Flaherty in Fight with First Pitch Command

There was nobody on base in the second inning, with one out in a still scoreless contest when Cincinnati’s Phil Ervin came to the plate.  Cardinal rookie right-hander Jack Flaherty challenged him with the fastball, and Ervin swung through it for strike one.

Jack would face 19 Reds on the evening in his five innings.  Ervin would be the only one who would actually swing at Jack’s first pitch (Scooter Gennett tried to bunt a first pitch fastball from Flaherty in the first inning but fouled it off).

Of the 17 batters that took Jack’s first pitch, only 4 of the saw the pitch called a strike, and 3 of those were first pitch curve balls that Jack managed to get over.  The only Cincinnati batter of the evening to take a first pitch fastball for a strike from Flaherty was pitcher Sal Romano, who led off the fifth by watching a 90.6-mph offering fly right down the middle.

Cincinnati had just seen Flaherty eleven days ago.  Jack threw five innings of 2-hit, shutout ball that day, as he threw 10 first-pitch fastballs to the 20 batters he faced.  So the Cincinnati patience with him could be seen as an adjustment.  In all honesty, though, none of those fastballs was really close enough to offer at.  Finishing off a frustrating road trip with a 7-3 loss in Cincinnati (box score), Jack struggled with his normally good fastball command the entire evening.

Jack’s normal MO is to get ahead with the fastball and then put the batter away with his hard-biting slider.  Even without his normal command, the strategy worked well enough.  Flaherty still struck out 8 in his five innings (5 of them with the slider) while allowing 4 hits.  He was essentially undone by two fastballs – among the hardest he threw on the evening – that ended up in less than ideal locations.  A first-inning fastball to Eugenio Suarez was, perhaps, not far enough away and perhaps a shade too high.  In the fourth inning, his knee-high fastball to Adam Duvall probably caught too much of the plate.  Both those pitches were slapped for opposite field home runs – something that happens a lot in Great American Small Park – accounting for the three runs that saddled Jack with the loss.

Through his five starts in July, when he could get batters to swing at that first pitch, Flaherty has held these batters to a .150 batting average (3 for 20).

This effort may also be one more evidence that Flaherty, now up to 85 major league innings (and another 31.2 in Memphis) may be hitting some kind of wall.  On June 22, Jack fired 7 innings of 1-hit ball against Milwaukee.  In now 6 starts since then, Jack has only gotten an out in the sixth inning one time.  He has served up 6 home runs in his last 27.1 innings, and has 1-3 record with a 4.94 ERA in those starts.

Again the Pen

After breaking a ten-game streak in which they had allowed multiple runs in every game, the bullpen regressed to form last night.  Entering in the sixth inning of a still competitive 3-2 game, the Cardinal relief corps once again played the role of batting practice pitchers.

In the 3 innings after Flaherty left, the bullpen yielded 4 more runs on 6 hits and 4 walks.  The six hits included 3 doubles and another home run.

The meltdown ensured the Cardinals’ eighth loss in their last twelve games, and dropped them to 9-12 in July.  All throughout, the bullpen has been at the epicenter of the disaster.  In 42.1 innings over the last 12 games they have coughed up 43 runs (41 earned) on 67 hits – including 5 home runs – an ERA of 8.72 coupled with a .360 batting average against.  They have pitched 67.2 innings through 21 games this month, surrendering 60 runs (54 earned) on 94 hits.  The starters have only surrendered 90 hits this month in 115 innings.  The July bullpen numbers are a distressing 7.18 ERA and a .328 batting average against.  Batters are hitting only .215 against the Cardinal starters this month.  In winning 2 of 3 against the Cards this week, Cincinnati only managed 6 hits in 18.1 innings against St Louis’ three rookie starters.

John Gant

In a surprise move, skipper Mike Shildt summoned John Gant from the bullpen to pitch the sixth.  It was a surprise, since John had started one of the Saturday games, and, was not only scheduled to start on Sunday, but was pitching three days after throwing 82 pitches over five innings.

Most think this was a desperation move – prompted by the overall susceptibility of the bullpen.  Whatever the thought process, it didn’t work as Gant surrendered 2 damaging runs that pushed the game a bit out of reach.

While Gant has pitched quite well in whatever role asked, his demise yesterday was due, in part, to an increasingly nettlesome aspect of his game.  John walked two more batters in his one inning – one of which (Joey Votto) scored on Tucker Barnhart’s home run.  He has now walked 7 batters in his last 10 innings, and 13 in his 21.1 innings this month.  Even though one of those walks was intentional, that is still 5.06 unintentional walks for every 9 innings.  Since he was last recalled from Memphis in late June, John has walked 18 batters in 30.1 innings.  Remarkably, his ERA over those innings is still an excellent 2.37 – due primarily to a .180 batting average against him – but it is an issue nonetheless.

An insightful note about his appearance:

In taking over the Cardinal reigns, new manager Shildt committed to playing time for struggling multi-million dollar hitters Dexter Fowler and Marcell Ozuna.  Neither hitter has – as yet – rewarded Shildt’s confidence, although Fowler has had a few moments.

It is interesting to note that – at the same time – he made no such commitment to multi-million dollar reliever Greg Holland.  In fact, when Mike went to Gant, Holland was supposedly available in the pen and quite well rested.  But Shildt opted for a semi-tired starter on three-days’ rest rather than Holland. 

Yadier Molina

Even as the Cardinal fortunes in general have taken a downturn, Yadier Molina has remained a bright spot.  He had 3 more hits last night, and is now hitting .375 (12 for 32) since Shildt took over and moved him to the second spot in the order.  Even over the last 12 games, Yadi’s production has remained high – a .349 batting average on 15 of 43 hitting.  Molina has now hit 3 home runs this month, while going 23 for 68 – a team-leading .338 average.

Over the years, pitchers have tried to use Yadi’s aggressiveness against him.  Molina has been tempted with a great many first pitch sliders on the corner of the strike zone – or perhaps just a bit off the corner, and all too frequently this strategy has been rewarded.  Suddenly – although still aggressive – Yadi is no longer that hitter who needs to hit that first pitch to have success.  After last year’s All-Star break, Molina was 48 of 140 (a .343 batting average) when he took the first pitch of an at bat.  Those hits included 10 doubles, 1 triple, and 8 of the 9 home runs he hit in last season’s second half – a .600 slugging percentage with 32 runs batted in.

In yesterday’s fifth inning, Romano started Molina off with that slider just off the plate.  Yadi didn’t bite.  Two pitches later, he got that middle-in fastball that he ripped into left for a hit.  Then, in the seventh reliever David Hernandez threw that first-pitch slider up in the zone.  Yadi took that one for a high strike, but two pitches later landed on another fastball and snuffed it over the left-field wall for a home run. 

Molina is now 12 for his last 28 (.429) when he takes the first pitch.  For the month of July, Yadi is a .378 hitter (17 for 45) when he doesn’t bite on the first pitch.

Up Next

The Cards head home, now, after what was – in many ways – a remarkable road trip.  Its historic features included Matt Carpenter’s home run streak – not to mention his 5-5, 3 home run, 2 double performance in an 18-5 devastation of the first-place Cubs, as well as back-to-back near no-hitters from two rookie pitchers making the first starts of their major league careers.

