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Fixing the Brand

As the 2017 playoffs begin to crank up in earnest, the St Louis Cardinals will be relegated to watching.  A proud franchise who – not too long ago played in four consecutive Championship Series –  will be bristling over their second straight exclusion from the post-season dance.

All over Cardinal Nation, a host of voices will be raised to give guidance and counsel to the St Louis management.  I understand that mine will be a lonely voice, lost – no doubt – amidst the throngs clamoring for truckloads of money to be thrown at some high profile free agent or other.  I am not terribly concerned about these voices, because (usually) Cardinal management has a much clearer grasp on the needs of their team than the common fan.

This year, however, from their early comments I am concerned that John Mozeliak and his councilors may have missed the many loud messages that his team has been sending him.  So, as I acknowledge the fact that my singular plea for reason is liable to vanish into the great void of the blogosphere, I will nonetheless send forth my diagnosis of the club’s current issues and – as far as I am able – to at least hint at some sensible prescriptions.

It is important to note that none of this is as cut and dried as most fans (and bloggers) seem to think.  Contrary to many opinions, giving Miami whatever they want for Giancarlo Stanton is not really a prescription for success, either in 2018 or beyond.

This is, in fact, both a critical and challenging offseason.  St Louis has a handful of gifted players who must be added to the 40-man roster or be lost.  They, therefore, will be challenged with making critical decisions about the futures of the players already on that roster.  In many of these cases, the cases for and against these players is anything but clear.  The organizational challenge is to be right in deciding which young talents to embrace and which to part with.

None of this will be easy at all, as I will attempt to point out.

First Off, This is a Team in Transition

Most followers of the Cardinals are already aware that this team is transitioning from the veterans of the teams that went to all of those championship series.  For years, the organization has been stockpiling talent throughout its minor league system.  Now, that rich resource is beginning to re-shape the major league team.

Twenty-three percent of all plate appearances taken by the 2017 Cardinals belonged to players who opened the season in Memphis.  That percentage rose to 34% in the second half.  The pitching staff was less influenced, but still 16% of the innings pitched came from Memphis arms.  That figure also rose to 25% in the second half.

Make no mistake.  The youth movement is underway.  There had been similar displacement the year before, with the emergences of Aledmys Diaz and Alex Reyes.  St Louis is clearly rebuilding, and trying to remain competitive while doing so.

The answer to getting this team back into the playoffs – for all of the rebuilding – is actually comparatively simple.  They need to guess correctly on a closer.

Get Thyself a Closer

For as uneven as the Cardinals have been the last two years, they would have made the playoffs both years if they could have successfully filled one position – the closer.  With more stability in the ninth inning, this teams could easily have made up the one game they lacked in 2016 and the four they fell short of this year.  Cardinal pitchers appearing as closers finished 2017 with a 3.75 ERA – the worst showing for Cardinal closers since the fourth-place 2008 team finished with a 6.27 ERA from its closers.

It has become axiomatic throughout baseball – probably on all levels.  If you don’t pitch the ninth, you will not succeed.  This organization believed it had the ninth inning covered at the start of both of the last two seasons.  They had no reasons to anticipate the struggles Trevor Rosenthal would have in 2016 or the problems that Seung-hwan Oh would run into this year.

Swing the net out to include the eighth inning, and the story becomes even more compelling.  They lost 6 games this year when leading after 7 innings.  Even more telling, in games the Cards were tied after 7 innings, they were only 3-12 – by percentage the worst performance by a Cardinal team in this century

But the Cardinals already know they have bullpen issues.  And solving the eighth and ninth innings may well get them back into the playoffs, but won’t address the issues that will keep them from advancing once there.

It’s from this point on that I don’t think the organization is seeing clearly.

The Magical Impact Bat?

Among the primary targets this offseason, an “impact bat” seems to be high on the list.  Really?  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I wouldn’t mind seeing an established bat in the middle of the lineup.  But who?  And at what cost.

The least intrusive path would be free agency.  But who would that be?  J.D. Martinez is probably the most established of the free-agents to be.  Would he come to St Louis?  Given the Cardinals’ track record of wooing elite free agents (not to mention the spacious ballpark), I’ll have to remain skeptical on this one.

What concerns me most is that they will go out and trade a whole bunch of promising players for a slightly upgraded version of Brandon Moss.  Is Josh Donaldson, for example, really worth surrendering the future of an Alex Reyes or a Sandy Alcantara?  Are you really sure we don’t already have that impact bat?  Can you say for certainty that the three-four-five spots in the Cardinal order come next July (or perhaps even June) won’t be Paul DeJong, Patrick Wisdom and Tyler O’Neill?  Look at some of the players on the team this year that got less than full-time at bats.

DeJong hit 25 home runs in 417 at bats.  Give him 500 at bats (around the norm for a starter) and Paul would have been a 30 home run man with a .285/.325/.532 batting line.  And he was a rookie this year.  There is a fairly good chance we haven’t seen the best of Paul yet.

Tommy Pham only made 128 starts, but finished with 23 home runs and a .306/.411/.520 batting line.  A .931 OPS sounds pretty “impact” to me.

Jose Martinez got only 272 at bats, but hit 14 home runs.  That would project to 26 home runs in a 500 at bat season to go along with his .309/.379/.518 batting line.  Are we really, truly sure that Jose couldn’t be a fulltime player.

Moreover, I think the “impact bat” is an over-rated concept, unless you’re running a Whitey-ball offense and your lineup is 7 jack-rabbits and one bopper.  Far more important is the depth of the lineup.

Consider:  in the offensively unimpressive first half, four of the eight Cardinal batsmen with the most plate appearances hit below .250.  Dexter Fowler finished at .248, Stephen Piscotty hit .240, Matt Carpenter scuffled in at .237, and Randal Grichuk hit the break at .215.  That’s a lot of outs sprinkled regularly through the lineup.  A “bopper” in the middle would certainly help, but with that many struggling bats, one “impact bat” won’t cure the problem.

Now consider: for the 44 games from August 6 through September 23, St Louis averaged 5.77 runs per game – an adequate offensive production, by anyone’s standard.  During that span – of the eight players getting the most plate appearances – only Carpenter (.244) was under .250 – and that just barely.  Nobody hit more than the 9 home runs that came off the bat of DeJong, but almost everybody hit some.  Most importantly, they weren’t making outs.  In almost all cases, a deep lineup is better for your offense than a concentrated one.

There is considerable pressure in the team to do something dramatic to push the team back into the playoffs.  Again, I am just one voice.  But if I had one of the best farm systems in baseball, I would trust it more.  I would give this system every opportunity to prove to me that the pieces I need are already at my disposal.  I’m not saying never trade from any of this surplus.  But I am saying don’t trade the future for a mess of pottage (no offense, Josh).

Wither Lance Lynn

In this post, I made most of my case for keeping Lance Lynn.  Since one of the comments made by the brain trust had something to do with shoring up the rotation (a goal I approve of), I have to wonder where they think they will get better value than Lance?  Remembering that he was in his first year coming off elbow reconstruction (the infamous Tommy John surgery), Lance’s 33 starts, 17 quality starts, 186.1 innings pitched and 3.43 ERA are quite impressive.

More than the numbers, though, Lance was a bulldog.  He even got hit in the head with a line drive and kept on pitching.  As the next generation of pitchers graduate to the majors, Lance would be a terrific mentor.

Yes, he faded at the end – which was disappointing.  Still, I am not at all convinced that, for the money and the years it would take to sign Lynn, they will find a better bargain out there.

Here’s a final note.  In a down year for free-agent pitchers, Lance will be a likely target for a certain division rival who is always scrambling for pitching.  He would be just what the doctor ordered for them.

My prediction here is that if they let Lance walk, they will regret it.

These are all important considerations, but the single most important failing of the 2017 team is one that I don’t think they are even aware of.

A Matter of Character

Throughout the course of the entire season, manager Mike Matheny would intone sentiments similar to this: time and time again, this team has shown me its character and its toughness; one thing I will never ever doubt is the toughness and character of this team.

The character of the team and its much-envied clubhouse was the foundation upon which the belief in the Cardinals’ eventual triumph was forged.  It is organizational bedrock.  The foundational doctrine upon which all decisions are based.

And it’s complete mythology.

In every way possible, the 2017 Cardinals tried to send this message to their manager’s office – and to their front office, too for that matter.  Character wins were almost non-existent in 2017.

They were 4-7 in walk-off victories, 5-9 in extra-innings, 24-29 in one-run games.  And two measures that I am fond of as revealers of character: they were 39-39 after losing their previous game, and 27-44 against teams with winning records – including losing 6 of their last 7 must-win games against Chicago.

As a point of reference, the 39-39 in games after a loss is the worst record for a Cardinal team in this century.  The 2007 team that finished 78-84 was 43-41 after a loss.  The 2006 team that snuck into the playoffs and won the whole thing after an 83-78 regular season was 43-40 after a loss (counting the playoffs).

By contrast, the 100-win 2005 team went 50-15 after a loss (counting the playoffs).  In fact, the three 100-win versions in this century (2004, 2005, 2015) combined to go 128-65 (.663) after losing their previous game.  There have been seven 90-win teams in this century so far.  After losing their previous game, those teams have combined to go 301-209 (.591).  There have also been seven 80-win teams in St Louis in this century.  Even they have managed to go 294-251 (.539) in games after a loss.

The utility of this metric is that it reveals precisely one of the principle failings of this year’s club – a frustrating inability to break out of losing streaks.  In my season wrap-up post, I documented several extended losing spells.  In most of them, St Louis needed to wait for a series against a pretty bad team (like Philadelphia) before they could pull themselves out of their tailspin.

