Tag Archives: Lyons

The Hot Team Hits One of the First Two Pitches

Within five pitches.  That’s how the game account of the Cardinal’s damaging 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh read (box score).  One-time closer Seung-hwan Oh had entered the fifth inning of a 1-1 tie.  The first batter he faced – Christopher Bostick – singled on an 0-2 pitch.  Starling Marte followed by unloading on Oh’s 0-1 pitch.  Five pitches, five strikes, two runs.  And a loss.

All pitchers make mistakes, but mistakes early in the at bat are almost always more damaging.  There is a simple dynamic at play here.  Batters (most of them) are more aggressive early in the count, looking for something they can drive.  Across all of baseball (according to baseball reference) when batters hit one of the first two pitches thrown them, they hit .340 with a .573 slugging percentage.  If the pitcher survives those first two pitches, his average against tumbles to .222 with a .369 slugging percentage.  Overall, batters hit one of the first two pitches 26% of the time.  Yesterday, Cardinal pitchers – including veterans Oh and Brett Cecil – saw 11 of the 35 batters who faced them hit one of the first two pitches (31.4%).  The damage was predictable: 6 for 11, including both home runs and a triple.

In a final twist from the first game of the series, when the Cards were jumping on the first strike thrown to them, St Louis was only 1 for 9 when they hit one of the first two pitches thrown.

The hot team – apparently – hits one of the first two pitches.

Seung-hwan Oh

There is little left to say about the season that Oh is having.  The numbers do tell the story.  The last 4 times he has come into a game that was either tied or one run either way, Oh has managed just 2.1 innings, serving 3 runs on 5 hits (including 2 home runs) – this all leading to a loss, a blown save, a .455 batting average against, and a 1.000 slugging percentage against.

Over his last 13 games, Oh’s ERA is 8.31, and in 18.2 innings since the All-Star Break, Seung-hwan carries a 5.30 ERA, and a batting line against of .303/.333/.500.

I’m not sure where Mike Matheny’s continued confidence in him comes from.

Brett Cecil

Cecil is another depended-upon reliever whose season is fading to a close.  He has now allowed runs in two of his last three games, while his ERA rises to 4.79 with a .304 batting average against since the All-Star break.

“Early mistakes” is one of the trends that has helped define Brett’s disappointing season.  Fully 31.2% of the batters he has faced this season have gotten to him in the first two pitches (including Pittsburgh’s Jordan Luplow who homered off the first pitch he saw from Cecil last night).  Overall, batters who hit one of Brett’s first two pitches are hitting .420 and slugging .642.  When he survives to pitch 3, the batting line against him drops to .199/.257/.325.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia added another good inning.  He threw the seventh, giving a hit, but no runs with 2 strike outs.  This makes six straight scoreless outings for John, and leaves him with just 2 runs allowed in 9 innings this month.  Brebbia carries a 2.48 ERA in the season’s second half with 35 strikeouts in 29 innings.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons kept Pittsburgh off the board in the eighth.  Lyons’ great season continues.  He struck out two batters last night, and has fanned 7 of the last 11 to face him.  He has 37 strikeouts in 27 innings since the break (12.33 per 9 innings) and holds a 1.00 ERA during that stretch.

Lyons has faced 100 batters in the second half.  Only 15 have hit his first or second pitch.  For the season, just 20.5% hit those pitches against Tyler.  None of the 4 he faced last night managed a quick at bat against him.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals See a Lot of Pitches

When operating at peak efficiency, the Cardinals do a great job of walking that line between aggression and taking grinding at bats.  As September wears on, though, they are becoming – by degrees – more grinders than hitters.  Last night, 19 of their 36 batters (52.8%) were up there for more than 4 pitches – leading to 5 walks and a .368 on base percentage in those PAs.  For the month, 40.3% of Cardinal hitters are seeing at least 5 pitches per plate appearance – leading to 77 walks and a .391 on base percentage in those PAs.

But with all of this on base, the actual hits are starting to be few and far between.  The Cards only had 4 hits all game yesterday, and the batters who were grinding at bats were only 2 for 14.  For the month, the 40% of batters who are seeing at least 5 pitches are hitting just .202 in those at bats.  For the month overall, St Louis carries a .245 team batting average.

Tommy Pham

Among the carnage last night was the end of Tommy Pham’s latest hitting streak, a modest six-gamer during which Pham hit .444 (12 for 27) and slugged .667 (3 doubles and 1 home run).  Tommy scored 5 runs and drove in 5 other during the streak.

Jedd Gyorko

Bouncing back into the lineup after an extended absence is hard enough.  Without a few minor league games to warm up in, it’s even more difficult.  Jedd Gyorko – who was enduring a struggling second half anyway – has experienced further difficulty after returning from his hamstring injury.  Over his last 7 games, he is 2 for 15 (.133) and in the second half his average is down to .204 (29 for 142).

Jedd pushed all of his plate appearances last night past 4 pitches, and 9 of the 16 that he has had since his return.  Since the All-Star Break, 44.4% of his plate appearances have lasted at least 5 pitches.

But, again, Jedd was 0 for 2 last night.  He is also 1 for 8 this month and 12 for 54 (.222) since the break in at bats that last more than 4 pitches.

Kolten Wong

Also still struggling to regain his earlier form is Kolten Wong.  Hitless in 4 at bats yesterday, Wong is down to .180 (9 for 50) this month.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In spite of everything, St Louis makes it to the final homestand still moderately relevant.  A good homestand (meaning 5-2 or better) could very well eke this team into the playoffs.

That, of course, would mean that they would have to win games against Chicago and Milwaukee – tasks that they have found difficult to achieve with any consistency.  It they do sneak in, they will have done it the hard way.

NoteBook

Sunday’s game was the final road game of the season for the Cardinals.  The final road tally is: 39 wins, 42 losses, 402 runs scored, 374 runs allowed, 3:04.3 average game time, 2,537,288 total attendance (an average of 31,324.5 per game), 77.1 degrees of average temperature, 10 series won, 13 series lost, 3 series split, 4 series swept in 7 opportunities, while they were the victims of 5 sweeps in 6 opportunities.  They finished 2-7 in rubber games on the road.

The Pirate series was the twenty-fifth series this season that St Louis won the first game of the series.  With the loss, they are 16-5-4 in those series, with a 53-25 record (just 28-25 after that first game).

St Louis is now, also, 11-10-2 in series against teams that had lost their previous series.  They have been consistently unable to take advantage of teams that had been playing poorly.  They are just 37-36 in the games of those series, including just 4-5 in rubber games.

Cards Hang On for Rare One-Run Victory

Every so often we see a glimpse of the team that the organization thought we would be this year.  We got one such glimpse last night, as a resilient offense erased two deficits – one a four-run deficit – to pull out a one-run, extra-inning victory.  These kinds of efforts, though, have been much more the exception than the rule.  St Louis is only 5-8 in extra innings, and 21-28 in one-run games (8-12 in the second half).

Although the run-scoring has slowed a little recently, the runs scored in the 8-7 victory (box score) kept the average at 4.97 since the All-Star Break.  That’s good, but increasingly this team is struggling to get hits.  They scored their 8 runs yesterday on just 8 hits through 10 innings.  During the month of September, the team batting average has fallen to just .235.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler has come back ready to hit.  He drove the team to last night’s victory, tying the game with an eighth-inning home run and giving the team the lead with a double in the tenth.  Dexter finished with 3 hits, and has had 7 in the three games since he’s returned to the lineup.  He has driven in 5 runs over the last 2 games, and almost had 3 home runs and 6 runs batted in over those games.

