Not Enough Fastball Not Enough to Subdue Cards

Many, many times in recent years, the Cardinals have gone down meekly to soft tossers who have teased their hitters with pitches just out of the strike zone.  It frequently doesn’t seem to matter if the pitcher they face falls into the “not enough fastball” category.

For a couple innings last night, it looked like this might be one of those games as a “not enough fastball” Cincinnati pitcher dispatched the first six Cardinals he faced with minimal effort.  But after an inning-opening error by Eugenio Suarez (who endured one of his most forgettable games – being famously picked off third later on) things began to unravel quickly for Tim Adleman who ended his evening allowing six runs (five of them earned) in 5.1 innings of a 7-5 loss to the Cardinals (box score).

Adleman didn’t necessarily make a whole lot of mistakes, but the aroused Cardinal offense – which now features lots of hitters emerging from their shells – made sure he paid the full price when he did mis-locate that less than dominating fastball.

Cards on a Good Roll

Noteworthy in the victory is the fact that St Louis has now won 9 of 11 games.  Last year’s team – in 162 games – never had an eleven-game stretch where they won nine times.  I referred to that team several times as the “wet powder” Cardinals.  A half a dozen times during 2016 that team looked as though they were ready to go on an extended run, only to have the fire go abruptly out.

I have much higher hopes for this squad which has already put together a longer sustained run than last year’s team was ever capable of.

I know that this run has been established against some teams of questionable virtue.  At the end of the year, how good will Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Toronto and Cincinnati be?  Will any of them end up playing .500 ball?  Maybe, maybe not.  But remember that the 2016 team played lots of bad teams, too.

In fact, one of the most frustrating aspects of the 2016 season was that this team would frequently get rolled over by sub-.500 teams.  Even if all this current club achieves is consistently beating the poorer teams, that by itself will be a noteworthy improvement over 2016.

This recent surge – which began with three 2-1 wins against Pittsburgh – has seen ample contributions from both hitters and pitchers.  With their 7 runs, 11 hits and 4 walks last night, St Louis has been scoring 4.82 runs per game while hitting .290/.353/.484 as a team during the run.

Meawhile, the rotation has turned in 8 quality starts over the 11 games with a 2.98 ERA and a .233/.2899/.353 batting line against.

It’s been a pretty good roll.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler’s season average still sits at just .236, but that number currently means nothing.  With two hits last night, Dexter has had multiple hits in four straight games, hitting .500 in those games (9 for 18) and slugging .944 (his hits include 2 doubles and 2 home runs).  All seven of his RBIs this season have come in his last 8 games.

Dexter has been very much the straw that stirs the drink over this eleven-game uprising.  Among the regulars, he leads the team with a .350 batting average (14 for 40) and a .750 slugging percentage (2 doubles, a triple, and 4 home runs.)

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko pushed his season average up to .321 with two more hits last night – including his fourth home run of the season.  Since the second game of the Milwaukee series – when Jedd was moved into the clean-up slot in the lineup – Gyorko is hitting .364 (8 for 22).  He has one double, one triple, and last night’s home run in that span – a .636 slugging percentage.

Jedd doesn’t qualify as a “regular” during the 9-2 streak the Cardinals are on.  He falls two plate appearances shy.  But his .393/.469/.786 batting line would lead the Cards in all those categories.  Over his last 32 PAs, Jedd has 5 singles, 3 doubles, a triple, 2 home runs, 6 runs scored, 4 runs batted in, 3 walks, and a hit by pitch.

The first two times up last night, Gyorko took the first pitch of the at bat, getting ahead in the count 1-0 both times.  He ended those at bats striking out and grounding out.

He swung at the first pitch his last two times up, missing once and fouling the other off – starting those at bats behind 0-1.  He went on to hit a home run and a single in those at bats.  So far this season – whether he hits the ball or not – when Jedd swings at the first pitch in an at bat he is 10 for 20 (.500) with 3 doubles and 3 home runs (1.100 slugging percentage).

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty broke an 0 for 8 with a single and a double.  He also walked and grounded out in the second inning at the end of a 10-pitch at bat.  He has now gone three straight games without striking out, and has fanned just once in his last six games.  Piscotty’s season average is just .235, but he has been looking better at the plate.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter was in the highlight reels with his walk-off, eleventh-inning grand slam the other night, but Carpenter hasn’t been at the top of his game.  He is 0 for 7 since that home run after last night’s 0 for 4 left him at .224 for the young season.  Matt is also hitting .226 (7 for 31) since the beginning of the Pittsburgh series.

In last night’s third inning, Carpenter tried to bunt the first pitch thrown him by Tim Adleman.  He fouled the bunt off, but it was still only the third time in his last 37 plate appearances that Matt had made any kind of attempt at the first pitch thrown to him.

Lance Lynn

Lance Lynn authored his third straight quality start as he muffled the dangerous Cincinnati offense on just one run through six innings.  In his third start during this run that began with his 2-1 victory in the first Pittsburgh game, Lynn is 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA and a batting line against of .185/.264/.262.  He has been as good as could be hoped for.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil continued his very productive run.  He pitched a 1-2-3 seventh with a strikeout.  He has now allowed just one run – unearned – over his last 9 appearances totaling 6.2 innings.  He has allowed only 2 hits to the last 24 batters he’s faced, while striking out 8 of them.

Kevin Siegrist

Nobody is swinging at Kevin Siegrist’s first pitch anymore – and very few are swinging at any pitch he throws.  Last year, batters swung at his first pitch 26.2% of the time, which was slightly below average (the average for all the major leagues was 28.4%).  Last year, batters offered at 43.8% of all of Kevin’s offerings.  Again, this was close to average – batters swung at 46.6% of all pitches thrown by the Cardinal pitching staff.

Last night – even though he threw a first-pitch fastball right down the middle to Scooter Gennett, Scooter just took it for a strike.  Then, even though he elevated a first-pitch fastball to Patrick Kivlehan, Patrick just watched it go by for a ball.  Both of those plate appearances lasted 8 pitches. Gennett took the first five pitches of the at bat before fouling off two and driving the eighth into left-center field for a two-run double.  Kivlehan ended up fouling off 3 pitches before drawing a walk.

Of the last 34 batters that Siegrist has faced, only 2 have swung at his first pitch.  They have only swung at 51 of the last 147 pitches that he’s thrown (34.7%).

Working theory.  As Siegrist’s velocity is down this year (for whatever reason) batters are less afraid that Kevin will throw it by him.  They are, therefore, content to take pitches early in the at bat and foul them off late while waiting for either a mistake that they can drive or for ball four.

None of Siegrist’s last 38 pitches has produced a swinging strike.  At the moment, Siegrist – like Adleman – is a “not enough fastball” pitcher.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh’s rebound continues.  He retired the last four Reds for the save – his sixth.  In his first six games this year, Oh allowed 6 runs on twelve hits – including 4 doubles and 2 home runs – to the first 35 batters he faced this year.  While hitting two batters and walking one, he managed only 3 strikeouts and was saddled with an 8.10 ERA.

