Tag Archives: Carlos Martinez

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.

Cards Withstand Eighth Inning Rally

After three hours and 46 minutes – and 349 pitches – the St Louis Cardinals – clinging by their fingernails in the chase for the National League’s last playoff spot and in a death struggle against their ancient rivals – finally held on to one of the season’s most uncomfortable victories, 8-7 (box score).

Starter Carlos Martinez ground through 4.1 innings that were complicated by 4 hits, 4 walks, a hit batsman, and a batter reaching on a catcher’s interference call that wiped out a potential double play.  In all, that’s 10 base-runners.  But, in a departure from his earlier form, Carlos didn’t unravel.  Pitching under nearly constant pressure, Carlos held his stuff together, allowed only 3 of the runners to score (only two of them earned), and walked off the mound holding a 5-3 lead.

And then there was the eighth inning.  In a throwback to the thready first half when the Cardinal bullpen hemorrhaged runs in that inning, two Chicago home runs put 4 sudden runs on the board and closed St Louis’ big lead back down to a single run.  The Cubs ended the game putting the tying run in scoring position in both the eighth and ninth innings against newly ordained closer Juan Nicasio.

But – for one night, anyway – the Cardinals were the tough ones as they won enough of the tough at bats to hold off the defending world champs.

Time to exhale.

That Nettlesome Eighth Inning

Repeatedly through the first 88 games of the season, games would blow up on the Cards in the eighth inning.  They limped into the break with a 5.63 ERA in this inning, and a .281 batting average against.  Up until last night, the relative competence of the late inning relief corps was one of the marked improvements in the team.  Up until last night, the team’s second half ERA in the eighth inning was 3.44 with a .230 batting average against.

The two home runs in that inning last night bring to 12 the number of eighth inning home runs hit against the Cardinals since the All-Star Break – one more than in any other inning (there have been 11 hit in both the first and fourth innings).  For the season, now, more runs have been scored against this team in the eighth inning (91) than in any other (85 have been scored in the fifth, the next highest inning).  Their ERA in that inning is still 4.87.

Pitchers Still Struggling

Even though Martinez had some gritty moments, at the end of the day, the Cards have still gone 11 straight games without a quality start, and, surrendering 6 more earned runs, the team ERA is up to 5.87 over those games.  The last 11 Cardinal starters have managed just 44.1 innings – fractionally more than 4 per start – with an 8.53 ERA and a .308 batting average against.  If this keeps up, even a sometimes heroic offense will be unable to keep this team in playoff contention.

Carlos Martinez

While he had moments, and all ended well, Martinez is still struggling through the final playoff push.  Over his last 3 starts, Carlos has made it through just 16 innings with a 7.31 ERA and a .279 batting average against.  Through 5 starts in the month of September, Carlos is 2-1 with a 4.35 ERA.

Ironically for Carlos – considering his season long issues with the first inning – the first innings of his last three starts have been perfect.  In his 5 September starts, Carlos has allowed just 1 baserunner – a walk that didn’t score – in the first innings of those games.  Now, it’s the second inning that’s the issue.  His ERA is now 7.20 this month in the second.

Zach Duke

Zach Duke ended the messy fifth inning, and then tossed a flawless sixth.  Zach, who looks like he has finely found that mystic slider, struck out 3 of the 5 Cubs that he faced.  Over this stretch where the starters have been putting a lot on the shoulders of the bullpen, Zach has been one of the members of the pen who has stepped forward.  He holds a 1.69 ERA over the last 11 games (he’s pitched in 6 of them).  Zach has stranded his last 12 inherited runners.

Eight is Enough for the Offense

While September hasn’t been their most efficient month, the Cardinals are still putting enough runs on the board most nights to get a victory.  With the 8 last night, they are averaging 4.88 this month, and 5.01 in the second half.

Tommy Pham

The Summer of Pham isn’t quite over yet.  With 2 more hits last night – including a home run into Big Mac Land, Tommy Pham has pushed his September batting line to .303/.432/.576.  Since the All-Star Break, Tommy has been to the plate 277 times, with the following results: 46 singles, 14 doubles, 1 triple, 12 home runs, 40 walks, 6 hit-by-pitches, 2 sacrifice bunts, 1 sacrifice fly, and 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts – a batting line of .320/.433/.548.  In his last 65 games (59 starts), Pham has scored 50 runs.

Jedd Gyorko

With two more hits last night, Jedd Gyorko now has 5 in his last two games – including 2 home runs.  He is now hitting .350 (7 for 20) over his last 7 games (about the time he moved back into the starting lineup), with a .700 slugging percentage.  A hot Gyorko down the stretch could make a big difference.

Randal Grichuk

As September has worn on, it seems that Stephen Piscotty has claimed the top spot in the pecking order in right field.  Randal Grichuk got a spot start there last night and drove in two important runs with opposite field extra-base hits.

Grichuk has never become the superstar that Cardinal fans have hoped.  Not yet anyway.  And it certainly feels like this will be his last month as a Cardinal.  St Louis does have a glut of outfielders.  But, before Randal returns to the bench to watch the end of the season play out, it should be noted that since the All-Star Break Grichuk is a .270/.311/.556 hitter.  In 178 second half at bats, Randal has hit 12 home runs, tied for second on the team with Pham (who has hit his in 228 at bats) and trailing only Paul DeJong (who has hit 15 in 272 at bats).  As they say, these numbers will play.

My point, I guess, is to not be too hasty in unloading the talented Mr. Grichuk.  And, maybe, to give him a few more starts down the stretch.

NoteBook

Matt Carpenter’s first inning home run stood up as the game-winning hit – Carpenter’s fifth of the season.  The team leaders going into the last 5 games of the season are Dexter Fowler with 12; Yadier Molina – 11; Gyorko – 9; Carpenter, DeJong, Grichuk, and Kolten Wong all with 5.

Making Their Statement – Such As It Is

Two nights ago, a frustrated Cardinal team unloaded on the second-place Milwaukee Brewers by a 10-2 score.  Was it a statement that this very talented team was through pussyfooting around with the rest of this division? No.  That team was nowhere to be seen yesterday afternoon as they managed only five hits and fell to the Brewers.

Three nights before that, this Cardinal team put together an improbable late inning rally, scoring 2 in the eighth and two in the ninth (on a walk-off homer by Tommy Pham) to stun Tampa Bay 6-4.  Was that the spark that would light the fuse? No.  There was no late inning magic the next day as Tampa Bay took the deciding game of the series, 2-1 in ten innings.

On Saturday, August 12, the Cardinals hung a 6-5 defeat on Atlanta.  It was their eighth straight win.  After languishing at one point in mid-July as far as 6.5 games back, the aroused Cardinals had fought their way back to a tie for the division lead.  That time they even fooled me – and I’ve seen this movie before.

Since the last game of that winning streak, the once-hot Cardinals have lost 10 of their last 15 after last night’s 6-5 loss in Milwaukee (box score).  During that same time span, the Cubs have won 12 of 17 to push the Cardinals back to 6 games under.  In fact, since the last game of that winning streak, the Cards have lost ground to everyone in their division except the Pirates, who have been 5-12 since then.  Even the lowly Reds have gone 7-9 and picked up 1.5 games on the fading Cardinals.

But wait there’s more.

