Tag Archives: DeJong

Heavy Pitches Humble Cardinal Hitters

On the fourth pitch of the bottom of the first inning, Jon Gray’s slider stayed a little up and just inside enough for Matt Carpenter to get around on it.  Matty got just enough lift on the pitch to pull it over the wall in right.  One batter into the game, and the Cardinals had a quick 1-0 lead.

At the time, you wouldn’t have guessed that this would be a singular event.  Gray’s ERA coming into the event (5.16) wasn’t dazzling (take into account, of course, that he pitches his home games in Colorado), and the Cardinals – of late – have shown a little pulse at the plate (including the 5-4 comeback win from the night before).

Nonetheless, when Gray finally ran out of gas after 92 pitches with one out in the eighth, he walked off the mound with a 6-1 lead – on his way to a 6-3 victory (box score).

Not only was the Carpenter home run an anomaly in that it accounted for the only Cardinal run to that point, it also turned out to be rare because he was actually able to pull the ball in the air – something the Cards managed only 3 times all night.  Yadier Molina stroked a couple of fly ball outs to left during the game.

Velocity and location are not the only pitching factors.  Some pitchers throw what batters refer to as a “heavy” ball.  Even when left in locations and at velocities that batters can normally handle, these pitches don’t really jump off the bat.  It creates the illusion that this particular ball is made out of granite or some other weighty material.

This is who Jon Gray was for most of the evening last night.  He didn’t shy away from the strike zone with a fastball that held at about 94-mph and a slider about 10-mph slower.  But both pitches ran heavy, resulting in many groundballs – especially in key situations.

About the only time that Gray was ever in trouble during the first seven innings was the fifth, when an infield hit and a walk put two on with just one out.  But that heavy slider got the double play grounder (after a review) off the bat of Greg Garcia.

When he wasn’t getting ground balls, he was getting fly balls hit to the opposite field.  Between Gray and the two relievers – ex-Cardinal Seunghwan Oh and Wade Davis – the power-hitting Cardinals were left with 7 opposite field fly balls – several of them quite well hit – that they couldn’t get around on enough to get them over the fence.

As the Rockies walked off the field congratulating each other after the last of these opposite field fly outs (a soft fly to right by Jedd Gyorko) with a win that was more dominating than the final score suggested, the scoreboard showed 3 runs for St Louis on only 4 hits.  Other than the home run, the Cards had two infield hits, and one ground ball that snuck its way through the infield.

Gray – and the pitchers that followed – didn’t complicate things.  They threw strikes and kept their heavy pitches low and away.  They made it look easy.

Tyler O’Neill

The first opportunity to occupy the spot of the departed Tommy Pham fell to rookie Tyler O’Neill.  He finished his first game back in the majors with two infield hits.

In his 3 plate appearances, Tyler ended up in two strike counts twice, striking out once.  Power hitters in general – and rookie power hitters in particular – find themselves in this situation frequently.  O’Neill’s rookie season is now just 50 plate appearances deep, but he has ended up in two-strike situations in 64% of them – and of the 32 times that he has seen strike two, he has subsequently seen strike three 21 times (65.6%).

Yadier Molina

Molina finished a very strong July (.315/.357/.472) with a disappointing 0-for-4.  Twice during the game, Yadi put pretty good swings on the first strike he saw, but neither resulted in base hits.  Over all of baseball, batters are hitting .338/.402/.585 when they hit the first strike.  Yadi’s July ran quite contrary to that.  With his 0-for-2 last night, Molina finished July 4-for-20 (.200) when hitting the first strike.

In his first at bat of the game in the first, he fell quickly behind in the count 1-2.  But Yadi fouled off one pitch and took a ball before hitting the sixth pitch in play.  Molina continues to be difficult to strike out.  Strike two only leads to strike three 27.9% of the time with Molina at the plate.

Paul DeJong

Still feeling his way back from his injury, Paul DeJong took another 0-for-4 last night.  Paul is now hitless in his last 14 at bats, and finished July just 18 for 83 (.217) with only 6 walks (.264 on base).  Since being moved by new manager Mike Shildt into the third spot in the order, DeJong is hitting .182 (10 for 55) with only 4 walks (.230 on base).

Paul hit a couple of those “heavy” fly balls to right.  His first time up, he jumped a first pitch fastball, but the drive ran out of steam and came down well short of the fence.  Since his return from the DL, Paul is another who has had poor luck when hitting the first strike.  He is now just 2 for 18 (.111) on those pitches.

Marcell Ozuna

Among the casualties of last night’s loss was Marcell Ozuna’s six-game hitting streak.  He hit .346 (9-for-26) during the streak, with a double and 3 home runs.  He drove in 7 runs during that streak, while slugging .731.  The recent revival from Ozuna’s bat has been one of the most encouraging recent developments.

Jedd Gyorko

In general, the Cards struck out slightly less often in July than in the months leading up it – one of the reasons why the offense up ticked.  Through the season’s first three months, the Cards averaged 8.77 strikeouts per game, striking out 43.4% of the time that they found themselves in two-strike counts.  Over the last month, those numbers declined to just 7.46 strikeouts per game, and strikeouts in just 38.0% of their two-strike plate appearances.

Jedd Gyorko, in particular, is getting more and more difficult to fan.  Jedd – who didn’t strike out at all last night – struck out only 8 times in July, and on just 21.1% of his two-strike plate appearances.

Greg Garcia

Struggling lately off the bench, Garcia got a start last night to try to help his timing.  For one night, at least, the results were not quite there – Greg was 0-for-2 with that important double play.  Garcia finished July in a 2-for-20 slump.

Jack Flaherty

Last night’s starter, Jack Flaherty, didn’t make it out of the sixth inning again.  He finished July tossing just 28.2 innings over 6 starts, with a middling 1-3 record and a 4.71 ERA.  Since tossing seven innings of one-hit ball against Milwaukee on June 22, Jack has a 1-4 record and a 5.23 ERA over 7 starts.  His loss was his second in a row and fifth in his last seven decisions – although in fairness to Jack, he was twice betrayed by his bullpen, and has had more than two runs scored for him only once in his last 9 starts.

Flaherty is still not giving up a lot of his – only 5 in his 5.1 innings last night (albeit they included a home run and a double).  With that performance, the Cardinal starters finished the month of July with an opponent’s batting average of just .225.

Jack also struck out 7 batters in those innings, and is now averaging 11.06 strikeouts per nine innings.  Flaherty throws a lot of strikes, and almost always gets hitters in two-strike counts.  Last night, 14 of the 23 batters he faced ended up in two-strike counts.  For the month of July, he put 65.6% of the batters to face him (80 of 122) in two-strike counts.

Following Jack’s lead, the Cardinal pitching staff in general constantly kept Colorado in two-strike counts.  Of the 39 batters the Rockies sent to the plate, 26 (66.7%) ended their appearance with two strikes on them.  Only 4 of them got hits, although those hits included the two-run home run by Charlie Blackmon in the fifth (on a 1-2 pitch) and the very damaging double struck by Gerardo Parra (also on a 1-2 pitch) in the sixth.  That blow – from the first man faced by newly acquired Chasen Shreve – drove in a run to make it a 4-1 lead.

