Tag Archives: Leake

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.

Leake Answers 13-Inning Loss With a Gem

Most of the time when a team needs to turn things around (as the Cardinals did last night after losses in 5 of their 6 previous games), the turnaround starts with the starting pitcher.  And as he has several times already this season, Cardinal starter Mike Leake answered the bitter 13-inning loss of the night before with his ninth quality start in 9 games.  He helped lead the Cards to a 6-1 conquest of the Dodgers (box score).

For all of that, though, St Louis is where they are on the season (23-20) because they have been largely unable to break out of significant losing streaks.  Already this season they have endured three 3-game losing streaks and, most recently, a 4-game losing streak.  Last year’s team was a modest 44-32 after a loss.  They finished with 86 wins and missed the playoffs.  The Cardinals begin 2017 with a 10-10 record in games after a loss (including a 5-4 mark in May).  There are various explanations for this struggle.  The starting pitching, though (which is suddenly starting to resemble the 2015 team an awful lot), has not been one of the issues.

Mike Leake

Last night’s dominating performance brought Mike Leake his team-leading fifth win of the season.  Mike won only 9 all of last season and has never won more than 14 in a season in his career.  But this is MikeLeake 2.0, and the rest of the National League might as well get used to it.  Last night he pitched 8 innings allowing 1 run.  It was the fifth time in 9 starts that Leake allowed fewer than 2 runs, and the eighth time that he has allowed less than three.  He walked nobody for the second straight start, and now has 0 walks in 4 of his 9 starts.  In fact, he hasn’t walked any of the last 62 batters that have faced him.  In 4 starts this month, his record sits at 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA and a .190 batting average against.

Mike Leake has been impressive.

But as good as he has been in all situations, he has been at his best when he has taken the ball after a Cardinal loss.  Four of his 9 starts have followed losses.  In the 30 innings that he’s pitched in those games, he has permitted 4 runs on 21 hits (14 singles, 5 doubles, a triple, and just 1 home run) while walking 1 batter and striking out 23.  Mike has answered those Cardinal losses with 2 wins (last night’s game against the Dodgers and another 6-1 win against Washington on April 12 that broke a 3-game losing streak), one loss (a 2-0 loss against Cincinnati on April 7), and one no decision (the May 17 game against Boston that he left after 7 with a 4-2 lead only to see bad things happen after he was gone).

His ERA in those games is 1.20 and the batting line against is .200/.206/.295.   This is outstanding.

The Rest of the Rotation in Games After a Loss

St Louis’ tepid record in wins after losses is all the more confounding when weighed against the excellence of the starting pitching.  Following the 9 losses so far in May, Cardinal starters have chalked up 8 quality starts, a 5-0 record, a 1.59 ERA, and a .193 batting average against.  For the season, the rotation has 13 quality starts, a 9-5 record, a 2.51 ERA, and a .223 batting average against when responding to the previous day’s loss.

Carlos Martinez has been the next best starter after a loss.  He has taken the ball in 5 of these games, throwing 4 quality starts with a record of 2-1 and a 2.10 ERA.  Lance Lynn has four of these starts.  He is also 2-1 with a 2.31 ERA.  Michael Wacha, starting 3 times after a loss, is 1-0, 2.50.

These four pitchers have combined to start 16 of the 20 games St Louis has played after suffering a loss.  They have combined to throw 12 quality starts and 105.2 innings with just 7 home runs allowed.  They are a combined 7-3 in those games with a 1.96 ERA and a batting line against of .190/.258/.302.

Through 43 games, one-time ace Adam Wainwright has been the “other” starter.  He has made the other 4 starts after a loss, but with less effectiveness.  He has thrown 1 quality start, and sits at 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in these games.

Always the Bullpen

As with almost every other statistical measuring tool, it is the bullpen that has been clipping the wings of the 2017 Cardinals.  While the starters are 5-0 this month after a loss, the bullpen is 0-4 with 3 blown saves and a 4.23 ERA.  For the season, the bullpen carries a 5.72 ERA in games after a Cardinal loss.

This is a trend I don’t expect to see continue.  Recently, most of the troubled bullpen arms have started to rebound and pitch as anticipated.  We’ll revisit this situation later on in the year and see how it develops.

Offense Gets By With a Little Help

Nine walks and a big error that allowed two runs to score eased the Cardinal path to victory.  With just 8 hits – 6 of them singles – the offense was less explosive than it’s been of late.  Still, it all combined for 6 runs.  Over the last 28 games, the Cards have now scored at least 4 runs in 22 of them.

