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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.

Baserunners Everywhere, But Not a Run to Be Scored

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

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

Lance Lynn

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

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

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

Zach Duke

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

Seung-hwan Oh

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

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

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

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

Harrison Bader

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

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

Paul DeJong

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

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

Stephen Piscotty

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

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

Dexter Fowler

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

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

Yadier Molina

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

Alex Mejia

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

NoteBook

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

First Out Proves Illusive Against Tampa Bay

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

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

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

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

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

Lance Lynn

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

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

Seung-hwan Oh

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

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

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

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

John Brebbia

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

Sam Tuivailala

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

Offense Slowing Down

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

Greg Garcia

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

Stephen Piscotty

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

NoteBook

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

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.

Sorting Out the Cardinal Bullpen

A great deal of attention was focused on the rally cat (some truly adorable video, by  the way – especially the part where the kitty tries to claw the grounds person that’s escorting it off).  Considerable attention is being paid to the aroused Cardinal offense that has scored 42 runs in the last 4 games.  This offense has averaged 5.23 runs per game over the last 56 games.

But at this point, some attention needs to be paid to the Cardinal bullpen.  Disastrous for most of the year, this unit came to the rescue again last night with five relievers combining for four scoreless innings as the Cards put away Kansas City 8-5 for their fifth win in a row (box score).

That bullpen now has a 2.38 ERA, a .222 batting average against, and has stranded 18 of 22 inherited runners since the All-Star Break.  Even amidst this success, the roles are still sort of evolving.  Promising right-handers John Brebbia and Sam Tuivailala are still searching for consistent opportunities.  Among the four lefties, Kevin Siegrist is trying to resolve health issues, and Brett Cecil has struggled some recently.  Their situations are also in a bit of flux.

But the five who pitched last night are starting to carve out defined roles, and their success is driving the success of the relief corps, and of the team.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman came in to pitch the sixth inning.  He has most frequently been pitching in the seventh or eighth innings, but with starter Mike Leake lasting only 5 innings – and with the right-handed batters coming up in the sixth, Bowman’s opportunity came earlier than usual.  He gave a couple of hits (unusual for him), but escaped with no damage.

Matthew has now made six consecutive appearances (4.2 innings) without allowing a run.  In 13 games in the second half, he has surrendered just 2 runs in 8.2 innings, and in 19.1 innings over his last 27 games, Matthew has a 1.86 ERA, a .221 batting average against, and has stranded 13 of 14 inherited runners.

Zach Duke

Zach Duke came in to pitch the seventh – particularly to face lefty Eric Hosmer (who grounded out), switch-hitter Melky Cabrera (who also grounded out), and lefty Mike Moustakas (who flew to right).

I think this is the role that manager Mike Matheny has for Duke.  A late inning lefty specialist that Mike isn’t afraid to let face the occasional right-hander.  It gets confusing, because the Cards right now have two lefthanders that hold about that same job description.

For Duke, coming off Tommy John surgery that was supposed to cost him the entire year, a significant milestone was passed as he pitched on consecutive days for the first time this season, needing only 10 pitches to wrap up his inning.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh opened the eighth, retiring 2 of the 3 that he faced.  Since being moved into the primary setup role, Oh has allowed no earned runs in 10 games (covering 9.2 innings).

Oh has now appeared in 21 games this season as the Cardinal closer and 28 games in a setup function.  His ERA as a closer was a shaky 4.09 with a .309 batting average against.  His ERA is 2.83 in those other games, with a .239 batting average against.  As a closer, Oh threw 67% of his pitches for strikes.  In non-closing situations, Oh throws strikes 72% of the time.  Eight of his eleven throws last night were strikes.

Some small part of the improvement might be that setup pitchers generally work more regularly than closers.  So far this year, 35 of Oh’s games have come with at least one day of rest.  His ERA in those games is a not-terrible 3.50.  Only 13 times – including last night – has Oh pitched with no rest in between games.  He has a 1.38 ERA in those games.

Tyler Lyons

Very quietly and with minimal fanfare, Tyler Lyons has become as good at his job as anyone in the Cardinal bullpen, and is evolving into one of baseball’s elite specialists.  When Alex Gorden came off the bench to pinch-hit in last night’s eighth inning, Lyons came out of the pen to get him – and of course he did.  I grant you the fly ball was struck a considerable distance to center field.  But there was never any danger of it leaving.