Eleven of these last 15 games have been played against teams with losing records. The Cards lost 7 of those games.

And, of course, with losing 3 of the 4 played against the winning teams they’ve faced, St Louis is now 2-5 this month, 8-9 since the All-Star Break, and 31-40 this season when pitted against teams that currently carry at least a .500 record.

Yesterday saw an all-too familiar pattern repeat.  The Cardinal starter, Carlos Martinez, was battered for 10 hits in 5.2 innings.  Over the last 15 games, Cardinal starters have been spanked to the tune of a .312 batting average against.  With one game left in the month, the batting average against the Cardinal starters this month stands at an even .300.

Game by game, series by series, month by month, this team is sending a very clear message about who they are and who they are not.  They are and have been the team that blinks.

Carlos Martinez

The loss interrupts what had been a pretty good steak for Martinez.  He hasn’t been the dominant pitcher that they believe he will yet be, but he was coming off four very good outings.  Over his previous 24 innings, Carlos had walked just 4 batters, and carried a 3-0 record with a 2.89 ERA.

In the season’s second half, Carlos has faced four teams with winning records.  He matched up against Arrieta and the Cubs on July 21 in Chicago.  It rained hits against him (10) but he battled through 6 innings that night.  Still he would have lost that night, 3-2, had the team not exploded for 9 late runs against the Cub bullpen.

On July 26 he was home to face Jeff Hoffman and the Colorado Rockies.  He lasted 6 that night, too, but gave up 5 runs.  Again, his offense rescued him in a 10-5 victory.

His next start was August 1 in Milwaukee against Jimmy Nelson.  Carlos served up 3 first inning runs, and that was the game.  Martinez made it through only 5 innings, throwing 102 pitches in the 3-2 loss.

And then, yesterday, back in Milwaukee he lost again 6-5, lasting just 5.2 innings and allowing 6 runs (3 earned).

It all adds up to a deceptively bad 1-2 record and a 5.16 ERA – but these games ended up as two Cardinal wins and two very competitive one-run losses.  He did leave a lot of pitches up, and he was hit harder than you would think – the four teams combined for a .323 batting average against Carlos, including 4 home runs.  But Martinez kept us in all of those games against some very talented offenses.

For the whole season, Martinez has been arguably our best starter against winning teams.  In 15 such starts against them, Martinez has 9 quality starts, a 6-6 record with a 3.69 ERA, and a .247 batting average against.  He has also struck out 110 in just 92.2 innings against them.  In his first two years in the rotation, Carlos pitched 28 games (26 starts) against teams that would finish the season with at least a .500 record.  He compiled 17 quality starts, a 12-9 record, a 3.35 ERA, and a .231 batting average against.

Yesterday’s loss was the tenth of the season for Martinez – the first time he has ever had double-digit losses in any season.  He was 16-9 last season, and is 44-31 for his career.

With the three earned runs allowed, Carlos also set a new career high in that category.  After allowing 66 earned runs all of last year in 195.1 innings, he has now surrendered 68 already this year in 174 innings with all of September to go.

Other Starters Facing Winning Teams

Lance Lynn’s second half roll has included 3 games against teams with winning records.  He is 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in those games – all quality starts.  For the season, he holds the team’s second-best ERA against winning teams (3.87) in 83.2 innings.  His record in those games is 4-5.

Adam Wainwright’s record is 6-4 in 13 games against winning opponents, but only 5 of those games have been quality starts, and his ERA sits at 5.17 for 69.2 innings.  Over his first 10 seasons, Adam pitched 151 times – with 119 starts – against winning teams.  Eighty-one of those starts were quality starts.  Waino held a 56-42 record in those games, with 7 more potential wins lost by the bullpen.  His ERA was 3.16 over 828 innings.  Over the last two years, Adam has only 9 quality starts out of 23 against quality opponents.  He is 8-9 with a 5.29 ERA and a .302 batting average against in those 127.2 innings.

Michael Wacha has struggled the most when faced with stiffer competition.  In 11 starts against teams currently at .500 or better, Wacha has managed just 2 quality starts, a 3-4 record and a 5.56 ERA while serving up 10 home runs in 55 innings.  Wacha’s trend is similar to Wanwright’s.  Through his first three years in the league, he was 15-9 with a 3.08 ERA against winning teams.  Through the last two, just 5-8, 5.51.

Bullpen Quietly Coming Around

The bullpen gave the team a shot at the comeback yesterday as they retired all 7 Brewers they faced.  For the season, their ERA is still a spotty 3.85 against winning teams, but that number has only been 2.94 in 49 innings since the All-Star Break.

Offense Still Scoring Enough to Win

They don’t score 10 runs every night anymore, but most of the time the offense puts up enough runs to win.  They scored 5 yesterday, and are averaging 5.27 runs per game through the 5-10 slump.  For the month, they average 5.81 runs per game, and 5.09 since the break.

Much of that, though, has come at the expense of poorer teams.  With only 5 total hits yesterday, the Cards are at just .245 this month, and .248 for the year against teams that are at least at .500.

Tommy Pham

Pham was a sort of one-man offense again.  He accounted for 4 of the runs with 2 two-run home runs.  Tommy has now hit in five straight games.  In the 21 plate appearances accounted for in those games, Tommy has 3 singles, a double, 3 home runs, 6 runs scored, 6 runs batted in, and 4 walks – adding up to a .412/.524/1.000 batting line.  He is hitting .288/.413/.635 with 5 home runs and 10 runs batted in over the last 15 games; .292/.419/.500 for the month; and .316/.423/.525 since the All-Star Break.

People keep talking about getting a “middle of the order” bat for the lineup.  Projected out to the 625 plate appearances a regular player would normally get in a year (remembering that Tommy spent the first 27 games of the season in Memphis) and Pham’s season would read 28 home runs, 110 runs scored, 84 runs batted in (from the second spot in the order) to go with a .307/.402/.517 batting line.  That sounds pretty “middle of the order” to me.

Tommy is also a player who hasn’t been intimidated by the good teams.  In the season’s second half, he’s hitting .344 (21 for 61) against winning teams.  For the season, that average is .294 (55 for 187) with 7 home runs.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter did walk twice and score a run, but was also 0 for 2.  His has been one of the missing bats in the recent 15-game tumble.  Matt is hitting .163 (8 for 49) with 15 strikeouts – a slump moderated somewhat by his 8 walks and a hit-by-pitch.  For the month of August, Matt’s on base percentage still sits at .376 while his average fades to .200.

Paul DeJong

Among the day’s disappointments was the snapping of Paul DeJong’s six game hitting streak.  He had hit .346 (9 for 26) before yesterday’s 0-for-4.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong came into Milwaukee riding a ten-game hitting streak.  He was 0-for-9 over the two games.  In the season’s first half, Kolten hit .300 (27 for 90) with a .385 on base percentage in games against winning teams.  Since the break, though, Wong has been scuffling at .220 (13 for 59) when playing against higher caliber opponents.

Luke Voit

Luke Voit finished the day 0 for 4 with 3 strikeouts.  Overall, the second half of the season hasn’t been as kind to the rookie as the first half.  He is now hitting .203 (12 for 59) since the break.  Of course, yesterday was only his ninth start of the second half.

