ST. LOUIS — First off, let’s get this out of the way. Mike Shildt didn’t bat when the Cardinals scored 10 runs in the first inning of their division-clinching victory over the Braves. He didn’t have any at-bats in the first two games of the NLCS as the Cardinals totaled just four hits and one run in losing both games at home — with that lone run coming off a defensive miscue.
So despite a well-pitched game from Miles Mikolas in Game 1 and an almost-brilliant effort from Adam Wainwright in Game 2, the Cardinals are in a hole big enough it might take the Arch to span across its breadth: Teams that lost the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home are 3-22 in those series in postseason history.
There was a sense of quiet frustration in the Cardinals clubhouse after Saturday’s 3-1 loss when Max Scherzer struck out 11 in seven innings, a game that was 1-0 in favor of the Nationals until they scratched across two late runs off Wainwright in the eighth inning. There was also the sense that, hey, that is what a pitcher like Scherzer can do when he’s on.
“They’re really attacking you,” second baseman Kolten Wong said of Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, “not really giving you anything to hit and (they) stay off the middle of the plate. You’re going to tend to chase because you understand you’re going to be put in a hole right away. You end up swinging at pitches you might not in the regular season.”
Wong’s analysis holds to an extent. The Cardinals had a chase rate — swinging on pitches outside of the strike zone — of 28.4 percent in the regular season and 31.7 percent in these two games. On pitches early in the count — 0-0, 0-1 or 1-0 — their chasing is up from 19.5 percent to 21.6 percent. Still, that’s only a few pitches over the course of the game, although given the nature of baseball, a few pitches can turn a game around.
So it’s mostly about great pitching so far from the Nationals and the inconsistency of the St. Louis offense. “We’re working on it, we’re just getting beat,” Matt Carpenter said. “They’re going out there and executing what they throw, but something like that can change in an inning. You saw what we able to do in Game 5 in Atlanta.”
The beauty of the postseason lies in the intensity of the each game, that urgency that doesn’t exist over 162 games in the regular season. That’s also what makes watching the games so enjoyable from our perch in Second-Guessing Land. Every manager’s every decision gets analyzed and broken down. Which gets us back to Shildt, the second-year Cardinals skipper.
There are three big picture questions to bring up.
1. Did Shildt leave Wainwright in too long?
In his start against the Braves in the NLDS, Wainwright took a three-hit shutout into the eighth inning. But he tired and the Braves loaded the bases with a base hit and two walks before Shildt finally removed him after a season-high 120 pitches. Andrew Miller managed to escape the bases-loaded jam (although the Cardinals would lose the 1-0 lead in the ninth).
On Saturday, Wainwright was once again terrific heading into the eighth, allowing only a Michael Taylor home run and sitting at just 83 pitches. With one out, pinch-hitter Matt Adams lined a base hit off the base of the wall in right-center. The top of the order was now up for the fourth time. Also, the shadows that had played ticks on batters all day had now grown past the pitcher’s mound.
Wainwright had some bad luck. Trea Turner blooped a hit into center field, a ball with an expected batting average of .090. Still, there were now two runners on and just one out. “I wasn’t tired at all, wasn’t losing command or anything,” Wainwright said.
He stayed in the game to face Adam Eaton. “My last at-bat was the first time I actually saw the ball the whole way,” Eaton said. “The shadows were extremely difficult. You saw Kolten Wong have two check swings and barreled both of them up. You just saw some really bad swings and bad counts.”
Maybe a different pitcher would have made a difference. Who knows. Eaton battled for seven pitches and hit a 3-2 curveball past a diving Paul Goldschmidt and down the right-field line for a two-run double. It was a two-hopper, but Eaton struck it well — 102.7 mph with a hit probability of .730. “I got a ground ball, he just got good wood on it and put it in the right place,” Wainwright said. “That’s what I’m down about right now. Wish I could have put a zero up there in the eighth.”
Shildt could have brought in a lefty to face Eaton. “I understand that,” Shildt said afterwards. “What goes into it, [Wainwright’s] got 11 strikeouts, is still hitting his spots. I think he probably made two mistakes, the one to Taylor, cutter, got the ball up the patch, put a swing on it. But then you looked at the Turner at-bat and he bloops one in. Then you look at the Eaton at-bat, I thought he was going to be able to execute.”
There’s no doubt Wainwright was throwing well. These aren’t easy decisions. I’m not even saying Shildt made the wrong move. But facing a lineup a fourth time through the order is a tough ask of any pitcher. Shildt has done it twice now with Wainwright and both times had to end up pulling his starter with runners on base.
