Tag Archives: Leake

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.

RISP At Bats Haunt Pirates in 2-1 Loss to Cardinals

The Pittsburgh Pirates had more than enough opportunities to add to the Cardinal’s defeat total.  They finished the game with 9 singles and 2 doubles.  But, they received no walks, hit into one crucial double play, and finished a crushing 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position (RISP), sealing their fate in a 2-1 loss to the Cards (box score).

In the spotlight, again, was the National League’s early-season surprise ERA leader Mike Leake.  With another strong outing, Leake surrendered 1 run on 7 hits through 6.1 innings.  His ERA actually rose from 0.60 to 0.84 during the outing.

After being a little roughed up the first two games in Washington, Leake has led the pitching staff in a bit of a resurgence.  Beginning with his victory against Max Scherzer and Washington – and even though the team is only 3-3 over these last six games – the rotation has given the team 36.1 innings with a 2.48 ERA.  During those 36.1 innings, the starters have only surrendered 3 hits in 30 RISP at bats (.100).

Mike Leake has now thrown quality starts all three times out, so far this year.  The rest of the rotation has a total of three during their 11 starts.  He has walked just one batter in his 21.1 innings

Leake was also at the forefront in RISP situations.  Pittsburgh was 0-for-5 in RISP opportunities against Mike.  So far this season, opposing batters are only 2 for 13 (.154) against Leake with runners in scoring position.  Surprisingly, that is not the staff’s best RISP performance.  Two other starters are actually off to better starts, as Michael Wacha has allowed only 1 hit in 10 such at bats (.100) and batters are just 2 for 19 (.105) against Carlos Martinez in those RBI opportunities.

After a nasty start to the season, Brett Cecil has started to settle in a bit.  Beginning with the line drive out off the bat of Bryce Harper in the eighth inning of the April 12 game against Washington, Cecil has set down his last seven batters in a row – including getting the huge double-play grounder that got St Louis out of the seventh-inning last night.  Four of those seven have been up with runners in scoring position.

For the season, now, opponents are hitting only .238 (30 for 126) against the Cardinals with runners in scoring position – reminiscent of the performance of the pitching staff during their remarkable 2015 season when batters hit only .210 against them in RISP at bats.

And that’s a good thing, since their batters – both last night and for the year so far – haven’t yet found their stride in RISP opportunities.

Aledmys Diaz faded to .214 overall in the early going with another 0 for 4.  His evening included going 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position.  He is just 1 for 8 in those situations so far this season.  He hit .337 in RISP at bats last year.

The Cards only other at bat with a runner in scoring position belonged to Stephen Piscotty, who drove home Dexter Fowler with a first-inning ground ball for his team-leading ninth RBI of the season.  Although retired last night, Piscotty is 5 for his first 13 (.385) with runners in scoring position this year.  He is just 4 for 25 (.160) hitting without runners in scoring position.  His season average is down to .237 after his 0 for 4 last night.  Piscotty was a .363 hitter last year with runners in scoring position, after hitting .393 in those situations in his rookie year.

Fourteen games into the season, the Cards are just 18 for 89 with runners in scoring position – a .202 average.  This has been an area of strength during recent seasons (they hit .271 in RISP situations last year).  Other than Piscotty, the rest of the team is hitting .171 in RISP situations.

This has been a principle factor in St Louis’ frigid offensive start.  With only four hits last night, the team’s season-long batting average fades to just .206 while they’ve scored just 3.29 runs per game.

Among the strugglers who kept struggling last night, Randal Grichuk failed to build on his two-hit game Monday night.  He struck out in all three trips to the plate and is now hitting .200 on the season.  Yadier Molina also went 0 for 3 last night, dropping him to .211 for the season.

Mike Leake Ready for a Do-Over

The biggest catch of the 2015-2016 offseason, right-handed starting pitcher Mike Leake couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start.  While the entire team struggled out of the box, Leake’s first six starts of the season set a bad tone for the season to come.

