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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.