Score One for the Enigmatic Cardinal Bullpen

In the bottom of the sixth inning, the St Louis Cardinals scratched for their third and final run of the game.  After a fatiguing 107 pitches. Lance Lynn – the Cardinal starter – would be through for the day.

After receiving their twelfth quality start in the last 19 games, the fate of the game would once again rest in the hands of the enigma that is the Cardinal bullpen.

After a season of bullpen frustration culminated with Trevor Rosenthal failing to cover first, handing the New York Mets a 3-2 win on July 20, followed almost immediately by a two-run eighth-inning meltdown that granted the Chicago Cubs a 3-2 victory on July 22; the bullpen came back three nights later to serve up another one-run lead.  After another strong six innings from Lynn, Lance went to the mound in the seventh with a 2-0 lead over the Colorado Rockies.  But eleven pitches put his lead in jeopardy as he walked DJ LeMahieu and served up a double to Nolan ArenadoKevin Siegrist relieved and limited the damage to a sacrifice fly.  The heartbreak came an inning later when Trevor Story tied the game with a home run – one of only 4 hit off of Matthew Bowman this season.

The inning then threatened to unravel when Bowman hit Ryan Hanigan with his next pitch.  That brought Rosenthal into the contest for the first time since his gaffe against the Mets.

Trevor would finish the night throwing 34 pitches to 8 batters over two innings.  He would bend a little – allowing a sacrifice hit in the eighth, and two singles that threatened disaster in the ninth.  But Trevor would not walk a batter and did not break, walking off the mound at the end of nine innings with a 2-2 tie.  He would get the win in this one, courtesy of Jedd Gyorko’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth – 3-2 Cardinals.

Was it a turning point for Rosenthal and the Cardinal bullpen?  The Colorado series ended with a comfortable 10-5 win, and the subsequent Arizona series began with a 4-0 loss, in which the bullpen threw four scoreless innings.

Now it’s Friday July 28.  After five-and-a-half scoreless innings, Tommy Pham leads off the second reaching on an error.  He promptly steals second, moves to third on a grounder, and scores on a single from Gyorko.  1-0 Cardinals.  But could it last?  Michael Wacha had been dominant through six.  As it would turn out, the offense would score no more.  So the bullpen would have nine outs to get from a very formidable Arizona lineup with no margin for error.

Seung-hwan Oh flirted with disaster in the seventh, allowing a couple of singles, but he worked his way out of trouble.  But Brett Cecil ran into immediate peril in the eighth, allowing a single and a double that put runners on second and third with no one out with the toughest part of the lineup coming up.

Summoned to do a Houdini act, Rosenthal struck out A.J. PollockDavid Peralta rolled a groundball to drawn-in second-baseman Kolten Wong, who teamed with catcher Yadier Molina to make the play of the series when he threw out the runner trying to score from third.  Five pitches later, Paul Goldschmidt struck out, and the lead was preserved.  Trevor made his second consecutive two-inning relief appearance, setting the Diamondbacks down in order (with two more strikeouts) on 9 pitches in the ninth.

The pen did let Saturday’s game get away – turning a 3-1 deficit into a 7-1 loss.

But now, here they were again.  Nine outs to get with no margin of error.  Arizona threatened a little in the seventh, but Tyler Lyons and Bowman combined to keep them off the board.  Oh and Rosenthal were money in the eighth and ninth, retiring all six Diamondback batters – striking out 5 of them – and the Cards were in with a 3-2 win (box score).

And suddenly this grey cloud that has hung over the Cardinal bullpen since opening night is starting to dissipate.  They have now become a main part of the encouraging turnaround of the Cardinal pitching staff.  Going back to a 4-1 win over the Mets on July 8, St Louis has maintained a 2.75 team ERA over the last 19 games.  With 57 games left in the season, those who counted this team out may have spoken too soon.

Lance Lynn

As I type this. Lance Lynn is still a Cardinal – for which fact we should all be grateful.  I mentioned here that I would like to see Lance make his case for being an important part of the Cardinal future.  He has certainly led the way in this little pitching renaissance.  Over his last five games (all quality starts), Lance has given us 31.1 innings, allowing just 4 runs on 21 hits (just one home run) – walking just 9.  He is 3-0 (and could be 4-0) during the streak, with a 1.15 ERA and a .194 batting average against.  Of the 21 hits, only 6 have been for extra-bases, so the slugging percentage against Lynn since July 9 is .269.

If Lance remains a Cardinal, and if he pitches like this down the stretch – I grant you, two big ifs – then the management may have to re-asses the Lance Lynn situation.

During this streak, all four runners who have scored against Lynn have reached base with no one out.  Over his last five games, Lance has been most vulnerable before the first out of an inning is recorded.  Those batters are hitting .244/.289/.415 against Lance.  After he has gotten that first out, the remaining batters in the inning hit .164/.233/.179.  Last night, batters were 2 for 6 against Lynn with no one out, and 2 for 14 thereafter.

Tyler Lyons

Lyons has pitched his way into some high-leveraged situations.  He started the seventh last night, retiring 2 of the 3 he faced.  Tyler is unscored on in his last 8 games (6.1 innings), during which he has given only 2 hits and no walks (although he did hit a couple).  Tyler has struck out 9 batters over those 6.1 innings, and 25 of his last 91 pitches have been taken for strikes.

Trevor Rosenthal

As for Trevor, He has pitched 5 innings facing 17 batters in his last 3 outings.  He has given up exactly two singles to those batters.  While 73% of the pitches he has thrown (48 of 66) have gone for strikes.  Over his last 10 games, Trevor has given us 11.2 innings allowing 1 run on 4 singles, 1 walk, and 19 strikeouts.  The last 41 batters to face Rosenthal are missing with 38% of their swings – and that’s not all fastballs, either.

Jose Martinez

The game’s offensive hero was Jose Martinez – who drove in all three Cardinal runs.  Fourth outfielder is always a tough situation to play under, but lately Jose has been cashing in on his chances.  Including his two-hit, one-home-run night last night, Martinez has hit safely in 6 of last 10 games (only 4 of them starts), hitting .421 (8 for 19), and slugging .737 (with 2 home runs).  He ended July hitting .333 for the month.

NoteBook

In splitting the four-game series with Arizona, the Cardinals scored 5 runs.  That is the fewest runs the team has scored in any series this year of any length.  Earlier this season, St Louis swept a three-game series from Pittsburgh during which they only scored six runs – winning each game by a 2-1 score.

Coming off a series loss to the Cubs, Milwaukee breaks a string of 5 straight Cardinal opponents who had won its previous series.  The Brewers have lost 9 of their last 12 and 11 of 16 since the break.  They look as vulnerable now as they have at any time during the season.

Two Strikes Not Quite Enough

It was all so agonizingly close for Luke Weaver.  After A.J. Pollock opened the fourth inning with a double, Weaver fell behind Jake Lamb 3-0.  Swinging on 3-0, Lamb fouled off a boarder-line fastball.  Weaver then threw two pretty good changes, but Lamb fouled those off as well.  Now 3-2, Luke was one pitch away from getting the first out of the inning.  But Luke missed with his fastball off the outside corner, and Lamb joined Pollock on base.

Now it was superstar slugger Paul Goldschmidt., with two runners on, no one out, and the game still scoreless.  Luke just missed with his first-pitch change, but he got back ahead with two fastballs – one that Goldschmidt watched and the other that he fouled.  Again, Luke was in position to get either the strikeout – or even better, a double play that would take the steam out of the inning.

But his 1-2 cutter missed up and away, and his 2-2 changeup bounced.  Now it was 3-2 to one of the top sluggers in the game.  Luke tried to get him to chase the change-up, but – temptingly close as it was – Paul took it for ball four, loading the bases.

