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Cards Struggle to Prove Themselves Against Winning Teams

With two pretty ugly losses to Boston, the St Louis Cardinals fall to 3-5 during the month of May, and 8-13 for the season in games against teams that currently have winning records.  These winning teams that the Cardinals have played so far are Boston (now 21-18), Chicago (now 20-19), Milwaukee (which currently leads the division at 23-18), the Yankees (currently 24-13), and Washington (now 25-14).

Twenty-one of the season’s first 38 games is a pretty heavy dose of the better teams in baseball, and has exposed some of the early-season weaknesses that this team will need to improve on in order to compete with these better teams going forward.

From an offensive standpoint, the Cardinal team batting line isn’t that far removed from the league averages for those teams.  Against the pitching staffs of the Red Sox, Cubs, Brewers, Yankees and Nationals (these numbers courtesy of baseball reference) all of their opponents have combined to slash .250/.319/.413/.732.  The Cardinal’s slash line against these teams is .251/.328/.408/.736.  But, those teams, combined, allow an average of 4.47 runs per game.  The Cardinals are scoring just 3.95 runs per game against them.

This lingering problem was on full display last night as St Louis put four early runs on the board, but never scored again over the remaining 11 innings of the long and frustrating game that they eventually dropped 5-4 in 13 innings (box score).

From the point where Dexter Fowler walked to load the bases with one out in the second (St Louis ahead 3-0 at that point), the Cards went 7 for 38 (.184) with 10 strikeouts.  After getting three successive hits with runners in scoring position in that second inning, they went hitless in their final six such opportunities.

To this point – against these winning teams – the Cards are just 35 for 170 (.205) with runners in scoring position.  For the most part, this team has found itself overmatched by these pitching staffs in the pivotal moments of these games.  Through 21 games, the Cardinals have come through in crunch-time at bats against this list of teams just three times this season: Randal Grichuk’s opening day walk-off single that beat the Cubs 4-3; Aledmys Diaz’ seventh-inning home run that broke a 1-1 tie and helped the Birds beat Milwaukee 4-1 on April 22; and Kolten Wong’s eighth-inning infield hit that tied the May first game against Milwaukee at 4-all (a game the Birds would lose 7-5 in 10 innings).

One of the strong early impressions this team is making is that they are not mentally tough enough to beat the better teams in baseball.

Kolten Wong

Wong had the double that was in the middle of the three-run second inning.  He finished with three hits for the evening.  It was his sixth multi-hit game of the season and his second three-hit game.  Kolten has pushed his season average to .273 by hitting .291 in May (16 for 55) and .309 (29 of 94) in 25 games since April 17.  Wong has hit safely in 21 of his last 25 games.

While much of the Cardinal club has been found wanting against better competition, that is not the case with Wong.  With his 3 hits yesterday, Wong is now hitting .407 this month (11 for 27) and .317 for the year (19 for 60) when playing against teams that win more than they lose.  He is 8 for 21 (.381) against them with runners in scoring position.

The development of Kolten Wong into the player that we’ve always thought he could be is one of the best things that could happen for the future of this franchise.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko added a couple more hits last night.  Jedd is showing no signs of slowing down much in May.  He is now hitting .328 this month (19 for 58) with a .534 slugging percentage.  He has 3 doubles, 3 home runs and 10 RBIs in 13 starts this month.  He has also now hit in 18 of his last 22 games, hitting .368 in that span (32 for 87) and slugging .644.  His hits include 7 doubles, a triple and 5 home runs.  Jedd has driven in 14 runs in those games.

Gyorko has played in all 8 games this month where the Cards have faced winning teams, and acquitted himself well.  Jedd is 10 for 35 (.286) against them with 3 home runs (.543 slugging percentage).

Over the course of the season so far, Jedd has probably been our most consistent weapon against the better teams that we’ve faced. He has played in 18 of the 21 games – starting in 17 of them – and hit .309 in those contests (21 for 68).  Nine of those 21 hits have gone for extra bases.  Two doubles, one triple, and six of the seven home runs he’s hit this season have come at the expense of winning teams.  He is slugging .632 in those games.

Jedd, however, is 0 for 11 against these guys with runners in scoring position.