With the out, Lyons now has a scoreless streak of 11 games (9 innings) under his belt.  During that streak he has allowed 2 hits, 1 walk, and 14 strikeouts.  These are Clayton Kershaw type numbers.

Tyler is in a similar role as Duke.  They are looking specifically to use him against a left-hander in a critical late-game situation, with no great concern if a right-hander ends up facing him.  Lyons’ breaking pitches are pretty devastating most evenings.

Trevor Rosenthal

Turning a season-long liability into a strength was as simple putting the right man on the mound in the ninth inning.  A bullpen is built from the back forward, and as soon as the closer is found, the other pieces will usually slot in.  Without dispute, the best thing that happened to the Cardinal bullpen all year was the return to prominence and dominance by Trevor Rosenthal.  Now balancing his 100-mph heat with a sharp slider and effective change, Trevor has re-emerged as the man with the ball at the end of the game.

Since the All-Star break, Trevor has pitched in 10 games (12 innings) with a 0.75 ERA and a .167 batting average against.  He has 20 strikeouts in those 12 innings.

Last night was the tenth time this season that Rosenthal came into the game as the closer.  He now holds a 1.64 ERA in those games.  His ERA in 37 games as a setup man was 3.67.

Mike Leake

For Leake – who started last night – his April groove remains elusive.  He lasted just 5 last night, allowing 5 runs (4 earned) to a good Kansas City offense.  Mike has managed quality starts only twice in his last seven games.  He is 1-4 with a 5.08 ERA over that slide.

Jose Martinez

Yadier Molina hit the famous home run last night, but Jose Martinez also gave the Cards a lead with a home run.  Martinez has simply hit his way into more playing time.  Jose has now played in 9 of the last 10 games, starting 8 of them.  He has hit safely in 6 of them – getting 2 hits in three of the last four.  Since his playing time started becoming more regular, Jose is 10 for 28 (.357).  He has hit 3 home runs, driven in 8 runs, and is slugging .714 in his last 9 games.  Jose has 8 home runs in his last 91 at bats.

Cardinal lineup plans have been enormously complicated by a couple of fourth outfielders (Martinez and Tommy Pham) who simply refuse to stop hitting.  With Dexter Fowler and Randal Grichuk both showing signs of life, the Cards have four outfielders who need to be in the lineup – and, of course, space for only three.

Randal Grichuk

Grichuk added a couple of hits last night – he now has back to back two-hit games.  Grichuk has been a bit up and down since his return from Memphis, but the ups have been more than the downs.  In the season’s second half, Randal is a .299 hitter (20 for 67) with 4 doubles and 5 home runs (.582 slugging percentage).

Suddenly Lethal to Lefties

On Thursday, June 1, your St Louis Cardinals fought their way past the Los Angeles Dodgers for a 2-0 victory.  They were 26-25 after that game.  Until last night, that was the last time they were above .500.  They sat (at that point) just 1.5 games behind the division leading Brewers, but were about to embark on what would be the defining road trip of the first half – 3 games in in Chicago and 4 more in Cincinnati.  They lost all 7 games, limping home at 26-32 and now 4.5 games out of the division lead and in fourth place.

Beginning with the subsequent series against Philadelphia, St Louis began the long, slow process of recovering their season.  It hasn’t been anything nearly resembling a straight line, but since that lost road trip, St Louis has fashioned a 31-24 record (.564).  The only better records in the National League since that date belong to the Dodgers (43-8, .843) and the Pirates (30-23, .566).

Much has changed for the Cards over the last 55 games, but one of the most surprising is how suddenly lethal this team has been against left-handers.

Ever since forever left-handed pitchers – especially the soft-tossing type that they ran into last night – have mostly owned this team.  At the point that they limped home from that 0-7 road trip, they were 6-8 on the season, scoring 3.36 runs per game when lefties started against them.

Then, after sweeping Philadelphia, they welcomed Milwaukee and left-hander Brent Suter.  Brent didn’t last 5 innings, as the Cards rolled to a 6-0 win (box score).  And suddenly lefties held no special mystery for this team.  Beginning with that game, St Louis won 9 of the next 12 games when left-handers started against the them – with St Louis averaging 6.17 runs per game in those contests.

