Making Their Statement – Such As It Is

Two nights ago, a frustrated Cardinal team unloaded on the second-place Milwaukee Brewers by a 10-2 score.  Was it a statement that this very talented team was through pussyfooting around with the rest of this division? No.  That team was nowhere to be seen yesterday afternoon as they managed only five hits and fell to the Brewers.

Three nights before that, this Cardinal team put together an improbable late inning rally, scoring 2 in the eighth and two in the ninth (on a walk-off homer by Tommy Pham) to stun Tampa Bay 6-4.  Was that the spark that would light the fuse? No.  There was no late inning magic the next day as Tampa Bay took the deciding game of the series, 2-1 in ten innings.

On Saturday, August 12, the Cardinals hung a 6-5 defeat on Atlanta.  It was their eighth straight win.  After languishing at one point in mid-July as far as 6.5 games back, the aroused Cardinals had fought their way back to a tie for the division lead.  That time they even fooled me – and I’ve seen this movie before.

Since the last game of that winning streak, the once-hot Cardinals have lost 10 of their last 15 after last night’s 6-5 loss in Milwaukee (box score).  During that same time span, the Cubs have won 12 of 17 to push the Cardinals back to 6 games under.  In fact, since the last game of that winning streak, the Cards have lost ground to everyone in their division except the Pirates, who have been 5-12 since then.  Even the lowly Reds have gone 7-9 and picked up 1.5 games on the fading Cardinals.

But wait there’s more.

Eleven of these last 15 games have been played against teams with losing records. The Cards lost 7 of those games.

And, of course, with losing 3 of the 4 played against the winning teams they’ve faced, St Louis is now 2-5 this month, 8-9 since the All-Star Break, and 31-40 this season when pitted against teams that currently carry at least a .500 record.

Yesterday saw an all-too familiar pattern repeat.  The Cardinal starter, Carlos Martinez, was battered for 10 hits in 5.2 innings.  Over the last 15 games, Cardinal starters have been spanked to the tune of a .312 batting average against.  With one game left in the month, the batting average against the Cardinal starters this month stands at an even .300.

Game by game, series by series, month by month, this team is sending a very clear message about who they are and who they are not.  They are and have been the team that blinks.

Carlos Martinez

The loss interrupts what had been a pretty good steak for Martinez.  He hasn’t been the dominant pitcher that they believe he will yet be, but he was coming off four very good outings.  Over his previous 24 innings, Carlos had walked just 4 batters, and carried a 3-0 record with a 2.89 ERA.

In the season’s second half, Carlos has faced four teams with winning records.  He matched up against Arrieta and the Cubs on July 21 in Chicago.  It rained hits against him (10) but he battled through 6 innings that night.  Still he would have lost that night, 3-2, had the team not exploded for 9 late runs against the Cub bullpen.

On July 26 he was home to face Jeff Hoffman and the Colorado Rockies.  He lasted 6 that night, too, but gave up 5 runs.  Again, his offense rescued him in a 10-5 victory.

His next start was August 1 in Milwaukee against Jimmy Nelson.  Carlos served up 3 first inning runs, and that was the game.  Martinez made it through only 5 innings, throwing 102 pitches in the 3-2 loss.

And then, yesterday, back in Milwaukee he lost again 6-5, lasting just 5.2 innings and allowing 6 runs (3 earned).

It all adds up to a deceptively bad 1-2 record and a 5.16 ERA – but these games ended up as two Cardinal wins and two very competitive one-run losses.  He did leave a lot of pitches up, and he was hit harder than you would think – the four teams combined for a .323 batting average against Carlos, including 4 home runs.  But Martinez kept us in all of those games against some very talented offenses.

For the whole season, Martinez has been arguably our best starter against winning teams.  In 15 such starts against them, Martinez has 9 quality starts, a 6-6 record with a 3.69 ERA, and a .247 batting average against.  He has also struck out 110 in just 92.2 innings against them.  In his first two years in the rotation, Carlos pitched 28 games (26 starts) against teams that would finish the season with at least a .500 record.  He compiled 17 quality starts, a 12-9 record, a 3.35 ERA, and a .231 batting average against.

Yesterday’s loss was the tenth of the season for Martinez – the first time he has ever had double-digit losses in any season.  He was 16-9 last season, and is 44-31 for his career.

With the three earned runs allowed, Carlos also set a new career high in that category.  After allowing 66 earned runs all of last year in 195.1 innings, he has now surrendered 68 already this year in 174 innings with all of September to go.

Other Starters Facing Winning Teams

Lance Lynn’s second half roll has included 3 games against teams with winning records.  He is 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in those games – all quality starts.  For the season, he holds the team’s second-best ERA against winning teams (3.87) in 83.2 innings.  His record in those games is 4-5.

Adam Wainwright’s record is 6-4 in 13 games against winning opponents, but only 5 of those games have been quality starts, and his ERA sits at 5.17 for 69.2 innings.  Over his first 10 seasons, Adam pitched 151 times – with 119 starts – against winning teams.  Eighty-one of those starts were quality starts.  Waino held a 56-42 record in those games, with 7 more potential wins lost by the bullpen.  His ERA was 3.16 over 828 innings.  Over the last two years, Adam has only 9 quality starts out of 23 against quality opponents.  He is 8-9 with a 5.29 ERA and a .302 batting average against in those 127.2 innings.

Michael Wacha has struggled the most when faced with stiffer competition.  In 11 starts against teams currently at .500 or better, Wacha has managed just 2 quality starts, a 3-4 record and a 5.56 ERA while serving up 10 home runs in 55 innings.  Wacha’s trend is similar to Wanwright’s.  Through his first three years in the league, he was 15-9 with a 3.08 ERA against winning teams.  Through the last two, just 5-8, 5.51.

Bullpen Quietly Coming Around

The bullpen gave the team a shot at the comeback yesterday as they retired all 7 Brewers they faced.  For the season, their ERA is still a spotty 3.85 against winning teams, but that number has only been 2.94 in 49 innings since the All-Star Break.

Offense Still Scoring Enough to Win

They don’t score 10 runs every night anymore, but most of the time the offense puts up enough runs to win.  They scored 5 yesterday, and are averaging 5.27 runs per game through the 5-10 slump.  For the month, they average 5.81 runs per game, and 5.09 since the break.

Much of that, though, has come at the expense of poorer teams.  With only 5 total hits yesterday, the Cards are at just .245 this month, and .248 for the year against teams that are at least at .500.

Tommy Pham

Pham was a sort of one-man offense again.  He accounted for 4 of the runs with 2 two-run home runs.  Tommy has now hit in five straight games.  In the 21 plate appearances accounted for in those games, Tommy has 3 singles, a double, 3 home runs, 6 runs scored, 6 runs batted in, and 4 walks – adding up to a .412/.524/1.000 batting line.  He is hitting .288/.413/.635 with 5 home runs and 10 runs batted in over the last 15 games; .292/.419/.500 for the month; and .316/.423/.525 since the All-Star Break.

People keep talking about getting a “middle of the order” bat for the lineup.  Projected out to the 625 plate appearances a regular player would normally get in a year (remembering that Tommy spent the first 27 games of the season in Memphis) and Pham’s season would read 28 home runs, 110 runs scored, 84 runs batted in (from the second spot in the order) to go with a .307/.402/.517 batting line.  That sounds pretty “middle of the order” to me.

