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Cards Struggle to Prove Themselves Against Winning Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kolten Wong

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

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

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

Jedd Gyorko

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

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

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

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

Magneuris Sierra

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

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

He certainly isn’t dazzled by it all.

Matt Carpenter

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

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

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

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

Mike Leake

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

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

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

How Do The Other Starters Fare Against Winning Teams?

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

Trevor Rosenthal

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

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

Seung-hwan Oh

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

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

Matthew Bowman

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

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

Next Up

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

Marlins Grind but Cardinals Conquer

All major league victories are hard won – even if they don’t necessarily seem so.  Last night’s 7-5 conquest of the Miami Marlins (box score) – after a grueling 3 hour and 46 minute struggle which began with the Cards trailing 4-0 in the first inning – was, I think, one of the more difficult of the season, so far.

Nonetheless, with the conquest, the Cards have now won six in a row and 16 out of 21.  Last year’s team never won more than five in a row and never managed more than 13 wins in any 21 game span.

The Marlins are currently trending the opposite way, losing 12 of their last 15.  They need some answers in the bullpen – two of the losses they suffered in this series were due to bullpen meltdowns.  But take the Miami hitters lightly at your own peril.

They finished with 5 runs on 9 hits – 2 of them home runs – and 8 walks.  But just as impressive were the at bats, whether they resulted in hits or not.

After almost four hours of baseball, Miami ended the evening having sent 43 batters to the plate and exacting 208 pitches from the Cardinal staff – an impressive 54 of which were fouled off.  The Cardinal pitching staff came into the game averaging 3.83 pitches per batter faced.  They threw 4.84 per batter last night.  Whatever else you may say about Miami, they are a difficult offensive team.

The Streaking Cardinals

In addition to the six-game streak, St Louis is now 7-2 in the month of May – even though the rotation hasn’t been as solid as they were through most of April.  Over the last 9 starts, the rotation has given us 5 quality starts and a 4.10 ERA.  Surprisingly, it has been the bullpen to the rescue to this point of May.  They have a 1.31 ERA in their first 34.1 innings of the month.

Offensively, the Cards enter the home-stand on a significant roll.  As a team, they are hitting .290/.366/.467 scoring 6 runs a game in the early part of May, and over the last 21 games the batting line is .288/.359/.470 while scoring 5.29 runs per game.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko led the offense again with three more hits and two important RBIs that helped the Cards get back in the game.  Jedd extended his current hitting streak to seven games, and now has hits in 10 of his last 11 games.  Over those games, Jedd is hitting .400 (18 for 45) and slugging .689 (4 doubles & 3 home runs) with 10 RBIs.

Jedd is 27 for 69 (.391) with 7 doubles, a triple and 4 home runs (a .696 slugging percentage) since the sweep at the hands of the Yankees.

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz broke out of his hitless skid with two hits last night, and hit a couple of other balls hard.  Although it’s been a very streaky ride, Diaz is still hitting .375 (12 for 32) with 6 runs batted in in 7 games since he was re-settled in the sixth slot in the order.  Aledmys has struck out just once in those games.

Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk hit a couple more long fly balls that stayed in the park and struck out two more times as his 0-for-5 evening extends his hitless streak to 16 at bats and his homerless streak to 51 at bats.  Grichuk’s average is back down to .228 for the season.  Randal has also gone 6 games now without drawing a walk.

Since re-locating to the second slot in the order four games ago, Randal is 2 for 19 (.105).

Lance Lynn

Lance Lynn’s streak of four straight quality starts came to a crashing halt in the first inning last night.  He served up two first-inning home runs.  Lance has had 6 hit off him already – 5 of them in just two games.  He served up 3 to Washington on April 11.  Those are also the only two games this season that Lance has walked more than two batters.

The story here, though, was more than the home runs.  In general, the Miami hitters put Lance through the ringer in all of his four innings.  They exacted 104 pitches from Lynn in those innings as they refused to chase pitches out of the zone (43 of Lance’s 104 were ruled balls) and extended at bats by fouling off his pitches.  They drove 22 of those pitches foul, while only missing on 7 swings.

Lance intermittently has the problem of long at bats.  After averaging 4.95 pitches per batter faced last night, Lynn’s season average sits at 4.16 per batter – the highest on the staff (higher even than Adam Wainwright’s 4.07).