As to the record against winning teams, think about 27-44.  That is a .380 winning percentage.  If you took a fairly good AAA team and had them play 71 games against average major league teams, this is about the record you would expect them to compile.  In fact, this winning percentage is also the lowest of any Cardinal team in this century, breaking the one-year-old record of the 2016 team that floundered along at 24-35 (.407) against teams that won at least as many as they lost.

I promise you that the talent gap isn’t that great between the Cardinals and the other winning teams in the league.  This points strictly to toughness.

Over the course of the entire century, St Louis is 766-566 (.575) after a loss, and 713-688 (.509) against winning teams.

So, who are the players who have routinely fallen short in these character games?  It’s time, I suppose, to name names.

Stephen Piscotty

Enduring the worst season of his career, Piscotty also routinely came up short in tough situations.  He hit .213 against winning teams (29 for 136) with 3 home runs.  This included a .179 average (5 for 28 – all singles) after the All-Star Break.  During the season’s second half he was also 10 for 57 (.175) in games after a loss, and just 3 for 24 with runners in scoring position.  Renowned for his prowess with runners in scoring position through the first two seasons of his career, Piscotty hit just .125 in the second half this year with ducks on the pond.

I don’t think anyone in the organization believes that 2017 will be a representative year in the career of Stephen Piscotty.  A combination of things conspired to derail his season early, and he never found his way back.  But, with talented outfielders rising through the system, the organization will now be forced to re-evaluate their commitment to Piscotty.  Further complicating the issue is that, should they decide to trade Stephen, they are unlikely to get full trade value.

Piscotty is a very cerebral player, and very likely to figure things out.  Whatever his future with the organization, Stephen is one player who could profit greatly by hitting the ground running next season.

Luke Weaver

This, I suppose, should be expected.  Rookie right-hander Luke Weaver was mostly a revelation during the last part of the second half.  But the young man still has some lessons to learn that the league’s better clubs are all too willing to teach.

Luke made 5 starts against winning teams, culling just 1 quality start.  He served up 6 home runs in 24.2 innings, compiling a 2-2 record with an 8.03 ERA and a .321/.381/.547 batting line against.  It will be interesting to see how quickly he learns and adapts.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman was a bit exposed – especially late in the season – by the better teams.  In 35 games (26.2 innings) against higher quality opponents, Matthew was pushed around a bit to the tune of a 5.06 ERA and a .284 batting average against.

Not So Cut and Dried

A few of the players on the team, though, defy an easy label.  In this difficult off-season, these will be the hardest decisions the organization will have to make, as guessing wrong will come with consequences.

Randal Grichuk

For the last two seasons, Randal has been the almost-emergent superstar.  In each of the last two seasons, his final numbers have disappointed.  But in both seasons he has shown enough hint of promise to earn another chance.

Grichuk finished 2017 with much the same totals as 2016.  The batting average fell a couple of notches to .238 (from .240) and the home runs dipped from 24 to 22.  He ended 2017 slugging .473 after slugging .480 the year before.  Overall, less than compelling.

But, he did hit .265/.303/.550 with 13 of his home runs in 189 at bats after the break.  So now, the organization has to decide if that was just a tease?  Or is it real progress?

He ended the year at just .218 (43 of 197) against winning teams, but hit 11 of his 22 home runs against them.  In the second half, he was 20 of 83 (.241) when playing winning teams, but with a .542 slugging percentage as half of those 20 hits went for extra bases – including 7 home runs.

In games after a loss, Randal checked in with a disappointing .201 average (36 of 179), including just .188 (15 for 80) in the second half – but again, with a .438 slugging percentage.

Randal mostly split right field with Piscotty in the season’s second half.  In Grichuk’s 34 starts the team was 22-12.  They were 13-18 in Piscotty’s 31 starts.

There is no question that Randal was productive in the second half.  His 13 home runs were only 3 behind team-leader Paul DeJong in 100 fewer at bats.  If the Grichuk of the second half had had a 500 at bat season he would have hit 34 home runs with his .265 batting average and .550 slugging percentage.

With Randal’s potential, you would hope for more than that.  But, if the Randal they saw in the second half is the Randal that they can count on seeing all of next year, I think they could accept that.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s entire season is tough to get a handle on.  On the one hand, he drew a career high 109 walks, leading to the second-highest on-base percentage of his career (.384).  On the other hand, his batting average continued to sink – down to .241 (30 points lower than his previous worst average).  On the other hand, he was apparently battling shoulder issues all season – perhaps accounting for much of that loss of production.  On the other hand, after playing in at least 154 games a year from 2013 through 2015, Matt has followed with two injury plagued seasons.  He also hit 23 home runs (his third consecutive 20-homer season) and slugged a solid .451.  His final OPS of .835 is still well above league average, but below either of his previous two seasons.

In his games against winning teams, Matt hit just .221 (49 of 222), but drew 38 walks, helping him to a .341 on base percentage.  He made 141 starts this year, with the team going 70-71 (.496) when he was in the lineup, and 13-8 (.619) when he wasn’t.

So did Matt have a good year or not? With the home runs and the on base, I suppose that I would have to call it good, but troubling.  By degrees, Matt is becoming more valuable for his ability to walk than for his ability to hit the ball.  And, by degrees, the team is starting to feel the loss of that big hit.

Carpenter is one of the team’s core members, and he will be on the field somewhere on opening day (barring another injury).  But a lot of elements in his career trajectory concern me.

Michael Wacha

While this was – in many ways – a triumphal season for Michael Wacha, he is still coming up short in these character games.  After suffering through three injury plagued seasons, an offseason workout regimen kept Michael on the field for 30 starts and 165.2 innings.  The anticipation is that his 12-9 record and 4.13 ERA will be marks to build on going forward.

It may, indeed, play out that way.  It is, nonetheless, true, that Wacha (who excelled against good teams and in stopper situations early in his career) continues to trend down in these games.

From 2013 through 2015, Wacha pitched in 40 games (35 starts) against teams that boasted winning records for the season.  He was 15-9 in those games with a 3.08 ERA and a .217 batting average against.

In 2013 and 2014, Wacha pitched in 12 games (10 starts) after a Cardinal loss.  He was 5-3 with a 2.88 ERA in those situations, holding batters to a .195 batting average.

In 2017, Wacha was only 2-6 in 12 starts against winning teams.  His 5.90 ERA was accompanied by a .296/.365/.502 batting line against.  He was 5-4 in 13 starts following a Cardinal loss, but with a 4.76 ERA.  Since 2015, Wacha is 4-10 against winning teams with a 5.70 ERA, and since 2014 he is 15-9, but with a 4.64 ERA in games after a loss.

Wacha is yet another enigma on this team.  Beyond the physical issues, there has been a palpable loss of mojo.  The spectacular hero of the 2013 playoffs has lost that big game feel.  Wacha is one of the players who could make a huge difference next year if he can channel his earlier self.

Carlos Martinez

In spite of the fact that he tossed his first two complete-game shutouts and crossed over both the 200-inning and 200-strikeout plateaus for the first time in his career, Carlos Martinez regressed noticeably in 2017.  After going 14-7 with a 3.01 ERA in 2015 (his first year in the rotation), and 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last year, Carlos saw those numbers sink to 12-11 with a 3.64 ERA.  And the core difficulty that he had was with winning teams.

In his first two seasons in the rotation, Martinez had gone 12-9 with a 3.35 ERA against winning teams.  He had put together quality starts in 17 of his 26 starts against them.

He made 15 starts against winning teams this year.  Only 7 of those fulfilled the standards for a quality start.  Even though he has “stuff” the equal of any pitcher in the game, he was only 4-7 with a 4.28 ERA in those games.  He was just 1-3 with a 6.12 ERA with a .301 batting average against them in the second half of the season.  After allowing just 12 home runs in 166.2 innings against winning teams his first two years in the rotation, he served up 11 in 90.1 innings against them last year.

In all likelihood, this is just a bump in the road for Carlos.  But there were a couple of concerning developments that I noticed that need to be solved somehow, or Martinez will never realize his potential.

For one thing, Martinez continually tries to do too much.  His anointing as the ace of the staff this year may have fed into this tendency.  Especially in big games, he tries too much to give extra effort.  In a game that rewards players that learn to play within themselves, this will usually be counterproductive.

It was noted that Carlos complicated three consecutive late-season starts by throwing away routine double-play balls.  More than this, though, Martinez’ need to do too much affected his fielding for much of the season.  He dove, scrambled, and lunged for every near-by ground ball.  He probably caused nearly a dozen infield hits by deflecting grounders that would have been right to his infielders.

On several occasions, he even kicked at ground balls to his right, like a hockey goalie trying to make a skate save.  Now, I ask you, what good could come of that?  Who in the world could make a play on a ball that Carlos has deflected with his foot?

It’s all part and parcel of a young pitcher losing control of himself.

The other issue is even more concerning.  There sometimes – especially in big games – seems to be an emotional fragility to Martinez.  Something in his confidence seems to drain if the opposing team has early success against him.  He hasn’t fully mastered the ability to gather himself after bad things happen and continue to pitch within himself.

There is no better example of this than the game that sent the Cardinal season spinning toward its final destination (box score).

For ten batters on a beautiful Friday afternoon in Wrigley, Carlos Martinez was untouchable.  His 100-mph fast ball jumped and ran like a thing alive, and his slider was about eleven different flavors of filthy.  The defending champion Cubs – possessors of one of the most potent lineups in baseball – couldn’t touch him.  Five of the ten batters struck out, and four of the others hit groundouts.  Of his first 43 pitches, 30 were strikes.

Then Kris Bryant – the eleventh batter to face him – looped a fly ball to right on a 2-0 pitch.  It wasn’t hit terribly well or terribly far.  If this incident had happened at Busch, Piscotty would have probably been about a step on the track as he made the catch.  But in Wrigley it was just far enough to creep over that overhanging basket for a game-tying home run.

And with that, the air went out of Carlos Martinez.

