Tag Archives: Lynn

Baserunners Everywhere, But Not a Run to Be Scored

After the game, Cardinal starter and tough-luck loser Lance Lynn put a very strange game in context.  He pointed out that he had given up a first-inning run on three hits, none of which made it to the infield grass.  Before the game was over, the two teams would combine for 20 hits (with 8 of them not making it out of the infield), 4 walks, and 1 hit batsmen.  Of all of those baserunners – in a game where most of the outs were hit harder than most of the hits – only 3 made it home.  All of those wore the San Diego uniform as San Diego ended St Louis’ four-game winning streak with a 3-0 blanking (box score).

Even with the disappointing outcome, the Cardinal pitching staff – an area of concern earlier this season – continues to take the lead in the team’s belated run for a playoff spot.  Beginning with the last game of the last home stand, the pitching staff has sustained a 2.57 ERA over the last 11 games.

Lance Lynn

Earlier this season, Lance went through a stretch of starts where he pitched well, but couldn’t make it through 6 innings due to elevated pitch counts.  After throwing 32 pitches in last night’s first inning, and 57 pitches through the first two, the odds of Lance hanging on past the fourth inning weren’t looking too good.  But the gutsy Mr. Lynn would throw 118 pitches as he would fight his way through six innings, putting runners on base in 5 of them, but only allowing one run on a swinging bunt in the first inning.

Of the 28 batters he faced, only 12 came to the plate with no one on base.

Struggle though it was, Lance provided the Cardinals with his eleventh quality start in his last 12 games.  Record wise, Lynn is now 4-1 with a 1.77 ERA over 76.1 innings in those games.  He also left 3 of the games with a lead that was later surrendered by his bullpen.  Lance, who also had problems with home runs earlier this season, has now allowed just 4 over those last 12 games, while holding batters to a .211/.299/.309 batting line.

Zach Duke

The game got away a bit when San Diego scored twice in the seventh against a Cardinal bullpen strategy that should maybe be re-examined.  It began with a one-batter appearance by lefty Zach Duke.  That seems to be the role he has inherited, as all of his last 5 games (and 7 of his last 9) have been one-batter affairs.  While Zach has done OK in this role (Carlos Asuaje’s single made him the only one of the five to reach), it’s still evident that Zach hasn’t pitched enough (remember, he had no spring training) to really solidify the feel of his slider.  Since August 27, Zach has thrown just 18 actual pitches (it works out to about 1.5 pitches per day).  He needs, I think, a bit more opportunity than that to be as effective as he can be.

Seung-hwan Oh

And then, of course, with the game still exceedingly tight at 1-0, Mike Matheny summoned Seung-hwan Oh from the bullpen.  I said earlier that most of the outs in this game were harder hit than most of the hits.  One spectacular exception to that generality was the home run that Wil Myers crushed into the upper deck in left field off yet another hanging slider from Oh.

Patience is a vital virtue for any successful organization.  At some point, though – and coming down the stretch of a playoff run is that point – management has to concede that a particularly inconsistent performer just can no longer be trusted in high-leveraged situations.  Oh has pitched in 21 games since the All-Star Break (15.2 innings), with a 4.60 ERA and a .313 batting average against.  Going back to August 10, Seung-hwan has pitched in 10 games – totaling just 5.2 innings – during which he has allowed 5 runs on 10 hits.

Since the break, batters who have faced Oh with runners on base are 10 for 28 (.357) with 2 doubles, a triple, and 2 home runs (.714 slugging percentage).

Oh has also now allowed 8 of the 17 runners he has inherited (47.1%) to score this season – including 5 of the 8 he’s inherited in the season’s second half.

Harrison Bader

They were both ground balls that never made it through the infield, but Harrison Bader finished with two more hits and kept giving the Cards chances to push something across.  Since his recall, Harrison has 9 hits in 26 at bats (.360).  They haven’t all been infield dribblers, either.  Harrison has hit 3 home runs in his last 7 games in two of the National League’s more spacious ballparks (San Francisco and San Diego).

His hits last night included a third-inning single with a runner on first.  In the very early games of his career, Bader has shown an affinity for hitting with runners on base.  He is now 8 for his first 21 (.381) in those opportunities.

Paul DeJong

Scuffling a bit lately, Paul DeJong contributed a couple of hits to the effort – both hits coming with the bases empty.  In his opportunities with runners on base, Paul grounded to second with runners at first and second and two-out in the third, and he struck out with a runner at first and one-out in the sixth.

For the season, now, Paul is 54 for 177 (.305) when hitting with the bases empty.  He is a .262 hitter (43 for 164) when he hits with a runner on base.  Twelve of his 21 home runs have been solo shots.

Stephen Piscotty

Another of the strong positives from last night is the continued emergence of Stephen Piscotty from what has been a mostly lost season.  With 2 more hits last night, Piscotty is hitting .333 (15 for 45) since he returned from Memphis, and .391 (9 for 23) over his last 8 games.

Batting behind Jose Martinez and Yadier Molina (who went a combined 1 for 8), Piscotty is one of the few Cardinals who didn’t get an opportunity to hit with a runner on base.  With his 2-for-4 evening, Stephen is now hitting .342 (13 for 38) since the All-Star Break with the bases empty.  In his last 28 at bats with a runner on base, Stephen has just 5 hits (.179).

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler’s recent struggles continue.  Hitless in 4 at bats with 2 strikeouts – including with the bases loaded and two-out in the ninth inning – Dexter is now just 5 for 31 (.161) over his last 9 games.

Dexter has had a roller-coaster season, the lows very low and the highs very high.  Still, one of the difficulties that have partially defined the season of this would-be leadoff hitter is his season-long .239 batting average (54 for 226) with no one on base.  He was 0-for-3 last night with the bases empty.

Yadier Molina

Since a recent streak where he hit safely in 12 of 13 games, Yadier Molina has hit a bit of a dry patch.  After last night’s 0 for 4, Yadi is just 2 for 17 (.118) since the end of that streak.

Alex Mejia

With recent injuries to Jedd Gyorko and Matt Carpenter, the Cardinals have ended up with Alex Mejia as their mostly-starting third baseman.  So far, this could have gone better.  Called up at the beginning of September, Alex was 0 for 2 last night, and is 1 for 14 (.071) since his recall.

NoteBook

Before last night’s game, all of the Cardinals previous 3 losses (and 4 of the previous 5) had been by one run.  The game also broke a streak of 9 consecutive games that St Louis held a lead in at some point.  The last time the Cards played a game in which they never led was the 10-inning, 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay on August 27 that ended the last home stand.

First Out Proves Illusive Against Tampa Bay

There was no one out when Logan Morrison came to the plate in a scoreless tie in the fourth inning.  There was still no one out when Morrison turned on Lance Lynn’s first pitch of the inning and crept it over the right-center field wall.

Likewise, there was no one out when Brad Miller led off the seventh.  It was still a 1-0 game at that point.  There was still no one out three pitches later when Miller lofted a fly ball just over the center field wall.

Those were the highlights, but Lynn also gave up no-out hits to Kevin Kiermaier in the first, Corey Dickerson in the second, and pitcher Chris Archer in the third.  In all, Tampa Bay was 5 for 12 (.417) with the two home runs (.917 slugging percentage) against Lance while there was no one out in the inning.  After Lance managed to secure that first out, the succeeding batters to face him were just 1 for 13.

This has become a curious pattern lately.  As a 2-6 streak has pushed the Cards down into the middle of their division, the pitching staff – among other shortcomings – has had inexplicable difficulties getting that first out of an inning.  Over these last 8 games, batters hitting with no one out are a surprising 41 for 108 (.380) with 5 home runs and a .583 slugging percentage.  Once the first out is finally recorded, the subsequent batters in the inning are hitting .210 (37 for 176).  For the month, now, batters facing the Cardinals with no one out are hitting .309 (95 for 307).

The Rays finished up their series in St Louis hitting 3 home runs in back-to-back games.  Cardinal pitchers have now served up 14 home runs over the last 8 games.

Lance Lynn

Lance gave up the home runs – his twenty-third and twenty-fourth of the year – but, once again, pitched a fine game.  The home runs were the only runs allowed in his 7 innings, during which he allowed just 6 hits and struck out 8.  For Lynn, it was his fourth quality start in his 5 August games.  His ERA this month lowers to 2.90, but his record is only 1-0 as his offense has failed to score more than 4 runs in any of his starts, and his bullpen served up the lead in one of the games that he did get four runs.