Magneuris Sierra

Magneuris Sierra – who has at least one hit in all seven of his major league games – had his fourth two-hit night of the season last night.  It raises his average to .367 in his short exposure to the major leagues (he is 11 for 30).

Sierra’s only exposure to over .500 teams has been this home stand when the Cards have engaged the Cubs and Red Sox.  Magneuris has played in 3 of the 5 games, going 5 for 13 (.385) at the plate (and 3 for 6 with RISP).

He certainly isn’t dazzled by it all.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s halting May continued.  Matt was the only Cardinal starter not to get a hit last night (0 for 5) but he did draw a walk – his sixteenth walk in 14 games this month.  Moreover, although he only has 12 hits this month, 7 of those hits have gone for extra-bases, including five home runs.  Matt’s batting line so far for May is .245/.424/.612.  There are very few players who could hit less than .250 and still be considered legitimate player-of-the-month candidates.  Carpenter, I think could be one of them.

His season batting line (.244/.396/.496) shows that same pattern – although not with the kind of power we’ve seen from him so far in May.  Matt has had that kind of season against winning teams, too – but without quite enough of the production to really say he’s having a good year against them.

In the 8 games he’s played against these teams in May, Matt is just 5 for 28, but with a double, 2 home runs and 7 walks – a .179/.333/.429 batting line (which still equates to a .762 OPS).  For the season, Carpenter has played in all 21 games against teams that currently have winning records (starting 20).  His 70 at bats in those games have produced just 16 hits, but 6 of those hits have been for extra-bases (4 of them home runs) and he’s walked 15 times in those games.  His 2017 batting line – so far – against winning teams is .229/.360/.429 – an OPS of .788.  Like Gyorko, Carpenter is 0 for 13 against all these guys with runners in scoring position.

Ultimately, the hope is that his strikeout totals (currently 25 in those 70 at bats) will level out in favor of a few more hits.  And, maybe, even a few with runners in scoring position.

Mike Leake

Nothing but warm fuzzies for erstwhile number four starter Mike Leake. Mike is now 8 for 8 in quality starts this season (this in spite of the fact that he has now served up 4 home runs in his last 3 games).  Mike has – of course – pitched at least six innings in every start so far, with last night being only the third time all season that he’s needed to throw over 98 pitches to achieve that. At 2.03, Mike still leads the NL in ERA.

Last night was already the second time that Mike has entrusted a lead to his bullpen, only to see it slip away.  He allowed only 1 run in 6 innings against Cincinnati on April 30, walking off with a 4-1 lead only to see the Reds take advantage of the bullpen (and Rosenthal, for that matter) for a 5-4 victory.

Making his performance even more impressive is that half of those starts have come against the winning teams that we’ve listed above.  He is 2-1 against those top offenses with a 2.08 ERA and a .200 batting average against.  In the 26 innings that he’s pitched in those 4 games, Mike has walked just 6 batters (none last night).

How Do The Other Starters Fare Against Winning Teams?

The other starters are a mixed bag.  Carlos Martinez has been very good (2-2, 2.84 in 5 starts – 3 of the quality starts), and Lance Lynn has been OK (1-2, 3.63 in 4 starts – 1 quality start).  In 6 starts against these teams, Adam Wainwright has managed 1 quality start (his last time out against the Cubs), going 2-3 with a 4.99 ERA against them.  Michael Wacha (who was skipped for both the Chicago and Boston series’) has only seen these teams twice – the Yankees on April 14 (6 innings, 4 runs, 9 hits, 2 home runs in a 4-3 loss) and May first against Milwaukee (a no decision after 6 more innings and 4 more runs).  Although they have been much better recently (2.08 in the 8 May games) the bullpen holds a 4.55 ERA against these teams so far.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal has been so good for so much of this season.  Going into last night’s eighth inning he hadn’t allowed a hit over his previous 5 games and hadn’t been scored on over his previous 7.  Those streaks came to an end when Xander Bogaerts (he of the .338 batting average so far this season) sliced an 0-2, 100-mile-per-hour fastball into the right-center field gap for the triple that set up the game-tying sequence.

