A Lack of Thunder and a Lightning Strike Loss

For the first time this season, though probably not the last, the Cardinals provided a heartbreaking example of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  There are going to be losses that hurt more because of the stakes and how important they are, but for the fact that this was a game in the first month of the season, it stings like the dickens.  It’s possible that, in a vacuum, there’s not going to be a more frustrating loss.

After all, how often can you go up against peak Max Scherzer and stand your ground?  St. Louis struck out 10 times against Scherzer and couldn’t muster any offense, but the Hero of the piece Miles Mikolas kept pace.  He struck out half as many and gave up double the hits (4) but the innings and, most importantly, the runs allowed columns were exactly the same.  If you can fight Scherzer to a scoreless draw, you have to like your chances.

It turned into a battle of the bullpens and, if you are a Cardinal fan, you don’t mind taking your chances there.  For all those that were griping about this bullpen after the game last night, it’s had one of the best marks in the league up to last night and no matter how you’d remake it, the main culprit for last night’s drama would still be in it.  The Cards didn’t lose because they used Aaron Brooks or Nick Wittgren.  They lost because of Giovanny Gallegos.  Let’s walk through the remnants of that ninth inning and see how it happened.

It started off great, with Pete Alonso flying out on the first pitch.  Getting that threat out of the way painlessly seemed like an indication Gallegos was on and this was going to be a quick inning.  Eduardo Escobar singled on a high strike, giving the Mets a baserunner, but Robinson Cano flew out to left and only one out remained.

I understand why it happened, but even at the time I didn’t like allowing Escobar to go to second on fielder’s indifference during the Mark Canha at bat.  If you keep him on first, a base hit at least keeps him at third if not second.  A runner at second with two outs is a lot more likely to score on a single and then suddenly things get shifty.  I mean, it makes sense you don’t want Gallegos necessarily splitting his focus but if he keeps him close, even if Andrew Knizner throws the ball away on the steal attempt (which isn’t all that likely) you have a runner on third and, with two outs, that’s not that different than a runner on second.

Anyway, then Canha hits a ground ball toward third.  Nolan Arenado had to come in on it and wasn’t able to plant his feet before unleashing a throw to first.  We’ve seen Arenado wow us with that play a lot of times, but this time he probably should have just pocketed the ball.  Canha would have beaten it out even with a good throw and the resulting throw and error allowed Escobar to score.

But let’s back up a bit into that Canha at bat.  Gallegos starts him out with two sliders, one for a called strike, one swung on and missed.  At 0-2, Gallegos never really challenges him.  He throws two sliders in the dirt trying to get Canha to chase, but he doesn’t.  He then throws another slider in the middle of the zone that was fouled off, then another one in the dirt before throwing his seventh slider of the at bat at the bottom of the zone, which Canha gets on top of and hits toward Arenado.  If he (and perhaps some of the blame lies on Knizner, though we’ve seen enough of these kind of ABs with Yadier Molina to know it’s not catcher-specific) throws a fastball or a changeup in there early in the at bat, maybe he gets a strikeout and the game is over.

He goes away from the slider with Jeff McNeil, throwing a fastball for a called strike, but then allowing a double on a changeup to put runners at second and third with two outs.

Here’s where I expected Oli Marmol to go get him, though I imagine nobody had been warming up.  Gallegos is at 18 pitches and the inning is getting away from him.  T.J. McFarland had been warming earlier, though that wouldn’t have been a change to make (and, as we saw, McFarland was of no help).  Judging fairly, it’s hard to see where you have really any other choice.  Maybe you could say Marmol should have started warming up someone like Ryan Helsley in the Canha at bat, but that’s probably the earliest you could say (after the single from Escobar would have been ideal, but there was no real reason to think trouble was coming then) and even that is judging with hindsight.

That said, after Dominic Smith was announced, I don’t know why Marmol didn’t go to McFarland to at least get the lefty-lefty advantage.  I’ve not ready any game stories this morning so I can’t say if that was addressed, but it seemed clear that Gallegos was struggling and he’d already thrown more pitches than four of his other six outings.  Getting a fresh pitcher and the handedness advantage would have made sense.

Going with his fastball, Gallegos gets Smith to hit a wicked liner to first base.  The problem is, Gallegos initially thought it was foul.  By time he recovered, he couldn’t beat Smith to the bag and his throw home was late, meaning both Mets runners scored and the lead was lost.  McFarland came in then to face Brandon Nimmo (who also hits left, so maybe McFarland for Smith wouldn’t have mattered) and gave up a home run before getting the final out.  One run in the ninth might have been doable, but three wasn’t likely to be and, indeed, only a Knizner walk marred the ninth inning landscape.

All that overshadowed the remarkable sequence of events in the bottom of the eighth.  With Scherzer finally out, the offense breathed a sigh of relief and took it out on Trevor May.  Singles by Molina and Harrison Bader put two on with nobody out.  Tommy Edman had an infield grounder that he almost beat out, but it moved the runners up.  Paul Goldschmidt walked, loading the bases, and then Tyler O’Neill came through with a huge two-run single.  Arenado struck out and Corey Dickerson flew out, but it looked like the Cards had done enough to win.  Unfortunately, not so much.