The first 10 batters he faced got no hits.  Six of the last 16 he faced got hits.  After striking out 5 of the first 10, he didn’t strike out another batter.  While 30 of his first 43 pitches were strikes, only 31 of his final 57 made it to the strike zone.  None of the first 10 batters walked.  Carlos walked 3 of the last 16 and hit another as his once dominating slider flew wildly all over the place.

Carlos ended the affair lasting just 5.1 innings.  On a day that he started with devastating stuff, he ended serving up 7 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks.

Being “the man” requires uncommon mental and emotional discipline.  The next level for Martinez lies just beyond that barrier.

Let it be noted that in three years in the rotation, Carlos is 17-8 with a 2.96 ERA in games after a loss.  That includes his 4-3, 2.61 mark this year in those situations.

Better Than the Numbers Suggest

One player deserves mention in a better category.  His contribution was greater than his numbers might suggest.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler was the big free agent acquisition after being one of the drivers of Chicago’s championship the year before.  His final numbers were sort of ordinary (.264 batting average with 18 home runs).  He also hit just .225 (42 for 187) against winning teams, and .237 (52 of 219) in games following a loss.  Not overly impressive.

But Fowler’s season was a story of two halves.  Hobbled by a variety of injuries in the first half (mostly his feet), Dexter limped to a .248 average (albeit with 14 home runs).  He had hit .199 (27 of 136) against winning teams, and .201 (28 of 139) in games after a loss.

As his health improved, Fowler became a decided force for good throughout the second half.  He hit .288/.400/.488 after the break, including .294 with a .400 on base percentage against winning teams, and .300 with a .402 on base percentage in games after a loss.

The guy I saw at the end of the season is the guy I’m excited to see all year next year.

Setting the Bar

The Cardinals did have a few players who consistently rose to the challenge of the games against the better teams.  They should get a notice as well.

Tommy Pham

Tommy’s break-through season wasn’t limited to beating up on lesser teams.  Tommy hit .287 against over .500 teams with a .391 on base percentage.  He also hit .330/.451/.558 in games after a loss.  He also hit .305/.420/.514 with runners in scoring position.  Tommy had himself a year.

Lance Lynn

It’s probably fitting that I spend the last few paragraphs that I am likely to devote to the 2017 baseball season to Lance Lynn.  While the Cardinals repeatedly fell short against winning teams, Lance was 4-3 against them, with 4 other potential wins lost in the bullpen.  He posted a 3.09 ERA against these teams in 78.2 innings, with a .196 batting average against him.

Are we really, really sure we want to cut ties with him?

Final Word

Again, I am just one voice.  But the message clearly sent from the 2017 season is that this team’s greatest need is not some aging slugger to bat fourth.  The greatest gap between the Cards and the Cubs – and the other good teams in the majors – is the character gap.  If this were my team, this is the area that I would focus on first.

Living in a Grinders Paradise

A trend I have mentioned a few times over the last part of the season reached – I hope – its nadir last night.  A Cardinal team that seems increasingly unwilling to swing the bat watched pitch after pitch go by last night.  Of the 173 pitches delivered over 11 grueling innings in a game the Cardinals desperately needed to keep alive their faint playoff hopes, the Cards swung at only 62 (36%).  They did grind – averaging as a team 4.22 pitches per plate appearance (for context, Matt Carpenter averages 4.45 pitches per plate appearance for the season).  But 40.5% of the pitches they took were called strikes, leading to 17 strikeouts and only 4 walks.  Eight of the 17 Cardinals who struck out were called out on strikes

Meanwhile, St Louis finished the eleven-inning fiasco with 1 run and only 6 hits.  The team batting average falls to .239 for the month.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham was about the only offense the Cards had going for them last night.  With 2 singles and a walk, Pham added 2 stolen bases and scored the team’s only run.  Tommy is still finishing strong.  He is now up to .306 with a .444 on base percentage for the month.  Since the All-Star Break, Pham is hitting .321 (75 for 234) with a .437 on base percentage (Tommy has walked 43 times, been hit by 6 pitches, and has stolen 14 bases in 17 attempts in the season’s second half).

Of the 29 pitches tossed to Tommy last night, he only swung at 7.  All season, Pham has been one of the most selective of the Cardinal hitters.  For the season, he only swings at 38.1% of the pitches he sees.  As the season goes on, though, Tommy is getting even more selective.  This month, his swing percentage is down to 33.4%.

Matt Carpenter

Struggling with a balky shoulder off and on all year, Matt Carpenter’s season came to an ignominious end with an 0-for-4 that featured 4 strikeouts.  Matt finishes September hitting .230 (but with a .420 on base percentage as he drew his twentieth walk in his twenty-one games).

When Carpenter came to the plate in the third inning with a runner at first and one out, it would be the 97th and final opportunity for Matt to ground into a double play.  He struck out.  One thing about striking out and hitting fly balls – they keep you out of double plays.  Matt bounced into only 5 all year.  Among season-long regulars, his 5.2% was the lowest on the team.

After the game, Matt admitted to taking pitches he might otherwise have swung at.  The evidence is in the statistics.  Over the course of the season, Carpenter swung at the first pitch just 13.2% of the time.  In the second half of the season, that ratio dropped to only 9.2%.  In 82 September plate appearances, Carpenter swung at the first pitch just 3 times.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler couldn’t break out of his late season swoon in time to extend the Cardinals hopes.  He was also 0 for 4 with 3 strikeouts.  Fowler welcomes Milwaukee hitting just .185 (5 for 27) over his last 7 games.

Fowler swung the bat 13 times last night, missing on 6 of the swings.  During the month of September, Dexter is missing on a team-leading 30.6% of his swings – higher even than Randal Grichuk’s 30.1%.

Dexter also saw 29 pitches last night (5.8 per).  For the month of September he trails only Carpenter in pitches per PA with 4.24.

Stephen Piscotty

As he returned from Memphis, Piscotty expressed the hope that he could get hot coming down the stretch.  That didn’t happen.  Piscotty went hitless in 3 at bats last night, and is 0 for 13 over his last 5 games.  It has been 15 games since Stephen has driven in a run – a span during which he has hit .191 (9 for 47) with only 2 extra base hits.  His September average is down to .231, and for the second half it’s down to just .229 (25 for 109).

Piscotty also had an opportunity to bounce into a double play.  In the fourth inning he had Jedd Gyorko on first with one out.  Stephen didn’t bounce into the double play.  He struck out into it instead.  Still, this month, Piscotty has bounced into just 1 DP in 17 such opportunities.

Carson Kelly

Carson Kelly made his fourth start in the last five games last night.  He is 1 for 15 (.067), and is 0 for 11 since Yadier Molina went on concussion protocol.  Carson is the top rated catching prospect in baseball.  It would help, though, if he would get a hit once in a while.

All four first pitches to Carson last night were strikes – although he only swung at one of them.  In his 30 plate appearances, Carson is seeing first pitch strikes 76.7% of the time.  No other non-pitcher on the team is getting challenged with the first pitch as often as Kelly.

Kelly swung the bat 4 times last night, fouling a pitch off and putting the ball in play with his other swings.  Kelly has only missed on 16.2% of his swings since joining the team.  He is also putting the ball in play with an impressive 49.5% of his swings.

Lance Lynn

If this was, indeed, Lance Lynn’s last start as a Cardinal it ended on a fairly ironic note.  Noted early in his career for the consistency of run support that he received, Lance will exit seeing no runs scored for him in his last game.  Moreover, this will be the third time in his last 5 games that St Louis was kept off the scoreboard while he was the pitcher of record.  In fact, over his last 27 starts, the Cardinals averaged just 3.00 runs per start for him.

Lance, nonetheless, finishes with an excellent 3.43 ERA – which was 3.21 in 15 second half starts in his first season returned from Tommy John surgery.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil delivered a scoreless seventh in the tie game, and continues to show incremental improvement in the season’s dying days.  His September ERA drops to 2.25 in 12 innings.  He had them three-up-and-three down on 9 pitches last night.  In his September innings, Brett is only facing 3.42 batter per inning, and throwing just 12.08 pitches per inning.  Over the course of the whole season, Cecil has thrown just 3.58 pitches per batter.

Eight of his nine pitches were strikes.  He spent almost the entire first half looking for the strike zone, as only 63.5% of his pre-All-Star Game pitches were strikes.  Between the break and the beginning of September, his percentage jumped to 69.4%.  This month, 73.1% of his pitches have been strikes.

Juan Nicasio

Juan Nicasio kept them off the board in the eighth, but it took him 20 pitches to work through the inning.  Since he has been a Cardinal, Juan has averaged 17.5 pitches per inning, and 4.38 pitches per batter.  Only Tyler Lyons (18.45 and 4.41) has thrown more pitches per inning and per batter this month than Nicasio.

Sam Tuivailala

Sam Tuivailala kept the game tied through the ninth.  Sam has been having a very solid September.  He now has a 2.00 ERA in 9 innings this month.  He faced only 3 batters last night, throwing 7 strikes in just 9 pitches.  This month, Sam is averaging just 3.56 batters per inning, just 12.00 pitches thrown per inning, just 3.38 pitches per batter, while throwing strikes with 73.1% of his pitches.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia dispatched his 3 batters in the tenth (including one who struck out) on only 8 pitches.  Even though Brebbia has struck out 17 batters in 10.2 innings this month, he has done so throwing a surprisingly economical 3.36 pitches per batter.  Seven of last night’s eight pitches were strikes.  John throws strikes 68.5% of the time over the course of the season.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman faced 5 batters in last night’s decisive eleventh inning.  One of them struck out, and the other four hit ground balls.  It resulted in two hits and the run that eliminated the Cardinals from playoff contention.  That’s the way the ball bounces sometimes.

