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Cards Can’t Overcome Seven Runs Allowed in the First Inning and Get Swept in a 7-4 loss

MLB: NLCS-St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

By the time you are reading this, you probably know that the Cardinals’ season is now over. There is really no other way to say it except that the Cards ran into a buzzsaw of a Washington Nationals team, getting swept in commanding fashion. With an inability to hit the Nationals pitching and adding sloppy defense at inopportune times, the Cardinals were thoroughly destroyed in the 2019 NLCS. This was only the 4th postseason series in franchise history in which the Cardinals were swept. Each series had its share of disappointments and frustrations, but this was the only series of the four in which one could be forgiven for having the ever-present feeling that the club would be unable to score.

The 1928 New York Yankees, led by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, swept the Cardinals in 4 games in the World Series, but the Cards did manage 27 hits and 10 runs total. The 2004 Red Sox continued their magical ride to sweep the Cardinals in the World Series after their dramatic comeback victory against the Yankees in the ALCS after being down 3 games to none. That was a bad series for a lot of reasons, but at least the first game was close, with the Cardinals scoring 9 runs. In 2009, the Dodgers swept the Cardinals in 3 games in the NLDS, highlighted by Matt Holliday dropping what would have been an easy 3rd out in the bottom of the 9th in Game 2 and Ryan Franklin subsequently blowing the save. But the Cards managed to get 21 hits in the first 2 games and actually outhit the Dodgers in Game 2.

This series, however, was just a stomping, no matter how you look at it. The Cardinals only managed 6 runs total across the 4 games, which is the same amount of runs the 2009 Cardinals scored in 3 games in the NLDS that year. Our offense only put together 16 hits total in the 2019 NLCS. The 2004 Cardinals had 11 hits alone in Game 1 of the World Series. In the only game where the Cards had the strikeout advantage (12 to 6 in Game 1 of this series), they only managed 1 hit off of the now soft-tossing Anibal Sanchez. Cards’ hitters struck out 48 times in this series and drew only 7 walks all series, 4 of them in tonight’s season-ending Game 4. The Cards set a franchise record for striking out 16 times in Game 3, and allowed Patrick Corbin to set a MLB record for striking out 10 batters through 4 innings tonight in Game 4. For the most part, the series was not a competition and Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez really didn’t have to manage at all until the 5th inning of tonight’s game. Perhaps what made it the most disappointing is that with strong pitching performances by the Cardinals in Games 1 and 2, both of those games were winnable if the Cards had been able to hit at all.

Having said all this, I’m sure our feelings of disappointment in the 2019 NLCS butt-kicking are balanced by our enjoyment of playoff baseball again for the first time since 2015 After the month of May and the loss of Jordan Hicks, this club did not look like a playoff team. But the club got it together, swept the Cubs at their park at the end of the year to win a division title and greatly reduce their playoff chance, and had an exciting end of the NLDS against the Braves. It felt great to truly care about playoff baseball again for the first time in a good while. While the 7-run barrage by the Nationals in the first inning of tonight’s game was nerve-wracking, it was nice to the see the club claw back and fight to make the score close in the 5th. And if the Nationals’s starters continue to pitch like this, there’s no team they can’t beat. We may have just been swept by an unstoppable World Series winner.

For the last time this season, let’s review what happened. Shildt shook up the Cards’ lineup tonight, benching Dexter Fowler in favor of Harrison Bader in center field, returning Jose Martinez to right field, leaving Matt Carpenter on the bench and batting Tommy Edman in the leadoff spot.

Tommy Edman was late swinging at a 1-2 high-and-outside fastball about a foot out of the zone and struck out to start the game. Jose Martinez barely waved at a third-pitch high-and-outside fastball way too late and struck out swinging for the second out. Paul Goldschmidt also struck out swinging at an outside fastball to end the inning, and it’s more of the same from the Cardinals in the top of the 1st. Patrick Corbin threw nothing but fastballs to both Martinez and Goldschmidt. Here’s a video of the 3 strikeouts.

Trea Turner grounded a 2-0 inside fastball through the right side for a base hit to lead off the bottom of the 1st. Adam Eaton lined a first-pitch high fastball to the gap in right-center. Harrison Bader raced over and slid to stop it from going to the wall, but Eaton still had a double to move Turner to 3rd. Anthony Rendon flied a first-pitch high-and-outside slider to medium center field for Bader. The Sac Fly scored Turner to give the Nats a 1-0 lead.

Juan Soto sliced a 1-0 outside fastball down the left field line into the corner for a double to score Eaton to extend the Nats’ lead to 2-0.

