Be honest with me…and I mean more honest than the 37% of you who voted over the weekend that the Infield Fly Rule Call was a good call: When the Cardinals were up 2-1 going into the 8th inning, did you have that old, familiar regular season feeling rumbling in your stomach?
The one that isn’t necessarily a kick to the balls…but rather the feeling you’d get a split second before you get kicked in the balls. Ladies, I don’t know what to equate it to. I would say the split second before you get kicked in the shrubs, but with the prevalence of shaving these days, that doesn’t seem right.
Honestly, you knew it was coming.
I turned to my wife and said, “They’re going to lose this game.”
That’s not because I’m some kind of soothsayer. It’s because I’ve seen it before. You’ve seen it before.
A bunch of opportunities pissed away + late inning odd managerial moves + bullpen gives up the lead = heartbreaking loss
That’s the 2012 Cardinals.
They also, however, can grind it out and pull off a blowout victory or stunning comeback.
Yesterday, unfortunately, felt like the inevitable kick to the balls.
And, man, were we kicked square in the balls…or shrubs.
Here are some not-so-fun facts from yesterday:
The Cardinals became the first team in the history of the playoffs to get seven walks from the opposing starter in five innings or less and lose.
In what could be a record all by itself---but mathematically has to be no worse than a tie for a record---the Cardinals failed to score with the bases loaded and no one out…in two pitches.
And, in explaining his reasoning for not wanting to bring in Jason Motte in the bottom of the 8th with two outs…but instead going with Marc Rzepczynski and pulling Mitchell Boggs, Mike Matheny said he didn’t have anyone to double switch out as the pitcher’s spot was coming up in the bottom of the inning…at least it was due up fourth in the inning, and all of the guy’s Matheny would double switch out for were coming up in the bottom of the eighth. In other words, if he brought in Motte, Motte would’ve had to hit for himself…or he would’ve had to go to someone else to close the game out. I’m relaying what he said…not saying I agree with it. Just relaying what he said.
Now, I would argue that Sunday was similar to Friday night…except the roles were reversed. The Cardinals were the Braves this time. Friday night, while the botched Infield Fly Rule Call most definitely impacted the game, the bigger issue for the Braves was their inability to throw the baseball to bases properly and capitalize on numerous opportunities at the plate. Sunday afternoon, Matheny’s mishandling of the bottom of the eight definitely impacted the game, but the bigger issues were Cardinals failing to capitalize on seven walks by a Cy Young candidate…and even worse…the bases loaded/nobody out catastrophe in the bottom of the 7th.
The Cardinals were 0-for-eight with runners in scoring position.
That game never should’ve been put in the hands of Mike Matheny/Marc Rzepczynski.
But, since it was…and since, similar to Braves’ fans who feel like they’re the new version of the Red Sox after Friday night, Cardinal fans are fuming over the fact that their team lost a game with two outs in the eighth with the shaky Scrabble on the mound…let’s discuss it:
I’ll start with these two quotes:
From Peter Gammons via Twitter: “One club advance scouting the Cardinals had this report, ‘Try to get Matheny to try to go to his lefty in the pen.’ Don’t play Scrabble with Davey.”
And, from the aforementioned Davey Johnson in the postgame press conference, “I actually did not think Mike was going to take out Boggs.”
For my money…the root of the issue is Matheny taking out Mitchell Boggs in the first place.
I don’t understand it.
And, while I will say over and over again that the Cardinals lost this game more because of what took place before the 8th inning than what happened in it (just like I’d say to Braves’ fans), what took place in the 8th inning was indefensible (just like I’d say to Braves’ fans again).
As Al Hrabosky made mention of on the Fox Sports Midwest Postgame Show, Rzepczynski had been the odd man out in September. Suddenly, with a playoff game on the line, he’s brought in with your go-to 8th inning pitcher out there. And, it’s not like Boggs had been getting crushed. He was the victim of Pete Kozma’s error (not an easy play…but an error nonetheless) and a bloop single. He had just struck out the (somehow) hot-as-of-late Kurt Suzuki for the second out. Left-handed hitting Chad Tracy was due up.
This is the same Chad Tracy who had a grand total of five hits over the last month. Tracy was hitting .228 since September 7th.
And it’s not like left-handers were crushing Boggs this year. As a matter of fact, they were hitting .241 against Boggs.
Why mess with it?
Why get beat with the guy who you didn’t feel safe enough to go to during September…as Sam Freeman was getting the ball in lefty-specialist spots…but then go with Rzepczynski in this situation?
Some may point out that Matheny went to Rzepczynski Friday night in Atlanta…and he got the job done. He did indeed…but he did so in the 7th…with Mujica laboring. He didn’t have Boggs in at that time. He did Sunday…and he yanked him.
Many have asked why Matheny didn’t go to Motte there?
Let’s address two things:
First, once Rzepczynski is brought in, and the new pinch hitter is announced, Matheny, by the rules of the game, can’t go out there and yank Rzepczynski. He has to face one hitter. If it were allowed for a manager to go back and forth with pitcher switched out for pitcher once a new pinch hitter were announced, I believe Tony La Russa would still be managing the 2005 season as we speak.
