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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.

Cards Withstand Eighth Inning Rally

After three hours and 46 minutes – and 349 pitches – the St Louis Cardinals – clinging by their fingernails in the chase for the National League’s last playoff spot and in a death struggle against their ancient rivals – finally held on to one of the season’s most uncomfortable victories, 8-7 (box score).

Starter Carlos Martinez ground through 4.1 innings that were complicated by 4 hits, 4 walks, a hit batsman, and a batter reaching on a catcher’s interference call that wiped out a potential double play.  In all, that’s 10 base-runners.  But, in a departure from his earlier form, Carlos didn’t unravel.  Pitching under nearly constant pressure, Carlos held his stuff together, allowed only 3 of the runners to score (only two of them earned), and walked off the mound holding a 5-3 lead.

And then there was the eighth inning.  In a throwback to the thready first half when the Cardinal bullpen hemorrhaged runs in that inning, two Chicago home runs put 4 sudden runs on the board and closed St Louis’ big lead back down to a single run.  The Cubs ended the game putting the tying run in scoring position in both the eighth and ninth innings against newly ordained closer Juan Nicasio.

But – for one night, anyway – the Cardinals were the tough ones as they won enough of the tough at bats to hold off the defending world champs.

Time to exhale.

That Nettlesome Eighth Inning

Repeatedly through the first 88 games of the season, games would blow up on the Cards in the eighth inning.  They limped into the break with a 5.63 ERA in this inning, and a .281 batting average against.  Up until last night, the relative competence of the late inning relief corps was one of the marked improvements in the team.  Up until last night, the team’s second half ERA in the eighth inning was 3.44 with a .230 batting average against.

The two home runs in that inning last night bring to 12 the number of eighth inning home runs hit against the Cardinals since the All-Star Break – one more than in any other inning (there have been 11 hit in both the first and fourth innings).  For the season, now, more runs have been scored against this team in the eighth inning (91) than in any other (85 have been scored in the fifth, the next highest inning).  Their ERA in that inning is still 4.87.

Pitchers Still Struggling

Even though Martinez had some gritty moments, at the end of the day, the Cards have still gone 11 straight games without a quality start, and, surrendering 6 more earned runs, the team ERA is up to 5.87 over those games.  The last 11 Cardinal starters have managed just 44.1 innings – fractionally more than 4 per start – with an 8.53 ERA and a .308 batting average against.  If this keeps up, even a sometimes heroic offense will be unable to keep this team in playoff contention.

Carlos Martinez

While he had moments, and all ended well, Martinez is still struggling through the final playoff push.  Over his last 3 starts, Carlos has made it through just 16 innings with a 7.31 ERA and a .279 batting average against.  Through 5 starts in the month of September, Carlos is 2-1 with a 4.35 ERA.

Ironically for Carlos – considering his season long issues with the first inning – the first innings of his last three starts have been perfect.  In his 5 September starts, Carlos has allowed just 1 baserunner – a walk that didn’t score – in the first innings of those games.  Now, it’s the second inning that’s the issue.  His ERA is now 7.20 this month in the second.

Zach Duke

Zach Duke ended the messy fifth inning, and then tossed a flawless sixth.  Zach, who looks like he has finely found that mystic slider, struck out 3 of the 5 Cubs that he faced.  Over this stretch where the starters have been putting a lot on the shoulders of the bullpen, Zach has been one of the members of the pen who has stepped forward.  He holds a 1.69 ERA over the last 11 games (he’s pitched in 6 of them).  Zach has stranded his last 12 inherited runners.

Eight is Enough for the Offense

While September hasn’t been their most efficient month, the Cardinals are still putting enough runs on the board most nights to get a victory.  With the 8 last night, they are averaging 4.88 this month, and 5.01 in the second half.

Tommy Pham

The Summer of Pham isn’t quite over yet.  With 2 more hits last night – including a home run into Big Mac Land, Tommy Pham has pushed his September batting line to .303/.432/.576.  Since the All-Star Break, Tommy has been to the plate 277 times, with the following results: 46 singles, 14 doubles, 1 triple, 12 home runs, 40 walks, 6 hit-by-pitches, 2 sacrifice bunts, 1 sacrifice fly, and 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts – a batting line of .320/.433/.548.  In his last 65 games (59 starts), Pham has scored 50 runs.

Jedd Gyorko

With two more hits last night, Jedd Gyorko now has 5 in his last two games – including 2 home runs.  He is now hitting .350 (7 for 20) over his last 7 games (about the time he moved back into the starting lineup), with a .700 slugging percentage.  A hot Gyorko down the stretch could make a big difference.

