One of the healthiest signs of the Cardinals’ recent resurgence (and they’ve won 7 of their last 9) is how they have started to respond after a loss. It’s a number I keep an eye on. Every team (except maybe Cleveland) loses a game now and then. That’s baseball. But teams with character tend to respond the next day. One of the principle things that separate contenders from second-division finishers is the ability to stay out of losing streaks and return quickly to their winning ways.
This was a pronounced problem for this team through most of the year. They began the year with three consecutive three-game losing streaks. They fought their way out of that hole with a six-game road winning streak in early May to pull themselves into first place – only to promptly lose 18 of their next 25 games, including losing streaks of 3, 4, and 7 games. After a surprising 8-game winning streak in early August thrust them back into a tie for the division lead, they went on to lost 9 of the next 14 games – a stretch that included two more 3-game losing streaks.
This is part of the long-standing concern I’ve had with the character of this ball club. Do they have the strength of will to stand up and stop the losing trends before they wreck the season?
Among the many changes in the team since August faded into September is a new resilience. Now, with a clubhouse full of untested rookies, this veteran, mostly underachieving team, has suddenly re-discovered its toughness.
With last night’s 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh (box score) as an answer for the previous night’s shutout loss in San Diego, the Cardinals have now stopped all of their last four losing streaks at one game. They are now 15-8 after a loss since the All-Star Break, and have finally pulled to 35-33 on the season after losing the game before.
As usual – recently, anyway – it was Cardinal pitching that led the way. With rookie Luke Weaver and four relievers (two of them also rookies) showing the way, the Cards have now gone 7 straight games without allowing more than four runs (you may remember that they went 12 straight games in August allowing at least 5 runs a game). Over their last 12 games, they have given more than 4 runs only twice, while posting a 2.44 ERA.
In the beginning of the season, we thought that our pitching was going to be the equalizer. For most of the season, that has not proved to be the case. But as we come down the stretch, the arms are proving to be the advantage that we hoped they would be.
The evening was highlighted by another impressive performance from Weaver, who won his fifth-consecutive decision. He allowed 7 singles over 5.2 innings, but no runs. Since his recall from Memphis, Luke has pitched in 5 games (4 starts) with a 1.32 ERA over 27.1 innings, and a .230/.280/.320 batting line against. Luke is making a strong case that he is done with the minor leagues.
Even though Lance Lynn has been “the horse” of the staff in the season’s second half, due to lack of run support, St Louis has lost all of his last three starts, which means the burden of putting a halt to the losing streaks has rested firmly on the young shoulders of Mr. Weaver. He has not blinked, going 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA in those games.
Since the All-Star Break, Luke has pitched in 6 games (5 as a starter) with a chance to stop a losing streak. He is 5-0 with a 1.60 ERA in those games. All of his victories this season have come after a Cardinal loss. In fact, all 6 of his career wins have followed Cardinal defeats.
Other Starters After A Loss
As in most other categories, Lance Lynn is distinguishing himself when given the opportunity to stop a losing streak – especially in the season’s second half. Since the break, Lance has gone to the hill 6 times after a Cardinal loss, providing 5 quality starts, a 3-0 record, and a 2.23 ERA. For the season, he has been a solid 5-3 in 13 such starts, with a 3.60 ERA. In the two years prior to the elbow surgery that cost him all of 2016, Lance had made 28 starts after a Cardinal loss, going 14-9 with a 2.54 ERA.
There is a significant amount of statistical evidence that supports Lynn as one of the top echelon pitchers in the National League. With so many of the pitchers that we are counting on next year being either exceedingly young (Weaver, Alex Reyes, Flaherty, Alcantara) or decidedly injury prone (Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha), the Cardinals might be well served to make an effort to hold on to a top of the rotation starter. One of my favorite posts of the year dealt with Lance’s toughness. He has only gotten more valuable to this team as the season has progressed.
Carlos Martinez has been more up-and-down this season than management would like, but over the course of the entire season, he has responded better than any other Cardinal pitcher after a loss. Carlos has made 10 such starts this season, producing 8 quality starts, a 4-3 record, a 2.51 ERA, and a batting line against of .196/.276/.290. In 68 innings following a Cardinal loss, Carlos has struck out 72 and allowed just 4 home runs.
Over the last two seasons, Carlos has had 24 opportunities to play stopper. He is 12-6 with a 2.67 ERA in those games.
Wacha and Wainwright have lagged a bit in this category. Both have made 12 such starts, and both have managed just 5 quality starts, with ERAs of 4.76 and 5.32 respectively. Their won-lost records, though, have both been solid. Wacha is 5-3 and Waino is 7-3 in those games.
Over the last three years, Wacha has pitched in 36 games (35 starts) following a Cardinal loss. His ERA in those affairs (in 198 innings) is only 4.64. He is, however, 15-8.
Dating back to his first year in the rotation (2007), Adam Wainwright has pitched in 137 games (134 starts) after a Cardinal loss. He is 70-34 with a 3.48 ERA in 882 innings in those games.
As John Brebbia’s rookie season winds down, his effectiveness is becoming more hit and miss. Yesterday, he allowed the only walk surrendered by a Cardinal pitcher, and watched Pittsburgh turn it into the only run they would score that night. John has now allowed a run in 3 of his last 7 games – totaling 6.2 innings. In those innings he has 9 strikeouts (a higher rate than through most of the year), and has allowed only 5 hits. But he has also walked 3 batters, hit another, and given 4 extra-base hits (including a home run).
A taught game turned last night – as they so often do – on one key hit in a big situation. To nobody’s surprise, that hit came – again – off the bat of rookie Jose Martinez. St Louis finished the evening with only 5 hits as the offense has begun to cool a bit. But 2 of the 5 belonged to Martinez, who pushed his hitting streak to 10 games – even though he has only started 8 of them. Jose is 15 for 31 (.484) during the streak, with 3 doubles and 3 home runs – an .871 slugging percentage. Furthermore, since taking possession of the clean-up spot six games ago, Martinez is hitting .500 (11 for 22) with a 1.045 slugging percentage. In his last 6 games, Jose has scored 6 runs and driven in 8. In 39 games (21 starts) since the All-Star Break, Jose is hitting .360 (32 for 89), with 5 doubles, 8 home runs, and a .685 slugging percentage.
If it were me, I would make the other pitchers in the league prove to me that they can get Jose out before I would think about removing him from the line-up.
With competition of playing time heating up, Randal Grichuk has picked an inopportune time to go into a bit of a tailspin. With his 0 for 4 last night, Randal is down to .180 (50 for 107) over his last 15 games.
Randal is one of the players who hasn’t been especially productive in games after a loss. He is now down to .199 for the season (32 for 161) in 45 games after a loss. This includes a .177 average (11 for 62) in the second half. For his career, Grichuk has played in 178 games (140 as a starter) after the Cards had lost the game before, getting 575 at bats in these games. He has hit 28 home runs and driven in 78 runs – including the game-winner 8 times. But he is also hitting just .228 in those games with 197 strikeouts.
With Matt Carpenter back in the lineup, St Louis didn’t need Alex Mejia to play third last night. So they moved him to shortstop instead. Alex responded with an 0 for 3 with 2 strikeouts. Alex is 1 for 17 (.059) with 9 strikeouts since his call-up.
Elimination Season Continues
With last night’s 5-4 win by Colorado over the Dodgers, San Francisco and Philadelphia were mathematically eliminated from playoff consideration. They become baseball’s first two teams to be officially eliminated from everything this year.