Tag Archives: Lynn

Fixing the Brand

As the 2017 playoffs begin to crank up in earnest, the St Louis Cardinals will be relegated to watching.  A proud franchise who – not too long ago played in four consecutive Championship Series –  will be bristling over their second straight exclusion from the post-season dance.

All over Cardinal Nation, a host of voices will be raised to give guidance and counsel to the St Louis management.  I understand that mine will be a lonely voice, lost – no doubt – amidst the throngs clamoring for truckloads of money to be thrown at some high profile free agent or other.  I am not terribly concerned about these voices, because (usually) Cardinal management has a much clearer grasp on the needs of their team than the common fan.

This year, however, from their early comments I am concerned that John Mozeliak and his councilors may have missed the many loud messages that his team has been sending him.  So, as I acknowledge the fact that my singular plea for reason is liable to vanish into the great void of the blogosphere, I will nonetheless send forth my diagnosis of the club’s current issues and – as far as I am able – to at least hint at some sensible prescriptions.

It is important to note that none of this is as cut and dried as most fans (and bloggers) seem to think.  Contrary to many opinions, giving Miami whatever they want for Giancarlo Stanton is not really a prescription for success, either in 2018 or beyond.

This is, in fact, both a critical and challenging offseason.  St Louis has a handful of gifted players who must be added to the 40-man roster or be lost.  They, therefore, will be challenged with making critical decisions about the futures of the players already on that roster.  In many of these cases, the cases for and against these players is anything but clear.  The organizational challenge is to be right in deciding which young talents to embrace and which to part with.

None of this will be easy at all, as I will attempt to point out.

First Off, This is a Team in Transition

Most followers of the Cardinals are already aware that this team is transitioning from the veterans of the teams that went to all of those championship series.  For years, the organization has been stockpiling talent throughout its minor league system.  Now, that rich resource is beginning to re-shape the major league team.

Twenty-three percent of all plate appearances taken by the 2017 Cardinals belonged to players who opened the season in Memphis.  That percentage rose to 34% in the second half.  The pitching staff was less influenced, but still 16% of the innings pitched came from Memphis arms.  That figure also rose to 25% in the second half.

Make no mistake.  The youth movement is underway.  There had been similar displacement the year before, with the emergences of Aledmys Diaz and Alex Reyes.  St Louis is clearly rebuilding, and trying to remain competitive while doing so.

The answer to getting this team back into the playoffs – for all of the rebuilding – is actually comparatively simple.  They need to guess correctly on a closer.

Get Thyself a Closer

For as uneven as the Cardinals have been the last two years, they would have made the playoffs both years if they could have successfully filled one position – the closer.  With more stability in the ninth inning, this teams could easily have made up the one game they lacked in 2016 and the four they fell short of this year.  Cardinal pitchers appearing as closers finished 2017 with a 3.75 ERA – the worst showing for Cardinal closers since the fourth-place 2008 team finished with a 6.27 ERA from its closers.

It has become axiomatic throughout baseball – probably on all levels.  If you don’t pitch the ninth, you will not succeed.  This organization believed it had the ninth inning covered at the start of both of the last two seasons.  They had no reasons to anticipate the struggles Trevor Rosenthal would have in 2016 or the problems that Seung-hwan Oh would run into this year.

Swing the net out to include the eighth inning, and the story becomes even more compelling.  They lost 6 games this year when leading after 7 innings.  Even more telling, in games the Cards were tied after 7 innings, they were only 3-12 – by percentage the worst performance by a Cardinal team in this century

But the Cardinals already know they have bullpen issues.  And solving the eighth and ninth innings may well get them back into the playoffs, but won’t address the issues that will keep them from advancing once there.

It’s from this point on that I don’t think the organization is seeing clearly.

The Magical Impact Bat?

Among the primary targets this offseason, an “impact bat” seems to be high on the list.  Really?  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I wouldn’t mind seeing an established bat in the middle of the lineup.  But who?  And at what cost.

