The Cardinals entered today’s game on a 12-5 kick. The bats have come alive, the starting pitching has been sturdy, and the base-runners have stopped getting picked off every other time on base. Led by Jedd Gyorko, Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, and Dexter Fowler, the team has raised its wRC+ from 69 (28th) to 100 (11th) in that time. Meanwhile, the starting staff has sustained its rate of controllable outcomes, turning its FIP of 3.59 (7th) into today’s 3.48 (5th). For all their efforts, the team has been able to claw their way out of the basement and right back into the thick of what is shaping up to be the tightest division in baseball.
Today’s starter is Michael Wacha. Wacha has bounced back from his abysmal, injury-plagued 2016 in a big way. His health is back, his velocity is back, and his ability to induce weak contact is back.
Also of note today is Magneuris Sierra making his major league debut. Ranked #15 on VEB’s top prospects list, Sierra is arguably the best outfield defender the Cardinals have in the organization. The 21-year-old is in the starting lineup facing a man twice his age, 42-year-old knuckle-baller R.A. Dickey.
Dickey started off the game with some flair. Wong worked him to a full count, then chopped a bouncing ball to the right side. Dickey took a few steps and dove to his left to snag the ball, then shoveled the ball to first to get Wong. But then after striking out Grichuk, Matt Carpenter launched his 7th home run of the season into deep right-center. 1-0 Cardinals.
Wacha had a long 1st inning. He only allowed 1 hit, a single to lead-off man Ender Inciarte. But a couple of long PAs by Adonis Garcia (fielder’s choice) and Freddie Freeman (strike out), combined with a walk by Matt Kemp and strike out by Nick Markakis ballooned Wacha’s pitch count to 27.
In stark contrast to Wacha’s half inning, Dickey made quick work of the Cardinals. Molina popped out on 4 pitches. Aledmys grounded out on 3 pitches. Sierra grounded out on 2 pitches, though his speed almost turned it into a hit.
It appeared Wacha had learned his lesson. He quickly retired Kurt Suzuki via ground out on the 3rd pitch of the PA, then got Jace Peterson to fly out to left, and finally struck out the hapless Dansby Swanson on 3 pitches. He was now at 40 pitches.
Tommy Pham, eager to prove the Cardinals’ brass was wrong to cut him in spring training, homered to deep right-center to lead off the 3rd. After Wacha grounded out, Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk, and Jedd Gyorko knocked a trio of doubles to left, left, and right-center to give the Cardinals another pair of runs. Dickey was suddenly at 65 pitches. 4-0 Cardinals.
Wacha ruptured either a finger nail or blister retiring Dickey to start the third. After the trainer came out and glued it back down *shudder*, he settled back in to retire Inciarte and Garcia on a pop out to center and a strike out. Despite his mid-inning setback, Wacha’s velocity was still humming around 94mph, and his pitch count had settled down a much more manageable 51.
Dickey was able to bounce back with another quick inning. This time he allowed a single to Pham, but got Sierra to ground out to second, Wacha to sacrifice, and Wong to ground out on a come-backer. He was at 75 pitches.
Wacha then turned a quick inning of his own. Though he started by walking Freeman on 4 pitches, he erased him with 5-4-3 double play with his first pitch to Kemp, and then struck out Markakis on 3 pitches. He was now at 60 pitches, as if he’d never gotten in trouble in the first place.
The Cardinals ran themselves out of an opportunity in the 5th. Grichuk doubled for the second time down the left field line. But after Carpenter popped out and Gyorko walked, Grichuk got caught stealing third and Molina lined out to right.
Wacha cruised through the 5th. He got Suzuki to fly out to left on 2 pitches, Peterson to second on 4 pitches, and Swanson to strike out on 3 pitches (again). He had only thrown 68 pitches.
After Aledmys struck out to lead off, Magneuris Sierra rapped his first career hit just out of the reach of Swanson into left field. The moment proved short-lived, however, as he was picked off first. He’s a Cardinal, alright.
The Braves broke through against Wacha in the 6th. Inciarte smacked the Braves’ first hit since his single in the 1st, and was followed by a smart bunt single by Adonis Garcia. Freeman then laced an RBI double off the wall in left center and Kemp stroked an RBI single up the middle, to put runners on the corners with 1 out. But Wacha bore down and managed to induced a critical 3-6-3 GIDP from Markakis to escape further damage and conclude his afternoon. 4-2 Cardinals.
Sam Freeman replaced Dickey and had a nice, easy inning. He got the pinch-hitting Greg Garcia to fly out to left, Wong to ground out to second, and Grichuk to pop out to first. Good for Sam.
The Braves kept their momentum going in the 7th. The struggling Matt Bowman entered and promptly hit Kurt Suzuki. Jace Peterson replaced him at first after a fielder’s choice, and stole second and advanced to third on a low throw from Yadi eluded Wong. Swanson singled him home. 4-3 Cardinals.