Matthew has gotten ground balls from 14 of the 21 batters he’s faced this month, and 56.2% on the year – the highest ratio of anyone on the staff with more than 20 innings pitched.

Elimination Season Almost Ended

For all their warts, the Cardinals were the second to last team to be eliminated from playoff contention this year.  Milwaukee or Colorado will be the last.  Everyone else is already in or out.

NoteBook

With the loss, the Cardinals fall to 43-35 at home.  Of the 25 home series they have played, they have won 12, lost 10, and split the other 3.

With Milwaukee having won two of three from Cincinnati, the Cards will play no more teams this season that have either lost or split their previous series.  So the final tallies on those situations are:

St Louis finished just 37-36 against teams that had lost their previous series.  Those games averaged 3:06, and drew a total attendance of 2,563,414 (an average of 35,115.3) and were played in average temperatures of 78.5 degrees.  We went 11-10-2 in those series, sweeping 3 of the 5 we had a chance to sweep, and being swept in 3 of the 4 that we were in danger of being swept in.  We were 4-5 in rubber games against teams that had lost their previous series.

We only played 6 teams this season that had split their previous series, and we beat them up in good order, going 13-4 in those games.  Those games averaged 2:58.8 and drew a total attendance of 726,554 (an average of 42,738.5).  The average temperature of those games was 79.4 degrees.  We won 5 of the 6 series, including sweeps in 3 of 4 opportunities while avoiding the sweep in the only such series lost all season.  We won the one rubber game played in these series.

Cards Can’t Add to One Run Lead, Lose Again

In many ways, last night’s games was eerily similar to the first John Lackey game about a week and a half ago.  In that game – on Friday, September 15 – Lackey served up an early run (a first inning home run off the bat of Tommy Pham).  And there it sat.  One lonely run, sitting on the scoreboard through the fourth inning.  One run, just waiting for the Cubs to bounce back.

After the Cubs did tie the game in the fourth, St Louis came back with another run in the fifth.  And there it sat.  A one run lead, just waiting.  This time it waited a shorter period of time, till the bottom of the sixth when Chicago erupted for 7 runs that decided the contest 8-2 (box score).

Fast forward to last night.  Again, Lackey serves up the early run (this time in the second inning).  And there it sat.  One lonely run.  It sat there, un-added upon, through the third, the fourth, the fifth and the sixth.  Finally, one more big inning from the Cubs (a five-run seventh) sent the Cards to defeat 5-1 (box score).

St Louis has now scored the first run in 7 of their last 8 games, but have lost 3 of the last 4.  One reason has been a consistent inability to add to a one run lead.

Last night, from the moment they pushed ahead 1-0 until they came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh trailing 5-1, St Louis was 0 for 14.  For the month of September, St Louis is hitting just .155 when clinging to a one run lead.  Since the All-Star Break the sometimes dynamic Cardinal offense (that is averaging 4.96 runs per game over its last 70 games) is scuffling along at a .209 batting average when holding a lead of one lonely run.

Delivering that knockout blow is another of the many elements lacking in the Cardinals game as they come down the stretch.

With only 5 hits on the night, the Cardinal batting average for the month of September fades to .242.

Paul DeJong

The only Cardinal hitter that showed much of a pulse last night was rookie Paul DeJong.  He was the only Cardinal with two hits, accounting for the only Cardinal extra-base hit and the only Cardinal run batted in.  Paul has two hits in each of the last two games.

DeJong’s RBI came in the second inning, breaking a 0-0 tie.  Many of Paul’s best moments have come while the game is tied.  This month, Paul is 7 for 23 (.304) and 23 for 73 (.315) in the second half when batting in tie games.  For the season, Paul is a .311 hitter (32 for 103) and a .534 slugger (5 doubles and 6 home runs) when batting in a tie game.

Dexter Fowler

After being one of the driving forces of the offense in the second half, Dexter Fowler has run into a dry stretch.  As the Cards have suffered four damaging losses in their last five games, Fowler has been 3 for 19 (.158).  He has drawn 1 walk, scored 1 run, and driven in no runs in that span.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko was another of the Cardinal bats quieted last night – he went 0 for 3.  Jedd has been hitting quite a bit better lately – and in fact, had 5 hits in the two previous games.  But his average in a disappointing second half has faded to .224.

Gyorko led off the fourth with the Cards clinging to the one run lead.  He flew out to left.  Since the All-Star Break, Jedd is now 2 for 19 (.105) when batting with that one run lead.

Another Pitching Streak Reaches Record Levels

On Thursday, August 23, 2012 Jake Westbrook went to the mound for the Cards, facing Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros.  It would not be his best start.  He lasted 5 innings, giving 5 runs on 7 hits.  It was all enough, though, to get him a 13-5 win.

More importantly, it broke a streak of 3 straight quality starts (Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse).  And it initiated the longest stretch of games in this century without a quality start from a Cardinal pitcher.  Until last night, that is.  The 2012 streak reached 11 games in a row, until Monday September 3, when Joe Kelly pitched St Louis to a 5-4 victory against the Mets.  He gave just 2 runs over 6.2 innings.

Although Michael Wacha tossed six brilliant innings last night, the 5-run seventh denied the team not just the victory, but the streak stopping quality start.  Over the last 12 games, Cardinal starters have been saddled with a crushing 8.40 ERA.  For the month of September, the rotation has chipped in just 7 quality starts in 25 games, while registering a 4.63 ERA.  For the 70 games of the second half, the team ERA has risen to 4.03.

You will, no doubt, remember that earlier this season the Cards allowed at least five runs in 12 consecutive games.  Here, now, is a companion streak.

Michael Wacha

Of all of the Cardinal starters during this long dry spell, Wacha has been statistically the best – and that by quite a bit.  However, he still carries a 5.40 ERA and an 0-2 record over his last 3 starts.  This in spite of the fact that the batting average against has only been .246.  Over the 16.2 innings of those starts, Michael has struck out 19 and allowed just one home run (in last night’s seventh inning).

In a sense, these last three starts have been a kind of microcosm of Michael’s season.  Lots of terrific, impressive moments that somehow haven’t worked out as hoped.

All season Wacha has struggled to hold onto small leads.  In the season’s second half, Wacha has pitched 24.2 innings with a lead of less than four runs.  His ERA in those innings is 6.57 with a .300/.355/.510 batting line against.  This includes a 7.50 ERA when holding a one run lead.  For the season, in 55 innings when leading by no more than 3 runs, Wacha’s ERA is 6.38 with a .298/.355/.505 batting line against.  This includes an 8.62 ERA when pitching with a two-run lead, and a 8.10 ERA (with a .366 batting average against) when holding a three-run lead.

Matthew Bowman

For most of the season, Matthew Bowman’s specialty has been stranding runners.  Of the first 31 runners he inherited, only 5 crossed the plate.  With the one he let in last night, 10 of the last 20 have scored, including 6 of the last 11.  Bowman has been one of several Cardinals who have been given opportunities to impact these critical September games who have too often been found wanting.

Zach Duke

On the other hand, there is Zach Duke.  Off to a kind of brutal start to the season after missing spring training, Duke has been locked in of late.  Inheriting a bases-loaded jam from Bowman, Duke ended the seventh by getting Anthony Rizzo to bounce into a double play.  Duke has now stranded the last 15 base-runners that he has inherited – including three times with the bases loaded.

If the Cards are not interested in pursuing him for next year, they should be.

Sam Tuivailala

Coming into the eighth inning trailing by four runs, Sam Tuivailala delivered a clean eighth inning.  This season, Sam has pitched 25.2 innings with the Cards trailing.  His ERA is 1.05, and his batting line against is an efficient .149/.213/.184. In his 14.2 innings either tied or with his team in the lead, Sam holds a 5.52 ERA with a .344/.400/.594 batting line against.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil also delivered a clean inning – the ninth, in a low impact setting with a four-run deficit.  Cecil has had a forgettable season, but is doing better this month.  In 8 September games – comprising 11 innings – Cecil carries a 2.45 ERA and a .171 batting line against.  He has walked just 1 batter in those innings.

Brett has now pitched 18.1 innings this season with the Cardinals trailing by at least three runs.  In those innings, Brett has a 0.49 ERA with a .119/.143/.153 batting line against.  Cecil also has pitched 6.1 innings with the Cards leading by at least six runs.  He has given no runs and only 4 hits in those innings.

In between, with St Louis either leading by up to five runs, tied, or trailing but by no more than two runs, Cecil has a 6.25 ERA and a .333/.378/.548 batting line against in 40.1 innings.

It is possible that there is no statistic more descriptive of Brett’s season than that.

Cards Exposed Again by Winning Teams

One of the beautiful things about the 162-game marathon that is the major league baseball season, is that by the time it has run its course it will answer all questions.  Heading into the big series in Wrigley, I asked some questions about the mental edge the Cubs have had over the Cards for the last couple of years.  In three sunny afternoons in Chicago’s Northside, those questions were resoundingly answered.

While the Cardinals will continue to fight for a playoff spot – as they should – the three-game sweep by the Cubs that culminated with yesterday’s 4-3 loss (box score) has left their playoff hopes mostly untenable.  Left for the Cardinals is to sift through the pieces and begin to plan for next season.

One of the glaring realities of the Cardinal season is that they are decidedly lacking when faced with teams that win more than they lose.  They are now 25-39 for the season, and 8-12 since the All-Star Break, against winning teams.

Since the point where a 10-2 run positioned them just 2 games behind (with 18 to play at that time) they have lost 4 of 5 games.  The Cards have scored just 11 runs in their last 5 games.

