Tag Archives: Flaherty

Finished Birds Show Much Promise

The bottom – when it fell out – fell quickly.  A sensation in August (winning 22 of 28 games), the now very young St Louis Cardinals unraveled in September.  Entering the month, they sported the National League’s second best record, and sat just 3.5 games behind the Cubs for the league’s best mark.  At that point, they were a half-game ahead of Milwaukee for the first wildcard spot, and 3 games ahead of the Dodgers for the last playoff spot.

But at the first hint of September in the air, the delicate flower began to fold.  After winning two of three in early September from Washington, they were still third in the league (and the division) and still had a two-game grip on the last playoff spot.  As they began their last home stand, they still had control of their own destiny – holding that last spot, still, by 1.5 games.

As Milwaukee came into town – with six games left in the season – St Louis sat 87-69, not only still 1.5 games ahead for the second wildcard, but just two behind those Brewers for first wildcard, and just 4.5 behind the Cubs (who they would end the season against) for the potential division title.

The remarkable August had offered them no shortfall of opportunities.

All of these finally wound to an end in the pre-October chill of Wrigley Field as the too young Cardinals were exposed again by the Cubs, 10-5 (box score).  The loss finished a string where the baby birds lost 5 of their last 6 (and that on the heels of a three-game winning streak), 12 of the last 22 following the Washington series, and 15 of the 27 games in September.  Needless to point out, they will not be one of the clubs who will be playing in October.

It is easy, at the end, to be disappointed – and even easier to see where this club needs to get better.  And in future posts, we will look at all of this.  But I think, if we can take a step back and look at this little run in totality, I think we would have to admit that this not-quite-ready-for-prime-time team did more than hold its own.

Remember that of those 16 critical end-of-season games, only 3 were played against a team (San Francisco) that did not make the playoffs.  Of their 27 September games, 19 were against teams that finished with winning records.  Of the 68 games they played after the All-Star Break, fully 50 were against teams that finished the season over .500.  They were 29-21 in those games.  For the season, they lined up 93 times against teams that won more than they lost this year.  Through myriad injuries and significant upheaval, the 2018 St Louis Cardinals fought their way to a 50-43 record against these opponents.

Yes, at the end of the day, the youngsters – the pitchers especially – were not up to the September challenge.  But there was certainly enough promise on display to paint a very hopeful picture for much winning in 2019 and beyond.

Jack Flaherty

Jack Flaherty’s tremendous rookie season ended with something of a thud.  He lasted just 2.2 innings during the finale, serving up 4 runs on 4 hits.  His September ended with just 1 quality start in his last six, an 0-3 record, 18 walks and 2 hit batsmen in his 28.2 innings, and a 5.34 ERA.  There are better things ahead for young Mr Flaherty.  In spite of his shaky September, Jack started 19 games this season against teams that would win more than they lose.  His record in those games was only 5-7, but with a 3.35 ERA and a .198 batting average against.  He struck out 124 in 102 innings – 10.94 per nine innings against winning teams.

Jack is an arm to keep an eye on for next year.

As for his recent struggles, they pretty much mirrored the entire rotation this month.  Cardinal starters finished the month with a 4.60 ERA and just 7 quality starts among their 27 games.

Bullpen Sputters to the End.

The game was still close when Mike Shildt went to get Flaherty.  It was just 3-2 Chicago at the time.  So one last time, for 2018 anyway, Shildt entrusted the game to his bullpen.  The results were consistent with the performance through the rest of this month.  Five-and-a-third innings later, Chicago – in addition to scoring one of the runners that Flaherty had left on base – had scored 6 additional runs (4 earned) on 8 hits – including 3 doubles and a home run – and 3 walks.  Even though the offense eventually scrapped its way to 5 runs of their own, they were never really in it once the pen took over.

The September numbers tell the story.  In 104.1 innings (almost 4 a game), the Cardinal bullpen gave 71 runs (58 earned) on 111 hits including 15 home runs.  They also walked 68 batters.  They finished the month with a 5.00 ERA, a .275 batting average against, and a .376 on base percentage against.

In the 19 games against winning teams that St Louis played last month, the bullpen vulnerability was even more pronounced.  In their 72.2 innings against the Nationals, Pirates, Dodgers, Braves, Brewers and Cubs, St Louis relievers gave 61 runs (49 earned) on 88 hits (including 12 home runs) and 53 walks.  Their 6.07 ERA in those contests was accompanied by a .299/.403/.510 batting line against – a cool .913 OPS.

The bullpen was a concern going into last off-season.  It will be again.

Austin Gomber

Austin Gomber’s trajectory – and season’s end, for that matter – closely mirror that of Flaherty.  Another of the August revelations, Gomber served up 4 runs of his own in two relief innings in the finale.  His damage included allowing his fourth home run in his last 10.2 innings.  Austin ended September with a 9.15 ERA in 19.2 innings that included a batting line against of .356/.408/.578.

TylerWebb

The season’s last two runs allowed were charged to Tyler Webb.  They were both unearned.  All of the last 5 runs that Tyler allowed this year were unearned.

Dakota Hudson

Dakota Hudson did finally get the last out of the sixth inning – but not until after he had allowed both inherited runs to score.  Ten of the last 13 runners that Hudson (a starter in the minors) has inherited have scored.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez finished his first season as an April-September (mostly) every-day player with two more hits and a walk.  Martinez came down the stretch with hits in 9 of his last 11 games, getting two hits in six of them.  In those critical games against Atlanta, San Francisco, Milwaukee and Chicago, Jose hit .357 (15 for 42).

Martinez is another interesting decision that the front office will have to make this offseason.  He is no spring chicken (Jose is 30), his power is good but not great (he hit 17 home runs), and he is a shaky defender – although much better in the outfield than at first base.  There is talk of moving him to an American League team where he can DH, but he doesn’t hit for enough power to truly profile as the DH type.

That would also leave right field open, so the Cards would open the season with either Tyler O’Neill, Dexter Fowler, or some combination of both in right.  Unless, of course, they could sign Bryce Harper – something I would have to see to believe.

One thing to keep in mind with Jose.  He led the team in batting average after the All-Star break, as he hit 318 (69 for 217).  He hit .333 after the break last year (49 for 147) which would have led the team if he had gotten a regular’s at bats.

Moreover, he hit .344 (52 of 151) in his 46 second half games against winning teams.  At this point, I’m not convinced that the Cards are a better team without him.

Paul DeJong

Wading through a difficult season, Paul DeJong did, at least, end on a high note.  With his two hits in the finale, Paul ended his season with hits in 4 straight games, and in 12 of his last 13.  For the streak, he hit .302 (16 for 53) with 6 doubles and a couple of home runs.  He drove in 11 runs and slugged .528 over those last 13 games.

Patrick Wisdom

A little too old, perhaps, to be considered a true prospect, Patrick Wisdom (now 27) turned some heads with his bat over the last few weeks of the season.  Whether he has an organizational fit or not makes for a good question, but he certainly took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves.  With his two hits yesterday, Wisdom finished 7 of his last 18 (.389). 

Also intriguing about Wisdom is that his production went up against the better teams.  It’s a decidedly small sample size, but in his 24 games against winning teams, Wisdom hit .323 (10 of 31) with a double and 3 home runs.  He drove in 8 runs in those 31 at bats and slugged .645 against the league’s better teams.

Wisdom is yet another intriguing piece of the Cardinal future.  That last week of the season confirmed that the future isn’t quite now for this team.  But August wasn’t a complete mirage.

The future here is soon.

NoteBook

From the point where they removed the “interim” label from Shildt’s job title, St Louis went 15-16.