St Louis’ final 30 games will only include 10 against teams with winning records.  They have 7 more with the Cubs and the final 3 at home against Milwaukee.  On paper that sounds promising, but the Cardinals have done quite a lot of losing to teams below .500.  Most of the recent 5-10 slide has been against losing teams.

Left on the schedule other than the Cubs (against whom the Cards are 4-8 this season) and the Brewers (7-9) are San Francisco (1-2), San Diego (1-2), Pittsburgh (7-6) and Cincinnati (5-8).

If the organization’s recent moves are an indication, they will be coming down the stretch with a significantly younger team.

NoteBook

The Milwaukee series was the Cardinal’s twenty-first road series of the year, and yesterday’s game provided them their fifth opportunity to sweep a road series.  The Brewers became only the second of those teams to avoid the sweep.  Philadelphia was the other team, when they salvaged the last game of their season series against St Louis on June 22.  Martinez was the losing pitcher that afternoon as well.

It doesn’t make any difference – and is really only an observation – but the powerful Milwaukee team hit three home runs during the two days we spent there.  I’m pretty sure none of the three get out of Busch.

Cardinals “Almost” Get Past San Diego

When you are the snake bit team, all the inches go against you.  In the aftermath of last night’s 4-3 loss to San Diego (box score), I found myself reflecting on how easily the Cardinals could have shut out the Padres.

The Padres were set up for a big inning in the sixth, loading the bases with no one out.  But after Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez popped up Yangervis Solarte, Cory Spangenberg bounced an easy double play grounder right back to Martinez.  With the end of the inning in front of him, Carlos lobbed the throw over the head of Yadier Molina.  The throwing error tied the game at one. A second run would score before the inning ended, when Carlos was almost out of the inning.

Then came the ninth.  Game tied at 2, Sam Tuivailala in to try to get the tie into the bottom of the ninth.  Jabari Blash looped a soft liner toward right-center where second baseman Kolten Wong almost caught it, the ball eluding his glove by inches.

After a hit by Manuel Margot put runners at second and third with no one out, Carlos Asuaje slashed a grounder to the drawn-in first baseman Jedd Gyorko.  Even though Gyorko has spent most of the season at third base, he was almost able to corral the ball and make a play at the plate.  That infield hit drove in the go-ahead run.

The insurance run later scored on a sacrifice fly to right, with Margot just barely beating Randal Grichuk’s throw.

Toss in scoring opportunities missed in five different innings, and four double plays grounded into, and you get the picture.

Yes, that’s baseball.  It happens to everyone from time to time.  But it also speaks to character.

The Padres left town just 57-70 on the season.  But they took two out of three here because they were mentally tougher than the home standing Cardinals.  Five game ago, the Cards outlasted Pittsburgh 11-10.  That win gave them 13 wins in 16 games, pushed their overall record to 63-59, and pulled them to within 1.5 games of the first-place Cubs.  It was just enough of a surge to spark excitement – to allow the fan base to hope that the pieces of the season might finally be coming together.

Since then, they have lost 4 of 5.  Yes, there have been injuries.  But some of the most successful Cardinal teams of the recent past took great pride in overcoming injuries.  They had a toughness that has only been seen in glimpses in this team.

One still encouraging trend is the offense.  Even though held to only 3 runs, the offense still slapped out 12 hits.  Across all of baseball, their .292 team batting average for August ranks second behind Baltimore’s .293.  Their .380 team on base percentage this month is first by 14 points over Texas and Cincinnati – who are next at .366.  Their .489 slugging percentage is second, again, to Baltimore’s .524.  They lead all of baseball this month in OPS.  At .869 they are 8 points better than Baltimore (.861).

Even on evenings when they don’t score many runs (like last night), they still almost always hit.

Paul Dejong

Three more hits from rookie shortstop Paul DeJong brings him to .330 for the month of August (30 for 91), and pushes him back over .300 for the year (he is now at .301). His double was his fifth of the month, to go with 6 home runs and 16 runs batted in.  Paul is slugging .582 thus far in August (and .573 for the season).  In 38 games since the All-Star Break, DeJong is 46 for 158, with 8 doubles, 11 home runs, and 28 runs batted in.  He is hitting .291 and slugging .551 in the season’s second half.

In the eighth inning, Paul cuffed Craig Stammen’s 2-0 fastball into left for a hit.  It was the only time all night that Paul was able to put the first strike thrown him into play.  When Paul hits the first strike, he is a .440 hitter (22 for 50).

Dexter Fowler

The Cardinal losing streak has come in spite of the best efforts of Dexter Fowler.  He is 5 for 14 (.357) over the last five games after getting three more hits last night.  Dexter continues his serious tear since his return from the disabled list.  In 63 plate appearances over 15 games, Fowler has 9 singles, 8 doubles, 2 triples, 1 home run, 13 runs scored, 13 runs batted in, 13 walks, 1 sacrifice fly, and has been hit by 1 pitch.  It all adds up to a batting line of .417/.540/.729.  He has pushed his second-half average up to .318 (28 for 88) and his on base percentage to .445.

Dexter’s night featured a fourth-inning double on a 3-2 pitch, and an eighth-inning single on a 2-2 pitch.  Two strike hitting is suddenly a proficiency for Dexter.  Coming out of the All-Star Break, Fowler was 1 for his first 20 (.050) when hitting with two strikes on him.  He is now 7 for 21 (.333) in August when batting with two strikes.

Kolten Wong

Wong is another player who is doing everything he can to keep the Cardinals’ collective head above water.  Reaching back to July 30, Wong put together a 5-game hitting streak before going 0 for 2 on August 5.  So, on August 6, he began an 8-game hitting streak that ran till he went 0 for 4 on August 15.  So, on August 16, he began his most recent hitting streak, which has reached 7 games after Wong collected two more hits last night.

Kolten is now 8 for 22 (.364) over his last 5 games, 31 for 79 (.392) this month, and 42 for 126 (.333) since the All-Star Break.

One of the tip offs that Kolten is really dialed in is when he jumps on the first strike.  He was 1-for-2 last night hitting the first strike.  He is now 10 for 18 this month (.556) when he hits that first strike.  He is also hitting .448 in the second half (13 for 29) and .407 for the year (24 for 59) when he puts that first strike in play.

Tommy Pham

The summer of Pham has cooled off a bit recently.  Over the last five games, Tommy is just 1 for 14 (.071).  Pham, who had only grounded into 4 double plays in his entire career before this season, bounced into 3 last night alone.  He now has grounded into 16 for the season.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos made the big error that probably cost him the game, but otherwise threw another excellent game.  He went seven innings allowing just the two runs (only 1 earned).  Martinez has now put together 4 consecutive quality starts, during which he has thrown 28 innings with a 2.89 ERA and a 3-0 record.

Batters who hit the first strike from Martinez were only 1 for 8 last night.  Over the month of August, batters who hit Martinez’ first strike are only 8 for 33 (.242).  Across all of baseball, batters hitting the first strike thrown them are hitting .347/.408/.609.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons bent, but didn’t break in last night’s eighth inning.  He walked 2 and hit another, but wriggled out of trouble, keeping his scoreless streak alive at 17 games and 15.2 innings.  His season’s ERA is now down to 2.63.