Nine of the 12 batters who put the ball in play against Lance hit the ball in the air.  At times over his quality start streak, Lance looked like a groundball pitcher.  When he beat Milwaukee (4-1) on April 22, his ratio was reversed – 9 grounders and 3 fly balls.

Groundball pitchers do have the virtue of getting the double-play ball.  Lynn had four batters at the plate last night in double-play situations and got double-plays from none of them.  For the season, Lynn has induced 2 double plays in 28 such opportunities.  You would think that his 7.1% would be the lowest percentage of any of the starters, but you would be wrong.  To this point of the season, Mike Leake has faced 20 batters in double-play situations and hasn’t gotten one yet.  He has gotten 8 ground balls, but three have found their way through the infield for hits and the defense has been unable to turn any of the other five into double plays.

Lance has also had intermittent problems throwing first-pitch strikes.  Only 11 of the 21 batters he faced last night saw strike one.  For the season, Lance is throwing first-pitch strikes just 54.8% of the time.

Sam Tuivailala

Sam Tuivailala picked up his second win in the last four games.  He pitched the fifth, giving up no hits but walking a batter.  Sam has appeared in 3 games since his recall.  In 4 total innings, he has allowed just 1 hit, but has now walked 3.

I didn’t see Sam pitch down in Memphis, but one notable difference in his game in the few innings since his recall is the frequency of his first pitch strikes.  In his limited appearances last year, only 57.4% of the batters he faced saw that first pitch strike.  He was better at the beginning of the year, throwing 61.5% first-pitch strikes before being returned to AAA.  He threw first-pitch strikes to 3 of the 4 batters he faced last night, and has thrown 11 first-pitch strikes to the 15 batters he’s faced since his recall (73.3%).

This approach compliments his pitch-to-contact style.  Although Sam can throw with good velocity, he doesn’t generate many swinging strikes.  Last year, only 15.3% of the swings against him missed the ball.  Last night he caused only one swinging strike, and is at 12.8% for the year.

Brett Cecil

After being on quite a good roll, Brett Cecil is scuffling again.  Three of the five batters he faced last night got hits.  He has now surrendered hits in 6 straight games, totaling 10 hits (and 3 runs) in his last 4 innings. He has surrendered 2 leads in those 6 games.

With the hits, the batting average against Brett rises to .333, and his BABIP (a number I almost never reference) is a rather stunning .452.  The people who embrace BABIP will take this as good news, as it suggests that Brett has been mostly unlucky.  But not too many of the hits against him have been softly hit.

Derek Dietrich made it a 6-5 game when his one-out, sixth-inning single against Cecil drove home Dee Gordon from third.  Brett has had runners at third with less than two out 12 times this season – and has given up the run 9 times, including all of the last 5.

Brett’s best moment of the night came on a strikeout of Christian Yelich.  Behind on the count 1-2, Christian had no choice but to try to catch up to that slider that started at his knees and was almost in the dirt when Yadier Molina caught it.  Of Cecil’s 18 strikeouts this year, 16 have been swinging strikeouts.  That 88.9% is the highest percentage on the staff.

Brett would certainly walk more batters than he has, but batters love to swing the bat against him.  Last night, 14 of his 24 pitches were swung at (58.3%).  In 5 games so far this month, batters have offered at 48 of the 80 pitches he’s thrown.  At 60%, Brett leads the staff so far this month.

Since the end of the Yankee series, Brett is also the most missed pitcher on the staff.  His swing and miss rate over his last 12 games is 31.4%.  Last night, 5 of the 14 swings against him came up empty.

Kevin Siegrist

In last night’s seventh inning, Kevin Siegrist may have looked like Kevin Siegrist for the first time this year.  He pitched a 1-2-3 inning, throwing 10 of his 14 pitches for strikes (68.1% of his pitches this month have been strikes) and striking out 2.

The narrative on Siegrist seems to suggest that his Spring Training injury compromised his readiness for the season.  In his first 7 games, Kevin lasted 6 very eventful innings (7 runs, 5 hits – including 2 home runs, and 10 walks with only 4 strikeouts).  His last 8 times out, his numbers have been a lot closer: 7 innings, no runs, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts.  Still 8 hits allowed, but even that is getting better – he’s given none in his last two outings.

It hardly needs to be mentioned how important an effective Siegrist will be to a sometimes shaky bullpen.