Hudson has not been able to keep his sinker down. Howie Kendrick was intentionally walked to leave the double play in order for Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman sharply grounded an inside sinker down the line at 3rd base. Edman dove for it, got to his feet and threw to 2nd for Wong, but Wong dropped the throw that was right to him. It would have been the second out of the inning, as Kendrick would have been out by a step at 2nd base. Instead, it was a fielder’s choice, E4 with the bases loaded and still only 1 out. Next, we see more Bad News Bears defense. Victor Robles hit a low-and-in sinker for a bloop to right field. Wong raced out for it and Martinez charged forward for it. Martinez appeared to say something, but it was unclear if either player called for it. It was Martinez’s ball all the way. As Martinez got closer to crashing into Wong, he held up in surprise, and the ball dropped between the two defenders. It was ruled a base hit to score Soto and extend the Nats’ lead to 3-0. With the bases still loaded, Gomes lined a center-cut fastball through the hole to left for a base hit to score Kendrick and Zimmerman and it’s already 5-0 Nats. Robles went to 2nd on the play. Here’s a video of the poor defensive play and the hit by Gomes.

Shildt had seen enough of Hudson after he had only thrown 15 pitches and brought in Adam Wainwright to pitch in relief on 2 days of rest. Wainwright just threw 99 pitches on October 12th, and has not pitched in relief since September 23rd, 2017 after he had had more than a month off. After the pitcher Corbin sacrificed the runners to 2nd and 3rd, Turner lined a hanging first-pitch curveball down the left field line to score both Robles and Gomes to extend the Nats’ lead to 7-0. Ozuna didn’t make much of an effort to charge the soft liner, instead hanging back and letting it drop.

Eaton flared a curve to DeJong to finally end this preposterous inning.

Marcell Ozuna struck out swinging at a perfect low-and-in slider, and so far the Cards haven’t even put a ball in play. Molina softly lined an 0-1 outside fastball right to Zimmerman at 1st for the 2nd out. Paul DeJong struck out swinging at a low slider to end the inning. Corbin has 5 strikeouts already. Rendon sharply lined a 2-1 inside fastball to Edman’s left that he should have caught, but it bounced off of the heel of his glove for a base hit. Soto flied a high fastball to the track in left for the first out. Kendrick swung at a high 3-0 fastball and grounded it to Edman for an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.

Bader struck out swinging at a 1-2 low-and-in slider to start the top of the 3rd. Wong sliced a center-cut fastball opposite the shift and through the hole to left for a base hit and the first Cards’ baserunner of the game. It was also the first hit by a left-handed batter for the Cards in this entire series. Randy Arozarena pinch hit for Wainwright and was overmatched, striking out swinging at a slider in the dirt. Edman walked. Martinez tapped a high fastball in front of the plate and down the 3rd base line a bit, with the catcher Gomes running for it and throwing Martinez out at 1st to end the inning. Ryan Helsley came out to pitch the bottom of the 3rd. Zimmerman broke his bat lining a ball toward the 3rd base line, but Edman made a jumping catch for the 1st out. Robles popped a high 0-2 fastball to Molina in foul territory. Gomes tapped a low-and-away slider back to the mound to end the inning, and Helsley got out of that inning in 10 pitches. Maybe he should have started.

Goldschmidt struck out swinging at an outside 0-2 fastball to lead off the top of the 4th. Ozuna struck out swinging at a 1-2 slider in the dirt. Molina skied a center-cut fastball that made it just over the wall in left-center for a solo HR to cut the Nats’ lead to 7-1. This was the first earned run a Nationals’ starter has allowed this series.

DeJong struck out swinging at a low-and-in slider to end the inning, and that’s the 10th strikeout by Corbin. That’s also 26 strikeouts by Cardinal batters in the last 13 innings. Corbin set a MLB postseason record as the first pitcher in postseason history to record 10 strikeouts in the first 4 innings of a game. Helsley came back out for the bottom of the 4th. Corbin struck out on 3 pitches. Turner flied a center-cut 97-mph fastball to right. Eaton walked. Rendon popped a slider into foul territory near 3rd base and Edman made a good catch against the net to end the inning.

The Cards finally showed some life in the 5th. Initially down in the count 0-2, Bader worked a 3-2 walk to lead off the inning, laying off a good slider down-and-in and a close inside fastball. Wong reached down and squibbed a 2-2 low-and-away slider through the right side for a base hit past the glove of the diving Zimmerman at 1st base. Bader raced to 3rd on the play. Dexter Fowler pinch hit for Helsley and worked a 3-2 walk to load the bases with nobody out. Edman slowly chopped a high-and-outside 2-2 fastball to 2nd base. Kendrick was playing deep and had to charge to just get Edman by a step at 1st. Bader scored to cut the Nats’ lead to 7-2, with the other runners moving to 2nd and 3rd. Martinez drove a center-cut 2-0 fastball to the right-center field gap that hit the middle of the wall and bounced away from Robles. Both Wong and Fowler scored to cut the Nats’ lead to 7-4. Martinez stood up with a double, missing a home run by a few feet.

