The Gutpunch

It’s just one game.  It’s just one game.  There are 67 left.  There are 67 left.

I’m trying to use that mantra not to get too much “sky is falling” after last night, but it’s really not helping.  Even after sleeping on this one, it still feels like the season turned in a bad way there.

It’s just one game.  It’s just one game.  There are 67 left.  There are 67 left.

As Director Krennic said in Rogue One, “We were on the verge of greatness.  We were this close.”  While maybe not greatness, going into the ninth with a 6-1 lead it looked like the Cardinals:

  • Were going to move over .500 for the first time since facing Atlanta last month.
  • Were going to win their fourth game in a row, their seventh in their last ten games, which would actually make them one of the hotter teams in baseball.
  • Combined with Milwaukee’s surprising loss earlier in the day, were going to move to 7 1/2 games out in the division, stay one game out of second, and with the Padres losing at the moment, move to six out in the wild card.
  • Were going to guarantee a split against the Cubs, pushing them three games under .500, and look at a very good chance of winning the series by taking one of the next two.
  • Were going to get Johan Oviedo his first major league win.

All of that was undone with remarkable efficiency before two outs were gotten in the ninth.

Make no mistake, this was a team effort.  The defense crumbled, the pitching buckled, the manager erred.  It was a complete meltdown the likes of which we’ve not seen much this year, especially when so much was riding on the game.

Our Goat goes to Yadier Molina, because it all started with a strike three that got away from him.  A lot of times, that’s on the pitcher, but even though this was credited as a wild pitch, it was pretty clearly Molina’s fault.  There was minimal effort to catch a ball that wasn’t that far out of the zone.  This wasn’t like a pitch that went over his head.  If he shifts a little bit, that ball stays in front of him and he throws out Patrick Wisdom at first.

Reputation helps him out, I imagine, because he has only four passed balls this year to go along with 41 wild pitches.  Which might be a typical distribution–J.T. Realmuto has two passed balls and 15 wild pitches, Salvador Perez has one passed ball and 44 wild pitches.  Blame is usually going to go to the pitcher, but this isn’t the first time this season Molina’s–I don’t want to say lack of effort, but his inability to move like he used to at least–has cost the team even if it didn’t show up in the box score.

Then Paul DeJong throws away a ball.  Watching this play, I’m not 100% sure DeJong gets him anyway.  It looks like with a straighter throw to Paul Goldschmidt he might have gotten Nico Hoerner by half a step.  Still, with a passed ball–sorry, wild pitch–and an infield hit that might have been avoided, you could feel the wheels wobbling.

Luis Garcia then walked a man to load the bases.  Now look, I have no problem with bringing in Garcia with a five run lead.  Mike Shildt seemed to have taken umbrage with a straw man last night in his press conference, because he seemed to think that people were livid about not using Giovanny Gallegos or Alex Reyes to start the ninth.  I don’t think anyone expected him to do that.  Honestly, I was afraid he’d pitch Reyes to start the ninth in a game he didn’t need to be in.  I was all for Reyes getting rest.  He’s absolutely right, you can’t throw the same guys every day.  We’ve seen that already this year.

However, I have two issues with how Shildt managed the ninth.  The first is I wouldn’t have brought Reyes into that situation.  Do you know when the last time Alex Reyes inherited a runner was?  May 8th in Colorado.  He’s come into the game, before last night, with a total of seven men on base in his 40 appearances.  Of those seven, three scored.  With Reyes’s known command issues, why do you bring him into a bases loaded, nobody out situation, even with a cushion?  I messaged my Musial cohost Allen Medlock when Reyes came in and asked, “Which batter does he walk to force in a run?”  I didn’t quite expect that to be a multiple answer question, however.

So I’d have brought in Giovanny Gallegos into that situation.  Heck, either last year or the year before (I think it was 2019, but I’m not completely certain) it seemed like Gallegos was the bases loaded specialist.  Shildt kept bringing him into those kind of situations because he was effective and successful.  Gallegos was much less likely to give away free runs via walks as well.  So that’s the first quibble I have.

The second is that he stayed with Reyes way too long.  It seemed clear he kept waiting for the double play, especially after Reyes had struck out a batter, and that wasn’t coming.  Reyes threw 30 pitches last night but Gallegos didn’t get up until it was a one-run game.  He should have been ready to come in by then because it was pretty clear Reyes wasn’t quite on his game.

Of course, ideally you start someone like Ryan Helsley in the ninth (or have them available when things go south) but much of the bullpen was already used because Shildt pulled our Hero, Johan Oviedo, when he allowed a leadoff single in the sixth.  At that time, the Cards had a 4-1 lead, so he wasn’t facing the tying run yet.  You were facing the 4-5-6 hitters next, of course, but Kris Bryant had been taken out of the game so you were looking at Ian Happ, Jason Heyward, and Patrick Wisdom.  Oviedo is weaker against lefties, so bringing in Cabrera there makes sense, but it’s not like they just destroy him.  He’d been handling the lefties in the lineup all night.  As I thought, Shildt said in the press conference after the game that it was about protecting Oviedo, getting him out with a good experience, not letting him lose the lead, etc.  Protecting Oviedo is kinda rich given that he should be pitching at AAA and learning his craft instead of being constantly in the big leagues, but I understand where he’s going.  It’s not a terrible call, not like Reyes in the ninth, but it’s one I might have done differently.

That ninth inning overshadowed a lot of good offensive news as well.  Dylan Carlson looks like he might be getting out of his slump, having some good at bats.  I honestly thought he had more than one hit last night, but that one hit did drive in a run.  Nolan Arenado homered in his first at bat, causing everyone to rave about how a day off helps, but that was all that he did.  I’m not sure the slump is busted, though it was nice to see that long ball.  Tommy Edman also went deep, which was a surprise to be sure but a pleasant one.  Big kudos to Jose Rondon, who hit his first homer of the year pinch-hitting in the sixth, putting the Cards up 6-1, a lead that really, really looked safe.

What happens when you slam into a brick wall?  Do you get back up and try to go over it or do you lay on the ground bleeding?  With Kyle Hendricks gong today, even against Adam Wainwright, we may have to call for the medics.  Hopefully this team shows more resilience and surprises us, but it really feels like last night might have been a turning point and not in a good way.

It’s just one game.  It’s just one game.  There are 67 left.  There are 67 left.

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Brewers6243.590 -
Reds5550.5247.0
Cardinals5252.5009.5
Cubs5155.48111.5
Pirates4064.38521.5

Last updated: 08/01/2021

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