Tag Archives: Jose Martinez

Cards Win in Highest Scoring Game of the Season

To say this was not the White Sox’ finest hour would be a significant understatement.  The final score (14-2 Cardinals) was indicative enough (box score).  Worse was the fact that much of the damage came at their own hands.  With 8 walks and an error added to the 16 Cardinal hits, St Louis didn’t lack for scoring opportunities. Five of the Cardinal runs – including 4 of the 7 they scored in the decisive sixth – reached base with walks.  St Louis scored runs on a passed ball, a wild pitch, and a bases loaded walk.

In truth, the route could have been even worse, as the Cardinals – very torrid recently with runners in scoring position – were only 4 for 17 in those circumstances.

And, of course, when the young White Sox’ pitchers did throw the ball over the plate, the Cards hit it with authority – their hits including 3 doubles and 2 home runs.  As a result of the outburst, the Cards are now hitting .291 as a team this month, scoring 59 runs in the 9 games so far.

It has been their most sustained offensive show since April.

In this one, everyone in the lineup made a contribution.

Kolten Wong

After spending almost all of the season’s first half hitting below .200, Kolten Wong is suddenly a man on fire.  He has hit safely in all of his last 5 starts, getting multiple hits in the last 4.  After his 4-for-5 effort last night (which included a double and a home run) Wong is hitting .579 (11-for-19) in those last 5 starts, with a .947 slugging percentage. 

Jose Martinez

Slumping a bit when the calendar turned to July, Jose Martinez (3-for-4 last night) now has consecutive 3-hit games.  These have pushed his July average back up to .321 (9 for 28).

Jose was 1-for-2 with runners in scoring position last night – his single driving home Matt Carpenter in the third.  Martinez leads all Cardinal regulars in batting average with runners in scoring position at .322 (28 for 87).

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter pushed his average into the rarefied air of the .260s with two more hits last night.  Even so, he is still missing opportunities with runners in scoring position. 

He ended the fourth by striking out with Wong at second base (the lead was only 3-2 at that point).  In the sixth he walked with runners at first and second and no one out – a walk that helped set the stage for the 7-run inning.

Carpenter is now 13 for 55 (.236) on the season with runners in scoring position – although he now has 20 walks and a .429 no base percentage in those situations.

Paul DeJong

With 2 hits last night, Paul DeJong now has a small six-game hitting streak, going back to the last two games before his injury.  It hasn’t been a terribly loud hitting streak, but he is hitting .292 (7 for 24).  Last night was the only multi-hit game in the streak.

DeJong also had RISP chances, but went 0-for-2.  For the season, DeJong is hitting just .238 (10 for 42) when he’s had RBI opportunities.

Good News From the Rotation

While the 14 runs and 16 hits grabbed the attention, there has also been an encouraging trend in the rotation.  After a struggling June which saw the rotation endure an eight-start stretch without a quality start, Miles Mikolas’ 6 efficient innings last night provided the Cards with their sixth quality start in the last eight outings.  Over the last 8 games, the rotation has provided a 3.23 combined ERA.

Mikolas now has 13 quality starts in his last 16 games.  He is 9-3 with a 2.26 ERA over those games.

Brett Cecil

Still not entrusted with important moments, Brett Cecil entered in the seventh with a 9-run lead.  He threw another fine inning.  He has now not allowed an earned run over his last 9 games (9.1 innings). He has allowed just one extra-base hit (a double) to the last 38 batters he’s faced.

Greg Holland and John Brebbia

In a footnote to the game, both Greg Holland and John Brebbia threw scoreless innings.  For both it broke a string of three consecutive games in which they had allowed runs – they were jointly responsible for 5 of the 13 runs San Francisco scored in the last game of that series.

For both, it must have been a relief.

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.

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.

More Chances Elude Cards

Suddenly trailing 3-2 in the eighth inning, and now facing the electric stuff of Milwaukee left-hander Josh Hader, Jose Martinez fanned the Cardinal hopes with a leadoff walk.  He thus became the fifth Cardinal to reach base in yesterday’s 3-2 loss (box score) with no one out.

Last year, Cardinal runners who reached base with no one out scored 51.5% of the time.  So far this year, that number has been similar – 50.8%.  But during the general offensive brown-out that has characterized this month, even though St Louis hitters are reaching base at a .369 clip with no one out, only 45.8% are scoring.  And true to form, while Martinez made it to second in that inning, he watched from there as Yairo Munoz struck out to end the inning.  Seven of the Cardinals’ nine offensive innings ended with a strikeout.

With one game left in May, the Cards are managing a halting 3.88 runs per game this month with a disappointing .244 team batting average.  They have been one of baseball’s best teams with no one out.  They are hitting .287/.369/.489 this month before the first out.  But after the first out, the succeeding hitters are hitting just .219/.280/.338.  Over the last eight games, as the offense has ground to 3.13 rpg halt while managing just a .298 team on base percentage, this team has still hit .317/.361/.525 with no one out, but only .211/.261/.283 once that first out has been recorded.

