It says something about how little I pay attention to Atlanta - sorry Braves fans - that I did not know Anibal Sanchez was still in the majors, much less putting together a pretty good season. We saw some evidence of how he’s put it together tonight. He was sharp. Hitters were not comfortable in the batter’s box, swinging at pitches they’d rather not swing at and not getting much in the way of hittable pitches. This was immediately clear with both Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez striking out to begin the ballgame. Paul DeJong hit a slow groundout for the third out.
Austin Gomber meanwhile seems like a pitcher where the first strike is especially important. If he falls behind, he doesn’t really have the control or pitches to catch up, which usually just means he’ll walk the guy or groove a pitch. He fell behind Ronald Acuña in the first though. On 3-1, Acuña hit a hard hit groundball right to Jedd Gyorko for the first out. With one out, Freddie Freeman swung at the first pitch he saw and it wasn’t a bad pitch by any means, for a single. He struck out cleanup hitter Nick Markakis. Here in 2018 Markakis is batting cleanup and against a lefty no less. So weird.
After an easy 1-2-3 inning from Sanchez, Gomber had few issues in the 2nd. He kept throwing strikes to Johan Camargo, but on an 0-1 count, Gyorko couldn’t handle a play he usually makes with ease to allow Camargo to reach base on an error. Kurt Suzuki got into a 3-2 count and struck out swinging. Molina’s throw was not accurate or Camargo would have been caught stealing, but he was safe on the play. After Ender Inciarte grounded out, Mike Shildt chose to intentionally walk career 75 wRC+ hitter Charlie Culberson. To be fair, he has a 117 this year so it’s not that cut-and-dry, but I personally disagree with the strategy this early in the game. It worked obviously, with Sanchez grounding out to Wong on a rather well hit ball.
In the 3rd, Sanchez fell behind Wong 3-0. He threw two strikes but then hit Wong. Part of me thinks an HBP with 3 balls should count as a walk for the hitter, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. Sanchez struck out Bader swinging. With Gomber up, Wong tried to steal, but got caught stealing, mostly due to some slick fielding from Dansby Swanson as the throw wasn’t exactly on target. Gomber struck out to end the inning and Sanchez had faced the minimum through 3 innings.
In the bottom of the 3rd, Gomber really struggled. He again fell behind Acuña, but this time Acuña hit a pitch right down the middle into center field to give the Braves a 1-0 lead. He got the next two hitters out no problem, but ran into issues when he couldn’t put away Markakis after starting 0-2 on him. On 2-2, Markakis lined a double. Gomber then threw 8 straight balls to Camargo and Suzuki to load the bases for Inciarte. He fell behind Inciarte 2-1, but Inciarte lined out to center to end the threat. It’s definitely lucky that they only got one run this inning.
With one out in the 4th, Martinez lined a single to left field. It looked like it had the potential to be a double, but Acuña was able to reach it before it got to the wall and Martinez simply hit it too hard to risk going to 2nd base. Then DeJong homered to give the Cards a 2-1 lead. In the bottom of the inning, Gomber gave up a leadoff single when he fell behind to Culberson 3-1. Sanchez popped up his bunt, so the runner didn’t advance. This time to Acuña, he got to 0-2 and while he threw two balls after it, he ultimately struck him out on the fifth pitch. He also struck out Albies to end the inning.
In the top of the 5th, the Cardinals threatened, but were harmed by the pesky NL rules. With one out, Wong and Molina hit back-to-back singles to put runners at the corners. Gomber attempted a safety squeeze but it was hit right back at the pitcher and Wong was thrown out easily. With two outs and men on first and second, Carpenter struck out for the third time.
In the 5th, Gomber needed a quick inning to go 6. He did not have a quick inning. Freeman singled on the 8th pitch he saw to lead off the inning. After a fielder’s choice groundout and a flyout, Suzuki singled to center to put runners at the corner for Inciarte. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat and his 98th of the night, Inciarte again lined out, this time to left field, to end the inning.
