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Cards’ Hitting Woes Continue in 3-1 Loss to Nationals in Game 2

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MLB: NLCS-Washington Nationals at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

“Rise and shine, campers! And don’t forget your booties, cause it’s cold out there today.”

“It’s cold out there every day. What is this, Miami Beach?”

“Not hardly.”

--Groundhog Day (1993)

When you bring up the movie Groundhog Day, it provokes mixed reaction. Many have seen it. Some find it silly and ridiculous, others believe it to be a classic. If you haven’t seen it, the main character, played by Bill Murray, is a cynical, disgruntled, weatherman on TV. He and his crew are assigned to cover the Groundhog Day festival in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. When he wakes up the next morning, after the festival, he hears the same radio bit that woke him up the previous morning, and realizes eventually that he is stuck in a time loop, with every day being Groundhog Day.

Regardless of how one feels about the fantasy comedy film, it was the first thing I was thinking of as the Cards continued to get blanked throughout today’s game. Anibal Sanchez had a no-hitter going through 7.2 IP last night. It took until the 7th inning for the Cards to break up the no-hitter that Max Scherzer had going today. But the hitting woes have actually been present before then.

After Kolten Wong and Paul Goldschmidt got back-to-back hits in the 4th inning in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, the hitters in the Cards’ starting lineup failed to get a single hit until Goldschmidt singled off of Max Scherzer in the top of the 7th inning in Game 2 of the NLCS this afternoon. That’s 0-16 for all batters to close the NLDS, and 0-27 for Cards’ starters in Game 1 of the NLCS. The Cards went 0-18 today before Goldschmidt’s hit, and 3-29 on the day. Since the 4th inning of Game 5 of the NLDS, Cards’ hitters have 4 hits in 73 at-bats. It has been the same starting lineup for each game. Pinch hitter Jose Martinez has two of the hits, and Randy Arozarena struck out in a pinch hit appearance in Game 5 of the NLDS. That’s 2 for 70 by the Cardinal lineup members. If you take both the Cardinal pinch-hitters and pitchers out of the equation, our members of the regular lineup have gone 2 for 66 since Goldschmidt’s hit in the 4th inning of Game 5 of the NLDS. Since that hit, in 78 PA, Cards hitters in total have been 4 for 73 with 3 BB, 2 HBP and 26 SO. Needless to say, that’s not good. If you really want to be a curmudgeon about it, you could point out that of the 4 hits the Cardinals have had since Goldschmidt’s hit in the 4th inning of Game 5 of the NLDS, 2 of them should have been caught by the Nationals. Soto could have made a play on Goldschmidt’s single in the bottom of the 7th today if he had been a little more aggressive, and Taylor should have caught Jose Martinez’s pinch-hit RBI double that went over his head today.

What makes the hitting performance so frustrating is that the Cards’ starters pitched well enough in both Game 1 of the NLCS last night and Game 2 of the NLCS today to give the Cards a chance to win. Mikolas scattered some hits over 6 IP, but only walked 1 batter unintentionally and allowed only 1 earned run. Today, Adam Wainwright turned in an awesome performance, matching Max Scherzer strikeout for strikeout and setting a personal best total of 11 strikeouts in a postseason game. He got burned on one hanging cutter for a home run early in the game, and after he had arguably been left in too long, he gave up a 2-run double in the top of the 8th. It’s just a painful pill to swallow to have to acknowledge that the Nationals’ pitching has just been better than ours, and to admit that the Cardinal hitters have failed to support our pitching staff in the slightest way.

However you want to spin it, the Cardinals now have themselves in a trick bag. Of the 24 instances where clubs have lost the first 2 games of a post-season series at home, in only 3 instances has that club come back to win that series:

As you can see, it has never happened in a League Championship Series. If there is any devil magic to be summoned, now would be the time. Just about everything that could have gone right for the Nationals went right for them and just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Cardinals has gone wrong. Mike Shildt said after Game 1 that he did not want to make a knee-jerk reaction. What about after 2 games? Shake things up just to do something? Silently acknowledge the Cards aren’t going to be hitting and put their best defensive lineup on the field, restoring Harrison Bader to his center field job? Put Jose Martinez in right field to hope for some additional hits? It will be interesting to see what adjustments Shildt makes, if any.

After Wainwright retired Trea Turner on a grounder to short and Adam Eaton on a lazy fly to left (both on curveballs) to start the game, Anthony Rendon lined a 2-1 center-cut fastball to left for a base hit. Juan Soto struck out swinging at a 3-2 cutter right over the plate to end the inning. After Dexter Fowler struck out swinging at a 3-2 changeup down the middle to start the bottom of the 1st, Kolten Wong walked on 4 pitches. On the 1-1 pitch to Paul Goldschmidt, Wong stole 2nd base. Goldschmidt struck out swinging at a low slider for the 2nd out. Ozuna stranded Wong at 2nd base by striking out swinging at an outside 96-mph fastball.

