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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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 – 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, 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.
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).
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.
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.