So, I have to admit that yesterday’s game had me worried. On the mound for New York was a lefty (Steven Matz) that no one but Dexter Fowler had ever faced before. Ever since forever, this has been a team that has scuffled against left-handed pitching – even more so when that lefty was fairly unfamiliar.
But that would not be the script Sunday. Beating a left-hander for the third time on the home stand – and batting one around for the second time on the home-stand – the Cards brushed past Matz and the Mets 6-0 (box score).
Six days earlier they had routed Jeff Locke. This wasn’t exactly headline worthy stuff. Locke has struggled all season (and was, in fact, released the day after the Cardinals beat on him). Matz, however, is a much different story. Carrying a 2.12 ERA and riding a 17-inning scoreless streak into the contest, Steven Matz is one of the rising stars in the National League. Even though he wasn’t his sharpest on Sunday, driving him from the mound before he made it through five innings was an impressive feat.
In 94 plate appearances early in the month of July, St Louis is hitting left-handers at a .338/.415/.613 clip. Something almost unheard of. Usually, even marginal left-handers are more than enough to bedevil the Cards.
A Time of Coming Together
Early June was highlighted by a seven-game road trip through Chicago and Cincinnati. The Cards lost all seven games. They sat, at that moment, six games under (26-32), and were a team in quite a bit of disarray. Very few of the pieces were fitting together.
In the 30 games since – beginning about a month ago with a June 9 game against Philadelphia – the Cardinals have been gradually coming together. They are 17-13 – a decent .567 percentage – since that road trip, and have shown in flashes the team they thought they were going to be.
With 3 more home runs yesterday, the Cardinals have 49 over the last 30 games. They have hit .268/.346/.475 over those games, and scored 170 runs (5.67 per game).
Meanwhile, the once-toxic bullpen has worked 103.1 innings over those last 30 games with a 2.61 ERA and a .238 batting average against.
Still a little spotty has been the starting rotation. They have provided quality starts for 15 of the 30 games, with a 4.58 ERA and a .268/.329/.470 batting line against. In their last 167 innings, the starters have served up 27 home runs.
Going back to the June 9 game, Tommy Pham is the only player to play in all of the last 30 Cardinal games – he has started 26. He carries a .306 batting average through those games (33 for 108), and a .519 slugging percentage (3 doubles, 1 triple, and 6 home runs). He has scored 23 runs and driven in 19 over that span. He was 3-for-3 yesterday, and finished the Met series with 4 hits in his last 5 at bats.
All of Pham’s hitting yesterday (2 singles and the big home run) came off the left-hander Matz. Throughout their recent history, St Louis has searched for that bat that could make a difference against lefties. Pham has now had 58 plate appearances against left-handed hurlers this season. They have resulted in 10 singles, 1 double, 1 triple, 4 home runs, 11 runs batted in, 10 walks, and 2 sacrifice flies – a .348/.448/.674 batting line.
Dexter Fowler goes into the All-Star Break with the momentum of a 2-for-4 game. He has missed a good part of the last 30 games – he has played in only 16 of them, starting 14 – but over that span has resembled the hitter they remember. Dexter is hitting .339 (19 for 56) and slugging .714 (3 doubles, 6 home runs) since the beginning of the first Philadelphia series.
Fowler went 1 for 3 while Matz was in there. He began the season batting .196 against left-handed pitching (11 for 56). He is now 4 for his last 12 (.333) including a home run off of Baltimore lefty Vidal Nuno on June 20 (the only one of his 14 home runs hit off a lefty this season).
Fowler also singled of the right-hander Seth Lugo in the seventh. He is now 15 for his last 44 against right-handers (.341), including 3 doubles and 5 home runs (.750 slugging percentage).
And then there was rookie Paul DeJong. After going 7 for 8 in the first two games of the Met series (1 single, 4 doubles and 2 home runs), Paul finished off the series in good form with two more hits including another home run. The game pushes DeJong’s overall hitting streak to 6 games, during which he has hit .600 (12 for 20) and slugged 1.300 (5 doubles and 3 home runs).
Paul returned to the big league team on June 15. In 24 games since then (22 of them starts), Paul is a .345 hitter (30 for 87) and a .701 slugger (7 doubles and 8 home runs). He has scored 15 runs in those games and driven in 16.
He sure looks like he belongs.
Additionally, DeJong looks like he could also be an impact bat against lefties. He was 2-for-2 against Matz yesterday and is 9 for 26 (.346) against left-handers over the season. His 2 doubles and 2 home runs against them are good for a .654 slugging percentage.