And yet, the team comes limping back after a 3-5 trip.  This – on the heels of a 5-4 trip just before the break – means that this team has played 17 of its last 20 on the road.  Including losing 2 of 3 to Cincinnati at home, they are 9-11 during that stretch, losing 3 games in the standings.

Events that should have galvanized this team – that should spark them on to some kind of sustained spurt – don’t result in more than a one-day blip.  When Mike Matheny was fired, they rallied behind popular bench coach Shildt and won their next game, 6-4, in spirited fashion.  They then lost the next game 9-6.  After the battering of the Cubs, they were punched out 7-2 by the Northsiders in the rubber game of that series.  They lost the Daniel Poncedeleon start in spite of his 7 hitless innings, and, after Austin Gomber’s start led to a dramatic eleventh-inning win, the Cards went quietly in the rubber game against the Reds.

They are now a curiously symmetrical .500 team.  They are 24-24 at home, and 27-27 on the road.  The upcoming home stand will not be easy.  They have three more against the Cubs and four against the Rockies.  At 54-47, Colorado is another over-.500 team.

The Cards currently sit at 8.5 games out, and it’s hard to tell whether they still believe they can put together a run.  The season is starting to slip away.  If they lose any more ground during this home stand . . .

Rookies’ Breaking Pitches Quiet the Reds

Over the last several years, the Cardinal farm system has been collecting elite arms.  They have become a breeding ground for the 100-mph fastball.  All of the names to conjure with coming up through the ranks are associated with almost overpowering heat.

Last night in Cincinnati, an intriguing 24-year-old left-handed prospect named Austin Gomber made the case for the breaking ball.

Setting the Reds up with a fastball that “only” sits around 93-94 mph, Gomber dominated Cincinnati with an array of explosive breaking pitches.  Sliders that circumnavigated the strike zone before diving in at the last minute.  Changes that started a foot outside and raced all the way across the strike zone.  Heavy curveballs that darted toward the middle of the plate and then dropped as though they had suddenly turned to cast iron.  You would have to ask the batters that faced him, but every pitch out of his hand looked like a fastball.  All of his breaking pitches looked like they got on the batters very quickly.

One night after fellow rookie Daniel Poncedeleon threw seven hitless innings (ending a streak of 8 consecutive games without a quality start from the Cardinal rotation), Austin carried his no-hitter through 6.1 innings.  It was a commanding performance for another very young, high-ceiling Cardinal pitching prospect.

No St Louis pitcher has thrown a no-hitter since Bud Smith threw one against San Diego back in 2001.  But, in the first 101 games of 2018, the Cards have already had six different pitchers have a serious flirtation with that elusive no-hitter – and none of them are named Carlos Martinez or Alex Reyes.

On June 3, Michael Wacha threw 8 hitless inning against Pittsburgh, before allowing a leadoff single to Colin Moran in the ninth.  On June 22, Jack Flaherty took his no-hitter through one out in the seventh before serving up a game-tying home run to Jesus Aguilar (the Cards 2-1 loss to Milwaukee that night was very reminiscent of the Monday night loss).  On June 25, unheralded John Gant gave up his only hit early – an infield hit in the second.  He finished seven innings of one-hit ball against Cleveland.  It was Luke Weaver’s turn on July 5 in San Francisco.  He got one out in the sixth before allowing his first hit – an infield hit off the bat of Gorkys Hernandez.  He finished 8 innings of 2-hit ball.  These all preceded the efforts of Poncedeleon and Gomber.

Adding to the excitement of the Cardinal future is that fact that of these pitchers, only Wacha figured to be a prominent member of the rotation.  All of these other were starters in reserve – arms they could turn to if needed.  Remembering that we have only seen the best of Martinez in flashes, that we have barely seen anything from Reyes, and that we haven’t yet even had a major league glimpse of AAA dynamo Dakota Hudson, the Cardinal future seems every bit as promising as we have been told.

Now if management can only resist the urge to give them all away.

Austin Will Only Get Better

While his game last night was outstanding, there was – mixed in with all the success – the reminders of the growth necessary for Austin to be a consistently dominating starter.  While his stuff – including his fastball – is explosive, his command is less than magnificent.  This was the issue that led to his earlier inconsistency out of the pen.

Of the 22 batters he faced, only 10 saw first pitch strikes – and only that many because he got many of the Reds to chase his breaking pitches.  Of his 22 first-pitches, probably only about 7 actually ended up in the strike zone.

That being said, down strike one to Austin and his array of breaking balls is not a place you want to be.  The 10 batters who saw strike one, were 0 for 9 with 1 walk and 4 strikeouts.  In his rookie season, Austin has so far faced 81 batters.  He has only managed to throw strike one to 42 of those – but those 42 didn’t fare too well.  They have managed 4 singles, 2 doubles, 4 runs batted in, 2 walks, 12 strikeouts, 2 sacrifice hits, 1 sacrifice fly, and 3 double plays – a .162/.200/.216 batting line.  The 39 batters who have seen ball one from Gomber are only hitting .241, but with a .436 on base percentage and a .483 slugging percentage.

Austin spent a good chunk of the early summer in the Cardinal bullpen, perhaps affecting his late-game endurance.  As the innings mounted and his pitch count climbed toward 90, his mid-90s fastball of the first inning faded to a high-80’s fastball by about the fifth inning.  When Eugenio Suarez hit the game-tying home run in the seventh, he jumped on a flat change-up that, at 83 mph, was only slightly slower than the 88.6 mph fastball he had seen the pitch before.

Bud Norris

Having allowed runs in ten consecutive games, the Cardinal bullpen invited some jeopardy over its 4.2 inning, game-ending tightrope walk.  A single and a hit-by-pitch put the first two runners on in the tenth, but the Cards wiggled out of it.

With a two-run lead in the bottom of the eleventh the Cards turned to closer Bud Norris.  Bud, of course, was the victim of Monday’s two-run ninth-inning rally.  Things quickly got scary again.  Jose Peraza’s leadoff single meant that Norris would have to face Scooter Gennett, and Joey Votto as the tying runs.  Then – after intentionally passing Suarez – he faced Adam Duvall as the winning run.  Adam’s soft liner looked – for a moment – like it was going to make it over Paul DeJong’s head, but the shortstop was able to backpedal enough to haul it in, giving the Cards a hard-earned 4-2 win (box score).

Matt Carpenter

Another longish streak that ended last night was Matt Carpenter’s very destructive eight-game hitting streak – a streak that included Matt’s six-game home run streak.  Carpenter had hit .500 (14 for 28) during the streak with 8 home runs and 12 runs batted in.  He slugged 1.500 during the streak, before his 0-for-5 last night.

One is Not Enough

One run.

For five innings of last night’s tight, intense contest in Cincinnati – as the zeros filled up the scoreboard – the Cardinal faithful kept hoping for one run.

In the sixth inning, the prayer was quickly answered.  A Matt Carpenter double, followed by a single from Yadier Molina produced the game’s only run to that point.  But with Molina on second (he advanced on the throw home) and no one out, the opportunity – nay, the necessity – to score at least one more run lay before the Cards with their three-four-five batters up.

Paul DeJong and Marcell Ozuna flew out, and Jose Martinez struck out.  The Cards were left with one run – one lonely run.

Behind all of this, of course, was a remarkable debut by rookie right-hander Daniel Poncedeleon.  Almost killed by a line drive a year ago, Poncedeleon was spinning hitless inning after hitless inning – four, five, six – the anticipation mounted each time Daniel walked off the mound having yet to surrender a hit.