The least intrusive path would be free agency.  But who would that be?  J.D. Martinez is probably the most established of the free-agents to be.  Would he come to St Louis?  Given the Cardinals’ track record of wooing elite free agents (not to mention the spacious ballpark), I’ll have to remain skeptical on this one.

What concerns me most is that they will go out and trade a whole bunch of promising players for a slightly upgraded version of Brandon Moss.  Is Josh Donaldson, for example, really worth surrendering the future of an Alex Reyes or a Sandy Alcantara?  Are you really sure we don’t already have that impact bat?  Can you say for certainty that the three-four-five spots in the Cardinal order come next July (or perhaps even June) won’t be Paul DeJong, Patrick Wisdom and Tyler O’Neill?  Look at some of the players on the team this year that got less than full-time at bats.

DeJong hit 25 home runs in 417 at bats.  Give him 500 at bats (around the norm for a starter) and Paul would have been a 30 home run man with a .285/.325/.532 batting line.  And he was a rookie this year.  There is a fairly good chance we haven’t seen the best of Paul yet.

Tommy Pham only made 128 starts, but finished with 23 home runs and a .306/.411/.520 batting line.  A .931 OPS sounds pretty “impact” to me.

Jose Martinez got only 272 at bats, but hit 14 home runs.  That would project to 26 home runs in a 500 at bat season to go along with his .309/.379/.518 batting line.  Are we really, truly sure that Jose couldn’t be a fulltime player.

Moreover, I think the “impact bat” is an over-rated concept, unless you’re running a Whitey-ball offense and your lineup is 7 jack-rabbits and one bopper.  Far more important is the depth of the lineup.

Consider:  in the offensively unimpressive first half, four of the eight Cardinal batsmen with the most plate appearances hit below .250.  Dexter Fowler finished at .248, Stephen Piscotty hit .240, Matt Carpenter scuffled in at .237, and Randal Grichuk hit the break at .215.  That’s a lot of outs sprinkled regularly through the lineup.  A “bopper” in the middle would certainly help, but with that many struggling bats, one “impact bat” won’t cure the problem.

Now consider: for the 44 games from August 6 through September 23, St Louis averaged 5.77 runs per game – an adequate offensive production, by anyone’s standard.  During that span – of the eight players getting the most plate appearances – only Carpenter (.244) was under .250 – and that just barely.  Nobody hit more than the 9 home runs that came off the bat of DeJong, but almost everybody hit some.  Most importantly, they weren’t making outs.  In almost all cases, a deep lineup is better for your offense than a concentrated one.

There is considerable pressure in the team to do something dramatic to push the team back into the playoffs.  Again, I am just one voice.  But if I had one of the best farm systems in baseball, I would trust it more.  I would give this system every opportunity to prove to me that the pieces I need are already at my disposal.  I’m not saying never trade from any of this surplus.  But I am saying don’t trade the future for a mess of pottage (no offense, Josh).

Wither Lance Lynn

In this post, I made most of my case for keeping Lance Lynn.  Since one of the comments made by the brain trust had something to do with shoring up the rotation (a goal I approve of), I have to wonder where they think they will get better value than Lance?  Remembering that he was in his first year coming off elbow reconstruction (the infamous Tommy John surgery), Lance’s 33 starts, 17 quality starts, 186.1 innings pitched and 3.43 ERA are quite impressive.

More than the numbers, though, Lance was a bulldog.  He even got hit in the head with a line drive and kept on pitching.  As the next generation of pitchers graduate to the majors, Lance would be a terrific mentor.

Yes, he faded at the end – which was disappointing.  Still, I am not at all convinced that, for the money and the years it would take to sign Lynn, they will find a better bargain out there.

Here’s a final note.  In a down year for free-agent pitchers, Lance will be a likely target for a certain division rival who is always scrambling for pitching.  He would be just what the doctor ordered for them.

My prediction here is that if they let Lance walk, they will regret it.

