Coming Up Small

In the eighth inning last night, I tweeted that at least this version of the St. Louis Cardinals isn’t stale.  One night we can complain about the bullpen, another night about the starting pitching, then another about the offense.  Occasionally we can do two or more at the same time, but it doesn’t feel like the same thing holding them down all the time.  I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it does give variety.

Last night added a new category into the mix: the managing.

To be fair, there have been lots of complaints about Mike Shildt by folks this season, many around his intentional walks which apparently are relatively harmless.  There’s been an undercurrent of people believing that he too often goes to the smallball well and less to the analytics side of things.  (Which, if you think about it, is a bit ironic to complain about that while also complain about less action in baseball.  It may not be the smartest, but there’s no doubt smallball is at least more active than two of the three true outcomes.  I don’t know how baseball reconciles those two now that the analytics genie is out of the bottle, but that’s a post for another time.)

Personally, I like Shildt.  I don’t agree with everything he does, but I believe that what he does is thought out according to his logic, much like his mentor Tony La Russa.  It may not work and I also like Shildt will take that responsibility.  I know, I know, consistently taking responsibility means that things are consistently going wrong and I get that, but it’s much better than the alternative.  I said it back when he was hired and I stick to it, I’d rather here reasons like knowing the Reds bunt play has the third baseman crash which should have allowed for success rather than a dismissive “that’s the way the game is played” or something of that nature.

Those that think Shildt doesn’t know what he’s doing are falling victim to recency bias, I believe.  A man that doesn’t know how to manage doesn’t turn around a team in 2018 and almost make the playoffs.  He doesn’t win 90-plus games with a flawed roster in 2019.  He doesn’t take a team that is heavily struck by a pandemic and get them to the playoffs in 2020.  Is he perfect?  Of course not.  Does he have small ball tendencies that I’m sure the analytics department talks to him about?  It seems like it.  However, managing is a different game these days, with no larger-than-life folks like La Russa or Tommy La Sorda.  I’m fine with Shildt being the manager and I hope he is for a while, but if he’s not, he’ll be replaced with someone pretty similar to him and everyone will complain about that.

All that said, the ninth inning last night was a complete disaster and shouldn’t have happened.   Matt Carpenter led off with a single, though that looked a little weird to me as well.  The way he hit it and where it was headed, I felt like it was going to split the outfielders and give Carpenter a double.  Instead, it must not have had the velocity I was expecting because it landed like it was a flare and Nicholas Castellanos came in on it, keeping Carpenter at first.

I haven’t read the recaps of last night so I don’t know if Edmundo Sosa bunted on direction from the dugout or on his own, but if everyone could bunt the way Sosa bunted there, we’d have a lot less discussions about #neverbunt and the like.  It was a beautiful, perfect bunt that put two runners on with nobody out.

Honestly, after a perfect bunt like that, you really should have known it wasn’t going to happen again.  The odds of two good bunts in a row feel pretty astronomical, especially in today’s game that doesn’t emphasize it.  The whole idea of having Jose Rondon bunt didn’t make much sense either.  If it works, the Reds probably walk Paul Goldschmidt, who was going to pinch hit, and then you run the risk of Tommy Edman hitting into a double play (which doesn’t happen often, of course) or getting out.  Even if Edman brought home a run on a sac fly or a groundout, you’d still be one run down needing a two out hit from Dylan Carlson.  All these things were reasonable, but there were a lot of them stacked on each other.

If you don’t trust Rondon to swing away, why not let Goldschmidt pinch-hit there, in a situation where the Reds would likely have to pitch to him, and use someone like Justin Williams to pinch-hit for the pitcher?  Even if you go to extras, you can still field a defense without issue.  To me, this makes more sense than trying to have a guy that is not a proficient bunter try to move them along so that you can hopefully get a hit from a guy two or three batters away.

Of course, the Cardinals wouldn’t have been in this predicament at all if the bats would have done their job.  They were able to score two runs in the first off of Vladimir Gutierrez, but after that nothing happened.  At one point, Gutierrez (who was making his second big league start) retired 10 batters in a row.  Cincinnati then used two of its best bullpen arms, Tejay Antone (who wears #70 and pitches better than Jumbo Diaz did when he wore it) and Lucas Sims.  Sims hadn’t gone over an inning so far this year, which is why he faltered in the ninth, but that was another reason not to hand him outs with a bunt.

Adam Wainwright was good, just not good enough.  He got into a bases-loaded situation in the first, but instead of walking a batter he hit them, which gives you the same results but doesn’t add to the chase for the team record.  (That was actually the fourth time the Cardinals have hit someone with the bases loaded, so someone probably should be looking up that record as well.)  He got burned by a two-run homer by Jesse Winker, but as I said in the preview, Winker and Castellanos are basically the Reds offense right now.  On the one hand, you would like to work around them, on the other, they are probably going to get theirs at some point.  Still, three runs in seven innings is a nice night of work that should have gotten him a win.  It was notable that he threw 50 pitches in the first two innings and 55 pitches in the last five.  When Waino gets settled in, look out.

Daniel Ponce de Leon had a mixed outing and I’m still not sure how much I trust him, but it’s not like there were a ton of other options.  He wound up striking out the side, which is good and shows what he is capable of, but between the first and second strikeouts there was a walk, a RBI double, and another walk.  That extra run probably proved costly, though I imagine much of the ninth would have turned out the same way.  Ryan Helsley worked around a leadoff single to keep it 4-2, which is more in line with the Helsley we expect than the one we’ve seen of late.

Our Hero tag goes to Tommy Edman.  Not only was he the only Cardinal with two hits, not only did he score one of the two runs, he also was a key middle man in one of the best relays you’ll ever see.  With Tyler Stephenson on first, Tyler Naquin doubled off the wall.  Dylan Carlson played the carom perfectly and gunned it to Edman.  The throw was a smidgen high, but Edman jumped, caught the ball, recovered, and threw a strike to Yadier Molina who clearly tagged Stephenson before he got to the dish.  Just a remarkable piece of fielding and teamwork.

We’ll give the Goat to Jose Rondon.  Sure he shouldn’t have been asked to bunt, but that wasn’t a good one at all.  Plus he went 0-2 outside of that.

Cards need to rebound today.  The Brewers are playing Arizona and a Milwaukee win coupled with a St. Louis loss puts them in third.  It’s not an overwhelming problem this early, but it’s still not something you want to look at!

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