Tag Archives: Carpenter

Cards Drop Second Consecutive One Run Game

A once promising home stand has turned sour in the wake of three very ugly losses – the last two by one run.  Last night offered some bonus regret as the bullpen blew two late leads on its way to a 6-5 loss (box score).

I have always looked to the record in one run games as an effective barometer of a team’s grit – and I have held in high esteem those players who perform well in the tight environment of these games.

With these last two losses, the Cards fall to 6-9 on the season in one run contests.  They have played six already in the first 14 games in May – and have now lost 4 of those.  In many ways, these last two have been representative of the group.

There has been good news, too, though – although, admittedly, you have to look a little harder to find it these days.

One constant this month continues to be excellent starting pitching.  Michael Wacha’s 6 innings of scoreless ball pushed the rotation’s ERA down to 3.25 in May with 10 quality starts in the 15 games.

If you are looking for other hopeful signs, note that even though the offense only finished with 8 hits for the game, four were extra base hits and – at the end of the day – they had still thrown 5 runs on the board.  In 24 games since the beginning of the Milwaukee series on April 20, St Louis has scored at least 5 runs 17 times, averaging 5.38 runs per game in those games.

Even so, 8 of the last 24 games have also come down to one run.  The Cards have lost 6 of them.

Dexter Fowler

In one of last night’s most encouraging signs, Dexter Fowler tripled and homered for his first multi-hit night since he went 2-for-4 against Cincinnati on April 28.  He has home runs in consecutive games for the second time this year – bringing his season total to 6 already.  His other two home runs both came in the same game (a 2-1 win against Pittsburgh on April 19) – so his home runs have come in pairs.

Since recovering enough from a shoulder sprain to return to the starting lineup, Dexter has started 5 of the last 6 games.  He has only 4 hits in those games (in 16 at bats) for an unremarkable .250 average, but all 4 hits have been for extra bases and he has walked 8 times for a .250/.500/.813 batting line.

Six of his seven hits this month have been extra-base hits (Dexter has 3 triples so far in May), raising his slugging percentage for the month to .714 (albeit in just 28 at bats).  And even though he’s missed a few of the games with his injury, Dexter Fowler has nonetheless been one of the central figures in the Cardinals’ offensive revival.  Playing in 20 of the last 24 games (and starting 16) You-Go-We-Go has had 77 plate appearances, during which he has produced 8 singles, 3 doubles, 3 triples, 4 home runs, 12 runs scored, 15 runs batted in, and 14 walks.  His batting line since April 20 is .290/.416/.629.

Dexter has also been the team’s most potent offensive force in their recent one run games.  In the six they’ve played this month, Dexter has been to the plate 22 times, having 1 single, 2 triples, 2 home runs, 7 runs batted in, and 6 walks to show for them – a batting line of .313/.500/.938.

Kolten Wong

The bat of Kolten Wong – who finished last night with two more hits and two more walks – has been another of the constants of the Cardinals’ recent offensive surge.  Kolten has now hit .330 (29 for 88) over his last 23 games and 104 plate appearances.

It is little surprise that Fowler and Wong would be the offensive highlights of the night.  All season long, they have been the only two providing offensive sparks in the Cardinals’ one run games.  For his part, Wong is now 15 for 47 (.319) in St Louis’ 15 one run games.  For the six played so far in May. He is 10 for 22 (.455).

After hitting just 7 doubles in 313 at bats last year, Wong already has 11 in 123 at bats this year.  He has never hit more than the 28 he hit in 2015.  His 5 intentional walks this year are already a career high.  In his four previous seasons he had been intentionally walked a total of 7 times.

Tommy Pham

With Stephen Piscotty poised to return from the disabled list, Tommy Pham has picked an unfortunate time to fall into his first noteworthy slump of the season.  Over the last four games – ever since he inherited the second spot in the order – Pham has gone 2 for 15 (.133) with 1 walk, no extra-base hits and 6 strikeouts.  This includes going 1 for his last 12.  His last extra-base hit was an RBI double off of Chicago’s Pedro Strop in the sixth-inning of last Saturday’s game – a span of 16 at bats.

Last night’s game was the fourth one run game the Cards have played in the 12 games since Pham’s return.  He is 3 for 16 (.188) with 1 walk and 7 strikeouts in those games.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter did work his way on base with another walk – his seventeenth in 15 games this month.  But his subsequent 0 for 3 pushed his batting average for May down to .231 and his season average down to .238.  Since his first-inning home run in the last game in Atlanta, Matt is 5 for 35 (.143).

Carpenter is 3 for 20 (.150) in one run games in May.  He has played in 12 of the 15 this season, hitting .214 (9 for 42).

Aledmys Diaz

In 2016, Aledmys Diaz was among the teams’ better hitters in one run games.  He played 32 of them and hit .256/.336/.402 – which is quite good, considering that most one run games are pitchers’ duels.  This year, he and Randal Grichuk (.174) have been the only regulars on the team hitting below .200 in the 15 one run games played so far.  After last night’s 0-for-4, Diaz has had 62 plate appearances in one run contests, with the following results: 8 singles, 3 doubles, 0 runs batted in, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts and 2 ground-ball double plays.  His batting line in those games is .183/.210/.233.

Michael Wacha

For the second straight start, Michael Wacha turned a lead over to his bullpen only to watch it dissolve.  The last time, in the last game of the Atlanta series, Wacha finished six innings with a 4-2 lead that lasted until Freddie Freeman’s eighth-inning home run forged a 4-4 tie (in a game St Louis won in 14 innings, 6-4).  Even though neither Wacha nor the team managed a win this time, Wacha’s outings are staring to take on an encouraging consistency.

Through seven starts, Michael has now pitched at least 6 innings in all of them, allowing fewer hits than innings pitched in 5, allowing fewer than 3 runs in 5 of them, and has yet to issue more than 2 unintentional walks in any game.  All this has led to a sparkling 2.74 ERA.

Wacha has exceeded 88 pitches only twice this season, so they are being quite cautious with Michael.

In Wacha’s first start, the offense erupted for 10 runs to help him coast to victory.  Over his last 6 games, he has been granted a total of 15 support runs, getting as many as 4 only once (in the Atlanta game).

As a result, 4 of Wacha’s last 6 starts have been decided by one run.  Michael has actually been at his best in these games.  He has pitched 24.2 innings in these starts, going 1-1 with a 2.19 ERA and a .244 batting average against, walking 8 and striking out 22.

Wacha has been as good as we could have hoped for.  It’s understandable that they want to keep him healthy.

Rotation Shines in One Run Games.

Surprisingly – or perhaps not – Wacha’s 2.19 ERA in one run games is only the fourth best of the five members of the starting rotation.  Lance Lynn has only had one of his starts end up as a one-run game.  He threw 7 innings of 3-hit shutout baseball against Pittsburgh on April 17 – ending up the winning pitcher in a 2-1 contest.

Carlos Martinez has seen three of his starts determined by one run.  The Cards have won two of the three, with Martinez contributing an 0.90 ERA in 20 innings of those starts.

Mike Leake has also started 4 one run games.  He has pitched to a 2.13 ERA in those games, but St Louis has lost 3 of the 4.

In 15 one run games through May 19, St Louis’ starters have produced 10 quality starts and a 2.34 ERA.

The only starter who has really struggled in this category is Adam Wainwright.  Three of his starts this year have ended as one run games: the season’s second game (a 2-1 loss to Chicago); the May 4 game against Milwaukee (a 5-4 loss); and the 6-5 win in Miami on May 9.  Adam has no quality starts and a 5.87 ERA in those games.

The Bullpen, Not So Much

The bullpen has been a different story.  In fact, the one run games this team has played so far have fairly consistently exposed the Cardinal bullpen – which has all too often turned comfortable wins into one run games, and one run victories into one run defeats.  In that sense, these last two games have been very much indicative of the season.