These are all important considerations, but the single most important failing of the 2017 team is one that I don’t think they are even aware of.

A Matter of Character

Throughout the course of the entire season, manager Mike Matheny would intone sentiments similar to this: time and time again, this team has shown me its character and its toughness; one thing I will never ever doubt is the toughness and character of this team.

The character of the team and its much-envied clubhouse was the foundation upon which the belief in the Cardinals’ eventual triumph was forged.  It is organizational bedrock.  The foundational doctrine upon which all decisions are based.

And it’s complete mythology.

In every way possible, the 2017 Cardinals tried to send this message to their manager’s office – and to their front office, too for that matter.  Character wins were almost non-existent in 2017.

They were 4-7 in walk-off victories, 5-9 in extra-innings, 24-29 in one-run games.  And two measures that I am fond of as revealers of character: they were 39-39 after losing their previous game, and 27-44 against teams with winning records – including losing 6 of their last 7 must-win games against Chicago.

As a point of reference, the 39-39 in games after a loss is the worst record for a Cardinal team in this century.  The 2007 team that finished 78-84 was 43-41 after a loss.  The 2006 team that snuck into the playoffs and won the whole thing after an 83-78 regular season was 43-40 after a loss (counting the playoffs).

By contrast, the 100-win 2005 team went 50-15 after a loss (counting the playoffs).  In fact, the three 100-win versions in this century (2004, 2005, 2015) combined to go 128-65 (.663) after losing their previous game.  There have been seven 90-win teams in this century so far.  After losing their previous game, those teams have combined to go 301-209 (.591).  There have also been seven 80-win teams in St Louis in this century.  Even they have managed to go 294-251 (.539) in games after a loss.

The utility of this metric is that it reveals precisely one of the principle failings of this year’s club – a frustrating inability to break out of losing streaks.  In my season wrap-up post, I documented several extended losing spells.  In most of them, St Louis needed to wait for a series against a pretty bad team (like Philadelphia) before they could pull themselves out of their tailspin.

As to the record against winning teams, think about 27-44.  That is a .380 winning percentage.  If you took a fairly good AAA team and had them play 71 games against average major league teams, this is about the record you would expect them to compile.  In fact, this winning percentage is also the lowest of any Cardinal team in this century, breaking the one-year-old record of the 2016 team that floundered along at 24-35 (.407) against teams that won at least as many as they lost.

I promise you that the talent gap isn’t that great between the Cardinals and the other winning teams in the league.  This points strictly to toughness.

Over the course of the entire century, St Louis is 766-566 (.575) after a loss, and 713-688 (.509) against winning teams.

So, who are the players who have routinely fallen short in these character games?  It’s time, I suppose, to name names.

Stephen Piscotty

Enduring the worst season of his career, Piscotty also routinely came up short in tough situations.  He hit .213 against winning teams (29 for 136) with 3 home runs.  This included a .179 average (5 for 28 – all singles) after the All-Star Break.  During the season’s second half he was also 10 for 57 (.175) in games after a loss, and just 3 for 24 with runners in scoring position.  Renowned for his prowess with runners in scoring position through the first two seasons of his career, Piscotty hit just .125 in the second half this year with ducks on the pond.

I don’t think anyone in the organization believes that 2017 will be a representative year in the career of Stephen Piscotty.  A combination of things conspired to derail his season early, and he never found his way back.  But, with talented outfielders rising through the system, the organization will now be forced to re-evaluate their commitment to Piscotty.  Further complicating the issue is that, should they decide to trade Stephen, they are unlikely to get full trade value.

Piscotty is a very cerebral player, and very likely to figure things out.  Whatever his future with the organization, Stephen is one player who could profit greatly by hitting the ground running next season.

Luke Weaver

This, I suppose, should be expected.  Rookie right-hander Luke Weaver was mostly a revelation during the last part of the second half.  But the young man still has some lessons to learn that the league’s better clubs are all too willing to teach.

