Throughout the first two games of the Championship Series, I have been unable to stop thinking about Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried. Folty and Fried, of course, are the two Atlanta pitchers who pitched in the first inning of the last game of the Division Series. What must be going through their minds as they’ve watched the Washington Nationals snuff out the offense that routed them on Wednesday afternoon?
Folty and Fried allowed the Cards 10 runs in that one inning. In 18 innings at home against Washington, that same Cardinal lineup has scored 1 run. St Louis collected 5 hits (3 of them doubles) and 4 walks from the 14 batters that came to the plate in just that one inning in Atlanta. Sixty-two Cardinal batters have come and gone in the first two games of this series. They have a total of 4 hits (1 double) and 3 walks – a team-wide batting line of .070/.145/.088.
If nothing else, St Louis is getting proficient at tipping their caps.
If you have been watching, you will know that first Anibal Sanchez (in Game One) and then Max Scherzer (in Game Two) took no-hitters into the seventh inning. These efforts – with just enough offense – have given Washington a daunting 2-0 lead in the series that shifts back to Washington tonight.
What must Folty and Fried have thought, especially during Game One, as Sanchez blew through 7.2 effortless innings, looking more like he was tossing darts at the pub than pitching in the Championship Series. His most stressful moment of the evening may well have been finding a seat on the team bus. Certainly the Cardinals didn’t cause him any concern.
All the while, the repeated formula was simplicity itself. Strike one on the outside edge, and continuously throw the ball slower or faster than expected. After the game, I believe it was Kolten Wong that said that Anibal never threw the ball over the middle. Watching the game, that wasn’t really true. Sanchez made his share of mistakes in the heart of the zone. It was the hitters’ inability to time the pitches correctly that was the difference. Sanchez gave up a series of line drive foul balls when Cardinal batsmen were geared too fast, and about a dozen sky high lazy flyballs when the pitches were coming in just a fraction faster than expected.
I think his fastest pitch of the night was about 93. It was simply amazing watching this team get jammed with 88-mph fastballs.
On their way to dropping the first two games of the series, St Louis batsmen have gone 0 for 9 when they hit the first strike. Hitting that first strike is usually a gold mine for the hitter. According to baseball reference, across all the major leagues, batters slashed .355/.414/.643 – a 1.057 OPS on the first strike of an at bat. Against the Braves, St Louis was 18 for 34 (.529) with 6 doubles and 2 home runs (.882 slugging percentage) when they hit the first strike.
But they could never get comfortable against Sanchez. Not even for one at bat.
The lone offensive spark in the series, Jose Martinez has worked his way back into the starting lineup – at least for tonight. He broke up Sanchez’ no-hitter in Game One, and drove in St Louis’ only run of the series with a double in Game Two. He is 2-for-2 against Washington. The rest of the team is 2 for 55 (.036).
Jose has actually been swinging the bat better for a little while now, it’s just hard to notice because he never starts anymore. Jose has started only once since the first game of a September 1 double-header. He is 8 for his last 14 (.571) with 2 doubles and 2 triples (1.000 slugging percentage) – but that covers his last 10 games. He currently holds a four-game hitting streak – all in pinch-hitting opportunities.
Needless to say, no one else on the team has been trending up.
Paul DeJong chipped in with two singles in his very first playoff game. Since then, his slump has taken back over. One for six in the series so far, DeJong has had 21 plate appearances since that first game, managing 2 singles, 1 double, 1 walk (intentional) and 10 strikeouts – a .150/.190/.200 batting line.
Paul Goldschmidt was 3 for 4 against the Braves with a home run when hitting the first strike. He has yet to hit the first strike in the first two games against the Nats – evidence of how precisely Sanchez and Scherzer have been locating that first strike. Goldy will jump on that pitch when it’s where he’s looking for it, but won’t chase it when it’s on the corners.
One of the season’s signature moments was Yadier Molina’s game-tying eighth-inning single in Game Four of the Division Series that prolonged St Louis’ season. Yadi is 0 for 10 since that hit, and is just 3 for 28 (.107, all singles) over his last 8 games.
Against Atlanta, Yadi swung at the first strike in 17 of his 22 plate appearances, going 2 for 5 when he managed to put that pitch in play. He has only swung at the first strike twice in 6 at bats against Washington, without putting either pitch in play.
Matt Carpenter’s playoffs are following a similar arc. Matt floated a dramatic game-tying eighth-inning single in Game One. Like Molina, he is hitless in 10 at bats since. In Carpenter’s case, this has cost him – at least for today – his place in the lineup. He is 0-for-6 against Washington, 1 for 11 in the playoffs, and 2 for 19 (.105) over his last 8 games.
In 5 of his 6 plate appearances in this series, and 11 of 15 in the playoffs (73.3%), Matt has ended up in two-strike counts. During the season’s second half, 61.4% of Matt’s plate appearances ended up in two-strike counts. He batted .169/.275/.270 in those at bats.
Kolten Wong – as you know – was sidelined for the last ten games of the regular season with a hamstring issue. He has jumped back into the starting lineup at the start of the playoffs – and while he has had some moments, his performance overall looks like someone who has missed a week and a half of at bats. He is 0-for-6 against the Nationals and 5 for 26 (.192) in the playoffs overall.