Jonathan Broxton

Over the last two games, the breakdowns have come at the expense of pitchers who seemed, finally, to be doing well.  Wednesday night it was Trevor Rosenthal.  Last night – among others – it was Jonathan Broxton, who gave hits to both batters he faced and watched them both score.  He had not allowed a run in his previous 7 games (6.1 innings).

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman – who was greatly undone by an untimely error – has now still not allowed an earned run in his last 6 games (4.2 innings) – although he has now allowed 2 unearned runs in that span.  Bowman, who had walked only 3 batters the entire season walked 2 in an inning for the first time this year.  He had stranded his previous 9 inherited runners.

Matthew only had a 4.50 ERA in the 21 one run games he worked last year.  He has participated in 11 of the 15 so far this year, holding batters to a .216 average.  He, nonetheless, has a 5.59 ERA in those games.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist, who finally got the Cards out of the seventh only one run down, has now not allowed a hit in 5 straight games (4.1 innings), nor a run in 11 straight games (9.1 innings), nor a walk in 8 straight games (7.1 innings).  Kevin has set down the last 14 consecutive batters to face him – 6 on strikeouts.

Siegrist carried an 0.96 ERA in 30 one run games last year.  He has pitched in 7 of them so far this year, allowing no runs in 6.1 innings.

Sam Tuivailala

After throwing 4 scoreless innings after his call-up, Sam Tuivailala has now allowed a run in each of his last 3 games (3 innings).

Seung-hwan Oh

The runs off Seung-hwan Oh last night were the first runs he’d allowed in seven innings, and the first earned runs he’d allowed in 15 innings.  He had converted his previous 10 saves since faltering on opening night.

Oh has pitched in 6 of the one run games so far this year, with less than optimal results.  In the 7.2 innings he covered in those games, He has given 6 runs on 11 hits – a 7.04 ERA, paired with a .324 batting average.  It’s far too few innings to be overly concerned, but it is certainly a disappointing start from the designated closer.

NoteBook

The Cardinal bullpen served up as many runs (6) in three innings last night as the entire pitching staff surrendered in the three games against the Cubs that opened this home stand.

In home game #24 tonight, the Cards will surpass the one million mark in home attendance.  If St Louis wins today, they will be 12-12 at home this year.

Last year, Yadier Molina set a career high in strikeouts with 63.  He also grounded into 22 double plays – his highest total since he bounced into 27 back in 2009.  With 2017 not quite at the quarter pole, Molina has already struck out 21 times – but has only grounded into 2 double plays.

While he should have been thrown out at second, Randal Grichuk managed to get in with his fifth stolen base of the year – tying already his career high, set last year.

Cards Struggle to Prove Themselves Against Winning Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kolten Wong

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

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

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

Jedd Gyorko

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

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

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

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

Magneuris Sierra

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

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

He certainly isn’t dazzled by it all.

Matt Carpenter

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

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

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

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

Mike Leake

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

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

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

How Do The Other Starters Fare Against Winning Teams?

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

Trevor Rosenthal

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

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

Seung-hwan Oh

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

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

Matthew Bowman

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

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

Next Up

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

Cards Survive Two Out Scare to Edge Brewers 2-1

After pitching six brilliant innings last night, Carlos Martinez took a 2-0 lead into the seventh.  Once there, he retired the first two batters.

Then, suddenly, the contest was in doubt.  Domingo Santana ripped a bullet back up the middle that Martinez almost speared for the last out.  But the ball slid out of his glove and Santana had a hit.  One wild pitch later, Carlos thought he was out of the inning when Nick Franklin rolled a grounder toward first-baseman Matt Carpenter – who complicated the inning with an error, sending Santana to third.

He would score one pitch later when Jett Bandy floated a single down the leftfield line.

It was the first two out rally fashioned against Martinez all season (so far).  And it would be the only two out damage Carlos would suffer on this night as he snuffed out the rally, striking out Orlando Arcia on three pitches.

When the Brewers began to stir against Carlos in the eighth, Mike Matheny went to his sometimes scary bullpen.  They would come through in fine style, holding on to the 2-1 Cardinal win (box score).

Carlos Martinez

For the season, now, batters are hitting .222 against Martinez (10 for 45) with two out in the inning.  The only previous two-out RBIs that Carlos had surrendered came on the sixth-inning single by Toronto’s Ryan Goins in his last start.  Even though Carlos hasn’t had the start to the season that he had hoped for, opposing hitters are still just 2 for 15 against him with two-outs and runners in scoring position.

Martinez followed a quality start with a second consecutive quality start for the first time this season.  At times in that previous start against Toronto, he was nearly as dominant as last night, and finished allowing 3 runs in 6 innings.   Last night, of course, even better as he earned his first victory of 2017 allowing no earned runs through 7.1 innings.  With the 2 runs of support last night, Martinez has now been backed by a total of 7 runs in his 6 starts.

Martinez walked just one batter last night.  After walking 8 in his third start against the Yankees, Carlos has walked only 6 total over his last 18.1 innings.  The walk did come with two outs.  Of the 15 batters who have walked against Martinez, 10 have been two-out walks.

Prior to last night’s start, Martinez had induced a total of 37 ground balls (against 42 fly balls) through his first 5 games.  He got 15 ground balls (against 8 fly balls) last night.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil made things interesting – allowing an eighth-inning single that sent the tying run to third – but he escaped unscathed and pushed the precarious 2-1 lead into the ninth.  Over his last 11 appearances (covering 7.2 innings) Cecil has allowed just 1 run (unearned) and only 4 hits, walking 3 and striking out 9.  Only 2 of the last 9 runners he’s inherited have scored.

Cecil didn’t walk anyone last night, but has already walked 5 (1 intentionally) in just 10.2 innings.  He walked 8 all of last year in 36.2 innings.

Trevor Rosenthal

In wrapping up his third save of the season, Trevor Rosenthal highlighted his perfect ninth with two more strikeouts.  Trevor has two strikeouts in each of his last six innings, has struck out at least one in every game he’s pitched in, and now has 17 for the year in his first 8.1 innings

It was a very good thing that the pitching staff held things together as the heretofore productive offense was having all flavors of trouble against Wily Peralta.

Matt Carpenter

As well as Brewers’ starter was throwing last night, he wasn’t a match for Matt Carpenter.  Carpenter – who has always hit Peralta well – singled, doubled and scored the first run of the game.  Carpenter is starting to send out a sharp signal that he’s about to go on another tear.  Over the last three games, Matt has 5 hits in 11 at bats (.455) and none of them have been softly hit.  He also has 3 doubles, a home run and 4 RBIs in those games (a 1.000 slugging percentage).

Stephen Piscotty

After incessantly tinkering with his swing, Stephen Piscotty is finally starting to see some results.  His 2-for-4 night included the double (that was almost the home run) that set up the only runs the Cards would score last night.  He is now 5 for his last 11 (.455) with 5 walks – a .625 on base percentage during his last 16 plate appearances.  Of the last 63 pitches thrown to him, Piscotty has swung at just 17 (27%).  He has put the ball in play with 8 of those swings (47.1%).

Piscotty had only one two out at bat last night, coming up in a scoreless game with no one on and two out in the fourth inning.  Stephen finished his six-pitch at bat with a single to center.  For the season, Piscotty is a .222 hitter (12 for 54) before there are two outs in the inning.  He is now 7 for 23 (.304) hitting with two outs.

Kolten Wong

Erasing the memory of the Monday game, Kolten Wong went 2 for 3 with a double, a run batted in, and a huge defensive play.  Kolten’s average has surged, now, to .278 on the season on the strength of a dynamic 8-game hitting streak.

In the 33 plate appearances covered by those 8 games, Kolten has produced 6 singles, 4 doubles, a triple, 5 runs scored, 4 runs batted in (including the game-tying RBI Monday night), 5 walks (2 of them intentional), a hit by pitch, and a sacrifice bunt.  His batting line over his streak is .423/.531/.654.  This is the kind of eruption Cardinal fans have been waiting for.

