Tag Archives: Carpenter

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.

Michael Wacha – Throwing Strikes and Taking Names

Quick quiz: How do you make it through 8 innings on only 95 pitches?  You throw strikes.

For eight marvelous innings yesterday afternoon, sometimes superstar Michael Wacha was a strike-throwing machine.  Of the 95 pitches he tossed, 68 were strikes (71.6%), while 19 of the 28 batters he faced (67.9%) saw first pitch strikes.  Of the 9 batters that saw Wacha miss with his first pitch, all 9 got a strike on the next pitch.  Only David Freese, batting in the fourth inning, saw balls on consecutive pitches.  He ended that at bat as the only full count that Michael faced on the afternoon.  He struck out.

Meanwhile, 9 other batters never saw even one pitch out of the zone during their at bat, and only 7 saw more than one.  Other than Freese, only 4 other Pirate hitters ended their at bat ahead in the count – all of them hitting the second pitch in 1-0 counts.

Michael’s commanding performance and a re-engaged offense sent the Cardinals on to a 7-0 win (box score), and a three-game sweep of the Pirates that pushed the Cards to within 2 games of the division lead.  Along the way, they continued the run of strong pitching that has defined the 8-2 start to September.  The Cards now have a team ERA of 2.22 with a .219 batting average against this month.  The starters this month have done even better, at 1.95 and .207.  In Wacha’s two September starts, he has faced 54 batters.  Only 11 have ended their plate appearance ahead in the count.

With the sweep, St Louis has now gone 49-36 since their seven-game losing streak in early June left them 26-32.  It hasn’t been without its hiccups, but the Cards have played .577 baseball over their last 85 games.  Michael Wacha has 10 of those 49 wins – the most on the staff.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong has been a significant part of the improvement in the team over the last 85 games.  Paul has played in 77 of the 85, starting 75 of them.  With his two hits yesterday, Paul has hit .292 (90 for 308), with 18 doubles, a triple, and 20 home runs – remember, this is in just 77 games.  DeJong has slugged .552 since early June.

Paul helped set up the three-run third with a single on a first-pitch fastball from Pirate starter Ivan Nova that didn’t get quite inside enough.  Like all good hitters in this league, Paul can hit that first pitch if it’s to his liking.  He is now hitting .400 (14 for 35) this year when hitting that first pitch.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina is beginning to feel the playoff chase energy.  He had two hits including a home run in both of the last two games of the series.  After seeing his second half batting average dip below .300, Yadi now has pushed it back up to .296 (53 for 179) with a .497 slugging percentage.  He has 8 home runs and 32 runs batted in in 49 games since the All-Star Break.

Molina’s home run came on a 1-1 pitch.  If you get Yadi backed up in the count, he will chase for you.  But since the All-Star Break, you better be careful with Yadi when he’s even in the count.  Yadi is hitting .394 (26 for 66) and slugging .606 (5 doubles and 3 home runs) when the count is either 0-0, 1-1 or 2-2.

Yadi’s first-inning RBI stood up as the game winner.  He now leads the team with 10 game-winning RBIs.

Matt Carpenter

The cortisone shot that Matt Carpenter took for his ailing shoulder hasn’t shown many benefits just yet.  Matt was 0 for 3 yesterday, and is now 1 for 14 this month.

Even though the hits aren’t falling, Matt is still grinding at bats.  He ended up in two more 3-2 counts yesterday, and has now been at 3-2 in 120 plate appearances this year – 21.4% of his plate appearances.

NoteBook

In sweeping the series, St Louis allowed only 4 runs to be scored against them.  It’s the fewest runs scored against this team in a series since April 17-19, when the Cards won three consecutive 2-1 games – also against Pittsburgh.

Yesterday was also the seventh chance the Cards had to sweep a series at home, and the fifth of those potential sweeps that they have finished off.  The Cards have only won 11 series at home – almost half of them with sweeps.

