The Cardinals’ offense struggled mightily against one of the best pitchers in the game, struggling to even make contact as the tall righty blew fastballs and sliders against the helpless bats. The Cardinals starter, meanwhile, struggled with his command throughout, which the Mets took advantage of by scoring four runs against the usually solid right-hander. With an eight-man bullpen completely rested and the starter struggling, manager Mike Matheny chose to let the pitcher bat for himself in the top half of the 5th only to take him out in the middle of the 5th when said struggling pitcher immediately and predictably gave up a run. The new and revamped bullpen helped the Mets widen their lead, though largely from the weaker members of the bullpen who we already were well acquainted with in 2017.
Yes, that does describe what happened in the second game of the regular season, with remarkable similarities to what happened during Opening Day. Matheny left the starter in too long again for seemingly no reason. Leaving him in to get the win doesn’t even make sense as an excuse since the Cardinals were, you know, losing. Experience as a manager only matters when the manager learns from it, and Matheny does not appear to be doing any learning while he’s on the job.
I wouldn’t worry too much about the offense though. For starters, the New York Mets are an absolutely horrible team to face on opening weekend. You’re guaranteed two of the top ten starters in the league and a healthy Yeonis Cespedes. Right off the bat, that is a way better team than their mediocre projection. Since 2014, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom rank 3rd and 9th, respectively, in xFIP. It is not a surprise the Cardinals lost both games and struck out a lot with those guys pitching.
In the first inning, deGrom struck out both Dexter Fowler and Tommy Pham, while Matt Carpenter managed to make contact on his groundout to first. The bottom of the first did not go as well for Michael Wacha to say the least. He allowed a leadoff double to Asdrubal Cabrera and then sort of pitched around Cespedes. It did not appear he was challenging him whatsoever, which is certainly an interesting strategy in the 1st inning. Jay Bruce grounded into a fielder’s choice towards Carpenter, who tried the rare 3rd to 1st double play, but he wasn’t close. Todd Frazier doubled both runners home to make the Mets lead 2-0. Travis d’Arnaud lined out and Adrian Gonzalez got a hanging curve down the middle, but Wacha caught a break when he flew out.
The Cardinals only struck out once in the 2nd and even got a hit, but that makes the inning appear better than it was. Neither the infield single by Jose Martinez or the two outs that weren’t strikeouts managed to make it past the infield. Wacha pitched better in the 2nd, getting three groundouts, but it still included him walking a guy who walked 3 times in 170 PAs last year. (That’s 1.8%)
In the 3rd, two more strikeouts from the Cardinals and a groundout by Fowler. Wacha got Cespedes to strike out looking in the bottom half and got his first 1-2-3 inning of the game. In the 4th, the Cardinals put a run on the board. Tommy Pham walked, Carpenter tried to bunt for a hit but was out by half a step, and Marcell Ozuna flew out to right, bringing Pham to 3rd base. Martinez continued just hitting the damn ball, driving in Pham for the first run. Another hit by Molina was for naught when Paul DeJong popped out to first on a 3-2 count.
You know when announcers notice a pitcher threw a very hittable pitch and say “the hitter wishes he had that one back?” Well, d’Arnaud did not miss his very hittable pitch to lead off the 4th, hitting a leadoff homer to keep the Mets lead to two runs. He got two more outs, but then allowed a hit to deGrom, the opposing pitcher, before Amed Rosario grounded into a forceout to end the inning.
In the 5th, Wacha’s spot in the order was 2nd with an unused Jedd Gyorko still on the bench. He remained on the bench and the Cardinals got into a 1-2-3 inning. This is the kind of thing I understand if it wasn’t the 2nd game of the year and literally every member of your 8-man bullpen is available. Why have 8 men in the bullpen if you aren’t willing to be proactive with your starters? Predictably, Wacha gave up a homer to second hitter he faced, Cespedes. Matheny kept him in, but took him out when he hit Frazier with two outs. He brought in Bud Norris instead of Matt Bowman this time and ironically, Bowman when you’re losing 4-1 isn’t a terrible choice in that spot. He struck out d’Arnaud looking to end the inning.
