Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

NLDS Game 2: Bold batting, not so bold managing

Mike Matheny can’t buy a break. Not only did his NLDS Game 2 starting pitcher, Jaime Garcia, hurl one of his worst starts, but the one seemingly gutsy, unconventional, roll-the-dice move that the Cardinal rookie manager made — pulling Garcia after only two innings of labored labor — turned out to be more of necessity than audacity, as Derrick Goold explains:

Garcia told Matheny and trainers that he was experiencing renewed shoulder discomfort after the second inning. Garcia later admitted not feeling right for some time, including Friday’s abbreviated side session in Atlanta, but tried to push through a hugely important game without notifying the club of his condition.

That’s not to say, of course, that absent the injury Matheny would not have relieved his scuffling pitcher. But it certainly does militate against the “bold managing” storyline that fans (including this one) initially subscribed to. In any case, the Cardinal relief corps — led by Lance Lynn — was lights-out, striking out eight and walking just one over the final seven innings and 27 batters. Lynn suffered an ugly 9.43 FIP, mainly because he allowed two home runs, but keep in mind that he had a rather handsome 2.72 xFIP. Those two home runs were perfectly fine by us, since the context — the team up 7-1 (then 7-2) and simply needing outs — called for aggressive, no-frills pitching. The context is reflected in his game win-probability added — 0.05, or about the same as Jon Jay (0.06), who had four total bases on two hits. WPA is typically not a helpful stat for starting pitchers, but in this case, it illuminates the situation in which Lynn was working. That is to say, the home runs didn’t matter.

Other notes:

  • With Matheny pinch-hitting for his starting pitcher before he came to bat, perhaps our 10-man rotation is finally here!
  • The game wasn’t always as carefree (from a Cardinal standpoint) as the laugher of a final score indicated. To wit: The Nationals took a 1-0 lead when Ian Desmond ran through third-base coach Bo Porter’s stop sign and scored on Jordan Zimmerman’s hit to right field. But had Carlos Beltran not double-clutched, apparently seeing Porter, he would’ve thrown Desmond out at home. It’s not good when the Cardinal right fielder is the only one obeying third-base coach Bo Porter’s sign.
  • Massive offensive production covers over many a baserunning mistake. Like Jay getting thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double in the second.
  • Speaking of running the bases, whatever offensive skills Pete Kozma may lack, baserunning is not one of them. His going first to third on a bunt was truly Cobbian. We’re sure that Enos Slaughter wouldn’t mind lending the phrase “mad dash” to Kozma’s play.
  • Speaking of sac bunting, credit Matheny for not doing it when he had the chance with Yadier Molina when Allen Craig led off the second with a single (the Cardinals scored four runs) and with Daniel Descalso when Molina and David Freese reached to start the fifth (Cardinals scored zero).
  • Jay has been under-the-radar defensively in centerfield all year, so it’s rewarding to see him show what he can do on a bigger stage. Our favorite part of his wall-slamming catch in the sixth was that he sacrificed his body with a 93% win expectancy.
  • Non-rhetorical question: How many balls has Kurt Suzuki blocked so far?
  • For whatever bravura Matheny was deprived of with the revelation of Garcia’s injury, we commend him for selecting rookie Shelby Miller over Sam Freeman to replace Garcia. His rationale was Miller’s ability to “to go long innings,” for which we give him one cheer. We would have preferred that Matheny liked him for his ability to miss bats (10.54 K/9, 12.2% swinging strike rate, both second only to Jason Motte), which may mean that he doesn’t get the opportunity that he should.
  • Mark McGwire tried to impart his own meaning to Carlos Beltran’s double-dinger performance, saying “When Carlos is patient and sees a bunch of pitches, he is very dangerous.” But that’s a bit misleading: When he swings and makes contact on the first pitch, he has a .372 batting average in his career. Perhaps somewhat contra McGwire’s point, when Beltran swings on a full count, he’s below his normal best: .234 batting average. He’s much better off trying to draw a walk (not exactly “dangerous”), as he has a .480 OBP on full counts.
  • A day after swinging on the first pitch with the bases loaded to quell a rally in Game 1, Yadier Molina swung at the first pitch of his first at-bat in Game 2, singling to center and sending Allen Craig to third base and himself later scoring. We didn’t hear any complaints.
  • On the ESPN Triple Play before the game, we predicted that “the Cardinals will knock at least one souvenir over the outfield boards.” Full disclosure: We also anticipated that “Jaime Garcia and Jordan Zimmermann will lock up in a pitchers’ duel.” Oops.

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