Randal Grichuk

As September has worn on, it seems that Stephen Piscotty has claimed the top spot in the pecking order in right field.  Randal Grichuk got a spot start there last night and drove in two important runs with opposite field extra-base hits.

Grichuk has never become the superstar that Cardinal fans have hoped.  Not yet anyway.  And it certainly feels like this will be his last month as a Cardinal.  St Louis does have a glut of outfielders.  But, before Randal returns to the bench to watch the end of the season play out, it should be noted that since the All-Star Break Grichuk is a .270/.311/.556 hitter.  In 178 second half at bats, Randal has hit 12 home runs, tied for second on the team with Pham (who has hit his in 228 at bats) and trailing only Paul DeJong (who has hit 15 in 272 at bats).  As they say, these numbers will play.

My point, I guess, is to not be too hasty in unloading the talented Mr. Grichuk.  And, maybe, to give him a few more starts down the stretch.

NoteBook

Matt Carpenter’s first inning home run stood up as the game-winning hit – Carpenter’s fifth of the season.  The team leaders going into the last 5 games of the season are Dexter Fowler with 12; Yadier Molina – 11; Gyorko – 9; Carpenter, DeJong, Grichuk, and Kolten Wong all with 5.

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.

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.

First-Pitch Command Eludes Lynn, Cardinals

Riding a streak of eight consecutive quality starts, Lance Lynn was in a battle from the very beginning last night.  With his four-seamer lacking its usual zip (he averaged only 92.5 mph on 26 four-seam fastballs, according to Brooks Baseball), and without his usual command of his bread and butter sinker, Lance found himself in lots of trouble.

To his credit, he almost wriggled his way out of all of it.  But, in the third inning, after hitting two batters with that misbehaving sinker, he faced Yangervis Solarte with the bases loaded and only one out.

Solarte saw four sinkers – the first three sailing wide of the plate to the left-handed batter.  Lance tried to bring the fourth back into the strike zone and left it spinning too much over the middle.  Beginning a career night, Solarte drilled it into the right-centerfield gap to drive in the first 3 runs of the game.

Lance would battle through six, allowing four runs.  Solarte would go on to hit two more extra-base hits to finish with 6 runs batted in, as San Diego pulled away late against the shaky Cardinal bullpen in a 12-4 win (box score).

Of the 27 batters that Lynn faced, only 14 saw first-pitch strikes.  Those batters finished only 2 for 12 (.167) with a hit batter and a sacrifice bunt.  But the 13 that got ahead of him 1-0 were 4 for 11 (.364) with a walk and another hit batter.

This has become a re-curing theme with the Cardinal pitching staff.  For the month of August, opposing batters are hitting .335/.437/.543 when a Cardinal pitcher misses with that first pitch.  Opposing hitters are hitting .312 since the All-Star Break against St Louis when their at bat begins with ball one.

And, of course, this effort runs to 12 the string of consecutive games in which the Cardinal pitching staff has allowed at least 5 runs.  In this century (as noted here) only the 2003 edition of the Cardinals had a comparable streak – eventually going 13 games before holding an opponent to less than 5 runs.

Over the last 12 games, the team ERA sits at a disturbing 6.62, nearly evenly distributed between the starters (6.86) and relievers (6.29).  The last 484 batters to face the Cards are hitting .319.  The streak pushes the team ERA for the month of August to 5.18.  Troubling indeed.

During this streak, 197 opposing batters saw first-pitch balls.  They have gone on to hit .374/.477/.620.

Lance Lynn

Of all of the recent disappointment with the pitching staff, Lance doesn’t fall in line for any of the blame.  Last night wasn’t his sharpest performance, but in his eight previous games he had gone 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA.

Lance’s success has come in spite of the fact that he doesn’t really have breaking pitches that he can rely on (98 of his 108 pitches last night were some flavor of fastball).  If he falls behind 1-0, he has to come back with a fastball that he may have to guide into the strike zone.  Since the All-Star Break, Lance has fallen behind 92 batters, who have gone on to hit .347/.457/.560.  He has gotten ahead of 107 other batters, who have finished .144/.192/.165 in those at bats.

Matthew Bowman

At the point of the season when the Cardinals most need heroes in the bullpen, Matthew Bowman is starting to take on water.  Scored on in three of his last four games, Matthew has given up 6 runs in his last 2 innings.

Zach Duke

Not to make excuses for him, but it’s possible that Zach Duke is getting too much rest.  From the moment when he last appeared on consecutive days (August 8 & 9), he had one day off, and then pitched again on August 11.  During those games, he retired 10 of 11 batters.