Tommy is also a player who hasn’t been intimidated by the good teams.  In the season’s second half, he’s hitting .344 (21 for 61) against winning teams.  For the season, that average is .294 (55 for 187) with 7 home runs.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter did walk twice and score a run, but was also 0 for 2.  His has been one of the missing bats in the recent 15-game tumble.  Matt is hitting .163 (8 for 49) with 15 strikeouts – a slump moderated somewhat by his 8 walks and a hit-by-pitch.  For the month of August, Matt’s on base percentage still sits at .376 while his average fades to .200.

Paul DeJong

Among the day’s disappointments was the snapping of Paul DeJong’s six game hitting streak.  He had hit .346 (9 for 26) before yesterday’s 0-for-4.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong came into Milwaukee riding a ten-game hitting streak.  He was 0-for-9 over the two games.  In the season’s first half, Kolten hit .300 (27 for 90) with a .385 on base percentage in games against winning teams.  Since the break, though, Wong has been scuffling at .220 (13 for 59) when playing against higher caliber opponents.

Luke Voit

Luke Voit finished the day 0 for 4 with 3 strikeouts.  Overall, the second half of the season hasn’t been as kind to the rookie as the first half.  He is now hitting .203 (12 for 59) since the break.  Of course, yesterday was only his ninth start of the second half.

St Louis’ final 30 games will only include 10 against teams with winning records.  They have 7 more with the Cubs and the final 3 at home against Milwaukee.  On paper that sounds promising, but the Cardinals have done quite a lot of losing to teams below .500.  Most of the recent 5-10 slide has been against losing teams.

Left on the schedule other than the Cubs (against whom the Cards are 4-8 this season) and the Brewers (7-9) are San Francisco (1-2), San Diego (1-2), Pittsburgh (7-6) and Cincinnati (5-8).

If the organization’s recent moves are an indication, they will be coming down the stretch with a significantly younger team.

NoteBook

The Milwaukee series was the Cardinal’s twenty-first road series of the year, and yesterday’s game provided them their fifth opportunity to sweep a road series.  The Brewers became only the second of those teams to avoid the sweep.  Philadelphia was the other team, when they salvaged the last game of their season series against St Louis on June 22.  Martinez was the losing pitcher that afternoon as well.

It doesn’t make any difference – and is really only an observation – but the powerful Milwaukee team hit three home runs during the two days we spent there.  I’m pretty sure none of the three get out of Busch.

Re-Assessing Milwaukee

Earlier this year, I speculated as to whether Milwaukee could be a winning team in 2017.  There is still September to go, but 132 games into their season, they are holding on to a 68-64 record – even after they got pushed around a little bit last night by the Cards (box score of the 10-2 win).

As I have watched them this year – and even conceding that they have played well against the Cardinals – I am less impressed with them than I was earlier this year.  Granted, that last night was not their sharpest game.  Even so, my late season perception of them is a team that plays mediocre on defense and all their hitters are sort of the same kind.  They will hit their home runs – especially in their band-box home park – but don’t do much else offensively.  It seems they all hit in the .240 – .270 range and don’t walk a whole lot.  Their team batting line isn’t astonishing at .249/.320/.434 (the major league average is .255/.325/.427). Meanwhile, no team in baseball strikes out like the Brewers.  At 1299 whiffs already this season, they are 16 ahead of second place Tampa Bay, and 75 ahead of third-place Oakland.

Their big improvement this year has been the pitching.  If the pitching stays strong, they have a chance to break .500.

As to the Cardinals, with the way the offense has surged in the second half, they don’t need a whole lot of help.  If your defense is going to give them a handful of outs plus 9 walks from the pitching staff, then St Louis is likely to put up double-figure runs on your team.  With last night’s runs, the Cards are scoring 5.85 runs per game this month, and 5.09 runs since the All-Star Break.

Tommy Pham

The Summer of Pham is still lingering.  Tommy Pham was in the middle of much of the offense last night, with a single, a double and two walks.  His August batting average rises to .283 (26 for 92), while his on base percentage rises to .416 (19 walks and two hit-by-pitches).  Since the break, Tommy is hitting .312 (45 for 154) with a .422 on base percentage (28 walks).

Paul DeJong

Rookie shortstop Paul DeJong continues his flirtation with the .300 mark.  He sits at .299 after his 2-for-5 game.  He now has a six-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .346 (9 for 26). He is up to .321 for the month of August (35 for 109) and .290 for the second half (51 for 176) with 11 home runs.

Luke Voit

Welcome back Luke Voit, who chipped in with 2 hits and 4 runs batted in.  He has been back and forth to Memphis, and when he’s been up, playing time has been scarce.  Luke has played just 17 major league games this month, making only 3 starts.  Still, he’s contributed a .310 average (9 for 29) and 8 runs batted in.

Kolten Wong

Amidst all of the offensive fireworks from last night, one down note was the ending of Kolten Wong’s 10-game hitting streak.  He had hit .390 (16 for 41) and slugged .610 (3 doubles and 2 home runs) during the streak.  He scored 7 runs and drove in 8.

Randal Grichuk

Not too long ago, Randal Grichuk was riding the wave of three-straight, two-hit games.  In the 7 games since the last of those, Randal is just 2 for 22 (.091).  He is back down to .247 for the month (21 for 85), and .237 for the year.  Right field is open for whoever wants to hit his way into the position.

Luke Weaver

In the frequently pitching-challenged month of August, Luke Weaver has been a breath of life.  He has now made 4 appearances in August (3 starts) with a 3-0 record, a 1.71 ERA, and a .218 batting average against.  Apparently management is convinced.  One would suppose that Luke’s success gave them the confidence to send Mike Leake to Seattle.

Looking at Lineups after 130 Games

With 32 games left, the St Louis Cardinals begin a potentially defining ten-game road trip against three teams that they are a combined 8-12 against so far this season.  With the season turning toward its finish, let’s see what insights we can glean from the varied Cardinal lineups.

What is a fourth outfielder to do?  Jose Martinez has started only 11 of the 25 games so far in August.  The Cards are 7-4 in his starts, scoring 6.45 runs per game when he starts.  They are 6-8, scoring 5.07 runs per game when he doesn’t.  Since the All-Star Break, Jose has been in the lineup only 13 times.  St Louis is 9-4 in those games (.692), scoring 6.00 runs per game.  They are 13-16 (.448) scoring 4.52 runs when he is on the bench.  For the season, the scorecard reads 22-18 (.550) in his 40 starts, and 43-47 (.478) when he sits.

I am hesitant to make this seem like Martinez should be moved into a starting role.  There is a strong possibility that playing him everyday would diminish his impact.  But – as the Cards are struggling to find someone to produce in right field – maybe Martinez should get mixed in a little more frequently.

Speaking of which, Stephen Piscotty has started 10 games this month.  That hasn’t worked out all that well.  St Louis is 3-7 this month with Piscotty in the lineup, scoring a total of 33 runs in those games.  St Louis is 10-5 this month, scoring 7.27 runs per game when Piscotty doesn’t start.  For the season, Stephen has made 72 of the 130 starts.  The team is 31-41 (.431) when he starts, scoring 4.28 runs per game.  When he hasn’t started, they are 34-24 (.586) averaging 5.22 runs per game.

I hope that Stephen’s future with the organization isn’t defined by this year.  Piscotty is suffering through a lost season for lots of reasons.  It happens.  But I do believe that he will rise again.

