Cardinals Answer Sunday’s Loss With Another Loss

Stinging from a disappointing loss in the last game of the home stand, the semi-hot Cardinals invaded Boston last night, hoping to make a statement.  They did, with a humbling 10-4 beating at the hands of the Red Sox (box score).  At the end of the fifth inning, the Cards were already behind 9-0 and had grounded into a triple play.

For the season, St Louis is still 28-29 in games after a loss – something hard for an over-.500 team to do, although fairly consistent for a team that has already suffered through 8 losing streaks of at least 3 games.

With that being noted, it should also be pointed out that this team has been much better lately about responding after a loss.  In twelve such opportunities since the All-Star Break, St Louis is now 8-4.

More concerning is the continuing slide of the pitching staff.  With last night’s 10-run, 15-hit pounding in just 8 innings, the Cards are holding a 5.60 ERA over their last 6 games.  The starters have contributed just 2 quality starts, and have borne the brunt of the assault with a 6.32 ERA over those games.  The team ERA for the month of August swells to 4.13.

The offense has shown a bit of a spark recently, but any real hope that the Cardinals have of being significant in October depends on the pitching staff being the strength that we anticipated it would be in April.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake has been a little bit in the epi-center of the recent pitching downturn.  This was the second of the six games that Mike has started.  He has now been slapped for 13 runs (12 earned) in his last 9.1 innings.  In 3 August starts Mike is 0-2 with an 8.80 ERA.  He now has just 2 quality starts in his last 8 trips to the mound.  His ERA over those starts sits at 6.39 with a .371 batting average against.  He has lost 9 of his last 11 decisions.

It has been a long time since Mike has been good.

Leake is also now 3-8 in 14 starts this season in games after a loss – although in fairness he’s pitched better in these games than that record would suggest.  He has made 8 quality starts in those games, and his 4.00 ERA isn’t that bad.  It should be pointed out that last night was the fifth time in Mike’s 24 starts that his offense scored no runs for him while he was in the game.

Other Starters After a Loss

Lance Lynn will take the mound tonight with the Cardinals riding a two-game losing streak.  Lance has absolutely thrived in this role in the season’s second half.  Since the All-Star Break, Lance has made 4 starts following a Cardinal loss.  He has thrown quality starts in all four games, going 3-0 with a 1.48 ERA.  He is 5-3 with a 3.57 ERA this year in 11 starts after a loss.  Over his career, Lance has pitched in 84 games after a Cardinal loss (69 of them starts).  He is 39-21 lifetime with a 3.47 ERA in those games.

While he has had intermittent struggles, Carlos Martinez has also excelled in the stopper’s role.  He has taken the mound 10 times this year following a Cardinal loss.  Carlos is only 4-3 in those games, but with 8 quality starts, a 2.51 ERA and a .196 batting average against.  Over the last two years, Carlos has had 24 opportunities to pitch after a Cardinal loss.  He has produced 16 quality starts, a 12-6 record, a 2.67 ERA, and a .212 batting average against.

They haven’t all been works of art (he has a 4.84 ERA in 11 such starts), but Adam Wainwright does lead the staff in victories after a defeat.  He is 7-3 after a loss this year, and 71-34 in that situation over his career.

Overall, Michael Wacha hasn’t pitched as well in these games as he has following a victory.  He has started ten times following a loss, with only 4 quality starts and a 4.58 ERA.  He is, however, 4-2 in those games.  Over his career, Wacha is 19-11 after a loss, albeit with only a 4.47 ERA.

Matthew Bowman

The game really got away when Matthew Bowman couldn’t minimize the damage in the fifth inning.  The ground-ball specialist came in with the Cards already trailing 5-0, with the bases loaded and one out.  Bowman had only allowed 1 of his previous 17 inherited runners to score.  But he gave three straight hits, allowed all of the inherited runners to score, and added a run of his own.  By the time he did get that last out, the deficit had grown to 9-0.

Brett Cecil

Pitching now exclusively in low leveraged situations, Brett Cecil continues to search for answers.  After serving up another run and 3 hits, Brett’s second half ERA rises to 7.07 in 14 innings with a .391 batting average against.

Fewer Runs, But Good At Bats

Only four runs – and all of them after the game had been decided – is little to get excited about.  St Louis, however, collected 10 more hits before all was said and done.  The team batting average rises to .289 for the month, and .274 in the second half.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler continues to drive this offense.  He supplied 3 hits last night, scoring one of the Cardinals 4 runs and driving in two others.  He has been pretty scorching since his return from the disabled list.  Over these last 8 games, Dexter has had 33 plate appearances, during which he has provided 4 singles, 5 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 8 runs scored, 8 runs batted in, 9 walks and a stolen base.  That translates into a batting line of .458/.606/.875.  He is now hitting .297 in the season’s second half.

Luke Voit

Luke Voit has only made one start so far this month, but he may be starting to adjust to life on the bench.  He went 2-2 in the late innings last night, and his now 6 for 16 (.375) this month.

While these are all small sample sizes, Luke has been particularly effective in games after a loss.  He is 5 for 7 this month, 7 for 23 (.304) since the All-Star Break, and 13 for 39 (.333) for the season in games after a loss.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong added two more hits last night, driving in a run.  He now has a baby 5-game hitting streak, during which he has had multiple hits in all five games.  He is 11 for his last 20 (.550).  He has also now hit in 10 of his last 11 (.408 on 20 for 49 hitting).

After a slow start to August, Paul is now hitting .345 this month (20 for 58) and slugging .603 (he has 3 doubles and 4 home runs).  He is up to .288 since the All Star Break (36 for 125).

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina has as rough an offensive day as could be imagined – given how short it was.  Yadi had only 2 at bats last night, but accounted for 5 outs as he grounded into both a double play and a triple play.  Yadi is now 0 for 12 over his last 4 games.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong’s 8-game hitting streak came to an end last night.  With his 0 for 4, Kolten has hit just .188 (6 for 32) in games after a loss in the season’s second half.

Randal Grichuk

While Randal Grichuk’s numbers have been on the rise overall lately, he could still be a bit more of a force in games after a loss.  With his 0 for 3 last night, Randal is now 0 for 9 this month, 6 for 28 (.214) in the second half, and 27 for 127 (.213) for the year in games after a loss.

NoteBook

Boston’s first inning run marked the third consecutive game – and the twelfth of the last fifteen – that the Cardinals have allowed the first run of the game to be scored against them.

Position Wars After 118 Games

Since there are always new readers every time I do this, it begs a little explanation.

At the beginning of each year, there is always a plan in place – who will be the starter at each position.  As the season progresses though, those plans usually change.  Frequently the team that takes the field at the end of the season bears faint resemblance to the team that started the season.

So, from time to time through the season, we take a glance at the team won-lost record broken out by the starters at each position.  Almost every time we do this some surprising patterns develop.

Catcher

Ageless Yadier Molina makes no concessions at all to time.  Through the heat of July and August, Yadi is always there – and when he’s not, the team suffers.

Yadi has caught 11 of the first 13 games in August.  The Cards are 9-2 in his starts, and 0-2 with Carson Kelly.  Since the All-Star Break, Molina has started 25 of 30 games.  St Louis is 17-8 with him and 1-4 without him.  He has started 99 of the 118 games so far, leading the Cards to a 51-48 record in his games.  No other Cardinal has made as many starts at one position.

They were 9-6 when Eric Fryer started.  The record sits at 1-3 so far with Kelly.

First Base

Sometimes the plan does work.  St Louis began the season projecting Matt Carpenter to be their everyday first baseman – and it has played out that way.  Matt has started there for 12 of the 13 August games (the team in 8-4 in those games), and 24 of the 30 second half games so far (Cards are 14-10 in those games).

Matt has been the first baseman in 94 games so far this season.  Others have played there, but rookie Luke Voit is the only one to work his way into more than 10 starts there – he has been the Cardinal starting first baseman 15 times this season.  For the season, St Louis is 47-47 when Carpenter starts.  They are 10-5 in Luke’s games.  The offense has trended up a bit with Voit playing (4.87 runs per game to 4.72), and the team ERA is substantially lower in the 15 games that Voit has started (2.42 v 3.99).

Fifteen games is far too few to make any sweeping decisions over, but those numbers reflect the interest that Cardinal management has in Voit.  His defensive limitations (he only plays first) have reduced his opportunities to start, but Luke Voit looks very much like he belongs here.

