On Wednesday afternoon the Cardinals lost to the Phillies 4-3. Unlike the first two games of the series, they were unable to generate offense in the late innings. After Kolten Wong flew out to start the ninth, Jedd Gyorko doubled to put the tying run in scoring position. Yairo Muñoz pinch ran for him, and with Carpenter and Pham due up, the Cardinals’ chances of tying the game seemed relatively strong.
Gape Kapler countered by going to lefty Adam Morgan to face the lefthanded-hitting Carpenter. Morgan started Carpenter off with a slider for strike one. Then next sign sequence from Jorge Alfaro looked like this:
The first five signs are the ones that matter: 4-1-3-3-1. Morgan threw a slider for a ball. With one individual sequence, we don’t learn much, but it’s a place to start.
This one goes 4-1-1-3-3, and this pitch is again a slider. By now, the runner on second, Muñoz, should know that the Phillies are ‘chasing the previous pitch.’ That is, the sign that matters is the one that follows the sign for the pitch that was previously thrown. So if a pitcher throws a fastball, the next pitch would be whatever sign follows the first ‘1’ the catcher puts down. With that in mind, here’s the next sequence:
This one goes 4-3-1-1-2, and it’s another slider. If the Phillies really are chasing the previous pitch, Morgan should have thrown a fastball. But look at the gif a little closer. Jorge Alfaro shakes his head right before giving the sign. It’s common for teams to have a mechanism in place that allows the catcher to call the previous pitch regardless fo what signs he actually gives. Whether its a touch to the mask or grabbing some dirt, the catcher is effectively telling the pitcher “these numbers don’t matter, throw whatever you just threw.”
Carpenter popped the slider up to Maikel Franco for the second out, which brought up Tommy Pham. Neither broadcast showed Alfaro’s signs before the first pitch, which was a changeup for a strike. The 0-1 sequence looked like this:
All we need is the first four signs, but the entire sequence went 1-2-4-4-1-3. Since the first pitch was a changeup, the hot sign is the one that follows ‘4’, in this case, another 4. Pham was clearly fooled by another changeup, and the result is an awkward check swing for strike two.
At this point, Munñoz has been on second for seven pitches and Alfaro’s pattern is clear, with one exception that is easy to explain. Now, with the Cardinals down to their last strike, Alfaro gives Morgan these signs:
3-1-1-4-1-3. There’s even a pause between the second ‘1’ and the ‘4’ – Alfaro was second-guessing his pitch selection. Based on the pattern, Morgan is throwing a fastball. Indeed, he did throw a fastball and Pham meekly grounded out to the shortstop to end the game.
The Phillies’ sign system was decipherable within a half-dozen pitches in one inning. However, the Cardinals had had 27 innings of baseball against the Phillies and another four-game series earlier this year. There’s no reason the Cardinals shouldn’t have been relaying the pitch to the hitter. Presumably, the Cardinals have a system by which to relay signs to the hitter from second base. It’s not just on Muñoz, either. Any other runner who was on second base should have been able to see the same thing throughout the series.
If Muñoz was, in fact, relaying the pitch to Carpenter and Pham, then those were very, very poor at bats. From the one and two place hitters, no less. I don’t think that’s what happened, though.
There’s a lot of baseball left to be played in 2018, but the Cardinals are mired in mediocrity and seeking traction against the National League’s best. Wednesday’s rubber match in Philadelphia would have been a great place to gain some momentum. It would have been significantly easier if the hitters knew what pitch was coming.
Thanks for reading.