That being said, I do wonder how long they can afford to keep running him out there this year.  It’s not outside of the realm of possibility that he could catch fire for the last 32 games of the season.  At this point, though, I would be strongly tempted to play Martinez and Randal Grichuk in right and seeing if one of them catches fire.

Yadier Molina has been in the lineup for 22 of the 25 games in August.  The team record in those games is 13-9 (.591), scoring 6.05 runs per game.  Carson Kelly has started the other three games, with the team going 0-3 and scoring just 9 runs in those games.  In the 42 games since the All-Star Break, Yadi has been behind the plate for 36 of them.  When he starts, the Cards are 21-15 (.583), scoring 5.19 runs per game.  Without him, they have been 1-5, scoring a total of just 22 runs in those six games.  In his 15 starts this year, Eric Fryer – even though he hit next to nothing – still led the team to a 9-6 record.

The Cardinal playoff push will surely falter if St Louis can’t figure out how to win some games when Yadi takes a day.  The same pattern played out last year.  They did pretty well with Fryer at backup, but once they released him they were never able to win with Pena or Rosario.

No player on the team who has started at least 10 games is as associated with victory as pitcher Adam Wainwright.  He made 23 starts before landing on the disabled list.  St Louis was 15-8 (.652) in those games.  The results have had more to do, however, with the offense than Adam’s up-and-down pitching.  When Waino starts, the team scores 5.61 runs per game.

Luke Voit, as you know, has been recalled to take Jedd Gyorko’s spot.  The thought is that he’ll play some first base with Matt Carpenter shifting to third.  Luke has only made 16 starts this year, but the Cards are 10-6 (.625) in those games.

On the other hand, Greg Garcia made the start at third on Sunday, and got three hits.  Greg has started 42 games this year, leading the team to a 24-18 record (.571).

Dexter Fowler’s August has been very encouraging – but more so when a right-hander starts.  St Louis has faced 20 right-handers so far this month.  Dexter has been in the lineup against 13 of them.  The Cards are 8-5 in those games, scoring 6.46 runs per game.  When he doesn’t start against the right-hander, St Louis is just 2-5, scoring a total of 29 runs.  Since the All-Star Break, St Louis is 13-9 (.591) scoring 5.82 runs per game when Dexter starts against right-handers.  When the Cards have faced right-handers without Fowler in the lineup, they are just 5-7, averaging 3.83 runs per game.

Gyorko, of course, will be missed.  Especially against lefthanders.  St Louis has only faced 29 left-handed starters this year.  Jedd has been in the lineup against 27 of them, leading the team to a 16-11 record (.593).  The Cards lost both of the games that Gyorko missed, scoring a total of just 3 runs in those games.

St Louis is also 13-9 (.591) scoring 4.95 runs per game when Tommy Pham starts against lefties.  When lefties have faced the Cards without Pham in the lineup, St Louis is just 3-4, scoring a total of 26 runs.

Earlier we mentioned the Cardinal’s success against right-handers when Dexter Fowler was in the lineup.  That success hasn’t really translated to lefties.  When Fowler is in the lineup against a lefty, St Louis is just 8-13 (.381), scoring just 3.81 runs per game.  They are 8-0 against lefties, scoring 6.88 runs per game without Fowler in the lineup.

Lineup Breakout by Batting Order

Leadoff

After a failed trial batting third, Matt Carpenter is back, firmly ensconced as the leadoff hitter.  Carpenter has hit leadoff 21 times in the 25 games St Louis has played this month.  The Cards are scoring 6.05 runs per game this month with Carp leading off, although the record is only 11-10 (.524).

Carpenter has now been at leadoff for 67 games this year.  The Cards have scored 5.25 runs per game when he leads off, and just 4.11 with someone else hitting there, although the records don’t show a great deal of difference.  St Louis is 34-33 with Carp leading off, and 31-32 without him there. Dexter Fowler hit there for 49 games earlier in the season while he was battling through health issues – which may have contributed to the team’s 19-30 record in those games (.388) and 3.71 runs scored.  St Louis is 9-2 scoring 5.73 runs per game in the 11 times that Kolten Wong has led off.

Second

As Carpenter has settled into the leadoff spot, Tommy Pham has settled in at number two.  He has been there for 22 of the 25 August games, with results similar to Carpenter’s.  The offense has scored runs (5.82 per game), but the record is just 12-10.

For the season, St Louis is just 28-35 (.444) when Pham bats second.  Tommy is one of 9 players who have hit second this year, and one of 3 that have hit in that spot more than 10 times.  Neither of the other two have done notably better: 10-13 (.435) with Aledmys Diaz, and 7-6 with Fowler.  Of the player who have hit there fewer than 10 times, Grichuk is an intriguing option.  The team is 7-0, scoring 48 runs when he bats second.

Third

Rookie Paul DeJong has owned the third spot all month.  His success follows the trend of Carpenter and Pham.  Considerable run scoring (5.88 per game), not so many wins (13-11, .542).  Carpenter batted third the one game that DeJong missed.  The Cards scored 1 run and lost.

Stretch back to the All-Star Break, and DeJong’s impact in the three-hole becomes a little more evident.  Fowler began the second half there, but in his 10 starts, St Louis was 4-6.  DeJong has now made 31 second-half starts batting third, leading the Cards to an 18-13 record (.581) and 5.39 runs per game.

For the season, Carpenter has still made the most starts batting third.  Not surprisingly, the team record with him hitting there was an uninspiring 21-24 (.467).  Piscotty has also hit there 32 times, with a corresponding record of 15-17 (.469) – although the team did score 4.97 runs per game when he hit there.

Cleanup

Cleanup is still a sore spot.  Mostly this month, this is where Fowler has hit (14 of the 25 games).  The team is 7-7 with him there, scoring 5.79 runs per game; and 6-5 without him there, scoring 5.55 runs per game.  Gyorko began the season’s second half as the cleanup hitter, but his extended slump forced him out of this lineup spot.  During his 19-game tenure, St Louis was 10-9 (.526), scoring 4.11 runs per game.  Still none of the players who have hit there have had a notable impact.

For the season, Gyorko has started 80 of the 130 games at cleanup on the strength of his strong first half.  St Louis is 42-38 (.525) with Jedd hitting cleanup.  Perhaps the best answer would be for Gyorko to get hot again and take ownership of this spot.  Gyorko, of course, will be missing a few weeks as he recovers from his hamstring strain.

Fifth

The top five slots in the order have been very stable this month.  Yadi has hit fifth in 22 of the 25 games.  His impact, though, is a little more visible than the players in the first four spots.  This month, the Cards are 13-9 (.591), scoring 6.05 runs per game when Yadi is hitting fifth.  They are 0-3 with a total of 9 runs scored with someone else there.

Over the course of the whole season, though, his impact is less clear.  Yadi has hit fifth 93 times already this season – making this the most stable batting order spot on the team.  St Louis is 47-46 (.505) when Yadi hits fifth, and 18-19 (.486) when someone else is there – although the run scoring is noticeably higher when Molina hits in this spot (4.89 to 4.22).

Sixth

After the first five spots, things are much less settled.  Five different players have hit sixth for the Cards this month, alone.  Jedd Gyorko has had the most opportunities – he has hit here 12 times.  The team is 6-6 in those games, scoring 5.92 runs per game.  They are 7-6 in the other games, scoring 5.46 runs per game.

Kolten Wong has made a few cameos in this lineup spot, but the team response has been indifferent.  They are 2-4 in his six starts there this month, and 4-7 since the break with Wong batting sixth.

