Fearful Symmetry

When the Star Wars publishing line was revived in the early ’90s, the first three books written by Timothy Zahn quickly became known as the Thrawn trilogy after the villian it introduced, Grand Admiral Thrawn.  Thrawn was an Imperial strategist and tactician who gained psychological insight from studying the art of a species.  Art was a large part of Thrawn’s character, so much so that when–spoilers for a 25-year-old book series–he was stabbed by his bodyguard, his last words were “But it was so artfully done.”

I imagine, if you were unconnected to last night’s game or perhaps even a Brewers fan, you could appreciate the symmetry, the art, to how that game played out.  Cardinal fans, like Thawn, are just left with a dagger in the chest.

I can’t even fathom what the odds are of a team starting the game with back-to-back homers in the top of the first, then seeing their opponent end the game in the bottom of the ninth in the same fashion.  Given that it was the first time it had ever happened in the over 100 years of Major League Baseball, of the hundreds of thousands of games that have been played, I’d have to agree with K-2SO: “It’s high.  It’s very high.”

Obviously we have to go with Dominic Leone as the Goat, because when you blow a save in that manner, it’s pretty much automatic.  That said, there’s probably a lot of blame to go around here.  Not only did Leone give up the two homers but he also allowed one of his inherited runners in the eighth to score, which played a big role in the finale.

However, the reason there was an inherited runner to start with was a miserable outing by the Patron Pitcher of the Blog, Tyler Lyons.  Lyons entered the game in the eighth inning with the Cardinals ahead 4-1.  He didn’t fool anyone, allowing a double and two well-hit singles around a strikeout of Ryan Braun.  This was Lyons’s third outing in five games, so it shouldn’t be that he wasn’t in his rhythm.  Whether it was just an off night, the result of a little too much work, or a troubling indication that the knee is bothering him, there’s no telling.  We’ll have to wait and see how he does when he’s called on next.

The offense also wasn’t able to completely break through.  Look at this quote from Braun after the game:

“I’m just glad we were on the finishing end of that accomplishment. You want to be on the back end, not the front end. Pretty special win for us tonight. We were down 4-0, and it felt like 7-0 or 8-0 the way it was going.”

I noted a similar thought in a tweet (and things went downhill from there, of course) and a large part of that was the way our Hero Jack Flaherty was going about his business.  Flaherty completely kept the Brewers off balance for the first five innings, allowing just one run in his last frame while striking out nine.  Flaherty had everything working but seemingly tired a bit in the fifth, but was everything you wanted to see out of a highly touted young pitcher.  It of course reignited the Adam Wainwright debate, but we’ll see how that plays out when the time comes.

So he was up 4-0 for a long time but it could have been much more.  The two solo shots by Dexter Fowler and Tommy Pham to open the game were only accompanied by a massive two-run shot by Marcell Ozuna, his first as a Cardinal.  The Cardinals had their best chance to add on in the fourth, when Fowler singled and went to third on a Pham single.  Pham then stole second, so Matt Carpenter had two runners in scoring position but, after typically running a full count, Carpenter bounced into the shift and ended the inning.

After the Brewers’ bullpen relieved Chase Anderson, the opportunities became more rare.  The Cards did have a shot in the eighth for insurance when Yadier Molina reached on an error with one out, stole second (yes, you read that right) and went to third on a Paul DeJong single.  However, Kolten Wong and Yairo Munoz were unable to get either one of those guys home.

We spent much of the offseason talking about how the coaching staff changes were going to make Mike Matheny a better manager, but so far in 2018 we haven’t seen much change.  Matthew Bowman wasn’t the first call out of the pen today, so maybe that’s something.  Ryan Sherriff took over in the sixth and went 1.2 innings, retiring the first five batters he faced before walking Jesus Aguilar.  With Lorenzo Cain coming up, Matheny went to the bullpen and got Bowman.  Again, we’ve talked about how Bowman would be better starting an inning than coming in with runners on, but he got out of the mini-jam without incident.  No, what folks were talking about was how Bowman come into the game.  One of the patented double switches.