2. The lineup
Look, the Cardinals would have needed Stan Musial and Mark McGwire in there and that still may not have been enough. Maybe it was just two rough games against two good starters.
“That’s kind of been the story of our season. The offense at times has been hit or miss for this group,” Carpenter said. “We’ve had stretches where we’ve struggled to score and stretches where we just pour it on. Hopefully, we have one we pour it on the next couple of days.”
Indeed, after posting a .797 OPS in April, the Cardinals struggled for much of May and June (hitting .232 in May and .223 in June). The offense was more consistent in the second half, but other than that 10-run outburst against the Braves has struggled in their seven playoff games, getting shut out twice and scoring one run two other times.
Yadier Molina is batting fifth and he came up with a runner on first and one out in the seventh against Scherzer and grounded into a double play. He had the two clutch RBIs in Game 4 of the NLDS, but he’s hitting .115 without an extra-base hit in the seven playoff games and that two-RBI game is the only postseason game he’s registered an RBI in his past 19. He’s not a power threat and he grounds into a lot of double plays. I get that there’s the feeling if anybody will rescue the Cardinals, it’s Yadi, but maybe he should move down in the order.
Of course, it’s not easy sitting in Shildt’s chair. Do you stick with what got you here? Do you overreact to a small sample size? Do you play Jose Martinez in right field in Game 3 because he had a couple good at-bats the past two games? Shildt said he hasn’t had time to think about lineup changes, but didn’t rule out the possibility. “There would be some contemplation about how we move forward and how we look to compete,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if we did something different,” Carpenter said, adding that he doesn’t write out the lineup cards. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
3. The intentional walks
Shildt issued another, to Anthony Rendon after the Eaton double (and bringing in Miller to face Juan Soto). Miller got out of the eighth, so no harm, no foul. Sabermetricians generally frown on the intentional walk — it’s worth noting that A.J. Hinch of the Astros didn’t issue one all season — but Shildt has now issued seven of them in the postseason. One of those, to Brian McCann in the ninth inning of Game 3 against the Braves, came back to bite the Cardinals big-time.
The free passes are something to keep in mind as the series move back east. They can easily blow up and lead to a crooked number on the scoreboard.
Anyway, that’s where we stand. The Cardinals need to hit and keep on pitching well. Jack Flaherty will be ready to go in Game 3. No worries, Wong says. “We’re right at home. Right at home. We’re not going to worry about it. We’ve been in this situation this whole year, people counting us out, getting booed. We’ve been constantly coming back, fighting and ready to go.”
Ted Simmons, Marvin Miller finally get their due with Hall of Fame election
SAN DIEGO — Momentous events often take place in ordinary settings. That’s what it felt like Sunday night when the Baseball Hall of Fame announced that legendary MLB Players Association head Marvin Miller and St. Louis Cardinals catching great Ted Simmons would be immortalized in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Union executive Marvin Miller, catcher Ted Simmons elected to Baseball Hall of Fame
SAN DIEGO — Marvin Miller, the union leader who revolutionized baseball by empowering players to negotiate multimillion-dollar contracts and to play for teams of their own choosing, was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame on Sunday along with former St. Louis Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons.
After falling short in his first seven times on veterans committee ballots, Miller received 12 of 16 votes from this year’s 16-man modern committee, exactly the 75% required. Simmons was on 13 ballots. Former Boston outfielder Dwight Evans was third with eight,
Miller, who died at age 95 in 2012, led the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966-82, a time when players gained the right to free agency after six seasons of big league service, to salary arbitration and to grievance arbitration. He led the union through five work stoppages and was an adviser during three more after he retired.
“The Hall of Fame is called the Hall of Fame and Museum. Imagine a museum of baseball without Marvin Miller in it,” former union chief operating officer Gene Orza said. “It’s like having a museum of modern art without Picasso in it. I guess I’m happy for all the people who are happy. But I don’t think Marvin would lose any sleep one way or the other over this.”
Simmons, an eight-time All-Star during a 21-year big league career, was a switch-hitter who batted .285 with 248 homers and 1,389 RBI for St. Louis (1968-80), Milwaukee (1981-85) and Atlanta (1986-88).
Despite his accomplishments, Simmons was up for election by voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America just once. He drew only 3.7 percent support in 1994 and was removed from future BBWAA ballots.
Miller and Simmons will be inducted into Cooperstown during ceremonies on July 26 along with any players chosen next month by the BBWAA from a ballot headed by former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
Miller will be inducted 12 years after Bowie Kuhn, the baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn whom Miller routinely defeated in labor negotiations, and three years after Bud Selig, the commissioner who in 1994(equals)95 presided over the longest work stoppage in baseball’s history.