Offense, Bullpen Continue to Fade

It was, in many way, the kind of game that Mike Matheny would have felt right at home in.  It was, in fact, a microcosm of the season’s first half.  The blueprint went like this: a more than credible effort from the starting pitcher, undermined by an overmatched offense that spent the game waving at breaking pitches out of the strike zone, with any hope of victory dashed at the end by bullpen shenanigans.

In particular, Jack Flaherty gave the Cardinals – struggling to cling to a playoff spot – all that the team could ask for.  After six excellent innings, Jack left the game having allowed just one run.

It would be more than his offense would manage all night – and almost more hits that his offense would garner in the game.  The close game then slipped away as two more runs scored over the last three innings, and the Dodgers finished erasing St Louis’ wildcard lead with a 3-0 victory (box score).  The game featured two Cardinal singles and 10 Cardinal strikeouts.

Throughout the amazing month of August (during which the bullpen posted a 2.82 ERA and a .214 batting average against), Cardinal relievers worked a total of 92.2 innings, allowing a total of 30 runs and 6 home runs.  The two runs allowed by the pen last night, bring their September total to 31 runs allowed, and the home run launched by Yasiel Puig off of Tyler Webb was the eighth allowed already by the bullpen this month in just 50.1 innings.

The St Louis bullpen now boasts an ERA of 5.01 in September, with a .289/.374/.489 slash line  If you are looking for the biggest difference between the 22-6 Cardinals of August and the 5-8 Cardinals of early September, the bullpen would be where you would start.

Flaherty

The inadequacies of the team, though, cannot dim another excellent performance by young Jack Flaherty.  Not quite to his 23rd birthday, Flaherty, at least, has come down the stretch pitching like a champion.  With 6 more innings of 4-hit, 8-strikeout ball, Jack has reduced his second half ERA to 2.42 over 63.1 innings in 11 starts.  Opponents have hit .167 against him since the break, while he has piled up 81 strikeouts – 11.51 per 9 innings.  While the Cardinals seem to be fading fast, the future is still very bright for this organization – and nowhere more bright than the right arm and competitive nature of Jack Flaherty.

With those strikeouts, it should come as no surprise that Jack has the team’s best swing-and-miss ratio.  Last night, the Dodgers missed on 18 of the 47 swings they took against him (38.3%).  Since the All-Star break, batters miss 32.8% of the time that they swing against him, and 30.3% of the time this season.

A point of improvement for the young right-hander could certainly be pitch efficiency.  As good as Jack has been, he has managed quality starts only 10 times in his 25 starts, mostly because his pitch counts haven’t allowed him to work past the fifth inning in many of these games.  Even as Flaherty finished six last night, he did it at the cost of 103 pitches – a hefty 4.48 per batter faced.  For the season, Jack is throwing 4.22 pitches per batter.  Of Cardinal pitchers who have faced at least 100 batters, only Daniel Poncedeleon (4.37) throws more.  The team average is just 3.88 pitches per batter.

Dominic Leone

When Dominic Leone walked Justin Turner with one out in the eighth inning, Manny Machado came to the plate in a double-play opportunity.  It was the twenty-third time this season that Leone faced a batter with an opportunity to get a double play.  He is still looking for his first – although this one was close.  Dominic got the ground ball he needed, but could only get the out at first.

Leone also threw first-pitch strikes to all four batters he faced – in spite of the fact that he walked two of them.  Walks are a rarity from Dominic, who has walked just 7 (3 intentional) in 21 innings this year.  A lot of this is due to the fact that Leone isn’t afraid to throw strike one.  Since his return from the DL, 63.2% of the batters Dominic has faced have seen first-pitch strikes.

In general, batters have been willing to play along with Leone.  Last night, 2 of the 4 he faced offered at that first pitch.  For the season, 37.6% of the batters that Leone has faced have chased after that first pitch.  It is the highest ratio of any pitcher on the team that has faced at least 50 batters.

Bud Norris

Bud Norris was called on in the eighth to face Yasmani Grandal with a couple runners on.  His first pitch was a fastball – up but just a bit away.  Grandal took it (for a strike).  Increasingly, batters are not offering at Bud’s first pitch.  During the season’s first half, 35.5% of the batters to face Norris chased after his first pitch.  Since the break, that ratio has dropped to 27.4%.

Of the 5 swings he took, Grandal only missed once.  This has been another notable drop-off for Norris as the season has worn along.  In the first half, batters missed connections on 30.4% of their swings.  That number is down to 17.8% swung-and-missed since then. (Only 15.6% in September, as Bud has only 5 swinging strikes all month.)  Since the break – among Cardinal pitchers who have faced at least 20 batters – only Tyson Ross (16.3%) has missed fewer bats.

Tyler Webb

The first 29 batters that Tyler Webb faced as a Cardinal saw 19 first-pitch strikes (65.5%).  This includes 11 who swung at the pitch (37.9%).  Last night, none of the 5 Dodgers he faced offered at his first pitch, and only 2 of the 5 were called strikes.  Through the month of September, so far, Webb has now faced 22 batters, throwing only 10 first-pitch strikes (45.5%) and having only 4 batters swing at them (18.2%).

Did I Mention the Cards Had Only Two Hits?

After pushing all year to get the team batting average up to .250, the Cardinals are working hard to get it to fall from there.  They are still hitting .250 as a team (.249503 to be precise, which is about as narrow as you can still be hitting .250), but have put that mark in jeopardy hitting just .229 (99 for 433) this month.

Matt Carpenter

The league’s leading home run hitter, Matt Carpenter is fighting through a harsh September.  After 4 hitless at bats (during which he struck out 3 times), Carpenter is hitting .208 for the month (10 of 48).  He has just 2 doubles and is still trying for his first September home run.  Carpenter has 2 home runs over his last 29 games.

Matt Adams

In his second tour wearing the birds on the bat, Matt Adams has had some nice moments – most recently a big home run against Pittsburgh.  Overall, though, Matt has been less than torrid in his return.  With his 0-for-4 last night, Adams is hitting .167 (8 for 48) as a Cardinal.

Marcell Ozuna

One of the casualties of last night’s loss was the end of Marcell Ozuna’s impressive 9-game hitting streak.  While this has not been the season envisioned, in Marcell’s previous 9 games he was every bit the offensive force the Cardinals were hoping for.  He had multiple hits in 5 of the 9, hitting .410 (16 for 39) during the streak.  It wasn’t a quiet .410 either, as Ozuna’s 16 hits included 2 doubles and 5 home runs.  He drove in 13 runs during the streak, while slugging .846.

Kolten Wong

Amidst the recent offensive struggles, Kolten Wong has returned to the lineup from the disabled list.  He has yet to re-discover his stroke.  Hitless in 2 at bats last night, Wong is hitting .211 (4 for 19) since his return with 1 run batted in and 1 extra-base hit.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina’s September has been interrupted by an elbow injury, and he has yet to find the range either this month.  He was hitless in 3 at bats last night, falling to .235 (4 for 17) for the month.

Lost Opportunity

As I was finishing this up, the Dodgers were wrapping up the Saturday afternoon contest against the Cardinals with a message-sending, 17-4 humiliation of the home-town team.

While starting pitcher John Gant didn’t deliver his best game, the game (once again) got away when manager Mike Shildt went to the bullpen.  St Louis actually held a 4-3 lead at that point (one out in the fifth), but LA had the bases loaded, and Gant was scuffling – having made 75 pitches already.  So Mike played the bullpen card.

In addition to allowing all 3 of Gant’s inherited runners to score, the bullpen outdid themselves the rest of the afternoon, finishing their 4.2 inning adventure allowing 11 runs of their own (7 earned) on 10 hits – including 3 home runs.

September’s bullpen line now reads 11 home runs allowed in 55 innings, a 5.73 ERA, accompanied by a .305/.394/.531 batting line.

