5 K%) and solid control (7.1 BB%).

Mike Leake entered this afternoon’s slate as the Cardinals’ best starter. He has displayed elite control (3.9 BB%, 9th/100) and ground ball tendencies (58.8 GB%, 7th/100), and benefited from fortunate batted ball luck (.250, 23rd/100) and strand rates (83.3 LOB%, 25th/100). In his season debut, he twirled a stellar 8.0IP, 6H, 1ER, 6K, 1BB against these same Reds in one of those infuriating hard-luck losses. Meanwhile, Reds’ starter Bronson Arroyo entered with a much more volatile résumé. The 40-year-old righty was fresh off his only good start of the season, in which he managed to hold the Cubs in check for 6IP, 2ER, 3H, 7K, 0BB. If he had the innings to qualify, he’d have been one the most HR-prone (2.57 HR/9, 2nd/100) and under-powered (84.8 average fastball velocity, 98th/100) starters in baseball to start this season.

Lineup

Events

1st Inning

Leake came out throwing strikes. He quickly retired Hamilton and Cozart on grounders before allowing a left field gorp to Votto and clean single to Duvall. But he recovered to strand the runners by inducing a harmless fly ball to center of the bat of Suarez.

Fowler and Diaz led off the bottom half with harmless ground outs of their own. But Matt Carpenter worked a walk, and the red-hot Jedd Gyorko followed with 102.5mph rip the just got over Duvall’s head in left and one-hopped the wall, for a double. Arroyo then uncorked a wild slider that eluded catcher Tucker Barnhart and scored Carpenter. 1-0 Cardinals.

2nd Inning

Scott Schebler continued his own torrid streak with a lead-off double. Leake worked around the trouble and sandwiched a pair of strike outs to Peraza and Arroyo around a single to Barnhart, and then got Hamilton to fly out to center to strand 2 base runners again.

Molina grounded out to start the Cardinal’s half. Grichuk managed a full-count walk, but Wong struck out and Leake flew out to left to end the frame.

3rd Inning

Leake struck out Cozart and got Votto to ground out quickly to start the 3rd. But Adam Duvall ripped a double into the gap in right-center, and Suarez worked a full-count to put 2 runners on once again. And once again Leake wriggled out of trouble, this time with the help of a great back-handed play and jump-throw by Kolten Wong.

Fowler and Diaz couldn’t get anything going in the bottom half, both flying and popping out harmlessly. So when Matt Carpenter double to right, nothing came of it. Gyorko grounded out to end the frame.

4th Inning

Leake finally got a clean inning in the 4th. He retired Peraza on a ground out to shortstop, Barnhart on a come-backer, and struck out Arroyo. Despite constantly working with runners on base, he was at just 51 pitches.

Stephen Piscotty tried sparking a rally with a lead-off, full-count walk. But Molina struck out, Grichuk lined out to shortstop, and Wong grounded out to second. Arroyo was at 65 pitches.

5th Inning

With the top of the Reds’ lineup appearing for the third time, Leake looked strong. Hamilton grounded out to first, Cozart ripped a line-out to third, and Votto flew out harmlessly to center.

As the Cardinals’ pitchers have tended to do lately, Leake decided to the offense into his own hands. He started the rally in the 5th with a single straight up the middle. Dexter Fowler then worked Arroyo for 12 pitches and singled to right-center, and Aledmys Diaz worked a walk (!!!) to load the bases for Carpenter. After his grand slam on Thursday, he settled for just a base-clearing double. 4-0 Cardinals.

6th Inning

Duvall led off the 6th with a double to left, his 3rd hit of the game. Then after Leake struck out Suarez, Schebler continued his Cardinal-punishing ways with an RBI single to left. Leake got Peraza to ground into a fielder’s choice, but Barnhart ripped a double down the right field line. Pinch-hitter Scooter Gennett ended the threat when he popped out to short center. The long inning pushed Leake’s pitch count up over 100, and his day was done.

Drew Storen came on in relief. The side-arming righty got Grichuk to ground out to shortstop and got Wong to strike out on a disputed check swing. After pinch-hitter Matt Adams singled, Fowler grounded out sharply to first.

7th Inning

Billy Hamilton greeted Matt Bowman with a single to left to start the 7th. Bowman then struck out Cozart and got Votto to ground out to second. But Duvall crushed a double over Piscotty’s head to score Hamilton. Then Suarez knocked a single to right and the Cardinal defense did the rest. Piscotty fired home, where he had no chance to get Duvall, enabling Suarez to reach second. Molina threw to second on the run, where he had no chance of getting Suarez, and the ball sailed into center, enabling Suarez to reach 3rd. Bowman was relieved by Cecil, who served up a double to Scott Schebler. Then Peraza ripped a ball hard down the 3rd base line, but Gyorko made a great stab and throw to end the rally. 4-4 Tied Game.

Hard-throwing lefty Wandy Peralta entered the brand new ballgame and struck out Aledmys and Carpenter, then got Gyorko to line out to short right.

8th Inning

Trevor Rosenthal relieved Cecil to try and shut down the Reds, but he did not have it today. He walked Barnhart on 4 pitches, allowed a single to Devin Mesoraco, and then walked Hamilton. He managed to strike out Cozart, but Joey Votto smacked an RBI single up the middle to give the Reds the lead. Rosenthal finally managed to strike out Duvall and get Suarez to pop out on his 32nd pitch. 5-4 Reds.

Raisel Iglesias entered and walked Piscotty to lead off the bottom half. But Molina struck out and Piscotty was caught stealing, getting a terrible jump then falling down trying to retreat to first. It was terrible, and you should count yourself lucky if you didn’t see it. Then Grichuk struck out.

9th Inning

Jonathan Broxton entered next, looking to get himself and the Cardinals back on track. Schebler greeted him with a sharp ground ball to the right side on which Kolten Wong made another great play and prevented it from going for a hit. Peraza then reached on a bunt and stole second. Alcantara followed with a single past a drawn-in Gyorko to put the Cardinals in another pickle. But the Reds’ returned the favor of bad base-running by trying a little-league delayed double steal, which Kolten Wong read easily and nailed Peraza at the the plate. Broxton struck out Mesoraco to end the threat.

Iglesias remained in to close out the game. Kolten Wong greeted the Reds closer with a lead off single to right. But after Garcia and Fowler advanced Wong to third with a pair of ground outs, Aledmys Diaz could only manage a gentle ground out to third. 5-4 Reds win.

Final Lines

Mike Leake: 6IP, 8H, 1ER, 5K, 1BB. 60 Game Score.

Bronson Arroyo: 4+IP, 5H, 4ER, 2K, 4BB. 36 Game Score.

Notes

  • The heavy rain the past two days put Busch Stadium’s new drainage system to the test. A couple base runners blew tires, but the field held up nicely all told.
  • Today’s strike zone was rather large in the early goings, but shrunk as the game went along.
  • Matt Bowman and Brett Cecil have each made 14 appearances in 24 games this season, 2nd most in baseball.
  • Aledmys Diaz record his 2nd walk of the season in the 5th inning.
  • After his sixth try, Mike Leake has still yet to beat his old team.

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