Lance has made 9 starts in the season’s second half, giving us 8 quality starts, a 3-0 record and a 2.28 ERA.

Seung-hwan Oh

One thing is clear.  Manager Mike Matheny no longer trusts one-time closer Seung-hwan Oh to face left-handed batters.  After seven strong innings from Lance Lynn, Oh went to the mound to begin the eighth.  He threw 6 pitches to the two right-handed batters that opened the inning – Steven Souza who singled (another no-out hit), and Evan Longoria who flew to left.  He then surrendered the mound when lefty Morrison came up.

What is less clear is where Oh fits into the bullpen picture.  This was only his second game in the last 8.  Since he was removed from the closer’s role, Seung-hwan hasn’t really been dominant (allowing a .302 batting average), but he has been solid with a 2.77 ERA (albeit in just 13 innings).

Oh right now is one of those puzzle pieces that doesn’t yet seem to have a fit.

The no-out hit against Oh was not an isolated incident.  Since the All-Star Break, batters are hitting .350 against him (14 for 40) with less than two outs.  Over the course of the season, batters are hitting .320 (49 for 153) against Seung-hwan when there are less than two outs.  Once Oh gets that second out, however, the batting average against him drops to .212 (14 for 66).

John Brebbia

John Brebbia bent but didn’t break.  Two walks and a hit batter complicated his four-out stint, but he kept Tampa Bay off the scoreboard.  In 19.2 innings in the season’s second half, John carries a 2.29 ERA.  He has occasional stumbles, but has been much more good than bad.

Sam Tuivailala

Blinking last was Cardinal reliever Sam Tuivailala.  He served up Morrison’s second home run in the tenth inning, enduring the 3-2 loss (box score).  Even with the home run and the loss, Sam’s ERA is a solid 2.87.  However, pitching in 3 of the last 4 games, Sam has served up the winning runs in two of them.  In 10.1 August innings, his ERA slides to 4.35 with 2 home runs allowed.

Offense Slowing Down

St Louis finished the game with 9 more hits, but only 2 runs.  After a torrid offensive stretch earlier in the month, the Cards are starting to struggle to convert their hits into runs.  Over the recent eight –game fade, the Cards are still hitting a very respectable .261.  But they have scored just 31 runs (3.88 per game).

Greg Garcia

The recent injury to Jedd Gyorko has provided opportunity for super utility player Greg Garcia.  His three hits last night provided the Cardinals’ only consistent offensive presence.  Garcia is a player who can get and stay hot for a while.  Over his last 8 games, Greg is 8 for 19 (.421).  He is hitting .333 this month (14 for 42) with a .451 on base percentage.  Greg is also at .333 (19 for 57) since the All-Star Break.

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty didn’t advance his case for more playing time last night, his 0-for-4 including 3 strikeouts.  Stephen returned from his sojourn in Memphis with 4 hits in his first two games back.  In five games since then, Piscotty has managed 2 singles in 15 at bats (.133).  He drops to .231 (9 for 39) for the month.  In the season’s second half, Stephen carries a .209 batting average (9 for 43) with just 1 run batted in.

NoteBook

St Louis has now lost 5 of its last 6 rubber games.  For the season, they are now 4-5 in rubber games played at Busch.

First-Pitch Command Eludes Lynn, Cardinals

Riding a streak of eight consecutive quality starts, Lance Lynn was in a battle from the very beginning last night.  With his four-seamer lacking its usual zip (he averaged only 92.5 mph on 26 four-seam fastballs, according to Brooks Baseball), and without his usual command of his bread and butter sinker, Lance found himself in lots of trouble.

To his credit, he almost wriggled his way out of all of it.  But, in the third inning, after hitting two batters with that misbehaving sinker, he faced Yangervis Solarte with the bases loaded and only one out.

Solarte saw four sinkers – the first three sailing wide of the plate to the left-handed batter.  Lance tried to bring the fourth back into the strike zone and left it spinning too much over the middle.  Beginning a career night, Solarte drilled it into the right-centerfield gap to drive in the first 3 runs of the game.

Lance would battle through six, allowing four runs.  Solarte would go on to hit two more extra-base hits to finish with 6 runs batted in, as San Diego pulled away late against the shaky Cardinal bullpen in a 12-4 win (box score).

Of the 27 batters that Lynn faced, only 14 saw first-pitch strikes.  Those batters finished only 2 for 12 (.167) with a hit batter and a sacrifice bunt.  But the 13 that got ahead of him 1-0 were 4 for 11 (.364) with a walk and another hit batter.

This has become a re-curing theme with the Cardinal pitching staff.  For the month of August, opposing batters are hitting .335/.437/.543 when a Cardinal pitcher misses with that first pitch.  Opposing hitters are hitting .312 since the All-Star Break against St Louis when their at bat begins with ball one.

And, of course, this effort runs to 12 the string of consecutive games in which the Cardinal pitching staff has allowed at least 5 runs.  In this century (as noted here) only the 2003 edition of the Cardinals had a comparable streak – eventually going 13 games before holding an opponent to less than 5 runs.

Over the last 12 games, the team ERA sits at a disturbing 6.62, nearly evenly distributed between the starters (6.86) and relievers (6.29).  The last 484 batters to face the Cards are hitting .319.  The streak pushes the team ERA for the month of August to 5.18.  Troubling indeed.

During this streak, 197 opposing batters saw first-pitch balls.  They have gone on to hit .374/.477/.620.

Lance Lynn

Of all of the recent disappointment with the pitching staff, Lance doesn’t fall in line for any of the blame.  Last night wasn’t his sharpest performance, but in his eight previous games he had gone 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA.

Lance’s success has come in spite of the fact that he doesn’t really have breaking pitches that he can rely on (98 of his 108 pitches last night were some flavor of fastball).  If he falls behind 1-0, he has to come back with a fastball that he may have to guide into the strike zone.  Since the All-Star Break, Lance has fallen behind 92 batters, who have gone on to hit .347/.457/.560.  He has gotten ahead of 107 other batters, who have finished .144/.192/.165 in those at bats.

Matthew Bowman

At the point of the season when the Cardinals most need heroes in the bullpen, Matthew Bowman is starting to take on water.  Scored on in three of his last four games, Matthew has given up 6 runs in his last 2 innings.

Zach Duke

Not to make excuses for him, but it’s possible that Zach Duke is getting too much rest.  From the moment when he last appeared on consecutive days (August 8 & 9), he had one day off, and then pitched again on August 11.  During those games, he retired 10 of 11 batters.

But then, Zach didn’t pitch again until August 16.  He faced 2 batters that night in Boston, striking out 1 and walking another – who came around to score after Zach had left.  Two nights later he faced one batter – who walked – and then he didn’t pitch again until last night.

Coming off last year’s Tommy John surgery, Duke didn’t get a spring training and had only a few rehab games.  Zach’s game is his slider.  But he needs to throw it to maintain command of it.

Yadier Molina

Add the name of Yadier Molina to the list of several Cardinal hitters who have been thriving at the plate of late.  Yadi walked, doubled and homered last night, pushing his baby hitting streak to 5 games.  During the five games, Yadi is hitting .450 (9 for 20) and slugging .800 (4 doubles and 1 home run).  Molina has scored 6 runs in those last 5 games.  Molina is hitting .333 this month (22 for 66) with 5 home runs and a .652 slugging percentage.  He is now hitting .311 in the season’s second half.

Stephen Piscotty

Another positive from the game were the at bats by Stephen Piscotty, who walked, singled and drilled a home run.  Stephen has returned from his Memphis exile with 4 hits in two games, raising his batting average for the month of August to .292 (7 for 24).

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter drew another walk last night – that makes 16 in the 19 games he’s played this month.  But he finished hitless again in 3 at bats.  His on base percentage for the month is still an excellent .384.  Nonetheless, he is only 13 for 66 (.197).  After briefly pushing his season’s average back over .250, Carpenter has now slid back to .245.

Tommy Pham

The Cards ended the day with 4 runs on the strength of 3 home runs – a better yield than one might expect.  Padre starter Clayton Richard kept the hot Cardinal hitters mostly frustrated all evening.  Of the 23 batters that faced him, 17 saw first-pitch strikes – 12 of them called strikes.  He seemed to be able to find the black of that outside corner all night.

In Tommy Pham’s third-inning at bat, Richard threaded the needle with his first pitch slider.  Then, after showing Pham the high fastball, he popped another fastball right on the black.  Down in the count 1-2, Tommy was then vulnerable to Richard’s slider dropping out of the zone on strike three.