Prior to that watershed moment, this team was hitting .233 against lefties.  Over the last 55 games, they have been spanking them to the tune of .270/.353/.513.  Against the two lefties they saw last night – soft-tossing Jason Vargas and hard-throwing Mike Minor – the birds went 11 for 26 with 2 doubles, 3 home runs, 4 walks, and a hit-by-pitch.  This added up to a batting line of .423/.516/.846 as the Cards bullied their way to a 10-3 win (box score).

With the outburst, the Cards have now scored – yes, 34 runs in their last three games – but more than that, 285 runs over their last 55 games.  That’s 5.18 runs per game over more than a third of the season.

Matt Carpenter

The resurgence of Matt Carpenter continues with a single, double, walk, and hit by pitch last night.  Carpenter is a .309 hitter during the season’s second half (25 of 81).  He has also waited out 13 walks and 2 HBPs, for an on-base percentage of .417.

After beginning the season 7 for 45 (.156) against lefthanders, Matt (who was 1 for 2 against them last night with the walk and HBP) has gone 9 for his last 31 (.290) against them with a .465 on base percentage.

In this resurgence, Matt hasn’t neglected the right-handed pitchers who have faced him.  He doubled home a run against the only right-hander he faced last night, and carries a .309/.405/.515 batting line against them since the All-Star Break.

Paul DeJong

After being given a day off, Paul DeJong has left his slump well in the rearview mirror.  He has hit in all five games since then.  Last night’s game was the third of the five that he’s had multiple hits in.  He is hitting .375 (9 for 24) with 2 home runs during the streak.

DeJong has been a very significant part of the turnaround in the Cardinal season.  At the point where they returned from that winless road trip, DeJong had only played in 12 games.  In 48 games (46 starts) since then, Paul has hit .294 (55 for 187).  He has hit 15 home runs in those games – almost one every three games over almost a third of the season.

Both of last night’s hits came against the lefthanders.  Paul has been one of the forces in the lineup against lefties.  He is now 14 for 44 (.318) against them with 2 doubles and 5 home runs (.705 slugging percentage).

He flew out in his only at bat against a right-hander last night.  In the season’s second half, DeJong is only 20 for 82 (.244) when facing right-handed pitching.

Yadier Molina

Since it is after the All-Star Break, it must mean Yadier Molina is heating up again.  Last night was his third straight two-hit game.  Yadi has hit safely in 10 of his last 14 games.  He is 19 for 49 (.388) in those games, with 4 doubles and 3 home runs.  Over those 14 games, Yadi has scored 12 runs and slugged .653.

Molina is now hitting .329 (26 for 79) in the season’s second half.

Yadi was 2-2 with the home run and the two-run single while Vargas was in the game.  He began the season just 10 for his first 40 against left-handers (.250), but he has personally led the charge against them over the last 55 games.  Yadi is now 13 for his last 35 (.371) against left-handers, with 4 home runs.

Dexter Fowler

As the Cards limped home from the 0-7 road trip, among the more frustrated players at that point was Dexter Fowler, who carried a .222 average into that series with Philadelphia.  While injuries have kept him out of the lineup for much of the succeeding turnaround (he has played in only 29 of the last 55 games, starting 27), Dexter has been a notable contributor when he has been in there.  With his 2 doubles last night, Fowler is hitting .291 (30 for 103), and slugging .544 (6 doubles, 1 triple, 6 home runs) over those last 29 games.

After doing all of his damage against Vargas, Fowler struck out against Neftali Feliz in the seventh and drew a walk from Brandon Maurer in the eighth.  In the season’s second half, Fowler is just 8 for 35 (.229) against right-handers, but he has drawn 8 walks against them – so his on base percentage against them is still .372.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh gave us a perfect seventh.  His season reached its nadir in the first game after the All-Star Break.  Entering a 2-2 game in the ninth, the Pirates made short work of the former closer.  Adam Frazier began the frame with a double.  Then, after a flyout from Josh Harrison and an intentional walk to Andrew McCutchen, Josh Bell looped a three-run walk-off homer over the left field wall.