If you ever thought that, with Carpenter slipping into the third spot, Matheny would be much less likely to double-switch his third hitter out of the game, we can report that, in this regard, Carpenter is treated like everyone else who bats third.  My Twitter feed noted this was the third straight game he’d swapped out Carpenter and this one didn’t make much sense.  (I can’t speak to the others, as I had forgotten this wasn’t the first of the year.)  Ozuna had been the last batter, which meant that the pitcher’s spot would come up fifth in the next inning.  With Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun coming up, Lyons was going to be the call anyway.  Which meant Bowman was in for one batter.  If his spot came up due to some offensive exploits in the top of the eighth, you pinch-hit for him.

The only reason this makes sense is because, with two outs in the seventh, Matheny was already going for the defensive replacement, trying to hold the lead.  Which is somewhat defensible, except that Munoz (who came in to play third) isn’t necessarily known as an above-average fielder.  You may gain something by the exchange, but it isn’t necessarily large enough to offset the issue that will come up if Carpenter’s spot rolls around again and he’s not there to hit.

Which turned out to be the case.  After having the pitcher slide into the third spot, Matheny undid that move in part in the eighth when Leone came in, moving the pitcher to eighth while having Greg Garcia come into the game to play second and hit third.  Garcia struck out in the ninth to end the frame, though nobody was on.  Still, you would think that having Carpenter bat there, then take him out for defensive purposes, would not only be the better play but the more straightforward one.

It’s laudable that Matheny is trying to factor in defense into the equation, I just think that he’s factoring it in too early.  Sure, Carpenter could make an error in the eighth that costs you the game, but he could also do that in the first.  Again, the ninth or late in the eighth, you could argue losing his bat is worth the tradeoff, especially if he isn’t likely to come up again.  Starting to do it in the seventh is asking for trouble.

Of course, part of that also is the short bench.  With only three real bench options (Francisco Pena is cozy in his bubble wrap, thanks for asking), it almost feels wasteful if someone just pinch-hits.  Matheny has to swap them in because he wants to get the most out of them.  Harrison Bader did the traditional pinch-hitting last night, but that was it.  It’s the mindset that gets you an empty bench in the 10th inning of a game and pitchers batting fourth for extra frames.  Which might have happened last night if Leone got Braun.

By the way, I know it’s a small sample size and Leone might be a different pitcher depending on when some of this happened, but when a slugger like Braun is 3-3 with two homers and six RBI against your reliever, do you at least think of going to someone else?  I doubt anyone was warming and you probably don’t, plus you don’t want to put the go-ahead run on base with a walk, but you wonder if Leone could have handled Travis Shaw better.  Some batters just have your number.

As noted, Pham had a big day, going three for five with a double and a homer, getting a steal, and throwing out a runner at home.  It had been a pretty noteworthy day for Pham before the game even started, though, as Sports Illustrated published an interview with Pham in which Pham was the direct, honest, tell-it-like-he-sees-it guy that we’ve come to know over the past couple of seasons.  Dennis wrote about it here, if you missed it.  There’s no doubt that, even if you strip out the profanity, it’s not the typical interview we see from an athlete.

There’s no doubt that Pham not only has the right to express his thoughts however he wants but that he also has plenty of evidence to back up what he is saying.  I do think that he perhaps is underplaying how much his injuries and struggles impacted the thinking of the front office and how hard it was for them to change their mindset about him, but it’s impossible to refute that Pham was in AAA while Matt Adams tried the outfield.  I get that there are other considerations–Adams being out of options, etc.–but when you put a guy in the outfield that has never played it before over some solid minor league options, don’t be surprised if some of those solid minor league options wind up with a chip on their shoulder.

(It’s honestly something I’ve thought might happen with Jordan Hicks, though obviously he’s not playing out of position.  But when a guy that was sent out for being tardy gets the sudden promotion over others that are closer and had a solid spring of their own, you have to wonder if a little resentment is going to form.)

For me, there was a hidden gem in the article, something that is really worth pondering because I don’t know exactly how Pham meant it.

While he made the Opening Day roster in 2016, he strained an oblique in his first at bat. Once Pham healed, the Cardinals sent him down to the Redbirds. In response, Pham says, he “threw numbers” at St. Louis manager Mike Matheny. “Looking back on it, that’s not something you want to do.” (emphasis mine)

What is Pham saying here?  Is it:

  1. He should have had more respect for the manager?  While that’s possible, that’s not really in line with the tone of the rest of the article.  Tommy Pham doesn’t strike me as a person that gives respect to a title or a position.  You have to earn his respect and it’s not something that comes easily.
  2. He shouldn’t have thrown numbers at Matheny?  We continue to wonder exactly how Matheny and the analytics department of the organization get along.  Sometimes we get stories about how he’s absorbing all this data and can’t get enough, but it’s sometimes difficult to see that play out in his decision making.  Does Matheny not really get some of the new sabermetrics, the sort of thing that Pham just absorbs constantly?
  3. He shouldn’t have come back at Matheny at all?  Because the manager is known to hold a grudge?  Does Pham believe that his outburst cost him playing time over the next couple of years?  That he started in Memphis last year in large part because of it?