Fowler has only been healthy enough to play in 8 games so far this month, but is hitting .370 (10 for 27) and slugging .778 (5 extra base hits) when he has.  Fowler is hitting .340/.453/.617 in 28 games since coming off the disabled list.  After a forgettable first half, Fowler is hitting .299/.415/.500 in the second half – albeit in only 39 games.

Fowler’s tenth-inning double stood up as his tenth game-winning run batted in of the season.  He trails only Yadier Molina – who has 11 – for the team lead.  His two late, game-changing hits were his seventh and eighth such hits of the season.  No other Cardinal has more than 4.

If one-run games are considered character games – and I consider that they are – then Dexter is one of the few Cardinals who has consistently shown up in these games.  The Cards have played in 4 this month.  Fowler is 7 for 16 (.438) with a double, a triple, and 2 home runs (1.000 slugging percentage) in those games.  In those 4 games, he has scored 5 runs and driven in 6.

He has played in 13 of the Cardinals’ 20 one-run games since the break, hitting .353 (18 for 51) and slugging .588 (4 doubles, 1 triple, and the 2 home runs).  Even after his uneven first half, Fowler is hitting .277 (39 for 141) and slugging .596 in 37 one-run games this season.  Ten of his 17 home runs have come in games decided by one run.

Since most one-run games are fairly dominated by the pitchers, this kind of offense is impressive, indeed.

Kolten Wong

Troubles continued for Kolten Wong, now hitless in his last 11 at bats after his 0 for 4 last night.  Wong did get hit by a pitch, steal a base, and score the game deciding run in the tenth.  Even while struggling to hit, Kolten is still reaching base.

In his 8 games since being sidelined by a stiff back, Wong is only 3 for 20 (.150), but has 6 walks and 2 hit-by-pitches for a .393 on base percentage.  He is down to just .156 for the month (5 for 32) – although with a .341 on base percentage.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko is back in the lineup, but perhaps a little rusty from his layoff.  The hamstring injury has been just another complication in what has been trying second half.  With his 0 for 4 yesterday, Jedd is hitting .203 (27 for 133) since the All-Star Break.

Jedd has played in 40 of the Cards 49 one-run games.  He is hitting just .216 in those games (29 for 134) with 3 home runs and 16 runs batted in.

Stephen Piscotty

One-run games have come with particular difficulty for Stephen Piscotty – especially since the All-Star Break.  Overall, Stephen has hit much better since his return from Memphis.  Unless the game is decided by one run.

After his 0 for 4 last night, Piscotty is 0 for 7 in 3 one-run games this month, and .042 (1 for 24) in 9 one-run games since the break.  For the season, Piscotty has played in 34 one-run games, hitting .190 (19 for 100) with 2 home runs and just 7 runs batted in.

Brett Cecil

After two excellent innings in relief, Brett Cecil was asked to pitch a third inning when he went out for the sixth with the Cards clinging to a 5-4 lead.  A walk and a double set the stage for a couple runs to score.  With the damage, Brett’s ERA popped back over 4 for the season (4.04) and back up to an even 5.00 in 27 second half innings.

Tyler Lyons

At the end of the game, it was Tyler Lyons securing the last two outs and claiming the save.  In recent games, Lyons hasn’t been as dominant as he has been during most of the season.  Still, his ERA sits at 2.68 for the season – and 1.11 in 24.1 innings in the season’s second half.

Relief pitching is, perhaps, the most critical factor in winning one-run games.  Certainly much of the Cardinal’s futility in these games can be traced to the bullpen’s 4.10 ERA in the 49 one run games.

Lyons, however, has been one of the strongest bullpen links in these games.  He holds a 2.16 ERA and a .160 batting average against in 8.1 innings in the second half, and a 1.80 ERA with a .212 batting average against in 15 innings for the year in one-run games.

NoteBook

In falling behind 4-0, the Cardinals have gone three straight games without scoring first, and have done so only once in their last seven games (Tommy Pham’s first inning home run in the first game in Chicago).

Last night’s win gives the Cards opening game wins in 6 of their last 7 series – all except the series in Chicago.

Jack Flaherty’s abbreviated start brings to four the number of consecutive games without a quality start from the rotation.  They have only 2 in the last 8 games.  No Cardinal has thrown a quality start since Luke Weaver’s last start.

One day after I noted in passing the ongoing struggles this team has had in games where Chris Segal is calling balls and strikes, guess who will be behind the plate tonight?  He is likely to be the only umpire who will call five games for the Cards this season.

Cards Exposed Again by Winning Teams

One of the beautiful things about the 162-game marathon that is the major league baseball season, is that by the time it has run its course it will answer all questions.  Heading into the big series in Wrigley, I asked some questions about the mental edge the Cubs have had over the Cards for the last couple of years.  In three sunny afternoons in Chicago’s Northside, those questions were resoundingly answered.

While the Cardinals will continue to fight for a playoff spot – as they should – the three-game sweep by the Cubs that culminated with yesterday’s 4-3 loss (box score) has left their playoff hopes mostly untenable.  Left for the Cardinals is to sift through the pieces and begin to plan for next season.

One of the glaring realities of the Cardinal season is that they are decidedly lacking when faced with teams that win more than they lose.  They are now 25-39 for the season, and 8-12 since the All-Star Break, against winning teams.

Since the point where a 10-2 run positioned them just 2 games behind (with 18 to play at that time) they have lost 4 of 5 games.  The Cards have scored just 11 runs in their last 5 games.

Offensive Deficiencies

One of the constants in the Cardinals’ matchups with winning teams has been scarcity of runs.  They scored all of 6 in the 3 games in Wrigley.  They have averaged 3.95 runs per game in the 20 second half games they’ve played against winning teams, and are averaging 3.92 against them for the season.  They average 5.31 runs per game against sub-.500 teams.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham certainly had opportunities to do more damage, but you couldn’t have realistically asked much more from him.  With 3 hits yesterday, Tommy kept giving the Cards opportunities to fight their way back into the game.  During the 5 games during which the Cardinal season has mostly faded away, Pham has been one of the few beacons.  Over his last 22 plate appearances, Tommy has 3 singles, a double, 2 home runs, 3 walks, and a hit-by-pitch – a .333/.455/.722 batting line.  In 57 games in the season’s second half, Pham is hitting .315/.431/.533 with 10 home runs, 10 stolen bases, and 44 runs scored.

Tommy has also been one of the few driving forces against winning teams, as well.  After finishing the Cub series 4 for 12, Tommy is up to .295 on the season (46 for 156) against winning teams, with 7 home runs.  Since the All-Star Break, he is 25 for 73 (.342) with a .548 slugging percentage.

Tommy’s breakthrough season withstands all levels of scrutiny.

Dexter Fowler

It’s good to have Dexter Fowler back.  Only activated before the Saturday game, Dexter was 4 for 8 in his two games, tying yesterday’s game once with a three-run homer and almost hitting another game-tying home run in the ninth.  Dex has only played in 7 games this month, but he’s hitting .304 (7 for 23) and slugging .609 (2 triples to go with yesterday’s home run).