Second Base

Kolten Wong – now healthy – has made 15 consecutive starts at second base, and has made 20 of the last 21, and 25 of the last 28 starts there.  Having a breakthrough season, Kolten has staked his claim to the second base position.

However, due to a couple of injury absences, Kolten has made just 69 starts at second this season.  If Yadi is St Louis’ most indispensable player, Kolten may not be too far behind.  The Cards are 40-29 (.580) when Kolten starts at second.  They score 4.96 runs per game with a 3.57 team ERA in his starts.  When anyone else is there, St Louis is 21-28 (.429), managing just 4.24 runs per game, while the team ERA rises to 4.14.

Of the players plugged in during his absences, the bulk of the opportunities fell to rookie Paul DeJong.  DeJong has been one of the great success stories of the Cardinal season, but not at second base.  In his 19 starts there, the Cards were 6-13 with a 4.72 team ERA.

Of the other players who have started at second, Greg Garcia has been there 12 times – leading St Louis to a 6-6 record (in spite of a 5.25 team ERA).  The Cards are 6-5 in Carpenter’s 11 starts there, scoring 4.55 runs per game and with a 2.49 team ERA.

Should Wong miss any more time from the lineup, you can almost bet that you will see Carpenter moved to second and Voit taking the starts at first.

Shortstop

While things didn’t go terribly smoothly for DeJong at second, he has taken over at shortstop.  He has made 12 of the first 13 starts there this month (with the team going 9-3 in those games), and has made 29 of 30 starts since the break – making shortstop the Cardinals most stable position in the season’s second half.

For the season, Paul has not yet caught last year’s rookie sensation – Aledmys Diaz – for starts at second base.  Aledmys started there 66 times before finding himself returned to Memphis.  DeJong is now up to 43 starts at short.  The team went 29-37 (.439) in Aledmys’ starts.  They are 26-17 (.605) in DeJong’s starts.  St Louis averaged 4.47 runs per game with a 4.05 team ERA in Aledmys’ starts.  With Paul, St Louis scores 5.21 runs per game with a team ERA of 3.54.  And – since this always part of the discussion – Diaz made 6 errors with a .974 fielding percentage.  DeJong has 2 errors and a .988 fielding percentage so far.  That being said, St Louis was charged with 24 unearned runs in Diaz’ 66 starts.  They have surrendered 22 in the 43 games that DeJong has started there.

Third Base

A combination of offensive struggle and a stiff knee has kept starter Jedd Gyorko out of the lineup quite a bit recently, in favor of Greg Garcia.  So far in August, Jedd has made 7 of the starts (5-2) and Garcia has been there for 6 (4-2).

Gyorko has, nonetheless, made 21 of the 30 second half starts at the hot corner, and the team has responded with a 13-8 record, in spite of his lingering hitting slump.  Jedd has developed into strong defender at third.   The team ERA is 3.10 in the second half when Gyorko starts at third.

Jhonny Peralta, of course, won the position out of spring training, but lasted for only 14 mostly disastrous starts.  The Birds lost 11 of those 14 games.  Before April was over, Jedd was planted at third and Jhonny was on his way off the roster.

Over the season, now, Jedd has made 85 starts at third, with Garcia – now at 18 starts there – a more than capable backup.  The team’s record with Gyorko is 47-38 (.553).  With Greg it is 10-8 (.556).  The team doesn’t suffer offensively when Greg plays (4.94 runs per game vs 4.88 when Jedd plays), and the team ERA differential favors Jedd only slightly (3.74 v 3.78).

Greg Garcia is a player that I probably don’t shower with love as much as I ought to, but he is a significant contributor.

Left Field

As April has churned into August, the Cardinal outfield plan has been completely re-written.  Mike Matheny has spent the month so far scrambling to find starts for four talented and hot-hitting outfielders.  Thirteen games into the month, Jose Martinez (who began the season as the fourth outfielder) leads the team in starts in left with 6.  Tommy Pham (who began the season in Memphis) has started there 5 times, with Randal Grichuk – who was the designated starter in April – making just 2 starts there.

The outfield chaos has resulted from varied struggles from the April starters and surprising seasons from Martinez and Pham who have refused to stop hitting – virtually forcing their way into the lineup.

Dating back to the All-Star Break, this position has mostly belonged to Pham, who has made 21 of the 30 starts.  The team has responded well.  They are 13-8 in those games, their 5.10 runs per game substantially higher than the team ERA of 3.27.  But right behind him is Martinez.  The team is 5-2 in his 7 starts, outscoring their opponents 37-24.

Over the whole season, the numbers tilt even more in favor of Pham.  He heads into Boston tonight having made 54 starts in left, with Grichuk starting there 39 times, and Martinez 20.  The Cards are 30-24 when Tommy plays there, as opposed to 19-20 with Randal and 10-10 with Jose.  The offense has actually done better in Martinez’ starts (5.25 vs 4.70 for Pham and 4.33 for Grichuk).  The team ERA is lower in Grichuk’s starts (3.46 vs 3.91 with Pham and 4.07 with Martinez).

Center Field

While Tommy Pham has yielded starts in left, he hasn’t yielded the starting lineup.  As the primary backup in center, Tommy has played there in 7 of the 13 August games so far.  Back now, though, is starter Dexter Fowler, who has played the other 6.  Significantly, St Louis is 6-0 in those games, and just 3-4 in the games that Pham started there this month.

Playing hurt most of the season, the return of the healthy Dexter Fowler has been a significant element of the Cardinal surge.  Dexter has been in center for 17 of the 30 second half games.  St Louis is 11-6 in his starts and 7-6 in his absence.

For the season, Fowler has made 79 starts in center.  His won-lost record is still a disappointing 36-43 (.456), but seems to be righting itself.  Tommy Pham has made 26 starts in center this season, leading the team to a 14-12 record.

A note for the future.  Two promising minor league talents have made cameos in center for the Cards.  Magneuris Sierra and Harrison Bader have combined to make 11 starts in center, leading the team to a 9-2 record in those games.

The crowded Cardinal outfield is about to get a lot more crowded.

Right Field

As the outfield continues to evolve, Randal Grichuk seems to have settled into right field.  He has gotten 8 of the 13 starts there so far this month – with significant results.  St Louis has gone 7-1 in his starts, scoring 64 runs in those games (8.00 runs per game).  He is now up to 18 starts in the 30 games since the break.  St Louis is 13-5 in those games, scoring 5.89 runs per game and allowing just 3.60 earned runs per nine innings.

Randal has immense potential that is now beginning to emerge.  His turning the corner ranks along with Wong’s breakthrough season and the arrival of Paul DeJong as the best news the franchise could receive.

Grichuk has now made 33 starts in right for the season – with the team averaging 5.39 runs per game in those contests on its way to a 21-12 record.  They are – by the way – 8-2 in Martinez’ 10 starts there.

Absent, now, is the April starter here, Stephen Piscotty.  Injuries, slumps and personal tragedies have conspired to derail his season.  He made 66 starts in right, seeing St Louis win only 29 of them (.439).  Ironically, those totals are identical to Aledmys Diaz’ record at short.

Piscotty and Diaz are both re-constructing themselves in Memphis.  Disappointing for them, as they have currently slid back on the depth chart, but I council you that their importance to the organization is not ended.  Young players will struggle from time to time.   This doesn’t at all mean that their careers are grinding to a halt.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, it doesn’t bother this organization at all to return players to AAA or lower to help them get themselves back together.  This has happened to both Kolten Wong and (more than once) to Randal Grichuk.

Piscotty and Diaz just have to “get themselves right.”  When they do, these two enormously talented players will further complicate an already complicated roster and lineup.

Home Stand Ends at 4-1 as Winning Streak Concludes

All winning streaks eventually come to an end – and always disappointingly.  Yesterday afternoon, the Braves built a 5-0 lead and withstood a late Cardinal rally for a 6-3 win (box score).  Even so, the Cardinals finished off their most recent home stand with a 4-1 record.  They are 9-3 in their home ballpark in the season’s second half, and now 35-27 there for the season.

Doubly disappointing in the loss was another scuffling performance by the pitching staff.  After being a decided strength throughout July, the pitchers started to show a little fraying through the 5-game home stand.  They allowed at least 5 runs in each game, and finished the stand with a 4.60 ERA (4 of the runs scored were unearned), and, after Atlanta banged out 12 more hits yesterday, a .309 batting average against.