While Wednesday’s game was notable for the return of top prospect Alex Reyes (who did well in his four innings), by the end of the day, this game looked like so many others the Cards have lost this season – late inning bullpen collapses and unrealized offensive opportunities.  St Louis went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position, and left 10 runners on base – 6 of them in scoring position.  Of the last 90 Cardinals to bat with two outs, 31 have struck out.

The team with the shaky bullpen can’t afford to miss too many scoring chances.

Jose Martinez

The game ended with Martinez striking out with runners at first and third.  It was Jose’s only opportunity to hit with runners in scoring position all day.  His has been one of the most important missing bats (along with Tommy Pham’s) as the offensive troubles have lately returned.  Martinez is 0 for 9 over the last three games, and is hitting just .222 (6 for 27) over the last 8 games.  He has one extra-base hit (a double) over his last 30 plate appearances.

Tyler O’Neill

The Cardinal’s other top prospect in the lineup – Tyler O’Neill – was their other 0 for 4. Batting right behind Martinez, it gave the Cards an 0-for-8 day from their three and four hitters.  Tyler provided an offensive jolt upon returning from Memphis – hitting home runs in three consecutive games at one point.  Over his last four games, Tyler is 0-for-11 with 8 strikeouts.  He has 2 singles in his last 19 at bats (.105) with 13 strikeouts.

Yairo Munoz

If there is no shortage of bad Cardinal offensive news, there have also been a few bright spots.  One of these is Yairo Munoz.  The star of spring training, Munoz began the season on the roster but was returned to Memphis as he struggled out of the gate.  Returning about the same time O’Neill did, Yairo has returned to his spring form.  With 2 hits yesterday, Munoz now has a five-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .412 (7-for-17).  He has also hit safely in all of his last 7 starts, hitting an impressive .480 (12-for-25) in those games.

This production has entrenched him at shortstop for the moment.  When Paul DeJong returns, this could set up another difficult lineup decision.  The athletic Munoz can also play second, so if Kolten Wong’s production doesn’t pick up, Yairo could see some time there.

Alex Reyes

For all of this, the headline yesterday was the removal of starting pitcher Alex Reyes after four innings and 73 pitches.  There was a momentary loss of velocity, which sent a ripple of concern through the Cardinal dugout.  Alex certainly didn’t breeze through the Brewers the way he did through the minor leagues, but some of this was to be expected.  After the long absence and the unusual hype connected to his return, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alex didn’t quite feel like himself on the mound.

I’m pretty sure he will be OK.

The larger story is that his solid four innings (no runs on 3 hits) continues the excellent month of May this team has received from its starters.  With one game left in the month, St Louis’ rotation holds a 2.72 ERA and has surrendered only 10 home runs in 149 innings (0.6 per 9 innings) while holding opposing batters to just a .220 batting average and a .308 slugging percentage.  Of the now eight pitchers who have started games for the Cards this month, five of them have ERAs below 2.25.  These pitchers (who seem to be the front-runners in the rotation discussion once everyone is back and healthy) are Reyes (0.00), Jack Flaherty (1.40), Miles Mikolas (1.89), Michael Wacha (2.02) and Carlos Martinez (2.19).

All of this gives one a sense of why the Cardinals are so excited about the prospects of their rotation – now and for a long time to come.

The Bullpen

The worst part of Alex’ early exit was it left five full innings to be covered by the Cardinal bullpen.  This is not usually a formula for success.  After Reyes left, the bullpen combined to allow 3 runs on 7 hits and 4 walks in what only proved to be four total innings (since Milwaukee wasn’t required to bat in the ninth).  Cardinal relievers have now pitched 90 innings this month with a 5.10 ERA.  They have now served up 12 home runs in those innings – a 1.20 per nine-inning pace that is exactly double the rate of the starters this month.

Fifty-three games into the season, and the bullpen mess is no closer to being solved.

Tyler Lyons

Last year, Tyler Lyons gained increasingly more important roles in the Cardinal bullpen as he finally seemed to have moved past his early career tendency of serving up home runs.  After getting dinged for 12 in just 60 innings in 2015, and 9 more in 48 innings the next year, Tyler worked through 54 innings last year, serving up just 3 home runs.

When Christian Yelich unloaded on the only pitch that Lyons threw yesterday – the long home run to center that tied the game at 2 – it marked the third home run that Tyler has allowed already this year (in just 12 innings).

In the tribute to Murphy’s Law that has been the Cardinal bullpen this year, Tyler Lyons has been as snake-bit as any of them.  Management clings to the fact that all of these pitchers have much better track records than they’ve shown so far.  They believe that there is a top-notch bullpen in there somewhere.

But as the division starts to tilt away from them, the urgency to find answers increases.