The Pirates – fresh off a split of their previous series with the Cubs – were only the sixth team St Louis has played this year that had split its previous series.  The Cards have now won 5 of those 6 series, going 13-4 against those teams.

With last night’s crowd of 44,683, the Cardinals home attendance swelled past 3 million for the fourteenth consecutive season, and the nineteenth time in the last twenty seasons.  With 10 home games left, the Cards home attendance sits at 3,023,530 (by my count – baseball-reference places it at 3,026,081).

Cards Overcome Another Early Deficit

As Jack Flaherty walked off the mound after his second major league inning, his team trailed 3-0.  After fellow rookie Harrison Bader put the Cards back in the game with a two-run homer, Flaherty gave those runs back in the bottom of the third, and St Louis still trailed by three.

All that was left for the offense to do was to keep battling back.

By game’s end the resilient Cardinal offense overcame yet another spotty pitching performance as they exploded for 6 in the ninth, and cruised past San Francisco 11-6 (box score).

It’s a position this team has found itself in frequently this season, so it should surprise no one that the hitters are almost comfortable in the situation.  Last night, the 27 batters that came to the plate with the team trailing hit a combined .360 (9 for 25) and slugged .840 (3 triples and 2 home runs).  They are just coming off a month (August) where they trailed in nearly 40% of their plate appearances, yet hit .291/.365/.497 when they trailed – especially when they trailed by three runs.

What, exactly, is magic about a three-run deficit I can’t really say, but over the course of the year – and especially in the second half – seeing that three-run deficit lights a fuse in the Cardinal offense.  Last month they hit .397/.471/.712 in 86 plate appearances trailing by three runs.  Since the All-Star Break, in 106 plate appearances, that line is .370/.438/.696.  For the season, 254 Cardinal hitters have stood at the plate facing a three-run deficit.  They are hitting .316/.379/.600.

Fifteen times this year St Louis has trailed by three runs in a game – but by no more than three runs.  They lost all of the first nine of those games.  They have now won 5 of the last 6.

The 11 runs on 15 hits suggests that this team didn’t do all their hitting and scoring in August – where they hit .280 and scored 5.79 runs per game.  In the season’s second half, the Cards are scoring 5.22 runs per game with a .276 team batting average.

Stephen Piscotty

Not all of their numbers are robust, but every day manager Mike Matheny is tasked with choosing which three of his five impact outfield bats (and maybe six, now, if you count Bader) to put in the lineup.  Last night Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez all sat, while Bader, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty all starred – to some degree or other – in the Cardinal victory.

Perhaps the most impressive of the three was Piscotty – who has been a little bit buried on the bench lately.  He had three hits, including a home run and a triple that was almost a home run – with those last two hits capping excellent at bats.

On the triple that began the comeback from the three-run deficit, Piscotty took all of the first three pitches from Hunter Strickland – finding himself backed up in the count 1-2.  He then fouled off five consecutive pitches before finally launching Strickland’s ninth pitch off the padding on the top of the right-center field wall.

On the home run, Piscotty turned on a 2-2 fastball that Albert Suarez ran right in under his fists.  Both the discipline that Stephen showed against Strickland and the surprising quickness he showed against Suarez are difficult to maintain when you’re not getting regular at bats.

Since his recall from Memphis, Piscotty has only gotten into 10 games – 7 as a starter.  He is nonetheless hitting .357 (10 for 28) and slugging .643 (one triple and 2 home runs) in those opportunities.

Piscotty also began the game-tying eighth inning rally with a single to left.  The Cardinals were trailing 5-4 at the time.  Piscotty for the season is a .324 hitter (11 for 34) when he bats with his team trailing by one run.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong picked up in September where he left off in August.  After hitting .347 last month, Wong tacked on two more hits last night.  He is hitting .308 for the season, and .316 (48 for 152) in the second half.

Wong’s RBI single in the ninth was his fifth game-winning hit of the year, tying him with Paul DeJong for fourth highest on the team.  Dexter Fowler and Jedd Gyorko are tied for the team lead with 9 each, followed by Yadier Molina with 8.