Luke made 5 starts against winning teams, culling just 1 quality start.  He served up 6 home runs in 24.2 innings, compiling a 2-2 record with an 8.03 ERA and a .321/.381/.547 batting line against.  It will be interesting to see how quickly he learns and adapts.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman was a bit exposed – especially late in the season – by the better teams.  In 35 games (26.2 innings) against higher quality opponents, Matthew was pushed around a bit to the tune of a 5.06 ERA and a .284 batting average against.

Not So Cut and Dried

A few of the players on the team, though, defy an easy label.  In this difficult off-season, these will be the hardest decisions the organization will have to make, as guessing wrong will come with consequences.

Randal Grichuk

For the last two seasons, Randal has been the almost-emergent superstar.  In each of the last two seasons, his final numbers have disappointed.  But in both seasons he has shown enough hint of promise to earn another chance.

Grichuk finished 2017 with much the same totals as 2016.  The batting average fell a couple of notches to .238 (from .240) and the home runs dipped from 24 to 22.  He ended 2017 slugging .473 after slugging .480 the year before.  Overall, less than compelling.

But, he did hit .265/.303/.550 with 13 of his home runs in 189 at bats after the break.  So now, the organization has to decide if that was just a tease?  Or is it real progress?

He ended the year at just .218 (43 of 197) against winning teams, but hit 11 of his 22 home runs against them.  In the second half, he was 20 of 83 (.241) when playing winning teams, but with a .542 slugging percentage as half of those 20 hits went for extra bases – including 7 home runs.

In games after a loss, Randal checked in with a disappointing .201 average (36 of 179), including just .188 (15 for 80) in the second half – but again, with a .438 slugging percentage.

Randal mostly split right field with Piscotty in the season’s second half.  In Grichuk’s 34 starts the team was 22-12.  They were 13-18 in Piscotty’s 31 starts.

There is no question that Randal was productive in the second half.  His 13 home runs were only 3 behind team-leader Paul DeJong in 100 fewer at bats.  If the Grichuk of the second half had had a 500 at bat season he would have hit 34 home runs with his .265 batting average and .550 slugging percentage.

With Randal’s potential, you would hope for more than that.  But, if the Randal they saw in the second half is the Randal that they can count on seeing all of next year, I think they could accept that.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s entire season is tough to get a handle on.  On the one hand, he drew a career high 109 walks, leading to the second-highest on-base percentage of his career (.384).  On the other hand, his batting average continued to sink – down to .241 (30 points lower than his previous worst average).  On the other hand, he was apparently battling shoulder issues all season – perhaps accounting for much of that loss of production.  On the other hand, after playing in at least 154 games a year from 2013 through 2015, Matt has followed with two injury plagued seasons.  He also hit 23 home runs (his third consecutive 20-homer season) and slugged a solid .451.  His final OPS of .835 is still well above league average, but below either of his previous two seasons.

In his games against winning teams, Matt hit just .221 (49 of 222), but drew 38 walks, helping him to a .341 on base percentage.  He made 141 starts this year, with the team going 70-71 (.496) when he was in the lineup, and 13-8 (.619) when he wasn’t.

So did Matt have a good year or not? With the home runs and the on base, I suppose that I would have to call it good, but troubling.  By degrees, Matt is becoming more valuable for his ability to walk than for his ability to hit the ball.  And, by degrees, the team is starting to feel the loss of that big hit.

Carpenter is one of the team’s core members, and he will be on the field somewhere on opening day (barring another injury).  But a lot of elements in his career trajectory concern me.

Michael Wacha

While this was – in many ways – a triumphal season for Michael Wacha, he is still coming up short in these character games.  After suffering through three injury plagued seasons, an offseason workout regimen kept Michael on the field for 30 starts and 165.2 innings.  The anticipation is that his 12-9 record and 4.13 ERA will be marks to build on going forward.