Rosenthal’s season ERA is still a fine 2.93, but (and this is in a very small sample size) in his 7.1 innings against the better teams he’s faced he has been tagged for 4 runs on 7 hits (a 4.91 ERA).  A lot of veteran hitters (like Bogaerts and Joey Votto and Ryan Braun) can handle that 100-mph heat.  Especially if it’s up a bit in the zone.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh pitched multiple innings last night for the fourth time this season.  One of his innings was a little complex, but he came through not allowing a run.  Oh is now unscored on in his last 6 games, and hasn’t allowed an earned run over his last 13 games.

In 11.1 innings against winning teams this season, Seung-hwan has pitched decently well (4 of 5 in save opportunities with a 3.18 ERA).

Matthew Bowman

After enduring a little lag at the end of April through the first days of May, Matthew Bowman has righted his ship.  He pitched last night’s eleventh inning in 1-2-3 fashion with 2 strikeouts.  Matthew hasn’t allowed an earned run over his last 5 games, and his ERA for the month is 1.69 with a .176 batting average against.

Of all the relief pitchers who have risen to the occasion against the better teams, Matthew has been, perhaps, the most impressive.  He has worked in 12 of the 21 games played against them so far, pitching 10.2 innings.  In those innings, he has given just 5 hits and 1 run (on the home run that Milwaukee’s Jesus Aguilar managed against him on May 4).  He has walked 2 and fanned 9, leading to an 0.84 ERA and a .143/.184/.229 batting line against some of baseball’s toughest offenses.  He has also stranded 8 of the 10 runners he’s inherited in these games.

Next Up

San Francisco (playing better lately) is just 17-25 so far.  After that series, the Cards go on the road to face the 23-18 Dodgers and the surprising 25-15 Rockies.  That will be followed by a 4-game home series against the Dodgers again before we take our act to Wrigley.  After this upcoming Giant series, the Cards won’t play another team that currently has a losing record until they roll into Cincinnati on June 5 to play the Reds (currently 19-20).  Assuming the Cubs stay above .500, that will mean 34 of the Cardinals first 54 games this year will be against teams with winning records.

NoteBook

After winning two of three against the Dodgers, San Francisco will the first Cardinal opponent to have won its previous series since they played Pirates in mid-April.  The Cards previous 8 opponents had come in with 7 series losses and one split.

The emphasis on aggressive base-running has had mixed results.  The Cards have run into a bunch of bad outs on the base-paths.  On the other hand they are 15-5 this month in stolen base attempts.  On the extremes of this philosophy are Aledmys Diaz, who already has as many steals (4) as he had all of last year, and Tommy Pham, who in just 11 games has already set career highs in steals (3) and steal attempts (5).  Meanwhile, Fowler – who was added in part to provide some stolen base threat after stealing 13 last season – has only attempted 1 stolen base so far (a successful attempt, as it turns out).

As a footnote to this article, remember that Kellogg was the umpire at first base the night before who called a myriad of Cardinal hitters out on the kind of very slight check-swings that you almost never see called.

The Cards, I imagine, will be glad not to see Jeff Kellogg (one of baseball’s least competent umpires) for a good long while.

Bullpen Misfires Continue for Cards and Marlins

For seven innings last night, former Cincinnati pitcher (and current Miami Marlin) Dan Straily silenced what had been a pretty consistently dangerous offense, holding the St Louis Cardinals to 1 run on 3 hits.  For five of those innings, his St Louis counterpart – Adam Wainwright – did much the same to Miami, as he held them to 1 run on 2 hits.  Both starters on this night were failed by their respective bullpens that combined to serve up 5 runs on 7 hits over 5.2 innings (while allowing 5 of 6 inherited runners to score).  At the end it was the Cardinals prevailing on Dexter Fowler’s ninth-inning pinch-hit RBI single – just enough to give the Cards the 6-5 victory (box score).

The win was St Louis’ fifth in a row and makes 15 of the last 20.  This was the kind of run the 2016 team was never able to make.  Over the entire 2016 season, that team never managed more than 13 wins over any 20-game span.