In his five games since then, he has faced 19 batters, giving no runs on two hits (both singles) and one walk while striking out 7.

Rain tries to interrupt the Cardinal hot streak again as today’s afternoon contest was washed away.  If they get to play tomorrow – and if the Reds stay with Bronson Arroyo – the Cards will get more “not enough fastballs” to swing at.

NoteBook

All four of last night’s walks came on at bats that began with ball one.  Thirty-five of the last 36 walks drawn by Cardinal hitters have begun with first-pitch balls.

Offense Breaks Out as Cards Sweep Double Header

The strange dynamics of baseball were on full display in yesterday’s double header sweep (box score 1) (box score 2).  The Toronto Blue Jays scored the first four runs of the long day of baseball.  They also scored the last four runs of the day.  In between, the St Louis Cardinals scored all of their runs (all 14 of them) between the seventh inning of the first game and the fourth inning of the second game.  During that span of 9 innings (the first game went 11), the Birds scored their 14 runs on 22 hits and 9 walks (3 of them intentional.  The hits included 4 doubles, a triple, and 3 home runs – a .400/.477/.673 batting line.

This is a long, long way from the team that struggled to put together six runs over three full games against the Pirates.

The sweep also gives them wins in 8 of their last 10 games – a feat they managed only once all last year (from July 9 to July 22).  After the dismal start, the club has fought its way back to the .500 mark.

Yesterday, almost the entire lineup contributed something at some point.

Greg Garcia

Back in spring training, Greg Garcia was quoted as saying words to the effect that he wanted more than just a bench role.  He believed he could produce well enough to start somewhere.  Whether or not that is true, time will tell.  But Greg had a very nice double header (4 for 4 in the 2 games, with a walk, a sacrifice bunt, a stolen base and a run scored) and has been one of the forces behind the recent surge.

Over the last ten games, Garcia is hitting .308 (8 for 26), and is now hitting .316 for the season.

Curiously, the run he scored in the nightcap was his first of the season.

Matt Adams

Matt Adams started the second game having had exactly five total bases and two RBIs for the season.  He collected five total bases and two RBIs in that game alone as he slapped his first two extra base hits of the season.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler was another one of the double header heroes, going 5 for 9.  The signs that Fowler is starting to come out of his early season funk are growing louder.

Dexter now has 7 hits in his last three games.  His double and home run mean that six of his last 12 hits have gone for extra-bases.

After driving in no runs during his first 14 games, Fowler now has 5 RBIs in his last 7.

A notorious on-base guy, Fowler walked in both games of the DH.  This was only the second time all season that Fowler had walked in consecutive games, and brings him to just 8 walks on the year (but 3 in his last five games).

Dexter is now hitting .333 with a .694 slugging percentage over the Cards last ten games.

In his three-hit night-cap, Fowler laid off the first pitch thrown him all five times.  This was after he had swung at the first pitch in each of his last four plate appearances in the first game.

Randal Grichuk

Matt Carpenter’s first-game, walk-off, extra-inning grand slam made the news reels, but Randal Grichuk’s last-out, game-tying home run in the ninth-inning of that game was arguably the most important hit of the day.

Grichuk finished the double header 3 for 6, scoring 3 times and driving in 3 runs.  He also walked twice, once intentionally, and didn’t strike out.  It was only the second time this season that Randal has gone consecutive games without striking out.

Grichuk begins the evening, now, having hit safely in six consecutive games (9 for 22 in those six) with 4 doubles to go with that home run – a .727 slugging percentage to go with his .409 batting average.  Randal has also scored at least one run in seven straight games.

While he hasn’t gotten himself out much lately by chasing pitches out of the zone, throwing strikes – or even pitches close to the strike zone is a dangerous proposition with Grichuk at the plate.  In the seventh inning of the first game, Joe Biagini probably put his first pitch to Randal exactly where he wanted to – a low, 96-mph fastball just fractionally off the plate inside.  But not inside enough – Grichuk drilled it into left for the hit that drove in St Louis’ first run of the day.

For the season – even though he is only hitting .250 overall – Randal is hitting .319 and slugging .617 in at bats that begin with a first-pitch strike.  All three of his home runs and 10 of his 11 runs batted in have come in those plate appearances.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina only played in the first game, but continued his hitting streak with two doubles.  Yadi’s streak is now up to six games, during which he’s hitting .385 (10 for 26).  His intentional walk in that game broke a string of 12 straight games without a walk for Molina.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong chipped in with a 3 for 8 double header – a single, a double, and the triple that set the stage for the game one win.

Whether it is coincidence or not, the Cardinals’ recent run of success coincides with the point where Wong started to play every day.  Kolten has made ten consecutive starts and is hitting .333 (11 for 33) with a .636 slugging percentage (3 doubles, 2 triples and a home run) in those games.

Wong is another hitter that you throw strikes to at your own peril.  In the eleventh inning of game one, Ryan Tepera challenged him twice with a fastball and a cutter over the middle of the plate.  Kolten took the first one, but laced the second pitch into the right-field corner for the triple.

Stephen Piscotty

The trends seem to be positive for almost everyone in the Cardinal line-up except for sometimes clean-up man Stephen Piscotty.  Hitless in five at bats during the double header (although he did walk twice and drive in two runs), Stephen is now 0 for his last 7 at bats and is down to .215 for the season.  He has gone 11 games without a home run.

If you are looking for positives, one might be that Stephen didn’t strikeout in either game, and has fanned only once in his last five games.  While the team has been winning 8 of 10, Piscotty has contributed only a .176 average (6 for 34).

The Pitching Staff

The performance much better for Carlos Martinez.  Nineteen of the 27 batters he faced saw strike one.  Only 13 of the 24 he faced in Milwaukee saw first-pitch strikes.  Adam Wainwright battled, but continues to give up too many hits.  The 9 he gave up in 6.1 innings yesterday brings him to 39 in 25 innings for the season.  Opposing batters are hitting .361 so far this season against Adam.

The bullpen allowed just 1 run in 7.2 innings yesterday (given up by Tyler Lyons as he shook off a little rust).  Over the last 10 games the bullpen carries a 2.48 ERA.

One of the exciting pieces in the pen is the healthy version of Trevor Rosenthal.  With two more strikeouts in the second game, Rosenthal has 13 strikeouts in his 6.1 innings – an average of 18.47 strikeouts per nine innings.  Rosenthal is starting to get strikeouts on his breaking pitches now.  After a lost season in 2016, Trevor may now be better than he’s ever been.

NoteBook

With his intentional walk in the first game, Kolten Wong moved into a tie for the league lead at 4.  It also establishes a career high already.  In three full previous seasons and part of a fourth, Wong had never been given more than 3 intentional walks.

Error by Error with the Cardinal Defense

After four errors compounded the Cardinals’ situation in an eventual 11-inning loss to Toronto on Tuesday night, the Cardinal defense has been under the spotlight.  Everyone has an opinion and most of the opinions are not positive.

