Tag Archives: Leake

Cards Surrender At Least Five Runs for Eleven Consecutive Games

The anticipation was over early.  For ten consecutive games, Cardinal pitching had served up at least 5 runs – something that had happened only once previously to this proud franchise in this century.  With the fading Mike Leake on the mound for the Cards, it seemed likely that the streak would continue – and after he served up 3 in the very first inning, the odds seemed even more likely.  Taking full advantage of Leake’s presence, the Pirates tacked three more runs on him in the third, holding on from there for a 6-3 win (box score).  This team now stands alone with the forgettable 2003 edition, which strung together 13 consecutive games from June 3 through June 16 allowing 98 total runs – at least 5 in each game.

That team also had a plucky offense that managed to win 7 of the 13 games (as this year’s team has won 6 of their last 11), but asking even a good offense to score six or seven runs every night just to be competitive is a sure formula for disaster.  The 2003 team finished with a 4.60 team ERA that was the primary element in the disappointing 85-77, third-place season.  This year’s team is now also in third place (63-61).  The 2017 team ERA is still barely under 4.00 (3.97), but over the last 11 games has taken a 6.11 ERA hit, with a .321 batting average against.  Over those games, the starters have managed just 4 quality starts, with a 6.96 ERA and a .354 batting average against.

It’s a free-fall that will doom this team’s chances the same way the pitching struggles of 2003 doomed that team if it goes unresolved.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake reigns as the enduring symbol of the recent pitching futility.  He began the slide with five uninspiring innings against Kansas City on August 9 (5 runs on 11 hits), and truly imploded against Boston on August 15 – allowing the Red Sox 8 runs on 9 hits in 4.1 innings before Mike Matheny could get him out of there.  Last night, Mike only made it through the three innings, being tagged for the six runs on 8 more hits.

Over his last three efforts, Leake has managed 12.1 eventful innings that have seen a deluge of runs (19 – 18 of them earned) and hits (28).  His 13.14 ERA over those last starts is paired with a rather stunning .452 batting average against.  Over his last 9 starts, Leake is 1-6 with a 7.24 ERA and a .380 batting average against.  Since beginning the season with 7 consecutive quality starts, Mike has only 5 in his 16 starts since then.  He is 2-10 with a 5.78 ERA and a .331 batting average against in those games.

It has been a long time since Leake has been good.  And the Cardinals do have promising pitchers at Memphis who are progressing toward the majors.

Leake has also struggled inexplicably when pitching ahead in the count.  He gave hits to 2 of the 5 batters he was ahead of last night.  This month, batters hitting behind in the count against Mike are hitting .455 (10 of 22).  Since the All-Star Break, batters are hitting .419 (13 of 31) when they are behind in the count against Leake.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina continues to hit.  He was a bright spot last night with 2 singles and a double.  Yadi now has 6 hits in his last 3 games, raising his August average to .313 with 4 home runs.  Yadi is up to .299 in the season’s second half.

Paul DeJong

Up in several opportunities to provide the big hit, Paul DeJong instead went 0-for-5, ending his 9 game hitting streak.  Over the 9 games, DeJong was about as hot as can be imagined, hitting .472 (17 for 36), and slugging .917 (4 doubles and 4 home runs).  Over the 9 games, DeJong scored 8 runs and drove in 12.

Elimination Season Begins

With their 5-2 loss to Philadelphia, San Francisco becomes baseball’s first team to be eliminated from its division race.  Now 50-76, the Giants sit 39 games behind division leading Los Angeles (87-35).  San Francisco has only 36 games left in its season, while the Dodgers will play 40 more.  The Giants aren’t totally eliminated from playoff contention just yet, although trailing Arizona by 18 games for the last wildcard spot doesn’t exactly make their playoff chances rosy.

NoteBook

Cardinal pitchers issued only one walk last night – to Pirate relief pitcher A.J. Schugel, enjoying just his second plate appearance of the season.

Cardinals Answer Sunday’s Loss With Another Loss

Stinging from a disappointing loss in the last game of the home stand, the semi-hot Cardinals invaded Boston last night, hoping to make a statement.  They did, with a humbling 10-4 beating at the hands of the Red Sox (box score).  At the end of the fifth inning, the Cards were already behind 9-0 and had grounded into a triple play.

For the season, St Louis is still 28-29 in games after a loss – something hard for an over-.500 team to do, although fairly consistent for a team that has already suffered through 8 losing streaks of at least 3 games.

With that being noted, it should also be pointed out that this team has been much better lately about responding after a loss.  In twelve such opportunities since the All-Star Break, St Louis is now 8-4.

More concerning is the continuing slide of the pitching staff.  With last night’s 10-run, 15-hit pounding in just 8 innings, the Cards are holding a 5.60 ERA over their last 6 games.  The starters have contributed just 2 quality starts, and have borne the brunt of the assault with a 6.32 ERA over those games.  The team ERA for the month of August swells to 4.13.

The offense has shown a bit of a spark recently, but any real hope that the Cardinals have of being significant in October depends on the pitching staff being the strength that we anticipated it would be in April.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake has been a little bit in the epi-center of the recent pitching downturn.  This was the second of the six games that Mike has started.  He has now been slapped for 13 runs (12 earned) in his last 9.1 innings.  In 3 August starts Mike is 0-2 with an 8.80 ERA.  He now has just 2 quality starts in his last 8 trips to the mound.  His ERA over those starts sits at 6.39 with a .371 batting average against.  He has lost 9 of his last 11 decisions.

It has been a long time since Mike has been good.