In the 34.1 innings that those six starts lasted, Leake wasn’t really battered.  He gave up 37 hits in those innings (just a .272 batting average against) and walked only 9 (2.36 walks per 9 innings), but that was enough to account for 26 runs (23 of them earned).  His record at this point of the season sat at 0-3 with a surprisingly unsightly 6.03 ERA.  In each of those games, Leake had one multiple-run inning that tarnished his outing.

In his first start against Pittsburgh he didn’t get out of the fifth inning.  Through the first four innings, Mike had allowed just 1 run on 3 hits.  Beginning that inning trailing 1-0, Mike imploded allowing 4 of the 5 batters to reach base (2 singles, a double and a triple).  Suddenly he trailed 4-0 in a game the Pirates would go on to win 5-1.

He made it through six innings against Milwaukee in his second start.  In all of those innings except the fifth, he allowed just 2 runs on 5 hits.  But he was dinged in the fifth inning for 2 runs on three hits – one of those an infield hit – that paved the way for a 6-4 Brewer win.

And so it went.  In his third start it was the seventh inning.  Through the first six, the Cubs had scored 1 run on just 3 hits.  But 3 line drive singles, a throwing error, and a sacrifice fly plated three runs in that inning and Chicago went on to a 5-0 win.  He gave 2 runs in the fifth inning his next time out on his way to a no decision against San Diego; a four-run fourth doomed him to a 5-4 loss to Washington.  In his first start in May he pitched just 5 innings against Philadelphia allowing 4 runs on only 4 hits.  Three of those runs came home on a big fly from Ryan Howard in the fourth.

What Mike really, really needed at this point was a team that was suffering more than he was.  That prayer was answered on May 10 when the Cards began a road trip in Anaheim to take on the tail-spinning Angels.  Leake dominated them to the tune of 1 run on 6 hits over 8 innings on his way to his first Cardinal win (8-1).

That game began a string of 13 starts when the Cards got from Mike Leake exactly what they thought they were getting.  This streak began with that win and stretched through a 10-2 win against San Diego in his first start after the All-Star break on July 18.  Ten of those starts qualified as quality starts and in the 82.2 innings he pitched, he gave more than one run in only seven of them.  He was 7-4 in those games with a 3.16 ERA.  His batting average against was only slightly less than in the previous games – those 13 opponents hit .265 against him.

In his rough April, batters that faced Mike with no one on base hit .265/.315/.456 against him.  But once a runner reached base, that line increased to .306/.362/.449.  In his nearly immaculate May (he was 4-1 with a 2.31 ERA that month), batters hit .237/.282/.423 against him with the bases empty and .170/.184/.255 once a runner reached base.

In his first six games, batters were 9 for 27 (.333) with runners in scoring position.  Over the next 13 games, batters with runners in scoring position were only 18 for 77 (.234).

Three of those first six starts followed a Cardinal loss.  Mike was hammered in those games (0-2, 7.16 ERA).  Nine of his next 13 starts also followed a loss.  Leake’s record in those games was only 4-4, but 7 of those games were quality starts and his ERA was a very competitive 2.88.

During the ragged 6 game start, batters hitting with two outs in the inning hit .292/.358/.521 against Leake.  Over those next 13 starts, once he got the second out of an inning he held batters to a line of .260/.274/.356.  Leake began the season getting groundballs from only 48.7% of the batters who put the ball in play against him.  That percentage warmed to an encouraging 55.4% over the next 13 starts.

In the first 6 games, Leake faced 22 batters in double-play situations.  Only 2 of them obliged.  From that point until mid-July, Leake induced 6 double-play grounders from the 46 double-play opportunities presented him.

In those first six games, Mike threw first-pitch strikes to 59.6% of the batters he faced, saw opposing batters miss on only 11.3% of their swings, while fouling the pitch off with 43.2% of those swings.  In the 13 starts that followed, those percentages were 62.4% first-pitch strikes, 17.1% swings and misses, and 35.9% fouls.  Only 9 of his first 22 strikeouts went down swinging (40.9%), while 39 of his next 65 did (60%).  So as the season progressed Mike was able to get ahead of batters and – most importantly – found a way to get strike three past them rather than having them foul the pitch off.

