Can’t Dodge The Winter

Let’s get this out of the way up front.  The Dodgers are a very good team.  While their win total might be slightly padded given they played Arizona and Colorado a lot (they went 16-3 against the Diamondbacks and 13-6 against the Rockies), there’s a reason they won over 100 games and are considered the odds-on favorite to repeat as World Series Champions.  A lot of what we saw last night was the Dodgers executing their plan and will and the Cardinals being unable to counter.

Let’s also stipulate that the Cardinals have a lot to take pride in from last night.  A team that scored the most runs in the National League was limited to one before the last swing.  Max Muncy‘s absence didn’t make all the difference.  A pitcher that had only walked eight in 68.1 Dodger innings walked three in 4.1.  Max Scherzer wasn’t completely himself but the Redbirds showed some patience.  The Cards took on the best and went toe-to-toe with them.  There’s something to be said for that.

In the end, of course, moral victories might let you sleep after the game but they don’t give you any more to play.  The final swing of the night sent the Cardinals back to St. Louis to be scattered to the four winds, returning in February to try it all again.  Let’s look at the end and work our way backwards.

Add Chris Taylor to the list of people that have hit home runs to win games off of Alex ReyesJesse Winker did it in June, though that was in Busch so it wasn’t a walkoff.  Yoshi Tsutsugo did it at the end of August in a game we all remember when Reyes walked two then gave up the walkoff blast.  The most comparable one might have been Daniel Vogelbach.  In that one Reyes came in with runners on and served up a walkoff slam, very similar to what he did last night with less base runners.

When Reyes was warming up middle of the game, when it looked like Mike Shildt would pinch-hit for Adam Wainwright, I messaged my Musial co-host Allen Medlock and asked if we felt confident in Reyes coming into a tie game.  His response was “I am to start an inning.”  It’s a point we’ve made on the show and possibly here in posts, but Alex Reyes allowed 71% (10 of 14) of his inherited runners to score.  It’s actually even worse when you look at the numbers, because Reyes stranded the first runner he inherited on April 6.  He came into a bases-loaded situation against the Nationals on April 20 and got out of it unscathed.  That was the last time he stranded a runner.  The last 10 runners that were on base, from April 23 until Vogelbach, scored against Reyes.  Granted, 14 isn’t a lot on the season, especially when three of them were in that one game against the Brewers, but it still notable.  It’s clear that you can’t use Reyes as any sort of fireman.

It’s also clear that whatever idealized version of Reyes Shildt holds, it’s incompatible with reality.  In September, Reyes allowed four of his nine home runs (and if you go back just a few days to the Tsutsugo one, it’s five) and had a 4.40 ERA.  The strikeouts were there–23 in 14.1 innings–but so were the walks and the hits.  Whether Reyes tired down the stretch, which would be very possible given the workload of 2021 versus the workload of the rest of his career, isn’t really suited for relief, or the league is figuring him out, it’s clear that he’s not the lockdown guy Shildt treats him as.

It’s tough to know what would have been a better option, of course.  Kodi Whitley hadn’t given up a run since his return from the minors in late August (and had stranded three of the five inherited runners he had in that span) but that’s a very big spot for a guy with limited experience.  I think I’d have made that call but you could also see it going badly.  The other option, of course, was to start the inning with Jack Flaherty instead of T.J. McFarland.  Flaherty might have had to deal with Gavin Lux instead of Albert Pujols, but he probably gives you the best chance to get to extra innings and you still have Dakota Hudson if you are worried about the game going long.  You could have even started the inning with Reyes, though you have the same issue with Lux.

Of course, if McFarland doesn’t walk Cody Bellinger, who has had a terrible season and moreso against lefties, maybe the game makes it to the 10th.  Bellinger hit .116/.208/.174 against left-handed hitters this season, yet McFarland threw a lot of pitches trying to get Bellinger to chase instead of letting him put the ball in play.  McFarland scuffled a bit down the stretch, perhaps due to overuse, and I could easily see him being a guy the Cardinals bring back because he was so good this season only for him to bomb next year.

The game might not have been tied in the ninth had it not been for Paul DeJong.  Double-switched into the game with Giovanny Gallegos, DeJong made a leaping spear of a Will Smith liner with Trea Turner on first to end the eighth.  If that gets over his head, it’s at least runners on the corners and probably second and third.  With Turner’s speed, it’s even possible that he pushes for home and tested the arm of Tyler O’Neill.  An excellent play by DeJong.  He then led off the ninth with a chance to make this truly his game, but it looked like he might have been thinking that as well, getting some big swings in before he struck out.