I’m not sure which of the above it is, if any of them.  The dynamic between Pham and Matheny might play nice for the cameras at times, but I doubt Matheny was invited to visit Pham over the winter.  Which doesn’t necessarily impact Matheny’s “Leader of Men” reputation, because Pham is probably a prickly person at times, but it doesn’t help that reputation any either.

Pham has supreme confidence in himself and so far that’s paying off.  However, as many said, words like this go over much better when you are producing than when you aren’t.  Pham is producing and that’s going to be all that matters for most people.

The Cardinals try to win their first series of the season today, sending out Carlos Martinez to take on Jhoulys Chacin.  Martinez will hopefully be better than his Opening Day start.  If there was anything to the idea of jitters on the big stage, that should go away tonight as it’s just a regular game in Milwaukee.

vs. Batters Table
Ryan Braun 29 27 7 1 0 0 2 2 10 .259 .310 .296 .607 0 0 1 0 1
Jonathan Villar 24 23 8 1 0 1 3 1 6 .348 .375 .522 .897 0 0 0 0 0
Hernan Perez 18 17 5 0 0 0 1 1 4 .294 .333 .294 .627 0 0 0 0 1
Domingo Santana 18 17 6 0 0 1 2 0 5 .353 .389 .529 .918 0 0 0 1 1
Eric Thames 12 10 3 1 0 1 2 2 4 .300 .417 .700 1.117 0 0 0 0 0
Orlando Arcia 11 11 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .091 .091 .091 .182 0 0 0 0 0
Travis Shaw 9 8 3 0 0 1 3 1 1 .375 .444 .750 1.194 0 0 0 0 1
Christian Yelich 9 8 4 0 0 0 0 1 3 .500 .556 .500 1.056 0 0 0 0 0
Eric Sogard 7 6 2 0 0 0 1 1 1 .333 .429 .333 .762 0 0 0 0 0
Chase Anderson 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jett Bandy 5 4 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 .250 .400 .250 .650 0 0 0 0 0
Manny Pina 5 4 2 1 0 0 1 1 0 .500 .600 .750 1.350 0 0 0 0 1
Lorenzo Cain 4 4 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Zach Davies 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Keon Broxton 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Vogt 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Junior Guerra 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Jesus Aguilar 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 169 156 46 4 0 4 16 11 47 .295 .345 .397 .743 1 0 1 1 5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/4/2018.

Martinez had some trouble with the Brewers last year.  The last time he faced them, he allowed ten hits and six runs (though three were unearned) in 5.2 innings.  He was unable to get through six innings in three of his four starts against Milwaukee in 2017, though the fourth was 7.1 innings of four-hit, one unearned run ball.

I always think of Chacin as a Rockie since that’s where he started his career, but he’s on his fifth team since leaving Colorado.  He spent last year in San Diego and that’s where the Cards saw him last, tagging him for five runs (four earned) in 4.2 innings last August.

vs. Batters Table
Jedd Gyorko 18 16 5 2 0 0 2 2 3 .313 .389 .438 .826 0 0 0 0 1
Yadier Molina 17 15 5 0 0 0 2 1 1 .333 .412 .333 .745 0 0 0 1 0
Matt Carpenter 9 6 2 0 0 1 1 3 1 .333 .556 .833 1.389 0 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 6 5 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 .400 .500 .400 .900 0 0 0 1 0
Tommy Pham 6 5 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 .200 .333 .400 .733 0 0 0 0 0
Paul DeJong 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 1 0
Dexter Fowler 3 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 1 0 1 0
Luke Weaver 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 1 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 3 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Marcell Ozuna 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 72 58 17 4 0 1 7 8 9 .293 .408 .414 .822 1 1 0 4 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/4/2018.

You would think the edge would go to the Cardinals tonight, but we all know baseball is a funny game.  After all, last night was something nobody has ever seen before.  Will there be anything unique tonight?

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