Jedd Gyorko

Having had his six-game hitting streak snapped the night before, Jedd Gyorko responded with three hits last night to spark the offensive bounce back.  Jedd has now hit safely in 21 of his last 26 games – getting multiple hits in 11 of them, and three or more in five of them.  Jedd’s season average has soared to .331 on the strength of these 26 games of sustained excellence.  Jedd has hit .362 over his last 105 at bats (38 hits), and slugged .610 (7 doubles, 2 triples, 5 home runs).  In 18 games this month, Jedd is 25 for 76 (.329) with 3 home runs.

Jedd has now played in 8 of the 9 after-loss games the Cardinals have played this month.  He is hitting .417 (15 for 36) and slugging .750 (1 double, 1 triple & 3 home runs) in those games.  All season long, Jedd has been the most dangerous Cardinal hitter when the team had lost its previous game.  Jedd has played in 17 of the 20 games (starting 16) and has hit .358 (24 for 67) and slugged .642 in those games.  Of the 7 home runs Jedd has hit this season, 5 have come in games following a loss.

Dexter Fowler

As has been variously reported following his 0-for-4 last night, Dexter Fowler is now hitless in 20 straight at bats with 7 strikeouts.  He is now just 7 for 47 (.149) for the month.  While his overall batting average sinks to .206, his average in games after a loss is even worse – now at .149 (11 for 74), the lowest on the team.

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty hasn’t come back from the DL with an especially torrid bat.  He has had one dribbling infield hit in his last 9 at bats, and is just 3 for 15 (.200) since his return.

But Stephen wasn’t especially torrid before he went down, either.  While the offense in general has done quite well since the beginning of that late April series in Milwaukee, they have done so without much contribution from Piscotty.  Playing in 16 of the last 28 games, Stephen holds a .231 average (12 for 52) with 4 extra-base hits (all doubles) and 3 RBIs.  His slugging percentage sits at .308 since late April.

Stephen’s last home run came in the ninth-inning of the April 15 game in New York against the Yankees – 81 plate appearances (and 322 pitches) ago.

Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk struck out three times in his 0-for-4 night.  He is 16 for 72 this month (.222).  With their combined 0-for-12 last night, the Cardinals starting outfield is now hitting .232 (Grichuk in left), .206 (Fowler in center), and .234 (Piscotty in right) respectively at slightly past the quarter-pole of the season.  Somewhat less than was hoped for.

Cards Struggle to Prove Themselves Against Winning Teams

With two pretty ugly losses to Boston, the St Louis Cardinals fall to 3-5 during the month of May, and 8-13 for the season in games against teams that currently have winning records.  These winning teams that the Cardinals have played so far are Boston (now 21-18), Chicago (now 20-19), Milwaukee (which currently leads the division at 23-18), the Yankees (currently 24-13), and Washington (now 25-14).

Twenty-one of the season’s first 38 games is a pretty heavy dose of the better teams in baseball, and has exposed some of the early-season weaknesses that this team will need to improve on in order to compete with these better teams going forward.

From an offensive standpoint, the Cardinal team batting line isn’t that far removed from the league averages for those teams.  Against the pitching staffs of the Red Sox, Cubs, Brewers, Yankees and Nationals (these numbers courtesy of baseball reference) all of their opponents have combined to slash .250/.319/.413/.732.  The Cardinal’s slash line against these teams is .251/.328/.408/.736.  But, those teams, combined, allow an average of 4.47 runs per game.  The Cardinals are scoring just 3.95 runs per game against them.

This lingering problem was on full display last night as St Louis put four early runs on the board, but never scored again over the remaining 11 innings of the long and frustrating game that they eventually dropped 5-4 in 13 innings (box score).

From the point where Dexter Fowler walked to load the bases with one out in the second (St Louis ahead 3-0 at that point), the Cards went 7 for 38 (.184) with 10 strikeouts.  After getting three successive hits with runners in scoring position in that second inning, they went hitless in their final six such opportunities.