I’m not exactly sure how he does it, but Tyler has the most uncanny ability to get batters into two-strike counts and then finish them off with that deceptive slider.

Across all of baseball, batters end up in two-strike counts about half the time.  From there, they end up hitting .177 and striking out about 40% of the time.

Last night, 4 of the 6 batters that Lyons faced ended up in two-strike counts.  They went 0 for 3 with a walk and a strikeout.  Since the All-Star Break, 36 of the 53 batters that Lyons has faced have ended up in two-strike counts (67.9%).  They are 1 for 31 (.032) with 20 strikeouts.  In the season’s second half, 55.6% of batters that see strike two from Tyler Lyons end up getting strike three as well.

NoteBook

St Louis has now lost 4 of its last 5 rubber games.  For the season, they are 6-10 in rubber games.

Back on Tuesday, St Louis lost the opening game of a series for the twenty-third time in 41 series.  They are now 6-15-2 in series when they lose the first game.

Jedd Gyorko’s double accounted for his sixty-fourth run batted in of the season – a new career high.  He drove in 63 in his rookie year of 2013.  Even though he hit 30 home runs last year, he managed just 59 runs batted in.

When Carlos Trusts His Stuff

Carlos Martinez has these days where he looks every inch the elite pitcher that St Louis believes he is and will be.  He has those other days, too.  But last night he played hard ball with one of baseball’s more dangerous lineups and came away the victor in an 11-3 conquest (box score).  Carlos went 8 of those innings, striking out 7 and allowing just 2 runs on 7 hits (that would have been only 4 hits had Carlos simply gotten out of the way of a few infield grounders).

What was different last night from his previous start when he gave three first-inning runs to Milwaukee?  The easy answer would be command.  In Milwaukee he threw strikes with only 55 of his 102 pitches.  Last night he also threw 102 pitches, but with 70 of them being strikes.  He gave no walks last night.

But the deeper answer is that last night Carlos trusted his stuff – and it worked out for him.  It’s a fine line.  There are games when he doesn’t trust his stuff.  There are games when he trusts his stuff and gets beaten up a bit.  But when the fastball runs – and it was darting a lot last night – Carlos Martinez can be a handful.  Last night, 23 of the 31 batters he faced saw some flavor of fastball on the first pitch.  Overall, 58 of his 102 pitches were either the four-seam (47) or two-seam (11).  According to Brooks Baseball who tracks such things (here), Carlos never quite reached 100 mph, although he came exceedingly close (his top speed weighed in at 99.9), but he threw with great confidence and great movement at 96-98.

His attacking mindset – and the Kansas City Royals’ willingness to chase that fastball – allowed Carlos to keep his pitch count low enough to finish 8.  For the game, 18 of the 31 batters he faced lasted 3 pitches or less – including 3 of the 4 he faced in the eighth.

As you watch Martinez walk 5 batters in 5 innings, as he did in Milwaukee, you might get the feeling that Carlos’ is less pitch-efficient than the other starters in the rotation.  In actuality, for the season, Carlos is dealing with batters at just 3.66 pitches per.  Only Mike Leake (3.57) expends fewer pitches per batter.  When you throw a lot of fastballs and don’t nibble, the at bats cycle through pretty quickly.  Last night, Carlos’ 31 batters in 102 pitches worked out to 3.29 pitches per.  That will usually get you deep into a game.

And Oh Yes, There Was Some Offense Last Night, Too

On July 26, your St Louis Cardinals took their baseball wood to the Colorado Rockies by a 10-5 score.  In the nine games that followed, those same Cardinals totaled 19 runs.  Now they have scored 24 over the last two games, featuring big innings of 4, 6 and 9 runs.

With the outburst comes hope of a more sustainable offensive situation over the season’s last 50 games.  There are certainly a number of Cardinal players who are overdue for an extended hot streak.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter capped off the 6-run fourth inning with the 3-run home run that opened up the game.  Matt is one of those who have suffered through a less-than-expected season.  Even with his two hits last night, his season average still sits at .249.  However, he is now hitting .295 (23 for 78) with a .396 on base percentage (12 walks) since the All-Star Break.

As per usual, Matt Carpenter saw more pitches than anyone else on the team.  In his 4 plate appearances, he cost Kansas City pitchers 21 pitches – 5.25 per appearance.  For the season, he leads the team with 4.37 pitches per PA.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez did less damage last night than the night before.  Still, he contributed two more hits and is now at .333 in the second half.  Mike Matheny really can’t bench him while he’s getting two hits a night, can he?

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina pushed his second half batting average to .320 with two more hits (24 for 75). He has now hit safely in 6 of his last 8 games, during which he is 11 for 26, including 2 doubles and 2 home runs – a .423 batting average and a .731 slugging percentage.  With two runs scored last night, Molina has scored 8 runs in his last 8 games.

Ever aggressive, Yadi swung at half of the 12 pitches thrown him last night.  Molina is swinging at 53.6% of the pitches thrown his way this season.  Of the regulars and semi-regulars, the only higher percentage belongs to rookie Paul DeJong, who swings at 54.7% of the pitches thrown to him.

When Yadi came up in the second, he did so with Jose Martinez at first and no one out.  It is likely that Kansas City viewed this as a double play opportunity – as Molina has grounded into many double plays over the years.  Things have been very different in that regard for Molina so far this year.  Yadi hit the ground ball – but it shot down the left-field line for the double that set up the big inning.

Molina still hasn’t grounded into a double play in the second half, and has bounced into only 6 in 74 opportunities this year (8.1%).

Tommy Pham

Not much disappointing news from last night, but one down note was the end of Tommy Pham’s most recent hitting streak – a six-gamer during which he hit .333 (8 for 24).

One of the biggest differences in the new Tommy Pham is swing and miss percentage.  Last year, Tommy missed 34.8% of the pitches he swung at.  That was the highest rate of any non-pitcher on the team (higher even than Brandon Moss’ 33.7%).  He is down to just 20.6% this season, and in the season’s second half Tommy has only missed on 28 of the 179 swings he’s taken.  Of all players with at least 25 plate appearances in the second half, only Matt Carpenter (15.3%) misses with fewer swings than Pham’s 15.6%.  He swung the bat 8 times last night, and only missed with one of the swings.

However, Tommy also seems to feel that just because he can finally see, that means that everyone else (like the umpires) can as well.  Pham was called out twice last night on close pitches – the first of which was clearly inside (and probably high, as well), but ultimately too close to take.  Tommy frequently seems mystified by the fact that the same umpires that miss calls on everyone else also miss calls on him.  Of the 84 times he has struck out so far this season, 34 (40.5%) have been on called strike threes.

NoteBook

Kolten Wong’s second-inning sacrifice fly gave the Cards a brief 1-0 lead.  It was the first time in 8 games that St Louis had scored first.

Before last night, the Cards had trailed at some point in eight straight games, and 10 of their last 11.

Three First-Inning Runs Hold Up for Milwaukee

First-inning runs almost never hold up.  In fact, one of the Cardinals favorite patterns from earlier in the season was to put two or three first-inning runs on the board and then shut down, waiting until their opponent wore through the lead and – eventually earned the victory.