Dexter Fowler

A couple games ago, Dexter Fowler had one of the best at bats of the season – a 12-pitch duel with Cincinnati’s Bronson Arroyo that he won with a single to right.  He is 0 for 9 with three strikeouts since (including his 0 for 3 last night).

As the leadoff hitter, Dexter is up with nobody out more than anyone else on the team.  He had two more such at bats last night, flying out to leadoff the games and striking out as the first batter in the seventh.  Dexter is now 10 for 54 (.185) when hitting with no one out.  Of players with at least 15 plate appearances with nobody out, only Randal Grichuk’s .133 average (4 for 30) is lower.

Aledmys Diaz

Still struggling to put together consecutive good games, Aledmys Diaz followed his 2-for-5 Monday with another 0-for-4.  Aledmys hit the home run against Zach Davies that began Monday’s 4-run rally, but that has been his only extra base hit (and RBI) since April 23.  He is now just 4 for his last 31, hitting .129/.182/.226 over his last 33 plate appearances.  Diaz has seen just 3.18 pitches per plate appearance during this downturn, although he did make it to 7 pitches his last time up last night.

Diaz was up twice with two out, ending both the third and fifth innings with groundouts to third.  For the season, so far, Diaz is 3 for 32 (.094) with no walks when batting with two out in an inning.

Not Enough Fastball Not Enough to Subdue Cards

Many, many times in recent years, the Cardinals have gone down meekly to soft tossers who have teased their hitters with pitches just out of the strike zone.  It frequently doesn’t seem to matter if the pitcher they face falls into the “not enough fastball” category.

For a couple innings last night, it looked like this might be one of those games as a “not enough fastball” Cincinnati pitcher dispatched the first six Cardinals he faced with minimal effort.  But after an inning-opening error by Eugenio Suarez (who endured one of his most forgettable games – being famously picked off third later on) things began to unravel quickly for Tim Adleman who ended his evening allowing six runs (five of them earned) in 5.1 innings of a 7-5 loss to the Cardinals (box score).

Adleman didn’t necessarily make a whole lot of mistakes, but the aroused Cardinal offense – which now features lots of hitters emerging from their shells – made sure he paid the full price when he did mis-locate that less than dominating fastball.

Cards on a Good Roll

Noteworthy in the victory is the fact that St Louis has now won 9 of 11 games.  Last year’s team – in 162 games – never had an eleven-game stretch where they won nine times.  I referred to that team several times as the “wet powder” Cardinals.  A half a dozen times during 2016 that team looked as though they were ready to go on an extended run, only to have the fire go abruptly out.

I have much higher hopes for this squad which has already put together a longer sustained run than last year’s team was ever capable of.

I know that this run has been established against some teams of questionable virtue.  At the end of the year, how good will Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Toronto and Cincinnati be?  Will any of them end up playing .500 ball?  Maybe, maybe not.  But remember that the 2016 team played lots of bad teams, too.

In fact, one of the most frustrating aspects of the 2016 season was that this team would frequently get rolled over by sub-.500 teams.  Even if all this current club achieves is consistently beating the poorer teams, that by itself will be a noteworthy improvement over 2016.

This recent surge – which began with three 2-1 wins against Pittsburgh – has seen ample contributions from both hitters and pitchers.  With their 7 runs, 11 hits and 4 walks last night, St Louis has been scoring 4.82 runs per game while hitting .290/.353/.484 as a team during the run.

Meawhile, the rotation has turned in 8 quality starts over the 11 games with a 2.98 ERA and a .233/.2899/.353 batting line against.

It’s been a pretty good roll.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler’s season average still sits at just .236, but that number currently means nothing.  With two hits last night, Dexter has had multiple hits in four straight games, hitting .500 in those games (9 for 18) and slugging .944 (his hits include 2 doubles and 2 home runs).  All seven of his RBIs this season have come in his last 8 games.

Dexter has been very much the straw that stirs the drink over this eleven-game uprising.  Among the regulars, he leads the team with a .350 batting average (14 for 40) and a .750 slugging percentage (2 doubles, a triple, and 4 home runs.)

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko pushed his season average up to .321 with two more hits last night – including his fourth home run of the season.  Since the second game of the Milwaukee series – when Jedd was moved into the clean-up slot in the lineup – Gyorko is hitting .364 (8 for 22).  He has one double, one triple, and last night’s home run in that span – a .636 slugging percentage.

Jedd doesn’t qualify as a “regular” during the 9-2 streak the Cardinals are on.  He falls two plate appearances shy.  But his .393/.469/.786 batting line would lead the Cards in all those categories.  Over his last 32 PAs, Jedd has 5 singles, 3 doubles, a triple, 2 home runs, 6 runs scored, 4 runs batted in, 3 walks, and a hit by pitch.

The first two times up last night, Gyorko took the first pitch of the at bat, getting ahead in the count 1-0 both times.  He ended those at bats striking out and grounding out.

He swung at the first pitch his last two times up, missing once and fouling the other off – starting those at bats behind 0-1.  He went on to hit a home run and a single in those at bats.  So far this season – whether he hits the ball or not – when Jedd swings at the first pitch in an at bat he is 10 for 20 (.500) with 3 doubles and 3 home runs (1.100 slugging percentage).

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty broke an 0 for 8 with a single and a double.  He also walked and grounded out in the second inning at the end of a 10-pitch at bat.  He has now gone three straight games without striking out, and has fanned just once in his last six games.  Piscotty’s season average is just .235, but he has been looking better at the plate.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter was in the highlight reels with his walk-off, eleventh-inning grand slam the other night, but Carpenter hasn’t been at the top of his game.  He is 0 for 7 since that home run after last night’s 0 for 4 left him at .224 for the young season.  Matt is also hitting .226 (7 for 31) since the beginning of the Pittsburgh series.

In last night’s third inning, Carpenter tried to bunt the first pitch thrown him by Tim Adleman.  He fouled the bunt off, but it was still only the third time in his last 37 plate appearances that Matt had made any kind of attempt at the first pitch thrown to him.

Lance Lynn

Lance Lynn authored his third straight quality start as he muffled the dangerous Cincinnati offense on just one run through six innings.  In his third start during this run that began with his 2-1 victory in the first Pittsburgh game, Lynn is 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA and a batting line against of .185/.264/.262.  He has been as good as could be hoped for.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil continued his very productive run.  He pitched a 1-2-3 seventh with a strikeout.  He has now allowed just one run – unearned – over his last 9 appearances totaling 6.2 innings.  He has allowed only 2 hits to the last 24 batters he’s faced, while striking out 8 of them.

Kevin Siegrist

Nobody is swinging at Kevin Siegrist’s first pitch anymore – and very few are swinging at any pitch he throws.  Last year, batters swung at his first pitch 26.2% of the time, which was slightly below average (the average for all the major leagues was 28.4%).  Last year, batters offered at 43.8% of all of Kevin’s offerings.  Again, this was close to average – batters swung at 46.6% of all pitches thrown by the Cardinal pitching staff.

Last night – even though he threw a first-pitch fastball right down the middle to Scooter Gennett, Scooter just took it for a strike.  Then, even though he elevated a first-pitch fastball to Patrick Kivlehan, Patrick just watched it go by for a ball.  Both of those plate appearances lasted 8 pitches. Gennett took the first five pitches of the at bat before fouling off two and driving the eighth into left-center field for a two-run double.  Kivlehan ended up fouling off 3 pitches before drawing a walk.

Of the last 34 batters that Siegrist has faced, only 2 have swung at his first pitch.  They have only swung at 51 of the last 147 pitches that he’s thrown (34.7%).

Working theory.  As Siegrist’s velocity is down this year (for whatever reason) batters are less afraid that Kevin will throw it by him.  They are, therefore, content to take pitches early in the at bat and foul them off late while waiting for either a mistake that they can drive or for ball four.

