Quick quiz: How do you make it through 8 innings on only 95 pitches? You throw strikes.
For eight marvelous innings yesterday afternoon, sometimes superstar Michael Wacha was a strike-throwing machine. Of the 95 pitches he tossed, 68 were strikes (71.6%), while 19 of the 28 batters he faced (67.9%) saw first pitch strikes. Of the 9 batters that saw Wacha miss with his first pitch, all 9 got a strike on the next pitch. Only David Freese, batting in the fourth inning, saw balls on consecutive pitches. He ended that at bat as the only full count that Michael faced on the afternoon. He struck out.
Meanwhile, 9 other batters never saw even one pitch out of the zone during their at bat, and only 7 saw more than one. Other than Freese, only 4 other Pirate hitters ended their at bat ahead in the count – all of them hitting the second pitch in 1-0 counts.
Michael’s commanding performance and a re-engaged offense sent the Cardinals on to a 7-0 win (box score), and a three-game sweep of the Pirates that pushed the Cards to within 2 games of the division lead. Along the way, they continued the run of strong pitching that has defined the 8-2 start to September. The Cards now have a team ERA of 2.22 with a .219 batting average against this month. The starters this month have done even better, at 1.95 and .207. In Wacha’s two September starts, he has faced 54 batters. Only 11 have ended their plate appearance ahead in the count.
With the sweep, St Louis has now gone 49-36 since their seven-game losing streak in early June left them 26-32. It hasn’t been without its hiccups, but the Cards have played .577 baseball over their last 85 games. Michael Wacha has 10 of those 49 wins – the most on the staff.
Paul DeJong has been a significant part of the improvement in the team over the last 85 games. Paul has played in 77 of the 85, starting 75 of them. With his two hits yesterday, Paul has hit .292 (90 for 308), with 18 doubles, a triple, and 20 home runs – remember, this is in just 77 games. DeJong has slugged .552 since early June.
Paul helped set up the three-run third with a single on a first-pitch fastball from Pirate starter Ivan Nova that didn’t get quite inside enough. Like all good hitters in this league, Paul can hit that first pitch if it’s to his liking. He is now hitting .400 (14 for 35) this year when hitting that first pitch.
Yadier Molina is beginning to feel the playoff chase energy. He had two hits including a home run in both of the last two games of the series. After seeing his second half batting average dip below .300, Yadi now has pushed it back up to .296 (53 for 179) with a .497 slugging percentage. He has 8 home runs and 32 runs batted in in 49 games since the All-Star Break.
Molina’s home run came on a 1-1 pitch. If you get Yadi backed up in the count, he will chase for you. But since the All-Star Break, you better be careful with Yadi when he’s even in the count. Yadi is hitting .394 (26 for 66) and slugging .606 (5 doubles and 3 home runs) when the count is either 0-0, 1-1 or 2-2.
Yadi’s first-inning RBI stood up as the game winner. He now leads the team with 10 game-winning RBIs.
The cortisone shot that Matt Carpenter took for his ailing shoulder hasn’t shown many benefits just yet. Matt was 0 for 3 yesterday, and is now 1 for 14 this month.
Even though the hits aren’t falling, Matt is still grinding at bats. He ended up in two more 3-2 counts yesterday, and has now been at 3-2 in 120 plate appearances this year – 21.4% of his plate appearances.
In sweeping the series, St Louis allowed only 4 runs to be scored against them. It’s the fewest runs scored against this team in a series since April 17-19, when the Cards won three consecutive 2-1 games – also against Pittsburgh.
Yesterday was also the seventh chance the Cards had to sweep a series at home, and the fifth of those potential sweeps that they have finished off. The Cards have only won 11 series at home – almost half of them with sweeps.
The Pirates – fresh off a split of their previous series with the Cubs – were only the sixth team St Louis has played this year that had split its previous series. The Cards have now won 5 of those 6 series, going 13-4 against those teams.
With last night’s crowd of 44,683, the Cardinals home attendance swelled past 3 million for the fourteenth consecutive season, and the nineteenth time in the last twenty seasons. With 10 home games left, the Cards home attendance sits at 3,023,530 (by my count – baseball-reference places it at 3,026,081).