This was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Picture if you will a 37-year-old pitcher whose season and possibly career looked done less than two months ago. He was the old mainstay of a rotation where he was not needed. Then Carlos Martinez went to the bullpen. Michael Wacha suffered setbacks and won’t return. All of a sudden, there might be a spot for him. The Cardinals had three borderline MLB starters with two maybe aces. Surely you can make room for Adam freaking Wainwright when those are your starting five.
And yet. The public opinion towards Wainwright starting has been bewilderingly negative. I’ve been truly mystified by this. This is not a hindsight opinion from me after one good start. I have the receipts. Yes, I am feeling a bit smug about this, but also - this was just plain awesome to watch! Appreciate what you just watched if you were lucky enough to watch it - this is as close to the Wainwright of Cy Young contending days as we’ll get.
With all that said, I actually did not expect this. I expected him to be decent and worst case, really no different than how our starters have been the last few days against the Dodgers. I definitely wasn’t writing this off as a loss, since you know, baseball is baseball and weird things happen.
In Wainwright’s last start, he was sharp through the first two innings with the exception of a solo home run. Tonight, he pitched the same as those two innings, except over six innings and there was no solo home run at all. There was some danger to start things. Joc Pederson flied out to deep right center. Justin Turner doubled with one out. Manny Machado flew out. None of these are good signs. Then he struck out Max Muncy looking to end the inning. In the 2nd, there was still cause for concern. He again allowed a deep fly ball for one of his outs and walked a batter this inning, after starting him 0-2. Then he finished the inning with a strikeout to Chase Utley.
Meanwhile, Ross Stripling just looked hopelessly dominant in the 1st inning. It was ridiculous. Matt Carpenter lined to left, but he stuck his bat out to do it. Both Yairo Munoz and Paul DeJong struck out on three straight pitches. The Cardinals took much better at-bats in the second. The difference was as stark as night and day. Munoz and DeJong received maybe two strikes combined between them. Marcell Ozuna looked at two strikes, then let Stripling try to get him to chase, working his way into a 3-2 count. On the seventh pitch, he hit a pretty good pitch on the outside corner for an opposite field jack. 1-0 Cards. Jedd Gyorko did most of the legwork to get a walk, but then swung at ball four on the seventh pitch of his at-bat. Both Kolten Wong and Yadier Molina lined out to end the inning.
In the 3rd, Wainwright did not mess around with the opposing pitcher, striking him out on three straight pitches. After Joc Pederson singled, Turner had worked himself into a 3-2 count. Leading to an amusing situation when Alex Rodriguez thought Pederson should steal because Turner doesn’t strike out much (which is true). Turner struck out swinging on a curve and Pederson was in no-mans land and thrown out to end the inning.
Stripling only faced three batters in the bottom of the inning, but thanks to a 10-pitch AB by Bader, he ended up throwing 21 pitches to get his three outs. Wainwright got through the 4th with two strikeouts. He did walk Yasmani Grandal, but he did make up for it with a three-pitch strikeout of Bellinger.
The Cards added to their lead in the bottom of the 4th. Yairo Munoz did not have any better of an at-bat than he did in the first, but strike three was wild and got away from Grandal. Munoz immediately ran to first and was safe on the play. Dumbest rule in sports, but I’ll take it as long as it exists. DeJong lined a single to put runners at 1st and 2nd. Ozuna was a little more eager this time - too eager, and ended up swinging at two balls and popping out. Gyorko again got into a 3-2 count, but this time singled home the game’s second run. With men on first and 2nd, Stripling threw a pitch right down the middle for some reason for the first pitch against Molina, and Molina singled home the Cards’ third run.
In the 5th, Wainwright had a tougher inning, at least as pitches are concerned. Yaisel Puig grounded out and Utley struck out for a relatively easy first two outs. Andrew Toles pinch-hit though and worked Wainwright for 8 pitches and taking the walk. He struck out Pederson to end the 5th with 87 pitches. With Wainwright leading off, it seemed like that’d be the end of his outing.
Then he batted for himself in what ended up being a 1-2-3 inning. He came back out for the 6th. He fell behind 3-1 to Turner. He flew out to center. He fell behind Machado 3-1. He came back and struck him out. Muncy grounded out to end Wainwright’s outing at 101 pitches and six scoreless innings.
Kenta Maeda, who had pitched a flawless 5th, came back out for the 6th and was a bit unlucky. Ozuna and Gyorko hit back-to-back singles with one out. With Molina up and a 2-2 count, the runners stole. Yep. It was hit right to Turner who was on third base, but the chopper got past him, partially because he was so concerned about staying on third base while also catching the ball. It got past him and another runner scored. Wong grounded into an inning ending double play ball to end the inning.
Bud Norris replaced him and well, things could have gone worse. He walked the first batter he faced. He threw a way outside pitch for ball one. The trainers went out, Bud left the game with a blister in his finger, and Jordan Hicks took over with a 1-0 count. He walked him. First and second with nobody out and the Dodgers didn’t need to lift a finger. Hicks struck out Puig, making him look real dumb in the process. He clearly lacked control in his outing tonight, but 104 mph fastballs and 93 mph sliders go a long way. He got the next two hitters out when Utley flew out on a 2-0 count and Alex Verdugo grounded out.
After Dodgers’ relievers struck out the side in the bottom of the 7th, Hicks returned for the 8th. He struck out Pederson swinging. He allowed a single to Turner. Machado looked at three pitches clearly in the strike zone and then complained about it. Maybe he couldn’t see the pitches because they were so fast. I don’t know. To be fair, the strike zone all night was REALLY pitcher friendly, but in this particular instance, all three were definitely strikes. Muncy lined out right back to Hicks to end the inning.
The Cardinals added a run in the top of the 9th. A walk to DeJong and a single by Ozuna set the table for Molina once again. He singled in a fifth run, but Ozuna got himself thrown out at 3rd to end the inning. Carlos Martinez came in for the 9th. He threw 8 pitches, allowing a one-out single, which was quickly erased by a double play ball to end the game.
Cardinals win. They are still in the playoff race thanks to Adam Wainwright. Bet you never expected to hear either of those things two months ago.
- Adam Wainwright - 6 IP, 9 Ks, 3 BBs, 2 H - Make no mistake. This was no smoke and mirrors start. He was actually great.
- Ozuna had a 3-hit day, which included another homer. He now has a 105 wRC+ and while that’s not what we expected, if he can raise it just a liiiittle more, we’ll see roughly close to what should have been expected of him.
- Gyorko went 2-3 today. I don’t think he gets enough love for how consistently solid he has been for the Cardinals, which is ironic because his Padres career was anything but consistent.
- Also: very good day for the Cardinals besides the win. Cubs lost, Brewers lost, and of course Dodgers lost. Rockies won, but the Dodgers and Rockies are going to play each other and hopefully one of them sweeps the other to help the Cards.
Tomorrow, the Cardinals do not play the Dodgers. Thank god. They play the Atlanta Braves, who uh, swept them earlier this year. Different team now though. It’s Miles Mikolas against Mike Foltynewicz and it kind of feels like we have to win a Mikolas start against the Braves. Won’t be easy though.