To get this one, the Cards would need a 4-run eighth-inning rally against the Miami bullpen to tie the score and set the stage for the ninth.  And both of those innings were set up by outfielders who started the season in the minors.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham continues to leave his imprint on the road trip.  His two doubles last night were at the heart of two scoring rallies – especially the second one that triggered the 4-run eighth inning.  Since his recall from AAA, Pham has hit in four of his five games – getting multiple hits in three of them – on his way to a .450 batting average (9 for 20), a 1.050 slugging percentage (he has 3 doubles and 3 home runs) and 6 runs batted in over his five games.

Tommy saw 16 pitches over the course of his 4 plate appearances last night.  He swung at only 4 of them, missing none and putting three pitches in play.  Since his recall, Pham has been uncommonly selective – swinging at only 33% (29 of 88) of the pitches thrown to him – but hasn’t missed when he has.  Tommy has 5 swings so far this season that haven’t made contact (17.2%), and 15 swings that have put the ball in play (51.7%).  Last year he swung at 41.6% of the pitches sent his way, missed on 34.8% of those swings, and put the ball in play with just 27.9% of them.

Perhaps just as impressive, 7 of the 12 pitches that Pham didn’t swing at were called strikes (58.3%).  In his five games back, 39% of the pitches Pham has taken have been called strikes (the team average is 30.8%)

All these numbers suggest a hitter who is seeing the ball very well and taking confident at bats.  It could be that Pham is just hot.  This could also be the difference that being able to see can make.  Pham’s recent success, both here and down in Memphis, coincided with his latest set of contact lenses.

As long as Tommy Pham hits, Tommy Pham will play.

Magneuris Sierra

Magneuris Sierra also added two more hits last night, and was also in the middle of the offense.  He scored two runs last night and has scored 5 in his 3 games in the majors, while going 5 for 14 (.357) at the plate.

It is way too early to get overly excited about the 21-year-old rookie, but my question is this.  If he does well in his brief stay in St Louis, can they (or should they) really send him back down to A ball?  Doesn’t Sierra at least have to land in AA ball?

Randal Grichuk

In the middle of last night’s eighth-inning rally, Randal Grichuk almost ended both his hitless streak and his homer-less streak.  Alas, his long fly ball fell just short of the would-be grand slam.  But he did drive home the second run of the inning.  Grichuk is now hitless in his last 11 at bats and without a home run in his last 46.  He hasn’t walked in any of his last five games, either.

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz is all the way back down to .250 on the season after last night’s 0 for 4.  Since getting hits in 7 straight at bats, Aledmys is 0 for his last 15.

Say this for Diaz.  Even when slumping, he has great control with his swing.  He swung at 6 pitches in his 4 plate appearances last night, fouling off 2 pitches and putting the other four in play.  Last year, he missed on only 17.4% of his swings while putting the ball in play 44.7% of the time.  This year, so far, he leads the team missing on just 16.7% of his swings and in putting the ball in play (52.9%).

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright’s final line in the game is becoming all too familiar.  He pitched 5.1 innings (he has made it through six innings just once this season) and allowed 4 earned runs (the fifth time this season he has allowed four or more earned runs).  Seven starts into his 2017 season, Adam is still waiting for his first quality start.

For the season, Adam has been inconsistent.  But last night’s line doesn’t reflect Adam’s night.  Wainwright’s effort last night was the best non-quality start I’ve seen in quite a while.

Five innings into the game, Adam had allowed two hits and one scratch run composed of a “hit by pitch” where Derek Dietrich made not the tiniest effort to avoid the pitch, a walk, a dribbler back to the mound that advanced the runners, and a perfectly executed suicide squeeze.  That was all this excellent Miami offense had to show for their first 18 plate appearances against Adam.

Then came the sixth inning.  J.T. Realmuto and Ichiro Suzuki guided bouncing singles up the middle.  Marcell Ozuna rolled a little grounder to Wainwright’s right that advanced the runners to second and third.  Adam then issued an intentional walk to slugger Giancarlo Stanton and – with lefthanders Dietrich, Justin Bour and J.T. Riddle due up – he exited the game and watched from the bench as Brett Cecil allowed all his runners to score.  For the game, the 15 batters who put the ball in play against Adam hit 11 ground balls.

Baseball isn’t always fair.  Last night, Adam deserved a much better fate than he got.  Of course, so did Straily.  It must be frustrating for Adam.  Over these last 20 games the rest of the rotation has thrown quality starts 14 times in 16 games, registering a 2.63 ERA and a .218/.280/.339 batting line against.  If Adam has more games like last night, though, he will be OK.