Kolten’s other hit came with two outs in the third with the Cards still down, 3-0.  It put him on base for Bader’s home run.  No one on the team has responded to that three-run deficit like Kolten Wong.  His 1-for-2 last night when trailing by three follows on the heels of his 5-for-8 August in that situation.  Since the All-Star Break, Kolten is 6 for 11 (.545) when trailing by three, and for the year he is 10 for 16 (.625) when staring at a three-run deficit.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong never stays down for very long.  After his most recent six-game hitting streak, DeJong went hitless in his last two games.  But DeJong (who finished August hitting .297 with a .508 slugging percentage and a team leading 20 runs batted in in 27 games), began September with two hits – including a double – and two runs batted in.  Paul has driven in a team-leading 34 runs in 45 games since the All-Star Break, while hitting .280 (53 for 189) and slugging .513 (9 doubles, a triple, and a team-leading 11 home runs).

His two-run, ninth inning double was typical of so many big hits that DeJong has gotten this year – the hit that breaks open the game.  This one turned a 6-5 Cardinal lead into an 8-5 lead.  For the season, when St Louis is either even in the game, or ahead by fewer than 4 runs, DeJong is hitting .356 (57 for 160) and slugging .619 (15 doubles and 9 home runs).  He has driven in 30 runs in those at bats.

Yadier Molina

He still looks stiff when he runs – like he hasn’t fully recovered from that abdominal strain, but Molina still plays every day.  And he hits.  A single and a triple last night (yes, he ran OK on that one), bring his current hitting streak to 5 games, during which Molina is hitting .333 (7 for 21). But this is part of an even longer stretch where Molina has hit safely in 12 of 13 games, going 18 for 52 (.346) during the streak.

Yadi ended August with a .312 average for the month – and showed surprising power.  He hit 5 home runs and slugged .548.  For the second straight season, Yadi has turned it up a notch or two after the break.  He is now hitting .305 (46 for 151) in the season’s second half.

Yadi tried to spark an earlier rally with a one-out triple in the fourth (the Cards still trailing 5-2 at the time).  That didn’t pan out, but it did bring Yadi’s average to .478 (11 for 23) on the season when he bats with a three-run deficit.

Matt Carpenter

The lineup shuffle that placed Kolten Wong in the leadoff spot dropped Matt Carpenter down to clean-up.  While it may have helped the lineup in general, it didn’t pay any immediate benefits to Carpenter.  Matt’s 0-for-4 followed tightly on the heels of his .202 August, and drops him now to just .158 (9 for 57) over his last 15 games.  Carpenter – who is hitting .241 for the year – is back down to .248 (38 for 153) in the second half – albeit still with a .372 on base percentage.

Carpenter’s evening included going 0 for 3 during the portion of the game where the Cardinals trailed.  Especially during the second half of the season, Carpenter has struggled to contribute hits when the Cardinals have trailed in games.  And especially when the deficit is three runs or less.  In his last 51 plate appearances with St Louis down by no more than 3 runs, Matt owns a .158 batting average (6 for 38).  He does still contribute walks, though, as his on base percentage in those plate appearances is a still healthy .373.

Pitching in Close Quarters

When Flaherty surrendered the lead in the second inning, he continued a problematic trend that has kept the Cardinals and their suddenly prolific offense from being serious contenders.  Through the month of August the Cardinal pitching staff pitched 69.2 innings with the game either tied or holding a one-run lead.  They responded to those opportunities with a 6.85 ERA and a .325 batting average against.  In 137.1 such innings since the All-Star Break, Cardinal pitchers have managed just a 5.77 ERA with a .292 batting average against.  Brandon Crawford’s two-run homer in last night’s second inning was the twenty-seventh home run the Cardinals have given up since the All-Star Break in games they were either tied in or leading by one run.

This is not exactly a formula for success – even if you have a competitive offense.

