Tag Archives: Gyorko

Cards Hang On for Rare One-Run Victory

Every so often we see a glimpse of the team that the organization thought we would be this year.  We got one such glimpse last night, as a resilient offense erased two deficits – one a four-run deficit – to pull out a one-run, extra-inning victory.  These kinds of efforts, though, have been much more the exception than the rule.  St Louis is only 5-8 in extra innings, and 21-28 in one-run games (8-12 in the second half).

Although the run-scoring has slowed a little recently, the runs scored in the 8-7 victory (box score) kept the average at 4.97 since the All-Star Break.  That’s good, but increasingly this team is struggling to get hits.  They scored their 8 runs yesterday on just 8 hits through 10 innings.  During the month of September, the team batting average has fallen to just .235.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler has come back ready to hit.  He drove the team to last night’s victory, tying the game with an eighth-inning home run and giving the team the lead with a double in the tenth.  Dexter finished with 3 hits, and has had 7 in the three games since he’s returned to the lineup.  He has driven in 5 runs over the last 2 games, and almost had 3 home runs and 6 runs batted in over those games.

Fowler has only been healthy enough to play in 8 games so far this month, but is hitting .370 (10 for 27) and slugging .778 (5 extra base hits) when he has.  Fowler is hitting .340/.453/.617 in 28 games since coming off the disabled list.  After a forgettable first half, Fowler is hitting .299/.415/.500 in the second half – albeit in only 39 games.

Fowler’s tenth-inning double stood up as his tenth game-winning run batted in of the season.  He trails only Yadier Molina – who has 11 – for the team lead.  His two late, game-changing hits were his seventh and eighth such hits of the season.  No other Cardinal has more than 4.

If one-run games are considered character games – and I consider that they are – then Dexter is one of the few Cardinals who has consistently shown up in these games.  The Cards have played in 4 this month.  Fowler is 7 for 16 (.438) with a double, a triple, and 2 home runs (1.000 slugging percentage) in those games.  In those 4 games, he has scored 5 runs and driven in 6.

He has played in 13 of the Cardinals’ 20 one-run games since the break, hitting .353 (18 for 51) and slugging .588 (4 doubles, 1 triple, and the 2 home runs).  Even after his uneven first half, Fowler is hitting .277 (39 for 141) and slugging .596 in 37 one-run games this season.  Ten of his 17 home runs have come in games decided by one run.

Since most one-run games are fairly dominated by the pitchers, this kind of offense is impressive, indeed.

Kolten Wong

Troubles continued for Kolten Wong, now hitless in his last 11 at bats after his 0 for 4 last night.  Wong did get hit by a pitch, steal a base, and score the game deciding run in the tenth.  Even while struggling to hit, Kolten is still reaching base.

In his 8 games since being sidelined by a stiff back, Wong is only 3 for 20 (.150), but has 6 walks and 2 hit-by-pitches for a .393 on base percentage.  He is down to just .156 for the month (5 for 32) – although with a .341 on base percentage.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko is back in the lineup, but perhaps a little rusty from his layoff.  The hamstring injury has been just another complication in what has been trying second half.  With his 0 for 4 yesterday, Jedd is hitting .203 (27 for 133) since the All-Star Break.

Jedd has played in 40 of the Cards 49 one-run games.  He is hitting just .216 in those games (29 for 134) with 3 home runs and 16 runs batted in.

Stephen Piscotty

One-run games have come with particular difficulty for Stephen Piscotty – especially since the All-Star Break.  Overall, Stephen has hit much better since his return from Memphis.  Unless the game is decided by one run.

After his 0 for 4 last night, Piscotty is 0 for 7 in 3 one-run games this month, and .042 (1 for 24) in 9 one-run games since the break.  For the season, Piscotty has played in 34 one-run games, hitting .190 (19 for 100) with 2 home runs and just 7 runs batted in.

Brett Cecil

After two excellent innings in relief, Brett Cecil was asked to pitch a third inning when he went out for the sixth with the Cards clinging to a 5-4 lead.  A walk and a double set the stage for a couple runs to score.  With the damage, Brett’s ERA popped back over 4 for the season (4.04) and back up to an even 5.00 in 27 second half innings.

Tyler Lyons

At the end of the game, it was Tyler Lyons securing the last two outs and claiming the save.  In recent games, Lyons hasn’t been as dominant as he has been during most of the season.  Still, his ERA sits at 2.68 for the season – and 1.11 in 24.1 innings in the season’s second half.

Relief pitching is, perhaps, the most critical factor in winning one-run games.  Certainly much of the Cardinal’s futility in these games can be traced to the bullpen’s 4.10 ERA in the 49 one run games.

Lyons, however, has been one of the strongest bullpen links in these games.  He holds a 2.16 ERA and a .160 batting average against in 8.1 innings in the second half, and a 1.80 ERA with a .212 batting average against in 15 innings for the year in one-run games.

NoteBook

In falling behind 4-0, the Cardinals have gone three straight games without scoring first, and have done so only once in their last seven games (Tommy Pham’s first inning home run in the first game in Chicago).

Last night’s win gives the Cards opening game wins in 6 of their last 7 series – all except the series in Chicago.

Jack Flaherty’s abbreviated start brings to four the number of consecutive games without a quality start from the rotation.  They have only 2 in the last 8 games.  No Cardinal has thrown a quality start since Luke Weaver’s last start.

One day after I noted in passing the ongoing struggles this team has had in games where Chris Segal is calling balls and strikes, guess who will be behind the plate tonight?  He is likely to be the only umpire who will call five games for the Cards this season.

Battling Rays Too Much for Wacha

The runs – when they came against Michael Wacha – came in the third (4) and fourth (1) innings.  But the game may have turned with the first batter to face Wacha in the second inning.  Wacha allowed a single and a walk in the first – so he wasn’t dialed in even from the beginning of the game.  But he got out of that inning making just 17 pitches – not so bad.  When St Louis scored in the bottom of the first, Wacha took a 1-0 lead to the mound in the second.

There to meet him was Corey Dickerson with his .286 batting average and 24 home runs.  Not a hitter to be taken lightly.  Through the 11-pitch battle that ensued, Wacha threw everything but the kitchen sink at Dickerson.  Corey fouled off six of the eleven pitches, finally drilling the last one into right field for a single.  A subsequent single by Adeiny Hechavarria turned it into an early scoring chance.  Wacha escaped without damage, but the inning cost him 25 pitches, and, perhaps, softened him up for the four-run third inning that would follow.

The last five batters he would face last night – the last 3 of the third and the first two of the fourth – would extend their at bats to 6,5,6,7 and 10 pitches respectively.  For the game, 10 of the 21 batters to face Wacha lasted at least 5 pitches, with 8 of them making it to 6 pitches and 4 of those lasting 7 or more.  By the time Wacha’s night ended, the Tampa Bay hitters had fouled off 25 of his 94 pitches.

After falling behind early, the Cards made faint attempts at a comeback.  These all fell short as the Cardinals lost again, 7-3 (box score), their eighth loss in 11 games since their 8-game winning streak.

The 7-run, 16-hit battering at the hands of the Rays pushes the reeling Cardinal pitching staff’s ERA to a disastrous 6.08 over their last 15 games (6.03 from the starters and 6.17 from the bullpen), and the team batting average against to .313 (.330 against the starters).  For the 23 games in August, the team ERA sits at a disheartening 5.02.

Michael Wacha

After being an inspirational figure for much of the season, Wacha has hit the skids recently.  He has totaled 7.1 innings over his last 2 starts, and has managed just 12.1 innings while serving up 14 runs (and 4 home runs) over his last three starts.  Wacha is 0-3 with a 10.22 ERA, a .414 batting average against, and a .690 slugging average against in those games.  His ERA for the month has soared to 7.25.