Given the shaky recent nature of the Milwaukee bullpen, I felt all along that if the pitching staff could hold them there, our chances of eventually winning were pretty good.  Alas, it came not to pass.  Three first-inning runs were all they got.  And three first-inning runs were all they needed, as Milwaukee held off the Cards by a 3-2 score (box score).

The first run scored on a ground out from Ryan Braun, but after starter Carlos Martinez struck out Travis Shaw, the Cards were presented with a golden opportunity to get out of an inning that began with runners at second and third and no one out, allowing just the one run.  A two-out single from Domingo Santana made it 2-0.  That hurt.  But catcher Manny Pina delivered the clinching hit – launching Martinez’ two-out, two-strike, 100-mph fastball over the head of center-fielder Tommy Pham – delivering the third and final run of the inning.

As disappointing as that first inning was, the game ended with Milwaukee scoring just those three runs on only 5 hits.  Kudos, still, to the pitching staff.  Since the All-Star break, the team has maintained a 3.04 ERA.  Over the last 20 games, that ERA is only 2.78 with a .228 batting average against.

Carlos Martinez

While most of the rest of the pitching staff has been flourishing since the last two games before the All-Star break, presumptive ace Carlos Martinez has been more stumbling block than support.  Over his last six starts, Carlos is now just 1-3 (part of a 1-4 streak for the talented right-hander), with a 5.82 ERA.  He was 1-2 with a 5.90 ERA in July.

Martinez’ first inning struggles are beginning to gain some attention.  After yesterday, Carlos holds a 6.55 first-inning ERA.  During this inning, batters are slashing .284/.402/.519 against him.  Twenty-six percent of all the runs he’s allowed, twenty percent of all the hits he’s allowed, twenty-nine percent of the home runs he’s served up, and twenty-eight percent of the walks he’s given have come in that first inning.

From the second through the fifth, his ERA is a solid 2.35 with a .211 batting average against.  He begins to tail off again in the sixth.

These trends have been worsening lately.  In his four starts since the All-Star break, Martinez has been stung for 8 first inning runs (18.00 ERA) and a .429/.478/.810 slash line against him.  After that first inning, his ERA has held at 1.80.

Last night’s loss was Carlos’ ninth of the season, tying (already) his career high set last year when he was 16-9 (he is 7-9 so far this year).  Carlos’ career record is 41-30.

Moreover, the three runs allowed last night brings Martinez’ season total to 61.  His career high is the 68 he allowed last year.

Lack of any kind of consistent offensive support hasn’t helped Martinez.  Last night was the thirteenth time in his 22 starts that his offense failed to score as many as three runs for him.

More Good Bullpen Work

After posting a cumulative 2.17 ERA in July, the sometimes troublesome bullpen began August with four shutout innings last night, holding the game where the offense could still have a chance.  They gave one hit and two walks in those four innings.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia’s current scoreless streak (after his scoreless sixth inning last night) is 7 games (8.1 innings).  He hasn’t allowed an earned run in 14 games (15.2 innings).  His season ERA is down to 1.37.  Coming into the sixth inning of a one-run game is a fairly highly leveraged responsibility.  Little by little, the impressive Mr. Brebbia is earning more and more important innings.

In 13 innings this season before the seventh inning, John is unscored on, allowing just 3 hits.  Even though all the runs scored against him have come from the seventh inning on, his ERA in those innings is a still excellent 2.70.

Tyler Lyons

The evening featured another fine performance from Tyler Lyons, who seems to be very locked in.  He threw an inning and a third last night, giving no runs or hits – although he did walk his first batter in 10 games.  Tyler has not allowed a run in his last 9 appearances (7.2 innings), and has given only 2 hits in that span (.087 batting average), while striking out 11.  Tyler has struck out 9 over his last 5 innings with a swing-and-miss ratio of 30% of the swings taken against him.

Tyler pitched the seventh and got the first out of the eighth last night.  He has been very, very good in those innings this year.  He has totaled 16.1 innings in the seventh and eighth innings, with a 1.62 ERA, a .214 batting average against, and a .268 slugging percentage against.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman ran into a little more difficulty than usual closing out the eighth, allowing a hit and a walk.  But no runs came in.   Bowman held a 2.00 ERA in July and picked up in August where he left off.

The eighth has been Matthew’s most difficult inning to date.  In six “eighth innings” Matthew has been cuffed for 2 of the 4 home runs he’s allowed, and 9 earned runs – an 18.00 ERA.  To go along with a .387/.444/.645 batting line against.

Runs A Little Scarce Lately.

The impressive recent efforts of the pitching staff would normally be enough to push this team into a surge that would carry them into the division lead.  Unfortunately, a concurrent offensive brown-out has limited the good the club has realized from the good pitching.  St Louis is only 11-9 in their last 20 games.  The offense has managed more than three runs only 3 times in the last 13 games, and, in the 18 games since the All-Star break, they are averaging just 3.83 runs per game.

Except for the Fourth Inning

Last night’s fourth inning could have been better.  Pham led it off with a single and went to second on a ground ball.  With the four, five and six hitters coming up, the Cards were setting up for an inning.  The big inning never materialized (neither in the fourth nor any other inning last night), but the Cards did get the one run on a single from Yadier Molina.

Curiously, the fourth inning has been one of the team’s consistently best innings this year.  In the 18 games since the All-Star break, the Cards are hitting .329 in that inning (24 for 73), scoring 12 runs.  The only inning in those games that they’ve scored more runs in is the eighth (17 runs), and that was only on the strength of one 9-run inning against the Cubs.  Over the course of the entire season, the 67 runs scored in that inning and the .291 batting average in that inning are both the highest of any of the innings.

The Summer of Pham

Not much good happened offensively for the Cards last night, but Tommy Pham keeps on keeping on, with two more hits.  He scored one of the runs and drove in the other run.  Tommy has hit safely in all of his last 7 starts, going 10 for 25 (.400) in those games.  He led the team in batting average last month, hitting .344 (32 for 93) and slugging .591 (he finished with 6 doubles, a triple, and 5 home runs).  In 26 July games (24 starts), Pham scored 19 runs and drove in 19 runs.

Tommy’s RBI came on a fifth-inning single.  Pham (who singled and scored in the fourth) has done well as a part of the Cardinal fourth-inning surge – he is hitting .333 in the fourth.  But the fifth is his inning.  He is now hitting .419 in the fifth (13 for 31) and is now 5-for-5 in that inning since the All-Star break.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong had hits in the third and fifth innings.  He grounded out in the seventh and struck out in the ninth.  Kolten is a .333 hitter (44 for 132) before the seventh inning.  From the seventh inning on, his average drops to .208 (15 for 72).

Jedd Gyorko

The long slump of Jedd Gyorko continues.  Jedd was 0-for-4 with 3 strikeouts last night, and looked more than a little lost.  Over his last 19 games, the Cardinal cleanup hitter is batting just .152 (10 for 66) and slugging just .227.  Jedd hasn’t hit a home run since the first game after the All-Star break – 58 at bats ago.

Paul DeJong

Wonder rookie Paul DeJong is tailing off a bit.  He was also 0-for-4 last night.  Since the All-Star Break, Paul is hitting .225 (16 for 71) – albeit with 5 home runs.  Still, he’s gone 5 games without an extra-base hit, driving in just one run in those games.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter opened the game with a fly out.  He came up again in the third and struck out before walking in both the fifth and eighth innings.  For a leadoff hitter, Matt is curiously slow out of the gate.  He is only hitting .229 in the first inning this year (19 for 83) and just .215 in the first three innings (31 for 144), albeit with a .339 on base percentage and a .417 slugging percentage.  From the fourth inning on, he slashes .278/.409/.473.

