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Bullpen implodes in 9-4 loss to Dodgers

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Flaherty pitched well and the Cardinals hit three homers, but it was not enough.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The story of Jack Flaherty’s first nine starts was that the Cardinals won. They won all nine of them in fact. Flaherty pitched good in some of them, okay in others, bad in just one, which coincidentally was his only start where he didn’t get an actual win. But when he pitched, the Cardinals won, because the offense scored a lot of runs. And then the Cardinals faced the White Sox and Lucas Giolito. That game did not go well. And now the Dodgers and Trevor Bauer. It’s as if baseball was laughing at Flaherty’s success and saying “oh you’re getting wins in every game? We’ll see.”

That said, Flaherty is the ace of the staff and as the ace of the staff, his main competition is other aces. With a six-man rotation, it won’t always work out like this like it might within in a regular five-man rotation, but for the last two starts, it has worked exactly as it has supposed to. In the first start, well the first start was an odd game all-around. Giolito didn’t exactly pitch his best game, though he finished strong. Flaherty pitched poorly.

Things went better today for him. Until they didn’t, but we’ll get to that. Let it just be known that Jack Flaherty outpitched Trevor Bauer today. The score would not seem to reflect that, and part of it is just that Bauer didn’t actually pitch that great today. Yes, Flaherty outpitched Bauer and the Cardinals lost. The bullpen did not pitch remotely well tonight.

It really did not seem like Flaherty would be the better pitcher at first. In the first inning, on a 3-2 count, he hit Mookie Betts with a pitch. Max Muncy and Justin Turner both proceeded to hit line drives following the HBP. Both were caught. Leaving aside the luck of it all, this is a bad way to start a game. But then he struck out Cody Bellinger. And he struck out Will Smith to lead off the 2nd inning.

But then, well, then he left two pitches that could be described as meatballs. Neither were, I imagine, where Flaherty wanted the pitch. On a 1-0 pitch to Gavin Lux, Lux homered to right field. And on a 3-1 pitch to Chris Taylor, Taylor crushed a homer to left field. In a bit of Jekyll and Hyde that his game was going through, he finished the inning with two more strikeouts.

But he was Mr. Hyde no more after the 2nd inning. He walked Betts - clearly just did not have any interest in giving him anything to hit. And struck out Muncy and Justin Turner. And when he struck out Turner, Betts was running on the pitch. And he was very, very out. Yadier Molina did not actually make a great throw, throwing it on a bounce, but Tommy Edman handled it perfectly and tagged Betts out. And, as I mentioned, Betts was thrown out by a mile and a half, so that helped.

He struck out the side in the 4th inning, which comprised Bellinger for the second time, catcher Will Smith, and Lux. He didn’t strike anybody out in his last inning of work, but he did get a 1-2-3 inning on the bottom of the Dodgers’ lineup. He came to the plate in the top of the 6th, striking out looking, and then was replaced when the bottom half came around. He evidently hurt himself on this swing, which is being described as left side tightness.

Meanwhile, Bauer did not pitch better, but he did get a bit luckier. Tommy Edman had an excellent 6 pitch at-bat to begin the game and promptly lined a double into right field. Then Dylan Carlson lined out right to the shortstop. With Paul Goldschmidt up, Edman stole second... and then his foot went off the bag. This might be the most obnoxious thing about baseball today. The play was reviewed, it was fairly obvious his foot came off, and when he went to grab the base with his hand, Turner’s glove was in the way, so he ended up just grabbing his glove. Goldschmidt then got on base via an error by second baseman Zach McKinstry and Nolan Arenado struck out.

In the 2nd, Molina hit a deep fly ball to center - about as deep as you can - and Bellinger made a jumping catch. Not quite a homer, but it would have hit the top of the wall. Two groundouts ended the 2nd. In the 3rd, after a flyout to left by Justin Williams that seemed to move fair, both Flaherty and Edman hit the ball hard, only right at outfielders. In the 4th, a hard flyout by Carlson was followed by a walk to Goldschmidt. Only for Arenado to get into a double play. Bauer is an extreme strikeout pitcher and was not striking hitters out in the first four inning, getting hard contact off him, and the Cards got no runs from it.

After a 5th inning where Bauer actually struck some hitters out, Sosa and Tyler O’Neill, Bauer’s flirting with hard hits finally led to some action in the 6th. Leading off, Justin Williams saw a 1-0 pitch he could handle and... boy did he handle it. He hit the ball far and hard. He hit the ball 115 mph, which is I believe the hardest hit ball of the season for both the Cards and the MLB, though I’m less sure of the latter.