Early Concerns on the Road

After a fairly tepid start, the Cardinals burst back into contention with an 8-1 run (April 12-22).  At that point, they were, in fact, tied for the division lead.  This was, of course, encouraging – said encouragement tempered by the fact that 7 of the 8 wins had come at the expense of the struggling Cincinnati Reds.  With series against contending teams in New York and Pittsburgh coming up (the Mets series at home and the Pirates on the road), it was anticipated that this stretch would be a better measuring stick than the games against Cincinnati.

For those of us less sold on this team as contenders, the results mostly supported the hypothesis – with St Louis losing 4 of the 6 games.  The most telling of these games were the three losses in Pittsburgh.

In their 16-12 start, the brightest and most consistent aspect of the club has been the pitching staff.  After last night’s 3-2 win (box score), the Cards rank fourth in the NL with a 3.37 team ERA.  As the pitching was an area of primary concern (at least for me) entering the season, this would seem to be good news indeed.  Inside the numbers, though (and especially during the sweep in Pittsburgh) there seems to be cause for continued concern.

With early season temperatures in St Louis averaging less than 60 degrees (59.4 to be exact), this pitching staff has been prospering at home (remembering that under the best of conditions, Busch Stadium plays strongly in the pitcher’s favor).  After last night’s win, the Cards are 8-5 at home with a 2.74 team ERA.  Opponents are hitting .220 against the Cardinal pitching staff at home, with just 7 home runs in 125 innings.  Perhaps most stunning, only 2 of 21 inherited runners at home have come around to score (an amazing 9.5%).

The numbers on the road have been less encouraging.

The Pirate Sweep

During the three games in Pittsburgh (in temperatures that averaged a frosty 50.3 degrees) the Pirates took full advantage of the still-suspect Cardinal pitching staff.  They ended the 3-game series with 17 runs scored (15 earned for a 5.06 ERA) and a .286 batting average against Cardinal pitchers.

Most under the microscope was the piecemeal bullpen.  Their numbers in the sweep are most telling.  In 9.1 innings of work, the Pirates compiled 8 runs (6 of them earned – a 5.79 ERA) on 14 hits (a .333 batting average against).  There were also 8 walks (6 unintentional) in those innings and two batters hit by pitches (a .444 on base percentage).  Of the 13 runners the pen inherited, 6 scored (46.2%).

And, of course, both leads that they inherited were surrendered.

Continuing Trends

Of course, too much can be made of any one series.  Every pitching staff will endure at least one such series during the season.  In the Cardinals case, though, the Pittsburgh series continued a pronounced early season trend.

Now 8-7 on the road (4-7 not counting the games in Cincinnati), the team ERA is almost one and a quarter runs higher there (3.97).  While the innings count is close (125 innings at home and 131.1 innings on the road), the team has served up more than twice as many home runs on the road (15) than they have in the comfy confines of Busch (7).

And the pen?

Soberingly, it has been the arms most depended on.  It has been Matthew Bowman (6.1 innings, 5 runs on 9 hits), Tyler Lyons (4.2 innings, 4 runs on 7 hits), and Greg Holland – who has only managed 3 innings in 5 road appearances.  During those 3 eventful innings, Holland (brought in to be the ninth-inning answer) has faced 21 batters, giving 6 runs (5 earned) on 8 hits and 3 walks.

I highlight the word concern used in the previous paragraphs.  In baseball, it is always early until it isn’t.  All of these troubled pitchers have ample opportunity to reverse the narrative.  But as I wondered openly at the outset of the season whether this team could trust its bullpen, the early results have not allayed my fears.

Tommy Pham

While the Cardinals as a whole have hit only .207 as a team since Cincinnati left town, Tommy Pham headlines a very short list of Cardinals who haven’t missed the pliant Red pitching staff.  With last night’s home run, Pham is hitting .385 (10 for 26) with 5 of the hits for extra bases (3 doubles and 2 home runs) good for a .731 slugging percentage over the last 7 games.  This includes going 7 for 10 against the Mets.  Tommy begins the day leading the National League (narrowly) in batting average.  He is clearly following up strongly after his break-through 2017 season.

If this weren’t encouraging enough, last night’s home run was already his third at home this season.  Last season 17 of his 23 home runs were hit on the road, leading to a concern that Busch may be a bit too spacious for Tommy (as, indeed it seems to be for many hitters).  Last season, Pham hit .340/.431/.611 on the road – superstar numbers.  At home, he was a much more pedestrian .265/.388/.410.  So far this early season, Tommy’s batting splits slightly favor his home field (.333/.441/.611 vs .339/.448/.482).

Kolten Wong

Also heating up in the post-Cincinnati era is second-baseman Kolten Wong.  One of the Cards who started off the season ice cold, Kolten has had some hits start to fall in lately.  With yesterday’s 1-for-2, Wong is hitting .333 over the last 7 games (7 for 21).