One of Wainwright’s enduring problems has been long at bats and long innings as far as number of pitches are concerned.  Last night the 22 batters to face Adam averaged 4.41 pitches per at bat which led, eventually, to 18.2 pitches per inning – with the result that his 97 pitches weren’t enough to get out of the sixth inning.  For the young season, Adam is averaging 4.07 pitches per batter and 19.22 pitches per inning.  Both numbers are the highest of anyone in the rotation.

Brett Cecil

Cecil had been pitching very well until Sunday – allowing no earned runs over his previous 8.1 innings and allowing only 2 of his previous 9 inherited runners to score.  But Brett served up the game-tying home run in the eighth inning Sunday in Atlanta and surrendered all of Wainwright’s baserunners plus one of his own last night.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman needed only 9 pitches in his three-up-three-down seventh.  In his previous 5 games (covering 5 innings), Matthew had been touched for 8 hits and 7 runs (6 earned).  It was relieving to see him back on track.

His inning was classic Bowman.  Three batters faces, three pitches per batter, three ground ball outs.  So far this year he is facing just 3.89 batters per inning (tied with Mike Leake for fewest on the staff), throws just 15.13 pitches per inning, and gets that ground ball 60% of the time –the highest ground ball ratio on the staff after he led all Cardinal pitchers last year with a 63% ground ball ratio.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal walked a batter, but otherwise pitched an uneventful eighth inning.  It was the third time in four games that Rosenthal has pitched.  Over his last 10 games (equaling 10 innings) Trevor has held opposing batters to a .180 average.

NoteBook

It took until the fifth inning, but the Cards finally scored that first run of the game.  That makes seven games in a row that the Cards have scored first.  They have won six of the seven.

Jedd Gyorko continues to close in on his doubles total from last year, when he hit only 9 all year.  He has 8 already in 2017.  Is he faster?  No.  The difference is that this year – so far – Jedd is driving the ball with authority to right and right-center.

Could Milwaukee be a Winning Team This Year?

With a smartly played 5-4 victory over the Cardinals last night (box score), the Milwaukee Brewers fly on to Pittsburgh sporting a 15-14 record and holding on to second place in the division.  They last finished the regular season with a winning record in 2014 when they finished 82-80.  They haven’t seen the playoffs since the Cards bumped the 96-win Milwaukee team out of the 2011 tournament.

It’s a long way till the finish line, but I suggested here that both Milwaukee and Cincinnati looked like they would be better this year.  Whether they will be a winning team at the end of the year or not, the Brewers do look like a team that can hit.

Struggling Against Winning Teams, Again

Of more interest to me is the fact that the Cards are now 6-10 this year against teams that currently sport a winning record.  I grant you that the Brewers are maybe below the level of the rest of the over .500 teams we’ve played already in the early season (the Cubs, the Nationals and the Yankees).  But they are 15-14, so . . .

Through these first 16 games, the offense has been by-and-large competitive.  They have scored at least four runs in 10 of those contests, scoring first in 8 of them and leading at some point in 13 of the 16.  They have hit 17 home runs in the 16 games, with a team batting line of .252/.327/.409 – averaging an OK 4 runs per game.

Where they have come up short are the areas they expected to be strengths this year – pitching (especially the bullpen) and defense.  Led by a bullpen ERA of 5.14, the Cardinal pitching staff has managed only a 4.40 ERA against these teams, while the defense has provoked the matter by contributing to 10 unearned runs.

Aledmys Diaz

Yes, one of the hits was a dribbler to third and another was a bunt on which he would have been easily retired with a decent throw.  Still, it’s great to see a three-hit night from Aledmys Diaz – who has struggled to a .236 average in the early going.  His double was lined and he flew out to pretty deep right on another pitch that was well struck.  He now has multiple hits in two of his last three games, so maybe this is the beginning for him.

While Diaz’ season so far hasn’t been what he hoped, he has been one of the better competitors against the winning teams the Cards have faced.  He is now 18 for 65 (.277) against the better opponents, with the hits including 5 doubles and 3 home runs – good for a .492 slugging percentage.