First-pitch strikes is another of the principle differences between Siegrist in April and Siegrist, so far, in May.  Of the 21 batters he faced in April, only seven (33.3%) saw strike one.  Of the first 19 he’s faced in May, 12 have been started off with a first-pitch strike (63.2%).  He threw first-pitch strikes to 2 of the 3 he faced last night.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal added a stress-free eighth.  His season ERA is down, now, to 2.19, and he has been very sharp during the team’s 21-game run.  Trevor has pitched in 11 of the 21 games, earning 3 saves and 3 holds with a 1.64 ERA and a .175/.233/.250 batting line against.  Rosenthal has 21 strikeouts in 12.1 innings this year.

Possibly the principal reason that Trevor’s strikeouts are significantly higher than previously is his ability to throw his secondary pitches for strikes.  Last night, after throwing 4 four-seam fastballs that ranged from 100.1 to 100.5 miles-per-hour, Rosenthal paralyzed J.T. Realmuto with an 86.6 mph slider.  Rosenthal now has 8 strikeouts this season on called third strikes (38.1% of all his strikeouts) – all of them, probably, on breaking pitches.

The three Marlin hitters that he faced combined to foul off 7 of Trevor’s pitches.  It took him 16 pitches (5.33 per) to make it through the inning.  This has been a little bit of a recent pattern as well.  Over his last 11 innings, Trevor is throwing 4.51 pitches per batter and seeing 49.5% of his pitches fouled off.

Seung-hwan Oh

Closer Seung-hwan Oh invited some ninth-inning drama as he surrendered a double and 2 walks (1 intentional). But he got out of the inning with no damage and sent the Cards back to St Louis with the winning streak intact.

Oh has been in the middle of the Cardinal resurgence.  He has been called on 12 times in the last 21 games and has responded with 9 saves in 9 opportunities and a 0.69 ERA.  He has allowed no earned runs in his last 12 innings.

The highlight of his inning was the double-play that he got off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton that took the steam out of the inning.  It was the first double-play grounder that Oh has coaxed this year.

Last season, batters missed on 34.6% of the swings they took against Seung-hwan.  Last night, Oh got no swinging strikes from any of the 9 swings they took against him.  This month, so far, Seung-hwan has generated just 8 swinging strikes from the 47 swings against him (17%).  Of the bullpen regulars, Oh has the lowest swing-and-miss ratio this month.

NoteBook

St Louis had scored first in seven straight games.  The Marlins put an emphatic end to that streak with their four-run first inning.

When the Cubs open the home-stand tomorrow evening, they will be the fifth consecutive team that the Cards have played that had lost its previous series.  The Cubs were just beaten 2 of 3 in Colorado.

Productive Offense Bright Spot in Disappointing Loss

As the Cards finished their April sweep of the Pirates, they were an offense in trouble, with almost their entire roster in a deep and frosty slump.  In terms of at bats, Cardinal batsmen hit .328 with a .557 slugging percentage if they hit the first pitch thrown to them.  From the second pitch onward, they hit .192/.273/.302.  From pitches two through five this highly thought of offensive unit was hitting a “robust” .185/.243/.299.

Milwaukee was the cure then, and – as they face Milwaukee again – the bats show little signs of wearing down.  They have scored 56 runs over their last ten games – scoring at least 4 times in all of them.  For all their home run hitting exploits, the 2016 Cards (which averaged 4.81 runs per game), never put together a string of more than 9 consecutive games scoring at least 4 runs in all of them.

After drilling out 13 hits (including 4 home runs) last night, the Cards – as a team – are hitting .312/.384/.522 over these 10 games.  Predictably, the Cardinals have gotten much more productive deeper into the at bats, as well.  They are still hitting .327 with a .519 slugging percentage on the first pitch.  Over the last ten games, though, the Cards have hit .341/.401/.554 on pitches 2 through 5.  Last night, 9 of the 13 hits – including all four home runs – came after the first pitch of the at bat, but before the sixth.

Unfortunately, the Milwaukee cure has only applied to the hitters.  Another thready pitching effort (along with a few other lapses) pushed the Cardinals back below the .500 mark after a 10-inning, 7-5 loss to Milwaukee (box score).