Significantly, during his struggling start, Leake saw only 13 runs of offensive support (3.41 per 9 innings pitched).  He was supported with 51 runs (5.55 per 9 innings) in those next 13 starts.

All of this mastery came to a clunking end on July 23 at home against the Dodgers.  He lasted 6 innings that night, serving up 7 runs – six earned – on 12 hits.  Four of those hits (including a bunt single from opposing pitcher Kenta Maeda) didn’t make it out of the infield, and three others were grounders that found a hole.  As happened so often during the season, Leake wasn’t so much battered as he was bled to death.  While all the pitchers were victimized by the Cardinals unreliable defense, none of them was probably hurt as much as Leake.

But – as with so many other Cardinals in 2016 – once his streak was broken, Mike Leake never found it again.  This possibly as much as any other development during this disappointing season cost the Cards any significant chance at postseason play.  Player after player – Carpenter, Wainwright, Garcia (both Greg and Jaime), Piscotty, Moss – was unable to rediscover their juice once their streak was ended.

Beginning with that loss to the Dodgers, Leake faded to a 2-5 finish and a 6.03 ERA over his last 11 starts, allowing opposing batters to hit .327 against him.  In 11 of his last 59.2 innings, he allowed more than 2 runs. Twenty-four of the last 67 batters to hit against him with runners in scoring position got hits (.358 average).  Five of those starts came against winning teams.  He was 0-3 in those games with a 6.26 ERA.  (For the season, Leake was 1-8, 4.84 when pitching against teams that finished with at least a .500 record).

Ninety-nine of the last 268 batters he faced saw first-pitch balls.  They went on to hit .432/.480/.716 against Mike.  This average kept rising as the second half wore on: .362 (17 for 47) in July; .389 (14 for 36) in August; and .455 (15 of 33) in September.

Of the last 80 hits he allowed, 10 were infield hits (12.5%) while he got double-plays in only 5 of his last 60 such opportunities (8.3%) although he induced 18 other groundballs in those situations that either crept through the infield and turned into hits or were handled by the infielders who couldn’t turn them into double plays.

Mike Leake is an established veteran whose career suggests that he is a much better pitcher than the Cards saw last year.  There are even advanced statistics (that we won’t delve into here) that suggest that 2016 was actually one of Leake’s best years but he was undone by a defense that couldn’t make routine plays behind him.  Regardless, I expect to see a much better season from Mike in 2017.

But, like too many others on last year’s team, once his groove was broken, he was never able to find it again.  I’m not really sure what causes that or how you fix it, but this will be one of more compelling developments to keep an eye on as the season rolls on.

Leake and Cardinals Trying to Turn the Corner

It’s fairly difficult to think of the Cardinals on any kind of “roll,” but last night’s 8-1 victory was their fifth in the last eight games – and the first of the season for Mike Leake.  The “streak” includes two humbling losses at home against the Pirates and a 1-0 loss to Aaron Nola and Philadelphia, but there have been hopeful moments in between.

Let’s point out, first of all, that half of the Cardinals last eight games (including last night’s) have come following a loss.  St Louis has won all four of them, scoring at least five runs in each game and allowing no more than 4 runs in any of them.  In these “response” games, the offense has contributed a .322/.393/.644 slash line with 11 home runs and 7.25 runs per game while the pitching staff has contributed 3 quality starts and a 2.75 ERA.

Among the most hopeful developments is the progress of the pitching staff.  Believed to be the team’s greatest strength coming into the season, they have been less than hoped for so far.  But, since the end of the Washington series, there have been positive signs.  Two quality starts from Adam Wainwright, dominant starts from Jaime Garcia and – finally – Mike Leake last night, and a well-pitched effort by Michael Wacha in the tough loss to Nola have all been very encouraging.

After managing just eleven quality starts through the first 25 games of the season, last night’s effort was the fifth QS in the last eight games (and the first for Leake in seven starts).  The team ERA over that span is a very serviceable 3.25.