None of Siegrist’s last 38 pitches has produced a swinging strike.  At the moment, Siegrist – like Adleman – is a “not enough fastball” pitcher.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh’s rebound continues.  He retired the last four Reds for the save – his sixth.  In his first six games this year, Oh allowed 6 runs on twelve hits – including 4 doubles and 2 home runs – to the first 35 batters he faced this year.  While hitting two batters and walking one, he managed only 3 strikeouts and was saddled with an 8.10 ERA.

In his five games since then, he has faced 19 batters, giving no runs on two hits (both singles) and one walk while striking out 7.

Rain tries to interrupt the Cardinal hot streak again as today’s afternoon contest was washed away.  If they get to play tomorrow – and if the Reds stay with Bronson Arroyo – the Cards will get more “not enough fastballs” to swing at.

NoteBook

All four of last night’s walks came on at bats that began with ball one.  Thirty-five of the last 36 walks drawn by Cardinal hitters have begun with first-pitch balls.

Matt Carpenter’s Pain is a Pain for All St Louis

With one out in the third inning of the July 6 game against Pittsburgh, Matt Carpenter came to the plate.  He had struck out earlier against Pirate lefty Jeff Locke, but worked the count to 3-1 this time.  He checked his swing on the 3-1 pitch and grabbed at his side.

At that point, all of Cardinal Nation understood what would happen next.  Carpenter would miss the next 25 games nursing an injury to the same muscle group that has him limited so far in Spring Training.

That’s just the way it went last year.  Every time a Cardinal reached for a body part, you knew that would be the last you would see of him for at least a month.

Here, though, was one of the major differences between 2016 and previous Cardinal teams that suffered critical injuries but soldiered on.  As before, the bench did a credible job of holding the fort till Carpenter returned.  But this year Carpenter – and many other injured stars – could never recapture the streak they were in when they went down.  Among the most prominent to have their seasons thus disrupted were Brandon Moss, Matt Adams and especially Carpenter.

At the point of his injury, Carpenter was dominating the majors.  Over the 28 games that began with four hits during a 6-0 conquest of Milwaukee on May 30 and ended with 3 hits in a 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh on July 4, Matt Carpenter achieved 43 hits in 105 at bats that included 13 doubles, 3 triples, 5 home runs, 20 runs-batted-in and 26 walks.  How often over a 131 plate appearance stretch will you see a batting line of .410/.527/.733.

This streak included 26 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.  Carpenter responded with 4 singles, 4 doubles, 1 home run, 7 walks and 13 runs batted in – a .474/.615/.842 batting line.  In 42 plate appearances with any runner on base, Matty produced 6 singles, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 1 home run, 11 walks and 16 runs batted in – a line of .484/.619/.903.  He especially battered right-handers during those games.  His line against them was .427/.547/.773 in 95 plate appearances against them.

Eighteen of those 28 games came against teams that finished the season with at least a .500 record.  Carpenter, in 81 plate appearances in those games, contributed 13 singles, 6 doubles, a triple, 4 home runs, 17 walks and 8 runs batted in.  His line in games against San Francisco, Houston, Texas, the Cubs, Seattle and Kansas City was an impressive .375/.506/.688 (although St Louis lost 11 of the 18 games).

Fourteen of those games also followed Cardinal defeats.  In those 66 plate appearances, Carpenter led the assault with 12 singles, 7 doubles, 1 triple, 3 home runs, 18 walks and 6 runs batted in – a .479/.621/.854 line.

In 32 of those plate appearances (24.4%), Carpenter hit the first strike thrown him.  He had 15 hits (a .469 batting average) which included 3 doubles and 3 home runs (an .844 slugging percentage).  Carpenter swung at the first pitch thrown him only 14 times during that run, finishing with 3 singles, 3 doubles and 2 home runs – a .571 batting average augmented with a 1.214 slugging percentage.

From the seventh-inning on in those 28 games, Carpenter went 16 for 31 with 6 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs, 8 walks and 9 runs batted in – an almost impossible late-game batting line of .516/.615/1.032.

In 20 double-play opportunities, Carpenter grounded into 0.

And then – a week before the All-Star Game – he checked his swing and it all went away.

From the point of his return (on August 5) till the end of the season, Carpenter limped down the stretch, hitting just .229 over his last 188 at bats, with 7 home runs and 15 runs batted in – just .212 (28 for 132) against right-handers.  He managed just 4 hits (3 singles and 1 home run) in 35 at bats with runners in scoring position (a .114 average with a .200 slugging percentage).  In his last 19 games against winning teams, Carpenter contributed a disappointing .169 average (13 for 77) with only two of the hits for extra bases – one double and one home run (which accounted for his only RBI in those 19 games).  He hit .233 (21 for 90) after a loss.  His average when hitting the first strike fell to just .196 (10 of 51); and to just .111 (4 singles) in the 31 at bats when he swung at the first pitch.

Exactly what happened is a mystery that will never be revealed.  Was it physical?  Did the back never heal to the point where Carp could let loose and play?  Was is psychological?  Did the injury leave lingering fear and doubt in his mind?  Was it mental?  Did Matt succumb somewhat to the pressure to be another power-hitting presence in the lineup?  There is some statistical evidence to support the latter, but the real answer is probably some combination of all three.

Nonetheless – from a statistical standpoint – he swung more frequently at the first pitch thrown him (17.7% as opposed to 10.7% during the hot streak), swung at more pitches overall (40.8% to 35.2%), missed with a higher percentage of those swings (21.3% to 13.2%), put the ball into play less frequently (39.5% of his swings after putting the ball in play on 45.2% of his swings); took fewer balls (39.2% of the pitches thrown to him were balls as opposed to 42.3% during the streak); and overall saw fewer pitches per plate appearance (4.13 vs 4.27).

A more subtle indicator is the percentage of his strikeouts that came on called strike threes.  During his hot streak, Carpenter struck out 16 times – 6 of them called (37.5%).  Of his last 47 strikeouts, only 9 (19.1%) were called.  When he’s comfortable at the plate, Matt will take a lot of borderline pitches – even with two strikes on him.

Carpenter also hit 11 road home runs in the season’s first half.  He hit only one (and drove in just 2 runs) in 107 at bats and 27 road games after his return.

All of these are characteristics of a hitter becoming more aggressive.  It’s not a style that suits Carpenter.

How worried should we be?  Matt Carpenter is a .284 lifetime hitter over six seasons and 3,016 plate appearances.  Assuming there is no lingering damage (and I’m not entirely sure we can say that at this point) there’s no reason not to think that he will right the ship.  Just add it to the list of frustrating facts about 2016.

Two other lingering Matt Carpenter questions – where will he play? And where will he hit in the lineup?

First base looks like it will be Carpenter’s home for 2017.  First base was one of three positions that Matt made at least 35 starts at last year – second base and third base being the others.  St Louis was 20-15 in Matt’s starts at first, 16-21 when he started at second, and 27-25 when he started at third.  The team ERA was 4.03 in games that Matt started at third, 4.05 in games he started at second and 4.26 when he started at first.

The Cards enter 2017 pretty set up the middle of the infield (Aledmys Diaz at short and Kolten Wong – cross your fingers – at second), but the intrigue centers around the combinations of corner infielders.  Jhonny Peralta probably begins the season at third.  He’s looked much better in spring training.  He’s also in his mid-thirties, and questions about his durability are starting to rise.  He can probably play first if needed.  Jedd Gyorko led the team in home runs last year, but would probably be over-exposed if he played every day.  He can also play first, although he hasn’t looked comfortable there.  Matt Adams may have a higher ceiling than any of them, and is probably the team’s best defensive first baseman.  But he can’t play anywhere but first, has durability questions of his own, and has only hit up to his potential in flashes.

And then there is Carpenter, who can play just about anywhere but isn’t defensively gifted anywhere.  But he is the most established hitter of the group.  This is a situation that will continue to evolve as the season progresses.  Carpenter shouldn’t give away his third baseman’s glove (or his second baseman’s glove either, for that matter).