In 27 games since his most recent return from the disabled list, Fowler is hitting .322/.438/.567.   He has only been healthy enough to play in 38 of St Louis’ 61 second half game, but he is hitting .285 (37 for 130) with a .403 on base percentage.

With the home run, Fowler set a new career high in runs batted in.  He now has 55 for the year, even though he has only been healthy enough to play in 108 of the 149 games so far.  His previous high was the 53 he drove in with Colorado in 143 games in 2012.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong did draw a walk and was hit by a pitch.  But hits have been few and far between for Kolten.  Having the best season of his career, Wong’s last 16 games have seen him go 9 for 50 (.180).  Recurring back issues may very well be part of the cause.

In the season’s second half, Wong has played in 19 of the 20 games St Louis has played against winning teams.  He is hitting .206 in those games (13 for 63).

Pitching Falters

With 11 more hits – including 5 against starter Lance Lynn in just 4 innings – The Cubs wrapped up the series hitting .296 against what had been a sturdy Cardinal staff coming into the series.  Especially vulnerable were Cardinal starters, who managed to survive only 15 innings through the 3 games, being stung for 13 runs (a 7.80 ERA).  They also walked 12 Cubs during the 15 innings – leading to a .411 on base percentage.

Needless to say, the Cardinals were hoping for better.

Starters Against Winning Teams

Even though his afternoon was disappointing, Lynn continues to be the best of the Cardinal starters facing winning teams.  He is 4-3 with a 3.18 ERA for the season, including 1-0 with a 2.86 ERA against these teams in the second half.

Michael Wacha is only 2-5 with a 5.73 ERA in 11 starts against winning teams for the year.  However, in 4 such second half games, Wacha has been much better (1-2, 3.74).

Luke Weaver’s closing starts against the Cubs and Brewers will be instructive.  To this point he has started against only 3 winning teams.  He is 2-1 in those games, but with a 4.24 ERA.

Carlos Martinez is 4-7 in 14 starts against winning teams with 4.29 ERA.  He is 1-3 with a 6.43 ERA since the All-Star Break

Before going down with an injury, long-time ace Adam Wainwright had made 10 starts against winning teams, throwing 5 quality starts against them.  He is 5-3 with a 3.28 ERA in those games.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia is still getting pretty highly-leveraged opportunities, and is doing mostly well with them.  He was given the sixth inning yesterday in a tied game – giving a hit, but no runs.  John’s season long ERA still sits at 2.35, including 2.67 in 27 second-half innings.  He has 13 strikeouts in 7 innings this month.

Intriguing with Brebbia is that he is one of the few Cardinals who has been much better against winning teams.  He pitched 2 scoreless innings in the Cub series – stranding all 3 runners he inherited.  Since the All-Star Break, he has allowed just 2 runs over 8.2 innings, and holds a 1.20 ERA in 16 innings against winning teams for the season.  He has done this with a .196/.237/.339 batting line against.

Tyler Lyons

After being so good for so much of the season, Tyler Lyons is starting to return to earth a bit.  He allowed runs in both games against the Cubs, and has allowed runs in 3 of his last 7 games (5.2 innings).  He was lucky not to give up a run against Cincinnati in the game before that.  The last 25 batters he has faced are hitting .409 with a .636 slugging percentage.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman allowed only 9 of the first 40 runners he inherited this season to score.  Four of the five that he inherited in the Cub series came home to roost.

Bowman may be one of those bullpen links that is being exposed against the better competition.  Matthew carries a 4.97 ERA in 25.1 innings against winning teams.

NoteBook

The Cardinals took the field Sunday needing a win to avoid a sweep.  This was the sixth different road series this year where the Cards needed a last game win to avoid a sweep.  They have now managed to dodge the sweep only once.  That lone exception occurred in the Cardinals’ very first road series of the year (April 10-12).  After losing their first two games in Washington, they won the series finale 6-1 behind the arm of Mike Leake and the bat of Stephen Piscotty (how long ago April must seem to those two).

The Cubs were also the nineteenth team St Louis has faced this year that won its previous series (Cincinnati will be the twentieth).  With the loss, St Louis is 5-10-4 in those series, going 27-32 against teams coming off series victories.

Cards to Live or Die on the Road

Luke Weaver was front and center again, as the Cards bounced back from a disappointing loss on Wednesday – the only blemish on a 5-1 home stand.  Weaver was excellent, again, with 6 innings of 2-hit ball during which he allowed just 1 run – unearned.  Weaver, thus dropped his season ERA to just 1.89, and picked up his one-hundredth career strikeout in just his eighty-first career inning when he got Jose Peraza swinging to end the third.  The Cards are now 16-8 at home since the All-Star Break.

Weaver – with the help of his bullpen – continues a stellar streak of Cardinal pitching.  Over the last 17 games, St Louis checks in with a 2.49 ERA and a .228 batting average against.  If they can continue this run over the last 16 games, we should be OK.

Next up will be a defining 9-game road trip – 3 games each in Chicago, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.  Pitching away from home has been a concern the entire year.  They did check in with a 2.56 ERA in their last 10-game road trip – but 8 of those games were in San Francisco and San Diego.  Still, the improvement on the road has been noteworthy in the season’s second half.  This team hit the All-Star Break with a 17-21 road record and a 4.92 road ERA.  Since then, they are 18-16 with a 3.62 ERA away from Busch.

Over the next ten days, the pitching staff’s ability to contend with the smaller ballparks in Chicago, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will simply decide the Cardinal’s season.  No pressure.

Luke Weaver

Luke has been more than “as advertised” his last 5 times out of the gate.  The same guy who dominated AAA for the last couple of seasons has looked like that guy up here.  He is 5-0 with a 1.15 ERA over his last 31.1 innings (which includes 42 strikeouts).  He is 3-0 in September with a 0.96 ERA and a batting line against of .197/.221/.288.  If the rotation stays the same, Weaver will be scheduled to open the last home stand against Chicago on September 25 and the next to last game of the regular season against Milwaukee.  If Luke is the real deal, he will have his opportunity to show that in two of the season’s more crucial games.

Luke has allowed 0 earned runs over his last 11.2 innings at Busch.

Weaver hasn’t been as dominant on the road, but he is still 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA there.

Home/Road Splits of Other Starters.

With all the chatter about the young arms, let’s not forget Lance Lynn, who is establishing himself game-by-game as the ace of the staff.  He made two starts in the last 10-game road trip, posting a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings – but was only 0-1 as he saw no run support to speak of.  In 6 road starts since the break, Lance is 2-1 with a 0.94 ERA.  He has made 16 road starts this season, going 5-4 with a 2.99 ERA.  He is 6-3, 3.02 at home.

Carlos Martinez – who opens the big road trip this afternoon in Chicago – is one of those pitchers who have turned things around on the road in the season’s second half.  Martinez hit the break just 2-5 with a 4.13 ERA in 8 starts and 48 innings away from Busch.  Over his last 7 road starts (47.2 innings), he has thrown 5 quality starts, going 3-2 with a 2.83 ERA.  Carlos is 6-3, 3.18 at home this season.

