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Bullpen blows early lead in 6-4 loss to Cubs

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Matt Adams also played LF and in the process proved why he’s been a 1B his whole career.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals
Rough outing for Cecil leads to loss
Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

There are two ways to look at this game. On the “optimistic” side, the Cardinals lost a game they had no business winning, getting three runs in the 1st inning on account of an error by the otherwise reliable defender Ben Zobrist, but otherwise getting outscored 6-1. But if you were watching the game from the very beginning like me, you probably forgot that Cards were literally gifted three runs in the 1st.

The other way to look at this game is how most Cards fans will look at this game. The Cardinals were leading 4-2 in the 6th inning and the bullpen completely blew it. Brett Cecil in particular blew this game pretty much by himself. You can make an argument Mike Matheny played a role in this if you want. (I’ll leave my Matheny complaints in the Notes section at the end, but bringing in Brett Cecil is not one of my complaints)

I know this is usually how baseball works - the order in which things happen determine your frustration at a loss - but I think in this game it is especially true. In the 1st inning, Aledmys Diaz and Matt Carpenter hit back-to-back singles to put runners on the corner with one out. Yadier Molina swung at the first pitch he saw and it was a tailor-made double play. Couldn’t be any easier. Ben Zobrist inexplicably dropped the ball in the transfer rendering both runners safe. Diaz scored on the play and the Cardinals scored two more runs before the inning ended. Three free runs.

But then again, getting three free runs from the Cubs should be taken advantage of, not botched. The Cardinals only scored one more time the rest of the game. Diaz doubled in the 5th, went to third on a wild pitch (which was actually just great baserunning as Diaz immediately went when Miguel Montero momentarily lost the pitch) and Molina hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Diaz. Otherwise, Cardinals didn’t have much going offensively.

In positive news, Lance Lynn looked good. He only really struggled in the 5th and 6th innings, which is probably to be expected from a guy who has missed an entire year of baseball. He got the first seven batters he faced out and then gave up a hit to John Lackey of all people. He then got the next six batters he faced out and gave up a hit to Jason Heyward. Then later a hit to Lackey again. Nothing annoys me more than when the pitcher decides to not to be his usual free out and it seems to happen to the Cards more than most for whatever reason. (Cards’ pitchers are usually good at hitting, relative to other pitchers, so it probably evens out. Unfortunately, Lynn is not one of the good hitting pitchers we have).

The Cubs scored one in the 5th as a result of the hits by Heyward and Lackey with Jon Jay driving in a run (probably couldn’t pick three hitters who would be more frustrating to give up a run to for me personally on the Cubs roster). With 86 pitches after five, Lynn’s trouble in the 5th, and the fact that Lynn is pitching his first major league game since 2015, there’s a good argument that the 5th should have been Lynn’s last. It wasn’t.

In the interest of full disclosure, Lynn didn’t give up a run because of bad pitching. No, it was because of Matheny’s other “bad process” decision in playing career 1B Matt Adams in LF. Anthony Rizzo hit a ball to LF that is caught 69% of the time according to Statcast. Here is what Matt Adams did on a ball that is caught 69% of the time by actual outfielders.

So that led to another run. Brett Cecil came in the game to begin the 7th. He immediately struck out the first batter he faced, but this happened.

Yeah somehow the ball got stuck there after the strikeout and Molina couldn’t find it allowing the runner to reach base. Cecil then walked Jon Jay and gave up a monster home run to Kyle Schwarber. Baseball, why have you forsaken thee? So none of those three runs are on Matheny, but the next one might be a little bit. Cecil stayed in the game for two more batters - and allowed both to reach base - before he finally got taken out. Miguel Socolovich did his best to limit the damage, getting a popout to the catcher, but a slow roller was perfectly hit right down the first base foul line that allowed the 6th run to score. Again though, Cecil is a good reliever who unexpectedly was terrible and if he was maybe a little slow to pull the trigger on taking him out, I’m not sure I can blame him.

Neither team did much the rest of the game. The Cardinals threatened in the 8th when Pedro Strop walked Molina on four straight pitches and then couldn’t handle a throw by Javier Baez to put runners on 1st and 2nd. But then Carl Edwards came in and struck both Randal Grichuk and Jedd Gyorko out, thus ending the mini-threat. In the 9th, Kolten Wong led off with a double, but nobody else managed to get on base, ending the game. The Cardinals bullpen aside from Cecil was pretty good, but obviously the Cecil part was pretty big.

Baseball can be an endlessly frustrating sport, so I’m gonna choose to look at the game in a more positive manner. The Cardinals didn’t win a game that they would have been lucky to win. They would have been lucky to win it even if Cecil didn’t randomly implode.


  • Lance Lynn final line: 5.1 IP, 2 ER, 4 Ks, BB, 5 hits allowed, 47.1 GB%. Lynn will usually get more strikeouts, but he made up for it today with his higher than normal groundball percentage, leading to an xFIP of today of 3.35, which is nearly exactly his career FIP (3.36). Given the Cubs offense is good, this is very encouraging for the rest of the year.
  • Matheny complaints: Obviously I disagree with Adams starting in LF, which directly cost a run. You may argue: “But Gabe, he also drove in a run.” To which I respond, yeah that makes him a replacement player and thus a bench player, not a starter. Lynn also shouldn’t have begun the 6th and Cecil should definitely have been taken out after he walked Kris Bryant on five pitches after giving up a homer to Schwarber.
  • You know how former Cardinals players seem to kill the Cardinals when they face the Cards? (Look no further than Lackey, Heyward, and Jay today) Well it irrationally annoys me that this wasn’t the case with Dexter Fowler this series against the Cubs. He didn’t have a great series, going 3 for 13 with a walk and no extra-base hits. I’m not blaming him or anything. Like I said, it’s irrational that it annoys me, but it does.
  • Simple request: give Brett Cecil a chance. It’s just one bad appearance. He’s been a good reliever for about four years now. All relievers have bad appearances, it’s just unfortunate this one is going to make his ERA look bad for all of April. Also, he might have been understandably distracted by striking out a guy and a ball magically sticking to Molina’s chest.
  • Last note until I edit this and add another note (maybe): Yadier Molina should not be batting cleanup because he is a double play machine and he has very little power.

Tomorrow, the Cardinals begin their first weekend series of the year against the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds aren’t good. Usually facing bad teams leads to wins. It’s Mike Leake against somebody named Amir Garrett. That’s definitely a real person that exists I’m sure. It says so right on ESPN.