This has been happening quite a bit to Pham recently.  As Tommy likes to take a lot of first pitches, he has been giving away command of a lot of at bats.  In 88 August plate appearances, Tommy has taken first-pitch balls 37 times.  He is hitting .360/.568/.680 in those plate appearances.  In the 51 plate appearances where he has been thrown first-pitch strikes, he is slashing just .234/.280/.255.

NoteBook

The three Cardinal relievers combined to face 18 batters.  Only 10 of them put the ball in play, as the relievers issued 3 walks and hit a batter, while striking out 4.  Of the 10 that put the ball in play, 8 hit ground balls and only 2 managed to get the ball in the air.  But 3 of the 8 ground balls found holes, and the only two fly balls they allowed both left the ballpark.

On consecutive Tuedays, St Louis faced the American League’s losingest pitcher (Rick Porcello) and one of the pitchers tied for the National League lead in losses (Clayton Richard).  The Cardinals lost both games.

How Tough is Lance Lynn?

If the defining moment of the Wednesday game was the soft-fuzzy moment of the rally cat running around just before Yadier Molina’s grand slam, the defining moment of last night’s game was much more hard core.

Lorenzo Cain led off the third inning, with the Royals ahead 1-0.  Cardinal starter Lance Lynn got ahead of Cain 1-2, but a misbehaving cutter slid back across the plate, where Cain was waiting to line it into center field for a single.  After it caromed off Lance’s noggin.  Lance never went down.  He flinched a little, and after the play was over he rubbed the spot (a reddish welt right on his temple) for a second or two.  But Lance Lynn took a line drive to the head and went right on completely unfazed.

As you watch the replay, you keep looking to see if maybe the ball missed, or mostly missed, or maybe clipped off the bill of his cap.  Nope.  It was a glancing blow – meaning that Lance tilted his head enough so that the contact wasn’t full-on.  But it still hit him right in the head hard enough to shoot into medium center field.  But not hard enough to rattle the suddenly tough competitor that Lance Lynn has become.

This is not how I remember Lance from his early years in the rotation.  Back then it seemed that he didn’t quite have the grit for the big games.  He was a phenomenal April pitcher who routinely faded as the season wore on.

But this Lance Lynn has been remarkable in his ability to focus on the task at hand regardless of what is happening all around him.  Even as the rumors swirled around him while the trade deadline approached and passed, Lance responded with one of the best stretches of his career.  After managing just 5 quality starts in his first 15 games, Lance is now riding a streak of 7 straight quality starts, during which he has gone 4-0 (with another potential victory surrendered by the bullpen) and a 1.45 ERA over 43.1 innings.  After once serving up 6 home runs in 10.1 innings over consecutive starts, Lance has been chipped for only two during these last seven games.

Lance’s baseball toughness was also on full display in last night’s 8-6 win (box score).  His final numbers were fairly pedestrian – 6 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs (2 earned).  The line doesn’t do him justice.  On a night when Lance fought his command from the first inning on (he threw only 51 of his 87 pitches for strikes) – and on a night where his defense repeatedly let him down – Lance pitched the entire game on the edge of disaster, making big pitches when needed.  Although they put runners in scoring position against Lance in 4 of his 6 innings, he very nearly held them scoreless.

Kansas City’s first-inning run was set up when Kolton Wong booted Mike Moustakas’ routine grounder.  Attempting to sacrifice Mike into scoring position, Alcides Escobar dropped a bunt in front of the plate.  He reached safely as Molina made a poor throw trying to get the runner at second.  A ground ball single loaded the bases with no one out.  Lynn houdinied his way out of the mess allowing just one run.

The Royals then had Lance on the ropes in the fifth, when Cain’s single and Eric Hosmer’s walk gave Melky Cabrera a two-out opportunity.  Ahead in the count 2-1, Cabrera laced a fastball right off his fists into right field, where Jose Martinez almost made the great play to bail his pitcher out.  The ball hit the heel of Jose’s glove and dropped to the turf.  Both runners scored, and Melky got credit for a triple.

That made the score 3-0 KC – as Lance’s offense didn’t throw their switch until after Lance had thrown his last pitch of the evening.

Through it all – the line drive to the head, the struggles with control, the sloppy defense, the lack of offensive support – the suddenly unflappable Lance Lynn just kept making the next pitch.

Even as he battled his control, Lance continues to dramatically improve his pitch-efficiency.  Of the 27 batters he faced, Lynn had 3 hit the first pitch thrown them, 6 that hit the second pitch, and 5 others that hit the third pitch.  Overall, his 87 pitches to 27 batters works out 3.22 pitches per.  Over his last two starts, Lance is throwing just 3.54 pitches per batter faced (177 pitches to 50 batters).  Previous to last night, Lynn was averaging 4.16 pitches per batter faced.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons earned his first win of the season retiring the two batters he faced.  Pitching in a 3-3 tie in the seventh, Tyler inherited a runner at second and one out.  He concluded the inning getting Hosmer to fly out and striking out Cabrera.  Tyler is now up to 12 consecutive scoreless appearances covering 9.2 innings, during which he has allowed 2 hits with 15 strikeouts.

Of the six swings that those two batters took last night, only Hosmer put the ball in play.  As Lyons’ slider gets sharper, putting the ball in play against him is getting more and more difficult.  The 10 batters he has faced this month have swung at 22 pitches, putting only 3 in play (13.6%).  The 30 batters he has faced since the All-Star Break are only putting the ball in play with 25.5% of their swing – the lowest percentage on the team for anyone pitching to at least ten batters.

Trevor Rosenthal

For the fourth time in his last 7 games, Trevor Rosenthal was asked to pitch more than one inning – and once again, Rosenthal came through.  Over his last 7 games, Trevor has worked 9.2 innings allowing no runs while striking out 16.  Last night, Trevor got strikes with 14 of his 18 pitches.  Over his last 7 games, Rosenthal has been throwing 70% of his pitches for strikes.

Offense Plugs Away

They waited until the sixth before they made any noise, but by game’s end, the Cards had scored 8 runs again – their fifth consecutive game scoring at least 8 runs.  In 10 August games, St Louis has scored 64 runs.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler has been especially torrid since his return from the disabled list.  In the four games since he’s been back, Dexter has come to the plate 19 times, with the following results: 1 single, 3 doubles, 1 triple, last night’s home run, 7 runs scored, 5 runs batted in (all last night), 6 walks, and 1 stolen base.  It all adds up to a .462/.632/1.077 batting line.  Over his last 31 games (which bridges a couple of injury absences), Dexter is hitting .303/.411/.578 with 7 home runs and 21 runs batted in.

Kolten Wong

Kolten booted a ball that led to a run, but otherwise excelled last night.  He singled, doubled, walked, and smote a sacrifice fly. He has now strung together a baby five-game hitting streak, during which he has hit .500 (8 for 16) with 6 runs scored and 6 runs driven in.

He is now hitting .412 (14 for 34) in the early days of August; .309 since the All-Star Break (25 for 81); and .337 (34 for 101) over his last 33 games.  I still think we all underestimate how much Kolten’s absences hurt this team.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong has also been in the middle of all the offense lately.  After having his 5-game hitting streak snapped on Wednesday, Paul began another one last night with 2 hits.  Over his last 7 game, DeJong is hitting .344 (11 for 32).

NoteBook

The two-game series against Kansas City was the nineteenth home series of the season for St Louis.  It was the fifth of those series that the Cardinals took the field for the last game with a chance for a series sweep – and the fourth time that they have achieved that sweep.

We are now also 10-4-2 in series when we win that first game.

Score One for the Enigmatic Cardinal Bullpen

In the bottom of the sixth inning, the St Louis Cardinals scratched for their third and final run of the game.  After a fatiguing 107 pitches. Lance Lynn – the Cardinal starter – would be through for the day.

After receiving their twelfth quality start in the last 19 games, the fate of the game would once again rest in the hands of the enigma that is the Cardinal bullpen.

After a season of bullpen frustration culminated with Trevor Rosenthal failing to cover first, handing the New York Mets a 3-2 win on July 20, followed almost immediately by a two-run eighth-inning meltdown that granted the Chicago Cubs a 3-2 victory on July 22; the bullpen came back three nights later to serve up another one-run lead.  After another strong six innings from Lynn, Lance went to the mound in the seventh with a 2-0 lead over the Colorado Rockies.  But eleven pitches put his lead in jeopardy as he walked DJ LeMahieu and served up a double to Nolan ArenadoKevin Siegrist relieved and limited the damage to a sacrifice fly.  The heartbreak came an inning later when Trevor Story tied the game with a home run – one of only 4 hit off of Matthew Bowman this season.