Among the most vehement is this effort from Jose de Jesus Ortiz – whose over-reactions have come to be expected in his short time in St Louis.  After reading as much of this as I could stomach, I wonder if Mr. Ortiz should be put on a suicide watch.  If any of you out there are familiar with Jose, maybe you could check on him (and take away his belt and razor blades).

Before the rest of you out there in Cardinal Nation reach for your cyanide tablets, let’s have an adult discussion about the Cardinal defense.  Let’s begin by going error-by-error through the first 20 games of the season.  Now, I know that errors are not the only aspect of defense, but they are as good a place to start as any.

Error #1.

After opening the season with two errorless games, the suspect Cardinal defense made it all the way to the eighth inning of game three before they committed their first boot. Just the inning earlier, Kyle Schwarber had hit the three-run homer that pushed the Cubs into the lead – which had now grown to 6-4.  Now Miguel Socolovich was in to hold the fort in the eighth.  After retiring Javier Baez on a flyball,  Jon Jay looped a base hit to left-center field, where Randal Grichuk booted it – sending Jay to second.  It made little impact, as Socolovich struck out Schwarber and retired Kris Bryant on a ground ball.

Error #2 (&3).

The Cards played two more errorless games and made it through five innings of their April 9 game against Cincinnati.  Carlos Martinez took the mound in the sixth, trailing 2-0.  But things would now unravel quickly.  Martinez hit Jose Peraza with an 0-2 pitch, and wild pitched him to second.  He went on to walk Joey Votto and surrender an RBI single to Adam Duvall.

Now Eugenio Suarez is up.  He slaps a sharp ground ball right at third-baseman Jhonny Peralta who kicked it (for one error) and then chased it down and made an ill-advised attempt to still get the runner at second.  He chucked the ball into right field, sending Votto home and Duvall to third. This set the stage for:

Error #4.

With Scott Schebler up, Mike Matheny went to Brett Cecil, whose first pitch was a hanging change that Schebler lined over the head of Grichuk (playing in right this time).  As the ball bounced off the wall – and tried to bounce over Grichuk’s head, Randal leaped and was able to glove it.  But he dropped it during the exchange – the ball rolling far enough away that Suarez was able to score from first.

With help from three Cardinal errors on two pitches, the Cincinnati lead bloomed to 6-0 (on the way to an 8-0 win).

Error #5

After the Cincinnati fiasco, the Cards travelled to Washington.  The next evening, they took a 3-2 lead into the fourth inning.  But leadoff hitter Matt Weiters bounced a single underneath the diving Kolten Wong, bringing up pitcher Tanner Roark.  After faking the bunt, Roark pulled the bat back and dribbled a grounder toward second.  Wong gobbled the grounder up, and, seeing there was still a play to be made at second, flipped the ball past shortstop Aledmys Diaz into center field.  Adam Eaton made the error hurt, as he tied the game with a smash to right.  This game stayed pretty close (a 6-5 Washington lead) until a seven-run eighth-inning implosion by the bullpen sent the Nationals coasting to a 14-6 victory.

Errors 6 & 7.

Shortstop Diaz made it through the first 7 games of the season without committing an error.  That streak ended in the third inning of the April 11 game against Washington.  With one on and one out, Adam Eaton bounced a ball into the third base – shortstop hole.  Peralta dashed in front of Diaz, but only ticked the ball.  Aledmys couldn’t cleanly field the rebound and he got the error when everyone was safe.  Two unearned runs eventually scored in that inning.

Now it’s the seventh inning.  After Daniel Murphy led off with a double, Ryan Zimmerman bounced a ball up the middle – seemingly a hit.  Diaz, who had been playing Ryan to pull, scooted toward the second base bag and made a sliding pickup of the ball.  But – trying to do too much – he tried to throw Zimmerman out while still sitting on the ground near the second base bag.  For all of that, it wasn’t a bad throw.  But again, it was Jose Martinez playing first and he was unable to dig out the throw.  It bounced past him, sending Murphy home and saddling Diaz with his second error of the game.

Washington went on to an 8-3 victory.

Errors 8, 9 & 10.

The Cards made three errors in the three-game series in New York against the Yankees.  Kolten Wong threw away a relay from right field in the fifth inning of the April 14 game.  The error brought in the run that made the difference in a 4-3 loss.

The next day, they added two more errors.  Jose Martinez – back at first – booted a grounder.  That one didn’t hurt much.  The second error was more damaging.

It’s the sixth inning.  Carlos Martinez has battled his own control problems and held the Cards to withing a 1-0 score of the Yankees.  But Ronald Torreyes led off the inning with a double, and went to third on a ground out.  Now Aaron Hicks squibs a grounder to Martinez’ right.  With Torreyes breaking for the plate, Martinez, with all of his momentum carrying him past the third-base foul line, throws wildly to the plate.  The runner scored and the batter ended up at second where he later scored the clinching run in a 3-2 loss.

Errors 11 & 12.

After three more errorless games, the Cards jeopardized the final game of the Pirate series when they committed two errors in the eighth.  Again, the problem spots were first base and shortstop, but this time it was Matt Carpenter dropping a throw at first, and Greg Garcia booting a grounder at short.  Kevin Siegrist worked out of the trouble, and the Cards went on to the 2-1 win.

Error 13.

First inning of the first game in Milwaukee.  Martinez, again, with a wild pickoff throw that sent Jonathan Villar to second.  That error would be more-or-less lost behind Travis Shaw’s three-run homer later that inning.  Milwaukee would go on to a 7-5 win.

Error 14.

Fifth inning, two nights later.  Yadier Molina tries to throw out Keon Broxton on a steal of second.  The ball bounces into center when Garcia – at short again – can’t corral the throw.  Broxton made it to third, but died there when Yadi picked him off after a missed bunt.  Cards went on to a 4-1 win.

Error 15.

The next night, Wong booted a fairly simple grounder off the bat of Shaw as he led off the sixth inning.  Mike Leake retired the next three batters – two on strikeouts – and the threat ended.  The Cards won that one, too.

Errors 16-19.

These were the errors committed on Tuesday night.  Stephen Piscotty’s throw from right field hit a runner sliding into third in the helmet, allowing the runner to score.  Jedd Gyorko kicked a grounder.  Brett Cecil’s pickoff throw went into right sending the runner to third and setting up another run.  (Again, on this play, a more experienced first baseman might have gloved the throw).  And then the throwing error from Diaz in the eleventh when Martinez didn’t leave the bag to get the throw that allowed the game winner.

What Does This Mean – If Anything?

So what do we make of this?  Yes, I know that beyond the errors there have been plays that might have been made that weren’t.  But I think this exercise gives us the flavor of the problem.

Some of these issues will, I believe, fix themselves presently.  There is a lot of “trying to do too much” still going on.  Nine of our first 19 errors have been throwing errors – many of them ill-advised.  This is correctable.

