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Cards get swept, late comeback not enough in 6-5 loss to Braves

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They showed more life than they did the last two games so there’s that.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

I didn’t have to watch either of the last two games of this series and I’m glad, because I think my mood would be different right now. This is simply an unfortunate series of games, but if you didn’t expect to get swept by at least one of the first-place series teams in this stretch of games, well I would be surprised. I didn’t expect that team to be the Braves (Indians would have been my bet), but I’m not exactly surprised it happened.

John Gant pitched today for the Cardinals and he was fine. He was the epitome of a 6th starter, the guy who will go out and be fine for you over 5-6 innings of work. He won’t win you the game by himself, but if the offense and bullpen show up, you’ll probably win. Well the offense kind of showed up. The bullpen wasn’t bad, but they were beset by bad defensive play from Jose Martinez and caused Gant to get an earned run he wouldn’t have otherwise.

One of Gant’s weaknesses today was that he was just not missing any bats. Last game out, he struck out a decent number with too many walks. This time, he cut down on the walks, but didn’t strike out anybody who wasn’t the pitcher. In today’s game, it’s hard to be good if you aren’t striking anybody out. He did get away with it for most of the game however. In the first, he had a 1-2-3 inning, which included a popout and a groundout.

In the bottom half of the inning, the Cardinals truly squandered what was a truly wild Mike Foltynewicz. He threw 10 balls to 5 strikes, but ended the inning with the minimum amount of batters faced. He walked Matt Carpenter on four straight pitches. Tommy Pham might have paid a bit too much attention to that, because he looked at 6 straight pitches, with every strike clearly in the strike zone, striking out looking. On 3-1, Jose Martinez grounded into an inning-ending double play ball.

The Braves struck first in the 2nd from a pair of doubles. Tyler Flowers doubled with one out and Charlie Culberson drove him in with two outs. The Cardinals gave 90 wRC+ Dansby Swason the IBB to face the pitcher. Personally, if you’re doing that, you have no faith in your starter. It just seems too early and you allow the opposing team to lead off with the top of the order next inning. It worked though as Folty struck out. In the bottom half, Folty struck out the side, seemingly finding his command, though the Cards swung at a few balls this inning.

In the 3rd, Gant had less trouble, though two of the 3 outs were lineouts, so it’s not like he was only inducing weak contact. The Cardinals again squandered a wild Folty in the bottom of the 3rd. Kolten Wong walked on four straight pitches. On a 3-2 count, Francisco Pena swung at a pitch in the other batter’s box and it didn’t ever look like a strike. Wong was stealing on the play and made it safely onto 2nd. I’m not sure if this is the case, but it appears Pena only swung so Wong wouldn’t get thrown out, but since it was 3-2, that doesn’t make any sense. But it was that clear of a ball. Both Gant and Carpenter struck out to end the inning, giving Folty 7 strikeouts through 3 innings.

Gant had a better 1-2-3 inning in the 4th. He got two groundouts and a popout. If you’re not striking people out, that’s the way to do it. In the bottom of the 4th, well do I need to repeat myself for a third time? The problem this time was that the Cardinals began the rally with two outs. Marcell Ozuna singled and Jedd Gyorko walked, putting runners at 1st and 2nd. Unfortunately, Harrison Bader was very much in his “not able to hit righties” mode today and struck out. The reason I say the Cardinals missed a golden opportunity though is that Folty was clearly exhausted due to the heat and looked like he had not a lot left in the tank.

In the 5th, Gant walked Culberson on four straight pitches to begin the inning and pitched his way around that. Folty had to try (and fail) to bunt as the third hitter of the game and didn’t get much relief so it would stand to reason that the Cardinals could take advantage of that in the bottom of the 5th. The problem was that the bottom of the order was up. So he had a 1-2-3 inning.

The Braves broke the game open in the 6th. Ozzie Albies hit a leadoff single. He quickly got to 0-2 on Freddie Freeman but could not put him away. Freeman fouled off three 2-strike pitches, all of them out of the zone, before Gant made a mistake and threw one right down the middle. Freeman hit a two-run homer. Gant followed that with a walk to Nick Markakis. After Flowers grounded out and Markakis went to second on the play, Mike Matheny took him out in favor of Mike Mayers.

Mayers got screwed this inning. Ronald Acuna grounded to short, but because of his speed and a difficult play by Gyorko, he was safe at first for a single. Culberson singled to center, and Acuna tried to steal third on the play, but it was cut off by Martinez. Martinez unfortunately didn’t catch it cleanly and because of this, he was safe at third. Dansby Swanson then hit a ball to Martinez and instead of going for the double play, he went home. Acuna was safe. I’m not sure if they would have made the double play, but I wouldn’t say it was unlikely. After a wild pitch, Ryan Flaherty hit a sacrifice fly to drive home Culberson.

Shane Carle replaced Folty in the 6th and pitched a clean, strikeout-free inning. Greg Holland pitch a scoreless inning of his own, with his lone strikeout being to Freddie freaking Freeman. The Braves tried to steal a second inning from Carle, but he was not as successful in this inning. Gyorko singled, Wong doubled and Pena singled both home to put the Cards on the board to bring the score to 6-2. With one out, the Braves brought in Jesse Biddle. The Cards countered with Yairo Munoz, who grounded into a fielder’s choice out. He then walked Carpenter on six pitches and the Braves made another pitching change. Peter Moylan, who I believe is the rare right-handed specialist, came in to face the struggling Pham. Pham had broke out of the 0-30 slump he was in earlier in the game with a line drive single. He hit a three-run homer to make it 6-5 Cards.

Jordan Hicks pitched both the 8th and 9th innings. He faced six batters in all and got all of them out. Five groundouts and a strikeout. He’s good. Unfortunately the Cardinals also went down easy, not getting a single baserunner on in either the 8th or 9th. Leading off the 9th was Pena, who was confusingly not pinch-hit for and he predictably struck out. Two flyballs from pinch-hitter Yadier Molina and Carpenter weren’t far enough to tie the game and the Cardinals lost.

Notes

  • Gant line: 5.1 IP, 2 Ks, 3 BBs, 4 ER, HR, 4 Hs - Weirdly, his ERA, FIP, and xFIP are all pretty close to the same, so it’s hard to say he didn’t get the results he deserved here.
  • I was slightly annoyed the Cardinals came back and got my hopes up, only to fall flat at the end. Intellectually speaking, yes them scoring is better than not, even in a loss, but a loss is still a loss in the standings and I thought maybe, just maybe they’d steal a win here.
  • Speaking of that, without Jose Martinez’s defense, the score would be 5-4, not 6-5. Granted, one thing changes, everything changes, but since we already lost, that would probably be more in the Cards favor than not.
  • Pena has a 39 wRC+ on the year. Carson Kelly has a 109 wRC+ on the year. Can we like try to find a way to get Kelly some sort of playing time up here cause I’m kind of done with Pena.
  • Good game from Pham and Wong got on base twice so there were positives, but most of the offense was absent.

Tomorrow, the Cardinals play in the last of four straight series against first-place teams. If they can go 2-1 against them, they’ll have played 6-7 ball against first-place teams. That’s a big if, but that would actually be not bad. But it’s going to be a tough one. The game tomorrow starts at 8:40 since we are in Arizona and it’s Robbie Ray against Carlos Martinez. Would be pretty awesome if Martinez magically turned into the Martinez we all know or I don’t like our chances.