The Cardinals threatened to score in the bottom half, but again nobody actually looked good, even the guy who got on base. Pham hit a slow roller that he ran out and then took second on an errant throw. Then Carpenter struck out looking on an a fastball that hit the upper right corner of the strike zone. Ozuna struck out looking on a pitch that was clearly outside. They brought in Robert Gsellman to face Martinez and he too struck out, though he went down swinging.
Norris got bailed out a bit in the bottom half of the 6th. He allowed back-to-back singles to begin the inning, but notorious speedster Adrian Gonzalez tried to take third and he was not successful with Pham gunning him down at 3rd. The Mets allowed Gsellman to bat - why not double switch when bringing him in if you know he’s staying in for one more inning - and he grounded out back to Norris. Norris struck out Rosario to end the inning.
With Gsellman returning for the 7th, the Cardinals got back-to-back singles from Yadier Molina and DeJong. Kolten Wong tried to bunt for a hit, and then hit a ball towards the first base line that did the same job as the bunt, bringing runners to 2nd and 3rd. Greg Garcia pinch-hit instead of Gyorko in what I would describe as a peculiar move. I like Greg Garcia. But he’s the guy you bring in to start an inning so he will get on base, not a guy I particularly love with runners in scoring position. He struck out looking on a pitch that at no point looked like a ball and was in fact right down the middle. Fowler flied out to end the inning.
In what I can charitably describe as another puzzling move, Matheny brought in Ryan Sherriff to face the top of the Mets order, which features a switch-hitter and a lefty but is sandwiched by Cespedes, who murders lefties. Cabrera got an infield single and Cespedes walked, before a groundout back to the pitcher by Bruce (who should definitely be facing a lefty if you have the choice). Sam Tuivailala replaced Sheriff and he was not particularly effective. Frazier hit a sacrifice fly towards left field that Ozuna was sitting under, and Pham ran all the way from center and stole the flyout from him. It only really makes sense if Ozuna’s arm is bothering him a whole lot and they agreed on this before the game, because Ozuna was camped under the ball and much better positioned to throw out the guy at home. Tui walked d’Arnaud and Gonzalez lined out to right to end the inning.
In the 8th, Carpenter homered off Anthony Swarzak on a pitch up in the zone. Swarzak walked Martinez and was taken out either because he was injured or because he had just allowed a walk and a homer and had 30 pitches. Jeurys Familia, who seems like he’s definitely the Mets closer at this point, threw a wild pitch, giving the Cardinals a runner in scoring position, but Molina struck out to end the inning.
Tui allowed two singles to start the bottom half of the 8th before striking out Rosario. Tyler Lyons got his first major league appearance and the Mets seemed determined to not let him throw any pitches. Cabrera doubled on the first pitch, scoring one. They intentionally walked Cespedes. Bruce popped out on the first pitch he saw. Frazier saw one pitch for a strike and then flied out weakly to left. Familia walked Wong, but otherwise had no issues finishing the game.
- Wacha line: 4.2 IP, 4 ER, 2 Ks, 2 BBs, 2 HRs, 5 hits - That’s a 9.56 FIP and a 5.91 xFIP if you’re wondering so he’s definitely going to have negative WAR when everyone checks Fangraphs tomorrow.
- deGrom line: 5.2 IP, ER, 7 Ks, BB, 4 hits - I much prefer this line to Wacha’s. Sorry for the hot take.
- If there’s one positive to the offense so far, besides Martinez who I’ll get to, it’s that the Cardinals are making good pitchers throw a lot of pitches. You’ll notice that deGrom only threw 5.2 IP and that’s because they made him 101 pitches. That is 4.6 pitches per batter. That leads to more strikeouts of course, but also more walks. Problem was that deGrom doesn’t walk that many batters.
- They also made the Mets bullpen work quite a bit. If they get a lead for the bullpen, it’ll be interesting to see what they do. Swarzak and Familia both threw 30 pitches. In total, the Mets pitchers averaged 5 pitches per batter.
- Martinez went 2-3 with a BB meaning he is now 5-8 on the season with a walk, a strikeout, and a homer. He sure seems to be for real.
Tomorrow, the Cardinals try not to get swept. I like the pitching matchup, which features Steven Matz, who is good when healthy, but he was neither good or healthy last year. He faces Luke Weaver, who is going to win the Cy Young. I am not a crazy person.