Throughout his last three starts, Wacha has been hanging pitches early in the at bat.  The batters last night who jumped on his first or second pitch went 3 for 5 including Steven Souza’s moon-shot home run, and Hechavarria’s two-run double.  Over the three starts, batters hitting the first or second pitch are 11 for 19 (.579) with 2 doubles and 3 home runs (a 1.158 slugging percentage) against Michael.

Brett Cecil

The bottom of the ninth inning was robbed of much of its potential drama when Tampa Bay punched across two runs against Brett Cecil in the top of that inning.  To this point, what has been a frustrating season for Cecil just keeps getting worse.

Brett has now pitched in 9 of the last 15 games, serving up 9 runs in his last 7 innings.  His ERA for the month of August sits at 7.50, and since the All-Star Break, Brett has pitched 18 innings in 19 games with a 6.50 ERA.

Yadier Molina

As the Cardinal offense went quietly away for one of the few nights this month, Yadier Molina’s 7-game hitting streak went with it.  Before his 0-for-3 last night, Molina had hit .393 (11 for 28) with a .643 slugging percentage (4 doubles and a home run) during his streak.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko finished the evening 0 for 4.  His average falls to .217 for the month and .202 for the second half.  In fairness, Jedd has been hitting better of late – he had hit safely in the four previous games – as his knee improves.  A strong finish from Gyorko is not out of the question.

Patient Cardinals Grind Past Padres

Even before he hurt his hand in the fifth inning, the Cardinals came to the plate last night waiting to see if San Diego starter Jhoulys Chacin would get himself into trouble.  Jhoulys faced 27 batters before giving up the ball with two out in the fifth.  Twenty-one of the 27 took Chacin’s first pitch, and 17 of those didn’t swing until they had taken a strike.

Of the 21 batters that took Jhoulys’ first pitch, 11 ended up reaching base (5 hits, 4 hit batsmen & 2 walks – a .524 on-base percentage).  Only 3 of them ended up scoring, as the Cardinals failed to fully exploit their opportunities against Chacin.

Still, the aroused St Louis finished the game with 6 runs on 9 hits, 6 walks, and a team-record 5 hit batsmen in a 6-2 conquest (box score).  Their combined on base percentage for the game was .488.

Over their last 16 games, the Cardinals are averaging 7.13 runs per game and are hitting .309 with 67 walks and 15 hit batsmen.  This streak has pushed their August averages to 6.10 runs per game and a .290/.380/.487 batting line.  They are scoring 5.13 runs per game since the All-Star Break.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong celebrated his five-hundredth major league game with 3 hits, 3 runs scored and 2 stolen bases.  Kolten has been one of the principle drivers of this offense.  He has now hit in six straight, hitting .423 in those games (11 for 26).  Playing in 15 of the Cardinal’s last 16 games, Wong carries a .411 batting average (23 for 56), scoring 15 runs and driving in 13 in those games.  Wong is now hitting .392 (29 for 74) for the month of August, and .331 (40 for 121) in the season’s second half with a .399 on base percentage (although it has now been 10 games since Kolten’s last walk).

Last night, in five plate appearances, Kolten took the first pitch 3 times – finishing those at bats with a single and a double.  Since the All-Star Break, Kolten is hitting .447 (21 for 47) when he takes the first pitch of an at bat.

Jedd Gyorko

When Jedd Gyorko is looking good at the plate – and he has 5 hits and 6 runs batted in over his last 3 games – he is much more comfortable taking those first pitch breaking balls and waiting for that fastball later in the at bat.  That happened on both of his hits last night.  Over his last 49 plate appearances, Jedd has taken the first pitch 31 times with these results: 5 singles, 1 double, 2 home runs, 8 runs batted in, and 6 walks.  That adds up to a batting line of .320/.452/.600.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler reached twice with one of the hit by pitches and an intentional walk.  But, with his 0 for 2, his six-game hitting streak ends.  Dexter hit .409/.480/.636 during the streak.

Luke Weaver

With the Cardinal pitching staff riding a 12-game streak of allowing at least five runs a game, rookie starter Luke Weaver stood in the breach with seven dominating innings against the offense that scorched his team for 12 runs the night before.

Luke established his fastball early in the count, showing little concern with challenging the Padres.  Only 6 of the 26 batters he faced took him up on the challenge by swinging at his first-pitch fastball.  They went 0-5 with a walk, even though 4 of the 6 put that first pitch in play.  The last 14 batters to offer at Luke’s first pitch – almost always a fastball – are 0 for 12 with a walk and a sacrifice bunt.

For the season, batters who hit the first pitch against Weaver are just 1 for 9 (Arizona’s David Peralta dribbled an infield hit to second base).  Across all of baseball, batters who hit the first pitch of an at bat are hitting .346 and slugging .584.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh relieved in the eighth and lasted just two batters.  It was a microcosm of his recent struggles – equal parts bad luck and bad pitching.  Both batters reached, Matt Szczur – completely fooled by a slider – bounced a single up the middle off an excuse me swing.  Manuel Margot got a fastball up and out over the plate that he laced into right-center for a triple.

Things aren’t getting better for Oh.  He has pitched in 16 games (13 innings) in the season’s second half with a 4.85 ERA and a .315 batting average against.  I find the thought of him back in the closers role a bit concerning.

Tyler Lyons

On the heels of Oh’s struggles, Tyler Lyons entered and stranded the runner at third.  He struck out two of the batters he faced and got the other to pop out.

It seems the rest of the world is beginning to notice what I have been pointing out for some time now.  Tyler Lyons is becoming one of the most effective relief pitchers in baseball.  He is now unscored on over his last 16 games (14.2 innings).  The last 50 batters to face him have 3 hits, 4 walks, 2 hit batters and one sacrifice fly – a .070/.180/.116 batting line.

Tyler has struck out 11 of the last 25 batters that have faced him.

The idea of Tyler as the closer is, I admit, intriguing.  He doesn’t fit the profile, per se.  But no one is hitting him.

NoteBook

Wong and Tommy Pham began the game with doubles.  St Louis sent 42 batters to the plate last night. These were their only two extra base hits.

Eleven Runs Is Enough – Barely – In One-Run Victory

For the fifth time in their last 12 games, the St Louis Cardinals scored in double figures in a razor-thin 11-10 victory over Pittsburgh (box score).  It’s only the sixteenth time this century that the Cardinals scored ten or more runs and were still involved in a one-run game.  They are now 12-4 in those games.  This was the first such game since May 4, 2015, when they edged the Cubs 10-9.

Admittedly, they haven’t been battering the best of pitching staffs – a lot of the runs have been scored against Cincinnati, Atlanta and Pittsburgh – but the streak has been impressive.  And even though they didn’t throw up a lot of runs in the two games against Boston, they still put together grinding at bats and ended up with a lot of hits. These days the offense goes about its business with a lot of confidence.

Over the last 12 games they have scored 97 runs (8.08 per game) with a .325 team batting average and a .561 team slugging percentage.  With 3 more home runs last night, the Cards have drilled 18 in the last 12 games.  For the month, now, St Louis is scoring 6.53 runs per game and hitting .297.  In 34 games since the All-Star Break, St Louis averages 5.24 runs per game with a .279 batting average.

This is all very encouraging.  Still, one-run games present an on-going struggle.  Even with last night’s win, this team is 3-4 in August, 6-7 in the second half, and 19-23 for the season in one-run games.

Paul DeJong

If memory serves me correctly, Paul DeJong began the season as the Cardinals’ eleventh-rated prospect.  He didn’t make his big league debut until game number 47.  Last night was his sixty-sixth start of the season – now, exactly half of the Cardinal games.

I point this out to add some context to the fact that (after 3 more hits including a home run last night) DeJong is now sixth on the team in hits (81); tied for sixth in doubles (17); leading the team (by three) in home runs (19); and seventh in runs batted in (46) – all while spotting the rest of the team half a season’s head start.