Leake is also now 3-8 in 14 starts this season in games after a loss – although in fairness he’s pitched better in these games than that record would suggest.  He has made 8 quality starts in those games, and his 4.00 ERA isn’t that bad.  It should be pointed out that last night was the fifth time in Mike’s 24 starts that his offense scored no runs for him while he was in the game.

Other Starters After a Loss

Lance Lynn will take the mound tonight with the Cardinals riding a two-game losing streak.  Lance has absolutely thrived in this role in the season’s second half.  Since the All-Star Break, Lance has made 4 starts following a Cardinal loss.  He has thrown quality starts in all four games, going 3-0 with a 1.48 ERA.  He is 5-3 with a 3.57 ERA this year in 11 starts after a loss.  Over his career, Lance has pitched in 84 games after a Cardinal loss (69 of them starts).  He is 39-21 lifetime with a 3.47 ERA in those games.

While he has had intermittent struggles, Carlos Martinez has also excelled in the stopper’s role.  He has taken the mound 10 times this year following a Cardinal loss.  Carlos is only 4-3 in those games, but with 8 quality starts, a 2.51 ERA and a .196 batting average against.  Over the last two years, Carlos has had 24 opportunities to pitch after a Cardinal loss.  He has produced 16 quality starts, a 12-6 record, a 2.67 ERA, and a .212 batting average against.

They haven’t all been works of art (he has a 4.84 ERA in 11 such starts), but Adam Wainwright does lead the staff in victories after a defeat.  He is 7-3 after a loss this year, and 71-34 in that situation over his career.

Overall, Michael Wacha hasn’t pitched as well in these games as he has following a victory.  He has started ten times following a loss, with only 4 quality starts and a 4.58 ERA.  He is, however, 4-2 in those games.  Over his career, Wacha is 19-11 after a loss, albeit with only a 4.47 ERA.

Matthew Bowman

The game really got away when Matthew Bowman couldn’t minimize the damage in the fifth inning.  The ground-ball specialist came in with the Cards already trailing 5-0, with the bases loaded and one out.  Bowman had only allowed 1 of his previous 17 inherited runners to score.  But he gave three straight hits, allowed all of the inherited runners to score, and added a run of his own.  By the time he did get that last out, the deficit had grown to 9-0.

Brett Cecil

Pitching now exclusively in low leveraged situations, Brett Cecil continues to search for answers.  After serving up another run and 3 hits, Brett’s second half ERA rises to 7.07 in 14 innings with a .391 batting average against.

Fewer Runs, But Good At Bats

Only four runs – and all of them after the game had been decided – is little to get excited about.  St Louis, however, collected 10 more hits before all was said and done.  The team batting average rises to .289 for the month, and .274 in the second half.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler continues to drive this offense.  He supplied 3 hits last night, scoring one of the Cardinals 4 runs and driving in two others.  He has been pretty scorching since his return from the disabled list.  Over these last 8 games, Dexter has had 33 plate appearances, during which he has provided 4 singles, 5 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 8 runs scored, 8 runs batted in, 9 walks and a stolen base.  That translates into a batting line of .458/.606/.875.  He is now hitting .297 in the season’s second half.

Luke Voit

Luke Voit has only made one start so far this month, but he may be starting to adjust to life on the bench.  He went 2-2 in the late innings last night, and his now 6 for 16 (.375) this month.

While these are all small sample sizes, Luke has been particularly effective in games after a loss.  He is 5 for 7 this month, 7 for 23 (.304) since the All-Star Break, and 13 for 39 (.333) for the season in games after a loss.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong added two more hits last night, driving in a run.  He now has a baby 5-game hitting streak, during which he has had multiple hits in all five games.  He is 11 for his last 20 (.550).  He has also now hit in 10 of his last 11 (.408 on 20 for 49 hitting).

After a slow start to August, Paul is now hitting .345 this month (20 for 58) and slugging .603 (he has 3 doubles and 4 home runs).  He is up to .288 since the All Star Break (36 for 125).

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina has as rough an offensive day as could be imagined – given how short it was.  Yadi had only 2 at bats last night, but accounted for 5 outs as he grounded into both a double play and a triple play.  Yadi is now 0 for 12 over his last 4 games.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong’s 8-game hitting streak came to an end last night.  With his 0 for 4, Kolten has hit just .188 (6 for 32) in games after a loss in the season’s second half.

Randal Grichuk

While Randal Grichuk’s numbers have been on the rise overall lately, he could still be a bit more of a force in games after a loss.  With his 0 for 3 last night, Randal is now 0 for 9 this month, 6 for 28 (.214) in the second half, and 27 for 127 (.213) for the year in games after a loss.

NoteBook

Boston’s first inning run marked the third consecutive game – and the twelfth of the last fifteen – that the Cardinals have allowed the first run of the game to be scored against them.

Sorting Out the Cardinal Bullpen

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

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

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

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

Matthew Bowman

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

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

Zach Duke

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

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

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

Seung-hwan Oh

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

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

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

Tyler Lyons

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

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

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

Trevor Rosenthal

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

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

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

Mike Leake

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

Jose Martinez

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

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

Randal Grichuk

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

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.

Relentless Pirates Finally Prevail

For eight and a half grueling innings last night, the Cardinals hung with the Pirates.  Continually on the verge of having the game blown open, they managed escape after escape.  When Josh Bell hit the inevitable home run that provided Pittsburgh with its 5-2 walk-off victory (box score), he became the eighteenth Pirate to reach base that night (12 hits and 6 walks).  By contrast – although they hit a lot of line drives – the Cardinals finished their evening having put just 6 runners on base (6 hits and no walks).

The Cards went down in order five times in their nine innings.  The Pirates went down in order only twice.  Eventually, the sheer weight of the Pirates relentless pressure (and the Cardinals’ inability to sustain anything like offense) was enough to do the Cardinals in.  St Louis jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, but never scored again.  It was yet another first game of a series lost, and yet another loss in which St Louis held a lead at some point.  These were items from yesterday’s installment.

