Game Notes: Cardinals 10, Dodgers 0 - A Vintage Ass Kicking

Jul 29, 2009 at 4:47 am
-- Chad Billingsley is really, really good. It isn't often you see a pitcher with that kind of ability, that combination of velocity, movement, and location. Personally, I think Billingsley needs to learn to use both sides of the plate more effectively, as he essentially stays in the same area all game long, especially to right-handed hitters. Working to the third base side of the plate more often would add another dimension to what is already a pretty impressive repertoire. 

You might be asking yourself right now, "Why is this guy talking about how good the opposing pitcher was, when the Cards just hung ten runs on the board?" Well, I'm starting with how good Billingsley is because the rest of this column is just going to be salivating over this new Cardinal team, and I wanted to inject at least a little balance in here somewhere. 

-- Watching the game last night, I was reminded of nothing so much as the offense the Cardinals fielded in 2004. In '04, the Cards' offense just steamrolled pitchers, regardless of who they were or how well they were throwing. Even if they couldn't hit a pitcher, that team would just wear them down, taking quality at-bats and putting continuous pressure on the opposition. 
Last night, Billingsley was on. He looked virtually unhittable. So what did the Cardinal hitters do? They waited him out. All night long, they ground out plate appearances, forcing Billingsley to work, to execute good pitches. They put pressure on him all night, even as he appeared to cruise along. And it worked. When he finally made a real mistake, issuing a leadoff walk to Skip Schumaker in the sixth inning, the offense pounced. Trying to get through a lineup without any holes is hard enough once; doing it a third time, with no margin for error, proved to be just too much. Just as we saw so many times with the 2004 team, even when the Cardinals struggled to put any sort of sustained rally together against a pitcher, they would just grind pitchers down, fighting a war of attrition, and finally break through in the middle innings. 

-- While we're on the subject of offense, what the fuck was Tony La Russa thinking, trying to bunt with Mark DeRosa in the sixth inning? You finally put the leadoff hitter on against a pitcher who has been hanging tough all night, and now you're going to play for one run? Bunting there, with the meat of the order coming up and a guy at the plate who himself is no slouch with the bat was one of the stupidest managerial decisions I think I've ever seen. I know everybody thinks moving a guy into scoring position there somehow increases your chances of scoring, but it really doesn't. Much smarter people than me have done tons of research, and bunting simply doesn't work in all but a tiny, tiny number of instances. Giving up an out to move a man from first to second with your best hitters coming up is not one of them. 

I understand Billingsley was pitching remarkably well, and Adam Wainwright was matching him zero for zero. Even so, when you put the leadoff hitter on ahead of your big bats, you can't play for just one run there. Not only does the bunt not increase your chances of scoring one run nearly as much as most people think, it dramatically decreases your chances of scoring multiple runs. Luckily, Billingsley started nibbling and the Cardinals were able to put up a big number on him, but it doesn't change the fact that bunting in that situation was completely asinine.