This tumble (and the Cards have now lost 4 straight – tying their longest losing streak of the season) represents a sizeable lost opportunity.

Back on September 5, the Cards had just overcome Washington by a 7-6 score.  At that point, they were 78-62.  They were a manageable 4.5 games behind Chicago for the division lead (considering there were 22 games to go).  They held the second wild-card spot over the Dodgers by 2 games, and were only a half-game behind Milwaukee for the top spot.

And the 22 games before them couldn’t set up any better.  They started with 3 in Detroit against a Tiger team that had already lost 83 games and sat 22.5 game out in their division.  Following that, the Cards would play 13 of their next 16 at home, ending the season with 3 in Chicago against the Cubs.  If during the preceding 19 games they could manage to strike a couple of games off the Cubs’ lead, those last three might well be for the division title.

To this point, the Cards have done their best to waste that opportunity.  Including today’s loss, the Cards have lost 6 of the first 9 of those games.  They have lost their entire lead over LA –and in fact now trail them – also losing 2 games to Chicago, and 4 games (at the moment, pending the result of their game) to the Brewers.

Since management removed the “interim” tag from Shidt’s title, the Cards are 8-10 and fading fast – being dragged down by the same flaw that doomed Matheny – an ineffective bullpen.

Wither Jose Martinez

It was the bottom of first inning of last night’s game – still scoreless.  Matt Carpenter had reached on an infield hit, and had advanced himself to third on a wild pitch and a groundout.  Now Jose Martinez was up.  Pittsburgh starter Ivan Nova buried a fastball down and in – well off the plate.  It’s the kind of pitch that a pitcher hopes the batter will swing at.  The kind of pitch that will usually tie up a batter, resulting in weak contact – if, indeed, the batter even makes contact.

In that regard, I suppose you could say that Nova got his wish.  Jose did swing at the pitch.  The result, though, was somewhat less than Ivan might have hoped for, as Martinez sent the pitch soaring into the Pirate bullpen just beyond the left-field wall.  Up quickly 2-0, the Cardinals were on their way to a 5-2 victory (box score).  The win was their fourth in a row, their twentieth in 25 August games, their twenty-third in the last 30 games, and their twenty-sixth in 38 second half games.

The Cardinals are playing hot baseball – with no one hotter than Jose Martinez.

With two more hits last night, Martinez has now hit safely in 15 of his last 17 games, and it hasn’t been a quiet hitting streak.

Jose is hitting .400 (26 for 65) in those games, getting multiple hits in 8 of them.  The hits include 4 doubles and 3 home runs.  He has driven in 12 runs over his last 17 games, while slugging .600.

This hot streak has carried him to the top of the team’s batting chart for the month – and for the second half.  Martinez is now hitting .372 (32 for 86) in August and .342 (39 for 114) since the All-Star Break.

What a lucky thing he is still in the lineup.

Back in the beginning, the plan was that Jose would be the everyday first baseman.  While his offense was pretty much all that they had hoped for (Jose is hitting .309 overall on the season), his defense – and, remember, Martinez was learning to play first at the major league level – was untenable.

This put then-manager Mike Matheny in quite a bind.  One of his most potent offensive players couldn’t play his position.  Being a National League team, Matheny didn’t have a designated hitter option available (at least not on a regular basis), so Jose spent some games coming off the bench and sometimes working into right-field in place of the struggling Dexter Fowler.

This led to consistent chatter regarding a trade of Martinez to an American League team.  This picked up steam after Mike Shildt replaced Matheny as manager.  Although Fowler was scuffling along with a batting average in the .170s, Shildt committed the team to giving him everyday at bats as the right fielder.  This worked out about as well as it had all season.  Fowler played in all of the first 17 games of the Shildt regime – starting 15.  Dexter hit .204 in those games, and the team went 9-8.

Fowler might still be in right field, except that his seventeenth game under Shildt would be his last for awhile – he was sidelined after breaking his foot.  It opened an outfield spot for Jose, who hasn’t stopped hitting since.  And the team hasn’t stopped winning.

The future is still a little murky for one of the Cardinals’ driving offensive forces.  At some point – probably before the 2019 season starts – a decision is going to have to be made about the future of Fowler.  In Dexter’s defense, his career suggests that he is a much better player than he has shown this year.  Furthermore, I always remind people that at the end of last year – in those important September games – Fowler was one of the few Cardinals still getting big hits in high-leverage situations.

Still, the thought of St Louis parting ways with Martinez (whose outfield defense is more than passable) in favor of Fowler doesn’t sit terribly well with me.

With his first-inning home run, Jose drove in Carpenter who had reached third with less than two outs.  Martinez has now delivered that runner (runner on third with less than two outs) in 4 of 5 opportunities this month, in 6 of 8 such chances in the second half, and, now, 63% of the time this year (15 of 24).

Jose did strikeout last night – his seventy-fifth strikeout of the season.  Of course, he went down swinging.  Martinez has only taken a called third strike 12 times this season.  With just 16% of his strikeouts being called third strikes, Martinez has the lowest such percentage of any Cardinal with at least 100 plate appearances.

Of the seven swings he took last night, that strikeout was his only miss.  For a guy whose swing is quite healthy – and produces notable power – Martinez rarely swings and misses.  While the entire team is missing on 22.3% of their swings this month, Martinez is missing on just 16.5%.  For the season, the team as a whole is missing on 23.7% of their swings, while Jose misses just 18.8% of the time.

Jose was the only Cardinal hitter last night that didn’t take at least one called strike during the course of the game.

More Good Offense

A battling overall offense, that ended the game fouling off 30 pitches and forcing 152 pitches (4.11 per plate appearance) from the Pirate staff ended up with 5 more runs on 10 hits.  They have now scored at least 5 runs in 16 of their 25 games this month – averaging 5.24 runs per game – while hitting .275 as a team in August.

Matt Carpenter

On the heels of his 4 double game in Colorado, Matt Carpenter added two more hits last night.  Carpenter is hitting .299 (43 for 144) in the second half.

When Matt came to the plate in the third after Jack Flaherty led off the inning with a single, it was the seventy-fifth time this season that Carpenter was up in a double play situation.  He has yet to ground into one – Carpenter lined out to center.

As always, Matt is very discriminating in the batter’s box.  Of the 24 pitches he saw last night, he took 10 of them for balls.  So far this month, 42.9% of the pitches thrown to Carpenter have been taken for balls.  His season percentage of 41.7% balls leads all Cardinal regulars.  Fowler is next at 40.4%.

This patience allows Carpenter to see more pitches than any other Cardinal.  With 24 pitches in 5 plate appearances last night, Matt is up to a team-leading 4.21 per plate appearance.  Young Harrison Bader is actually right behind at 4.20.

Paul DeJong

Amid the team’s offensive resurgence, Paul DeJong is still stuck in neutral.  He went hitless in three at bats last night – with two strikeouts.  Over his last 7 games, Paul is just 3 for 27 (.111) with 15 strikeouts.  In the season’s second half, DeJong is hitting just .196 (27 for 138).

Along with the decrease in his average, Paul has experienced an increase in his foul balls.  He fouled the ball off on 3 of his 6 swings last night.  Throughout the season’s first half, DeJong only hit foul balls with 32.9% of his swings.  Since the break, 43.0% of his swings have resulted in fouls.

The obvious tangent to this is fewer balls hit into play.  From his 6 swings last night, DeJong only managed 1 ball put into play.  Over the last 30 games, Paul is getting the ball into play with only 31.4% of his swings.

His recent struggles seem to be more of a timing issue.

While it is commonly thought that Matt Carpenter is the Cardinal least likely to swing at the first pitch of an at bat, that is actually no longer true.  Paul DeJong has taken that title from him.  Paul took all four first pitches thrown to him last night, and for the season is swinging at that pitch only 15.6% of the time.  Carpenter swings at the first pitch 18% of the time.  Perhaps this is too much passivity, as 3 of those 4 first pitches he took last night were strikes.