The inning then threatened to unravel when Bowman hit Ryan Hanigan with his next pitch.  That brought Rosenthal into the contest for the first time since his gaffe against the Mets.

Trevor would finish the night throwing 34 pitches to 8 batters over two innings.  He would bend a little – allowing a sacrifice hit in the eighth, and two singles that threatened disaster in the ninth.  But Trevor would not walk a batter and did not break, walking off the mound at the end of nine innings with a 2-2 tie.  He would get the win in this one, courtesy of Jedd Gyorko’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth – 3-2 Cardinals.

Was it a turning point for Rosenthal and the Cardinal bullpen?  The Colorado series ended with a comfortable 10-5 win, and the subsequent Arizona series began with a 4-0 loss, in which the bullpen threw four scoreless innings.

Now it’s Friday July 28.  After five-and-a-half scoreless innings, Tommy Pham leads off the second reaching on an error.  He promptly steals second, moves to third on a grounder, and scores on a single from Gyorko.  1-0 Cardinals.  But could it last?  Michael Wacha had been dominant through six.  As it would turn out, the offense would score no more.  So the bullpen would have nine outs to get from a very formidable Arizona lineup with no margin for error.

Seung-hwan Oh flirted with disaster in the seventh, allowing a couple of singles, but he worked his way out of trouble.  But Brett Cecil ran into immediate peril in the eighth, allowing a single and a double that put runners on second and third with no one out with the toughest part of the lineup coming up.

Summoned to do a Houdini act, Rosenthal struck out A.J. PollockDavid Peralta rolled a groundball to drawn-in second-baseman Kolten Wong, who teamed with catcher Yadier Molina to make the play of the series when he threw out the runner trying to score from third.  Five pitches later, Paul Goldschmidt struck out, and the lead was preserved.  Trevor made his second consecutive two-inning relief appearance, setting the Diamondbacks down in order (with two more strikeouts) on 9 pitches in the ninth.

The pen did let Saturday’s game get away – turning a 3-1 deficit into a 7-1 loss.

But now, here they were again.  Nine outs to get with no margin of error.  Arizona threatened a little in the seventh, but Tyler Lyons and Bowman combined to keep them off the board.  Oh and Rosenthal were money in the eighth and ninth, retiring all six Diamondback batters – striking out 5 of them – and the Cards were in with a 3-2 win (box score).

And suddenly this grey cloud that has hung over the Cardinal bullpen since opening night is starting to dissipate.  They have now become a main part of the encouraging turnaround of the Cardinal pitching staff.  Going back to a 4-1 win over the Mets on July 8, St Louis has maintained a 2.75 team ERA over the last 19 games.  With 57 games left in the season, those who counted this team out may have spoken too soon.

Lance Lynn

As I type this. Lance Lynn is still a Cardinal – for which fact we should all be grateful.  I mentioned here that I would like to see Lance make his case for being an important part of the Cardinal future.  He has certainly led the way in this little pitching renaissance.  Over his last five games (all quality starts), Lance has given us 31.1 innings, allowing just 4 runs on 21 hits (just one home run) – walking just 9.  He is 3-0 (and could be 4-0) during the streak, with a 1.15 ERA and a .194 batting average against.  Of the 21 hits, only 6 have been for extra-bases, so the slugging percentage against Lynn since July 9 is .269.

If Lance remains a Cardinal, and if he pitches like this down the stretch – I grant you, two big ifs – then the management may have to re-asses the Lance Lynn situation.

During this streak, all four runners who have scored against Lynn have reached base with no one out.  Over his last five games, Lance has been most vulnerable before the first out of an inning is recorded.  Those batters are hitting .244/.289/.415 against Lance.  After he has gotten that first out, the remaining batters in the inning hit .164/.233/.179.  Last night, batters were 2 for 6 against Lynn with no one out, and 2 for 14 thereafter.

Tyler Lyons

Lyons has pitched his way into some high-leveraged situations.  He started the seventh last night, retiring 2 of the 3 he faced.  Tyler is unscored on in his last 8 games (6.1 innings), during which he has given only 2 hits and no walks (although he did hit a couple).  Tyler has struck out 9 batters over those 6.1 innings, and 25 of his last 91 pitches have been taken for strikes.

Trevor Rosenthal

As for Trevor, He has pitched 5 innings facing 17 batters in his last 3 outings.  He has given up exactly two singles to those batters.  While 73% of the pitches he has thrown (48 of 66) have gone for strikes.  Over his last 10 games, Trevor has given us 11.2 innings allowing 1 run on 4 singles, 1 walk, and 19 strikeouts.  The last 41 batters to face Rosenthal are missing with 38% of their swings – and that’s not all fastballs, either.

Jose Martinez

The game’s offensive hero was Jose Martinez – who drove in all three Cardinal runs.  Fourth outfielder is always a tough situation to play under, but lately Jose has been cashing in on his chances.  Including his two-hit, one-home-run night last night, Martinez has hit safely in 6 of last 10 games (only 4 of them starts), hitting .421 (8 for 19), and slugging .737 (with 2 home runs).  He ended July hitting .333 for the month.

NoteBook

In splitting the four-game series with Arizona, the Cardinals scored 5 runs.  That is the fewest runs the team has scored in any series this year of any length.  Earlier this season, St Louis swept a three-game series from Pittsburgh during which they only scored six runs – winning each game by a 2-1 score.

Coming off a series loss to the Cubs, Milwaukee breaks a string of 5 straight Cardinal opponents who had won its previous series.  The Brewers have lost 9 of their last 12 and 11 of 16 since the break.  They look as vulnerable now as they have at any time during the season.

First Pitch Fastball Watchers?

As former Cardinal Mark Reynolds stood in to lead off the fifth inning, Cardinal starter Lance Lynn fired him a four-seam fastball that Reynolds fouled off.  In six-plus innings last night, Lynn faced 21 batters.  Reynolds was the only one all night to swing at his first pitch.  Even Matt Carpenter doesn’t take that many first pitches.

Lance faced only 13 batters as he sailed through the first four innings.  Twelve of those batters saw first-pitch fastballs.  None of them swung at them.  Five of the twelve were out of the strike zone.  Three of the other seven were very inviting.  Beginning in the third inning, five consecutive batters – including Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado – took first-pitch fastballs for strikes.  Thirteen of the 21 batters took the first two pitches from Lynn.

If this was strategy, it didn’t work very well. Lance didn’t get the win, but he stopped Colorado on one run on three hits over his six-plus innings and set the Cards up for a 3-2 walk-off win (box score).

In so doing, Lance added another strong starting effort to the team’s latest streak.  Over the last 14 games, Cardinal starting pitchers have thrown 10 quality starts.  In the 87.1 innings they’ve pitched during those games, they have surrendered just 77 hits, including only 8 home runs and 15 walks (1 intentional).  It works out to a 2.27 ERA, a .231 batting average against, and a .266 opponent’s on base percentage.

The best hope that Cardinals have of being significant before the season ends is a continued string of strong starts.  And, hopefully, at some point a bullpen that can hold a late-inning lead.  St Louis is only 8-6 in its last 14 games, in spite of the excellence of its starting pitching.

Lance Lynn

Lance – who I am hoping will survive the trade deadline and remain with the team for the rest of the season – has been a pillar of the great recent run of starting pitching.  He has started 4 of the last 14, all of them quality starts.  He is 2-0 with an 0.71 ERA and a .193/.228/.273 batting line against.  After previously allowing 8 home runs over a 4 game span, Lance has allowed just 1 in his last 4.

Last night was the fourth time this season that Lynn left a game with a lead, only to watch his bullpen give it up.

For the game, Lance didn’t throw a lot of first-pitch strikes.  He threw ball one to four of the first five batters he faced, and ended his evening missing with the first pitch to each of the last six batters he faced.  At the end of the evening, only 9 of the 21 batters he faced saw strike one.  But when he did throw that first pitch strike, those batters finished 0-for-8 with 4 strikeouts and 1 walk.

Throughout this month, Lance has only thrown first-pitch strikes to 61 of the 114 batters he’s faced (54%).  But when he does get that first pitch in, he has held batters to a .138 average (8 for 58).

Over the last 14 games, batters getting a first-pitch strike from a Cardinal pitcher have gone on to hit just .199 (56 for 281).

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist pitched for the second consecutive day for the first time since he came off the disabled list.  That might be a reason he wasn’t quite as dominant as he had been in his first four games (he walked a batter and got no strikeouts).