Paul has been especially torrid of late.  With the hits last night, DeJong will carry an eight-game hitting streak into this afternoon’s contest, during which he has gone 16 for 33 (.485), with 4 doubles and 3 home runs (.879 slugging percentage).  He has also now hit in 13 of his last 14.  During this streak, Paul is 25 for 62, including 4 doubles and 5 home runs.  He is hitting .403, slugging .710, and has driven in 14 runs in his last 14 games – 10 of them over the last 8.  DeJong is now hitting .352 (and slugging .620) this month, and is up to .297 since the All-Star Break with 10 home runs.

I sincerely hope prospects 1 through 10 prosper as well as Mr. DeJong.

Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk chimed in with two hits for the second straight game, and scored two runs last night.  Grichuk has been very much a factor in the recent scoring binge.  Over the last 12 games, Grichuk is now 16 for 48, with 3 doubles, 2 triples and 2 home runs. He has hit .333 in those games, with a .604 slugging percentage, 9 runs batted in, and 10 runs scored.  Since the All-Star Break, Randal is 30 for 97 (.309) with 6 home runs.

Greg Garcia

With the red-hot Kolten Wong being given a day off, the Cards turned to Greg Garcia.  Garcia did hit best Wong impersonation, as he responded with 2 singles, 2 runs scored and a terrific play on a ground ball over the second base bag.

It’s hard, really, to tell how good Garcia could be if he got every day at bats.  Mike Matheny, though, has sought opportunities to get him starts.  With this start at second, and five starts at third, Garcia has started half of the last 12 games, and has contributed as consistently as anyone in the lineup.  He is 6 for 20 with 7 walks over the last 12 games – a .300 batting average and a .481 on base percentage.  Greg is hitting .302 in the season’s second half (13 for 43) with 9 walks – leading to a .423 on base percentage.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko’s second half slump continues to eat him alive.  After his 0 for 5 last night, Jedd has hit only .222 in 27 at bats over the last 12 games (of which he has played in 8 and started just 7).  Jedd is only 9 for 46 in August (.196), and has now fallen to .188 (19 for 101) in the second half.

Jedd has now played in 6 of the 7 one-run games this month.  He has three singles in 23 at bats, with 1 walk and no runs batted in – a .130/.167/.130 batting line.  Since the break, Jedd has hit just .154 (6 for 39) in 12 one-run games.  He has just one extra-base hit in those at bats (a double), and has just 2 runs batted in.  For the season, he is a .222 hitter (28 for 126) in one-run games.

Pitching Concerns

All of the recent offense has masked – to some extent – a pitching staff that is in a little bit of a free fall.  With last night’s extra excitement, the Cards have now given up at least 5 runs in each of the last 7 games.  The ERA for the month now sits at 4.60 with a .281 batting average against.

In the seven one-run games this team has played in August, the bullpen has now pitched 19.1 innings with a 5.59 ERA.  Over the course of the season, the Cardinal bullpen has a 4.00 ERA in the 42 one-run games they’ve played.  That kind of performance will almost always guarantee a losing record in one-run contests.

Matthew Bowman

Of all of last night’s pitching struggles, the most concerning may have been Matt Bowman’s.  Brought in in the ninth to protect a three-run lead, Matthew – whose command is one of his strengths – loaded the bases with two walks and a hit batsman.  Two of those runners ended up scoring as Pittsburgh nearly tied the game in the ninth without benefit of a hit.

Matthew has been fading a bit lately.  In the season’s second half his ERA is hovering at 3.75 through 12 innings, during which he has walked 5 and hit two.

Perhaps more troubling is the fact that last night was the sixth one-run game that Bowman has worked in since the All-Star Break.  He has lasted only 2.1 innings in those 6 games while serving up 4 runs on 3 hits (including a home run), 3 walks and 2 hit batsmen.  These batters have combined for a .300/.533/.600 batting line.  For the season Matthew’s ERA in 26 one-run games (covering 20.1 innings) is a concerning 5.75.

With Trevor Rosenthal out for a while, Mike Matheny will be turning to Bowman in the late innings of close games.  He will almost certainly get save opportunities.  This can’t be a situation he continues to struggle in.

NoteBook

With 22 runs, the Cardinals have already scored more runs in the first two games of this series than they have scored in any series since they scored 26 runs in four games against Miami from July 3 through 6.  This is, of course, if you consider the Kansas City series to be two, 2-game series.  The Cards scored 37 runs in those four games – 21 in the two played in KC, and 16 in the two played at home.

With 17 runs, the Cardinals have also allowed more runs scored against them in the first two games of this series than they have allowed in any series since that Miami series.  The Marlins scored 23 over those four games.

Three First-Inning Runs Hold Up for Milwaukee

First-inning runs almost never hold up.  In fact, one of the Cardinals favorite patterns from earlier in the season was to put two or three first-inning runs on the board and then shut down, waiting until their opponent wore through the lead and – eventually earned the victory.

Given the shaky recent nature of the Milwaukee bullpen, I felt all along that if the pitching staff could hold them there, our chances of eventually winning were pretty good.  Alas, it came not to pass.  Three first-inning runs were all they got.  And three first-inning runs were all they needed, as Milwaukee held off the Cards by a 3-2 score (box score).

The first run scored on a ground out from Ryan Braun, but after starter Carlos Martinez struck out Travis Shaw, the Cards were presented with a golden opportunity to get out of an inning that began with runners at second and third and no one out, allowing just the one run.  A two-out single from Domingo Santana made it 2-0.  That hurt.  But catcher Manny Pina delivered the clinching hit – launching Martinez’ two-out, two-strike, 100-mph fastball over the head of center-fielder Tommy Pham – delivering the third and final run of the inning.

As disappointing as that first inning was, the game ended with Milwaukee scoring just those three runs on only 5 hits.  Kudos, still, to the pitching staff.  Since the All-Star break, the team has maintained a 3.04 ERA.  Over the last 20 games, that ERA is only 2.78 with a .228 batting average against.

Carlos Martinez

While most of the rest of the pitching staff has been flourishing since the last two games before the All-Star break, presumptive ace Carlos Martinez has been more stumbling block than support.  Over his last six starts, Carlos is now just 1-3 (part of a 1-4 streak for the talented right-hander), with a 5.82 ERA.  He was 1-2 with a 5.90 ERA in July.

Martinez’ first inning struggles are beginning to gain some attention.  After yesterday, Carlos holds a 6.55 first-inning ERA.  During this inning, batters are slashing .284/.402/.519 against him.  Twenty-six percent of all the runs he’s allowed, twenty percent of all the hits he’s allowed, twenty-nine percent of the home runs he’s served up, and twenty-eight percent of the walks he’s given have come in that first inning.

From the second through the fifth, his ERA is a solid 2.35 with a .211 batting average against.  He begins to tail off again in the sixth.

These trends have been worsening lately.  In his four starts since the All-Star break, Martinez has been stung for 8 first inning runs (18.00 ERA) and a .429/.478/.810 slash line against him.  After that first inning, his ERA has held at 1.80.

Last night’s loss was Carlos’ ninth of the season, tying (already) his career high set last year when he was 16-9 (he is 7-9 so far this year).  Carlos’ career record is 41-30.

Moreover, the three runs allowed last night brings Martinez’ season total to 61.  His career high is the 68 he allowed last year.

Lack of any kind of consistent offensive support hasn’t helped Martinez.  Last night was the thirteenth time in his 22 starts that his offense failed to score as many as three runs for him.