But then, Zach didn’t pitch again until August 16.  He faced 2 batters that night in Boston, striking out 1 and walking another – who came around to score after Zach had left.  Two nights later he faced one batter – who walked – and then he didn’t pitch again until last night.

Coming off last year’s Tommy John surgery, Duke didn’t get a spring training and had only a few rehab games.  Zach’s game is his slider.  But he needs to throw it to maintain command of it.

Yadier Molina

Add the name of Yadier Molina to the list of several Cardinal hitters who have been thriving at the plate of late.  Yadi walked, doubled and homered last night, pushing his baby hitting streak to 5 games.  During the five games, Yadi is hitting .450 (9 for 20) and slugging .800 (4 doubles and 1 home run).  Molina has scored 6 runs in those last 5 games.  Molina is hitting .333 this month (22 for 66) with 5 home runs and a .652 slugging percentage.  He is now hitting .311 in the season’s second half.

Stephen Piscotty

Another positive from the game were the at bats by Stephen Piscotty, who walked, singled and drilled a home run.  Stephen has returned from his Memphis exile with 4 hits in two games, raising his batting average for the month of August to .292 (7 for 24).

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter drew another walk last night – that makes 16 in the 19 games he’s played this month.  But he finished hitless again in 3 at bats.  His on base percentage for the month is still an excellent .384.  Nonetheless, he is only 13 for 66 (.197).  After briefly pushing his season’s average back over .250, Carpenter has now slid back to .245.

Tommy Pham

The Cards ended the day with 4 runs on the strength of 3 home runs – a better yield than one might expect.  Padre starter Clayton Richard kept the hot Cardinal hitters mostly frustrated all evening.  Of the 23 batters that faced him, 17 saw first-pitch strikes – 12 of them called strikes.  He seemed to be able to find the black of that outside corner all night.

In Tommy Pham’s third-inning at bat, Richard threaded the needle with his first pitch slider.  Then, after showing Pham the high fastball, he popped another fastball right on the black.  Down in the count 1-2, Tommy was then vulnerable to Richard’s slider dropping out of the zone on strike three.

This has been happening quite a bit to Pham recently.  As Tommy likes to take a lot of first pitches, he has been giving away command of a lot of at bats.  In 88 August plate appearances, Tommy has taken first-pitch balls 37 times.  He is hitting .360/.568/.680 in those plate appearances.  In the 51 plate appearances where he has been thrown first-pitch strikes, he is slashing just .234/.280/.255.

NoteBook

The three Cardinal relievers combined to face 18 batters.  Only 10 of them put the ball in play, as the relievers issued 3 walks and hit a batter, while striking out 4.  Of the 10 that put the ball in play, 8 hit ground balls and only 2 managed to get the ball in the air.  But 3 of the 8 ground balls found holes, and the only two fly balls they allowed both left the ballpark.

On consecutive Tuedays, St Louis faced the American League’s losingest pitcher (Rick Porcello) and one of the pitchers tied for the National League lead in losses (Clayton Richard).  The Cardinals lost both games.

Sorting Out the Cardinal Bullpen

A great deal of attention was focused on the rally cat (some truly adorable video, by  the way – especially the part where the kitty tries to claw the grounds person that’s escorting it off).  Considerable attention is being paid to the aroused Cardinal offense that has scored 42 runs in the last 4 games.  This offense has averaged 5.23 runs per game over the last 56 games.

But at this point, some attention needs to be paid to the Cardinal bullpen.  Disastrous for most of the year, this unit came to the rescue again last night with five relievers combining for four scoreless innings as the Cards put away Kansas City 8-5 for their fifth win in a row (box score).

That bullpen now has a 2.38 ERA, a .222 batting average against, and has stranded 18 of 22 inherited runners since the All-Star Break.  Even amidst this success, the roles are still sort of evolving.  Promising right-handers John Brebbia and Sam Tuivailala are still searching for consistent opportunities.  Among the four lefties, Kevin Siegrist is trying to resolve health issues, and Brett Cecil has struggled some recently.  Their situations are also in a bit of flux.

But the five who pitched last night are starting to carve out defined roles, and their success is driving the success of the relief corps, and of the team.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman came in to pitch the sixth inning.  He has most frequently been pitching in the seventh or eighth innings, but with starter Mike Leake lasting only 5 innings – and with the right-handed batters coming up in the sixth, Bowman’s opportunity came earlier than usual.  He gave a couple of hits (unusual for him), but escaped with no damage.

Matthew has now made six consecutive appearances (4.2 innings) without allowing a run.  In 13 games in the second half, he has surrendered just 2 runs in 8.2 innings, and in 19.1 innings over his last 27 games, Matthew has a 1.86 ERA, a .221 batting average against, and has stranded 13 of 14 inherited runners.

