Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, an achievement colloquially known as a “golden sombrero.” Hopefully it makes Bryant feel better to know he’s not alone. Lonnie Chisenhall, Aaron Judge (twice), Jay Bruce, and Cody Bellinger have all worn golden sombreros this postseason.
With six four-strikeout games already this postseason, 2017 has tied 1997 for the most golden sombreros in a postseason. And we’re not even past the Division Series yet. In 1997, Dan Wilson, Brady Anderson, Marquis Grissom (twice), Rafael Palmeiro, and Devon White accomplished the ignominious feat. 2016 saw zero golden somberos in the postseason. In case you’re wondering, 2015 had two, 2014 had three, 2013 had four.
Why so many this postseason? I’d posit that the evolution in pitcher usage has something to do with it. Starters are now being used in relief roles previously taken by middle relievers. For example, rather than using someone like Addison Reed after Rick Porcello could only last three innings in ALDS Game 4 against the Astros, then-manager John Farrell opted to use starter Chris Sale, who led all starters with 308 strikeouts. He struck out six in 4 2/3 innings in Game 4.
Furthermore, in general, there’s a lot more emphasis by pitchers to strike batters out, as evidenced by the strikeout rate, which has been climbing every year since 2005. Hitters emphasize power hitting and hitting fly balls now more than ever. Take J.D. Martinez for example, who said back in March, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball. I’m trying to hit the ball in the air.” He smacked 45 home runs this season, including 29 in 62 games after joining the Diamondbacks.
Of course, an equally valid explanation is that it’s just random chance that four-strikeout games would cluster in a particular year. Nevertheless, it is an interesting data point and it will be fun to see how much higher the golden sombrero count will climb by the end of this postseason.
The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.
In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.
On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.
Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.