Second, Matheny was asked about skipping the Rzepczynski option and going straight to Motte there…right from Boggs to his closer to get a four-out save. We’ve seen Motte do that a number of times this year…and as recently as Friday night.
He didn’t have anybody to double-switch out of the game, and the pitcher’s spot was due up in the bottom of the 8th.
Well, it kind of was. The pitcher was due up fourth.
Scheduled to hit in the bottom of the 8th were Freese, Descalso, and Kozma. If anybody got on you’d have the pitcher’s spot.
Matheny’s premise was that if he were to bring in Motte, he’d have to double-switch him with Beltran, Holliday, Craig, or Molina. He wasn’t going to do that…so he went with Rzepczynski.
Now, you may disagree with that until the day you die…but that is how he explained it in his postgame press conference.
And, that brings us back to the Peter Gammons’ tweet and the Davey Johnson quote.
Gammons said the book was out on Matheny that you got to try to get him in a spot where he tries to work in his lefty…and Davey Johnson was surprised Matheny did go to his lefty.
And, that’s where I am.
Considering the situation, I understand not wanting to bring in Motte…unless you were absolutely dead set against Boggs pitching to another hitter. If that’s the case, then Motte’s got to be the guy…bottom of the 8th be damned.
So, if Motte is not an option in Matheny’s mind, it comes down to who’s a better option in that spot: Boggs vs. Tracy…or Rzepczynski vs. a right-handed hitter, because there was no way Davey Johnson was leaving in Tracy to face Rzepczynski.
And, that brings us back on our circle of fun again.
If that is indeed the case---and we saw that it was---why pull Boggs?
Why pull Boggs…when he’d been your 8th inning guy ever since the law firm of Mujica, Boggs, and Motte opened up after the trade deadline?
Why pull Boggs…when he’d faced four hitters, and allowed one hit while striking out one?
Why pull Boggs…when you’re only option to replace him is Rzepczynski…who’s then going to be facing a right-handed hitter anyway?
And, why pull Boggs with Game 1 of the NLDS on the line for Rzepczynski…when, as noted above by both me and Al Hrabosky on the Fox Sports Midwest Postgame Show, Rzepczynski was the odd man out in September?
So, in analyzing the hand---I’m going poker here…but it’ll make sense---you have three possibilities to explain the decision, which again wasn’t Motte vs. Boggs (because Matheny made it clear that, whether you agree with him or not, he wasn’t considering Motte there):
First, you always have to consider the possibility of a bluff. In other words, when analyzing a hand and what decision you’re going to make, you always have to allocate a percentage of probability for the possibility your opponent is bluffing and has “complete air” (meaning he’s got nothing). In this case, “complete air” means there’s something we don’t know about Boggs’ health or Matheny’s reasoning. Boggs wasn’t great in Atlanta Friday night, but considering Matheny has gone to him in back-to-back games in his usual eighth inning spot, the possibility of health being an issue is reduced. If somehow we’re looking at a “secret” reason for the decision, I’d go back to wanting to get beat with your best guys…no matter what the batting order situation in the bottom of the inning is…and bring Motte out there. But, I don’t think there was an issue with Boggs.
Second, you have to consider the possibility that Matheny liked Rzepczynski over Boggs in that spot. I know that seems hard to believe, but as shaky as the lefty had been throughout the regular season, he hadn’t given up an earned run in his last nine outings. He had only allowed a total of three hits in his final nine outings of the regular season. So, for as bad as he was during the majority of the first five months, he had been pitching better as of late. Boggs gave up 11 hits and four walks in 11.2 IP in September. It’s not like he’s been lights out lately…but he still had been Matheny’s eighth inning go-to guy despite an ERA close to four in September. Perhaps Matheny (and/or Derek Lilliquist) felt like the Boggs’ trend as of late (see Friday night in Atlanta as well) was too risky for the Tracy AB. I want to reiterate I’m not taking this position. I’m just trying to figure out what Matheny was thinking and listing the possibilities.
Finally, you have to consider the possibility that Matheny thought Johnson would keep Tracy in there as the pinch hitter even if he brought in Rzepczynski…and therefore wanted the lefty on lefty match-up. If that is the case, that is the most disturbing of the three possibilities. Why? Because that, at least in my opinion, illustrates a real rookie managerial mistake. That’s an obvious spot where Johnson is going to go to a right-handed hitter. Tracy received all of nine AB’s against a lefty this entire season. Nine. Furthermore, we’re not talking about bringing Kirk Gibson off the bench here. It’s Chad Tracy. He may be the Nationals’ pinch hitting specialist, but he’s not someone you have to stay up at night worrying about.
So, considering the circumstances…what would I have done?
I leave Boggs in there.
If you’re dead set on yanking him---for whatever reason that may be---then I bring Motte in…not Rzepczynski.
If you’re going to get beat, get beat with your best guys.