As to where he will hit, the current mind-set has him batting third in the order, as Dexter Fowler (aka “You Go We Go”) has assumed Carpenter’s lead-off spot.  Matt Carpenter hit leadoff 114 times last year, with the team finishing 57-57 in those games.  He batted second once (a loss) and batted third 10 times last year (with the Cardinals winning 7 of those games).  I have long been an advocate of Carpenter batting lower in the order.  Third will do for a start.

What kind of season Matt Carpenter has will largely answer the puzzle that is the 2017 Cardinals.  A dose of good health would be a good place to start.

Molina and Holliday Put On a Clinic For Old Friend

Perhaps is was just being on the field with him again, but ex-teammates Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday combined for seven hits as the Cards and Angels wrapped up their three-game series.

In outlasting Anaheim last night, the Cardinals secured their seventh win in their last ten games – and this one was a kind of a microcosm of the streak so far.  At the end of the ride, the Cards have come out ahead most of the time, but haven’t made any of it look easy.  For a team on something of a roll, they have looked all too mortal.

The offense has been at the center of this little run.  With 12 runs and 18 hits last night, they are hitting .289 and scoring 5.7 runs per game over the last ten.  They have added 16 home runs since the beginning of the Philadelphia series.  They were 5-for13 with runners in scoring position for the night and are hitting .297 (27-for-91) over the course of these games.  They hit .350 (41-for117) with seven home runs and 25 runs scored in the Angel’s series – fashioning a team slugging percentage of .590.

But the pitching staff is surrendering hits with runners in scoring position almost as fast as the offense can collect them.  Los Angeles went 5-for-11 last night, and the last ten opponents have managed a .289 average against the Cardinal staff (21-for-74) with ducks on the pond.

Matt Holliday

Matt Holliday wrapped up a bizarre series as he sandwiched Wednesday’s hitless game between a three-hit game Tuesday and last-night’s four-hit game.  He finished the series 7 for 14 (.500) with five extra-base hits (2 doubles and 3 home runs).

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina keeps on starting and keeps on hitting.  Three more hits last night brings him to .351 over the last ten games (13-for-37).  His season average now sits at .336. Molina has started all but three games behind the plate.

He did a little showing off for his friend in the other dugout, finishing the series against the Angels with 7 hits in 12 at bats (.583).

Yadi was also 1-for-2 with two strikes on him.  Over the last ten games, Molina is hitting .438 (7-for-16) with two-strikes on him.  Molina was also 2-for-2 with two-outs, and is now 6 for his last 12 batting with two outs.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s resurgence continues.  Two more hits, including another home run, brings him to 12 hits in his last 37 at bats (.324).  Eight of those hits have been for extra-bases (including four home runs in his last ten games), giving him a recent slugging percentage of .757.  He hit three of those home runs in the three games against the Angels.

Carpenter has led off an inning 19 times over the last ten games, and hasn’t drawn a walk in any of them.  He does have 9 hits (3 singles, 4 doubles and 2 home runs) so he carries a .474 on base percentage while leading off those innings.  Matt was 1-for-3 leading off last night.  During those same games, all Cardinal leadoff hitters are carrying a .296/.352/.531 slash line and are coming around to score 58% of the time they reach base.

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz isn’t hitting .400 anymore, but he isn’t exactly slump-ridden, either.  A 2-for-5 night last night brings him to .333 (11-for-33) over his last nine games.

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright – after showing marginal improvement in his previous two games – took a step backwards last night.  Among the situations plaguing him are those at bats with runners in scoring position.  The Angels had hits in four of their eight RISP at bats against Adam, and over his last three starts he has surrendered hits to 8 of 18 (.444) such batters.

General Trends

Over the last ten games, St Louis has been held under 4 runs only twice, while scoring at least 5 runs in 7 of the games.  Last year, the Cardinals failed to score four runs in almost half of their games (79 games), while scoring five or more slightly more than a third of the time (53 games).  So far in 2016, the Cards have been denied a fourth run only 10 times (29%) while scoring at least five runs in 21 games (60%).  Last night’s explosion marked the eighth time already this season that St Louis has scored in double figures – a feat they managed only 9 times all year last year.

On the other hand, the Cardinal pitching staff held opposing teams to less than four runs 101 times last year (62% of their games) and surrendered five runs or more just 47 times (29%).  This year, so far, only 15 opponents have been held below 4 runs (43%), while 13 other games have seen 5 or more runs scored against them (37%).  After allowing 10 or more runs in a game only four times in all of 2015, that has already happened three times this year.

Last year, St Louis never lost a game once the fashioned at least a four-run lead, and only lost once when they led by three runs.  Conversely, they only overcame deficits of four runs or more twice last year – and only overcame 3-run deficits four times.  Already in 2016 they have surrendered a 3-run lead (the April 25th game where Arizona scored 9 runs in the sixth to win 12-7) and a four-run lead (the 9-8 loss to Cincinnati on April 16th).  On the other hand, they have already come back once from three runs down (a 10-3 win May second against Philadelphia) and twice from four-runs down (April 8th against Atlanta, 7-4; and May 4th against Philly, 5-4).

Better buckle in tight.  Looks like it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The slugging Cardinals had yet another 3-homer game last night.  Through 35 games and 1,226 team at bats, St Louis has already amassed 51 home runs.  They needed 67 games and 2,233 at bats last year to hit 51 home runs.  Yadier Molina hit that home run on June 19th (a 2-run, second-inning shot against a Philadelphia right hander named Phillipe Aumont that broke a scoreless tie and sent St Louis on its way to an eventual 12-4 win.  That team was 44-23 and five games ahead in its division.

Last night was also the 14th multiple homer game and the sixth time they’ve hit at least three in a game.  In all of 2015, St Louis managed 36 multiple home run games, hitting as many as three in a game only eight times.

Position Wars – Through 34 Games

With wins in the first two games of the road trip – and the team back to two games over .500, let’s look at the position wars for the first time this season. This is something we’ll do every month or so.

Position wars looks at the players starting at each of the defensive positions and develops the team trends associated with that player in that position.

Position: First Base

First base has been the most contested position on the team through the first 34 games.  As the season started, it was thought that erstwhile left fielder Matt Holliday might edge out the other contenders to take the majority of the starts here.  Tommy Pham’s opening day injury re-wrote that plan, sent Holliday back to left field, and opened up a straight-up competition between Matt Adams and Brandon Moss for playing time there.

As of right now, both have made 14 starts at first.  St Louis is 8-6 when Adams starts and 6-8 with Moss.  Defensively, the team has been better with Adams – posting a 2.90 ERA in his games there vs the 4.52 ERA when Moss starts.  However, the offense has been as noticeably better with Moss (5.93 runs per game) as opposed to Adams (4.29 runs per game).

Holliday has started four games at first, with a 2-2 record.  Matt Carpenter and Yadi Molina have each started once at first, with the Cards winning both of those games.

First base was a messy position for the team last year, too.  Mark Reynolds ended up leading the team is starts there with just 72 – leading the team to a 47-25 record in those starts.  Adams – the presumptive starter there last year – saw his starts limited to 42 games by an injury, but also saw the team win 27 of those starts (.643 percentage).  Moss, coming off his own injury, only made 24 starts at first last year – St Louis winning only 11 of those.

At the moment, Adams seems to have the upper hand.  He’s started 5 of the last 9 games, with Moss starting 3 of the other 4.  The Cards have won 4 of Adams’ 5, but just 1 of Moss’ 3.  This is a back and forth that looks like it will last the whole season (unless some circumstance pushes Holliday back into the picture).