Speaking of the Bullpen

After an impressive series against the Cubs and a good first game against Colorado, the Cardinal bullpen ended July pretty much as they pitched through most of the month.  With Flaherty out of the game, the Rockies padded their advantage with 2 more runs on 4 more hits – including a home run – over the last 3.2 innings.  St Louis thus finished the month of July with a 5.98 ERA and a .306 batting average against from the bullpen.

John Brebbia

At one time, perhaps, the best pitcher in the Cardinal bullpen, John Brebbia finished a rough July by serving up a two-run homer in two-thirds of an inning.  He pitched 7 innings in July, allowing 6 runs on 10 hits – 2 of them home runs.  Opposing batters hit .323 against him in those innings, with a .581 slugging percentage.

With two-outs in the seventh, Brebbia started Parra off with an inviting fastball – perhaps just a little lower than Gerardo might ideally like it.  Parra jumped it, but only flew out to left.  John has had some ups and downs, but this is one thing he has managed to do pretty well – throw that first strike just slightly better than the batter expects.  For the season, batters are hitting just .160 (4 for 25) when hitting John’s first strike.  Not only are all four of the hits singles, but two of them are infield hits.

Mike Mayers

Throwing a quiet eighth inning, Mike Mayers faced three batters and got two strikes on all of them, but was unable to get a strikeout.  Mike throws the ball hard enough that one might expect more strikeouts.  Of the 19 July batters that he got two strikes on, only 4 ended up striking out (21.1%).  For the season, that percentage is a modest 35.8.

One is Not Enough

One run.

For five innings of last night’s tight, intense contest in Cincinnati – as the zeros filled up the scoreboard – the Cardinal faithful kept hoping for one run.

In the sixth inning, the prayer was quickly answered.  A Matt Carpenter double, followed by a single from Yadier Molina produced the game’s only run to that point.  But with Molina on second (he advanced on the throw home) and no one out, the opportunity – nay, the necessity – to score at least one more run lay before the Cards with their three-four-five batters up.

Paul DeJong and Marcell Ozuna flew out, and Jose Martinez struck out.  The Cards were left with one run – one lonely run.

Behind all of this, of course, was a remarkable debut by rookie right-hander Daniel Poncedeleon.  Almost killed by a line drive a year ago, Poncedeleon was spinning hitless inning after hitless inning – four, five, six – the anticipation mounted each time Daniel walked off the mound having yet to surrender a hit.

At yet, if you have watched this team all year, you knew that this was all going to end badly.  With the innings, the pitch count also mounted for the youngster.  Daniel added a hitless seventh – but at the cost of 26 more pitches.  That inning raised his game total to 116.  Enough.  Daniel would not go out for the eighth.  Manager Mike Shildt would now have to turn to the bullpen – that same ragged collection that had surrendered runs – multiple runs – in nine consecutive games.

And so we looked at the one run on the scoreboard, and we knew.

Marshalling their most reliable arms (such as they are) the relief corps tried desperately to hang onto that slim lead.  Jordan Hicks gave a hit, but no runs in the eighth.  Now it was Bud Norris.

The tension mounted as Scooter Gennett was called out on strikes.  Two outs to go.  Then Joey Votto crushed a liner to left that Ozuna made a remarkable catch on.

Now the Cards were one out away.  That would be as close as they would get.

Norris’ second pitch to Cincinnati slugger Eugenio Suarez was crushed deep over the left field wall, and with that the score was tied.  Poncedeleon’s win was deleted.  And the bullpen surrendered a run in its tenth consecutive game.

Not content there, the Reds then continued the rally against Norris with three more hits and a walk – the last hit by Dilson Herrera driving in the winning run in Cincinnati’s 2-1 victory (box score).

For Herrera, it was just his second hit of the year.  His other hit this year was a three-run home run off of Sam Tuivailala in the seventh inning of an eventual 9-1 rout of the Cardinals back on July 13.

The Long Slow Decline

Sixty-nine games ago, a two-run, fourteenth-inning home run off the bat of Dexter Fowler gave St Louis a 4-3 conquest of the hated Cubs.  At that point, St Louis was 20-12, and in first place by 1.5 games.  That home run gave the Cards a 15-5 record over their previous 20 games.

Since then, the re-tooled Cardinals embarked on a 68-game regression to absolute mediocrity.  After losing, now, 38 of those last 68 games, the Cardinals hit the 100-game mark of the season at 50-50.  They are now 8-11 in July.

When Fowler hit his home run, it pushed the Cardinal record in one run games to 7-5.  Last night’s defeat dropped them to 13-14 in such games – including losses in 3 of the 4 played in the month of July.

Clearly, the bullpen continues to be a big chunk of the issue.  Nineteen games into July, Cardinal starters are clicking along with a 3.39 ERA and a .220 batting average against.  Meanwhile’ the bullpen’s ERA has risen to 7.50 this month, with a .332 batting average against.  Over the last 68 games, the starters ERA of 3.58 has been completely undone by a 5.40 ERA over 226.2 innings from the bullpen.

In the four one run games this month, Cardinal starters have contributed 3 quality starts, a 2.49 ERA and a .165 batting average against.  They have allowed 7 runs in the 25.1 innings that they have pitched in these games.  In 9.1 innings in this month’s one run games, the bullpen has allowed 6 runs.

One Run Struggles

But if the angst of the loss falls chiefly on the pen, the offense has to share equally in the blame.  Cincinnati starter Luis Castillo is not regarded as an untouchable star.  He entered the game with a 5-8 record and a 5.49 ERA – hardly All-Star numbers.  But last night he was more than enough for the off-and-on Cardinal offense.

In fact, these one-run games reveal the Cardinal offense at its worst.  While one-run games strongly tend to be lower scoring, your St Louis Cardinals have pushed that trend to an exaggerated low.  While they have scored in double figures 7 times already this year – including routs of quality pitchers like Jake Arrieta, Corey Kluber, Johnny Cueto and Jon Lester, they have vanished almost completely in the tightest games the Cards have played this year.

In the four one-run games played this month, the Cards have totaled just 11 runs while batting just .190 and slugging .286.  They have hit .197 in their one-run games since the Fowler home run.

It’s a combination that leads to heart-breakers like last night.

Matt Carpenter

While the team looks like it may be circling the drain, Matt Carpenter continues to be a beacon of excellence.  While his home run streak has been stopped, Carpenter’s hitting streak has reached 8 games with his two hits last night.  He is now 14 for his last 28 (.500).  Twelve of the hits are for extra bases (8 home runs and 4 doubles).  He is slugging 1.500 during the streak, driving in 12 runs and scoring 11 – he has scored at least one run in each of the eight games.

This torrid stretch brings Matt’s batting line to an outstanding .364/.481/.939 through 62 July plate appearances.  He has 10 home runs, 20 runs scored, and 17 runs batted in in 19 games this month.  He has hit 22 home runs and 25 doubles in his last 242 at bats – batting .326 and slugging .702 over his last 65 games.

Paul DeJong

One of the missing bats that the Cards are hoping will show up soon, is that of shortstop Paul DeJong.  Paul has never really regained the pop in his bat from before his broken wrist, and has struggled particularly since Shildt took over and installed him in the third slot in the order.  In 7 games as the number-three hitter, DeJong is 4 for 27 with 2 doubles.  His batting line – after his 0-for-4 last night – is just .148/.167/.222.

