Carlos Martinez has these days where he looks every inch the elite pitcher that St Louis believes he is and will be. He has those other days, too. But last night he played hard ball with one of baseball’s more dangerous lineups and came away the victor in an 11-3 conquest (box score). Carlos went 8 of those innings, striking out 7 and allowing just 2 runs on 7 hits (that would have been only 4 hits had Carlos simply gotten out of the way of a few infield grounders).
What was different last night from his previous start when he gave three first-inning runs to Milwaukee? The easy answer would be command. In Milwaukee he threw strikes with only 55 of his 102 pitches. Last night he also threw 102 pitches, but with 70 of them being strikes. He gave no walks last night.
But the deeper answer is that last night Carlos trusted his stuff – and it worked out for him. It’s a fine line. There are games when he doesn’t trust his stuff. There are games when he trusts his stuff and gets beaten up a bit. But when the fastball runs – and it was darting a lot last night – Carlos Martinez can be a handful. Last night, 23 of the 31 batters he faced saw some flavor of fastball on the first pitch. Overall, 58 of his 102 pitches were either the four-seam (47) or two-seam (11). According to Brooks Baseball who tracks such things (here), Carlos never quite reached 100 mph, although he came exceedingly close (his top speed weighed in at 99.9), but he threw with great confidence and great movement at 96-98.
His attacking mindset – and the Kansas City Royals’ willingness to chase that fastball – allowed Carlos to keep his pitch count low enough to finish 8. For the game, 18 of the 31 batters he faced lasted 3 pitches or less – including 3 of the 4 he faced in the eighth.
As you watch Martinez walk 5 batters in 5 innings, as he did in Milwaukee, you might get the feeling that Carlos’ is less pitch-efficient than the other starters in the rotation. In actuality, for the season, Carlos is dealing with batters at just 3.66 pitches per. Only Mike Leake (3.57) expends fewer pitches per batter. When you throw a lot of fastballs and don’t nibble, the at bats cycle through pretty quickly. Last night, Carlos’ 31 batters in 102 pitches worked out to 3.29 pitches per. That will usually get you deep into a game.
And Oh Yes, There Was Some Offense Last Night, Too
On July 26, your St Louis Cardinals took their baseball wood to the Colorado Rockies by a 10-5 score. In the nine games that followed, those same Cardinals totaled 19 runs. Now they have scored 24 over the last two games, featuring big innings of 4, 6 and 9 runs.
With the outburst comes hope of a more sustainable offensive situation over the season’s last 50 games. There are certainly a number of Cardinal players who are overdue for an extended hot streak.
Matt Carpenter capped off the 6-run fourth inning with the 3-run home run that opened up the game. Matt is one of those who have suffered through a less-than-expected season. Even with his two hits last night, his season average still sits at .249. However, he is now hitting .295 (23 for 78) with a .396 on base percentage (12 walks) since the All-Star Break.
As per usual, Matt Carpenter saw more pitches than anyone else on the team. In his 4 plate appearances, he cost Kansas City pitchers 21 pitches – 5.25 per appearance. For the season, he leads the team with 4.37 pitches per PA.
Jose Martinez did less damage last night than the night before. Still, he contributed two more hits and is now at .333 in the second half. Mike Matheny really can’t bench him while he’s getting two hits a night, can he?
Yadier Molina pushed his second half batting average to .320 with two more hits (24 for 75). He has now hit safely in 6 of his last 8 games, during which he is 11 for 26, including 2 doubles and 2 home runs – a .423 batting average and a .731 slugging percentage. With two runs scored last night, Molina has scored 8 runs in his last 8 games.
Ever aggressive, Yadi swung at half of the 12 pitches thrown him last night. Molina is swinging at 53.6% of the pitches thrown his way this season. Of the regulars and semi-regulars, the only higher percentage belongs to rookie Paul DeJong, who swings at 54.7% of the pitches thrown to him.
When Yadi came up in the second, he did so with Jose Martinez at first and no one out. It is likely that Kansas City viewed this as a double play opportunity – as Molina has grounded into many double plays over the years. Things have been very different in that regard for Molina so far this year. Yadi hit the ground ball – but it shot down the left-field line for the double that set up the big inning.
Molina still hasn’t grounded into a double play in the second half, and has bounced into only 6 in 74 opportunities this year (8.1%).
Not much disappointing news from last night, but one down note was the end of Tommy Pham’s most recent hitting streak – a six-gamer during which he hit .333 (8 for 24).
One of the biggest differences in the new Tommy Pham is swing and miss percentage. Last year, Tommy missed 34.8% of the pitches he swung at. That was the highest rate of any non-pitcher on the team (higher even than Brandon Moss’ 33.7%). He is down to just 20.6% this season, and in the season’s second half Tommy has only missed on 28 of the 179 swings he’s taken. Of all players with at least 25 plate appearances in the second half, only Matt Carpenter (15.3%) misses with fewer swings than Pham’s 15.6%. He swung the bat 8 times last night, and only missed with one of the swings.
However, Tommy also seems to feel that just because he can finally see, that means that everyone else (like the umpires) can as well. Pham was called out twice last night on close pitches – the first of which was clearly inside (and probably high, as well), but ultimately too close to take. Tommy frequently seems mystified by the fact that the same umpires that miss calls on everyone else also miss calls on him. Of the 84 times he has struck out so far this season, 34 (40.5%) have been on called strike threes.
Kolten Wong’s second-inning sacrifice fly gave the Cards a brief 1-0 lead. It was the first time in 8 games that St Louis had scored first.
Before last night, the Cards had trailed at some point in eight straight games, and 10 of their last 11.