First-inning runs almost never hold up. In fact, one of the Cardinals favorite patterns from earlier in the season was to put two or three first-inning runs on the board and then shut down, waiting until their opponent wore through the lead and – eventually earned the victory.
Given the shaky recent nature of the Milwaukee bullpen, I felt all along that if the pitching staff could hold them there, our chances of eventually winning were pretty good. Alas, it came not to pass. Three first-inning runs were all they got. And three first-inning runs were all they needed, as Milwaukee held off the Cards by a 3-2 score (box score).
The first run scored on a ground out from Ryan Braun, but after starter Carlos Martinez struck out Travis Shaw, the Cards were presented with a golden opportunity to get out of an inning that began with runners at second and third and no one out, allowing just the one run. A two-out single from Domingo Santana made it 2-0. That hurt. But catcher Manny Pina delivered the clinching hit – launching Martinez’ two-out, two-strike, 100-mph fastball over the head of center-fielder Tommy Pham – delivering the third and final run of the inning.
As disappointing as that first inning was, the game ended with Milwaukee scoring just those three runs on only 5 hits. Kudos, still, to the pitching staff. Since the All-Star break, the team has maintained a 3.04 ERA. Over the last 20 games, that ERA is only 2.78 with a .228 batting average against.
While most of the rest of the pitching staff has been flourishing since the last two games before the All-Star break, presumptive ace Carlos Martinez has been more stumbling block than support. Over his last six starts, Carlos is now just 1-3 (part of a 1-4 streak for the talented right-hander), with a 5.82 ERA. He was 1-2 with a 5.90 ERA in July.
Martinez’ first inning struggles are beginning to gain some attention. After yesterday, Carlos holds a 6.55 first-inning ERA. During this inning, batters are slashing .284/.402/.519 against him. Twenty-six percent of all the runs he’s allowed, twenty percent of all the hits he’s allowed, twenty-nine percent of the home runs he’s served up, and twenty-eight percent of the walks he’s given have come in that first inning.
From the second through the fifth, his ERA is a solid 2.35 with a .211 batting average against. He begins to tail off again in the sixth.
These trends have been worsening lately. In his four starts since the All-Star break, Martinez has been stung for 8 first inning runs (18.00 ERA) and a .429/.478/.810 slash line against him. After that first inning, his ERA has held at 1.80.
Last night’s loss was Carlos’ ninth of the season, tying (already) his career high set last year when he was 16-9 (he is 7-9 so far this year). Carlos’ career record is 41-30.
Moreover, the three runs allowed last night brings Martinez’ season total to 61. His career high is the 68 he allowed last year.
Lack of any kind of consistent offensive support hasn’t helped Martinez. Last night was the thirteenth time in his 22 starts that his offense failed to score as many as three runs for him.
More Good Bullpen Work
After posting a cumulative 2.17 ERA in July, the sometimes troublesome bullpen began August with four shutout innings last night, holding the game where the offense could still have a chance. They gave one hit and two walks in those four innings.
John Brebbia’s current scoreless streak (after his scoreless sixth inning last night) is 7 games (8.1 innings). He hasn’t allowed an earned run in 14 games (15.2 innings). His season ERA is down to 1.37. Coming into the sixth inning of a one-run game is a fairly highly leveraged responsibility. Little by little, the impressive Mr. Brebbia is earning more and more important innings.
In 13 innings this season before the seventh inning, John is unscored on, allowing just 3 hits. Even though all the runs scored against him have come from the seventh inning on, his ERA in those innings is a still excellent 2.70.
The evening featured another fine performance from Tyler Lyons, who seems to be very locked in. He threw an inning and a third last night, giving no runs or hits – although he did walk his first batter in 10 games. Tyler has not allowed a run in his last 9 appearances (7.2 innings), and has given only 2 hits in that span (.087 batting average), while striking out 11. Tyler has struck out 9 over his last 5 innings with a swing-and-miss ratio of 30% of the swings taken against him.
Tyler pitched the seventh and got the first out of the eighth last night. He has been very, very good in those innings this year. He has totaled 16.1 innings in the seventh and eighth innings, with a 1.62 ERA, a .214 batting average against, and a .268 slugging percentage against.