Jedd Gyorko

Nobody has led the Cardinals out of their offensive malaise more than the surprising Jedd Gyorko.  Hitting .226 with 2 home runs and 4 runs batted in when the team opened their four-game road trip in Milwaukee, Gyorko has been lighting things up ever since.  Jedd has pushed his season average to .369 with a 17 for 34 spree (.500) that includes 4 doubles, a triple, and 4 home runs – a 1.029 slugging percentage over his last 9 games.  Jedd was 4 for 5 last night with two of those homers.  He is hard to keep out of the lineup right now.

Jedd jumped on the first pitch thrown to him his first two times to the plate last night, singling to right and grounding to third.  Over his last 9 games, Jedd has jumped on the first pitch 8 times (a team-leading 21.6% of his at bats), and is 5 for 8 with 2 doubles and a home run in those at bats.  For the season, so far, Gyorko is a .583 hitter (7 for 12) and a 1.250 slugger (2 doubles, 2 home runs) when he hits the first pitch.

For the season, Gyorko is a .440 hitter (22 for 50) and a .940 slugger (all 12 of his extra-base hits) when his at bat last five pitches or less.  Once the at bat stretches to six pitches, Gyorko drops to a .133 hitter (2 singles in 15 at bats).

It will be interesting to see how long Jedd can sustain this hot streak.

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz bounced back last night with a couple of hits – including a home run.  Aldemys, who’s been a pretty impatient hitter this year, saw a season-high 24 pitches thrown to him.

In fact – in a stark departure from his early season form – Diaz saw at least three pitches in all five at bats, and made it to six pitches in the at bat twice.  For the season, almost half of Aledmys’ plate appearances (45 of 99) are over by the second pitch.  So this – maybe – is a start.

Diaz also leads the team in stolen bases.  He has 3.  He stole 4 bases all last year (in 8 attempts).

Randal Grichuk

Having had his 7-game hitting streak snapped Sunday afternoon, Randal Grichuk began another with two hits last night.  Over his last 9 games, Randal is 12 for 34 (.353) with four doubles and a home run – good for a .559 slugging percentage.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler’s 5-game hitting streak came to an end yesterday in an 0 for 4 effort.  Dexter hit .435 during the streak (10 for 23) and slugged .783 (2 doubles & 2 home runs).  He scored 7 runs over the five games.

Michael Wacha

In Michael Wacha’s first two starts of the season he struck out 14 batters in 12 innings.  Of the swings taken against him, 28.1% (25 of 89) came up with only air.  Over his last three starts, Wacha’s swing-and-miss ratio has fallen to 16.8%.  He has 14 strikeouts in his last 18.2 innings.

Seung-hwan Oh

Travis Shaw’s game-winning home run came on the fourth pitch from Cardinal closer Seung-hwan Oh.  Usually, batters prosper early in the count and pitchers prosper late.  As with much else in the early season for Oh, things have gotten themselves a little backwards.  Batters who don’t wait around to see the fourth pitch from Oh are hitting .240 this year (6 for 25).  From the fourth pitch on, they are hitting .313 (10 for 32) with 2 home runs and a .594 slugging percentage.  Willson Contreras’ three-run home run off Oh on opening night also came on the fourth pitch of the at bat – and also on a 1-2 count.

NoteBook

The Cards did rally to erase a 4-0 deficit, but never took the lead.  This ended a streak of 13 straight games in which St Louis had held a lead at some point of the game.  The last game they had played in which they never lead was the 3-2 loss to the Yankees on April 15.

At 50 degrees at first pitch, last night was the coldest game of the year so far (the first game of the Toronto doubleheader was 52 degrees at first pitch) and (probably for that reason) the poorest attended home game to this point in the season at 36,339.  This was only the second home game this season that drew under 40,000.  The Tuesday April 18 game against Pittsburgh drew only 38,806.

After collecting just 7 doubles in 313 at bats last year, Kolten Wong has 6 in his first 69 at bats in 2017.  He also grounded into his second double-play of the season last night.  He grounded into three all of 2016.

Not Enough Fastball Not Enough to Subdue Cards

Many, many times in recent years, the Cardinals have gone down meekly to soft tossers who have teased their hitters with pitches just out of the strike zone.  It frequently doesn’t seem to matter if the pitcher they face falls into the “not enough fastball” category.