For the season, 15 different players have hit sixth for this team, 7 of them for at least 10 games.  All of them fall into about the same range of performance.  Aledmys Diaz has still been there the most, although he has hit sixth in just 25 of the 130 games the team has played.  His results have been typical of the group – 12-13 (.480) scoring 5.28 runs per game.

Seventh

Similarly, six different batters have hit seventh for the team this month, all of them hovering around the .500 mark that the team seems unable to shake.  Of the six, Kolten Wong leads the group with 10 starts batting seventh – yes, the team is 5-5 in those games, although with 62 runs scored.

Wong is also the leader here since the All-Star Break, although he’s done that with only 16 starts.  Still the team is 9-7 in those games, scoring 5.56 runs per game.  With anyone else there, the Cards are 13-13 this month, scoring 4.62 runs per game.

For the season, 16 different players have hit in this spot.  Wong hasn’t been there the most, but he’s been the best.  In his 22 games batting seventh, the team is 15-7 (.682), scoring 5.59 runs per game.  Only two others have started more than 10 games hitting seventh.  This was Grichuk’s spot for 35 games (14-21, .400) and DeJong’s for 22 games (8-14, .364, 3.73 runs per game).

Eighth

There have also been 6 batters who have hit eighth this month.  Although he is not considered a starter, Greg Garcia leads all players with starts this month hitting eighth with 10.  Those ten games show remarkable symmetry.  The team is 5-5 scoring 55 runs in those games.  Everyone else has combined to go 8-7 scoring 5.80 runs per game.

Just since the All-Star Break, the Cards have tried 10 different players batting eighth.  Garcia has 12 of the 42 starts (6-6).  This is also where Grichuk has done most of his second-half hitting.  In the 11 second half games that Randal has hit eighth, the Cards are 7-4, scoring 5.82 runs per game.

The season-long tally in this spot is 14 different players, 6 of which have been there for at least 10 games.  Wong still leads the pack, here, with just 32 unremarkable starts (14-18, .438).  Of the others, Garcia has the team 12-11 (.522) in his 23 starts; the team is only 9-9 for the season when Grichuk hits eighth; they were 8-6 when Eric Fryer hit here, and 5-5 for DeJong.

Of special note on this list is rookie Magneuris Sierra.  St Louis was 7-3 in his ten starts batting eighth, scoring 5.10 runs per game (and remember that Sierra did all of his playing before offensive explosion of earlier this month).

First Out Proves Illusive Against Tampa Bay

There was no one out when Logan Morrison came to the plate in a scoreless tie in the fourth inning.  There was still no one out when Morrison turned on Lance Lynn’s first pitch of the inning and crept it over the right-center field wall.

Likewise, there was no one out when Brad Miller led off the seventh.  It was still a 1-0 game at that point.  There was still no one out three pitches later when Miller lofted a fly ball just over the center field wall.

Those were the highlights, but Lynn also gave up no-out hits to Kevin Kiermaier in the first, Corey Dickerson in the second, and pitcher Chris Archer in the third.  In all, Tampa Bay was 5 for 12 (.417) with the two home runs (.917 slugging percentage) against Lance while there was no one out in the inning.  After Lance managed to secure that first out, the succeeding batters to face him were just 1 for 13.

This has become a curious pattern lately.  As a 2-6 streak has pushed the Cards down into the middle of their division, the pitching staff – among other shortcomings – has had inexplicable difficulties getting that first out of an inning.  Over these last 8 games, batters hitting with no one out are a surprising 41 for 108 (.380) with 5 home runs and a .583 slugging percentage.  Once the first out is finally recorded, the subsequent batters in the inning are hitting .210 (37 for 176).  For the month, now, batters facing the Cardinals with no one out are hitting .309 (95 for 307).

The Rays finished up their series in St Louis hitting 3 home runs in back-to-back games.  Cardinal pitchers have now served up 14 home runs over the last 8 games.

Lance Lynn

Lance gave up the home runs – his twenty-third and twenty-fourth of the year – but, once again, pitched a fine game.  The home runs were the only runs allowed in his 7 innings, during which he allowed just 6 hits and struck out 8.  For Lynn, it was his fourth quality start in his 5 August games.  His ERA this month lowers to 2.90, but his record is only 1-0 as his offense has failed to score more than 4 runs in any of his starts, and his bullpen served up the lead in one of the games that he did get four runs.

Lance has made 9 starts in the season’s second half, giving us 8 quality starts, a 3-0 record and a 2.28 ERA.

Seung-hwan Oh

One thing is clear.  Manager Mike Matheny no longer trusts one-time closer Seung-hwan Oh to face left-handed batters.  After seven strong innings from Lance Lynn, Oh went to the mound to begin the eighth.  He threw 6 pitches to the two right-handed batters that opened the inning – Steven Souza who singled (another no-out hit), and Evan Longoria who flew to left.  He then surrendered the mound when lefty Morrison came up.

What is less clear is where Oh fits into the bullpen picture.  This was only his second game in the last 8.  Since he was removed from the closer’s role, Seung-hwan hasn’t really been dominant (allowing a .302 batting average), but he has been solid with a 2.77 ERA (albeit in just 13 innings).

Oh right now is one of those puzzle pieces that doesn’t yet seem to have a fit.

The no-out hit against Oh was not an isolated incident.  Since the All-Star Break, batters are hitting .350 against him (14 for 40) with less than two outs.  Over the course of the season, batters are hitting .320 (49 for 153) against Seung-hwan when there are less than two outs.  Once Oh gets that second out, however, the batting average against him drops to .212 (14 for 66).

John Brebbia

John Brebbia bent but didn’t break.  Two walks and a hit batter complicated his four-out stint, but he kept Tampa Bay off the scoreboard.  In 19.2 innings in the season’s second half, John carries a 2.29 ERA.  He has occasional stumbles, but has been much more good than bad.

Sam Tuivailala

Blinking last was Cardinal reliever Sam Tuivailala.  He served up Morrison’s second home run in the tenth inning, enduring the 3-2 loss (box score).  Even with the home run and the loss, Sam’s ERA is a solid 2.87.  However, pitching in 3 of the last 4 games, Sam has served up the winning runs in two of them.  In 10.1 August innings, his ERA slides to 4.35 with 2 home runs allowed.

Offense Slowing Down

St Louis finished the game with 9 more hits, but only 2 runs.  After a torrid offensive stretch earlier in the month, the Cards are starting to struggle to convert their hits into runs.  Over the recent eight –game fade, the Cards are still hitting a very respectable .261.  But they have scored just 31 runs (3.88 per game).

Greg Garcia

The recent injury to Jedd Gyorko has provided opportunity for super utility player Greg Garcia.  His three hits last night provided the Cardinals’ only consistent offensive presence.  Garcia is a player who can get and stay hot for a while.  Over his last 8 games, Greg is 8 for 19 (.421).  He is hitting .333 this month (14 for 42) with a .451 on base percentage.  Greg is also at .333 (19 for 57) since the All-Star Break.

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty didn’t advance his case for more playing time last night, his 0-for-4 including 3 strikeouts.  Stephen returned from his sojourn in Memphis with 4 hits in his first two games back.  In five games since then, Piscotty has managed 2 singles in 15 at bats (.133).  He drops to .231 (9 for 39) for the month.  In the season’s second half, Stephen carries a .209 batting average (9 for 43) with just 1 run batted in.