And, of course, another late miss-step from the bullpen.

Tommy Pham

With outfielders dropping around him like flies, Tommy Pham continues prove himself as an everyday contributor.  Tommy finished the night with two hits, and hit another ball hard.  He is now hitting .371 (13 for 35) and slugging .657 (2 doubles, 1 triple, 2 home runs) for the month of July.  In the ten games played so far, Tommy has scored 8 runs and driven in 9.  Pham has also hit in 12 of his last 15 games (although he has started only 13 of them), hitting .392 (20 for 51).  He has scored 15 runs over those 15 games, and driven in 12.

A statistical oddity: Pham came to the plate in the eighth inning with runners at first and second and one out.  He lined out to right.  For the season, Pham is a .295/.397/.420 hitter when up with the bases empty.  Four of his eleven home runs have been solo shots.  With one runner on base, Pham is a terror.  He is 27 for 65 (.415) with 5 doubles, a triple, and his other 7 home runs (.846 slugging percentage).  He has been up 3 times with the bases loaded, getting a single and a double and driving in 5.

But he is now 1 for 28 on the season when batting with two runners on base.

Stephen Piscotty

Before leaving the game with an injury in the ninth inning, Stephen Piscotty suffered through another 0 for 4 with two more strikeouts.  It’s been that kind of season for Piscotty.  He is now 0 for his last 8, and hitting .120 (3 for 25) over his last 7 games.  He hasn’t scored a run in any of those 7 games, and hasn’t had an extra base hit in his last 8 games.  For the month of July, Piscotty has had 37 plate appearances, with the following results: 5 singles, 1 double, 2 runs scored, 3 runs batted in, 1 walk, 11 strikeouts, once hit by a pitch, and 1 double play grounded into.  It works out to a batting line of .171/.216/.200.  Hitless in three at bats last night, Stephen is now 1 for 15 this month (.067) when batting with the bases empty.

What could happen now?  Well, Stephen’s injury has sent him back to the DL.  After a period of recovery, he could spend some time with Diaz (and maybe Grichuk) in Memphis, re-working his swing.  Being optioned to the AAA club after his injury clears might be a good thing for him.

In the meantime, Magneuris Sierra has made his way back to the big club, and should see some regular playing time.  That might be a good thing, too.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong returned to the lineup with an 0-for-3 night that snapped his 6-game hitting streak.  During the streak, Wong hit .450 (9 for 20), and slugged .650 (4 doubles).  He scored 5 runs in the 6 games.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake has now made two starts in July – last night and July 5 against Miami.  In those two starts, Mike has fought his way through 8.2 innings, allowing 23 baserunners (17 hits and 6 walks).  “Only” 10 of them have scored – and “just” 5 of those runs were earned.  It has cost Mike 156 pitches to clear those 8.2 innings.

Last night was the better of the two games, as Leake gutted his way through five innings, allowing just 2 runs although he dealt with 12 baserunners.  Of the 25 batters he faced, only 8 came to the plate with the bases empty (and 5 of those reached).

His evening was a study in frustration.  The third inning run he allowed resulted when he attempted to snare Gerrit Cole’s grounder and deflected it into an infield hit.  His fifth was even more frustrating.  After getting a double play to mostly ease him out of the inning, Leake walked the next three hitters and gave up the game tying single.

Over those last two games, 29 of the 47 batters he has faced have come to the plate with at least one runner on base.  He has pitched to only 18 batters with the bases empty, and 9 of those have reached.

Matthew Bowman

While some pieces of the bullpen are still lagging, others are starting to achieve sustained effectiveness.  Matthew Bowman pitched the sixth and gave a couple of hits, but got a double play and ended the inning with no damage taken.  Matthew is unscored on over his last 7 games (5 innings), and over his last 19 games (16.1 innings), Matthew holds a 1.65 ERA and a .246 batting average against.  He has also stranded all 11 inherited runners.

Matthew has always pitched very well with runners on base – this season he has held batters to a .221/.267/.324 batting line when they hit against him with runners on base.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil turned in his fifteenth consecutive scoreless appearance (15.2 innings) with his scoreless seventh inning.  He gave up a two-out double, but no damage.  In his 15.2 scoreless innings, Brett has given just 7 hits and 1 walk.  The batting line against him in those innings has been .137/.154/.176.

Trevor Rosenthal

Add Trevor Rosenthal to the list of relief pitchers who seem to be turning things around.  He had the Pirates three-up-and-three down with two strikeouts in the eighth.  He has now strung together 4 consecutive perfect outings of one inning each, striking out 7 of the 12 he’s faced.  Sixty-eight percent of his pitches (36 of 53) have been strikes – usually the defining issue for Trevor, and batters have missed on 41% of their swings (9 of 22).

This year Trevor has been absolutely golden until a runner gets on.  Hitting against him with the bases empty, batters are .167/.244/.218.  Once a runner reaches, though, batters improve to .277/.373/.383 against him.  Half of the 16 walks he’s allowed this year have come with at least one runner already on base.

Still, most of the bullpen has been coming around.  Through the first 10 games (and 30 innings) of July, everyone other than the closer has combined for an 0.90 ERA, no home runs allowed, and a .236/.306/.291 batting line against.  Now if they could only fix that ninth inning.

Seung-hwan Oh

So, it’s a pretty bad thing when your closer comes into a tie game in the ninth inning, and you get that sinking feeling in your stomach.  Such is the season for Seung-hwan Oh.  A double, a fly ball, an intentional walk, a three-run walk-off home run.  I tried to be surprised, but . . .