Jose Martinez

On the other end of the ledger is 2017’s other break-out star – Jose Martinez.  After a torrid start to the season, Jose is only 5 for 26 (.192) in the wake of the Reds’ series.  In the early going, frosty Busch seems to have gotten the best of Jose.  Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Jose has now had 19 plate appearances at home over the last two series (Mets and White Sox).  He has contributed 2 singles, 1 double, 1 walk and one double play in those appearances (a slash line of .167/.211/.222).  In 13 home games so far in 2018, Jose is hitting .224 (11 for 49) with 1 home run and 7 runs batted in.

Matt Carpenter

Hitting into a bunch of bad luck so far this year (see this story), Matt Carpenter (who went 0 for 8 in the Pirate series) broke out a little last night with a double and a game-tying, ninth-inning home run.  Carpenter is still just 3 for 19 (.158) since Cincinnati left town, and just .170 still for the season.  Perhaps last night was the beginning of a turn-around.

Yadier Molina

To the list of players glad to be back home, you can add the name of Yadier Molina.  His 1-for-12 series in Pittsburgh dropped him to just .246 on the road this season (14 for 57) albeit with 5 home runs.  He had two hits last night – including the game winner, raising him to a .298 average at home this season.

Since the last Cincinnati series (last night notwithstanding) Molina has managed 4 singles and 5 strikeouts in his last 28 plate appearances – a .143/.143/.143 slash line.  His would be another welcome turnaround.

Still Waiting for Dexter

Dexter Fowler hit the big walk-off single that gave the Cards a series win against the Mets (box score).  He hasn’t had a hit since, following an 0-for-9, 4 strikeout Pittsburgh series with an 0-for-3 last night.  Unlike Carpenter, Wong and Molina, Dexter’s recent at bats don’t show much sign of a turnaround.  His season average sits still at .165.

While I’m sure some are anxious over the slow start, I will remind the ready reader that Dexter started slowly last year, too.  But at the end of the year, he was one of the few Cardinal hitters still getting big hits in important games.

UPDATE: While I was writing this, Dexter’s two-run home run in St Louis’ afternoon game against the White Sox proved decisive – so perhaps Fowler is beginning to find the range now, too.

Michael Wacha

A quiet hero last night was starting pitcher Michael Wacha.  After five solid innings, he left the game trailing 2-1, the victim of a two-run double off the bat of uber-prospect Yoan Moncada.  An inning shy of a quality start, Wacha is one of the critical pieces to the 2017 puzzle.  There were moments last season (and there have been a few already this season) when Michael looked like he was again becoming the pitching phenom he was in his rookie season.  He also faded notably down the stretch.

Over his last two starts, Wacha has allowed just 3 runs in 11 innings (2.45 ERA) with 11 strikeouts.  Both of these starts were at home.  Of his first 6 starts this season, he has made 4 at home, going 3-0 with a 2.38 ERA allowing no home runs.  He has lasted just 9.2 innings combined in his two road starts.  During these innings, he has allowed 8 runs (7 earned) on 10 hits – 2 of them home runs.

Wacha will be a pitcher to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Luke Weaver

Their offseason actions indicated that management believes that Luke Weaver is ready to take his regular turn in the major league rotation.  Three starts into the season, this was looking like a good decision.  Luke was 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA.  He finished April 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA over his last three starts.  He has walked 9 batters and has given 14 runs on 17 hits over his last 14 innings.  Again, very, very early.  But it will be very damaging if the club is wrong about Luke.

Bud Norris

Bud Norris – an acquisition I was dubious of over the off-season – has been as steady as we could have hoped for.  Earning his first Cardinal win last night, Bud’s ERA is now down to 1.88.  As opposed to many of the Cardinal pitchers, Bud has actually been better on the road (1.17 ERA v 2.70 at home).

Dominic Leone

Another off-season bullpen acquisition – Dominic Leone – is starting to find his footing.  After serving up 3 home runs in his first 4.2 Cardinal innings, Leon has served up none (allowing just 1 run) over his last 8 innings.  He pitched the eighth last night, giving a hit but no runs.

Up Next

Even as I was composing this missive, the Cardinals won their afternoon game against the White Sox (by the same 3-2 score), meaning they will open their series against the Cubs with a little momentum.  Still, the White Sox are now 8-20 on the year. It would do a lot for my confidence if St Louis could do some of this winning against contending ball clubs.

Cards to Live or Die on the Road

Luke Weaver was front and center again, as the Cards bounced back from a disappointing loss on Wednesday – the only blemish on a 5-1 home stand.  Weaver was excellent, again, with 6 innings of 2-hit ball during which he allowed just 1 run – unearned.  Weaver, thus dropped his season ERA to just 1.89, and picked up his one-hundredth career strikeout in just his eighty-first career inning when he got Jose Peraza swinging to end the third.  The Cards are now 16-8 at home since the All-Star Break.

Weaver – with the help of his bullpen – continues a stellar streak of Cardinal pitching.  Over the last 17 games, St Louis checks in with a 2.49 ERA and a .228 batting average against.  If they can continue this run over the last 16 games, we should be OK.

