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’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 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 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 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 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 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.
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’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.
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.