Michael Wacha had 5 mostly terrible road starts during the season’s first half.  He lasted just 24.1 innings in those games, serving up 5 home runs, losing both of his decisions with a 7.03 ERA and a .346/.409/.529 batting line against.  He has been better in the second half, but still up and down with a 4-2 record and a 3.95 ERA in his last 7 road starts (during which opposing batters have hit just .245).  Wacha is 8-3 with a 3.12 ERA at Busch.

Michael and rookie Jack Flaherty are the wild cards in the deck as we head down the stretch – and especially during the upcoming road trip.  Good starts from them will be crucial.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons pitched the seventh, and was lucky not to give up a run when Joey Votto was thrown out at the plate.  If Votto had been safe, that would have been the only run scored against Lyons in the season’s second half that he would have been on the mound for.  In his 22.1 post All-Star Break innings he has only been charged with one run (0.40 ERA) when he left an inherited runner that ended up scoring.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia tossed a scoreless eighth inning – striking out two along the way.  John has suddenly become a strikeout pitcher.  He has fanned 10 over his last 5 innings, and 30 in his 25 innings since the break.

Tommy Pham

After going through a small slide recently, Tommy Pham walked, stole two bases, doubled and homered yesterday.  He scored twice and drove in two runs, becoming a critical part of the 5-2 victory (box score).  Tommy is still leading all regulars in the season’s second half in runs scored (43), stolen bases (10), batting average (.314), on base percentage (.434), and slugging percentage (.530).

A veteran, now, of 249 major league games and 703 major league at bats, Tommy now has 34 career home runs among 196 career hits.  His walk and two RBIs yesterday bring his career totals in both categories to 100.  His career batting line is now .279/.376/.491.

Fifteen of Tommy’s 20 home runs this season have come on the road, where he has hit .338 and slugged .614 this year.  He is finding his stroke at just the right time.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez chipped in 2 hits for the third game in a row.  He has hit, now, in 14 of his last 15 games, hitting .440 during the streak (22 for 50).  Jose heads into the final 16 games of the season hitting .361 (39 for 108) in the season’s second half.

Like many of the Cardinal hitters, Jose has been a road terror all year, but especially in the second half.  Over his last 76 road plate appearances, Jose has hit 5 home runs with a .349/.461/.667 batting line.

Up Coming

My number one axiom of the baseball season is that it’s always early until it’s not.  That means, of course, that “critical” (in terms of games or series’) is a term to be used sparingly.  Now, of course, it is late and the 16 games remaining are justly regarded as critical, beginning with an impactful three days in Chicago.

Since the end of last season, local writers referred constantly to the 17.5 game gulf that separates the Cards from the defending world champions.  Such a thing, of course, never existed.  It’s one of those ridiculous straw men that betray a writer’s misunderstanding of the nature of baseball.  Whatever you’ve read this year, that is not a thing.

What is a very real thing, though, is the mental edge that Chicago has held over this team since the 2015 playoffs.  It isn’t anything that I can point to or quantify with any number of statistics, but it is real nonetheless.  You can see it in their (Chicago’s) bearing and attitude when they play against us.  They know that they are the tougher team, and they play with that confidence.

Well, that’s all well and good.  What has been very concerning over the last two years is that the Cardinals have bought into that as well.  Even though we have been sometimes competitive against the Cubs over these last two seasons, it has been evident in their play that they expected to lose the tough games.  It’s a perceptible sense that you get watching these games – a sense that the Cardinals know that Chicago is the better team.

Over the last few weeks, this team has re-invented itself.  It’s a team of fearless kids (Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader, Weaver) and guys who have been counted out their whole lives who are taking, perhaps, their one stab at glory (Pham and Jose Martinez), with a sprinkling of great veterans (Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright) added in.

Winning these games will be critical – there’s that word – for the team’s post-season chances.  But as important as the games themselves will be the moxie that this young team will carry with them to the field.  Will they fight for these games?  Will they win the tough at bats?  Do they really know that they are the better team?  Whether they win or lose, these are the signs that will tell us how great the gap between these teams truly is.

NoteBook

With yesterday’s win, the Cards are now 5-5 in rubber games played at home.

This was also the twenty-third series this season in which St Louis had won the first game.  They have now gone on to win 15 of those series, losing 4 and splitting 4 others.

Elimination Season Continues

Entering the day with a magic number of 1, either a Cub win or a Cincinnati loss would have mathematically eliminated the Reds from the division race.  Both happened.  With 80 wins, the worst the Cubs could finish is 80-82.  With 84 losses, the best the Reds could finish is 78-84.

Jack Flaherty – and Bullpen – Back On Track

The second time around was much better for rookie pitcher Jack Flaherty.  He wasn’t as dominant as his opponent, San Diego’s impressive Dinelson Lamet, but he made big pitches to get out of trouble and – with excellent work by a bullpen that is still defining itself – held the Padres in check until a late rally pushed St Louis to a 3-1 victory (box score).

His command still wasn’t what we understand it was in Memphis.  Only 52 of his 86 pitches were strikes (as he walked 4 in 5 innings).  Through his first two games, 40.5% of his pitches have been out of the strike zone.  Still, he limited the damage to 1 run through 5 innings.

Going back to the last game of the last home stand, this is now two complete turns through the new-and-revised rotation, with encouraging results.  The total team ERA through the last ten games has been a sparkling 2.50 with a .221 batting average against.  The starters have worked 63.1 of those innings with a 2.70 ERA and a .230 batting average against.  The bullpen’s last 26.2 innings have provided an excellent 2.03 ERA and .200 batting average against.

St Louis has won 7 of the 10 – including 6 of the last 7.

Ryan Sherriff

Ryan Sherriff has been one of the positive forces out of the pen since his call-up.  He was the winning pitcher last night, and has a 1.29 ERA through his first 7 big-league innings.

In his very early innings, Ryan looks like a pitch-to-contact kind of guy.  He hasn’t missed many bats so far.  Last night, he got only 2 swinging strikes from the 11 swings taken against him.  Of the last 46 swings taken against him, only 15.4% have been missed.

But, if he’s not missing bats, neither are the opposing hitters able to put the ball in play.  Six of last night’s 11 swing produced foul balls.  In his last 4 games, 50% of the swings against him have produced foul balls.

John Brebbia

In 20 innings since the All-Star Break, John Brebbia (who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning last night) has yet to be presented with a runner at third and less than two outs.  He was in that situation 9 times in the season’s first half, allowing that run to score 5 times.

John threw first-pitch strikes to 2 of the 3 batters her faced last night.  For the season, 115 of the 161 batters he’s faced have seen strike one.  His 71.4% is the highest on the team.

None of the 3 he faced last night swung at his first pitch.  Of the last 18 batters he’s faced, only Tampa Bay’s Adeiny Hechavarria has swung at his first pitch.  Adieny fouled of Brebbia’s first pitch in the eighth inning of the August 27 game.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons finished off the game and got the save.  Like the San Francisco game on September 2, Tyler got himself into ninth-inning trouble.  Unlike the San Francisco game, this time he was allowed to work his way out of it.  Since the All-Star Break, Tyler has pitched in 22 games (totaling 20.1 innings).  He has struck out 26 in those innings (11.51 per nine-innings) and allowed just one run (0.44 ERA).  And he wasn’t on the mound when the run against him scored.