It may, indeed, play out that way.  It is, nonetheless, true, that Wacha (who excelled against good teams and in stopper situations early in his career) continues to trend down in these games.

From 2013 through 2015, Wacha pitched in 40 games (35 starts) against teams that boasted winning records for the season.  He was 15-9 in those games with a 3.08 ERA and a .217 batting average against.

In 2013 and 2014, Wacha pitched in 12 games (10 starts) after a Cardinal loss.  He was 5-3 with a 2.88 ERA in those situations, holding batters to a .195 batting average.

In 2017, Wacha was only 2-6 in 12 starts against winning teams.  His 5.90 ERA was accompanied by a .296/.365/.502 batting line against.  He was 5-4 in 13 starts following a Cardinal loss, but with a 4.76 ERA.  Since 2015, Wacha is 4-10 against winning teams with a 5.70 ERA, and since 2014 he is 15-9, but with a 4.64 ERA in games after a loss.

Wacha is yet another enigma on this team.  Beyond the physical issues, there has been a palpable loss of mojo.  The spectacular hero of the 2013 playoffs has lost that big game feel.  Wacha is one of the players who could make a huge difference next year if he can channel his earlier self.

Carlos Martinez

In spite of the fact that he tossed his first two complete-game shutouts and crossed over both the 200-inning and 200-strikeout plateaus for the first time in his career, Carlos Martinez regressed noticeably in 2017.  After going 14-7 with a 3.01 ERA in 2015 (his first year in the rotation), and 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last year, Carlos saw those numbers sink to 12-11 with a 3.64 ERA.  And the core difficulty that he had was with winning teams.

In his first two seasons in the rotation, Martinez had gone 12-9 with a 3.35 ERA against winning teams.  He had put together quality starts in 17 of his 26 starts against them.

He made 15 starts against winning teams this year.  Only 7 of those fulfilled the standards for a quality start.  Even though he has “stuff” the equal of any pitcher in the game, he was only 4-7 with a 4.28 ERA in those games.  He was just 1-3 with a 6.12 ERA with a .301 batting average against them in the second half of the season.  After allowing just 12 home runs in 166.2 innings against winning teams his first two years in the rotation, he served up 11 in 90.1 innings against them last year.

In all likelihood, this is just a bump in the road for Carlos.  But there were a couple of concerning developments that I noticed that need to be solved somehow, or Martinez will never realize his potential.

For one thing, Martinez continually tries to do too much.  His anointing as the ace of the staff this year may have fed into this tendency.  Especially in big games, he tries too much to give extra effort.  In a game that rewards players that learn to play within themselves, this will usually be counterproductive.

It was noted that Carlos complicated three consecutive late-season starts by throwing away routine double-play balls.  More than this, though, Martinez’ need to do too much affected his fielding for much of the season.  He dove, scrambled, and lunged for every near-by ground ball.  He probably caused nearly a dozen infield hits by deflecting grounders that would have been right to his infielders.

On several occasions, he even kicked at ground balls to his right, like a hockey goalie trying to make a skate save.  Now, I ask you, what good could come of that?  Who in the world could make a play on a ball that Carlos has deflected with his foot?

It’s all part and parcel of a young pitcher losing control of himself.

The other issue is even more concerning.  There sometimes – especially in big games – seems to be an emotional fragility to Martinez.  Something in his confidence seems to drain if the opposing team has early success against him.  He hasn’t fully mastered the ability to gather himself after bad things happen and continue to pitch within himself.

There is no better example of this than the game that sent the Cardinal season spinning toward its final destination (box score).

For ten batters on a beautiful Friday afternoon in Wrigley, Carlos Martinez was untouchable.  His 100-mph fast ball jumped and ran like a thing alive, and his slider was about eleven different flavors of filthy.  The defending champion Cubs – possessors of one of the most potent lineups in baseball – couldn’t touch him.  Five of the ten batters struck out, and four of the others hit groundouts.  Of his first 43 pitches, 30 were strikes.

