In a 7-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday afternoon, the Chicago Cubs loaded up their lineup from the left side of the plate. The Cardinals, correspondingly, were unable to deliver outs from that same side, creating a widening deficit that took the wind out of any comeback sails.
Left-handed reliever Tyler Lyons entered a one run game and left a five run game, being unable to record more than two outs. His performance came a day after fellow southpaw Brett Cecil failed to record more than one out in a game the Cardinals were, at the time, leading by 15 runs.
In fact, just as notable as their usage is their absence. On Thursday night, right-handers Sam Tuivailala and Matt Bowman each got opportunities to face off with Cubs lefty slugger Anthony Rizzo as Cecil and Lyons sat unused in the bullpen. Kyle Schwarber, another lefty, was due up in the fifth inning Saturday with two runners on and no one out when Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt opted to go to the bullpen.
Not Cecil. Not Lyons. Right-handed Mike Mayers got the call.
“Mike’s one of our better guys who come in with runners on base,” said Shildt. “At that point it’s not about a match-up necessarily. You like Mike’s stuff against Schwarber or anybody in their lineup.”
Shildt went on to explain that “it’s more about our strengths at some point with how we look to match up.
“When they’re there we’ll take them, and when they’re not, then we adapt to what we have based on our strength and based on what the score tells us.”
In a one run game with two runners on base and Schwarber – whose slugging percentage against lefties is 250 points lower – due up, Shildt didn’t see a match-up. Despite his claims to the contrary, evidence suggests that that says more about the pitchers than the batter.
Lyons hasn’t been able to pull his earned run average below 5.00 since April 13th. Cecil was burned for 26 pitches to record one out in Friday’s blowout, and his walks plus hits per inning in 2018 is a dismal 1.8. In a situation with runners on base, the risk of further damage was too great to turn to him for even one batter.
The difficulty of the long weekend at Wrigley was another factor playing into the pitching decisions. Shildt acknowledged the necessity of using nearly all of his relievers throughout Saturday’s scheduled double header, and he also cited planning for “borderline three games” with Sunday’s game being the third scheduled start time for the two teams in a 25 hour stretch. Still, the game in front of the Cardinals, trailing by one in the fifth, was paramount.
“It might rain tomorrow,” Shildt said, “so you have to try to win the game today.”
Unfortunately for Shildt and the Cardinals, their lefties drove them to being stuck between rocked and a hard place. Shildt opted for hard, was later forced to accept rocked, and the game got away.
Until the left side of the bullpen finds consistency, others will likely follow in those unfortunate footsteps.
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