At yet, if you have watched this team all year, you knew that this was all going to end badly.  With the innings, the pitch count also mounted for the youngster.  Daniel added a hitless seventh – but at the cost of 26 more pitches.  That inning raised his game total to 116.  Enough.  Daniel would not go out for the eighth.  Manager Mike Shildt would now have to turn to the bullpen – that same ragged collection that had surrendered runs – multiple runs – in nine consecutive games.

And so we looked at the one run on the scoreboard, and we knew.

Marshalling their most reliable arms (such as they are) the relief corps tried desperately to hang onto that slim lead.  Jordan Hicks gave a hit, but no runs in the eighth.  Now it was Bud Norris.

The tension mounted as Scooter Gennett was called out on strikes.  Two outs to go.  Then Joey Votto crushed a liner to left that Ozuna made a remarkable catch on.

Now the Cards were one out away.  That would be as close as they would get.

Norris’ second pitch to Cincinnati slugger Eugenio Suarez was crushed deep over the left field wall, and with that the score was tied.  Poncedeleon’s win was deleted.  And the bullpen surrendered a run in its tenth consecutive game.

Not content there, the Reds then continued the rally against Norris with three more hits and a walk – the last hit by Dilson Herrera driving in the winning run in Cincinnati’s 2-1 victory (box score).

For Herrera, it was just his second hit of the year.  His other hit this year was a three-run home run off of Sam Tuivailala in the seventh inning of an eventual 9-1 rout of the Cardinals back on July 13.

The Long Slow Decline

Sixty-nine games ago, a two-run, fourteenth-inning home run off the bat of Dexter Fowler gave St Louis a 4-3 conquest of the hated Cubs.  At that point, St Louis was 20-12, and in first place by 1.5 games.  That home run gave the Cards a 15-5 record over their previous 20 games.

Since then, the re-tooled Cardinals embarked on a 68-game regression to absolute mediocrity.  After losing, now, 38 of those last 68 games, the Cardinals hit the 100-game mark of the season at 50-50.  They are now 8-11 in July.

When Fowler hit his home run, it pushed the Cardinal record in one run games to 7-5.  Last night’s defeat dropped them to 13-14 in such games – including losses in 3 of the 4 played in the month of July.

Clearly, the bullpen continues to be a big chunk of the issue.  Nineteen games into July, Cardinal starters are clicking along with a 3.39 ERA and a .220 batting average against.  Meanwhile’ the bullpen’s ERA has risen to 7.50 this month, with a .332 batting average against.  Over the last 68 games, the starters ERA of 3.58 has been completely undone by a 5.40 ERA over 226.2 innings from the bullpen.

In the four one run games this month, Cardinal starters have contributed 3 quality starts, a 2.49 ERA and a .165 batting average against.  They have allowed 7 runs in the 25.1 innings that they have pitched in these games.  In 9.1 innings in this month’s one run games, the bullpen has allowed 6 runs.

One Run Struggles

But if the angst of the loss falls chiefly on the pen, the offense has to share equally in the blame.  Cincinnati starter Luis Castillo is not regarded as an untouchable star.  He entered the game with a 5-8 record and a 5.49 ERA – hardly All-Star numbers.  But last night he was more than enough for the off-and-on Cardinal offense.

In fact, these one-run games reveal the Cardinal offense at its worst.  While one-run games strongly tend to be lower scoring, your St Louis Cardinals have pushed that trend to an exaggerated low.  While they have scored in double figures 7 times already this year – including routs of quality pitchers like Jake Arrieta, Corey Kluber, Johnny Cueto and Jon Lester, they have vanished almost completely in the tightest games the Cards have played this year.

In the four one-run games played this month, the Cards have totaled just 11 runs while batting just .190 and slugging .286.  They have hit .197 in their one-run games since the Fowler home run.

It’s a combination that leads to heart-breakers like last night.

Matt Carpenter

While the team looks like it may be circling the drain, Matt Carpenter continues to be a beacon of excellence.  While his home run streak has been stopped, Carpenter’s hitting streak has reached 8 games with his two hits last night.  He is now 14 for his last 28 (.500).  Twelve of the hits are for extra bases (8 home runs and 4 doubles).  He is slugging 1.500 during the streak, driving in 12 runs and scoring 11 – he has scored at least one run in each of the eight games.

This torrid stretch brings Matt’s batting line to an outstanding .364/.481/.939 through 62 July plate appearances.  He has 10 home runs, 20 runs scored, and 17 runs batted in in 19 games this month.  He has hit 22 home runs and 25 doubles in his last 242 at bats – batting .326 and slugging .702 over his last 65 games.

Paul DeJong

One of the missing bats that the Cards are hoping will show up soon, is that of shortstop Paul DeJong.  Paul has never really regained the pop in his bat from before his broken wrist, and has struggled particularly since Shildt took over and installed him in the third slot in the order.  In 7 games as the number-three hitter, DeJong is 4 for 27 with 2 doubles.  His batting line – after his 0-for-4 last night – is just .148/.167/.222.

Since his return, DeJong is hitting .218/.250/.273 in 60 plate appearances.  He hasn’t walked in 4 games, and his last home run came in the second inning of the May 11 game against San Diego, 76 at bats ago.

Marcell Ozuna

The surprising disappearance of Marcell Ozuna also continues.  He was hitless in three at bats last night.  Marcell’s July now consists of 81 plate appearances, during which he has managed 12 singles, 1 double (his only extra-base hit this month), 7 runs scored, 7 runs batted in, 5 walks (1 intentional), 15 strikeouts, 1 sacrifice fly, and 2 double plays.  After hitting 37 home runs last year, Ozuna holds a .173/.222/.187 batting line this month.  His last home run came in the first inning on June 16 – 128 at bats ago.

Dexter Fowler

Yes, Dexter Fowler went hitless again last night (0-for-3).  He is now hitting .205 (9-for-44) this month.  Dexter has walked only 1 time during the month of July, while striking out 13 times.  Since his big home run against the Cubs, he is 28 for 148 (.189), with only 9 extra-base hits (7 doubles and 2 home runs).

Dexter has the second lowest batting average of all Cardinal regulars in one-run games this year.  He is hitting .167 (14 for 84) in those games.

Greg Garcia

With his 0-for-2 last night, Greg Garcia is just 6 for 34 (.176) in one-run games this year,

Jordan Hicks

After a spectacular start, Jordan Hicks’ rookie season has hit some recent bumps.  Overall, though, Jordan has been one of our best performers under the pressure of one-run games.  With his scoreless inning last night, Hicks has a 1.65 ERA and a .148 batting average against in one-run games this season.

Bud Norris

At the end of the day, the game slipped away with Norris on the mound.  Bud has been mostly good this season.  One-run games, however, have proved a struggle for him – not a good sign for your closer.  Bud has pitched in 17 of the 27 one-run games St Louis has played.  He has only brought home 6 of 9 save opportunities with a 4.96 ERA.  He has allowed 4 home runs in just 16.1 innings in those games.

St Louis’ “Other” Streaks Alive and Well

It was one of those great “agonizing” decisions that you sign up for as a manager.

It’s the top of the sixth of a 2-2 game.  Cardinal starter, Miles Mikolas, has pitched five respectable innings in the midst of two fairly nasty streaks.  The Cardinal bullpen has surrendered runs in eight straight games.  It has been seven games since the Cards last had a quality start – a distinction that Mikolas was one inning away from.

