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Martinez pitches gem in 5-2 win over Phillies

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Arenado and Goldschmidt combine for three doubles to break out of their slumps

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Martinez occupies an odd place for me. From my perspective, there are two types of Cardinals fans when it comes to Martinez. There are those who effectively hold the same opinion as Jim Edmonds, that think he just needs to pitch like Woody Williams and all the things that come with that opinion. It’s a little more nuanced than that, but you get the picture. And then there are those who sort of react against that, who are perhaps a little more forgiving of his bad performances than they would be for most pitchers.

I don’t want to say I’m in the middle but I’m neither really. The current version of Martinez is a very weird pitcher, especially given what he used to be. He’s a no strikeout, no walk groundball pitcher who gets less groundballs than when he was a high strikeout guy. He has also had weirdly bad defense behind him this year, which is especally bad for a guy who doesn’t strike people out. With a high ERA, iffy advanced stats, and bad defense, it’s been easy for either camp to plant their flag to declare what Martinez is.

A point for the Martinez believers with tonight’s game however. Unless Martinez is able to capture his old strikeout prowess of old, this is the ideal version of Martinez. Well, the ideal version has more groundballs (only 42.9% tonight), but you get the idea. Martinez pitched seven innings of one-run ball, induced mostly weak contact, stayed in the zone, and pitched a game that will usually lead to a Cardinals win.

It did not appear to be that type of game at first. After a no nonsense strikeout of Brad Miller to start the game that was indicative of how he would pitch later, he was somewhat understandably hesitant to give Rhys Hoskins anything to hit, so he walked him on five pitches. Bryce Harper then hit a hard hit ball up the middle that Paul DeJong would usually make, but the ball hit his glove and slowed to the point that Harper was able to hustle to 2nd for a double. With second and third, one out, J.T. Realmuto smoked a deep fly ball to center field for a sac fly. Didi Gregorius popped out to end the threat.

The Cardinals responded in the bottom of the 1st. After Tommy Edman grounded out, Dylan Carlson hit an opposite field single to get things started. Paul Goldschmidt never took the bat off his shoulder and struck out looking. Thankfully, Brad Miller is the Phillies starting left fielder so when Nolan Arenado hit a liner, Miller took a weird route and then couldn’t catch it on a sliding attempt. Carlson scored from home, giving the Cards their first run and tying the game at 1-1.

The Cardinals didn’t take long to grab the lead either. With one out, back-to-back singles by Justin Williams and Andrew Knziner set the stage for Martinez to bunt them over. But he tried to surprise swing at the first pitch - which ended up being a ball - failed to bunt on strike two, and whiffed on a pitch that almost hit the dirt. Thankfully, Edman sat on a first pitch changeup and doubled home both Williams and Knizner to put the Cards up 3-1.

Martinez meanwhile was cruising. A nice jumping catch from Arenado in the 2nd helped Martinez with a 1-2-3 inning. In the 3rd, more great defense helped out Martinez. After getting out the pitcher, old friend Miller singled. Rhys Hoskins hit a ball deep in the hole at SS, DeJong fielded it cleanly and threw it a little wild towards 2nd. Edman was off the bag leaning to catch it, but realizing that he kicked the bag in time to get the force out. Harper then hit a pop fly down the 3rd base line. Arenado, playing in the SS position due to the shift, had a long way to run before catching it without slowing down with his back to the ball. Just see it for yourself.

That great defense was not there for him in the 4th. JT Realmuto hit another deep fly, this one to right field. Justin Williams looked to be camped under it, but seemed to misjudge that the wall wasn’t really anywhere close to him and ended up reaching to catch it when he could have just moved over. It hit off his glove and Realmuto reached 2nd base on the error. Immediately following that, Martinez tried to pick him off at 2nd, but threw it 15 feet off base or so, allowing Realmuto to reach 3rd. Martinez worked his way back from a 3-0 count on Didi Gregorius to get him to ground out softly to 2nd, allowing the Phillies second run to score. Williams was immediately tested again on a routine flyout for out #2 and out #3 was also a slow groundout to Edman.

The Cardinals meanwhile were shut down by Zach Eflin, who pitched quite a bit better than his line would indicate. Arenado lined another double to left field, this one over Miller’s head, in the 3rd with one out, but he was the only baserunner that inning. In the 4th and 5th, the Cardinals struck out three times and went down 1-2-3 both innings. In the 6th, the Cardinals were about to be put down 1-2-3 again when Tyler O’Neill lined a single to left field. But then Justin Williams struck out looking to end the frame.