He was plenty good enough though, considering the situation.  Kevin came on in the seventh, with Rockies at second and third and no one out while clinging to a precarious 2-0 lead.  One run scored on a fly ball, but Kevin successfully de-fused what could have been a damaging inning.  Siegrist has thrown 4.2 innings since his return and has allowed only one hit.

Matthew Bowman

It wouldn’t be a Cardinal game without a blown save.  The honors, last night, fell to Matthew Bowman.  Recently, Matthew had pitched 11 straight games without allowing a run.  After serving up the game tying home run to Trevor Story in the eighth inning (lately the blown save has come in the eighth inning, instead of the ninth), Bowman has now allowed runs in both of his last two games, getting blown saves in both of them.

For the month of July, batters facing Bowman are 6 for 20 (.300) in the at bat if Matthew throws them a first-pitch strike.  Story’s home run came on such an at bat.

Trevor Rosenthal

Yes, I admit it.  When Colorado blooped two hits with two out in the ninth inning against Trevor Rosenthal – working his second inning – I pretty much assumed that all was lost.  That’s just the way it’s gone lately.  But this time, Rosenthal wrote a happier ending by striking out Story to end the inning.

Trevor was in a little trouble there, but again, no walks from Rosenthal.  That seems to be the key.  As long as he is forcing them to hit the ball to beat him, Trevor does all right.

And, his lapse against Chicago aside, Trevor has been throwing the ball much better.  His July shows 9.1 innings with a 1.93 ERA and 13 strikeouts.

Don’t Fall Behind the Cardinal Hitters

Colorado pitchers did a better job of throwing first-pitch strikes to the Cardinal hitters.  Twenty-two of the thirty-six Cardinal batsmen saw strike one.  It didn’t bother them too much – those 22 went on to go 7 for 20 (.350) with 2 sacrifice hits.  But the 14 batters who saw ball one had an even better time.  They went 5 for 13 (.385).  For the month of July, the Cards are hitting .307/.418/.582 when the opposing pitcher starts them off with ball one.

Paul DeJong

The runs didn’t hold up, but Paul DeJong got the offense started with a two-run, first-inning homer – his thirteenth in just 178 big league at bats.  Paul added a single later.  DeJong has now put together a five-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .381 (8 for 21) and slugging .857 (1 double & 3 home runs).  Paul has driven in at least one run in all five games, and has 7 for the streak.  Paul also has two hits in each of the last 3 games.

For the month of July, DeJong’s average has risen to .312 (24 or 77) and his slugging percentage to .688 (8 doubles and 7 home runs).

His home run came on the first pitch thrown him by Rockie starter Jon Gray.  His single cam in an at bat that began with Paul fouling off the first pitch.  The two times that he took the first pitch for a ball, he struck out and flied out.

I suspect that pretty soon pitchers will stop challenging him with first-pitch strikes.  For the season, Paul is a .311 hitter (33 for 106) and a .613 slugger (5 doubles and 9 of his 13 home runs) when pitchers throw him first-pitch strikes.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina added two hits for the second straight game.  He is now up to .275 (19 for 69) for the month.

Kolten Wong

Although neither hit made it through the infield, Kolten Wong pushed his season average back up to .303 with a 2 for 4 night.  With his second consecutive two-hit game, Kolten is now up to .313 (10 for 32) since returning from the disabled list.

The only time Wong saw a first-pitch strike last night, he fell behind Gray 0-2 in the fourth.  He ended up with an infield hit.  For the season, Kolten hits .324 (36 for 111) when he is thrown a first-pitch strike.

Living and Dying With the Fastball

Lance Lynn closed out the season’s first half with a nifty seven innings of 3-hit shutout ball against the Mets.  He pitched pretty well the game before against Miami. Although he ended that game with a loss, he surrendered only 2 earned runs in 5.1 innings.

These two games merit a little closer examination.  Lance is a first-pitch fastball pitcher pitching in a fastball hitting league without that over-powering fastball.  Complicating matters even more is the fact that Lance isn’t one of those pitchers with pinpoint control.

So how does a guy like Lynn survive and sometimes thrive?  The best answers are always the simplest.  Over the 12.1 innings that Lynn has thrown over his last two games, he has been very consistent at keeping the ball away from the middle of the plate.

In those 12.1 innings, Lance has pitched to 45 batters.  Six of them got first-pitch changeups, and one got a curve.  The other 38 got some flavor of a first-pitch fastball (4-seam, 2-seam or cutter).  Some of these were strikes, many weren’t.  But almost all of them were in the vicinity of the plate, and of the 38 first-pitch fastballs thrown, there were only two that swerved back over the plate where more aggressive hitters might have taken a cut at them.

One thing about the fastball – everyone wants to hit it.  So a lot of times your command doesn’t have to be pristine.  If the fastball is a tad inside, or just a smidge off the outside corner, there is a pretty good chance that someone will chase after it anyway.

Surprisingly, though, that didn’t happen with either the Marlins or Mets.  They must surely have been looking for that fastball, but both teams showed no interest in fishing for it.  And so they took.  And took.  And took.

At one point over the two games, 16 consecutive batters that faced Lance took his first pitch.  Of the 45 batters to face him in the two games only 4 swung at his first pitch.  Only 18 of the other 41 first-pitches were called strikes, but falling behind in the count didn’t bother Lance.  For the season, his 60% strike ratio is the lowest on the club.  But the simplified version of his game plan was not to give in.  To trust that eventually the hitters would come out to where the fastball was.

He ended the two games walking just 2 batters and allowing 9 hits (a .214 batting average).  He might have made it through both games allowing no runs had he not given in just once with a 3-2 fastball that Lynn put right into Christian Yelich’s wheelhouse.  That pitch became a three-run home run.

While mostly effective, this approach does come at a price.  Lance threw 100 pitches in his 5.1 innings against Miami, and 93 more in seven innings against the Mets.  For the two games, Lance averaged 4.29 pitches per plate appearance, and is averaging 4.15 for the season – the highest of any of the Cardinal starters.  Long counts lead to short outings.  In 7 of Lance’s last 9 starts, he hasn’t made it through 6 innings.  For the season, 10 of his 18 starts have ended without Lance making it through the sixth inning.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia is another of the Cardinal pitchers with a good, but not overpowering fastball.  John’s mindset is more of a pitch-to-contact approach.  As opposed to Lynn, Brebbia throws the fewest pitches per plate appearance (3.53) of anyone on the staff.  Fully 43.5% of the swings against Brebbia put the ball in play.  Of pitchers who have faced more than 20 batters this year, only Miguel Socolovich (45.6%) and Mike Leake (44.1%) have the ball put into play with higher frequency.

Sometimes batters want to take pitches against John.  When they do that they end up taking a lot of strikes.  Of the 268 pitches he’s thrown in the majors, 52 have been taken for strikes (37.4% of all pitches taken).

The BABIP enthusiasts have issues with the whole pitch-to-contact notion.  BABIP is Batting Average on Balls In Play.  These types will be keeping a close eye on Brebbia in the second half.  Of the 55 balls hit in play against John (and for this metric, home runs are not balls in play) only 10 have fallen in for hits – a .182 BABIP.  BABIP dogma holds that in the long run everybody’s BABIP trends toward .300 or so, so if – over the course of a few months or even a whole season your BABIP is significantly below that, then you have been lucky, and you should expect your luck to turn the other way at some point.

BABIPist don’t easily embrace the concept of inducing weak contact.  It will be interesting to see if Brebbia’s BABIP holds or changes significantly in the season’s second half.

Seung-hwan Oh

Batters have swung at 49 of Seung-hwan Oh’s last 76 pitches – an uncommonly high 64.5%.  Oh leads all Cardinal pitchers in having 52.2% of his pitches this season swung at.

Oh has had 48 batters come to the plate against him in a double-play situation.  He has gotten only one of those 48 to ground into that double play. Trevor Rosenthal also has just 1 double play in 33 chances.

Tyler Lyons

Through the end of June, only 1 of the 18 hits off of Tyler Lyons had been an infield hit.  Lyons has allowed 8 hits already in July – 4 of them of the infield variety.

Trevor Rosenthal

Batters miss with 32.5% of their swings against Rosenthal (the highest percentage on the staff).  Trevor also throws more pitches per batter (4.51) than anyone on the staff.  In between the swings and misses are an awful lot of fouls and a significant number of pitches out of the strike zone.