Michael Wacha

One of the encouraging pieces in July, Michael Wacha has been less sharp in his 3 August starts.  Lasting just 5 innings yesterday, Wacha was brushed for 4 runs on 8 hits (including a home run).  He now has made it through just 15 innings in his August starts, with just 1 quality start.  He has now allowed 8 runs on 19 hits (including 2 home runs) in those innings – yielding a 4.80 ERA and a .317 batting average against.

John Brebbia

As his excellent rookie season turns the corner into August, John Brebbia has started to take on a little water.  Asked to hold a two-run deficit in the ninth inning yesterday, Brebbia was touched for 2 hits and a run.  He has now been scored on in 3 of his last 5 games, allowing 4 runs on 5 hits (2 of them home runs) over his last 5.2 innings.

It was the first earned run charged to John at Bush in 17.2 inning this season (0.51 ERA).  His other 7 runs allowed – including all 4 of his home runs – have been served up in 14.1 innings on the road (4.40 ERA).

Offense Still Hitting the Ball, But —

For the first time in 8 games, the Cardinal offense couldn’t manage 4 runs to support the pitching staff.  Even at that, though, they finished the day with 11 more hits.  The Cards finished this most recent home stand with a .305 team batting average (50 for 164).  They are also, now, at .290 at home in the second half.

Paul DeJong

Even in defeat, Paul DeJong continues to be a bright spot.  His 3 hits yesterday included another home run that sparked the comeback.  Paul has now hit in 9 of his last 10 games – getting multiple hits in 7 of them.  He is 18 for 45 (.400) in those games with a .733 slugging percentage (3 doubles and 4 home runs).  He has scored 7 runs and driven in 10 in those 10 games, and now has 16 runs batted in in the 19 games since he’s inherited the third slot in the order.

Paul is now hitting .333 in August (18 for 54) and slugging .611 this month.  Since the All-Star Break, DeJong is a .281 hitter (34 for 121), and a .554 slugger (6 doubles and 9 home runs).  Paul has driven in 22 runs in 29 second half games.

While Busch Stadium seems to inhibit many of the Cardinal hitters, Paul DeJong has claimed it as his own.  After a solid 9-for21 home stand that included 2 home runs, DeJong now has a .375 average at home (42 for 112) that includes 9 home runs, 22 runs batted in (in 31 games), and a .714 slugging percentage.  Paul now has to figure out a way to keep that magic going on the road, where he is hitting .234.

Randal Grichuk

Another bright spot was two more hits from Randal Grichuk.  Out of his head, and modeling a new shorter stroke, Randal has been a force during the recent winning streak.  He has hit in 5 of his last 6 games – getting 2 hits in each of those games.  Four of the ten hits have been for extra bases (1 double, 1 triple, and 2 home runs), so Randal has a .435 batting average and a .826 slugging percentage over those games.  He has hit safely in each of his last 7 starts.

He is now up to .302 for the month (13 for 43) with a .581 slugging percentage, and .321 in the season’s second half (26 for 81).  Those hits include 5 doubles, 1 triple, and 6 home runs, for a second half slugging percentage of .630.

With 8 hits in 18 at bats over the home stand, Grichuk is now hitting .356 at Busch (16 for 45) since the All-Star Break.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong’s hot streak continues.  Two-for-four with a triple yesterday, Kolten’s hitting streak reaches 8 games, during which he is hitting .462 (12 for 26) and slugging .769 (3 doubles, 1 triple and 1 home run).  Wong has hit in 13 of his last 14 games, and is now hitting .409 this month (18 for 44).  In 30 games since the All-Star Break, Wong is hitting .319 (29 for 91).

Kolten has also thrived on his home field.  He was 7 for 14 (.500) during the last home stand, and is now hitting .324 (12 for 37) here since the break, and .349 for the season (45 for 129).

Prior to 2017, Kolten was only a .239 career hitter in St Louis (164 for 686).

Kolten has also gone 11 for 30 (.367) in his last 8 road games, and is now hitting .315 (17 for 54) away from home since the break.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter saw a dynamic 7-game hitting streak come to an end with yesterday’s 0-for-5.  In his 33 plate appearances during the streak, Matt amassed 4 singles, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 8 runs scored, 8 runs batted in, 6 walks, and 2 hit-by-pitches.  His batting line over the streak was an impressive .360/.515/.680.

Even with the streak, Carpenter is still hitting just .220 (9 for 41) for the month.

NoteBook

As Atlanta built their 5-0 lead, they became the fourth team in the five-game home stand to score the first run of the game.  The Cardinals have scored first only 3 times in the last 14 games – yet they are 10-4 in those games.

Yesterday was St Louis’ tenth opportunity to sweep a series this year.  The Braves became just the third of those teams to avoid the sweep.  Half of those sweep opportunities have come against teams (like Atlanta) that had lost its previous series.  St Louis has completed that sweep in 3 of their 5 opportunities.

St Louis is now 10-7-3 in their 20 home series.

All the Rallies Started With Walks

With 8 more runs scored last night, the St Louis Cardinals stretched their streak of scoring at least 8 runs to six straight games.  They have scored 58 runs in those games (a respectable 9.67 runs per game).  And it’s all been done very glamorously – lots of big innings, a couple of timely grand slams, and a rally kitty thrown into the mix.

But the recent onslaught is part of a much longer stretch of sustained offense that stretches back to the beginning of a series against Philadelphia that started on June 9.  While there have been some occasional dry stretches, over their last 58 games the Cardinal offense is scoring 5.33 runs per game.  St Louis is 34-24 in those games.

But while the grand slams have made the highlight reels, the staple of the re-invigorated Cardinal offense is the grinding at bat – most frequently resulting in that lowest common denominator of offensive success: the base on balls.

Never was this principle more dramatically portrayed than in last night’s 8-5 Cardinal win over Atlanta (box score).  In 8 innings of offense, the Cardinals attained 8 runs on 8 hits.  But they went 0 for 12 as a team with the bases empty. They scored in three innings last night, and threatened in two others –and every single rally or threat began with either a walk or a hit by pitch (they actually drew 8 walks on the night, to make the symmetry perfect – 8 innings, 8 runs, 8 hits, 8 walks).

During the month of August, as the offense is really catching fire, the Cards have walked 58 times in 11 games, and have had 9 other batters hit by pitches.  The 444 Cardinals who have come to the plate this month have a collective .389 on base percentage.  Not surprisingly the team is scoring 6.55 runs per game in August.

Getting Runners On Base is Just the Start

Getting the ducks on the pond, of course, is only one third of the old adage, “get them on, move them over, bring them in.”  And a high on base percentage – by itself – in no guarantee of run production.  The Cardinals have – in fact – spent long sections of this season putting runners on base and leaving them there.  But there is a natural logical flow with runners on base leading to big innings.  Once runners reach base, most pitchers will start pitching from the stretch – and many don’t do that as well.  Additionally, and more importantly, long at bats and baserunners on base wear at a pitcher’s nerves.  It induces a form of mental duress that increases the chances of his making a mistake to one of the succeeding hitters.

This has happened pretty consistently for the Cardinals reaching all the way back to the Philadelphia series.  Last night – although no one got a hit with the bases empty – 24 Cardinal batters came to the plate with at least one man on base.  They produced 2 singles, 5 doubles, a triple, and 4 more walks – a batting line of .421/.522/.789.

In the 11 games they have played in August, they have sent more batters to the plate with runners on base (233) that they have with the bases empty (211) – it’s almost always the reverse.  The results of those plate appearances have been 30 singles, 17 doubles, 2 triples, 8 home runs, 32 walks, 2 hit batsmen, 4 sacrifice bunts and 2 sacrifice flies.  That batting line reads .295/.397/.528.  Of their 13 August home runs, 5 have come with no on aboard, 3 have been two-run shots, 2 have been good for three runs, and, of course, the three grand slams.  The Cards have four grand slams for the season – three of them in the last six games.  In fact, for the month of August, St Louis is 6 for 13 (.462) with a double to go along with the three home runs with the bases loaded (a 1.231 slugging percentage).

Since June 9, the Cards are hitting .285/.367/.483 with runners on base.

How Sustainable Is This?

