Another series win within their grasp. A chance to make up ground in the wild card. Then a walkoff home run spoils it.
I’m all for Sunday traditions but this one really needs to go.
You can put the blame wherever you want yesterday (and we’ll get to the official establishing of the Heroes and Goats for all three games against the Brewers later on) but no matter who you pick, you are probably going to be at least partially right because there is so much to go around. The relievers, the manager, the front office, all of them had a role in what’s going on out there.
Let’s start by talking about Alex Reyes, who was the most direct cause of the loss. If you haven’t seen it by now, there’s a clip going around that shows Reyes before he comes into the ballgame and, suffice it to say, it’s not someone that’s coming in with some swagger. Reyes pitched twice between the walkoffs, once in the blowout loss to the Reds where he struck out the side and once on Saturday where he retired the Brewers in order with one punchout. However, both of those games came in a loss and were fairly low leverage. This was as high of a leverage situation as you can get and, if body language is to be believed, Reyes didn’t really want to be out there perhaps because he didn’t trust himself to do right by the team.
Reyes didn’t get the call on the first pitch, but as Tara and I discussed before we recorded last night’s Gateway to Baseball Heaven, you have a three run lead. A walk is less than ideal but it’s much better than giving up an extra-base hit or, as what happened, a grand slam. You’d like to get Daniel Vogelbach out and there’s no guarantees that Lorenzo Cain or, in a couple of batters, Christian Yelich wouldn’t do damage, but at least it’s an option. Missing on the first pitch doesn’t mean you have to lay one in the middle of the plate but that’s where Reyes’s second pitch was and Vogelbach, to his credit, did what power hitters do with a sinker that doesn’t sink.
On the season, Reyes has allowed six home runs. Two, obviously, have come this week and four have come in the last three weeks. I feel like Reyes did something after that Atlanta game that he walked four batters because since then, he’s not walked many (the two last week before the Pirates walkoff are the only two) but batters are hitting .260/.286/.520 against him in those 11.1 innings. Before and including the Atlanta game, the slash line was .149/.324/.202. Whether it’s an approach or it’s fatigue, something is different with Reyes and the manager needs to realize that, as good as his stuff is, the results aren’t there right now.
That said, Mike Shildt had kinda painted himself into a corner. I have no argument with lifting Jon Lester with one out in the sixth. Heck, if the bullpen hadn’t been so used the night before, I might have pinch-hit for Lester in the top of the fourth when the Cards were putting together that rally against Corbin Burnes because you never know when you might get another shot. In a traditional September, with a lot more extra arms in the bullpen, Shildt might have. Lester pitched well, but you never want to let him go too deep into the third time through the order. Batters have a .970 OPS against him when he sees them for the third time. I feel like Lester is like a rickety old bridge–you get over it as fast as you can because you don’t want to be on it if a board gives out.
You wonder if Shildt might be willing to occasionally mix up the roles for players. It seems weird to say that maybe Reyes should pitch in the sixth and T.J. McFarland the eighth, but right now the results would say that’s the case. Bringing Reyes in to relieve Lester would have given a little lower leverage situation (though Reyes still would have been facing the tying run when he came in) and given the team time to recover had things not gone well. That said, I do believe since Reyes threw Saturday that the plan was to only pitch him when there was little option and so it makes sense not to use him there.
The plan was probably to have McFarland pitch the seventh as well, given how quickly he got the double play, but the offense stirred, runs were scored, and the pitcher’s spot came up with two outs and runners on the corners in a 5-1 game. You’d really like to get that extra run–it would have been helpful, it turns out–but when you look at the fact that Matt Carpenter hasn’t had a hit since August 7 it’s a bit of a decision. Sure, Carpenter can walk–and he did–but that means you have to then look for another two-out positive outcome from Tommy Edman. There’s no doubt Shildt would have been slammed for not pinch-hitting there and it’s most likely the right thing to do, but it’s possible this game gets won if Harrison Bader grounds the plate appearance before instead of singling, which is just so weird.
Using Luis Garcia in the bottom of the seventh is the way that Shildt has been doing things and probably at the time makes no real waves, but it was the bottom of the Brewers lineup. It was a bunch of righties but there weren’t many lefties coming up for the eighth either. You could have made a case for Genesis Cabrera there and Garcia against the top of the lineup in the eighth, but except for against Pittsburgh Cabrera’s been pretty good for the second half with limited control issues, etc. Except for the idea that maybe he’s getting worn down–and again, the results against the Pirates seemed more about a pitching tell than fatigue–there really wasn’t any reason to not go Garcia for the seventh, Cabrera for the eighth, then Giovanny Gallegos for the ninth.
However, it is interesting to me that since Garcia has become a trusted part of the end of the bullpen, he’s used less per game. Garcia had three two inning appearances in his first eight games with the Cardinals. He allowed no runs in any of them and twice had three strikeouts. Since then, he’s thrown an inning and a third three times, but that’s it. You know that I’m not big on letting a reliever go back out there after they’ve sat, especially after they’ve had a full inning, but I wouldn’t have minded him getting a batter or two in the eighth. Of course, the first batter up was a lefty, so that wasn’t going to happen and you can understand that.
Honestly, if Cabrera could have done his job, we’re probably talking about a series win as well. (Bader grounding out, Cabrera not walking people, the small things a game can turn on.) Instead, he struck out the first guy (the lefty), then gave up a double and back to back walks to load the bases with one out. For all the wildness that I personally associate with Cabrera, he walked one guy in August. This was a bad day but I don’t know that I want to attribute anything more to it than that.