To this point – against these winning teams – the Cards are just 35 for 170 (.205) with runners in scoring position.  For the most part, this team has found itself overmatched by these pitching staffs in the pivotal moments of these games.  Through 21 games, the Cardinals have come through in crunch-time at bats against this list of teams just three times this season: Randal Grichuk’s opening day walk-off single that beat the Cubs 4-3; Aledmys Diaz’ seventh-inning home run that broke a 1-1 tie and helped the Birds beat Milwaukee 4-1 on April 22; and Kolten Wong’s eighth-inning infield hit that tied the May first game against Milwaukee at 4-all (a game the Birds would lose 7-5 in 10 innings).

One of the strong early impressions this team is making is that they are not mentally tough enough to beat the better teams in baseball.

Kolten Wong

Wong had the double that was in the middle of the three-run second inning.  He finished with three hits for the evening.  It was his sixth multi-hit game of the season and his second three-hit game.  Kolten has pushed his season average to .273 by hitting .291 in May (16 for 55) and .309 (29 of 94) in 25 games since April 17.  Wong has hit safely in 21 of his last 25 games.

While much of the Cardinal club has been found wanting against better competition, that is not the case with Wong.  With his 3 hits yesterday, Wong is now hitting .407 this month (11 for 27) and .317 for the year (19 for 60) when playing against teams that win more than they lose.  He is 8 for 21 (.381) against them with runners in scoring position.

The development of Kolten Wong into the player that we’ve always thought he could be is one of the best things that could happen for the future of this franchise.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko added a couple more hits last night.  Jedd is showing no signs of slowing down much in May.  He is now hitting .328 this month (19 for 58) with a .534 slugging percentage.  He has 3 doubles, 3 home runs and 10 RBIs in 13 starts this month.  He has also now hit in 18 of his last 22 games, hitting .368 in that span (32 for 87) and slugging .644.  His hits include 7 doubles, a triple and 5 home runs.  Jedd has driven in 14 runs in those games.

Gyorko has played in all 8 games this month where the Cards have faced winning teams, and acquitted himself well.  Jedd is 10 for 35 (.286) against them with 3 home runs (.543 slugging percentage).

Over the course of the season so far, Jedd has probably been our most consistent weapon against the better teams that we’ve faced. He has played in 18 of the 21 games – starting in 17 of them – and hit .309 in those contests (21 for 68).  Nine of those 21 hits have gone for extra bases.  Two doubles, one triple, and six of the seven home runs he’s hit this season have come at the expense of winning teams.  He is slugging .632 in those games.

Jedd, however, is 0 for 11 against these guys with runners in scoring position.

Magneuris Sierra

Magneuris Sierra – who has at least one hit in all seven of his major league games – had his fourth two-hit night of the season last night.  It raises his average to .367 in his short exposure to the major leagues (he is 11 for 30).

Sierra’s only exposure to over .500 teams has been this home stand when the Cards have engaged the Cubs and Red Sox.  Magneuris has played in 3 of the 5 games, going 5 for 13 (.385) at the plate (and 3 for 6 with RISP).

He certainly isn’t dazzled by it all.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s halting May continued.  Matt was the only Cardinal starter not to get a hit last night (0 for 5) but he did draw a walk – his sixteenth walk in 14 games this month.  Moreover, although he only has 12 hits this month, 7 of those hits have gone for extra-bases, including five home runs.  Matt’s batting line so far for May is .245/.424/.612.  There are very few players who could hit less than .250 and still be considered legitimate player-of-the-month candidates.  Carpenter, I think could be one of them.

His season batting line (.244/.396/.496) shows that same pattern – although not with the kind of power we’ve seen from him so far in May.  Matt has had that kind of season against winning teams, too – but without quite enough of the production to really say he’s having a good year against them.

In the 8 games he’s played against these teams in May, Matt is just 5 for 28, but with a double, 2 home runs and 7 walks – a .179/.333/.429 batting line (which still equates to a .762 OPS).  For the season, Carpenter has played in all 21 games against teams that currently have winning records (starting 20).  His 70 at bats in those games have produced just 16 hits, but 6 of those hits have been for extra-bases (4 of them home runs) and he’s walked 15 times in those games.  His 2017 batting line – so far – against winning teams is .229/.360/.429 – an OPS of .788.  Like Gyorko, Carpenter is 0 for 13 against all these guys with runners in scoring position.

Ultimately, the hope is that his strikeout totals (currently 25 in those 70 at bats) will level out in favor of a few more hits.  And, maybe, even a few with runners in scoring position.

