With 8 more runs scored last night, the St Louis Cardinals stretched their streak of scoring at least 8 runs to six straight games. They have scored 58 runs in those games (a respectable 9.67 runs per game). And it’s all been done very glamorously – lots of big innings, a couple of timely grand slams, and a rally kitty thrown into the mix.
But the recent onslaught is part of a much longer stretch of sustained offense that stretches back to the beginning of a series against Philadelphia that started on June 9. While there have been some occasional dry stretches, over their last 58 games the Cardinal offense is scoring 5.33 runs per game. St Louis is 34-24 in those games.
But while the grand slams have made the highlight reels, the staple of the re-invigorated Cardinal offense is the grinding at bat – most frequently resulting in that lowest common denominator of offensive success: the base on balls.
Never was this principle more dramatically portrayed than in last night’s 8-5 Cardinal win over Atlanta (box score). In 8 innings of offense, the Cardinals attained 8 runs on 8 hits. But they went 0 for 12 as a team with the bases empty. They scored in three innings last night, and threatened in two others –and every single rally or threat began with either a walk or a hit by pitch (they actually drew 8 walks on the night, to make the symmetry perfect – 8 innings, 8 runs, 8 hits, 8 walks).
During the month of August, as the offense is really catching fire, the Cards have walked 58 times in 11 games, and have had 9 other batters hit by pitches. The 444 Cardinals who have come to the plate this month have a collective .389 on base percentage. Not surprisingly the team is scoring 6.55 runs per game in August.
Getting Runners On Base is Just the Start
Getting the ducks on the pond, of course, is only one third of the old adage, “get them on, move them over, bring them in.” And a high on base percentage – by itself – in no guarantee of run production. The Cardinals have – in fact – spent long sections of this season putting runners on base and leaving them there. But there is a natural logical flow with runners on base leading to big innings. Once runners reach base, most pitchers will start pitching from the stretch – and many don’t do that as well. Additionally, and more importantly, long at bats and baserunners on base wear at a pitcher’s nerves. It induces a form of mental duress that increases the chances of his making a mistake to one of the succeeding hitters.
This has happened pretty consistently for the Cardinals reaching all the way back to the Philadelphia series. Last night – although no one got a hit with the bases empty – 24 Cardinal batters came to the plate with at least one man on base. They produced 2 singles, 5 doubles, a triple, and 4 more walks – a batting line of .421/.522/.789.
In the 11 games they have played in August, they have sent more batters to the plate with runners on base (233) that they have with the bases empty (211) – it’s almost always the reverse. The results of those plate appearances have been 30 singles, 17 doubles, 2 triples, 8 home runs, 32 walks, 2 hit batsmen, 4 sacrifice bunts and 2 sacrifice flies. That batting line reads .295/.397/.528. Of their 13 August home runs, 5 have come with no on aboard, 3 have been two-run shots, 2 have been good for three runs, and, of course, the three grand slams. The Cards have four grand slams for the season – three of them in the last six games. In fact, for the month of August, St Louis is 6 for 13 (.462) with a double to go along with the three home runs with the bases loaded (a 1.231 slugging percentage).
Since June 9, the Cards are hitting .285/.367/.483 with runners on base.
How Sustainable Is This?
The answer to that question depends on what you’re looking to sustain. Will the Cards average just under 10 runs a game for the rest of the season? Of course not. But the process by which they’ve made this run is, I think, very sustainable. By that, I mean the grinding at bats that take their toll on even the best pitchers. In Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler, the Cards have a couple of hitters renown throughout their careers for grinding at bats. Add to the mix hitters like Tommy Pham (who has turned into a very patient hitter now that he can see the ball) and Kolten Wong (who has recently discovered the gospel of grinding and is walking at rates far superior to his previous career). Most encouraging is the change in Randal Grichuk. Last night, his RBI triple came at the end of a seven-pitch at bat. He struck out later on the ninth pitch of an at bat. This was stuff you never used to see from Randal.
All season, Cardinal management has confidently said “we know what kind of offense we have.” Now that all the pieces are starting to relax and trust each other – and grind, grind, grind – the rest of us are starting to see it as well.
Paul DeJong drilled a couple of doubles and drove in 3 runs last night. DeJong has now hit in 7 of his last 8 games, during which he has hit .351 (13 for 37), slugged .595 (3 doubles & 2 home runs) and driven in 8 runs. Since that series in June, Paul leads all regulars in slugging percentage at .585. He has hit 15 home runs while hitting .295 over his last 200 at bats. After a slow start to August, DeJong has his average up to .283 (13 for 46) this month.