NoteBook

St Louis has now lost 5 of its last 6 rubber games.  For the season, they are now 4-5 in rubber games played at Busch.

Battling Rays Too Much for Wacha

The runs – when they came against Michael Wacha – came in the third (4) and fourth (1) innings.  But the game may have turned with the first batter to face Wacha in the second inning.  Wacha allowed a single and a walk in the first – so he wasn’t dialed in even from the beginning of the game.  But he got out of that inning making just 17 pitches – not so bad.  When St Louis scored in the bottom of the first, Wacha took a 1-0 lead to the mound in the second.

There to meet him was Corey Dickerson with his .286 batting average and 24 home runs.  Not a hitter to be taken lightly.  Through the 11-pitch battle that ensued, Wacha threw everything but the kitchen sink at Dickerson.  Corey fouled off six of the eleven pitches, finally drilling the last one into right field for a single.  A subsequent single by Adeiny Hechavarria turned it into an early scoring chance.  Wacha escaped without damage, but the inning cost him 25 pitches, and, perhaps, softened him up for the four-run third inning that would follow.

The last five batters he would face last night – the last 3 of the third and the first two of the fourth – would extend their at bats to 6,5,6,7 and 10 pitches respectively.  For the game, 10 of the 21 batters to face Wacha lasted at least 5 pitches, with 8 of them making it to 6 pitches and 4 of those lasting 7 or more.  By the time Wacha’s night ended, the Tampa Bay hitters had fouled off 25 of his 94 pitches.

After falling behind early, the Cards made faint attempts at a comeback.  These all fell short as the Cardinals lost again, 7-3 (box score), their eighth loss in 11 games since their 8-game winning streak.

The 7-run, 16-hit battering at the hands of the Rays pushes the reeling Cardinal pitching staff’s ERA to a disastrous 6.08 over their last 15 games (6.03 from the starters and 6.17 from the bullpen), and the team batting average against to .313 (.330 against the starters).  For the 23 games in August, the team ERA sits at a disheartening 5.02.

Michael Wacha

After being an inspirational figure for much of the season, Wacha has hit the skids recently.  He has totaled 7.1 innings over his last 2 starts, and has managed just 12.1 innings while serving up 14 runs (and 4 home runs) over his last three starts.  Wacha is 0-3 with a 10.22 ERA, a .414 batting average against, and a .690 slugging average against in those games.  His ERA for the month has soared to 7.25.

Throughout his last three starts, Wacha has been hanging pitches early in the at bat.  The batters last night who jumped on his first or second pitch went 3 for 5 including Steven Souza’s moon-shot home run, and Hechavarria’s two-run double.  Over the three starts, batters hitting the first or second pitch are 11 for 19 (.579) with 2 doubles and 3 home runs (a 1.158 slugging percentage) against Michael.

Brett Cecil

The bottom of the ninth inning was robbed of much of its potential drama when Tampa Bay punched across two runs against Brett Cecil in the top of that inning.  To this point, what has been a frustrating season for Cecil just keeps getting worse.

Brett has now pitched in 9 of the last 15 games, serving up 9 runs in his last 7 innings.  His ERA for the month of August sits at 7.50, and since the All-Star Break, Brett has pitched 18 innings in 19 games with a 6.50 ERA.

Yadier Molina

As the Cardinal offense went quietly away for one of the few nights this month, Yadier Molina’s 7-game hitting streak went with it.  Before his 0-for-3 last night, Molina had hit .393 (11 for 28) with a .643 slugging percentage (4 doubles and a home run) during his streak.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko finished the evening 0 for 4.  His average falls to .217 for the month and .202 for the second half.  In fairness, Jedd has been hitting better of late – he had hit safely in the four previous games – as his knee improves.  A strong finish from Gyorko is not out of the question.

Cardinals “Almost” Get Past San Diego

When you are the snake bit team, all the inches go against you.  In the aftermath of last night’s 4-3 loss to San Diego (box score), I found myself reflecting on how easily the Cardinals could have shut out the Padres.

The Padres were set up for a big inning in the sixth, loading the bases with no one out.  But after Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez popped up Yangervis Solarte, Cory Spangenberg bounced an easy double play grounder right back to Martinez.  With the end of the inning in front of him, Carlos lobbed the throw over the head of Yadier Molina.  The throwing error tied the game at one. A second run would score before the inning ended, when Carlos was almost out of the inning.

Then came the ninth.  Game tied at 2, Sam Tuivailala in to try to get the tie into the bottom of the ninth.  Jabari Blash looped a soft liner toward right-center where second baseman Kolten Wong almost caught it, the ball eluding his glove by inches.

After a hit by Manuel Margot put runners at second and third with no one out, Carlos Asuaje slashed a grounder to the drawn-in first baseman Jedd Gyorko.  Even though Gyorko has spent most of the season at third base, he was almost able to corral the ball and make a play at the plate.  That infield hit drove in the go-ahead run.

The insurance run later scored on a sacrifice fly to right, with Margot just barely beating Randal Grichuk’s throw.

Toss in scoring opportunities missed in five different innings, and four double plays grounded into, and you get the picture.

Yes, that’s baseball.  It happens to everyone from time to time.  But it also speaks to character.

The Padres left town just 57-70 on the season.  But they took two out of three here because they were mentally tougher than the home standing Cardinals.  Five game ago, the Cards outlasted Pittsburgh 11-10.  That win gave them 13 wins in 16 games, pushed their overall record to 63-59, and pulled them to within 1.5 games of the first-place Cubs.  It was just enough of a surge to spark excitement – to allow the fan base to hope that the pieces of the season might finally be coming together.

Since then, they have lost 4 of 5.  Yes, there have been injuries.  But some of the most successful Cardinal teams of the recent past took great pride in overcoming injuries.  They had a toughness that has only been seen in glimpses in this team.

One still encouraging trend is the offense.  Even though held to only 3 runs, the offense still slapped out 12 hits.  Across all of baseball, their .292 team batting average for August ranks second behind Baltimore’s .293.  Their .380 team on base percentage this month is first by 14 points over Texas and Cincinnati – who are next at .366.  Their .489 slugging percentage is second, again, to Baltimore’s .524.  They lead all of baseball this month in OPS.  At .869 they are 8 points better than Baltimore (.861).

Even on evenings when they don’t score many runs (like last night), they still almost always hit.

Paul Dejong

Three more hits from rookie shortstop Paul DeJong brings him to .330 for the month of August (30 for 91), and pushes him back over .300 for the year (he is now at .301). His double was his fifth of the month, to go with 6 home runs and 16 runs batted in.  Paul is slugging .582 thus far in August (and .573 for the season).  In 38 games since the All-Star Break, DeJong is 46 for 158, with 8 doubles, 11 home runs, and 28 runs batted in.  He is hitting .291 and slugging .551 in the season’s second half.

In the eighth inning, Paul cuffed Craig Stammen’s 2-0 fastball into left for a hit.  It was the only time all night that Paul was able to put the first strike thrown him into play.  When Paul hits the first strike, he is a .440 hitter (22 for 50).

Dexter Fowler

The Cardinal losing streak has come in spite of the best efforts of Dexter Fowler.  He is 5 for 14 (.357) over the last five games after getting three more hits last night.  Dexter continues his serious tear since his return from the disabled list.  In 63 plate appearances over 15 games, Fowler has 9 singles, 8 doubles, 2 triples, 1 home run, 13 runs scored, 13 runs batted in, 13 walks, 1 sacrifice fly, and has been hit by 1 pitch.  It all adds up to a batting line of .417/.540/.729.  He has pushed his second-half average up to .318 (28 for 88) and his on base percentage to .445.