Zach Duke

Zach Duke came in to pitch the seventh – particularly to face lefty Eric Hosmer (who grounded out), switch-hitter Melky Cabrera (who also grounded out), and lefty Mike Moustakas (who flew to right).

I think this is the role that manager Mike Matheny has for Duke.  A late inning lefty specialist that Mike isn’t afraid to let face the occasional right-hander.  It gets confusing, because the Cards right now have two lefthanders that hold about that same job description.

For Duke, coming off Tommy John surgery that was supposed to cost him the entire year, a significant milestone was passed as he pitched on consecutive days for the first time this season, needing only 10 pitches to wrap up his inning.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh opened the eighth, retiring 2 of the 3 that he faced.  Since being moved into the primary setup role, Oh has allowed no earned runs in 10 games (covering 9.2 innings).

Oh has now appeared in 21 games this season as the Cardinal closer and 28 games in a setup function.  His ERA as a closer was a shaky 4.09 with a .309 batting average against.  His ERA is 2.83 in those other games, with a .239 batting average against.  As a closer, Oh threw 67% of his pitches for strikes.  In non-closing situations, Oh throws strikes 72% of the time.  Eight of his eleven throws last night were strikes.

Some small part of the improvement might be that setup pitchers generally work more regularly than closers.  So far this year, 35 of Oh’s games have come with at least one day of rest.  His ERA in those games is a not-terrible 3.50.  Only 13 times – including last night – has Oh pitched with no rest in between games.  He has a 1.38 ERA in those games.

Tyler Lyons

Very quietly and with minimal fanfare, Tyler Lyons has become as good at his job as anyone in the Cardinal bullpen, and is evolving into one of baseball’s elite specialists.  When Alex Gorden came off the bench to pinch-hit in last night’s eighth inning, Lyons came out of the pen to get him – and of course he did.  I grant you the fly ball was struck a considerable distance to center field.  But there was never any danger of it leaving.

With the out, Lyons now has a scoreless streak of 11 games (9 innings) under his belt.  During that streak he has allowed 2 hits, 1 walk, and 14 strikeouts.  These are Clayton Kershaw type numbers.

Tyler is in a similar role as Duke.  They are looking specifically to use him against a left-hander in a critical late-game situation, with no great concern if a right-hander ends up facing him.  Lyons’ breaking pitches are pretty devastating most evenings.

Trevor Rosenthal

Turning a season-long liability into a strength was as simple putting the right man on the mound in the ninth inning.  A bullpen is built from the back forward, and as soon as the closer is found, the other pieces will usually slot in.  Without dispute, the best thing that happened to the Cardinal bullpen all year was the return to prominence and dominance by Trevor Rosenthal.  Now balancing his 100-mph heat with a sharp slider and effective change, Trevor has re-emerged as the man with the ball at the end of the game.

Since the All-Star break, Trevor has pitched in 10 games (12 innings) with a 0.75 ERA and a .167 batting average against.  He has 20 strikeouts in those 12 innings.

Last night was the tenth time this season that Rosenthal came into the game as the closer.  He now holds a 1.64 ERA in those games.  His ERA in 37 games as a setup man was 3.67.

Mike Leake

For Leake – who started last night – his April groove remains elusive.  He lasted just 5 last night, allowing 5 runs (4 earned) to a good Kansas City offense.  Mike has managed quality starts only twice in his last seven games.  He is 1-4 with a 5.08 ERA over that slide.

Jose Martinez

Yadier Molina hit the famous home run last night, but Jose Martinez also gave the Cards a lead with a home run.  Martinez has simply hit his way into more playing time.  Jose has now played in 9 of the last 10 games, starting 8 of them.  He has hit safely in 6 of them – getting 2 hits in three of the last four.  Since his playing time started becoming more regular, Jose is 10 for 28 (.357).  He has hit 3 home runs, driven in 8 runs, and is slugging .714 in his last 9 games.  Jose has 8 home runs in his last 91 at bats.

Cardinal lineup plans have been enormously complicated by a couple of fourth outfielders (Martinez and Tommy Pham) who simply refuse to stop hitting.  With Dexter Fowler and Randal Grichuk both showing signs of life, the Cards have four outfielders who need to be in the lineup – and, of course, space for only three.

Randal Grichuk

Grichuk added a couple of hits last night – he now has back to back two-hit games.  Grichuk has been a bit up and down since his return from Memphis, but the ups have been more than the downs.  In the season’s second half, Randal is a .299 hitter (20 for 67) with 4 doubles and 5 home runs (.582 slugging percentage).