Since his return, DeJong is hitting .218/.250/.273 in 60 plate appearances.  He hasn’t walked in 4 games, and his last home run came in the second inning of the May 11 game against San Diego, 76 at bats ago.

Marcell Ozuna

The surprising disappearance of Marcell Ozuna also continues.  He was hitless in three at bats last night.  Marcell’s July now consists of 81 plate appearances, during which he has managed 12 singles, 1 double (his only extra-base hit this month), 7 runs scored, 7 runs batted in, 5 walks (1 intentional), 15 strikeouts, 1 sacrifice fly, and 2 double plays.  After hitting 37 home runs last year, Ozuna holds a .173/.222/.187 batting line this month.  His last home run came in the first inning on June 16 – 128 at bats ago.

Dexter Fowler

Yes, Dexter Fowler went hitless again last night (0-for-3).  He is now hitting .205 (9-for-44) this month.  Dexter has walked only 1 time during the month of July, while striking out 13 times.  Since his big home run against the Cubs, he is 28 for 148 (.189), with only 9 extra-base hits (7 doubles and 2 home runs).

Dexter has the second lowest batting average of all Cardinal regulars in one-run games this year.  He is hitting .167 (14 for 84) in those games.

Greg Garcia

With his 0-for-2 last night, Greg Garcia is just 6 for 34 (.176) in one-run games this year,

Jordan Hicks

After a spectacular start, Jordan Hicks’ rookie season has hit some recent bumps.  Overall, though, Jordan has been one of our best performers under the pressure of one-run games.  With his scoreless inning last night, Hicks has a 1.65 ERA and a .148 batting average against in one-run games this season.

Bud Norris

At the end of the day, the game slipped away with Norris on the mound.  Bud has been mostly good this season.  One-run games, however, have proved a struggle for him – not a good sign for your closer.  Bud has pitched in 17 of the 27 one-run games St Louis has played.  He has only brought home 6 of 9 save opportunities with a 4.96 ERA.  He has allowed 4 home runs in just 16.1 innings in those games.

Pitchers and Front Offices Under Stress

While victories haven’t been plentiful in the month that cost the Cardinals the services of their manager, there has been plenty of excitement.  The Cards have scored 68 runs during July’s first 13 games (5.23 per), and they have surrendered 64 runs in those games (4.92 runs per game).

During these mostly offensive contests, there have been many moments of fine pitching.  The difference lately has been pitchers on both sides handling the stress of having multiple runners on base.

In the last game before the All-Star break, Cardinal pitchers held Cincinnati batters to a .188/.350/.250 batting line with no one on base.  For the month so far, Cardinal pitchers are performing well with the bases empty – a .215/.280/.297 batting line.

Similarly, the Cardinal hitters did little against the Cincinnati pitchers with no one on base – the .217/.217/.478 batting line was improved by the two solo home runs.  This month, so far, Cardinal hitters have been less than dominant with the bases empty – .237/.295/.381.

But when the heat was on, both pitching staffs struggled under the added stress.

With two or more runners on, Cincinnati went 4-for-7 in Sunday’s game – including Adam Duvall’s two-run single and Jose Peraza’s RBI single, both with the bases loaded in the fourth.  Opposing batters are hitting .368/.417/.513 this month with multiple runners on base.  This includes 8-for-21 (.381) with the bases loaded.

For their part, the Cardinal hitters have returned the favor.  They only had 5 at bats on Sunday with multiple runners on base, but came through with two very clutch hits – Tommy Pham’s two-run single with the bases loaded, and Yadier Molina’s RBI single with runners at first and second in the decisive four-run Cardinal fourth.  They are hitting .368/.413/.632 this month with more than one runner on base. 

Stress – as they say – can be a killer.

On Sunday, it was just enough heroics to give the Cards a squeaky 6-4 victory in Mike Shildt’s managerial debut (box score).  Even with the win, the Cards begin the second half of the season tomorrow night just 48-46 and 6-7 for July.

Paul DeJong

One of the casualties of the managerial change was the end of Paul DeJong’s hitting streak.  Stretching back to before his injury, Paul was riding a nine-game hitting streak.  Granted, it wasn’t the world’s most destructive hitting streak.  He hit only .286 during the streak (10 for 35), with only 2 doubles and 1 run batted in.  Paul has only one extra-base hit since returning from his broken wrist – so his power stroke hasn’t completely returned just yet.  But he does look like he’s getting closer.

Before his injury, DeJong was a better ignitor than he has been since his return.  Presented with bases empty situations, Paul was 24 for his first 86 – a .279 batting average.  He was 0-for-3 with the bases empty on Sunday, leaving him 4-for-18 (.222) with the bases empty after his injury.  Not only are all the hits singles, but two of those hits were infield hits.  Paul has only walked once in his last 19 plate appearances with the bases empty.  Through all of this, I have gotten the distinct impression that Paul just isn’t comfortable yet.  It will come.

Paul did have an opportunity to put the game out of reach in the fourth.  He was up with runners at first and second and two out – Cards holding a 6-3 lead.  He lined out to end the inning.  Throughout the beginning of his young career, Paul has done a lot of impressive things.  Hitting with multiple runners on base has not yet been an area of excellence.  He is only 6 of 32 so far this season (.188) with two or more runners on – although three of those hits have been three-run home runs.  Last year, he had 65 plate appearances with ducks (plural) on the pond.  He responded with 10 singles (2 of the infield variety), 5 doubles, 2 walks (1 intentional), 17 strikeouts, one hit-by-pitch, and one sacrifice fly – a .246/.277/.328 batting line.  He is now 21 for 93 (.226) in these situations for his young career.

Jedd Gyorko

Inheriting a spot in the every-day lineup due to Jose Martinez’ defensive inconsistencies (or, perhaps consistencies), Jedd Gyorko limped to the end of the first half.  Hitless in 3 at bats on Sunday, Gyorko is 1 for 14 (.071) over his last 4 games.

Nobody responds to multiple baserunners better than Jedd.  His hitless at bats on Sunday all came with less than two runners on.  He is now hitting .218 (41 for 188) this season in those situations.  He is a .524 hitter (11 for 21) when he gets to hit with multiple runners on base.

Kolten Wong

Also limping to the end of the first half was Kolten Wong.  Torrid through most of the month, Wong finished 0-for-3 on Sunday and finished the half 1 for 13 over his last 4 games (.077).

Speaking of bases-empty situations, Wong – who has re-invented himself as an ignitor – has never warmed this year to these opportunities.  All of his at bats Sunday were in bases empty situations.  He is now a .176 hitter this year (23 for 131) in his opportunities to get things started.

Miles Mikolas

Miles Mikolas finished a very strong first half on a less than spectacular note.  He finished only 4 innings, giving 3 runs on 6 hits.  He had produced quality starts in 7 of his previous 8 starts, going 4-3 in those games.  His 2.76 ERA over those starts was complimented by a .224/.273/.301 batting line.