Then Kris Bryant – the eleventh batter to face him – looped a fly ball to right on a 2-0 pitch.  It wasn’t hit terribly well or terribly far.  If this incident had happened at Busch, Piscotty would have probably been about a step on the track as he made the catch.  But in Wrigley it was just far enough to creep over that overhanging basket for a game-tying home run.

And with that, the air went out of Carlos Martinez.

The first 10 batters he faced got no hits.  Six of the last 16 he faced got hits.  After striking out 5 of the first 10, he didn’t strike out another batter.  While 30 of his first 43 pitches were strikes, only 31 of his final 57 made it to the strike zone.  None of the first 10 batters walked.  Carlos walked 3 of the last 16 and hit another as his once dominating slider flew wildly all over the place.

Carlos ended the affair lasting just 5.1 innings.  On a day that he started with devastating stuff, he ended serving up 7 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks.

Being “the man” requires uncommon mental and emotional discipline.  The next level for Martinez lies just beyond that barrier.

Let it be noted that in three years in the rotation, Carlos is 17-8 with a 2.96 ERA in games after a loss.  That includes his 4-3, 2.61 mark this year in those situations.

Better Than the Numbers Suggest

One player deserves mention in a better category.  His contribution was greater than his numbers might suggest.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler was the big free agent acquisition after being one of the drivers of Chicago’s championship the year before.  His final numbers were sort of ordinary (.264 batting average with 18 home runs).  He also hit just .225 (42 for 187) against winning teams, and .237 (52 of 219) in games following a loss.  Not overly impressive.

But Fowler’s season was a story of two halves.  Hobbled by a variety of injuries in the first half (mostly his feet), Dexter limped to a .248 average (albeit with 14 home runs).  He had hit .199 (27 of 136) against winning teams, and .201 (28 of 139) in games after a loss.

As his health improved, Fowler became a decided force for good throughout the second half.  He hit .288/.400/.488 after the break, including .294 with a .400 on base percentage against winning teams, and .300 with a .402 on base percentage in games after a loss.

The guy I saw at the end of the season is the guy I’m excited to see all year next year.

Setting the Bar

The Cardinals did have a few players who consistently rose to the challenge of the games against the better teams.  They should get a notice as well.

Tommy Pham

Tommy’s break-through season wasn’t limited to beating up on lesser teams.  Tommy hit .287 against over .500 teams with a .391 on base percentage.  He also hit .330/.451/.558 in games after a loss.  He also hit .305/.420/.514 with runners in scoring position.  Tommy had himself a year.

Lance Lynn

It’s probably fitting that I spend the last few paragraphs that I am likely to devote to the 2017 baseball season to Lance Lynn.  While the Cardinals repeatedly fell short against winning teams, Lance was 4-3 against them, with 4 other potential wins lost in the bullpen.  He posted a 3.09 ERA against these teams in 78.2 innings, with a .196 batting average against him.

Are we really, really sure we want to cut ties with him?

Final Word

Again, I am just one voice.  But the message clearly sent from the 2017 season is that this team’s greatest need is not some aging slugger to bat fourth.  The greatest gap between the Cards and the Cubs – and the other good teams in the majors – is the character gap.  If this were my team, this is the area that I would focus on first.

Living in a Grinders Paradise

A trend I have mentioned a few times over the last part of the season reached – I hope – its nadir last night.  A Cardinal team that seems increasingly unwilling to swing the bat watched pitch after pitch go by last night.  Of the 173 pitches delivered over 11 grueling innings in a game the Cardinals desperately needed to keep alive their faint playoff hopes, the Cards swung at only 62 (36%).  They did grind – averaging as a team 4.22 pitches per plate appearance (for context, Matt Carpenter averages 4.45 pitches per plate appearance for the season).  But 40.5% of the pitches they took were called strikes, leading to 17 strikeouts and only 4 walks.  Eight of the 17 Cardinals who struck out were called out on strikes

Meanwhile, St Louis finished the eleven-inning fiasco with 1 run and only 6 hits.  The team batting average falls to .239 for the month.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham was about the only offense the Cards had going for them last night.  With 2 singles and a walk, Pham added 2 stolen bases and scored the team’s only run.  Tommy is still finishing strong.  He is now up to .306 with a .444 on base percentage for the month.  Since the All-Star Break, Pham is hitting .321 (75 for 234) with a .437 on base percentage (Tommy has walked 43 times, been hit by 6 pitches, and has stolen 14 bases in 17 attempts in the season’s second half).