Matt Holliday

Matt Holliday was in the middle of most of the offense last night with 3 extra-base hits.  Even better is that Holliday went 2-for-3 against left-handed pitching.  He is now 5 for his last 12 (.417) against lefties.

Matt Carpenter

One of the recent catalysts has been leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter.  Matt provided the ninth-inning home run that claimed our only victory over Pittsburgh this season, and was one of the big bats in last night’s win – hitting two more home runs.  In what has been an uneven season so far, Carpenter may finally be rounding into form.  He now has 10 hits in his last 30 at bats (.333), and seven of those hits have been for extra bases.

In his last plate appearance of the night, Carpenter finally got to hit against a right-hander.  He jumped AJ Achter’s errant pitch and drilled it for his second home run of the night.  Carpenter now has 7 hits in his last 16 at bats against right-handed pitching (.438).  Five of those hits are for extra-bases (3 doubles and 2 home runs).

Yadier Molina

In 2015, Yadier Molina started 131 of the 162 games behind the plate.  One of the goals heading into this season was to lighten the load on the veteran catcher.  The difficulty here, though, is that St Louis went 85-46 when Yadi started and just 15-16 when he didn’t.

In the “best laid plans” department, the Cards acquired a quality backup in Brayan Pena to help keep Yadi’s work-load to 120 games or less. Pena, of course, went down in spring training with an injury and hasn’t seen the field yet.  Eric Fryer has found himself thrust into the backup catcher role – and he hasn’t done badly.  St Louis is 2-1 in the three games he’s started.  The problem is he’s only started 3 games.  With St Louis scuffling a bit in the early going (and still trying to keep in sight of the steam-rolling Cubs), Eric hasn’t been trusted with too many opportunities.  At his current pace, Yadi will start 147 games.  Pena is expected to be back at some point in the semi-near future, so that pace will certainly lighten.  But St Louis has still lost the opportunity to give Yadi early season rest.

Yadi’s double last night came on a 2-2 pitch (in the eighth pitch of the at bat).  Molina now has 5 hits in his last 12 at bats when hitting with two strikes on him (.417) and his fourth hit in his last 7 at bats that have lasted more than four pitches.

Jeremy Hazelbaker

As Jeremy Hazelbaker has cooled off after his impressive start, he has found at bats more and more scarce.  His 0-for-4 last night still leaves him at .282 for the season, but only 2 of his last 14 (.143).  It’s starting to look like Jeremy’s will be the roster spot that Tommy Pham will claim when he is deemed ready to return.  Hazelbaker, I expect, will profit from more regular playing time.

Mike Leake

During his shaky first six starts for St Louis, considerable discussion centered around Mike Leake’s struggles pitching with runners on base.  Last night, the Angels managed two hits (both singles) in 13 at bats (.154) against Leake with runners on base.

Leake also did a more than adequate job of putting hitters away once he put them in 2-strike counts.  Those batters went 1-for-14 (.071) against him.  Over his last two starts, batters with 2-strikes are only 3-for-25 (.120) against Mike.

Leake is the only starter to have worked more than once with Fryer as the catcher.  In those two starts, Leake threw 12 innings, serving up 4 home runs and lost his only decision.  His ERA in the games Fryer started is 6.75.  Last night was his fifth start with Molina behind the plate.  Mike Leake is now 1-2 with a 4.45 ERA in those games.  He has pitched 30.1 innings in those games allowing just 2 home runs.

Tyler Lyons

Batters were 0-for-3 against Tyler Lyons last night once they got two strikes on them.  Lyons has now put 25 batters into 2-strike counts this season.  They are 0-for-24 with one walk.

The Cardinals punctuated their victory with four more home runs.  They now have 48 after 33 games and 1150 team at bats.  It took them 63 games and 2,119 at bats to hit 48 home runs last year.  Matt Reynolds hit that home run in the fourth inning of a June 15th game off of Minnesota’s Trevor May.

