Again finding myself at a loss for what to write about (and having not heard any more about the proposal the owners were to send to the players), I put out a call for some ideas. A few obliged, including a fellow writer.
Best single-game pitching performance of the season. (That’s what I was going to do Thursday but doing a movie review instead.)
Never let it be said that I am too proud to take Viva El Birdos’s leftovers! Unfortunately, without having a Play Index subscription (something that I should really rectify), there wasn’t a super-easy-but-still-precise way of narrowing down the actual best (or worst) of the season. So I sorted the games by number of runs allowed and eyeballed it. Here are my selections for the five top performances from Cardinal pitchers in 2019:
5) July 15 vs. Pittsburgh: Miles Mikolas threw the only shutout of the season, going the distance against the Buccos. Mikolas allowed eight hits but no walks while striking out three. He didn’t allow a baserunner until there was one out in the fourth and by that time the Cards had three runs for him. The closest he got to allowing a run was probably in the fifth, when two-out singles by Corey Dickerson and Kevin Newman, followed by a balk, put runners on second and third. Mikolas got Jacob Stallings to ground out and the Cards immediately put up two more runs on their way to a 7-0 win.
4) September 13 vs. Milwaukee: A strong combination of work from Adam Wainwright and the bullpen, though the five walks bring it down a bit. Wainwright went six innings, allowing just two hits and three walks while striking out seven, and Ryan Helsley, Dominic Leone (hey, remember him?), and Genesis Cabrera locked it down. Helsley had a perfect seventh, while Leone and Cabrera both walked a batter in their inning of work. One of Wainwright’s hits came to leadoff the game, the other in the second inning. After that, Wainwright was rolling. Paul Goldschmidt‘s grand slam in the third was all that was needed, but the Cards kept going and won 10-0.
3) July 7 at San Francisco: The only one on this list that saw the Cards give up a run, but Jack Flaherty was so amazing in this that you couldn’t leave it off. Flaherty carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning when, with one out, Evan Longoria touched him for a home run. Flaherty allowed another hit in the frame but finished with seven innings of one-run ball. John Gant took the eighth and faced the minimum (thanks to a double play). The Cards lost this one 1-0 but it was the beginning of a remarkable run by the new Cardinal ace.
2) August 1 vs. Chicago: You could probably select any game Flaherty threw in the second half for this list. A sub-1 ERA for that span will do that. We’ll go with this one, especially since it was against the storied rivals. Flaherty gave up one hit, a two-out single in the sixth to Nicholas Castellanos. Flaherty went seven, giving up that hit and just two walks while striking out nine. He had to be sharp because the Cards scored one in the second, then another one in the fourth, before the floodgates opened and they scored four in the sixth thanks in large part to Matt Wieters‘s home run off of Derek Holland. Cards took this one 8-0 as Tyler Webb and Mike Mayers combined for two hitless innings in relief, with Webb striking out two.
1) August 19 vs. Milwaukee: While Flaherty continued to flirt with no-hitters, Dakota Hudson was the only Cardinal pitcher to leave a game with one still intact in 2019. Over 6.2 innings, he kept the Brewer bats from striking a ball where the fielders weren’t. Unfortunately, as often happens with Hudson, the pitch count grew–he walked four batters and left the game after throwing 111 pitches. Giovanny Gallegos came in after Hudson had walked Eric Thames with two out in the seventh and retired Ben Gamel, but Orlando Arcia reached on an error by Paul DeJong to start the eighth. Gallegos looked to get out of it with two fly balls, but the extra batter came back to bite as Yasmani Grandal doubled to break up the no-hitter. Andrew Miller came in and intentionally passed Christian Yelich to load the bases, then retired Mike Moustakas on a groundout. Miller got the Brewers in order in the ninth to preserve the 2-0 win.
So that’s the good. Let’s look at the bad and the ugly. The Cardinals gave up double-digits nine times in 2019. They actually won one of those (a 12-11 win in Great American Ball Park) so let’s look at some of the others.
13 runs (May 5 at Chicago, June 29 at San Diego): Giving up 13 in Wrigley Field is somewhat understandable, given how that ballpark would play. That result is also skewed a little bit as most of the damage happened late. It was 7-2 going into the bottom of the eighth–still not good, but Wainwright had given up six runs in five innings. Then the roof caved in–six runs scored in the eighth as Dominic Leone couldn’t finish things off after getting two outs after a Javier Baez leadoff double. A double, a double, a walk, a walk, and a Kris Bryant grand slam took care of this one, all off of Leone.
