Wainwright and Soroka Duel Upstaged by Braves’ Rally in 9th

After narrowly escaping his ineffectiveness in Game 1, the Carlos Martinez Octobercoaster caused St. Louis to yack up a pivotal Game 3 at home, and cede a 2-to-1 NLDS series lead to the Atlanta Braves. A three-run Braves’ ninth on the back of three hits and two walks spoiled a timeless, if sometimes harrowing, 7.2 shutout innings from 38-year-old Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, and sent 47,000 fans home in stunned silence.

Up until the twist, Planet of the Apes-y ending, St. Louis had maintained a loose grip on a 1-0 lead first captured on a second-inning Matt Carpenter sac fly, enabled by an earlier Marcell Ozuna double. Throughout the six innings that followed, the Cardinals survived several well-struck fly balls that momentarily stopped the collective heart of Busch Stadium, before they died at the warning track and fell harmlessly into the waiting glove of Dexter Fowler. A Ronald Acuña Jr. laser in the third (107 mph off the bat), a Nick Markakis golf shot (100 mph) in the fourth, and a hanging curveball to Matt Joyce (102.5 mph) in the seventh all amounted to nothing more than a few seconds of concern.

Then came the ninth inning. A leadoff double by Josh Donaldson (who was replaced at second base by human blur Billy Hamilton) immediately put the tying run in scoring position. Consecutive Martinez strikeouts forced Cardinals manager Mike Shildt to make a two-out decision. Either a) have Martinez face lefty-hitting catcher Brian McCann, or b) walk McCann so Martinez could face the right-handed Dansby Swanson, who had doubled off of Wainwright earlier in the game. Shildt chose to face Swanson, who obliterated a first-pitch hanging slider and tied the game on his second double. Adam Duvall followed with a less emphatic, but more significant, single that plated Rafael Ortega (who ran for McCann) and Swanson.

While he has an incredible changeup that helps him deal with left-handed hitters, Martinez’s career splits against righties (.220/.288/.306) are much better than they are against lefties (.260/.347/.402), making this Shildt decision appear sound despite the result. Doomed largely by poor breaking ball execution, Martinez now has a five hit, three walk, six earned run line in 2.1 innings pitched in this series, a line made uglier by multiple confrontations with Acuña, who Martinez hit with a fastball after Duvall’s single.

The walk to McCann may have cost the Cardinals an unforeseen out of their own in the bottom of the ninth. Because the Braves ran for McCann, perhaps baseball’s slowest runner, he was replaced in the final frame by the excellent pitch-framing catcher Tyler Flowers, whose sleight of hand stole a strike three call against Ozuna, who has been the Cardinals’ best hitter in the series, going 6-for-13, with three doubles and a walk. The strikeout helped to stifle a potential Cardinals’ rally kept alive by an earlier ninth inning Paul Goldschmidt double.

Lost in all the late-inning drama was a seven-inning pitcher’s duel between Wainwright and 22-year-old Braves righty Mike Soroka, who allowed just two hits. Soroka worked mostly 92-94 with his heavy sinker but garnered several swings and misses with his slider and changeup as well. It was a stellar playoff debut start for a young man who among the promising crop of pitching prospects that have helped get Atlanta to this place, is purportedly the most competitive and fiery.

Amid the handful of well-struck balls Wainwright allowed, he was excellent, working primarily with his arcing, mid-70s curveball throughout the outing, finishing with eight strikeouts in 7.2 innings, allowing just six base runners. He and lefty Andrew Miller, who got a lefty out to end the eighth, absolved Shildt of being asked more serious questions about sticking with Wainwright for too long. Leaving Waino in cost the Cardinals a bases-empty, one-out at-bat from a position player in the sixth, and caused considerable consternation when the Braves loaded the bases against him in the eighth. But that jam didn’t ultimately lead to runs, and allowing Wainwright to pitch the seventh and most of the eighth saved St. Louis’ bullpen for Monday’s Game 4.

Ephemera

Swanson went 3-for-4 with two doubles, which constituted two of the four hardest-hit balls in the game. His big game resume dates back to college and includes feats like hitting four homers in four games during an SEC tournament and a go-ahead dinger in the ninth inning of a Regional final, before a Jeteresque jump throw to prevent the tying run from hitting in the bottom of that inning. Perhaps he and Alex Bregman, picks No. 1 and 2 in the 2015 draft, are on a bragging rights collision course.

Atlanta’s Game 4 starter is still TBD as of manager Brian Snitker’s postgame presser. Righty Julio Teheran, who was added to the NLDS roster after Chris Martin’s Game 1 injury, is a strong possibility now that the Braves have a series lead. If not Teheran, lefty Dallas Keuchel may go on short rest. If Keuchel goes, he and opposing starter Dakota Hudson make for interesting opponents due to their ability to induce grounders. The two have the highest groundball rates among pitchers with at least 100 innings in 2019, making the possible matchup appointment viewing for those who have grown tired of all the homers.

We hoped you liked reading Wainwright and Soroka Duel Upstaged by Braves’ Rally in 9th by Eric Longenhagen!