There is also a fair amount of bad luck in all of this.  What are the odds of Piscotty’s throw hitting the runner in the helmet?  It also seems – and I admit that this is just my perception – that every time the Cards try to sneak a bat into the lineup – be it Matt Adams in left or Martinez at first, the ball immediately finds them.  This, of course, is always the risk, but over the course of the whole season this kind of thing doesn’t continue to happen.  Many teams use first base and left field as places to store a player who is significantly more proficient with the bat than the glove.  And those players sometimes get exposed.  But not nearly with the regularity that it’s happened to the Cards in the early going.

No Easy Fix

There is, however, a part of this question that is a little more difficult to answer.  A few of the core offensive pillars are not the defensive stalwarts that Matheny and his crew would like to have.  Matt Carpenter isn’t the best defensive option at any of the positions he plays.  The same is true of Gyorko.  But these guys have to be in the lineup.

Aledmys Diaz is – I think – better than his reputation would suggest.  But he isn’t a gold glove candidate (not yet, anyway).  And Stephen Piscotty is OK – but not phenomenal – in right.  But again, these bats have to stay in the lineup.

All of these players have had moments where they left plays on the field.  But I don’t think it’s fair to say that any of them have been “bad” defensively.  The bad moments have stood out more because the struggling offense has exaggerated the effect of any runs the defense has surrendered.

What I think has hurt the team more than any perceived defensive inadequacies is the fact that the glove men they were depending on to shore up the defense have all struggled to hit.

In Yadier Molina, Kolten Wong, Dexter Fowler and Randal Grichuk (now that he’s moved to left), the Cardinals have defenders that they believe will make them a plus defensive club.  And over time, I believe they will.  But 20 games into the season, all of these gloves have failed to bring any consistent offense to the plate.  Molina’s current OPS is .663.  Wong is hitting .231.  Grichuk is hitting .229 and has struck out 24 times in his first 70 at bats.  Fowler is the only regular still under .200 at .184.

Are they this bad?  On the whole, it’s doubtful.

Too Early to Panic

Bad starts can have a snow-balling effect on a team.  Everyone gets tight.  They try to do too much.  They look at their batting average on the scoreboard and start to doubt.  A bad thing happens and, while they lament the last bad thing, two more bad things happen.

In the early going, the 2017 team is starting to follow in many of the statistical patterns of the 2016 team.  But I still don’t think that they are the same.  This team has still won six of the last eight games.  They are starting to feel the ground beneath their feet.

To all of you in Cardinal Nation standing on ledges, I still think it’s too early to panic.  My council to you is to breathe.  Assuming the weather ever lets up and we ever get to play any more baseball, there are still 142 games left.  It’s way too early to be drawing conclusions just yet.

Lots of Early One Run Games

Last year, through the course of their 162-game season, the Cardinals played in 47 one run games – 29% of their contests were decided by one run.  They were 24-23 in those contests.

Although last night’s 6-5 loss to Toronto (box score) was their first extra-inning game of the season, it was their eighth one run game of the season already (they are 4-4).  Should they continue at this pace, they will end the season having played in 65 such contests.

One run games are the predictable result when a team combines mostly excellent pitching with a sluggish offense (as the three 2-1 games we played against the Pirates earlier this month attest).  They are also a barometer of the team’s character.  Once in a while throughout the season, I glance at the numbers from these games.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko remains the hottest of the Cardinal hitters.  Since the beginning of the Pirate series, the Cards have been averaging 5.2 runs per game and hitting .303 as a team.  Gyorko, who has played in four of the five games, has been at the forefront of the offensive surge.

Jedd now has multiple hits in three of the last four games, including two three-hit games.  He is now 9 for 16 against Milwaukee and Toronto (a .563 average) with five of the hits for extra-bases (3 doubles, a triple, and a home run).  He has 3 RBIs and a 1.063 slugging percentage during this recent action.

Gyorko clearly needs to be in the lineup (even though he is clearly not the best defensive choice at any of the positions he plays).

Jedd is also just one of two Cardinal hitters to be hitting above .250 in one run games so far.  He has only played in 5 of the 8 (starting just 4), but is off to a 4-for-13 start (.308) that includes a double and a home run – a .615 slugging percentage.  The only player hitting better in these games is Jose Martinez (who hit his first major league home run last night).  Playing in all 8 one run games so far (starting 4), Jose is 7 for 16 with 2 doubles and the home run – a .438 batting average and a .750 slugging percentage.

Dexter Fowler

Of the regulars, Dexter Fowler has the highest batting average so far this season in one run games – although at just .242.  After last night’s 2-for-5 game that included the hit that drove in the tying run in the ninth, Dexter is now 8 for 33 in one run games.  Half of his hits are for extra-bases (including the two home runs he hit in one game in Pittsburgh).  Dexter is slugging .515 through the Cards’ first 8 one run games.

The team is averaging .216 (56 for 259) and is scoring 2.63 runs per one-run game.

Stephen Piscotty

With his two hits last night, Stephen Piscotty is the early leader among the regulars in on-base percentage during the eight one run games.  He is still hitting just .231 in these contests (6 for 26), but has drawn three walks and been hit by two pitches – a healthy .355 percentage.

Yadier Molina

After an indifferent start, Yadier Molina is starting to have the ball fall in for him.  With two more hits last night, Yadi has 5 in the last 2 games, and a baby hitting streak of five games – during which he’s hit a very soft .364 (8 for 22, but with only one double).  We talked a little about Yadi’s patience (or lack thereof) yesterday.  Yadi hasn’t drawn a walk since April 8 against Cincinnati’s Robert Stevenson.  That was 48 plate appearances ago.

Like Piscotty, Molina is 6 for 26 so far in one run games (a .231 average) with all of those hits being singles.

Aledmys Diaz

Last night was not Aledmys Diaz’ best performance of the season.  He capped his 0-for-5 night with the throwing error that brought home the winning run (albeit a more experienced first baseman would have probably saved Diaz the error).

Nonetheless, Diaz has hit better in recent days.  His hitless game last night broke his little five-game streak, during which he had hit .375 (6 for 16) and slugged .625 (his hits included a double and a home run).  He walked only once during the streak, but also struck out just once.

Aledmys was a solid bat in the 32 one run games he played in last year.  He hit .256 with 4 home runs and 19 runs batted in in those games, including 2 game winning hits.

This year, though, Diaz’ bat has been the most absent during one run games.  After last night, Aledmys is just 5 for 30, with 2 doubles, no walks and no RBIs in the eight one run games he’s played so far – a batting line of .167/.167/.233.  His batting average and on base percentage are the lowest on the team among starters in one run games.

Matt Adams

With Matt Carpenter serving a one-game suspension, Matt Adams got the opportunity to earn himself more playing time.  But his frustrating start continued.  He started and went 0 for 2 with two strikeouts.  Matt is hitting .172 on the young season (5 for 29) with no extra-base hits and 13 strikeouts.

