A great deal of attention was focused on the rally cat (some truly adorable video, by the way – especially the part where the kitty tries to claw the grounds person that’s escorting it off). Considerable attention is being paid to the aroused Cardinal offense that has scored 42 runs in the last 4 games. This offense has averaged 5.23 runs per game over the last 56 games.
But at this point, some attention needs to be paid to the Cardinal bullpen. Disastrous for most of the year, this unit came to the rescue again last night with five relievers combining for four scoreless innings as the Cards put away Kansas City 8-5 for their fifth win in a row (box score).
That bullpen now has a 2.38 ERA, a .222 batting average against, and has stranded 18 of 22 inherited runners since the All-Star Break. Even amidst this success, the roles are still sort of evolving. Promising right-handers John Brebbia and Sam Tuivailala are still searching for consistent opportunities. Among the four lefties, Kevin Siegrist is trying to resolve health issues, and Brett Cecil has struggled some recently. Their situations are also in a bit of flux.
But the five who pitched last night are starting to carve out defined roles, and their success is driving the success of the relief corps, and of the team.
Matthew Bowman came in to pitch the sixth inning. He has most frequently been pitching in the seventh or eighth innings, but with starter Mike Leake lasting only 5 innings – and with the right-handed batters coming up in the sixth, Bowman’s opportunity came earlier than usual. He gave a couple of hits (unusual for him), but escaped with no damage.
Matthew has now made six consecutive appearances (4.2 innings) without allowing a run. In 13 games in the second half, he has surrendered just 2 runs in 8.2 innings, and in 19.1 innings over his last 27 games, Matthew has a 1.86 ERA, a .221 batting average against, and has stranded 13 of 14 inherited runners.
I think this is the role that manager Mike Matheny has for Duke. A late inning lefty specialist that Mike isn’t afraid to let face the occasional right-hander. It gets confusing, because the Cards right now have two lefthanders that hold about that same job description.
For Duke, coming off Tommy John surgery that was supposed to cost him the entire year, a significant milestone was passed as he pitched on consecutive days for the first time this season, needing only 10 pitches to wrap up his inning.
Seung-hwan Oh opened the eighth, retiring 2 of the 3 that he faced. Since being moved into the primary setup role, Oh has allowed no earned runs in 10 games (covering 9.2 innings).
Oh has now appeared in 21 games this season as the Cardinal closer and 28 games in a setup function. His ERA as a closer was a shaky 4.09 with a .309 batting average against. His ERA is 2.83 in those other games, with a .239 batting average against. As a closer, Oh threw 67% of his pitches for strikes. In non-closing situations, Oh throws strikes 72% of the time. Eight of his eleven throws last night were strikes.
Some small part of the improvement might be that setup pitchers generally work more regularly than closers. So far this year, 35 of Oh’s games have come with at least one day of rest. His ERA in those games is a not-terrible 3.50. Only 13 times – including last night – has Oh pitched with no rest in between games. He has a 1.38 ERA in those games.
Very quietly and with minimal fanfare, Tyler Lyons has become as good at his job as anyone in the Cardinal bullpen, and is evolving into one of baseball’s elite specialists. When Alex Gorden came off the bench to pinch-hit in last night’s eighth inning, Lyons came out of the pen to get him – and of course he did. I grant you the fly ball was struck a considerable distance to center field. But there was never any danger of it leaving.
With the out, Lyons now has a scoreless streak of 11 games (9 innings) under his belt. During that streak he has allowed 2 hits, 1 walk, and 14 strikeouts. These are Clayton Kershaw type numbers.
Tyler is in a similar role as Duke. They are looking specifically to use him against a left-hander in a critical late-game situation, with no great concern if a right-hander ends up facing him. Lyons’ breaking pitches are pretty devastating most evenings.
Turning a season-long liability into a strength was as simple putting the right man on the mound in the ninth inning. A bullpen is built from the back forward, and as soon as the closer is found, the other pieces will usually slot in. Without dispute, the best thing that happened to the Cardinal bullpen all year was the return to prominence and dominance by Trevor Rosenthal. Now balancing his 100-mph heat with a sharp slider and effective change, Trevor has re-emerged as the man with the ball at the end of the game.
Since the All-Star break, Trevor has pitched in 10 games (12 innings) with a 0.75 ERA and a .167 batting average against. He has 20 strikeouts in those 12 innings.
Last night was the tenth time this season that Rosenthal came into the game as the closer. He now holds a 1.64 ERA in those games. His ERA in 37 games as a setup man was 3.67.
For Leake – who started last night – his April groove remains elusive. He lasted just 5 last night, allowing 5 runs (4 earned) to a good Kansas City offense. Mike has managed quality starts only twice in his last seven games. He is 1-4 with a 5.08 ERA over that slide.
Yadier Molina hit the famous home run last night, but Jose Martinez also gave the Cards a lead with a home run. Martinez has simply hit his way into more playing time. Jose has now played in 9 of the last 10 games, starting 8 of them. He has hit safely in 6 of them – getting 2 hits in three of the last four. Since his playing time started becoming more regular, Jose is 10 for 28 (.357). He has hit 3 home runs, driven in 8 runs, and is slugging .714 in his last 9 games. Jose has 8 home runs in his last 91 at bats.
Cardinal lineup plans have been enormously complicated by a couple of fourth outfielders (Martinez and Tommy Pham) who simply refuse to stop hitting. With Dexter Fowler and Randal Grichuk both showing signs of life, the Cards have four outfielders who need to be in the lineup – and, of course, space for only three.
Grichuk added a couple of hits last night – he now has back to back two-hit games. Grichuk has been a bit up and down since his return from Memphis, but the ups have been more than the downs. In the season’s second half, Randal is a .299 hitter (20 for 67) with 4 doubles and 5 home runs (.582 slugging percentage).