More Good Bullpen Work

After posting a cumulative 2.17 ERA in July, the sometimes troublesome bullpen began August with four shutout innings last night, holding the game where the offense could still have a chance.  They gave one hit and two walks in those four innings.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia’s current scoreless streak (after his scoreless sixth inning last night) is 7 games (8.1 innings).  He hasn’t allowed an earned run in 14 games (15.2 innings).  His season ERA is down to 1.37.  Coming into the sixth inning of a one-run game is a fairly highly leveraged responsibility.  Little by little, the impressive Mr. Brebbia is earning more and more important innings.

In 13 innings this season before the seventh inning, John is unscored on, allowing just 3 hits.  Even though all the runs scored against him have come from the seventh inning on, his ERA in those innings is a still excellent 2.70.

Tyler Lyons

The evening featured another fine performance from Tyler Lyons, who seems to be very locked in.  He threw an inning and a third last night, giving no runs or hits – although he did walk his first batter in 10 games.  Tyler has not allowed a run in his last 9 appearances (7.2 innings), and has given only 2 hits in that span (.087 batting average), while striking out 11.  Tyler has struck out 9 over his last 5 innings with a swing-and-miss ratio of 30% of the swings taken against him.

Tyler pitched the seventh and got the first out of the eighth last night.  He has been very, very good in those innings this year.  He has totaled 16.1 innings in the seventh and eighth innings, with a 1.62 ERA, a .214 batting average against, and a .268 slugging percentage against.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman ran into a little more difficulty than usual closing out the eighth, allowing a hit and a walk.  But no runs came in.   Bowman held a 2.00 ERA in July and picked up in August where he left off.

The eighth has been Matthew’s most difficult inning to date.  In six “eighth innings” Matthew has been cuffed for 2 of the 4 home runs he’s allowed, and 9 earned runs – an 18.00 ERA.  To go along with a .387/.444/.645 batting line against.

Runs A Little Scarce Lately.

The impressive recent efforts of the pitching staff would normally be enough to push this team into a surge that would carry them into the division lead.  Unfortunately, a concurrent offensive brown-out has limited the good the club has realized from the good pitching.  St Louis is only 11-9 in their last 20 games.  The offense has managed more than three runs only 3 times in the last 13 games, and, in the 18 games since the All-Star break, they are averaging just 3.83 runs per game.

Except for the Fourth Inning

Last night’s fourth inning could have been better.  Pham led it off with a single and went to second on a ground ball.  With the four, five and six hitters coming up, the Cards were setting up for an inning.  The big inning never materialized (neither in the fourth nor any other inning last night), but the Cards did get the one run on a single from Yadier Molina.

Curiously, the fourth inning has been one of the team’s consistently best innings this year.  In the 18 games since the All-Star break, the Cards are hitting .329 in that inning (24 for 73), scoring 12 runs.  The only inning in those games that they’ve scored more runs in is the eighth (17 runs), and that was only on the strength of one 9-run inning against the Cubs.  Over the course of the entire season, the 67 runs scored in that inning and the .291 batting average in that inning are both the highest of any of the innings.

The Summer of Pham

Not much good happened offensively for the Cards last night, but Tommy Pham keeps on keeping on, with two more hits.  He scored one of the runs and drove in the other run.  Tommy has hit safely in all of his last 7 starts, going 10 for 25 (.400) in those games.  He led the team in batting average last month, hitting .344 (32 for 93) and slugging .591 (he finished with 6 doubles, a triple, and 5 home runs).  In 26 July games (24 starts), Pham scored 19 runs and drove in 19 runs.

Tommy’s RBI came on a fifth-inning single.  Pham (who singled and scored in the fourth) has done well as a part of the Cardinal fourth-inning surge – he is hitting .333 in the fourth.  But the fifth is his inning.  He is now hitting .419 in the fifth (13 for 31) and is now 5-for-5 in that inning since the All-Star break.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong had hits in the third and fifth innings.  He grounded out in the seventh and struck out in the ninth.  Kolten is a .333 hitter (44 for 132) before the seventh inning.  From the seventh inning on, his average drops to .208 (15 for 72).

Jedd Gyorko

The long slump of Jedd Gyorko continues.  Jedd was 0-for-4 with 3 strikeouts last night, and looked more than a little lost.  Over his last 19 games, the Cardinal cleanup hitter is batting just .152 (10 for 66) and slugging just .227.  Jedd hasn’t hit a home run since the first game after the All-Star break – 58 at bats ago.

Paul DeJong

Wonder rookie Paul DeJong is tailing off a bit.  He was also 0-for-4 last night.  Since the All-Star Break, Paul is hitting .225 (16 for 71) – albeit with 5 home runs.  Still, he’s gone 5 games without an extra-base hit, driving in just one run in those games.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter opened the game with a fly out.  He came up again in the third and struck out before walking in both the fifth and eighth innings.  For a leadoff hitter, Matt is curiously slow out of the gate.  He is only hitting .229 in the first inning this year (19 for 83) and just .215 in the first three innings (31 for 144), albeit with a .339 on base percentage and a .417 slugging percentage.  From the fourth inning on, he slashes .278/.409/.473.

NoteBook

Yadier Molina’s strike out last night was his fifty-fifth of the season.  In his previous 13 years, he has only struck out more than 55 times twice – 59 strike outs in 2015, and his career high 63 strike outs last year.

On the other hand, Molina has only grounded into 6 double plays so far this season.  Four times in his career he has bounced into at least 20 double plays – including 22 last year.  His career low for a full season is 10, which he achieved in 2005 and again in 2012.

Leake and Cardinals Keep Colorado Off Balance

The Colorado Rockies invaded St Louis last night a very hot hitting team.  They had scored in double figures in 5 of their previous 12 games, and were averaging 6.89 runs per game over their first 18 games in July.  For one night, at least, the Cardinals muffled that explosive offense, sending them back to their hotel with an 8-2 loss (box score).

Cardinal starter Mike Leake and his bullpen had great success in making the Rockie hitters work through their at bats.  Of the 35 Colorado hitters who came to the plate, only 11 hit the ball before seeing ball one.  Those 11 at bats averaged just 2.1 pitches per, and worked out well for Colorado.  They collected 6 hits in those at bats (.545), including Pat Valaika’s home run that accounted for all of their scoring.

But the other 24 who saw at least ball one during their plate appearance worked through an average of 4.54 pitches.  They met with much less success.  They went 1 for 23 (.043) with 1 walk and 9 strikeouts.  In general, the more comfortable the Colorado hitters felt, the better they did.

Starters on the Rise

Although Leake, himself, hasn’t been much of a contributor recently, his effort last night did continue a strong string of performances by the starting pitchers.  After Leake finished 7 shutout innings allowing just four hits and no walks, Cardinal starters now have 9 quality starts in their last 13 games.

Over those 13 games, the rotation is 6-2 with a 2.32 ERA and a .235 batting average against.  They have allowed just 8 home runs over their last 81.1 innings, while walking just 13 (1 intentional).

Unfortunately, through spotty offense and an inconsistent bullpen, the Cards have mostly wasted these performances.  They are 7-6 in those games.

Mike Leake

Welcome back Mr. Leake.  His first three starts this month had been anything but encouraging, as Mike managed to stay on the mound for only 10.2 innings through those starts.  He gave 9 earned runs in those innings – a bad enough 7.59 ERA.  But this was compounded by the fact that he allowed almost as many unearned runs (8), as he struggled to pitch around mistakes made behind him.  During those innings, batters hit .474 and slugged .719 against Leake.

All season, the deeper the at bat went, the better it has turned out for Leake.  Thus far, the batters whose at bat is over before they see ball one are hitting .324 against Mike (56 for 173), with a .331 on base percentage.  But, if Mike can get the at bat to at least ball two, the batting average against him drops to .196 (33 for 168).  Even though he would walk a few in the extended counts, his on base percentage is still lower at .310.

