I have picked up this rather annoying trait from my dad. You see I pay attention to what teams do prior to facing the Cardinals. And one of the things he has imprinted on me was to dread facing teams who are coming off losing streaks. What, you may ask? How does that make sense?
Let me explain it to you. You see, our logic goes, that a team on a losing streak is going to win at some point. They are not as bad as the losing streak they’re experiencing. And the longer the streak is, the greater the sense that it will end when they face the Cardinals. And this is especially true when the Cardinals face a not actually bad team like the Atlanta Braves. They are experiencing one extreme of how a baseball season will go, they’ll face the Cardinals, and suddenly, their mojo is back. And for the record, I also don’t like facing “good” teams who having losing records early in the season AT ALL.
I am aware this is foolish. That, if you ran the numbers, you’d probably have no better or worse chance at winning than if you faced that same team coming off a 3-2 stretch. That’s how hot and cold streaks work. There’s no predicting when they’ll end. There’s no correlative value to be had. And yet, this feeling persists. So to say I’ve been dreading this series against the Braves, who feel like a trap series, would be an understatement. Look at their record! They’re bad. No, no they are not.
This game did not ease my concerns. And I want to stress that my feeling is not specifically because I feel the Braves are a good team and the Cardinals are bad against good teams. No, it is specifically because the Braves are good and off to a slow start and coming off a losing streak. They are due to win some games, folks. And yes, the Braves biggest weakness being their bullpen is not comforting in the least to me, watching an offense that has been not very good against bullpens whose starting pitchers will typically give the other team the lead first.
With all that said, sometimes you run into a good pitcher. And Charlie Morton is a good pitcher. He took a no hitter into the 7th inning and the Cardinals couldn’t muster much hard contact off him at all, if they made contact. I will admit it did bother me a little that some portion of Twitter - yes, get off twitter good advice, I will never, but thanks - was like “don’t let Charlie Morton no hit you” as if Morton was Kohl Stewart or something. Like guys, Charlie Morton is Adam Wainwright in another life, it’s totally cool if he’s the one who does, I can think of a LOT worse options. To be clear, I did not want to get no hit, but not because it was Morton.
Anyway, you can see me talking around the game because well, not much to tell. Morton looked like he might have trouble when he fell behind Tommy Edman 3-0 to start the game, but that was pretty much the most trouble he had until the 8th inning. He got Edman to fly out harmlessly, then got back-to-back weak groundouts from Dylan Carlson and Paul Goldschmidt.
It was like this all game. Morton gave the Cardinals one chance and one chance only every inning. In the 2nd, Nolan Arenado lined out right to a fielder in left, but then he struck out the next two batters. In the 3rd, a curve got away from him and hit Matt Carpenter. A weak flyout, a failed bunt strikeout and a real strikeout is all that followed. Another leadoff HBP in the 2nd to Carlson got removed immediately on a first pitch double play from Goldschmidt. Arenado struck out this time.
In the 5th, Tyler O’Neill had the kind of AB that gives you hope for his future, moreso than his home runs. Morton on his game is not a good matchup for Tyler at all, but he fouled off a 2-2 pitch and then lined a perfectly located curve right to a center fielder. Out, but he couldn’t have done much better with the pitch. In the 6th, the Cardinals almost got a hit, but a line drive by Tommy Edman was caught by Freddie Freeman on a jump. See, one mistake per inning, but that’s it.
Meanwhile John Gant pitched slightly better than his final line with the caveat that he was constantly on the verge of pitching badly. After striking out Ronald Acuna Jr on just three pitches, he fell behind Freddie Freeman 3-0, who chose a poor pitch to swing at - not because it was a ball, but because all he could do was ground out weakly. He walked the leadoff batter in the 2nd, but a strikeout and double play removed that. He got the 7-8-9 hitters out in the 3rd with just five pitches.
He ran into trouble in the 4th. Acuna hit a soft liner into right field to start the inning, and then Freeman fouled off 5 pitches in a 7 pitch at-bat to hit a similar soft liner to center field. He fell behind Ozzie Albies 2-0, then worked his way back to 2-2 before getting a flyout. He fell behind Abraham Almonte 3-0 before working his way back to 3-2, before getting a grounder, which managed to get the guy at 2nd base but not a double play. Carpenter had trouble getting the ball out of his glove, but I don’t think there was a chance at the DP anyway. He fell behind Austin Riley 3-1, and got lucky when he lined it directly to Nolan Arenado. That’s what I mean when he was always on the verge of a bad start, but I guess it wouldn’t be a Gant start if that weren’t true.
In the 5th, it looked like it would be another easy inning after a strikeout and a groundout. He got to 1-2 on William Contreras, who fouled off a pitch and took a ball. Then Gant threw it above the strike zone - a fair amount above - and he managed to homer on it. I’m not sure I’ll blame Gant on this one. Now at this point, I’ll point out that Gant improbably had just 68 pitches.