Heroic last year, Seung-hwan has now allowed runs in 7 of his last 14 games.  Over his last 13 innings, he has given 11 runs on 20 hits – 5 of them home runs.  He carries a 7.62 ERA over those games, while opponents are hitting .351 and slugging .632 against him.

With the home run, Oh has now allowed 22 runs (19 earned) this year in 41 innings.  He surrendered 20 runs (17 earned) all of last year in 79.2 innings.

The home run was the eighth against him in 2017 (only 5 were hit off of him all last year).  He is now on pace to serve up 15 home runs for the season.  In 2001, Dave Veres saved 15 games.  He served up 12 home runs in 66.2 innings.  That is the most home runs allowed by any Cardinal reliever in this century who saved at least 10 games that season.  At 20 or more saves, the record goes to Jason Motte, who saved 45 games in 2012 while serving up 10 home runs in 80.1 innings.  Oh is already in that neighborhood.

Sixty-one batters have now reached base against Oh in just 41 innings.  The only batter he faced last night with the bases empty doubled to left.  In the 6 games he’s pitched in July, batters up with the bases empty are 6 for 11 (.545) with a double and a home run (.909 slugging percentage).  For the season, Seung-hwan (who, by the way, turned 35 today) has a .333/.349/.536 batting line against with the bases empty.

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.

Cards and Pirates Try a Little Role Reversal

Sitting on a three-game losing streak – and losers of 8 of their previous 11 – a somewhat desperate Cardinal management juggled the roster, rolled the dice a little, and saw starter Mike Leake struggle out of the gate.  Five innings into the game, St Louis found itself trailing again, 4-2.

This time, though, the end game would look a little different.  With the Pirates looking a lot like the Cardinals (with defensive issues and bullpen problems), and the Cardinals doing their best Pittsburgh impression with patient, persistent late at bats, St Louis finally broke through with two runs to tie the game in the sixth and 4 more to break it open in the seventh – on their way to an 8-4 victory (box score).

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina was riding a ten-game hitting streak when a bothersome knee forced him to the bench for a few days.  He was back yesterday, and without missing a beat.  He went 3-for-4 with a double, and all the hits were line drives – including one to right field in the seventh-inning that brought in the game-winning run.  Over his now 11-game hitting streak, Molina is batting .333 (15 for 45) and slugging .556 (his hits include 3 home runs).  After a sluggish start, Yadi enters the last week of June hitting .292 (19 for 65) for the month with some unexpected power.  His hits include 2 doubles and 4 home runs.  Molina is slugging .508 this month.

Yadi has been noticeably less aggressive this year.  Last year, Yadi came to the plate swinging – especially after the All-Star break, when he offered at 45.6% of the first pitches thrown him.  Whether he hit that pitch or not, Yadi went on to hit .410 and slug .615 in those at bats.  This season, Yadi is swinging at the first pitch thrown him much less frequently (38.2%) – and with lesser results (.258 avg).

Last night, Yadi took the first pitch in all four at bats (I don’t remember if that has ever happened before) – including two very hittable first-pitch strikes.  During July, Yadi has taken the first pitch 70.1% of the time (47 of 67 plate appearances) – and has prospered surprisingly while doing do.  Including the 3 hits last night, Yadi is hitting .326 this month (15 for 46) and slugging .609 when he takes the first pitch of an at bat.  All 4 of his home runs this month, and 1 of the 2 doubles have come in at bats where Molina has taken the first pitch.

Whether this is intentional or not, I don’t know.  But it has looked very deliberate.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham’s baby 5-game hitting streak came to an end with an 0-for-4.  Pham hit .304 (7 for 23) during the streak, including 3 home runs.

The streak notwithstanding, Pham hasn’t had the best of June’s.  He is now hitting .232 (19 for 82) this month.

After Matt Carpenter opened the game with a single, Pham jumped all over a first-pitch fastball right down the middle and drilled it right at third-baseman David Freese for a relatively easy double play.  It’s kind of been that way all year for Tommy.  Across all of baseball, batters who swing at the first pitch of an at bat – whether they hit it or not – end up hitting .273 in those at bats (as opposed to .247 when they take that pitch).  Tommy Pham, this year, is hitting .188 in at bats when he swings at the first pitch, as opposed to .312 when he takes that pitch.

Pham entered the season having grounded into a total of 4 double plays through his first 358 major league plate appearances.  Last night he grounded into his tenth already this season in just 181 plate appearances.

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty also had a small hitting streak end on him last night.  Piscotty had hit .333 (7 for 21) over his six previous games.  He hit two home runs during the streak and slugged .714.

Mike Leake

Leake elevated a couple of cutters in the three-run third inning – one a 1-2 pitch that Elias Diaz drove for a double, and the other a brutal 0-2 middle of the plate cutter that Adam Frazier stung for a 2-run triple.  Other than that, it was a very productive outing for the Cardinal right-hander.

Of the 25 batters he faced, only 7 swung at his first pitch.  This has been his MO throughout the season.  He throws that first-pitch sinker at the corners of the strike zone, and steals a little of the momentum from the at bat.  For the season, batters are taking Mike’s first pitch 71.1% of the time – and once they do, they go on to hit .213/.270/.332.

The 114 batters who have swung at Mike’s first pitch this season are hitting .300.  For the month of June, batters swinging at his first pitch are hitting .410.  Mike has had a lot of misplaced cutters early in the count this month.  Last night, the 7 batters who hacked at Mike’s first pitch were 4 for 7 with a double and Frazier’s triple.