Mike Leake

Nothing but warm fuzzies for erstwhile number four starter Mike Leake. Mike is now 8 for 8 in quality starts this season (this in spite of the fact that he has now served up 4 home runs in his last 3 games).  Mike has – of course – pitched at least six innings in every start so far, with last night being only the third time all season that he’s needed to throw over 98 pitches to achieve that. At 2.03, Mike still leads the NL in ERA.

Last night was already the second time that Mike has entrusted a lead to his bullpen, only to see it slip away.  He allowed only 1 run in 6 innings against Cincinnati on April 30, walking off with a 4-1 lead only to see the Reds take advantage of the bullpen (and Rosenthal, for that matter) for a 5-4 victory.

Making his performance even more impressive is that half of those starts have come against the winning teams that we’ve listed above.  He is 2-1 against those top offenses with a 2.08 ERA and a .200 batting average against.  In the 26 innings that he’s pitched in those 4 games, Mike has walked just 6 batters (none last night).

How Do The Other Starters Fare Against Winning Teams?

The other starters are a mixed bag.  Carlos Martinez has been very good (2-2, 2.84 in 5 starts – 3 of the quality starts), and Lance Lynn has been OK (1-2, 3.63 in 4 starts – 1 quality start).  In 6 starts against these teams, Adam Wainwright has managed 1 quality start (his last time out against the Cubs), going 2-3 with a 4.99 ERA against them.  Michael Wacha (who was skipped for both the Chicago and Boston series’) has only seen these teams twice – the Yankees on April 14 (6 innings, 4 runs, 9 hits, 2 home runs in a 4-3 loss) and May first against Milwaukee (a no decision after 6 more innings and 4 more runs).  Although they have been much better recently (2.08 in the 8 May games) the bullpen holds a 4.55 ERA against these teams so far.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal has been so good for so much of this season.  Going into last night’s eighth inning he hadn’t allowed a hit over his previous 5 games and hadn’t been scored on over his previous 7.  Those streaks came to an end when Xander Bogaerts (he of the .338 batting average so far this season) sliced an 0-2, 100-mile-per-hour fastball into the right-center field gap for the triple that set up the game-tying sequence.

Rosenthal’s season ERA is still a fine 2.93, but (and this is in a very small sample size) in his 7.1 innings against the better teams he’s faced he has been tagged for 4 runs on 7 hits (a 4.91 ERA).  A lot of veteran hitters (like Bogaerts and Joey Votto and Ryan Braun) can handle that 100-mph heat.  Especially if it’s up a bit in the zone.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh pitched multiple innings last night for the fourth time this season.  One of his innings was a little complex, but he came through not allowing a run.  Oh is now unscored on in his last 6 games, and hasn’t allowed an earned run over his last 13 games.

In 11.1 innings against winning teams this season, Seung-hwan has pitched decently well (4 of 5 in save opportunities with a 3.18 ERA).

Matthew Bowman

After enduring a little lag at the end of April through the first days of May, Matthew Bowman has righted his ship.  He pitched last night’s eleventh inning in 1-2-3 fashion with 2 strikeouts.  Matthew hasn’t allowed an earned run over his last 5 games, and his ERA for the month is 1.69 with a .176 batting average against.

Of all the relief pitchers who have risen to the occasion against the better teams, Matthew has been, perhaps, the most impressive.  He has worked in 12 of the 21 games played against them so far, pitching 10.2 innings.  In those innings, he has given just 5 hits and 1 run (on the home run that Milwaukee’s Jesus Aguilar managed against him on May 4).  He has walked 2 and fanned 9, leading to an 0.84 ERA and a .143/.184/.229 batting line against some of baseball’s toughest offenses.  He has also stranded 8 of the 10 runners he’s inherited in these games.

Next Up

San Francisco (playing better lately) is just 17-25 so far.  After that series, the Cards go on the road to face the 23-18 Dodgers and the surprising 25-15 Rockies.  That will be followed by a 4-game home series against the Dodgers again before we take our act to Wrigley.  After this upcoming Giant series, the Cards won’t play another team that currently has a losing record until they roll into Cincinnati on June 5 to play the Reds (currently 19-20).  Assuming the Cubs stay above .500, that will mean 34 of the Cardinals first 54 games this year will be against teams with winning records.

NoteBook

After winning two of three against the Dodgers, San Francisco will the first Cardinal opponent to have won its previous series since they played Pirates in mid-April.  The Cards previous 8 opponents had come in with 7 series losses and one split.