Dexter’s night featured a fourth-inning double on a 3-2 pitch, and an eighth-inning single on a 2-2 pitch.  Two strike hitting is suddenly a proficiency for Dexter.  Coming out of the All-Star Break, Fowler was 1 for his first 20 (.050) when hitting with two strikes on him.  He is now 7 for 21 (.333) in August when batting with two strikes.

Kolten Wong

Wong is another player who is doing everything he can to keep the Cardinals’ collective head above water.  Reaching back to July 30, Wong put together a 5-game hitting streak before going 0 for 2 on August 5.  So, on August 6, he began an 8-game hitting streak that ran till he went 0 for 4 on August 15.  So, on August 16, he began his most recent hitting streak, which has reached 7 games after Wong collected two more hits last night.

Kolten is now 8 for 22 (.364) over his last 5 games, 31 for 79 (.392) this month, and 42 for 126 (.333) since the All-Star Break.

One of the tip offs that Kolten is really dialed in is when he jumps on the first strike.  He was 1-for-2 last night hitting the first strike.  He is now 10 for 18 this month (.556) when he hits that first strike.  He is also hitting .448 in the second half (13 for 29) and .407 for the year (24 for 59) when he puts that first strike in play.

Tommy Pham

The summer of Pham has cooled off a bit recently.  Over the last five games, Tommy is just 1 for 14 (.071).  Pham, who had only grounded into 4 double plays in his entire career before this season, bounced into 3 last night alone.  He now has grounded into 16 for the season.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos made the big error that probably cost him the game, but otherwise threw another excellent game.  He went seven innings allowing just the two runs (only 1 earned).  Martinez has now put together 4 consecutive quality starts, during which he has thrown 28 innings with a 2.89 ERA and a 3-0 record.

Batters who hit the first strike from Martinez were only 1 for 8 last night.  Over the month of August, batters who hit Martinez’ first strike are only 8 for 33 (.242).  Across all of baseball, batters hitting the first strike thrown them are hitting .347/.408/.609.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons bent, but didn’t break in last night’s eighth inning.  He walked 2 and hit another, but wriggled out of trouble, keeping his scoreless streak alive at 17 games and 15.2 innings.  His season’s ERA is now down to 2.63.

I’m not exactly sure how he does it, but Tyler has the most uncanny ability to get batters into two-strike counts and then finish them off with that deceptive slider.

Across all of baseball, batters end up in two-strike counts about half the time.  From there, they end up hitting .177 and striking out about 40% of the time.

Last night, 4 of the 6 batters that Lyons faced ended up in two-strike counts.  They went 0 for 3 with a walk and a strikeout.  Since the All-Star Break, 36 of the 53 batters that Lyons has faced have ended up in two-strike counts (67.9%).  They are 1 for 31 (.032) with 20 strikeouts.  In the season’s second half, 55.6% of batters that see strike two from Tyler Lyons end up getting strike three as well.

NoteBook

St Louis has now lost 4 of its last 5 rubber games.  For the season, they are 6-10 in rubber games.

Back on Tuesday, St Louis lost the opening game of a series for the twenty-third time in 41 series.  They are now 6-15-2 in series when they lose the first game.

Jedd Gyorko’s double accounted for his sixty-fourth run batted in of the season – a new career high.  He drove in 63 in his rookie year of 2013.  Even though he hit 30 home runs last year, he managed just 59 runs batted in.

Patient Cardinals Grind Past Padres

Even before he hurt his hand in the fifth inning, the Cardinals came to the plate last night waiting to see if San Diego starter Jhoulys Chacin would get himself into trouble.  Jhoulys faced 27 batters before giving up the ball with two out in the fifth.  Twenty-one of the 27 took Chacin’s first pitch, and 17 of those didn’t swing until they had taken a strike.

Of the 21 batters that took Jhoulys’ first pitch, 11 ended up reaching base (5 hits, 4 hit batsmen & 2 walks – a .524 on-base percentage).  Only 3 of them ended up scoring, as the Cardinals failed to fully exploit their opportunities against Chacin.

Still, the aroused St Louis finished the game with 6 runs on 9 hits, 6 walks, and a team-record 5 hit batsmen in a 6-2 conquest (box score).  Their combined on base percentage for the game was .488.

Over their last 16 games, the Cardinals are averaging 7.13 runs per game and are hitting .309 with 67 walks and 15 hit batsmen.  This streak has pushed their August averages to 6.10 runs per game and a .290/.380/.487 batting line.  They are scoring 5.13 runs per game since the All-Star Break.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong celebrated his five-hundredth major league game with 3 hits, 3 runs scored and 2 stolen bases.  Kolten has been one of the principle drivers of this offense.  He has now hit in six straight, hitting .423 in those games (11 for 26).  Playing in 15 of the Cardinal’s last 16 games, Wong carries a .411 batting average (23 for 56), scoring 15 runs and driving in 13 in those games.  Wong is now hitting .392 (29 for 74) for the month of August, and .331 (40 for 121) in the season’s second half with a .399 on base percentage (although it has now been 10 games since Kolten’s last walk).

Last night, in five plate appearances, Kolten took the first pitch 3 times – finishing those at bats with a single and a double.  Since the All-Star Break, Kolten is hitting .447 (21 for 47) when he takes the first pitch of an at bat.

Jedd Gyorko

When Jedd Gyorko is looking good at the plate – and he has 5 hits and 6 runs batted in over his last 3 games – he is much more comfortable taking those first pitch breaking balls and waiting for that fastball later in the at bat.  That happened on both of his hits last night.  Over his last 49 plate appearances, Jedd has taken the first pitch 31 times with these results: 5 singles, 1 double, 2 home runs, 8 runs batted in, and 6 walks.  That adds up to a batting line of .320/.452/.600.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler reached twice with one of the hit by pitches and an intentional walk.  But, with his 0 for 2, his six-game hitting streak ends.  Dexter hit .409/.480/.636 during the streak.

Luke Weaver

With the Cardinal pitching staff riding a 12-game streak of allowing at least five runs a game, rookie starter Luke Weaver stood in the breach with seven dominating innings against the offense that scorched his team for 12 runs the night before.

Luke established his fastball early in the count, showing little concern with challenging the Padres.  Only 6 of the 26 batters he faced took him up on the challenge by swinging at his first-pitch fastball.  They went 0-5 with a walk, even though 4 of the 6 put that first pitch in play.  The last 14 batters to offer at Luke’s first pitch – almost always a fastball – are 0 for 12 with a walk and a sacrifice bunt.

For the season, batters who hit the first pitch against Weaver are just 1 for 9 (Arizona’s David Peralta dribbled an infield hit to second base).  Across all of baseball, batters who hit the first pitch of an at bat are hitting .346 and slugging .584.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh relieved in the eighth and lasted just two batters.  It was a microcosm of his recent struggles – equal parts bad luck and bad pitching.  Both batters reached, Matt Szczur – completely fooled by a slider – bounced a single up the middle off an excuse me swing.  Manuel Margot got a fastball up and out over the plate that he laced into right-center for a triple.