During July 63% of the batters that have faced Mike have ended their at bats before making it to ball two.  They have hit .429 (24 for 56).  Last night he did a much better job of staying out of the middle of the plate early in the count.  Only 5 of the 20 batters he faced hit before ball one.  They were 3 for 5 with 2 infield hits.  Everyone else was 1 for 20 last night against Mike.

John Brebbia

For all of the offense and the fine starting pitching, the shaky Cardinal bullpen had a chance to spit this game up as well.  Perhaps the most significant event to come out of this game was the fact that the bullpen didn’t blink when faced with the most pressure-packed moment of the game.

In the eighth inning, after Colorado had trimmed the lead to 6-2, they put two men on with no one out.  One of the runners belonged to John Brebbia (DJ LeMahieu with a fine piece of hitting had looped John’s slider into short right for a hit.

Now John would deal with Nolan Arenado.  After an intense 7-pitch contest, Brebbia recorded the first out of the inning, striking out the major league’s RBI leader.

Brebbia has been awfully good in every opportunity granted him.  His season ERA is down to 1.61 after last night.  It’s been 10 games and 11.2 innings since he’s allowed an earned run.

Kevin Siegrist

After Brebbia retired Arenado, it was Kevin Siegrist’s opportunity to get out of the inning – which he did, striking out Gerardo Parra and getting Mark Reynolds on a fly ball to center.  Since his return from the DL, Kevin has faced 13 batters.  One of them got a hit.  Another drew a walk.  The other 11 went down without reaching base – 8 of them on strikeouts.  Since his return, batters have taken 18 swings against Siegrist, and missed the ball with 10 of those swings.

For one night at least, Brebbia and Siegrist didn’t blink.

Tyler Lyons

The game was pretty well in hand when Tyler Lyons took the mound in the ninth.  He was, nonetheless, as impressive as any pitcher the Cardinals employed last night.  Tyler struck out the side, throwing 10 of his 11 pitches for strikes.

Tyler is unscored on in his last 5 outings, and in 9 July games holds a 2.84 ERA.

Offensive Contribution

The job of the pitching staff was made considerably easier by the offense which scored early and often.  With 8 runs scored last night, the Cardinals are averaging a healthy 4.70 per game this month.

Tommy Pham

The summer of Pham continues.  Tommy Pham added a single, a home run, two walks and two runs scored to his impressive month.  Tommy is now hitting .351 in July with a .662 slugging percentage.  In 20 games this month, Pham has 5 home runs, 16 runs scored, and 18 runs batted in.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong added a couple of hits to the surge last night.  He has 5 hits in his last 10 at bats (2 of them home runs) and is hitting .301 this month (22 for 73) and slugging .658 (8 doubles and 6 home runs).

Twice, Paul found himself in 1-2 counts, singling once and grounding into a double play the other time.  In the month of July, Paul is hitting .341 (13 for 41) and slugging .756 (5 doubles, 4 home runs) when his at bat ends before he’s seen ball two.

YadierMolina

It no longer bothers Yadier Molina to go deep into counts.  Last night was a good example.  He singled in the first inning on a 2-2 pitch.  He flew out on a 2-0 pitch in the third.  He doubled in the eighth on a 3-1 pitch.  He is 8 for 21 this month (.381) and 31 for 102 this year (.304) when hitting in two- or three- ball counts.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong hasn’t returned from the DL as hot as when he entered it, but he has still hit .286 (8 for 28) since his return after his two hit night last night.  Wong doubled for his first extra base hit since his return, and also drove in his first run since his injury.

Kolten’s double came on the first pitch thrown him in the fourth.  That is still Kolten’s strength – find something he likes early in the count.  He is hitting .310 this season (18 for 58) when his at bat ends before he sees ball one.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler walked and scored in the first inning.  Otherwise, he went 0 for 3.  Dexter is now hitless in his last 10 at bats, and hitting .224 (11 for 49) since returning from the disabled list.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko followed his 2 for 4 on Sunday with an 0 for 3 last night.  He is still having difficulty pulling out of his slump, which has now reached 13 games.  He is hitting .149 during those games (7 for 47 with only 2 extra-base hits), and is down to .210 for the month (13 for 62).

NoteBook

Last night was the first time in six game and just the second time in the last nine that St Louis never trailed at any point of the game.

Quintana’s Acts of Aggression Pay Off

The Cardinals had their moments against new Chicago lefty Jose QuintanaRandal Grichuk and Paul DeJong reached him for home runs.  Tommy Pham almost did as well.  Matt Carpenter was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a double.  Yadier Molina was thrown out stealing one pitch before DeJong’s home run.  Michael Wacha bunted into a double play to blunt another scoring opportunity.  Pham’s was one of three line drives that were caught.

The most notable aspect of Quintana’s game – to my mind – was his aggressiveness.  He only fell behind two batters 2-0 (and he walked both of those).  Everyone else got a strike (and usually a fastball strike) in the first two pitches.

Jose doesn’t have the overpowering fastball.  But that didn’t stop him from firing it in there.  In baseball, aggression always works – except when it doesn’t.  And while the end result for Jose could very easily have been much different, he ended up getting just enough run support and just enough plays made behind him to get the win.

That’s how it goes when you are the hot team.

For the Cardinals, it was their fourth loss in the last five games.

Jedd Gyorko

After getting just 5 hits in his previous 11 games, Jedd Gyorko came through with a couple of hits.  His first-inning double (the hit that resulted in Carpenter getting thrown out at first) was his first extra-base hit in 32 at bats.

Paul DeJong

DeJong’s little slump didn’t last long.  He had two hits – including a home run – and is having as fine a July as anyone.  He is now 20 for 68 (.294) this month with 8 doubles and 6 home runs – a .676 slugging percentage.

Randal Grichuk

Whether or not it will last, Grichuk certainly didn’t struggle to find his rhythm.  He finished the Cub series 5 for 11 (.455) with 3 home runs and 5 RBIs.

Luke Voit

While DeJong has re-discovered his groove, Luke Voit – whose playing time has been less regular – has not.  Luke took over for Matt Carpenter after Carpenter felt tightness in his leg, and went 0 for 3.  Luke is now hitless in his last 10 at bats, and 1 for 12 (.083) in the last 5 games.  For the month of July, his average has fallen to .220 (11 for 50).

In the fifth inning, Luke bounced Quintana’s first pitch changeup to second base.  In his brief major league career, Luke has hit the first pitch thrown to him 9 times.  He has one infield singled to show for them.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham didn’t get a hit, but he ended up in counts of 1-0, 2-2, 3-2, and 3-1.  For the month of July, Pham is hitting ahead in the count 47.5% of the time, and 42.7% of the time for the season.  As his vision seems to have been corrected, Tommy’s strike zone judgment has improved significantly.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler has now played in 13 games since coming back from his latest foot issue.  After his 0 for 3 last night, Fowler is a .239 hitter (11 for 46) and .326 slugger (1 double, 1 home run).  He has driven in 2 runs and scored 2 runs in those games.

Let’s point out, though, that for someone who hasn’t had a lot of hits, Dexter has been putting together a lot of pretty good at bats.  In his 52 plate appearances since coming off the disabled list, Dexter has hit ahead in the count in 26 of those (50%).  This includes 2 of his 4 last night.  That Dexter is only hitting .150 in those plate appearances (3 for 20) is evidence, perhaps, of some bad luck.  He has also walked in 6 of those plate appearances-including 1 last night, so his on base percentage since his return is a not so bad .346 when he gets ahead in the count.

Michael Wacha

Though last night wasn’t all he hoped for, let’s not forget how well Wacha has been pitching of late.  He had won 5 decisions in a row, and was 4-0 with a 1.01 ERA and a .189/.235/.221 batting line against over his previous 26.2 innings.  Before allowing two home runs last night, Michael had gone 141 at bats against him without yielding a home run.