Next up will be a defining 9-game road trip – 3 games each in Chicago, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.  Pitching away from home has been a concern the entire year.  They did check in with a 2.56 ERA in their last 10-game road trip – but 8 of those games were in San Francisco and San Diego.  Still, the improvement on the road has been noteworthy in the season’s second half.  This team hit the All-Star Break with a 17-21 road record and a 4.92 road ERA.  Since then, they are 18-16 with a 3.62 ERA away from Busch.

Over the next ten days, the pitching staff’s ability to contend with the smaller ballparks in Chicago, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will simply decide the Cardinal’s season.  No pressure.

Luke Weaver

Luke has been more than “as advertised” his last 5 times out of the gate.  The same guy who dominated AAA for the last couple of seasons has looked like that guy up here.  He is 5-0 with a 1.15 ERA over his last 31.1 innings (which includes 42 strikeouts).  He is 3-0 in September with a 0.96 ERA and a batting line against of .197/.221/.288.  If the rotation stays the same, Weaver will be scheduled to open the last home stand against Chicago on September 25 and the next to last game of the regular season against Milwaukee.  If Luke is the real deal, he will have his opportunity to show that in two of the season’s more crucial games.

Luke has allowed 0 earned runs over his last 11.2 innings at Busch.

Weaver hasn’t been as dominant on the road, but he is still 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA there.

Home/Road Splits of Other Starters.

With all the chatter about the young arms, let’s not forget Lance Lynn, who is establishing himself game-by-game as the ace of the staff.  He made two starts in the last 10-game road trip, posting a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings – but was only 0-1 as he saw no run support to speak of.  In 6 road starts since the break, Lance is 2-1 with a 0.94 ERA.  He has made 16 road starts this season, going 5-4 with a 2.99 ERA.  He is 6-3, 3.02 at home.

Carlos Martinez – who opens the big road trip this afternoon in Chicago – is one of those pitchers who have turned things around on the road in the season’s second half.  Martinez hit the break just 2-5 with a 4.13 ERA in 8 starts and 48 innings away from Busch.  Over his last 7 road starts (47.2 innings), he has thrown 5 quality starts, going 3-2 with a 2.83 ERA.  Carlos is 6-3, 3.18 at home this season.

Michael Wacha had 5 mostly terrible road starts during the season’s first half.  He lasted just 24.1 innings in those games, serving up 5 home runs, losing both of his decisions with a 7.03 ERA and a .346/.409/.529 batting line against.  He has been better in the second half, but still up and down with a 4-2 record and a 3.95 ERA in his last 7 road starts (during which opposing batters have hit just .245).  Wacha is 8-3 with a 3.12 ERA at Busch.

Michael and rookie Jack Flaherty are the wild cards in the deck as we head down the stretch – and especially during the upcoming road trip.  Good starts from them will be crucial.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons pitched the seventh, and was lucky not to give up a run when Joey Votto was thrown out at the plate.  If Votto had been safe, that would have been the only run scored against Lyons in the season’s second half that he would have been on the mound for.  In his 22.1 post All-Star Break innings he has only been charged with one run (0.40 ERA) when he left an inherited runner that ended up scoring.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia tossed a scoreless eighth inning – striking out two along the way.  John has suddenly become a strikeout pitcher.  He has fanned 10 over his last 5 innings, and 30 in his 25 innings since the break.

Tommy Pham

After going through a small slide recently, Tommy Pham walked, stole two bases, doubled and homered yesterday.  He scored twice and drove in two runs, becoming a critical part of the 5-2 victory (box score).  Tommy is still leading all regulars in the season’s second half in runs scored (43), stolen bases (10), batting average (.314), on base percentage (.434), and slugging percentage (.530).

A veteran, now, of 249 major league games and 703 major league at bats, Tommy now has 34 career home runs among 196 career hits.  His walk and two RBIs yesterday bring his career totals in both categories to 100.  His career batting line is now .279/.376/.491.

Fifteen of Tommy’s 20 home runs this season have come on the road, where he has hit .338 and slugged .614 this year.  He is finding his stroke at just the right time.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez chipped in 2 hits for the third game in a row.  He has hit, now, in 14 of his last 15 games, hitting .440 during the streak (22 for 50).  Jose heads into the final 16 games of the season hitting .361 (39 for 108) in the season’s second half.

Like many of the Cardinal hitters, Jose has been a road terror all year, but especially in the second half.  Over his last 76 road plate appearances, Jose has hit 5 home runs with a .349/.461/.667 batting line.

Up Coming

My number one axiom of the baseball season is that it’s always early until it’s not.  That means, of course, that “critical” (in terms of games or series’) is a term to be used sparingly.  Now, of course, it is late and the 16 games remaining are justly regarded as critical, beginning with an impactful three days in Chicago.

Since the end of last season, local writers referred constantly to the 17.5 game gulf that separates the Cards from the defending world champions.  Such a thing, of course, never existed.  It’s one of those ridiculous straw men that betray a writer’s misunderstanding of the nature of baseball.  Whatever you’ve read this year, that is not a thing.