Michael Wacha

After being blessed with an abundance of run support in his first start (a 10-4 win over Cincinnati), each of Michael Wacha’s last three starts have been decided by one run – a 4-3 loss in New York to the Yankees; a 2-1 win over Pittsburgh and Gerrit Cole; and last night’s loss.  Only Carlos Martinez (who has had two of his four starts decided by one run) has started more than one one-run game.

The Starting Pitching Counts in One Run Games

The eight starting pitchers in these one run games have an aggregate ERA of 1.99 and a batting line against of .219/.291/.310.  Last year, the starters in the one run games scuffled to a 3.75 ERA with a .269/.321/.396 batting line against.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist threw an eventful, but scoreless inning last night.  He gave up two hits, but didn’t walk a batter for the first time in seven appearances.  The only other game he’s pitched in this season in which he didn’t walk a batter was game #2 against the Cubs – and he hit a batter in that inning.  He also struck out two batters for the second straight time.  After managing just 2 strikeouts over his first 5.1 innings, he has 4 in his last 2.  Kevin’s ERA still hovers at 8.59, but by degrees he’s starting to resemble the Kevin Siegrist we are used to seeing around here.

Kevin has now tossed 4 scoreless innings in the 4 one run games he’s participated in – even though he’s walked three and hit one in those games.  The 21 batters who have faced Siegrist in one run games hit .176/.333/.176.

The first eight one run games of the season have been – more or less – a microcosm of the Cardinal season.  The offense has provided opportunities that have not been capitalized on.  With runners in scoring position, St Louis is 8 for 48 (.167) in its one run games.  With RISP and 2 outs, they are 4 for 22 (.182) in those contests.  Three of the four one-run losses the Cards have incurred have seen the winning runs scored on an error.  We’ve also lost four runners on the bases in those eight games.

But the pitching in general – and the starting pitching in particular – has held us in the contests.  Yes, it is still early, but the pitching is starting to look like it will be a consistent force for good for the whole season.  If this club wants to stop hovering around the .500 mark, it will need to clean up the mistakes and hit when the opportunities present themselves.

Patience as a Baseball Virtue

When you are a young player, and your team gets off to a disappointing start, it’s frequently difficult to approach each at bat with the patience it deserves.

I was thinking about this as I was contemplating the uneven beginning to Aledmys Diaz’ season.  At the 19-game mark, he leads the Cardinals in home runs with 4, but has walked only once and is hitting .250/.260/.472.

Last year, when he hit .300, Diaz’ average got better the deeper he went into the at bat (which is backwards of the way that most hitters work).  In 2016 he hit .275 if his at bat ended before the first ball was thrown.  In 1-ball counts, Aledmys hit .298.  His average rose to .316 with ball 2.  And when he hit in three-ball counts, Aldemys hit .333 with a .593 slugging percentage.

So, if the at bat didn’t make it to ball-two, Aledmys was a satisfactory .286/.295/.494 hitter.  From ball-two on, Diaz became a much better .322/.469/.537 hitter.

Those ratios are generally holding true this year.  If the at bat lasts less than two balls, Diaz is hitting .217/.217/.317.  Two balls and over, his numbers leap to .417/.462/1.250.

Here’s the big difference, though.  Last year, the “quick” at bats accounted for only 57.8% of his plate appearances (about the league average).  This year 82.2% of his at bats (60 of the 73) don’r last long enough for Aledmys to see ball two.

Also showing a lack of patience is veteran Yadier Molina.  He reached three balls in 16% of his 2016 at bats (again, about average).  This year, he has made it to three balls on 6 times in 62 plate apperances (9.7%).

On the opposite end of the patience spectrum is Matt Carpenter, who sees ball three in 37.7% of his plate appearances (he did that in only 27.9% of his PAs last year) and the surprising Jedd Gyorko.  After only lasting to three balls in 18.7% of his 2016 at bats, Jedd has gone that deep 17 times in his first 48 appearances (35.4%).

There has been a lot of discussion about what ails erstwhile ace Carlos Martinez.  Certainly his struggles are a product of many issues – both mechanical and mental.  One thing the numbers show is a decided drop-off in effectiveness at the at bat against him lengthens.

When Carlos can take care of a hitter before throwing the second ball in the at bat, he holds them to a .220 batting average (13 for 59).  But as the hitter extends the at bat, the more the frustration works into Martinez.  From the moment he throws ball two, batters are hitting .323/.500/.548 against him.

Patience is also the ability to fend off the frustration.

As the team continues to rebound from its halting start, I believe you will see them all relax a bit more and let the game start coming to them.  You can already see it in Kolten Wong’s game.

Wong, Leake and Rosenthal in Spotlight Against Brewers

The Cardinals wrapped up the Milwaukee series by winning the last three games, 6-3, 4-1, and 6-4.  The victories give the Birds six wins in their last seven games.  The charge in this one was led by three players who entered the season with a lot to prove – Kolten Wong, Mike Leake, and Trevor Rosenthal.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong wrapped up one of his most compelling series in recent memory.  With 2 hits, two walks, a stolen base, a run batted in, and two runs scored, yesterday, Wong finished the series with 16 plate appearances during which he achieved the following:

Two singles, two doubles, a triple, four runs scored, four runs driven in, three walks (two of them intentional), two stolen bases and just one strikeout.  His batting line against Milwaukee was a hearty .385/.500/.692.

He also committed an error and was picked off of second base.  In the good place that Kolten is in right now, mistakes don’t linger.  He puts it behind him and looks forward to the next play, the next at bat.

In the at bat that produced the RBI double, Wong took the first two pitches for strikes – something he was more inclined to do last year.  But after getting ahead of Kolten 0-2, Jimmy Nelson tried to get him to chase two low fastballs – but Kolten laid off both.  The first 2-2 pitch was a fairly nasty slider that broke to the lower inside corner of the plate.  Wong fouled it off, keeping the at bat alive for the sixth pitch – the fastball that Nelson elevated just enough for Wong to get under it and launch it over the center-fielder’s head.

As Wong relaxes into the season, his at bats are becoming – by degrees – more and more professional.  Last year, I think he strikes out in that at bat.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler came to the plate with runners at first and third and two out in the eighth inning.  He jumped on Jared Hughes first-pitch fastball, but drove it to the deepest part of the ballpark, where it died at about the warning track.  After stirring a bit against Pittsburgh, Fowler finished the Milwaukee series just 1 for 11 (.091).  To this point of the season, Dexter is just 2 for 11 when he hits the first pitch thrown to him.  Dexter was a little messed up earlier in the season.  At this point he is pushing through a little bad luck.

Greg Garcia

The recent resurgence has happened with minimal contributions from Greg Garcia, who was 0-for-4 yesterday, and is 3 for 21 (.190) since the beginning of the Pittsburgh series.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake contributed another strong effort – six innings, 2 runs.  In his first three starts of the season, Leake only went to full counts seven times – and five of those were against the Nationals.

The Brewers took him to full counts four times in six innings last night.  He walked two and struck out two.  For the season, the 11 batters who have gone to full counts against Leake are 0 for 9 with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts.