Position Second Base

Second base is the only other position that is at all contested.  Kolten Wong has started 20 of the 34. But only 5 of the last 9 as both he and Jedd Gyorko are struggling to find any consistency at the plate.  At this point, St Louis is 11-9 when Kolten starts, scoring 5.4 runs per game with a 3.31 team ERA.  With Gyorko at second, the record is 7-7.  The scoring is a bit higher (5.71) but the team ERA significantly higher (4.31).  The momentum, however, may be turning in Jedd’s direction. They have won 3 of Gyorko’s last 4 starts scoring 21 runs.  They are 3-2 in Wong’s last 5 starts, scoring 24 runs in those games.

Wong made 140 starts at second last year, with St Louis winning 91 of those games.

Position: Shortstop

Jhonny Peralta held this position for 147 games last year, leading the Cards to a 93-54 record in those games.  His backups were Pete Kozma (4-4) and Greg Garcia (3-4).  Of all of those players, only Garcia has seen starts at shortstop this year.  He has two (both Cardinal wins).  Kozma is elsewhere and Peralta has missed the entire year so far with an injury.  Reuben Tejada was acquired as a stop-gap, but his season has been curtailed by an injury of his own.  Jedd Gyorko was supposed to make some starts there as a back-up.  Those two players have combined to make 7 starts at short. St Louis is 2-5 in those games.

In spite of all these injuries, Aledmys Diaz began the season at AAA.  For one day.  Tommy Pham’s opening day injury not only shuffled the plan at first base, but opened the roster spot that finally went to Diaz.  The injury to Bobby Bonilla that opened the door for a rookie named Albert Pujols is one of the great injury-opportunity stories in Cardinal lore.  For Diaz to get his chance, three other players had to go down.

Now Diaz is here, hitting .382 at this moment, and has taken over at short.  In his 25 starts there, the team is 14-11, scores 6.24 runs per game with a 3.77 ERA.

Position: Third Base

Third base is the only current position (other than catcher, which we discussed yesterday) on the team where last year’s uncontested starter is also this year’s uncontested starter.  A 141-game starter there last year (91-50), Matt Carpenter has made 31 of the first 34 starts there this year.  Reynolds was the primary backup there last year.  In his absence, Carpenter may play 150 games there.  Gyorko was thought to be a useable backup at third – and he may turn out to be.  So far, he has only started there once.  Tejada has made the other 2 starts there.

St Louis is in an unusual position at third, as none of their first base candidates (Adams, Moss, Holliday) can double as a third baseman.  All most every other team has at least one “corner infielder” on their roster.

Position: Left Field

Matt Holliday – his injury notwithstanding – still made the most starts of anyone in left field last year.  That number was just 64 starts (41-23).  Seven different players made starts there (Piscotty – 40, Grichuk – 37, Moss – 9, Pham – 5, Reynolds – 4, and Jon Jay – 3).  Thirty-four games into this season, and already four different players have started in left.  But mostly (for 23 games, anyway) it has been Holliday.

The results, however, with the season now more than a fifth over, are a cause for some concern.  St Louis is 9-14 (.391) with Holliday starting in left, scoring 4.78 runs per game with a 4.32 ERA.  The numbers for the others: Jeremy Hazelbaker – 6 starts, 5-1 record, 8.67 rpg, 2.67 ERA; Brandon Moss – 4 starts, 4-0 record, 6.25 rpg, 1.75 ERA (although 5 unearned runs have scored against the team in those four games); and Tommy Pham, who started the season-opening 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh.  In the 23 games that Holliday has started in left, the pitching staff fashioned just 9 quality starts.  They have 8 in the 11 games that someone else has started in left.

Is it too early to draw conclusions from these numbers?  I think so.  But it is a little jarring to note that we have as many wins without Matt in left as we do with him (in less than half the games).  This is a trend we will keep an eye on.

Position: Center Field

Randal Grichuk has made 25 of the first 34 starts in center field.  He would probably have five or six more starts there, but his early-season offensive struggles have bought him a few more days off than he would have liked.  Standing in for him have been Hazelbaker (7 games) and Piscotty (2 games).  Even though Randal has yet to find his hitting groove, the numbers still show that he is the best option in CF.  The Cards are 14-11 with him and 4-5 without.  They score 5.72 runs per game with Grichuk in center and 5.00 with someone else.  The team ERA is 3.51 with Grichuk in center.  When the other two are out there, it rises to 4.33.  Randal – though off to a slow start – is a big-time talent.  The plan is for him to be in center field in St Louis for a long time to come.

Position: Right Field

Stephen Piscotty started the second most games in right field last year.  He started 11 there.  Over the off-season, his name was floated as an option at first base (where he started 9 times last year).  But with the defection of last year’s starting right fielder, it was clear that the talented Mr. Piscotty would be ticketed for the right field position.  Stephen has started 29 there already this year, with the Cards winning 16 of them.  Other right fielders have been Moss (1-2) and Hazelbaker (1-1).  Stephen has some versatility.  He can play first as well as all the outfield positions.  But for the foreseeable future, expect to see him in right field pretty much every day.

Last Night

Meanwhile, last night’s victory added more credibility to the recent Cardinal turn around.  Yes, yes, it’s mostly against Philadelphia and the Angels (although I remind you that the Phillies are 19-15), but encouraging nonetheless.  In winning, now, six of their last nine, St Louis has fashioned a 2.89 ERA and pitching-wise is starting to resemble a little the staff we saw last year.

Stephen Piscotty

With two more hits and an RBI last night, Piscotty is now hitting .421 (16-for-38) over his last nine games, with seven RBIs.

Stephen was also 1-for-2 with runners in scoring position.  He now has 6 hits in his last 10 RISP opportunities.

Moreover, Piscotty added a couple more two-strike hits.  Over the last 9 games, Piscotty is now 6-for15 (.400) with two strikes on him.

Piscotty’s hits last night came in the fifth and seventh innings.  Through his last nine games, Piscotty is only hitting .167 (3-for-18) through the first four innings.  From the fifth inning on, Piscotty has 13 hits in his last 20 at bats (.650)

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina shows little signs of slowing down, in spite of his heavy early season work load.  Two more hits last night raise his season average back up to .325.  He has hits in 10 of his last 32 at bats (.313).

Molina also added a 2-strike hit.  He is now 6 for his last 14 (.429) with 2-strikes on him.

Yadi’s third-inning double was his only 2-out at bat of the game.  Molina is 4 for his last 10 (.400) with two-outs.

Randal Grichuk

Grichuk’s bat continues to heal.  His two hits last night raises his average to .308 (8-for-26) over the last 9 games (including 2 home runs and 6 RBIs).

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter is 5 for his last 8 first-inning at bats.  Thereafter, he is 5 for his last 24 (.208).

Matt Holliday

Holliday still can’t seem to put together any kind of streak.  After a 3-hit game yesterday, Matt went 0-for-4 last night.  He has just 7 hits in his last 33 at bats (.212) and is now down to .243 for the season.

Jaime Garcia

Jaime Garcia was in charge again last night.  Over his last two starts (both wins), Jaime has allowed 6 hits and no earned runs in 14 innings.

Mike Scioscia loaded his lineup with right handed batters against the lefty Garcia.  Thank you Mike.  All his righties went 3-for-22 against Jaime (.136).  Garcia – who always has dominant reverse splits – has now held right handed batters to a .173 average this season (22-for-127).

Jaime is also a nasty pitcher to hit when you have to protect the plate.  Last night, batters with 2 strikes on them were 1-for-14 (.071) against Garcia.  Over the two starts, batters are just 2 for 25 (.080) when hitting against Jaime with two strikes on them.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal needed 22 pitches to get out of the ninth inning.  He has now thrown 76 pitches in his last three innings.

Leake and Cardinals Trying to Turn the Corner

It’s fairly difficult to think of the Cardinals on any kind of “roll,” but last night’s 8-1 victory was their fifth in the last eight games – and the first of the season for Mike Leake.  The “streak” includes two humbling losses at home against the Pirates and a 1-0 loss to Aaron Nola and Philadelphia, but there have been hopeful moments in between.