With Scherzer going seven innings, it wasn’t a surprise that the Cardinals extended their homerless streak to five games, with the last blast the ninth inning two-run shot by Arenado that won the second game of the Marlins series.  After some early fireworks, the Cards have been very quiet of late.  After all, when was the last time they went into Cincinnati and didn’t hit a home run?  The Reds didn’t either, which is also strange, but this team should have done more against that pitching staff in that ballpark.  Right now St. Louis sits tied for 17th in baseball in the long ball and tied for 16th in runs scored.  Some of that early season excitement about this lineup has faded, though you’d be hard-pressed to say who should be swapped out of the lineup.  Paul DeJong is apparently getting a couple of days off, but Edmundo Sosa went 0-4 with four strikeouts last night after going 1-4 with two K the day before.  At least right now, it’s not an upgrade.

I imagine the lineup will start clicking again at some point and it will help that, as good as Chris Bassitt and Carlos Carrasco are, they aren’t Max Scherzer.  The players have probably already shaken off this loss and are ready to get after it this evening.  Let’s hope for a little thunder and less being struck by lightning.


Friday (4-2 win at Cincinnati)

Hero: Paul Goldschmidt.  It is good to see the Goldy bat starting to come around.  That slow-starting reputation was enhanced by this April but in this one, he went 3-5 with two runs driven in.  If he gets hot, that will do a lot for the slumbering offense.

Goat: Tyler O’Neill.  0-5, left four men on base, and hit into a double play.  No wonder TON got a day off after this.

Notes: It’s also good to see Dylan Carlson have a little success, notching two hits, drawing a walk, and scoring a run.  Carlson’s had a rough start to the year so the day off perhaps did him some good….two more hits for Nolan Arenado, who is holding this offense together right now….Andrew Knizner started in this one.  Through last night, he’s got a total of seven fewer plate appearances than Yadier Molina does.  This has turned into a time share really quickly and it’s remarkable to see….Very good outing from Steven Matz, allowing just one run in five innings and tallying six strikeouts.  Only threw 80 pitches, which may have been more a feature of trying to get the bullpen work than anything else….Giovanny Gallegos allowed a run in the ninth here as well while allowing the tying run to come to the plate, so Oli Marmol might be thinking about not making him the automatic ninth inning guy.

Saturday (5-0 win at Cincinnati)

Hero: Paul Goldschmidt.  Two hits again, including a double, and drove in the first two runs of the game.  When he left Miami his batting average was .146 and his OPS .466.  After last night, when he also had two hits and a walk, they are .259 and .676.

Goat: Paul DeJong.  He did draw a walk, but his other three plate appearances were strikeouts.  In his first six starts, he struck out seven times.  In his last five, he’s struck out eight.  That might be an indication that he’s gotten into his own head as he talked about in the spring and a bit of a break might help out a lot.

Notes: Another two hit day for Dylan Carlson, who slid down into the three spot for this one.  Oli Marmol is definitely not someone that needs a static lineup….kudos to Harrison Bader, who stole three bases, including a sequence where he stole second and third and then scored on a base hit….Andrew Knizner, starting a day game after catching the night game, had two hits.  I didn’t know a catcher that wasn’t named Molina could play in games like that….great work again from the bullpen, as Andre Pallente and Kodi Whitley combined for 2.1 scoreless innings.  That roster decision is going to be tough….Dakota Hudson with a solid start.  He walked four batters but allowed only two hits, so his WHIP was better than normal, honestly.

Sunday (4-1 loss at Cincinnati)

Hero: Tyler O’Neill.  Drove in the only run with a double and also drew a walk.

Goat: Adam Wainwright.  Great American Ball Park is definitely not his friend, as he has a career ERA approaching six there.  It’s not a park that is generous to pitchers and the Reds may be patient enough to make him come over the plate, which then winds up hurting.  Whatever the case, getting your team down 4-0 to a team that has lost 11 in a row is never a good deay.

Notes: Another two hit game for Paul Goldschmidt, who could have just about swept the Hero status for this series….0-4 for Tommy Edman who led off yet again, though Oli Marmol has stated that Dylan Carlson will be back up there soon.  Given that Edman has been one of the few consistent offensive threats, it’s understandable he’d get a temporary look at the top….T.J. McFarland pitched two innings here, which on the face of it makes the fact that he was warming up earlier last night kinda curious.  By the ninth, there really wasn’t any other left-handed option but he was warming up (if I remember the broadcast correctly) when Mikolas had a little trouble in the seventh, before Genesis Cabrera came in.  Then I see that he threw only 10 pitches in those two innings and it makes more sense….Jake Woodford actually is still on the team.  He hadn’t pitched since April 10 and you have to figure (because I believe he has options) he’s one of the guys that goes to Memphis when rosters contract just so he can get regular work.

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