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Intentional Walk Comes Back to Bite Cards as they Lose 3-2 to the Nats

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Lefty Patrick Corbin took the mound for the Nats. Tommy Edman flied an inside 1-1 slider to the track in left to start the game. Paul Goldschmidt lined a first-pitch low-and-away sinker to left, where Kyle Schwarber made a sliding catch forward.

Nolan Arenado golfed a 2-0 low-and-in slider to left. Schwarber was playing deep, and this time, when he tried to dive forward for the ball, he came up just short and Arenado had a 2-out single. Yadier Molina hit high-and-inside 1-1 fastball for a looper to left again. Schwarber was playing deep again, and this time didn’t have a chance to dive, and the ball dropped for a base hit. Arenado raced for 3rd. Schwarber’s throw was wide of the bag and to the left of Starlin Castro and got away. The catcher Yan Gomes was backing up the play, but the wild throw allowed Molina to advance to 2nd base. Schwarber was charged with an error on the throw. If Schwarber’s throw had been on line, Arenado probably would have been out. The runners were stranded when Dylan Carlson grounded a 2-2 low slider to 3rd to end the inning. Adam Wainwright took the hill for the Cards, and after he got both Andrew Stevenson and Josh Harrison to ground out to short on changeups, Trea Turner extended the inning with a grounded base hit up the middle on a 2-2 outside cutter. Josh Bell got ahead in the count 3-0, but Wainwright struck him out swinging at an outside 3-2 fastball to end the inning.

Paul DeJong struck out chasing a low 2-2 change to start the top of the 2nd. On the 8th pitch of his plate appearance, Austin Dean lined a low-and-away 3-2 sinker to right for a base hit that rolled to the wall for a double. But the Cards could not capitalize. Justin Williams sharply grounded a 1-0 hanging slider to move Dean to 3rd, but Wainwright struck out on 3 pitches to end the inning. Schwarber struck out swinging late at a high-and-outside 2-2 fastball to lead off the bottom half. Castro grounded a 1-0 low curve down the 3rd base line under the glove of the diving Arenado and into the left field corner for a double. But just like the Cards, the Nats couldn’t bring their runner from 2nd around. Gomes flied a low-and-in 2-1 sinker to center. After Victor Robles drew a 3-2 walk, Corbin grounded out to 2nd to end the inning.

Corbin retired the side in order in the top of the 3rd. Edman popped an 0-2 low-and-in slider in foul territory by the Cards’ dugout where Bell made a sliding catch.

Goldschmidt struck out swinging at an outside sinker, almost waiting until the ball hit the catcher’s glove to start his swing. Arenado broke his bat on an inside 1-1 fastball and grounded out to 3rd to end the inning. Stevenson grounded an outside 2-0 change towards the mound. Wainwright stuck his glove up to try to snag it, but it bounced towards short for an infield hit. Harrison lined a low-and-away 1-0 curve to 2nd to move Stevenson to 2nd. But again, the Nats couldn’t take advantage. Turner grounded a 1-0 hanging curve to short for a 6-4-3 double play. Stevenson advanced to 3rd and Wainwright clipped Bell on his left knee with a first-pitch cutter, but Schwarber struck out looking at a 2-2 sinker that just might have tailed over the edge of the inside corner.

Corbin got the Cards in order again in the top of the 4th, this time on 8 pitches. He struck Molina out chasing a 1-2 slider in the dirt, got Carlson to ground an 0-1 inside sinker to 3rd and induced DeJong to fly a low 1-0 slider to center. Wainwright returned the favor in the bottom half on just 7 pitches. Castro chased a low-and-away 0-2 curve and grounded out to 3rd. Gomes lined a hanging 1-1 curve right to DeJong at short. And Robles grounded a first-pitch low sinker to 3rd to end the inning. Neither pitcher allowed a baserunner in the 5th inning either. Dean flied an inside 3-2 sinker to shallow right. Williams slowly rolled an outside slider for Bell at 1st and he just stepped on the bag. Wainwright struck out on 3 pitches to end the inning. After Corbin grounded an outside 1-2 sinker to short to lead off the bottom of the 5th, Wainwright struck out both Stevenson (swinging at a hanging curve) and Harrison (chasing a low cutter) on 3 pitches to end the frame.

Edman ripped a high 1-1 slider towards the hole to lead off the top of the 6th. Castro made an excellent diving stop to his left, but bobbled the ball for just a second as he was getting up, and that was enough to allow Edman to beat out the throw for an infield base hit.

But he was quickly erased when Goldschmidt grounded a high 1-2 fastball to 3rd for a 5-4-3 double play. Arenado ended the inning when he flied a hanging 3-2 slider to shallow center. To lead off the bottom of the 6th, Turner struck out looking at a 1-2 sinker that looked like it was a few inches inside, and argued with the home plate umpire, as that was the third time Turner has been punched out on questionable calls this series. Wainwright served up a first-pitch hanging curve to Bell, and he skied it just over the wall in right-center for a solo homer to put the Nats on the board 1-0.

Schwarber flied a 2-0 hanging change to left and Castro struck out swinging at a high 2-2 fastball to end the inning.