Matthew Bowman ran into a little more difficulty than usual closing out the eighth, allowing a hit and a walk. But no runs came in. Bowman held a 2.00 ERA in July and picked up in August where he left off.
The eighth has been Matthew’s most difficult inning to date. In six “eighth innings” Matthew has been cuffed for 2 of the 4 home runs he’s allowed, and 9 earned runs – an 18.00 ERA. To go along with a .387/.444/.645 batting line against.
Runs A Little Scarce Lately.
The impressive recent efforts of the pitching staff would normally be enough to push this team into a surge that would carry them into the division lead. Unfortunately, a concurrent offensive brown-out has limited the good the club has realized from the good pitching. St Louis is only 11-9 in their last 20 games. The offense has managed more than three runs only 3 times in the last 13 games, and, in the 18 games since the All-Star break, they are averaging just 3.83 runs per game.
Except for the Fourth Inning
Last night’s fourth inning could have been better. Pham led it off with a single and went to second on a ground ball. With the four, five and six hitters coming up, the Cards were setting up for an inning. The big inning never materialized (neither in the fourth nor any other inning last night), but the Cards did get the one run on a single from Yadier Molina.
Curiously, the fourth inning has been one of the team’s consistently best innings this year. In the 18 games since the All-Star break, the Cards are hitting .329 in that inning (24 for 73), scoring 12 runs. The only inning in those games that they’ve scored more runs in is the eighth (17 runs), and that was only on the strength of one 9-run inning against the Cubs. Over the course of the entire season, the 67 runs scored in that inning and the .291 batting average in that inning are both the highest of any of the innings.
The Summer of Pham
Not much good happened offensively for the Cards last night, but Tommy Pham keeps on keeping on, with two more hits. He scored one of the runs and drove in the other run. Tommy has hit safely in all of his last 7 starts, going 10 for 25 (.400) in those games. He led the team in batting average last month, hitting .344 (32 for 93) and slugging .591 (he finished with 6 doubles, a triple, and 5 home runs). In 26 July games (24 starts), Pham scored 19 runs and drove in 19 runs.
Tommy’s RBI came on a fifth-inning single. Pham (who singled and scored in the fourth) has done well as a part of the Cardinal fourth-inning surge – he is hitting .333 in the fourth. But the fifth is his inning. He is now hitting .419 in the fifth (13 for 31) and is now 5-for-5 in that inning since the All-Star break.
Kolten Wong had hits in the third and fifth innings. He grounded out in the seventh and struck out in the ninth. Kolten is a .333 hitter (44 for 132) before the seventh inning. From the seventh inning on, his average drops to .208 (15 for 72).
The long slump of Jedd Gyorko continues. Jedd was 0-for-4 with 3 strikeouts last night, and looked more than a little lost. Over his last 19 games, the Cardinal cleanup hitter is batting just .152 (10 for 66) and slugging just .227. Jedd hasn’t hit a home run since the first game after the All-Star break – 58 at bats ago.
Wonder rookie Paul DeJong is tailing off a bit. He was also 0-for-4 last night. Since the All-Star Break, Paul is hitting .225 (16 for 71) – albeit with 5 home runs. Still, he’s gone 5 games without an extra-base hit, driving in just one run in those games.
Matt Carpenter opened the game with a fly out. He came up again in the third and struck out before walking in both the fifth and eighth innings. For a leadoff hitter, Matt is curiously slow out of the gate. He is only hitting .229 in the first inning this year (19 for 83) and just .215 in the first three innings (31 for 144), albeit with a .339 on base percentage and a .417 slugging percentage. From the fourth inning on, he slashes .278/.409/.473.
Yadier Molina’s strike out last night was his fifty-fifth of the season. In his previous 13 years, he has only struck out more than 55 times twice – 59 strike outs in 2015, and his career high 63 strike outs last year.
On the other hand, Molina has only grounded into 6 double plays so far this season. Four times in his career he has bounced into at least 20 double plays – including 22 last year. His career low for a full season is 10, which he achieved in 2005 and again in 2012.