Rzepczynski has not been one of your best guys this year.
Quite honestly, I was stunned when I saw the camera pan to the bullpen and Rzepczynski coming out.
But, that wasn’t the first time the Cardinals played with fire. They did it all game long, and just like many of us knew when we had that “here comes the kick to the balls” feeling, inevitably, they were going to get burned.
The bottom of the 7th with the bases loaded and no one out is the glaring missed opportunity.
But, what about earlier?
The Cardinals received four walks in the bottom of the 2nd before Gio Gonzalez got the second out of the inning. They were only able to score two runs.
With Gonzalez in big trouble after losing control in the second inning, how did the Cardinals’ hitters approach their at-bats in the third?
Especially considering Gonzalez had to face the heart of the order.
Leading off…Matt Holliday.
He swings at the first three pitches of the at-bat. All three were out of the strike zone. He grounds out to third.
Next up…Allen Craig.
Craig chases ball two on a 1-1 pitch…and then he strikes out on a ball in the dirt.
And, finally…Yadier Molina.
Gonzalez reverts to second inning form by falling behind 3-0.
Molina swings at the 3-0 pitch and pops out.
1, 2, 3 inning.
The Cardinals did Gonzalez some big favors in that inning.
They got a lead-off hit in the fourth…but they failed to do anything with it as Kozma grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. That led to Adam Wainwright leading off the fifth. And, that proved important, because Wainwright K’d…and then the Cardinals got it going again as Gonzalez lost it again.
But, instead of two on and no one out…with Wainwright’s K, it’s two on and one out.
Craig pops out.
End of threat.
They had two on and two out in the 6th as well. But, Skip Schumaker K’d.
And, you know all about the magic that was the 7th inning.
But, there was the 8th as well. Freese reaches on an error to lead things off. Matheny yanks him for Chambers You’re My Boy. Sac bunt moves him to 2nd. But, the Cardinals do nothing with it as Kozma pops out to first…and pinch hitter Matt Carpenter is called out on a ball that was well out of the strike zone.
Ladies and gentlemen, those are a number of great chances.
Those are also a number of really bad at-bats.
I can’t criticize results, because 70% of the time, a guy is going to make an out. But, considering that Gonzalez was so vulnerable early, the third inning really stands out to me as the second-most depressing Cardinal offensive inning. Just bad approaches from three of the team’s best hitters.
So, yeah…I can see why many are upset with the way Mike Matheny handled the bullpen yesterday. I disagree with it as well.
But, that game was there for the taking. That game was there to not just be won…but to be a blow out.
And, that’s on the Cardinal players.
As far as the series goes---as far as this whole postseason goes---I still like the Cardinals’ chances. If the Nationals had Stephen Strasburg, I would not have that opinion. But, they don’t, and the next three match-ups favor the Cardinals.
Jaime Garcia scares the shit out of me. He’s mentally shaky. But, at home, for the most part, he’s pretty damn good…if not great. However, it’s not like he was incredible at home in the postseason last year, and I think it’s important to note that…because that goes back to that “mentally shaky” thing and whether or not that home magic of the regular season really does carry over to the playoffs.
He’s going up against Jordan Zimmerman. Great stat on Zimmerman from Fox Sports Midwest. Of starting pitchers with five or more starts against the Cardinals, Zimmerman has the third-worst ERA against the team in the history of the franchise. He has a 9.12 ERA against the Cardinals.
The numbers favor the Cardinals today…but then again, the numbers were in their favor yesterday.
Wednesday in Washington, it’s Chris Carpenter vs. Edwin Jackson.
Carpenter has the playoff history and the mental ability, but it’s not like he’s been October 2011 Carpenter in his return just yet. That’s not to say he can’t do it, but just because his name is on the back of the jersey doesn’t mean he’s going to deliver in the playoffs like we’ve seen in the past. Jackson, however, has struggled as of late. He had a good final start last week, but he had a 7.92 ERA in September…with his worst start of the month coming against the Cardinals.
If the Cardinals get it to Game 4, Kyle Lohse goes back to the mound against St. Louisan Ross Detwiler. While Detwiler got rocked in his first hometown start last week, overall he has been pretty good with a 3.40 ERA on the year. However, he has struggled over his last two starts…and he hasn’t been nearly as good as Lohse.
If it goes to a Game 5, it’s Wainwright against Gonzalez again.
The point being: this thing is up for grabs.
This whole National League is up for grabs.
The Cardinals fell behind the Phillies last year and had Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and Roy Halladay standing between them and advancing to the NLCS.
But, when they lost Game 1, they lost it on the road with two more at home.
After today, it’s on to Washington…and there’s no coming back…until Game 3 of the NLCS.
The 2011 Phillies, in my opinion, were a better team than the 2012 Nationals.
The question now is: Are these Cardinals better than last year’s?
And, remember…it’s not just about who’s not around on the field. It’s also about who’s not around in the dugout.
Although after yesterday, it’s quite clear Cardinal fans are aware of that.
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