[The following is a part of the United Cardinal Bloggers' progressive game blog for June 2, 2012, focusing on the fifth inning of the Mets-Cardinals game. For more posts, including the fourth and sixth innings, please visit the main entry.]
The fifth inning began with the Mets enjoying a 3-0 lead and an 84.7% win expectancy. In the wake of Johan Santana‘s no-hitter and the way R.A. Dickey was pitching, the Mets’ chances of winning seemed even higher.
Dickey faced the second half of the Cardinals’ lineup, starting with David Freese, Yadier Molina and Matt Adams. Though the Cardinals made Dickey work a bit harder, with Freese and Molina working five-pitch counts, the results were the same, as the Cardinals went 1-2-3 and Dickey finished the fifth with only 50 pitches.
With Molina and Adams taking mighty but feckless cuts, it became clear that the Cardinals were taking the wrong approach to hitting the knuckleball and perhaps were exhibiting a more general frustration with their recent hitting funk. It was a case in which it might’ve made more sense for Mike Matheny to start more of a contact hitter over the rookie Adams, but the problem is that the Cardinals don’t have many contact hitters on their bench. Adron Chambers, Tyler Greene (whom Matheny subbed into the game in the bottom half), Allen Craig and Steven Hill all strike out at a 20% or higher rate. With Jon Jay (9.4% in 2012) and now Skip Schumaker (14.4%) on the DL, the Cardinals simply didn’t have the right personnel to match up with the knuckleballer. By the end of the inning, Dickey had struck out four and walked none en route to pitching an arguably even more dominant game (1.03 FIP/1.98 xFIP/1.15 tERA) than Santana (2.92/4.97/2.17).
Lynn fell behind on Wright and finally walked him, Lynn’s third free pass of the game. Kudos to broadcaster Ricky Horton, who cited Wright as the league leader in OBP. Horton also noted, after John Rooney highlighted Wright’s stolen base total of five, that Wright has also been caught five times, a rarely-spoken but useful context for understanding the net value of baserunning. With Lynn batting second in the sixth and at 90+ pitches, Wright’s walk all but ensured that this would be Lynn’s final inning.
Then came the string of lefties, starting with Duda. Lynn stayed outside the entire at-bat, benefiting from a generous called third strike. He started outside on Murphy, too, but as soon as he came inside, the Met second baseman rapped it for a hit. Thus cowed, Lynn threw all six of his pitches to lefty Ike Davis outside, the last of which David popped to left. With both runners going, Matt Holliday threw across to first base to try to double up Murphy. But Adams, perhaps backing up second base, was out of position and failed to cover. Holliday received a ridiculous error as both runners advanced and forced Lynn to labor to another lefty.
Matheny in his pregame remarks noted how different the game is when the pitcher gets ahead, as Wainwright did last night (defense more ready, game pace is better). Lynn was just the opposite today, falling behind regularly. Lynn’s failure to come inside to the lefties perhaps reflected a lack of confidence in his stuff today.
After Lynn walked Omar Quintanilla, Matheny double switched Victor Marte and Tyler Greene into the game, moving Daniel Descalso to first base, which is perhaps where he should’ve started. Despite entering with the bases loaded and a 1.08 (higher than average) leverage index, this isn’t the most high-stakes appearance for Marte. According to his average initial leverage index, Marte is tied for fourth among the team’s relievers, so he’s not exactly Matheny’s middle-innings fireman yet. He did douse the rally, though, enticing a groundout to the newly entered Greene, who almost fired over the head of newly relocated Descalso. Clearly, first base isn’t the team’s most solid position these days.