That brought former Tiger J.D. Martinez to the plate.  No longer in a mood to mess around, Weaver came after him with three straight fastballs.  For his part, Martinez was up there to swing – which he did at all three even though the last two were off the plate (he fouled the last one off to stay alive).  At 0-2, Luke was once again in a position to take the steam out of the inning.  But Martinez laid off the 0-2 change that dropped low.  Gaining one more pitch in the at bat – the twentieth, now, of the inning from Weaver – Martinez lofted Luke’s misplaced 1-2 fastball just fair around the right-field fouls pole.

And that was the game.  Before and after that, Luke went pitch for pitch with Zack Godley and his untouchable curve.  Luke faced 21 batters in his 5 innings.  He pushed 14 of them (66.7%) into two strike counts.  Except for the three at bats in the top of the fourth, the other 11 managed one single (Goldschmidt, again, grounded a 3-2 changeup into right field for a single leading off the second) and 5 strikeouts.

It was almost a brilliant performance from the Cardinal rookie who is trying to establish himself as a major-league caliber pitcher.

Cardinal Bullpen Shuts the Door

Continuing a month long pattern, the Cardinal bullpen closed the door once it was sort of too late.  After Weaver coughed up the grand slam, the Cardinal relief corps put up zeros for the last four innings.  While they have had struggles holding onto narrow leads, the Cardinal bullpen currently holds a 1.97 ERA this month (15 earned runs in 68.2 innings).  They have held opponents to a .241 batting average, allowing just 5 home runs and walking only 19 (7 of those intentionally).

John Brebbia

One reason why the bullpen does better in non-critical moments, is those are the only times Mike Matheny lets John Brebbia pitch.  John threw his twelfth consecutive game without allowing an earned run last night (totaling 13.2 innings).  He didn’t walk anyone again.  He has allowed no walks in his last six games (7.2 innings) and hasn’t given an unintentional walk in his last 17 games (20.1 innings).  His ERA is down to 1.48 on the season.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist allowed a couple of singles in an almost-messy eighth innings, but wriggled out of the inning taking no damage.  Kevin has now thrown 5.2 scoreless innings in 6 games since his return from the disabled list.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons tossed a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out two.  Tyler has now struck out 5 of the last 6 batters he has faced, and the last 14 batters he’s faced are 0-for-13 with a hit-by-pitch.  Over his last six outings, Lyons has allowed no runs and just 1 hit.

Tyler put all three batters he faced last night into two-strike counts.  Chris Owings grounded out on a 3-2 pitch, and Ketel Marte and Chris Iannetta both struck out on 2-2 pitches.  Lyons has faced 31 batters so far this month.  He has pushed 21 of them (67.7%) into two-strike counts.  Those batters are just 3 for 18 (.167) with 1 walk, 2 HBPs, and 11 strikeouts.

Feast or Famine Offense

The shutout continues a strange feast or famine offensive trend.  Over the last 9 games, St Louis is hitting .269 as a team, and scoring 4.67 runs per game – both very healthy totals.  But they have now scored more than three runs in only three of those games.  A 9-run eighth inning transformed what might have been a 3-2 loss into an 11-4 victory over Chicago on July 21.  Three days later, they handed Colorado an 8-2 loss.  And then on Wednesday a five-run fourth pushed them past the Rockies 10-5.  In between those eruptions there were 7-3 and 3-2 losses to the Mets; 3-2 and 5-3 losses to the Cubs; a 3-2 win over Colorado; and last night’s 4-0 loss (box score).

In the three “hot” games, the Cards averaged 9.67 runs per game and hit .355/.462/.589.  They averaged 2.17 runs per game in the other six, hitting .222/.276/.340.

Paul DeJong

When the dust had settled, Paul DeJong was the only Cardinal hitter who had some answer for Godley and the Diamondback bullpen.  He went 2 for 3 with a walk.

Paul is now riding a 7-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .379 (11 for 29) and slugging .828 (1 double and 4 home runs).  His six-game RBI streak did come to an end last night.  DeJong had driven in 9 runs through those six games.

After starting the season at Memphis, Paul DeJong has started 21 of the 23 July games St Louis has played.  He is hitting .318 this month (27 for 85) and slugging .694 (8 doubles and 8 home runs).  Paul has 14 runs scored and 15 runs batted in this month.

Randal Grichuk

One night after Randal Grichuk’s first-ever four-hit night, his six-game hitting streak came to an end in an 0-for-4 performance.  During the streak, Randal had 7 singles and 4 home runs in 24 at bats – a .458 batting average and a .958 slugging percentage.

In the fourth inning, Randal chased a 1-0 slider that was in on his hands and fouled out.  Later, in the sixth, with runners at first and second and one out, Randal reached for Godley’s low-and-away fastball and bounced into a force play.  A lot of Randal’s game has improved noticeably since his return from the minors.  Of late, though, he is starting to swing at pitcher’s pitches early in the count.  Across all of baseball, batters who hit the first strike thrown them hit .348.  Randal, this month, is 3 for 14 (.214) when hitting the first strike thrown him.

Harrison Bader

It is very, very early in the major league portion of Harrison Bader’s career, but he’s shown an early propensity to get into two strike counts.  He’s gotten to two strikes in 10 of his first 13 times to the plate (77%), including all four last night.  After his 0-for-4, Harrison in 2 for 9 with a walk in those at bats.

NoteBook

Before last night, St Louis had led at some point in each of their 7 previous games.  That hasn’t been a very good predictor of success for the Cards this season.  They were only 4-3 in those games.

Control Issues Help Doom Colorado

In a lot of ways, it was just the Cardinals night last night.  Four of the 15 hits didn’t make it out of the infield, and Harrison Bader’s eighth-inning double was looped into right.  For a team that finished with ten runs, there wasn’t an awful lot of hard contact.

Compounding the issue for the Rockies was the general inability of their pitchers to throw strikes. In all, four pitchers combined to hurl 185 pitches at Cardinal hitters.  Of the 107 that those hitters didn’t offer at, only 28 were called strikes (26%).  Of the first pitches thrown to the 46 Cardinals who came to the plate, only 12 were close enough to invite the Cards to swing at them.  This takes some doing, as St Louis is about as willing to swing at a first pitch as team in baseball.

But on a night when Colorado didn’t have the best of luck, their pitchers kept adding fuel to the fire.  The result was a convincing 10-5 Cardinal victory (box score).

With the 10 runs and 15 hits, St Louis approaches the last four games of July hitting .275 as a team and scoring 4.86 runs per game.

Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk had two of the infield hits awarded the Cards last night – part of a surprising 4-for-5 night that included no extra-base hits.  Grichuk has now hit in all 6 games since his return from the DL, going 11 for 24 (.458) with 4 home runs (.958 slugging percentage).  He has scored 6 runs and driven in 7 in those six games.

Randal is now 15 for 53 this month (.283) with 1 double and 6 home runs (.642 slugging percentage).

Grichuk was able to lay off the first pitch in 4 of his 5 at bats – and was rewarded with 3 hits in those at bats.  For the month of July, Grichuk has laid off the first pitch a surprising (for him) 69.6% of the time.  He has gone on to hit .361 in those at bats (13 for 36) and slug .889 as all of his extra-base hits this month have come in at bats where he has taken the first pitch.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s 2 for 5 evening pushed his season average up to .250.  Folks should be aware (especially those thinking he should be traded – and yes I saw a blog where that was suggested) that Carpenter is now hitting .319 in July (23 for 72).

In six plate appearances last night, Matt only swung at the first pitch once, fouling off Jeff Hoffman’s first-pitch fastball in the fifth.  That at bat would end with the two-run double that would give the Cards a 6-4 lead.  For the season, Matt is swinging at that first pitch just 15.9% of the time.  During the month of July, that ratio is even lower – just 12.8% of the time.  But when he does, good things usually happen.  Carp is 7 for 11 (.636) so far this month in at bats where he swings at the first pitch.