In August, the team received only 13 quality starts in 28 games, finishing with a 4.62 ERA (4.81 by the starters, with a .297 batting average against).  Since the All-Star Break, the team ERA is hovering at 4.06.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons is fast approaching super-hero status.  Last night’s perfect eighth inning that included two more strikeouts brings his scoreless streak to 20 games and 18.2 innings, during which he has allowed just 3 hits while striking out 25.

Sam Tuivailala

Sam Tuivailala gave the last run of the game in a mop-up ninth inning.  Though his season’s ERA is still a fine 2.97, Sam has begun to take on water recently.  He has now allowed runs in 3 of his last 5 games, giving 4 total runs in 4 total innings.  His ERA sits at 4.05 in the second half (13.1 innings).

Some of this just might be due to Sam’s unfamiliarity with pitching with a lead.  Since the All-Star Break, last night was only Sam’s second inning pitching with a lead – as opposed to 11 innings pitched while trailing in the game.  Of the 58 batters he’s faced in the second half, he has pitched to 2 with the score tied, 11 with the Cardinals leading, and 43 while trailing in the game.

For the season, Tuivailala has an 0.92 ERA with a .132 batting average against in 19.2 innings while trailing, 9.00 with a .353 batting average against in 4 innings while tied, and 4.66 allowing a .349 batting average in just 9.2 innings with a lead.

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.

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.

Home Stand Ends at 4-1 as Winning Streak Concludes

All winning streaks eventually come to an end – and always disappointingly.  Yesterday afternoon, the Braves built a 5-0 lead and withstood a late Cardinal rally for a 6-3 win (box score).  Even so, the Cardinals finished off their most recent home stand with a 4-1 record.  They are 9-3 in their home ballpark in the season’s second half, and now 35-27 there for the season.

Doubly disappointing in the loss was another scuffling performance by the pitching staff.  After being a decided strength throughout July, the pitchers started to show a little fraying through the 5-game home stand.  They allowed at least 5 runs in each game, and finished the stand with a 4.60 ERA (4 of the runs scored were unearned), and, after Atlanta banged out 12 more hits yesterday, a .309 batting average against.

Michael Wacha

One of the encouraging pieces in July, Michael Wacha has been less sharp in his 3 August starts.  Lasting just 5 innings yesterday, Wacha was brushed for 4 runs on 8 hits (including a home run).  He now has made it through just 15 innings in his August starts, with just 1 quality start.  He has now allowed 8 runs on 19 hits (including 2 home runs) in those innings – yielding a 4.80 ERA and a .317 batting average against.

John Brebbia

As his excellent rookie season turns the corner into August, John Brebbia has started to take on a little water.  Asked to hold a two-run deficit in the ninth inning yesterday, Brebbia was touched for 2 hits and a run.  He has now been scored on in 3 of his last 5 games, allowing 4 runs on 5 hits (2 of them home runs) over his last 5.2 innings.

It was the first earned run charged to John at Bush in 17.2 inning this season (0.51 ERA).  His other 7 runs allowed – including all 4 of his home runs – have been served up in 14.1 innings on the road (4.40 ERA).

Offense Still Hitting the Ball, But —

For the first time in 8 games, the Cardinal offense couldn’t manage 4 runs to support the pitching staff.  Even at that, though, they finished the day with 11 more hits.  The Cards finished this most recent home stand with a .305 team batting average (50 for 164).  They are also, now, at .290 at home in the second half.

Paul DeJong

Even in defeat, Paul DeJong continues to be a bright spot.  His 3 hits yesterday included another home run that sparked the comeback.  Paul has now hit in 9 of his last 10 games – getting multiple hits in 7 of them.  He is 18 for 45 (.400) in those games with a .733 slugging percentage (3 doubles and 4 home runs).  He has scored 7 runs and driven in 10 in those 10 games, and now has 16 runs batted in in the 19 games since he’s inherited the third slot in the order.

