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Wacha falls apart, Matheny does nothing as Cardinals playoff chances end with 5-1 loss

Yes, the Cardinals aren’t technically officially done and yes Matheny being quicker with the hook probably still leads to a loss, but I think my doom is warranted.

Chicago Cubs v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Last year, I recapped the very last game of the year, which also happened to be when the Cardinals were officially knocked out of the playoffs. This time, the Cardinals aren’t officially out, but they might as well be. They need to win every game the rest of the year and the Rockies cannot win once against the Dodgers. That seems... unlikely. I mean if I squint, I could see it happening, but the Rockies are playing at Coors so getting swept by the Dodgers’ B team is not going to happen.

I am not interested in writing as many words on this game as I write for most games and I’m in luck, because it can be summed up pretty easily. Michael Wacha came to the ballpark looking to fight fans and dominate Cubs hitters but his fists were missing so he only had one choice. Yeah, I’m going to try to make the least amount of sense possible here so I can avoid talking about the game.

Jon Jay got a Jon Jay hit to lead off the game. Kris Bryant hit into a double play on the first pitch, bringing up Anthony Rizzo. He got hit on the first pitch - clearly intentional as payback for Pham. What looked like might be an intense and angry game between both sides just dissipated after that, mostly because both pitchers sucked the life out of the hitters’ will to be angry. Ben Zobrist popped out and after the 1st, Wacha had only thrown 8 pitches.

That’s pretty much how his first six innings went. He had a 12-pitch 2nd inning with two strikeouts. He had an 11-pitch 3rd inning, giving up his 2nd hit to Jon Jay again while getting two more strikeouts. 11-pitch 4th inning with a strikeout. He had an 8-pitch 5th inning with two strikeouts. I know I’m summarizing the game quickly, but that’s about accurate for how fast the game was flying through the first six innings. 10-pitch 6th inning with a strikeout. He was able to strike out so many hitters while keeping a low pitch count because 5 of his 8 strikeouts were THREE pitches. Two of them only two four pitches and the other one took five pitches. So he needed 28 pitches to strike out 8 batters. If you’re wondering, the minimum amount of pitches needed for 8 strikeouts is 24. So that’s pretty good.

John Lackey wasn’t as sharp, at least in the beginning. The triumvirate of Matt Carpenter, Tommy Pham, and Dexter Fowler all got out in the first inning, but they did at least manage to make him throw 18 pitches. In the 2nd, the Cardinals struck first. Jedd Gyorko walked after falling behind 0-2 to lead off the inning. On a 3-1 count, Jose Martinez singled. Paul DeJong swung at the first pitch and it barely made it over Addison Russell’s head. On another 3-1 count, Randal Grichuk hit into an easy double play, essentially ending the rally.

That was about it for the Cardinals offense. Lackey walked Pham in the 3rd with two outs, but other than that, the Cardinals did absolutely nothing. 1-2-3 inning in the 4th, 5th and 6th innings, which is at least partially BABIP fueled since he had a grand total of one strikeout in that span.

Here’s where things went terrible wrong. Anthony Rizzo led off against Wacha. Wacha had looked dominant to this point. On the other hand, this was his 3rd time through the order and the heart of the order was up. In a do-or-die elimination game in this situation, you should probably have someone warming here regardless of how confident you are in the pitcher. Always be prepared and expanded rosters. That’s for a normal pitcher. But Michael Wacha was pitching. A few caveats before I continue.

  1. I don’t know that Wacha is worse than the average pitcher the 3rd time through the order or if 2017 is just fluky.
  2. He has definitely been worse the 2nd and 3rd time through the order in 2017 specifically, but I’m not sure how much that tells us.
  3. Due to the fact that he throws either a fastball or change 90% of the time, he might be more vulnerable than most starters to getting “exposed” the 2nd and 3rd time through. Less pitches, less adjustment to make.

In any case, whether you believe Wacha is especially bad the 2nd and 3rd times through is irrelevant since, given the situation and an expanded bullpen, you should warm up a reliever at the first sign of trouble in the 7th inning of an important game. Mike Matheny did not do that. Rizzo singled to lead off the inning. Nobody warming. Zobrist singled to make it 1st and 3rd. I think I heard Dan say that they just now. started stretching. 3-run homer by Russell. Now he starts getting Matt Bowman (of course!) warming.

At this point, he’s at the mercy of whenever Bowman is ready. I’m not sure if Bowman wasn’t ready or if Mike was just giving Wacha every chance to correct himself, but regardless it took forever to take Wacha out. Double by Javier Baez. Stays in. Double by Jason Heyward. Stays in. Walks Rene Rivera on five pitches. Finally, mercifully he takes him out. Wacha didn’t even record an out in the 7th. Purely anecdotally, but it seems like Wacha just sort of randomly loses the ability to get hitters out once hitters have seen him a couple times. Ok that’s not random and that’s true of every pitcher, but he’s just so dominant the first time around and so not after that. I feel like after watching him pitch all year, Mike should have figured that out. (Don’t laugh)

Anyway Bowman gave up a double for the fifth run of the inning. He got Jay to ground out with men on 2nd and 3rd and then told Bryant to walk to first to load the bases. Matheny brought in Duke, who got Rizzo to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Lackey was out of the game at least. Didn’t matter. Pedro Strop looked dominant, striking out Gyorko and Martinez and getting DeJong to pop out to the catcher. In the 8th, the Cardinals made a last ditch effort. Grichuk led off with a single, and after two straight outs, Luke Voit hit a single of his own to put runners on the corner. Pham walked, bringing up Fower and for a brief moment, the greatest possible narrative was about to happen. Then Fowler popped out to right. Bummer.

Two pitchers who probably could have pitched yesterday pitched great today. Sam Tuivailala pitched a 1-2-3 inning followed by a 1-2-3 inning from Brett Cecil. I know it wasn’t completely without warrant, but Mike kind of completely gave up on Cecil in September, huh?

In the 9th, DeJong doubled with two outs but that was all that happened.


  • Wacha Wacha line: 6 IP, 8 Ks, BB, 5 ER, 7 hits, HR - Nights like these are why you read these recaps. That line? You would never know he pitched fantastic for 6 innings before imploding.
  • I am irrationally happy with how I avoided the Cubs celebration completely. Due to the fact that I was recapping, I couldn’t turn it off until it ended, but my fingers were on 4 and 9 (TNT) the entire time the Cards had two outs. I clicked it so fast that when the ball hit Leonys Martin’s glove, I could pretend that it was a normal loss.
  • I just want to say I’m glad I’m finally out of my “misery” with having hope. No question I want to make the playoffs, but it felt like the Cards were out of it about ten times only for them to suck me back in. I have officially lost hope and now I will enjoy the last four games with relative comfort.

Tomorrow, the Cards try to split with the Cubs or their season really will be over. Hey might as well win the next four and dare the Rockies to get swept. Kyle Hendricks faces Lance Lynn and I honestly have no prediction.