Trevor Rosenthal

Different with Trevor Rosenthal this year is his use of his expanded arsenal.  Each of the four batters that faced him yesterday saw at least a couple of fastballs at 98 mph or hotter.  But only Ryan Braun, who was hitting in a 3-1 count – put one in play (he singled).  The two batters who struck out, struck out on a changeup (Eric Thames) and a slider (Jesus Aguilar).  Travis Shaw flew out on a change.

The more Trevor can command the fastball early in the count, the more devastating his off-speed pitches are late in the count.  In the limited at bats of the early season, batters are 4-for-4 against Trevor when they hit ahead in the count; 2 for 10 against him in even counts; and 1 for 9 when Trevor has the advantage.  I don’t think a whole lot of people are very excited about Trevor Rosenthal so far this season – but maybe they should be.

Leake has been very good all season.  Rosenthal has had a few bumps, but has looked much more like the dominant pitcher he has been up till last year.  Wong began the year in a frustrating funk, but has played much better over the last week or so.  There are plenty of other question marks on this team – and much more season before us.  The questions are far from answered for any of them.  But the last seven games have been a good couple of steps in the right direction.

Cards Stop This Losing Streak Before It Starts

As I have pointed out several times – and am likely to point out several more – I keep a close eye on how the team responds after a loss.  I think it reflects the character of a team.  The concept, I think, is simple enough.  Every team loses games, but good teams have the character to avoid the losing streak.  The 100-win team of 2015 was 37-24 (.607) after losing a game.  Last year’s 86-win squad was 44-32 (.579) in those situations.

Preempting the Next Losing Streak

As the 2017 Cardinals have already endured three three-game losing streaks in their first 17 games, you might guess that they haven’t been terribly proficient at this so far – and you would be right.  In fact, all of their first nine losses had been a part of a three-game losing streak.  Last night’s crisp 6-3 win (box score) raised their record to only 4-6 in games after a loss.  They have won their last two, though.

Adam Wainwright

The man of the moment at the plate (with a single, a home run and 4 RBIs) and on the mound was longtime ace Adam Wainwright, who – in his third attempt this season – was finally able to halt a Cardinal losing streak.  Wainwright’s previous two attempts were both fairly disastrous.  He lasted 4 innings, giving up 6 runs on 11 hits in an eventual 14-6 battering at the hands of Washington, and then got pushed around by the Yankees, giving 4 more runs on 10 hits over 4.2 innings of a 9-3 loss.

Adam’s results last night were much better as he continued what has been a mostly excellent run of starting pitching.  With Waino’s solid five innings last night (during which he allowed only two runs), the starting rotation has managed a 3.06 ERA over 53 innings in the last 9 games.  The Cards have won 5 of the 9.

The bullpen continues to improve as well.

Jonathan Broxton

Jonathan Broxton pitched the sixth last night and gave up a single, but no extra-base hits.  He hasn’t given an extra-base hit, now, to any of the last 16 batters he’s faced.  He also walked a batter.  Broxton has walked at least one batter in four of his six appearances, and has totaled 6 walks (1 of them intentional) in his 5.2 innings.  His opponent’s on base percentage has risen to .444.

Brett Cecil

In Brett Cecil’s second game as a Cardinal he melted down, allowing 4 runs without retiring a batter in a brutal loss to the Cubs.  First impressions are hard to overcome, but over the course of his other 8 appearances so far, Brett has allowed only one other run while striking out 7 in 6.2 innings.  He has retired the last ten batters he’s faced, striking out five.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal (who pitched the eighth inning last night) has given up some hits – 6 of them in his 4.1 innings, including a home run last night.  But he has walked none of the 19 batters he’s faced so far this year.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh picked up the save last night.  He has saves in his last three games.  After allowing runs in each of his first three games, Oh has allowed just one in his last four outings.

Also encouraging, the offense is beginning to show its first hints of life this season.

Jedd Gyorko

After going 0 for 3 in the Pittsburgh series, Jedd Gyorko has been the first to take advantage of Jhonny Peralta’s absence from the lineup.  With two more hits last night, Gyorko is 5 for 7 with a home run so far in the series.  Now up to .316 on the season, Jedd has been even better in games after a loss.  He is 9 for his first 27 (.333) with a double and two home runs (a .593 slugging percentage) playing in 8 of the 10 games the Cards have already played after losing the game before.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong has now started five consecutive games for the first time this season.  He doubled, singled and was given an intentional walk last night, making him 5 for 15 (.333) over those five games.  Even better, his hits include a double, triple and home run, leading to a .733 slugging percentage and 4 runs batted in in the five games that he’s been in lineup.

Kolten has yet to strike out in 8 plate appearances in this series, and has fanned just once in his last 17 plate appearances.  He is 3 for 7 so far against Milwaukee.

Wong is now 6 for 23 (.261) when he plays in the game after a Cardinal loss, but four of those hits (3 doubles and a home run) have gone for extra-base hits, and he’s added four walks in those contests.  He is slugging .522 with a .370 on base percentage in games that follow a loss.

Stephen Piscotty

When Stephen Piscotty helped beat Washington on April 12 with three hits and five RBIs, it looked like he had turned a corner.  Since then, Piscotty has just 5 hits (and 7 strikeouts) in 25 at bats (a .200 average).  He entered last night’s game after Dexter Fowler’s foot started acting up, going 0 for 2 with a strikeout.  He is now 1 for 5 with 3 strikeouts in the series.

With 11 runs scored in the first two games of this series, this has already been the second highest scoring series for the Cards this year.  They scored 15 runs in the three games against Washington.  St Louis is 23 for 72 in the first two games of this series, with ten extra base hits – 3 of them home runs.  This equates to a .319 team batting average and a .556 slugging percentage against a Milwaukee pitching staff that began the series with a 4.07 team ERA.

NoteBook

Last night – in the season’s seventeenth game – the Cardinals finally won a game when they didn’t score the first run.  When Kolten Wong drove in three runs with a triple in the second inning the night before (game # 16 of the season) it was the first time all year the Cards had erased a deficit of any size at any time during a game.

Not At Home on the Road

One of the statistical oddities we tracked all year last year was the home/road disparity.  The 2016 Cardinals were one of the better road teams in recent memory, winning 48 times on the road.  They might also have been the worst Cardinal home team in a good long time as they finished 38-43 at home.

No one had much of an answer to offer.

It is still very, very early in 2017, but the trends so far run in the exact opposite direction.  With their home sweep of the Pirates, St Louis is now 5-4 at home.  But last night’s humbling 7-4 loss to Milwaukee (box score) was their sixth loss in the seven road games they’ve played so far this year.

But while the records are inverted, many of the other important numbers that might serve as indicators are not – especially on the offensive side.  Last year’s team hit 121 home runs away from Bush and scored an average of 5.23 runs per game.  At home last year, they finished with 104 home runs and 4.38 runs per game.