In 2008, four years before he died, Miller sent a letter to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America saying he didn’t want to be considered anymore.
“These changes resulted in a vastly more competitive game, fan interest, and increased wealth for all, including the owners of baseball clubs,” his son, Peter Miller, said in 2013. “Although he enjoyed the recognition, my father did what he did not for fame and glory, but for justice and for equitable labor-management relations. To treat that as something of lesser value than personal fame, is really to dishonor him and the players.”
Miller received 44% of the votes in 2003 and 63% in 2007 when all Hall of Famers could participate on a veterans panel. After the Hall downsized the veterans committees, he got three of 12 votes later in 2007 from a committee considering executives that elected former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, whom Miller routinely defeated in labor negotiations.
Miller got seven of 12 votes in 2009 and then, when the format was changed again, he got 11 of 16 from an expansion era committee in 2010 — falling one vote short. He received six votes or fewer of 16 in 2013 and seven of 16 from the new modern era committee in 2017.
“Players are pleased that Marvin will now take his rightful and long overdue place in the Hall of Fame in recognition of the monumental and positive impact he had on our game and our industry,.” current union head Tony Clark said in a statement.
Nicknamed Simba for his shoulder-length hair, Simmons was an outspoken opponent of President Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War. In the days before free agency, he played much of the 1972 season without a contract because of a pay dispute, finally agreeing to a two-year deal in late July.
Now 70, Simmons received 17 of 456 votes in 1994, falling shy of the 5% threshold to remain on the ballot. Simmons was on 11 of 16 ballots when the modern era committee met in 2017 and elected Jack Morris with 14 votes and Alan Trammell with 13.
Simmons has benefited from modern metrics such as a Baseball Reference WAR of 50.3. Eight other players who were primarily catchers topped 50, and they are all in the Hall: Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk, Gabby Hartnett, Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez.
Simmons hit .300 or higher seven times and finished with 2,472 hits. Among players who were primarily catchers, his RBI are second to Berra’s 1,430 and his hits are second to Rodriguez’s 2,844.
Dave Parker received seven votes, and Steve Garvey and Lou Whitaker six each. Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson and Dale Murphy all got three or fewer.
David Ortiz makes first Dominican Republic appearance since shooting
SANTO DOMINGO — Former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz made his first public appearance in the Dominican Republic on Sunday nearly six months after he was shot in what authorities called a case of mistaken identity.
The Dominican-born superstar was greeted by a standing ovation and raucous cheers when he entered the Quisqueya Stadium Juan Marichal for the Game of Legends, a charity exhibition and home run derby featuring Dominican major league players and retired stars.
“Praise God and long live the Dominican Republic,” Ortiz said to the thousands of fans in the country’s most important stadium.
He thanked his fans, fellow players and the press for its support after the shooting.
“I’m happy to be here with my people,” he told The Associated Press before the game. He did not play.
Also present were Dominican stars such as Hall of Famers Pedro Martinez and Juan Marichal, Mets second baseman Robinson Cano and Nationals outfielder Juan Soto.
A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion, Ortiz helped the Red Sox end their 86-year championship drought in 2004 and batted .688 against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013 to win the Series MVP.
Ortiz retired after the 2016 season with 541 home runs, and the team retired his uniform No. 34.
He maintained a home in the Boston area and had been living part of the year in the Dominican Republic, where he was often seen getting his cars washed and hanging out with friends, including other baseball players, artists and entertainers.
He was seriously wounded June 9 when a hit man allegedly hired by a drug trafficker mistakenly shot him as he sat with friends in a Santo Domingo bar, authorities have said. They said the target was meant to be Sixto David Fernandez, a cousin of the man alleged to have arranged the attack.
Authorities said the hit men confused Ortiz with Fernandez. The two men are friends and were sharing a table.
Officials said the killing was contracted by Victor Hugo Gomez, described as an associate of Mexico’s Gulf Cartel. Authorities said Gomez wanted Fernandez killed because he believed his cousin turned him into Dominican drug investigators in 2011. They said Gomez then spent time in prison in the Dominican Republic with one of at least 11 suspects arrested in the shooting.
Gomez later resurfaced in the U.S. as one of dozens of suspects sought by federal authorities following a March 2019 drug trafficking sting in Houston.
Doctors in the Dominican Republic removed Ortiz’s gallbladder and part of his intestine after the shooting and he underwent further surgery in the U.S.
“I thought he was never going to come back here,” said Filvia Nunez, a fan who said she was surprised and delighted to see Ortiz Sunday.
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