NoteBook

Yadier Molina’s strike out last night was his fifty-fifth of the season.  In his previous 13 years, he has only struck out more than 55 times twice – 59 strike outs in 2015, and his career high 63 strike outs last year.

On the other hand, Molina has only grounded into 6 double plays so far this season.  Four times in his career he has bounced into at least 20 double plays – including 22 last year.  His career low for a full season is 10, which he achieved in 2005 and again in 2012.

Control Issues Help Doom Colorado

In a lot of ways, it was just the Cardinals night last night.  Four of the 15 hits didn’t make it out of the infield, and Harrison Bader’s eighth-inning double was looped into right.  For a team that finished with ten runs, there wasn’t an awful lot of hard contact.

Compounding the issue for the Rockies was the general inability of their pitchers to throw strikes. In all, four pitchers combined to hurl 185 pitches at Cardinal hitters.  Of the 107 that those hitters didn’t offer at, only 28 were called strikes (26%).  Of the first pitches thrown to the 46 Cardinals who came to the plate, only 12 were close enough to invite the Cards to swing at them.  This takes some doing, as St Louis is about as willing to swing at a first pitch as team in baseball.

But on a night when Colorado didn’t have the best of luck, their pitchers kept adding fuel to the fire.  The result was a convincing 10-5 Cardinal victory (box score).

With the 10 runs and 15 hits, St Louis approaches the last four games of July hitting .275 as a team and scoring 4.86 runs per game.

Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk had two of the infield hits awarded the Cards last night – part of a surprising 4-for-5 night that included no extra-base hits.  Grichuk has now hit in all 6 games since his return from the DL, going 11 for 24 (.458) with 4 home runs (.958 slugging percentage).  He has scored 6 runs and driven in 7 in those six games.

Randal is now 15 for 53 this month (.283) with 1 double and 6 home runs (.642 slugging percentage).

Grichuk was able to lay off the first pitch in 4 of his 5 at bats – and was rewarded with 3 hits in those at bats.  For the month of July, Grichuk has laid off the first pitch a surprising (for him) 69.6% of the time.  He has gone on to hit .361 in those at bats (13 for 36) and slug .889 as all of his extra-base hits this month have come in at bats where he has taken the first pitch.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s 2 for 5 evening pushed his season average up to .250.  Folks should be aware (especially those thinking he should be traded – and yes I saw a blog where that was suggested) that Carpenter is now hitting .319 in July (23 for 72).

In six plate appearances last night, Matt only swung at the first pitch once, fouling off Jeff Hoffman’s first-pitch fastball in the fifth.  That at bat would end with the two-run double that would give the Cards a 6-4 lead.  For the season, Matt is swinging at that first pitch just 15.9% of the time.  During the month of July, that ratio is even lower – just 12.8% of the time.  But when he does, good things usually happen.  Carp is 7 for 11 (.636) so far this month in at bats where he swings at the first pitch.

Tommy Pham

It’s rare that we talk about a Cardinal game and don’t mention Tommy Pham – who was 2-for-2 last night with 2 walks.  He now has 5 hits in his last 8 at bats, and 6 walks in his last 15 plate appearances.  Tommy is coming down the stretch in July hitting .363 this month (29 for 80) and slugging .650 (6 doubles, 1 triple, and 5 home runs).  In 22 July games, Tommy has scored 18 runs and driven in 19.

Tommy took the first pitch thrown to him 3 times in his 5 plate appearances – ending up with a single and both walks.  For the season, Tommy has been taking that first pitch 73.9% of the time and hitting .346/.450/.593 when he does.  Eleven of his fourteen home runs have come in at bats where Tommy has taken the first pitch.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina is now 21 for 73 (.288) in July after his third straight two-hit game.  Even the notoriously aggressive Molina took the first pitch thrown him three of four times last night.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez entered July riding a streak of 11 quality starts in 12 outings.  This month, though, has been decidedly choppy for the colorful young right-hander.  He picked up the win last night (his only one of the month) in spite of the fact that he gave up 5 runs in 6 innings.  He gave 7 hits, including a home run – his seventh this month in just 29 innings.

Carlos has already set a career high this year, allowing 17 home runs before the end of July.  His totals for the month are a 1-2 record, 5.90 ERA, .308 batting average against, and a .556 slugging percentage allowed.  With Carlos’ stuff, you wouldn’t think you would see opponents’ batting .308 against him over a 29 inning stretch.

Of the 25 batters that Carlos faced last night, 17 took his first pitch.  Two of those batters went on to walk, while the other 15 managed 2 singles (.133) and 7 strikeouts.  The 8 that offered at his first pitch ended up 5 for 8 with a double, a home run, and all 5 runs batted in.  For the month of July, batters swinging at Martinez’ first pitch are hitting .372 (16 for 43) and slugging .698 (2 doubles and 4 home runs).  These are the kinds of results you would see if Martinez was either becoming too predictable, or if he was tipping his pitches.

For what it’s worth, Nolan Arenado‘s certainly looked like he was expecting the pitch that he homered on.

A Bullpen Note

The pen wrapped up the game with three scoreless innings.  It is surprising to note that the bullpen has a 2.09 ERA so far this month – surprising because they’ve also blown four leads in July.  They haven’t done well in pressure situations, but they have pitched very well this month when behind or way ahead.

NoteBook

With last night’s win, St Louis has completed a series sweep in 5 of its 7 opportunities to sweep.

Coming off a 10-3 victory over Atlanta, Arizona will be the fifth consecutive team the Cards have played that will have won its previous series.

Cards’ Big Inning Includes Five Hits with Runners in Scoring Position

As the season resumed following the All-Star break, the Cardinals began a ten-game road trip with swings through Pittsburgh and New York, losing four of the seven games – three in walk off fashion.  Among the many areas they came up short in during those games, the hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP) could definitely have been better.  Seven games into the second half of the season, the Cards had gone 13 for 55 (.236) in those situations.

Through the first seven innings yesterday in Chicago not much seemed to change.  They were just 1 for 5 with runners in scoring position at that point, and just 4 for their last 27.

So, as Tommy Pham came to the plate with Matt Carpenter at second and nobody out in the eighth, you might have thought that the Cardinals were overdue to make a little noise with runners in scoring position.  It is doubtful that anyone could have forseen the correction that followed.  The next ten batters all reached base (5 walks, 3 singles and 2 doubles), and before the inning had ended, St Louis had chalked up 9 runs on their way to an 11-4 victory (box score).  They finished the game 6 for 12 with 3 doubles and 6 walks with “ducks on the pond.”  The mini-explosion pushes the team average to .281 for the month, and .264 for the year with runners in scoring position.

They are now hitting a decent .268 for the month of July, scoring 4.76 runs during the 17 games played so far this month.

Dexter Fowler

It was encouraging to see a few hits from Dexter Fowler yesterday.  He returned from his latest DL stint on July 7, and marked the event with a home run. Since that game, Dexter had no extra base hits, no runs scored, and no runs batted in.  He broke all of those zeros last night, as his 3 for 4 night included an RBI double and a walk that turned into a run in that eighth inning.  The outburst pushed his average to .275 (11 for 40) since his return.