Things aren’t getting better for Oh.  He has pitched in 16 games (13 innings) in the season’s second half with a 4.85 ERA and a .315 batting average against.  I find the thought of him back in the closers role a bit concerning.

Tyler Lyons

On the heels of Oh’s struggles, Tyler Lyons entered and stranded the runner at third.  He struck out two of the batters he faced and got the other to pop out.

It seems the rest of the world is beginning to notice what I have been pointing out for some time now.  Tyler Lyons is becoming one of the most effective relief pitchers in baseball.  He is now unscored on over his last 16 games (14.2 innings).  The last 50 batters to face him have 3 hits, 4 walks, 2 hit batters and one sacrifice fly – a .070/.180/.116 batting line.

Tyler has struck out 11 of the last 25 batters that have faced him.

The idea of Tyler as the closer is, I admit, intriguing.  He doesn’t fit the profile, per se.  But no one is hitting him.

NoteBook

Wong and Tommy Pham began the game with doubles.  St Louis sent 42 batters to the plate last night. These were their only two extra base hits.

First-Pitch Command Eludes Lynn, Cardinals

Riding a streak of eight consecutive quality starts, Lance Lynn was in a battle from the very beginning last night.  With his four-seamer lacking its usual zip (he averaged only 92.5 mph on 26 four-seam fastballs, according to Brooks Baseball), and without his usual command of his bread and butter sinker, Lance found himself in lots of trouble.

To his credit, he almost wriggled his way out of all of it.  But, in the third inning, after hitting two batters with that misbehaving sinker, he faced Yangervis Solarte with the bases loaded and only one out.

Solarte saw four sinkers – the first three sailing wide of the plate to the left-handed batter.  Lance tried to bring the fourth back into the strike zone and left it spinning too much over the middle.  Beginning a career night, Solarte drilled it into the right-centerfield gap to drive in the first 3 runs of the game.

Lance would battle through six, allowing four runs.  Solarte would go on to hit two more extra-base hits to finish with 6 runs batted in, as San Diego pulled away late against the shaky Cardinal bullpen in a 12-4 win (box score).

Of the 27 batters that Lynn faced, only 14 saw first-pitch strikes.  Those batters finished only 2 for 12 (.167) with a hit batter and a sacrifice bunt.  But the 13 that got ahead of him 1-0 were 4 for 11 (.364) with a walk and another hit batter.

This has become a re-curing theme with the Cardinal pitching staff.  For the month of August, opposing batters are hitting .335/.437/.543 when a Cardinal pitcher misses with that first pitch.  Opposing hitters are hitting .312 since the All-Star Break against St Louis when their at bat begins with ball one.

And, of course, this effort runs to 12 the string of consecutive games in which the Cardinal pitching staff has allowed at least 5 runs.  In this century (as noted here) only the 2003 edition of the Cardinals had a comparable streak – eventually going 13 games before holding an opponent to less than 5 runs.

Over the last 12 games, the team ERA sits at a disturbing 6.62, nearly evenly distributed between the starters (6.86) and relievers (6.29).  The last 484 batters to face the Cards are hitting .319.  The streak pushes the team ERA for the month of August to 5.18.  Troubling indeed.

During this streak, 197 opposing batters saw first-pitch balls.  They have gone on to hit .374/.477/.620.

Lance Lynn

Of all of the recent disappointment with the pitching staff, Lance doesn’t fall in line for any of the blame.  Last night wasn’t his sharpest performance, but in his eight previous games he had gone 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA.

Lance’s success has come in spite of the fact that he doesn’t really have breaking pitches that he can rely on (98 of his 108 pitches last night were some flavor of fastball).  If he falls behind 1-0, he has to come back with a fastball that he may have to guide into the strike zone.  Since the All-Star Break, Lance has fallen behind 92 batters, who have gone on to hit .347/.457/.560.  He has gotten ahead of 107 other batters, who have finished .144/.192/.165 in those at bats.

Matthew Bowman

At the point of the season when the Cardinals most need heroes in the bullpen, Matthew Bowman is starting to take on water.  Scored on in three of his last four games, Matthew has given up 6 runs in his last 2 innings.

Zach Duke

Not to make excuses for him, but it’s possible that Zach Duke is getting too much rest.  From the moment when he last appeared on consecutive days (August 8 & 9), he had one day off, and then pitched again on August 11.  During those games, he retired 10 of 11 batters.

But then, Zach didn’t pitch again until August 16.  He faced 2 batters that night in Boston, striking out 1 and walking another – who came around to score after Zach had left.  Two nights later he faced one batter – who walked – and then he didn’t pitch again until last night.

Coming off last year’s Tommy John surgery, Duke didn’t get a spring training and had only a few rehab games.  Zach’s game is his slider.  But he needs to throw it to maintain command of it.

Yadier Molina

Add the name of Yadier Molina to the list of several Cardinal hitters who have been thriving at the plate of late.  Yadi walked, doubled and homered last night, pushing his baby hitting streak to 5 games.  During the five games, Yadi is hitting .450 (9 for 20) and slugging .800 (4 doubles and 1 home run).  Molina has scored 6 runs in those last 5 games.  Molina is hitting .333 this month (22 for 66) with 5 home runs and a .652 slugging percentage.  He is now hitting .311 in the season’s second half.

Stephen Piscotty

Another positive from the game were the at bats by Stephen Piscotty, who walked, singled and drilled a home run.  Stephen has returned from his Memphis exile with 4 hits in two games, raising his batting average for the month of August to .292 (7 for 24).

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter drew another walk last night – that makes 16 in the 19 games he’s played this month.  But he finished hitless again in 3 at bats.  His on base percentage for the month is still an excellent .384.  Nonetheless, he is only 13 for 66 (.197).  After briefly pushing his season’s average back over .250, Carpenter has now slid back to .245.

Tommy Pham

The Cards ended the day with 4 runs on the strength of 3 home runs – a better yield than one might expect.  Padre starter Clayton Richard kept the hot Cardinal hitters mostly frustrated all evening.  Of the 23 batters that faced him, 17 saw first-pitch strikes – 12 of them called strikes.  He seemed to be able to find the black of that outside corner all night.

In Tommy Pham’s third-inning at bat, Richard threaded the needle with his first pitch slider.  Then, after showing Pham the high fastball, he popped another fastball right on the black.  Down in the count 1-2, Tommy was then vulnerable to Richard’s slider dropping out of the zone on strike three.

This has been happening quite a bit to Pham recently.  As Tommy likes to take a lot of first pitches, he has been giving away command of a lot of at bats.  In 88 August plate appearances, Tommy has taken first-pitch balls 37 times.  He is hitting .360/.568/.680 in those plate appearances.  In the 51 plate appearances where he has been thrown first-pitch strikes, he is slashing just .234/.280/.255.

NoteBook

The three Cardinal relievers combined to face 18 batters.  Only 10 of them put the ball in play, as the relievers issued 3 walks and hit a batter, while striking out 4.  Of the 10 that put the ball in play, 8 hit ground balls and only 2 managed to get the ball in the air.  But 3 of the 8 ground balls found holes, and the only two fly balls they allowed both left the ballpark.

On consecutive Tuedays, St Louis faced the American League’s losingest pitcher (Rick Porcello) and one of the pitchers tied for the National League lead in losses (Clayton Richard).  The Cardinals lost both games.

Random Trends After 124 Games

Thirty-eight games left.  Here are a few random trends that have shaped the season.