Since that moment, Oh has allowed no earned runs on over his last 9 games (9 innings), during which he has given just 7 hits – all singles – and no walks.  He has thrown 112 of his last 149 pitches for strikes (75%).  Oh hasn’t given an unintentional walk since he walked Corey Seager in the eleventh inning of the May 23 game in LA.  That was 28.1 innings and 118 batters ago.

All three batters Seung-hwan faced last night were right-handers.  That has been his strong suit.  Lefties have hit .352 against him this year (32 for 91) with 7 of the 8 home runs he’s served up.  Righties, however, have hit .202/.246/.257 against Oh.

John Brebbia

As with Oh, all three batters that John Brebbia faced in his 1-2-3 ninth were right-handed.  Righties are 12 for 65 (.185) against John this season.

NoteBook

Jedd Gyorko broke the game open with his big three-run home run.  He also drew 3 walks last night, and has now walked 39 times this season.  While this isn’t a stunning number of walks, it does establish a new career high for Jedd, whose previous best was the 37 walks he drew last year.

His home run, by the way, was career hit number 501 for Jedd.

Doing Battle with Winning Teams

Yes, it could have been much, much better.  When Corey Knebel froze Greg Garcia with a 3-2 curveball, the home standing Brewers had held on to their 2-1 victory, giving them the 2-1 series win.  As with so many other games this season, the Cards fell just short.  As with so many other opportunities recently, the Cards just missed another chance to reach the .500 mark.

In the midst of the frustration, in the longer view all of this has been not so bad.

Yesterday’s game marked the end of a 13-game streak of games against winning teams – many of them among the league’s best.  The streak began on July 21 with 3 games in Chicago (the defending world champs, in case you forgot, who had yet to lose since the All-Star Break when we arrived in town).  It continued with a 7-game home stand against the two teams currently sitting in the two Wildcard spots, Colorado and Arizona (who also happen to be 2 of the 4 NL teams that have won 60 or more games already this season).  It then finished with these three games in Milwaukee – which I admit are the most disappointing of the lot, as the Brewers looked like they were beginning to sink.

Still, out of all of that, the Cards finished this fairly daunting streak of teams whose composite winning percentage is currently .548 with a solid 7-6 record.  Seven of the thirteen games (including all of the last four) were one-run games – with St Louis winning 3 of the 7.  Remember, prior to this, St Louis was 17-27 against winning teams, and are 17-21 overall in one-run games.

No, they couldn’t manage the “run” they keep talking about.  At the same time, it was a definite step forward.  The June version of this team would have gone 4-9 or worse during this stretch.  This finally looks like a team that can compete with the better teams in baseball.

Throughout the run, the heroes were the pitching staff.  Against four highly regarded offenses, the pitchers held the line with a 3.27 ERA and a .230 batting average against.  This continues an impressive streak that runs to the last two games before the All-Star break.  Over the last 22 games, Cardinal pitchers hold a 2.82 ERA.  This is the pitching staff that management believed heavily in at the beginning of the season, and as this impressive run grows, it is easier and easier to see why.

Holding the team back, of course, has been the scuffling offense that has been averaging only 3.75 runs per game since the All-Star Break.  Yesterday’s performance – which saw them finish 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, ending with 1 run and just 6 hits – is fairly representative of the recent struggles the hitters are fighting through.

As an exercise, I looked at the four pitching staffs – considering their season stats coming into their series’ against the Cards.  Over the 113 offensive innings we had against these teams, an average offense would have been expected to score 51 runs, hit 15 home runs, and bat .246.  The Cardinal actuals were 50 runs scored, 13 home runs hit, and a .253 batting average.  Over the course of the season – in 57 games against winning teams – St Louis is hitting .240 and scoring 3.89 runs per contest.

The message of this 13-game test is that the pitching staff looks like it can compete with the best offenses out there.  This is great news, because there is even more highly regarded pitching on the way from the pitching-rich farm system.

The questions swirl around the offensive component.  Can they show up as more than an average offense against the better teams in the league.  There are hitters on the way, too, so the lineup – as it stands – should be on notice.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong finished his day with a single in the sixth inning, and a double that was almost a home run in the eighth.  Wong looks like he’s starting to heat up, now, with 6 hits in his last 21 at bats (.286).