Bullpen Pulls Together

While the 4-run seventh was the highlight, behind that was another solid outing from the beleaguered bullpen.  They went the last three, giving no runs, no walks and just one hit.  While starting pitching has been a hot button issue this month, the bullpen may be quietly coming together.  In 23 games and 81.1 June innings, the Cardinal relief corps has allowed just 72 hits and 19 walks.  The batting line against them has been a much better .238/.290/.399, and the bullpen ERA 3.54.  Their failures have still come at very critical junctures of the game – and much of the 9-15 record so far this month is on them.  But there is reason to hope that things are turning around out there.

Brett Cecil

With little fanfare, Brett Cecil is becoming, perhaps, the most dependable arm in the bullpen.  In 8 games since his heart-breaking tumble against Cincinnati, Brett has tossed 8 scoreless innings (including the eighth-inning last night) allowing only 3 hits and no walks.  Fifteen of the last 20 batters to put the ball in play against Brett have hit it on the ground.  During 10.2 innings this month, Brett has given 7 hits (.189 batting average against) and walked just 1.

Moreover, I get the feeling that most batters aren’t very comfortable stepping in against Brett.  None of the three he faced last night swung at his first pitch, and over the course of the month, 32 of the 38 batters he’s faced (84.2%) have chosen to take that first pitch.  Those 32 batters are 3 for 31 (.097) with one walk.  The six who have hacked at his first pitch have gone on to be 4 for 6 in those at bats.

Scoring Changes

If you keep statistics at home and you notice that Aledmys Diaz’ official batting average is something higher than you have calculated, then you may have missed a couple of recent scoring changes that have awarded Aledmys infield hits on plays that had originally been ruled as errors.

The first change is from the June 16 game in Baltimore.  In the seventh inning, Diaz hit that ground ball with the funny backspin.  It started well foul, but then hopped back into fair territory.  It spun off pitcher Gabriel Ynoa’s fingers and he couldn’t make a play on it.  Change that from an E1 to an infield single (and add 2 earned runs to Ynoa’s line as the change makes the runs scored on Pham’s subsequent home run – with two outs – now earned runs.

Then, four days later (June 20) in Philadelphia, during that 7-run eleventh-inning, Diaz was safe at first on what was originally ruled an E6.  That is now also an infield hit (and another earned run charged to pitcher Casey Fein as Pham again followed with a home run).

It Took A While, But Cards Finally Prevail in Eleven

As would befit a game featuring two struggling teams, the St Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies combined to go 3 for 15 with runners in scoring position last night – a telling number in an eleven-inning game where any offensive pulse might have won the game for either team.

Throughout the evening, the Cardinals had had the better of the opportunities.  They had runners at first and third with one out in the second – nothing came of that.  They followed that up with runners at second and third with nobody out in the third, but they ran themselves out of that inning.  Paul DeJong led off the fifth inning with a double, but that opportunity also fell victim to bad base-running.

So, by the time Stephen Piscotty came to the plate with runners at first and second with no one out, the Cards were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.  Piscotty broke the spell with the two-run double that would prove to be the winning hit, and the Cards tacked on 5 more runs after that, ending up with an 8-1 victory (box score).  In so doing they continued one very good streak and – temporarily at least – paused a couple of pretty bad streaks.

The principle bad streak halted was a lot of recent losing.  Before last night, the Cards had lost 5 out of 6, 12 out of 17, and 22 out of 32.

The other bad streak that was temporarily halted was a run of awful pitching for the month of June.  The team began yesterday with a 5.53 ERA for the month – 6.29 from the starters.  It was only for one night – and only against the offensively struggling Phillies – but for one night anyway, the pitching staff (starters and relievers) looked like they were expected to look this season.

Mike Leake

Throughout his four previous starts, Mike Leake’s season – which had started out brilliantly – had been starting to unravel.  In starts against Los Angeles (May 29), Chicago (June 3), Cincinnati (June 8), and Milwaukee (June 14), Leake had been little more than a batting practice pitcher.  He lost all four of those games with a 6.20 ERA and a batting line against of .316/.370/.500.  Opposing batters missed on only 14% of their swings against him during that span.

But last night saw the return of the Mike Leake that began the season with 9 consecutive quality starts and a 1.91 ERA.  For 6 innings he silenced Philadelphia on 3 hits allowing 1 run.

The only real shot Philly had at Leake came in the fifth inning – an inning that began with St Louis holding a 1-0 lead.  Walks to Howie Kendrick and Aaron Altherr led to the only two at bats with runners in scoring position the Phillies would get against Leake. Tommy Joseph took much of the steam out of the inning by bouncing into a double play.  But – in what has been a recurring theme for the Leake and the starting rotation – Mike couldn’t get out of the inning unscathed.  In spite of the fact that Leake jammed the hitter, Maikel Franco managed to dribble the ball up the middle – just out of the reach of shortstop Aledmys Diaz – for the RBI single that forged the tie that would stand for the next six innings.

For the month of June, Mike has faced 22 batters with runners in scoring position.  They have achieved 4 singles, 2 doubles, one home run, 10 runs batted in, 2 walks (one intentional) and 2 batters hit by pitches.  That all adds up to a batting line of .389/.500/.667.  A little distressing.

Some of the other starters have had rough Junes when faced with runners in scoring position.  Michael Wacha is at .417/.533/.667 for the month.  Adam Wainwright has been hit at a .308/.400/.731 clip in RISP at bats in June.  Lance Lynn has been better, but still troubling at .250/.300/.625 (although that’s only facing ten batters so far this month with runners in scoring position).