Kolten Wong

No, that is not a misprint.  If you are scanning the Cardinal batting averages and you see the .303/.398/.500 line next to Kolten Wong’s name, you are likely to do a double-take.  But those are, indeed, his numbers on the heels of his three-hit night last night.  His hitting streak has now reached nine games, during which he is 14 for 30 with 5 doubles and a triple.  He has scored 6 runs and driven in 5 while batting .467 with a .700 slugging percentage.

Even though the bulk of this damage has come at the expense of the Brewers in the two series they’ve played against Milwaukee, Wong’s batting average against winning teams has climbed to .326.

Yadier Molina

Although he’s lost a little steam since the last game of his seven-game hitting streak, Yadier Molina is still hitting .326 (14 for 43) over his last 11 games.  He had a couple of hits and an RBI last night.

In his 14 games against the Cubs, Nationals, Yankees and Brewers, Yadi is batting a more than respectable .280 (14 for 50).

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez had one of the nicest moments of the home stand, hitting his first career home run in the seventh-inning of the first Toronto game – tying the game.  He has gone 1 for 11 since – seeming to succumb at last to the difficulties of irregular playing time.  He was 0 for 3 with 2 strikeouts after replacing Stephen Piscotty in the lineup.  (Piscotty tweaked a hamstring and has landed himself on the disabled list).

Randal Grichuk

After flourishing briefly during a seven-game hitting streak, Randal Grichuk has run into another little dry spell.  Over his last 4 games, Randal has two singles in 14 at bats (.143).  His batting average – which had been flirting with the .250 mark – has regressed to .234.

Hitless in three at bats last night, Grichuk is one of those players who has been mostly taken advantage of by the league’s better teams.  In the 16 games St Louis has played against the winning teams, Randal has 2 home runs and 8 RBIs, but is hitting just .224 (13 for 58) with 20 strikeouts.

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright continues to raise more concerns than he answers.  In what has become a standard performance for him, he lasted just five innings while struggling to contain the Milwaukee offense to just 4 runs on 10 hits and 3 walks.  He has made 6 starts this season, none of which have met the minimums to be considered a quality start.  He has been battered for 49 hits in his 30 innings.  The batting line against him is a troubling .371/.415/.568.

His numbers are possibly exaggerated by the fact that 5 of his 6 starts have come against the Cubs (one of his better performances in a 2-1 loss), Nationals (a 14-6 battering that came mostly at the expense of the bullpen), Yankees (a 9-3 pounding), and Milwaukee twice (a 6-3 win and last night’s no decision).  Perhaps had he been able to pitch one of the Pittsburgh games his numbers would be better, but the story is pretty clearly told.  To this point of the season Adam has been largely overmatched by the league’s better teams.  He’s had some bad luck, true.  And he’s run into some very hot hitting teams – that is also true.  But there have been a lot of hanging pitches worked into the mix.

The Other Starters

Of the other starters, Mike Leake has been the best, although only 2 of his first 5 starts have been against these A-list teams.  Leake beat Washington and Max Scherzer, 6-1 on April 12.  The Nationals were a hot hitting team when they lined up against Leake, but Mike silenced them on 4 hits through 7 shutout innings.  He also beat the Brewers on April 23 going six innings, giving 2 runs on 3 hits.

Four of Carlos Martinez’ six starts have been against the winning teams.  He’s thrown 2 quality starts in those four games (against the Cubs on opening night and his last time out against the Brewers) and 2 not-so-good efforts (his 8-walk start against the Yankees and his 7-5 beating at the hands of the Brewers on April 20).  Taken as a whole, the numbers are more positive than negative.  In 25 innings against some of baseball’s best hitting teams, Carlos is 1-2 with a 2.52 ERA with a .214/.294/.296 batting line against.

Lance Lynn hasn’t been as good against these guys as he’s been against everyone else.  He’s had three starts in these 16 games, throwing one quality start (6 innings, 1 run, 3 hits on April 22 in Milwaukee), but his starts against Chicago and Washington were rougher.  Overall, his mark is OK.  He’s 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA and a .213/.294/.393 batting line.