The Nats decided that Corbin’s night was done after only 76 pitches, and brought righty Tanner Rainey in to relieve in the top of the 7th. Molina got ahead in the count 3-0, then fouled a 3-2 fastball towards the sidewall in right that dropped when Stevenson got nervous about the railing. After fouling off 3 more pitches, Molina drew a walk on the 10th pitch of the plate appearance. Carlson then smacked a down-the-middle fastball to the deepest part of the park in center. Robles drifted back for it, but the ball bounced off the top of the wall and Carlson had a stand-up triple to score Molina and tie the score 1-1.

With the infield in, DeJong chased a 2-1 low-and-away slider and grounded it to 3rd, with Carlson staying put. Dean flied a 2-2 inside fastball deep enough to left for Carlson to score on a Sac Fly to put the Cards ahead 2-1.

Williams struck out swinging at an elevated 1-2 fastball to end the inning. Wainwright came back out for the bottom of the 7th at 82 pitches and struck out the side. He got Gomes looking at a 3-2 low-and-away sinker that clipped the edge of the corner on the 9th pitch of the plate appearance. Robles went down swinging late at a high 1-2 sinker. Yadiel Hernandez pinch hit for the pitcher Rainey and flailed late at a 1-2 hanging curve to end the inning. Wainwright struck out 7 men the third time through the order and would end the game at 100 pitches.

Righty Daniel Hudson came out to pitch the top of the 8th and retired the Cards in order. Matt Carpenter pinch hit for Wainwright and broke his bat on an inside 2-2 fastball with a soft liner to right. Edman flied a high-and-outside 2-2 fastball to left. Goldschmidt struck out swinging at a late-breaking, low-and-away 1-2 slider to end the inning. Shildt brought in Giovanny Gallegos to pitch the bottom of the 8th and also made some defensive changes. Scott Hurst came in to play CF in the #7 spot, with Carlson moving from CF to RF, Williams moving from RF to LF, and Dean exiting the game. Stevenson drew a 3-2 walk, and Gallegos was having trouble locating each of his 3 pitches. Gio then hit Harrison on the left shoulder blade with a first-pitch fastball. Gallegos got ahead of Turner 0-2, but served him a fastball right down the middle, and Turner grounded it down the first base line for a base hit. Stevenson scored to tie the game 2-2, and now there were runners at the corners with nobody out. Turner stole 2nd base on the first pitch to Turner. With the infield in, Bell grounded an outside fastball to short and Harrison stayed put at 3rd.

Shildt decided to intentionally walk Schwarber to get to Castro. He also took Hurst out of the game. Edmundo Sosa came in as the nominal center fielder, but Shildt employed a 5-man infield, aligning 3 defenders on the left side of the infield—Arenado, DeJong and Edman from left to right—with Sosa and Goldschmidt on the right side. After a first-pitch bounced slider, Edman and Sosa switched spots. The count went to 2-1, but Castro chased a slider about a foot low-and-outside and watched a 2-2 fastball go by close to the outside corner and struck out. The Cards then went back to a normal defense. Sosa lined up at 2nd base, Edman went to RF and Carlson moved back to CF from RF. It was then that Shildt’s strategy imploded, as Gallegos walked Gomes on 4 straight pitches to give the Nats a 3-2 lead.

Shildt then brought in Alex Reyes to get the last out. Reyes got ahead of Robles 0-2, went to 3-2 (when the umpire called a clear strike near the outside corner a ball), then got Robles to ground a high-and-outside fastball to short to end the inning.

Lefty Brad Hand came out for the top of the 9th to try and close things out for the Nats. Arenado popped a low 1-2 slider to Bell on the outfield grass near the line. Molina provided some hope when he lined a down-the-middle 1-1 fastball to the gap in left-center for a base hit. Schwarber cut the ball off before the track and bobbled it a bit, and Yadi had a stand-up double. Shildt elected not to run for Yadi. Carlson flied a low 2-2 slider deep to the track in right-center. Robles had a bit to run, but the ball was in the air long enough for him to settle under it. Instead of tagging up, Yadi went half-way, and had to retreat to 2nd base. Edmonds implied on the telecast that if someone else had been running, that player would have tagged up and gone to 3rd, but it was the right play for Yadi. This further implied that perhaps the only way for Yadi to score—even if Robles didn’t come up with the ball—was to go half-way. The problems with this are first, that the play didn’t really look that difficult, because the ball hung up in the air, and second, there’s a decent chance that Yadi wouldn’t score from 2nd on a base hit to left, for example, if he’s on 2nd base instead of 3rd base. It turned out not to matter anyway, as DeJong flied a low-and-in 1-1 slider to left to end the game.

Wainwright (5 days rest) 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 SO, 1 HR; Gallegos (1 day rest, bottom 8, ahead 2-1) .2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 1 IBB, 1 SO, HBP; Reyes (2 days rest, bottom 8, 2 out, bases loaded, down 3-2) .1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 SO.

