A .500 team after 102 games, the staid St Louis Cardinals made a fairly stunning reversal of direction. Instead of handing out many of their most prized prospects at the trading deadline in search of that lusted-for impact bat, the Cardinals decided to trust their highly-regarded system. They cleared away a few veteran arms and bats, and infused the clubhouse with fresh young arms and bats.
The early returns on this decision have been encouraging. With last night’s 7-1 victory in Miami (box score), the Cards have won four consecutive series for the first time this season, going 9-4 over those 13 games.
Compared to the many high-ceiling arms boasted throughout the Cardinal system, last night’s starter John Gant gets little recognition. But John has held his own. He has been particularly hard to hit – especially since he has settled into a mostly starting routine. Seven of his last 9 appearances have been starts, during which opposing batters have hit just .201 (Miami had only 2 hits in 6 innings against Gant last night). In that regard, his start was reminiscent of many of the efforts of the rotation in July, when they held opposing hitters to a .225 average.
Moreover – especially lately – John has been stingy with walks. He walked only one last night, and over his last 3 starts has walked just 4 in 14.1 innings (2.51 walks per nine innings).
If anything could be better pitching-wise than allowing only two singles and one walk through six innings, Gant gave insight into the kind of pitcher he is evolving into as he needed only 63 pitches to navigate past 21 batters. Of those 21 batters, only Justin Bour – who led off the second drawing a six-pitch walk – extended his plate appearance past five pitches.
Over his last 3 starts, John has faced 60 batters. Only 5 have seen more than five pitches during their plate appearances. That is about as efficient as it gets.
While the recent surge has shown the rotation, perhaps, turning a corner (they now have 4 consecutive quality starts), the heroes of the uprising have been the denizens of the bullpen. Shredded and left for dead after a July that showed them compile a 5.98 ERA and a .306 batting average against, the Cardinal bullpen held the Marlins at bay last night until the offense could provide some late breathing room.
Their combined line last night showed 1 hit allowed over 3 walk-less, scoreless innings. The pen has now thrown 47 innings over the last 13 games, with a 1.34 ERA and a .170 batting average against to show for their efforts.
Speaking of efficient pitching, not-quite-24-year-old rookie Dakota Hudson pitched for the first time in the major leagues – and probably for the first time anywhere – on back-to-back days. He pitched 1.2 innings last night after throwing a scoreless inning on Tuesday. He needed 8 pitches to work to 4 batters on Tuesday, and just 18 pitches to face 5 more last night.
To this point, the rookie who had owned the PCL has been as advertised. Through his first 6 major league appearances, he has worked 8.2 innings allowing no runs, two singles, and one walk. He has already earned 2 wins and 3 holds.
Fourteen of the first 29 batters (48.3%) Dakota has faced in the major leagues have hit one of his first two pitches. They are 0 for 14. Over the course of the whole year, opposing batters are hitting .318 against the Cards when they hit either of the first two pitches thrown.
Mike Mayers closed out the relatively easy win with a scoreless ninth. Mayers has had some hiccups along the way, but his season has been pretty solid – and over his last seven outings he has looked increasingly worthy of his late-inning opportunities.
During his last 7, he has allowed just 1 run over 6 innings while striking out 7 – an ability he didn’t show much of early. In 9 games and 10 innings since the All-Star Break, Mike has a 2.70 ERA.
Some Late Inning Runs
It was also a little relieving to see the four late runs that padded the lead. The offense that had averaged 5.04 runs per game in July had been little seen through early August. The Birds were averaging just 4.14 runs per game through the first 7 games this month – scoring just 6 over the previous three games. With the outburst, they are back up to 4.71 runs per game through the first 21 games of the season’s second half (they are 12-9 in those games).
Second Half Yadi
In recent years – and in spite of a surprisingly heavy workload – Yadier Molina has seen a hitting resurgence after the All-Star Break. He was 2-for-4 last night (a double and a home run), and is now hitting .314 (27 for 86) since the break.
Kolten Wong was starting to heat up pretty good before he went on the disabled list. He has returned from that list in top form. With his 2 hits last night, Kolten is 7 for 17 (.412) since his return.
In the seventh inning, Kolten slapped Jarlin Garcia’s 1-0 pitch into center for a single. In July, Wong was 9 for 16 (.563) when he hit the first or second pitch of an at bat. For the season, if his at bat is two pitches or less, Wong is a .400 hitter (26 for 65).
The Cards are now only 6-8 in rubber games, but 5-4 when those rubber games are on the road.