Dexter had been 0 for 14 since his return in RISP opportunities before he drove in Pham with a third-inning double.  Over the course of the season, Dexter has been one of the team’s better performers with runners in scoring position.  His 2 RISP opportunities yesterday bring him to 76 for the year, during which Dexter has contributed 10 singles, 3 doubles, 2 triples, 4 home runs, 26 RBIs, 13 walks (2 intentional) and 2 sacrifice flies.  This adds up to a batting line of .279/.395/.590.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter had no hits yesterday until he came up in the eighth inning as the lead-off hitter.  He finished the inning with two hits to round out a 2 for 5 night.  For the most part, things have been falling into place for Matt in July.  He is now hitting .345 this month (20 for 58) and .389 (7 for 18) since the team left Pittsburgh.

In Carpenter’s second at bat in the inning, he came up with the bases loaded and singled to drive in a run.  Carpenter is now 4 for 10 in July with runners in scoring position.

Tommy Pham

The summer of Pham continued unabated as Tommy Pham added a double and a single to yesterday’s mix. Tommy has now hit in 5 straight games going 8 for 21 (.381) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs (.762 slugging percentage).  He has also now hit in 9 of his last 10 – going 17 for 39 (.436).  He has scored 10 and driven in 10 in those games.  He is hitting .375 for July (24 of 64) and slugging .688 (6 doubles, 1 triple, and 4 home runs).  He has driven in 17 runs in 17 games this month.

Tommy’s 2 RBIs yesterday came on a single in that 9-run eighth.  Tommy is now 7 for 19 (.368) this month in RISP opportunities.

Jedd Gyorko

A revelation in April and May, Jedd Gyorko is scuffling in July.  He drew an important walk in that eighth inning (one of two walks on the day for Jedd), but otherwise went 0 for 3.  Jedd is hitting just .135 (5 for 37) over his last 10 games, and has no extra-base hits in his last 7.  He is now just 11 for 52 (.212) this month.

Jedd lined out in the third inning in his only RISP at bat yesterday.  Jedd is now hitting .133 (2 for 15) this month with runners in scoring position.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong has been back, now, for 8 games – 6 of them starts – and 21 at bats after yesterday’s 0 for 3.  Kolten walked twice yesterday – the first times he’s walked since his return from the DL.  He still has no extra-base hits and no runs batted in since his return.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez wasn’t at his absolute best – and the Cubs have always battled him pretty well – but he did fight his way through six innings allowing only 2 earned runs – this in spite of the fact that they finished with 10 hits in Carlos’ 6 innings.

But one thing Carlos can do – usually, even when he isn’t razor sharp – is pitch with runners in scoring position.  Yesterday Chicago had 11 shots at Martinez with runners in scoring position.  They finished just 2 for 10 with a walk.  For the season, batters with runners in scoring position hit just .173 (17 for 98) against Carlos.

Carlos didn’t get yesterday’s win, due – in part – to the offense’s continued neglect with their ace on the mound.  Yesterday was the twelfth time in Carlos’ 20 starts that the offense scored fewer than 3 runs while he was the pitcher of record.

Matthew Bowman

Here’s a surprise.  I pointed out in yesterday’s post how well Matthew Bowman has been pitching of late, and when he came in during the seventh-inning of a tight game, he didn’t immediately serve up a bunch of critical runs.  Granted, the only batter he faced tried to lay down a bunt, and bunted it right to him.  Still that makes 11 consecutive scoreless games from Bowman during which he has held batters to a .197 average and a .214 slugging percentage.  Of the last 30 batters he has faced, 57% have hit the ball on the ground, and only 1 of the last 41 batters to stand in against him has walked.

Kevin Siegrist

It’s only been three games since Kevin Siegrist has returned to the bullpen, but he has looked razor sharp.  In three nearly perfect innings, Kevin has allowed only 1 single and 1 walk.  Seven of the nine outs he’s recorded have come as strikeouts.  Batters have missed on 56% of the swings they have taken against him since his return.

Ninth Inning Disasters Continue

Beginning with two nearly perfect innings on June 13, Brett Cecil ripped off a string of 15 consecutive scoreless performances.  Over those games, Brett handled 15.2 innings giving just 7 hit and 1 walk.

As Cecil was putting together this impressive streak of scoreless innings, Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal took turns serving up games in the eighth and ninth innings.

After Oh served up the game-winning walk-off home run in the ninth inning of Friday’s game, manager Mike Matheny finally turned to Cecil in a closing situation yesterday afternoon.  Brett took the mound for the bottom of the ninth, holding a 3-2 lead.

Eleven pitched later, Brett had given up two runs on three hits and was walking off the field as the losing pitcher (box score).  He hadn’t allowed a run in more than a month, but when he did, it cost the team a game.

The Cardinals are snake-bitten in the ninth inning.

Cardinal pitchers have pitched 11.1 innings in the ninth inning this year when the team trailed in the game by one or two runs.  When it comes to keeping the team in the game so they have a chance in the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinal bullpen has been excellent.  They hold a 1.59 ERA in those innings, with a .211 batting average against.

For 11 innings Cardinal pitchers have worked the ninth inning with the game tied.  Here, they have been less proficient.  In those 11 innings, their ERA jumps to 4.91 (giving up 7 runs, 6 of them earned), including 3 home runs.

Cardinal pitchers have carried a one-run ninth-inning lead for 9 innings so far this year.  They have given up 5 runs on 13 hits and 3 walks while trying to protect that one-run ninth-inning lead – a 5.00 ERA and a .325 batting average against.

Cardinal pitchers have worked 34 innings this year in the ninth inning where they have been no worse off than tied, but not ahead by more than three runs.  They have responded to these closer-like situations with a 5.29 ERA, a .306 batting average against, and 5 home runs.  I’m sure these are not historic numbers, but they are black enough.

There are many things that the Cardinals have not done well.  Hemorrhaging ninth-inning leads is arguably the worst of their sins.

Which Leads to Another One-Run Loss

Yesterday’s games was a textbook example of how a team comes to be 13-17 in one-run games.  Offensively they passed up several opportunities to add runs – along with hitting into three double plays, and running into a fourth.  Mix in more ninth-inning trouble and just enough bad luck (Andrew McCutchen’s first-inning RBI single hit the second base bag, and Max Moroff’s home run hit the foul pole) and you have a developing pattern.

The bullpen has now thrown 94.2 innings of relief in the 30 one-run games the Cardinals have been involved in.  They have managed a 3-11 record with 12 saves, 26 holds, and 9 blown saves.  The bullpen ERA in one-run games this year is 3.80.  It has been a season-long issue.

Carlos Martinez

Speaking of developing patterns, Carlos Martinez pitched seven excellent innings yesterday, holding the resurgent Pirates to 2 runs on 5 hits.  But, it was the twelfth time in Carlos’ 19 starts that the offense failed to score four runs for him, and it was the third time already this season that Martinez had a lead squandered by his bullpen.