But, Miles was up to bat with two outs and runners at first and second, and the quandary was right before rookie interim manager Mike Shildt.  If Mikolas hits, the scoring chance may go down the drain.  But, Miles had only thrown 74 pitches.  He might be good for one or two more innings.

On the other hand, even if Miles does throw two more innings, you will still have to turn to the bullpen at some point – and at that point, every run you can get your hands on will be worth its weight in gold.

So, Mike went for the run.  He sent Jedd Gyorko to pinch hit.  After Jedd grounded out, out came the bullpen.

Four innings later, Yadier Molina’s flyball to right ended the 7-2 Chicago victory (box score).  The bullpen’s evening read 3 innings pitched, 5 runs on 6 hits (including a game-changing home run), 3 walks, 1 hit batsman, 2 strikeouts, and 1 wild pitch.

Basically, par for the course.

After a very encouraging 14-2 drubbing of the White Sox on July 10, the Cards have now lost 6 of the last 9 games, due in no small part to a collapsing bullpen.  The numbers give context to the atrocious state of things.

Over the last 9 games, St Louis relievers have thrown 33 eventful innings.  Those innings have seen opposing hitters pile up 37 runs (35 earned) on 53 hits (that is not a misprint) and 20 walks.  The bullpen ERA over these innings is a horrific 9.55 (the starters have managed a more-than-decent 3.68 ERA in those same games).  The batting line against this august group is a disturbing .366/.450/.510.

Eighteen games into the month of July, the Cardinal team ERA has swollen to 5.05.  In 96.2 innings this month, the Cardinal starters have accounted for a 3.63 ERA and a .233/.317/.341 batting line against.

In 58.1 innings, the bullpen has mostly negated all of that fine effort.  Their ERA over the course of the whole month is 7.41, with a .325/.401/.443 batting line against.

Mike Shildt – all things considered – hasn’t done too bad at the helm of this team.  His team is decisively in his corner – and he might even have the makings of a fine, fine manager.

Mike’s biggest problem right now is that he has inherited the same fading team that got his predecessor fired.  When they brought Shildt in, the management group defended the move by saying that the team needed to hear “a different message.”  If this organization has a “bullpen whisperer” somewhere, they would be well advised to locate him quickly.

Yes, Matt Carpenter’s home run streak came to an end.  The two streaks that threaten to define the rest of the Cardinal season roll merrily on.

Mike Mayers

It had been 366 pitches delivered to 90 batters over 23.1 innings since the last time Mike Mayers had allowed a home run.  Four pitches into that 91st plate appearance – with the score still tied at 2 and Kyle Schwarber up – Mike served up the home run that decided the contest.

Mayers has now allowed runs in 4 of his last 7 games – surrendering a total of 7 runs over his last 9.1 innings.

Brett Cecil

Heading into the Cub series, Brett Cecil had allowed just 1 earned run in his previous 11 innings, with a .184 batting average against.

He appeared twice against Chicago, with eerily similar results – 3 runs allowed in one-third of an inning.  The first time no one cared – Brett was just mopping up in the 18-5 victory on Friday.  Last night, his collapse allowed a still-close game to spin away.

Yadier Molina

In the increasing rubble of the Cardinal season, Yadier Molina continues to be a beacon.  Since being moved into the second spot in the lineup, Yadi – who had two hits last night – is hitting .389 (7 for 18).  He is hitting .333 so far in July.

Yairo Munoz

With Kolten Wong headed to the disabled list, Yairo Munoz is in line to get more playing time.  And he looks ready.

With a single and a double last night, Yairo has hit safely in each of the last 10 games in which he has had an at bat.  Yairo is 13 for 34 in those games (.389).  The hits include 2 doubles and 3 home runs (.706 slugging).  He has 11 RBIs in those 34 at bats.

NoteBook

The Cards open their seventeenth road series tonight in Cincinnati.  As befits a team with a 26-25 road record, the Cards are 5-5-6 in their previous 16 road series.

This is also the seventh time this season that the Cards have lost the first game of a series before pushing the series to a rubber game.  They are now 2-5 in those rubber games.

This was the sixth time this season that St Louis has played a rubber game against a team that had won its previous series.  The Cards have now lost 5 of the 6.

Strikes a Rarity

One never knows what one will get the day after a game like Friday’s.  Highlighted by Matt Carpenter’s career day, the Cardinals waltzed away with an 18-5 win (box score).  When the next day features a double-header, it’s even harder to predict.

As it turned out a long day of baseball turned even longer as both pitching staffs showed a strange aversion to throwing strikes. 

The umpires played a part.  Both Lance Barksdale and Will Little might have been more generous with the outside corners, but any part they might have played in the outcome was minor indeed.  There weren’t a whole lot of narrow misses.

The 18 innings saw a total of 589 pitches.  Of the 351 pitches that were taken by both teams, 252 (71.8%) were called balls.  Of the 161 batters that came to the plate, 68 (42.2%) ended their at bat ahead in the count.  The pitching staffs combined to issue 28 total walks (3 of them intentional).

The two games totaled 6 hours and 51 minutes.

For all that – as neither side took full advantage of their opportunities – the final scores were not all that extreme.  The Cubs took the opener, 7-2 (box score), with the Cards salvaging (barely) the night-cap, 6-3 (box score).  After racking up 18 runs on 18 hits in the Friday game, the Cards were just 2 for 20 (.100) in the double-header when they were ahead in the count.

Matt Carpenter

The story of the weekend was Cardinal first-baseman Matt Carpenter.  With home runs in each game of the double-header, Carpenter extended his historic home run streak to six games.  While the decision not to start Matt in the second game was a little questionable (how do you bench someone who has home runs in five straight games?) Carpenter did provide a seventh-inning home run that helped bring the Cards back late.

During the streak, Carpenter is 11 for 20 (.550) with all the hits being for extra-bases (3 doubles and 8 home runs) – resulting in a video-gamesque slugging percentage of 1.900.

Matt has 12 runs batted in during the six games, but he only has 1 game with multiple RBIs – the Friday game in which he drove in 7.  The home runs in the other five games were all solo shots – one of the residual complications of having your most consistent power hitter who can only hit in the lead-off spot.

At the double-header’s conclusion, Carpenter now has 72 plate appearances in the month of July.  They have resulted in 4 singles, 7 doubles, 10 home runs, 17 runs batted in, 13 walks (2 of them intentional) 10 strikeouts, 1 hit-by-pitch, and 0 double plays.  Matt’s July batting line is a satisfactory .362/.486/1.000.

Tommy Pham

While Carpenter has grabbed the headlines, Tommy Pham – whose first half was deeply marred by an epic slump – has bounced back recently with a vengeance.  In many ways, his recent production is almost as noteworthy as Carpenter’s.

Since Mike Shildt took over as manager, Pham has gone 10 of 17 (.588) including a double and a home run.  He has 8 runs batted in over those last 17 at bats – a span during which he is slugging an impressive .824.

After a fairly brutal start, Tommy is now hitting .316 with 15 runs batted in in 16 July games.  He has had 5 multi-RBI games already this month, including three, 3-RBI games.

When Tommy is seeing the ball well, he is almost always ahead in the count. In his 9 plate appearances over the double-header, Pham was ahead in the count 4 times.  In 65 July plate appearances, he has ended the at bat ahead 47.7% of the time.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz didn’t start the first game, but he came off the bench to get only the Cardinals’ second (and last) hit of that game – later scoring St Louis’ last run.  He did start game two, driving in the game-tying run in the eighth.