Tommy Pham

It’s rare that we talk about a Cardinal game and don’t mention Tommy Pham – who was 2-for-2 last night with 2 walks.  He now has 5 hits in his last 8 at bats, and 6 walks in his last 15 plate appearances.  Tommy is coming down the stretch in July hitting .363 this month (29 for 80) and slugging .650 (6 doubles, 1 triple, and 5 home runs).  In 22 July games, Tommy has scored 18 runs and driven in 19.

Tommy took the first pitch thrown to him 3 times in his 5 plate appearances – ending up with a single and both walks.  For the season, Tommy has been taking that first pitch 73.9% of the time and hitting .346/.450/.593 when he does.  Eleven of his fourteen home runs have come in at bats where Tommy has taken the first pitch.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina is now 21 for 73 (.288) in July after his third straight two-hit game.  Even the notoriously aggressive Molina took the first pitch thrown him three of four times last night.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez entered July riding a streak of 11 quality starts in 12 outings.  This month, though, has been decidedly choppy for the colorful young right-hander.  He picked up the win last night (his only one of the month) in spite of the fact that he gave up 5 runs in 6 innings.  He gave 7 hits, including a home run – his seventh this month in just 29 innings.

Carlos has already set a career high this year, allowing 17 home runs before the end of July.  His totals for the month are a 1-2 record, 5.90 ERA, .308 batting average against, and a .556 slugging percentage allowed.  With Carlos’ stuff, you wouldn’t think you would see opponents’ batting .308 against him over a 29 inning stretch.

Of the 25 batters that Carlos faced last night, 17 took his first pitch.  Two of those batters went on to walk, while the other 15 managed 2 singles (.133) and 7 strikeouts.  The 8 that offered at his first pitch ended up 5 for 8 with a double, a home run, and all 5 runs batted in.  For the month of July, batters swinging at Martinez’ first pitch are hitting .372 (16 for 43) and slugging .698 (2 doubles and 4 home runs).  These are the kinds of results you would see if Martinez was either becoming too predictable, or if he was tipping his pitches.

For what it’s worth, Nolan Arenado‘s certainly looked like he was expecting the pitch that he homered on.

A Bullpen Note

The pen wrapped up the game with three scoreless innings.  It is surprising to note that the bullpen has a 2.09 ERA so far this month – surprising because they’ve also blown four leads in July.  They haven’t done well in pressure situations, but they have pitched very well this month when behind or way ahead.

NoteBook

With last night’s win, St Louis has completed a series sweep in 5 of its 7 opportunities to sweep.

Coming off a 10-3 victory over Atlanta, Arizona will be the fifth consecutive team the Cards have played that will have won its previous series.

First Pitch Fastball Watchers?

As former Cardinal Mark Reynolds stood in to lead off the fifth inning, Cardinal starter Lance Lynn fired him a four-seam fastball that Reynolds fouled off.  In six-plus innings last night, Lynn faced 21 batters.  Reynolds was the only one all night to swing at his first pitch.  Even Matt Carpenter doesn’t take that many first pitches.

Lance faced only 13 batters as he sailed through the first four innings.  Twelve of those batters saw first-pitch fastballs.  None of them swung at them.  Five of the twelve were out of the strike zone.  Three of the other seven were very inviting.  Beginning in the third inning, five consecutive batters – including Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado – took first-pitch fastballs for strikes.  Thirteen of the 21 batters took the first two pitches from Lynn.

If this was strategy, it didn’t work very well. Lance didn’t get the win, but he stopped Colorado on one run on three hits over his six-plus innings and set the Cards up for a 3-2 walk-off win (box score).

In so doing, Lance added another strong starting effort to the team’s latest streak.  Over the last 14 games, Cardinal starting pitchers have thrown 10 quality starts.  In the 87.1 innings they’ve pitched during those games, they have surrendered just 77 hits, including only 8 home runs and 15 walks (1 intentional).  It works out to a 2.27 ERA, a .231 batting average against, and a .266 opponent’s on base percentage.

The best hope that Cardinals have of being significant before the season ends is a continued string of strong starts.  And, hopefully, at some point a bullpen that can hold a late-inning lead.  St Louis is only 8-6 in its last 14 games, in spite of the excellence of its starting pitching.

Lance Lynn

Lance – who I am hoping will survive the trade deadline and remain with the team for the rest of the season – has been a pillar of the great recent run of starting pitching.  He has started 4 of the last 14, all of them quality starts.  He is 2-0 with an 0.71 ERA and a .193/.228/.273 batting line against.  After previously allowing 8 home runs over a 4 game span, Lance has allowed just 1 in his last 4.

Last night was the fourth time this season that Lynn left a game with a lead, only to watch his bullpen give it up.

For the game, Lance didn’t throw a lot of first-pitch strikes.  He threw ball one to four of the first five batters he faced, and ended his evening missing with the first pitch to each of the last six batters he faced.  At the end of the evening, only 9 of the 21 batters he faced saw strike one.  But when he did throw that first pitch strike, those batters finished 0-for-8 with 4 strikeouts and 1 walk.

Throughout this month, Lance has only thrown first-pitch strikes to 61 of the 114 batters he’s faced (54%).  But when he does get that first pitch in, he has held batters to a .138 average (8 for 58).

Over the last 14 games, batters getting a first-pitch strike from a Cardinal pitcher have gone on to hit just .199 (56 for 281).

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist pitched for the second consecutive day for the first time since he came off the disabled list.  That might be a reason he wasn’t quite as dominant as he had been in his first four games (he walked a batter and got no strikeouts).

He was plenty good enough though, considering the situation.  Kevin came on in the seventh, with Rockies at second and third and no one out while clinging to a precarious 2-0 lead.  One run scored on a fly ball, but Kevin successfully de-fused what could have been a damaging inning.  Siegrist has thrown 4.2 innings since his return and has allowed only one hit.

Matthew Bowman

It wouldn’t be a Cardinal game without a blown save.  The honors, last night, fell to Matthew Bowman.  Recently, Matthew had pitched 11 straight games without allowing a run.  After serving up the game tying home run to Trevor Story in the eighth inning (lately the blown save has come in the eighth inning, instead of the ninth), Bowman has now allowed runs in both of his last two games, getting blown saves in both of them.

For the month of July, batters facing Bowman are 6 for 20 (.300) in the at bat if Matthew throws them a first-pitch strike.  Story’s home run came on such an at bat.

Trevor Rosenthal

Yes, I admit it.  When Colorado blooped two hits with two out in the ninth inning against Trevor Rosenthal – working his second inning – I pretty much assumed that all was lost.  That’s just the way it’s gone lately.  But this time, Rosenthal wrote a happier ending by striking out Story to end the inning.

Trevor was in a little trouble there, but again, no walks from Rosenthal.  That seems to be the key.  As long as he is forcing them to hit the ball to beat him, Trevor does all right.

And, his lapse against Chicago aside, Trevor has been throwing the ball much better.  His July shows 9.1 innings with a 1.93 ERA and 13 strikeouts.

Don’t Fall Behind the Cardinal Hitters

Colorado pitchers did a better job of throwing first-pitch strikes to the Cardinal hitters.  Twenty-two of the thirty-six Cardinal batsmen saw strike one.  It didn’t bother them too much – those 22 went on to go 7 for 20 (.350) with 2 sacrifice hits.  But the 14 batters who saw ball one had an even better time.  They went 5 for 13 (.385).  For the month of July, the Cards are hitting .307/.418/.582 when the opposing pitcher starts them off with ball one.