Paul is now hitting .333 in August (18 for 54) and slugging .611 this month.  Since the All-Star Break, DeJong is a .281 hitter (34 for 121), and a .554 slugger (6 doubles and 9 home runs).  Paul has driven in 22 runs in 29 second half games.

While Busch Stadium seems to inhibit many of the Cardinal hitters, Paul DeJong has claimed it as his own.  After a solid 9-for21 home stand that included 2 home runs, DeJong now has a .375 average at home (42 for 112) that includes 9 home runs, 22 runs batted in (in 31 games), and a .714 slugging percentage.  Paul now has to figure out a way to keep that magic going on the road, where he is hitting .234.

Randal Grichuk

Another bright spot was two more hits from Randal Grichuk.  Out of his head, and modeling a new shorter stroke, Randal has been a force during the recent winning streak.  He has hit in 5 of his last 6 games – getting 2 hits in each of those games.  Four of the ten hits have been for extra bases (1 double, 1 triple, and 2 home runs), so Randal has a .435 batting average and a .826 slugging percentage over those games.  He has hit safely in each of his last 7 starts.

He is now up to .302 for the month (13 for 43) with a .581 slugging percentage, and .321 in the season’s second half (26 for 81).  Those hits include 5 doubles, 1 triple, and 6 home runs, for a second half slugging percentage of .630.

With 8 hits in 18 at bats over the home stand, Grichuk is now hitting .356 at Busch (16 for 45) since the All-Star Break.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong’s hot streak continues.  Two-for-four with a triple yesterday, Kolten’s hitting streak reaches 8 games, during which he is hitting .462 (12 for 26) and slugging .769 (3 doubles, 1 triple and 1 home run).  Wong has hit in 13 of his last 14 games, and is now hitting .409 this month (18 for 44).  In 30 games since the All-Star Break, Wong is hitting .319 (29 for 91).

Kolten has also thrived on his home field.  He was 7 for 14 (.500) during the last home stand, and is now hitting .324 (12 for 37) here since the break, and .349 for the season (45 for 129).

Prior to 2017, Kolten was only a .239 career hitter in St Louis (164 for 686).

Kolten has also gone 11 for 30 (.367) in his last 8 road games, and is now hitting .315 (17 for 54) away from home since the break.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter saw a dynamic 7-game hitting streak come to an end with yesterday’s 0-for-5.  In his 33 plate appearances during the streak, Matt amassed 4 singles, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 8 runs scored, 8 runs batted in, 6 walks, and 2 hit-by-pitches.  His batting line over the streak was an impressive .360/.515/.680.

Even with the streak, Carpenter is still hitting just .220 (9 for 41) for the month.

NoteBook

As Atlanta built their 5-0 lead, they became the fourth team in the five-game home stand to score the first run of the game.  The Cardinals have scored first only 3 times in the last 14 games – yet they are 10-4 in those games.

Yesterday was St Louis’ tenth opportunity to sweep a series this year.  The Braves became just the third of those teams to avoid the sweep.  Half of those sweep opportunities have come against teams (like Atlanta) that had lost its previous series.  St Louis has completed that sweep in 3 of their 5 opportunities.

St Louis is now 10-7-3 in their 20 home series.

Suddenly Lethal to Lefties

On Thursday, June 1, your St Louis Cardinals fought their way past the Los Angeles Dodgers for a 2-0 victory.  They were 26-25 after that game.  Until last night, that was the last time they were above .500.  They sat (at that point) just 1.5 games behind the division leading Brewers, but were about to embark on what would be the defining road trip of the first half – 3 games in in Chicago and 4 more in Cincinnati.  They lost all 7 games, limping home at 26-32 and now 4.5 games out of the division lead and in fourth place.

Beginning with the subsequent series against Philadelphia, St Louis began the long, slow process of recovering their season.  It hasn’t been anything nearly resembling a straight line, but since that lost road trip, St Louis has fashioned a 31-24 record (.564).  The only better records in the National League since that date belong to the Dodgers (43-8, .843) and the Pirates (30-23, .566).