Last year they never hit more than 4 home runs in a game (and only did that once), while managing multiple home runs in a game just 36 times.  They had 7 other games where they hit three home runs.  Last night’s game was the Cardinal’s 13th multiple home run game of the year, the sixth time already this year that they have hit at least 3 home runs, and the fourth time that they have hit at least four.  They also have had a five home run game and a six home run game.

From Wacha to Siegrist: Random Pitching Observations

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha struck out 175 batters last year.  Only 32 went down looking at strike three.  This year, Wacha already has caught 16 batters looking (out of 38 strikeouts).

Wacha is also getting the double play at an accelerated rate compared to last year.  Of the 144 batters he faced in DP opportunities last year, he only got the DP from 9 of them (6.3%).  This year, he already has 6 ground-ball double-plays in just 27 chances (22.2%).  The team ratio has been pretty consistent – 11.6% last year and 11.7% so far this year.  Jaime Garcia’s 18.3% lead the team last year.

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright has already faced runner-at-third-less-than-two-out situations 18 times in his first 40 innings.  The run has scored 11 times (61.1%).  Michael Wacha has already allowed 5 of 6 to score, and Mike Leake has allowed all five of his.  These three pitchers have allowed that runner in from third 21 of 29 times (72.4%).  The entire rest of the staff has only allowed 14 of 36 to score (38.9%).

Jaime Garcia

Of the 253 swings batters have taken at Jaime Garcia’s pitches this year, they have missed 63 (24.9%).  He currently holds the starting staff’s highest swing-and-miss percentage.  Carlos Martinez is second, getting misses on 20.2% of the swings against him.  Carlos led the staff last year, getting 23.4% misses.  Garcia was at 19.9% in 2015.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake has the fewest strikeouts of any of the starters with 22 in 34.1 innings over 6 starts.  Thirteen of those strike outs have been looking.  His 59.1% is the highest percent on the team, with Wacha ranking second at 42.1%.  Of course, Leake is only carrying an 11.3% swing-and-miss ratio, so his strikeouts would almost have to be looking.  Leake also leads the rotation in percentage of pitches that are strikes (67.1%) and fewest pitches per plate appearance (3.46).

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh has faced 65 major league batters in his first 32 team games.  Their approach to him has been cautious at the start as only 15 of those batters have swung at the first pitch (a team-low 23.1%).  It hasn’t seemed to help them too much yet.  Of the 136 of his pitches that they have swung at, they have missed 58 – a team-leading 42.6%.  The next highest on the staff is Kevin Siegrist, who is missing bats at a 30.1% rate.

Jonathan Broxton

Jonathan Broxton has faced the most double-play opportunities on the staff without getting a double-play.  He is 0-for-14 thus far on the season.

Tyler Lyons

Opponents have come up swinging against Tyler Lyons so far this season.  24 of the 57 batters he’s faced (42.1%) have swung at his first pitch – a more aggressive rate than anyone else on the staff.  Only 25.1% (64 of 255) swung at his first offering last year.  Trevor Rosenthal is next highest at 38.6%.

It does make for faster at bats, though.  Tyler is throwing a team-low 3.32 pitches per plate appearance.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist has been the most enticing pitcher on the staff so far.  Nobody is getting batters to swing at half of their pitches, but Siegrist is closest at 49.3% (103 of his 209 pitches).  Siegrist, not coincidentally, also throws the highest percentage of strikes overall (68.4%).  You would think, therefore, that his pitches per plate appearances would be relatively low, but he checks in third highest on the team at 4.02 (behind Rosenthal’s 4.77 and Oh’s 4.43).

Perhaps no number conveys the unsettled nature of the pitching staff (and, in fact the team) than this.  Last season, Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal ranked sixth and seventh on the team in batters faced (just behind the guys in the rotation) with 312 and 287.  Through 32 games so far this season, they rank eleventh and twelfth – the lowest totals on the staff – with 52 and 44 respectively (Matt Bowman is tied for eleventh with 52).  So high a percentage of our games have been relatively noncompetitive (on one side or the other) that our presumptive back-of-bullpen weapons have become the least used pitchers on our staff.