NLDS: Cards vs. Pads: Boomer Goes Bust

It’s one thing to lose a game to the heavy hitting of Albert Pujols and the masterful pitching of Chris Carpenter. It’s yet another to fall to Pujols and Jeff Weaver. The Padres have managed to do both, and now head to St. Louis in order to fend off elimination as many as three times.

If Game 2 of the Padres-Cardinals NLDS was going to hinge on the dominant performance of a starter, most fans would’ve expected that to be a gutty, into-the-sunset outing from David Wells. Boomer pitched reasonably well: he allowed two runs while scattering seven hits before leaving for pinch-hitter Ryan Klesko in the bottom of the fifth. At only 69 pitches, he surely could’ve lasted longer, but with the outstanding Friars bullpen waiting to take over, there was no reason for manager Bruce Bochy to push him further.

Instead, it was Weaver who turned in the better outing. With brother/usurper Jered in the crowd, Jeff limited the Padres to five baserunners in as many innings with the help of the typically excellent Cardinals defense. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was just as careful with Weaver as Bochy was with Wells, replacing Weaver with Randy Flores to start the 6th. In his five innings—79 pitches in all—Weaver racked up a WPA total of 25.3%, by far the highest of any player on either team.

The only other player with a total WPA of more than 10% was—wait, you get three guesses and if the first one isn’t Pujols, you’re disqualified. Prince Albert managed the feat despite starting off the game grounding into an inning-ending double play. His none-out, RBI single in the top of the fourth was the biggest-impact event of the game; counting Albert’s free trip to second at the hands of the Padres defense, that single play improved St. Louis’s chances from 58.7% to 71.4%.

Only Jim Edmonds‘s RBI single later that inning also topped 10%, edging the Cardinals win probability from 64.5% to 74.7%. From that point on, it was a steady climb to the top, with the Padres never again exceeding a 27% chance of evening the series.

Bochy managed aggressively, plugging in Klesko with a man on first and two outs in the 5th, replacing Todd Walker with Josh Barfield against the lefty Flores in the 6th, and sending Mike Piazza to the plate as the tying run in the bottom of the 7th. Ultimately, though, he had to live or die with his starting lineup, and four hits against nine strikeouts doesn’t sound much like living to me.

The Cardinals bullpen is shaping up to be the story of the series. Chris Carpenter only went 6.1 innings on Tuesday, meaning that La Russa’s relief corps have worked 6.2 innings in the first two games. Combined, Flores, Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney, and Adam Wainwright have struck out 10 and allowed four baserunners in that time, highlighted by Wainwright’s emergence as a rare St. Louis closer who will occasionally leave a nerve ending unfrayed. He has gotten four outs in each of the first two games, retiring half of those batters with punchouts and allowing only last night’s double to Barfield.

Of course, the Padres bullpen is nothing to sneeze at, and has performed nearly as well as their counterparts. Tonight they added another four innings of scoreless relief, getting fine work in particular from Cla Meredith, who led the team tonight in WPA. When a middle reliever tops your club in that category (with a mere 5.3%), it’s a pretty reliable sign that you don’t have much to cheer about. You can, however, project happily: should the Padres get a lead against Jeff Suppan on Saturday, they may reasonably expect to protect it.

The whole picture is not nearly so rosy for San Diego. Chris Young may stack up nicely against Suppan, but as long as the Padres offense tries to redefine “pitcher’s park” and Pujols is playing for the other guys, it’ll be a hard road just to get back to Petco and Game 5.

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