All of Cincinnati’s opportunities with multiple base-runners on Sunday came during Miles abbreviated start.  This has been something of an enduring problem for Mikolas.  In those high-stress situations, Miles has allowed 15 hits in 44 at bats – a .341 batting average.

John Gant

Perhaps earning a larger role in the season’s second half is John Gant.  He got the win in Shildt’s first game with 4 scoreless innings of relief.  He has pitched in 5 games since his last recall from AAA – three starts and two relief appearances.  In the combined 24.1 innings represented by those games, John holds a 2.22 ERA and a .149 opponent’s batting average (he has surrendered just 13 hits in those innings).

Jordan Hicks

Is it the innings?  The Cardinal’s talented 21-year-old rookie ended the first half with 48 innings pitched.  Has the league adjusted on him?  Is the fact that his command has never been stellar finally catching up with him?

Whatever the reason, the formerly untouchable Mr. Hicks is now one of the team’s most hittable relievers.  Trying to reel in Sunday’s win, Jordan Hicks held on for the save – but not until he surrendered another run on 2 more hits.  This is now four consecutive games in which Jordan has surrendered runs – a total of 7 runs over his last 3.1 innings.  In addition, he has allowed 4 of his last 5 inherited runners to cross the plate.  The last 21 batters he has faced are hitting .474 against the flame-throwing Hicks.  He has thrown strikes with just 59% of his last 80 pitches.

On the Dismissal of Mike Matheny

Speaking of performance under stress, one game before the end of the first half, the Cardinal front office announced that manager Mike Matheny (and two of his coaches) would serve as scapegoats for the team’s struggling start.

This happens all the time in baseball, and no one should be too surprised when it shakes out this way.  Clearly, though, this is just a cosmetic move on the part of what has become a questionable Cardinal management group.

Far from being the problem, Matheny’s performance under the stress of the 2018 season has been – I think – admirable.

Let’s begin with the injuries.  First and foremost, the bullpen.  A suspect area from the beginning of the season, such arms as Matheny was given to face an increasingly challenging division went down in droves.  Matthew Bowman, Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson, Greg Holland, Dominic Leone, Tyler Lyons and Ryan Sherriff – all of whom were counted on to play prominent roles in the Cardinal pen – have missed significant time due to injuries.

If that weren’t bad enough, many of these pitchers have tried to compete in spite of their compromised health – resulting in more than a few damaging performances.

In addition, Matheny had to battle with most of his anticipated starting rotation missing much of the first half.  Alex Reyes and Adam Wainwright have missed virtually the entire season, while Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha have each missed substantial parts.

He also had to deal with the loss of perhaps the most indispensable Cardinal – Yadier Molina – for about a month.

But this was only the tip of the adversity of the first half.

In addition to the loss of the guts of his pitching staff, Matheny’s Cardinals endured horrific slumps from most of his most needed bats.  Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong all spent most of the first half hitting below .200.  After a torrid start, Tommy Pham joined the slumping hitters.  Marcell Ozuna has never settled in – he hit the All-Star break with a very pedestrian .268/.309/.385 batting line, and promising shortstop DeJong joined most of the pitching staff and Molina on the disabled list for about half of the first half.

And in spite of all of this, Matheny’s Cards hung in the race at 47-46.  In my mind an impressive feat in and of itself.  Even more impressive to me is that his team never gave in to the adversity.  At no point did they blame injuries.  At no time did they divide.  The pitchers never pointed at the hitters, the starters never faulted the bullpen.  To a man, every player on that team – through the end of Matheny’s tenure – believed that they would overcome all of this and make the playoffs.  In spite of mounds of statistical evidence that paints this team as a mediocre collection, the team itself never bought into that.

In fact, Matheny stayed with his struggling hitters until all of them (except Fowler) eventually worked their way out of their slumps.  Against the outside pressure on him to give up on these players – especially Fowler and Wong – Mike maintained his belief in them.  That is a hard thing to do.

In fact, if anyone’s feet should be held to the fire over the Cardinals’ tepid start this season, it should be that management group.  They are, essentially, coming off three or four pretty bad off seasons in a row.  Over the last couple in particular, these guys have brought Fowler, Ozuna and Holland to the team with great fanfare.  To this point, it is clear that all of these big “gets” were significantly over-rated by the front office – which also truly failed to fix the bullpen problem that they knew they would enter the season with.  In the case of Marcell Ozuna, his acquisition cost the Cardinals the career of the electric Sandy Alcantara – a decision I fear the franchise will regret for quite a few years to come.

Interestingly, another of the big “gets” over the last winter was pitching coach Mike Maddux.  While Matheny paid with his head for the team-wide struggles, hitting coaches John Mabry and Bill Mueller suffered similar fates for the team hitting struggles.  But although the tepid bullpen (they finished the first half with a woeful 4.48 ERA) is as responsible for the team’s stagnant start as the inconsistent hitting, apparently Mr. Maddux gets a pass.  In the end, Mike Matheny pays for the consistent failures on John Mozeliak and the management group.

The upshot here is not devastating for the Cardinals.  There are other very fine managers out there – and Mike Shildt may prove to be one of those.  In temperament he seems similar to Matheny.  (Matheny – by the way – becomes the first Cardinal manager to be dismissed during the season since Joe Torre in 1995.  Things worked out well enough for Mr. Torre, and I have no doubt that if Mike Matheny wants to continue managing, he will enjoy great success elsewhere.)  I hope that – if this management group can find another fine manager, they will support him with a better cast of players.

The thing, ultimately, that I find most disturbing about this is that the Cardinals have now become “that” organization.  A team whose recent past has been governed by long-term value, has now become that franchise that reacts – and even over-reacts – to short term pressures.  With one of the most promising farm systems in baseball about to send a great many exciting players to the majors, I am increasingly concerned that management will continue to give them away in their insatiable lust for that “impact bat” for the middle of the lineup.

It is here hoped that the ownership group will keep a close eye on them and make some kind of intervention before this would be allowed to happen.

That would go a long way to reducing my stress.

DeJong Reverses RISP Trend in Cardinal Win

Fearless forcast – mark it down.  At some point this season, the Cardinals will lose a game to the Cincinnati Reds.  It hasn’t happened yet, but it will.

It almost happened Saturday afternoon.  Three Cardinal home runs accounted for all of their scoring in a 4-3 win (box score) – a game in which they were 0-or-6 with runners in scoring position (RISP).  This has been a continuing sore spot for an offense that has still mostly underachieved (in spite of the fact that they are still scoring 4.81 runs a game).  With the 0-for-6 on Saturday, the Cards fell to 6 for 32 (.188) is RISP opportunities over their four previous games.  It also dropped them to .230 (35 for 152) for the season in RBI opportunities.

For one afternoon on Sunday, though, the concerns were temporarily allayed as St Louis cruised past Cincinnati (for the seventh straight time this season) by a 9-2 score (box score). One of the game features was a 5-for-16 performance (.313) with runners in scoring position.  Whether this is the beginning of a turnaround is yet to be determined.

Noteworthy in the game – and in the early season struggles – is second-year shortstop Paul DeJong.  Entering the game just 2-for-19 (.105) with runners in scoring position, Paul had ducks on the pond every time he came to the plate Sunday afternoon.  Batting eighth in many of the recent games, manager Mike Matheny sought to change things up by batting DeJong fifth this day, and the game continually found him.