Carlos Martinez, of course, has been the rock of the rotation.  In his three starts so far in June, Carlos has only faced 12 batters in RISP situations.  They are 1 for 9 with 2 walks and a sacrifice fly.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil continues to give out strong hints that he is starting to lock things in.  In 6 innings over his last 5 games, Brett has faced 19 batters and allowed 2 singles (a .105/.105/.105 batting line).  Over that span, he’s thrown 71% of his pitches for strikes, while 11 of the 14 batters that have made contact against him have hit the ball on the ground.  Brett threw a crisp 1-2-3 seventh last night.

Kevin Siegrist

This, honestly, is the kind of game that Kevin Siegrist has toppled in many times this season.  This time, however, there would be no blinking.  With his 1-2-3 tenth inning, Kevin’s ERA for the month lowers to 2.70, while his batting average against and on base percentage both fall to .240.  Siegrist is another of the important bullpen arms that just may be rounding into form.

The Continuing Good Trend

The one positive trend that continued – although it took them awhile – was the offensive production.  With 8 runs scored, 4 doubles and 3 home runs in last night’s game, the Cards are on a 10-game tear where they have scored 65 runs, while hitting 20 doubles and 21 home runs.  They are slugging .528 as a team over those games.  Even though they are only hitting a modest .256 for the month of June, they have now hit 29 home runs in the 19 games played this month, and are scoring 4.74 runs per game.

And while last night’s production with runners on base was comparatively poor (they are hitting .351 in those situations over the course of their little hitting streak) they are continuing to get extra base hits in those situations (Piscotty the double, Yadier Molina a home run).  Through the last ten games, St Louis is slugging .662 when batting with runners in scoring position.

Tommy Pham

Getting his first extended taste of playing time, Tommy Pham is already about to pass his career highs in numerous categories, including hits (41 – he already has 38), doubles (7 – he has 6 already), home runs (9 – he hit his seventh last night), total bases (73 – he already has 65), runs scored (28 – he already has 25), walks (20 – he already has 18), and runs batted in – he set a new career high last night with 20.  He had never driven in more than 18 previously.  He also has more stolen bases already this year (6) than he had in his entire previous career (4).  If he can sustain his batting line of .281/.373/.481 with an OPS of .855 throughout the season, those would also all be career highs.

Paul DeJong

Filling Kolten Wong’s shoes is a tall task these days, but in his second look at the major leagues, Paul DeJong is making an even better impression than he did his first time around.  After a 2 for 5 night that included a double, DeJong is now hitting .350 (7 for 20) in the 5 games since his recall, and slugging .700.  In addition to yesterday’s double, Paul also has two home runs.

NoteBook

After losing the first game of 8 consecutive series, the Cards have now won four consecutive opening games.  So far, it hasn’t helped turn the tables.  St Louis has gone on to lose two of the previous series.

Rally Falls One Run Short Again

If May was characterized by a sluggish offense that made a habit of wasting outstanding starting pitching, the 5-9 (so far) June of this strangely symmetrical season has been characterized by a fading rotation wasting some substantial offense.  Last night, the Cards lost their second 7-6 game this month (box score) after Mike Leake dug them a 6-0 hole in the first two innings.  To his credit, Mike battled back to finish six innings with no more damage – giving the Cards a chance to get back in the game.  In the end, though, this was yet another tight game that the Cards could have won, but didn’t.

Winning one-run games has been one of many struggles for this team.  Teams with high character will – over the course of the season – win most of their one-run games.

Now 9-13 on the season, the Cards have fallen to 2-3 in the 5 one-run contests played already this month – games in which the starting pitchers have managed just 1 quality start with a 6.08 ERA.  In just 26.2 innings, the rotation has served up 28 hits (including 7 doubles, a triple, and 4 home runs) while walking 14 other batters in games this month that have ended up as one-run games.

The rotation has now not put together a quality start since Carlos Martinez tossed his shutout against Philadelphia.  Fourteen games into the month of June, the rotation has managed 3 quality starts and holds a 5-5 record with a 5.17 ERA.  They have combined to serve up 11 home runs in 76.2 innings.

Mike Leake

Through his first nine starts, Mike Leake took baseball by storm.  With quality starts in all 9 games, Mike was 5-2 with a league leading 1.91 ERA.  In 4 starts since then, Mike has no quality starts, an 0-4 record, and a 6.20 ERA.  His batting line has fallen from the .210/.242/.339 of those early starts to .316/.370/.500 these last 4 times out.

This was the fifth of his 13 starts that ended as a one-run game, and the first of the five that Mike didn’t contribute a quality start to.  He is 1-2 with a 3.45 ERA in those games.  The Cards are 1-4 in those games.

Other Starters in One-Run Games

Michael Wacha is the starter most frequently involved in one-run games.  Six of his eleven starts have been decided by one run (with St Louis winning only 2 of them).  These include both of his starts this month, a 7-6 loss to Chicago and a 3-2 win against Philadelphia.  Wacha has pitched well enough in these 6 games, with 4 quality starts, a 2-1 record, and a 3.60 ERA.

Carlos Martinez has been the rotation’s best in one-run games so far this year.  Only 4 of his starts have ended in one-run differentials, but the Cards have won 3 of them (4-3 vs Chicago, 2-1 wins against Milwaukee and Los Angeles).  Carlos has 3 quality starts in those games, a 2-1 record and a 0.96 ERA.

Lance Lynn has started three of these games.  He is 1-0 with a 1.33 ERA in 20.1 innings in them.  St Louis has lost his two non-decisions – including his duel with Clayton Kershaw that wasn’t decided until the thirteenth inning.

Adam Wainwright has started 4 of the one-run games.  He is 1-1 in these games while the team is 2-2.  In those four starts, Adam has no quality starts and a 5.31 ERA.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist pitched the seventh inning and – of course – allowed the run that eventually decided the game.  This was the sixth time this season that Kevin has pitched on consecutive days.  These appearances have totaled 5.1 innings, during which Siegrist has been touched for 6 runs on 10 hits – a 10.13 ERA and a .400 batting average against.  Perhaps a trend to keep an eye on.

