Red Dawn: Cardinals Hold Off Padres to Take Game 1

There wasn’t much to suggest that Jake Peavy was pitching any worse than Chris Carpenter. Carpenter struggled a bit with his location, while Peavy was flashing a plus heater, a nice tailing change and a two-seamer with extra bite. But he didn’t make pitches when he needed them most, and he was gone before the end of the fifth inning—numbers-wise, his worst outing of the year.

You’ll hear the phrase “anything can happen” a lot over the next couple of weeks, usually in regard to underdogs nabbing a game or a series from the favorites. While this is undoubtedly true, one thing folks often forget is that “anything can happen” sometimes swings in favor of the bullies as well. That’s what came about for the Cards yesterday—they were the beneficiaries of a couple walks, a few lucky hits, some poor pitch selection by the other team, extremely timely hitting, and—as we found out after the game—a freak injury.

The end result was an 8-5 win that was in doubt only at the very end.

  • There were two keys, I think, to Carpenter turning in a successful game. The first was keeping the ball down—that is, in the park and specifically in the infield. (His Home Runs Allowed Per Nine Innings rate was way up and his Ground Ball to Fly Ball Ratio rate way down over his last few starts.) Secondly, he needed to rediscover his velocity and get his curve over for strikes. For most of the year he was able to rear back and carve up hitters without relying on his defense, but he lost something on both his fast ball and curve ball at the end of September.

    How’d he do? Well, he certainly succeeded in getting the Pads to pound the ball into the dirt, especially with runners on base, as the Cards’ defense turned three double plays behind him. I wasn’t as impressed with his command: three walks, three strikeouts and 91 pitches over six innings, plus only three swinging strikes the whole game (one by the opposing pitcher). Overall I give him a “B” for location and poise but only a “C” for stuff, and I think it remains to be seen whether the “old” Chris Carpenter (the one who went 13-0 with a 1.36 ERA from mid-June to mid-September) is back.

  • Peavy seemed like a totally different pitcher between the first two innings and the rest of the game, and I was curious if it had to do with his famous temper. A couple hits blooped in off of him and he seemed to come unglued. He also missed his spots horribly on a trio of 0-2 pitches: an outside pitch to Jim Edmonds that he poked over the left-field wall (Edmonds is one of the best at taking the ball the other way), another outside pitch to Reggie Sanders that he knocked down the first-base line (you never want Sanders extending his arms), and a flat inside fast ball to Albert Pujols that resulted in a single and kept a rally alive in the fifth.

    After missing his location that last time I wondered if Peavy was suffering from youth, nerves, heat or all three. But now we know that, in fact, Peavy broke at least one of his ribs in the third inning, most likely when he caught his spike on the pitching rubber. I don’t know if you blame Peavy for not being more vocal, or manager Bruce Bochy for not being more aware, but you simply can’t have your ace out there operating at less than 100%.

    If Peavy departs the game earlier, it’s entirely possible the Pads’ bullpen (no runs and only three hits over the final 3.2 innings) could hold on enough to set the stage for the team’s ninth-inning rally. Needless to say, the loss of Peavy is a giant blow to San Diego—in fact, he figured prominently in every scenario that had the Padres winning. The Padres can win without him (just as the Marlins won it all a couple of years ago without A.J. Burnett), but it’s not likely, and no one likes to see a team compete without its best player.

  • Defense is an underrated dividing line between these two teams, perhaps because the Padres seem like they’re good fielders. (Playing in a pitcher’s park and hitting few home runs tends to give you that kinda rep.) But they’re really not—they finished 12th in the league in Defensive Efficiency and they have minus defenders all over the diamond.

    Case in point: the smash by Sanders down the line, which Mark Sweeney let slip past him at first base. It was an eminently fieldable ball, and if Sweeney snares it the whole complexion of the inning changes. Contrast that to St. Louis’ defenders, who consistently seemed to be in the right place at the right time and who made plays when they had to.

  • I don’t know if manager Tony La Russa does anything differently to prepare for these opening-round playoff games, but his teams are now 5-1 in Game 1 of the NLDS, outscoring their opponents 38-17. Edmonds gets especially up for these rounds—he’s now hitting .361/.426/.803 in five divisional series.
  • The Padres sure made a game of it at the end—down 8-3 with two outs and only one on in the ninth, the Win Expectancy Finder gave them essentially a 0% chance of winning. Four straight singles later, the tying runs were on base and their odds of winning crept up to … well, 5.4%. Still not great, but not impossible either.

    The man responsible for this rally was Jason Isringhausen, the Cardinals’ closer who has a talent for making games needlessly dramatic. (If he were a movie director he’d be someone like Baz Luhrmann, doing everything he can to goose the narrative.) Izzy came in and got hit hard—so convincingly that an unfamiliar chorus of boos rained down from the Busch Stadium crowd.

    I haven’t been sold on Isringhausen all year. Even as he picked up saves in bunches, he sported a 1.81 K/BB ratio (very poor for an elite closer), and his fielding-independent ERA was a so-so 3.58. The Padres seemed to be locked into him as soon as he entered the game, but, as usual, Izzy was able to rear back and powder three straight swinging strikes past San Diego’s last hope, catcher Ramon Hernandez. As it turned out, what the Padres didn’t get—a grand slam from the middle of their order—is what the Cardinals did, and that made all the difference.

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