If tentative to swing at the first pitch, Paul shows little inhibition toward swinging at the last pitch.  On both of his strikeouts, he went down swinging.

Over the last 30 team games, Paul has struck out 34 times – 28 of them swinging.  Previous to that, 19 of his first 60 strikeouts (31.7%) had come on called third strikes.

Jack Flaherty

With each start, Jack Flaherty solidifies his place in this rotation now and for years to come.  With 7 terrific innings last night – during which he allowed just 1 run on 4 hits (3 singles and a double) and no walks, Jack wrapped up a dominating month. 

Entering the month not having thrown a quality start in any of his previous 7 starts – during which he lasted as many as 6 innings only once – Jack exploded through August.  He tossed 5 consecutive quality starts, finishing 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA over 32 innings.  He allowed only 14 hits in those innings, and only 5 of those for extra-bases (2 home runs and 3 doubles).  His batting average against for the month was a microscopic .136 and his slugging percentage against just .223.

Not too many pitchers of any age and experience cobbled together a better month than that.

As part of this new-found dominance, opposing teams have lost the ability to create complicated innings against Jack.  Through the season’s first four months, Jack pitched to 4.13 batters per inning.  After facing just 23 batters in his seven innings last night, Flaherty finished the month facing just 3.56 batters per inning.  No one else in the rotation faced fewer than Miles Mikolas’ 4.07 batters per inning.

Jack has also enjoyed enviable run support recently.  His 5 runs of support last night reduced his second-half average to just 6.27 runs per 9 innings.

Rotation Still Flying High

With the outing, Flaherty sustained the recent run of excellent starting pitching.  The rotation’s August ERA is now down to 2.79, and since the break, opposing hitters are batting just .237 in over 200 innings against the Cardinal starters.

Overall, the team ERA for the month is an enviable 2.80, with a .227 batting average against.

Control Issues from the Pen

So solid for most of the month, the bullpen flinched a little last night, allowing a run in a complicated eighth.  As per usual, when the bullpen leaks a bit there are control issues behind it.  Last night, Cardinal relievers walked 2 and hit another batter in just two innings.  In 83.1 innings this month, Cardinal relievers have walked 43 batters.  Even though 2 of those walks were intentional, that still makes 4.43 unintentional walks for every 9 innings.

There are an awful lot of very young relievers out there, so this might just take some time.

On the other hand, while the bullpen has allowed walks, extra-base hits have been exceedingly rare against this group.  After allowing none last night, the Cardinal bullpen has been touched for just 5 home runs and 12 doubles over their 83.1 August innings – a .299 slugging percentage.

Jordan Hicks

In the middle of the one ugly inning the bullpen endured last night was outstanding rookie Jordan Hicks.  Throwing his sixty-sixth inning of the year already (at this pace the 22-year-old will pitch 81 innings this year) Jordan gave the run on 2 hits and 2 walks, leaving a 2-on, 2-out situation to Dakota Hudson.  Over his last 5 appearances, Jordan has made it through just 4.2 innings, walking 7 and giving 7 hits.

The walks have been a recurring issue with Jordan, but the hits are unusual.  The last 27 batters he has faced are hitting .350 against him, with a .519 on base percentage.  He has thrown 111 pitches over those 4.2 innings – with only 57% of them going for strikes.  After throwing just 6 strikes last night, Hicks is down to 59.2% strikes for the second half.

The workload for Jordan may be a concern.

As the season reaches August, Jordan’s innings are becoming increasingly complicated.  Through his first 54.2 innings this year, he faced an average of 4.19 batters per inning – not bad considering he has always had a propensity for walks.  In his 11.1 August innings, he is facing a very high 4.85 batters per inning.  His pitches per inning have also risen from 15.2 throughout the season’s first 4 months to 18.79 in August.  His two-thirds of an inning last night cost him 15 pitches.

Still, for all of this, Hicks almost never gives up an extra base hit.  He has allowed just 7 all season, and none since serving up a triple to the White Sox’ Yoan Moncada back on July 11 – 95 batters ago.

Always a predominant ground-ball pitcher, Jordan got groundball from all 3 batters who put the ball in play against him.  In the season’s second half, he gets that groundball 64.8% of the time.

Dakota Hudson

Presented with a dangerous situation in the eighth, Hudson diffused the inning, getting Adam Frazier to ground out to end it.  Over his brief 14.2 inning career, the first 60 batters to face him are hitting just .173 and slugging only .212.  He has allowed just 2 doubles to those batters.

Dakota has also been a little bit of a good-luck charm for the offense.  When they scored in the bottom of the eighth for him, it was Hudson’s ninth support run in 12.2 innings this month – one reason why the rookie already has 4 relief wins.

Hudson may be the only pitcher on the staff more ground oriented than Hicks.  After getting Frazier to ground out, Dakota is getting 72.5% of the batters who have hit the ball against him this month to hit it on the ground.

That ground ball came on Hudson’s fourth and final pitch.  One thing about groundball pitchers – they keep their pitch count low.  In spite of the fact that he walks a few batters, too, Hudson is throwing just 14.45 pitches per inning.  Since he got here, that is the lowest figure on the staff.

Bud Norris

Continuing to get the job done, Bud Norris closed things out in the ninth for his sixth consecutive save. 

Good all year, Norris may be in the midst of his best stretch of the season.  He is unscored on over his last 6 games (6 IP), allowing just 2 hits and 1 walk.  Over his last 15 games (13.2 IP), Bud has saved 10 of 11 with a 1.32 ERA, a .170 batting average against, and a .191 slugging percentage against.  This has reduced his second-half ERA to 2.35.

NoteBook

In search of their tenth straight series victory, St Louis has won the opening game of their sixth consecutive series.  That’s a good first step.

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.

Flaherty in Fight with First Pitch Command

There was nobody on base in the second inning, with one out in a still scoreless contest when Cincinnati’s Phil Ervin came to the plate.  Cardinal rookie right-hander Jack Flaherty challenged him with the fastball, and Ervin swung through it for strike one.

Jack would face 19 Reds on the evening in his five innings.  Ervin would be the only one who would actually swing at Jack’s first pitch (Scooter Gennett tried to bunt a first pitch fastball from Flaherty in the first inning but fouled it off).

Of the 17 batters that took Jack’s first pitch, only 4 of the saw the pitch called a strike, and 3 of those were first pitch curve balls that Jack managed to get over.  The only Cincinnati batter of the evening to take a first pitch fastball for a strike from Flaherty was pitcher Sal Romano, who led off the fifth by watching a 90.6-mph offering fly right down the middle.

Cincinnati had just seen Flaherty eleven days ago.  Jack threw five innings of 2-hit, shutout ball that day, as he threw 10 first-pitch fastballs to the 20 batters he faced.  So the Cincinnati patience with him could be seen as an adjustment.  In all honesty, though, none of those fastballs was really close enough to offer at.  Finishing off a frustrating road trip with a 7-3 loss in Cincinnati (box score), Jack struggled with his normally good fastball command the entire evening.

Jack’s normal MO is to get ahead with the fastball and then put the batter away with his hard-biting slider.  Even without his normal command, the strategy worked well enough.  Flaherty still struck out 8 in his five innings (5 of them with the slider) while allowing 4 hits.  He was essentially undone by two fastballs – among the hardest he threw on the evening – that ended up in less than ideal locations.  A first-inning fastball to Eugenio Suarez was, perhaps, not far enough away and perhaps a shade too high.  In the fourth inning, his knee-high fastball to Adam Duvall probably caught too much of the plate.  Both those pitches were slapped for opposite field home runs – something that happens a lot in Great American Small Park – accounting for the three runs that saddled Jack with the loss.