After Flaherty struck out as mentioned above and hurt himself, Tommy Edman got on base from another error by McKinstry. This was surely caused by Edman’s speed who made the play closer than it had any right being. And then on 0-2, Bauer threw a hanging curve in Carlson’s sweet spot, and he hit it the other way in left center for a 3-2 Cardinals lead. Then, the game got rained out and the Cardinals won.

Unfortunately, that is not where the game ended. Ryan Helsley replaced Flaherty. Flaherty only had 80 pitches and batted the inning before, so it was obvious something was wrong. Helsley did not pitch particularly well. Betts hit a hard hit grounder for the first out. Then a line drive double by Muncy, then another hard grounder by Turner that barely missed a diving Arenado. Mike Shildt had a quick hook, and brought in Genesis Cabrera to face Bellinger and things went really downhill at this point.

He walked both Bellinger and Will Smith, the first on 5 pitches and the second on 6 pitches. Lux apparently didn’t get the memo that Cabrera couldn’t throw strikes and swung at two balls and then looked at strike three in one of the worst at-bats of the game. And then Chris Taylor had a very frustrating, tip your cap at-bat. With the score tied 3-3, Cabrera fell behind Taylor 2-0. He then threw six straight strikes, five of them hit for a foul. Molina went to the mound, told him to trust his breaking pitch, and Cabrera threw it inside for a ball. Taylor then fouled off four more pitches, all in the strike zone. On the 14th pitch, he doubled in right center to clear the bases and make it a 6-3 game. Shildt told Cabrera to IBB the 8th place hitter to face Bauer. In an uncomfortable at-bat, Bauer had no plans to swing, but that didn’t stop Cabrera from nearly walking him, getting bailed out on a 3-1 call and striking him out finally on 3-2. Bauer never took his bat off his shoulders.

Bauer stayed in the game and continued to not pitch that well. Molina saw a ball on a 3-2 count but swung at it to his own frustration and popped out to lead off the 7th. Tyler O’Neill then murdered a baseball to make it 6-4. After a Sosa pop out, Justin Williams hit the hell out of another ball, this one up the middle and taking a weird bounce off the mound for his second hit of the game. That was enough to take Bauer out of the game when Matt Carpenter was announced as the pinch-hitter. The Dodgers countered with a lefty, the Cards then burned Carpenter and pinch-hit Lane Thomas instead, who struck out.

After a somewhat shaky inning by Daniel Poncedeleon, which ended with Bellinger’s third strikeout of the night, the Cardinals hit three balls hard off reliever Nate Jones, who I’m not really sure why the Dodgers have pitching in the 8th inning of 6-4 ballgames to be honest. All three hard hits were right at fielders though so it was a 1-2-3 inning. Ponce’s second inning of work went much, much worse.

Another homer by Lux, and Taylor’s second double and third extra-base hit of the night put pinch-hitter Matt Beatty up with two outs. He lined a single down the third base line to drive in the 8th run of the ballgame. With Betts up, the Cardinals countered with Seth Elledge who promptly allowed a double to Betts. Muncy grounded out to mercifully end the inning, but the damage was done and a doable 6-4 comeback turned into a 9-4 sure loss. Though the Cards didn’t put up much of a fight in the 9th, going down 1-2-3.

Notes

  • Jack Flaherty line: 5 IP, 9 Ks, BB, 2 ER, 2 H, 2 HRs - it’s really too bad Flaherty’s hard hits allowed couldn’t have resulted in something other than homers and also of course that he couldn’t pitch what ended up being a disastrous 6th.
  • As a side note, I honestly think arguing for the DH when pitchers get hurt batting is stupid. I’m not anti-DH and I think there are valid reasons to want the DH, but I don’t think this is the strongest argument personally speaking.
  • I’m not sure how long O’Neill can keep this up, but it’s entertaining for now. He is homering or striking out. That’s it. Two strikeouts and a homer today. At some point, he will walk, because he did in the minor leagues. It might not be a lot of walks, but he’s not a 2 BB% guy.
  • It’s a real bummer to hit a pitcher as good as Bauer so well, not receive a bad start from our own guy, and... the Cardinals still lose easily. Bullpen did not have a good game.
  • It was really mostly Cabrera, who should probably stop coming into games with runners on. Including today, Cabrera has come into the game with 33 inherited runners. 14 have scored. I don’t know what the average is, but I doubt 42.4% is at all good. And it makes sense! He struggles with command.

Tomorrow, the Cardinals will try to even up the series and John Gant will try to keep up the magic act. If any team is going to shatter the illusion, it’s the Dodgers though, who will absolutely let him walk 10 batters. He faces Undecided in what might be a bullpen game. Seems like a game they have to win with the Walker Beuhler/Carlos Martinez matchup on Wednesday.