The impressive run of starting pitching had to end at some point – and that some point was the fourth inning of last night’s 7-3 loss to the Dodgers (box score). After Chase Utley got the Dodgers started with a second inning home run on a 1-2 pitch, three of his teammates followed suit with devastating hits on 1-2 pitches.
With a runner at first and two out and the Cardinals leading 3-1, Enrique Hernandez, Yasiel Puig, and starting pitcher Kenta Maeda hit successive ground balls that found holes, putting Los Angeles ahead to stay. The at bats by Hernandez and Maeda were most impressive as they lasted 7 pitches each.
With the loss, the Cardinals have now dropped 6 of their last 8.
Mostly impressive in his return this season, Michael Wacha endured his worst start of 2017, lasting 4 innings and allowing 6 runs on 7 hits. After an solid April, Wacha’s May has been a little ordinary. In four starts (with one more, possibly, remaining), Wacha is 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA and a .288 batting average against.
Wacha gave up a total of 5 hits on 1-2 pitches last night (including Utley’s home run). None of those hits came off the fastball. Perhaps batters are starting to look for that breaking pitch when they get behind in the count?
Say this for the Cardinals prize offseason acquisition, Brett Cecil. He finds a way. In last night’s contest, with runners at first and second and no one out, Brett uncorks two wild pitches and then serves up a double allowing all of the runs. The game had been a one-run affair up until that point. For the season, 11 of 23 runners Cecil has inherited have come home to roost (47.8%). This is now three times he’s come on with two runners on and allowed all of them to score. He has also inherited a bases-loaded jam and allowed all of those runners to score.
Kevin Siegrist turned in a good inning – albeit after the event was already decided. In 9.2 innings this month, Kevin has a 2.79 ERA and 10 strikeouts. He is starting to look like Kevin again.
Earlier this season, Kevin had lost the ability to get swinging strikes. Last night, the Dodger hitters missed on 4 of the 7 swings they took against Siegrist. All three at bats, by the way, went to 1-2 (and one of those resulted in a hit). So far this month, 26 of the 37 batters Kevin’s faced (70.3%) have seen their at bat end before Siegrist has thrown ball two.
Anxious Offense Struggles Again
Again, last night, the offense endured another long silent stretch. After a loud 3-run first, they didn’t score again over the last eight innings of the game. During the 8-game slide, St Louis has hit 4 home runs and averaged just 3.88 runs per game.
When guys like Kenta Maeda shut down the Cardinal offense, they make it look so amazingly easy. Neither Maeda nor Hyun-Jin Ryu threw with amazing velocity. They nibbled with breaking balls on the corners of the strike zone and waited for the aggressive Cardinal hitters to get themselves out. Throughout all of baseball (courtesy of baseball reference) only 28.4% of all at bats end before the pitcher throws ball one – and hitters usually prosper when that happens. They slash .278/.287/.454 on those pitches.
Last night, 35.1% of the Cardinal plate appearances were over before the hitter saw ball one (this in spite of the fact that neither Dodger pitcher was really “coming after” the hitters. St Louis slashed .182/.308/.364 in those at bats. Over the last eight games, Cardinal batsmen are done before ball one 34.6% of the time, slashing just .257/.263/.367 when that happens.
It’s a symptom of a loss of confidence at the plate. Hopefully, it will be temporary.
Jedd Gyorko continues to hit, even as the team fades around him. He drove in the game’s first two runs with a double and had a later single. Jedd has now hit safely in 22 of his last 27 games (25 of them starts). He is 40 for 109 in those games, including 8 doubles, 2 triples and 5 home runs – a .367 batting average accompanied by a .615 slugging percentage. He is now hitting .338 this month (27 for 80) with 3 home runs and 12 runs batted in. He is 11 for 32 (.344) over these last 8 games.
On the double, Gyorko jumped on a first-pitch hanging curveball and drilled it just fair down the leftfield line. Gyorko is now 11 for 23 when hitting the first pitch thrown him (.478). He later singled on a 1-0 pitch. Jedd is 20 for 53 (.377) this month when his at bat doesn’t make it to ball two.
That first-inning double was Jedd’s ninth of the season, tying – in 137 at bats – the total amount of doubles he hit in 400 at bats last year. He has never hit more than 26 in any season. He also has hit as many triples already this year (2) as he had hit in his entire career previously.
Jedd – after bouncing into 46 double plays over his first 4 seasons, has grounded into just 1 so far in 2017.
Yadier Molina extended his hitting streak to 14 games with two singles last night. It hasn’t been the most torrid hitting streak on record. This was only the third multi-hit game in the streak, and his average has been .279 (17 for 61). He has not drawn a walk through the entire streak.
In fact, over his last 37 plate appearances, he has gone to three-ball counts only 3 times (8.1%). For the season, only Randal Grichuk (among starters) makes it to three-balls in an at bat less frequently than Yadi (11.8% v 11.9%). This is significantly below Molina’s 16.0% of last year.
After getting two singles on Wednesday night, Matt Carpenter was 0-for-3 with a hit-by-pitch last night. Matt is now 7 for his last 48 (.146). His batting average for the season has fallen to .229 – and for the month of May he is down to .216 (16 for 74). During the last 8 games, Carpenter is 5 for 33 (.152).
In three of his four plate appearances, Carpenter was challenged with first-pitch strikes. He has seen strike one in 15 of his last 21 PAs (71%) and is only 4 for 19 (.211) in those resulting at bats.
The thrust of this is, I think, to keep from getting into three-ball counts against Matt. This year, so far, Carpenter gets into three-ball counts a team-leading 36.3% of the time, and hits .333/.667/.788 once he gets there. But if his at bat is over before ball two, he slides to just a .167 average (12 for 72).
Stephen Piscotty’s 0-for-4 wrapped up a 1 for 13 series. He is now hitting .158 (3 for 19) since his return from the DL, .214 (6 for 28) this month, and .224 for the year.
Piscotty hit the first pitch thrown to him twice last night. In the first inning he flied to center on a tailing slider from Maeda. In the sixth, he grounded to first on a changeup away from Ryu. Over all of baseball, hitters who hit the first pitch are slashing .338/.346/.582. Piscotty is just 3 for 13 (.231) – all singles as he is mostly disinclined to wait for a hitter’s pitch. So far this month, 13 of his 32 plate appearances (40.6%) end before he sees ball one. Of the regulars, the next highest is Gyorko at 36.9%. As I noted earlier, across all of baseball, only 28.4% of PAs end before the pitcher has thrown ball one.
This number aligns with what I’ve seen from Stephen – especially since his return from the DL. A lot of anxiety at the plate.