For a couple innings last night, it looked like this might be one of those games as a “not enough fastball” Cincinnati pitcher dispatched the first six Cardinals he faced with minimal effort.  But after an inning-opening error by Eugenio Suarez (who endured one of his most forgettable games – being famously picked off third later on) things began to unravel quickly for Tim Adleman who ended his evening allowing six runs (five of them earned) in 5.1 innings of a 7-5 loss to the Cardinals (box score).

Adleman didn’t necessarily make a whole lot of mistakes, but the aroused Cardinal offense – which now features lots of hitters emerging from their shells – made sure he paid the full price when he did mis-locate that less than dominating fastball.

Cards on a Good Roll

Noteworthy in the victory is the fact that St Louis has now won 9 of 11 games.  Last year’s team – in 162 games – never had an eleven-game stretch where they won nine times.  I referred to that team several times as the “wet powder” Cardinals.  A half a dozen times during 2016 that team looked as though they were ready to go on an extended run, only to have the fire go abruptly out.

I have much higher hopes for this squad which has already put together a longer sustained run than last year’s team was ever capable of.

I know that this run has been established against some teams of questionable virtue.  At the end of the year, how good will Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Toronto and Cincinnati be?  Will any of them end up playing .500 ball?  Maybe, maybe not.  But remember that the 2016 team played lots of bad teams, too.

In fact, one of the most frustrating aspects of the 2016 season was that this team would frequently get rolled over by sub-.500 teams.  Even if all this current club achieves is consistently beating the poorer teams, that by itself will be a noteworthy improvement over 2016.

This recent surge – which began with three 2-1 wins against Pittsburgh – has seen ample contributions from both hitters and pitchers.  With their 7 runs, 11 hits and 4 walks last night, St Louis has been scoring 4.82 runs per game while hitting .290/.353/.484 as a team during the run.

Meawhile, the rotation has turned in 8 quality starts over the 11 games with a 2.98 ERA and a .233/.2899/.353 batting line against.

It’s been a pretty good roll.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler’s season average still sits at just .236, but that number currently means nothing.  With two hits last night, Dexter has had multiple hits in four straight games, hitting .500 in those games (9 for 18) and slugging .944 (his hits include 2 doubles and 2 home runs).  All seven of his RBIs this season have come in his last 8 games.

Dexter has been very much the straw that stirs the drink over this eleven-game uprising.  Among the regulars, he leads the team with a .350 batting average (14 for 40) and a .750 slugging percentage (2 doubles, a triple, and 4 home runs.)

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko pushed his season average up to .321 with two more hits last night – including his fourth home run of the season.  Since the second game of the Milwaukee series – when Jedd was moved into the clean-up slot in the lineup – Gyorko is hitting .364 (8 for 22).  He has one double, one triple, and last night’s home run in that span – a .636 slugging percentage.

Jedd doesn’t qualify as a “regular” during the 9-2 streak the Cardinals are on.  He falls two plate appearances shy.  But his .393/.469/.786 batting line would lead the Cards in all those categories.  Over his last 32 PAs, Jedd has 5 singles, 3 doubles, a triple, 2 home runs, 6 runs scored, 4 runs batted in, 3 walks, and a hit by pitch.

The first two times up last night, Gyorko took the first pitch of the at bat, getting ahead in the count 1-0 both times.  He ended those at bats striking out and grounding out.

He swung at the first pitch his last two times up, missing once and fouling the other off – starting those at bats behind 0-1.  He went on to hit a home run and a single in those at bats.  So far this season – whether he hits the ball or not – when Jedd swings at the first pitch in an at bat he is 10 for 20 (.500) with 3 doubles and 3 home runs (1.100 slugging percentage).

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty broke an 0 for 8 with a single and a double.  He also walked and grounded out in the second inning at the end of a 10-pitch at bat.  He has now gone three straight games without striking out, and has fanned just once in his last six games.  Piscotty’s season average is just .235, but he has been looking better at the plate.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter was in the highlight reels with his walk-off, eleventh-inning grand slam the other night, but Carpenter hasn’t been at the top of his game.  He is 0 for 7 since that home run after last night’s 0 for 4 left him at .224 for the young season.  Matt is also hitting .226 (7 for 31) since the beginning of the Pittsburgh series.

In last night’s third inning, Carpenter tried to bunt the first pitch thrown him by Tim Adleman.  He fouled the bunt off, but it was still only the third time in his last 37 plate appearances that Matt had made any kind of attempt at the first pitch thrown to him.