Playing time for Munoz has been less plentiful since Paul DeJong returned to the lineup.  Nonetheless, the rookie continues to produce when the opportunity presents itself.  Munoz is now 11 for his last 31 (.355), with 3 home runs and a double (a .677 slugging percentage) in spite of the fact that he has played in only 11 of the last 16 games – making just 7 starts.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna, on the other hand, just keeps starting.  Forty-four consecutive starts in left field for the former All-Star.  He was 1-for-7 in the double-header.  In 17 July games, Marcell has 73 plate appearances, resulting in 12 singles, 1 double, 7 runs batted in, 4 walks (1 intentional), 14 strikeouts, 1 sacrifice fly, and 1 double play.  It’s only a .191/.233/.206 batting line.

DexterFowler

The embattled Dexter Fowler is one of the players that Shildt has made a commitment to.  Dex has played in all five games played under the new regime – starting 4.  He was 0-for-5 in the double-header, and is now 3-for-19 (.158) for Shildt.  For the month of July, Fowler is 7 for 38 (.184).

Among the many puzzling aspects of Fowler’s season is his persistent inability to hit when ahead in the count.  He was ahead in 3 of his 5 appearances in the double-header, going 0-for-3 in those opportunities.  For the season – even though Fowler has found himself ahead in the count 40% of the time – he is still hitting just .186 (16 for 86) when he has the count in his favor.

John Gant

John Gant is not one of the major pitching prospects that people rave about in the Cardinal system, but since he was last recalled from Memphis, it has to be acknowledged that he has been the Cardinals’ best pitcher.  He made the start in the second game, throwing 5 innings of shutout baseball at the Cubs.  In his last 6 games (four of them starts), Gant is 2-1 with a 1.84 ERA and a .160 batting average against. 

Johnny doesn’t give in to hitters – even when behind.  Gant fell behind 7 of the 22 he faced yesterday.  He walked 3 but the others went 0-for-4 against him.  For the season, batters are hitting just .180 (9 for 50) when they are ahead of Gant in the count.

Greg Holland

After Gant’s five great innings, Greg Holland entered and promptly served up the lead.  Yes, an error on a double play ball could have gotten Greg out of the mess, but he still walked two in the inning (including one with the bases loaded).

A note to Mike Shildt.  One of the factors that cost your predecessor his job was that he kept allowing Holland to pitch in important situations.  I advise caution with his usage.

Jordan Hicks

While Holland set up the mess and was charged with the 3 Chicago runs in the sixth, they mostly scored with Jordan Hicks on the mound.  Jordan allowed 2 of the 3 inherited runners to score.  He has now allowed 6 of his last 8 to cross the plate.

There is much more to say about the bullpen, but I think that will be the focus of tomorrow’s post.

Pitchers and Front Offices Under Stress

While victories haven’t been plentiful in the month that cost the Cardinals the services of their manager, there has been plenty of excitement.  The Cards have scored 68 runs during July’s first 13 games (5.23 per), and they have surrendered 64 runs in those games (4.92 runs per game).

During these mostly offensive contests, there have been many moments of fine pitching.  The difference lately has been pitchers on both sides handling the stress of having multiple runners on base.

In the last game before the All-Star break, Cardinal pitchers held Cincinnati batters to a .188/.350/.250 batting line with no one on base.  For the month so far, Cardinal pitchers are performing well with the bases empty – a .215/.280/.297 batting line.

Similarly, the Cardinal hitters did little against the Cincinnati pitchers with no one on base – the .217/.217/.478 batting line was improved by the two solo home runs.  This month, so far, Cardinal hitters have been less than dominant with the bases empty – .237/.295/.381.

But when the heat was on, both pitching staffs struggled under the added stress.

With two or more runners on, Cincinnati went 4-for-7 in Sunday’s game – including Adam Duvall’s two-run single and Jose Peraza’s RBI single, both with the bases loaded in the fourth.  Opposing batters are hitting .368/.417/.513 this month with multiple runners on base.  This includes 8-for-21 (.381) with the bases loaded.

For their part, the Cardinal hitters have returned the favor.  They only had 5 at bats on Sunday with multiple runners on base, but came through with two very clutch hits – Tommy Pham’s two-run single with the bases loaded, and Yadier Molina’s RBI single with runners at first and second in the decisive four-run Cardinal fourth.  They are hitting .368/.413/.632 this month with more than one runner on base. 

Stress – as they say – can be a killer.

On Sunday, it was just enough heroics to give the Cards a squeaky 6-4 victory in Mike Shildt’s managerial debut (box score).  Even with the win, the Cards begin the second half of the season tomorrow night just 48-46 and 6-7 for July.

Paul DeJong

One of the casualties of the managerial change was the end of Paul DeJong’s hitting streak.  Stretching back to before his injury, Paul was riding a nine-game hitting streak.  Granted, it wasn’t the world’s most destructive hitting streak.  He hit only .286 during the streak (10 for 35), with only 2 doubles and 1 run batted in.  Paul has only one extra-base hit since returning from his broken wrist – so his power stroke hasn’t completely returned just yet.  But he does look like he’s getting closer.

Before his injury, DeJong was a better ignitor than he has been since his return.  Presented with bases empty situations, Paul was 24 for his first 86 – a .279 batting average.  He was 0-for-3 with the bases empty on Sunday, leaving him 4-for-18 (.222) with the bases empty after his injury.  Not only are all the hits singles, but two of those hits were infield hits.  Paul has only walked once in his last 19 plate appearances with the bases empty.  Through all of this, I have gotten the distinct impression that Paul just isn’t comfortable yet.  It will come.

Paul did have an opportunity to put the game out of reach in the fourth.  He was up with runners at first and second and two out – Cards holding a 6-3 lead.  He lined out to end the inning.  Throughout the beginning of his young career, Paul has done a lot of impressive things.  Hitting with multiple runners on base has not yet been an area of excellence.  He is only 6 of 32 so far this season (.188) with two or more runners on – although three of those hits have been three-run home runs.  Last year, he had 65 plate appearances with ducks (plural) on the pond.  He responded with 10 singles (2 of the infield variety), 5 doubles, 2 walks (1 intentional), 17 strikeouts, one hit-by-pitch, and one sacrifice fly – a .246/.277/.328 batting line.  He is now 21 for 93 (.226) in these situations for his young career.

Jedd Gyorko

Inheriting a spot in the every-day lineup due to Jose Martinez’ defensive inconsistencies (or, perhaps consistencies), Jedd Gyorko limped to the end of the first half.  Hitless in 3 at bats on Sunday, Gyorko is 1 for 14 (.071) over his last 4 games.

Nobody responds to multiple baserunners better than Jedd.  His hitless at bats on Sunday all came with less than two runners on.  He is now hitting .218 (41 for 188) this season in those situations.  He is a .524 hitter (11 for 21) when he gets to hit with multiple runners on base.

Kolten Wong

Also limping to the end of the first half was Kolten Wong.  Torrid through most of the month, Wong finished 0-for-3 on Sunday and finished the half 1 for 13 over his last 4 games (.077).

Speaking of bases-empty situations, Wong – who has re-invented himself as an ignitor – has never warmed this year to these opportunities.  All of his at bats Sunday were in bases empty situations.  He is now a .176 hitter this year (23 for 131) in his opportunities to get things started.

