With every game crucial for the St. Louis Cardinals’ fight for a wild card berth, a Sunday ninth-inning baserunning blunder by catcher Yadier Molina led to a tight late-game relief situation on Monday. Molina messed up a first-and-third with one out opportunity on Sunday which could have led to the Cardinals putting away the contest at San Francisco.
Instead, with the game remaining a save opportunity, manager Mike Matheny elected to use reliever Seung-hwan Oh for a second consecutive day as the Cards took the final two of the four-game set over the Giants. Oh had just returned from missing a week with a groin injury.
That workload rendered the closer unavailable Monday, as St. Louis moved on to Colorado. The Cardinals scratched their way to a 5-2 lead in the fourth with three unearned runs following an error by Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. The score remained the same heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Despite Kevin Siegrist having thrown 16 pitches himself on Sunday just ahead of Oh, Matheny gave the ball to the lefty to close on Monday. In prior years, it would have been as automatic as it was with former closer Trevor Rosenthal. However, here in 2016, the heavy wear on the pair (plus fellow bullpen stalwart Seth Maness) over the last three years has clearly taken its toll. (Further details here.)
On Monday, Siegrist seemed to be having trouble with location on his fastball as even two of his three outs secured were hard-hit line drives to the outfield. The ninth began with one of the line outs before another liner left the park, a 376-foot pinch-hit home run by Ryan Raburn.
It was Siegrist’s 10th long ball allowed over 57 2/3 innings here in 2016. To help put that into perspective, 10 is also the total number of home runs yielded by the lefty in his first three MLB seasons combined, over 144 2/3 innings.
Matters became increasingly tense following the home run on Monday night when a single and walk put the tying runs on base with two out. With Rosenthal warming in the pen, Matheny elected to stay with Maness instead. Fortunately for the Cardinals, Arenado’s screaming liner was hit straight at left-fielder Brandon Moss, who appeared to briefly bobble the hot potato before securing the catch. Had the ball been stroked another five or 10 yards to his left, it could have easily rolled to the wall, scoring both runners and tying the game. Instead, Siegrist survived for his third save of the year.
Of the six batters he faced in the inning, three reached base, making his WHIP for the night 3.00 to go with his 9.00 ERA, albeit in the smallest of samples.
It required Siegrist a hard 32 pitches to secure his three outs. Normally, that count would represent two stressful innings for a starter, but with a rest on the bench in between, a luxury unavailable to the reliever. In the altitude of Denver, the marathon outing had to take a lot out of Siegrist, who may not have that much left in the tank, anyway. After an MLB-leading 81 appearances last season, Siegrist is on track for 68 this year, despite a 15-day disabled list stint in July. That would still be second on the team behind first-year Cardinal Oh.
Researcher Tom Orf points out that Siegrist’s 32 pitches in a ninth-inning save were the ninth-most thrown by any Cardinals reliever in team history. The record-holder is Jason Isringhausen, who tossed 37 pitches in the ninth while saving the club’s September 14, 2002 contest versus Houston.
I will close with an admission. Though I suggested above that Siegrist’s uptick in home runs issued occurred this season, it is really not the case. Instead, it began last October.
Crucial to the Cardinals’ NLCS drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Cubs were a whopping 10 home runs allowed by St. Louis pitching in four games. Three of them were served up by Siegrist in the deciding Games 3 and 4, including two in the final contest as Siegrist took the loss. Two were clubbed by Anthony Rizzo, with the last a prodigious blast by Kyle Schwarber, the ball remaining on top of the Wrigley Field videoboard to this day, enshrined there by the Cubs in remembrance of its impressiveness and significance.
If the Cardinals can make it to October this year, the prospect of Siegrist regaining his 2013-2015 level of dominance appears shaky at best.
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