Much has changed for the Cards over the last 55 games, but one of the most surprising is how suddenly lethal this team has been against left-handers.

Ever since forever left-handed pitchers – especially the soft-tossing type that they ran into last night – have mostly owned this team.  At the point that they limped home from that 0-7 road trip, they were 6-8 on the season, scoring 3.36 runs per game when lefties started against them.

Then, after sweeping Philadelphia, they welcomed Milwaukee and left-hander Brent Suter.  Brent didn’t last 5 innings, as the Cards rolled to a 6-0 win (box score).  And suddenly lefties held no special mystery for this team.  Beginning with that game, St Louis won 9 of the next 12 games when left-handers started against the them – with St Louis averaging 6.17 runs per game in those contests.

Prior to that watershed moment, this team was hitting .233 against lefties.  Over the last 55 games, they have been spanking them to the tune of .270/.353/.513.  Against the two lefties they saw last night – soft-tossing Jason Vargas and hard-throwing Mike Minor – the birds went 11 for 26 with 2 doubles, 3 home runs, 4 walks, and a hit-by-pitch.  This added up to a batting line of .423/.516/.846 as the Cards bullied their way to a 10-3 win (box score).

With the outburst, the Cards have now scored – yes, 34 runs in their last three games – but more than that, 285 runs over their last 55 games.  That’s 5.18 runs per game over more than a third of the season.

Matt Carpenter

The resurgence of Matt Carpenter continues with a single, double, walk, and hit by pitch last night.  Carpenter is a .309 hitter during the season’s second half (25 of 81).  He has also waited out 13 walks and 2 HBPs, for an on-base percentage of .417.

After beginning the season 7 for 45 (.156) against lefthanders, Matt (who was 1 for 2 against them last night with the walk and HBP) has gone 9 for his last 31 (.290) against them with a .465 on base percentage.

In this resurgence, Matt hasn’t neglected the right-handed pitchers who have faced him.  He doubled home a run against the only right-hander he faced last night, and carries a .309/.405/.515 batting line against them since the All-Star Break.

Paul DeJong

After being given a day off, Paul DeJong has left his slump well in the rearview mirror.  He has hit in all five games since then.  Last night’s game was the third of the five that he’s had multiple hits in.  He is hitting .375 (9 for 24) with 2 home runs during the streak.

DeJong has been a very significant part of the turnaround in the Cardinal season.  At the point where they returned from that winless road trip, DeJong had only played in 12 games.  In 48 games (46 starts) since then, Paul has hit .294 (55 for 187).  He has hit 15 home runs in those games – almost one every three games over almost a third of the season.

Both of last night’s hits came against the lefthanders.  Paul has been one of the forces in the lineup against lefties.  He is now 14 for 44 (.318) against them with 2 doubles and 5 home runs (.705 slugging percentage).

He flew out in his only at bat against a right-hander last night.  In the season’s second half, DeJong is only 20 for 82 (.244) when facing right-handed pitching.

Yadier Molina

Since it is after the All-Star Break, it must mean Yadier Molina is heating up again.  Last night was his third straight two-hit game.  Yadi has hit safely in 10 of his last 14 games.  He is 19 for 49 (.388) in those games, with 4 doubles and 3 home runs.  Over those 14 games, Yadi has scored 12 runs and slugged .653.

Molina is now hitting .329 (26 for 79) in the season’s second half.

Yadi was 2-2 with the home run and the two-run single while Vargas was in the game.  He began the season just 10 for his first 40 against left-handers (.250), but he has personally led the charge against them over the last 55 games.  Yadi is now 13 for his last 35 (.371) against left-handers, with 4 home runs.

Dexter Fowler

As the Cards limped home from the 0-7 road trip, among the more frustrated players at that point was Dexter Fowler, who carried a .222 average into that series with Philadelphia.  While injuries have kept him out of the lineup for much of the succeeding turnaround (he has played in only 29 of the last 55 games, starting 27), Dexter has been a notable contributor when he has been in there.  With his 2 doubles last night, Fowler is hitting .291 (30 for 103), and slugging .544 (6 doubles, 1 triple, 6 home runs) over those last 29 games.