Nats’ manager Dave Martinez let Corbin pitch to Goldschmidt for the 3rd time. After Goldschmidt fouled off some center-cut fastballs, he struck out swinging again at a low 2-2 slider. Ozuna took a terrible approach, swinging at 3 straight sliders in the dirt to strand a runner in scoring position. The last slider literally bounced before it crossed the plate. Here’s a nice little montage of all of Corbin’s strikeouts.

Giovanny Gallegos came out to pitch the bottom of the 5th for the Cards. Soto lined a first-pitch high fastball for the first out to lead off the inning. Kendrick flied an inside fastball to shallow right. Zimmerman struck out on 3 pitches to end the inning, looking at a low fastball for the last strike.

With Corbin already at 94 pitches, righty Tanner Rainey came out to pitch for the Nats in the top of the 6th. Molina popped a 2-2 inside 100-mph fastball that Zimmerman caught just over the rail in foul territory on the first base side. DeJong struck out swinging at a nasty 1-2 slider that dropped about 2 feet into the dirt. Bader worked the count to 3-2 and then lined a low 100-mph fastball for a shot near the hole that looked like it was headed for a base hit. But the shortstop Turner dove to his left to make the catch and end the inning.

Robles flied a high fastball to shallow center to lead off the bottom of the 6th. Gomes struck out swinging at a low-and-away slider outside the zone. Gerardo Parra pinch hit for Rainey and lined a high hanging changeup to right for a base hit. But Turner stranded him at 1st when he struck out on 3 pitches to end the inning, the last strike swinging at a slider in the dirt.

Lefty Sean Doolittle came out for the top of the 7th. Wong sliced an outside fastball deep to left field, but Soto caught it at the track. Yairo Munoz pinch hit for Gallegos, and this is his first plate appearance of the postseason. He hasn’t had a trip to the plate since September 25th, which was the day Shildt started him at shortstop in a getaway lineup against the Diamondbacks the day after the 19-inning game. Munoz struck out swinging at a fastball about a foot too high and outside. Edman flied a high fastball to short right field to end the inning. Andrew Miller came out to pitch the bottom of the 7th. Eaton flied a 2-2 hanging slider to center for the first out. Rendon flied an inside fastball to center for the 2nd out. Soto grounded a 1-1 low-and-in slider up the middle for a base hit, but he was stranded there when Kendrick struck out swinging at a 2-2 low-and-in nasty slider to end the inning.

The Cardinals had one last shot to get something going with 2 outs in the top of the 8th, but failed to capitalize. After Martinez grounded out to short and Goldschmidt flied a first-pitch high fastball to center, Ozuna lined a 2-2 high-and-outside fastball to right-center for a base hit. The Nats made a double switch to bring in closer Daniel Hudson in to pitch in the #5 spot and Brian Dozier to play 2B in the #9 spot. Hudson hit Molina with a 1-1 98-mph fastball on the left elbow. DeJong then worked a 3-2 walk to load the bases after being behind in the count 0-2. Matt Carpenter pinch hit for Bader, but he grounded a low-and-away fastball to 2nd base to end the inning. Dozier bobbled it at 2nd, but was able to recover in time and throw Carpenter out. For the bottom of the 8th, Carpenter stayed in the game at 3B in the #7 spot, with Edman moving from 3B to CF. Zimmerman flied a hanging slider deep to center on the first pitch, but Edman caught it at the track. Robles struck out on 3 pitches, the last one looking at a low-and-in fastball. Gomes struck out swinging at a 3-2 outside fastball on a foul tip to end the inning.

Daniel Hudson came back out for the top of the 9th. Wong hit a high fastball for a flare to short left-center that looked like it could fall, but Soto got a great jump and raced over to catch it for the first out. Matt Wieters pinch hit for Miller, and the Cards have now used all of their bench players. Hudson has been throwing almost nothing but fastballs because he has not been able to locate his slider. Wieters popped a 2-2 high fastball to the catcher. It all came down to Edman, who flied a center-cut 1-1 fastball to center to end the series.

Odds and Ends

Despite going 0-7 in Games 2 and 4 combined, Howie Kendrick was awarded the NLCS MVP primarily on the strength of his Game 3 performance, where he went 3 for 4 with 3 doubles and 3 RBIs. He also went 2 for 4 with an RBI double in the Nats’ 2-0 victory in Game 1. His total NLCS line was 17 PA, 5 for 15, 4 doubles, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 4 SO.

Season Farewell

While it’s goodbye for recaps for the 2019 season, I don’t believe it’s goodbye forever. Stay tuned for all of the transactional happenings of the offseason. I enjoyed writing recaps this year, and hope I have provided a fraction of the enjoyment that you have bestowed on me.