Offensive Deficiencies

One of the constants in the Cardinals’ matchups with winning teams has been scarcity of runs.  They scored all of 6 in the 3 games in Wrigley.  They have averaged 3.95 runs per game in the 20 second half games they’ve played against winning teams, and are averaging 3.92 against them for the season.  They average 5.31 runs per game against sub-.500 teams.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham certainly had opportunities to do more damage, but you couldn’t have realistically asked much more from him.  With 3 hits yesterday, Tommy kept giving the Cards opportunities to fight their way back into the game.  During the 5 games during which the Cardinal season has mostly faded away, Pham has been one of the few beacons.  Over his last 22 plate appearances, Tommy has 3 singles, a double, 2 home runs, 3 walks, and a hit-by-pitch – a .333/.455/.722 batting line.  In 57 games in the season’s second half, Pham is hitting .315/.431/.533 with 10 home runs, 10 stolen bases, and 44 runs scored.

Tommy has also been one of the few driving forces against winning teams, as well.  After finishing the Cub series 4 for 12, Tommy is up to .295 on the season (46 for 156) against winning teams, with 7 home runs.  Since the All-Star Break, he is 25 for 73 (.342) with a .548 slugging percentage.

Tommy’s breakthrough season withstands all levels of scrutiny.

Dexter Fowler

It’s good to have Dexter Fowler back.  Only activated before the Saturday game, Dexter was 4 for 8 in his two games, tying yesterday’s game once with a three-run homer and almost hitting another game-tying home run in the ninth.  Dex has only played in 7 games this month, but he’s hitting .304 (7 for 23) and slugging .609 (2 triples to go with yesterday’s home run).

In 27 games since his most recent return from the disabled list, Fowler is hitting .322/.438/.567.   He has only been healthy enough to play in 38 of St Louis’ 61 second half game, but he is hitting .285 (37 for 130) with a .403 on base percentage.

With the home run, Fowler set a new career high in runs batted in.  He now has 55 for the year, even though he has only been healthy enough to play in 108 of the 149 games so far.  His previous high was the 53 he drove in with Colorado in 143 games in 2012.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong did draw a walk and was hit by a pitch.  But hits have been few and far between for Kolten.  Having the best season of his career, Wong’s last 16 games have seen him go 9 for 50 (.180).  Recurring back issues may very well be part of the cause.

In the season’s second half, Wong has played in 19 of the 20 games St Louis has played against winning teams.  He is hitting .206 in those games (13 for 63).

Pitching Falters

With 11 more hits – including 5 against starter Lance Lynn in just 4 innings – The Cubs wrapped up the series hitting .296 against what had been a sturdy Cardinal staff coming into the series.  Especially vulnerable were Cardinal starters, who managed to survive only 15 innings through the 3 games, being stung for 13 runs (a 7.80 ERA).  They also walked 12 Cubs during the 15 innings – leading to a .411 on base percentage.

Needless to say, the Cardinals were hoping for better.

Starters Against Winning Teams

Even though his afternoon was disappointing, Lynn continues to be the best of the Cardinal starters facing winning teams.  He is 4-3 with a 3.18 ERA for the season, including 1-0 with a 2.86 ERA against these teams in the second half.

Michael Wacha is only 2-5 with a 5.73 ERA in 11 starts against winning teams for the year.  However, in 4 such second half games, Wacha has been much better (1-2, 3.74).

Luke Weaver’s closing starts against the Cubs and Brewers will be instructive.  To this point he has started against only 3 winning teams.  He is 2-1 in those games, but with a 4.24 ERA.

Carlos Martinez is 4-7 in 14 starts against winning teams with 4.29 ERA.  He is 1-3 with a 6.43 ERA since the All-Star Break

Before going down with an injury, long-time ace Adam Wainwright had made 10 starts against winning teams, throwing 5 quality starts against them.  He is 5-3 with a 3.28 ERA in those games.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia is still getting pretty highly-leveraged opportunities, and is doing mostly well with them.  He was given the sixth inning yesterday in a tied game – giving a hit, but no runs.  John’s season long ERA still sits at 2.35, including 2.67 in 27 second-half innings.  He has 13 strikeouts in 7 innings this month.

Intriguing with Brebbia is that he is one of the few Cardinals who has been much better against winning teams.  He pitched 2 scoreless innings in the Cub series – stranding all 3 runners he inherited.  Since the All-Star Break, he has allowed just 2 runs over 8.2 innings, and holds a 1.20 ERA in 16 innings against winning teams for the season.  He has done this with a .196/.237/.339 batting line against.

Tyler Lyons

After being so good for so much of the season, Tyler Lyons is starting to return to earth a bit.  He allowed runs in both games against the Cubs, and has allowed runs in 3 of his last 7 games (5.2 innings).  He was lucky not to give up a run against Cincinnati in the game before that.  The last 25 batters he has faced are hitting .409 with a .636 slugging percentage.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman allowed only 9 of the first 40 runners he inherited this season to score.  Four of the five that he inherited in the Cub series came home to roost.

Bowman may be one of those bullpen links that is being exposed against the better competition.  Matthew carries a 4.97 ERA in 25.1 innings against winning teams.

NoteBook

The Cardinals took the field Sunday needing a win to avoid a sweep.  This was the sixth different road series this year where the Cards needed a last game win to avoid a sweep.  They have now managed to dodge the sweep only once.  That lone exception occurred in the Cardinals’ very first road series of the year (April 10-12).  After losing their first two games in Washington, they won the series finale 6-1 behind the arm of Mike Leake and the bat of Stephen Piscotty (how long ago April must seem to those two).

The Cubs were also the nineteenth team St Louis has faced this year that won its previous series (Cincinnati will be the twentieth).  With the loss, St Louis is 5-10-4 in those series, going 27-32 against teams coming off series victories.

Inches Betray Cardinals as Winning Streak Ends

The inches were spectacularly against the St Louis Cardinals through the first five innings of last night’s game, where – unlike the Indians – the Cards winning streak (a modest four games) came to a sour end, 6-0 (box score).  Jesse Winker’s leadoff home run was just barely fair down the right field line.  In the bottom of the first, Yadier Molina had runners at first and third with two out, when he floated a fly ball into short right-center that had just enough carry on it to allow Winker to make an excellent catch that both saved a run and ended the inning.

Then there was the fifth inning.  Jose Peraza just barely safe at first on an infield hit.  The ground ball back to the mound that just oozed out of Jack Flaherty’s grip.  Tyler Mahle just fractionally safe at second on another infield dribbler.  Things unraveled from there.  It’s baseball.

More concerning is the fact that St Louis finished the night with only 5 hits – all singles.  The offense has been pretty consistently good at putting runs on the board (last night excepted) but the hits are becoming more scare.  Twelve games into September, and the Cards have only 94 hits.  They are still scoring 5.00 runs per game, but are hitting just .239.

Jose Martinez

Among the shards of good news from last night was 2 more hits from Jose Martinez.  Jose has now hit in 13 of his last 14 games, hitting .435 (20 for 46) during the streak.  His average is up to .356 in the second half 37 for 104).

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham contributed a walk and a hit by pitch – so he is still getting on base.  But his is one of the batting averages that is starting to fade in September.  Pham is just 1 for 12 over his last 6 games, and is down to .158 (3 for 19) for the month – albeit with a .407 on base percentage.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong has also seen a noticeable dip in September. A stiff back during the early days of the month didn’t help, but Wong hasn’t been really hot since getting back on the field.  He was 0 for 2 last night, and is now just 5 for 23 (.217) this month.  Like Pham, though, Wong has still been getting on base.  He drew his fifth walk of the month last night, pushing his on base percentage to .357.

Harrison Bader

Gravity may also be catching up with touted prospect Harrison Bader.  His 0-for-4 yesterday leaves him just 2 for 17 (.118) over his last 5 games.

Sam Tuivailala

At this time of year, relief innings can be a little hard to come by.  With a bullpen crowded with September call-ups, the middle relievers may have to wait for a while before their number comes up.

That is what is happening to Sam Tuivailala.  Sam has made it into only 3 of the first 12 games this month, and has had 5 days in between each of his last two games.  Rather than get rusty, though, Sam has become hyper-efficient.  He retired 3 batters last night on four pitches – all strikes.  Each batter he faced swung the bat once, and got himself out.

It’s an exceedingly small sample size – just the 11 batters he has faced this month – but 7 of those batters never saw a pitch out of the strike zone, and all 11 combined have only cost Tui 31 pitches (2.8 pitches per).  Along the way, Sam has thrown 25 of the pitches for strikes (81%!) with only one of those strikes being a swing and a miss.  On September first in San Francisco, Sam was finishing up the ninth inning of an 11-6 Cardinal win.  With two-out, Brandon Crawford swung through Tuivailala’s 1-1 pitch.  He ended the game by grounding out on the next pitch.

It’s too few batters and too few pitches to mean anything, but this is pitching to contact on steroids.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman is another arm that seems to be profiting from extra rest in September.  Having pitched in 65 games through the end of August, Bowman looked a little frayed.  He has been better of late.  He is unscored on over his last six games (4.2 innings), during which he has allowed just one hit.  He has had at least four days of rest in between 3 of the 6 games.

First-Pitch Command Eludes Lynn, Cardinals

Riding a streak of eight consecutive quality starts, Lance Lynn was in a battle from the very beginning last night.  With his four-seamer lacking its usual zip (he averaged only 92.5 mph on 26 four-seam fastballs, according to Brooks Baseball), and without his usual command of his bread and butter sinker, Lance found himself in lots of trouble.

To his credit, he almost wriggled his way out of all of it.  But, in the third inning, after hitting two batters with that misbehaving sinker, he faced Yangervis Solarte with the bases loaded and only one out.

Solarte saw four sinkers – the first three sailing wide of the plate to the left-handed batter.  Lance tried to bring the fourth back into the strike zone and left it spinning too much over the middle.  Beginning a career night, Solarte drilled it into the right-centerfield gap to drive in the first 3 runs of the game.