Arodys Vizcaino recorded the Braves’ second straight easy inning. He got Carpenter to fly out to shallow left with the help of a diving catch from Markakis, Gyorko to strike out looking, and Molina to strike out swinging.
The Braves continued their assault in the 8th. Brett Cecil entered and made a great play to retire Inciarte trying to bunt his way on. After Adonis Garcia struck out, however, Freddie Freeman launched his 11th home run to left-center. 4-4 Tie Game.
The Braves turned to their closer, Jim Johnson, to preserve the tie. Aledmys greeted him with a crushed line drive that missed being a home run by about 2 feet. He ultimately flew out to right, followed by a Sierra ground out to second. Pham worked a walk, but pinch-hitter Matt Adams struck out.
Matheny countered with Trevor Rosenthal, who looked about as good as we’ve ever seen him. He struck out Suzuki on a change-up, struck out Peterson on 3 straight fastballs to different corners of the zone, and induced a ground out to short from Swanson. Free baseball!
Ian Krol entered next. He promptly retired Wong and Grichuk on pop outs, before Inciarte made a rangy play back at the wall to rob Carpenter of extra bases. The Cardinals hadn’t managed a hit since Sierra’s single in the 6th.
With Oh still in the pen, Jonathan Broxton was the next man up. He was rudely greeted by Brandon Phillips with a line drive up the middle that just escaped Wong for a single. Inciarte tried another bunt, but Carpenter took a gamble with an off-balance throw and it paid off, retiring the speedy Brave at first. Broxton got Garcia to ground out and intentionally walked Freeman to bring up Matt Kemp with runners now on the corners. Broxton reared back for a little extra and got Kemp to chase a ball upstairs for a strike out to escape the jam.
Jose Ramirez came in next, firing bullets. He struck out Gyorko and Molina before Aledmys lined a bunt right back at the pitcher for the final out. Now 5 innings without a hit.
Markakis led off the 11th with a single up the middle off Seung Hwan Oh. Suzuki bunted him to 2nd. An intentional walk, strike out, and walk followed to set up Ender Inciarte with the bases loaded. The fleet center fielder grounded to first, but Carpenter’s throw was high and made the play unbearably close. The call on the field was out, however, and video proved unable to overturn. Exhale.
Pham broke the Cardinals’ shameful streak with a one-out single to right off Eric O’Flaherty. After Fowler pinch hit and flew out to center, Pham stole second. But Wong struck out and the brief rally was over.
Sam Tuivailala came in next and quickly found himself in similar trouble to his predecessors. Garcia singled clean through the right side, then Carpenter botched what could have been a 3-6-3 double play to put runners on first and second. But Kemp blooped into a 4-6-3 double play. After an intentional walk to Markakis, Tuivailala struck out Kurt Suzuki.
Another old friend, Jason Motte, continued the Braves’ parade of pitchers. Grichuk struck out, Carpenter walked, Gyorko struck out, and Molina popped out. Whatever.
Tuivailala returned for an encore, as the Cardinals were running thin on relievers. He walked the lead off man Peterson, but induced a 3-6 GIDP off the bat of poor Dansby Swanson. Julio Teheran pinch hit and struck out.
The Braves next turned to their long man, Josh Collmenter. After Aledmys popped out, and Sierra reached on an error, Tommy Pham uncorked a mammoth home run to left that shattered a chair. How rude. 6-4 Cardinals.
Siegrist closed the game out without incident against the top of the lineup, retiring Inciarte on a line out to short, Garcia on a ground out to first, and Freeman on a strike out. Cardinals win 6-4.
Michael Wacha: 6IP, 2ER, 5H, 6K, 2BB - Game Score: 62
R.A. Dickey: 6IP, 4ER, 8H, 2K, 2BB - Game Score: 34
STL Bullpen: 8IP, 2ER, 6H, 9K, 5BB
ATL Bullpen: 8IP, 2ER, 2H, 8K, 3BB
- Magneuris Sierra went 1-6 in his debut, and reached on an error I feel comfortable attributing to his speed. He also flashed his range while tracking down a line drive in the left-center field gap, which was cool.
- SunTrust Park is starting to look like it’s going to put Yankee Stadium’s inaugural wind tunnels to shame.
- Kolten Wong’s hit streak is now at 12 games. Heck yeah.
- Matheny declined to challenge a pair of close base-running plays. Grichuk was caught stealing in the 3rd and Sierra was picked off in the 6th, and replay showed both being questionable calls.
- This was the first time Trevor Rosenthal had been used in back-to-back games this season.
- The Cardinals momentarily shared the NL Central lead with the Reds, who beat the Giants soon after, and Cubs, who play the Yankees tonight on ESPN.