Recent Scoring Changes

In the eighth inning of the June 22 game in Philadelphia, Odubel Herrera reached second on what was originally ruled an error by left fielder Jose Martinez.  That has been changed to a double for Herrera.  Cardinal pitcher Kevin Siegrist gets a hit and a double added to his line for that game.  Additionally, the two subsequent runs that scored – originally unearned – have now become earned runs.

In the eighth inning of the July 1 game against Washington, Matt Wieters reached on a ground ball that deflected off of first-baseman Jose Martinez into right field.  Originally ruled an error, this is now a single added to pitcher Seung-hwan Oh.

In the second inning of the July 5 against Miami, JT Riddle rolled a groundball past first base for what was originally ruled an error.  That has been changed to a double – charge pitcher Mike Leake with an additional hit and another double.

Cardinals Rake Over Another Left-Handed Pitcher

So, I have to admit that yesterday’s game had me worried.  On the mound for New York was a lefty (Steven Matz) that no one but Dexter Fowler had ever faced before.  Ever since forever, this has been a team that has scuffled against left-handed pitching – even more so when that lefty was fairly unfamiliar.

But that would not be the script Sunday.  Beating a left-hander for the third time on the home stand – and batting one around for the second time on the home-stand – the Cards brushed past Matz and the Mets 6-0 (box score).

Six days earlier they had routed Jeff Locke.  This wasn’t exactly headline worthy stuff.  Locke has struggled all season (and was, in fact, released the day after the Cardinals beat on him).  Matz, however, is a much different story.  Carrying a 2.12 ERA and riding a 17-inning scoreless streak into the contest, Steven Matz is one of the rising stars in the National League.  Even though he wasn’t his sharpest on Sunday, driving him from the mound before he made it through five innings was an impressive feat.

In 94 plate appearances early in the month of July, St Louis is hitting left-handers at a .338/.415/.613 clip.  Something almost unheard of.  Usually, even marginal left-handers are more than enough to bedevil the Cards.

A Time of Coming Together

Early June was highlighted by a seven-game road trip through Chicago and Cincinnati.  The Cards lost all seven games.  They sat, at that moment, six games under (26-32), and were a team in quite a bit of disarray.  Very few of the pieces were fitting together.

In the 30 games since – beginning about a month ago with a June 9 game against Philadelphia – the Cardinals have been gradually coming together.  They are 17-13 – a decent .567 percentage – since that road trip, and have shown in flashes the team they thought they were going to be.

With 3 more home runs yesterday, the Cardinals have 49 over the last 30 games.  They have hit .268/.346/.475 over those games, and scored 170 runs (5.67 per game).

Meanwhile, the once-toxic bullpen has worked 103.1 innings over those last 30 games with a 2.61 ERA and a .238 batting average against.

Still a little spotty has been the starting rotation.  They have provided quality starts for 15 of the 30 games, with a 4.58 ERA and a .268/.329/.470 batting line against.  In their last 167 innings, the starters have served up 27 home runs.

Tommy Pham

Going back to the June 9 game, Tommy Pham is the only player to play in all of the last 30 Cardinal games – he has started 26.  He carries a .306 batting average through those games (33 for 108), and a .519 slugging percentage (3 doubles, 1 triple, and 6 home runs).  He has scored 23 runs and driven in 19 over that span.  He was 3-for-3 yesterday, and finished the Met series with 4 hits in his last 5 at bats.

All of Pham’s hitting yesterday (2 singles and the big home run) came off the left-hander Matz.  Throughout their recent history, St Louis has searched for that bat that could make a difference against lefties.  Pham has now had 58 plate appearances against left-handed hurlers this season.  They have resulted in 10 singles, 1 double, 1 triple, 4 home runs, 11 runs batted in, 10 walks, and 2 sacrifice flies – a .348/.448/.674 batting line.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler goes into the All-Star Break with the momentum of a 2-for-4 game.  He has missed a good part of the last 30 games – he has played in only 16 of them, starting 14 – but over that span has resembled the hitter they remember.  Dexter is hitting .339 (19 for 56) and slugging .714 (3 doubles, 6 home runs) since the beginning of the first Philadelphia series.

Fowler went 1 for 3 while Matz was in there.  He began the season batting .196 against left-handed pitching (11 for 56).  He is now 4 for his last 12 (.333) including a home run off of Baltimore lefty Vidal Nuno on June 20 (the only one of his 14 home runs hit off a lefty this season).

Fowler also singled of the right-hander Seth Lugo in the seventh.  He is now 15 for his last 44 against right-handers (.341), including 3 doubles and 5 home runs (.750 slugging percentage).

Paul DeJong

And then there was rookie Paul DeJong.  After going 7 for 8 in the first two games of the Met series (1 single, 4 doubles and 2 home runs), Paul finished off the series in good form with two more hits including another home run.  The game pushes DeJong’s overall hitting streak to 6 games, during which he has hit .600 (12 for 20) and slugged 1.300 (5 doubles and 3 home runs).

Paul returned to the big league team on June 15.  In 24 games since then (22 of them starts), Paul is a .345 hitter (30 for 87) and a .701 slugger (7 doubles and 8 home runs).  He has scored 15 runs in those games and driven in 16.

He sure looks like he belongs.

Additionally, DeJong looks like he could also be an impact bat against lefties.  He was 2-for-2 against Matz yesterday and is 9 for 26 (.346) against left-handers over the season.  His 2 doubles and 2 home runs against them are good for a .654 slugging percentage.

Stephen Piscotty

With outfield starts becoming a coveted commodity, Stephen Piscotty isn’t really making a compelling case for himself.  Hitless in 3 at bats yesterday, Stephen is 3 for 21 (.143) over his last six games with no extra base hits, no runs scored, and 2 runs batted in.

Piscotty has played in 29 of the last 30 games (starting 25).  He carries a .212 average (21 for 99) with 2 home runs and 14 runs batted in.

During his first two seasons, Stephen hit .301/.390/.536 against lefthanders.  After his 0 for 2 against Matz, Piscotty is down to .195 against lefties (8 for 41) this year.  The hits have been 5 singles (one an infield single) and 3 doubles – a .268 slugging percentage.  Stephen has 3 runs batted in against left-handed pitching all season.

More recently, Stephen has been struggling against right-handers as well.  He is now 17 for his last 86 (.198) against them.

Lance Lynn

After back-to-back starts where he gave up 7 runs to Baltimore and then 7 more to Pittsburgh, Lance Lynn has bounced back a bit.  Over his last three starts, Lynn has tossed 18.1 innings with 2 quality starts and a 2.45 ERA.  The last 68 batters to face him are hitting .203.  Most of Lance’s outings have been very good, but haven’t lasted very long.  In fact, yesterday was only the second time in his last 9 starts that Lance has made it through 6 innings.

Up until this year, Lance had always been good, but not dominant when facing right-handed hitters.  Since he became a member of the rotation back in 2012, righties had hit .241 against him.  This year – after the Met right-handers were held to 1 infield hit in 11 at bats against Lynn yesterday, they are hitting .177 (34 for 192) against him for the year.

Trevor Rosenthal

In his perfect eighth inning, Trevor Rosenthal struck out the side.  He has now struck out the last 5 batters to face him.

Two of last night’s strikeouts were right-handed batters.  When he first arrived in the majors, Trevor dominated right-handers.  In 2012 & 2013, right-handed hitters hit .201/.281/.308 against him.  Through 2014 & 2015, righties found themselves better able to cope with Trevor.  Their batting line those years was .266/.346/.377.  Last year, an injured Rosenthal was taken advantage of by all hitters, including right-handers.  They hit .293/.381/.404 against him.

But this year, Rosenthal has taken a sort-of step back to the dominance of his first two years.  With yesterday’s strikeouts, right-handers are now just 10 for 58 (.172) with just 2 extra-base hits (.259 slugging percentage) and 29 strikeouts against him. The problems, though, are the walks.  None yesterday, but 8 of the 67 right-handers he’s faced have walked (with 3 of them coming around to score).

John Brebbia

John Brebbia was touched for a damaging unearned run in the first game of the Met series, but – after his 1-2-3 ninth yesterday – John has gone 8 games (8.1 innings) without giving up an earned run.  The last 35 batters to face him are hitting .194 (6 for 31) and slugging .258 (4 singles, 2 doubles).  John has given earned runs in only 1 of his last 13 games (15 innings).  He has a 1.20 ERA and a .182 batting average against in those games.

All three batters he faced (and retired) yesterday were left-handed batters.  Lefties are now hitting .214 (6 for 28) against Brebbia.