After doing all of his damage against Vargas, Fowler struck out against Neftali Feliz in the seventh and drew a walk from Brandon Maurer in the eighth.  In the season’s second half, Fowler is just 8 for 35 (.229) against right-handers, but he has drawn 8 walks against them – so his on base percentage against them is still .372.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh gave us a perfect seventh.  His season reached its nadir in the first game after the All-Star Break.  Entering a 2-2 game in the ninth, the Pirates made short work of the former closer.  Adam Frazier began the frame with a double.  Then, after a flyout from Josh Harrison and an intentional walk to Andrew McCutchen, Josh Bell looped a three-run walk-off homer over the left field wall.

Since that moment, Oh has allowed no earned runs on over his last 9 games (9 innings), during which he has given just 7 hits – all singles – and no walks.  He has thrown 112 of his last 149 pitches for strikes (75%).  Oh hasn’t given an unintentional walk since he walked Corey Seager in the eleventh inning of the May 23 game in LA.  That was 28.1 innings and 118 batters ago.

All three batters Seung-hwan faced last night were right-handers.  That has been his strong suit.  Lefties have hit .352 against him this year (32 for 91) with 7 of the 8 home runs he’s served up.  Righties, however, have hit .202/.246/.257 against Oh.

John Brebbia

As with Oh, all three batters that John Brebbia faced in his 1-2-3 ninth were right-handed.  Righties are 12 for 65 (.185) against John this season.

NoteBook

Jedd Gyorko broke the game open with his big three-run home run.  He also drew 3 walks last night, and has now walked 39 times this season.  While this isn’t a stunning number of walks, it does establish a new career high for Jedd, whose previous best was the 37 walks he drew last year.

His home run, by the way, was career hit number 501 for Jedd.

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.

Cards Have Chances, But Can’t Catch Up to Reds

In the waning innings of a closely contested game, 7 of the last 14 batters the Cards sent to the plate reached base.  When Mike Matheny talks about the team continuing to grind through at bats, this is what he is talking about.

Of those 7 late inning baserunners, only 1 scored – leaving the Cardinals (once again) one run short in another head-shaking loss.  This time they fell to the last place Reds, 3-2 (box score).

When Matheny bemoans the lack of that “one” hit, this is what he is talking about.

Of the 39 Cardinals who came to the plate last night, 25 of them batted with the Cards trailing.  They went 8 for 22 with 3 walks – a .440 on base percentage.  But only 2 of the 11 runners scored.

Since the All-Star break, this has been a palpable trend.  When the Cards are even in the game, they don’t hit at all.  Last night, they were 1 for 12 (.083) when the score was tied, and over the last 21 games, they are hitting .216 (50 for 232) when the game is even.  When they fall behind by one or two runs, though, this team has responded with a .289 batting average and a .383 on base percentage.

The other half of this frustrating trend is the pitching half.  Lately, Cardinal pitching has been very good.  They carry a 3.07 ERA since the break, and over their last 23 games they have a 2.84 ERA.

They have been very, very good – once they fall behind.  Last night, while they trailed in the game, the Cardinal pitchers held Cincinnati to 4 singles in 18 at bats (.222). But, for the few innings that the game was tied (the first when it was 0-0, and the third through the fifth when it was a 1-1 game), Cincinnati was 5 for 12 (.417).

This has also been a palpable trend.  Since the All-Star break, in the 41.1 innings the pitchers have trailed by one or two runs, they have a 1.09 ERA and a .199 batting average against.  In the 59.2 innings they’ve pitched with the score tied, their ERA is 4.83.  Cardinal pitchers have only allowed 19 home runs in 21 second-half games.  Ten of them have come in the 34% of the plate appearances when the score was tied.