What is a very real thing, though, is the mental edge that Chicago has held over this team since the 2015 playoffs.  It isn’t anything that I can point to or quantify with any number of statistics, but it is real nonetheless.  You can see it in their (Chicago’s) bearing and attitude when they play against us.  They know that they are the tougher team, and they play with that confidence.

Well, that’s all well and good.  What has been very concerning over the last two years is that the Cardinals have bought into that as well.  Even though we have been sometimes competitive against the Cubs over these last two seasons, it has been evident in their play that they expected to lose the tough games.  It’s a perceptible sense that you get watching these games – a sense that the Cardinals know that Chicago is the better team.

Over the last few weeks, this team has re-invented itself.  It’s a team of fearless kids (Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader, Weaver) and guys who have been counted out their whole lives who are taking, perhaps, their one stab at glory (Pham and Jose Martinez), with a sprinkling of great veterans (Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright) added in.

Winning these games will be critical – there’s that word – for the team’s post-season chances.  But as important as the games themselves will be the moxie that this young team will carry with them to the field.  Will they fight for these games?  Will they win the tough at bats?  Do they really know that they are the better team?  Whether they win or lose, these are the signs that will tell us how great the gap between these teams truly is.

NoteBook

With yesterday’s win, the Cards are now 5-5 in rubber games played at home.

This was also the twenty-third series this season in which St Louis had won the first game.  They have now gone on to win 15 of those series, losing 4 and splitting 4 others.

Elimination Season Continues

Entering the day with a magic number of 1, either a Cub win or a Cincinnati loss would have mathematically eliminated the Reds from the division race.  Both happened.  With 80 wins, the worst the Cubs could finish is 80-82.  With 84 losses, the best the Reds could finish is 78-84.

Inches Betray Cardinals as Winning Streak Ends

The inches were spectacularly against the St Louis Cardinals through the first five innings of last night’s game, where – unlike the Indians – the Cards winning streak (a modest four games) came to a sour end, 6-0 (box score).  Jesse Winker’s leadoff home run was just barely fair down the right field line.  In the bottom of the first, Yadier Molina had runners at first and third with two out, when he floated a fly ball into short right-center that had just enough carry on it to allow Winker to make an excellent catch that both saved a run and ended the inning.

Then there was the fifth inning.  Jose Peraza just barely safe at first on an infield hit.  The ground ball back to the mound that just oozed out of Jack Flaherty’s grip.  Tyler Mahle just fractionally safe at second on another infield dribbler.  Things unraveled from there.  It’s baseball.

More concerning is the fact that St Louis finished the night with only 5 hits – all singles.  The offense has been pretty consistently good at putting runs on the board (last night excepted) but the hits are becoming more scare.  Twelve games into September, and the Cards have only 94 hits.  They are still scoring 5.00 runs per game, but are hitting just .239.

Jose Martinez

Among the shards of good news from last night was 2 more hits from Jose Martinez.  Jose has now hit in 13 of his last 14 games, hitting .435 (20 for 46) during the streak.  His average is up to .356 in the second half 37 for 104).

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham contributed a walk and a hit by pitch – so he is still getting on base.  But his is one of the batting averages that is starting to fade in September.  Pham is just 1 for 12 over his last 6 games, and is down to .158 (3 for 19) for the month – albeit with a .407 on base percentage.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong has also seen a noticeable dip in September. A stiff back during the early days of the month didn’t help, but Wong hasn’t been really hot since getting back on the field.  He was 0 for 2 last night, and is now just 5 for 23 (.217) this month.  Like Pham, though, Wong has still been getting on base.  He drew his fifth walk of the month last night, pushing his on base percentage to .357.

Harrison Bader

Gravity may also be catching up with touted prospect Harrison Bader.  His 0-for-4 yesterday leaves him just 2 for 17 (.118) over his last 5 games.

Sam Tuivailala

At this time of year, relief innings can be a little hard to come by.  With a bullpen crowded with September call-ups, the middle relievers may have to wait for a while before their number comes up.

That is what is happening to Sam Tuivailala.  Sam has made it into only 3 of the first 12 games this month, and has had 5 days in between each of his last two games.  Rather than get rusty, though, Sam has become hyper-efficient.  He retired 3 batters last night on four pitches – all strikes.  Each batter he faced swung the bat once, and got himself out.

It’s an exceedingly small sample size – just the 11 batters he has faced this month – but 7 of those batters never saw a pitch out of the strike zone, and all 11 combined have only cost Tui 31 pitches (2.8 pitches per).  Along the way, Sam has thrown 25 of the pitches for strikes (81%!) with only one of those strikes being a swing and a miss.  On September first in San Francisco, Sam was finishing up the ninth inning of an 11-6 Cardinal win.  With two-out, Brandon Crawford swung through Tuivailala’s 1-1 pitch.  He ended the game by grounding out on the next pitch.