Obviously you couldn’t leave Cabrera in there to work things out, so the manager turned to Giovanny Gallegos, which he was saving for the ninth because no matter what Shildt says, he’s got Gallegos penciled in as the closer. Plus, what were the other options? You didn’t want Reyes with the bases loaded (until you had to go to Reyes with the bases loaded), so who was left besides Gallegos? Brandon Dickson isn’t a true option–he had enough issues in mopup situations. Kodi Whitley has looked better since returning from Memphis but the three games he has been in the Cards were up 13, down nine, and up eight. It doesn’t feel like they are ready to put him into a game that is close just yet. Jake Woodford was unavailable after doing incredible work the night before. The only other option was Daniel Ponce de Leon, who last time against the Reds walked four in 1.1 innings. No, Gallegos was really the only option.
Gallegos got a ton of help from Randy Tellez. He ran the count to 3-1 and then threw what would have been ball four, walking in a run and tying the record for most runs walked in. Instead, Tellez swung and fouled it off, then swung at another pitch that landed in the dirt. A more disciplined hitter and the game would have gotten closer.
A shorter first baseman and the game might have been tied as well. Yelich pinch-hit and roped it down the line on a ball that probably clears the bases, making it a one-run game, except that Paul Goldschmidt leapt up and speared it. Give that man a Gold Glove!
The ninth, well, you know. Gallegos showed that his lack of effectiveness in the eighth was an omen and the Brewers went double-single (making it 5-2). Gallegos got a strikeout but then a double-walk loaded the bases and that’s where we started 1500 words ago. Gallegos obviously didn’t have much but he’s been very effective since those back-to-back terrible games against the Braves at the beginning of August. I know we talk a lot about fatigue for the big three and I think that’s a fair discussion given the short season last year and the fact that Cabrera and Reyes are well over their previous career highs in innings pitched, but Cabrera and Gallegos both have been pretty good over the last month. The fatigue isn’t showing up in the obvious places at least. Sometimes, it’s just not a good day.
However, a playoff team shouldn’t have these sort of days very often, much less two times in a week. If you factor in the Cabrera game in the last Pittsburgh series, they’ve had three bullpen implosions on games that were basically in hand over the past 10 days or so. They are currently three games back of the Padres for the second wild card. Just those three games, going the way they should have, would have them tied for a playoff spot on Labor Day. There are going to be a lot of frustrations to sort through this winter but that one may be close to the top of the list.
Friday (15-4 win)
Goat: Tommy Edman. Edman did have a double and an RBI, but overall went 1-6. For once, the offense didn’t need the leadoff man to be helpful. Plus his error in the seventh lead to runs for Wainwright.
Notes: Wainwright went six scoreless then ran into a little trouble in the seventh, though not really of his making. Two on, one out, he gets a ground ball that Edmundo Sosa can’t come up with. That ends his night and T.J. McFarland comes in to get a double play ball that Edman flipped wildly to Sosa and instead of getting at least one out, got none. McFarland then gets another grounder that brought in a run of Wainwright’s on a fielder’s choice….Harrison Bader had a big day, three hits including a three-run homer that gave the Cards a 8-0 lead….Yadier Molina celebrated his 300th appearance with Wainwright with a grand slam in the ninth. Why, with three catchers on the roster, Yader Molina is even in a 10-2 game in the ninth is beyond me but at least we got a cool moment from it….Waino’s not only been pitching better, but he’s hitting .385 (5-13) with two walks in his last five starts….Sosa had two hits and Tyler O’Neill had a home run….Brandon Dickson made his second appearance, gave up four hits and two runs, and pretty much can only be used in a blowout. Allen and I thought Dickson was just placeholding for Dakota Hudson, but yesterday Shildt said Hudson will make three more rehab starts. So that’s 9/7, 9/12, 9/17 in theory, meaning that Hudson wouldn’t really be able to be used until 9/19 or 9/20, basically the last two weeks of the season. If there’s anyone else that can help this bullpen in Memphis, they don’t need to wait that long to replace Dickson.
Saturday (4-0 loss)
Hero: Jake Woodford. Woodford pitched 5.1 scoreless innings in relief and did well enough that apparently the club will consider him for a spot start. Personally, I don’t think I’d get too carried away here. Woodford did have a couple of good starts at Memphis before the call up and there’s no doubt that this game was a great data point for him, but I’m still not sold on the idea that he’s a major league starter. Then again, if you are going to have to fill in with someone, I guess he’s a decent option.
Goat: Kwang Hyun Kim. Kim didn’t have it at all, allowing seven hits and a walk in an inning and two-thirds. He gave up a home run to lead off the game and if he hadn’t gotten a double play behind him in the first, he might not have made it out of that inning. It’s still been since July (granted, some of that time he was on the injured list) since he had a start where he went more than four innings. When Jack Flaherty returns it’s pretty obvious Kim will go back to the bullpen but that’s still a ways to go.
Notes: Tommy Edman had two hits. Nolan Arenado had one. That was the offense….Adrian Houser was one pitch shy of throwing a Maddux at the Cards. Wonder how often a team has thrown a Maddux and received one in the same season? If Edman doesn’t single in the ninth, we might have found out.
Sunday (6-5 loss)
Hero: Tyler O’Neill. Three hits including a two-run homer that seemed to be a huge bit of insurance. Unfortunately, the Cards used all of it and then some.
Goat: Genesis Cabrera. I’ve walked through it above but while Reyes threw the key pitch, I don’t feel like it comes to that if Cabrera does his job in the eighth.
Notes: Two hits by Dylan Carlson and by Harrison Bader, so it was a good day for the outfield….another strong start by Jon Lester, who does seem to be finding his footing in St. Louis, much like my Musial co-host expected he would….Tommy Edman was 1-5 but also struck out three times and left five on base.