Let’s point out, first of all, that half of the Cardinals last eight games (including last night’s) have come following a loss.  St Louis has won all four of them, scoring at least five runs in each game and allowing no more than 4 runs in any of them.  In these “response” games, the offense has contributed a .322/.393/.644 slash line with 11 home runs and 7.25 runs per game while the pitching staff has contributed 3 quality starts and a 2.75 ERA.

Among the most hopeful developments is the progress of the pitching staff.  Believed to be the team’s greatest strength coming into the season, they have been less than hoped for so far.  But, since the end of the Washington series, there have been positive signs.  Two quality starts from Adam Wainwright, dominant starts from Jaime Garcia and – finally – Mike Leake last night, and a well-pitched effort by Michael Wacha in the tough loss to Nola have all been very encouraging.

After managing just eleven quality starts through the first 25 games of the season, last night’s effort was the fifth QS in the last eight games (and the first for Leake in seven starts).  The team ERA over that span is a very serviceable 3.25.

Matt Holliday

Matt Holliday was in the middle of most of the offense last night with 3 extra-base hits.  Even better is that Holliday went 2-for-3 against left-handed pitching.  He is now 5 for his last 12 (.417) against lefties.

Matt Carpenter

One of the recent catalysts has been leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter.  Matt provided the ninth-inning home run that claimed our only victory over Pittsburgh this season, and was one of the big bats in last night’s win – hitting two more home runs.  In what has been an uneven season so far, Carpenter may finally be rounding into form.  He now has 10 hits in his last 30 at bats (.333), and seven of those hits have been for extra bases.

In his last plate appearance of the night, Carpenter finally got to hit against a right-hander.  He jumped AJ Achter’s errant pitch and drilled it for his second home run of the night.  Carpenter now has 7 hits in his last 16 at bats against right-handed pitching (.438).  Five of those hits are for extra-bases (3 doubles and 2 home runs).

Yadier Molina

In 2015, Yadier Molina started 131 of the 162 games behind the plate.  One of the goals heading into this season was to lighten the load on the veteran catcher.  The difficulty here, though, is that St Louis went 85-46 when Yadi started and just 15-16 when he didn’t.

In the “best laid plans” department, the Cards acquired a quality backup in Brayan Pena to help keep Yadi’s work-load to 120 games or less. Pena, of course, went down in spring training with an injury and hasn’t seen the field yet.  Eric Fryer has found himself thrust into the backup catcher role – and he hasn’t done badly.  St Louis is 2-1 in the three games he’s started.  The problem is he’s only started 3 games.  With St Louis scuffling a bit in the early going (and still trying to keep in sight of the steam-rolling Cubs), Eric hasn’t been trusted with too many opportunities.  At his current pace, Yadi will start 147 games.  Pena is expected to be back at some point in the semi-near future, so that pace will certainly lighten.  But St Louis has still lost the opportunity to give Yadi early season rest.

Yadi’s double last night came on a 2-2 pitch (in the eighth pitch of the at bat).  Molina now has 5 hits in his last 12 at bats when hitting with two strikes on him (.417) and his fourth hit in his last 7 at bats that have lasted more than four pitches.

Jeremy Hazelbaker

As Jeremy Hazelbaker has cooled off after his impressive start, he has found at bats more and more scarce.  His 0-for-4 last night still leaves him at .282 for the season, but only 2 of his last 14 (.143).  It’s starting to look like Jeremy’s will be the roster spot that Tommy Pham will claim when he is deemed ready to return.  Hazelbaker, I expect, will profit from more regular playing time.

Mike Leake

During his shaky first six starts for St Louis, considerable discussion centered around Mike Leake’s struggles pitching with runners on base.  Last night, the Angels managed two hits (both singles) in 13 at bats (.154) against Leake with runners on base.

Leake also did a more than adequate job of putting hitters away once he put them in 2-strike counts.  Those batters went 1-for-14 (.071) against him.  Over his last two starts, batters with 2-strikes are only 3-for-25 (.120) against Mike.

Leake is the only starter to have worked more than once with Fryer as the catcher.  In those two starts, Leake threw 12 innings, serving up 4 home runs and lost his only decision.  His ERA in the games Fryer started is 6.75.  Last night was his fifth start with Molina behind the plate.  Mike Leake is now 1-2 with a 4.45 ERA in those games.  He has pitched 30.1 innings in those games allowing just 2 home runs.

Tyler Lyons

Batters were 0-for-3 against Tyler Lyons last night once they got two strikes on them.  Lyons has now put 25 batters into 2-strike counts this season.  They are 0-for-24 with one walk.

The Cardinals punctuated their victory with four more home runs.  They now have 48 after 33 games and 1150 team at bats.  It took them 63 games and 2,119 at bats to hit 48 home runs last year.  Matt Reynolds hit that home run in the fourth inning of a June 15th game off of Minnesota’s Trevor May.

Last year they never hit more than 4 home runs in a game (and only did that once), while managing multiple home runs in a game just 36 times.  They had 7 other games where they hit three home runs.  Last night’s game was the Cardinal’s 13th multiple home run game of the year, the sixth time already this year that they have hit at least 3 home runs, and the fourth time that they have hit at least four.  They also have had a five home run game and a six home run game.

Cards Loss is Ninth in Last Fifteen Games

As the season spins forward, it’s starting to look like the fifth inning of the April 16 game against Cincinnati might turn out to be the first major turning point of the season.  At that point, the Cards had won six of seven games, scoring in double figures in four of them, including hitting six home runs against Cincinnati the game before.  They had now pulled to within 2 games of the Cubs. When a 4-run second inning gave them a 4-0 lead over the Reds in this game, every aspect of the team seemed ready to come together.

For three innings, Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright seemed like he had regained his balance.  He had retired the first 8 batters he’d faced, and after yielding a couple 2-out singles, he closed the door getting Eugenio Sanchez to pop out ending the third.

But the Reds would get up off the deck, scoring 2 in the fourth to get back into it, and tying the contest with a momentum-switching two-run, fifth-inning rally that consisted of doubles by pitcher Brandon Finnegan, Zach Cozart and Brandon Phillips.

St Louis would keep scoring, but the Reds offense punched a hole in the game with a 4-run sixth and held on to win 9-8.

Since that game, the Cards have lost 9 of their last 15, falling a game under .500 at 12-13, and dropping to six games behind the Cubs.

As disappointing as any aspect of this slump is most of this has happened at home, where they have now lost 6 of their last 8.  They have only had two quality starts in their last eight home games.

Although the numbers suggest the pitching has been more to blame, the truth is that letdowns have occurred in both units.  While the offense has hit 18 home runs over the last 15 games and scored a very respectable 4.67 runs per game, this offense has already gone through several feast or famine cycles and has been disappointingly absent during the current four game losing streak – during which they have barely avoided being shut out three times.  They were 0-for-8 last night with runners on base.

Felipe Rivero came out of the bullpen to pitch the eighth for Washington.  The lefty’s perfect inning drops the Cards to just .227 (22-for-97) against left-handed pitching over these 15 games.  It seems like struggles against left-handed is always a part of the mix anytime the Cardinals struggle.

The last 8 home games have been characterized by a general offensive brown-out.  St Louis is hitting just .232 and scoring three runs a game lately at home.

For their part, the pitching staff has contributed just 6 quality starts and a 4.30 ERA since that turning point loss.  With the three home runs allowed last night, the Cardinal pitchers have now surrendered 18 home runs over their last 132 innings.

Matt Carpenter

All four of Matt Carpenter’s plate appearances last night came with the bases empty.  Over his last 65 plate appearances, Carpenter – with his two hits last night – is now hitting .290 (9-for-31) with the bases empty, with 8 walks and a .436 on base percentage.  With any runners on base, Matt is just 4 for 23 (.174) with a .231 on base percentage.

Carpenter has also lately been reviving his reputation as the team’s best two strike hitter.  He singled once in three at bats last night with two strikes and is 8 for his last 27 (.296) with two strikes.