So far this year, the team has played nine games at home and only seven on the road, but they have hit ten home runs on the road as opposed to only 6 in the home games.  They score an average of 4.00 runs per game at home against just 2.78 on the road.

The theory was floated last year that – as the Cards are becoming ever more reliant on home runs for their offense – their big ballpark (that plays even bigger during the chilly months) works against them.  The numbers last year (and for the early part of this year) suggest that that could be a factor.

This was mostly true of Jedd Gyorko last year (when 18 of his 30 home runs were hit on the road).  This split has been much more pronounced in the early weeks of 2017.  Gyorko has played in 6 games – five of them starts – both at home and on the road.  In 15 home at bats, Gyorko has one single and one double (a .133 average and a .200 slugging percentage).  After his 3-for-3 last night (with all of the hits going for extra-bases) Gyorko is hitting .421 on the road (8 for 19) with 5 of the hits going for extra-bases (2 doubles and 3 home runs) – adding up to a 1.000 road slugging percentage.  All three of his home runs have gone to either right field or right-center.  Going the other way hasn’t helped him too much yet at Busch.  His overall batting average is now up to .294.

With two hits last night, Aledmys Diaz is three for his last six coming off that 0 for 18 skid.

Matt Carpenter singled and homered in the loss last night.  He is now 6 for 19 (.316) during a modest 5-game hitting streak.  Last night’s was his second home run during the streak.  Through the season’s first five games, Carpenter was 5 for 26 (.192) with no extra-base hits.

Carpenter, by-the-way, is still looking for his first double of the year.  Matt has led the National League in doubles twice in the last four years.

Carpenter is also another of those batters who has shown much more life on the road.  Matt has played in 7 of the 9 home games and has drawn four walks – a good total.  But he is also just 4 for 24 at home (.167 average) with all four hits being singles.  He has 1 run batted in at home so far this year.

Away from Busch, Matt has had 27 plate appearances, resulting in 5 singles, 2 home runs, 4 runs batted in, 5 walks, and a sacrifice fly – a batting line of .333/.444/.619.  Carpenter’s home/road splits last year showed him hitting .296/.404/.526 at home with 9 home runs and just .247/.357/.486 but with 12 home runs on the road.

After his 0 for 5 last night, Dexter Fowler has now had 32 road plate appearances as a St Louis Cardinal – with the following results.  Two singles, one double, no walks, no runs batted in, 1 hit-by-pitch, and 12 strikeouts.  His batting line of .097/.125/.129 been a contributing factor to the dismal start on the road.

Randal Grichuk’s two hits in the first game of the Pittsburgh series have been his only hits in the last six games.  He was 0 for 3 last night, and is now 2 for his last 18 – pushing his season average down to .185.

Without question, though, the biggest difference so far between the home games and the road contests has been from the pitching end.  In the 9 home games, the team has 6 quality starts, a 3.00 ERA, and a .227/.290/.365 batting line against.  In the seven road games, St Louis has 1 quality start, a 6.32 ERA and a .314/.396/.517 batting line against.

It has seemed to me – especially in the small ballparks like New York and Milwaukee – like the starters have been intimidated.  Pitching, perhaps, a little scared and seemingly uncomfortable on the mound.  Carlos Martinez walked two more batters in 5 innings last night and has now walked 10 in 10.1 road innings.  He has walked just 1 in 12.1 home innings.

The walk from Kevin Siegrist that preceded the Jett Bandy home run was his seventh in 3.1 road innings.  It’s very few innings at the start of the season, but Kevin’s ERA at home is 3.00.  It is 16.20 on the road.

Overall, Cardinal pitchers are walking 5.21 batters per every nine road inning, and only 2.11 batters per every nine home innings.

Pirates and Cards Put Runners On But Can’t Get Them Home

Usually, pitchers become more vulnerable once they have runners on.  Last year, all major league hitters hit .250 with the bases empty, and .262 with one or more runners on.  In the early days of 2017, both leagues are hitting .238 with the bases empty and .247 with runners on.  Last year’s Cardinal team hit .253 and .258 respectively.

As was true of every game in the recently concluded Pittsburgh series, the Pirates had sufficient opportunities to mount big innings.  If they had managed to do that even once during the series, they would have won at least one of the games.  But the Pirates went 0 for 9 yesterday and were 5 for 34 (.147) for the series with runners on base.  They fell yesterday for the third consecutive time to the Cards by the same 2-1 score (box score).

As the Cardinal pitchers have started to turn the corner over their last seven games, their dominance with runners on base has become an integral part of their success.  Beginning with the last game of the Washington series, and continuing through the sweep of the Pirates, Cardinal pitchers have allowed only 20 hits in 97 at bats (.206 average) with any runner on base.  This has led to an impressive 2.70 team ERA over that span.

This dominance has proved vital.

Hitters Have Struggled With Runners On

This year – for whatever reason – the Cardinals’ offense has been equally unable “keep the line moving.”  They were 1 for 9 yesterday with runners on base (Yadier Molina followed Jose Martinez’ fourth-inning walk with a bouncing single up the middle) and are now hitting .201 (37 for 184) this season once any runner reaches base.  They were 0 for 3 yesterday with two runners on, and are now 11 for 61 (.180) on the season with more than one runner on base.

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha faced 24 batters yesterday afternoon.  Only four of them came to the plate with a runner on base.  This has been one of the most encouraging aspects of Wacha’s return to health and to the rotation.  He simply keeps runners off the bases.  Wacha has faced 73 batters so far this year – 51 of them (69.9%) with the bases empty.  That is the highest ratio of anyone in the rotation (slightly higher than Lance Lynn’s 68.9%).

When he walked John Jaso in the seventh inning with David Freese already on first, it was the only time in his 18.2 innings so far this season that Wacha has walked a batter with a runner already on.

Wacha’s performance (6.2 innings, 1 run allowed) continued an impressive resurgence for the Cardinal rotation.  Over the last seven games – beginning with Mike Leake’s victory in Washington – the starters have strung together 43 innings with a 2.30 ERA.  While the bullpen hasn’t been as effective, they are improving, too.  Over the 17 innings they’ve worked in these last 7 games, they have faced 73 batters without serving up a home run.  Their innings yesterday proved a little adventurous, but not damaging.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman extinguished the seventh-inning threat with a big strikeout of Jordy Mercer.  Bowman has been a significant part of the pitching staff’s recent resurgence.  He has now stranded all of the last 6 runner’s he’s inherited.  Over the last seven games, Cardinal relievers have stranded 11 of 12 inherited runners.

Of the last 16 batters Bowman’s faced only two have reached.  He walked Greg Bird in New York in the sixth inning last Sunday, and gave up a single to Josh Harrison Tuesday night.

With the strikeout of Mercer, Bowman has fanned 3 of the 7 batters who have faced him with more than one runner aboard.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist skirted around danger in the eighth inning.  The Pirates loaded the bases on two errors and a walk.  Siegrist hasn’t given a hit to any of the last 14 batters to face him, but he has walked five of them.

