Through most of last night’s first inning, Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright struggled to keep his pitches down in the strike zone – and the Los Angeles Dodgers were in the process of taking advantage.
With runners at first and second, Adam’s 2-1 sinker refused to sink, and Corey Seager drove it over the head of Tyler O’Neill in left for a double. Max Muncy raced home to score the game’s first run, and Mookie Betts was headed there as well. But a perfect throw from Harrison Bader, and an even better relay from Edmundo Sosa clipped Betts at the plate. The inning ended one batter later. The Dodgers had one, but might have had a few more.
Now the Cardinals were up in the bottom of the inning. After a leadoff single from Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt fought off an inside fastball and lofted it to medium deep left field. Dodger left-fielder Chris Taylor came on the dead run and nearly grasped the fading fly. But the ball was in and then out of his glove, and Goldschmidt joined Edman on base.
Then, Mitch White – the Dodger’s starting pitcher – allowed Edman a running start from second as he and Goldschmidt executed a double-steal. It was a critical advance, as it turned Nolan Arenado’s ground ball into a game-tying run-batted-in instead of an inning ending double play.
With one out in the bottom of the fourth (and the Cards up 3-1), Yadier Molina ripped a groundball past third. As the ball bounced directly back to the left fielder, and given Molina’s below average running speed, this was going to be a single. But Taylor (again) bobbled the ball in the corner, allowing Yadi second.
On the next pitch, White bounced a changeup in the dirt, and Yadi was at third, where he scored on a single up the middle off the bat of Sosa.
Sosa’s hit came with two outs – as did Molina’s two-run homer in the first.
Coming out of the LA bullpen in the eighth, to keep the deficit at two runs, Shane Greene left a cutter up in the zone, and O’Neill dropped it into the Dodger bullpen.
That run – St Louis’ fifth – would stand as the difference in the Cards’ 5-4 win (box score) as LA’s ninth-inning rally would come up short. But this victory was a combination of all the little moments just described. Had the Dodgers changed any one of the moments above, they would at least have taken this game into extra-innings (if not won the thing outright).
Now, every team – even a juggernaut like the Dodgers – has games like this. Games that could easily have landed in the “won” column, but – for one reason or another – managed to get away from them. For the Dodgers, though, this has seemed to happen much more often than might be expected.
One-Run Difficulties in LA-LA Land
The unchecked financial inequities that currently exist in baseball have given Los Angeles the opportunity to construct what is nearly an All-Star team. This baseball titan is streaking towards the playoffs with an 88-52 record. Yet this super-team now sports a 21-23 record in one run games – and an even more surprising 4-13 record in extra-inning games. This team has had a lot of opportunities this year to make that one play that would make a difference in a tight game. And more times than not, they have gone home losers in those games.
This, of course, is the kind of thing that can be easily blown out of proportion. It’s common for teams to struggle in situations like this during the season, and then excel in one-run games in the playoffs. It’s not the kind of number that should send the Dodger faithful to their ledges.
But it is the kind of small thing that can embolden the rest of the league. Whether true or not, the perception is that if you can hang close with the Dodgers – if you can force them to make plays or pitches in tight games – you have a strong chance to take them down.
When sharing a league with a monster like the Dodgers, any glimmer of a weakness can give hope. And the more of these tight games that they lose, the more confident the rest of the league grows. And, probably, the more the Dodgers begin to question themselves.
Los Angeles’ final 22 regular season games include 6 against San Diego, 3 against Cincinnati and 3 against Milwaukee – although those games will be the final three of the season, and the Brewers may not have anything left to play for by then.
The Dodgers – currently trailing San Francisco by 2 games – may well have to keep the pedal down for the entire rest of the season, if they want to avoid the one-and-done Wildcard game.
A few more tight losses like last night, may assure that they end up in that game.
As to the Cards, they are now 19-17 in one-run games, and their performance there has been pretty much what you would guess from the record. They have staggered through the season trading-off dramatic victories and heart-breaking losses without sustaining anything in either direction.
But where the Dodgers are hoping not to end up in that Wildcard game, that is pretty much the only hope left for the Cards. And they have plenty of work to do to get there.
Edmundo added an infield hit to his RBI single last night and has continued hot, even as the level of the competition has risen around him. Edmundo has now hit in 10 of his last 12 games, getting multiple hits in 4 of them. He is hitting .400 (16 for 40) in those games, and has driven in 11 runs while slugging .675 (1 double, 2 triples and 2 home runs). At .364, Edmundo is the Cardinal’s leading hitter this month (8 for 22), and his second-half average is up to .333 (30 for 90).
Edmundo has also played in 28 of the team’s 36 one-run games, starting 21 of them. He is 21 for 68 (.309) in those games.
Nolan Arenado saw his seven-game hitting streak go by the board last night. He hit .346 (9 for 26) and hit three home runs (for a .692 slugging percentage) during the streak.
With his regular starts diminished, Lars Nootbaar has seen his numbers start to dive recently. After an 0-for-3, Nootbaar is 0 for his last 8.
After a brief hot streak which saw him collect 8 hits over a 5 game span, Harrison Bader has cooled at the plate of late. Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Bader is 0 for his last 10. His second-half average has fallen to .249.
After scoring first in 9 straight games, the Cards have now surrendered the first run in 5 straight games.
Molina’s two-run homer stood up as his fourteenth game-winning RBI of the year. He has increased his team-lead to two over Arenado and Goldschmidt.
The win was #182 for Wainwright, leaving the Cardinal ace 18 wins short of 200 for his career. With his announcement that he will be coming back for one more season, this is a count-down that can commence in serious.
Waino is also up to 1993 career strikeouts. He should reach the 2000 plateau in another start or two.
Giovanny Gallegos retired the last 2 batters, although he allowed one of two inherited runners to score. That was only the third inherited runner (out of 25) to cross the plate against Gio. The save was Gallegos’ fifth of the year – a career high.
UPDATE: In an afternoon contest, the Cards have fought their way to a 2-1 victory over Los Angeles. The Dodgers are now 21-24 in one-run games, and 2.5 games behind San Francisco.
St Louis is up to 20-17 in one-run contests. They finish the year 3-4 against the Dodgers. All three wins were by one run. Three of the four losses were by 5 runs or more.
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.