Through his five starts in July, when he could get batters to swing at that first pitch, Flaherty has held these batters to a .150 batting average (3 for 20).

This effort may also be one more evidence that Flaherty, now up to 85 major league innings (and another 31.2 in Memphis) may be hitting some kind of wall.  On June 22, Jack fired 7 innings of 1-hit ball against Milwaukee.  In now 6 starts since then, Jack has only gotten an out in the sixth inning one time.  He has served up 6 home runs in his last 27.1 innings, and has 1-3 record with a 4.94 ERA in those starts.

Again the Pen

After breaking a ten-game streak in which they had allowed multiple runs in every game, the bullpen regressed to form last night.  Entering in the sixth inning of a still competitive 3-2 game, the Cardinal relief corps once again played the role of batting practice pitchers.

In the 3 innings after Flaherty left, the bullpen yielded 4 more runs on 6 hits and 4 walks.  The six hits included 3 doubles and another home run.

The meltdown ensured the Cardinals’ eighth loss in their last twelve games, and dropped them to 9-12 in July.  All throughout, the bullpen has been at the epicenter of the disaster.  In 42.1 innings over the last 12 games they have coughed up 43 runs (41 earned) on 67 hits – including 5 home runs – an ERA of 8.72 coupled with a .360 batting average against.  They have pitched 67.2 innings through 21 games this month, surrendering 60 runs (54 earned) on 94 hits.  The starters have only surrendered 90 hits this month in 115 innings.  The July bullpen numbers are a distressing 7.18 ERA and a .328 batting average against.  Batters are hitting only .215 against the Cardinal starters this month.  In winning 2 of 3 against the Cards this week, Cincinnati only managed 6 hits in 18.1 innings against St Louis’ three rookie starters.

John Gant

In a surprise move, skipper Mike Shildt summoned John Gant from the bullpen to pitch the sixth.  It was a surprise, since John had started one of the Saturday games, and, was not only scheduled to start on Sunday, but was pitching three days after throwing 82 pitches over five innings.

Most think this was a desperation move – prompted by the overall susceptibility of the bullpen.  Whatever the thought process, it didn’t work as Gant surrendered 2 damaging runs that pushed the game a bit out of reach.

While Gant has pitched quite well in whatever role asked, his demise yesterday was due, in part, to an increasingly nettlesome aspect of his game.  John walked two more batters in his one inning – one of which (Joey Votto) scored on Tucker Barnhart’s home run.  He has now walked 7 batters in his last 10 innings, and 13 in his 21.1 innings this month.  Even though one of those walks was intentional, that is still 5.06 unintentional walks for every 9 innings.  Since he was last recalled from Memphis in late June, John has walked 18 batters in 30.1 innings.  Remarkably, his ERA over those innings is still an excellent 2.37 – due primarily to a .180 batting average against him – but it is an issue nonetheless.

An insightful note about his appearance:

In taking over the Cardinal reigns, new manager Shildt committed to playing time for struggling multi-million dollar hitters Dexter Fowler and Marcell Ozuna.  Neither hitter has – as yet – rewarded Shildt’s confidence, although Fowler has had a few moments.

It is interesting to note that – at the same time – he made no such commitment to multi-million dollar reliever Greg Holland.  In fact, when Mike went to Gant, Holland was supposedly available in the pen and quite well rested.  But Shildt opted for a semi-tired starter on three-days’ rest rather than Holland. 

Yadier Molina

Even as the Cardinal fortunes in general have taken a downturn, Yadier Molina has remained a bright spot.  He had 3 more hits last night, and is now hitting .375 (12 for 32) since Shildt took over and moved him to the second spot in the order.  Even over the last 12 games, Yadi’s production has remained high – a .349 batting average on 15 of 43 hitting.  Molina has now hit 3 home runs this month, while going 23 for 68 – a team-leading .338 average.

Over the years, pitchers have tried to use Yadi’s aggressiveness against him.  Molina has been tempted with a great many first pitch sliders on the corner of the strike zone – or perhaps just a bit off the corner, and all too frequently this strategy has been rewarded.  Suddenly – although still aggressive – Yadi is no longer that hitter who needs to hit that first pitch to have success.  After last year’s All-Star break, Molina was 48 of 140 (a .343 batting average) when he took the first pitch of an at bat.  Those hits included 10 doubles, 1 triple, and 8 of the 9 home runs he hit in last season’s second half – a .600 slugging percentage with 32 runs batted in.

In yesterday’s fifth inning, Romano started Molina off with that slider just off the plate.  Yadi didn’t bite.  Two pitches later, he got that middle-in fastball that he ripped into left for a hit.  Then, in the seventh reliever David Hernandez threw that first-pitch slider up in the zone.  Yadi took that one for a high strike, but two pitches later landed on another fastball and snuffed it over the left-field wall for a home run. 

Molina is now 12 for his last 28 (.429) when he takes the first pitch.  For the month of July, Yadi is a .378 hitter (17 for 45) when he doesn’t bite on the first pitch.

Up Next

The Cards head home, now, after what was – in many ways – a remarkable road trip.  Its historic features included Matt Carpenter’s home run streak – not to mention his 5-5, 3 home run, 2 double performance in an 18-5 devastation of the first-place Cubs, as well as back-to-back near no-hitters from two rookie pitchers making the first starts of their major league careers.

And yet, the team comes limping back after a 3-5 trip.  This – on the heels of a 5-4 trip just before the break – means that this team has played 17 of its last 20 on the road.  Including losing 2 of 3 to Cincinnati at home, they are 9-11 during that stretch, losing 3 games in the standings.

Events that should have galvanized this team – that should spark them on to some kind of sustained spurt – don’t result in more than a one-day blip.  When Mike Matheny was fired, they rallied behind popular bench coach Shildt and won their next game, 6-4, in spirited fashion.  They then lost the next game 9-6.  After the battering of the Cubs, they were punched out 7-2 by the Northsiders in the rubber game of that series.  They lost the Daniel Poncedeleon start in spite of his 7 hitless innings, and, after Austin Gomber’s start led to a dramatic eleventh-inning win, the Cards went quietly in the rubber game against the Reds.

They are now a curiously symmetrical .500 team.  They are 24-24 at home, and 27-27 on the road.  The upcoming home stand will not be easy.  They have three more against the Cubs and four against the Rockies.  At 54-47, Colorado is another over-.500 team.

The Cards currently sit at 8.5 games out, and it’s hard to tell whether they still believe they can put together a run.  The season is starting to slip away.  If they lose any more ground during this home stand . . .

Trickles of Hope Against Lefties

As May faded into June, the Cardinal playoff hopes seemed to fade with the month.  Finishing May with four wins in six games, St Louis began June with a 30-24 record 

Twenty-seven games later (15 of them losses) they staggered out of the month with a 42-39 record.

Certainly the starting pitching buckled that month, but there were many aspects of the Cardinal’s game that slipped significantly during June.  One of the most disappointing was the relapse against left-handed pitching.

An eternal thorn in the Cardinals’ collective side, April and May showed signs of real progress against lefties.  They finished those first two months 8-5 against them, and, during that month of May, even hit an unheard of .254 against lefties as a team.

But in June, the troubles began again.  The Cards found themselves baffled last month by lightly-regarded lefties like Wei-Yin Chen (2-6, 6.14), Eric Lauer (4-5, 4.84), and Max Fried (1-3, 3.92).  For the month of June, they were 1-6 when lefties started, hitting .202 as a team against them.

