Monday, January 24

Why did Mike Schildt replace TJ McFarland with Alex Reyes? Cardinals manager explains decision in NL wild-card loss to Dodgers

Viewers of the NL wild card game between the Cardinals and Dodgers on Wednesday night might have been confused as to why there were two near-consecutive commercial breaks in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The Cardinals initially sent right-hander Giovanny Gallegos back to the mound after he pitched the eighth, but when the Dodgers announced that Gavin Lux would pinch-bat, the Cardinals switched pitchers again, this time to left-hander TJ McFarland, which forced TBS to cut. go back to commercial.

The decision, although initially unclear to viewers, was critical. Gallegos had been the team’s best reliever and had thrown just 12 pitches in the previous inning. But manager Mike Schildt wasn’t done; After McFarland knocked out the first two batters in the inning, he walked Cody Bellinger and was ready to face Chris Taylor. That’s when Schildt made another move to the bullpen to bring in Alex Reyes, who threw just four pitches. The last was a hanging slider that Taylor threw over the left-field wall for a two-run homer to win the game 3-2 and eliminate the Cardinals.

MORE: Chris Taylors’ homer sends Dodgers to NLDS

After the game, Schildt explained why he made those decisions. He said Gallegos was dealing with a “nail problem that kept him from coming back out” in the ninth, and that he just wanted to send his ace reliever to the mound in the last inning to force the Dodgers to burn Lux, a player from left. hand hitter. When McFarland came in, the Dodgers retired Lux, eliminating him from further use in the game as he had already been announced, and brought in Albert Pujols, who has crushed left-handed pitching this season.

“We have McFarland there, keep them on the ground, you know he’s awkward at bat,” Schildt said after the game. “We know they’re going to go with Albert and (Steven Souza Jr.), but we wanted a guy who would be around the plate, at the plate. I went through those two guys.”

Nail problems are common for pitchers, given the way they are forced to catch and throw the ball. Schildt explained that, in fact, it has been “a recurring thing with some of our guys.”

McFarland has been as much a groundball specialist as a team could ask for. The 32-year-old had a 2.56 ERA in 2021, despite a strikeout rate of 14.6 percent. The main reason? A ridiculous groundout rate of 63.7 percent that ranked fifth in the majors among relievers with at least 30 innings of work.

Having McFarland face Pujols and Souza was a gamble. McFarland has allowed right-handers a 42.3 percent hit rate this season, and they have a .739 OPS against him. Not to mention, Schildt knew who Dave Roberts would send to take on McFarland.

MORE: Frustrated Max Scherzer Refuses To Give The Ball To Manager Dave Roberts

Pujols, a future Hall of Famer, has thrived against left-handed pitchers this season at a cutoff of .294 / .336 / .603, with 13 of his 17 home runs against lefties. However, he has also achieved a higher groundball rate against lefties than against righties, with a grounding rate of 48.3 percent against lefties. He lined up toward the center. Souza hasn’t had consistent playing time in years, only 67 plate appearances since 2018, and while he hit 30 home runs in 2017, he’s only had seven since. He also lined up towards the center.

Crisis averted, right? Enter Bellinger. It’s been a miserable season for the 2019 NL MVP. He’s cut .165 / .240 / .302 and appears to be a shell of his old self. Against lefties, he had a bar line of .116 / .208 / .174, although his walk rate of 10.4 percent was nearly 2 percent better than right-handers. And what did he do against McFarland? Drew a walk.

Now Schildt had another decision to make: Should McFarland face Taylor? The answer to that was a resounding no. Taylor dropped .296 / .371 / .526 against lefties this season. With a total grounder rate of 36.3 percent (36.4 percent versus lefties), it wasn’t a great matchup against McFarland, and Schildt knew it.

“Taylor is really good against lefties. He’s not a guy who’s on the ground a lot,” Schildt said. “We have a guy swinging and failing things. We have a guy who (has) slightly higher strikeouts against right-handers, so we have an advantage.”

This is where the problem lies. Schildt was not referring to ace Jack Flaherty, who has pitched from the bullpen since returning from the disabled list. It wasn’t Kodi Whitley, who since being pulled from Memphis on Aug. 28 has had a 0.00 ERA with 11.40 K / 9 and 1.64 FIP in 15 innings. It was Reyes. As for the value of the name, it doesn’t seem like a bad choice. He was an All-Star last summer and was electric for the first half of the season. But this was not the same Reyes who arrived at Coors Field in July.

On August 5, Reyes exploded. He didn’t record an out, allowed three runs, four walks and five hits. From that outing through the rest of the season, Reyes posted a 6.08 ERA in 23.2 innings and lost the closer spot. While his strikeout numbers were still high, at 13.69 K / 9 during that time, his walk rate was also high at 5.32 BB / 9. His home run rate was 2.66 HR / 9.

MORE: Twitter reacts to Chris Taylor’s home run

Walks were lower before that game – 10.91 K / 9 – and walks were higher – 7.03 BB / 9 – but he kept the ball in the yard with a 0.37 HR / 9 and a miniscule 4.4 percent home run to high. . index. Reyes’ stuff is electric, but recent struggles made him a go-to bet with the game on the line.

Coming out of the bullpen, Reyes immediately landed a swing strike on an 87.5 mph slider; then Taylor took a slider and a change on the ground to gain a 2-1 count lead. The Reyes slider spun right over the heart of the plate, and the rest is history.

“The first couple of sliders were really good, the swings we were hoping for, and then he got one that he could swing on,” Schildt said. “That was the game.”

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