Marrying these two trends casts an almost earie light on this Cardinal team.  On the one hand, you have an offense that doesn’t engage until it trails – but then battles furiously to put itself back into the contest.  This offense is paired with a pitching staff that will throw remarkable innings once they are behind to keep the team in the game – but as soon as the offense catches up, they almost immediately re-surrender the lead, and the cycle begins over again.

Again, this isn’t an issue of talent.  By every gage available to us, this is an extremely talented Cardinal team.  But every statistical measure at our disposal continues to show a lack of toughness.  Cincinnati is having a terrible season.  But they were tougher than the Cardinals last night, and have been in our matchups all season.

Tommy Pham

In what has been – so far – a disappointing season, Tommy Pham has been one of the finds.  With two more hits last night, Tommy is 6 for his last 14 (.429) and has reached base in 9 of his last 17 plate appearances.  Since the break, Tommy leads the team in hits (28), runs scored (14), runs batted in (12 – tied with Paul DeJong), walks (10), stolen bases (4), batting average (.364), on base percentage (.444), slugging percentage (.532) and OPS (.977).

With two out in the third inning, Pham slapped a ball through into left for a single.  It would be the only hit the Cards would have all night while the game was tied (it was 1-1 at that point).  Tommy has been the one hitter the Cards have had who has been able to produce while the score is tied.  Since the break, Tommy is hitting .367 (11 for 30) in tie games, and for the year he hits .302 (26 for 86) in that situation.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter was back in the leadoff spot last night, but it didn’t help.  He was 0 for 4, and is now hitless in his last ten at bats.  Matt’s last home run came against Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole on June 24 – 117 at bats ago.  It has also been seven games since his last run batted in.

Carpenter is a .232 hitter this year (32 for 138) when the game is tied.

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty added another 0-for-4 to his growing collection. To say it hasn’t been his season so far would be an understatement.  Stephen is now 1 for 12 since his return from the DL; 1 for 16 (.063) in the second half; and 4 for 37 (.108) in his last 11 games.  For the season, his average has fallen to .228.

Randal Grichuk

And Randal Grichuk has disappeared again.  Hitless in 3 at bats yesterday (with two strikeouts), Randal is now 0 for his last 10 (with 7 strikeouts).  In 8 games since his 4-hit game, Grichuk has totaled 3 hits in 25 at bats (.120).

Randal was up twice yesterday with the Cards down by a run.  He struck out both times.  For the season, Randal is 7 for 38 (.184) with just 4 runs batted in when he hits trailing by one run.

Starting Pitchers in Tie Games

Mike Leake has battled the pitching aspect of this trend all season.  In 28.2 innings when trailing, but by less than three runs, Leake holds a 2.83 ERA.  This rises to 4.09 if the game is tied.

Among the others, Adam Wainwright has defied the general trend.  When he falls behind, things can get ugly in a hurry, but in 48 innings this season with the score tied, Waino has a 2.44 ERA and a .239 batting average against.  Over his last three starts, Wainwright has a 0.64 ERA with a .140 average against in 14 innings while his games have been tied.  He has walked just 2 batters in those innings.  Adam has won a team-high 11 games.  One way you do that is by not giving up runs while the game is tied.

The resurgent Michael Wacha has followed a similar pattern.  All season, he’s been very strong while the game has been tied (2.72 ERA; .230 average against in 43 tied innings), but has been even better in the second half (11.2 innings; 2.31 ERA; .195 batting average).

Carlos Martinez has struggled more than most at keeping the game even.  He has pitched in that situation for 54.1 innings, with a 4.14 ERA and 9 home runs to show for it.  His struggles have increased since the break.  In his last four starts, Carlos has only been even in the game for 7.2 innings, during which he has served up 3 home runs and 10 earned runs – good for an 11.74 ERA and a .361/.410/.694 batting line against.  A lot of that derives from his first-inning issues that we have pointed out before.

NoteBook

Joey Votto’s first-inning RBI double that gave Cincinnati its early 1-0 lead makes five consecutive games where the Cards have not scored first.