Yesterday, the St. Louis Cardinals crushed the Kansas City Royals in the opening game of the yearly I-70 series, a cohesive 11-3 beatdown by the red team against the blue team.
Tonight was no different.
In a game in which Royals bats languished for eight out of nine innings, the Cardinals again rose victorious in a 10-3 pummeling, punishing starting and relief pitchers in their pursuit of The Cardinal Way.
The Royals offense, somewhat lax of late, managed to strike against St. Louis starter Michael Wacha in the fourth inning. Eric Hosmer walked and then Melky Cabrera dropped a bloop single into center field to place two on with one out. Jorge Bonifacio then walked to load them up for Cheslor Cuthbert, who was making his first MLB appearance since June 25 to to injury. Cuthbert lined a double to left field, unclogging the bases and giving the Royals a 3-1 lead.
That lead would not hold. For four innings, Royals starter Jason Vargas juked and jabbed like an underpowered boxer making the most of his arsenal, and did so quite well. For those four innings, the only negative mark on Vargas’s report card was a solo home run by Yadier Molina.
Vargas ran out of steam in the fifth inning, though. Randal Grichuk homered to lead off the frame, and then Vargas began to lose control. He plunked Matt Carpenter, and in the next at bat against Tommy Pham Vargas plunked the ground, sending Carpenter racing to second base and scoring position. Pham singled on a swinging bunt, because when it rains it pours, and then another wild pitch by Vargas place Pham in scoring position as well.
After a few more blinks, Vargas had walked Jose Martinez and relinquished a single to Yadier Molina and a double to Dexter Fowler. The score was 4-3 Cardinals at that point, Kansas City’s quick lead a distant memory. With Fowler’s double, Ned Yost decided that it was time for Vargas to go.
But in replacing Vargas, Ned Yost made an inexplicable decision. With two men on base, righty Jedd Gyorko coming to the plate, and a quiver full of bullpen arms, Yost decided on lefty Mike Minor.
Now, Minor has a big platoon split, giving up a .713 OPS to righties versus a minuscule .321 OPS against lefties this year. This mirrors his career split (though it is more pronounced this year). Similarly, Gyorko has a .879 OPS against lefties and a .772 OPS against righties; again, this mirrors his career splits.
Gyorko hung in against some of Minor’s pitches, but proceeded to crush a pitch upstairs to left field for a three-run home run, the dagger that gave the Cardinals a firm lead.
That Minor, a LOOGY in all but name only, would surrender an extra-base hit to Gyorko, a man who makes his living crushing lefty pitching, is the type of predictable and avoidable event that has exemplified the last two weeks or so of Royals baseball.
More baseball happened after the fifth inning, but is was for naught. St. Louis struck again in the seventh inning, tagging Neftali Feliz for a trio of runs. Though the game was functionally over by that point anyway, poor defense again burned the Royals, as Drew Butera did not back up the play correctly and allowed another run to score that should not have.
The Royals managed only six hits, five of which were singles, and one walk against Michael Wacha and three relievers. The Cardinals knocked 14 hits and walked seven times. That difference in on base totals is how you lose a ball game.
Kansas City stands at 57-55 on the season. Somehow, after dropping eight of their last 11 games, the Royals still have possession of the second Wild Card spot (albeit tied with the Tampa Bay Rays). Tomorrow, they go across the state of Missouri to St. Louis to play the Cardinals for two more games in their home stadium.