The answer to that question depends on what you’re looking to sustain.  Will the Cards average just under 10 runs a game for the rest of the season?  Of course not.  But the process by which they’ve made this run is, I think, very sustainable.  By that, I mean the grinding at bats that take their toll on even the best pitchers.  In Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler, the Cards have a couple of hitters renown throughout their careers for grinding at bats.  Add to the mix hitters like Tommy Pham (who has turned into a very patient hitter now that he can see the ball) and Kolten Wong (who has recently discovered the gospel of grinding and is walking at rates far superior to his previous career).  Most encouraging is the change in Randal Grichuk.  Last night, his RBI triple came at the end of a seven-pitch at bat.  He struck out later on the ninth pitch of an at bat.  This was stuff you never used to see from Randal.

All season, Cardinal management has confidently said “we know what kind of offense we have.”  Now that all the pieces are starting to relax and trust each other – and grind, grind, grind – the rest of us are starting to see it as well.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong drilled a couple of doubles and drove in 3 runs last night.  DeJong has now hit in 7 of his last 8 games, during which he has hit .351 (13 for 37), slugged .595 (3 doubles & 2 home runs) and driven in 8 runs.  Since that series in June, Paul leads all regulars in slugging percentage at .585.  He has hit 15 home runs while hitting .295 over his last 200 at bats.  After a slow start to August, DeJong has his average up to .283 (13 for 46) this month.

During the season’s first half, DeJong was one of the team’s better ignitors.  Even though Paul doesn’t walk much at all, he still hit the All-Star Break batting .347 (26 for 75) with the bases empty.  He struck out in the sixth inning in his only at bat with the bases empty, dropping him to a .224 average (11 for 49) in those situations in the second half.

Randal Grichuk

Grichuk’s hits last night gives him three, 2-hit games in the last four he’s played.  Randal is 6 for 15 (.400) over that span with a home run and a triple (.733 slugging percentage).  Randal has scored 5 runs and driven in four in those contests.

Don’t look now, but since the All-Star Break, Randal is hitting .301 (22 for 73) with a .589 slugging percentage (4 doubles, a triple, and 5 home runs).

Following the general team pattern, Randal was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts batting with no one on base, and 2-for-2 with 2 runs batted in when there was someone aboard.  In the 11 games played, so far, in August, Grichuk is hitting .133 (2 for 15) with 5 strikeouts when the bases are clear.  When there is someone on base, Randal has hit .350 (7 for 20) with 5 runs batted in.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina’s most recent hitting streak had reached five games before it was extinguished last night.  Yadi went 0 for 5 with two strikeouts.  During the streak, Molina hit .400 (8 for 20) and slugged .750 (1 double and 2 home runs).  Over the five games he scored 8 runs and drove in 7.

Jedd Gyorko

The struggle goes on for Jedd Gyorko, who was hitless again last night in 3 at bats.  Jedd is now hitting .176 (15 for 85) in the season’s second half, during which he has only 4 extra-base hits (2 doubles and 2 home runs).  Gyorko is slugging just .271 with only 11 runs batted in since the break.

As Gyorko took over the third base job with his torrid early season hitting, there was always a question of whether Jedd could handle the rigors of playing every day.  Would he fatigue?  Or be “over exposed?”  This might be what’s happening to Gyorko, now.  That being said – with no clear alternative immediately available – I am hoping that Mike Matheny sticks with Jedd and lets him finish out the season as the starter.  Who knows?  This might just be a slump that Jedd will snap out of and finish the season strong.

Either way, I think we need to know if Jedd is an everyday third baseman.  Lurking at Memphis is Patrick Wisdom (and, to a lesser extent, Aledmys Diaz) either of whom could be the future for the Cards at third.  According to some scouts, Wisdom is an even better hitting prospect than Paul DeJong.

Adam Wainwright

Since his return from the disabled list, Adam Wainwright has been anything but healthy.  A cut on his finger led to an early exit (after 3 innings) his first game back.  Last night a “strange sensation” in his pitching arm deprived him of his fastball command and left him improvising for five innings.

Let it be noted that the veteran right-hander can improvise.  With pitch variations of slow, slower and slowest, Waino finished his 5 innings allowing just 1 run.  He went on to gain the victory.  In 4 second half starts, Adam has only made it through 6 innings once, but is still 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in those games.  Since an 0-3 start, Adam has won 12 of his last 14 decisions.

At less than 100%, Adam has gotten into trouble frequently in those last 4 starts, but has risen to the challenge.  Last night, Atlanta was only 1 for 7 against him with runners on base.  Since the All-Star Break, Wainwright has held opposing hitters to a .167 average (5 for 30) once a runner reaches.

Brett Cecil

When Brett Cecil took the mound to begin the sixth inning, the Cards were comfortably in front by a 6-1 score.  Six batters and 24 pitches later, Brett left the mound with St Louis clinging to a 6-5 lead.  After an extended string of quality outings, Brett is broken again.  In 12 innings since the All-Star Break, Cecil has been touched for 10 runs on 22 hits.

Few pitchers on the staff run as hot and cold as Brett.  Usually, he is either dominant while throwing perfect innings, or else it rains hits and runs on him.  Last night, after his one-out walk to Freddie Freeman, 3 of the next 4 batters got hits – capped by Ozzie Albies’ three-run homer.  During the season’s second half, Brett has faced 26 batters with a runner on base.  They have 13 hits (.500 average).

For the season, batters hitting against Brett with the bases empty are hitting just .222 (22 for 99).  But once a runner reaches, the succeeding batters are 32 for 88 (.364).

John Brebbia

After things spiraled out of control for a bit, John Brebbia came in to calm the waters.  He threw an inning, walked a batter, but allowed no runs.  John’s ERA drops to 2.03 on the season, and to 1.73 in 22 games (26 innings) since June 9.

Zach Duke

Zach Duke got dinged a bit in his second game after missing the first half of the season after Tommy John surgery.  Since then, Zach (who got the last out of the seventh and then pitched the eighth last night) has gone 6 games (6 innings) giving no runs on just 1 hit.

How Tough is Lance Lynn?

If the defining moment of the Wednesday game was the soft-fuzzy moment of the rally cat running around just before Yadier Molina’s grand slam, the defining moment of last night’s game was much more hard core.

Lorenzo Cain led off the third inning, with the Royals ahead 1-0.  Cardinal starter Lance Lynn got ahead of Cain 1-2, but a misbehaving cutter slid back across the plate, where Cain was waiting to line it into center field for a single.  After it caromed off Lance’s noggin.  Lance never went down.  He flinched a little, and after the play was over he rubbed the spot (a reddish welt right on his temple) for a second or two.  But Lance Lynn took a line drive to the head and went right on completely unfazed.

As you watch the replay, you keep looking to see if maybe the ball missed, or mostly missed, or maybe clipped off the bill of his cap.  Nope.  It was a glancing blow – meaning that Lance tilted his head enough so that the contact wasn’t full-on.  But it still hit him right in the head hard enough to shoot into medium center field.  But not hard enough to rattle the suddenly tough competitor that Lance Lynn has become.

This is not how I remember Lance from his early years in the rotation.  Back then it seemed that he didn’t quite have the grit for the big games.  He was a phenomenal April pitcher who routinely faded as the season wore on.

But this Lance Lynn has been remarkable in his ability to focus on the task at hand regardless of what is happening all around him.  Even as the rumors swirled around him while the trade deadline approached and passed, Lance responded with one of the best stretches of his career.  After managing just 5 quality starts in his first 15 games, Lance is now riding a streak of 7 straight quality starts, during which he has gone 4-0 (with another potential victory surrendered by the bullpen) and a 1.45 ERA over 43.1 innings.  After once serving up 6 home runs in 10.1 innings over consecutive starts, Lance has been chipped for only two during these last seven games.

Lance’s baseball toughness was also on full display in last night’s 8-6 win (box score).  His final numbers were fairly pedestrian – 6 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs (2 earned).  The line doesn’t do him justice.  On a night when Lance fought his command from the first inning on (he threw only 51 of his 87 pitches for strikes) – and on a night where his defense repeatedly let him down – Lance pitched the entire game on the edge of disaster, making big pitches when needed.  Although they put runners in scoring position against Lance in 4 of his 6 innings, he very nearly held them scoreless.

Kansas City’s first-inning run was set up when Kolton Wong booted Mike Moustakas’ routine grounder.  Attempting to sacrifice Mike into scoring position, Alcides Escobar dropped a bunt in front of the plate.  He reached safely as Molina made a poor throw trying to get the runner at second.  A ground ball single loaded the bases with no one out.  Lynn houdinied his way out of the mess allowing just one run.