SHILDT AND INTENTIONAL WALKS

Shildt ordered his 5th intentional walk of the season tonight. His plan worked only one time. Let’s take a quick tour:

*April 11th, the day that Ponce pitched his disaster start at home against the Brewers, top of the 1st inning. The Brewers had a 3-0 lead with runners on 2nd and 3rd, and there were two outs. Ponce had already walked one of the men that was on base. Luis Urias was intentionally walked to load the bases for pitcher Brett Anderson. Anderson worked a 3-2 walk to score another run.

*April 14th at home against the Nationals. There was only one out this time, Wainwright was on the mound with no score in the top of the 2nd and there were runners at 2nd and 3rd. Wainwright had walked one of the men on base. Yan Gomes was intentionally walked to load the bases. The pitcher Joe Ross was next up, batting 8th in the order, and Wainwright struck out both Ross and the #9 man Victor Robles to end the inning.

*April 16th at Philadelphia, Carlos Martinez on the mound, bottom of the 2nd inning, Phillies had a 1-0 lead with runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out. Mickey Moniak was intentionally walked to get to the pitcher Zac Eflin and Carlos hit him with a pitch to score another run.

*April 18th at Philadelphia, John Gant on the mound in the bottom of the 5th. Philly was ahead 1-0, and there were runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out. J.T. Realmuto was walked intentionally to load the bases for Alec Bohm, who hit a Sac Fly to score another run.

Then we have tonight. Three out of the five intentional walks were to get to the pitcher. Even if you don’t expect your pitcher to either walk or hit the opposing pitcher, the one with Ponce seems odd, because you typically don’t want to allow the opposing side to clear the pitcher’s spot and have the leadoff man bat first in the top of the next inning. You want that pitcher to lead off the next inning. The one with Wainwright worked out, and the pitcher would have batted in that inning regardless, but why not trust Wainwright to get Gomes out there? In Carlos’s case, the pitcher also would have batted anyway, and Carlos is a decent groundball pitcher, so maybe Shildt was hoping he could get the pitcher to ground into an inning-ending double play. But Moniak had 18 career plate appearances going into this season. Why not trust your veteran to just get him out? The situation was a bit different with Gant. Gant also has a solid groundball rate, and both Realmuto and Bohm have had high groundball rates in the last couple of years. Realmuto is one of the more feared veteran hitting catchers and Bohm only had 44 career plate appearances going into the season. I can understand Shildt not wanting to “let Realmuto beat him,” but Gant was going through the order a third time, and loading the bases just increases the odds that more runs will score in an inning with 1 out.

Tonight, all of Shildt’s moves in the 8th inning relied basically on Shildt wanting Castro to hit a ground ball. Aside from Castro’s outlier season in 2020, Castro hits groundballs on average about half the time. Schwarber actually hit a higher percentage of groundballs (over 50% of the time) than Castro did last season, which was one of the reasons why Schwarber’s 2020 season was a bust. Schwarber also strikes out about 30% of the time, had struck out twice earlier in the evening, and Gallegos has the strongest strikeout rate on the Cards’ pitching staff. True, he did fly out once, and Shildt wanted to avoid a Sac Fly, but didn’t Shildt like the odds of his best strikeout pitcher striking out a strong candidate to strike out? The biggest problem with it, of course, was that the biggest thing you’re worried about with an intentional walk to load the bases is another walk. And Gallegos demonstrated problems with his control early in the inning when he walked Stevenson and hit Harrison. Gallegos does have the lowest walk rate among the Cardinal relievers, but he wasn’t pitching in a vacuum. He already had control problems right before the intentional walk itself.

Of course, decisions are good or bad at the time when they are made, not retroactively after the result is known. But I can’t really come up with a solid reason for any of these. Whether you think I’m right or wrong, let me know in the comments.

ODDS AND ENDS

Nick Castellanos lost the appeal of his 2-game suspension for the Jake Woodford bench-clearing incident on April 3rd, and started serving that suspension Tuesday night. The Reds put him on the MLB Suspended List and the club had to play with a 25-man roster for both the Tuesday and Wednesday night games. Their game against the Diamondbacks Tuesday night was suspended in the top of the 8th due to rain. The D-backs scored 3 runs in the first inning off of Luis Castillo, but the Reds came back to take a 4-3 lead, with Kyle Farmer driving in 3 out of the 4 runs, 2 on a homer. The D-backs re-took the lead in the top of the 8th on an Andy Young solo homer off of Tejay Antone. Amir Garrett didn’t get the job done when he allowed a walk and a double, then Lucas Sims hit a guy to load the bases and walked Carson Kelly to give the D-backs the lead. The game will resume later this afternoon with the bases loaded and 1 out in the top of the 8th...The Pirates’ game at Detroit was posponded due to rain and the clubs will play a doubleheader on Wednesday...The Cubs squeaked by the Mets 3-1, with 3 straight walks leading to one run and a throwing error responsible for another...The Brewers skunked the Padres 6-0, with Corbin Burnes pitching 6 innings, walking none and striking out 10. Burnes now has 40 strikeouts and no walks on the season, in just 4 games. Not only is he the only pitcher ever to do that in any 4-start span since the pitchers mound was moved to its current distance, but Burnes broke Adam Wainwright’s record set in 2013 of 35 walks to start a season without walking a batter.