Howie Kendrick grounded out to short to lead off the top of the 2nd. Ryan Zimmerman grounded a shot to Wong that was 101 mph off the bat and landed in front of him. Wong made a fancy o’le play from the side to throw Zimmerman out. Kurt Suzuki failed to check his swing on a curveball that was way low and outside and struck out for the 3rd out. Yadier Molina grounded a 3-2 low-and-away slider to 3rd to lead off the bottom of the 2nd. Matt Carpenter weakly grounded a low-and-away changeup to 1st base with a half-swing for the 2nd out. Tommy Edman struck out swinging at a nasty low-and-away changeup to end the inning. The Cards’ starting lineup is now 0 for 33 to start the NLCS.

To start the top of the 3rd, Michael Taylor skied a first-pitch hanging cutter to left that landed just a few rows back in the seats for a solo HR to give the Nats a 1-0 lead.

The pitcher Max Scherzer struck out swinging at a high fastball. Turner lined an inside fastball to 1st for the 2nd out. Eaton grounded an outside fastball to short, and Wainwright got out of the inning on 9 pitches, one of them the unfortunate hanging cutter. Paul DeJong struck out swinging at an outside 2-2 fastball to start the bottom of the 3rd. Adam Wainwright grounded a hanging slider to short for the 2nd out. Fowler was behind on an outside 2-2 97-mph fastball and whiffed to end the inning. The Cards have only put 3 balls in play all game, none harder than 78 mph.

Rendon grounded out to 3rd to lead off the top of the 4th. Expecting a curveball, Soto swung way too late at a 1-2 fastball and struck out. Kendrick failed to check his swing and struck out on a curveball about a foot outside and in the dirt to end the inning. Wong grounded a low 2-2 changeup into the shift to the right side and Kendrick made a diving play to make the stop and throw to first for the out. Goldschmidt struck out swinging at a low-and-in 2-2 changeup. Ozuna popped a hanging 3-2 slider to Rendon at 3rd to end the inning. That’s now 0 for 39 for the starting lineup in the NLCS, and the last time a Cardinal starter got a hit was the bottom of the 4th inning in Game 5 of the NLDS when Wong and Goldschmidt singled back-to-back. That’s 0 for 57 from the starting lineups since then.

Zimmerman struck out swinging at a low curveball to lead off the top of the 5th. Taylor grounded a center-cut fastball deep in the hole to DeJong at short. DeJong tried to make a jumping throw, but had no chance to get Turner, who reached on an infield single. Scherzer grounded to short to end the inning. Molina popped an 0-1 center-cut fastball to shallow right to lead off the bottom of the 5th and slammed his bat to the ground in disgust. Carpenter was ahead in the count 3-0, but struck out looking at a 3-2 low-and-in 97-mph fastball. He looked at a center-cut 3-0 fastball and a 3-1 low-and-in curveball. Edman struck out looking at an 0-2 outside fastball to end the inning.

Turner lined a low-and-away 1-1 cutter to the gap in right-center for a base hit. Edman cut the ball off to prevent Turner from going to 2nd. Expecting another pitch, Eaton struck out looking at a 1-2 fastball near the middle. Before that, he failed to get the sacrifice down. Rendon struck out on 3 pitches, the last one a gift, as Wainwright’s 90-mph fastball looked like it was clearly above the zone. With the count 0-2 on Soto, Turner raced for 2nd base. Wainwright’s pitch was an up-and-in fastball that caught Soto off-balance, and it looked like he was trying to get away from the ball. On appeal, the 3rd base umpire rung him up for failing to check his swing. It was a good thing for the Cards that that ended the inning, as Turner would have stolen 2nd base otherwise. DeJong popped a first-pitch inside fastball up to short to lead off the bottom of the 6th. Wainwright hit for himself and struck out swinging at a center-cut fastball. That’s 10 strikeouts for Scherzer. Fowler worked a 3-2 walk to get the Cards’ 2nd baserunner of the afternoon, their first since the 1st inning. For the 2nd time in the at-bat, Wong made a little half-swing at a fastball, this time softly grounding it to 3rd base to end the inning.