Of the 29 pitches tossed to Tommy last night, he only swung at 7.  All season, Pham has been one of the most selective of the Cardinal hitters.  For the season, he only swings at 38.1% of the pitches he sees.  As the season goes on, though, Tommy is getting even more selective.  This month, his swing percentage is down to 33.4%.

Matt Carpenter

Struggling with a balky shoulder off and on all year, Matt Carpenter’s season came to an ignominious end with an 0-for-4 that featured 4 strikeouts.  Matt finishes September hitting .230 (but with a .420 on base percentage as he drew his twentieth walk in his twenty-one games).

When Carpenter came to the plate in the third inning with a runner at first and one out, it would be the 97th and final opportunity for Matt to ground into a double play.  He struck out.  One thing about striking out and hitting fly balls – they keep you out of double plays.  Matt bounced into only 5 all year.  Among season-long regulars, his 5.2% was the lowest on the team.

After the game, Matt admitted to taking pitches he might otherwise have swung at.  The evidence is in the statistics.  Over the course of the season, Carpenter swung at the first pitch just 13.2% of the time.  In the second half of the season, that ratio dropped to only 9.2%.  In 82 September plate appearances, Carpenter swung at the first pitch just 3 times.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler couldn’t break out of his late season swoon in time to extend the Cardinals hopes.  He was also 0 for 4 with 3 strikeouts.  Fowler welcomes Milwaukee hitting just .185 (5 for 27) over his last 7 games.

Fowler swung the bat 13 times last night, missing on 6 of the swings.  During the month of September, Dexter is missing on a team-leading 30.6% of his swings – higher even than Randal Grichuk’s 30.1%.

Dexter also saw 29 pitches last night (5.8 per).  For the month of September he trails only Carpenter in pitches per PA with 4.24.

Stephen Piscotty

As he returned from Memphis, Piscotty expressed the hope that he could get hot coming down the stretch.  That didn’t happen.  Piscotty went hitless in 3 at bats last night, and is 0 for 13 over his last 5 games.  It has been 15 games since Stephen has driven in a run – a span during which he has hit .191 (9 for 47) with only 2 extra base hits.  His September average is down to .231, and for the second half it’s down to just .229 (25 for 109).

Piscotty also had an opportunity to bounce into a double play.  In the fourth inning he had Jedd Gyorko on first with one out.  Stephen didn’t bounce into the double play.  He struck out into it instead.  Still, this month, Piscotty has bounced into just 1 DP in 17 such opportunities.

Carson Kelly

Carson Kelly made his fourth start in the last five games last night.  He is 1 for 15 (.067), and is 0 for 11 since Yadier Molina went on concussion protocol.  Carson is the top rated catching prospect in baseball.  It would help, though, if he would get a hit once in a while.

All four first pitches to Carson last night were strikes – although he only swung at one of them.  In his 30 plate appearances, Carson is seeing first pitch strikes 76.7% of the time.  No other non-pitcher on the team is getting challenged with the first pitch as often as Kelly.

Kelly swung the bat 4 times last night, fouling a pitch off and putting the ball in play with his other swings.  Kelly has only missed on 16.2% of his swings since joining the team.  He is also putting the ball in play with an impressive 49.5% of his swings.