Kevin faced 6 batters yesterday – only the first 2 with the bases empty.  For the season – not counting the runner who reached on an error yesterday – 7 of the 12 batters to face Siegrist with the bases empty have reached (a .583 on base percentage).  Kevin has walked 5, hit one, and served up one home run. Nine of the 30 batters Siegrist has faced so far have batted with multiple runners on base.  That 30% ties Jonathan Broxton (6 of 20) for the highest percentage on the team.  By contrast, only 7.1% of the batters Trevor Rosenthal has faced (1 of 14) and just 4.1% of the batters that Wacha has faced (3 of 73) have batted with more than one runner on base.

Trevor Rosenthal

Speaking of Rosenthal, he wrapped up the ninth inning last night allowing one seeing-eye single (after an excellent at bat by Jaso) and struck out two.  He has faced 14 batters this season.  Seven have struck out, four have singles – none of them really hard hit, and none have walked.  The early returns on Mr. Rosenthal are very encouraging.

Dexter Fowler

The offense – or rather, Dexter Fowler – provided just enough.

With Fowler’s two home runs yesterday following close on the heels of his lead-off triple the day before, Fowler now has three of his four extra-base hits in his last 8 plate appearances.  All four of his extra-base hits have come with the bases empty.  He has just 2 singles in his first 15 at bats with at least one runner on base.

Of course, as the leadoff hitter, Fowler rarely gets at bats with runners on base.  Forty-eight of his first sixty-six plate appearances (a team-leading 72.7%) have come with the bases empty.  All Cardinal batters are hitting with the bases empty 59.3% of the time so far this year.

Fowler’s home runs lift the team total to 14 through 15 games this season.  Ten of the 14 have been hit with the bases empty.

Half of the Cardinals’ first six game-winning hits have now been solo home runs, as Fowler’s fifth-inning drive joins Aledmys Diaz’ first-inning home run against Bronson Arroyo that began St. Louis’ 10-4 rout of Cincinnati on April 8, and Kolten Wong’s third-inning home run against Ivan Nova that sent the Birds off to their 2-1 win against the Pirates on Monday.

Greg Garcia

Greg Garcia, getting some at bats in place of some of the slumping hitters in the line-up, could be doing more with these opportunities.  His average faded to .227 after his 0-for-4 last night.  Three of those at bats came with no one on.  One of the team’s “table-setters,” Garcia is hitting just .214 (3 for 14) with the bases empty so far this year.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko came to the plate in the fourth inning with runners at first and second.  In his first 35 plate appearances this month, Jedd has been up with two runners on 7 times – 20%.  Of batters with at least 30 plate appearances, only Kolten Wong has found himself in this situation with more frequency.  Kolten has been at 25% so far this year (10 of his 40 plate appearances).  Jedd was promptly called out on strikes on a pitch that was several inches outside.  Gyorko has now struck out 5 times in those 7 opportunities, drawing a walk and popping out the other two times.

Gyorko did have one at bat with the bases loaded earlier this year, driving in two runs with a single against the Reds and Robert Stephenson.  Yesterday, Jedd went 0 for 2, watching his season average fall to .226.

Kolten Wong

Speaking of Wong, Kolten is down to .171 after going 0 for 3.  Two of those at bats also came with two runners on base.  His strike out came in his lone at bat with the bases empty.  Kolten is a .200 hitter so far this season (4 for 20) with no walks with the bases empty.

RISP At Bats Haunt Pirates in 2-1 Loss to Cardinals

The Pittsburgh Pirates had more than enough opportunities to add to the Cardinal’s defeat total.  They finished the game with 9 singles and 2 doubles.  But, they received no walks, hit into one crucial double play, and finished a crushing 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position (RISP), sealing their fate in a 2-1 loss to the Cards (box score).

In the spotlight, again, was the National League’s early-season surprise ERA leader Mike Leake.  With another strong outing, Leake surrendered 1 run on 7 hits through 6.1 innings.  His ERA actually rose from 0.60 to 0.84 during the outing.

After being a little roughed up the first two games in Washington, Leake has led the pitching staff in a bit of a resurgence.  Beginning with his victory against Max Scherzer and Washington – and even though the team is only 3-3 over these last six games – the rotation has given the team 36.1 innings with a 2.48 ERA.  During those 36.1 innings, the starters have only surrendered 3 hits in 30 RISP at bats (.100).

Mike Leake has now thrown quality starts all three times out, so far this year.  The rest of the rotation has a total of three during their 11 starts.  He has walked just one batter in his 21.1 innings

Leake was also at the forefront in RISP situations.  Pittsburgh was 0-for-5 in RISP opportunities against Mike.  So far this season, opposing batters are only 2 for 13 (.154) against Leake with runners in scoring position.  Surprisingly, that is not the staff’s best RISP performance.  Two other starters are actually off to better starts, as Michael Wacha has allowed only 1 hit in 10 such at bats (.100) and batters are just 2 for 19 (.105) against Carlos Martinez in those RBI opportunities.

After a nasty start to the season, Brett Cecil has started to settle in a bit.  Beginning with the line drive out off the bat of Bryce Harper in the eighth inning of the April 12 game against Washington, Cecil has set down his last seven batters in a row – including getting the huge double-play grounder that got St Louis out of the seventh-inning last night.  Four of those seven have been up with runners in scoring position.

For the season, now, opponents are hitting only .238 (30 for 126) against the Cardinals with runners in scoring position – reminiscent of the performance of the pitching staff during their remarkable 2015 season when batters hit only .210 against them in RISP at bats.

And that’s a good thing, since their batters – both last night and for the year so far – haven’t yet found their stride in RISP opportunities.

Aledmys Diaz faded to .214 overall in the early going with another 0 for 4.  His evening included going 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position.  He is just 1 for 8 in those situations so far this season.  He hit .337 in RISP at bats last year.

The Cards only other at bat with a runner in scoring position belonged to Stephen Piscotty, who drove home Dexter Fowler with a first-inning ground ball for his team-leading ninth RBI of the season.  Although retired last night, Piscotty is 5 for his first 13 (.385) with runners in scoring position this year.  He is just 4 for 25 (.160) hitting without runners in scoring position.  His season average is down to .237 after his 0 for 4 last night.  Piscotty was a .363 hitter last year with runners in scoring position, after hitting .393 in those situations in his rookie year.

Fourteen games into the season, the Cards are just 18 for 89 with runners in scoring position – a .202 average.  This has been an area of strength during recent seasons (they hit .271 in RISP situations last year).  Other than Piscotty, the rest of the team is hitting .171 in RISP situations.

This has been a principle factor in St Louis’ frigid offensive start.  With only four hits last night, the team’s season-long batting average fades to just .206 while they’ve scored just 3.29 runs per game.

Among the strugglers who kept struggling last night, Randal Grichuk failed to build on his two-hit game Monday night.  He struck out in all three trips to the plate and is now hitting .200 on the season.  Yadier Molina also went 0 for 3 last night, dropping him to .211 for the season.