The emphasis on aggressive base-running has had mixed results.  The Cards have run into a bunch of bad outs on the base-paths.  On the other hand they are 15-5 this month in stolen base attempts.  On the extremes of this philosophy are Aledmys Diaz, who already has as many steals (4) as he had all of last year, and Tommy Pham, who in just 11 games has already set career highs in steals (3) and steal attempts (5).  Meanwhile, Fowler – who was added in part to provide some stolen base threat after stealing 13 last season – has only attempted 1 stolen base so far (a successful attempt, as it turns out).

As a footnote to this article, remember that Kellogg was the umpire at first base the night before who called a myriad of Cardinal hitters out on the kind of very slight check-swings that you almost never see called.

The Cards, I imagine, will be glad not to see Jeff Kellogg (one of baseball’s least competent umpires) for a good long while.

Wong, Leake and Rosenthal in Spotlight Against Brewers

The Cardinals wrapped up the Milwaukee series by winning the last three games, 6-3, 4-1, and 6-4.  The victories give the Birds six wins in their last seven games.  The charge in this one was led by three players who entered the season with a lot to prove – Kolten Wong, Mike Leake, and Trevor Rosenthal.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong wrapped up one of his most compelling series in recent memory.  With 2 hits, two walks, a stolen base, a run batted in, and two runs scored, yesterday, Wong finished the series with 16 plate appearances during which he achieved the following:

Two singles, two doubles, a triple, four runs scored, four runs driven in, three walks (two of them intentional), two stolen bases and just one strikeout.  His batting line against Milwaukee was a hearty .385/.500/.692.

He also committed an error and was picked off of second base.  In the good place that Kolten is in right now, mistakes don’t linger.  He puts it behind him and looks forward to the next play, the next at bat.

In the at bat that produced the RBI double, Wong took the first two pitches for strikes – something he was more inclined to do last year.  But after getting ahead of Kolten 0-2, Jimmy Nelson tried to get him to chase two low fastballs – but Kolten laid off both.  The first 2-2 pitch was a fairly nasty slider that broke to the lower inside corner of the plate.  Wong fouled it off, keeping the at bat alive for the sixth pitch – the fastball that Nelson elevated just enough for Wong to get under it and launch it over the center-fielder’s head.

As Wong relaxes into the season, his at bats are becoming – by degrees – more and more professional.  Last year, I think he strikes out in that at bat.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler came to the plate with runners at first and third and two out in the eighth inning.  He jumped on Jared Hughes first-pitch fastball, but drove it to the deepest part of the ballpark, where it died at about the warning track.  After stirring a bit against Pittsburgh, Fowler finished the Milwaukee series just 1 for 11 (.091).  To this point of the season, Dexter is just 2 for 11 when he hits the first pitch thrown to him.  Dexter was a little messed up earlier in the season.  At this point he is pushing through a little bad luck.

Greg Garcia

The recent resurgence has happened with minimal contributions from Greg Garcia, who was 0-for-4 yesterday, and is 3 for 21 (.190) since the beginning of the Pittsburgh series.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake contributed another strong effort – six innings, 2 runs.  In his first three starts of the season, Leake only went to full counts seven times – and five of those were against the Nationals.

The Brewers took him to full counts four times in six innings last night.  He walked two and struck out two.  For the season, the 11 batters who have gone to full counts against Leake are 0 for 9 with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts.

Trevor Rosenthal

Different with Trevor Rosenthal this year is his use of his expanded arsenal.  Each of the four batters that faced him yesterday saw at least a couple of fastballs at 98 mph or hotter.  But only Ryan Braun, who was hitting in a 3-1 count – put one in play (he singled).  The two batters who struck out, struck out on a changeup (Eric Thames) and a slider (Jesus Aguilar).  Travis Shaw flew out on a change.

The more Trevor can command the fastball early in the count, the more devastating his off-speed pitches are late in the count.  In the limited at bats of the early season, batters are 4-for-4 against Trevor when they hit ahead in the count; 2 for 10 against him in even counts; and 1 for 9 when Trevor has the advantage.  I don’t think a whole lot of people are very excited about Trevor Rosenthal so far this season – but maybe they should be.

Leake has been very good all season.  Rosenthal has had a few bumps, but has looked much more like the dominant pitcher he has been up till last year.  Wong began the year in a frustrating funk, but has played much better over the last week or so.  There are plenty of other question marks on this team – and much more season before us.  The questions are far from answered for any of them.  But the last seven games have been a good couple of steps in the right direction.