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Cardinals lose to the excellent Padres bullpen in 4-2 loss

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No seriously, the Padres bullpen is good.

San Diego Padres v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

If I were able to predict who the Padres would pitch today, and not just hear the term bullpen game, I’d probably expect a game like this. Because the Padres pitchers today were excellent and with the exception of Matt Strahm, they have all been excellent this year. It’s probably why the Padres’ record is not all that bad really. Their bullpen is pretty good.

The Padres were not all that interested in making Miles Mikolas work. They swung early and often in the 1st inning. Despite four batters coming to the plate, Mikolas threw just 9 pitches, striking out one and allowing a single. Harrison Bader dove for the single and was well short, but was able to keep the ball in front of him. Mikolas struck out the side in the 2nd inning. In the 3rd, he got another 1-2-3 inning, this time with no strikeouts, but he did get two groundouts in the inning. He had 37 pitches through 3 innings.

Meanwhile Strahm looked like the second coming of Warren Spahn against the Cardinals. He struck out both Matt Carpenter and Tommy Pham in the first inning in a 1-2-3 inning. He got three straight groundouts in the second inning in another 1-2-3 inning. He struck out two more batters in the 3rd. He was literally perfect through 3 innings. Thankfully this was a bullpen game and when his spot in the order came up in the 4th, he was taken out.

His spot in the order came up much sooner than expected, although I am not sure if he wouldn’t have been taken out after 3 anyway due to the planned bullpen game. Mikolas was thrown off his game a bit when Eric Hosmer took a curveball right down the middle into the green in center field for the Padres first run. He got two outs after that, but then allowed an infield hit, line drive single, and infield hit. With the bases loaded, A.J. Ellis hit a line drive opposite field single to drive in two runs. It momentarily looked like Bader might have thrown out the third run of the game, but he was called safe and it wasn’t clear enough to be overturned anyway. I thought he barely got his foot in myself.

Mikolas recovered nicely after that and put in a decent start overall. It’s a weak start by the standard he has set, but that’s mostly because of the standard he has set. The Padres didn’t get real good contact in the next two innings he pitched. There were four groundouts, including a bunt groundout, a strikeout, and a popout to the six batters he faced to finish the game. He ended the game with 88 pitches and probably pitches another inning if not for his spot coming up to the plate in the next half inning.

The Padres replaced Warren Spahn with some famous sidearm great who I’m too lazy too look up. In this incarnation, his name was Adam Cimber and he was almost as good as Strahm. The Cardinals looked uncomfortable facing him as a whole and never really got any sort of good contact against him. He struck out three in his three innings of work. The Cardinals did break up the no hitter against him. Bader hit a slow chopper to third base and beat out the throw because he is really, really fast. Yairo Munoz kept the hitters to a minimum though, immediately grounding into a double play. Dexter Fowler took Mikolas out of the game and struck out.

Mike Mayers replaced Mikolas and didn’t really pitch badly, but unfortunately was the victim of some poor sequencing. Manual Margot hit a leadoff double and Ellis bunted him over to third. With the fielders in, he did get a groundball, but it was hit too slow for Munoz to even have a chance, and the Padres got their fourth run. He got another groundout to end the inning.

The Cards bats came alive in the 7th. Leadoff man Matt Carpenter, 0-2 with two strikeouts to this point, singled to start the rally. Pham continued it with a single of his own. On an uncharacteristically off night, Jose Martinez flied out. Marcell Ozuna singled home Carpenter and put runners at 1st and 3rd. Yadier Molina hit a slow roller to third, just slow enough that there was no chance at the double play ball, driving in the second run and putting Ozuna at second base. Jedd Gyorko struck out against his former team to end the inning.

Jordan Hicks replaced Mayers and boy did he pitch good. He struck out Hosmer. Then he struck out Jose Pirela. Then he struck out Hunter Renfroe. His slider was working very well tonight and there’s also the 101 mph fastball. He pitched the 9th too, and got a 1-2-3 inning again. He only got one strikeout this time but I think we can forgive him.

Having done the work to come back and with less margin for error, the Cards still had to get through the Padres setup man and closer. The Padres are a bad enough team that they don’t reach the 8th with a lead all that often, but when they do, they usually win. Because damn have these two guys been good this year. Kirby Yates had the 8th inning and while his advanced stats haven’t been as good as his 1.04 ERA, he’s still been a great pitcher. He got through the 7-8-9 hitters with two groundouts and a pinch-hit single by Greg Garcia. Matt Carpenter grounded out too to end the inning.

While Yates is somewhat of a surprise (though with a projected rest of season 3.30 FIP, it’s not like he came out of nowhere), Brad Hand is very much not. He’s working on his third straight season of being an elite reliever, and with a two-run lead, you don’t stand much of a chance. He ran into a speed bump by hitting Ozuna, but he did it with two outs and then struck out Molina to end the game.

Notes

  • The term “bullpen game” against the Padres would seemingly be an easy win, but the people the Cards had to face were good unfortunately. Strahm is the only guy they faced with not very good stats, but he’s a lefty who throws 95+ so if he has control on that day, he’ll probably be good. Cimber, Craig Stammen (who they scored two runs off of today), Yates, and Hand all have ridiculously good stats this year.
  • Mikolas line: 6 IP, 5 Ks, 6 Hs, HR, 3 ER - Usually when you have 6 baserunners in 6 innings and zero walks with 5 Ks, you probably allow less than 3 earned runs, even with the home run allowed. It just so happens that five of the baserunners were in one inning.
  • Hicks has lowered his ERA to 2.06, his FIP to 3.36 and his xFIP to 4.36 with today’s outing. His advanced stats are creeping towards actually good now. And to be fair, his advanced stats since (pick not at all abritrary endpoint when he starting striking people out) have been INCREDIBLE.
  • Not sure if on purpose or if it was just convenient, but the Padres going from a lefty with 95+ to a slow throwing sidearm righty was genius. Could not be more of an adjustment between the two pitchers.
  • The Cardinals did not hit a home run today. The Cardinals lost. This does not appear to be a coincidence. Hell the Cards didn’t even get an extra base hit.

Tomorrow the Cards go for the series win and the season series win. The series is tied at 1-1 and the season series is tied at 3-3. That seems not ideal. It’s Luke Weaver versus Eric Lauer. The Cardinals hit four homers off Lauer earlier this year so it’d be cool if they did that again.