In the first inning – with the game still scoreless – DeJong came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out.  He bounced into the 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.

Now it’s the third inning.  The Cards have just pushed their lead to 2-0, when Paul came to the plate with runners at first and second and one out.  But instead of another rally-killing ground ball, DeJong slapped a single that positioned a runner (Yadier Molina) at third, where he would score on a fly-ball off the bat of Tyler O’Neill (his first major league RBI), giving the Cards a 3-0 lead.

When Dexter Fowler led off the fifth with a walk and a stolen base, DeJong had yet another RISP opportunity.  Nothing came of this as Paul grounded out.

In the meantime, the Cardinal offense had slowed, and the Reds began to chip away at the deficit.  So, when Paul came to the plate in the seventh inning – with runners at first and second and two out – the Cards were clinging to a 3-2 lead.  Just 3 for 22 at this point with runners in scoring position on the season, Paul DeJong finally came through.  He delivered a crushing three-run homer that took much of the pressure off, and sent the Cards on to their decisive victory.

While DeJong hasn’t (yet) been as consistent as he was in his rookie year, this was – nonetheless – his seventh home run of the young season.  Big hits in clutch situations from DeJong would go a long way toward healing what’s wrong with the St Louis offense.

If DeJong is turning the corner, the RISP results are still frustrating for Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter.  Wong ended the third by striking out with runners at first and second.  He is now 2 for 11 (.182) in the early season with runners on base.  Carpenter had a fourth inning chance with two on and no one out, but he was retired on a fly ball.  Matt is just 2 for his first 15 (.133) in RISP situations.

Again, it’s early.

Two RISP Pitching Notes

On the subject of runners in scoring position, a couple of pitching numbers jumped out at me this morning.  Neither pitcher pitched on Sunday, but rookie Jordan Hicks and top starter Carlos Martinez have both found another gear when pitching in RISP situations.  Hicks has held batters to 0-for-16 in these opportunities so far this season.

As for Martinez, he served up a two-run single to New York’s Yoenis Cespedes in the second inning of his shaky opening start against the Mets.  That has been the only hit this season off of Carlos when he has had ducks on the pond.  Batters are now 1-for-24 (.042) against Martinez in these situations – including 0 for their last 21.

Speaking of Pitching

Miles Mikolas (Sunday’s starter) added another strong effort to the rotation’s early success.  Miles finished his day having pitched 7 innings, allowing 1 earned run on 5 hits.  Since the first two games of the season, the Cardinal rotation holds a 2.73 ERA, allowing just 8 home runs over their last 112 innings.

Recent Scoring Changes – For Those Scoring at Home

Dexter Fowler’s struggling start got a little better.  In the fifth inning of the April 12 game in Cincinnati, Fowler reached when his pop-fly to short fell in.  Originally scored an error, Dexter has now been awarded a hit on the effort.  It pushes his early season average up to .192.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul DeJong

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

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

Dexter Fowler

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

Jedd Gyorko

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

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

Another Pitching Streak Reaches Record Levels

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

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

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

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

Michael Wacha

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

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

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

Matthew Bowman

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

Zach Duke

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

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

Sam Tuivailala

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

Brett Cecil

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

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

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

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

Ten Two-Out Runs Topple the Cards

As if the mental toughness gap that separates the Cardinals and the Cubs needed any more emphasis, Chicago applied another demonstration last night, scoring 10 two-out runs in a 10-2 victory (box score).  For the game, Chicago was 8 for 17 with 2 doubles, 2 home runs and 3 walks with two-outs, a .471/.550/.941 batting line.

Starting Pitching Leads the Great Collapse

Twelve games ago, everything was on the table for the Cardinals.  Coming off a 13-4 battering of Cincinnati in the first game of that series, St Louis stood 76-68, and just two games behind Chicago.  In front of them, they had two more games with Cincinnati, and then seven shots at the Cubs over their final 12 games – with six games against bottom dwellers Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in between.

They couldn’t possibly have been anymore “in it.”

But, beginning with a 6-0 loss to Cincinnati that next day, they have skidded to a 5-7 record over the first 12 games of that crucial stretch – including 4 losses in 4 games against Chicago.  And at the forefront of the tailspin is the starting rotation that we had pinned our hopes on, both for the season and for this crucial stretch.  After last night’s 3-inning, 8-run battering of Luke Weaver, St Louis has just 1 quality start in its last 12 games.  During this stretch, the rotation has pitched fewer innings than the bullpen (50.1 to 53.2), with a 7.69 ERA and a .292 batting average against.

Even after all of this, the Cards still have an outside shot at the second Wild Card.  But at some point their starting pitching will have to give them a chance.

They are much less “in it,” now

Luke Weaver

While he is the latest contributor, Weaver is probably the least responsible for the collapse in the rotation.  He owns the only quality start over the last 12 games, and could have had a second as he led 8-2 after five innings when he was relieved after his last start.  His worst game of the season interrupted a 7-game winning streak, during which he held a 1.61 ERA in 44.2 innings.

Eight of the nine batters who reached against Luke scored yesterday.

Sam Tuivailala

Since the All-Star Break, Sam Tuivailala has been experiencing more difficulties with the first out than the last.  In his seventh inning last night, he gave a leadoff single, but got a double play and a strikeout to avoid any scoring.  Over his last 19.1 innings, batters hitting with no one out are now hitting .333 (9 for 27).  They are now 4 for 23 (.174) with two outs.

Zach Duke

The damage, of course, could have been worse.  Already ahead 10-2, the Cubs had the bases loaded with – again – two out, with Anthony Rizzo at the plate in the eighth inning.  Zach Duke was summoned to put out the fire – which he did by getting a ground out.  It was one of the few times last night that Chicago didn’t get the two-out hit, but rather par for the course for Duke.

Zach has now held batters to a .211 batting average with two outs (4 for 19) this season.  He has stranded his last 11 inherited runners – including twice with the bases loaded.

Hits Still Scarce

While the starters have been creating early deficits, the offense can’t shake its general hitting slump.  With only 6 hits last night, the Cards carry a .243 team batting average for the month – including .240 over the last 12 games.

Jedd Gyorko

With Jose Martinez still battling an injury and Matt Carpenter still slumping, the three hits from Jedd Gyorko last night were a welcomed sight.  Back in the starting lineup, Gyorko is beginning to get his timing back.  Over his last 6 games (5 of them starts), Jedd is hitting .313 (5 for 16).

Jedd’s hits included a two out single in the sixth inning.  All season, Jedd has been one of our better two-out hitters.  He is now hitting .286 this year (36 for 126) with two outs.  Twenty-six of his 66 runs batted in have come with two outs.  He ranks second on the club in two-out batting average (behind only Dexter Fowler) and in two-out runs batted in (behind Yadier Molina’s 29).

Dexter Fowler

As for Fowler, he added two more hits last night, and continues to be the most consistent offensive force on the team.  He has only played in 9 of the last 12 games, but with spectacular effect, hitting .417 (15 for 36) and slugging .750 (3 doubles and 3 home runs).  He has scored 7 runs and driven in 11 in those 9 games.  Since the All-Star break, Dexter has been a .304/.414/.506 hitter.