What the game really boiled down to, though, was one stat: 0-11 with runners in scoring position.  For the fact that the club only got five hits (three by Tommy Edman and none by anyone after Dylan Carlson in the lineup), they had their opportunities.  Edman did his part, what with the three hits, the two steals, and the scoring the only run on a Scherzer wild pitch.  Paul Goldschmidt also reached three times with a hit and two walks.

Which means that the hot seat goes to Tyler O’Neill and Nolan Arenado.  O’Neill had the worst night, striking out three times (and walking once) and stranding six men on base.  His strikeout in the ninth with Tommy Edman on second base after a hit and a steal was a back-breaker.  I think almost all Cardinals fan expected the Dodgers to take the game in the bottom of the ninth after that happened.  Whether the Dodgers just had a good plan of attack, O’Neill felt the moment a little too much, or it was just one of those nights, it really hurt not to have the Player of the Month version of O’Neill.

Arenado doesn’t get off scot-free either and I’m sure he’d admit that freely.  With two outs in the seventh, O’Neill took his walk and stole second, but Arenado fouled out to end the inning.  That hurt but perhaps not as much as the at bat prior.  Edman and Goldschmidt reached to start the fifth, then O’Neill struck out.  Dave Roberts then went to get Scherzer (which did not go over well with the LA pitcher) and brought in former Cardinal Joe Kelly to face Arenado.  Arenado hit into a forceout as the Dodgers got the lead runner, something that mattered a lot when Kelly threw a wild pitch to Carlson before retiring him.

We’ve focused on what didn’t go right, but one thing went exactly according to plan and that was the Cardinals’ starting pitcher.  Adam Wainwright pointed out before the game that the Cardinals have lost the games he pitched well in and won the games where he gets lit up.  That stayed true to form as Wainwright only allowed a Justin Turner home run in his 5.1 innings of work.  He ran into danger in the third, walking two around a Mookie Betts single, but he got Trea Turner to ground into a double play to, at the time, keep the Cardinals in the lead.  It was the Wainwright we’ve seen all year long, allowing just four hits, striking out five, working his way methodically through the lineup.  Even if he acts his age next year, we’re going to remember late career Wainwright very, very fondly.

Interestingly enough, for the fact that they added a bat in Juan Yepez to supplement the bench, the Cardinals did not pinch-hit in this game.  The only player that came off the bench was DeJong, who as noted joined the game already in progress as part of a double switch.  The fact that the Cards didn’t use a pinch-hitter was a very debatable point.

With two outs in the sixth inning, with Alex Reyes warming, Harrison Bader was plunked by Brusdar Graterol.  Instead of sending up a pinch-hitter to try to extend the inning to the top of the lineup, Shildt decided to let Wainwright bat for himself.  You could see some of the logic there–with two outs and a runner on first, it’s going to take a lot for the inning to matter and Wainwright was still pitching well–but you would also think that if Shildt was that confident with Wainwright, he wouldn’t have pulled him as soon as a runner reached first in the bottom of the sixth, especially when it was on a swinging bunt.  If the leash is that short, take the shot.  If you could get someone on, the way Edman was going you might have been able to get Bader in.

As it was, Matt Carpenter didn’t get into his (likely) last game with the Cardinals.  Seeing Carpenter have a moment against the Dodgers would have been remarkable but you also have to say that realistically the best you could hope for was a walk.  As much as you’d have like to seen Yepez, I didn’t really know why they added him because I couldn’t think of a situation, barring a blowout or extended extras, where they would feel comfortable using him.

The Cards went toe-to-toe with the team that very well may win the World Series and weren’t found wanting.  Hopefully this will inspire the front office to make winning the division a priority this offseason.  As we’ve seen, the devil magic only goes so far when facing a superior team.

Now we move into the winter.  Around here, we’re still collecting info for the Top Cards on Twitter.  I’ll start working on the Exit Interviews soon and they should show up in November.  The podcasts will still be running–Musial probably more regularly than Gateway, but we’ll still have some content both places.  As events warrant (or I feel like it) there will be posts here.  Here’s to an active winter that has me writing often!

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