It’s too few batters and too few pitches to mean anything, but this is pitching to contact on steroids.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman is another arm that seems to be profiting from extra rest in September.  Having pitched in 65 games through the end of August, Bowman looked a little frayed.  He has been better of late.  He is unscored on over his last six games (4.2 innings), during which he has allowed just one hit.  He has had at least four days of rest in between 3 of the 6 games.

Twenty At Bats with Runners in Scoring Position Highlights Cardinal Win

It was April 17, 2014, and the Cardinals were in Washington to play the Nationals.  The headliner that day would be Adam Wainwright, who fired a complete-game, 2-hit shutout in an 8-0 win (box score).  The less remembered story is the offense that finished with their 8 runs on 15 hits, 5 walks, a hit batsman, and three other runners that reached on errors.  From that total of 24 baserunners, the Cardinals amassed 23 at bats with runners in scoring position (they were 8 for 23).

That is how far back in Cardinal history you have to go to find the last time the Cards had more at bats with runners in scoring position (RISP) than they had last night.  The offense highlighted last night’s 13-4 conquest of Cincinnati (box score) going 6 for 20 (including 2 doubles and a triple), 4 walks and a sacrifice fly with runners in scoring position – a .300/.400/550 batting line.

With the outburst, the Cards continued a couple of encouraging trends.  The team batting average with runners in scoring position has now risen to .277 in the second half, and up to .288 over the last 86 games.  The run-scoring pace continues to be healthy – 5.45 runs per game in September, 5.16 runs per game since the All-Star Break, and 5.34 runs per game over the last 86 games.

Eighty-six games ago, the Cardinals limped home after losing all seven games of a road trip through Chicago and Cincinnati.  At that point, this team was just 26-32 and fading.  Since then, they have won 50 games – a .581 winning percentage.

Paul DeJong

Yes, that was Paul DeJong with another three-hit night – including a double and a home run.  The rookie, who spotted the rest of the team 46 games before he even made it out of Memphis, is the team leader in home runs with 22.  And he now has multiple hits in 3 of his last 4 games.

Paul has started off his September with a .300 batting average (12 for 40) and a .550 slugging percentage (4 doubles and 2 home runs).  Since the break, DeJong is a .280 hitter (63 for 255) and a .516 slugger.  Over his last 54 games DeJong has hit 13 home runs and driven in 37.

Of the rookie’s 22 home runs, 21 have come over the Cards last 86 games.  DeJong is hitting .298 (93 for 312) over that span.

Jose Martinez

Because he doesn’t carry a starters number of at bats, I think that much of Cardinal Nation – much less the baseball world in general – doesn’t really grasp the remarkable season that Jose Martinez is having.  It isn’t impossible that Jose will go from being fourth outfielder in April to player of the month in September.  Eleven games into the season’s make-or-break month, Jose is hitting .421 (16 for 38), and slugging .763 (4 doubles and 3 home runs).  Jose has driven in 10 runs in the first 11 games of the month.

He has been even better since inheriting the cleanup spot 9 games ago.  While the organization is (apparently) pondering where they can find a “middle-of-the-order” bat for next season, Jose has noisily gone about the business of hitting .424/500/.818 in the cleanup spot.  For those concerned that the sample size might be too small, consider that in 118 plate appearances in the season’s second half, Martinez is hitting .350/.441/.650, and over the last 86 team games – in 186 plate appearances spread irregularly back to the end of June – Jose’s batting line is .329/.407/.620.  In his last 158 at bats, Jose has hit 12 home runs and driven in 32.

He, by the way, added a single, a double and a walk while driving in two more runs last night.

Yadier Molina

And, once again, Yadier Molina was the straw that stirred the drink with two more hits and 3 more runs batted in.  This included his second consecutive game-winning RBI – his team-leading eleventh of the season.

Where to begin with Molina?  First, Yadi now has three-consecutive two-hit games.  His September average rises to .306 (11 for 36).  He has 15 runs batted in already this month (8 of those over the last 2 games).  Since the All-Star Break, Yadi has hit .302 (55 for 182) with surprising power.  He has 8 home runs and a .505 slugging percentage in the second half.  Stretching back to late June, Yadi is a .300 hitter (81 for 270) over his last 73 games.

Age, apparently, really is just a number.

Yadi has been the Cards best hitter with runners in scoring position all season, but he has been especially torrid of late.  He was 2 for 3 in RISP opportunities last night.  He is 7 for 13 (.538) this month in those at bats.  In the season’s second half, Yadi is hitting .353 (18 for 51) with the ducks on the pond.  During St Louis’ 86-game turnaround, Molina is 29 for 77 – a .377 batting average with runners in scoring position.

His season RISP average is .327 (37 for 113).

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong is back in the lineup and swinging the bat freely again – good news, indeed.  With 2 more hits last night, Wong is now hitting .302 in the second half (51 for 169), and since the end of June, Kolten carries a .317 average.  He has 60 hits in his last 189 at bats.

