Baseball is weird. This is best reflected in John Gant’s season compared to his start tonight. During his season, he has pitched pretty great, but the results haven’t exactly been there. Tonight he pitched mostly fine, but the results were very much there. Look, I’m almost never going to say a guy pitched good if he has more walks than strikeouts, and unfortunately that was the case tonight.
With that said, he did appear to pitch much better than you’d think if you just looked at the .059 BABIP and 4/5 K:BB ratio. He had a 58.8 GB% (though before you blame the groundballs for the BABIP, groundballs produce a higher BABIP than flyballs) so he mostly just had bouts of control issues. The Indians never looked comfortable.
Let’s look at the first inning as an example. He fell behind on Francisco Lindor 2-0, but Lindor was aggressive tonight and swung at the first strike he saw and grounded out. He then struck out Michael Brantley looking on three pitches. He walked Jose Ramirez on four pitches and Edwin Encarnacion lined out to center. Now, granted, very few innings had balls hit as hard as the lineout to CF, but this is basically how his start went. His pitches almost had too much movement if that makes sense, where he sometimes seemed to have no control over if he could throw a strike and other times, made hitters look completely helpless because they had no idea where the pitch was going.
Mike Clevinger meanwhile didn’t pitch all that well. He didn’t pitch badly, but the Cardinals behaved like a good hitting team and made life difficult for him. He fell behind the leadoff batter Matt Carpenter 3-1, and then threw a pretty pitch that Carpenter appreciated, because he very nearly homered. He didn’t though and centerfielder Tyler Naquin vastly misread the ball. It was not all that different from the misplay made by Marcell Ozuna last week.
Then the Cardinals made a truly perplexing move, and whether it was made by Greg Garcia on his own or Mike Matheny, we will probably never know. Even if Matheny takes credit for it, it’s possible he is just defending his player. Anyway Garcia bunted and it was not a good bunt and because of that, Carpenter was thrown out at third on the play. With two outs, Ozuna singled. Leaving aside that Garcia could have gotten on base himself and for that reason the bunt was dumb (not to mention that it was the first inning), this was clearly an inning where the Cards sabotaged their own chances at a run.
In the 2nd, Gant got a flyout and three groundballs, none hit particularly hard. In fact, one of them hit third base and flew up into the air, allowing Yan Gomes to get on base from an infield single. Meanwhile the Cardinals got to witness the defensive prowess of Lindor in the bottom of the inning. After Harrison Bader singled with one out, Kolten Wong hit the ball decently hard right at Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion grabbed and threw it to second as fast as possible, which caused a poor throw, which Lindor scooped easily and then threw out the speedy Wong for a double play.
In the 3rd, Gant had an inning pretty similar to the first, except without the lineout. He struck out opposing pitcher Clevinger, got Lindor to pop out, walked Brantley on six pitches, and then got Jose Ramirez to ground out to first base. In the bottom of the inning, the Cards offense finally stopped teasing. With one out, Carpenter singled and Garcia walked on five pitches. Clevinger had 4 Ks and 2 BBs, but he had less control than 2 BBs in 5 IP would indicate if that makes sense, so Garcia in the first inning after 3-1 on Carpenter.. ugh. Let’s move past that. But for example of how he had less control than his line indicates, he pitched his way into a 3-1 count on Jose Martinez, threw a ball that Jose swung at, and flew out. With two outs, and men on first and second, Ozuna hit a double to deep center to score both Carpenter and Garcia. 2-0 Cards.
I cannot stress how hard it is to try to evaluate Gant’s start. The 4th inning is a perfect example. Long-term, this is a terrible way to become a good pitcher, but for tonight it worked. He walked Encarnacion on seven pitches after starting 1-2 off him. Lonnie Chisenhall fouled out to the catcher. Jason Kipnis grounded it to second base, closer to first base than second, so Wong and Garcia could only get one. He then walked Gomes on five pitches. He once again started 1-2 on a hitter, and almost walked him too. On 3-2, he threw an amazing changeup, though clear ball, and Naquin went for it and struck out. So that’s two walks and a strikeout, but none of the outs were hit hard at all (or it was a strikeout).