The Royals then had Lance on the ropes in the fifth, when Cain’s single and Eric Hosmer’s walk gave Melky Cabrera a two-out opportunity.  Ahead in the count 2-1, Cabrera laced a fastball right off his fists into right field, where Jose Martinez almost made the great play to bail his pitcher out.  The ball hit the heel of Jose’s glove and dropped to the turf.  Both runners scored, and Melky got credit for a triple.

That made the score 3-0 KC – as Lance’s offense didn’t throw their switch until after Lance had thrown his last pitch of the evening.

Through it all – the line drive to the head, the struggles with control, the sloppy defense, the lack of offensive support – the suddenly unflappable Lance Lynn just kept making the next pitch.

Even as he battled his control, Lance continues to dramatically improve his pitch-efficiency.  Of the 27 batters he faced, Lynn had 3 hit the first pitch thrown them, 6 that hit the second pitch, and 5 others that hit the third pitch.  Overall, his 87 pitches to 27 batters works out 3.22 pitches per.  Over his last two starts, Lance is throwing just 3.54 pitches per batter faced (177 pitches to 50 batters).  Previous to last night, Lynn was averaging 4.16 pitches per batter faced.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons earned his first win of the season retiring the two batters he faced.  Pitching in a 3-3 tie in the seventh, Tyler inherited a runner at second and one out.  He concluded the inning getting Hosmer to fly out and striking out Cabrera.  Tyler is now up to 12 consecutive scoreless appearances covering 9.2 innings, during which he has allowed 2 hits with 15 strikeouts.

Of the six swings that those two batters took last night, only Hosmer put the ball in play.  As Lyons’ slider gets sharper, putting the ball in play against him is getting more and more difficult.  The 10 batters he has faced this month have swung at 22 pitches, putting only 3 in play (13.6%).  The 30 batters he has faced since the All-Star Break are only putting the ball in play with 25.5% of their swing – the lowest percentage on the team for anyone pitching to at least ten batters.

Trevor Rosenthal

For the fourth time in his last 7 games, Trevor Rosenthal was asked to pitch more than one inning – and once again, Rosenthal came through.  Over his last 7 games, Trevor has worked 9.2 innings allowing no runs while striking out 16.  Last night, Trevor got strikes with 14 of his 18 pitches.  Over his last 7 games, Rosenthal has been throwing 70% of his pitches for strikes.

Offense Plugs Away

They waited until the sixth before they made any noise, but by game’s end, the Cards had scored 8 runs again – their fifth consecutive game scoring at least 8 runs.  In 10 August games, St Louis has scored 64 runs.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler has been especially torrid since his return from the disabled list.  In the four games since he’s been back, Dexter has come to the plate 19 times, with the following results: 1 single, 3 doubles, 1 triple, last night’s home run, 7 runs scored, 5 runs batted in (all last night), 6 walks, and 1 stolen base.  It all adds up to a .462/.632/1.077 batting line.  Over his last 31 games (which bridges a couple of injury absences), Dexter is hitting .303/.411/.578 with 7 home runs and 21 runs batted in.

Kolten Wong

Kolten booted a ball that led to a run, but otherwise excelled last night.  He singled, doubled, walked, and smote a sacrifice fly. He has now strung together a baby five-game hitting streak, during which he has hit .500 (8 for 16) with 6 runs scored and 6 runs driven in.

He is now hitting .412 (14 for 34) in the early days of August; .309 since the All-Star Break (25 for 81); and .337 (34 for 101) over his last 33 games.  I still think we all underestimate how much Kolten’s absences hurt this team.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong has also been in the middle of all the offense lately.  After having his 5-game hitting streak snapped on Wednesday, Paul began another one last night with 2 hits.  Over his last 7 game, DeJong is hitting .344 (11 for 32).

NoteBook

The two-game series against Kansas City was the nineteenth home series of the season for St Louis.  It was the fifth of those series that the Cardinals took the field for the last game with a chance for a series sweep – and the fourth time that they have achieved that sweep.

We are now also 10-4-2 in series when we win that first game.

Sorting Out the Cardinal Bullpen

A great deal of attention was focused on the rally cat (some truly adorable video, by  the way – especially the part where the kitty tries to claw the grounds person that’s escorting it off).  Considerable attention is being paid to the aroused Cardinal offense that has scored 42 runs in the last 4 games.  This offense has averaged 5.23 runs per game over the last 56 games.

But at this point, some attention needs to be paid to the Cardinal bullpen.  Disastrous for most of the year, this unit came to the rescue again last night with five relievers combining for four scoreless innings as the Cards put away Kansas City 8-5 for their fifth win in a row (box score).

That bullpen now has a 2.38 ERA, a .222 batting average against, and has stranded 18 of 22 inherited runners since the All-Star Break.  Even amidst this success, the roles are still sort of evolving.  Promising right-handers John Brebbia and Sam Tuivailala are still searching for consistent opportunities.  Among the four lefties, Kevin Siegrist is trying to resolve health issues, and Brett Cecil has struggled some recently.  Their situations are also in a bit of flux.

But the five who pitched last night are starting to carve out defined roles, and their success is driving the success of the relief corps, and of the team.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman came in to pitch the sixth inning.  He has most frequently been pitching in the seventh or eighth innings, but with starter Mike Leake lasting only 5 innings – and with the right-handed batters coming up in the sixth, Bowman’s opportunity came earlier than usual.  He gave a couple of hits (unusual for him), but escaped with no damage.

Matthew has now made six consecutive appearances (4.2 innings) without allowing a run.  In 13 games in the second half, he has surrendered just 2 runs in 8.2 innings, and in 19.1 innings over his last 27 games, Matthew has a 1.86 ERA, a .221 batting average against, and has stranded 13 of 14 inherited runners.

Zach Duke

Zach Duke came in to pitch the seventh – particularly to face lefty Eric Hosmer (who grounded out), switch-hitter Melky Cabrera (who also grounded out), and lefty Mike Moustakas (who flew to right).

I think this is the role that manager Mike Matheny has for Duke.  A late inning lefty specialist that Mike isn’t afraid to let face the occasional right-hander.  It gets confusing, because the Cards right now have two lefthanders that hold about that same job description.

For Duke, coming off Tommy John surgery that was supposed to cost him the entire year, a significant milestone was passed as he pitched on consecutive days for the first time this season, needing only 10 pitches to wrap up his inning.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh opened the eighth, retiring 2 of the 3 that he faced.  Since being moved into the primary setup role, Oh has allowed no earned runs in 10 games (covering 9.2 innings).

Oh has now appeared in 21 games this season as the Cardinal closer and 28 games in a setup function.  His ERA as a closer was a shaky 4.09 with a .309 batting average against.  His ERA is 2.83 in those other games, with a .239 batting average against.  As a closer, Oh threw 67% of his pitches for strikes.  In non-closing situations, Oh throws strikes 72% of the time.  Eight of his eleven throws last night were strikes.

Some small part of the improvement might be that setup pitchers generally work more regularly than closers.  So far this year, 35 of Oh’s games have come with at least one day of rest.  His ERA in those games is a not-terrible 3.50.  Only 13 times – including last night – has Oh pitched with no rest in between games.  He has a 1.38 ERA in those games.

Tyler Lyons

Very quietly and with minimal fanfare, Tyler Lyons has become as good at his job as anyone in the Cardinal bullpen, and is evolving into one of baseball’s elite specialists.  When Alex Gorden came off the bench to pinch-hit in last night’s eighth inning, Lyons came out of the pen to get him – and of course he did.  I grant you the fly ball was struck a considerable distance to center field.  But there was never any danger of it leaving.

With the out, Lyons now has a scoreless streak of 11 games (9 innings) under his belt.  During that streak he has allowed 2 hits, 1 walk, and 14 strikeouts.  These are Clayton Kershaw type numbers.

Tyler is in a similar role as Duke.  They are looking specifically to use him against a left-hander in a critical late-game situation, with no great concern if a right-hander ends up facing him.  Lyons’ breaking pitches are pretty devastating most evenings.

Trevor Rosenthal

Turning a season-long liability into a strength was as simple putting the right man on the mound in the ninth inning.  A bullpen is built from the back forward, and as soon as the closer is found, the other pieces will usually slot in.  Without dispute, the best thing that happened to the Cardinal bullpen all year was the return to prominence and dominance by Trevor Rosenthal.  Now balancing his 100-mph heat with a sharp slider and effective change, Trevor has re-emerged as the man with the ball at the end of the game.