First games of series have been a little hit and miss for this team, but whatever happens in the first game, the Cards are usually ready to go in game two.  They have won 6 of 7 game twos this month, and are 10-2 in those games since the break.  For the season, they are 25-15 (.625) in game two.  It is the only game in which they have a winning record so far this season.  Through the season’s first half they were 14-13 in game three, but have lost 7 of 9 third games since.  They are just 18-22 (.450) in opening games of series.  They are 4-4 in game four.

In 19 August games, the Cardinal offense has scored at least 5 runs in 10 of them (53%) – scoring at least 8 runs in 8 of them (42%).  This offensive largess, though, is a recent occurrence.  In the season’s second half, they have still scored fewer than four runs in 16 of their 36 contests (44%).

On a positive note, the Cards haven’t lost a game since the All-Star Break when they score at least five runs.  They lost 13 such games in the first half, including a 15-7 beating administered in Baltimore on June 17.

As pointed out yesterday, St Louis is riding an 11-game streak of allowing five or more runs per game.  That happened not at all in any of the first 8 games of the month, when the pitching staff allowed four runs only twice.  In the first 25 games since the All-Star Break, it only happened a total of 5 times.

Before Adam Wainwright went on the disabled list, the Cards had gone 3-0 this month in his starts.  They are 4-1 in the second half, and 15-8 (.652) this season in Waino’s starts – pretty significant for a team that is only 2 games over .500 for the year.  Since the break, they are also 5-2 when Carlos Martinez or Lance Lynn starts.

They are now just 2-6 in Mike Leake’s second half starts, and 10-15 (.400) for the season when he takes the hill.

Of the 8 August losses this team has suffered, they never led in 6 of them.  They have only lost twice in their last 13 games when they’ve had a lead at some point – last Saturday’s game in Pittsburgh when the 1-0 lead they had before the rain delay quickly vanished; and the August 16 game in Boston where an early 4-0 lead ended up a 5-4 loss.

Still, in all of their August victories, they have built leads of at least three runs.  For the season, they have lost 28 games in which they never led.  They are also just 6-11 (.353) in games where their largest lead was only 1 run, and 9-12 (.429) in games where they have managed a two run lead, but couldn’t push the lead to three runs. At a maximum lead of three runs, they are just 9-7, and only 8-3 when their biggest lead reaches 4 runs.

Of the 19 games they’ve played this month, they have trailed at some point in 16 of them.  They have scrambled to 8 come-from-behind victories this month alone.  Twelve of their 20 second half victories have required them to come from behind.  In fact, they are 11-9 since the break in games that they’ve trailed in, but never by more than three runs. For the season, they have only 26 come-from-behind victories, so 46% of their come-from-behind victories for the season have come in the first 36 games of the second half.

In fact, St Louis has managed to score the first run of the game only 15 times in the 36 games since the break – but have managed to fight back and win 11 of the 21 games where they fell behind early (.524).  In the first half, they were only 12-25 (.324) when they failed to score the first run.

John Trumpane is rising quickly on our list of favorite umpires.  He has had the plate for 3 Cardinal games so far this year, with St Louis winning all of them – 6-4 against Milwaukee on April 23; 3-0 against Colorado on May 27; and 8-5 against Atlanta on August 11.  For his career, St Louis is 7-3 when he has the plate.

On the other extreme is newest villain Chris Segal.  At the center of the 5-4 melt-down against Boston, the Cards have been saddled with the competence-challenged Mr. Segal four times, now, this season – losing all four: 7-3 to the Dodgers on May 25; 7-6 to Milwaukee on June 14; 7-2 to Washington on July 2; and the Boston game.  For his career, St Louis is 1-6 when Segal has the plate.

Cards Surrender At Least Five Runs for Eleven Consecutive Games

The anticipation was over early.  For ten consecutive games, Cardinal pitching had served up at least 5 runs – something that had happened only once previously to this proud franchise in this century.  With the fading Mike Leake on the mound for the Cards, it seemed likely that the streak would continue – and after he served up 3 in the very first inning, the odds seemed even more likely.  Taking full advantage of Leake’s presence, the Pirates tacked three more runs on him in the third, holding on from there for a 6-3 win (box score).  This team now stands alone with the forgettable 2003 edition, which strung together 13 consecutive games from June 3 through June 16 allowing 98 total runs – at least 5 in each game.

That team also had a plucky offense that managed to win 7 of the 13 games (as this year’s team has won 6 of their last 11), but asking even a good offense to score six or seven runs every night just to be competitive is a sure formula for disaster.  The 2003 team finished with a 4.60 team ERA that was the primary element in the disappointing 85-77, third-place season.  This year’s team is now also in third place (63-61).  The 2017 team ERA is still barely under 4.00 (3.97), but over the last 11 games has taken a 6.11 ERA hit, with a .321 batting average against.  Over those games, the starters have managed just 4 quality starts, with a 6.96 ERA and a .354 batting average against.

It’s a free-fall that will doom this team’s chances the same way the pitching struggles of 2003 doomed that team if it goes unresolved.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake reigns as the enduring symbol of the recent pitching futility.  He began the slide with five uninspiring innings against Kansas City on August 9 (5 runs on 11 hits), and truly imploded against Boston on August 15 – allowing the Red Sox 8 runs on 9 hits in 4.1 innings before Mike Matheny could get him out of there.  Last night, Mike only made it through the three innings, being tagged for the six runs on 8 more hits.

Over his last three efforts, Leake has managed 12.1 eventful innings that have seen a deluge of runs (19 – 18 of them earned) and hits (28).  His 13.14 ERA over those last starts is paired with a rather stunning .452 batting average against.  Over his last 9 starts, Leake is 1-6 with a 7.24 ERA and a .380 batting average against.  Since beginning the season with 7 consecutive quality starts, Mike has only 5 in his 16 starts since then.  He is 2-10 with a 5.78 ERA and a .331 batting average against in those games.

It has been a long time since Leake has been good.  And the Cardinals do have promising pitchers at Memphis who are progressing toward the majors.

Leake has also struggled inexplicably when pitching ahead in the count.  He gave hits to 2 of the 5 batters he was ahead of last night.  This month, batters hitting behind in the count against Mike are hitting .455 (10 of 22).  Since the All-Star Break, batters are hitting .419 (13 of 31) when they are behind in the count against Leake.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina continues to hit.  He was a bright spot last night with 2 singles and a double.  Yadi now has 6 hits in his last 3 games, raising his August average to .313 with 4 home runs.  Yadi is up to .299 in the season’s second half.

Paul DeJong

Up in several opportunities to provide the big hit, Paul DeJong instead went 0-for-5, ending his 9 game hitting streak.  Over the 9 games, DeJong was about as hot as can be imagined, hitting .472 (17 for 36), and slugging .917 (4 doubles and 4 home runs).  Over the 9 games, DeJong scored 8 runs and drove in 12.

Elimination Season Begins

With their 5-2 loss to Philadelphia, San Francisco becomes baseball’s first team to be eliminated from its division race.  Now 50-76, the Giants sit 39 games behind division leading Los Angeles (87-35).  San Francisco has only 36 games left in its season, while the Dodgers will play 40 more.  The Giants aren’t totally eliminated from playoff contention just yet, although trailing Arizona by 18 games for the last wildcard spot doesn’t exactly make their playoff chances rosy.

NoteBook

Cardinal pitchers issued only one walk last night – to Pirate relief pitcher A.J. Schugel, enjoying just his second plate appearance of the season.