Mike Shildt and the St. Louis Cardinals needed a solid start from Carlos Martinez Wednesday. The rubber match of their three-game series with the Dodgers would be their 13th game in 13 days, and their 10th straight on the road. The Dodgers did them no favors, scheduling a night game on getaway day despite having Thursday off; the Cardinals would have to fly home late Wednesday and then kick-off a four-game home series with the Reds less than 14 stiff and sleep-deprived hours after their plane lands in St. Louis. The rotation is down a couple arms, with Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas on the injured list, and their overworked bullpen was just shelled for seven runs two nights earlier in a 9-2 series-opening loss. If Martinez could just grind through some innings and spare some extremely worn-out relievers, even in a loss, that would be its own kind of victory.
Instead, Martinez took one of the most vicious ass-whuppings you will ever see in a professional baseball game, and handed the ball over to a grim-faced Shildt just minutes after taking the mound. It took a bunted foul ball from the opposing pitcher, batting ninth, for Martinez to even record one out. I am not asking you to feel pity for the dreaded St. Louis Cardinals, nor for the plight of their bullpen, which went from hoping for a reprieve to recording 25 of the Dodgers’ 27 outs in a humiliating 14-3 loss. Quite the contrary: By pointing out the context of the events of Wednesday’s game, I hope our shared chuckle at the Cardinals’ misery will be all the heartier.
The trouble started on Martinez’s second pitch, an 89-mph cutter which Mookie Betts clobbered to right for a ground-rule double. It was the start of a bad trend: Very nearly every time a Dodgers batter took the bat off his shoulder, the ball was smoked. Max Muncy looked at five pitches and drew a walk; Justin Turner roped a single to left; Cody Bellinger ripped a first-pitch single into right; Chris Taylor took a four-pitch walk; and Gavin Lux smacked a first-pitch single to center. Four runs were on the board, Martinez had thrown 16 pitches, and only once had a Dodgers batter swung the bat and not produced a base hit. Zach McKinstry, the seventh batter of the inning, broke the streak, but not in a way that was at all helpful to Martinez or the Cardinals: He fouled off four pitches en route to an eight pitch at-bat, but roped the eighth one to right center to drive home two more runs. Austin Barnes actually swung and missed at Martinez’s 25th pitch of the inning, but the next four missed the zone altogether and Barnes drew the second walk of the inning.
Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler, perhaps taking pity on a colleague, tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt on a two-strike count, and pushed the ball foul to give Martinez his first out of the game. The carnage picked up immediately: Betts, in his second at-bat of the inning, socked a ball through the left side and drove home another run. Martinez finally collected an honest out with his next pitch, a cutter that Muncy pulled to right but which hung up and was caught by Justin Williams. That was the high point of the evening for Martinez: After another four-pitch walk, this time to Justin Turner, Martinez was lifted with the bases loaded and Bellinger back at the plate. Shildt brought on Jake Woodford, who’d had a couple days off and hadn’t allowed a run in more than two weeks. That is when this happened:
Woodford takes official credit for the dinger, but the other three runs are credited to poor, poor Carlos Martinez, whose final line on the night is like something out of a nightmare: 39 pitches, 19 strikes, six hits, four walks, 10 earned runs, and only two (2) outs. Martinez becomes only the second pitcher since 1901 to allow 10 or more runs on six or fewer hits and record two or fewer outs, and the first in the 139-year history of the Cardinals franchise to allow 10 runs without recording at least one full inning of work.
It’s been a real topsy-turvy couple appearances for Martinez. In his last start, on May 27, he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Diamondbacks, before three straight hits plated a run and ended his evening. Since the sixth inning of that game, 13 of the last 14 batters he’s faced who were not actively trying to produce an out have reached base. Not great!
Considering the state of their bullpen it is a minor miracle the Cardinals were able to get through Wednesday’s shellacking without using any position players as pitchers. But the rotation is still thin, and they don’t have a day off until Monday, at which point they will have played 17 games in 17 days. Now is not the time for rigid positional fidelity! Put Yadier Molina on the mound! The results almost literally could not be any worse.