There’s a lot of unpacking to do after the Cardinals got jolted by their first demoralizing loss of the season, a hideous giveaway to the Brewers at Miller Park.
What should have been a win and a 2-0 series lead over the Brewers disappeared in smoke with two swings of the bat in the bottom of the ninth inning. The 5-4 loss has had to sting and burn.
This walk-off by the Brewers wasn’t easy to shake off for the Cardinals … or their irate fans.
Messy losses never come down to one man, one factor, one reason.
Just my view, but here are the reasons why the Cardinals went down.
1-Lefty reliever Tyler Lyons was brought in to shut down three lefthanded Milwaukee batters in the 8th inning, and failed miserably. Christian Yelich double, Travis Shaw RBI single to make it it 4-2, and an Eric Thames single to set up a third run. The last run of the Brewers rally came on an RBI single by Jonathan Villar off Cards RH reliever Dominic Leone, but the run was charged to Lyons, as it should have been. LH batters are 4 for 7 against Lyons early on this season.
2-After hammering out a 4-0 lead on solo homers by Dexter Fowler and Tommy Pham in the first and a two-run launch by Marcell Ozuna in the third, the Cardinals offense faded. No runs over the final six innings. Didn’t add on to a four-run lead, or the three-run lead after it became 4-1. After Ozuna’s homer, Cardinals hitters went 5 for 24 the rest of the way, a .208 batting average. They were 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position. Matt Carpenter grounded out to strand Pham at second base to end the fourth. It was even worse in the 8th inning. With runners on first and third and only one out, Kolten Wong fouled out and Yairo Munoz struck out looking. Get a run there, and it’s 5-1 going into the bottom of the eighth. Big miss.
3-Manager Mike Matheny leaned on Dominic Leone to get a five-out save, and the decision blew up. Blew up real good. In fairness to Matheny, Leone retired the first two Milwaukee hitters in the 9th inning. At that point the Brewers win probability was down to 5.1 percent. And the Cardinals were on the verge of sealing the win when Leone got ahead of the next batter, Yelich, who was down 1-2 in the count. One strike away. But Yelich homered on a 2-2 pitch to push the Brewers within 4-3.
4- At that point, Matheny needed to get Leone out of there for a couple of reasons: (A) Ryan Braun was up next, and that’s a very bad matchup for Leone. A gruesome matchup. And I don’t care if it’s a small sample… besides, when did a small-sample bit of info ever stop Matheny from using it to make a decision? Before their encounter last night, Braun was 3 for 3 against Leone with two homers an six RBIs. Matheny had already used one righthanded reliever, Matt Bowman. Another, Jordan Hicks, was unavailable after pitching two days in a row. And if anyone out there thinks Matheny should have gone to Hicks there, you’re fruit loops. Good grief, can we get Hicks to Memorial Day without having to send him to Dr. James Andrews for Tommy John elbow surgery? There were three other righthanders in the pen: Bud Norris, who has been used for only one appearance for one inning since Saturday. Mike Mayers, who hasn’t been used since opening day. And Sam Tuivailala, who hadn’t pitched since Saturday. Three options, but Matheny stayed with the worst possible matchup. Of course, Braun hit Leone’s first pitch to Oshkosh. Walkoff. Beer. Bratwurst.
4a. Braun had ripped into Norris’ pitching earlier in Bud’s career … but the numbers in recent seasons were fine, with Braun going 4 for 12 with a couple of walks. Bud was the call there. But unless I missed it, I don’t think anyone was warming in the Cards bullpen.
4b. Mike Maddux … hello? Hello? …. Maddux, are you with us? Hello? Can you talk to Matheny? Hello? Mike Maddux … hello … where are you … calling Mike Maddux … Hello? …
4c. –Hicks was ruled out Tuesday because Matheny wasted him by using him in consecutive games Sunday and Monday, in low-leverage situations. The Cardinals had those games under control, but never mind that. Matheny simply could not resist reaching for the new toy … even if it meant hurting his team’s chances of defeating the Brewers Tuesday. Indeed, when the Cardinals’ lead became endangered, Matheny couldn’t turn to Hicks in a high-leverage situation. Hicks was off limits … and he was off limits because of Matheny’s poor judgment to go with Hicks for 1.1 innings Monday after using Hicks for an inning in Sunday’s win in New York.