While there are questions about other bats in the lineup, Wong is spending this season answering questions about whether he is the second baseman of the future or not.  Yesterday’s hits bring his season average back up to .291.  In 38 games against winning teams, Wong is hitting .289 (35 for 121).  His absences from the lineup have probably been more damaging to this team than we immediately realize.

Matt Carpenter

Yes, Matt Carpenter was pushed back down to the three hole in the lineup, so his 0-for-4 should have been anticipated.

During his first two full seasons, Carpenter was one of the team’s best hitters against winning teams. In 2012-2013, Matt played 154 games against teams that would finish with winning records. He hit .314 against those guys (165 for 525).  Over the most recent seasons, though, he has lost most of that edge.  Since 2014, Carpenter has played 180 games against winning teams, hitting just .238 (156 for 655) with 175 strikeouts.  This year, Matt has played in 54 of the 57 games against winning teams.  He is 43 for 185 (.232).

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty finished the game 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and a walk.  His last three at bats (which were both strikeouts and the walk) were excellent battles that lasted a total of 22 pitches.  Still, Stephen – who is still re-inventing himself – has been back from the DL for 3 games, during which he has one gift single in 8 at bats.  He is 1-for-12 in the season’s second half, and, stretching back 7 games before his injury, Piscotty is hitting .121 (4 for 33) in his last ten. His last extra-base hit was a double on July 2 – 38 at bats ago.

For the season, Stephen hits .216 (25 for 116) against teams with winning records.

Michael Wacha

Coming off a great July – he was 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA – Michael Wacha’s first August start was a bit disappointing.  When they sent up a pinch-hitter to take his at bat in the fifth, Wacha had allowed only 1 run – but had also only pitched 4 innings.  They were grinding innings.  It took him 81 pitches to navigate through those innings, which saw him surrender 5 hits and 3 walks.

Overall, Wacha has been one of those puzzle pieces that has mostly fallen short when facing winning teams.  Yesterday was his tenth start against a winning team.  He has managed only 2 quality starts against them, going 2-4 with a 5.84 ERA.  This number, though, has gotten better lately.  Wacha made 3 of the starts in this 13-game stretch against winning teams.  He was 1-1 with yesterday’s no decision, and a 3.38 ERA.  His batting average against these opponents was a solid .233.

Coming down the stretch, Wacha still looks like he is more answer than issue.

Other Starters facing Winning Teams

Of the members of the rotation, it has been Lance Lynn – whose future is very much in question here in St Louis – who has been the most effective when matched up with the better teams the Cards have faced.  Lance has made 11 starts against teams with winning records.  He has a 4-3 record in those games, with a 3.11 ERA in 63.2 innings, and a .178 batting average against.  Speaking only for myself, I’m not entirely convinced that Lance’s future isn’t as promising as some of the young arms on the way.

Mike Leake has also been very good matched up against winning teams.  In his 11 starts and 73.2 innings against them, Mike has a 5-5 record, a 3.18 ERA, and a .217 batting average against.  This isn’t just a factor of his good early start to the season.  He started twice in this recent 13-game gauntlet.  He pitched 12 innings, throwing quality starts both times, and going 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA.

Adam Wainwright has made 10 starts against winning teams, with better than expected results – 5-3 record and 3.28 ERA.  Carlos Martinez has been more hit-and-miss than hoped for.  In 12 starts against these opponents, Carlos is 4-5, 3.72.

Brett Cecil

Three consecutive two-out singles against Brett Cecil in the fifth inning doomed the team yesterday.  After a long streak of excellence that culminated with his brief enthronement as the team’s closer, Brett is sort of broken again.  In 8 innings since the All-Star Break, Brett has given 4 runs on 14 hits that have included 5 doubles and a home run.  Since the break, opponents are batting .389 and slugging .611 against Cecil.

Seung-hwan Oh

Settling back into the set-up role that he began in last year, Seung-hwan Oh looks like he has found himself.  He has allowed no earned runs in his last 7 games (7 innings), during which he has allowed just 6 singles.  In these games, batters have missed with 31% of their swings against him, 58% of the batters who have put the ball in play against Oh have hit it on the ground, and 72% of the pitches he has thrown have gone for strikes.  He has looked very sharp recently.

