The play didn’t make any of the highlight packages – but that’s not surprising. Bunts rarely do. But, in a contest befitting the teams with the two worst June records in the National League, it would be a garden variety bunt that would prove to be the play of the game.
And here we go again.
It would be Dylan Carlson at the plate with that runner at third and one out. As the Cardinal offense has down-spiraled over the course of the last month, at bats with runners in scoring position had become increasingly harder to execute (and to watch, for that matter). At that point in the proceedings, St Louis was 1 for 8 in RISP opportunities (runners in scoring position), and were 8 for their last 51 (.157) overall in this situation. It had been 8 games since the Cardinals managed two hits with runners in scoring position in the same game.
But now, with the runner at third, the Cards didn’t even need a hit to bring that run home. In theory, a well-placed ground ball could break the tie and give St Louis a chance to squeeze out a victory. In recognition of that potential, Arizona’s manager Torey Lovullo pulled his infield in to cut off that potential run at the plate – and promptly watched the game slip away as Carlson’s soft line drive (it left the bat at just 75.7 miles per hour and only travelled 163 feet) just eked over the outstretched glove of the drawn-in second-baseman Eduardo Escobar. The single brought home Sosa with the lead run, and opened the floodgates behind it.
Working against a tiring Alex Young (who was pitching in his third inning), four of the next five Cardinal hitters tacked on hits – including an RBI single from Paul Goldschmidt, a two-run double off the bat of Yadier Molina, and a rally-capping, two-run home run from Paul DeJong.
The 7-1 final (box score) isn’t representative of the closeness of the game. But as so often happens in baseball, a huge rally can hinge on small things like a bunt and a manager’s decision.
Whether this changes the team’s trajectory going forward is the salient question. They have had eruptions before, and have gone right back to their scuffling ways. It will be instructive to see if any of this carries over to tonight’s contest.
But, for 24 hours at least, there are a few rays of hopeful sunshine poking their way through the gray clouds. For now, that will have to be enough.
It’s been five games, now, since Dylan was moved to the leadoff spot. The early returns are encouraging. Carlson – who has now hit safely in 6 of his last 7 – is 6 for 20 (.300) as the leadoff hitter – the hits including a double, a triple and a home run (good for a .600 slugging percentage). Dylan has scored 5 runs and driven in 4 over those last 5 games.
Carlson drove in St Louis’ first two runs of the game, as he was 2-for-2 with runners in scoring position. For the month of June, Dylan is hitting .300 (6 for 20) in RISP situations.
Lars Nootbaar stepped into the starting right-field spot and opened his major league career with 4 hits in his first 12 at bats. He has now stumbled into the first little slump of his major league career. After 3 hitless at bats last night, Nootbaar is 0 for his last 10.
After surviving a rough patch during which he was scored on in 6 of 9 appearances, Ryan Helsley is beginning to re-establish himself in a bullpen that desperately needs a dependable arm or two. In 8 innings over his last 8 games, Ryan has given just 1 run on 3 hits – holding the last 30 batters he’s faced to a .111 batting average. As June draws to a close, Ryan holds a 2.61 ERA and a .162 batting average against for his 10.1 innings this month.
The plan for John Gant’s first relief appearance of the year was for him to carry the team through the sixth inning, setting up the back of the bullpen. Johnny didn’t quite make it that far, surrendering consecutive one-out singles to Asdrubal Cabrera and Pavin Smith. But – with the runner now in scoring position at second – Gant dialed it in and retired Nick Ahmed on a flyball before exiting the contest.
Even during the worst of his struggles this season, Gant has always been solid with runners in scoring position (which is a good thing, because he put himself in that position often enough). For the season, batters are 9 for 67 (.134) against Johnny in damage situations.
More seriously good work from Giovanny Gallegos proved critical to the victory. Entering with a runner at second in the top of the seventh, Gio retired all three batters he faced, leaving the lead run at third. Over his last 8 games, Gallegos has thrown 9 innings of 2-hit, no walk, shutout ball, striking out 9 along the way. After throwing 18 of his 22 pitches for strikes last night, Gio has thrown 70% strikes (85 of 121) over those last 9 innings. The batting line against him has been .074/.074/.111, and his ERA for the month of June slides down to 1.64 over 11 innings.
All three of the batters who faced Gio were up with a runner in scoring position, and Gallegos’ efforts were part of an 0-for-10 evening for Arizona with ducks on the pond. Gio has just been tough to hit, whether there is an RBI opportunity or not. This year, batters are 4 for 26 (.154) in RISP opportunities against Gallegos.
Andrew Miller is also starting to earn a little trust in a sometimes ragged bullpen. He threw a spotless eighth last night, and holds an 0.93 ERA in 9.2 innings since his return from the injured list. He has allowed no home runs in the 8 games he’s pitched in since his return, and has held opposing batters to a .212 average and a .303 slugging percentage.
In the sixth inning (with the game still a 1-1 tie) Genesis Cabrera came out of the bullpen to face left-hander Daulton Varsho with runners at first and third and two outs. This became a talking point in the game. With the pitcher’s spot up next, Lovullo had David Peralta kneeling in the on deck circle as a warning that he would be sent to hit for the pitcher if the inning extended that far. And yet, when Varsho drew the walk that loaded the bases, Torey pulled Peralta back and sent pitcher Alex Young to the plate. The threat promptly ended as Alex watched Cabrera buzz three strikes past him.
Speculation abounds as to why the Arizona manager didn’t roll the dice with Peralta. Derrick Goold – writing for the Post-Dispatch – suggested either the need for Young to provide innings for an over-taxed bullpen (which was probably a strong consideration, since Lovullo stuck with Young all through the disastrous seventh-inning), or that Torey was taking a chance that Young might draw a walk and drive in the go-ahead run anyway. This was not a bad gamble, as the Cards lead all of baseball in bases-loaded walks. Their 18 include three pitchers (Brett Anderson, Will Smith and Max Fried). It was even Cabrera who had issued the bases-loaded pass to Smith, so it was a better than passing gamble.
To that equation, let me add the fact that Torey had no right-handed batters on his bench, and he may have been reluctant to throw his best lefty bat (Peralta) in against a very tough lefty in Cabrera (and Arizona did rush David into the game as soon as the right-handed Gallegos entered the game in the eighth).
All of these managerial wheels, of course, vanish into thin air if the abominable designated hitter was in place. Anyone who tells you that the DH doesn’t drain strategy out of the game either has little conception of baseball, or is trying to sell you something.
Which provides a perfect segue into –
My Designated Hitter Rant
Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter. Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH. While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it. So, I have re-written it here. The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks. I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.