Lance Lynn

If this was, indeed, Lance Lynn’s last start as a Cardinal it ended on a fairly ironic note.  Noted early in his career for the consistency of run support that he received, Lance will exit seeing no runs scored for him in his last game.  Moreover, this will be the third time in his last 5 games that St Louis was kept off the scoreboard while he was the pitcher of record.  In fact, over his last 27 starts, the Cardinals averaged just 3.00 runs per start for him.

Lance, nonetheless, finishes with an excellent 3.43 ERA – which was 3.21 in 15 second half starts in his first season returned from Tommy John surgery.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil delivered a scoreless seventh in the tie game, and continues to show incremental improvement in the season’s dying days.  His September ERA drops to 2.25 in 12 innings.  He had them three-up-and-three down on 9 pitches last night.  In his September innings, Brett is only facing 3.42 batter per inning, and throwing just 12.08 pitches per inning.  Over the course of the whole season, Cecil has thrown just 3.58 pitches per batter.

Eight of his nine pitches were strikes.  He spent almost the entire first half looking for the strike zone, as only 63.5% of his pre-All-Star Game pitches were strikes.  Between the break and the beginning of September, his percentage jumped to 69.4%.  This month, 73.1% of his pitches have been strikes.

Juan Nicasio

Juan Nicasio kept them off the board in the eighth, but it took him 20 pitches to work through the inning.  Since he has been a Cardinal, Juan has averaged 17.5 pitches per inning, and 4.38 pitches per batter.  Only Tyler Lyons (18.45 and 4.41) has thrown more pitches per inning and per batter this month than Nicasio.

Sam Tuivailala

Sam Tuivailala kept the game tied through the ninth.  Sam has been having a very solid September.  He now has a 2.00 ERA in 9 innings this month.  He faced only 3 batters last night, throwing 7 strikes in just 9 pitches.  This month, Sam is averaging just 3.56 batters per inning, just 12.00 pitches thrown per inning, just 3.38 pitches per batter, while throwing strikes with 73.1% of his pitches.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia dispatched his 3 batters in the tenth (including one who struck out) on only 8 pitches.  Even though Brebbia has struck out 17 batters in 10.2 innings this month, he has done so throwing a surprisingly economical 3.36 pitches per batter.  Seven of last night’s eight pitches were strikes.  John throws strikes 68.5% of the time over the course of the season.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman faced 5 batters in last night’s decisive eleventh inning.  One of them struck out, and the other four hit ground balls.  It resulted in two hits and the run that eliminated the Cardinals from playoff contention.  That’s the way the ball bounces sometimes.

Matthew has gotten ground balls from 14 of the 21 batters he’s faced this month, and 56.2% on the year – the highest ratio of anyone on the staff with more than 20 innings pitched.

Elimination Season Almost Ended

For all their warts, the Cardinals were the second to last team to be eliminated from playoff contention this year.  Milwaukee or Colorado will be the last.  Everyone else is already in or out.

NoteBook

With the loss, the Cardinals fall to 43-35 at home.  Of the 25 home series they have played, they have won 12, lost 10, and split the other 3.

With Milwaukee having won two of three from Cincinnati, the Cards will play no more teams this season that have either lost or split their previous series.  So the final tallies on those situations are:

St Louis finished just 37-36 against teams that had lost their previous series.  Those games averaged 3:06, and drew a total attendance of 2,563,414 (an average of 35,115.3) and were played in average temperatures of 78.5 degrees.  We went 11-10-2 in those series, sweeping 3 of the 5 we had a chance to sweep, and being swept in 3 of the 4 that we were in danger of being swept in.  We were 4-5 in rubber games against teams that had lost their previous series.

We only played 6 teams this season that had split their previous series, and we beat them up in good order, going 13-4 in those games.  Those games averaged 2:58.8 and drew a total attendance of 726,554 (an average of 42,738.5).  The average temperature of those games was 79.4 degrees.  We won 5 of the 6 series, including sweeps in 3 of 4 opportunities while avoiding the sweep in the only such series lost all season.  We won the one rubber game played in these series.

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.