Since the All-Star break, Trevor has pitched in 10 games (12 innings) with a 0.75 ERA and a .167 batting average against.  He has 20 strikeouts in those 12 innings.

Last night was the tenth time this season that Rosenthal came into the game as the closer.  He now holds a 1.64 ERA in those games.  His ERA in 37 games as a setup man was 3.67.

Mike Leake

For Leake – who started last night – his April groove remains elusive.  He lasted just 5 last night, allowing 5 runs (4 earned) to a good Kansas City offense.  Mike has managed quality starts only twice in his last seven games.  He is 1-4 with a 5.08 ERA over that slide.

Jose Martinez

Yadier Molina hit the famous home run last night, but Jose Martinez also gave the Cards a lead with a home run.  Martinez has simply hit his way into more playing time.  Jose has now played in 9 of the last 10 games, starting 8 of them.  He has hit safely in 6 of them – getting 2 hits in three of the last four.  Since his playing time started becoming more regular, Jose is 10 for 28 (.357).  He has hit 3 home runs, driven in 8 runs, and is slugging .714 in his last 9 games.  Jose has 8 home runs in his last 91 at bats.

Cardinal lineup plans have been enormously complicated by a couple of fourth outfielders (Martinez and Tommy Pham) who simply refuse to stop hitting.  With Dexter Fowler and Randal Grichuk both showing signs of life, the Cards have four outfielders who need to be in the lineup – and, of course, space for only three.

Randal Grichuk

Grichuk added a couple of hits last night – he now has back to back two-hit games.  Grichuk has been a bit up and down since his return from Memphis, but the ups have been more than the downs.  In the season’s second half, Randal is a .299 hitter (20 for 67) with 4 doubles and 5 home runs (.582 slugging percentage).

Suddenly Lethal to Lefties

On Thursday, June 1, your St Louis Cardinals fought their way past the Los Angeles Dodgers for a 2-0 victory.  They were 26-25 after that game.  Until last night, that was the last time they were above .500.  They sat (at that point) just 1.5 games behind the division leading Brewers, but were about to embark on what would be the defining road trip of the first half – 3 games in in Chicago and 4 more in Cincinnati.  They lost all 7 games, limping home at 26-32 and now 4.5 games out of the division lead and in fourth place.

Beginning with the subsequent series against Philadelphia, St Louis began the long, slow process of recovering their season.  It hasn’t been anything nearly resembling a straight line, but since that lost road trip, St Louis has fashioned a 31-24 record (.564).  The only better records in the National League since that date belong to the Dodgers (43-8, .843) and the Pirates (30-23, .566).

Much has changed for the Cards over the last 55 games, but one of the most surprising is how suddenly lethal this team has been against left-handers.

Ever since forever left-handed pitchers – especially the soft-tossing type that they ran into last night – have mostly owned this team.  At the point that they limped home from that 0-7 road trip, they were 6-8 on the season, scoring 3.36 runs per game when lefties started against them.

Then, after sweeping Philadelphia, they welcomed Milwaukee and left-hander Brent Suter.  Brent didn’t last 5 innings, as the Cards rolled to a 6-0 win (box score).  And suddenly lefties held no special mystery for this team.  Beginning with that game, St Louis won 9 of the next 12 games when left-handers started against the them – with St Louis averaging 6.17 runs per game in those contests.

Prior to that watershed moment, this team was hitting .233 against lefties.  Over the last 55 games, they have been spanking them to the tune of .270/.353/.513.  Against the two lefties they saw last night – soft-tossing Jason Vargas and hard-throwing Mike Minor – the birds went 11 for 26 with 2 doubles, 3 home runs, 4 walks, and a hit-by-pitch.  This added up to a batting line of .423/.516/.846 as the Cards bullied their way to a 10-3 win (box score).

With the outburst, the Cards have now scored – yes, 34 runs in their last three games – but more than that, 285 runs over their last 55 games.  That’s 5.18 runs per game over more than a third of the season.

Matt Carpenter

The resurgence of Matt Carpenter continues with a single, double, walk, and hit by pitch last night.  Carpenter is a .309 hitter during the season’s second half (25 of 81).  He has also waited out 13 walks and 2 HBPs, for an on-base percentage of .417.

After beginning the season 7 for 45 (.156) against lefthanders, Matt (who was 1 for 2 against them last night with the walk and HBP) has gone 9 for his last 31 (.290) against them with a .465 on base percentage.

In this resurgence, Matt hasn’t neglected the right-handed pitchers who have faced him.  He doubled home a run against the only right-hander he faced last night, and carries a .309/.405/.515 batting line against them since the All-Star Break.

Paul DeJong

After being given a day off, Paul DeJong has left his slump well in the rearview mirror.  He has hit in all five games since then.  Last night’s game was the third of the five that he’s had multiple hits in.  He is hitting .375 (9 for 24) with 2 home runs during the streak.

DeJong has been a very significant part of the turnaround in the Cardinal season.  At the point where they returned from that winless road trip, DeJong had only played in 12 games.  In 48 games (46 starts) since then, Paul has hit .294 (55 for 187).  He has hit 15 home runs in those games – almost one every three games over almost a third of the season.

Both of last night’s hits came against the lefthanders.  Paul has been one of the forces in the lineup against lefties.  He is now 14 for 44 (.318) against them with 2 doubles and 5 home runs (.705 slugging percentage).

He flew out in his only at bat against a right-hander last night.  In the season’s second half, DeJong is only 20 for 82 (.244) when facing right-handed pitching.

Yadier Molina

Since it is after the All-Star Break, it must mean Yadier Molina is heating up again.  Last night was his third straight two-hit game.  Yadi has hit safely in 10 of his last 14 games.  He is 19 for 49 (.388) in those games, with 4 doubles and 3 home runs.  Over those 14 games, Yadi has scored 12 runs and slugged .653.

Molina is now hitting .329 (26 for 79) in the season’s second half.

Yadi was 2-2 with the home run and the two-run single while Vargas was in the game.  He began the season just 10 for his first 40 against left-handers (.250), but he has personally led the charge against them over the last 55 games.  Yadi is now 13 for his last 35 (.371) against left-handers, with 4 home runs.

Dexter Fowler

As the Cards limped home from the 0-7 road trip, among the more frustrated players at that point was Dexter Fowler, who carried a .222 average into that series with Philadelphia.  While injuries have kept him out of the lineup for much of the succeeding turnaround (he has played in only 29 of the last 55 games, starting 27), Dexter has been a notable contributor when he has been in there.  With his 2 doubles last night, Fowler is hitting .291 (30 for 103), and slugging .544 (6 doubles, 1 triple, 6 home runs) over those last 29 games.

After doing all of his damage against Vargas, Fowler struck out against Neftali Feliz in the seventh and drew a walk from Brandon Maurer in the eighth.  In the season’s second half, Fowler is just 8 for 35 (.229) against right-handers, but he has drawn 8 walks against them – so his on base percentage against them is still .372.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh gave us a perfect seventh.  His season reached its nadir in the first game after the All-Star Break.  Entering a 2-2 game in the ninth, the Pirates made short work of the former closer.  Adam Frazier began the frame with a double.  Then, after a flyout from Josh Harrison and an intentional walk to Andrew McCutchen, Josh Bell looped a three-run walk-off homer over the left field wall.

Since that moment, Oh has allowed no earned runs on over his last 9 games (9 innings), during which he has given just 7 hits – all singles – and no walks.  He has thrown 112 of his last 149 pitches for strikes (75%).  Oh hasn’t given an unintentional walk since he walked Corey Seager in the eleventh inning of the May 23 game in LA.  That was 28.1 innings and 118 batters ago.

All three batters Seung-hwan faced last night were right-handers.  That has been his strong suit.  Lefties have hit .352 against him this year (32 for 91) with 7 of the 8 home runs he’s served up.  Righties, however, have hit .202/.246/.257 against Oh.

John Brebbia

As with Oh, all three batters that John Brebbia faced in his 1-2-3 ninth were right-handed.  Righties are 12 for 65 (.185) against John this season.

NoteBook

Jedd Gyorko broke the game open with his big three-run home run.  He also drew 3 walks last night, and has now walked 39 times this season.  While this isn’t a stunning number of walks, it does establish a new career high for Jedd, whose previous best was the 37 walks he drew last year.