Kendrick grounded a fastball to 3rd for the first out of the top of the 7th. Zimmerman flied a high hanging curveball to left-center for the 2nd out. Wainwright got those 2 outs on 2 pitches total. Suzuki struck out swinging at a 1-2 hanging curveball to end the inning, and Wainwright got out of the inning with 6 total pitches. Wainwright has only thrown 83 pitches and has 10 strikeouts with no walks at this point. Goldschmidt finally broke up the no-hitter in the bottom of the 7th. He lined an 0-2 low-and-in back door slider to left. Soto would have had a play on the ball had he moved aggressively forward and dove for it. But he decided to hang back and play it on the bounce, with the ball almost getting by him anyway. That was surely the safer play with only a 1-run lead at this stage, as he could not afford to risk letting that ball roll to the wall. If the score had been perhaps 3-0 or higher, you might have seen him dive for it. Ozuna struck out swinging at a low-and-away slider. Molina grounded an outside fastball into a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play to end the threat.

With Wainwright at only 83 pitches, he came back out for the top of the 8th. Taylor struck out looking at a 1-2 fastball on the outside corner. That’s a postseason single-game strikeout record for Wainwright with 11. Matt Adams pinch hit for Scherzer. The crowd applauded Adams for some old-time nostalgia, and perhaps also because that meant Scherzer was out of the game. Adams laced a first-pitch hanging curveball off of the base of the wall in right-center. Edman played it well and made a strong throw to the infield to hold Adams somehow to a long single. Turner popped an up-and-in curveball for a bloop to center for a base hit. Fowler looked like he didn’t know where it was and just jogged in towards it without any urgency. Shildt elected to leave Wainwright in the game to face the lefty Eaton with Miller warming up in the bullpen, and Eaton grounded a 3-2 hanging curveball down the 1st base line past the glove of the diving Goldschmidt that bounced off of the sidewall. Edman did not play the ball very well off of the carom and both Adams and Turner were able to score to give the Nats a 3-0 lead. Eaton ended up at 2nd base with a double.

Rendon was walked intentionally to bring up Soto, and Shildt then brought Andrew Miller in to pitch to him. Soto popped a 1-1 inside slider to DeJong on the outfield grass for the 2nd out. Kendrick struck out swinging at a 3-2 outside fastball to end the inning, but the damage was already done.

For the bottom of the 8th, the Nats made a double switch to bring in lefty Sean Doolittle to pitch in the #5 spot and Brian Dozier to play 2nd base in the #9 spot. Carpenter struck out swinging at a high fastball for the first out. Edman ripped an outside 1-1 fastball to right. Eaton looked like he wasn’t sure it was hit as hard as it was at first, but jumped at just the right time to rob Edman of an extra-base hit.

DeJong ripped a low-and-away changeup up the middle for a base hit. Jose Martinez pinch hit for Miller. He was down in the count 0-2, but battled back to 2-2 before ripping an outside changeup (the 10th pitch of the at-bat) that was right at Taylor in center. They say that the hardest ball to judge in the outfield is the liner that is coming right at the fielder. Taylor stopped on a dime, thinking that the ball was going to be hit right to him. He then leaped and missed the ball, with it going over his head and rolling all the way to the wall. DeJong scored all the way from 1st to cut the Nats’ lead to 3-1 and Martinez ended up at 2nd with a double.

Fowler then popped a first-pitch inside fastball to shallow right for the 3rd out.

Ryan Helsley came out for the top of the 9th. Zimmerman flied out to center. Suzuki struck out looking at an inside cutter. Taylor struck out swinging at a cutter in the dirt to end the inning. The Nats made another double switch for the bottom of the 9th. Lefty Patrick Corbin, who will probably start Game 4, came in to pitch in the #7 spot and Yan Gomes came in to catch in the #5 spot. Wong grounded an 0-1 slider to 2nd for the first out. The Nats then brought in closer Daniel Hudson to pitch to Goldschmidt. Hudson was on the postseason paternity leave list for yesterdays’s game, spending the day with his wife, who just gave birth to a baby girl. He was activated today to the NLCS roster and reliever Wander Suero was dropped. Goldschmidt flied a 1-2 hanging slider to left for the 2nd out. It was a perfect pitch for some damage, but Goldy just got under it. Ozuna got jammed on a first-pitch inside fastball and popped it to Zimmerman at 1st base in foul territory to end the inning with Hudson getting the save.

Odds and Ends

Not only was Wainwright’s 11 K performance a personal best for him in the postseason, but it was the most strikeouts by a Cardinal starter in the postseason since Bob Gibson struck out 17 Detroit Tigers on October 2nd, 1968 in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series...The 2019 Washington Nationals are the first team since the 2012 Reds to give up 3 hits or fewer in consecutive postseason games. The Reds did that in the 2012 NLDS against the Giants in Games 2 and 3, the latter game being a 2-1 loss in 10 innings. The Reds would go on to lose the next two and the Giants won the series in 5 games...Native St. Louisan and former Cardinal playoff hero David Freese announced his retirement after 11 seasons.