I’m blaming this one on Mike Matheny

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The Cardinals were up 4-3 on the Dodgers with right-handed starter Joe Kelly weakening in the bottom the fifth inning tonight. With a man on first and the left-handed-hitting Andre Ethier on deck, I think it had already been decided that he was facing his last batter when Shane Victorino flied out to left to the end the frame. Left-hander Sam Freeman was ready to go in the pen.

A funny thing happened afterwards, though. When Kelly was replaced to start the bottom of the sixth, it was by Trevor Rosenthal, not Freeman.

The game quickly went south. Ethier singled to start the inning. Rosenthal bounced back to retire Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez, but he then hit Hanley Ramirez with a pitch. Mike Matheny came out to make the change to another right-hander, calling in ex-Marlin Edward Mujica. Mujica, the most homer-prone reliever in the pen, promptly gave up a three-run shot to Luis Cruz, a guy who hadn’t had an extra-base hit in three weeks.

The Cardinals went on to lose 8-5. Freeman eventually got into a game, retiring Ethier (but allowing a walk and a single to the other two batters he faced) in the seventh.

I imagine the Matheny figured out tonight what NL West managers have already learned; when you have the chance to bring in a lefty to face Ethier, you do it. I’m sure Matheny has confidence in Rosenthal’s ability to get out lefties — he’s done a terrific job of it in his limited action in the majors — but Ethier is just brutal against lefty specialists.

My problem with it is that Matheny didn’t see Ethier leading off the sixth inning in a one-run game as being a big situation. Ethier up with two on and two outs in the fifth? That was big, in Matheny’s opinion, and would have required Freeman’s usage. However, Ethier with no outs in the sixth is awfully big too, particularly now that he’s hitting second and being followed by Kemp, Gonzalez and Ramirez. Matheny chose to save Freeman for a more crucial situation that didn’t materialize.

(There is one other thing worth mentioning here; the Cardinals are currently going with just two left-handed relievers, even though it’s September. That certainly wouldn’t have flown back in Tony La Russa’s day.)

Anyway, the Cardinals still have their one-game lead in the wild card, courtesy of Thursday’s series-opening victory. They get to face the struggling Joe Blanton on Saturday and no one knows if Clayton Kershaw (hip) is going to be ready to pitch Sunday. They’re still in a pretty good spot.

A couple of other thoughts from the game:

– Yadier Molina was terrific. He homered, picked off Nick Punto at first base (though it looked like Punto avoided the tag long enough to get his hand on the bag) and worked a 12-pitch walk. I though the walk off Stawn Tolleson was most impressive of all. However, it was immediately followed by David Freese grounded the first pitch he saw to second for a double play.

– Gonzalez seems to be heating up for the Dodgers. He entered with a .233 average 17 strikeouts in 18 games for the Dodgers, but he connected on two doubles tonight. In fact, his last four hits have been doubles.

– I thought Lance Lynn was quite a bit more impressive in his spot start Thursday than Kelly was tonight. The plan appears to be for Lynn to return to the pen with Chris Carpenter coming off the DL next week. but I’d take my chances with him over Kelly right now. Maybe the relief stint allowed him to recharge his batteries after a rough August.

Mets place Zack Wheeler on the 10-day disabled list

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The Mets announced on Monday that starter Zack Wheeler has been placed on the 10-day disabled list with a stress reaction in his right arm. Pitcher Tyler Pill has been recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas.

Wheeler, 27, has a 5.21 ERA with an 81/40 K/BB ratio in 86 1/3 innings this season. He joins a long list of injured Mets, including rotation mates Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Tommy Milone, and Robert Gsellman. It’s not clear at the moment how long Wheeler will be out.

Pill, 27, has spent most of his season with Las Vegas, with which he has a 3.47 ERA over 13 starts. He has made three starts and two relief appearances in the majors this season as well.

Report: Royals acquire Brandon Maurer, Ryan Buchter, Trevor Cahill from Padres

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Robert Murray of FanRag Sports reports that the Royals are acquiring pitchers Brandon Maurer, Ryan Buchter, and Trevor Cahill from the Padres in exchange for Matt Strahm, Travis Wood, and Esteury Ruiz. Jon Heyman has confirmed the deal.

Maurer, 27, has saved 20 games for the Padres this year despite a 5.72 ERA. He carries with him a 38/8 K/BB ratio in 39 1/3 innings. The right-hander is arbitration-eligible going into the next two seasons and can become a free agent after the 2019 season.

Buchter, 30, owns a 3.05 ERA with a 47/18 K/BB ratio in 38 1/3 innings of relief work this season with the Padres. He’ll be under team control through 2021.

Cahill, 29, has posted a 3.69 ERA with a 72/24 K/BB ratio in 61 innings across 11 starts. He can become a free agent after the season.

Strahm, 25, put up a 5.45 ERA with a 37/22 K/BB ratio in 34 2/3 innings. He underwent season-ending knee surgery on July 7 and will miss the rest of the season.

Wood, 30, has a 6.91 ERA with a 29/20 K/BB ratio in 41 2/3 innings. Given his experience out of both the starting rotation and the bullpen, he can pitch in a swingman role. The lefty is under contract next year for $6.5 million. Wood has a mutual option for 2019 worth $8 million with a $1 million buyout.

Ruiz, 18, signed with the Royals as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in July 2015. This season, in rookie ball, he hit .419/.440/.779 in 91 plate appearances. Ruiz has played both second base and shortstop.