Michael, in fact, pitched better than his final line.  All during the month of July, Wacha has been throwing that plus change off his downward-plane fastball to mostly devastating effect.  Last night he pitched from ahead against 8 of the 24 batters he faced.  They managed one hit and struck out 4 times.  For the month of July, when Wacha pitches ahead in the count, opposing batters are 2 for 36 (.056).

The only real damage done to him last night came when he fell behind hitters.  Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant both drove in third-inning runs on 2-0 fastballs.  Willson Contreras’ game-winning, two-run homer came on a 3-1 fastball.

Buyers or Sellers?

With the 4-6 road trip, the Cards stand at 47-51, 4.5 games behind the division co-leaders.  One could make a very compelling case for the Cards being sellers at the deadline – the most compelling argument being that 98 games into the season, the Cardinals are still a bad baseball team.  They have great, great talent.  Anyone who doubts their talent, just hasn’t been paying attention.  But their heart doesn’t match their skill.

After last night’s loss, manager Mike Matheny said: “We’re putting up some good, good games against some good teams.  It’s just that something is not letting us finish it, one way or another, whether it’s enough offense or enough pitching and defense.”

In other words, they are what I have been calling them for a while – the team that blinks.  The team that isn’t as mentally tough as the team that lines up against them.

That being said – being that they are only 4.5 games out – it is unlikely that they will sell.  And I think I’m OK with that.  Especially as it concerns Grichuk and Lance Lynn.

With Randal, I really want to see him play through this second half.  He’s been more of a tease these last two years, but there is enormous talent there.  Before we give it away for whatever we can get, I would like to see these last couple of months whether he can turn the corner.  He is under team control for a few more years, so we can always flip him next year if he doesn’t pan out.

The case of Lynn is a little more complex, as Lance will be a free agent at season’s end.  The team thinking – I think – is this.  We have a great many promising arms working their way through the system.  Of immediate note, Alex Reyes is expected to be back and in the rotation next year – so one of the current members of the rotation will have to give way.  Lance, of course, will want a long-term deal, and – with the numbers of pitchers on the way – the Cards don’t feel that they can make that kind of commitment to him.  They consider him a very good pitcher, but not as elite as the prospects on the way.

Over his last several starts, though, Lynn – in his first season back from Tommy John surgery – has been pitching like one of the top pitchers in baseball.  Can he sustain that?  Who knows?  But I, for one, am curious.  I would like to see Lance get the rest of the season to make his case.  To show that his future is as promising as many of the arms on the way.

If neither Grichuk nor Lynn prove to be parts of our future, then not moving them will be something of a lost opportunity.  But before we part with these two impressive talents, I would like to be more convinced of what we have or don’t have in them.

NoteBook

Last night the Cards played a rubber game on the road for the sixth time this season.  They have now lost five of them.

St Louis is now also 1-5 in rubber games against teams that won their previous series.

After going 6 for 12 with runners in scoring position on Friday, St Louis was 0-1 in RISP opportunities in both of the last two games.

Cards’ Big Inning Includes Five Hits with Runners in Scoring Position

As the season resumed following the All-Star break, the Cardinals began a ten-game road trip with swings through Pittsburgh and New York, losing four of the seven games – three in walk off fashion.  Among the many areas they came up short in during those games, the hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP) could definitely have been better.  Seven games into the second half of the season, the Cards had gone 13 for 55 (.236) in those situations.

Through the first seven innings yesterday in Chicago not much seemed to change.  They were just 1 for 5 with runners in scoring position at that point, and just 4 for their last 27.

So, as Tommy Pham came to the plate with Matt Carpenter at second and nobody out in the eighth, you might have thought that the Cardinals were overdue to make a little noise with runners in scoring position.  It is doubtful that anyone could have forseen the correction that followed.  The next ten batters all reached base (5 walks, 3 singles and 2 doubles), and before the inning had ended, St Louis had chalked up 9 runs on their way to an 11-4 victory (box score).  They finished the game 6 for 12 with 3 doubles and 6 walks with “ducks on the pond.”  The mini-explosion pushes the team average to .281 for the month, and .264 for the year with runners in scoring position.

They are now hitting a decent .268 for the month of July, scoring 4.76 runs during the 17 games played so far this month.

Dexter Fowler

It was encouraging to see a few hits from Dexter Fowler yesterday.  He returned from his latest DL stint on July 7, and marked the event with a home run. Since that game, Dexter had no extra base hits, no runs scored, and no runs batted in.  He broke all of those zeros last night, as his 3 for 4 night included an RBI double and a walk that turned into a run in that eighth inning.  The outburst pushed his average to .275 (11 for 40) since his return.

Dexter had been 0 for 14 since his return in RISP opportunities before he drove in Pham with a third-inning double.  Over the course of the season, Dexter has been one of the team’s better performers with runners in scoring position.  His 2 RISP opportunities yesterday bring him to 76 for the year, during which Dexter has contributed 10 singles, 3 doubles, 2 triples, 4 home runs, 26 RBIs, 13 walks (2 intentional) and 2 sacrifice flies.  This adds up to a batting line of .279/.395/.590.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter had no hits yesterday until he came up in the eighth inning as the lead-off hitter.  He finished the inning with two hits to round out a 2 for 5 night.  For the most part, things have been falling into place for Matt in July.  He is now hitting .345 this month (20 for 58) and .389 (7 for 18) since the team left Pittsburgh.

In Carpenter’s second at bat in the inning, he came up with the bases loaded and singled to drive in a run.  Carpenter is now 4 for 10 in July with runners in scoring position.

Tommy Pham

The summer of Pham continued unabated as Tommy Pham added a double and a single to yesterday’s mix. Tommy has now hit in 5 straight games going 8 for 21 (.381) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs (.762 slugging percentage).  He has also now hit in 9 of his last 10 – going 17 for 39 (.436).  He has scored 10 and driven in 10 in those games.  He is hitting .375 for July (24 of 64) and slugging .688 (6 doubles, 1 triple, and 4 home runs).  He has driven in 17 runs in 17 games this month.

Tommy’s 2 RBIs yesterday came on a single in that 9-run eighth.  Tommy is now 7 for 19 (.368) this month in RISP opportunities.

Jedd Gyorko

A revelation in April and May, Jedd Gyorko is scuffling in July.  He drew an important walk in that eighth inning (one of two walks on the day for Jedd), but otherwise went 0 for 3.  Jedd is hitting just .135 (5 for 37) over his last 10 games, and has no extra-base hits in his last 7.  He is now just 11 for 52 (.212) this month.

Jedd lined out in the third inning in his only RISP at bat yesterday.  Jedd is now hitting .133 (2 for 15) this month with runners in scoring position.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong has been back, now, for 8 games – 6 of them starts – and 21 at bats after yesterday’s 0 for 3.  Kolten walked twice yesterday – the first times he’s walked since his return from the DL.  He still has no extra-base hits and no runs batted in since his return.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez wasn’t at his absolute best – and the Cubs have always battled him pretty well – but he did fight his way through six innings allowing only 2 earned runs – this in spite of the fact that they finished with 10 hits in Carlos’ 6 innings.

But one thing Carlos can do – usually, even when he isn’t razor sharp – is pitch with runners in scoring position.  Yesterday Chicago had 11 shots at Martinez with runners in scoring position.  They finished just 2 for 10 with a walk.  For the season, batters with runners in scoring position hit just .173 (17 for 98) against Carlos.

Carlos didn’t get yesterday’s win, due – in part – to the offense’s continued neglect with their ace on the mound.  Yesterday was the twelfth time in Carlos’ 20 starts that the offense scored fewer than 3 runs while he was the pitcher of record.