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty has shared much of the frustration the Cards have had recently in their home park.  His 0-for-4 last night makes him 5 for his last 26 (.192) over the last 8 home games.

Randal Grichuk

Since that Cincinnati game, every bat in the line-up has shown at least some spark, except for Randal Grichuk.  His has been the most trying first month.  Going 0-for-4 again last night, Randal has 7 hits in his last 49 at bats (.143), while his season average has declined to .179.

Grichuk’s ground out that ended the game was St Louis’ lone at bat with a runner in scoring position last night.  Randal is now 3 for his last 15 (.200) with runners in scoring position.

And just one for his last 23 at home (.043).

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz is on his first little skid of the season, and most of it has happened at home.  Over the last eight home games, Aledmys is hitting .238 (5-for-21) with no runs batted in.

Carlos Martinez

Martinez entered the game holding the last 22 batters to face him with a runner on base to 0-for-21, with one walk.  That streak reached 0-for-22 when den Dekker grounded out to end the third.  It would be den Dekker who finally broke the streak with his RBI single in the sixth.

When Max Scherzer bounced am 0-2 pitch up the middle for a third-inning single, it broke Martinez’ other streak.  Since the fifth-inning of his second start of the season, batters with two strikes on them had gone 0-for-30 against Carlos.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons is, of course, out of options.  After bouncing back and forth between AAA and the big club, he has shown flashes of being a reliable major league pitcher.  He has also struggled keeping the ball in the park.  Heisey’s home run in the ninth was the third he’s allowed to the last eleven batters he’s faced.

Lyons is also fading against right-handed batters.  The home run was one of two hits by right-handed batters in five at bats against Tyler.  After games of April 15, right handers were hitting .100 (1-for-10) against Tyler.  Since then, they are hitting .471 (8-for-17) with 2 home runs and a .941 slugging percentage.

Garcia Dominates Milwaukee

In the best game of his career (a 7-0 domination of Milwaukee), Jaime Garcia pitched the Cardinals to their fifth win in the last six games.  A look at some of the numbers from the hot streak.

Matt Carpenter

While much credit for the recent surge in offense has deservedly gone to Hazelbaker and Diaz, let’s not overlook the turnaround from Matt Carpenter in the leadoff spot.  Billed in the offseason as baseball’s most dynamic leadoff man, Carpenter has been among the many to thrive since the team left Pittsburgh.  With two more doubles yesterday (and another hit by pitch), Matt is 8 for 23 (.348) in his last 6 games.  5 of the hits have been for extra-bases (3 doubles, a triple, and one home run).  Add in 3 walks and 3 HPB, and Carpenter’s slash line for his last 29 plate appearances is .348/.483/.696 with 8 runs batted in.

With his RBI double, Carp is now 5 for his last 7 with runners in scoring position.  Four of the five hits are for extra-bases.

Jeremy Hazelbaker

The league hasn’t quite caught up with Jeremy Hazelbaker yet.  With two more hits yesterday (including a home run), Jeremy now has hits in 11 of his last 22 at bats (.500), with 5 of them being extra-base hits (including 2 home runs).  He now has 6 RBIs in his last six games and a .955 slugging percentage since the team left Pittsburgh.  After going 7 for 12 with 4 extra-base hits and 3 RBIs in his first home series, the Brewers, for one, will be glad to be rid of him for a while.

Jeremy’s home run came on a 1-0 pitch.  Over the last six games, Jeremy is 9 for 12 (.750) when he hits one of the first three pitches thrown to him.  He is just 2 for his last 10 when the at bat stretches beyond 3 pitches.  The home run also came in the seventh inning.  Jeremy is 4 for his last 7 (including 2 home runs) in the seventh or eighth innings.

Randal Grichuk

It’s good to see the ball jumping off Grichuk’s bat.  Lucky two ways on his home run yesterday (lucky it wasn’t caught and lucky he wasn’t called out for passing Brandon Moss on the bases) Randall was nonetheless 2 for 3 and hit the ball hard.  He is now 3 for his last 4 with runners on base, and is 5 for 10 with a home run and 5 RBIs on the home stand so far.

Randal’s hits came in the second and third innings.  So far this year, Grichuk is 4 for 8 before the fourth inning and 2 for 16 thereafter.

With another walk yesterday, Randal Grichuk is now second on the team with 6, behind only Steven Piscotty, who has 7.  Randal hits mid-April with a .387 on base percentage and an .827 OPS.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina stayed hot with another 2 for 4 yesterday.  He is now 9 for 26 (.346) since the end of the Pirate series.  Molina was also 7 for 12 in the Milwaukee series.

Both of hits came with a runner on base.  Over the last 6 games, Yadi is 2 for 11 with the bases empty and 7 for 15 with at least one runner on.

Yadi’s seventh-inning single came on the first pitch thrown to him.  He is now 4 for his last 5 when hitting the first pitch.  That hit, coming with 2 outs, left Yadi 1 for 2 with 2-outs yesterday, and 5 for his last 10 when hitting with 2 outs.

Matt Holliday & Kolten Wong

Combining to go 0 for 6 yesterday, Matt Holliday and Kolten Wong haven’t prospered as much as the rest of the team has in these post-Pittsburgh days.  Holliday is now 5 for his last 22 (.227) with a .261 on base percentage, and Wong is 4 for 21 (.190) with a .190 on base percentage.  Kolten went 0 for 7 against Milwaukee.

Especially glaring for Holliday has been his recent struggles with runners in scoring position.  After ending the fourth inning by popping out with runners at first and third, Matt is now just 1 for his last 10 in RISP situations.

Kolten Wong did drive in a run with a sacrifice fly, but also flew out to end the seventh with runners on the corners.  He is now 0 for 11 this season with RISP and 0 for 16 with any runner on base.  He was 0 for 2 with 2-outs yesterday and just 1 for his last nine while trying to extend an inning.

Jaime Garcia

Twenty-four of the 29 batters that Garcia faced yesterday hit right-handed.  They went one for 23.  For the season, so far, righties (who hit only .218 against him last year) are just 5 for 39 (.128) – all singles – against Jaime.

Only 6 of Jaime’s starts last year came after a Cardinal loss.  He gave us 5 quality starts, a 3-0 record, and a 1.11 ERA in those games.  He is 1-0, 2.40 so far this year, as both of his starts so far this year have come after losses.

Only 3 of the 29 batters that Jaime faced extended the at bat for more than 5 pitches (they all struck out).  Through his first two starts, batters hitting his first pitch are 3 for 13 (.231).  Anyone who hasn’t hit Jaime’s first pitch is just 3 for 38 resulting in a slash line of .079/.163/.079 with 19 strikeouts.

Garcia, of course, had that rugged third inning in Atlanta when he gave up 4 runs on 5 hits and a walk.  In the 14 other innings that he’s pitched so far this year, he has allowed 1 single in 44 at bats (.023).  He has struck out 18 for the 47 batters he faced in those innings.

Overall

During their series’ against Atlanta and Milwaukee, the Cardinals have combined to hit .327, slug .576, reach base at a .404 clip, and score 8.67 runs per game.  After a 3 for 8 day with runners in scoring position, St Louis has punctuated its 5-1 run by hitting .375 (27/72) and slugging .639 with RISP.

Nine of the 11 Cardinal hits came in the 15 at bats that lasted 3 pitches or fewer (.600).  This included 5 of the 6 extra-base hits.

The late inning hitting continued yesterday as well.  With 3 hits in the seventh inning and another in the ninth, the Cards have a team slash line of .378/.459/.757 after the sixth inning of their last six games, scoring 20 runs in those innings.

With two more home runs yesterday, St Louis now has 11 for the season in 318 team at bats.  Their eleventh home run last season didn’t happen until game #15 (April 24), a sixth inning shot by Peralta against Garza in the team’s 501st at bat.  The Cards also added 4 more doubles (they now have 24 for the season), to push their team slugging percentage to .481.