If one-run games are an indication of character, Carlos Martinez has been answering the bell.  Seven of his 19 starts have now been decided by one-run.  He has thrown quality starts in 5 of those games, fighting his way to a 2-2 record, a 2.35 ERA, and a .198 batting average against.  In 46 innings, Martinez has given 34 hits – 23 singles, 8 doubles, and 3 home runs – good for a .297 slugging percentage against.

Carlos has deserved a better fate so far this season.

In his three years in the rotation, Carlos has made 28 starts in games that have been decided by one run.  He is 9-3 in those games with a 2.99 ERA

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal hit a batter (Adam Frazier) in the eighth inning yesterday.  Frazier thus becomes the only batter to reach base against Rosenthal over his last 6 innings.  Yes, we just said this about Cecil, but Rosenthal has also pitched very well of late.  Over those last six innings, Trevor has struck out 11 and thrown 67% of his pitches for strikes (57 of 85).  Batters have missed on 42% of their swings against Rosenthal.

Magneuris Sierra

As you are probably aware, Magneuris Sierra set a Cardinal rookie record by hitting safely in each of his first 9 games.  Yesterday’s 4-for-4 performance included three infield hits, but they all count.  He is now hitting .444 on the season (16 for 36).  All 16 hits have been singles, although he has had multiple hits in 5 of the 9 games.

Sierra has now played in 4 one-run games.  He is 9 for 15 (.600) in those games.  He has also struck out 5 times in those games, so, in the first four one-run games of his career, Magneuris Sierra has only been retired once when putting the ball in play.

Matt Carpenter

As the second half of the season begins, Matt Carpenter’s bat has begun a bit of a revival.  With 2 hits last night, Carpenter has now hit in 6 games in a row (9 for 23) for a .391 average.  Through the first 12 games of July, Matt is hitting .325 (13 of 40).

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong added two hits yesterday.  Due to injuries, Wong has only played in 20 of the 30 one-run games the Cardinals have played, but he is now hitting .350 in those games (21 for 60).  Up until this season, Kolten was only a .244 hitter in 140 career one-run games.

Jedd Gyorko

As the season’s first half has melded into the second, Jedd Gyorko has hit a bit of a dry spell.  He is just 2 for 19 (.105) over his last 5 games after an 0-for-5 afternoon yesterday that included two ground-ball double plays.  This drops him to just .235 for the month.

After hitting .287/.341/.590 in one-run games last year, Jedd is only hitting .239/.301/.402 in them this year.

NoteBook

Of the now 18 times that St Louis has lost the first game of a series, they have come back to force a rubber game 9 times.  They are 4-5 in those rubber games.

Nationals Come After Martinez Early

One of baseball’s axioms about dealing with elite pitchers is that if you don’t get to them early, you might not get to them at all.  There are several variables that the starting pitcher will have to adjust for as he begins the game.  Mounds are apparently all different.  The strike zone of each individual umpire is quite different.  Usually, the hitters will come to the plate with some kind of approach or game plan which may not be anticipated and may lead to early success.  So, there are some adjustments to be made in that first inning or so – which opens a window of opportunity for the hitters.

The spectrum of this axiom was on full display last night in the finale of the season series between the Cardinals and the Washington Nationals.  The Cardinal offense didn’t come close to getting Washington ace Max Scherzer early.  He struck out the first four batters he faced and five in the first two innings.   And as it turned out, they never did get him – Scherzer finished his evening after 7 innings and 100 pitches, giving St Louis no runs on only 2 hits, while striking out 12.

Washington, on the other hand, jumped Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez for 2 first inning runs, and kept him out of kilter for the rest of an uncommonly short five inning outing, on its way to a relatively easy 7-2 victory (box score).

Carlos Martinez

Coming off of an excellent June, when he posted a 2.43 ERA in 5 starts – and riding an even longer streak of 11 quality starts in 12 games, Martinez gave 5 runs in 5 innings.  His evening, though, really fell on two pitches to National’s superstar outfielder Bryce Harper that most hitters would had turned into easy fly outs.  Harper got a little more of them than might be expected, sailing both into the right-field seats for two-run home runs.

Last night’s game marks the seventh time in Carlos’ 17 starts that the Cards were shutout while Martinez was on the mound.  Carlos has gotten fewer than 3 support runs 11 times in his 17 games.

Over the course of what has looked at times like a break-out season, Carlos has shown a tendency to wilt in the sixth (6.75 ERA) and seventh (7.71 ERA).  But he has been mostly terrific before those innings – if he can make it through the first inning unscathed.  From the second through the fifth innings (even after giving up three runs in last night’s third inning), Carlos has a 1.99 ERA and a .192 batting average against in those innings.  Harper’s second home run was the first Carlos has surrendered in the third inning all season.

On the other hand, Bryce’s first inning home run was the third first-inning home run off of Carlos (in 17 first innings).  His first-inning ERA now sits at 3.71.

John Brebbia

If you waited until the ninth inning, you would have seen John Brebbia out there mopping up.  He gave a hit and a walk (intentional), but got through the inning – his first appearance in five days – unscathed.  Over his last 4 games, batters are 2 for 16 (.125) against him.  For the season, John has a 2.35 ERA over 15.1 innings, during which batters are hitting .148 against him.

As the back of the bullpen was shuffled over the last two series – and while Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal are still struggling – and their role reversals haven’t resolved their struggles – I was hoping that Brebbia might get higher leveraged opportunities.  Instead, he seems to have been buried deeper in the depth chart.

Yadier Molina

So, Max Scherzer probably isn’t the pitcher you want to see on the mound when you are riding a 16-game hitting streak.  Yadier Molina finished his evening – as did many of the Cardinals – 0 for 4, bringing an end to his streak.  Over the course of the 16 games, Yadi hit .333 (21 for 63) with 3 home runs and 12 runs batted in.

Randal Grichuk

Hot off his three-hit, five RBI game in the finale of the Arizona series, Randal Grichuk finished up his 1 for 13 (.077) series against Washington with an 0-for-4 night.  He struck out 3 times last night, and 6 times during the series.  Since his hot start after his recall, Grichuk is now hitting .229 (8 for 35) in his post-Memphis appearances.

NoteBook

All season, the Cardinals have been less than dynamic in the first inning.  While last night’s three-up, three struck out was an extreme example, those strikeouts did leave the Cards with a .217 team batting average in the first inning.  Dexter Fowler (11 for 55) and Matt Carpenter (12 for 60) are both batting .200 for the season in the first inning – although with 13 walks, Carpenter’s on base percentage is .342 in that inning.

In the eighth inning, Tommy Pham completed the scoring by flicking Enny Romero’s up-and-away fastball over the right-field wall.  The home run was Pham’s tenth of the season – a career high.  It was also (after 26 games and 101 plate appearances) his first home run at Busch this season.  He carries a .218/.307/.264 batting line at home.  He is at .344/.435/.688 in 108 plate appearances on the road.  For his career, in 257 plate appearances at home, Tommy has 5 home runs and a .219/.307/.335 batting line.  He has been to the plate 310 times on the road, where he has hit 19 home runs with a .293/.382/.574 batting line.

Pham’s home run leaves Stephen Piscotty (121 PA) and Greg Garcia (74 PA) as the only Cardinals with 50 or more plate appearances at home who have yet to reach the fences at Busch.  Piscotty has 6 road home runs and Garcia 1.