Tyler’s pitches have been up more lately than they were during his hot streak, but still no one is taking very confident swings at him.  Since the All-Star Break, 38 batters have put the ball in play against Lyons, with only 7 getting hits.  That makes for an uncommonly low BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .184.  The BABIPists will write that off as small sample size luck, but there’s a bit more to it than that.  With his looping curve and very nasty slider, Tyler is a very uncomfortable at bat these days.

Included in this is significant discomfort swinging at Tyler’s first pitch.  None of the five who faced him last night did, and only 19.3 % of the batters he’s faced this season have offered at his first pitch.  That number is the lowest on the pitching staff.

The Padre hitters took 7 pitches from Lyons last night – 5 of them called strikes.  This has been another pattern with Tyler on the hill – taking strikes.  For the season, 40.9% of the pitches that batters have taken from Lyons have been called strikes – the highest ratio on the staff.

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty was last night’s lone hitting star, with two hits – including the game winning home run.  Piscotty has played in 15 games since returning from Memphis, getting 49 plate appearances.  In those plate appearances, Stephan has 9 singles, 1 triple, 3 home runs, and 8 walks – a .317/.429/.585 batting line.  It’s starting to look like Piscotty has pushed ahead of Randal Grichuk in the outfield pecking order.

Dexter Fowler

As August has lapsed into September, and the wear and tear on his body has compounded, Dexter Fowler has seen his production drop recently.  Yesterday’s 0 for 3 drops him to 5 for 27 (.185) over his last 8 games.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong was also hitless last night (4 at bats).  He is suffering through about the longest dry spell of his rookie season.  Over his last 8 games, Paul is hitting just .114 (4 for 35).

Alex Mejia

Of the “Memphis Mafia” that have contributed so much to St Louis’ late playoff push, Alex Mejia has struggled more than some others – especially during his September call-up.  Last night he had 4 plate appearances, striking out in 2 and grounding into double plays in the other 2.  During the early days of the month, Alex is just 1 for 12 (.083) with 7 strikeouts to go along with last night’s double plays.

NoteBook

The Padres – who were coming off a series victory against the Dodgers – are the eighteenth team St Louis has played this season that had won its previous series.  They have now won 5 of those series, losing 9 and tying the other 4.  They are 27-28 in the games of those series.

Cards Overcome Another Early Deficit

As Jack Flaherty walked off the mound after his second major league inning, his team trailed 3-0.  After fellow rookie Harrison Bader put the Cards back in the game with a two-run homer, Flaherty gave those runs back in the bottom of the third, and St Louis still trailed by three.

All that was left for the offense to do was to keep battling back.

By game’s end the resilient Cardinal offense overcame yet another spotty pitching performance as they exploded for 6 in the ninth, and cruised past San Francisco 11-6 (box score).

It’s a position this team has found itself in frequently this season, so it should surprise no one that the hitters are almost comfortable in the situation.  Last night, the 27 batters that came to the plate with the team trailing hit a combined .360 (9 for 25) and slugged .840 (3 triples and 2 home runs).  They are just coming off a month (August) where they trailed in nearly 40% of their plate appearances, yet hit .291/.365/.497 when they trailed – especially when they trailed by three runs.

What, exactly, is magic about a three-run deficit I can’t really say, but over the course of the year – and especially in the second half – seeing that three-run deficit lights a fuse in the Cardinal offense.  Last month they hit .397/.471/.712 in 86 plate appearances trailing by three runs.  Since the All-Star Break, in 106 plate appearances, that line is .370/.438/.696.  For the season, 254 Cardinal hitters have stood at the plate facing a three-run deficit.  They are hitting .316/.379/.600.

Fifteen times this year St Louis has trailed by three runs in a game – but by no more than three runs.  They lost all of the first nine of those games.  They have now won 5 of the last 6.

The 11 runs on 15 hits suggests that this team didn’t do all their hitting and scoring in August – where they hit .280 and scored 5.79 runs per game.  In the season’s second half, the Cards are scoring 5.22 runs per game with a .276 team batting average.

Stephen Piscotty

Not all of their numbers are robust, but every day manager Mike Matheny is tasked with choosing which three of his five impact outfield bats (and maybe six, now, if you count Bader) to put in the lineup.  Last night Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez all sat, while Bader, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty all starred – to some degree or other – in the Cardinal victory.

Perhaps the most impressive of the three was Piscotty – who has been a little bit buried on the bench lately.  He had three hits, including a home run and a triple that was almost a home run – with those last two hits capping excellent at bats.

On the triple that began the comeback from the three-run deficit, Piscotty took all of the first three pitches from Hunter Strickland – finding himself backed up in the count 1-2.  He then fouled off five consecutive pitches before finally launching Strickland’s ninth pitch off the padding on the top of the right-center field wall.

On the home run, Piscotty turned on a 2-2 fastball that Albert Suarez ran right in under his fists.  Both the discipline that Stephen showed against Strickland and the surprising quickness he showed against Suarez are difficult to maintain when you’re not getting regular at bats.

Since his recall from Memphis, Piscotty has only gotten into 10 games – 7 as a starter.  He is nonetheless hitting .357 (10 for 28) and slugging .643 (one triple and 2 home runs) in those opportunities.

Piscotty also began the game-tying eighth inning rally with a single to left.  The Cardinals were trailing 5-4 at the time.  Piscotty for the season is a .324 hitter (11 for 34) when he bats with his team trailing by one run.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong picked up in September where he left off in August.  After hitting .347 last month, Wong tacked on two more hits last night.  He is hitting .308 for the season, and .316 (48 for 152) in the second half.

Wong’s RBI single in the ninth was his fifth game-winning hit of the year, tying him with Paul DeJong for fourth highest on the team.  Dexter Fowler and Jedd Gyorko are tied for the team lead with 9 each, followed by Yadier Molina with 8.

Kolten’s other hit came with two outs in the third with the Cards still down, 3-0.  It put him on base for Bader’s home run.  No one on the team has responded to that three-run deficit like Kolten Wong.  His 1-for-2 last night when trailing by three follows on the heels of his 5-for-8 August in that situation.  Since the All-Star Break, Kolten is 6 for 11 (.545) when trailing by three, and for the year he is 10 for 16 (.625) when staring at a three-run deficit.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong never stays down for very long.  After his most recent six-game hitting streak, DeJong went hitless in his last two games.  But DeJong (who finished August hitting .297 with a .508 slugging percentage and a team leading 20 runs batted in in 27 games), began September with two hits – including a double – and two runs batted in.  Paul has driven in a team-leading 34 runs in 45 games since the All-Star Break, while hitting .280 (53 for 189) and slugging .513 (9 doubles, a triple, and a team-leading 11 home runs).

His two-run, ninth inning double was typical of so many big hits that DeJong has gotten this year – the hit that breaks open the game.  This one turned a 6-5 Cardinal lead into an 8-5 lead.  For the season, when St Louis is either even in the game, or ahead by fewer than 4 runs, DeJong is hitting .356 (57 for 160) and slugging .619 (15 doubles and 9 home runs).  He has driven in 30 runs in those at bats.

Yadier Molina

He still looks stiff when he runs – like he hasn’t fully recovered from that abdominal strain, but Molina still plays every day.  And he hits.  A single and a triple last night (yes, he ran OK on that one), bring his current hitting streak to 5 games, during which Molina is hitting .333 (7 for 21). But this is part of an even longer stretch where Molina has hit safely in 12 of 13 games, going 18 for 52 (.346) during the streak.

