Monday Morning Mop-Up Duty: changing up in Game 4


SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – I really liked the Game 3 match-up for the Pirates. Who didn’t? Francisco Liriano vs. a newbie in Kelly. But I can’t say the same about Game 4 today.  Sorry, North Shore.


There’s a simple reason I think the Cardinals have an advantage this afternoon even with a rookie starter who was pitching for Texas A & M some 16 months ago. It’s about one pitch: The changeup.


Michael Wacha, as you might have read here this morning, throws a filthy change-up. The Cardinals grade it was the best in their system and it’s one of the best in the game. It plays up because he throws a 92-98 mph fastball with downhill plane.


It’s a matchup nightmare for players like Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte who have swing-and-miss rates above 40 percent on off-seed pitches.


Wacha nearly no-hit the Nationals in his last start. He’s limited Pirates batters to a 3-for-30 batting line in the regular season. He’s 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA as a rookie with a 9.1 k/9 rate and very good command. He might become something of a right-handed Cole Hamels and he might be the Cardinals’ most valuable young arm, which is saying something. (Sick of me talking about Wacha, yet?)



Charlie Morton’s lack of a changeup is another problem today for the Pirates.


Like A.J. Burnett, Morton is a two-pitch pitcher: fastball (two variations) and curveball. The Cardinals are loaded with tough left-handed batters. Changeups are left-handed neutralizers as they fade away from power, not into, like R to L curveballs.


Morton has tried to develop a third pitch, a split-change, but his comfort with the pitch has come and gone. I asked Morton if the split-change will be in play today and he smartly avoided a straight answer:


“For me it’s been a feel pitch, because I’m not too familiar with that.  I started throwing it in 2011, and then during the rehab process I didn’t throw it at all,” Morton said. “But I think I have more confidence throwing it and being aggressive with it in the zone than I do throwing a circle change‑up just because I think I’ve had more success with it when the ball is put in play or it’s in the zone.  So I’ll continue to throw the split change just because I think my circle change‑up is a non‑factor.”


The Cardinals have a collective .970 OPS against Morton and shelled him for five runs  in 1 2/3 innings in their previous meeting.


Of course a win today is hardly an impossibility: the Cardinals are throwing a rookie on the road and Morton has one of the best pitches in the game, his sinking fastball. But the change-up tilts the percentages in favor of the Cards in Game 4, IMO.




9. I wonder if Clint Hurdle manages today’s game much like an elimination game. The prospect of traveling back to St. Louis to face Adam Wainwright in a Game 5 is not an attractive proposition.


All hands, expect Gerrit Cole, might be on deck.


8. Give Pedro Alvarez credit for putting a ball in play for his game-winning RBI single off Kevin Siegrist yesterday. That was his first RBI hit off a lefty in the 8th inning or later this season. Tough task, lefty-on-lefty with mid 90s heat. But if there’s a shift on that’s a routine putout. The Cardinals’ pitcher are not comfortable with shifts and it cost them last night.


7. I know Clint Hurdle and his relievers like routine and roles, etc. But there were many nerds who weren’t comfortable with Jason Grilli beginning the ninth by pitching to lefties Matt Adams, who singled, and Jon Jay, who lined out to short. The save statistics has really warped how bullpens should be constructed. Hurdle did show some willingness to match up in the ninth but said his preference is to start the ninth with his closer.


6. Mark Melancon was the best setup man in baseball in the first half. But he’s had four blown saves since Sept. 18. Not all the blown leads have featured hard hit balls but the trend is concerning. Tired arm?


5. Carlos Beltran is an amazing talent. He passed Babe Ruth, yes, George Herman Ruth, for eighth all time in postseason homers last night (16). I wouldn’t be too comfortable pitching to him in any situation in October. I would rather face Beltran when he’s batting right-handed. His OPS is 150 lower from that side this season.


4. When Jordy Mercer entered the game in the 7th, in a one-run game, as replacement for Clint Barmes, many in Pittsburgh  gasped. And it’s funny how the first ball immediately found Mercer. What did Mercer do? He ranged well to his left to fielder the grounder, spun, and made an accurate throw to first. That was Mercer’s way of telling many to be quiet.


3. The Cardinals led baseball with a .330 RISP batting average this season. The Pirates ranked 26th (.229). This series the Pirates are 6-for-18 and the Cardinals are 3-for-20.


Can’t script the postseason.


2. Vic Black and Dilson Herrera might go on to have very nice careers, but Marlon Byrd has been well worth the price.


1. Another great baseball crowd. Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly weathered the Keeeellllllll-eeee assaults quite well. Can Wacha do the same?  I can already hear you warming up North Shore: Waaaacch-aaaaaaahhhh, Waaaachh-aaaaahhhh.




The number of sliders Francisco Liriano has thrown in his last two starts.


One reason to consider trading Liriano this offseason is that his arm might fall off. Also, you’d be selling high and he’s only got one year left on his deal.




Local market TBS rating for Sunday’s game. Pittsburgh is not just a hockey and football town. If you build it they will watch.




Alvarez on his growth as a hitter: he was able to flush back-to-back strikeouts to begin the game and focus on his key at bat in the 8th:


“It’s one of those things with time, with repetition, with games, you learn to move on,” he said. “When the times are low, you just have confidence that the work you put in every day before the game is going to pay off. You try to play the game pitch to pitch.”



Is Wacha ready for today’s environment? Is he ready for Waaaaa-chaaa, Waaaaa-chaaa chants?


He knows he has an ideal surname for 40,000 postseason-starved, perhaps Iron City Beer-fueled fans to break down into two syllables and repeat.


“It’s going to happen. Might as well get prepared for it,” Wacha said.




Disappointing comment and ironic since it came from one of the more analytical organizations in baseball with one of the more analytical mangers … and Price did attend Vanderbilt.


– TS