Lance Lynn

Lance Lynn authored his third straight quality start as he muffled the dangerous Cincinnati offense on just one run through six innings.  In his third start during this run that began with his 2-1 victory in the first Pittsburgh game, Lynn is 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA and a batting line against of .185/.264/.262.  He has been as good as could be hoped for.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil continued his very productive run.  He pitched a 1-2-3 seventh with a strikeout.  He has now allowed just one run – unearned – over his last 9 appearances totaling 6.2 innings.  He has allowed only 2 hits to the last 24 batters he’s faced, while striking out 8 of them.

Kevin Siegrist

Nobody is swinging at Kevin Siegrist’s first pitch anymore – and very few are swinging at any pitch he throws.  Last year, batters swung at his first pitch 26.2% of the time, which was slightly below average (the average for all the major leagues was 28.4%).  Last year, batters offered at 43.8% of all of Kevin’s offerings.  Again, this was close to average – batters swung at 46.6% of all pitches thrown by the Cardinal pitching staff.

Last night – even though he threw a first-pitch fastball right down the middle to Scooter Gennett, Scooter just took it for a strike.  Then, even though he elevated a first-pitch fastball to Patrick Kivlehan, Patrick just watched it go by for a ball.  Both of those plate appearances lasted 8 pitches. Gennett took the first five pitches of the at bat before fouling off two and driving the eighth into left-center field for a two-run double.  Kivlehan ended up fouling off 3 pitches before drawing a walk.

Of the last 34 batters that Siegrist has faced, only 2 have swung at his first pitch.  They have only swung at 51 of the last 147 pitches that he’s thrown (34.7%).

Working theory.  As Siegrist’s velocity is down this year (for whatever reason) batters are less afraid that Kevin will throw it by him.  They are, therefore, content to take pitches early in the at bat and foul them off late while waiting for either a mistake that they can drive or for ball four.

None of Siegrist’s last 38 pitches has produced a swinging strike.  At the moment, Siegrist – like Adleman – is a “not enough fastball” pitcher.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh’s rebound continues.  He retired the last four Reds for the save – his sixth.  In his first six games this year, Oh allowed 6 runs on twelve hits – including 4 doubles and 2 home runs – to the first 35 batters he faced this year.  While hitting two batters and walking one, he managed only 3 strikeouts and was saddled with an 8.10 ERA.

In his five games since then, he has faced 19 batters, giving no runs on two hits (both singles) and one walk while striking out 7.

Rain tries to interrupt the Cardinal hot streak again as today’s afternoon contest was washed away.  If they get to play tomorrow – and if the Reds stay with Bronson Arroyo – the Cards will get more “not enough fastballs” to swing at.

NoteBook

All four of last night’s walks came on at bats that began with ball one.  Thirty-five of the last 36 walks drawn by Cardinal hitters have begun with first-pitch balls.

Cards Stop This Losing Streak Before It Starts

As I have pointed out several times – and am likely to point out several more – I keep a close eye on how the team responds after a loss.  I think it reflects the character of a team.  The concept, I think, is simple enough.  Every team loses games, but good teams have the character to avoid the losing streak.  The 100-win team of 2015 was 37-24 (.607) after losing a game.  Last year’s 86-win squad was 44-32 (.579) in those situations.

Preempting the Next Losing Streak

As the 2017 Cardinals have already endured three three-game losing streaks in their first 17 games, you might guess that they haven’t been terribly proficient at this so far – and you would be right.  In fact, all of their first nine losses had been a part of a three-game losing streak.  Last night’s crisp 6-3 win (box score) raised their record to only 4-6 in games after a loss.  They have won their last two, though.

Adam Wainwright

The man of the moment at the plate (with a single, a home run and 4 RBIs) and on the mound was longtime ace Adam Wainwright, who – in his third attempt this season – was finally able to halt a Cardinal losing streak.  Wainwright’s previous two attempts were both fairly disastrous.  He lasted 4 innings, giving up 6 runs on 11 hits in an eventual 14-6 battering at the hands of Washington, and then got pushed around by the Yankees, giving 4 more runs on 10 hits over 4.2 innings of a 9-3 loss.