All of Dexter’s at bats came with two out last night.  He is now 6 for his last 13 two-out at bats – accounting for 5 two-out runs batted in.  As mentioned, Dexter has been the team’s best two-out hitter this year.  He is 38 for 114 with 7 doubles, one triple, 7 home runs and 23 walks – a .333/.449/.596 batting line.  He now has 25 two-out RBIs this season.

Tommy Pham

After hitting .286 with a .429 on base percentage in the first half when batting with two outs, Tommy Pham has struggled to extend innings in the second half – and especially this month.  With his 0-for-2 in last night’s two-out at bats, Tommy is 4 for 21 (.190) this month, and 12 for 51 (.235) in the second half with two outs.  He did, however, draw a two-out walk, his eleventh since the break, keeping his on base percentage at .391 in this situation in the second half.

Paul DeJong

In the middle of the sagging offense is rookie Paul DeJong.  Heroic for much of the season, Paul is fading at the finish.  After his 0-for-3 last night, he is hitting .163 (7 for 43) over these last 12 games.  He is down to .229 (19 for 83) for the month.

During his compelling first half, Paul was uncanny when hitting with no one out – he hit .408 with a .735 slugging percentage.  After popping out to lead off the sixth, DeJong is 1 for his last 17 (an infield hit, at that) when batting with no one out.

The Cardinals had none of their leadoff hitters reach base last night.

Yadier Molina

Yadi is another of the hitters who has struggled during the 12-game downturn.  Molina has played in 11 of the games, hitting .162 (6 for 37) after his 0-for-3 last night.  Molina is now down to .233 for the month (17 for 73).

Stephen Piscotty

Given the lion’s share of the playing time in right field, Stephen Piscotty hasn’t really taken advantage.  With the team struggling for hits and runs, Piscotty has now gone 13 games without driving in a run.  He is hitting .209 (9 for 43) in those games.

Piscotty struck out to end the sixth.  With two outs, now, Stephen is 0 for his last 6, and 1 for 17 (.059) this month.  Since the All-Star Break, Stephen is hitting .156 when hitting with two outs.

Kolten Wong

And, of course, no listing of slumping Cardinal hitters would be complete without including Kolten Wong.  He was also 0 for 3 last night.  Over the last 12 games, Kolten is scuffling along at .125 (4 for 32).  In September, Wong is hitting just .170 (9 for 53).

Wong’s struggles with two outs are very similar to Piscotty’s.  After ending the second inning with a strikeout, Wong is 0 for his last 7, 1 for 13 (.077) this month, and 12 for 61 (.197) since the All-Star Break when hitting with two outs.  He is only a .212 two-out hitter for the season.

Elimination Season Draws to Its Conclusion

As the Cardinals were officially closed out of the NL Central chase, the playoff picture has begun to take definite shape.  The Cardinal’s division is one of only two left unsettled, and that by the slimmest of margins.  Milwaukee will need St Louis to win all of the remaining games in this series to have a chance.  Boston is holding off the Yankees by 4 games in the AL East.  All other division winners have been crowned (Cleveland, Houston, Washington and the Dodgers).

Minnesota will likely be the second Wild Card in the AL – after the Yankees.  A handful of teams trail them, but none closer than 5 games.  Arizona is the top Wild card in the NL.

That second NL Wild Card is the lone remaining playoff spot that will be hotly contested over the season’s last 6 days.  Currently, Colorado holds the spot, with the Brewers 1.5 games behind and, yes, the Cardinals one game behind that.

Twenty At Bats with Runners in Scoring Position Highlights Cardinal Win

It was April 17, 2014, and the Cardinals were in Washington to play the Nationals.  The headliner that day would be Adam Wainwright, who fired a complete-game, 2-hit shutout in an 8-0 win (box score).  The less remembered story is the offense that finished with their 8 runs on 15 hits, 5 walks, a hit batsman, and three other runners that reached on errors.  From that total of 24 baserunners, the Cardinals amassed 23 at bats with runners in scoring position (they were 8 for 23).

That is how far back in Cardinal history you have to go to find the last time the Cards had more at bats with runners in scoring position (RISP) than they had last night.  The offense highlighted last night’s 13-4 conquest of Cincinnati (box score) going 6 for 20 (including 2 doubles and a triple), 4 walks and a sacrifice fly with runners in scoring position – a .300/.400/550 batting line.

With the outburst, the Cards continued a couple of encouraging trends.  The team batting average with runners in scoring position has now risen to .277 in the second half, and up to .288 over the last 86 games.  The run-scoring pace continues to be healthy – 5.45 runs per game in September, 5.16 runs per game since the All-Star Break, and 5.34 runs per game over the last 86 games.

Eighty-six games ago, the Cardinals limped home after losing all seven games of a road trip through Chicago and Cincinnati.  At that point, this team was just 26-32 and fading.  Since then, they have won 50 games – a .581 winning percentage.

Paul DeJong

Yes, that was Paul DeJong with another three-hit night – including a double and a home run.  The rookie, who spotted the rest of the team 46 games before he even made it out of Memphis, is the team leader in home runs with 22.  And he now has multiple hits in 3 of his last 4 games.

Paul has started off his September with a .300 batting average (12 for 40) and a .550 slugging percentage (4 doubles and 2 home runs).  Since the break, DeJong is a .280 hitter (63 for 255) and a .516 slugger.  Over his last 54 games DeJong has hit 13 home runs and driven in 37.

Of the rookie’s 22 home runs, 21 have come over the Cards last 86 games.  DeJong is hitting .298 (93 for 312) over that span.

Jose Martinez

Because he doesn’t carry a starters number of at bats, I think that much of Cardinal Nation – much less the baseball world in general – doesn’t really grasp the remarkable season that Jose Martinez is having.  It isn’t impossible that Jose will go from being fourth outfielder in April to player of the month in September.  Eleven games into the season’s make-or-break month, Jose is hitting .421 (16 for 38), and slugging .763 (4 doubles and 3 home runs).  Jose has driven in 10 runs in the first 11 games of the month.

He has been even better since inheriting the cleanup spot 9 games ago.  While the organization is (apparently) pondering where they can find a “middle-of-the-order” bat for next season, Jose has noisily gone about the business of hitting .424/500/.818 in the cleanup spot.  For those concerned that the sample size might be too small, consider that in 118 plate appearances in the season’s second half, Martinez is hitting .350/.441/.650, and over the last 86 team games – in 186 plate appearances spread irregularly back to the end of June – Jose’s batting line is .329/.407/.620.  In his last 158 at bats, Jose has hit 12 home runs and driven in 32.

He, by the way, added a single, a double and a walk while driving in two more runs last night.

Yadier Molina

And, once again, Yadier Molina was the straw that stirred the drink with two more hits and 3 more runs batted in.  This included his second consecutive game-winning RBI – his team-leading eleventh of the season.

Where to begin with Molina?  First, Yadi now has three-consecutive two-hit games.  His September average rises to .306 (11 for 36).  He has 15 runs batted in already this month (8 of those over the last 2 games).  Since the All-Star Break, Yadi has hit .302 (55 for 182) with surprising power.  He has 8 home runs and a .505 slugging percentage in the second half.  Stretching back to late June, Yadi is a .300 hitter (81 for 270) over his last 73 games.