Lance would battle through six, allowing four runs.  Solarte would go on to hit two more extra-base hits to finish with 6 runs batted in, as San Diego pulled away late against the shaky Cardinal bullpen in a 12-4 win (box score).

Of the 27 batters that Lynn faced, only 14 saw first-pitch strikes.  Those batters finished only 2 for 12 (.167) with a hit batter and a sacrifice bunt.  But the 13 that got ahead of him 1-0 were 4 for 11 (.364) with a walk and another hit batter.

This has become a re-curing theme with the Cardinal pitching staff.  For the month of August, opposing batters are hitting .335/.437/.543 when a Cardinal pitcher misses with that first pitch.  Opposing hitters are hitting .312 since the All-Star Break against St Louis when their at bat begins with ball one.

And, of course, this effort runs to 12 the string of consecutive games in which the Cardinal pitching staff has allowed at least 5 runs.  In this century (as noted here) only the 2003 edition of the Cardinals had a comparable streak – eventually going 13 games before holding an opponent to less than 5 runs.

Over the last 12 games, the team ERA sits at a disturbing 6.62, nearly evenly distributed between the starters (6.86) and relievers (6.29).  The last 484 batters to face the Cards are hitting .319.  The streak pushes the team ERA for the month of August to 5.18.  Troubling indeed.

During this streak, 197 opposing batters saw first-pitch balls.  They have gone on to hit .374/.477/.620.

Lance Lynn

Of all of the recent disappointment with the pitching staff, Lance doesn’t fall in line for any of the blame.  Last night wasn’t his sharpest performance, but in his eight previous games he had gone 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA.

Lance’s success has come in spite of the fact that he doesn’t really have breaking pitches that he can rely on (98 of his 108 pitches last night were some flavor of fastball).  If he falls behind 1-0, he has to come back with a fastball that he may have to guide into the strike zone.  Since the All-Star Break, Lance has fallen behind 92 batters, who have gone on to hit .347/.457/.560.  He has gotten ahead of 107 other batters, who have finished .144/.192/.165 in those at bats.

Matthew Bowman

At the point of the season when the Cardinals most need heroes in the bullpen, Matthew Bowman is starting to take on water.  Scored on in three of his last four games, Matthew has given up 6 runs in his last 2 innings.

Zach Duke

Not to make excuses for him, but it’s possible that Zach Duke is getting too much rest.  From the moment when he last appeared on consecutive days (August 8 & 9), he had one day off, and then pitched again on August 11.  During those games, he retired 10 of 11 batters.

But then, Zach didn’t pitch again until August 16.  He faced 2 batters that night in Boston, striking out 1 and walking another – who came around to score after Zach had left.  Two nights later he faced one batter – who walked – and then he didn’t pitch again until last night.

Coming off last year’s Tommy John surgery, Duke didn’t get a spring training and had only a few rehab games.  Zach’s game is his slider.  But he needs to throw it to maintain command of it.

Yadier Molina

Add the name of Yadier Molina to the list of several Cardinal hitters who have been thriving at the plate of late.  Yadi walked, doubled and homered last night, pushing his baby hitting streak to 5 games.  During the five games, Yadi is hitting .450 (9 for 20) and slugging .800 (4 doubles and 1 home run).  Molina has scored 6 runs in those last 5 games.  Molina is hitting .333 this month (22 for 66) with 5 home runs and a .652 slugging percentage.  He is now hitting .311 in the season’s second half.

Stephen Piscotty

Another positive from the game were the at bats by Stephen Piscotty, who walked, singled and drilled a home run.  Stephen has returned from his Memphis exile with 4 hits in two games, raising his batting average for the month of August to .292 (7 for 24).

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter drew another walk last night – that makes 16 in the 19 games he’s played this month.  But he finished hitless again in 3 at bats.  His on base percentage for the month is still an excellent .384.  Nonetheless, he is only 13 for 66 (.197).  After briefly pushing his season’s average back over .250, Carpenter has now slid back to .245.

Tommy Pham

The Cards ended the day with 4 runs on the strength of 3 home runs – a better yield than one might expect.  Padre starter Clayton Richard kept the hot Cardinal hitters mostly frustrated all evening.  Of the 23 batters that faced him, 17 saw first-pitch strikes – 12 of them called strikes.  He seemed to be able to find the black of that outside corner all night.

In Tommy Pham’s third-inning at bat, Richard threaded the needle with his first pitch slider.  Then, after showing Pham the high fastball, he popped another fastball right on the black.  Down in the count 1-2, Tommy was then vulnerable to Richard’s slider dropping out of the zone on strike three.

This has been happening quite a bit to Pham recently.  As Tommy likes to take a lot of first pitches, he has been giving away command of a lot of at bats.  In 88 August plate appearances, Tommy has taken first-pitch balls 37 times.  He is hitting .360/.568/.680 in those plate appearances.  In the 51 plate appearances where he has been thrown first-pitch strikes, he is slashing just .234/.280/.255.

NoteBook

The three Cardinal relievers combined to face 18 batters.  Only 10 of them put the ball in play, as the relievers issued 3 walks and hit a batter, while striking out 4.  Of the 10 that put the ball in play, 8 hit ground balls and only 2 managed to get the ball in the air.  But 3 of the 8 ground balls found holes, and the only two fly balls they allowed both left the ballpark.

On consecutive Tuedays, St Louis faced the American League’s losingest pitcher (Rick Porcello) and one of the pitchers tied for the National League lead in losses (Clayton Richard).  The Cardinals lost both games.

Eleven Runs Is Enough – Barely – In One-Run Victory

For the fifth time in their last 12 games, the St Louis Cardinals scored in double figures in a razor-thin 11-10 victory over Pittsburgh (box score).  It’s only the sixteenth time this century that the Cardinals scored ten or more runs and were still involved in a one-run game.  They are now 12-4 in those games.  This was the first such game since May 4, 2015, when they edged the Cubs 10-9.

Admittedly, they haven’t been battering the best of pitching staffs – a lot of the runs have been scored against Cincinnati, Atlanta and Pittsburgh – but the streak has been impressive.  And even though they didn’t throw up a lot of runs in the two games against Boston, they still put together grinding at bats and ended up with a lot of hits. These days the offense goes about its business with a lot of confidence.

Over the last 12 games they have scored 97 runs (8.08 per game) with a .325 team batting average and a .561 team slugging percentage.  With 3 more home runs last night, the Cards have drilled 18 in the last 12 games.  For the month, now, St Louis is scoring 6.53 runs per game and hitting .297.  In 34 games since the All-Star Break, St Louis averages 5.24 runs per game with a .279 batting average.

This is all very encouraging.  Still, one-run games present an on-going struggle.  Even with last night’s win, this team is 3-4 in August, 6-7 in the second half, and 19-23 for the season in one-run games.

Paul DeJong

If memory serves me correctly, Paul DeJong began the season as the Cardinals’ eleventh-rated prospect.  He didn’t make his big league debut until game number 47.  Last night was his sixty-sixth start of the season – now, exactly half of the Cardinal games.

I point this out to add some context to the fact that (after 3 more hits including a home run last night) DeJong is now sixth on the team in hits (81); tied for sixth in doubles (17); leading the team (by three) in home runs (19); and seventh in runs batted in (46) – all while spotting the rest of the team half a season’s head start.

Paul has been especially torrid of late.  With the hits last night, DeJong will carry an eight-game hitting streak into this afternoon’s contest, during which he has gone 16 for 33 (.485), with 4 doubles and 3 home runs (.879 slugging percentage).  He has also now hit in 13 of his last 14.  During this streak, Paul is 25 for 62, including 4 doubles and 5 home runs.  He is hitting .403, slugging .710, and has driven in 14 runs in his last 14 games – 10 of them over the last 8.  DeJong is now hitting .352 (and slugging .620) this month, and is up to .297 since the All-Star Break with 10 home runs.

I sincerely hope prospects 1 through 10 prosper as well as Mr. DeJong.

Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk chimed in with two hits for the second straight game, and scored two runs last night.  Grichuk has been very much a factor in the recent scoring binge.  Over the last 12 games, Grichuk is now 16 for 48, with 3 doubles, 2 triples and 2 home runs. He has hit .333 in those games, with a .604 slugging percentage, 9 runs batted in, and 10 runs scored.  Since the All-Star Break, Randal is 30 for 97 (.309) with 6 home runs.

Greg Garcia

With the red-hot Kolten Wong being given a day off, the Cards turned to Greg Garcia.  Garcia did hit best Wong impersonation, as he responded with 2 singles, 2 runs scored and a terrific play on a ground ball over the second base bag.

It’s hard, really, to tell how good Garcia could be if he got every day at bats.  Mike Matheny, though, has sought opportunities to get him starts.  With this start at second, and five starts at third, Garcia has started half of the last 12 games, and has contributed as consistently as anyone in the lineup.  He is 6 for 20 with 7 walks over the last 12 games – a .300 batting average and a .481 on base percentage.  Greg is hitting .302 in the season’s second half (13 for 43) with 9 walks – leading to a .423 on base percentage.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko’s second half slump continues to eat him alive.  After his 0 for 5 last night, Jedd has hit only .222 in 27 at bats over the last 12 games (of which he has played in 8 and started just 7).  Jedd is only 9 for 46 in August (.196), and has now fallen to .188 (19 for 101) in the second half.

Jedd has now played in 6 of the 7 one-run games this month.  He has three singles in 23 at bats, with 1 walk and no runs batted in – a .130/.167/.130 batting line.  Since the break, Jedd has hit just .154 (6 for 39) in 12 one-run games.  He has just one extra-base hit in those at bats (a double), and has just 2 runs batted in.  For the season, he is a .222 hitter (28 for 126) in one-run games.

Pitching Concerns

All of the recent offense has masked – to some extent – a pitching staff that is in a little bit of a free fall.  With last night’s extra excitement, the Cards have now given up at least 5 runs in each of the last 7 games.  The ERA for the month now sits at 4.60 with a .281 batting average against.

