The error was almost incidental, the speeding up of the inevitable.
After all, even if Randy Choate throws a strike to first base, there are still runners at second and third with one out with a left-handed Joe Panik coming up, meaning that Choate would have likely stayed in for that. Anyone want to bet on whether he’d have gotten out of that jam?
Choate’s an amazing example of anecdotal evidence versus statistical evidence. My general feeling is that when Choate comes into get a left-handed batter out, he’s hit or miss about getting it done. It feels like there’s been too many walks and hits by lefties against him this season.
The stats don’t back that up, though. Here’s his breakdowns against righties and lefties.
Even so, most of us aren’t exactly confident when Choate comes into a close and late ballgame, even though he’s got a .515 OPS against in 20 games of high-leverage work.
In the heat of the moment, having Choate out there could seem problematic and there are reasons not to have him still there with folks on, but for the most part, he’s gotten the job done this year, something I wasn’t expecting when I started this post.
Then again, there were a number of other Mike Matheny decisions that drew plenty of debate when it came down to the pitching staff.
1) Pulling John Lackey after six innings. Lackey struggled in the first inning, being unable to put Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval away with two strikes and two outs and seeing that inning explode when Randal Grichuk couldn’t/wasn’t able to get to a ball hit deep into the swirling winds. (Your opinion on whether Grichuk should have gotten that ball probably depends on if you watched it and your opinion on whether Matheny should have started Peter Bourjos, among other factors.) After that, though, Lackey was locked in and had thrown less than 80 pitches when his turn came up in the seventh.
Before the inning, it was going to be a tough call on whether you pulled Lackey for a pinch-hitter. There were good reasons on either side of the argument, especially if runners got on. Grichuk then made most of those moot by homering the batter before Lackey, tying the game.
So you have the bases empty and a tie game. You know that tie games in these playoffs and in this series have a tendency to go deep and have some extra frames. Heck, the Giants played an 18-inning one in the last round, and while expecting that would be nuts, you gotta figure that having pitchers available might be a good thing. This would seem to be the place to let Lackey hit, take the out, and keep him around for another frame or two.
We’ve often seen Matheny stick with a starter longer than he should, but this time I think he pulled the trigger too quickly, especially when you are going to pinch-hit with Daniel Descalso. I’m guessing the idea was that Descalso might get on and then be able to turn the lineup over with one out, but even with his improvement in the second half, when he hit .315, I think that was asking a lot.
2) Not using Marco Gonzales for more than one frame. Again, pitching easily could be at a premium here. You could be in the 11th or later wondering why you burned through so many arms. I mean, sure, Michael Wacha is out there, but given that he’s not pitched in a couple of weeks, is that who you want the game riding on? (And can we say now that we won’t see Wacha in these playoffs? He’s even rustier than Shelby Miller was this time last year.) Gonzales threw a scoreless frame. His spot in the lineup wasn’t coming up. Nothing against Pat Neshek, who does need to pitch in this game, but why are you going to him? Was there any reason besides it was the eighth and that’s when Neshek pitches? He could have pitched a ninth just as easily, especially if it was tied. When you’ve got a guy that can go multiple innings, use him for multiple innings in this situation.
3) Replacing Seth Maness with Choate. There’s probably less of an issue here than it appeared after Choate blew the game, but there’s still an issue. Why not, when you are bringing Maness in, do one of those famed double switches and put Maness in the eighth spot, since Grichuk had just struck out to end the frame, and Bourjos in the ninth spot? That way you have the option of keeping Maness in the game–two innings isn’t unheard of for the guy–while improving your late game defense? Of course, the argument against that is that Maness allowed lefties to hit him at a .852 OPS clip and there were a number of left-handers coming up. I’m not sure those facts appease Mr. Maness’s significant other, however.
The more I look at things, the more that the end of the game decisions by Matheny weren’t as bad as I thought. I’d have still probably left Lackey or Gonzales in there longer and perhaps worried a little less about left-handed matchups, but Choate should have gotten the job done and he didn’t. It could have easily been Carlos Martinez having a wild day or another decision that should have worked but didn’t. Matheny has enough decisions that shouldn’t have worked but did that it’s going to even out eventually.
Lots of ifs in this one, of course, and it’s a frustrating game after the Cardinals rallied the way they did. When they came back from 4-0 down you felt like, eventually, they were going to get that run across, take the lead, and things were going to be great. Kolten Wong‘s triple seemed to be the spark they needed, but unfortunately they wasted a few opportunities and the Giants didn’t.
So today’s game plays like an elimination game for the Cardinals. Yes, they could lose today’s game and find a way to win the series. There’s a path there, though it involves beating Madison Bumgarner at home, which would seem to be a tall task. If they got past that, they’d have Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson and Busch Stadium, so it would be conceivable to win the last two, but it’s not a situation that the Cardinals have thrived on in their history. They are much more likely to give up a 3-1 lead than to come back from that deficit.
Miller will take the mound today in hopes of evening the series and making it a best of three. He pitched well enough before fading against the Dodgers and, as we know, had a great last month of the season. Miller didn’t actually face the Giants this season, which might be a good thing. Element of surprise and all that.
Nobody’s seen him a lot, but at least what they have seen of him he’s done pretty well. Would be great if that continued today.
Probably needs to, because Ryan Vogelsong becomes a different pitcher in the playoffs and seems to have a way of shutting down the Cardinals as well. Vogelsong gave up one run in just under six innings against the Nationals last time out. Cards did get him for four in 6.1 at Busch this season, but he limited them to two in seven in AT&T Park later in the year.
Yadier Molina says he might have to play with pain, but he’s likely not going to push it given his history with the Giants hurler. Hopefully Matt Carpenter continues his hot streak against Vogelsong and Matheny doesn’t get any ideas about playing Pete Kozma. Here’s hoping tonight’s much less frustrating for the Cards!