Yadi ended August with a .312 average for the month – and showed surprising power.  He hit 5 home runs and slugged .548.  For the second straight season, Yadi has turned it up a notch or two after the break.  He is now hitting .305 (46 for 151) in the season’s second half.

Yadi tried to spark an earlier rally with a one-out triple in the fourth (the Cards still trailing 5-2 at the time).  That didn’t pan out, but it did bring Yadi’s average to .478 (11 for 23) on the season when he bats with a three-run deficit.

Matt Carpenter

The lineup shuffle that placed Kolten Wong in the leadoff spot dropped Matt Carpenter down to clean-up.  While it may have helped the lineup in general, it didn’t pay any immediate benefits to Carpenter.  Matt’s 0-for-4 followed tightly on the heels of his .202 August, and drops him now to just .158 (9 for 57) over his last 15 games.  Carpenter – who is hitting .241 for the year – is back down to .248 (38 for 153) in the second half – albeit still with a .372 on base percentage.

Carpenter’s evening included going 0 for 3 during the portion of the game where the Cardinals trailed.  Especially during the second half of the season, Carpenter has struggled to contribute hits when the Cardinals have trailed in games.  And especially when the deficit is three runs or less.  In his last 51 plate appearances with St Louis down by no more than 3 runs, Matt owns a .158 batting average (6 for 38).  He does still contribute walks, though, as his on base percentage in those plate appearances is a still healthy .373.

Pitching in Close Quarters

When Flaherty surrendered the lead in the second inning, he continued a problematic trend that has kept the Cardinals and their suddenly prolific offense from being serious contenders.  Through the month of August the Cardinal pitching staff pitched 69.2 innings with the game either tied or holding a one-run lead.  They responded to those opportunities with a 6.85 ERA and a .325 batting average against.  In 137.1 such innings since the All-Star Break, Cardinal pitchers have managed just a 5.77 ERA with a .292 batting average against.  Brandon Crawford’s two-run homer in last night’s second inning was the twenty-seventh home run the Cardinals have given up since the All-Star Break in games they were either tied in or leading by one run.

This is not exactly a formula for success – even if you have a competitive offense.

In August, the team received only 13 quality starts in 28 games, finishing with a 4.62 ERA (4.81 by the starters, with a .297 batting average against).  Since the All-Star Break, the team ERA is hovering at 4.06.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons is fast approaching super-hero status.  Last night’s perfect eighth inning that included two more strikeouts brings his scoreless streak to 20 games and 18.2 innings, during which he has allowed just 3 hits while striking out 25.

Sam Tuivailala

Sam Tuivailala gave the last run of the game in a mop-up ninth inning.  Though his season’s ERA is still a fine 2.97, Sam has begun to take on water recently.  He has now allowed runs in 3 of his last 5 games, giving 4 total runs in 4 total innings.  His ERA sits at 4.05 in the second half (13.1 innings).

Some of this just might be due to Sam’s unfamiliarity with pitching with a lead.  Since the All-Star Break, last night was only Sam’s second inning pitching with a lead – as opposed to 11 innings pitched while trailing in the game.  Of the 58 batters he’s faced in the second half, he has pitched to 2 with the score tied, 11 with the Cardinals leading, and 43 while trailing in the game.

For the season, Tuivailala has an 0.92 ERA with a .132 batting average against in 19.2 innings while trailing, 9.00 with a .353 batting average against in 4 innings while tied, and 4.66 allowing a .349 batting average in just 9.2 innings with a lead.

Six Inning Effort From Wacha Ends August on Up Note

On the last day of August, Cardinal right-hander Michael Wacha put an end to an unsettling month with six excellent innings, leading St Louis to a 5-2 conquest of the San Francisco Giants (box score).  Both for Michael personally, and for the entire pitching staff, last month could not have ended fast enough.  Wacha hadn’t made it past the fourth inning in any of his previous three starts – a span that featured 24 hits in 12.1 innings, including 4 home runs. He was 0-3 with a 10.22 ERA and a .414/.453/.690 batting line against.  The team finished the month with just 13 quality starts and a 4.62 ERA.

For Wacha it was a needed boost, as he was in complete control.  He threw more than 11 pitches in only two of his six innings, and more than 20 only in the nettlesome fifth inning when the Giants scratched across their only run against him.

Even when he has struggled in the game as a whole, Wacha’s first innings have been excellent all year.  In his 9 starts in the second half, he has given no runs and only 5 hits in his first innings.  Through his 25 starts for the season, Michael carries a 1.08 ERA with a .187/.253/.231 batting line against him in the first.  Of the 15 home runs he’s allowed this season, only one has been hit in the first inning – and that came back on April 14 in New York.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons needed only 10 pitches to dispatch San Francisco in the eighth – securing his nineteenth consecutive scoreless appearance covering 17.2 innings, during which he has allowed just 3 hits.  He finished August allowing just 1 hit in 11.1 innings with 14 strikeouts.

Moreover, Tyler has flourished late in games.  This season in 11.1 innings before the seventh, Tyler’s ERA is an uninspiring 7.15 with a .292/.382/.500 batting line against.  In 31.2 innings from the seventh inning on, Lyons’ ERA is a microscopic 0.85 with a dominating batting line against of .147/.244/.186.

Also Nettlesome – The Ninth Inning

It didn’t cost them the game, but the ninth inning continues to be a concern.  San Fran plated a run on back-to-back doubles – the second of which would have been a two-run home run but for a curious replay overturn.  The Cardinals thus finished August with a 6.53 ninth-inning ERA.  Since the All-Star Break, St Louis has scuffled along with a 5.67 ninth-inning ERA – pushing the ERA in that inning for the season to 4.05.

Late-game effectiveness out of the pen continues to be a concern.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia allowed the doubles and the run (and almost two runs) last night.  After what has really been an excellent rookie season, John hit a little speed bump in August.  He finished the month with a 3.95 ERA in 13.2 innings.  Batters hit only .176 against him, but 8 of the 9 hits he gave up were for extra bases – including 3 home runs.

Since the All-Star Break, John has pitched 20 innings before the eighth inning and 20 innings in the eighth and ninth.  Before the eighth inning, Brebbia has allowed no runs and only 3 hits.  His second-half ERA in the eighth and ninth innings is 5.40.

Offense Finishes Month Strong

As they did for the most part over the entire month, the Cards finished August scoring 5 more runs.  In 28 August games, St Louis scored 162 runs (5.79 per game).  Since the All-Star Break they have scored 229 runs in 45 games (5.09 per game).

Fourth-Inning Magic

Leading 2-0, the Cardinals almost opened the game up in the “magic” fourth inning.  A leadoff single from Yadier Molina and a one-out double from Kolten Wong put runners at second and third.  Giant starter Matt Cain wriggled out of trouble by striking out Randal Grichuk and getting Wacha to bounce out.

Even so, the events continued the team’s strange affinity for the fourth inning.  Throughout the month of August, St Louis hit .358/.432/.650 in the fourth inning, while scoring 35 runs.  All of those totals were the highest of any inning last month.  Since the All-Star Break, those figures are .346/.397/.602 with 46 runs scored. Of those only the on base percentage isn’t the highest of any inning (St Louis has been reaching base at a .443 clip in the eighth inning since the break).