Two Paragraph First Half Summary

The season began with 9 losses in the first 12 games.  At the moment they had overcome that start and moved into first place on May 14, they immediately lost 22 of their next 32 games.  Over the first 88 games, both the everyday lineup and the bullpen have undergone multiple shakeups.  While the starting rotation has remained intact, they have been wildly inconsistent.

And through all that, the St Louis Cardinals hit the All-Star Break just 2 games under .500, and – and this is huge – tied with the defending World Champs.  Last year, we entered the break 4 games over (46-42) but already 7 games behind the Cubs.  If anyone had offered us a deal at the beginning of the year that we would hit the break tied with the Cubs, I think most of us would have been happy to accept it.

NoteBook

The Cardinals’ first opponent after the break will be the Pittsburgh Pirates – who are coming off winning two of three from the Cubs, and finished the first half winning five of six.  In an April 24 game, the Pirate pitching staff surrendered the most runs it has all season when they were savaged by a 14-3 score.  The opponent that day was the Chicago Cubs.  Yesterday afternoon – playing the Cubs again – the Pirates scored their most runs of the season so far, beating Chicago 14-3.

Yesterday’s win puts St Louis at 5-6 this season in rubber games.

Of the 17 series where the Cardinals have lost the first game, this is now the fifth time they have come back to win one of those series.  (They have also come back to tie one.)  After losing the first game of these series, St Louis is 20-16 in the remaining games.

Jedd Gyorko suffered through an 0-for-4 afternoon, but his first-inning RBI on a ground-out did stand up as the game winner.  Jedd has tied Yadier Molina for second on the club with 5 game-winning-RBIs.  Fowler still leads the team with 7.

Pieces Starting to Come Together

With three runs in the seventh inning and five more in the eighth, the Cardinals broke open a tight game yesterday afternoon, and finished up with a 10-4 conquest of Arizona (box score).  St Louis now finds itself the victor in 4 of its last 5 games.  While this might not be front page news, it’s enough to lighten the mood of the team and its followers, and fan the flames a bit.  In this recent turnaround, most of the mostly malfunctioning parts of the team have seemed to come together a bit.

Offensively, the team has been much more consistent all month than in April and May.  With the 10 runs last night, the Cards have scored 139 in 28 June games (4.96 per).  Thirty-five of those have now come during the last five games, in which the team has hit .275 (47 for 171).

Randal Grichuk

It may or may not be coincidental that the Cardinals’ mini-surge coincides with the day that Randal Grichuk returned from Memphis.  He did suffer through a short 0-for-9 stretch through the first two games of the Arizona series, but broke out of it decisively with 3 hits – including the game-winning three-run home run in the seventh.  He is now hitting .318 (7 for 22) since his return.  Even better, the hits haven’t been soft.  They include a double and 3 home runs – a .773 slugging percentage.  Randal has driven in 9 runs over his last 5 games.

In his first 24 post-Memphis plate appearances (yes a very small sample size), Grichuk has shown some early ability to battle deeper in an at bat.  Before his demotion, if his at bat lasted more than three pitches, his average fell to .160 (15 for 94).  He slugged just .255 with only 1 home run in those at bats.

Since his return, Randal has already stretched 13 plate appearances past the third pitch.  He is 4 for 12 (.333) with a walk.  More impressive, three of the four hits were for extra-bases – including 2 home runs.  The home run that turned yesterday’s game came on the fourth pitch of that particular at bat.

Jedd Gyorko

The Cardinal resurgence also coincides with Jedd Gyorko’s emergence from a slight slump.  Jedd had 2 hits and a walk yesterday as his contribution.  Jedd has had 20 plate appearances over the last five games, leading to 2 singles, 3 doubles, 1 home run, 8 runs batted in and 4 walks – a batting line of .400/.500/.800.  Jedd has pushed his season-long average back up to .298.

Jedd jumped on the first pitch thrown to him twice yesterday, drilling Patrick Corbin’s second-inning fastball down the left-field line for a double, and then bouncing to third on a first-pitch changeup in the sixth.  For the season, Gyorko puts the first pitch in play 16.1% of the time (among Cardinals, only Yadier Molina at 16.5% hits the first pitch more frequently), and no one on the team does it better.  Gyorko is hitting .405 and slugging .929 on the first pitch this season.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter was issued an intentional walk in front of Grichuk’s home run.  It was the only time he reached base, as he finished another 0-for-4 evening.  Matt is now 4 for 36 (.111) over his last 11 games – although those games include 15 walks, so his on base percentage is a healthy .373.  Matt’s average for the season is now down to .230, but with a .371 on base percentage and a .457 slugging percentage.  Similarly, he is now hitting .247 for the month of June (23 for 93), but with a .391 on base percentage and a .505 slugging percentage.  He has hit 5 home runs this month.

Not Just About the Runs

But more than just the offense has gotten healthy lately.  The bad base-running decisions have stopped.  The defense has been solid and sometimes spectacular.  The bullpen hasn’t been as terrible (most of the time), although it’s clearly still a worry.

And the starting pitching – the team’s albatross for most of June – is also starting to turn the corner.  Yesterday afternoon marked a full turn through the rotation with everyone throwing a quality start.  The rotation has put together a 3.26 ERA over the last five games, allowing just one home run (hit yesterday by Paul Goldschmidt).

Pitchers Surviving the First Pitch

According to baseball reference, across all of baseball batters hitting the first pitch thrown to them are hitting .349 with a .590 slugging percentage.  Whether through luck or some element of design, Cardinal pitchers have avoided first-pitch damage recently.  The Diamondbacks were only 1 for 4 yesterday when they hit the first pitch (Jake Lamb took the first pitch thrown him by Mike Mayers in the ninth over the wall).  The last 28 Cardinal opponents who have hit the first pitch thrown to them have just 4 hits (.143).  The other three hits have been singles.

Lance Lynn

Lance Lynn has been surprisingly good all season when batters hit his first pitch.  Arizona was 0 for 3 against his first pitch yesterday (albeit with help from a big defensive play by Stephen Piscotty in right).  This month, batters are just 1 for 10 against Lance when they hit his first pitch (Scott Schebler began Cincinnati’s comeback from a 3-0 deficit with a first-pitch home run off Lynn on June 7).  Of the now 19 home runs that Lance has given up, that is the only one hit off of his first pitch.  For the season, batters are hitting .214 (6 for 28) and slugging .321 against Lynn’s first pitch.

MatthewBowman

Matthew Bowman added a 1-2-3 seventh that included a strikeout.  Bowman – who has pitched better than his ERA all season – is wrapping up a pretty good June.  In 13 games and 12.1 innings he holds a 2.19 ERA and a .238 batting average against this month.

Bowman’s seventh was highlighted by the longest at bat against him this year, a ten-pitch struggle against Chris Iannetta. Bowman won the battle when Iannetta took a called strike three.  Yes, it was definitely a good couple of inches off the outside corner, and Chris was understandably upset.  Of course, the earlier 2-2 fastball that was called ball 3 was also clearly a strike, so the at bat evened out.

NoteBook

Yesterday’s win gave the Cardinal’s only their fifth series win in the 12 they have played on the road.  The overall road record is 17-21.

Arizona had six hits yesterday afternoon, but no singles.  And the only walk they received was intentional.  The Cards opened the fourth inning with four singles and a walk from their first five hitters of the inning.

A Little Tired, Frankly, of the Home Run Derby

If it seems to you that there have been an inordinate amount of home runs hit against the Cardinal pitching staff lately, you are not alone.  The Baltimore series ended with the Orioles bopping 9 home runs over the last two games.  It was just the fifth time this century (and the first time since 2015) that the Cards allowed 9 home runs in back-to-back games.  They have served up 16 home runs over the last 6 games for the first time since 2003.

The four hit yesterday afternoon sparked Baltimore to an 8-5 victory (box score) that sent the Cardinals to their twenty-second loss in their last thirty-two games, dropping the once-first-place Cardinals to a season-most 5.5 games behind the “high-flying” Brewers.

When Scooter Gennett touched off four home runs against this team, it began a 13-game stretch in which Cardinal pitchers have served up 25 home runs – a home run barrage that hasn’t been seen in St Louis since 2008.

For the month of June, the Cardinal starting rotation has contributed 4 quality starts in 18 games.  They have managed just 93 innings in those games, during which they have served up 19 home runs (1.84 hr per 9 innings).  This has all led to a 6.29 ERA for the month for the rotation, accompanied by a .279/.360/.510 batting line.  Subtract Carlos Martinez’ numbers out of those totals, and the rest of the Cardinal rotation has limped along in the month of June with a 7.53 ERA and a batting line against of .306/.390/.582.  Martinez has accounted for 2 of the 4 quality starts the Cardinals have this month.