Miles Mikolas

Miles Mikolas finished a very strong first half on a less than spectacular note.  He finished only 4 innings, giving 3 runs on 6 hits.  He had produced quality starts in 7 of his previous 8 starts, going 4-3 in those games.  His 2.76 ERA over those starts was complimented by a .224/.273/.301 batting line.

All of Cincinnati’s opportunities with multiple base-runners on Sunday came during Miles abbreviated start.  This has been something of an enduring problem for Mikolas.  In those high-stress situations, Miles has allowed 15 hits in 44 at bats – a .341 batting average.

John Gant

Perhaps earning a larger role in the season’s second half is John Gant.  He got the win in Shildt’s first game with 4 scoreless innings of relief.  He has pitched in 5 games since his last recall from AAA – three starts and two relief appearances.  In the combined 24.1 innings represented by those games, John holds a 2.22 ERA and a .149 opponent’s batting average (he has surrendered just 13 hits in those innings).

Jordan Hicks

Is it the innings?  The Cardinal’s talented 21-year-old rookie ended the first half with 48 innings pitched.  Has the league adjusted on him?  Is the fact that his command has never been stellar finally catching up with him?

Whatever the reason, the formerly untouchable Mr. Hicks is now one of the team’s most hittable relievers.  Trying to reel in Sunday’s win, Jordan Hicks held on for the save – but not until he surrendered another run on 2 more hits.  This is now four consecutive games in which Jordan has surrendered runs – a total of 7 runs over his last 3.1 innings.  In addition, he has allowed 4 of his last 5 inherited runners to cross the plate.  The last 21 batters he has faced are hitting .474 against the flame-throwing Hicks.  He has thrown strikes with just 59% of his last 80 pitches.

On the Dismissal of Mike Matheny

Speaking of performance under stress, one game before the end of the first half, the Cardinal front office announced that manager Mike Matheny (and two of his coaches) would serve as scapegoats for the team’s struggling start.

This happens all the time in baseball, and no one should be too surprised when it shakes out this way.  Clearly, though, this is just a cosmetic move on the part of what has become a questionable Cardinal management group.

Far from being the problem, Matheny’s performance under the stress of the 2018 season has been – I think – admirable.

Let’s begin with the injuries.  First and foremost, the bullpen.  A suspect area from the beginning of the season, such arms as Matheny was given to face an increasingly challenging division went down in droves.  Matthew Bowman, Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson, Greg Holland, Dominic Leone, Tyler Lyons and Ryan Sherriff – all of whom were counted on to play prominent roles in the Cardinal pen – have missed significant time due to injuries.

If that weren’t bad enough, many of these pitchers have tried to compete in spite of their compromised health – resulting in more than a few damaging performances.

In addition, Matheny had to battle with most of his anticipated starting rotation missing much of the first half.  Alex Reyes and Adam Wainwright have missed virtually the entire season, while Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha have each missed substantial parts.

He also had to deal with the loss of perhaps the most indispensable Cardinal – Yadier Molina – for about a month.

But this was only the tip of the adversity of the first half.

In addition to the loss of the guts of his pitching staff, Matheny’s Cardinals endured horrific slumps from most of his most needed bats.  Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong all spent most of the first half hitting below .200.  After a torrid start, Tommy Pham joined the slumping hitters.  Marcell Ozuna has never settled in – he hit the All-Star break with a very pedestrian .268/.309/.385 batting line, and promising shortstop DeJong joined most of the pitching staff and Molina on the disabled list for about half of the first half.

And in spite of all of this, Matheny’s Cards hung in the race at 47-46.  In my mind an impressive feat in and of itself.  Even more impressive to me is that his team never gave in to the adversity.  At no point did they blame injuries.  At no time did they divide.  The pitchers never pointed at the hitters, the starters never faulted the bullpen.  To a man, every player on that team – through the end of Matheny’s tenure – believed that they would overcome all of this and make the playoffs.  In spite of mounds of statistical evidence that paints this team as a mediocre collection, the team itself never bought into that.

In fact, Matheny stayed with his struggling hitters until all of them (except Fowler) eventually worked their way out of their slumps.  Against the outside pressure on him to give up on these players – especially Fowler and Wong – Mike maintained his belief in them.  That is a hard thing to do.

In fact, if anyone’s feet should be held to the fire over the Cardinals’ tepid start this season, it should be that management group.  They are, essentially, coming off three or four pretty bad off seasons in a row.  Over the last couple in particular, these guys have brought Fowler, Ozuna and Holland to the team with great fanfare.  To this point, it is clear that all of these big “gets” were significantly over-rated by the front office – which also truly failed to fix the bullpen problem that they knew they would enter the season with.  In the case of Marcell Ozuna, his acquisition cost the Cardinals the career of the electric Sandy Alcantara – a decision I fear the franchise will regret for quite a few years to come.

Interestingly, another of the big “gets” over the last winter was pitching coach Mike Maddux.  While Matheny paid with his head for the team-wide struggles, hitting coaches John Mabry and Bill Mueller suffered similar fates for the team hitting struggles.  But although the tepid bullpen (they finished the first half with a woeful 4.48 ERA) is as responsible for the team’s stagnant start as the inconsistent hitting, apparently Mr. Maddux gets a pass.  In the end, Mike Matheny pays for the consistent failures on John Mozeliak and the management group.

The upshot here is not devastating for the Cardinals.  There are other very fine managers out there – and Mike Shildt may prove to be one of those.  In temperament he seems similar to Matheny.  (Matheny – by the way – becomes the first Cardinal manager to be dismissed during the season since Joe Torre in 1995.  Things worked out well enough for Mr. Torre, and I have no doubt that if Mike Matheny wants to continue managing, he will enjoy great success elsewhere.)  I hope that – if this management group can find another fine manager, they will support him with a better cast of players.

The thing, ultimately, that I find most disturbing about this is that the Cardinals have now become “that” organization.  A team whose recent past has been governed by long-term value, has now become that franchise that reacts – and even over-reacts – to short term pressures.  With one of the most promising farm systems in baseball about to send a great many exciting players to the majors, I am increasingly concerned that management will continue to give them away in their insatiable lust for that “impact bat” for the middle of the lineup.

It is here hoped that the ownership group will keep a close eye on them and make some kind of intervention before this would be allowed to happen.

That would go a long way to reducing my stress.

Bullpen Battered Again

It’s hard to say for sure what would have happened.  It’s true that the Cardinal offense was nowhere near solving Cincinnati starter Matt Harvey, and while Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez wasn’t dominating, he was at least holding the game close.  When he walked off the mound after getting Tucker Barnhart to end the fifth inning with a ground out, the Cincinnati lead was a manageable 3-1.

Then the bullpen took over.

Five pitchers, four innings, and 90 pitches later, the Reds had poured on 6 additional runs on 8 more hits – including four doubles and one crushing three-run homer – and 2 walks.  Any hint of a comeback never materialized, and the Cardinals began their final brief home stand before the All-Star break with a telling 9-1 loss (box score).

The story of July is quickly becoming the rapidly dissolving bullpen.  A sore spot all year, the recent spiral is fairly frightening.  Through their first 31.1 innings of this month, the St Louis bullpen has hemorrhaged 26 runs (22 of them earned) on 39 hits.  It works out to a 6.32 earned run average, coupled with a .302 opponents’ batting average.

