The last time Michael Wacha pitched with two outs in the ninth inning, he held a no hitter in Busch Stadium against the Washington Nationals (9/24/13). Broken up by a Ryan Zimmerman chopper that took the only route imaginable to net a base hit, I remember being heartbroken as I sat stunned, staring at my laptop; emotionally in sync with the 40,000+ in Busch stadium.
It’s only fitting that 1,393 days later, a milestone Wacha surely desired to achieve finally came to fruition. The Cardinals’ righty didn’t spin a no hitter, but the results were nearly as impressive.
Cardinals 5, Mets 0.
At the price of 119 pitches, Wacha has now strung together four impressive starts, with the biggest confidence booster among his peripherals existing in the form of a 31:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Sitting 97mph in the first inning as well as the last, Wacha’s plan early in the game was pretty simple: hard early in counts, off speed to sit them down. The aligning of the stars in this manner comes when a pitcher like Wacha shows early that all four of his pitches are working at an advanced level. His first three strikeouts came on curveballs, but I’m always impressed with the depth of his changeup on a good night.
Six swinging strikes on his first pass through the Mets’ order was an indication that he felt great in his first start in nearly two weeks. Wacha ended up with 15 total swinging strikes in the game, showing his fortitude for completion as four of those came in the ninth inning. 14 pitches total in the fifth and seventh innings helped to suppress his pitch count as much as possible, but mixing each of his pitches in superb fashion is surely all that was on his mind.
If you desire instances of trouble, you’ll be disappointed to know very few arose in the game. A leadoff walk to Asdrubal Cabrera in the fourth inning and a one-out double in the sixth to Michael Conforto were the only minor worries, and Wacha dealt with them like a polished veteran. I was worried Matheny may have pulled Wacha with one out in the ninth inning if Yoenis Cespedes reached with Conforto on first. Buy after the at bat featured five foul balls from Cespedes and a 98.5mph fastball according to MLB.com’s pitch tracker, Wacha got the Mets’ star to ground out, and that worry subsided as the final batter of the game stepped to the dish. Jay Bruce promptly struck out on four fastballs and sealed the deal.
After a season that has swung wildly for 85+ innings, the ease at which an outing of this dominance came to Wacha makes me extremely excited for what the next 85 hold. Well, that is until you look at a calendar and realize Wacha’s next start will come in Chicago on Sunday. A tweet form Craig Edwards exclaiming that Wacha’s next start should be skipped initially came off to me as harsh, but the more I think about it, the argument has merit. There probably aren’t many scenarios where the results of that outing could cause such staunchly different outcomes. If he is successful in Chicago? Confidence through the roof. If the start is a failure? Confidence through the floor. If the Cardinals want to play the conservative card at this point in the season, the move would be to finagle the start into the following week at home against Colorado, or skip it entirely and see the new-look Diamondbacks next weekend (acquired J.D. Martinez). Whether Wacha simply liked the extended rest, or if this is the rumblings of something bigger remains to be seen. Revel in the glory of this outing in the meantime, as it was one for the books.
On the offensive side of things, a hit for everybody in the starting lineup - including Wacha - is what first jumps out from the box score, with Matt Carpenter’s four knocks and duo of doubles the likely highlight. Although Paul DeJong struck out twice and stranded four, he doubled for the 12th time this season, continuing a torrid July (wRC+ of 192 prior to the game). Yadier Molina singled up the middle in a nice at bat against former Cardinal reliever Fernando Salas for the fifth run of the game, while the Cardinals scored the prior four in the first two innings.
To throw a bit of water on the fire, the Cardinals offense didn’t necessarily click on all cylinders. With runners on second and third to start the game with nobody out, the Cardinals managed only one run. Errors then proceeded to help in the next inning to push the score up behind Wacha. This easily could have been a seven or eight to nothing shutout, but it’s hard to be picky when Wacha’s start was so dominant.
A notable Cardinal aide in this game was the glove of Jose Reyes. Although he escaped the official scorer (somehow), he was involved in three notable plays, two of which he should have converted.
The first was a ground ball off the bat of Kolten Wong (4 or 14 since return from DL), the second a muffed turn on a double play, and the third a relatively poor tag on the reviewed Jedd Gyorko stolen base (I’ll give him a pass on the last one). While I often question some moves the Cardinals make, one of the more egregious to date in the NL East is how prospect Amed Rosario is not up in the major leagues. Reyes is sporting a minus in everything but base running and Rosario sits in AAA Las Vegas with .841 OPS. Some things I will never understand. A consensus top 10 prospect would have been fun to see on the Mets’ side of the diamond for this series, yet I don’t think Wacha would’ve cared.
- 7:10pm ET start tomorrow in Flushing as the Cardinals go for their third in a row against the Mets’ current ace, Jacob deGrom. If the club wins Wednesday, they’ll be back to .500 for the first time since June 2nd.
- The SNY broadcast booth is one that I continually tag as the best in the game, but after the overturned review of Jedd Gyorko’s stolen base in the third inning, I was a bit confused to hear a combination of Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez complaining about how long the review was taking. While I agree that a call like that should be made quicker, I strongly disagreed with the point they made that if replay takes this long, we shouldn’t have replay because it takes away from the game. My logic was that if we’re trying to not “take away from the game,” wouldn’t we want the most accurate calls possible? I’d rather wait a few minutes than listen to an hour of post-game coverage complaining about a missed call. Sure, the current system may need refining, but this was - what I assume to be - an unpopular opinion that I cannot really find much merit to holding. They did however express interest in a replay system where the Managers don’t have the ability to call the team’s video room. Thoughts on that? I think it would become a much more interesting negotiation process between the player involved in the play and the coaches on the bench.
- On the off chance any of the members of the Viva El Birdos community are in the Boston, MA area on Friday, August 4th, Fangraphs is hosting a pre-SABR Seminar gathering in Cambridge. Most importantly, Craig Edwards will be present, with myself making an appearance as well (to much less fanfare). Do it for Craig, not for me!
- Nice to be back in action with my recaps after two weeks off (4th of July, ASB). Hope you enjoyed my look at a very memorable game for Wacha.