Meanwhile, Clevinger was all set for a quality start, but the 4th inning kind of ruined that. Bader made Clevinger throw 11 pitches before popping out. Wong walked on seven pitches. Even Gant made Clevinger throw five pitches before grounding out. He threw 26 pitches and ended the inning with 83 pitches. This was the 6-7-8 hitters in the lineup too so it could have easily gone a different way.
In the 5th, Gant was perfect. He threw a 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout and two groundouts. The Cardinals nearly went 1-2-3, but on 1-2, Martinez hit a line drive single to right field. Ozuna struck out looking on a pitch that was clearly outside. The ump was a bit, shall we say, inconsistent. (For both sides) Gant came back out for the 6th and was walk-free that inning as well. He got two groundouts and a lineout to right field.
The Cardinals did not lay down and die and let the Indians bullpen have an easy few innings after Clevinger exited the game. Zach McAllister replaced Clevinger and he also had trouble getting the bottom of the order out. With one out, Dexter Fowler singled to left field. After Bader struck out, Kolten Wong also hit an opposite field hit, but this one was a little softer hit so it slowly rolled to the left field line and allowed Fowler to score and Wong to reach second base. With Wong at second base, Gant stayed in and batted for himself which was a... questionable decision.
Gant came back out for the 7th and immediately walked Jason Kipnis on four straight pitches. On the very first pitch to Gomes, Gomes hit into an easy double play ball to quickly remove that runner. Gant’s night ended when he lined out to third. McAlister pitched a second inning in the 7th and this again featured a ridiculously good defensive play by Lindor. With Carpenter on first from a single, Garcia hit the ball up the middle, Lindor made a diving stop, flipped it to Kipnis and got Garcia in time for the double play. This Lindor guy is pretty good.
Jordan Hicks took over for the 8th with a 3-0 lead and he had a bit of trouble, but nothing he couldn’t handle. He got his first two outs, one of which was a strikeout, fairly easily, but then walked Brantley and allowed a single to Ramirez. Encarnacion grounded out to end that threat though.
The Cardinals added a run in the 8th against George Kontos, who I still thought was playing for the Giants. With one out, Molina doubled and advanced to third on a groundout by Fowler. Bader hit a weak roller to second base, but looked like he was going to beat it out when Kipnis botched the ball anyway. 4-0 Cards.
The Cardinals put Austin Gomber in for the 9th with a comfortable lead, but after two straight singles - and to be fair one was a bloop hit and the other wasn’t hit particularly hard - Matheny didn’t want to take any chances and brought in Bud Norris. Norris fell behind on Gomes 3-1 and things looked kind of dicey, but he came back and struck him out. Naquin hit a line drive to Garcia and it caught baserunner Rajai Davis off guard, because Garcia kept his momentum going and ran to touch second base before Davis did and got a double play to end the game.
- Gant line: 7 IP, 4 Ks, 5 BBs, H - For what it’s worth his FIP on the game was 4.11. He previously had a LOB% of 44.3% and after leaving everybody on base, it’s now up to a still really unlucky 53.2%. He deserved this game.
- The Cardinals had a length rain delay and the game didn’t even begin until 8:35 pm.
- Carpenter is on fire. His 3-4 night with a double brought his wRC+ to 124, which his higher than last year. His BABIP is now .295, and remember when everyone thought his BABIP was bad because of the shift? I suppose teams have stopped shifting him right?
- Kolten Wong also deserves a shoutout. He went 1-3 with a BB, which raises his wRC+ to 69 on the year and if you think I shouted him out specifically for that, well
- This was a very well played baseball game for the Cardinals. 11 hits, 2 BBs, zero errors, and the doubles are back because three of them were hit tonight.
Tomorrow is going to be a really tough game. Carlos Martinez is going to need to pitch like an ace tomorrow because the Cards are facing literally one of the best pitchers in the game today in Corey Kluber.