For the season, St Louis has scored 101 runs in the fourth inning – 21 more than in any other inning.  The team is hitting .306/.370/.516 in that inning.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham continues to be front and center as an offensive force for the Cards.  He added 3 more hits last night including an opposite-field double high off the right-field wall that would have been a home run in most other parks.  Tommy’s hitting streak now stretches to six games, during which he is hitting .476 (10 for 21), slugging 1.000 (2 doubles and 3 home runs), getting on base at a .577 clip (4 walks and a hit by pitch), scoring 6 runs and driving in 8.

In 123 plate appearances in 28 games last month, Tommy finished August with 20 singles, 6 doubles, 5 home runs, 21 runs scored, 19 walks, 3 hit-by-pitches, and 1 sacrifice bunt.  This added up to a batting line of .310/.434/.520.  Tommy’s line is now .327/.433/.537 with 8 home runs since the All-Star Break.

Tommy Pham is having the time of his life.

After grounding out in the first, Tommy reached base in his last four plate appearances.  He singled in the third, doubled in the fifth, drove in a run with a seventh-inning single, and drove in another with a hit-by-pitch in the eighth inning.  Since the All-Star Break, Tommy is hitting .300 in the first four innings (24 for 80) with 2 home runs.  From the fifth inning on, Tommy has had 103 plate appearances that have led to 19 singles, 4 doubles, 6 home runs, 18 runs batted in, 18 walks, and 2 hit-by-pitches – a batting line of .349/.476/.614.

For the season, Tommy is a .282 hitter through the first four innings with 5 home runs.  From the fifth inning on, Pham’s line is .335/.435/.594 with 14 home runs.

Randal Grichuk

Grichuk added two hits including a home run.  He homered in the last game in Milwaukee and almost tied the game with a ninth inning home run.  Since the All-Star Break, Grichuk is carrying a .282 batting average (37 for 131) and a .580 slugging percentage (8 doubles, 2 triples, and 9 home runs).  That will play.

Four of those home runs have now been hit in the second inning, and 7 of the 9 have come before the sixth.  Since the break, Grichuk is a .358 hitter before the sixth inning (24 for 67) with a .791 slugging percentage.  Thereafter, he hits .203 (13 for 64).

Dexter Fowler

After coming smoking-hot off the disabled list, Dexter Fowler is starting to cool off.  With his 0 for 5 last night, Fowler is now hitless in his last ten at bats, and 2 for 19 (.105) over his last 5 games.  He has 8 strikeouts in those games.

Dexter struck out with Matt Carpenter at second base to end the first inning.  Dexter just has never bonded with the first inning this year.  Since the break, Fowler is now 4 for 17 (.235), and 15 for 74 (.203) for the year in the first inning.

Cardinals “Almost” Get Past San Diego

When you are the snake bit team, all the inches go against you.  In the aftermath of last night’s 4-3 loss to San Diego (box score), I found myself reflecting on how easily the Cardinals could have shut out the Padres.

The Padres were set up for a big inning in the sixth, loading the bases with no one out.  But after Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez popped up Yangervis Solarte, Cory Spangenberg bounced an easy double play grounder right back to Martinez.  With the end of the inning in front of him, Carlos lobbed the throw over the head of Yadier Molina.  The throwing error tied the game at one. A second run would score before the inning ended, when Carlos was almost out of the inning.

Then came the ninth.  Game tied at 2, Sam Tuivailala in to try to get the tie into the bottom of the ninth.  Jabari Blash looped a soft liner toward right-center where second baseman Kolten Wong almost caught it, the ball eluding his glove by inches.

After a hit by Manuel Margot put runners at second and third with no one out, Carlos Asuaje slashed a grounder to the drawn-in first baseman Jedd Gyorko.  Even though Gyorko has spent most of the season at third base, he was almost able to corral the ball and make a play at the plate.  That infield hit drove in the go-ahead run.

The insurance run later scored on a sacrifice fly to right, with Margot just barely beating Randal Grichuk’s throw.

Toss in scoring opportunities missed in five different innings, and four double plays grounded into, and you get the picture.

Yes, that’s baseball.  It happens to everyone from time to time.  But it also speaks to character.

The Padres left town just 57-70 on the season.  But they took two out of three here because they were mentally tougher than the home standing Cardinals.  Five game ago, the Cards outlasted Pittsburgh 11-10.  That win gave them 13 wins in 16 games, pushed their overall record to 63-59, and pulled them to within 1.5 games of the first-place Cubs.  It was just enough of a surge to spark excitement – to allow the fan base to hope that the pieces of the season might finally be coming together.

Since then, they have lost 4 of 5.  Yes, there have been injuries.  But some of the most successful Cardinal teams of the recent past took great pride in overcoming injuries.  They had a toughness that has only been seen in glimpses in this team.

One still encouraging trend is the offense.  Even though held to only 3 runs, the offense still slapped out 12 hits.  Across all of baseball, their .292 team batting average for August ranks second behind Baltimore’s .293.  Their .380 team on base percentage this month is first by 14 points over Texas and Cincinnati – who are next at .366.  Their .489 slugging percentage is second, again, to Baltimore’s .524.  They lead all of baseball this month in OPS.  At .869 they are 8 points better than Baltimore (.861).

Even on evenings when they don’t score many runs (like last night), they still almost always hit.

Paul Dejong

Three more hits from rookie shortstop Paul DeJong brings him to .330 for the month of August (30 for 91), and pushes him back over .300 for the year (he is now at .301). His double was his fifth of the month, to go with 6 home runs and 16 runs batted in.  Paul is slugging .582 thus far in August (and .573 for the season).  In 38 games since the All-Star Break, DeJong is 46 for 158, with 8 doubles, 11 home runs, and 28 runs batted in.  He is hitting .291 and slugging .551 in the season’s second half.

In the eighth inning, Paul cuffed Craig Stammen’s 2-0 fastball into left for a hit.  It was the only time all night that Paul was able to put the first strike thrown him into play.  When Paul hits the first strike, he is a .440 hitter (22 for 50).

Dexter Fowler

The Cardinal losing streak has come in spite of the best efforts of Dexter Fowler.  He is 5 for 14 (.357) over the last five games after getting three more hits last night.  Dexter continues his serious tear since his return from the disabled list.  In 63 plate appearances over 15 games, Fowler has 9 singles, 8 doubles, 2 triples, 1 home run, 13 runs scored, 13 runs batted in, 13 walks, 1 sacrifice fly, and has been hit by 1 pitch.  It all adds up to a batting line of .417/.540/.729.  He has pushed his second-half average up to .318 (28 for 88) and his on base percentage to .445.

Dexter’s night featured a fourth-inning double on a 3-2 pitch, and an eighth-inning single on a 2-2 pitch.  Two strike hitting is suddenly a proficiency for Dexter.  Coming out of the All-Star Break, Fowler was 1 for his first 20 (.050) when hitting with two strikes on him.  He is now 7 for 21 (.333) in August when batting with two strikes.

Kolten Wong

Wong is another player who is doing everything he can to keep the Cardinals’ collective head above water.  Reaching back to July 30, Wong put together a 5-game hitting streak before going 0 for 2 on August 5.  So, on August 6, he began an 8-game hitting streak that ran till he went 0 for 4 on August 15.  So, on August 16, he began his most recent hitting streak, which has reached 7 games after Wong collected two more hits last night.

