With one out in the sixth inning last night, Cardinal rookie pitcher John Brebbia faced off against veteran Dodger first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Eight pitches later, Gonzalez lined out to left. That was the Dodger’s longest at bat of the night. On a night of long at bats that would ring out the Cardinal starter after three fairly brutal innings, the Dodgers would go on to exact 133 more pitches out of the Cardinal bullpen. But there were no monster 12- or 13-pitch at bats. Just a whole bunch of six- and seven-pitch at bats that added up and did their damage leading the Dodgers to a 9-4 slap-down of the Cardinals last night (box score).
Over the course of the evening, only 1 of the 47 Dodgers that came to the plate hit the first pitch. Meanwhile 10 plate appearances lasted five pitches, 8 more went to six pitches, and 5 more ground through 7 pitches – in addition to Gonzalez’ 8-pitch at bat. For the season, only 37.7% of the plate appearances against the Cardinals last more than four pitches. Last night, 51.1% of the plate appearances exceeded that number.
It was all too much for starter Michael Wacha and entirely too much for the scuffling bullpen.
In five innings last night, the Dodger bullpen permitted the Cardinals 1 run on 4 hits. As per usual, the Cardinal bullpen – overexposed a bit by Wacha’s early exit – saw the game slip out of hand when they surrendered 5 runs in 6 innings on 6 hits and 5 walks.
With the loss, St Louis has lost 10 of its last 13. The bullpen ERA in those games is now 7.07 with a .296 batting average against. Not helpful. With one game left in May, the Cardinal bullpen holds a 4.20 ERA in 83.2 innings this month.
On Wednesday, April 19, Michael Wacha tossed 6.2 sparkling innings at the Pittsburgh Pirates. He allowed 1 run on 4 hits in the third consecutive 2-1 game St Louis would win in that series (box score). This would be the beginning of a streak of 4 quality starts in 5 games for Wacha. It would also be the only one of those quality starts that he would win – and, if fact, he hasn’t won since.
During those five starts, Michael maintained an ERA of 2.64 and looked very much like he could be the dominant Michael Wacha from earlier in his career. The Dodgers have put something of a dent in that narrative. Staked twice to early 3-0 leads against Los Angeles, the Dodgers drove him from the mound before he could reach 5 innings in both of his last two starts, and have administered two straight losses. Wacha has surrendered more runs in the 7 innings of those starts combined (10) than he allowed in the 30.2 innings combined of his previous 5 starts (9).
He finished May with only 2 quality starts in his 5 games, an 0-2 record, and a 5.40 ERA in 25 innings. He allowed a .301 batting average against this month.
The really instructive thing about the long Dodger at bats against Wacha was that they really didn’t win most of those at bats. They just had them. Of the 17 batters that Wacha faced last night, three pushed the at bat to 7 pitches, and four others cost Wacha 6 pitches. That’s 46 of his 77 pitches (about 60%) in 7 plate appearances against him.
Only one of those seven actually got a hit off Wacha (Yasmani Grandal bounced a third-inning single up the middle on a 3-2 count), and three of the seven struck out. But two others also drew walks and all three of the runners who reached after their long at bats, scored off a fatigued Wacha in that game-changing third inning.
After Logan Forsythe worked a six-pitch walk, Wacha needed seven pitches to strike out Cody Bellinger. Then came Grandal’s six-pitch single. Michael is now up to 19 pitches for the inning, and 60 for the game. Adrian Gonzalez’ sacrifice fly came on the first pitch to him, but then Chris Taylor nursed a seven-pitch walk, putting two on with two out on pitch number 27 of the inning.
It was still a 3-1 Cardinal lead at this point. But Wacha was significantly worn down, and the remaining mistakes would come more quickly. Chase Utley would cap a four-pitch at bat with a ground-rule double, and Enrique Hernandez would only need two pitches to produce the ground ball to second that ended in an infield hit, a throwing error, and two runs that gave the Dodgers the lead they would never relinquish.
Over his eight previous starts, less than 23% of the batters who faced Wacha managed to last past five pitches. Last night more than 40 percent did.
The grinding more-or-less continued against Tyler Lyons, who needed 38 pitches to navigate past 9 batters. Five of the nine batters cost Tyler at least 5 pitches. Unlike Wacha, Lyons lost most of his long at bats. The five went 2 for 3 with 2 walks and 2 runs scored.
Of note, the four batters who didn’t last five pitches against Tyler were 0 for 3 with a hit batsman. So far this year, Tyler has dispensed with 19 of the 31 batters he has faced in less than five pitches. Those batters have managed one infield hit in 16 at bats (with 2 HBP and one sacrifice fly).
Not Much Support From the Bats
Yes, St Louis did put three quick runs on the board. Over the last eight innings they once again achieved next to nothing. Finishing with 8 hits for the game, St Louis is now hitting .232 over their last 13 games.
Last night, the Cards were 1 for 8 when hitting the first or second pitch of the at bat. In the 12 games prior to that they were 41 for 133 (.308). When Eric Fryer hit into a first-pitch double play in the eighth inning, it was the thirteenth first-pitch double play from Cardinal batsmen already this season.
The recent trip to Colorado may have re-awakened Dexter Fowler’s bat. Dexter had two more hits last night, and has now hit in 4 of the 5 games since the Cards opened that series against the Rockies. Dexter is 8 of his last 21 (.381) in those games.
Coming into the game, Dexter only had 5 hits all season in at bats that stretched beyond three pitches. He got two last night alone: He led off the first inning with a single on Kenta Maeda’s fourth pitch of the game; and later singled in the seventh after a seven-pitch at bat against Adam Liberatore.
After seeing his 16-game hitting streak evaporate on Monday afternoon, Yadi began a new one last night with two hits (including a home run) and 3 runs batted in. Although he has hit safely in 17 of his last 18 games, he’s only done so with a .273 batting average (21 for 77). However, he has also done so with a surprising .481 slugging percentage (the hits include 4 doubles and 4 home runs). Yadi already has 5 home runs and 22 runs batted in this season. His totals for last year were 8 and 58. He has 7 RBIs in his last 6 games.
As opposed to pretty much everyone else last night, Yadi’s not really one for grinding at bats. In his torrid second half of 2016, 20.5% of Yadi’s at bats lasted one pitch, and 83.4% were over after 5 pitches. From last year’s All Star break to the end of the season, if Yadi found something to hit in the first four pitches, he slashed .392/.407/.568.
Last night, Yadi was 2 for 3 when his at bat lasted 4 pitches or less. For the month of May, Yadi is a .306 hitter (19 for 62) when he is done after four pitches or less.
The Dodgers have scored more runs in the first two games of this series (14) than they did in all three games combined in Dodger Stadium (10) – even though one of those games went 13 innings.
St Louis has now lost the first game of six consecutive series.
Dexter Fowler – in nine previous seasons – has never grounded into more than 6 doubles plays. He did that twice (2011 & 2014). Last night’s double play was the fifth he has grounded into already this year.