Now you could say, third time through the order, need to take Gant out, and you’d be right. But at the same time, no manager would take Gant out losing 1-0 with their starter having 68 pitches in a June baseball game. Also, Morton had a no hitter and it wasn’t clear the Cards would ever score and losing 1-0 is low leverage. What I’m saying is, feels like the wrong game to attack for this personally. Anyway, as you can imagine based off the rest of this paragraph, Gant struggled. He walked Acuna Jr on four pitches, then again fell behind Freeman 3-0. This time, he got the count back to 3-2. Acuna Jr. stole second so when Freeman grounded out, it was a man on 3rd, one out.
With Albies up and an 0-2 count, Albies hit a popup behind home plate. Yadi never saw the ball. Goldschmidt did, but Goldschmidt was not particularly close to the ball so a running sprint was not fast enough to catch a ball that was in the field of play, but close to the stands. You can’t give a hitter like Albies a chance like that, and on 0-2, Gant threw a change way too high, and Albies tripled. He tripled because of somewhat lackadaisical by O’Neill, who probably wasn’t thinking Albies had any shot at a triple.
Gant’s day done, bring on Daniel Poncedeleon. The should-have-been double turned triple didn’t end up mattering at all when Almonte doubled him home. After a groundout that did not advance the runner, Dansby Swanson walked. Yadi had a lot of trouble with Swanson up as a ball got past him, but Almonte did not advance but maybe should have. Ball four did get past Yadi and Almonte went to 3rd base this time, and maybe could have scored with more aggressive baserunning. Contreras flied to right to end the inning.
In the 7th, a hit. With one out, Goldschmidt had a steadfast refusal to strike out. On 2-2, he swung at and fouled off three straight pitches, all in the zone. He took ball three inside, and then Morton fooled him badly on 3-2 with a slider in the other batter’s box. That is not an exaggeration, it was literally in the other batter’s box. Goldschmidt somehow managed to make contact and foul it off. He lined a single in the zone on his 10th pitch above a leaping Swanson to finally break the no hitter. O’Neill had another tough PA with two outs and Goldy on first, fouling off a 3-2 pitch, and then taking a borderline pitch on the outside corner for strike three. The thing is that the first ball of the PA was a bit more of a strike than the strike three call. So I understand why O’Neill thought it was a ball, because a better pitch was just called a ball. Makeup call or not, frustrating either way.
Ponce came back for the bottom of the 7th and allowed another run. It was a double, then sacrfice bunt, then sacrifice fly. Morton was the bunter if you were wondering, as he was staying in the game with near 100 pitches. We saw the debut of Wade LeBlanc who allowed a line drive double and then got Albies to pop up in foul territory to Molina, who did see the ball this time.
In the 8th, Matt Carpenter lined a single over the second baseman’s head, who was in shallow right field. DeJong flied out, and pinch-hitter Jose Rondon popped it up. But it was popped in the right place and fell between the infield and outfield for a hit. Morton’s day was done, 112 pitches in, and Luke Jackson replaced him. He struck out Edman to end the threat.
Junior Fernandez had a rough inning that was almost an easy inning. He got a lineout, then strikeout, and then walked Swanson on four pitches. He very nearly struck out Contreras, who took an 0-2 ball that could have very easily been called a strike. Contreras singled, to put runners at corner, another walk, and a harmless groundout by pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval ended the inning. Will Smith had no trouble in the 9th, although Carlson arguably saw six balls, but the result was a 3-2 count instead leading to a great changeup and strikeout. A grounder back to Smith and a popup from Arenado ended the game.
- John Gant line: 5.1 IP, 4 Ks, 2 BBs, 3 ER, 4 H, HR - if Gant is going to regress, and he will, this is the type of game we can hope for, because it’s still not a badly pitched game. Always on the verge of being badly pitched, but he manages to hold it together just enough.
- All that stuff about the Braves being good? I’m sure they’re better than they are, but Guillermo Heredia and Abraham Almonte being two of their three outfielders, is, shall we say, some evidence they may not be good. (Although both are playing quite well, so I don’t get it still)
- If you’re wondering why Carpenter started - and you might not be, we’re just not that deep right now - Carpenter in his career was 6-16 with six walks, two doubles, and a triple against Morton. He is now 7-18 with six walks, an HBP, two doubles, and a triple against him. I am not making a commentary on the validity of batter v pitcher matchups, just sharing information.
- Pablo Sandoval is a Brave? I learned this when he came to the plate.
Tomorrow the Cardinals try to even up the series with what seems to be a neutral pitching matchup with Carlos Martinez facing Max Fried. Fried has been better than his ERA indicates, but not dominant and the Cardinals are good against lefties. Martinez is, well, inconsistent, but coming off a good start. Hope he has another good start. Same time as tonight, 6:20 CT.