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Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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ruskig
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ruskig

I had given them up for dead after the 8th inning…Keuchel on 3 day > Tehran

emh1969
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emh1969

I don’t know. The history of pitchers on short rest in the playoffs has not been pretty. Plus Tehran has a history of doing quite well against the Cardinals. And the Cardinals hit slightly better against lefties than against righties this year.

TKDC
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TKDC

I like Teheran to start, but I’d have him on a short leash. My concern with that plan is that Snitker doesn’t really do short leashes.

emh1969
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emh1969

Personally, I’d have any starter on a short leash in the playoffs.

As for Snitker, the Braves were almost exactly league average in innings per start this season (5.39 vs 5.36). Their starter ERA was also about league average (4.20vs 4.33). So it seems like Snitker pulls his pitchers about when you would expect him too.

TKDC
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TKDC

I defy you to find a Braves fan who says Snitker takes pitchers out quickly. It’s not just about starters. I don’t think average regular season stats for starters are very instructive on this.

You are right that any pitcher should be on a short leash in the playoffs. I’m working from that baseline, so perhaps I should say that I’d have him on a tiny, microscopic leash.

emh1969
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emh1969

I’m interested in data, not in what fans think.

Now granted, the data I presented isn’t ideal. And it’s honestly a hard question to answer. Because what we really want to know is when a starter gets pulled relative to when he “should” have been pulled. Which is incredibly subjective.

bosoxforlife
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bosoxforlife

I remember short rest being two days and Lew Burdette shutting out the Yankees in Game 7 in 1957 and Sandy Koufax doing the same against the Twins in 1965. Bob Gibson, as hard a thrower as there was along with a nasty slider, gave up 3 runs in 27 innings in eight days. Today’s wusses can’t even go seven on four days rest. The excuse that today’s starters throw so much harder might stand up except for the fact that Keuchel is a soft-tosser. He is a much better choice than Teheran. Are the teams protecting arms? Every bit of evidence says there is no evidence and Keuchel is a free agent anyway so let it fall off. It would seem that with modern training and fitness that today’s pitchers would be more capable of going deeper into games and throwing more innings rather than becoming little more than slightly extended openers.

averagejoe15
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averagejoe15

It’s not the same game today. It has nothing to do with max velocity and more to do with effort per pitch or how often a player is throwing near max effort. Today’s pitchers throw close to max effort on every pitch. Back in the day pitchers would sit at something closer to 80% until a situation arose when they needed the extra juice.

Just because Keuchel on full rest is certainly a better choice than Teheran doesn’t mean Keuchel is always a better choice than Teheran especially if Keuchel is not able to pitch near his max effectiveness. And being a ‘soft tosser’ doesn’t mean he requires less rest. Throwing 90 for Keuchel requires the same effort as throwing 96 for Verlander.

‘Every bit of evidence says there is no evidence.’ There’s definitive evidence that pitchers perform better with full rest versus short rest. Anecdotes from the 50s-70s isn’t evidence. Studies have shown this, including this article specifically on playoff starts: https://www.google.com/amp/s/syndication.bleacherreport.com/amp/1812391-does-throwing-top-pitchers-on-short-rest-pay-off-in-the-postseason.amp.html

bosoxforlife
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bosoxforlife

I fully understand that the game is different today. I am just not convinced that some of the comments I read about pitching are true. What I really have a hard time buying is that pitchers today are throwing with more effort. I doubt if you were watching the game during the 60’s but Bob Gibson was max effort on every pitch he threw. His delivery was so violent that he was off balance and spun after releasing the ball. Why could Gibson, Seaver , Ryan, Schilling and, long before them, W. Johnson, Feller and others throw with max effort and throw 300 innings for years and years. Ryan was as fast as anyone who as ever pitched yet continued to dominate hitters well into his 40’s. Walter Johnson pitched for 21 years leading the league in K’s 12 times and he pitched 300 innings in 9 straight seasons. Take a look at Feller’s 1946 season. It is beyond belief. He certainly wasn’t a soft-tosser yet kept going for years and years after that. I am simply looking for better reasons than it is a different game today for why these great pitchers were able to do what they did and today’s pitcher’s either can’t or, for some foolish reason such as protecting the arm, aren’t allowed to even try.

gettwobrute79
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gettwobrute79

You say you fully understand it’s a different game today, but I don’t think you’re understanding how different it is. Look at the conditions guys like Feller and Johnson we’re pitching in: segregated, with enormous ballparks, a much deader ball and most lineups where only a couple of guys could take you deep. That’s a pitchers paradise. You stick a guy like Verlander (current version) in those conditions, he’s gonna strike out about 500 and pitch 300 innings.
Another issue with all of your examples? It’s survivor bias. We only know all of those names because those are the guys who made it through unscathed (or mostly, anyway…look at Feller’s career before 1946 and after and tell me that throwing almost 400 innings his first full year back from WWII didn’t shorten his career on the back nine). History is littered with guys like Gary Nolan, Don Gullett, Vida Blue, Ed Walsh, Smokey Joe Wood and countless other guys who threw tons of innings at a young age and burned out too quickly from it. Don Drysdale was done at 33, Koufax at 30. Those guys were freaks and that’s why they’re so rare.
Also…why is foolish for them to want to protect their arm if that’s their livelihood? What a foolish remark that is.