Each year, members of the United Cardinal Bloggers get together and publish a progressive game blog. For this season, it is a Saturday afternoon meeting between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals in what could be a preview of a playoff series in October. Before thinking too much about that, let’s get through the game this afternoon.
Joe Kelly gave the Cardinals all they could ask for in his second start since coming off the disabled list. For seven innings, he kept the Dodgers in check, allowing just one run back in the third inning. For Kelly, this would be the seventh time in his career in which he worked into the seventh inning, but only the second where he would finish it. The other time was a 6-4 loss in Milwaukee last September. All he can do now is watch as hard throwing left hander, Sam Freeman (1-0, 1.42 ERA) , takes over in the eighth. Allen Craig, who pinch hit for Oscar Taveras in the seventh inning, stays in the game and will play left field. Jon Jay moves from left to right field.
Freeman, who just turned 27 a few weeks ago, has been something of an enigma over his six professional seasons. Freeman has always pitched well in the minor leagues, striking out nearly a batter an inning. He was exceptional last year, posting a 7-2 record for Memphis, all in relief. His ERA over almost 70 innings was 2.97, which is a good number for the offensively friendly Pacific Coast League. While he has had great success in the minors, that has not always been the case in the majors. If there is a weakness in Freeman’s game, it is control. He has made a noticeable improvement in that this season as you can see in his strikeout/walk rate, finally sneaking above the benchmark rate of 2:1 (2.25:1).
That wildness would get to Freeman this afternoon. He wasn’t missing by much, but seemed to have a hard time finding home plate umpire, Ron Kulpa’s, strike zone. In defense of Freeman, it took both Joe Kelly and Zack Greinke a few innings to find it as well. Freeman had just three batters in which to find it.
The first man Freeman would face is Dodgers third baseman, Justin Turner. Turner came into the game as part of a double switch with reliever Paul Maholm, who would be batting in Juan Uribe’s spot in the order. After getting ahead of Turner, a 1-2 count, Freeman misses on three straight pitches, yielding a leadoff walk.
That turns the dangerous Dodgers batting order over and brings up leadoff hitter, Dee Gordon. Gordon was 2-3 with a stolen base and run scored in his previous three plate appearances. Freeman needs to be careful here. As with the previous batter, Gordon works the count full. He slaps a high inside fastball into right center field. A good play by Jon Jay cuts off the ball, keeping Turner from scoring. Gordon ends up with a double.
That brings the tying run to the plate in Carl Crawford. Crawford is 0-3 so far with a double play and strikeout. On a 2-2 pitch, Crawford hits a fly ball to medium left center field. It is deep enough to score Turner, but a good throw by Peter Bourjos holds Gordon at second. The Cardinals lead is now 4-2.
With a pair of right handed hitters coming up, Mike Matheny makes another pitching change, bringing in the right-hander, Pat Neshek (4-0, 0.69 ERA) . This will be Neshek’s 45th appearance, leading all Cardinals pitchers. If Neshek works out of this jam, Trevor Rosenthal will also make his 45th appearance in the ninth. But that is a big if at this point in the game.
Matt Kemp will pinch hit for Yasiel Puig. Puig was hit in the hand by a Joe Kelly pitch back in the third inning. While it did not prevent him from playing in the field, a weak pop up in his last at bat suggests that his hitting may be a bit off as a result. With the game on the line, Don Mattingly opts for Matt Kemp.
Neshek works Matt Kemp on both sides of the plate. Kemp fouls off a couple of pretty good 1-2 pitches. On a 2-2 pitch, Neshek floats an 82 mph slider over the plate that Matt Kemp swung through. For most other pitchers, that one would have tied the game. With Neshek’s deceptive delivery, it was just another frustrating strikeout for a right handed hitter.
Hanley Ramirez would provide much less drama in his at bat as he took a lot of big swings and came up empty. Neshek works out of trouble and the Cardinals will take a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the inning.
The Cardinals go quickly in their half of the eighth inning. With one out, Jon Jay lays down a perfect bunt for single. Unfortuantely, pinch hitter, Tony Cruz, grounds into a double play.