Adam’s results last night were much better as he continued what has been a mostly excellent run of starting pitching.  With Waino’s solid five innings last night (during which he allowed only two runs), the starting rotation has managed a 3.06 ERA over 53 innings in the last 9 games.  The Cards have won 5 of the 9.

The bullpen continues to improve as well.

Jonathan Broxton

Jonathan Broxton pitched the sixth last night and gave up a single, but no extra-base hits.  He hasn’t given an extra-base hit, now, to any of the last 16 batters he’s faced.  He also walked a batter.  Broxton has walked at least one batter in four of his six appearances, and has totaled 6 walks (1 of them intentional) in his 5.2 innings.  His opponent’s on base percentage has risen to .444.

Brett Cecil

In Brett Cecil’s second game as a Cardinal he melted down, allowing 4 runs without retiring a batter in a brutal loss to the Cubs.  First impressions are hard to overcome, but over the course of his other 8 appearances so far, Brett has allowed only one other run while striking out 7 in 6.2 innings.  He has retired the last ten batters he’s faced, striking out five.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal (who pitched the eighth inning last night) has given up some hits – 6 of them in his 4.1 innings, including a home run last night.  But he has walked none of the 19 batters he’s faced so far this year.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh picked up the save last night.  He has saves in his last three games.  After allowing runs in each of his first three games, Oh has allowed just one in his last four outings.

Also encouraging, the offense is beginning to show its first hints of life this season.

Jedd Gyorko

After going 0 for 3 in the Pittsburgh series, Jedd Gyorko has been the first to take advantage of Jhonny Peralta’s absence from the lineup.  With two more hits last night, Gyorko is 5 for 7 with a home run so far in the series.  Now up to .316 on the season, Jedd has been even better in games after a loss.  He is 9 for his first 27 (.333) with a double and two home runs (a .593 slugging percentage) playing in 8 of the 10 games the Cards have already played after losing the game before.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong has now started five consecutive games for the first time this season.  He doubled, singled and was given an intentional walk last night, making him 5 for 15 (.333) over those five games.  Even better, his hits include a double, triple and home run, leading to a .733 slugging percentage and 4 runs batted in in the five games that he’s been in lineup.

Kolten has yet to strike out in 8 plate appearances in this series, and has fanned just once in his last 17 plate appearances.  He is 3 for 7 so far against Milwaukee.

Wong is now 6 for 23 (.261) when he plays in the game after a Cardinal loss, but four of those hits (3 doubles and a home run) have gone for extra-base hits, and he’s added four walks in those contests.  He is slugging .522 with a .370 on base percentage in games that follow a loss.

Stephen Piscotty

When Stephen Piscotty helped beat Washington on April 12 with three hits and five RBIs, it looked like he had turned a corner.  Since then, Piscotty has just 5 hits (and 7 strikeouts) in 25 at bats (a .200 average).  He entered last night’s game after Dexter Fowler’s foot started acting up, going 0 for 2 with a strikeout.  He is now 1 for 5 with 3 strikeouts in the series.

With 11 runs scored in the first two games of this series, this has already been the second highest scoring series for the Cards this year.  They scored 15 runs in the three games against Washington.  St Louis is 23 for 72 in the first two games of this series, with ten extra base hits – 3 of them home runs.  This equates to a .319 team batting average and a .556 slugging percentage against a Milwaukee pitching staff that began the series with a 4.07 team ERA.

NoteBook

Last night – in the season’s seventeenth game – the Cardinals finally won a game when they didn’t score the first run.  When Kolten Wong drove in three runs with a triple in the second inning the night before (game # 16 of the season) it was the first time all year the Cards had erased a deficit of any size at any time during a game.

From Wacha to Siegrist: Random Pitching Observations

Michael Wacha

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

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

Adam Wainwright

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

Jaime Garcia

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

Mike Leake

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

Seung-hwan Oh

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

Jonathan Broxton

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

Tyler Lyons

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

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

Kevin Siegrist

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

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

Offense Pushes Arizona Around Again, 11-4

During the three games against the Cubs that closed out the last home stand and the first game in San Diego, the roller-coaster offense managed a total of 7 runs.  They have scored at least 7 runs in each of the five games since.  The season is 21 games old, and the Cardinals are still averaging 6.52 runs per game and slugging .504 as a team.