Paul DeJong

The runs didn’t hold up, but Paul DeJong got the offense started with a two-run, first-inning homer – his thirteenth in just 178 big league at bats.  Paul added a single later.  DeJong has now put together a five-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .381 (8 for 21) and slugging .857 (1 double & 3 home runs).  Paul has driven in at least one run in all five games, and has 7 for the streak.  Paul also has two hits in each of the last 3 games.

For the month of July, DeJong’s average has risen to .312 (24 or 77) and his slugging percentage to .688 (8 doubles and 7 home runs).

His home run came on the first pitch thrown him by Rockie starter Jon Gray.  His single cam in an at bat that began with Paul fouling off the first pitch.  The two times that he took the first pitch for a ball, he struck out and flied out.

I suspect that pretty soon pitchers will stop challenging him with first-pitch strikes.  For the season, Paul is a .311 hitter (33 for 106) and a .613 slugger (5 doubles and 9 of his 13 home runs) when pitchers throw him first-pitch strikes.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina added two hits for the second straight game.  He is now up to .275 (19 for 69) for the month.

Kolten Wong

Although neither hit made it through the infield, Kolten Wong pushed his season average back up to .303 with a 2 for 4 night.  With his second consecutive two-hit game, Kolten is now up to .313 (10 for 32) since returning from the disabled list.

The only time Wong saw a first-pitch strike last night, he fell behind Gray 0-2 in the fourth.  He ended up with an infield hit.  For the season, Kolten hits .324 (36 for 111) when he is thrown a first-pitch strike.

Leake and Cardinals Keep Colorado Off Balance

The Colorado Rockies invaded St Louis last night a very hot hitting team.  They had scored in double figures in 5 of their previous 12 games, and were averaging 6.89 runs per game over their first 18 games in July.  For one night, at least, the Cardinals muffled that explosive offense, sending them back to their hotel with an 8-2 loss (box score).

Cardinal starter Mike Leake and his bullpen had great success in making the Rockie hitters work through their at bats.  Of the 35 Colorado hitters who came to the plate, only 11 hit the ball before seeing ball one.  Those 11 at bats averaged just 2.1 pitches per, and worked out well for Colorado.  They collected 6 hits in those at bats (.545), including Pat Valaika’s home run that accounted for all of their scoring.

But the other 24 who saw at least ball one during their plate appearance worked through an average of 4.54 pitches.  They met with much less success.  They went 1 for 23 (.043) with 1 walk and 9 strikeouts.  In general, the more comfortable the Colorado hitters felt, the better they did.

Starters on the Rise

Although Leake, himself, hasn’t been much of a contributor recently, his effort last night did continue a strong string of performances by the starting pitchers.  After Leake finished 7 shutout innings allowing just four hits and no walks, Cardinal starters now have 9 quality starts in their last 13 games.

Over those 13 games, the rotation is 6-2 with a 2.32 ERA and a .235 batting average against.  They have allowed just 8 home runs over their last 81.1 innings, while walking just 13 (1 intentional).

Unfortunately, through spotty offense and an inconsistent bullpen, the Cards have mostly wasted these performances.  They are 7-6 in those games.

Mike Leake

Welcome back Mr. Leake.  His first three starts this month had been anything but encouraging, as Mike managed to stay on the mound for only 10.2 innings through those starts.  He gave 9 earned runs in those innings – a bad enough 7.59 ERA.  But this was compounded by the fact that he allowed almost as many unearned runs (8), as he struggled to pitch around mistakes made behind him.  During those innings, batters hit .474 and slugged .719 against Leake.

All season, the deeper the at bat went, the better it has turned out for Leake.  Thus far, the batters whose at bat is over before they see ball one are hitting .324 against Mike (56 for 173), with a .331 on base percentage.  But, if Mike can get the at bat to at least ball two, the batting average against him drops to .196 (33 for 168).  Even though he would walk a few in the extended counts, his on base percentage is still lower at .310.

During July 63% of the batters that have faced Mike have ended their at bats before making it to ball two.  They have hit .429 (24 for 56).  Last night he did a much better job of staying out of the middle of the plate early in the count.  Only 5 of the 20 batters he faced hit before ball one.  They were 3 for 5 with 2 infield hits.  Everyone else was 1 for 20 last night against Mike.

John Brebbia

For all of the offense and the fine starting pitching, the shaky Cardinal bullpen had a chance to spit this game up as well.  Perhaps the most significant event to come out of this game was the fact that the bullpen didn’t blink when faced with the most pressure-packed moment of the game.

In the eighth inning, after Colorado had trimmed the lead to 6-2, they put two men on with no one out.  One of the runners belonged to John Brebbia (DJ LeMahieu with a fine piece of hitting had looped John’s slider into short right for a hit.

Now John would deal with Nolan Arenado.  After an intense 7-pitch contest, Brebbia recorded the first out of the inning, striking out the major league’s RBI leader.

Brebbia has been awfully good in every opportunity granted him.  His season ERA is down to 1.61 after last night.  It’s been 10 games and 11.2 innings since he’s allowed an earned run.

Kevin Siegrist

After Brebbia retired Arenado, it was Kevin Siegrist’s opportunity to get out of the inning – which he did, striking out Gerardo Parra and getting Mark Reynolds on a fly ball to center.  Since his return from the DL, Kevin has faced 13 batters.  One of them got a hit.  Another drew a walk.  The other 11 went down without reaching base – 8 of them on strikeouts.  Since his return, batters have taken 18 swings against Siegrist, and missed the ball with 10 of those swings.

For one night at least, Brebbia and Siegrist didn’t blink.

Tyler Lyons

The game was pretty well in hand when Tyler Lyons took the mound in the ninth.  He was, nonetheless, as impressive as any pitcher the Cardinals employed last night.  Tyler struck out the side, throwing 10 of his 11 pitches for strikes.

Tyler is unscored on in his last 5 outings, and in 9 July games holds a 2.84 ERA.

Offensive Contribution

The job of the pitching staff was made considerably easier by the offense which scored early and often.  With 8 runs scored last night, the Cardinals are averaging a healthy 4.70 per game this month.

Tommy Pham

The summer of Pham continues.  Tommy Pham added a single, a home run, two walks and two runs scored to his impressive month.  Tommy is now hitting .351 in July with a .662 slugging percentage.  In 20 games this month, Pham has 5 home runs, 16 runs scored, and 18 runs batted in.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong added a couple of hits to the surge last night.  He has 5 hits in his last 10 at bats (2 of them home runs) and is hitting .301 this month (22 for 73) and slugging .658 (8 doubles and 6 home runs).

Twice, Paul found himself in 1-2 counts, singling once and grounding into a double play the other time.  In the month of July, Paul is hitting .341 (13 for 41) and slugging .756 (5 doubles, 4 home runs) when his at bat ends before he’s seen ball two.

YadierMolina

It no longer bothers Yadier Molina to go deep into counts.  Last night was a good example.  He singled in the first inning on a 2-2 pitch.  He flew out on a 2-0 pitch in the third.  He doubled in the eighth on a 3-1 pitch.  He is 8 for 21 this month (.381) and 31 for 102 this year (.304) when hitting in two- or three- ball counts.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong hasn’t returned from the DL as hot as when he entered it, but he has still hit .286 (8 for 28) since his return after his two hit night last night.  Wong doubled for his first extra base hit since his return, and also drove in his first run since his injury.

Kolten’s double came on the first pitch thrown him in the fourth.  That is still Kolten’s strength – find something he likes early in the count.  He is hitting .310 this season (18 for 58) when his at bat ends before he sees ball one.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler walked and scored in the first inning.  Otherwise, he went 0 for 3.  Dexter is now hitless in his last 10 at bats, and hitting .224 (11 for 49) since returning from the disabled list.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko followed his 2 for 4 on Sunday with an 0 for 3 last night.  He is still having difficulty pulling out of his slump, which has now reached 13 games.  He is hitting .149 during those games (7 for 47 with only 2 extra-base hits), and is down to .210 for the month (13 for 62).