In the seven one-run games this team has played in August, the bullpen has now pitched 19.1 innings with a 5.59 ERA.  Over the course of the season, the Cardinal bullpen has a 4.00 ERA in the 42 one-run games they’ve played.  That kind of performance will almost always guarantee a losing record in one-run contests.

Matthew Bowman

Of all of last night’s pitching struggles, the most concerning may have been Matt Bowman’s.  Brought in in the ninth to protect a three-run lead, Matthew – whose command is one of his strengths – loaded the bases with two walks and a hit batsman.  Two of those runners ended up scoring as Pittsburgh nearly tied the game in the ninth without benefit of a hit.

Matthew has been fading a bit lately.  In the season’s second half his ERA is hovering at 3.75 through 12 innings, during which he has walked 5 and hit two.

Perhaps more troubling is the fact that last night was the sixth one-run game that Bowman has worked in since the All-Star Break.  He has lasted only 2.1 innings in those 6 games while serving up 4 runs on 3 hits (including a home run), 3 walks and 2 hit batsmen.  These batters have combined for a .300/.533/.600 batting line.  For the season Matthew’s ERA in 26 one-run games (covering 20.1 innings) is a concerning 5.75.

With Trevor Rosenthal out for a while, Mike Matheny will be turning to Bowman in the late innings of close games.  He will almost certainly get save opportunities.  This can’t be a situation he continues to struggle in.

NoteBook

With 22 runs, the Cardinals have already scored more runs in the first two games of this series than they have scored in any series since they scored 26 runs in four games against Miami from July 3 through 6.  This is, of course, if you consider the Kansas City series to be two, 2-game series.  The Cards scored 37 runs in those four games – 21 in the two played in KC, and 16 in the two played at home.

With 17 runs, the Cardinals have also allowed more runs scored against them in the first two games of this series than they have allowed in any series since that Miami series.  The Marlins scored 23 over those four games.

Cardinals Answer Sunday’s Loss With Another Loss

Stinging from a disappointing loss in the last game of the home stand, the semi-hot Cardinals invaded Boston last night, hoping to make a statement.  They did, with a humbling 10-4 beating at the hands of the Red Sox (box score).  At the end of the fifth inning, the Cards were already behind 9-0 and had grounded into a triple play.

For the season, St Louis is still 28-29 in games after a loss – something hard for an over-.500 team to do, although fairly consistent for a team that has already suffered through 8 losing streaks of at least 3 games.

With that being noted, it should also be pointed out that this team has been much better lately about responding after a loss.  In twelve such opportunities since the All-Star Break, St Louis is now 8-4.

More concerning is the continuing slide of the pitching staff.  With last night’s 10-run, 15-hit pounding in just 8 innings, the Cards are holding a 5.60 ERA over their last 6 games.  The starters have contributed just 2 quality starts, and have borne the brunt of the assault with a 6.32 ERA over those games.  The team ERA for the month of August swells to 4.13.

The offense has shown a bit of a spark recently, but any real hope that the Cardinals have of being significant in October depends on the pitching staff being the strength that we anticipated it would be in April.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake has been a little bit in the epi-center of the recent pitching downturn.  This was the second of the six games that Mike has started.  He has now been slapped for 13 runs (12 earned) in his last 9.1 innings.  In 3 August starts Mike is 0-2 with an 8.80 ERA.  He now has just 2 quality starts in his last 8 trips to the mound.  His ERA over those starts sits at 6.39 with a .371 batting average against.  He has lost 9 of his last 11 decisions.

It has been a long time since Mike has been good.

Leake is also now 3-8 in 14 starts this season in games after a loss – although in fairness he’s pitched better in these games than that record would suggest.  He has made 8 quality starts in those games, and his 4.00 ERA isn’t that bad.  It should be pointed out that last night was the fifth time in Mike’s 24 starts that his offense scored no runs for him while he was in the game.

Other Starters After a Loss

Lance Lynn will take the mound tonight with the Cardinals riding a two-game losing streak.  Lance has absolutely thrived in this role in the season’s second half.  Since the All-Star Break, Lance has made 4 starts following a Cardinal loss.  He has thrown quality starts in all four games, going 3-0 with a 1.48 ERA.  He is 5-3 with a 3.57 ERA this year in 11 starts after a loss.  Over his career, Lance has pitched in 84 games after a Cardinal loss (69 of them starts).  He is 39-21 lifetime with a 3.47 ERA in those games.

While he has had intermittent struggles, Carlos Martinez has also excelled in the stopper’s role.  He has taken the mound 10 times this year following a Cardinal loss.  Carlos is only 4-3 in those games, but with 8 quality starts, a 2.51 ERA and a .196 batting average against.  Over the last two years, Carlos has had 24 opportunities to pitch after a Cardinal loss.  He has produced 16 quality starts, a 12-6 record, a 2.67 ERA, and a .212 batting average against.

They haven’t all been works of art (he has a 4.84 ERA in 11 such starts), but Adam Wainwright does lead the staff in victories after a defeat.  He is 7-3 after a loss this year, and 71-34 in that situation over his career.

Overall, Michael Wacha hasn’t pitched as well in these games as he has following a victory.  He has started ten times following a loss, with only 4 quality starts and a 4.58 ERA.  He is, however, 4-2 in those games.  Over his career, Wacha is 19-11 after a loss, albeit with only a 4.47 ERA.

Matthew Bowman

The game really got away when Matthew Bowman couldn’t minimize the damage in the fifth inning.  The ground-ball specialist came in with the Cards already trailing 5-0, with the bases loaded and one out.  Bowman had only allowed 1 of his previous 17 inherited runners to score.  But he gave three straight hits, allowed all of the inherited runners to score, and added a run of his own.  By the time he did get that last out, the deficit had grown to 9-0.

Brett Cecil

Pitching now exclusively in low leveraged situations, Brett Cecil continues to search for answers.  After serving up another run and 3 hits, Brett’s second half ERA rises to 7.07 in 14 innings with a .391 batting average against.

Fewer Runs, But Good At Bats

Only four runs – and all of them after the game had been decided – is little to get excited about.  St Louis, however, collected 10 more hits before all was said and done.  The team batting average rises to .289 for the month, and .274 in the second half.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler continues to drive this offense.  He supplied 3 hits last night, scoring one of the Cardinals 4 runs and driving in two others.  He has been pretty scorching since his return from the disabled list.  Over these last 8 games, Dexter has had 33 plate appearances, during which he has provided 4 singles, 5 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 8 runs scored, 8 runs batted in, 9 walks and a stolen base.  That translates into a batting line of .458/.606/.875.  He is now hitting .297 in the season’s second half.

Luke Voit

Luke Voit has only made one start so far this month, but he may be starting to adjust to life on the bench.  He went 2-2 in the late innings last night, and his now 6 for 16 (.375) this month.

While these are all small sample sizes, Luke has been particularly effective in games after a loss.  He is 5 for 7 this month, 7 for 23 (.304) since the All-Star Break, and 13 for 39 (.333) for the season in games after a loss.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong added two more hits last night, driving in a run.  He now has a baby 5-game hitting streak, during which he has had multiple hits in all five games.  He is 11 for his last 20 (.550).  He has also now hit in 10 of his last 11 (.408 on 20 for 49 hitting).

After a slow start to August, Paul is now hitting .345 this month (20 for 58) and slugging .603 (he has 3 doubles and 4 home runs).  He is up to .288 since the All Star Break (36 for 125).

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina has as rough an offensive day as could be imagined – given how short it was.  Yadi had only 2 at bats last night, but accounted for 5 outs as he grounded into both a double play and a triple play.  Yadi is now 0 for 12 over his last 4 games.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong’s 8-game hitting streak came to an end last night.  With his 0 for 4, Kolten has hit just .188 (6 for 32) in games after a loss in the season’s second half.

Randal Grichuk

While Randal Grichuk’s numbers have been on the rise overall lately, he could still be a bit more of a force in games after a loss.  With his 0 for 3 last night, Randal is now 0 for 9 this month, 6 for 28 (.214) in the second half, and 27 for 127 (.213) for the year in games after a loss.

NoteBook

Boston’s first inning run marked the third consecutive game – and the twelfth of the last fifteen – that the Cardinals have allowed the first run of the game to be scored against them.

Sorting Out the Cardinal Bullpen

A great deal of attention was focused on the rally cat (some truly adorable video, by  the way – especially the part where the kitty tries to claw the grounds person that’s escorting it off).  Considerable attention is being paid to the aroused Cardinal offense that has scored 42 runs in the last 4 games.  This offense has averaged 5.23 runs per game over the last 56 games.

But at this point, some attention needs to be paid to the Cardinal bullpen.  Disastrous for most of the year, this unit came to the rescue again last night with five relievers combining for four scoreless innings as the Cards put away Kansas City 8-5 for their fifth win in a row (box score).

That bullpen now has a 2.38 ERA, a .222 batting average against, and has stranded 18 of 22 inherited runners since the All-Star Break.  Even amidst this success, the roles are still sort of evolving.  Promising right-handers John Brebbia and Sam Tuivailala are still searching for consistent opportunities.  Among the four lefties, Kevin Siegrist is trying to resolve health issues, and Brett Cecil has struggled some recently.  Their situations are also in a bit of flux.

But the five who pitched last night are starting to carve out defined roles, and their success is driving the success of the relief corps, and of the team.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman came in to pitch the sixth inning.  He has most frequently been pitching in the seventh or eighth innings, but with starter Mike Leake lasting only 5 innings – and with the right-handed batters coming up in the sixth, Bowman’s opportunity came earlier than usual.  He gave a couple of hits (unusual for him), but escaped with no damage.