Stretching back to early May, this team has lost 33 of its last 60 games – in large part due to a bullpen that has been saddled with a 4.91 ERA.

As the season slips away from them, the Cardinal bullpen still holds far more questions than answers.

This team last showed a spark of life with a four-game winning streak against Milwaukee and Cleveland from June 23 through June 26.  At that point they were 42-36 and just 4 games behind the Brewers.  Since then, they are 5-9 and are now 6.5 games back.

Tommy Pham

While a great many Cardinal hitters were dominated last night, Tommy Pham’s struggles continue to draw special attention.  Only recently removed from an 0-31 streak, Tommy – after his 0-3 last night – is more than half-way to tying that streak.  He is now hitless in his last 17 at bats.

Pham is now back down to .240 for the season, and back down to .201 (42 for 209) over his last 55 games.

NoteBook

With no extra-base hits last night, the team slugging percentage has slipped back below .400 (again).  They are back down to .399

Recent Scoring Changes

In the first inning of the July 2 game against Arizona, ex-Cardinal Jon Jay reached base on a grounder to third.  Originally ruled a hit, this has now been called an error by Jedd Gyorko.  So add an error for Gyorko, remove a hit from Carlos Martinez’ record, and make the subsequent run scored by Jay unearned.

Random Trends for the First Half

Some trends, highlights and lowlights from the first half:

The Cardinals have opened three series so far this month – in Arizona and San Francisco and home against the White Sox.  In each series they have won the first game and lost the second.  They are 2-1 this month in game three’s and 0-1 (a 13-8 loss in San Francisco) in fourth games.

For the season – as befits their status as a nearly .500 team – they are 15-15 in the opening games of their series, and 15-15 in the second games as well.  They are 13-12 when we reach game three, and have won 4 of their 6 fourth games.

They have scored at least 5 runs in 6 of their first 10 games this month – although they are only 4-2 in those games.  Prior to this month, they had scored 5 or more runs only 36 times in 81 games (44%).

They have played 25 games already this year where they have scored less than three runs.  They have lost 24 of them.

Nearly half the time this year (41 in 91 games) Cardinal pitchers have held opposing teams to fewer than 4 runs.  The Cards have won 35 of those games.

Twenty-three times this season, the Cards have taken a one-run lead in a game, but have not been able to stretch their lead to two runs.  They have lost 18 of those games.

Once they get at least a two run lead, they are 42-5. 

One of those 5 losses was one of the low points of the season. 

On April 27, St Louis paid their first visit of the season to Pittsburgh.  With Miles Mikolas shutting down the Pirate offense, the Redbird bats gave him an early lead.  A Jedd Gyorko home run sparked a 3-run third, and single runs in the fourth and fifth gave Mikolas and the Cards a 5-0 lead after five.  It isn’t very often that a team loses a game after leading by five, but this team can manage the improbable.

First of all, the offense dried up.  From the point that Marcell Ozuna’s single made it a 5-0 games, the Cards managed only two more hits the rest of the night.

Meanwhile, the Pirates chipped at Mikolas for a couple of sixth-inning runs (one of them on a home run from Gregory Polanco), but that would be all the damage they would manage off of Miles in his seven innings.  In fact, this game went into the bottom of the ninth with the Cards still holding a 5-2 lead.

A lead they trusted to Greg Holland.

Greg faced four batters.  He retired none.  A double and a single set up the inning.  The first run scored when Jose Martinez booted Colin Moran’s grounder (Martinez’ errors always seemed to come at the worst times), and Jordy Mercer drilled the two-run double that tied the game.

Starling Marte’s eleventh-inning single provided the walk-off win (box score).

If there is one loss that could serve as a microcosm of the Cardinal’s early season, it would be this one.

The biggest deficit the Cards have overcome so far this year is four runs – and that was fairly spectacular, too.

One week and one day after the meltdown in Pittsburgh, St Louis was playing the Cubs at home.  The Cubs stunned Cardinal starter Luke Weaver with 4 second-inning runs, but St Louis answered with four of their own in the bottom of the fourth.  A home run by Javier Baez in the sixth put the Cubs back in front, and the next inning, Anthony Rizzo hit the home run that made it 6-4 Cubs.

Chicago had opportunities to add to their lead in both the eighth and ninth innings, but Holland and Jordan Hicks wiggled out of further damage.  Still, the Cards trailed by two going into the bottom of the ninth against Brandon Morrow.

A walk to Harrison Bader and a Martinez single set the stage for what was probably Ozuna’s finest Cardinal moment so far – a game-tying, two-run double.

After the Cubs stranded yet another runner at third, the Cards took the game with a blunt rally in the bottom of the tenth against Luke FarrellPaul DeJong led off the inning with a walk, and then Kolten Wong drove Farrell’s third pitch to him over the right-field wall (box score).

Say this for them, St Louis has been a troubled team so far, but they have more spunk this year than they had last year.

The Cards have never trailed in 29 of their wins.  They have trailed at some point in their other 18 wins.  The Cards also have 21 losses in which they never led.  They have 23 losses in games that they held a lead in at some point.

Umpires Angel Hernandez, Bill Miller, Todd Tichenor and Hunter Wendelstedt have each had home plate in three Cardinal games this year.  St Louis has won all of those games.

Gabe Morales and Tim Timmons have also called three Cardinal games already this year.  St Louis has lost all of those.

Nine-Game Road Trip Ends With a Whimper

The first two months of the season followed an eerily familiar script.  Game after game, the Cards received sterling efforts from their starting pitching.  But far too often that effort would be undermined by a largely impotent offense and a struggling bullpen.

Even though the team finished with a losing record in June, it could point with relief to the improvement in its relief.  After being scorched to the tune of a 5.27 ERA in May, the Cardinal bullpen seemed to right itself in June.  They put together a 3.51 ERA and held opponents to just a .230 batting average.

Meanwhile as the calendar flipped to July, the long-dormant offense seemed to spring to life.  Through the first nine games of this month, the Cards were scoring at a (for them) unheard of rate of 6.56 runs per game.

Last night, the season’s longest road trip ended with a vintage mid-May style loss.  Luke Weaver stood tall on the mound, allowing just 1 run on 3 hits over his 6 innings.  He took the loss.  After scoring 14 runs the night before, the Cardinal offense limped off the field with no runs on just 4 hits.  Meanwhile, the bullpen allowed a close game to unravel – allowing 3 final runs over the last two innings.

The nine-game road trip ended with an un-inspiring 5-4 record, courtesy of last night’s very quiet 4-0 loss (box score).  They return home for a brief three-game series against Cincinnati before they will welcome the All-Star break.  Ninety-one games into the season, they sit at 47-44; 23-22 at home and 24-22 on the road.

Considering that the trip began in Arizona followed by a visit to San Francisco, I think the Cardinals and their fans have to be mostly satisfied with 5-4.  Even so, the quiet way that they were dominated last night brings us home with a feeling of unfinished business.  The 5-4 trip could have been quite a bit better with just a little more consistency.

Tommy Pham

On July 1, Tommy Pham called a halt to a 31 at bat hitless streak.  With 8 hits in his subsequent 18 at bats, it looked like Pham was back.  Since the last of those hits (a sixth-inning RBI single off of San Francisco’s Ty Blach on July 5) Tommy is riding another long hitless streak – 14 at bats.  His four strikeouts last night leave him with strikeouts in all of his last 6 plate appearances, and 8 in the 14 at bats.