NoteBook

Last night was the first time in six game and just the second time in the last nine that St Louis never trailed at any point of the game.

Quintana’s Acts of Aggression Pay Off

The Cardinals had their moments against new Chicago lefty Jose QuintanaRandal Grichuk and Paul DeJong reached him for home runs.  Tommy Pham almost did as well.  Matt Carpenter was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a double.  Yadier Molina was thrown out stealing one pitch before DeJong’s home run.  Michael Wacha bunted into a double play to blunt another scoring opportunity.  Pham’s was one of three line drives that were caught.

The most notable aspect of Quintana’s game – to my mind – was his aggressiveness.  He only fell behind two batters 2-0 (and he walked both of those).  Everyone else got a strike (and usually a fastball strike) in the first two pitches.

Jose doesn’t have the overpowering fastball.  But that didn’t stop him from firing it in there.  In baseball, aggression always works – except when it doesn’t.  And while the end result for Jose could very easily have been much different, he ended up getting just enough run support and just enough plays made behind him to get the win.

That’s how it goes when you are the hot team.

For the Cardinals, it was their fourth loss in the last five games.

Jedd Gyorko

After getting just 5 hits in his previous 11 games, Jedd Gyorko came through with a couple of hits.  His first-inning double (the hit that resulted in Carpenter getting thrown out at first) was his first extra-base hit in 32 at bats.

Paul DeJong

DeJong’s little slump didn’t last long.  He had two hits – including a home run – and is having as fine a July as anyone.  He is now 20 for 68 (.294) this month with 8 doubles and 6 home runs – a .676 slugging percentage.

Randal Grichuk

Whether or not it will last, Grichuk certainly didn’t struggle to find his rhythm.  He finished the Cub series 5 for 11 (.455) with 3 home runs and 5 RBIs.

Luke Voit

While DeJong has re-discovered his groove, Luke Voit – whose playing time has been less regular – has not.  Luke took over for Matt Carpenter after Carpenter felt tightness in his leg, and went 0 for 3.  Luke is now hitless in his last 10 at bats, and 1 for 12 (.083) in the last 5 games.  For the month of July, his average has fallen to .220 (11 for 50).

In the fifth inning, Luke bounced Quintana’s first pitch changeup to second base.  In his brief major league career, Luke has hit the first pitch thrown to him 9 times.  He has one infield singled to show for them.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham didn’t get a hit, but he ended up in counts of 1-0, 2-2, 3-2, and 3-1.  For the month of July, Pham is hitting ahead in the count 47.5% of the time, and 42.7% of the time for the season.  As his vision seems to have been corrected, Tommy’s strike zone judgment has improved significantly.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler has now played in 13 games since coming back from his latest foot issue.  After his 0 for 3 last night, Fowler is a .239 hitter (11 for 46) and .326 slugger (1 double, 1 home run).  He has driven in 2 runs and scored 2 runs in those games.

Let’s point out, though, that for someone who hasn’t had a lot of hits, Dexter has been putting together a lot of pretty good at bats.  In his 52 plate appearances since coming off the disabled list, Dexter has hit ahead in the count in 26 of those (50%).  This includes 2 of his 4 last night.  That Dexter is only hitting .150 in those plate appearances (3 for 20) is evidence, perhaps, of some bad luck.  He has also walked in 6 of those plate appearances-including 1 last night, so his on base percentage since his return is a not so bad .346 when he gets ahead in the count.

Michael Wacha

Though last night wasn’t all he hoped for, let’s not forget how well Wacha has been pitching of late.  He had won 5 decisions in a row, and was 4-0 with a 1.01 ERA and a .189/.235/.221 batting line against over his previous 26.2 innings.  Before allowing two home runs last night, Michael had gone 141 at bats against him without yielding a home run.

Michael, in fact, pitched better than his final line.  All during the month of July, Wacha has been throwing that plus change off his downward-plane fastball to mostly devastating effect.  Last night he pitched from ahead against 8 of the 24 batters he faced.  They managed one hit and struck out 4 times.  For the month of July, when Wacha pitches ahead in the count, opposing batters are 2 for 36 (.056).

The only real damage done to him last night came when he fell behind hitters.  Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant both drove in third-inning runs on 2-0 fastballs.  Willson Contreras’ game-winning, two-run homer came on a 3-1 fastball.

Buyers or Sellers?

With the 4-6 road trip, the Cards stand at 47-51, 4.5 games behind the division co-leaders.  One could make a very compelling case for the Cards being sellers at the deadline – the most compelling argument being that 98 games into the season, the Cardinals are still a bad baseball team.  They have great, great talent.  Anyone who doubts their talent, just hasn’t been paying attention.  But their heart doesn’t match their skill.

After last night’s loss, manager Mike Matheny said: “We’re putting up some good, good games against some good teams.  It’s just that something is not letting us finish it, one way or another, whether it’s enough offense or enough pitching and defense.”

In other words, they are what I have been calling them for a while – the team that blinks.  The team that isn’t as mentally tough as the team that lines up against them.

That being said – being that they are only 4.5 games out – it is unlikely that they will sell.  And I think I’m OK with that.  Especially as it concerns Grichuk and Lance Lynn.

With Randal, I really want to see him play through this second half.  He’s been more of a tease these last two years, but there is enormous talent there.  Before we give it away for whatever we can get, I would like to see these last couple of months whether he can turn the corner.  He is under team control for a few more years, so we can always flip him next year if he doesn’t pan out.

The case of Lynn is a little more complex, as Lance will be a free agent at season’s end.  The team thinking – I think – is this.  We have a great many promising arms working their way through the system.  Of immediate note, Alex Reyes is expected to be back and in the rotation next year – so one of the current members of the rotation will have to give way.  Lance, of course, will want a long-term deal, and – with the numbers of pitchers on the way – the Cards don’t feel that they can make that kind of commitment to him.  They consider him a very good pitcher, but not as elite as the prospects on the way.

Over his last several starts, though, Lynn – in his first season back from Tommy John surgery – has been pitching like one of the top pitchers in baseball.  Can he sustain that?  Who knows?  But I, for one, am curious.  I would like to see Lance get the rest of the season to make his case.  To show that his future is as promising as many of the arms on the way.

If neither Grichuk nor Lynn prove to be parts of our future, then not moving them will be something of a lost opportunity.  But before we part with these two impressive talents, I would like to be more convinced of what we have or don’t have in them.

NoteBook

Last night the Cards played a rubber game on the road for the sixth time this season.  They have now lost five of them.

St Louis is now also 1-5 in rubber games against teams that won their previous series.

After going 6 for 12 with runners in scoring position on Friday, St Louis was 0-1 in RISP opportunities in both of the last two games.

Cards’ Big Inning Includes Five Hits with Runners in Scoring Position

As the season resumed following the All-Star break, the Cardinals began a ten-game road trip with swings through Pittsburgh and New York, losing four of the seven games – three in walk off fashion.  Among the many areas they came up short in during those games, the hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP) could definitely have been better.  Seven games into the second half of the season, the Cards had gone 13 for 55 (.236) in those situations.

Through the first seven innings yesterday in Chicago not much seemed to change.  They were just 1 for 5 with runners in scoring position at that point, and just 4 for their last 27.