Matthew has now made six consecutive appearances (4.2 innings) without allowing a run.  In 13 games in the second half, he has surrendered just 2 runs in 8.2 innings, and in 19.1 innings over his last 27 games, Matthew has a 1.86 ERA, a .221 batting average against, and has stranded 13 of 14 inherited runners.

Zach Duke

Zach Duke came in to pitch the seventh – particularly to face lefty Eric Hosmer (who grounded out), switch-hitter Melky Cabrera (who also grounded out), and lefty Mike Moustakas (who flew to right).

I think this is the role that manager Mike Matheny has for Duke.  A late inning lefty specialist that Mike isn’t afraid to let face the occasional right-hander.  It gets confusing, because the Cards right now have two lefthanders that hold about that same job description.

For Duke, coming off Tommy John surgery that was supposed to cost him the entire year, a significant milestone was passed as he pitched on consecutive days for the first time this season, needing only 10 pitches to wrap up his inning.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh opened the eighth, retiring 2 of the 3 that he faced.  Since being moved into the primary setup role, Oh has allowed no earned runs in 10 games (covering 9.2 innings).

Oh has now appeared in 21 games this season as the Cardinal closer and 28 games in a setup function.  His ERA as a closer was a shaky 4.09 with a .309 batting average against.  His ERA is 2.83 in those other games, with a .239 batting average against.  As a closer, Oh threw 67% of his pitches for strikes.  In non-closing situations, Oh throws strikes 72% of the time.  Eight of his eleven throws last night were strikes.

Some small part of the improvement might be that setup pitchers generally work more regularly than closers.  So far this year, 35 of Oh’s games have come with at least one day of rest.  His ERA in those games is a not-terrible 3.50.  Only 13 times – including last night – has Oh pitched with no rest in between games.  He has a 1.38 ERA in those games.

Tyler Lyons

Very quietly and with minimal fanfare, Tyler Lyons has become as good at his job as anyone in the Cardinal bullpen, and is evolving into one of baseball’s elite specialists.  When Alex Gorden came off the bench to pinch-hit in last night’s eighth inning, Lyons came out of the pen to get him – and of course he did.  I grant you the fly ball was struck a considerable distance to center field.  But there was never any danger of it leaving.

With the out, Lyons now has a scoreless streak of 11 games (9 innings) under his belt.  During that streak he has allowed 2 hits, 1 walk, and 14 strikeouts.  These are Clayton Kershaw type numbers.

Tyler is in a similar role as Duke.  They are looking specifically to use him against a left-hander in a critical late-game situation, with no great concern if a right-hander ends up facing him.  Lyons’ breaking pitches are pretty devastating most evenings.

Trevor Rosenthal

Turning a season-long liability into a strength was as simple putting the right man on the mound in the ninth inning.  A bullpen is built from the back forward, and as soon as the closer is found, the other pieces will usually slot in.  Without dispute, the best thing that happened to the Cardinal bullpen all year was the return to prominence and dominance by Trevor Rosenthal.  Now balancing his 100-mph heat with a sharp slider and effective change, Trevor has re-emerged as the man with the ball at the end of the game.

Since the All-Star break, Trevor has pitched in 10 games (12 innings) with a 0.75 ERA and a .167 batting average against.  He has 20 strikeouts in those 12 innings.

Last night was the tenth time this season that Rosenthal came into the game as the closer.  He now holds a 1.64 ERA in those games.  His ERA in 37 games as a setup man was 3.67.

Mike Leake

For Leake – who started last night – his April groove remains elusive.  He lasted just 5 last night, allowing 5 runs (4 earned) to a good Kansas City offense.  Mike has managed quality starts only twice in his last seven games.  He is 1-4 with a 5.08 ERA over that slide.

Jose Martinez

Yadier Molina hit the famous home run last night, but Jose Martinez also gave the Cards a lead with a home run.  Martinez has simply hit his way into more playing time.  Jose has now played in 9 of the last 10 games, starting 8 of them.  He has hit safely in 6 of them – getting 2 hits in three of the last four.  Since his playing time started becoming more regular, Jose is 10 for 28 (.357).  He has hit 3 home runs, driven in 8 runs, and is slugging .714 in his last 9 games.  Jose has 8 home runs in his last 91 at bats.

Cardinal lineup plans have been enormously complicated by a couple of fourth outfielders (Martinez and Tommy Pham) who simply refuse to stop hitting.  With Dexter Fowler and Randal Grichuk both showing signs of life, the Cards have four outfielders who need to be in the lineup – and, of course, space for only three.

Randal Grichuk

Grichuk added a couple of hits last night – he now has back to back two-hit games.  Grichuk has been a bit up and down since his return from Memphis, but the ups have been more than the downs.  In the season’s second half, Randal is a .299 hitter (20 for 67) with 4 doubles and 5 home runs (.582 slugging percentage).

Cards Get Weeks Worth of RISP Hits in Rout of Reds

By the time Yadier Molina came to the plate in the second inning with Jose Martinez standing at second (and no one out), St Louis was already down 3-0.  They were also riding an 11-game streak of hitting .193 (17 for 88) in RISP opportunities (RISP = Runner(s) In Scoring Position).

Beginning with Molina’s single, St Louis would string together 4 straight hits with runners in scoring position as they sprinted into the lead, 4-3.  In the recent nine-run inning against Chicago, they had five consecutive RISP hits – mixed in with several walks.

But as it turned out, they were just getting started. Two innings later, they succeeded in 5 of 6 RISP chances – including Jose Martinez’ first career grand slam, as the Cards put up another nine-spot in a surprising flash-flood of offense – on their way to a convincing 13-4 victory (box score).

By game’s end, St Louis had put together their season high in both RISP at bats (19 – previously they had managed 18 in an 8-1 win against Washington on June 30) and hits (9 – previously they had managed 8 such hits against Miami in a 14-6 win on July 3).

In the aftermath, the Cardinal clubhouse exuded more confidence than we’ve seen recently.  But before we consider the offensive woes cured, let’s see how they manage against a more legitimate pitching staff in Kansas City over the next four days.

Still, even if only for one afternoon, it was nice to have a laugher.

Paul DeJong

After a recent downturn, Paul DeJong was given a day off.  He has rebounded strongly. He went 3 for 5 yesterday, and has hits in 6 of his last 12 at bats.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong was in the middle of both big innings, as he also finished the afternoon 3 for 5.  Kolten has now hit safely in 6 of his last 7 games, going 10 for 27 (.370) in those games.

Kolten was 1 for 2 in his RISP at bats yesterday.  He has been one of the club’s best in these opportunities, hitting .293 (17 for 58) in these moments.  He is 5 for 13 (.385) since the break with ducks on the pond.

Jose Martinez

Martinez’ grand slam was the centerpiece of the offensive evening.  His other hit may actually have been more important.  He began that second inning with the double that ignited the four-run inning that gave the team the lead.

Jose has been a second half fire-plug.  He has only played in 12 of the last 23 games – making just 6 starts and getting only 32 plate appearances.  But he’s turned those plate appearances into 3 singles, 1 double, 3 home runs, 6 runs scored, 8 runs batted in, 9 walks and 1 sacrifice fly – a batting line of .318/.500/.773.  That kind of production will keep your name on the lineup card.

Yadier Molina

Molina was also a central figure in both big innings, on his way to a solid 2-for-4 afternoon.  Yadi has hit in 5 of his last 7 games, hitting .409 (9 for 22) in those games and slugging .727 (1 double and 2 home runs).  Yadi is having another very profitable second half, hitting .310 with 3 home runs since the All-Star break.

As mentioned earlier, Yadi had the first of the team’s 9 hits with runners in scoring position yesterday.  Of all regulars, Molina leads the team, hitting .311 (23 for 74) in RISP opportunities.

Pitchers in RISP Situations

In contrast to the Cardinal success, Cincinnati was just 1 for 6 in RISP situations (that one hit, of course, being Joey Votto’s three-run homer).  Since the All-Star break (3 starts) that is the only hit Adam Wainwright has allowed in 14 RISP at bats (.071).

Lance Lynn has been even better.  The 18 second half batters to have RISP at bats against Lance have 1 single to show for their efforts (.056).  For the season, batters are hitting .156 (12 for 77) against Lance in RISP situations.

Michael Wacha has had similar success, holding batters to just 3 for 19 (.158) with runners in scoring position since the break.  His season batting average against in these situations is a very good .233 (21 for 90).

Having less success in the second half with ducks on the pond are Carlos Martinez (6 for 21 – .286) and Mike Leake (12 for 26 – .462).  This is unusual for Martinez, who usually excels in these moments.  For the year, his average against in RISP situations is .189 (20 for 106).  For Leake, this has been kind of a year-long struggle.  Batters are now hitting .300 against him (30 for 100) with runners in scoring position.

Matthew Bowman

After a couple of shaky outings, Matthew Bowman is getting back on the beam.  After pitching yesterday’s ninth inning, Matthew has put together five consecutive scoreless outings (3.2 innings) during which he has surrendered just 1 hit.  He has pitched in 12 games in the second half (7.2 innings) with a 2.35 ERA and a .222 batting average against.

NoteBook

St Louis has now gone seven straight games since the last time they scored first in one of their contests.

When we lost on Friday, it marked the twenty-first time this season that the Cards had lost the opening game of a series.  Eleven times, now, the team has fought back to force a rubber game.  With last night’s victory, they are 5-6 in those games.

Yadier Molina ended the Cardinal fifth by swinging through a 1-2 pitch from Lisalverto Bonilla.  Leading off the bottom of the eighth inning, Scooter Gennett swung and missed a 2-0 pitch from John Brebbia.  In between those two swings, there were no swinging strikes.  There were 7 called strikes, and 19 pitches fouled off, but the next 22 consecutive batters saw 72 consecutive pitches without one being swung at and missed.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before.