The Cardinals were well on their way toward a stress-free Game 1 victory over the Phillies, until they weren’t.
In the ninth inning, with a 2-0 lead, star closer Ryan Helsley lost control of his fastball and got into a bases-loaded jam. He then departed with trainers with an apparent hand or finger injury and left manager Oli Marmol with a decision.
Jack Flaherty or Andre Pallante?
With only one out, and the Cardinals seeking a game-ending double play, Marmol brought in Pallante. There was plenty of logic behind the decision, as Pallante has a 65 percent ground ball rate. But instead of playing their infield back and in double-play depth, they played their infield in.
It came back to bite them.
Cardinals defensive positioning came back to haunt them
Jean Segura squirted a ball between first and second base, scoring two runs, and giving the Phillies a 3-2 lead in a game that they would ultimately win 6-3. Had the defense played in their normal alignment, there is a real chance that it would have induced a game-ending double play, and the Cardinals would have won 2-1. Here’s what Marmol said about his defensive alignment:
"“Yeah, we’re in what we call an X play there where you’re, you’re tight enough that if it’s off, you’re going into play if it’s hit hard, you can turn it you’re going to have to get the right round ball you can screw up you can run so you have to defend against both. So feelings these two steps back so the left side you want to turn that…”"
If the Cardinals were going to play their infield in, Flaherty would have been the correct choice. Why play that defensive alignment? What numbers/data suggested that they should go with it? Was Marmol placing his trust in Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman and Nolan Arenado, three Gold Glove infielders, to make a play in the biggest moment of their season?
Growing pains were always expected from Marmol, who’s in his first year as Cardinals manager. Throughout the regular season, those moments were few and far between as they soared to a division title. But they came up at the worst possible time and has the Cardinals on the brink of early postseason elimination.