So, as Tommy Pham came to the plate with Matt Carpenter at second and nobody out in the eighth, you might have thought that the Cardinals were overdue to make a little noise with runners in scoring position.  It is doubtful that anyone could have forseen the correction that followed.  The next ten batters all reached base (5 walks, 3 singles and 2 doubles), and before the inning had ended, St Louis had chalked up 9 runs on their way to an 11-4 victory (box score).  They finished the game 6 for 12 with 3 doubles and 6 walks with “ducks on the pond.”  The mini-explosion pushes the team average to .281 for the month, and .264 for the year with runners in scoring position.

They are now hitting a decent .268 for the month of July, scoring 4.76 runs during the 17 games played so far this month.

Dexter Fowler

It was encouraging to see a few hits from Dexter Fowler yesterday.  He returned from his latest DL stint on July 7, and marked the event with a home run. Since that game, Dexter had no extra base hits, no runs scored, and no runs batted in.  He broke all of those zeros last night, as his 3 for 4 night included an RBI double and a walk that turned into a run in that eighth inning.  The outburst pushed his average to .275 (11 for 40) since his return.

Dexter had been 0 for 14 since his return in RISP opportunities before he drove in Pham with a third-inning double.  Over the course of the season, Dexter has been one of the team’s better performers with runners in scoring position.  His 2 RISP opportunities yesterday bring him to 76 for the year, during which Dexter has contributed 10 singles, 3 doubles, 2 triples, 4 home runs, 26 RBIs, 13 walks (2 intentional) and 2 sacrifice flies.  This adds up to a batting line of .279/.395/.590.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter had no hits yesterday until he came up in the eighth inning as the lead-off hitter.  He finished the inning with two hits to round out a 2 for 5 night.  For the most part, things have been falling into place for Matt in July.  He is now hitting .345 this month (20 for 58) and .389 (7 for 18) since the team left Pittsburgh.

In Carpenter’s second at bat in the inning, he came up with the bases loaded and singled to drive in a run.  Carpenter is now 4 for 10 in July with runners in scoring position.

Tommy Pham

The summer of Pham continued unabated as Tommy Pham added a double and a single to yesterday’s mix. Tommy has now hit in 5 straight games going 8 for 21 (.381) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs (.762 slugging percentage).  He has also now hit in 9 of his last 10 – going 17 for 39 (.436).  He has scored 10 and driven in 10 in those games.  He is hitting .375 for July (24 of 64) and slugging .688 (6 doubles, 1 triple, and 4 home runs).  He has driven in 17 runs in 17 games this month.

Tommy’s 2 RBIs yesterday came on a single in that 9-run eighth.  Tommy is now 7 for 19 (.368) this month in RISP opportunities.

Jedd Gyorko

A revelation in April and May, Jedd Gyorko is scuffling in July.  He drew an important walk in that eighth inning (one of two walks on the day for Jedd), but otherwise went 0 for 3.  Jedd is hitting just .135 (5 for 37) over his last 10 games, and has no extra-base hits in his last 7.  He is now just 11 for 52 (.212) this month.

Jedd lined out in the third inning in his only RISP at bat yesterday.  Jedd is now hitting .133 (2 for 15) this month with runners in scoring position.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong has been back, now, for 8 games – 6 of them starts – and 21 at bats after yesterday’s 0 for 3.  Kolten walked twice yesterday – the first times he’s walked since his return from the DL.  He still has no extra-base hits and no runs batted in since his return.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez wasn’t at his absolute best – and the Cubs have always battled him pretty well – but he did fight his way through six innings allowing only 2 earned runs – this in spite of the fact that they finished with 10 hits in Carlos’ 6 innings.

But one thing Carlos can do – usually, even when he isn’t razor sharp – is pitch with runners in scoring position.  Yesterday Chicago had 11 shots at Martinez with runners in scoring position.  They finished just 2 for 10 with a walk.  For the season, batters with runners in scoring position hit just .173 (17 for 98) against Carlos.

Carlos didn’t get yesterday’s win, due – in part – to the offense’s continued neglect with their ace on the mound.  Yesterday was the twelfth time in Carlos’ 20 starts that the offense scored fewer than 3 runs while he was the pitcher of record.

Matthew Bowman

Here’s a surprise.  I pointed out in yesterday’s post how well Matthew Bowman has been pitching of late, and when he came in during the seventh-inning of a tight game, he didn’t immediately serve up a bunch of critical runs.  Granted, the only batter he faced tried to lay down a bunt, and bunted it right to him.  Still that makes 11 consecutive scoreless games from Bowman during which he has held batters to a .197 average and a .214 slugging percentage.  Of the last 30 batters he has faced, 57% have hit the ball on the ground, and only 1 of the last 41 batters to stand in against him has walked.

Kevin Siegrist

It’s only been three games since Kevin Siegrist has returned to the bullpen, but he has looked razor sharp.  In three nearly perfect innings, Kevin has allowed only 1 single and 1 walk.  Seven of the nine outs he’s recorded have come as strikeouts.  Batters have missed on 56% of the swings they have taken against him since his return.

Another Late Lead Vanishes

As Trevor Rosenthal took the mound to begin the ninth inning, it marked the fifteenth game this season that a Cardinal pitcher has stood on the mound in the ninth inning of a tied ballgame.  And when Trevor blanked on Jose Reyes’ bouncer to first base, leading to the deciding infield single in the 3-2 Met victory yesterday (box score), it marked the eleventh of those 15 games that Cardinals have ended up losing.  It is the kind of thing that has happened so frequently this season that it is difficult to be surprised by it anymore.

Beyond their persistent trouble holding onto leads, Cardinal pitchers trying to keep the game tied in the ninth inning have a 5.40 earned run average.  As much as anything else, St Louis’ unsolvable ninth-inning issues have kept this team from challenging for the division title.

With their second consecutive loss, St Louis is now a distressing 22-26 in games after a loss and back to .500 (8-8) for the month.

News Not All Bad

As disappointing as it is to leave New York with a 2-2 split after winning the first two, the Cardinals do head into the final stop of their road trip with the starting pitching starting to re-calibrate.  With Lynn’s effort last night, Cardinal starters have recorded quality starts in 6 of the last 9 games, posting a 1.98 ERA and a .237 batting average against.  In their last 54.2 innings, they have walked just 12 batters (1 of those intentional), so the on base percentage against the Cardinal starters over the last 9 games is a negligible .281.  The home run off the bat of Lucas Duda was only the fifth off a Cardinal starter over the course of those games.

Starters are now 8-5 this month with a very solid 3.49 ERA and only 23 unintentional walks in 90.1 innings.

Lance Lynn

In the midst of this little revival has been Lance Lynn, who has put together three brilliant starts in a row.  In fact, Duda’s home run was the only run scored off Lynn in his last three starts (covering 19.1 innings – an 0.47 ERA), a spell that has also seen him allow just 14 hits and 2 walks.  The batting line against Lance over those games has been a miserly .203/.225/.275.  Lance hasn’t walked more than one batter in any of his last 5 starts, and his ERA for the month of July has tumbled down to 1.09.

Over the course of his career, Lance has pitched 82 times in a game after a loss – 67 of them as a starter.  He is 37-21 lifetime in those games with a 3.50 ERA.

Matthew Bowman

It does seem like every time I recognize stellar effort from one of the members of the bullpen, they immediately surrender critical runs their next time out.  Nonetheless, Matthew Bowman has been terrific lately.  He has thrown 10 straight scoreless outings (totaling 7.2 innings), during which he’s holding batters to a .185 average.  He has walked just 1 batter in his last 14 games, and hasn’t allowed a home run in 16 games (covering 12.1 innings).  He has stranded all of the last 13 runners that he has inherited.

Matthew has also been one of the positives in games after a loss.  Yesterday was the 24th such game that he has pitched in (totaling 18.1 innings).  He holds a 1.86 ERA in those innings, with a .214/.263/.261 batting line against.  Last year, he had a 2.61 ERA in 31 innings in games after a loss.

