If this afternoon’s contest between the Cardinals and Braves was a game you were interested in watching, hopefully you tuned in early; if you’re a fan of the Braves, or competitive baseball, there wasn’t much worth watching after that. Here was the Cardinals’ top of the first inning:
|D Fowler||M Foltynewicz||0-0||Dexter Fowler walked.||53.50%|
|K Wong||M Foltynewicz||0-0||Kolten Wong sacrificed to pitcher (Bunt Grounder). Dexter Fowler advanced to 2B.||51.70%|
|P Goldschmidt||M Foltynewicz||0-0||Paul Goldschmidt singled to shortstop (Grounder). Dexter Fowler advanced to 3B.||56.20%|
|M Ozuna||M Foltynewicz||0-0||Marcell Ozuna singled to right (Liner). Dexter Fowler scored. Paul Goldschmidt advanced to 2B.||62.70%|
|Y Molina||M Foltynewicz||0-1||Yadier Molina reached on error to first (Grounder). Paul Goldschmidt advanced to 3B. Marcell Ozuna advanced to 2B on error. Error by Freddie Freeman.||67.80%|
|M Carpenter||M Foltynewicz||0-1||Matt Carpenter walked. Paul Goldschmidt scored. Marcell Ozuna advanced to 3B. Yadier Molina advanced to 2B.||75.30%|
|T Edman||M Foltynewicz||0-2||Tommy Edman doubled to right (Grounder). Marcell Ozuna scored. Yadier Molina scored. Matt Carpenter advanced to 3B.||86.30%|
|P DeJong||M Foltynewicz||0-4||Paul DeJong was intentionally walked.||86.60%|
|J Flaherty||M Fried||0-4||Jack Flaherty walked. Matt Carpenter scored. Tommy Edman advanced to 3B. Paul DeJong advanced to 2B.||90.60%|
|D Fowler||M Fried||0-5||Dexter Fowler doubled to left (Grounder). Tommy Edman scored. Paul DeJong scored. Jack Flaherty advanced to 3B.||95.40%|
|K Wong||M Fried||0-7||Kolten Wong doubled to center (Liner). Jack Flaherty scored. Dexter Fowler scored.||97.30%|
|P Goldschmidt||M Fried||0-9||Paul Goldschmidt flied out to right. Kolten Wong advanced to 3B.||97.10%|
|M Ozuna||M Fried||0-9||Marcell Ozuna reached on dropped third strike (wp).||97.20%|
|K Wong||M Fried||0-9||Kolten Wong advanced on a wild pitch to score.||97.90%|
|Y Molina||M Fried||0-10||Yadier Molina grounded out to third.||97.90%|
Things could have gone differently for Mike Foltynewicz. There was an infield single by Paul Goldschmidt; Freddie Freeman committed an error. If Goldschmidt had hit that grounder at an infielder instead of in the hole, or if Freeman had caught Yadier Molina’s gounder, the Braves escape with a 1-0 deficit in the first. That isn’t what happened, though. After a walk and a double, Foltynewicz was done down by four and Max Fried came in to face the pitcher with the bases loaded. Fried walked Jack Flaherty, more damage was done, and by the time the inning finally, mercifully concluded, the Braves’ were in a massive hole, though not until after a wild pitch allowed Marcell Ozuna to reach, and Kolten Wong to score.
The next few innings involved more Cardinals runs and a defensive substitution before the Cardinals ever even took the field (Bader in center field with Carpenter out at third), and a debate about what to do with Flaherty ensued. With the Cardinals up 10-0 after one inning, Flaherty could conceivably have been held out of the game and started Game 1 of the NLCS. He went out and pitched the first inning and looked slightly rusty. He got out of the frame unscathed. He hit for himself again in the second and had a quick bottom of the inning, having thrown 33 total pitches through two. He then hit for himself in the third inning and went back out to the mound with a 13-0 lead. After finishing the third with 47 pitches, he continued on.
There was a little bit of drama when Flaherty plunked Ronald Acuña Jr. in the fifth inning. Given that Carlos Martinez was upset about how Acuña had looked at him when he rounded the bases on a homer in Game 1, and Acuña’s throat-slashing gesture at the end of Game 3 (Molina responded in kind after Game 4), hitting Acuna with a pitch in a blowout is a bad look whether it was intentional or not, and if intentional, it’s a dangerous, unnecessary play MLB should to do more to curb. Controversy (such as it was) aside, Flaherty got the club out of the fifth and the sixth and after 104 pitches, eight strikeouts, one walk and one run, his night was done.
The logic behind pulling Flaherty is pretty easy to sort out. Starting him in Game 1 and Game 5 is better than Game 3 and Game 7 since Game 5 is more likely to occur and if there were to be a Game 7, Flaherty could potentially pitch in relief. The counter is that perhaps that difference isn’t all that big, and as Flaherty is the Cardinals best pitcher, he ensures that the Cardinals hold on to that 13-run lead.
After Game 4, I wrote the following:
This hasn’t been a series where no lead is safe, but rather one where small leads have been precarious because they often are. These two clubs went back and forth in three of the four games. Game 5 promises a rematch of Game 2, which the Braves took wire to wire thanks to a great performance from Mike Foltynewicz. He bested Jack Flaherty last Friday in a series that has not gone as scripted for either club. Flaherty will get another opportunity to try to shut down the Braves’ offense, while the Cardinals’ offense, which has been mostly lifeless this series, will get another crack at solving Foltynewicz. Both clubs are certain to get their opportunities, and the team that takes advantage will celebrate on Wednesday night.
Some leads are safe. 10-0 in the first and 13-0 in the third certainly qualify. The Cardinals offense took advantage, and now the Braves are left thinking about the chances they squandered earlier in the series. The Cardinals move on the NLCS for the first time since 2014, when they lost to the Giants after Michael Wacha entered a tight game despite not having pitched in weeks. There are reports of Wacha making the NLCS roster, but a repeat of 2014 is unlikely. For now, the Cardinals celebrate. On Friday, they’ll hope their bats can stay alive and that Carlos Martinez and the bullpen fare better than they did against the Braves. If they can’t, St. Louis may be left thinking about their own opportunities squandered as their best pitcher threw 108 pitches with the win in the bag.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.