His home run, by the way, was career hit number 501 for Jedd.

When Carlos Trusts His Stuff

Carlos Martinez has these days where he looks every inch the elite pitcher that St Louis believes he is and will be.  He has those other days, too.  But last night he played hard ball with one of baseball’s more dangerous lineups and came away the victor in an 11-3 conquest (box score).  Carlos went 8 of those innings, striking out 7 and allowing just 2 runs on 7 hits (that would have been only 4 hits had Carlos simply gotten out of the way of a few infield grounders).

What was different last night from his previous start when he gave three first-inning runs to Milwaukee?  The easy answer would be command.  In Milwaukee he threw strikes with only 55 of his 102 pitches.  Last night he also threw 102 pitches, but with 70 of them being strikes.  He gave no walks last night.

But the deeper answer is that last night Carlos trusted his stuff – and it worked out for him.  It’s a fine line.  There are games when he doesn’t trust his stuff.  There are games when he trusts his stuff and gets beaten up a bit.  But when the fastball runs – and it was darting a lot last night – Carlos Martinez can be a handful.  Last night, 23 of the 31 batters he faced saw some flavor of fastball on the first pitch.  Overall, 58 of his 102 pitches were either the four-seam (47) or two-seam (11).  According to Brooks Baseball who tracks such things (here), Carlos never quite reached 100 mph, although he came exceedingly close (his top speed weighed in at 99.9), but he threw with great confidence and great movement at 96-98.

His attacking mindset – and the Kansas City Royals’ willingness to chase that fastball – allowed Carlos to keep his pitch count low enough to finish 8.  For the game, 18 of the 31 batters he faced lasted 3 pitches or less – including 3 of the 4 he faced in the eighth.

As you watch Martinez walk 5 batters in 5 innings, as he did in Milwaukee, you might get the feeling that Carlos’ is less pitch-efficient than the other starters in the rotation.  In actuality, for the season, Carlos is dealing with batters at just 3.66 pitches per.  Only Mike Leake (3.57) expends fewer pitches per batter.  When you throw a lot of fastballs and don’t nibble, the at bats cycle through pretty quickly.  Last night, Carlos’ 31 batters in 102 pitches worked out to 3.29 pitches per.  That will usually get you deep into a game.

And Oh Yes, There Was Some Offense Last Night, Too

On July 26, your St Louis Cardinals took their baseball wood to the Colorado Rockies by a 10-5 score.  In the nine games that followed, those same Cardinals totaled 19 runs.  Now they have scored 24 over the last two games, featuring big innings of 4, 6 and 9 runs.

With the outburst comes hope of a more sustainable offensive situation over the season’s last 50 games.  There are certainly a number of Cardinal players who are overdue for an extended hot streak.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter capped off the 6-run fourth inning with the 3-run home run that opened up the game.  Matt is one of those who have suffered through a less-than-expected season.  Even with his two hits last night, his season average still sits at .249.  However, he is now hitting .295 (23 for 78) with a .396 on base percentage (12 walks) since the All-Star Break.

As per usual, Matt Carpenter saw more pitches than anyone else on the team.  In his 4 plate appearances, he cost Kansas City pitchers 21 pitches – 5.25 per appearance.  For the season, he leads the team with 4.37 pitches per PA.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez did less damage last night than the night before.  Still, he contributed two more hits and is now at .333 in the second half.  Mike Matheny really can’t bench him while he’s getting two hits a night, can he?

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina pushed his second half batting average to .320 with two more hits (24 for 75). He has now hit safely in 6 of his last 8 games, during which he is 11 for 26, including 2 doubles and 2 home runs – a .423 batting average and a .731 slugging percentage.  With two runs scored last night, Molina has scored 8 runs in his last 8 games.

Ever aggressive, Yadi swung at half of the 12 pitches thrown him last night.  Molina is swinging at 53.6% of the pitches thrown his way this season.  Of the regulars and semi-regulars, the only higher percentage belongs to rookie Paul DeJong, who swings at 54.7% of the pitches thrown to him.

When Yadi came up in the second, he did so with Jose Martinez at first and no one out.  It is likely that Kansas City viewed this as a double play opportunity – as Molina has grounded into many double plays over the years.  Things have been very different in that regard for Molina so far this year.  Yadi hit the ground ball – but it shot down the left-field line for the double that set up the big inning.

Molina still hasn’t grounded into a double play in the second half, and has bounced into only 6 in 74 opportunities this year (8.1%).

Tommy Pham

Not much disappointing news from last night, but one down note was the end of Tommy Pham’s most recent hitting streak – a six-gamer during which he hit .333 (8 for 24).

One of the biggest differences in the new Tommy Pham is swing and miss percentage.  Last year, Tommy missed 34.8% of the pitches he swung at.  That was the highest rate of any non-pitcher on the team (higher even than Brandon Moss’ 33.7%).  He is down to just 20.6% this season, and in the season’s second half Tommy has only missed on 28 of the 179 swings he’s taken.  Of all players with at least 25 plate appearances in the second half, only Matt Carpenter (15.3%) misses with fewer swings than Pham’s 15.6%.  He swung the bat 8 times last night, and only missed with one of the swings.

However, Tommy also seems to feel that just because he can finally see, that means that everyone else (like the umpires) can as well.  Pham was called out twice last night on close pitches – the first of which was clearly inside (and probably high, as well), but ultimately too close to take.  Tommy frequently seems mystified by the fact that the same umpires that miss calls on everyone else also miss calls on him.  Of the 84 times he has struck out so far this season, 34 (40.5%) have been on called strike threes.

NoteBook

Kolten Wong’s second-inning sacrifice fly gave the Cards a brief 1-0 lead.  It was the first time in 8 games that St Louis had scored first.

Before last night, the Cards had trailed at some point in eight straight games, and 10 of their last 11.

Cards Get Weeks Worth of RISP Hits in Rout of Reds

By the time Yadier Molina came to the plate in the second inning with Jose Martinez standing at second (and no one out), St Louis was already down 3-0.  They were also riding an 11-game streak of hitting .193 (17 for 88) in RISP opportunities (RISP = Runner(s) In Scoring Position).

Beginning with Molina’s single, St Louis would string together 4 straight hits with runners in scoring position as they sprinted into the lead, 4-3.  In the recent nine-run inning against Chicago, they had five consecutive RISP hits – mixed in with several walks.

But as it turned out, they were just getting started. Two innings later, they succeeded in 5 of 6 RISP chances – including Jose Martinez’ first career grand slam, as the Cards put up another nine-spot in a surprising flash-flood of offense – on their way to a convincing 13-4 victory (box score).

By game’s end, St Louis had put together their season high in both RISP at bats (19 – previously they had managed 18 in an 8-1 win against Washington on June 30) and hits (9 – previously they had managed 8 such hits against Miami in a 14-6 win on July 3).

In the aftermath, the Cardinal clubhouse exuded more confidence than we’ve seen recently.  But before we consider the offensive woes cured, let’s see how they manage against a more legitimate pitching staff in Kansas City over the next four days.

Still, even if only for one afternoon, it was nice to have a laugher.

Paul DeJong

After a recent downturn, Paul DeJong was given a day off.  He has rebounded strongly. He went 3 for 5 yesterday, and has hits in 6 of his last 12 at bats.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong was in the middle of both big innings, as he also finished the afternoon 3 for 5.  Kolten has now hit safely in 6 of his last 7 games, going 10 for 27 (.370) in those games.

Kolten was 1 for 2 in his RISP at bats yesterday.  He has been one of the club’s best in these opportunities, hitting .293 (17 for 58) in these moments.  He is 5 for 13 (.385) since the break with ducks on the pond.

Jose Martinez

Martinez’ grand slam was the centerpiece of the offensive evening.  His other hit may actually have been more important.  He began that second inning with the double that ignited the four-run inning that gave the team the lead.

Jose has been a second half fire-plug.  He has only played in 12 of the last 23 games – making just 6 starts and getting only 32 plate appearances.  But he’s turned those plate appearances into 3 singles, 1 double, 3 home runs, 6 runs scored, 8 runs batted in, 9 walks and 1 sacrifice fly – a batting line of .318/.500/.773.  That kind of production will keep your name on the lineup card.

