It’s been a theme for the Cardinals all season. Missed opportunities. The most glaring from this afternoon being a bases loaded situation in the bottom of the seventh with no outs. Ground balls from Allen Craig and Yadier Molina ended the inning without the Cardinals scoring to extend their 2-1 lead. At that point, the momentum swung firmly in the direction of the Nationals.
In the top of the eighth, Mitchell Boggs came in and it all began to unravel for the Cardinals. A tough bounce resulted in a fielding error by Pete Kozma allowed Michael Morse to reach base. Ian Desmond singled to move Morse to third. Danny Espinosa sacrificed Desmond to second. With runners at second and third, Boggs managed to strike out Kurt Suzuki for the second out of the inning. It appeared the Cardinals might escape the inning.
The left handed hitter Chad Tracy was announced as the pinch hitter. Mike Matheny went to the mound and brought in Marc Rzepczynski, the only lefty reliever on the St. Louis roster. His last appearance, he allowed a double to Jason Heyward before getting out of the inning against a right hander. Of course, when Rzepczynski came into the game, Nationals manager Davey Johnson went back for right handed hitter Tyler Moore.
Moore poked a pitch into shallow right field that allowed both runs to score and the Nationals to take a 3-2 lead. Rzepczynski followed it up by striking out Jayson Werth to get out of the inning, but the damage was already done.
It is hard to fathom why Matheny would have gone to Rzepczynski in this position. In September, Rzepczynski made 9 relief appearances for a total of 4 1/3 innings. For comparison, Sam Freeman made 11 relief appearances for a total of 8 innings, but Freeman isn’t on the NLDS roster. So you hardly use Rzpeczynski in September and then rely on him to be your only lefty in October.
When you look at the split numbers too, it was a puzzling decision. Rzepczynski has struggled against left handed hitters seemingly all season. His slash line is .255/.320/.362 against left handers. Boggs, who was already in the game and had gotten the inning back under control, was holding left handers to a .241/.322/.333 slash line. Chad Tracy, meanwhile, was 22-for-84 (.262) against right handed pitchers and 3-for-9 (.333) with a homer against left handers this year. Yes, a small sample size, but he’s obviously seeing left handers well this year.
Earlier this season, it seemed like Matheny wasn’t focusing on regularly using the lefty-lefty matchup idea. Recently it seems like he’s gone to it by default when there doesn’t appear to be a strong case for it, tonight being a prime example.
But Mike Matheny can’t get all the blame today.
The Cardinals offense has been out hit 20-9 by their opponents so far in the postseason. The Braves outhit them 12-6. The Nationals outhit them today 8-3. But that’s not to say they haven’t had base runners.
The Cardinals took 7 walks today and got two bases on hit batsmen. That was 9 additional base runners.
They had Jon Jay on 2nd and Carlos Beltran on 3rd with two out in the bottom of the fifth and came away empty. They had David Freese on 2nd and Pete Kozma on 1st with two out in the bottom of the sixth and came away empty.
Then in the bottom of the seventh, Jay reached on a fielding error before Beltran singled and Holliday was hit by a pitch. They had the bases loaded with Allen Craig and Yadier Molina coming up to bad with none out. Craig hit into a fielder’s choice to the shortstop who came home to get Jay. Then Molina grounded into a double play to end the inning.
They had another opportunity, putting the tying run on second base in Adron Chambers with one out. Kozma popped out. Then Matt Carpenter pinch hit and was struck out looking on a pitch that looked outside.
Finally defeated, the Cardinals went silently in the bottom of the ninth.
The Cardinals wasted an incredible start by Adam Wainwright who went 5 2/3 innings and allowed 1 run on 6 hits and struck out 10.
They’ll look to Jaime Garcia tomorrow to keep Washington to just a split in St. Louis. Garcia has struggled at times this year, in a year interrupted by a DL stint, but he does have the lowest career ERA at Busch Stadium of any pitcher with a minimum of 10 starts.
If they do win tomorrow, they will need to take 2 of 3 in Washington to win the series and advance to the NLCS. But if they want to win tomorrow, the bats need to show up. They can no longer rely on the opposing team to give them the win like the Braves did in the Wild Card Game and like the Nationals almost did today.