Michael Wacha – at one time a playoff and World Series hero – has been flourishing against the lesser competition.  His first two starts against over-.500 teams haven’t been terrible, but they haven’t been memorable either.  On April 14 he scuffled through 6 innings in a 4-3 loss to the Yankees, giving up all 4 runs on 9 hits – including 2 home runs.  Last Monday, Milwaukee pushed across 4 runs on 7 hits – including a home run – in 6 innings against Michael.

Matthew Bowman

After beginning the season with 9.2 scoreless innings, Matthew Bowman has allowed runs in 3 of his last 4 games – a total of 6 runs – all over the course of this last home stand.  His batting line against for his last 4 games is .389/.450/.722.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist gave up two more hits last night – pop flies that dropped in.  He has now given up 12 hits in his 10.1 innings.  But he walked nobody, again – and, consequently, allowed no runs.  After walking 10 batters through his first 6.1 innings, Kevin has walked 1 over his last 4 innings.  In his first 2.1 innings of the season, it rained 5 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks on Kevin.  In the 8 innings he’s pitched since then, just 2 runs on 8 hits and 7 strikeouts.

Siegrist worked in 5 of the 8 games on the home-stand, giving 7 hits in 4 innings, but just 1 walk and no runs.

It’s still too early in the season to make too much of this, but the Cardinal struggles against the teams that they will eventually have to beat highlights the deficiencies they’ve had on defense and in the bullpen.  It also casts questions on the depth of the starting pitching.

In Atlanta and Miami they have teams coming up who have struggled in the early going as well.  They won’t play another team that currently has a winning record until their next home stand on May 12, when they will welcome the Cubs (3 games) and Red Sox (2 games) to town.  If this team has the makeup that it thinks it has, those five games would be a pretty good time to show it.

Pirates and Cards Put Runners On But Can’t Get Them Home

Usually, pitchers become more vulnerable once they have runners on.  Last year, all major league hitters hit .250 with the bases empty, and .262 with one or more runners on.  In the early days of 2017, both leagues are hitting .238 with the bases empty and .247 with runners on.  Last year’s Cardinal team hit .253 and .258 respectively.

As was true of every game in the recently concluded Pittsburgh series, the Pirates had sufficient opportunities to mount big innings.  If they had managed to do that even once during the series, they would have won at least one of the games.  But the Pirates went 0 for 9 yesterday and were 5 for 34 (.147) for the series with runners on base.  They fell yesterday for the third consecutive time to the Cards by the same 2-1 score (box score).

As the Cardinal pitchers have started to turn the corner over their last seven games, their dominance with runners on base has become an integral part of their success.  Beginning with the last game of the Washington series, and continuing through the sweep of the Pirates, Cardinal pitchers have allowed only 20 hits in 97 at bats (.206 average) with any runner on base.  This has led to an impressive 2.70 team ERA over that span.

This dominance has proved vital.

Hitters Have Struggled With Runners On

This year – for whatever reason – the Cardinals’ offense has been equally unable “keep the line moving.”  They were 1 for 9 yesterday with runners on base (Yadier Molina followed Jose Martinez’ fourth-inning walk with a bouncing single up the middle) and are now hitting .201 (37 for 184) this season once any runner reaches base.  They were 0 for 3 yesterday with two runners on, and are now 11 for 61 (.180) on the season with more than one runner on base.

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha faced 24 batters yesterday afternoon.  Only four of them came to the plate with a runner on base.  This has been one of the most encouraging aspects of Wacha’s return to health and to the rotation.  He simply keeps runners off the bases.  Wacha has faced 73 batters so far this year – 51 of them (69.9%) with the bases empty.  That is the highest ratio of anyone in the rotation (slightly higher than Lance Lynn’s 68.9%).

When he walked John Jaso in the seventh inning with David Freese already on first, it was the only time in his 18.2 innings so far this season that Wacha has walked a batter with a runner already on.

Wacha’s performance (6.2 innings, 1 run allowed) continued an impressive resurgence for the Cardinal rotation.  Over the last seven games – beginning with Mike Leake’s victory in Washington – the starters have strung together 43 innings with a 2.30 ERA.  While the bullpen hasn’t been as effective, they are improving, too.  Over the 17 innings they’ve worked in these last 7 games, they have faced 73 batters without serving up a home run.  Their innings yesterday proved a little adventurous, but not damaging.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman extinguished the seventh-inning threat with a big strikeout of Jordy Mercer.  Bowman has been a significant part of the pitching staff’s recent resurgence.  He has now stranded all of the last 6 runner’s he’s inherited.  Over the last seven games, Cardinal relievers have stranded 11 of 12 inherited runners.