In the bottom of the 7th, the Phillies brought Zach Eflin back out with 88 pitches. After Knizner lined out to center, the Cardinals had Carlos Martinez bat, clearly indicating he was going to pitch into the 8th. After the error in the 4th, Martinez had retired 12 straight batters, with a 1-2-3 inning in the 5th, 6th, and 7th innings. And if you want to go back even further than that, the last non-error baserunner was Miller’s single in the 3rd inning. But in the inning immediately preceding it, Martinez needed a jumping catch from DeJong on a line drive and a diving play by Goldschmidt to get that 1-2-3 inning.

Martinez batted for himself, striking out looking. With two outs, Edman singled to center, and Carlson followed with a single of his own to put runners at 1st and 3rd for the struggling Paul Goldschmidt. Up to this point, Goldschmidt had struck out looking twice, seeming generally hesitant to commit to swinging against Eflin. He wouldn’t have to face Eflin though. With 104 pitches, he was taken out in favor of Illinois native, Sam Coonrod. Goldschmidt swung at the first pitch and very nearly homered. Instead it hit the top of the wall, and both Edman and Carlson scored. Arenado flied out to end the threat, but it was 5-2 and the Cards had a healthy lead.

In the 8th, Martinez struck out Nick Maton but couldn’t put away Matt Joyce for a walk. With 93 pitches, Mike Shildt took out Martinez. Now, I don’t want managers to make bad decisions after bad ones, but having Martinez bat for himself and then taking him out after one baserunner means you should have just pinch-hit for him. Him facing two batters and getting one out is not worth the trade off of saving a bullpen that doesn’t really need saving and risking not adding insurance runs to a one-run game. It worked out, but maybe pinch-hitting there leads to more runs and neither Giovanny Gallegos nor Alex Reyes needs to be used at all.

Enough of that, which annoys me more for the process than actually thinking it mattered. Well it could have mattered, but you get the idea. Gallegos replaced Martinez, and on a 1-1 count, Miller grounded into a double play to end the book on Martinez for tonight. In the bottom half of the inning, after two strikeouts, the Phillies Alec Bohm couldn’t handle a slow grounder, committing an error and allowing Austin Dean on base. And then Knizner took reliever Jose Alvarado to right field for a single, putting runners at 1st and 3rd. Which forced Shildt’s hand, and he pinch-hit for Gallegos with Edmundo Sosa, who flied out. And that’s why Gallegos only threw three pitches.

In the 9th, Alex Reyes looked as good as he’s looked in quite some time. He struck out Hoskins in a seven-pitch at-bat. Harper hit a soft liner perfectly in between Edman, who was in shallow RF, and Carlson. He then stole second while Realmuto was up, featuring a bad throw from Knizner. With one out, Realmuto hit a ball right back to Reyes and Reyes struck out Gregorius to end the game. Cards win!

Notes

  • Martinez line: 7.1 IP, 4 Ks, 2 BBs, 2 H, 2 R (1 ER), 42.9 GB%, 2.82 FIP, 4.95 xFIP - For a guy who doesn’t beat his xFIP by that much for his career - just 20 points - I really wish his xFIP was better for the year, which now stands at 4.74. He’s just a tiny bit too reliant on not giving up homers for my liking.
  • The Cards offense has struggled lately, in part, because Arenado and Goldschmidt have been on slumps. That sort of changed tonight. Arenado hit two doubles, going 2-4, and Goldschmidt looked as bad as he has for the first three PAs, but got a huge double when it counted in the 7th.
  • Edman, continuing to impress, goes 2-4 with a rocket double to drive in two and later singling on an 0-2 count. His K% is back under 10%. If you were wondering.
  • Carlson also went 2-4, but he had two singles. He also didn’t strike out.
  • Justin Williams providing evidence for his believers and disbelievers in this game. He continues to strike out at an ungodly rate with two strikeouts, putting his season K% at 34.3%. On the other side of the coin, his single was a rope. But he’s going to need more power than he has with that K rate. By a lot.
  • Also shout out to Knizner, whose defense continues to leave something to be desired, but with a 113 wRC+, he’ll be a capable replacement for Molina for the time being if that stays.
  • Good game. Another quick game. By my estimation, it ended at the 2 hour, 44 minute mark.

Tomorrow, the Cardinals will try to at least secure a series tie. It’s an interesting matchup. Johan Oviedo makes his first start of the year and if it’s anything like his first and only appearance this year, he’ll give us a good shot to win. Opposing him is Vince Velasquez who has 9 walks in 8 innings, but also 13 Ks. So hopefully the Cards are patient tomorrow.