In the 4-4 start to July – which includes yesterday’s head-shaking 13-8 loss to San Francisco (box score), there have been an equal supply of positives and negatives.  Among the positives is a noticeable upturn against left-handed pitchers.  After averaging just 3.43 runs per game when lefties started against them in June, the Cards have scored at least 6 runs in each of the three games lefties have faced them this month.  They beat Arizona 6-3 on July 2 in a game started by Robbie Ray; they battered Patrick Corbin 8-4; and then – in spite of the presence of the usually dominant Madison Bumgarner, they finished yesterday’s game with 8 runs.  True, they didn’t exactly drive him from the mound.  But Madison didn’t finished the sixth inning – surrendering 4 runs on 7 hits in his 5.1 innings.

A hint of progress, indeed.

Jedd Gyorko

While not doing as much damaged against the Giant lefties as he usually does, Jedd Gyorko nonetheless added two more hits (both singles) in four at bats against left-handed pitching.  Jedd is pretty much the one right-handed bat that consistently takes advantage of left-handed pitching.  With yesterday’s hits, Gyorko is hitting .358 (19 for 53) against lefties this season.  It’s hard to justify not starting him against lefties.

Frankly, the turning of the calendar has brought the return of Jedd Gyorko against all pitchers.  Almost invisible in June (hitting .159 with just 1 walk for the month), Gyorko has been dynamic so far in July.  Starting seven of the eight games, Jedd has hits in all of them (getting multiple hits in 4 of those games).  Jedd is 11 for 27 (.407) through the early part of the month.  His 11 hits include 2 doubles, a triple, and 2 home runs – a .778 slugging percentage.

Jose Martinez

Also encouraging in the loss were the three hits off the bat of Jose Martinez.  Jose put together a terrific June (.314/.372/.640) with 8 home runs.  Largely struggling in the early days of July (and fighting for playing time because of his leaky defense), Martinez is certain to get some at bats at DH in the upcoming series against the White Sox.  This would be an excellent time for him to go on a bit of a tear.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz also continued his recent hot streak.  With 2 hits and 2 walks, Munoz has hit in 8 consecutive starts, during which he is hitting .345 (10 for 29) and slugging .621 (2 doubles and 2 home runs).  Yairo has 7 RBIs in his last 8 starts.

Francisco Pena

Francisco Pena struck out against Bumgarner in the second, and then grounded into a double play against him in the fourth.  Even granting that Madison is tougher than your typical lefthander, this still leaves Pena just 2 for 22 (.091) against left-handers this season.

Jack Flaherty

Back on June 22, Jack Flaherty flirted with a no-hitter, finishing up allowing one hit over seven innings.  Last night, he didn’t make it out of the third inning.  Through his three starts since that near no-hitter, Jack has lasted a total of 12.1 innings, going 0-2 with a 7.30 ERA.

While yesterday wasn’t his best game, Jack nonetheless continued his mastery of left-handed batters.  Giant left-handed hitters – who feasted on the Cardinal bullpen – had only Brandon Belt’s soft flyball single in the second to show for their 7 at bats against him.

For the season, lefties are hitting just .214 (28 for 11) against Jack.  In June, they hit only .189 (10 for 53) against him.

Mike Mayers

In what was an otherwise horrific effort from the bullpen, Mike Mayers almost brought sanity to the game.  He wriggled out of the bases-loaded situation in the third, and then added a scoreless fourth.  Along the way, Mike faced three left-handed batters (Pablo Sandoval – who flew out; Alen Hanson – who popped out; and Steven Duggar – who struck out).  He also faced three right-handed batters (Gorkys Hernandez – who fouled out; Buster Posey – who flew out; and Madison Bumgarner –who singled).

In that small sample size, was a little microcosm of Mike’s season.  The right-hander has been surprisingly good against lefties so far this year, holding them to a .200/.233/.309 batting line in 60 plate appearances.  He has had surprising struggles against right-handers.  They are hitting .286/.322/.500 in 60 plate appearances.

John Brebbia

Even since I bragged on him last week, John Brebbia has been relentlessly pummeled.  His fifth-inning struggle turned yesterday’s game around and sent San Fran off with the victory.  Since finishing a string of 13 appearances during which he was only scored off once, Brebbia had allowed runs in three consecutive outings, serving up 6 altogether in 3.1 innings.  During this stretch, opponents have hit .529 and slugged .882 against him.

Greg Holland

In his first 6 games since returning from the disabled list, Greg Holland fanned the hopes of Cardinal Nation.  In those 6 games, he tossed 5.2 scoreless innings, allowing just 2 hits and no walks while striking out 8.  He threw 77% of his pitches for strikes, and held opposing batters to a .105/.105/.105 batting line.

Over his last three appearances, Greg has lasted just 1.2 innings, with 8 runs of damage (6 earned) on 7 hits and 3 walks (1 intentional) against 1 strikeout.  Only 55% of his last 53 pitches have been strikes, and opponents have hit .583/.667/.667 against him.

Hmmm.

Among the Holland mysteries has been his inability to retire right-handed hitters.  They were 1 for 2 last night, and are now 17 for 43 (.395) against Greg for the season.

Brett Cecil

Starting to figure things out (perhaps) is lefty Brett Cecil.  After the game was largely decided, he finished the sixth and tossed a scoreless seventh.  Brett has allowed just 1 run (unearned) over his last 8 games (totaling 8.1 innings).  He had a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings in June.

NoteBook

In 14 road series, so far, the Cards have now won 5, lost 4, and split 5.  They are currently 23-21 overall away from home.

Position Wars on July 4

The season’s statistical half-way point has come and gone, and we have not yet done a position wars post.  This concept simply compares how the team does depending on who is starting at which position.

Catcher

Catcher, of course, for more than a decade in St Louis has belonged to Yadier Molina – who will likely tie Ted Simmons for fifteenth on the all-time games played list at this position tonight.  More than just a tradition, Molina is also having one of his best seasons.

That being said, St Louis (43-41 overall) is only 28-26 in Yadi’s starts so far this year, with a 3.90 team ERA.  Interestingly, Molina missed 26 games earlier with a medical issue – an absence that allowed a regular opportunity to some of the team’s other catchers.  The team was 13-13 in his absence.  Of the other catchers, Francisco Pena got the lion’s share of the starts, leading the Cards to a 9-8 record in his 17 starts.

For the season, so far, St Louis is 11-10 when Francisco starts.  The pitching staff also has enjoyed its most productive stretch with Pena behind the plate.  The starters have contributed 14 quality starts in Francisco’s 21 starts (they have only 21 in Yadi’s 54 starts) with a 3.20 team ERA.

To suggest from this that the team is better off without Molina would be a reckless reading of the data.  I do think, though, that this suggests that Pena is a more than capable backup who does a more than respectable job at handling the pitching staff.

Oh, and the team scores 4.48 runs per game when Yadi starts, against only 3.83 runs per game when Pena starts.

First Base

The off-season plan was to establish Jose Martinez at first base in an effort to keep his bat in the lineup.  And this they have mostly done – despite several defensive hiccups.  With the season 84 games gone, Martinez has started 72 of them at first base.  The only other Cardinal in double figures at first is Matt Carpenter – who started his tenth game of the season at first last night.  The numbers – to this point – tilt toward Martinez.  St Louis is 37-35 when Jose starts at first, and just 5-5 with Matt.  The scoring is up with Jose’s bat in the lineup (4.38 pg – 3.58).  Surprisingly, the team ERA is also noticeably better with Martinez at first (3.67) than without him (4.12).

Second Base

Kolten Wong’s continued batting struggles have made second base a much more fluid situation than planned going into the season.  Wong has only been able to keep himself in the lineup for 55 of the first 84 games. His ragged season has opened the door for Jedd Gyorko (13 starts) and Carpenter (11).

