If the defining moment of the Wednesday game was the soft-fuzzy moment of the rally cat running around just before Yadier Molina’s grand slam, the defining moment of last night’s game was much more hard core.
Lorenzo Cain led off the third inning, with the Royals ahead 1-0. Cardinal starter Lance Lynn got ahead of Cain 1-2, but a misbehaving cutter slid back across the plate, where Cain was waiting to line it into center field for a single. After it caromed off Lance’s noggin. Lance never went down. He flinched a little, and after the play was over he rubbed the spot (a reddish welt right on his temple) for a second or two. But Lance Lynn took a line drive to the head and went right on completely unfazed.
As you watch the replay, you keep looking to see if maybe the ball missed, or mostly missed, or maybe clipped off the bill of his cap. Nope. It was a glancing blow – meaning that Lance tilted his head enough so that the contact wasn’t full-on. But it still hit him right in the head hard enough to shoot into medium center field. But not hard enough to rattle the suddenly tough competitor that Lance Lynn has become.
This is not how I remember Lance from his early years in the rotation. Back then it seemed that he didn’t quite have the grit for the big games. He was a phenomenal April pitcher who routinely faded as the season wore on.
But this Lance Lynn has been remarkable in his ability to focus on the task at hand regardless of what is happening all around him. Even as the rumors swirled around him while the trade deadline approached and passed, Lance responded with one of the best stretches of his career. After managing just 5 quality starts in his first 15 games, Lance is now riding a streak of 7 straight quality starts, during which he has gone 4-0 (with another potential victory surrendered by the bullpen) and a 1.45 ERA over 43.1 innings. After once serving up 6 home runs in 10.1 innings over consecutive starts, Lance has been chipped for only two during these last seven games.
Lance’s baseball toughness was also on full display in last night’s 8-6 win (box score). His final numbers were fairly pedestrian – 6 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs (2 earned). The line doesn’t do him justice. On a night when Lance fought his command from the first inning on (he threw only 51 of his 87 pitches for strikes) – and on a night where his defense repeatedly let him down – Lance pitched the entire game on the edge of disaster, making big pitches when needed. Although they put runners in scoring position against Lance in 4 of his 6 innings, he very nearly held them scoreless.
Kansas City’s first-inning run was set up when Kolton Wong booted Mike Moustakas’ routine grounder. Attempting to sacrifice Mike into scoring position, Alcides Escobar dropped a bunt in front of the plate. He reached safely as Molina made a poor throw trying to get the runner at second. A ground ball single loaded the bases with no one out. Lynn houdinied his way out of the mess allowing just one run.
The Royals then had Lance on the ropes in the fifth, when Cain’s single and Eric Hosmer’s walk gave Melky Cabrera a two-out opportunity. Ahead in the count 2-1, Cabrera laced a fastball right off his fists into right field, where Jose Martinez almost made the great play to bail his pitcher out. The ball hit the heel of Jose’s glove and dropped to the turf. Both runners scored, and Melky got credit for a triple.
That made the score 3-0 KC – as Lance’s offense didn’t throw their switch until after Lance had thrown his last pitch of the evening.
Through it all – the line drive to the head, the struggles with control, the sloppy defense, the lack of offensive support – the suddenly unflappable Lance Lynn just kept making the next pitch.
Even as he battled his control, Lance continues to dramatically improve his pitch-efficiency. Of the 27 batters he faced, Lynn had 3 hit the first pitch thrown them, 6 that hit the second pitch, and 5 others that hit the third pitch. Overall, his 87 pitches to 27 batters works out 3.22 pitches per. Over his last two starts, Lance is throwing just 3.54 pitches per batter faced (177 pitches to 50 batters). Previous to last night, Lynn was averaging 4.16 pitches per batter faced.
Tyler Lyons earned his first win of the season retiring the two batters he faced. Pitching in a 3-3 tie in the seventh, Tyler inherited a runner at second and one out. He concluded the inning getting Hosmer to fly out and striking out Cabrera. Tyler is now up to 12 consecutive scoreless appearances covering 9.2 innings, during which he has allowed 2 hits with 15 strikeouts.
Of the six swings that those two batters took last night, only Hosmer put the ball in play. As Lyons’ slider gets sharper, putting the ball in play against him is getting more and more difficult. The 10 batters he has faced this month have swung at 22 pitches, putting only 3 in play (13.6%). The 30 batters he has faced since the All-Star Break are only putting the ball in play with 25.5% of their swing – the lowest percentage on the team for anyone pitching to at least ten batters.
For the fourth time in his last 7 games, Trevor Rosenthal was asked to pitch more than one inning – and once again, Rosenthal came through. Over his last 7 games, Trevor has worked 9.2 innings allowing no runs while striking out 16. Last night, Trevor got strikes with 14 of his 18 pitches. Over his last 7 games, Rosenthal has been throwing 70% of his pitches for strikes.
Offense Plugs Away
They waited until the sixth before they made any noise, but by game’s end, the Cards had scored 8 runs again – their fifth consecutive game scoring at least 8 runs. In 10 August games, St Louis has scored 64 runs.
Dexter Fowler has been especially torrid since his return from the disabled list. In the four games since he’s been back, Dexter has come to the plate 19 times, with the following results: 1 single, 3 doubles, 1 triple, last night’s home run, 7 runs scored, 5 runs batted in (all last night), 6 walks, and 1 stolen base. It all adds up to a .462/.632/1.077 batting line. Over his last 31 games (which bridges a couple of injury absences), Dexter is hitting .303/.411/.578 with 7 home runs and 21 runs batted in.
Kolten booted a ball that led to a run, but otherwise excelled last night. He singled, doubled, walked, and smote a sacrifice fly. He has now strung together a baby five-game hitting streak, during which he has hit .500 (8 for 16) with 6 runs scored and 6 runs driven in.
He is now hitting .412 (14 for 34) in the early days of August; .309 since the All-Star Break (25 for 81); and .337 (34 for 101) over his last 33 games. I still think we all underestimate how much Kolten’s absences hurt this team.
Paul DeJong has also been in the middle of all the offense lately. After having his 5-game hitting streak snapped on Wednesday, Paul began another one last night with 2 hits. Over his last 7 game, DeJong is hitting .344 (11 for 32).
The two-game series against Kansas City was the nineteenth home series of the season for St Louis. It was the fifth of those series that the Cardinals took the field for the last game with a chance for a series sweep – and the fourth time that they have achieved that sweep.
We are now also 10-4-2 in series when we win that first game.