When Dexter Fowler came to the plate for the second time in that big first inning of Game Five, with the bases loaded and one out, he was riding an 0-for-13 streak (he had walked that first time up). Dex took a ball and then jumped Max’s first strike, pulling it fair over third base for a two-run double that helped bury the Braves.
He is 0-for-11 since then. Early in the playoffs, Fowler hit into some hard luck, hitting balls hard, but at people. Lately, he has just been making routine outs. He is 0-for 7 (with 3 strikeouts) against Washington, and 2 for 29 (.069) for the playoffs.
Over his last 23 games (counting the playoffs) Dexter is 10 for 87 (.115).
Marcell Ozuna is another member of the starting lineup that hasn’t managed a hit since that big first inning in Atlanta. Marcell is 0-for-8 in this series, and hitless in his last 11 at bats.
Pitching Keeps Cards Afloat
However the series against Washington turns out, the Cardinals can be very proud of the way their pitching has shown up. Going back to the last game of the regular season, the Cards have 6 quality starts in their last 8 games. The team ERA over these critical games is a sparkling 2.25 – 1.78 by the rotation. Unfortunately, as often as not they have been running into pitching on the other side that has been equally effective. St Louis is 4-4 in those 8 games.
As has become a Cardinal tradition this year (see the notes below), St Louis has wasted some pretty good pitching in the first two games of this series. Miles Mikolas was the starter – and loser – of Game One, in spite of the fact that he went six innings giving just 1 run. Miles has made 2 starts and 1 relief appearance in the playoffs so far, recording a 1.50 ERA over 12 innings. Over his last 9 games (8 starts and 1 relief appearance) Mikolas holds a 2.64 ERA over 47.2 innings.
Similarly, Adam Wainwright nearly matched Scherzer in Game Two. He allowed just 1 run through 7 innings. Waino has given the Cards quality starts in both of his playoff outings. Adam has a 1.80 ERA during the playoffs – and an 0-1 record.
On the other end the masterpieces by Sanchez and Scherzer were Cardinal starters Mikolas and Wainwright – who tossed quality starts of their own. In 7 playoff games, the Cards have gotten 5 quality starts – and have now lost 4 of them. All of their playoff losses so far have come in spite of a quality performance from their starter. For the season, they are 53-27 when their pitcher gives them a quality start – meaning they are losing the game 33.8% of the time. The only Cardinal team this century that has done worse was the 2008 team that lost 34.2% of the time their pitcher threw a quality start. They were 50-26 in quality start games.
With playoff baseball in St Louis comes the frigid weather. Friday’s game – played in 45 degree cold – was St Louis’ second coldest game of the year. On April 1 in Pittsburgh, they beat the Pirates 6-5 in 11 innings in a game time temperature of 37 degrees. Friday was the coldest game in St Louis since April 8 of last year, when they lost a 4-1 game to Arizona in 43 degree weather. I wonder if you had chatted with Paul Goldschmidt then about relocating to St Louis what his answer might have been.
Even against the standard of playoff games, 45 is frigid. St Louis hasn’t played as cold a playoff game since Game Three of the 2006 World Series. With Chris Carpenter on the mound, they beat Detroit 5-0 in 43 degree weather.
History With the Umpires
Bill Miller will get the plate in Game Three in Washington. It will be the fifth time that Miller has had the plate during a Cardinal playoff game – with St Louis winning three of the first four: 2-1 in Game Two of the 2002 Division Series against Arizona; 7-1 in Game Five of the 2011 Championship Series against Milwaukee; and 3-1 in Game Three of the 2012 Championship Series against San Francisco.
The lone Cardinal playoff loss with Miller behind the plate came in Game Five of the 2013 World Series – a 3-1 loss to Boston.
All of those games were played in St Louis.
Counting the playoffs, they are now 27-22 lifetime (1-3 this year) with Miller calling the game.
Game Four, on the other hand, will belong to Phil Cuzzi who has seen St Louis lose two of three playoff games from that vantage point. The only one of the three played on the road was the first one – a 2-1 loss in Houston in Game Four of the 2005 Championship Series. He was behind the plate for St Louis’ 3-0 loss to Madison Bumgarner in the opening game of the 2014 Championship Series, and for St Louis’ 4-0 win against Chicago in the opening game of the 2015 Division Series.
They are 24-15 lifetime (2-1 this year) in Cuzzi’s games.
If we get to Game Six, Fieldin Culbreth with have the plate for a Cardinal playoff game for just the second time. He was there for Game Four of the 2006 Championship series when the Mets trounced the Cards 12-5.
St Louis is 24-17 when Fieldin has the plate – including a loss the only time he had the plate for one of our games this year. He was behind the plate on September 28 when the Cubs hung an 8-6 loss on the birds.
The other umpires in this series have never called a Cardinal playoff game until this year. Our history (counting the first two games of this series) with them is as follows:
Mike Muchlinski – 10-13 (1-2 this year); Chris Conroy – 11-9 (3-1 in 2019); and Chad Fairchild – 19-12 (2-0 this year).