The Cardinals 2-3-4 hitters went down easy in Sanchez’s last inning of work, which included two more strikeouts. He had 9 strikeouts to zero walks, although again, technically he did sort of walk a guy, he just happened to hit him on the fourth ball. John Brebbia replaced Gomber and a 1-2-3 inning of his own, which also included two strikeouts.
In the 7th, the Cardinals looked helpless against Brad Brach with both Gyorko and Molina striking out. Wong though, laced a rope into center field for a two-out single. Bader did not feel too confident about getting a hit off Brach so he tried to bunt for a hit unsuccessfully. Shildt made a double switch, bringing Munoz to the 9th spot and taking Gyorko out of the game so Hicks could pitch multiple innings. The first plan went well with Hicks pitching a scoreless 1-2-3 inning.
The 2nd part did not go as planned. After a groundout from Munoz, Brach was taken out of the game for Johnny Venters. Jim Edmonds noted on the broadcast that Venters was nowhere near the strike zone in his warmup throws. He was also nowhere near the strike zone to Carpenter, who looked at four straight balls for a one-out walk. Martinez got into a 3-2 count and then absolutely murdered a ball to the left field wall. It was very nearly a home run. It was hit so hard that Carpenter was running on the play and did not score. After a second pitching change, DeJong hit the first pitch he saw up the middle for the Cards third run of the game. Ozuna fell behind 0-2 and then looked at four straight balls to load the bases for the pitcher’s spot. Matt Adams stepped to the plate, they announced Sam Freeman, and Patrick Wisdom replaced Adams. Wisdom struck out. With two outs, Molina quickly fell behind 0-2 and then proceeded to foul off 3 pitches with two strikes before hitting a grounder between Camargo and Swanson to score two. Acuña let the ball get past him and a third run scored. 6-1 Cards.
Instead of Hicks pitching, Dominic Leone came into the game. He threw a scoreless inning with two strikeouts, and unfortunately a walk, but he looked pretty good this game, which is encouraging. It apparently doesn’t matter who pitches in the Atlanta bullpen, because they brought in Bryse Wilson and he couldn’t escape the inning without earned runs either. Munoz singled and Tyler O’Neill, inserted into the game as a pinch-runner for Martinez, doubled to left to score Munoz. Ozuna hit a ball off the wall that only went for a single because of hard it was, and it scored O’Neill for the 8th run.
In the 9th, Mike Mayers pitched and he struck out the first two batters he saw. Then he walked the next guy and allowed a double to Freeman. With men on 2nd and 3rd, Markakis popped out to end the game. Cards win.
- Gomer line: 5 IP, 5 Ks, 3 BBs, 6 H, ER, HR - Gomer allowed nine baserunners, one of which was a home run, over five innings and somehow only allowed one earned run.
- Cards bullpen tonight: 4 IP, 7 Ks, 2 BBs, H
- Carpenter sure is struggling. He went 0-4 with a BB and 3 Ks, His one batted ball was a lineout, so this appears to be a rough combination of actually struggling and terrible luck.
- I think maybe it’s time to get O’Neill a start? I didn’t mind that he wasn’t starting because he was simply looking so helpless at the plate, but he’s been putting together pretty great plate appearances as of late. In his last 11, which includes just one start, he’s batting .375/.545/.875. In other words, he’s walked nearly as much over the last 11 PAs as his first 119.
- Give a hand to Kolten Wong folks. He went 2-2 with a BB and an HBP. Both of his singles were absolute ropes up the middle. He now has a 99 wRC+ and 2.8 WAR in just 388 PAs.
Tomorrow, the Cards go for the sweep. They stand a good shot of it. Jack Flaherty pitches tomorrow against Touki Toussaint, who has only thrown 17.1 major league innings in his career. He has 15 strikeouts to 13 walks so I hope the Cards bring their patience.