With outfield starts becoming a coveted commodity, Stephen Piscotty isn’t really making a compelling case for himself. Hitless in 3 at bats yesterday, Stephen is 3 for 21 (.143) over his last six games with no extra base hits, no runs scored, and 2 runs batted in.
Piscotty has played in 29 of the last 30 games (starting 25). He carries a .212 average (21 for 99) with 2 home runs and 14 runs batted in.
During his first two seasons, Stephen hit .301/.390/.536 against lefthanders. After his 0 for 2 against Matz, Piscotty is down to .195 against lefties (8 for 41) this year. The hits have been 5 singles (one an infield single) and 3 doubles – a .268 slugging percentage. Stephen has 3 runs batted in against left-handed pitching all season.
More recently, Stephen has been struggling against right-handers as well. He is now 17 for his last 86 (.198) against them.
After back-to-back starts where he gave up 7 runs to Baltimore and then 7 more to Pittsburgh, Lance Lynn has bounced back a bit. Over his last three starts, Lynn has tossed 18.1 innings with 2 quality starts and a 2.45 ERA. The last 68 batters to face him are hitting .203. Most of Lance’s outings have been very good, but haven’t lasted very long. In fact, yesterday was only the second time in his last 9 starts that Lance has made it through 6 innings.
Up until this year, Lance had always been good, but not dominant when facing right-handed hitters. Since he became a member of the rotation back in 2012, righties had hit .241 against him. This year – after the Met right-handers were held to 1 infield hit in 11 at bats against Lynn yesterday, they are hitting .177 (34 for 192) against him for the year.
In his perfect eighth inning, Trevor Rosenthal struck out the side. He has now struck out the last 5 batters to face him.
Two of last night’s strikeouts were right-handed batters. When he first arrived in the majors, Trevor dominated right-handers. In 2012 & 2013, right-handed hitters hit .201/.281/.308 against him. Through 2014 & 2015, righties found themselves better able to cope with Trevor. Their batting line those years was .266/.346/.377. Last year, an injured Rosenthal was taken advantage of by all hitters, including right-handers. They hit .293/.381/.404 against him.
But this year, Rosenthal has taken a sort-of step back to the dominance of his first two years. With yesterday’s strikeouts, right-handers are now just 10 for 58 (.172) with just 2 extra-base hits (.259 slugging percentage) and 29 strikeouts against him. The problems, though, are the walks. None yesterday, but 8 of the 67 right-handers he’s faced have walked (with 3 of them coming around to score).
John Brebbia was touched for a damaging unearned run in the first game of the Met series, but – after his 1-2-3 ninth yesterday – John has gone 8 games (8.1 innings) without giving up an earned run. The last 35 batters to face him are hitting .194 (6 for 31) and slugging .258 (4 singles, 2 doubles). John has given earned runs in only 1 of his last 13 games (15 innings). He has a 1.20 ERA and a .182 batting average against in those games.
All three batters he faced (and retired) yesterday were left-handed batters. Lefties are now hitting .214 (6 for 28) against Brebbia.
Two Paragraph First Half Summary
The season began with 9 losses in the first 12 games. At the moment they had overcome that start and moved into first place on May 14, they immediately lost 22 of their next 32 games. Over the first 88 games, both the everyday lineup and the bullpen have undergone multiple shakeups. While the starting rotation has remained intact, they have been wildly inconsistent.
And through all that, the St Louis Cardinals hit the All-Star Break just 2 games under .500, and – and this is huge – tied with the defending World Champs. Last year, we entered the break 4 games over (46-42) but already 7 games behind the Cubs. If anyone had offered us a deal at the beginning of the year that we would hit the break tied with the Cubs, I think most of us would have been happy to accept it.
The Cardinals’ first opponent after the break will be the Pittsburgh Pirates – who are coming off winning two of three from the Cubs, and finished the first half winning five of six. In an April 24 game, the Pirate pitching staff surrendered the most runs it has all season when they were savaged by a 14-3 score. The opponent that day was the Chicago Cubs. Yesterday afternoon – playing the Cubs again – the Pirates scored their most runs of the season so far, beating Chicago 14-3.
Yesterday’s win puts St Louis at 5-6 this season in rubber games.
Of the 17 series where the Cardinals have lost the first game, this is now the fifth time they have come back to win one of those series. (They have also come back to tie one.) After losing the first game of these series, St Louis is 20-16 in the remaining games.
Jedd Gyorko suffered through an 0-for-4 afternoon, but his first-inning RBI on a ground-out did stand up as the game winner. Jedd has tied Yadier Molina for second on the club with 5 game-winning-RBIs. Fowler still leads the team with 7.