Pitchers, as you know, rarely hit home runs. And when they do, they are rarely 426-foot moon shots. And if a pitcher should launch one that far, it would almost never be to the opposite field.
Conversely, if one team only scores in one of the nine innings, and the other team only scores in two of those innings, the game’s final score rarely reaches double figures.
And, of course, seven-run leads rarely disappear. In modern baseball, usually any lead of five or more runs is nearly impossible to overcome.
And yet – in the rarefied air of Coors Field Colorado, all feats are possible. On a balmy evening last night in the heart of the Rockies, the red-hot Cardinals erupted for 4 second-inning runs – highlighted by pitcher Miles Mikolas’ opposite-field, 426-foot, two-run homer. They would not score again until adding 3 more runs in the fifth inning – and that would be all they would get.
Still, with a seven-run lead going into the bottom of the fifth, the Cardinals and their fans were probably feeling fairly comfortable.
Until Colorado stormed back with 5 of their own in the bottom of that inning – driving Mikolas (who had been awarded the seven-run lead) from the game before he could qualify for the win.
Now trailing just 7-5, the denizens of Coors Field put the tying run on base in three of the last four innings – even getting that tying run as close as second base once. But the resilient – and re-born Cardinal bullpen was equal to every challenge as the Cards held on for a hard-fought 7-5 victory (box score). At Coors Field, it seems like every game ends like this.
The win gives St Louis its fourth straight victory, its eighteenth in 22 August games, 21 wins in 27 games since the bullpen was re-invented, and a 24-11 record since the All-Star Break. All this good enough to push this team into the WildCard lead. Where once the Cards trailed the Cubs by 8.5 games, they have now trimmed that lead to just 3 with still 33 games left to play.
Things have suddenly gotten very interesting in St Louis.
The Bullpen’s New Norm
Earlier this year, a “typical” bullpen performance would have featured a heart-breaking late-inning comeback by whoever we happened to be playing. Since the Great Bullpen Flush of July 26-27, the new “typical” bullpen performance has featured a starter leaving the game way early, only to have a group of electric arms shut the other team down the rest of the way.
In Colorado last night, a quartet of Cardinal relievers quieted the Rockies (in Coors, no less), allowing no runs and just 3 hits over the last 4.1 innings.
Through the month of August, so far, the Cardinal bullpen holds a 1.86 ERA over 77.1 innings. This features a .181 batting average against, and a .258 slugging percentage against. Only 5 home runs have been hit against the Cardinal pen in those 77.1 innings.
These numbers are eerily consistent with the bullpen’s performance overall since the late-July facelift. Over the last 27 games, Cardinal relievers have thrown 97 innings with a 1.86 ERA, a .190 batting average against, and a .280 slugging percentage against.
Even though – in once sense – these were dominant innings, they weren’t without their drama. Four walks in those 4.1 innings kept the bullpen one pitch away from disaster. This, too, I’m afraid has been somewhat typical. With many very young arms throwing many important innings, the walks continue to allow teams back into games.
Throughout the month of August, Cardinal relievers have walked 40 batters. Even though 2 of those walks have been intentional, that is still 4.42 un-intentional walks every 9 innings.
In the hitter friendly environment of Coors Field, 4 walks in 4 innings will almost always spell disaster. But again, in Coors, you never know what will happen.
Second-Half Hicks on Point
Continuing his second-half resurgence, Jordan Hicks kept Colorado off the scoreboard in the eighth. In 16 appearances since the All-Star break, Hicks has allowed just 3 runs in 17.1 innings (1.56 ERA). Two walks complicated the inning – and, in fact, provided the Rockies their best opportunity to win the game. Jordan made the crucial pitch that got Carlos Gonzalez to end the inning on a ground ball, but this is a recurring issue for the hard-throwing right hander. Jordan has walked 7 batters in his 10.2 innings this month.
It will be interesting to see – as he matures as a pitcher – if he will need to trade any of that velocity for increased command.
Jordan came in to preserve a two-run lead. He has now pitched 28.2 innings this season with a lead of at least two runs – posting a 1.26 ERA, a .168 batting average against, and a .178 slugging percentage against. His ERA is only 4.42 in the 36.2 innings in which he has pitched with less than a two-run lead. This includes allowing 7 runs over the 11 innings he has pitched trying to preserve a one-run lead (5.73 ERA).
On, again, in the ninth, Bud Norris seems to be getting better as the season winds down. He is now unscored on over his last 5 games, and holds a 1.42 ERA over his last 12.2 innings. During those innings, opponents are managing just a .178 batting average and a .200 slugging percentage against him.
Offense Still On Track
Although they only scored in two innings, the offense enjoyed its first look at the hitter’s palace that is Coors Field. Finishing with 7 runs on 11 hits, the Cards are now averaging 5.14 runs per game this month, and 5.03 runs per game since the All-Star Break. They have hit 49 home runs since the break, and 32 in 22 games this month.
Among the offensive heroes was Kolten Wong – who finished with 3 singles and drove in a run with a fly ball. Since his return from the DL, Kolten has played in 18 games – making 16 starts. He has hits in 13 of those 16 starts- getting multiple hits in 5 of them. He has contributed a .368 batting average (21 for 57) during those games.
Kolten was 2-for-2 while the Cardinal lead was less than three runs, and 3-for-3 while the lead was less than five runs. Since the All-Star Break, Wong is 11-for-21 (.524) when the Cards are ahead by one or two runs, and 17-for-36 (.427) if the lead is between one and four runs.
Jose Martinez and Tyler ONeill
When things are going well for your team, sometimes even injuries work out for you. While Mike Matheny held the reigns, all of the injury luck was bad – Carlos Martinez, Yadier Molina, Paul DeJong, Michael Wacha, Wong, almost his entire bullpen, etc.
As Mike Shildt has taken over, not only have many of these missing pieces returned, but he has also benefited from a timely injury or two. Just days after publicly committing to Dexter Fowler as an everyday presence in right field, Fowler goes down with a broken foot. This injury opened a lineup spot for Jose Martinez.
Jose had two hits last night, and has now hit safely in 11 of his last 12 starts, and 12 of his last 14 games – 6 of those being multi-hit games. During that stretch, Martinez is hitting .404 (21 of 52), raising his average for the month of August to .370 (27 for 73).
Similarly, a recent injury to Marcell Ozuna – who, in fairness was starting to come around with the bat – has opened playing time for another very promising youngster. Tyler O’Neill added two hits to the Cardinal attack last night – including the second-inning home run that got things off and running.
Since his last call-up, O’Neill has been hitting .375 (12 for 32) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs (.625 slugging percentage).
That second-inning home run (in his first plate appearance at Coors) makes Tyler 8 for 16 (.500) in the second half with the Cards either even in the game or trailing by a run. For the season, Tyler is 13 for 35 (.371) either even in the game or trailing by one. Three of those hits are now home runs – giving him a .629 slugging percentage in that situation.
So torrid for most of the summer, gravity has caught up with Matt Carpenter a bit this month. His 0-for-5 last night makes him 0-for-10 with 6 strikeouts over the last 3 games. He has hit 8 home runs this month, but is hitting just .217 (18 for 83) while doing so
Although he has teased at times, Paul DeJong has never managed to shake his post injury slump. His power has come back somewhat. He has hit 6 home runs in 34 second-half games. But after his 0-for-4 last night, Paul is hitting just .198 (26 for 131) since the break.