The Giants in town. Little offense. Strong pitching. A tight game decided late. All you needed were some cooler temperatures and you’d swear we were watching yet another NLCS game between these two clubs. Instead, it was an August game that didn’t have quite the same gravitas, but had significant import nonetheless.
There was some idea that this was a rematch or a meaningful game for Michael Wacha given that the last time he saw the Giants, they ended St. Louis’s season. I think that was a bit overwrought, given that Wacha only pitched to four batters in the entire series. Yes, it happened to be the last ones, but I doubt that he held such a personal animosity toward the organization. That series didn’t hinge on Wacha. All that said, he went out and pitched like he had a score to settle. (Alternate take: he pitched pretty much like he always does.) One run in seven innings with six strikeouts is a nice night at the office. It makes you wonder what if he was healthy last October…..
For a while there, though, it looked like this offense was going to make him pay for him allowing a couple of hits in close succession. Chris Heston, and I totally forgot until the broadcast last night that he was the one that threw the no-hitter earlier in the year, didn’t exactly have his best stuff, walking five to go along with four hits in 4.2 innings. However, not terribly surprisingly given this squad, the Cardinals wouldn’t capitalize fully, scoring only one run and that one coming on a Yadier Molina home run (which was good to see, as we have pretty much written off Yadi as a singles hitter lately). The biggest fail was in the fourth following that homer, when Heston wound up walking the bases loaded, only to see our Goat, Kolten Wong, strike out. (To be fair, the last pitch in that sequence was a fairly nasty offering, but that doesn’t mean Wong should have gotten to that point.)
Wacha, as noted, really just had one spot of trouble. Back to back singles opened the sixth, but Wacha almost got out of that when Wong worked some double play magic, tagging the runner going to second before throwing to first. It looked like he might work his way out of things, but Brandon Crawford hit a deep drive and brought in the tying run. I’ve always had a semi-irrational fear of Crawford up in big situations ever since he was so impossible to get out in the 2012 NLCS. This year, it’s not irrational given the season he’s having.
With this offense, I was really afraid of a late inning mistake by the bullpen being the deciding factor. Thankfully, the mistake came from the San Francisco infield instead. Our Hero of the night is Stephen Piscotty, who got a triple with one out in the eighth as one of his two hits. After an intentional walk to Brandon Moss (which, while quite understandable strategically, is somewhat surprising given his recent history) Mark Reynolds grounded into an almost tailor-made double play, except for the fact that Crawford couldn’t get a handle on it, then rushed his throw after tagging second. Reynolds reaches, Piscotty scores, and that (after Reynolds gets greedy and is tossed out trying to steal) sends us to the ninth.
The box score shows that Trevor Rosenthal had a successful save outing. It shows a pristine line marred only by a walk. In actuality, if the ball carries a bit more last night, Rosie might have given up two homers. Both Hunter Pence and pinch-hitter Buster Posey took Peter Bourjos, who had just come in for defensive purposes, back to the wall to make the catch of their fly balls. Posey’s in particular would have sent the Cards to the bottom of the ninth trailing had it had a foot or two more on it. It didn’t, though, and St. Louis puts up win 76, gaining a game on Pittsburgh in the process.
What might be more lasting out of last night’s game was the fact that Jason Heyward left it with some tightness in his hamstring. With this coming on the heels of Randal Grichuk going on the disabled list (as noted in the press release published yesterday, Tommy Pham has rejoined the team and went 0-3 last night after coming in for Heyward), it seemed like the Cardinals were going to wind up running through anyone that could play outfield in the organization, though we’re still not sure that’d get Bourjos regular playing time. The hope is that it’s not a serious issue and that the Cardinals and Heyward were playing it safe, but until they run tests today, we have no idea. Reading the article, it sounds like they just knew they couldn’t afford to lose Heyward for any amount of time and wanted to get him out of there before he did any lasting damage. That’s the hope, at least.
Grichuk’s issue is more serious, to the point where he won’t be back on the field until after rosters expand. He’s got a strain and a sprain, which makes sense. I mean, Grichuk’s made the most of his playing time, why not make the most of his injuries? And, of course, this is a bit of a strange injury for an outfielder. The Cardinals specialize in strange injuries–see Kyle Lohse, Jaime Garcia, Chris Carpenter–and nothing can ever be normal for this team. Hopefully the thought of John Mozeliak that Grichuk will be back by mid-September is accurate and he’ll have time to get back into a rhythm before the playoffs. It would be even tougher for this offense to generate October runs without him in the lineup.
Mike Leake was supposed to go tonight for the Giants, but he’s continuing to deal with his injury and has been pushed back again, much to the consternation of some of the folks over at our friendly neighborhood Giants blog. It’s got to be frustrating when you make a deadline deal for a guy and then he’s hurt too much to really contribute. He’s pitched one game for them since the trade on July 30, which really wasn’t what San Francisco had in mind. So instead of Leake, whom the Cardinals have had trouble with even this year when he was with the Reds, they’ll face Ryan Vogelsong. Vogelsong is 8-8 with a 4.15 ERA but did well against St. Louis last year. His last regular season start against them saw him allow two runs in seven innings, though his start in May in Busch was a little rougher (four runs, 6.2 innings). The Cardinals got to him in the postseason, though, tagging him for four runs in three innings.
Lance Lynn tries to get the taste of failure out of his mouth, making his first start since not finishing the first inning against the Pirates. You have to figure Lynn’s going to be pretty focused tonight and, when he’s on his game, Lynn is very tough to beat. Unfortunately, the lasting image I have of Lynn against the Giants is him actually hitting second base with a throw in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS. That’s tough to shake, you know? Even though he gave up just two runs in 5.2 innings in his 2014 NLDS start against them, that’s what I remember. (Though his only start against them in the 2014 regular season wasn’t encouraging either–seven runs, though only four earned, in 3.1 innings.) Let’s hope the past stays the past and Lynn can keep the Giants off the bases tonight.
It may be in the 80s at game time (and a summer shower may be around) but the baseball’s likely going to make us feel like October yet again!