While this has been an uneven season for Oh, he has always been good against winning teams.  His ERA against them last year was 2.53 in 32 innings.  This year, his ERA against them is 2.49 in 25.1 innings.

NoteBook

With their series win over Pittsburgh, Cincinnati becomes the sixth of the Cardinals’ last seven opponents to have won their previous series.

The Milwaukee series was the Cardinals sixteenth road series of the season.  In going 22-29 on the road, St Louis is 5-10-1 in their road series thus far.

Relentless Pirates Finally Prevail

For eight and a half grueling innings last night, the Cardinals hung with the Pirates.  Continually on the verge of having the game blown open, they managed escape after escape.  When Josh Bell hit the inevitable home run that provided Pittsburgh with its 5-2 walk-off victory (box score), he became the eighteenth Pirate to reach base that night (12 hits and 6 walks).  By contrast – although they hit a lot of line drives – the Cardinals finished their evening having put just 6 runners on base (6 hits and no walks).

The Cards went down in order five times in their nine innings.  The Pirates went down in order only twice.  Eventually, the sheer weight of the Pirates relentless pressure (and the Cardinals’ inability to sustain anything like offense) was enough to do the Cardinals in.  St Louis jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, but never scored again.  It was yet another first game of a series lost, and yet another loss in which St Louis held a lead at some point.  These were items from yesterday’s installment.

And, of course, another late miss-step from the bullpen.

Tommy Pham

With outfielders dropping around him like flies, Tommy Pham continues prove himself as an everyday contributor.  Tommy finished the night with two hits, and hit another ball hard.  He is now hitting .371 (13 for 35) and slugging .657 (2 doubles, 1 triple, 2 home runs) for the month of July.  In the ten games played so far, Tommy has scored 8 runs and driven in 9.  Pham has also hit in 12 of his last 15 games (although he has started only 13 of them), hitting .392 (20 for 51).  He has scored 15 runs over those 15 games, and driven in 12.

A statistical oddity: Pham came to the plate in the eighth inning with runners at first and second and one out.  He lined out to right.  For the season, Pham is a .295/.397/.420 hitter when up with the bases empty.  Four of his eleven home runs have been solo shots.  With one runner on base, Pham is a terror.  He is 27 for 65 (.415) with 5 doubles, a triple, and his other 7 home runs (.846 slugging percentage).  He has been up 3 times with the bases loaded, getting a single and a double and driving in 5.

But he is now 1 for 28 on the season when batting with two runners on base.

Stephen Piscotty

Before leaving the game with an injury in the ninth inning, Stephen Piscotty suffered through another 0 for 4 with two more strikeouts.  It’s been that kind of season for Piscotty.  He is now 0 for his last 8, and hitting .120 (3 for 25) over his last 7 games.  He hasn’t scored a run in any of those 7 games, and hasn’t had an extra base hit in his last 8 games.  For the month of July, Piscotty has had 37 plate appearances, with the following results: 5 singles, 1 double, 2 runs scored, 3 runs batted in, 1 walk, 11 strikeouts, once hit by a pitch, and 1 double play grounded into.  It works out to a batting line of .171/.216/.200.  Hitless in three at bats last night, Stephen is now 1 for 15 this month (.067) when batting with the bases empty.

What could happen now?  Well, Stephen’s injury has sent him back to the DL.  After a period of recovery, he could spend some time with Diaz (and maybe Grichuk) in Memphis, re-working his swing.  Being optioned to the AAA club after his injury clears might be a good thing for him.

In the meantime, Magneuris Sierra has made his way back to the big club, and should see some regular playing time.  That might be a good thing, too.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong returned to the lineup with an 0-for-3 night that snapped his 6-game hitting streak.  During the streak, Wong hit .450 (9 for 20), and slugged .650 (4 doubles).  He scored 5 runs in the 6 games.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake has now made two starts in July – last night and July 5 against Miami.  In those two starts, Mike has fought his way through 8.2 innings, allowing 23 baserunners (17 hits and 6 walks).  “Only” 10 of them have scored – and “just” 5 of those runs were earned.  It has cost Mike 156 pitches to clear those 8.2 innings.