Siegrist has been – over his career – one of the team’s best performers in one-run games.  During his first four years, he had appeared in 98 of them, going 9-7 with 30 holds and 2 saves while letting go of a lead just 8 times.  His career ERA in one-run games was 2.35 with a .203 batting average against.  He was especially good last year with an 0.96 ERA and a .160 batting average against in 30 one-run games (28 innings).

In 2017, Kevin has now pitched in 8 one-run games, accounting for 7.1 innings.  This was the first run he has allowed in any of those games.

Offense Starting to Find Its Way

Although the Phillies and Brewers don’t boast elite pitching staffs, the Cards are starting put together a little bit of offensive consistency over their last five games.  With the 6 runs last night, St Louis is now at 30 runs over these games – although they haven’t always done it with an over-abundance of hits.  Last night they had a 4-run second and a two-run homer in the eighth, but finished with only 7 hits on the night.  For the month of June, the team batting average slips to .249.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter hit leadoff for the eighth straight game last night, and ran his corresponding hitting streak to eight games.  He singled, doubled (his fifth straight game with a double), walked, was hit by a pitch and drove in his ninth run of the hitting streak.  Carp is now 13 for his last 31 (.419), with 8 of the hits for extra bases (including 3 home runs) – an .871 slugging percentage.

The streak pushes his overall average for the month of June to .300 (15 for 50) and his slugging percentage to .580.

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz hit the two-run eighth-inning home run that narrowed what had been a 6-0 lead to what would be a 7-6 final.  Aledmys also had a single and ended up scoring two runs on the night.  He has 3 hits in his last six at bats, and is now back over .260 for the season (.262), but is at .279 for the month of June (12 for 43) with a .512 slugging percentage (he has 4 doubles and 2 home runs this month).

Aledmys didn’t contribute much offensively during the 17 one-run games played in April and May (he slashed .182/.217/.242 in 66 at bats in those games), but he has been a driving force in the five played so far in June.  In games that have ended up as 3-2 and 7-6 losses against Chicago, 3-2 and 6-5 wins against Philadelphia, and last night’s 7-6 loss to Milwaukee, Diaz is 8 for 19 (.421) with 5 extra-base hits and an .895 slugging percentage.  In the second half of last season (after returning from the disabled list), Diaz hit .349 in the team’s final 11 one-run games.

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty slides to 0 for his last 8 after last night’s 0 for 4.  He hasn’t driven in a run – and in fact has only one extra-base hit – in his last 5 games – a span during which he is hitting .188 (3 for 16) and slugging .250.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko got things rolling with a two-run double against Nick Pivetta in the middle game of the Philadelphia series.  He hasn’t had a hit since then – a streak that has now reached 11 at bats following his 0-for-3 last night.  Gyorko has fallen back under .300 to .296 for the season, and is slashing .244/.289/.293 for the month of June, so far.

One of the interesting things about the recent offensive surge is that the Cards have done it with little contribution from their third and fourth place hitters.  And just to be clear, here, a 3-for-16 skid or an 0-for-11 isn’t anything to be overly concerned about.  It’s the kind of lull that attaches itself to everybody at some point during the long season.  Gyorko’s 10 for 41 July (which includes no home runs and only 2 doubles) is more cause for concern, but even that is nothing to panic over.  If the guys who are hot keep doing what they’re doing until Piscotty and Gyorko come around, this offense will be just fine.

From the All-Star break through the end of the season, St Louis was 17-8 in one-run games.  A principle factor in this success was the bat of Jedd Gyorko, who hit .286/.348/.631 with 9 home runs in those games.  Jedd has played in 18 of St Louis’ first 22 one-run games of 2017, hitting just .215 (14 for 65) with just one home run (hit off of CC Sabathia in the eighth inning in New York on April 15 as the Cards scored two late runs to trim a 3-0 deficit to a 3-2 final).

Greg Garcia

Greg Garcia took over for Kolten Wong, who left the game with tightness in his forearm (and has since returned to the disabled list).  Greg has been a very useful role player, but he has also struggled at the plate this month.  He is now 1 for 14 in June (.071) after his 0-for-2 last night.

Last year, Greg hit a solid .268 in 30 one-run games (19 for 71).  He is now 1 for 19 (.053) in 16 one-run games in 2017.

Leake Labors But Can’t Stop the Bleeding

From May 5 through May 10, the St Louis Cardinals buzzed through Atlanta and Miami on their way to a rare perfect 6-0 road trip.  They limp home tonight having been on the receiving end of a perfectly unperfect 0-7 road trip.  All we’ve had, so far in 2017, is the roller-coaster ride.  A 3-9 plummet to start the season.  A torrid 18-6 rebound that threw us to the top of the division.  And now a bottom-dropping 5-17 tailspin that has many of us reaching for something to throw up into.  As noted later on, this losing spin is approaching record territory.

The 2017 Cardinal season is, apparently, not for the faint of heart.

Also on a bit of a roller coaster is yesterday’s starting pitcher.  A virtual machine through April and most of May, Mike Leake has regressed some over his last few starts.  Although he mostly pitched better than his final line indicated (5 innings, 3 runs, 2 earned), Mike still absorbed the loss when the bullpen turned his 3-0 deficit into a 5-2 defeat (box score).  After winning 4 of his first 5 decisions, Leake has now lost 4 of his last 5.