Age, apparently, really is just a number.

Yadi has been the Cards best hitter with runners in scoring position all season, but he has been especially torrid of late.  He was 2 for 3 in RISP opportunities last night.  He is 7 for 13 (.538) this month in those at bats.  In the season’s second half, Yadi is hitting .353 (18 for 51) with the ducks on the pond.  During St Louis’ 86-game turnaround, Molina is 29 for 77 – a .377 batting average with runners in scoring position.

His season RISP average is .327 (37 for 113).

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong is back in the lineup and swinging the bat freely again – good news, indeed.  With 2 more hits last night, Wong is now hitting .302 in the second half (51 for 169), and since the end of June, Kolten carries a .317 average.  He has 60 hits in his last 189 at bats.

Wong was 1 for 3 in RISP opportunities last night.  He has been second on the team all year behind Yadi in that stat, and has been even more torrid since the end of June, hitting .381 (16 or 42) with runners at second and/or third.

Progress of the Bullpen

After a shorter-than-usual five innings from starter Lance Lynn, the Cardinal bullpen quieted Cincinnati over the last 4 innings.  The bullpen has hit September with a 2.54 ERA that features a .245 batting average against and a .287 on base percentage against.  They have walked only 6 in their last 28.1 innings.  Still to be seen is how they will hold up in high leverage situations.  It remains one of the more intriguing mysteries of the rest of the season.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil – who tossed two scoreless innings last night – is trying (again) to recover his season.  He is pitching now in mostly low leveraged situations.  Brett, though, was one of the positive forces that led the season’s turnaround back in June and July.  He has pitched 37.2 innings in the last 86 games, walking just 5 batters (2 of those intentionally) with a 3.11 ERA.

NoteBook

The Cardinals ended their most recent road-trip winning 3 of 4 in San Diego.  They scored 13 runs in the four games combined – as many as they scored last night alone against Cincinnati.

Conversely, they opened their current home stand by sweeping three games from Pittsburgh.  They allowed a total of 4 runs in those three games – as many as they surrendered last night alone to Cincinnati.

A pronounced problem earlier in the season, St Louis has now won the first game of five consecutive series and 9 of their last 12.  They are 21-12 in the games of these series.

Elimination Season Continues

With last night’s loss, Cincinnati was officially eliminated from the Wild Card race.  They become the first NL Central team to be eliminated from anything. While they are now 16.5 games behind the Cubs, they are still mathematically alive for the division title – albeit just barely.  Their magic number is down to 2.

Michael Wacha – Throwing Strikes and Taking Names

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

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

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

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

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

Paul DeJong

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

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

Yadier Molina

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

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

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

Matt Carpenter

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

Baserunners Everywhere, But Not a Run to Be Scored

After the game, Cardinal starter and tough-luck loser Lance Lynn put a very strange game in context.  He pointed out that he had given up a first-inning run on three hits, none of which made it to the infield grass.  Before the game was over, the two teams would combine for 20 hits (with 8 of them not making it out of the infield), 4 walks, and 1 hit batsmen.  Of all of those baserunners – in a game where most of the outs were hit harder than most of the hits – only 3 made it home.  All of those wore the San Diego uniform as San Diego ended St Louis’ four-game winning streak with a 3-0 blanking (box score).

Even with the disappointing outcome, the Cardinal pitching staff – an area of concern earlier this season – continues to take the lead in the team’s belated run for a playoff spot.  Beginning with the last game of the last home stand, the pitching staff has sustained a 2.57 ERA over the last 11 games.

Lance Lynn

Earlier this season, Lance went through a stretch of starts where he pitched well, but couldn’t make it through 6 innings due to elevated pitch counts.  After throwing 32 pitches in last night’s first inning, and 57 pitches through the first two, the odds of Lance hanging on past the fourth inning weren’t looking too good.  But the gutsy Mr. Lynn would throw 118 pitches as he would fight his way through six innings, putting runners on base in 5 of them, but only allowing one run on a swinging bunt in the first inning.

Of the 28 batters he faced, only 12 came to the plate with no one on base.

Struggle though it was, Lance provided the Cardinals with his eleventh quality start in his last 12 games.  Record wise, Lynn is now 4-1 with a 1.77 ERA over 76.1 innings in those games.  He also left 3 of the games with a lead that was later surrendered by his bullpen.  Lance, who also had problems with home runs earlier this season, has now allowed just 4 over those last 12 games, while holding batters to a .211/.299/.309 batting line.

Zach Duke

The game got away a bit when San Diego scored twice in the seventh against a Cardinal bullpen strategy that should maybe be re-examined.  It began with a one-batter appearance by lefty Zach Duke.  That seems to be the role he has inherited, as all of his last 5 games (and 7 of his last 9) have been one-batter affairs.  While Zach has done OK in this role (Carlos Asuaje’s single made him the only one of the five to reach), it’s still evident that Zach hasn’t pitched enough (remember, he had no spring training) to really solidify the feel of his slider.  Since August 27, Zach has thrown just 18 actual pitches (it works out to about 1.5 pitches per day).  He needs, I think, a bit more opportunity than that to be as effective as he can be.

Seung-hwan Oh

And then, of course, with the game still exceedingly tight at 1-0, Mike Matheny summoned Seung-hwan Oh from the bullpen.  I said earlier that most of the outs in this game were harder hit than most of the hits.  One spectacular exception to that generality was the home run that Wil Myers crushed into the upper deck in left field off yet another hanging slider from Oh.

Patience is a vital virtue for any successful organization.  At some point, though – and coming down the stretch of a playoff run is that point – management has to concede that a particularly inconsistent performer just can no longer be trusted in high-leveraged situations.  Oh has pitched in 21 games since the All-Star Break (15.2 innings), with a 4.60 ERA and a .313 batting average against.  Going back to August 10, Seung-hwan has pitched in 10 games – totaling just 5.2 innings – during which he has allowed 5 runs on 10 hits.

Since the break, batters who have faced Oh with runners on base are 10 for 28 (.357) with 2 doubles, a triple, and 2 home runs (.714 slugging percentage).

Oh has also now allowed 8 of the 17 runners he has inherited (47.1%) to score this season – including 5 of the 8 he’s inherited in the season’s second half.

Harrison Bader

They were both ground balls that never made it through the infield, but Harrison Bader finished with two more hits and kept giving the Cards chances to push something across.  Since his recall, Harrison has 9 hits in 26 at bats (.360).  They haven’t all been infield dribblers, either.  Harrison has hit 3 home runs in his last 7 games in two of the National League’s more spacious ballparks (San Francisco and San Diego).

His hits last night included a third-inning single with a runner on first.  In the very early games of his career, Bader has shown an affinity for hitting with runners on base.  He is now 8 for his first 21 (.381) in those opportunities.

Paul DeJong

Scuffling a bit lately, Paul DeJong contributed a couple of hits to the effort – both hits coming with the bases empty.  In his opportunities with runners on base, Paul grounded to second with runners at first and second and two-out in the third, and he struck out with a runner at first and one-out in the sixth.