Wong was 1 for 3 in RISP opportunities last night.  He has been second on the team all year behind Yadi in that stat, and has been even more torrid since the end of June, hitting .381 (16 or 42) with runners at second and/or third.

Progress of the Bullpen

After a shorter-than-usual five innings from starter Lance Lynn, the Cardinal bullpen quieted Cincinnati over the last 4 innings.  The bullpen has hit September with a 2.54 ERA that features a .245 batting average against and a .287 on base percentage against.  They have walked only 6 in their last 28.1 innings.  Still to be seen is how they will hold up in high leverage situations.  It remains one of the more intriguing mysteries of the rest of the season.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil – who tossed two scoreless innings last night – is trying (again) to recover his season.  He is pitching now in mostly low leveraged situations.  Brett, though, was one of the positive forces that led the season’s turnaround back in June and July.  He has pitched 37.2 innings in the last 86 games, walking just 5 batters (2 of those intentionally) with a 3.11 ERA.

NoteBook

The Cardinals ended their most recent road-trip winning 3 of 4 in San Diego.  They scored 13 runs in the four games combined – as many as they scored last night alone against Cincinnati.

Conversely, they opened their current home stand by sweeping three games from Pittsburgh.  They allowed a total of 4 runs in those three games – as many as they surrendered last night alone to Cincinnati.

A pronounced problem earlier in the season, St Louis has now won the first game of five consecutive series and 9 of their last 12.  They are 21-12 in the games of these series.

Elimination Season Continues

With last night’s loss, Cincinnati was officially eliminated from the Wild Card race.  They become the first NL Central team to be eliminated from anything. While they are now 16.5 games behind the Cubs, they are still mathematically alive for the division title – albeit just barely.  Their magic number is down to 2.

Young Cardinals Respond After a Loss

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.

Luke Weaver

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.

John Brebbia

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).

Jose Martinez

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.

Randal Grichuk

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.

Alex Mejia

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.

This Just In – Jose Martinez Can Flat Out Hit

The Cardinals have other players listed at six-foot-six or taller.  Adam Wainwright lists at 6-7.  Michael Wacha and Josh Lucas are both listed at 6-6. But as you watch the team, none of them look as big as Jose Martinez.  There is almost an awkwardness sometimes as you watch him run the bases.  He kind of looks like a football player dressed up to play baseball.

But make no mistake about this.  Jose Martinez can hit the baseball.  There is nothing awkward or ungainly about him when he’s standing in the batter’s box.  In the first inning last night he flicked his bat at an outside pitch and lofted it 395 or so feet over the wall in right-center – an impressive display of opposite field power in pitcher friendly San Diego.  His second homer of the night (and third extra base hit) soared high and deep over the left field fence.  Petco Park swallows up some hitters.  Jose doesn’t seem phased at all.

Jose was part of another effective offensive evening for the Cards.  On the evening, they finished with three more home runs and 8 more runs in an 8-4 victory (box score).  Fifty games into the season’s second half, the Cards are still averaging 5.16 runs per game.  Over the last 8 games, they have put 49 runs on the board (6.13 per game), hitting 14 home runs in the process.

Jose Martinez

Falling somewhere behind Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty on the Cardinal outfield depth chart, Jose just will not stop hitting.  His hits yesterday give him a 7-game hitting streak, even though he has only started 5 of the seven.  He is 11 for 21 (a .524 average) in those games with 3 doubles and 3 home runs (a 1.095 slugging percentage!).  During the seven games, he has scored 8 runs and driven in 6.

Since the All-Star Break, Jose is hitting .354 (28 for 79) with 5 doubles and 8 home runs (.722 slugging percentage)

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader has proved to be an impact call-up – so far at least.  He had two hits yesterday, including an important 3-run home run.  In five games since the rosters expanded, Harrison is 6 for 18 (.333) with half of those hits home runs.

Yadier Molina

After being more than a little torrid for most of the second half, Yadier Molina is starting to cool off a bit lately.  With his 0-for-4 last night, Yadi is down to .231 (6 for 26) over his last 7 games.

Last night’s strikeout was number 69 for the season for Molina.  His previous career high was the 63 he endured last year.

BrettCecil

Brett Cecil allowed a double in the eighth inning, but escaped trouble when Wil Myers lined into an inning-ending double play.  Not a dominant outing, but this was the thirteenth time this season that Cecil pitched after having at least 3 days between games.  In those 13 innings, he carries a 2.08 ERA.  In his other 43.1 innings this season, he has a 4.78 ERA.

NoteBook

Stephen Piscotty was thrown out on a steal attempt last night.  It was his sixth caught-stealing of the season – setting a new career high.  He has been successful just 3 times this season.  The Cards did make a goal of being more aggressive on the bases – and many players have set career highs in stolen bases.  But base running is still not one of Stephan’s specialties (as witnessed by his myriad misadventures this season on the bases).  Perhaps it’s time for Piscotty to take a more conservative approach.