Most of the time when a team needs to turn things around (as the Cardinals did last night after losses in 5 of their 6 previous games), the turnaround starts with the starting pitcher. And as he has several times already this season, Cardinal starter Mike Leake answered the bitter 13-inning loss of the night before with his ninth quality start in 9 games. He helped lead the Cards to a 6-1 conquest of the Dodgers (box score).
For all of that, though, St Louis is where they are on the season (23-20) because they have been largely unable to break out of significant losing streaks. Already this season they have endured three 3-game losing streaks and, most recently, a 4-game losing streak. Last year’s team was a modest 44-32 after a loss. They finished with 86 wins and missed the playoffs. The Cardinals begin 2017 with a 10-10 record in games after a loss (including a 5-4 mark in May). There are various explanations for this struggle. The starting pitching, though (which is suddenly starting to resemble the 2015 team an awful lot), has not been one of the issues.
Last night’s dominating performance brought Mike Leake his team-leading fifth win of the season. Mike won only 9 all of last season and has never won more than 14 in a season in his career. But this is MikeLeake 2.0, and the rest of the National League might as well get used to it. Last night he pitched 8 innings allowing 1 run. It was the fifth time in 9 starts that Leake allowed fewer than 2 runs, and the eighth time that he has allowed less than three. He walked nobody for the second straight start, and now has 0 walks in 4 of his 9 starts. In fact, he hasn’t walked any of the last 62 batters that have faced him. In 4 starts this month, his record sits at 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA and a .190 batting average against.
Mike Leake has been impressive.
But as good as he has been in all situations, he has been at his best when he has taken the ball after a Cardinal loss. Four of his 9 starts have followed losses. In the 30 innings that he’s pitched in those games, he has permitted 4 runs on 21 hits (14 singles, 5 doubles, a triple, and just 1 home run) while walking 1 batter and striking out 23. Mike has answered those Cardinal losses with 2 wins (last night’s game against the Dodgers and another 6-1 win against Washington on April 12 that broke a 3-game losing streak), one loss (a 2-0 loss against Cincinnati on April 7), and one no decision (the May 17 game against Boston that he left after 7 with a 4-2 lead only to see bad things happen after he was gone).
His ERA in those games is 1.20 and the batting line against is .200/.206/.295. This is outstanding.
The Rest of the Rotation in Games After a Loss
St Louis’ tepid record in wins after losses is all the more confounding when weighed against the excellence of the starting pitching. Following the 9 losses so far in May, Cardinal starters have chalked up 8 quality starts, a 5-0 record, a 1.59 ERA, and a .193 batting average against. For the season, the rotation has 13 quality starts, a 9-5 record, a 2.51 ERA, and a .223 batting average against when responding to the previous day’s loss.
Carlos Martinez has been the next best starter after a loss. He has taken the ball in 5 of these games, throwing 4 quality starts with a record of 2-1 and a 2.10 ERA. Lance Lynn has four of these starts. He is also 2-1 with a 2.31 ERA. Michael Wacha, starting 3 times after a loss, is 1-0, 2.50.
These four pitchers have combined to start 16 of the 20 games St Louis has played after suffering a loss. They have combined to throw 12 quality starts and 105.2 innings with just 7 home runs allowed. They are a combined 7-3 in those games with a 1.96 ERA and a batting line against of .190/.258/.302.
Through 43 games, one-time ace Adam Wainwright has been the “other” starter. He has made the other 4 starts after a loss, but with less effectiveness. He has thrown 1 quality start, and sits at 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in these games.
Always the Bullpen
As with almost every other statistical measuring tool, it is the bullpen that has been clipping the wings of the 2017 Cardinals. While the starters are 5-0 this month after a loss, the bullpen is 0-4 with 3 blown saves and a 4.23 ERA. For the season, the bullpen carries a 5.72 ERA in games after a Cardinal loss.
This is a trend I don’t expect to see continue. Recently, most of the troubled bullpen arms have started to rebound and pitch as anticipated. We’ll revisit this situation later on in the year and see how it develops.
Offense Gets By With a Little Help
Nine walks and a big error that allowed two runs to score eased the Cardinal path to victory. With just 8 hits – 6 of them singles – the offense was less explosive than it’s been of late. Still, it all combined for 6 runs. Over the last 28 games, the Cards have now scored at least 4 runs in 22 of them.
Having had his six-game hitting streak snapped the night before, Jedd Gyorko responded with three hits last night to spark the offensive bounce back. Jedd has now hit safely in 21 of his last 26 games – getting multiple hits in 11 of them, and three or more in five of them. Jedd’s season average has soared to .331 on the strength of these 26 games of sustained excellence. Jedd has hit .362 over his last 105 at bats (38 hits), and slugged .610 (7 doubles, 2 triples, 5 home runs). In 18 games this month, Jedd is 25 for 76 (.329) with 3 home runs.
Jedd has now played in 8 of the 9 after-loss games the Cardinals have played this month. He is hitting .417 (15 for 36) and slugging .750 (1 double, 1 triple & 3 home runs) in those games. All season long, Jedd has been the most dangerous Cardinal hitter when the team had lost its previous game. Jedd has played in 17 of the 20 games (starting 16) and has hit .358 (24 for 67) and slugged .642 in those games. Of the 7 home runs Jedd has hit this season, 5 have come in games following a loss.
As has been variously reported following his 0-for-4 last night, Dexter Fowler is now hitless in 20 straight at bats with 7 strikeouts. He is now just 7 for 47 (.149) for the month. While his overall batting average sinks to .206, his average in games after a loss is even worse – now at .149 (11 for 74), the lowest on the team.
Stephen Piscotty hasn’t come back from the DL with an especially torrid bat. He has had one dribbling infield hit in his last 9 at bats, and is just 3 for 15 (.200) since his return.
But Stephen wasn’t especially torrid before he went down, either. While the offense in general has done quite well since the beginning of that late April series in Milwaukee, they have done so without much contribution from Piscotty. Playing in 16 of the last 28 games, Stephen holds a .231 average (12 for 52) with 4 extra-base hits (all doubles) and 3 RBIs. His slugging percentage sits at .308 since late April.
Stephen’s last home run came in the ninth-inning of the April 15 game in New York against the Yankees – 81 plate appearances (and 322 pitches) ago.
Randal Grichuk struck out three times in his 0-for-4 night. He is 16 for 72 this month (.222). With their combined 0-for-12 last night, the Cardinals starting outfield is now hitting .232 (Grichuk in left), .206 (Fowler in center), and .234 (Piscotty in right) respectively at slightly past the quarter-pole of the season. Somewhat less than was hoped for.