Thirteen runs in the pitcher’s park in San Diego is a different story. This one got out of hand early as Hudson couldn’t get out of the second inning. He started the frame by hitting Francisco Mejia, walked Josh Taylor, then made an error on Manuel Margot‘s tapper in front of the mound. He got Chris Paddock to hit into an RBI groundout and struck out former Cardinal Greg Garcia, but then gave up two singles and back-to-back homers to Manny Machado and Franmil Reyes. It was 7-0 at that point and it was basically all over but the shouting. Daniel Ponce de Leon absorbed a lot of the shock, allowing four runs over 5.1 innings, and Leone allowed a run in his inning of work as well.
12 runs (April 26 vs Cincinnati): The worst outing at Busch Stadium last season. Again it was a bullpen issue, with again six runs coming in one late inning. This time it was the top of the ninth, when Leone–folks, there’s a REAL good reason why he was designated for assignment after the season–came into a 6-1 game and just lit the place on fire. “Highlights” included a home run by Jose Peraza and RBI knocks by Yasiel Puig, Jose Iglesias, and world-beater Curt Casali. But this did mean that Jedd Gyorko got to pitch, striking out the only man he faced (Phil Ervin) so it’s not a total loss.
11 runs (May 7 vs. Philadelphia, May 29 at Philadelphia): The game in St. Louis saw the Phillies jump on Hudson for six runs in the second inning in route to an 11-1 win. Hudson’s line didn’t wind up looking as bad because all of the runs scored after a Kolten Wong error, but the big blow in the frame was a Bryce Harper homer. Hudson stuck around and gave up a couple more runs in the fifth before Tyler Webb allowed Luke Gregerson‘s runners to come across in a two-run seventh. The final tally came from Rhys Hoskins hitting a home run off of….oh, you guessed it, Dominic Leone.
The game in Philly was a more steady onslaught. Genesis Cabrera made his starting debut and went 3.2 innings, but while he showed flashes of promise, he also gave up a two-run single in the first to Cesar Hernandez and a two-run homer to Harper in the third. Harper also doubled off of Michael Wacha, who had relieved Cabrera with a runner on, in the fourth plating two. Wacha wasn’t done with helping the Phillies’ cause, though, as in the fifth Scott Kingery, Maikel Franco, and Andrew McCutchen all went deep off of the Cardinal pitcher, pushing the game to 11-1. The Cards got some runs late but fell 11-4.
10 runs (April 15 at Milwaukee, May 12 vs. Pittsburgh, May 16 at Atlanta): A story of two months. The Milwaukee game was a blip on the radar while the Cards were roaring to a 20-10 start. The games in May were indicative of a team in free fall (and came at a time when three runs would be enough to beat the Cards, much less 10). The game against the Brewers was competitive, even though Hudson (man, remember when he started off so bad we were sure he was about to go to Memphis?) allowed six runs in the second, capped by a Yelich three-run homer. The Cardinals tied it at 6 in the sixth with RBI from Paul Goldschmidt and Marcel Ozuna, but Yelich hit another three-run bomb in the bottom of that frame off of Mayers to take the lead back. He hit his third homer, a solo shot, off of John Brebbia in the eighth. Yelich, man.
The Pittsburgh game was another Hudson start, though it wasn’t all his fault. The Pirates scored three in the top of the first on a Josh Bell two-RBI double and a Kevin Newman groundout, but the Cards posted four in the bottom of the frame on a Goldschmidt homer, a wild pitch, and a Gyorko single. Jose Martinez ran the lead to 6-3 with a homer in the second and it stayed that way until the seventh. Webb faced two batters, walking one and hitting one, and Brebbia relieved him but promptly gave up a homer to Bell that tied the game. Later in the frame, Adam Frazier doubled in two to make it 8-6 Pittsburgh. Colin Moran capped the scoring in the eighth with a two-run double off of Gallegos.
Finally, we’d rather think of another game that 10 runs played a part in an Atlanta contest, but this one wasn’t as much fun. Wainwright went back to his old stomping grounds and allowed five runs in four innings, capped by a RBI single from his opposing number in Julio Teheran. Cards got a run in the sixth, but Webb allowed a one-out walk in the seventh and was replaced by Gregerson, who allowed singles to four of the six men he faced, with Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson, and Nick Markakis driving in runs. Ronald Acuna Jr. singled in a run in the seventh and Freeman matched Matt Carpenter‘s homer in the top of the eighth with one in the bottom, giving the Braves a 10-2 win.
What kind of performances will we see in 2020, if any? We continue to wait to see…….