Brett Cecil

After climbing to the role of closer on the strength of a 15-game scoreless streak, Brett Cecil has given up critical runs in 2 of his last 3 games.  He has also now pitched in 26 of the Cardinal games following a loss, serving up 3 home runs in 22.1 innings in those games with a 4.03 ERA.

Trevor Rosenthal

And now back to Rosenthal.  Over 6 previous games, only 1 of the 19 batters to face Trevor had reached base (on a hit by pitch).  But Trevor walked the first man he faced.  Walks are a certain indicator that bad Trevor has shown up today.  Trevor has pitched in 41 games.  He has walked batters in just 9 of them.  In the 9 games in which he has walked batters, Trevor has a 10.80 ERA, with a .333/.516/.381 batting line against.  In the 32 games in which Trevor hasn’t walked a batter, his ERA is 1.33 and the batting line against him is .151/.158/.226.  When Trevor starts walking batters, get him out of there.

Tommy Pham

Not much went right offensively for the Cards yesterday, but Tommy Pham was a highlight.  He drove in both St Louis runs with a double and a home run.  Pham has hit safely in 8 of his last 9 games, hitting .429 (15 for 35) and slugging .771 (3 doubles and 3 home runs.  Tommy is hitting .367 in July (22 for 60) and slugging .683 this month (5 doubles, 1 triple, and 4 home runs).  He has driven in 15 runs in 16 games this month.

Tommy is also now hitting .336 this season (39 for 116) in games after a loss.  His 39 hits include 8 doubles, a triple, and 6 home runs.  Playing in just 34 of the team’s games after a loss, Tommy has scored 24 runs, driven in 24 runs and slugged .578.

Greg Garcia

Like Pham, Greg Garcia added a couple of hits yesterday (the rest of the team totaled 2).  Greg has only played in 10 games this month – starting just 5 – but he’s off to a .300 start (6 for 20).

Luke Voit

A couple of the Cardinal rookies are starting to struggle a bit for the first time.  Luke Voit was 0 for 3 yesterday.  He is now 3 for his last 16 (.188) over his last 7 games.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong has skidded even worse – 3 for 26 (.115) over his last 6 games, with 12 strikeouts and 2 runs batted in.  It’s a league of adjusting, and any player’s sustainability is dependent on how quickly he can adjust.

Ninth Inning Disasters Continue

Beginning with two nearly perfect innings on June 13, Brett Cecil ripped off a string of 15 consecutive scoreless performances.  Over those games, Brett handled 15.2 innings giving just 7 hit and 1 walk.

As Cecil was putting together this impressive streak of scoreless innings, Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal took turns serving up games in the eighth and ninth innings.

After Oh served up the game-winning walk-off home run in the ninth inning of Friday’s game, manager Mike Matheny finally turned to Cecil in a closing situation yesterday afternoon.  Brett took the mound for the bottom of the ninth, holding a 3-2 lead.

Eleven pitched later, Brett had given up two runs on three hits and was walking off the field as the losing pitcher (box score).  He hadn’t allowed a run in more than a month, but when he did, it cost the team a game.

The Cardinals are snake-bitten in the ninth inning.

Cardinal pitchers have pitched 11.1 innings in the ninth inning this year when the team trailed in the game by one or two runs.  When it comes to keeping the team in the game so they have a chance in the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinal bullpen has been excellent.  They hold a 1.59 ERA in those innings, with a .211 batting average against.

For 11 innings Cardinal pitchers have worked the ninth inning with the game tied.  Here, they have been less proficient.  In those 11 innings, their ERA jumps to 4.91 (giving up 7 runs, 6 of them earned), including 3 home runs.

Cardinal pitchers have carried a one-run ninth-inning lead for 9 innings so far this year.  They have given up 5 runs on 13 hits and 3 walks while trying to protect that one-run ninth-inning lead – a 5.00 ERA and a .325 batting average against.

Cardinal pitchers have worked 34 innings this year in the ninth inning where they have been no worse off than tied, but not ahead by more than three runs.  They have responded to these closer-like situations with a 5.29 ERA, a .306 batting average against, and 5 home runs.  I’m sure these are not historic numbers, but they are black enough.

There are many things that the Cardinals have not done well.  Hemorrhaging ninth-inning leads is arguably the worst of their sins.

Which Leads to Another One-Run Loss

Yesterday’s games was a textbook example of how a team comes to be 13-17 in one-run games.  Offensively they passed up several opportunities to add runs – along with hitting into three double plays, and running into a fourth.  Mix in more ninth-inning trouble and just enough bad luck (Andrew McCutchen’s first-inning RBI single hit the second base bag, and Max Moroff’s home run hit the foul pole) and you have a developing pattern.

The bullpen has now thrown 94.2 innings of relief in the 30 one-run games the Cardinals have been involved in.  They have managed a 3-11 record with 12 saves, 26 holds, and 9 blown saves.  The bullpen ERA in one-run games this year is 3.80.  It has been a season-long issue.

Carlos Martinez

Speaking of developing patterns, Carlos Martinez pitched seven excellent innings yesterday, holding the resurgent Pirates to 2 runs on 5 hits.  But, it was the twelfth time in Carlos’ 19 starts that the offense failed to score four runs for him, and it was the third time already this season that Martinez had a lead squandered by his bullpen.

If one-run games are an indication of character, Carlos Martinez has been answering the bell.  Seven of his 19 starts have now been decided by one-run.  He has thrown quality starts in 5 of those games, fighting his way to a 2-2 record, a 2.35 ERA, and a .198 batting average against.  In 46 innings, Martinez has given 34 hits – 23 singles, 8 doubles, and 3 home runs – good for a .297 slugging percentage against.

Carlos has deserved a better fate so far this season.

In his three years in the rotation, Carlos has made 28 starts in games that have been decided by one run.  He is 9-3 in those games with a 2.99 ERA

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal hit a batter (Adam Frazier) in the eighth inning yesterday.  Frazier thus becomes the only batter to reach base against Rosenthal over his last 6 innings.  Yes, we just said this about Cecil, but Rosenthal has also pitched very well of late.  Over those last six innings, Trevor has struck out 11 and thrown 67% of his pitches for strikes (57 of 85).  Batters have missed on 42% of their swings against Rosenthal.

Magneuris Sierra

As you are probably aware, Magneuris Sierra set a Cardinal rookie record by hitting safely in each of his first 9 games.  Yesterday’s 4-for-4 performance included three infield hits, but they all count.  He is now hitting .444 on the season (16 for 36).  All 16 hits have been singles, although he has had multiple hits in 5 of the 9 games.

Sierra has now played in 4 one-run games.  He is 9 for 15 (.600) in those games.  He has also struck out 5 times in those games, so, in the first four one-run games of his career, Magneuris Sierra has only been retired once when putting the ball in play.

Matt Carpenter

As the second half of the season begins, Matt Carpenter’s bat has begun a bit of a revival.  With 2 hits last night, Carpenter has now hit in 6 games in a row (9 for 23) for a .391 average.  Through the first 12 games of July, Matt is hitting .325 (13 of 40).

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong added two hits yesterday.  Due to injuries, Wong has only played in 20 of the 30 one-run games the Cardinals have played, but he is now hitting .350 in those games (21 for 60).  Up until this season, Kolten was only a .244 hitter in 140 career one-run games.

Jedd Gyorko

As the season’s first half has melded into the second, Jedd Gyorko has hit a bit of a dry spell.  He is just 2 for 19 (.105) over his last 5 games after an 0-for-5 afternoon yesterday that included two ground-ball double plays.  This drops him to just .235 for the month.

After hitting .287/.341/.590 in one-run games last year, Jedd is only hitting .239/.301/.402 in them this year.