For the season, now, Paul is 54 for 177 (.305) when hitting with the bases empty.  He is a .262 hitter (43 for 164) when he hits with a runner on base.  Twelve of his 21 home runs have been solo shots.

Stephen Piscotty

Another of the strong positives from last night is the continued emergence of Stephen Piscotty from what has been a mostly lost season.  With 2 more hits last night, Piscotty is hitting .333 (15 for 45) since he returned from Memphis, and .391 (9 for 23) over his last 8 games.

Batting behind Jose Martinez and Yadier Molina (who went a combined 1 for 8), Piscotty is one of the few Cardinals who didn’t get an opportunity to hit with a runner on base.  With his 2-for-4 evening, Stephen is now hitting .342 (13 for 38) since the All-Star Break with the bases empty.  In his last 28 at bats with a runner on base, Stephen has just 5 hits (.179).

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler’s recent struggles continue.  Hitless in 4 at bats with 2 strikeouts – including with the bases loaded and two-out in the ninth inning – Dexter is now just 5 for 31 (.161) over his last 9 games.

Dexter has had a roller-coaster season, the lows very low and the highs very high.  Still, one of the difficulties that have partially defined the season of this would-be leadoff hitter is his season-long .239 batting average (54 for 226) with no one on base.  He was 0-for-3 last night with the bases empty.

Yadier Molina

Since a recent streak where he hit safely in 12 of 13 games, Yadier Molina has hit a bit of a dry patch.  After last night’s 0 for 4, Yadi is just 2 for 17 (.118) since the end of that streak.

Alex Mejia

With recent injuries to Jedd Gyorko and Matt Carpenter, the Cardinals have ended up with Alex Mejia as their mostly-starting third baseman.  So far, this could have gone better.  Called up at the beginning of September, Alex was 0 for 2 last night, and is 1 for 14 (.071) since his recall.

NoteBook

Before last night’s game, all of the Cardinals previous 3 losses (and 4 of the previous 5) had been by one run.  The game also broke a streak of 9 consecutive games that St Louis held a lead in at some point.  The last time the Cards played a game in which they never led was the 10-inning, 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay on August 27 that ended the last home stand.

Jack Flaherty – and Bullpen – Back On Track

The second time around was much better for rookie pitcher Jack Flaherty.  He wasn’t as dominant as his opponent, San Diego’s impressive Dinelson Lamet, but he made big pitches to get out of trouble and – with excellent work by a bullpen that is still defining itself – held the Padres in check until a late rally pushed St Louis to a 3-1 victory (box score).

His command still wasn’t what we understand it was in Memphis.  Only 52 of his 86 pitches were strikes (as he walked 4 in 5 innings).  Through his first two games, 40.5% of his pitches have been out of the strike zone.  Still, he limited the damage to 1 run through 5 innings.

Going back to the last game of the last home stand, this is now two complete turns through the new-and-revised rotation, with encouraging results.  The total team ERA through the last ten games has been a sparkling 2.50 with a .221 batting average against.  The starters have worked 63.1 of those innings with a 2.70 ERA and a .230 batting average against.  The bullpen’s last 26.2 innings have provided an excellent 2.03 ERA and .200 batting average against.

St Louis has won 7 of the 10 – including 6 of the last 7.

Ryan Sherriff

Ryan Sherriff has been one of the positive forces out of the pen since his call-up.  He was the winning pitcher last night, and has a 1.29 ERA through his first 7 big-league innings.

In his very early innings, Ryan looks like a pitch-to-contact kind of guy.  He hasn’t missed many bats so far.  Last night, he got only 2 swinging strikes from the 11 swings taken against him.  Of the last 46 swings taken against him, only 15.4% have been missed.

But, if he’s not missing bats, neither are the opposing hitters able to put the ball in play.  Six of last night’s 11 swing produced foul balls.  In his last 4 games, 50% of the swings against him have produced foul balls.

John Brebbia

In 20 innings since the All-Star Break, John Brebbia (who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning last night) has yet to be presented with a runner at third and less than two outs.  He was in that situation 9 times in the season’s first half, allowing that run to score 5 times.

John threw first-pitch strikes to 2 of the 3 batters her faced last night.  For the season, 115 of the 161 batters he’s faced have seen strike one.  His 71.4% is the highest on the team.

None of the 3 he faced last night swung at his first pitch.  Of the last 18 batters he’s faced, only Tampa Bay’s Adeiny Hechavarria has swung at his first pitch.  Adieny fouled of Brebbia’s first pitch in the eighth inning of the August 27 game.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons finished off the game and got the save.  Like the San Francisco game on September 2, Tyler got himself into ninth-inning trouble.  Unlike the San Francisco game, this time he was allowed to work his way out of it.  Since the All-Star Break, Tyler has pitched in 22 games (totaling 20.1 innings).  He has struck out 26 in those innings (11.51 per nine-innings) and allowed just one run (0.44 ERA).  And he wasn’t on the mound when the run against him scored.

Tyler’s pitches have been up more lately than they were during his hot streak, but still no one is taking very confident swings at him.  Since the All-Star Break, 38 batters have put the ball in play against Lyons, with only 7 getting hits.  That makes for an uncommonly low BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .184.  The BABIPists will write that off as small sample size luck, but there’s a bit more to it than that.  With his looping curve and very nasty slider, Tyler is a very uncomfortable at bat these days.

Included in this is significant discomfort swinging at Tyler’s first pitch.  None of the five who faced him last night did, and only 19.3 % of the batters he’s faced this season have offered at his first pitch.  That number is the lowest on the pitching staff.

The Padre hitters took 7 pitches from Lyons last night – 5 of them called strikes.  This has been another pattern with Tyler on the hill – taking strikes.  For the season, 40.9% of the pitches that batters have taken from Lyons have been called strikes – the highest ratio on the staff.

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty was last night’s lone hitting star, with two hits – including the game winning home run.  Piscotty has played in 15 games since returning from Memphis, getting 49 plate appearances.  In those plate appearances, Stephan has 9 singles, 1 triple, 3 home runs, and 8 walks – a .317/.429/.585 batting line.  It’s starting to look like Piscotty has pushed ahead of Randal Grichuk in the outfield pecking order.

Dexter Fowler

As August has lapsed into September, and the wear and tear on his body has compounded, Dexter Fowler has seen his production drop recently.  Yesterday’s 0 for 3 drops him to 5 for 27 (.185) over his last 8 games.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong was also hitless last night (4 at bats).  He is suffering through about the longest dry spell of his rookie season.  Over his last 8 games, Paul is hitting just .114 (4 for 35).

Alex Mejia

Of the “Memphis Mafia” that have contributed so much to St Louis’ late playoff push, Alex Mejia has struggled more than some others – especially during his September call-up.  Last night he had 4 plate appearances, striking out in 2 and grounding into double plays in the other 2.  During the early days of the month, Alex is just 1 for 12 (.083) with 7 strikeouts to go along with last night’s double plays.

NoteBook

The Padres – who were coming off a series victory against the Dodgers – are the eighteenth team St Louis has played this season that had won its previous series.  They have now won 5 of those series, losing 9 and tying the other 4.  They are 27-28 in the games of those series.