Matthew Bowman

Here’s a surprise.  I pointed out in yesterday’s post how well Matthew Bowman has been pitching of late, and when he came in during the seventh-inning of a tight game, he didn’t immediately serve up a bunch of critical runs.  Granted, the only batter he faced tried to lay down a bunt, and bunted it right to him.  Still that makes 11 consecutive scoreless games from Bowman during which he has held batters to a .197 average and a .214 slugging percentage.  Of the last 30 batters he has faced, 57% have hit the ball on the ground, and only 1 of the last 41 batters to stand in against him has walked.

Kevin Siegrist

It’s only been three games since Kevin Siegrist has returned to the bullpen, but he has looked razor sharp.  In three nearly perfect innings, Kevin has allowed only 1 single and 1 walk.  Seven of the nine outs he’s recorded have come as strikeouts.  Batters have missed on 56% of the swings they have taken against him since his return.

Ninth Inning Disasters Continue

Beginning with two nearly perfect innings on June 13, Brett Cecil ripped off a string of 15 consecutive scoreless performances.  Over those games, Brett handled 15.2 innings giving just 7 hit and 1 walk.

As Cecil was putting together this impressive streak of scoreless innings, Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal took turns serving up games in the eighth and ninth innings.

After Oh served up the game-winning walk-off home run in the ninth inning of Friday’s game, manager Mike Matheny finally turned to Cecil in a closing situation yesterday afternoon.  Brett took the mound for the bottom of the ninth, holding a 3-2 lead.

Eleven pitched later, Brett had given up two runs on three hits and was walking off the field as the losing pitcher (box score).  He hadn’t allowed a run in more than a month, but when he did, it cost the team a game.

The Cardinals are snake-bitten in the ninth inning.

Cardinal pitchers have pitched 11.1 innings in the ninth inning this year when the team trailed in the game by one or two runs.  When it comes to keeping the team in the game so they have a chance in the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinal bullpen has been excellent.  They hold a 1.59 ERA in those innings, with a .211 batting average against.

For 11 innings Cardinal pitchers have worked the ninth inning with the game tied.  Here, they have been less proficient.  In those 11 innings, their ERA jumps to 4.91 (giving up 7 runs, 6 of them earned), including 3 home runs.

Cardinal pitchers have carried a one-run ninth-inning lead for 9 innings so far this year.  They have given up 5 runs on 13 hits and 3 walks while trying to protect that one-run ninth-inning lead – a 5.00 ERA and a .325 batting average against.

Cardinal pitchers have worked 34 innings this year in the ninth inning where they have been no worse off than tied, but not ahead by more than three runs.  They have responded to these closer-like situations with a 5.29 ERA, a .306 batting average against, and 5 home runs.  I’m sure these are not historic numbers, but they are black enough.

There are many things that the Cardinals have not done well.  Hemorrhaging ninth-inning leads is arguably the worst of their sins.

Which Leads to Another One-Run Loss

Yesterday’s games was a textbook example of how a team comes to be 13-17 in one-run games.  Offensively they passed up several opportunities to add runs – along with hitting into three double plays, and running into a fourth.  Mix in more ninth-inning trouble and just enough bad luck (Andrew McCutchen’s first-inning RBI single hit the second base bag, and Max Moroff’s home run hit the foul pole) and you have a developing pattern.

The bullpen has now thrown 94.2 innings of relief in the 30 one-run games the Cardinals have been involved in.  They have managed a 3-11 record with 12 saves, 26 holds, and 9 blown saves.  The bullpen ERA in one-run games this year is 3.80.  It has been a season-long issue.

Carlos Martinez

Speaking of developing patterns, Carlos Martinez pitched seven excellent innings yesterday, holding the resurgent Pirates to 2 runs on 5 hits.  But, it was the twelfth time in Carlos’ 19 starts that the offense failed to score four runs for him, and it was the third time already this season that Martinez had a lead squandered by his bullpen.

If one-run games are an indication of character, Carlos Martinez has been answering the bell.  Seven of his 19 starts have now been decided by one-run.  He has thrown quality starts in 5 of those games, fighting his way to a 2-2 record, a 2.35 ERA, and a .198 batting average against.  In 46 innings, Martinez has given 34 hits – 23 singles, 8 doubles, and 3 home runs – good for a .297 slugging percentage against.

Carlos has deserved a better fate so far this season.

In his three years in the rotation, Carlos has made 28 starts in games that have been decided by one run.  He is 9-3 in those games with a 2.99 ERA

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal hit a batter (Adam Frazier) in the eighth inning yesterday.  Frazier thus becomes the only batter to reach base against Rosenthal over his last 6 innings.  Yes, we just said this about Cecil, but Rosenthal has also pitched very well of late.  Over those last six innings, Trevor has struck out 11 and thrown 67% of his pitches for strikes (57 of 85).  Batters have missed on 42% of their swings against Rosenthal.

Magneuris Sierra

As you are probably aware, Magneuris Sierra set a Cardinal rookie record by hitting safely in each of his first 9 games.  Yesterday’s 4-for-4 performance included three infield hits, but they all count.  He is now hitting .444 on the season (16 for 36).  All 16 hits have been singles, although he has had multiple hits in 5 of the 9 games.

Sierra has now played in 4 one-run games.  He is 9 for 15 (.600) in those games.  He has also struck out 5 times in those games, so, in the first four one-run games of his career, Magneuris Sierra has only been retired once when putting the ball in play.

Matt Carpenter

As the second half of the season begins, Matt Carpenter’s bat has begun a bit of a revival.  With 2 hits last night, Carpenter has now hit in 6 games in a row (9 for 23) for a .391 average.  Through the first 12 games of July, Matt is hitting .325 (13 of 40).

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong added two hits yesterday.  Due to injuries, Wong has only played in 20 of the 30 one-run games the Cardinals have played, but he is now hitting .350 in those games (21 for 60).  Up until this season, Kolten was only a .244 hitter in 140 career one-run games.

Jedd Gyorko

As the season’s first half has melded into the second, Jedd Gyorko has hit a bit of a dry spell.  He is just 2 for 19 (.105) over his last 5 games after an 0-for-5 afternoon yesterday that included two ground-ball double plays.  This drops him to just .235 for the month.

After hitting .287/.341/.590 in one-run games last year, Jedd is only hitting .239/.301/.402 in them this year.

NoteBook

Of the now 18 times that St Louis has lost the first game of a series, they have come back to force a rubber game 9 times.  They are 4-5 in those rubber games.

Beware the Birds of Ambush

In claiming their third consecutive victory, the Cardinals are making a bit of a habit of “the ambush inning.”

Wednesday night, it was the fourth inning.  After Arizona’s Zack Godley set down the first 9 Cardinals to face him that night, St Louis ambushed him in the fourth.  The first five batters to face him that inning reached – three of them scoring.  The Cards would play from ahead all day, winning finally by a 4-3 score as Arizona’s ninth-inning rally came up short.

Thursday, it was the fourth, again.  Diamondback starter Patrick Corbin faced one over the minimum through the first three innings, but the Cardinals jumped him in the fourth.  Again, the first five batters reached, although this time only two managed to score.  That game ended up a 10-4 Cardinal victory, although it was much more back and forth than that score would indicate.

Then, last night, after missing a big opportunity in the first, the Cardinals ambushed struggling National’s right-hander Tanner Roark in the third.  This time, only the first four batters reached, but three of them scored.  The Cards never looked back on their way to a comfortable 8-1 victory (box score).

From time to time this season, the Cardinals have been a good on-base team.  Getting runners on base puts pressure on everybody.  Getting runners on with nobody out is even better, as it gives the offense many more options in getting that runner home.

I don’t have numbers league-wide for this, but charting the Cardinals and their opponents, runners that reach base with no one out end up scoring between 45-50% of the time.  Over the recent little surge, where St Louis has won 5 of the last 6, they have excelled at this aspect of the game.  Cardinals batting with nobody out are reaching base at a .443 clip, and after they reach, they are scoring 56% of the time.