Kolten is now 8 for 22 (.364) over his last 5 games, 31 for 79 (.392) this month, and 42 for 126 (.333) since the All-Star Break.

One of the tip offs that Kolten is really dialed in is when he jumps on the first strike.  He was 1-for-2 last night hitting the first strike.  He is now 10 for 18 this month (.556) when he hits that first strike.  He is also hitting .448 in the second half (13 for 29) and .407 for the year (24 for 59) when he puts that first strike in play.

Tommy Pham

The summer of Pham has cooled off a bit recently.  Over the last five games, Tommy is just 1 for 14 (.071).  Pham, who had only grounded into 4 double plays in his entire career before this season, bounced into 3 last night alone.  He now has grounded into 16 for the season.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos made the big error that probably cost him the game, but otherwise threw another excellent game.  He went seven innings allowing just the two runs (only 1 earned).  Martinez has now put together 4 consecutive quality starts, during which he has thrown 28 innings with a 2.89 ERA and a 3-0 record.

Batters who hit the first strike from Martinez were only 1 for 8 last night.  Over the month of August, batters who hit Martinez’ first strike are only 8 for 33 (.242).  Across all of baseball, batters hitting the first strike thrown them are hitting .347/.408/.609.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons bent, but didn’t break in last night’s eighth inning.  He walked 2 and hit another, but wriggled out of trouble, keeping his scoreless streak alive at 17 games and 15.2 innings.  His season’s ERA is now down to 2.63.

I’m not exactly sure how he does it, but Tyler has the most uncanny ability to get batters into two-strike counts and then finish them off with that deceptive slider.

Across all of baseball, batters end up in two-strike counts about half the time.  From there, they end up hitting .177 and striking out about 40% of the time.

Last night, 4 of the 6 batters that Lyons faced ended up in two-strike counts.  They went 0 for 3 with a walk and a strikeout.  Since the All-Star Break, 36 of the 53 batters that Lyons has faced have ended up in two-strike counts (67.9%).  They are 1 for 31 (.032) with 20 strikeouts.  In the season’s second half, 55.6% of batters that see strike two from Tyler Lyons end up getting strike three as well.

NoteBook

St Louis has now lost 4 of its last 5 rubber games.  For the season, they are 6-10 in rubber games.

Back on Tuesday, St Louis lost the opening game of a series for the twenty-third time in 41 series.  They are now 6-15-2 in series when they lose the first game.

Jedd Gyorko’s double accounted for his sixty-fourth run batted in of the season – a new career high.  He drove in 63 in his rookie year of 2013.  Even though he hit 30 home runs last year, he managed just 59 runs batted in.

Patient Cardinals Grind Past Padres

Even before he hurt his hand in the fifth inning, the Cardinals came to the plate last night waiting to see if San Diego starter Jhoulys Chacin would get himself into trouble.  Jhoulys faced 27 batters before giving up the ball with two out in the fifth.  Twenty-one of the 27 took Chacin’s first pitch, and 17 of those didn’t swing until they had taken a strike.

Of the 21 batters that took Jhoulys’ first pitch, 11 ended up reaching base (5 hits, 4 hit batsmen & 2 walks – a .524 on-base percentage).  Only 3 of them ended up scoring, as the Cardinals failed to fully exploit their opportunities against Chacin.

Still, the aroused St Louis finished the game with 6 runs on 9 hits, 6 walks, and a team-record 5 hit batsmen in a 6-2 conquest (box score).  Their combined on base percentage for the game was .488.

Over their last 16 games, the Cardinals are averaging 7.13 runs per game and are hitting .309 with 67 walks and 15 hit batsmen.  This streak has pushed their August averages to 6.10 runs per game and a .290/.380/.487 batting line.  They are scoring 5.13 runs per game since the All-Star Break.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong celebrated his five-hundredth major league game with 3 hits, 3 runs scored and 2 stolen bases.  Kolten has been one of the principle drivers of this offense.  He has now hit in six straight, hitting .423 in those games (11 for 26).  Playing in 15 of the Cardinal’s last 16 games, Wong carries a .411 batting average (23 for 56), scoring 15 runs and driving in 13 in those games.  Wong is now hitting .392 (29 for 74) for the month of August, and .331 (40 for 121) in the season’s second half with a .399 on base percentage (although it has now been 10 games since Kolten’s last walk).

Last night, in five plate appearances, Kolten took the first pitch 3 times – finishing those at bats with a single and a double.  Since the All-Star Break, Kolten is hitting .447 (21 for 47) when he takes the first pitch of an at bat.

Jedd Gyorko

When Jedd Gyorko is looking good at the plate – and he has 5 hits and 6 runs batted in over his last 3 games – he is much more comfortable taking those first pitch breaking balls and waiting for that fastball later in the at bat.  That happened on both of his hits last night.  Over his last 49 plate appearances, Jedd has taken the first pitch 31 times with these results: 5 singles, 1 double, 2 home runs, 8 runs batted in, and 6 walks.  That adds up to a batting line of .320/.452/.600.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler reached twice with one of the hit by pitches and an intentional walk.  But, with his 0 for 2, his six-game hitting streak ends.  Dexter hit .409/.480/.636 during the streak.

Luke Weaver

With the Cardinal pitching staff riding a 12-game streak of allowing at least five runs a game, rookie starter Luke Weaver stood in the breach with seven dominating innings against the offense that scorched his team for 12 runs the night before.

Luke established his fastball early in the count, showing little concern with challenging the Padres.  Only 6 of the 26 batters he faced took him up on the challenge by swinging at his first-pitch fastball.  They went 0-5 with a walk, even though 4 of the 6 put that first pitch in play.  The last 14 batters to offer at Luke’s first pitch – almost always a fastball – are 0 for 12 with a walk and a sacrifice bunt.

For the season, batters who hit the first pitch against Weaver are just 1 for 9 (Arizona’s David Peralta dribbled an infield hit to second base).  Across all of baseball, batters who hit the first pitch of an at bat are hitting .346 and slugging .584.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh relieved in the eighth and lasted just two batters.  It was a microcosm of his recent struggles – equal parts bad luck and bad pitching.  Both batters reached, Matt Szczur – completely fooled by a slider – bounced a single up the middle off an excuse me swing.  Manuel Margot got a fastball up and out over the plate that he laced into right-center for a triple.

Things aren’t getting better for Oh.  He has pitched in 16 games (13 innings) in the season’s second half with a 4.85 ERA and a .315 batting average against.  I find the thought of him back in the closers role a bit concerning.

Tyler Lyons

On the heels of Oh’s struggles, Tyler Lyons entered and stranded the runner at third.  He struck out two of the batters he faced and got the other to pop out.

It seems the rest of the world is beginning to notice what I have been pointing out for some time now.  Tyler Lyons is becoming one of the most effective relief pitchers in baseball.  He is now unscored on over his last 16 games (14.2 innings).  The last 50 batters to face him have 3 hits, 4 walks, 2 hit batters and one sacrifice fly – a .070/.180/.116 batting line.

Tyler has struck out 11 of the last 25 batters that have faced him.

The idea of Tyler as the closer is, I admit, intriguing.  He doesn’t fit the profile, per se.  But no one is hitting him.

NoteBook

Wong and Tommy Pham began the game with doubles.  St Louis sent 42 batters to the plate last night. These were their only two extra base hits.

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.