In winning four of these last five games, the rebounding Cardinal offense has hit .344 (66 hits in their last 192 at bats).  Twenty-four of the hits have been for extra bases, including 10 home runs.  In averaging 9 runs a game during this recent spree, the team has managed a .604 slugging percentage.

Along the way, they have beaten right-handed pitchers like so many drums.  After Corbin left last night, the Redbirds feasted on Arizona’s right handed bullpen to the tune of 6-for-14 (.429).  Over the last five games and 141 at bats, St Louis bats have slashed .376/.433/.695 against right-handers.

While going 7 for 18 (.389) with runners in scoring position last night, the Cardinals’ average in that situation actually went down.  Over the last five games, St Louis is hitting an even .400 (22-for-55) with a .673 slugging percentage with RISP.

The recent hitting spree has even extended to two-strike counts.  St Louis went 6-for-17 (.438) with four walks last night with two strikes on them.  The last 95 Cardinal batters who have hit with two strikes on them are batting .376 (32-for-85) with 9 walks.  The same holds true when there are two outs, the offense was also 6-for-14 with two outs last night, driving in 5 two-out runs.  Over the last five games, they have hit .368 (25-for-68) with two outs.  When the pitcher can’t get either the third strike or the third out, he’ll be in for a very long, short night.

Additionally, the late-inning thumping is starting to develop as a definite pattern.  Through five innings last night, the Cards had 2 runs on 3 hits.  Over the last four innings, they hit .478 and scored 9 runs.  Over the last five games, St Louis has scored a total of 6 runs while hitting just .227 in the first four innings of those games.  From the fifth innings on, the offense has kicked in 39 runs and hit .419.  All of their last ten home runs have come after the fourth inning.

Stephen Piscotty

Mr. Piscotty is heating up nicely in the midst of this resurgence.  After a 4-for-5 night, Piscotty has 11 hits in his last 24 at bats (.458) with 2 home runs and 7 RBIs (this is just the last 5 games) and a .792 slugging percentage.

Stephen’s only at bat against a right-hander last night was his RBI single against Delgado in the ninth.  The right-handed Piscotty is now 8 for his last 19 (.421) against right-handed pitchers.

Stephen took the first pitch in five of his six plate appearances last night, three of them balls and two others called strikes.  As Piscotty dials in, his selectivity improves.  He went 4-for-5 in the at bats where he took the first pitch.  He is 8 for his last 16 with three extra-base hits when laying off the first pitch thrown to him.  He was also 2-for-3 last night and 4-for-12 over the last five games when hitting with two-strikes on him.

Aledmys Diaz

At the very top of this over-achieving offense is rookie shortstop and eighth-place hitter Aledmys Diaz.  With two more hits last night, including the home run that switched the momentum of the game, Diaz is now hitting .591 (13-for-22) over the last five games, with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs of his own.  He has 21 total bases in his last 22 at bats (.955 slugging pct.).

Diaz is another right-handed batter who is currently savaging right-handed pitching.  One-for-two against righties last night, Diaz is 11 for his last 17 (.647) against them with a .941 slugging percentage.

Aledmys’ seventh inning single came on a 2-2 pitch.  Diaz has five hits in his last seven at bats with two strikes on him.

These waves of offense have mostly carried a pitching staff that still hasn’t completely righted itself.  The last time through the rotation, only two starters have managed quality starts, and the team ERA sits at an unimpressive 4.30.  This number includes a 5.52 ERA from the bullpen – most of this damage coming in the sixth inning of Monday’s game in Arizona.

One area where the pitchers have done well over these last five games is getting outs when there are runners in scoring position.  The Diamondbacks were only 1-for-8 last night, and over the five games opposing batters are just .204 hitters (10-for-49) in RISP situations.

Adam Wainwright

Of the 22 batters Adam Wainwright faced last night, only two swung at his first pitch.  For the evening, only four of the 37 Diamondback hitters offered at the first pitch.

Seung-hwan Oh

A bright spot all season, Oh has been one of a handful of relievers who have held solid during these last few choppy games.  Oh extinguished a two-on, one-out sixth inning mess and went on to retire all four batters he faced.  Seung-hwan has pitched in three of the last five games, retiring all eleven batters to face him – striking out six of the eleven.

Jonathan Broxton

Jonathan allowed a single to the left-hander Lamb, but retired all four of the right-handers to appear against him.  Over these last five games, righties are 0-for-11 with 4 strikeouts against him.