Last night, 7 of the 15 Cardinals who came to the plate with no one out reached base, and 4 of them scored.

This has certainly helped open up the offense, which – thanks to the late surge – finished June scoring 147 runs in 29 games (5.07 runs per game).  They have scored 7.17 runs per game over the last 6 games (43 runs) during which time they have hit .282 as a team, with a .380 on base percentage.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina has been very much in the middle of the offensive turnaround.  He has played in 5 of the last 6 games, hitting .400 (8 for 20) with 7 runs batted in.  This, of course, is part of a longer stretch of success for Molina, who pushed his hitting streak to 15 games with his two hits last night.  During the streak, Molina is hitting .328 (20 for 61), with 3 home runs and 12 runs batted in.  He finished June with a .296 batting average.

His third-inning two-run single that started the scoring held up as the game-winning hit.  It is Yadi’s fifth game-winning hit this season.  Among Cardinals, only Dexter Fowler has more – Dexter has 7.

Molina was 1-for-1 batting with no one out, and 1 for 2 batting with one out.  The only time he hit with two out last night, he lined out to center to end the first.  Over the course of the season, Yadi is hitting .320 (56 for 176) when batting with less than two outs.  He is now 12 for 76 (.158) when hitting with two outs.  Of his 35 runs batted in this season, only 6 have come with two out.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko had what is starting to become a typical night for him.  He singled, doubled, walked, drove in a run and scored twice.  Jedd has now hit safely in 6 of his last 7 games (getting 2 hits in 3 of them).  During this stretch, Jedd has come to the plate 28 times, collecting 4 singles, 4 doubles, 1 home run, 9 runs batted in, six walks, 1 sacrifice fly, and only 1 strikeout.  That is a .429/.536/.762 batting line.  Gyorko’s season average is back over .300 (.302) as he finished June with a .290 average (27 for 93) with 4 home runs and a team-leading 18 runs batted in.

While striking out only once over his last 7 games, Jedd has now drawn a walk in 5 straight contests, and in 9 of his last 10 games.  All of this – the hitting the ball with authority to right field, the patience at the plate – this is a different Jedd Gyorko than we saw last year.

Gyorko singled off of Roark’s hand as part of that ambush third inning – it was his only at bat of the game with nobody out.  He is now hitting .318 this year with no one out (35 for 110).  That is the best average among season-long regulars.  Kolten Wong is hitting .407 with no one out, but he has missed a good chunk of the season with injuries.  Paul DeJong also doesn’t have a starter’s quantity of at bats, but he is hitting .342 with nobody out.

Tommy Pham

Another one of the igniters of the offense recently is Tommy Pham.  He brought the crowd to its feet with a stellar defensive play on the first hitter of the game, and followed going 2 for 4 with a walk and a run scored.  Tommy has a .350 batting average and a .480 on base percentage over the last six games.  Moreover, Pham has hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games, hitting .326 in that span (14 for 43) with 3 home runs, 7 runs batted in, 3 stolen bases, 11 runs scored and a .535 slugging percentage.

I would hate to be the one filling out the lineup card that doesn’t include Tommy Pham’s name.

It took a review to confirm it, but Pham beat out a two-out, seventh-inning infield hit that loaded the bases.  Pham now has a .414 on base percentage this year when batting with two outs.

Another Quality Start

Mike Leake’s excellent 8 innings (1 run 5 hits), gave the Cardinals six consecutive quality starts for the first time since mid-May, and 8 in the last 9 games.  Entering tonight, St Louis has yet to string together seven consecutive quality starts.

In winning 5 of the last 6, the starting rotation has contributed a 4-0 record, a 2.82 ERA, and a .235 batting average against.  As much fun as it’s been watching the offense of late, St Louis’ long-term success is tied to the effectiveness of its starters.

Mike Leake

After a four-start dry spell, Mike Leake has put together three excellent starts in a row.  At the point where you might have begun to wonder if the early season Leake was a mirage, he has given the team 20 innings over these three starts, allowing 5 earned runs on 14 hits – a 2.25 ERA with a .215/.284/.292 batting line against.  Of the 20 batters who put the ball in play against Mike last night, 17 hit it on the ground (4 of them into double plays).

The double plays proved to be quite important, as Mike is still showing a tendency to walk batters with no one out.  Last night, two of his three walks came with no one out.  Over his shaky month of June, 8 of his 12 walks came with no one out.   Five of the 8 ended up scoring.  For the season, Mike has only issued 13 no-out walks – with 8 of those coming home to roost.

As Aledmys Diaz Plays in Memphis

I suppose that it is possible that many Cardinal fans aren’t sure what to make of the demotion of Aledmys Diaz.  Several columnists and bloggers attending on the Cardinals have treated this event as some kind of watershed moment in Diaz’ career as it relates his future as a Cardinal.

And I can understand the reaction.  Most times in most organizations the demotion of a player who had been an All Star the year before would be a fairly catastrophic event.  But not in St Louis.  What Cardinal management has done over the last couple of years – and what they are seemingly becoming more comfortable doing – is a kind of re-definition of how the minor leagues have been traditionally used in the past.

In the past, the minor leagues have been a kind of finishing school.  A raw talent comes out of high school or college that is not quite ready to succeed against major league competition.  So he is sent to one of the myriad of minor league teams to get regular playing time and learn his craft.

And then, at some point, he “graduates,” if you will, from the minors.  It may take him a few trips back and forth as he makes the adjustment, but at the point where he becomes a regular on the big league team, he has become a “major league” ballplayer and ceases to be known as a “minor league” player.

At this point, it is assumed that the minors have no more to teach him, and that he has nothing left to prove there.  So, at this point, for this player to be sent back to the minors for anything other than a rehab assignment would commonly be viewed as a humiliating moment, signaling an absolute loss of confidence in that player and a permanent change of direction by the organization.

Last year, when the Cardinals did this to both Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk at the same time, that’s how it read to me.  The Cardinals had finally given up on two talented by frustratingly inconsistent players, and were moving forward with other options at second base and center field.  As it turned out, nothing could be further from the truth.  Both players were – and are – very much a part of the Cardinals’ future plans.

The change in philosophy was even more evident earlier this spring when Grichuk was sent down again.  He wasn’t being removed from the scene and dumped in the minors in the hopes that maybe he would figure things out.  He worked with a specialist – a strategist, I think they called him – a bat whisperer, if you will – to try to unlock the star player that was encumbered by the collection of bad habits and overthinking that Randal Grichuk had become.

I don’t know if there are other organizations out there that are doing this, but what the Cardinals have figured out is that the minor league system is good for more than just teaching prospects on the way up.  It can also serve as a kind of clinic for major league players.  It’s a place where they can get specialized, individualized attention.  Where areas of weakness can be addressed and where performance can be enhanced away from the glare of the major leagues.  A demotion like this isn’t something I think you’d see in response to a little slump (0 for 12 or something).  But if a player becomes lost, it becomes a viable option.

And lost is an apt description of Diaz.  In all facets of his game, he was not himself.  I expect that, like Wong and Grichuk, Aledmys is still very much a part of the Cardinal future.  But not the way he was playing now.  My expectation is that people will now work with Aledmys – rebuild him, even – and that sometime before August he will be back at shortstop, and looking more like the Diaz we remembered from 2016.

The broader message to the rest of the Cardinal roster is that if you start to struggle and you still have options left, you won’t necessarily continue to struggle at the major league level.  This management is becoming more and more comfortable with writing you a prescription for the Memphis Clinic.

This kind of attention and work can’t possibly be given by the major league team.  The season won’t stop and wait for this.  But the minor league setup is structured to do this very thing.  Kolten Wong came back a better player.  The sample size on Randal Grichuk is still pretty small, but it looks like he may have made a breakthrough as well.

There is no reason not to expect similar improvement from Diaz.