The half-season numbers mostly support Kolten’s continued presence in the lineup.  The team’s record with him at second is 29-26.  They are 6-5 with Carpenter and 5-8 with Gyorko.  Surprisingly, the offense performs better with Wong at second. The Cards average 4.40 runs in his games.  They score 3.85 runs per game when Gyorko starts at second and 3.82 when Carpenter starts there.

Also, surprisingly, the team ERA (3.27) is better when Carpenter plays second.  The team ERA is 3.53 when Wong starts, and 4.94 with Gyorko.

ShortStop

In the injury-plagued first-half, perhaps one of the most significant losses was to starting shortstop Paul DeJong.  After a break-out rookie season, DeJong was the reason that St Louis moved Aledmys Diaz.  Up until the pitch that broke his wrist, DeJong’s second season was going well enough.  If his average was an uninspiring .260, he had hit 8 home runs in his first 150 at bats, and managed an .824 OPS.

At the time, the fact that the Cards were 22-17 in the games that DeJong had started didn’t seem all that compelling – but in his absence the team has certainly struggled.  Last night’s game was the forty-fifth the Cards have played this season with someone else at short.  They are now 21-24 without DeJong.  Offensive production hasn’t been radically different.  St Louis scored 4.31 runs per game when DeJong started, and are still averaging 4.22 without him.  The surprising difference has been defensive.  In Paul’s 39 starts, the team allowed just 3.53 earned runs per nine innings.  The team ERA is 3.92 without him.

In DeJong’s absence, Yairo Munoz has gotten the lion’s share of the starts – 30 of them.  St Louis has responded with a 14-16 record.  Less flashy is Greg Garcia, but he has managed 11 starts this season at short.  The team is 6-5 in those games.  They have averaged only 3.55 runs per game when he starts, but the team ERA with Garcia at short is an impressive 2.51.

The Cards are about one game away from getting DeJong back, but Garcia is making a strong case to be the primary backup at this position.

Third Base

While it’s anyone’s guess where on the diamond Matt Carpenter will appear, he has mostly started (55 games) at third base.  When he moves around, that position is usually manned by Gyorko (24 games).  With neither having the kind of season that they are used to having, the numbers don’t show a lot of difference between the two.  When Matt starts at third, St Louis is 28-27, scoring 4.44 runs per game against a 3.97 team ERA.  The record with Jedd is 12-12, with the team scoring 4.00 runs per game and a maintaining 3.41 ERA.

Left Field

There really isn’t room for any discussion at this position.  Marcell Ozuna has started here for 78 of the 84 games so far this season.  For the record, in the six games started by other players, St Louis is 4-2 (they are 39-39 with Ozuna out there), and the ERA is better without Ozuna (2.83 v 3.80).  And, yes, the offense picks up, too (5.17 runs per game v 4.19).

Remember, though, it’s only 6 games.

Center Field

Tommy Pham has almost been as automatic in center field as Ozuna has been in left.  Last night was Tommy’s seventy-second start in center.  Harrison Bader, though, has gotten his name in the lineup here for 11 games.  Considering the difference in opportunity, the results are fairly similar.  The Cards are 37-35 with Pham in center, and 6-5 with Bader.  The offensive advantage goes to Pham, 4.38 runs per game to just 3.82.  Interestingly, the team ERA is only 3.12 with Harrison in center.  In Tommy’s starts, the team ERA is 3.81.

Right Field

As the season cruises into its second half, right field is drawing increasing attention.  As with Wong, Dexter Fowler’s worst season ever has him trying to fend off the challenge from Bader.  Since the perception has been that Harrison has been a significant upgrade both offensively and defensively over the struggling Fowler, it’s a little surprising to note how much better this team has played with Dexter in right than with Harrison.

St Louis is 32-23 when Dexter starts in right (a .581 winning percentage that is better than any other Cardinal in any other position).  They are 8-16 when Bader starts.  In spite of Dexter’s offensive inconsistencies, the Cards are scoring 4.35 runs per game with Fowler in right, and only 3.88 when Bader starts.  And, in spite of Harrison’s highlight-reel defensive play, the team ERA is actually lower when Dexter starts 3.50 – 4.42.

A better second half from Fowler is one of the principle beliefs that the Cards are pinning their second half hopes on.  His entire career strongly suggests that he is better than he’s shown.

About Last Night

Yes, it was Zack Greinke on the mound against them last night, but the floundering St Louis offense is making everyone in baseball look like Zack Greinke.

In going down 4-2 (box score) the Cards have now dropped 5 of their last 6.  They have scored, now, just 19 runs in those 6 games (3.17 per) with a .217/283/.323 team batting line.  They are coming off a 12-15 May during which they hit .239 and scored 4.00 runs per game.

Tommy Pham

A couple games ago, Tommy Pham broke his 0-for34 streak.  To this point, it has yet to turn his season around.  He was hitless again last night in 4 at bats.  Over the last 6 games, Pham is hitting just .150 (3 for 20) – although the quality of his at bats have gotten better.  He has drawn 5 walks in the last 6 games – leading to a .320 on base percentage.

Pham is coming off a miserable May that saw him get 102 plate appearances over 26 games.  His totals for those plate appearances were just 16 singles, 3 home runs, 5 runs batted in, 6 walks, 25 strikeouts and 3 double plays.  Tommy’s batting line for the month just ended was .198/.245/.292.  He has gone 34 games without a double.

Marcell Ozuna

One of the bright spots in May, Marcell Ozuna is one of the bats that have faded of late.  During the struggles of the last six games, Ozuna has been to the plate 23 times.  Those results have been 3 singles, no runs batted in and 9 strikeouts – a batting line of .130/.130/.130.

Marcell has gone 7 games without a run batted in, and 16 games without a home run.

Jack Flaherty

One of the features of the recent losing skid has been shaky starting pitching.  Over the last 6 games, the starters have managed just 32.1 innings, during which they have served up 6 home runs and a .282/.343/.496 batting line.  One mis-located slider thrown to Paul Goldschmidt turned Jack Flaherty’s potential quality start into another loss.  Jack has started 2 of the last 6 games.  He has thrown a combined 10 innings in the two games, serving up 3 home runs and 8 runs.  Over his last 7 starts, Jack has lost 3 of 4 decisions, with a 3.99 ERA.

Sam Tuivailala

Although Austin Gomber almost cost him a run, Sam Tuivailala worked through a scoreless 1.1 innings last night.  Encouraging to see him keep teams off the scoreboard.  Sam has had a few rough outings lately, but his ERA is still 3.16 for the season, and 2.91 over his last 21.2 innings.

Things Turning Around for Cardinal Bullpen

Austin Gomber, Sam Tuivailala and John Brebbia were not supposed to be the big names out of the Cardinal bullpen when management cobbled the team together over the offseason.  But (focusing on the positive) those three hurlers continued a very encouraging trend at the tail end of last night’s 5-1 loss to Cleveland (box score).

Those pitchers combined to navigate the last 5 innings of the game, allowing just 1 run on 3 hits.  They walked 1 while striking out 4.  Through the first two months of the season, the narrative was the gallant starting pitching being consistently undone by poor offensive support and a surprisingly bad bullpen. 

The June narrative, however, has been much different. 

While the rotation has shown a little resurgence recently, they just recently went 8 straight games without a quality start.  They have still contributed just 9 quality starts through the month’s first 25 games.  After Jack Flaherty’s shaky four innings last night, the rotation sits 8-8 in June with a 4.20 ERA.  They are allowing 1.20 home runs and 4.00 unintentional walks for every 9 innings pitched.

Meanwhile – after last night’s solid performance – the bullpen enters the last few days of June with a combined 3.27 ERA and a .224 batting average against.  By comparison, opposing batters are averaging just 0.92 home runs per 9 innings and 2.86 unintentional walks against this reviving bullpen – which has added 95 strikeouts over its 88 innings this month.