Yadier Molina

Molina was also a central figure in both big innings, on his way to a solid 2-for-4 afternoon.  Yadi has hit in 5 of his last 7 games, hitting .409 (9 for 22) in those games and slugging .727 (1 double and 2 home runs).  Yadi is having another very profitable second half, hitting .310 with 3 home runs since the All-Star break.

As mentioned earlier, Yadi had the first of the team’s 9 hits with runners in scoring position yesterday.  Of all regulars, Molina leads the team, hitting .311 (23 for 74) in RISP opportunities.

Pitchers in RISP Situations

In contrast to the Cardinal success, Cincinnati was just 1 for 6 in RISP situations (that one hit, of course, being Joey Votto’s three-run homer).  Since the All-Star break (3 starts) that is the only hit Adam Wainwright has allowed in 14 RISP at bats (.071).

Lance Lynn has been even better.  The 18 second half batters to have RISP at bats against Lance have 1 single to show for their efforts (.056).  For the season, batters are hitting .156 (12 for 77) against Lance in RISP situations.

Michael Wacha has had similar success, holding batters to just 3 for 19 (.158) with runners in scoring position since the break.  His season batting average against in these situations is a very good .233 (21 for 90).

Having less success in the second half with ducks on the pond are Carlos Martinez (6 for 21 – .286) and Mike Leake (12 for 26 – .462).  This is unusual for Martinez, who usually excels in these moments.  For the year, his average against in RISP situations is .189 (20 for 106).  For Leake, this has been kind of a year-long struggle.  Batters are now hitting .300 against him (30 for 100) with runners in scoring position.

Matthew Bowman

After a couple of shaky outings, Matthew Bowman is getting back on the beam.  After pitching yesterday’s ninth inning, Matthew has put together five consecutive scoreless outings (3.2 innings) during which he has surrendered just 1 hit.  He has pitched in 12 games in the second half (7.2 innings) with a 2.35 ERA and a .222 batting average against.

NoteBook

St Louis has now gone seven straight games since the last time they scored first in one of their contests.

When we lost on Friday, it marked the twenty-first time this season that the Cards had lost the opening game of a series.  Eleven times, now, the team has fought back to force a rubber game.  With last night’s victory, they are 5-6 in those games.

Yadier Molina ended the Cardinal fifth by swinging through a 1-2 pitch from Lisalverto Bonilla.  Leading off the bottom of the eighth inning, Scooter Gennett swung and missed a 2-0 pitch from John Brebbia.  In between those two swings, there were no swinging strikes.  There were 7 called strikes, and 19 pitches fouled off, but the next 22 consecutive batters saw 72 consecutive pitches without one being swung at and missed.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before.

Cards Have Chances, But Can’t Catch Up to Reds

In the waning innings of a closely contested game, 7 of the last 14 batters the Cards sent to the plate reached base.  When Mike Matheny talks about the team continuing to grind through at bats, this is what he is talking about.

Of those 7 late inning baserunners, only 1 scored – leaving the Cardinals (once again) one run short in another head-shaking loss.  This time they fell to the last place Reds, 3-2 (box score).

When Matheny bemoans the lack of that “one” hit, this is what he is talking about.

Of the 39 Cardinals who came to the plate last night, 25 of them batted with the Cards trailing.  They went 8 for 22 with 3 walks – a .440 on base percentage.  But only 2 of the 11 runners scored.

Since the All-Star break, this has been a palpable trend.  When the Cards are even in the game, they don’t hit at all.  Last night, they were 1 for 12 (.083) when the score was tied, and over the last 21 games, they are hitting .216 (50 for 232) when the game is even.  When they fall behind by one or two runs, though, this team has responded with a .289 batting average and a .383 on base percentage.

The other half of this frustrating trend is the pitching half.  Lately, Cardinal pitching has been very good.  They carry a 3.07 ERA since the break, and over their last 23 games they have a 2.84 ERA.

They have been very, very good – once they fall behind.  Last night, while they trailed in the game, the Cardinal pitchers held Cincinnati to 4 singles in 18 at bats (.222). But, for the few innings that the game was tied (the first when it was 0-0, and the third through the fifth when it was a 1-1 game), Cincinnati was 5 for 12 (.417).

This has also been a palpable trend.  Since the All-Star break, in the 41.1 innings the pitchers have trailed by one or two runs, they have a 1.09 ERA and a .199 batting average against.  In the 59.2 innings they’ve pitched with the score tied, their ERA is 4.83.  Cardinal pitchers have only allowed 19 home runs in 21 second-half games.  Ten of them have come in the 34% of the plate appearances when the score was tied.

Marrying these two trends casts an almost earie light on this Cardinal team.  On the one hand, you have an offense that doesn’t engage until it trails – but then battles furiously to put itself back into the contest.  This offense is paired with a pitching staff that will throw remarkable innings once they are behind to keep the team in the game – but as soon as the offense catches up, they almost immediately re-surrender the lead, and the cycle begins over again.

Again, this isn’t an issue of talent.  By every gage available to us, this is an extremely talented Cardinal team.  But every statistical measure at our disposal continues to show a lack of toughness.  Cincinnati is having a terrible season.  But they were tougher than the Cardinals last night, and have been in our matchups all season.

Tommy Pham

In what has been – so far – a disappointing season, Tommy Pham has been one of the finds.  With two more hits last night, Tommy is 6 for his last 14 (.429) and has reached base in 9 of his last 17 plate appearances.  Since the break, Tommy leads the team in hits (28), runs scored (14), runs batted in (12 – tied with Paul DeJong), walks (10), stolen bases (4), batting average (.364), on base percentage (.444), slugging percentage (.532) and OPS (.977).

With two out in the third inning, Pham slapped a ball through into left for a single.  It would be the only hit the Cards would have all night while the game was tied (it was 1-1 at that point).  Tommy has been the one hitter the Cards have had who has been able to produce while the score is tied.  Since the break, Tommy is hitting .367 (11 for 30) in tie games, and for the year he hits .302 (26 for 86) in that situation.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter was back in the leadoff spot last night, but it didn’t help.  He was 0 for 4, and is now hitless in his last ten at bats.  Matt’s last home run came against Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole on June 24 – 117 at bats ago.  It has also been seven games since his last run batted in.

Carpenter is a .232 hitter this year (32 for 138) when the game is tied.

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty added another 0-for-4 to his growing collection. To say it hasn’t been his season so far would be an understatement.  Stephen is now 1 for 12 since his return from the DL; 1 for 16 (.063) in the second half; and 4 for 37 (.108) in his last 11 games.  For the season, his average has fallen to .228.

Randal Grichuk

And Randal Grichuk has disappeared again.  Hitless in 3 at bats yesterday (with two strikeouts), Randal is now 0 for his last 10 (with 7 strikeouts).  In 8 games since his 4-hit game, Grichuk has totaled 3 hits in 25 at bats (.120).

Randal was up twice yesterday with the Cards down by a run.  He struck out both times.  For the season, Randal is 7 for 38 (.184) with just 4 runs batted in when he hits trailing by one run.

Starting Pitchers in Tie Games

Mike Leake has battled the pitching aspect of this trend all season.  In 28.2 innings when trailing, but by less than three runs, Leake holds a 2.83 ERA.  This rises to 4.09 if the game is tied.

Among the others, Adam Wainwright has defied the general trend.  When he falls behind, things can get ugly in a hurry, but in 48 innings this season with the score tied, Waino has a 2.44 ERA and a .239 batting average against.  Over his last three starts, Wainwright has a 0.64 ERA with a .140 average against in 14 innings while his games have been tied.  He has walked just 2 batters in those innings.  Adam has won a team-high 11 games.  One way you do that is by not giving up runs while the game is tied.

The resurgent Michael Wacha has followed a similar pattern.  All season, he’s been very strong while the game has been tied (2.72 ERA; .230 average against in 43 tied innings), but has been even better in the second half (11.2 innings; 2.31 ERA; .195 batting average).

Carlos Martinez has struggled more than most at keeping the game even.  He has pitched in that situation for 54.1 innings, with a 4.14 ERA and 9 home runs to show for it.  His struggles have increased since the break.  In his last four starts, Carlos has only been even in the game for 7.2 innings, during which he has served up 3 home runs and 10 earned runs – good for an 11.74 ERA and a .361/.410/.694 batting line against.  A lot of that derives from his first-inning issues that we have pointed out before.

NoteBook

Joey Votto’s first-inning RBI double that gave Cincinnati its early 1-0 lead makes five consecutive games where the Cards have not scored first.