During the season’s first half, DeJong was one of the team’s better ignitors. Even though Paul doesn’t walk much at all, he still hit the All-Star Break batting .347 (26 for 75) with the bases empty. He struck out in the sixth inning in his only at bat with the bases empty, dropping him to a .224 average (11 for 49) in those situations in the second half.
Grichuk’s hits last night gives him three, 2-hit games in the last four he’s played. Randal is 6 for 15 (.400) over that span with a home run and a triple (.733 slugging percentage). Randal has scored 5 runs and driven in four in those contests.
Don’t look now, but since the All-Star Break, Randal is hitting .301 (22 for 73) with a .589 slugging percentage (4 doubles, a triple, and 5 home runs).
Following the general team pattern, Randal was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts batting with no one on base, and 2-for-2 with 2 runs batted in when there was someone aboard. In the 11 games played, so far, in August, Grichuk is hitting .133 (2 for 15) with 5 strikeouts when the bases are clear. When there is someone on base, Randal has hit .350 (7 for 20) with 5 runs batted in.
Yadier Molina’s most recent hitting streak had reached five games before it was extinguished last night. Yadi went 0 for 5 with two strikeouts. During the streak, Molina hit .400 (8 for 20) and slugged .750 (1 double and 2 home runs). Over the five games he scored 8 runs and drove in 7.
The struggle goes on for Jedd Gyorko, who was hitless again last night in 3 at bats. Jedd is now hitting .176 (15 for 85) in the season’s second half, during which he has only 4 extra-base hits (2 doubles and 2 home runs). Gyorko is slugging just .271 with only 11 runs batted in since the break.
As Gyorko took over the third base job with his torrid early season hitting, there was always a question of whether Jedd could handle the rigors of playing every day. Would he fatigue? Or be “over exposed?” This might be what’s happening to Gyorko, now. That being said – with no clear alternative immediately available – I am hoping that Mike Matheny sticks with Jedd and lets him finish out the season as the starter. Who knows? This might just be a slump that Jedd will snap out of and finish the season strong.
Either way, I think we need to know if Jedd is an everyday third baseman. Lurking at Memphis is Patrick Wisdom (and, to a lesser extent, Aledmys Diaz) either of whom could be the future for the Cards at third. According to some scouts, Wisdom is an even better hitting prospect than Paul DeJong.
Since his return from the disabled list, Adam Wainwright has been anything but healthy. A cut on his finger led to an early exit (after 3 innings) his first game back. Last night a “strange sensation” in his pitching arm deprived him of his fastball command and left him improvising for five innings.
Let it be noted that the veteran right-hander can improvise. With pitch variations of slow, slower and slowest, Waino finished his 5 innings allowing just 1 run. He went on to gain the victory. In 4 second half starts, Adam has only made it through 6 innings once, but is still 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in those games. Since an 0-3 start, Adam has won 12 of his last 14 decisions.
At less than 100%, Adam has gotten into trouble frequently in those last 4 starts, but has risen to the challenge. Last night, Atlanta was only 1 for 7 against him with runners on base. Since the All-Star Break, Wainwright has held opposing hitters to a .167 average (5 for 30) once a runner reaches.
When Brett Cecil took the mound to begin the sixth inning, the Cards were comfortably in front by a 6-1 score. Six batters and 24 pitches later, Brett left the mound with St Louis clinging to a 6-5 lead. After an extended string of quality outings, Brett is broken again. In 12 innings since the All-Star Break, Cecil has been touched for 10 runs on 22 hits.
Few pitchers on the staff run as hot and cold as Brett. Usually, he is either dominant while throwing perfect innings, or else it rains hits and runs on him. Last night, after his one-out walk to Freddie Freeman, 3 of the next 4 batters got hits – capped by Ozzie Albies’ three-run homer. During the season’s second half, Brett has faced 26 batters with a runner on base. They have 13 hits (.500 average).
For the season, batters hitting against Brett with the bases empty are hitting just .222 (22 for 99). But once a runner reaches, the succeeding batters are 32 for 88 (.364).
After things spiraled out of control for a bit, John Brebbia came in to calm the waters. He threw an inning, walked a batter, but allowed no runs. John’s ERA drops to 2.03 on the season, and to 1.73 in 22 games (26 innings) since June 9.
Zach Duke got dinged a bit in his second game after missing the first half of the season after Tommy John surgery. Since then, Zach (who got the last out of the seventh and then pitched the eighth last night) has gone 6 games (6 innings) giving no runs on just 1 hit.