Emblematic of the renewed confidence of this unit was the fact that 14 of the 20 batters the bullpen faced last night saw first-pitch strikes (70%).  During the season’s first two months (that featured frequent control issues from the pen), they threw first-pitch strikes just 58% of the time.  This month, the relief corps is bringing strike one with 66% of their first-pitches.

While the recent four-game winning streak against two first-place teams was plenty encouraging – potentially the most important development to come out of a very hit-and-miss June might well be the re-emergent bullpen.

Jack Flaherty

The most disappointing aspect of last night’s loss was the return to earth of stellar rookie Jack Flaherty.  Even when the rotation was struggling this month, Flaherty was the one dependable anchor.  Through his three previous starts he had been particularly dominant.  During those previous 18.1 innings, he had allowed just 2 runs on only 6 hits.  Along the way, he struck out 26 batters.  His 0.98 ERA over those innings was matched by an .098 batting average against.  Batters missed on 36% of their swings against him in those games.

One of the few issues that Flaherty has had during his rookie season has been getting deep into games.  Last night’s game continued a couple of trends that have prevented Jack from lasting longer.

First, of the 20 batters he faced, only 12 (60%) saw first-pitch strikes.  For the month of June, he is throwing first-pitch strikes just 58.6% of the time.  For the season, that rate is just 55.0%.  At bats that begin with strike one are usually shorter.  At 4.20 pitches per batter faced, Flaherty throws more pitches per batter than anyone else who has pitched for the Cardinals this season except Alex Reyes – who threw 4.87 pitches per batter in his one injury-shortened start.

Jack also had a couple batters up in double play situations during that fateful third inning last night.  After Francisco Lindor led off with a walk, a double-play ball off the bat of Michael Brantley would likely have diffused the situation.  But Brantley’s double set up the damage to follow.  After a ground ball and an intentional walk loaded the bases, Jack was still in position to wriggle out of the inning with no damage done if he could get that ground ball.  As it turns out, he did get the grounder, but too softly hit.  Second baseman Kolten Wong got the force at second, but Lonnie Chisenhall was just quick enough to beat the return throw.  A run scored on that play, and another followed when Jason Kipnis’ flyball landed in front of Tommy Pham.

Even though there was considerable bad luck as a part of that inning, it still leaves Flaherty with just one ground ball double play this month in, now, 15 such opportunities.  Sometimes, there is just no substitute for that quick two outs.

Austin Gomber

First out of the bullpen last night – and the only Cardinal reliever to be scored against – was Austin Gomber.  Gomber is one of the young pitchers that I believe has a fine future.  His adjustment to the majors is – at the moment – just a little rocky.  He has now been scored on in 2 of his last 4 appearances, yielding 3 runs over his last 3.1 innings.  His season ERA climbs to 4.26.

During his major league stint, Gomber has been the easiest of the Cardinal pitchers to put the ball in play against.  Last night, of the 14 swings taken against Austin, 6 pitches were hit into play (42.9%).  This has been consistent with the rest of his brief career.  Of the 80 swings taken against him so far, 35 of them have put the ball into play (43.8%).  The overall team average this month is a more normal 35.3%.  The only two Cardinals to take the mound this month who have been put into play more frequently are infielders Jedd Gyorko (83.3%) and Greg Garcia (60%).

John Brebbia

One of the great “under-the-radar” stories in the Cardinal bullpen is John Brebbia, who I believe is deserving of more high-leveraged opportunities than he is getting.  He pitched the ninth inning last night, trailing by four runs.  He responded with another scoreless outing.  Twelve of his last thirteen outings have been scoreless.  Over the 13.1 innings represented by those games, John holds an 0.68 ERA with a .188 batting average against.  Of the last 53 batters he has faced, only two have managed extra-base hits (both doubles) – contributing to an opponents’ slugging percentage of .229.  He has 15 strikeouts over his last 11.2 innings – a span during which batters have missed on one third of their swings.

Brebbia is finding great success as a strike thrower.  Last night, he threw 9 of 12 pitches for strikes.  For the month, he is throwing strikes 69.1% of the time.  Of pitchers who have faced at least 20 batters this month, only Miles Mikolas (70%) is throwing more strikes.  Of pitchers who have logged significant time, Brebbia’s season-long average of 67.2% strikes is, again, second to Mikolas’ 69.3%.

John threw first-pitch strikes to 3 of the 4 batters he faced last night.  This month, he is throwing first-pitch strikes 84.4% of the time (38 out of 45).  He leads all Cardinal pitchers – regardless of number of batters faced – in first-pitch strike percentage for the season.  87 of the 115 he’s faced (75.7%) have seen strike one from John.

Major league batters are beginning to show a strong preference not to swing at John’s slider – even when it cuts through the middle of the strike zone.  Last night, the Cleveland hitters took 7 of John’s pitches – in spite of the fact that 4 of them were clear strikes.  Three of the four taken strikes were sliders – all pretty much in the middle of the zone.  For the month of June, 41.7% of the pitches that have been taken against Brebbia have been called strikes – the highest percentage of anyone on the staff who has faced at least 20 batters this month.  For the season, 39.5% of Brebbia’s pitches that are not swung at are called strikes – the highest on the staff for anyone who has faced at least 30 batters.  On average, less than a third of pitches taken are called strikes.

John gets very little attention, but he is starting to make this league look easy.

More Offensive Troubles

The hit and miss offensive show continued last night.  While there have been moments recently – and especially during the four-game winning streak – when it seemed that St Louis was on the verge of turning around the offense, June has still been a struggle.  Twenty-five games into the month, St Louis is still scuffling along with a .242 batting average for the month, and – in spite of the fact that they have hit 36 home runs in the 25 games – they are still averaging just 4.12 runs per game.  They finished last night with 1 run on 6 hits.

Jose Martinez

One of the curious aspects of the Cards’ recent offensive struggles is that they boast three legitimate player of the month candidates.  Jose Martinez continued his strong June with two more hits last night and St Louis’ only run batted in – he has 7 of those over his last four games.  He is now hitting .333 (26 for 78) his month with 4 doubles and 7 home runs.  In 21 June games, Jose has 20 runs batted in (he has 51 for the year) and a .654 slugging percentage.  Matt Carpenter (.319/.407/.660) and Marcell Ozuna (.347/.388/.611) are also having superlative Junes.

Tommy Pham

The well-publicized struggles of Tommy Pham (now hitless in 24 at bats) continued last night.  His latest 0-for-4 brought his season average down to .248.  For the month of June, Pham has now been 94 times to the plate.  All he has to show for those efforts is 16 singles, 3 home runs, 5 runs batted in, 3 walks, 23 strikeouts and 2 double-play grounders – a .209/.234/.308 slash line.  Tommy – who never struggled like this last year – is convinced that the problem is mechanical.

Dexter Fowler

Tommy has little on Dexter Fowler – whose entire season has been an anthem of frustration.  After his 0-for-4 last night, Fowler is hitting .167 for the season, and .130 for the month (7-for-54).  His hits are 5 singles and 2 doubles (a .167 slugging percentage).  In 60 June plate appearances, Fowler has no runs batted in.

Jedd Gyorko

And then there is the continuing question of Jedd Gyorko.  Reduced to part-time play – at least partially because that is how Mike Matheny feels he is best used, Jedd hasn’t been flourishing in any role.  After his 0-for-2 off the bench last night, Jedd has now played in 24 of the 25 June games – 12 as a starter and 12 off the bench.  He is slashing .170/.170/.298 as a starter and .167/.231/.250 from the bench this month.  Gyorko hasn’t gotten the press that Fowler, Wong, and now Pham are getting, but his missing bat is an important piece of the Cardinal puzzle.

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.