Due to a near historic amount of rainfall this week, the last Cardinals game — a 2-1 victory over the Brewers — took place two nights ago. Today’s game — originally scheduled for 12:45 PM — has been pushed back to 6:15 PM, and honestly, I have my doubts about it being played considering the amount of rain that remains in the forecast through tomorrow afternoon. Given the severity of the situations in many of our city’s suburbs, it feels rather unimportant for me to discuss matters involving the game of baseball, but sometimes, positive conversation — serving as a viable distraction — can be beneficial to those in need. Thus, this is exactly what I intend to do while reviewing four strikeouts that closed out the Cardinals’ 13th victory of the 2017 season.
Carlos Martinez recorded the first strikeout, Brett Cecil the second, and Trevor Rosenthal nailed down his third save of the season with two of his three recorded outs being strikeouts. It was Martinez’s second best start of the season — behind opening night — and for what it’s worth, he was finally awarded his first pitcher win of the season. Cecil caught Monday night’s hero looking to end the eighth, and Rosenthal once again added to his case for regaining the closer role. While Martinez only struck out four Brewers, arguably his biggest out of the start came via the whiff versus Milwaukee’s leadoff hitter in the top of the eighth:
Strikeout of Jonathan Villar (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
As you can see, Martinez stayed away (times seven) in his eighth-inning battle versus Villar. After getting ahead in the count, he dialed up two fourseamers — both above 98 MPH (remember, and this is pertinent when you are reading into Martinez’s velocity, this at bat occurred in the eighth inning, on pitches 102 and 103) — in hopes of getting Villar to chase. Despite being placed in a very tempting location, Villar didn’t bite on the first one and somehow managed to foul off the second. At this point, I openly pleaded on Twitter for Carlos to throw the changeup, as Villar was very clearly dialed up for the high heat.
Well, Martinez didn’t necessarily listen to me (duh, he didn’t, Joe; he can’t read your tweets from the mound), but the end result is exactly what I was looking for when I called for the changeup — a down and away pitch, traveling home at a much slower velocity. Villar nearly lost his footing — focus on his back foot — on ball three, signifying to both Yadier Molina and Martinez that the velocity differential worked in keeping the hitter off balance. Fairly confident Martinez wouldn’t throw back-to-back sliders, especially in a 3-2 count, with the tying run on base, Villar swung over the top of pitch number seven for strike three.
Strikeout of Travis Shaw (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
Tasked with two outs to record before allowing the tying run to score from first base, Cecil went up in the zone versus the first batter he faced, the red-hot Eric Thames — inducing a harmless infield pop-up on a 92.4 MPH fourseamer. The second batter, the right-handed hitting Hernan Perez, then represented the go-ahead run after smacking a single up the middle.
Cecil, while signed to get both lefties and righties out, is the Cardinals’ best bullpen option versus lefties — sorry, but it simply isn’t Kevin Siegrist (if it ever was, for that matter) and Tyler Lyons cannot seem to stay healthy. Cecil almost went full “military” mode on Shaw with his location selection in this at bat — starting in (left), going out (right), staying out (right), coming back in (left), only to finish out (right). Of note, Cecil threw four of his five pitch types in this at bat, and that he was able to retire a fastball-loving lefty with a fourseamer is a welcome sight, especially considering the typical left-handed reliever resorts to craftiness or deception when facing off against their left-handed counterparts.
(At 93.5 MPH, this was one of Cecil’s fastest pitches all season)
Strikeout of Ryan Braun (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
Yes, the strikeout of Braun is the one that sealed the victory, meaning that I fully understand that it took place after the strikeout analyzed below. However, @cardinalsgifs and I are introducing a new feature in the Santana strikeout that I want to save for last.
Pitches one (101.4 MPH fourseamer) and two (100.4 MPH fourseamer)
When facing a hitter that has had a tremendous amount of success against you, getting ahead in the count is a good start. Throwing fourseam fastballs may not be the best idea, but these were far from ordinary fourseamers.
Pitches three (101.3 MPH fourseamer) and four (91.1 MPH slider)
At 0-2, Rosenthal wanted nothing more than to blow strike three past Braun — as you can see by his shaking off of Yadi. Somehow Braun fought the 101+ MPH heater off and didn’t bite on a wasted slider in the dirt. From a tunneling perspective, the slider deviated from the fourseamer’s path quickly, so this was probably a fairly easy take for Braun.
Considering the pitch’s relative newness to Rosenthal’s repertoire, Braun was not at all expecting back-to-back sliders. That’s why this pitch so easily induced a swinging strike three. Bottom line, this pitch shows how a well-executed slider tunnels so well with a fourseam fastball. Take a closer look at the trails, the put-away slider followed an almost identical path to the fought-off fourseamer from earlier in the at bat. Yet, despite this similarity, the velocity and final location were significantly different.
Putting it all together (89.6 MPH slider for strike three)
Strikeout of Domingo Santana (BrooksBaseball At Bat)
Based on Yadi’s target for pitch number five (see the GIF below), Rosenthal missed his spot by a whole lot, as he was probably trying to replicate the reverse if the fastball-slider sequence we saw in the Braun strikeout. That being said, it ended up being a very effective miss. What exactly do I mean by “effective miss”? Well, a term commonly used when describing a pitcher’s approach is “changing the eye level” of the hitter.
Rosenthal took “changing the eye level” to an extreme in his ninth-inning strikeout of Santana. When coming up with the idea for this GIF, I asked @cardinalsgifs to create an eye level tracker starting a few feet in front of the plate since hitters cannot realistically see a pitch all the way to and through the plate when swinging. And I cannot applaud him enough for his final product. As you can see below, Santana’s eye level — at the exact same frame (9 frames after release) — was drastically different on the third-strike fourseamer than it was on the ball-two slider. And at 100.4 MPH — 11.5 MPH faster than the pitch immediately prior — Santana had absolutely no chance at making any type of contact.
Finally, and yes this is slightly off-topic, but I consider it an important enough issue that I would like to write about it publicly. I must note that none of the GIFs in this post came from the local Fox Sports Midwest feed. Why is that, you ask? Well, for some of the most crucial at bats of the game, the producers at Fox Sports Midwest chose to use the behind-home-plate camera angle (endearingly known as “butt cam” or “obstructed view”, etc.). Considering the umpire and catcher do not have the privilege of donning invisibility cloaks, this angle is less than ideal if you care to see the locations and subsequent outcomes of pitches.
The purpose for using the behind-home-plate angle, according to Dan McLaughlin at least, is to show just how little time hitters have when reacting to an incoming pitch. Unfortunately for the producers at FSMW, color commentator Jim Edmonds distinctly stated, on Tuesday night’s broadcast, that the angle didn’t do the pitches’ justice. Thus, if the angle is not producing the desired effect, I think it is beyond time to scrap it altogether and return to one of the best center-field angles in baseball, full time.