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