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Cardinals Unravel, Drop Another to LA

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Three opportunistic runs weren’t enough to prevent a miscue and walks from dominating the game

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Two in a row dropped to the Dodgers, three straight dating back to Sunday’s game against the Rockies. This one smacks you with a sour taste as a 3-0 lead early in the game was erased by a four-run third inning, and buried by a three run fifth. Now with a 24-25 record, the Cardinals are under .500 for the first time since May 4th.

Let’s start with the three-run first inning.

In tough losses like this, even what seems positive on the surface, often isn’t. Our trio of runs was made possible by a missed strike three call on Tommy Pham. If fate would have had it another way, the inning would have quickly slowed with a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play (pitch shown below, #6). The pitch was likely missed by the home plate umpire Mark Wegner because of the Dodgers’ catcher, Yasmani Grandal, and his quick pop-and-throw to second, nabbing Fowler. Always easy not to complain when a call goes the Cardinals’ way, but looking back on the game, even a few more probably wouldn’t have solved the inherent issues.

Omitting that strike call allowed for Matt Carpenter’s single to fall one at bat later, resulting in a run when the Dodgers decided that throwing the ball to anything but a glove was the best option for one play, on successive throwing errors by Chris Taylor and Kenta Maeda (Fowler scored). The next two runs came off the simmering bat of Yadier Molina, who now has a hit in 17 of his last 18 games.

Even more discouraging - as if it can get any worse - were the two baserunners that reached in the second inning with nobody out, only to be stranded without advancing another bag after Fowler, Tommy Pham, and Carpenter all failed to move the runners. That lack of production, in a game where facing the Dodgers means ample runs are needed to feel a lead is secure, cannot happen from the top three hitters in a lineup. With Carpenter’s nagging sub-.230 average in the three-hole, one has to wonder if a shakeup is on its way.

Come the third inning, that the three run lead vanished.

After one of the most consistent runs to begin a season, where Michael Wacha posted seven outings of 6+ innings, this game marks two consecutive bouts where Wacha hasn’t made it to the fifth. Eight baserunners across three innings was the issue, as Wacha threw 77 pitches to retire only nine hitters. Combing through the MLB.com pitch data (which can often vary from the BrooksBaseball.net data, so be warned), I noticed only five cutters thrown by Wacha across short night. This would be about 6.5% of his total pitches, or the lowest in terms of relative volume he has thrown his cutter this season, only the second time under 10% usage. It’s tough to stomach an approach that utilizes a pitch with a .301 average against (Wacha’s fourseam fastball), over a pitch with a .207 average against (Wacha’s cutter). Especially when the results are this uninspiring. Wacha’s approach was to command and rely on his four seam fastball early and that unfortunately never happened. Two of the more impactful runs scored on a throwing error by fresh faced Paul DeJong, on a great backhand up the middle, but an overzealous throw to Carpenter at first.

Final line: 3 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 61% strikes

Tyler Lyons relieved Wacha, making his fifth appearance of the season, and continued Wacha’s trend of worst outings. Control issues plagued both teams before the end of the fifth inning (nine total to that point), and Lyons let two reach on the free pass, another two on hits, and let in one run of his own on a bases loaded walk to Puig (which I’ll touch on briefly in the “Notes” below). Reliever John Brebbia allowed the other two to cross the dish, while the former Dodger, Jonathan Broxton, did his best to help his former team in the ninth. The former 36 save closer (‘09, LAD) gave up two runs on four hits, the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Cardinals as Kenley Jansen pitched masterfully, per usual, in a non save situation.

Tomorrow’s game can bring the club back to .500.

Carlos Martinez faces Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Matheny and Co. are having a bit of trouble with lefties this season, posting a 79 WRC+ and a 22.4% strikeout rate, good for bottom five productivity in all of baseball. From an optimistic viewpoint, Ryu hasn’t been particularly great this year (1.50 WHIP, 5.23 FIP), so if there was ever a time to beat that trend of southpaws eluding Cardinals’ bats, Wednesday would be great!

Notes

  • Today was the four-year anniversary of Michael Wacha’s debut in the majors, infamously ruined by Mitchell Boggs relinquishing a Jeff Francoeur home run.
  • This may be the fruit of some bias from the past, and also from Molly Knight’s great book The Best Team Money Can Buy, but Yasiel Puig is an extremely tough player to root for. I’d honestly be surprised if Dodgers fans don’t feel the same way. 0-for-4 on the day with two strikeouts and an RBI isn’t ideal, but when your team wins, you need to swallow your pride and get back on the grind the next day. We hear all the time from players that all they want to do is help the team win, or that nothing matters as long as the team wins, so when you slam your bat down like an angry child in the top of ninth inning after striking out with a 9-4 lead, you’re putting yourself before the team. Adding to that, in the fifth inning on 3-0 fastball well placed on the outside corner, Puig started walking towards first and then proceeded to take 20 seconds to actually get back into the box, in clear contest to the called strike - which was pretty clearly over the plate. Negligible things like this that add up to the 3hr55min game we saw tonight (well, aside from all the walks).
  • Hot Take (lukewarm?): Kenley Jansen is the best closer in baseball. I’d take him over Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel. That cutter is absolutely disgusting.
  • Elsewhere in baseball - Bryce Harper suspended four games while Hunter Strickland was suspended six for their transcendent brawl on Memorial Day. Too much? Too little? I’d edge towards the latter. Rougned Odor received eight last season for punching Bautista, and this seems worse to me. Don’t mean to bring in non-Cardinals topics, but this definitely had some league-wide implications.
  • Best wishes to the Gyorko family, who are expecting a third child “any minute” according to the booth. No update on his Twitter feed as of midnight, central time.
  • Back on my Tuesday game recap grind after taking last week’s Kershaw battle off. Dang those West Coast trips! Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @LanceBrozdow.