Of the 10 home runs served up by Cardinal hurlers over the three games in Baltimore, 7 were solo shots.  Even at that, though, Baltimore feasted yesterday (3 for 10 including a home run), and for the series (13 for 39 with 4 doubles and 3 home runs) when they hit with runners on base.  In this, the Cardinal pitching staff continued it’s month long struggle with runners on base.  In spite of the horrific overall numbers this month, opposing batters are still hitting just .247/.310/.436 with the bases empty.  But once a runner reaches, that line rises to .300/.375/.561. Even after the carnage of the Baltimore series, St Louis pitchers have still allowed just 16 home runs this month in 393 plate appearances with the bases empty, but 14 in 265 plate appearances with at least one runner on.

Lance Lynn

From April 17 through May 5, Lance Lynn seemed well on his way to a big free-agent paycheck.  It isn’t enough to say he threw four consecutive quality starts – these were dominant starts.  He pitched 25 innings over those starts, allowing 2 runs (0.72 ERA) on 16 hits (11 singles, 4 doubles, and just 1 home run).  He was 4-0 through that run, got ground balls on 53% of the balls hit in play against him, and held opposing hitters to a .188 batting average and a .271 slugging percentage.

Beginning on May 10, everything changed for Lynn.  The Cards beat Miami that day (7-5) but Lance lasted only 4 innings serving up 4 runs on 5 hits – including 2 home runs and 4 walks.  A blip?  That’s what we thought at the time.  But over his last 8 starts beginning with that game, it has rained home runs on Lance Lynn.  With the 4 that he served up in 4.2 innings yesterday, Lance has now had 12 hit against him in his last 43 innings.  He has lost 3 of his last 4 decisions, with a 4.40 ERA.

Yesterday, 15 of the 17 batters who put the ball in play against Lance, hit the ball in the air.  Over his last 8 starts, he has seen 63% fly balls.

For the season, 12 of the 16 home runs against Lance have come with the bases empty.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist came into yesterday’s game in the fifth inning trailing by five runs.  This was both the earliest in a game and the farthest behind that Kevin has been brought in to pitch this season.  It may mark the beginning of a role re-shuffle in the bullpen.  It could also have been a decision caused by a series of short outings by the starters.

For whatever reason, Kevin Siegrist has been a recurring theme in this month-long dry spell.  Kevin has appeared in 12 of the last 32 games, and has given up his own runs in 4 of them, and allowed two inherited runners to score in another.  Yesterday’s run – considering the Cards already trailed 7-2 – was probably the least damaging of the set.

He was the loser in the thirteenth inning of the May 20 game against San Francisco that was scoreless after 12.  He came in in the seventh inning of the June 5 game against Cincinnati with the score tied at two and allowed both inherited runners to score – sending Cincinnati home with a 4-2 victory.  He allowed the last run in the June 14 game against Milwaukee that left the late rally just short, 7-6.

Since mid-May, Kevin has pitched 10 innings over 12 games, serving six runs on 14 hits.  The last 42 batters he has faced are hitting .350 against him.

The only batter Kevin faced last night with a runner on base was Manny Machado, who hit with Seth Smith at third and one out.  Machado singled sharply up the middle to drive in the run.  For the season, batters are hitting .232 against Kevin (13 for 56) when they face him with the bases empty.  They are now hitting .333 (14 for 42) when they face Siegrist with a runner on.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil pitched an efficient 13-pitch eighth inning.  He, too, has had some bad moments over the last 32 games.  But Brett has had more good moments than bad.  Cecil has pitched in 13 of the last 32 games.  Over 11.2 innings in those games, Cecil holds a 3.09 ERA with a .190 batting average against.

Keeping the bases clean is a key for Brett.  So far this year, opposing hitters are batting .245 against him with the bases empty.  But once runners get on, that average leaps to .308.

Trevor Rosenthal

“Good” Trevor Rosenthal pitched the seventh in 1-2-3 fashion, striking out 2 along the way.  Trevor has now faced 66 batters this season with the bases empty.  He has struck out 33 of them.

Matthew Bowman

Eighteen games into the month, only two members of the pitching staff have ERAs under 3.  One, of course, is Carlos Martinez (2.11).  The other?  Matthew Bowman.  At 1.93, Matthew is something of a surprising answer because – as with most other members of the pen – his moments of struggle stand out more than his solid moments.  After retiring both men he faced yesterday, Bowman has pitched 9.1 innings this month, allowing 3 runs (2 earned) on 7 hits with 3 walks and 8 strikeouts.  He has also stranded all four of the runners he’s inherited.

Runs Without Hits?

Through parts of this disheartening 10-22 streak, the Cardinal offense struggled profoundly to score runs.  Through the latter end of it, the offense has been more forthcoming.  Throughout, though, they haven’t managed an impressive amount of hits.  Yesterday, the Cards furnished 4 home runs of their own, but managed only 2 other hits.  Since the beginning of the Boston series in mid-May, the Cardinals have hit .244.

That number includes just a .235 batting average (155 for 659) with the bases empty.  Yesterday, they hit three home runs with the bases empty, but added only one other hit in 24 at bats (.167).  Twenty-nine of the thirty-six Cardinals who came to the plate yesterday did so with the bases empty (80.6%).

Dexter Fowler

Much improved since moving into the second slot in the lineup, Dexter Fowler has been simply scorching since last Sunday.  Hitting in 7 of his last 8 games, Dexter is 13 for his last 28 (.464) with a 1.036 slugging percentage (5 of the hits have been home runs).  In fact, after collecting a single, a home run, a walk and 2 runs batted in yesterday, Dexter now has 6 multi-hit games in his last 8, has hit a home run in four consecutive games and has driven in 9 over his last four games.  Much has been made of the fact that Fowler already has as many home runs this year (13) as he did all last year.  It is also true that after driving in 48 runs all of last year (and having never driven in more than 53 in any year), Dexter already has 35 this year.

Even while the Cardinals are doing their best to fade from contention this month, Dexter Fowler has established himself as a legitimate player of the month candidate.  Through 18 games in June, Dexter has 6 home runs, 16 runs batted in, and a .333/.433/.702 batting line.  What started out as one of his worst years may yet end up one of his best.

While batting leadoff most of the first two months of the season, Dexter was up with the bases empty 67.2% of the time.  Thus far in June, that ratio is down to 58.2%.  For the season – after his 2 for 3 yesterday – Dexter is hitting .311/.424/.608 with runners on base.  His 13 home runs include two 2-run shots and three 3-run homers.

Jedd Gyorko

Cleanup hitter Jedd Gyorko is trending the other way.  A .340 hitter as late as May 12, Jedd is hitting .241/.286/.328 for the month of June after his 0 for 4 last night.  He has 1 home run and 6 RBIs this month.

Jedd is at .182 this month (6 for 33) when batting with the bases empty – as he did in all four plate appearances yesterday.

Tommy Pham

After his 0 for 4 last night, Tommy Pham is now hitless in 7 at bats since his fourth-inning double off of Wade Miley in the second game in Baltimore.  Overall, Tommy’s numbers are still very good – he still carries a .277/.373/.462 batting line, but his June is opening the door for Randal Grichuk – reportedly heating things up, now, in AAA.  Tommy is just 12 for 55 this month (.218), with 2 doubles, 1 home run and just 4 runs batted in.  His June slugging percentage is .309.

One of the game’s turning points came in the top of the third inning.  Cards trailing 2-1 with two quick outs.  Then Matt Carpenter draws a walk and Fowler follows with a single.  This would be the only time in the game that the Cards would have a runner in scoring position – and the only time in the game they put two runners on base (except for Fowler’s two-run homer).  Swinging on 3-0, Pham rolled to second, ending the inning.  A statistical curiosity.  So far this season, Pham is hitting .297 with a .409 on base percentage when he hits with the bases empty.  He is hitting .368 (14 for 38) with a .789 slugging percentage with 1 runner on base.  Four of his six home runs have been two-run blasts.  With more than one runner on base, Tommy is 0 for 18.

Greg Garcia

Greg Garcia is another hitter that June has been mostly unkind to.  After his 0 for 4 yesterday, Greg is now 1 for 19 (.053) for the month.

NoteBook

Coming off a series sweep at the hands of Arizona, Philadelphia becomes St Louis’ sixth straight opponent to have not won its previous series (5 had lost and one had split).  St Louis has lost four of those previous five series – with the first Philadelphia series being the only exception.