Of the last 16 batters Bowman’s faced only two have reached.  He walked Greg Bird in New York in the sixth inning last Sunday, and gave up a single to Josh Harrison Tuesday night.

With the strikeout of Mercer, Bowman has fanned 3 of the 7 batters who have faced him with more than one runner aboard.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist skirted around danger in the eighth inning.  The Pirates loaded the bases on two errors and a walk.  Siegrist hasn’t given a hit to any of the last 14 batters to face him, but he has walked five of them.

Kevin faced 6 batters yesterday – only the first 2 with the bases empty.  For the season – not counting the runner who reached on an error yesterday – 7 of the 12 batters to face Siegrist with the bases empty have reached (a .583 on base percentage).  Kevin has walked 5, hit one, and served up one home run. Nine of the 30 batters Siegrist has faced so far have batted with multiple runners on base.  That 30% ties Jonathan Broxton (6 of 20) for the highest percentage on the team.  By contrast, only 7.1% of the batters Trevor Rosenthal has faced (1 of 14) and just 4.1% of the batters that Wacha has faced (3 of 73) have batted with more than one runner on base.

Trevor Rosenthal

Speaking of Rosenthal, he wrapped up the ninth inning last night allowing one seeing-eye single (after an excellent at bat by Jaso) and struck out two.  He has faced 14 batters this season.  Seven have struck out, four have singles – none of them really hard hit, and none have walked.  The early returns on Mr. Rosenthal are very encouraging.

Dexter Fowler

The offense – or rather, Dexter Fowler – provided just enough.

With Fowler’s two home runs yesterday following close on the heels of his lead-off triple the day before, Fowler now has three of his four extra-base hits in his last 8 plate appearances.  All four of his extra-base hits have come with the bases empty.  He has just 2 singles in his first 15 at bats with at least one runner on base.

Of course, as the leadoff hitter, Fowler rarely gets at bats with runners on base.  Forty-eight of his first sixty-six plate appearances (a team-leading 72.7%) have come with the bases empty.  All Cardinal batters are hitting with the bases empty 59.3% of the time so far this year.

Fowler’s home runs lift the team total to 14 through 15 games this season.  Ten of the 14 have been hit with the bases empty.

Half of the Cardinals’ first six game-winning hits have now been solo home runs, as Fowler’s fifth-inning drive joins Aledmys Diaz’ first-inning home run against Bronson Arroyo that began St. Louis’ 10-4 rout of Cincinnati on April 8, and Kolten Wong’s third-inning home run against Ivan Nova that sent the Birds off to their 2-1 win against the Pirates on Monday.

Greg Garcia

Greg Garcia, getting some at bats in place of some of the slumping hitters in the line-up, could be doing more with these opportunities.  His average faded to .227 after his 0-for-4 last night.  Three of those at bats came with no one on.  One of the team’s “table-setters,” Garcia is hitting just .214 (3 for 14) with the bases empty so far this year.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko came to the plate in the fourth inning with runners at first and second.  In his first 35 plate appearances this month, Jedd has been up with two runners on 7 times – 20%.  Of batters with at least 30 plate appearances, only Kolten Wong has found himself in this situation with more frequency.  Kolten has been at 25% so far this year (10 of his 40 plate appearances).  Jedd was promptly called out on strikes on a pitch that was several inches outside.  Gyorko has now struck out 5 times in those 7 opportunities, drawing a walk and popping out the other two times.

Gyorko did have one at bat with the bases loaded earlier this year, driving in two runs with a single against the Reds and Robert Stephenson.  Yesterday, Jedd went 0 for 2, watching his season average fall to .226.

Kolten Wong

Speaking of Wong, Kolten is down to .171 after going 0 for 3.  Two of those at bats also came with two runners on base.  His strike out came in his lone at bat with the bases empty.  Kolten is a .200 hitter so far this season (4 for 20) with no walks with the bases empty.