NoteBook

Of the now 18 times that St Louis has lost the first game of a series, they have come back to force a rubber game 9 times.  They are 4-5 in those rubber games.

Relentless Pirates Finally Prevail

For eight and a half grueling innings last night, the Cardinals hung with the Pirates.  Continually on the verge of having the game blown open, they managed escape after escape.  When Josh Bell hit the inevitable home run that provided Pittsburgh with its 5-2 walk-off victory (box score), he became the eighteenth Pirate to reach base that night (12 hits and 6 walks).  By contrast – although they hit a lot of line drives – the Cardinals finished their evening having put just 6 runners on base (6 hits and no walks).

The Cards went down in order five times in their nine innings.  The Pirates went down in order only twice.  Eventually, the sheer weight of the Pirates relentless pressure (and the Cardinals’ inability to sustain anything like offense) was enough to do the Cardinals in.  St Louis jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, but never scored again.  It was yet another first game of a series lost, and yet another loss in which St Louis held a lead at some point.  These were items from yesterday’s installment.

And, of course, another late miss-step from the bullpen.

Tommy Pham

With outfielders dropping around him like flies, Tommy Pham continues prove himself as an everyday contributor.  Tommy finished the night with two hits, and hit another ball hard.  He is now hitting .371 (13 for 35) and slugging .657 (2 doubles, 1 triple, 2 home runs) for the month of July.  In the ten games played so far, Tommy has scored 8 runs and driven in 9.  Pham has also hit in 12 of his last 15 games (although he has started only 13 of them), hitting .392 (20 for 51).  He has scored 15 runs over those 15 games, and driven in 12.

A statistical oddity: Pham came to the plate in the eighth inning with runners at first and second and one out.  He lined out to right.  For the season, Pham is a .295/.397/.420 hitter when up with the bases empty.  Four of his eleven home runs have been solo shots.  With one runner on base, Pham is a terror.  He is 27 for 65 (.415) with 5 doubles, a triple, and his other 7 home runs (.846 slugging percentage).  He has been up 3 times with the bases loaded, getting a single and a double and driving in 5.

But he is now 1 for 28 on the season when batting with two runners on base.

Stephen Piscotty

Before leaving the game with an injury in the ninth inning, Stephen Piscotty suffered through another 0 for 4 with two more strikeouts.  It’s been that kind of season for Piscotty.  He is now 0 for his last 8, and hitting .120 (3 for 25) over his last 7 games.  He hasn’t scored a run in any of those 7 games, and hasn’t had an extra base hit in his last 8 games.  For the month of July, Piscotty has had 37 plate appearances, with the following results: 5 singles, 1 double, 2 runs scored, 3 runs batted in, 1 walk, 11 strikeouts, once hit by a pitch, and 1 double play grounded into.  It works out to a batting line of .171/.216/.200.  Hitless in three at bats last night, Stephen is now 1 for 15 this month (.067) when batting with the bases empty.

What could happen now?  Well, Stephen’s injury has sent him back to the DL.  After a period of recovery, he could spend some time with Diaz (and maybe Grichuk) in Memphis, re-working his swing.  Being optioned to the AAA club after his injury clears might be a good thing for him.

In the meantime, Magneuris Sierra has made his way back to the big club, and should see some regular playing time.  That might be a good thing, too.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong returned to the lineup with an 0-for-3 night that snapped his 6-game hitting streak.  During the streak, Wong hit .450 (9 for 20), and slugged .650 (4 doubles).  He scored 5 runs in the 6 games.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake has now made two starts in July – last night and July 5 against Miami.  In those two starts, Mike has fought his way through 8.2 innings, allowing 23 baserunners (17 hits and 6 walks).  “Only” 10 of them have scored – and “just” 5 of those runs were earned.  It has cost Mike 156 pitches to clear those 8.2 innings.

Last night was the better of the two games, as Leake gutted his way through five innings, allowing just 2 runs although he dealt with 12 baserunners.  Of the 25 batters he faced, only 8 came to the plate with the bases empty (and 5 of those reached).

His evening was a study in frustration.  The third inning run he allowed resulted when he attempted to snare Gerrit Cole’s grounder and deflected it into an infield hit.  His fifth was even more frustrating.  After getting a double play to mostly ease him out of the inning, Leake walked the next three hitters and gave up the game tying single.

Over those last two games, 29 of the 47 batters he has faced have come to the plate with at least one runner on base.  He has pitched to only 18 batters with the bases empty, and 9 of those have reached.

Matthew Bowman

While some pieces of the bullpen are still lagging, others are starting to achieve sustained effectiveness.  Matthew Bowman pitched the sixth and gave a couple of hits, but got a double play and ended the inning with no damage taken.  Matthew is unscored on over his last 7 games (5 innings), and over his last 19 games (16.1 innings), Matthew holds a 1.65 ERA and a .246 batting average against.  He has also stranded all 11 inherited runners.

Matthew has always pitched very well with runners on base – this season he has held batters to a .221/.267/.324 batting line when they hit against him with runners on base.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil turned in his fifteenth consecutive scoreless appearance (15.2 innings) with his scoreless seventh inning.  He gave up a two-out double, but no damage.  In his 15.2 scoreless innings, Brett has given just 7 hits and 1 walk.  The batting line against him in those innings has been .137/.154/.176.

Trevor Rosenthal

Add Trevor Rosenthal to the list of relief pitchers who seem to be turning things around.  He had the Pirates three-up-and-three down with two strikeouts in the eighth.  He has now strung together 4 consecutive perfect outings of one inning each, striking out 7 of the 12 he’s faced.  Sixty-eight percent of his pitches (36 of 53) have been strikes – usually the defining issue for Trevor, and batters have missed on 41% of their swings (9 of 22).

This year Trevor has been absolutely golden until a runner gets on.  Hitting against him with the bases empty, batters are .167/.244/.218.  Once a runner reaches, though, batters improve to .277/.373/.383 against him.  Half of the 16 walks he’s allowed this year have come with at least one runner already on base.

Still, most of the bullpen has been coming around.  Through the first 10 games (and 30 innings) of July, everyone other than the closer has combined for an 0.90 ERA, no home runs allowed, and a .236/.306/.291 batting line against.  Now if they could only fix that ninth inning.

Seung-hwan Oh

So, it’s a pretty bad thing when your closer comes into a tie game in the ninth inning, and you get that sinking feeling in your stomach.  Such is the season for Seung-hwan Oh.  A double, a fly ball, an intentional walk, a three-run walk-off home run.  I tried to be surprised, but . . .

Heroic last year, Seung-hwan has now allowed runs in 7 of his last 14 games.  Over his last 13 innings, he has given 11 runs on 20 hits – 5 of them home runs.  He carries a 7.62 ERA over those games, while opponents are hitting .351 and slugging .632 against him.

With the home run, Oh has now allowed 22 runs (19 earned) this year in 41 innings.  He surrendered 20 runs (17 earned) all of last year in 79.2 innings.

The home run was the eighth against him in 2017 (only 5 were hit off of him all last year).  He is now on pace to serve up 15 home runs for the season.  In 2001, Dave Veres saved 15 games.  He served up 12 home runs in 66.2 innings.  That is the most home runs allowed by any Cardinal reliever in this century who saved at least 10 games that season.  At 20 or more saves, the record goes to Jason Motte, who saved 45 games in 2012 while serving up 10 home runs in 80.1 innings.  Oh is already in that neighborhood.

Sixty-one batters have now reached base against Oh in just 41 innings.  The only batter he faced last night with the bases empty doubled to left.  In the 6 games he’s pitched in July, batters up with the bases empty are 6 for 11 (.545) with a double and a home run (.909 slugging percentage).  For the season, Seung-hwan (who, by the way, turned 35 today) has a .333/.349/.536 batting line against with the bases empty.