Mike Leake

After beginning the season with 9 straight quality starts – a streak that saw him go 5-2 with a 1.91 ERA – Mike Leake has come back to earth a bit.  Yesterday marked his third straight non-quality start – although, in his defense, he probably could have pitched the sixth inning.  Even so, it was a battle throughout as Cincinnati punched out 10 hits over the five innings and kept the heat on.  Since his 9-quality-start streak ended, Leake is 0-3 with a 5.30 ERA.

Again, there were no runs scored in Mike’s behalf.  Over the 12 starts of his season, so far, only Carlos Martinez has seen less support among the Cardinal starters than Leake.  This is the third time this season already that the Cards were shut out while he was the pitcher of record, leaving Mike with just 32 support runs over his 80 innings of work (3.60 runs per 9 innings).  Martinez has seen only 25 support runs in his 79.1 innings – just 2.84 per nine innings.

Over the 11.2 innings of his last 2 starts, Mike Leake has caused 26 ground balls and only 13 fly balls.  Among Cardinal starters he is the most likely to draw that ground ball as 55.5% of the balls in play against him are hit on the ground.  Adam Wainwright (52.9%) and Martinez (52.2%) are the only other Cardinal starters to get more ground balls than fly balls.

Unfortunately for Mike, this hasn’t worked out all that well as 9 of the 26 grounders (including 5 of the 13 yesterday) found their way through the infield for hits – a .346 batting average on ground balls that suggests more bad luck than bad pitching.

More Runs Against the Bullpen

It has come to the point that when the starter goes out – however well or poorly he has been pitching – you get that sinking feeling in your stomach, because you know once the bullpen comes in, there will be more run scoring.  Sixteen times over the last 22 games, there has been at least one run scored against the bullpen.  Of the six games that the bullpen didn’t allow any of their own runs, they gave up two inherited runs to cost Carlos Martinez a loss Monday night against the Reds.

In all, during this dreadful streak, the bullpen has served up 10 home runs in 65.2 innings, allowed a .284 batting average against, and carries a fairly astonishing 6.30 ERA into the beginning of the home stand.

Seung-hwan Oh

After a six-day layoff, closer Seung-hwan Oh finished up the loss with a perfect eighth inning.  If the wheels are starting to come off in other areas, at least Oh looks like he is starting to settle in.  He is now unscored on over his last 5 outings (5.1 innings).  He has only pitched 7 times in the last 22 games, but has a 2.16 ERA through the 8.1 innings that he has pitched during this downturn.  In the last 32 at bats against him, Oh has surrendered 6 singles and 1 double – a .219 batting average with a .250 slugging percentage against him.

Yet – as with everyone else during the recent struggles – his one hiccup cost a game.  Handed a 5-4 lead in the first game against San Francisco on May 19, Seung-hwan served up two singles and a 2-run double to Eduardo Nunez.

With the season a third gone, Oh – so far – has done better in situations like last night, where he hasn’t come into the game as the closer.  Of his 24 games so far, he’s been in that closer’s role 15 times.  He is 1-1 in that role with 13 saves, 2 blown saves, and an OK 3.38 ERA.

In his 9 appearances in non-closing situations, Oh has an 0-1 record, but a 1.64 ERA and a .220 batting average against.  Opponents are hitting .266 against Oh when he is in as the closer.

Not That The Offense Couldn’t Help More

Again, Cardinal pitchers saw very little support.  Two runs (scoring after the contest was mostly decided) on six hits and no walks drops the team batting average to .226 and the team’s scoring average to 3.05 runs per game since May 15.  For the season, the team batting average is down to .248 and the runs scored per game has dropped to an even 4.00.  All this while the team ERA has risen to 4.01.  Not a collection of good trends.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina singled twice in four at bats last night.  Beginning with a sixth-inning home run against Lester last Saturday, Yadi is now 6 for his last 15 (.400).

Dexter Fowler

Hitless in four more at bats yesterday, Dexter Fowler’s season average fades back to .222.  He has only 2 hits over his last 6 games (17 at bats – a .118 average), and has hit .214 (18 for 84) over the last 22 games.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko’s batting average continues to regress toward the .300 mark.  It’s down to .307 now after his 0 for 4 last night.  Gyorko finished the lost road trip with no extra base hits and only 4 hits total in 20 at bats.

Tommy Pham

During his 0-for-3 day, Tommy Pham saw a good streak end and a bad streak continue.  Pham, who has been drawing more walks than ever before, had walked at least once in 5 straight games (until yesterday).  Tommy still maintains a .397 on base percentage this year.

On the other hand, Pham has now bounced into a double play in 3 straight games.  He already has 7 for the season.

Pham has also been among the slumping bats of the last three weeks.  He is hitting just .246 (15 for 61) since the troubles began.  He has, however, also drawn 12 walks in that span, so his on base percentage has been a solid .360.

NoteBook

In this century, this is the ninth time that the Cardinals have lost as many as seven in a row (once in 2002, three times – famously – in 2006, once in 2007, 2008, 2011 – another world championship season, and 2013).  Only three of those losing streak have stretched to 8 games (twice in 2006 & once in 2007), with the 2007 streak finally reaching nine games before ending.  That streak, lasting from September 7 through September 15 of that year, has been the longest Cardinal losing streak of the century so far.

2007 was also the only other time in this century that the Cardinals lost 17 out of 22 games.  That stretch – which included the 9-game losing streak – occurred from September 5 to September 25.  At 78-84, the 2007 team was the only Cardinal team in this century (so far) to finish below .500.

Even that team managed to stay above .500 until game number 138 when the September collapse settled in.  Here is the box score of the game that finally ended the streak.

At no point in this century have the Cardinals lost 18 games in a 23-game span.  There were three over-lapping 23-game spans from September 3 to 26 of 2007 where they lost 17 of 23, so unless the Birds can work their way out of the darkness with a win tonight, they will set a little negative history.