5-If I had to choose the most important factor in Milwaukee’s win, that’s easy: Bullpen superiority. The Brewers’ relievers made the comeback victory possible by deadening St. Louis bats after The Crew had fallen behind 4-0. Jeremy Jeffress, Jacob Barnes, Matt Albers and Dan Jennings combined for five shutout innings with only three of 18 Cardinals faced reaching base (two hits and a walk.) The Cards bullpen could’t take care of Jack Flaherty’s positive start (5 IP, 1 run, 9 Ks), and that’s a shame. Their four relievers combined to work 3.2 innings and the damage was severe: six hits, four runs, the two homers, blown save.
BERNIE BITS …
By the way, what the hell is the point of having the eight-man bullpen that Matheny so feverishly and desperately wants? This is nonsense. Matheny, now in his seventh season, simply refuses to utilize all eight relievers. He prefers to load down three or four preferred relievers, wear them into exhaustion and arm fatigue and injury, while letting other relievers sit and do nothing but nibble on sunflower seeds in the bullpen. Give me Norris, give me Mayers, give me Tuivailala. But Leone cannot pitch to Braun there. That cannot be allowed to happen …
Seventh year of managing, and #22 is still making foolish and unnecessary double-switches that take a No. 3 hitter out of his lineup in a tight game. It’s like Mike still wants to impress us all that he learned the double switch a few years ago. Hey, man, I’m cool. I got this. Look at this advanced managing. I’m TLR, baby. The first double switch last night was gratuitous and costly. You don’t double switch when you are bringing in Bowman to get one out. Because of the two double switches, the Cardinals had to use Munoz and Greg Garcia for critical at-bats. Garcia is fine, but not with two outs in the top of the ninth and down a run. You need power there. A home-run swing. And Garcia was hitting because Matt Carpenter had been switched out. Carpenter is a career .460 slugger who homers every 31 at-bats. Garcia has a career .349 slugging percentage and has homered every 78 at-bats.
We can’t assume Greg Holland would have been successful in closing out Tuesday’s conflict to preserve a pleasant evening for the visiting team. But I think it is safe to assume that we learned just how valuable Holland should be for the 2018 Cardinals. Provided, of course, that his slider still has a vicious bite … and his fastball doesn’t lose more velocity. Holland’s four-seam averaged 93.8 mph last season, down from 97 mph in 2013, and 96.4 mph in 2014, and 94.1 in 2015. (He missed 2016 with elbow surgery and rehab.) And the fastball was hittable last season: .303 average, .539 slugging percentage, 4 homers, 5 doubles, 2 triples in 89 at-bats that ended on a four-seamer. The famous Holland slider is as good as ever. Last season: hitters managed a .142 average, and .239 slug against that poison pitch and struck out on 48 percent of their at-bats that came to an end on the slider.
About the Cardinals offense, and this is relevant to Tuesday’s game: They smashed Brewers starter Chase Anderson for three homers, which is great. But the Cards scored only four runs in nine innings, which isn’t so hot. But this is the early-season trend; in the first five games the Cardinals have scored only 23 runs despite cranking the third-highest HR count (11) in the majors. According to the Guillen Number at Baseball Prospectus the Cards have scored 69.6 percent of their runs directly on homers. That’s the third-highest percentage in the majors in the opening week of 2018, with only San Francisco (83.3%) and Cleveland (78.9%) more reliant on the long ball. The Cardinals have 7 solo homers, most by an NL team.
I’ll be back here on the site in a little while with some thoughts on Maddux, Matheny, T. Pham, Carlos Martinez, and Jack Flaherty.
Thanks for reading…