The skid drops Tommy to just .235 (8 for 34) this month, with 12 strikeouts.  He finished this last road trip with a .200 average (6 for 30) with only one extra-base hit and 11 strikeouts.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna – one of the few offensive heroes of June – finished an un-inspiring road trip with an 0-for-4 evening.  Marcell – who has started 37 consecutive games – had 40 plate appearances on the road trip.  These resulted in 5 singles, 1 double, 1 walk, 10 strikeouts, 1 sacrifice fly, and 1 double play grounded into.  This calculates to a batting line of .158/.175/.184.

This fairly dismal road trip continues a strange trend in Ozuna’s season.  While most of the team hits better on the road than at home, the consistent story of Marcell’s season has been the reverse.  The Cardinals are scoring 4.74 runs per game on the road, hitting a home run for every 23.4 road at bats.  They score just 4.13 runs per game at home, with a home run every 31.9 at bats.

But Ozuna has thrived in spacious Busch.  He is hitting .313 (50 for 160) at home with 6 home runs.  He is now hitting just .233 (42 for 180) with 4 home runs and 11 walks away from home.  Marcell’s road on base percentage is just .273.

Ozuna – who hit 37 homeruns last year – hasn’t hit one since the first inning of a June 16 game against the Cubs.  That was 95 at bats ago.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler was one of the heroes of the 14-2 rout the night before.  He drove in 5 runs with a single and a grand slam.  He was 0-for-4 last night.  He is 2-for-14 for the month of July (.143).  While both Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong have recovered from dismal starts, Fowler’s batting average still sits at .170 for the season.

Luke Weaver

The Cardinal’s tough-luck loser was the bright spot of the evening.  His six strong innings provided his second consecutive mostly dominant performance (he pitched 8 innings of the 11-2 win in San Francisco no July 5).  Over his last 14 innings, Luke holds a 1.93 ERA and an opponents’ batting line of .109/.146/.174.

Weaver also finished off a road trip that saw the starting pitching come to the fore.  Cardinal starters threw 7 quality starts in the 9 games, and finished with a cumulative 3.04 ERA.

Too Bad the Same Thing Can’t Be Said For the Bullpen

Even as the rotation regained its footing after a little slide, the Cardinal relief corps started regressing back to its May standard.  They surrendered 3 more runs over the last 2 innings last night and finished the road trip with a combined 5.32 ERA and a .299 batting average against.

Mike Mayers

Just at the point where Mike Mayers was starting to be trusted with more critical situations, he has backtracked a bit.  His seventh inning last night turned a 1-0 White Sox lead into a 3-0 lead.  Over his last 4.1 innings, Mike has allowed 4 runs on 7 hits.  The last 19 batters he has faced are hitting .389 against him.

Jordan Hicks

Almost untouchable in the early days of his rookie season, Jordan Hicks gave up the last run in the eighth inning last night.  Jordan has now allowed runs in 3 of his last 5 games – giving a total of 5 runs in 6.1 innings (along with allowing both of his last two inherited runners to score).

It is no longer surprising to see runs score while Hicks is on the mound.

Next

The Cardinals are off today as they prepare for Cincinnati on Friday.  The Cards are 9-1 against the Reds this year, encouraging predictions of entering the break on a bit of a streak.  Let me caution you.  The Reds have won 19 of their last 28 games.  While it is true that they are still just 41-52, it is also true that St Louis has never managed a 28 game span with 19 wins.  No one should suppose that these games will be easy.

NoteBook

Last night’s loss snapped a five-game streak in which the Cards had scored the game’s first run.  It also ended an eight-game streak in which the Cardinals held a lead at some point in the game.

Cards Win in Highest Scoring Game of the Season

To say this was not the White Sox’ finest hour would be a significant understatement.  The final score (14-2 Cardinals) was indicative enough (box score).  Worse was the fact that much of the damage came at their own hands.  With 8 walks and an error added to the 16 Cardinal hits, St Louis didn’t lack for scoring opportunities. Five of the Cardinal runs – including 4 of the 7 they scored in the decisive sixth – reached base with walks.  St Louis scored runs on a passed ball, a wild pitch, and a bases loaded walk.

In truth, the route could have been even worse, as the Cardinals – very torrid recently with runners in scoring position – were only 4 for 17 in those circumstances.

And, of course, when the young White Sox’ pitchers did throw the ball over the plate, the Cards hit it with authority – their hits including 3 doubles and 2 home runs.  As a result of the outburst, the Cards are now hitting .291 as a team this month, scoring 59 runs in the 9 games so far.

It has been their most sustained offensive show since April.

In this one, everyone in the lineup made a contribution.

Kolten Wong

After spending almost all of the season’s first half hitting below .200, Kolten Wong is suddenly a man on fire.  He has hit safely in all of his last 5 starts, getting multiple hits in the last 4.  After his 4-for-5 effort last night (which included a double and a home run) Wong is hitting .579 (11-for-19) in those last 5 starts, with a .947 slugging percentage. 

Jose Martinez

Slumping a bit when the calendar turned to July, Jose Martinez (3-for-4 last night) now has consecutive 3-hit games.  These have pushed his July average back up to .321 (9 for 28).

Jose was 1-for-2 with runners in scoring position last night – his single driving home Matt Carpenter in the third.  Martinez leads all Cardinal regulars in batting average with runners in scoring position at .322 (28 for 87).

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter pushed his average into the rarefied air of the .260s with two more hits last night.  Even so, he is still missing opportunities with runners in scoring position. 

He ended the fourth by striking out with Wong at second base (the lead was only 3-2 at that point).  In the sixth he walked with runners at first and second and no one out – a walk that helped set the stage for the 7-run inning.

Carpenter is now 13 for 55 (.236) on the season with runners in scoring position – although he now has 20 walks and a .429 no base percentage in those situations.

Paul DeJong

With 2 hits last night, Paul DeJong now has a small six-game hitting streak, going back to the last two games before his injury.  It hasn’t been a terribly loud hitting streak, but he is hitting .292 (7 for 24).  Last night was the only multi-hit game in the streak.

DeJong also had RISP chances, but went 0-for-2.  For the season, DeJong is hitting just .238 (10 for 42) when he’s had RBI opportunities.

Good News From the Rotation

While the 14 runs and 16 hits grabbed the attention, there has also been an encouraging trend in the rotation.  After a struggling June which saw the rotation endure an eight-start stretch without a quality start, Miles Mikolas’ 6 efficient innings last night provided the Cards with their sixth quality start in the last eight outings.  Over the last 8 games, the rotation has provided a 3.23 combined ERA.

Mikolas now has 13 quality starts in his last 16 games.  He is 9-3 with a 2.26 ERA over those games.

Brett Cecil

Still not entrusted with important moments, Brett Cecil entered in the seventh with a 9-run lead.  He threw another fine inning.  He has now not allowed an earned run over his last 9 games (9.1 innings). He has allowed just one extra-base hit (a double) to the last 38 batters he’s faced.

Greg Holland and John Brebbia

In a footnote to the game, both Greg Holland and John Brebbia threw scoreless innings.  For both it broke a string of three consecutive games in which they had allowed runs – they were jointly responsible for 5 of the 13 runs San Francisco scored in the last game of that series.

For both, it must have been a relief.