Last night was the better of the two games, as Leake gutted his way through five innings, allowing just 2 runs although he dealt with 12 baserunners.  Of the 25 batters he faced, only 8 came to the plate with the bases empty (and 5 of those reached).

His evening was a study in frustration.  The third inning run he allowed resulted when he attempted to snare Gerrit Cole’s grounder and deflected it into an infield hit.  His fifth was even more frustrating.  After getting a double play to mostly ease him out of the inning, Leake walked the next three hitters and gave up the game tying single.

Over those last two games, 29 of the 47 batters he has faced have come to the plate with at least one runner on base.  He has pitched to only 18 batters with the bases empty, and 9 of those have reached.

Matthew Bowman

While some pieces of the bullpen are still lagging, others are starting to achieve sustained effectiveness.  Matthew Bowman pitched the sixth and gave a couple of hits, but got a double play and ended the inning with no damage taken.  Matthew is unscored on over his last 7 games (5 innings), and over his last 19 games (16.1 innings), Matthew holds a 1.65 ERA and a .246 batting average against.  He has also stranded all 11 inherited runners.

Matthew has always pitched very well with runners on base – this season he has held batters to a .221/.267/.324 batting line when they hit against him with runners on base.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil turned in his fifteenth consecutive scoreless appearance (15.2 innings) with his scoreless seventh inning.  He gave up a two-out double, but no damage.  In his 15.2 scoreless innings, Brett has given just 7 hits and 1 walk.  The batting line against him in those innings has been .137/.154/.176.

Trevor Rosenthal

Add Trevor Rosenthal to the list of relief pitchers who seem to be turning things around.  He had the Pirates three-up-and-three down with two strikeouts in the eighth.  He has now strung together 4 consecutive perfect outings of one inning each, striking out 7 of the 12 he’s faced.  Sixty-eight percent of his pitches (36 of 53) have been strikes – usually the defining issue for Trevor, and batters have missed on 41% of their swings (9 of 22).

This year Trevor has been absolutely golden until a runner gets on.  Hitting against him with the bases empty, batters are .167/.244/.218.  Once a runner reaches, though, batters improve to .277/.373/.383 against him.  Half of the 16 walks he’s allowed this year have come with at least one runner already on base.

Still, most of the bullpen has been coming around.  Through the first 10 games (and 30 innings) of July, everyone other than the closer has combined for an 0.90 ERA, no home runs allowed, and a .236/.306/.291 batting line against.  Now if they could only fix that ninth inning.

Seung-hwan Oh

So, it’s a pretty bad thing when your closer comes into a tie game in the ninth inning, and you get that sinking feeling in your stomach.  Such is the season for Seung-hwan Oh.  A double, a fly ball, an intentional walk, a three-run walk-off home run.  I tried to be surprised, but . . .

Heroic last year, Seung-hwan has now allowed runs in 7 of his last 14 games.  Over his last 13 innings, he has given 11 runs on 20 hits – 5 of them home runs.  He carries a 7.62 ERA over those games, while opponents are hitting .351 and slugging .632 against him.

With the home run, Oh has now allowed 22 runs (19 earned) this year in 41 innings.  He surrendered 20 runs (17 earned) all of last year in 79.2 innings.

The home run was the eighth against him in 2017 (only 5 were hit off of him all last year).  He is now on pace to serve up 15 home runs for the season.  In 2001, Dave Veres saved 15 games.  He served up 12 home runs in 66.2 innings.  That is the most home runs allowed by any Cardinal reliever in this century who saved at least 10 games that season.  At 20 or more saves, the record goes to Jason Motte, who saved 45 games in 2012 while serving up 10 home runs in 80.1 innings.  Oh is already in that neighborhood.

Sixty-one batters have now reached base against Oh in just 41 innings.  The only batter he faced last night with the bases empty doubled to left.  In the 6 games he’s pitched in July, batters up with the bases empty are 6 for 11 (.545) with a double and a home run (.909 slugging percentage).  For the season, Seung-hwan (who, by the way, turned 35 today) has a .333/.349/.536 batting line against with the bases empty.

Living and Dying With the Fastball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Brebbia

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

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

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

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

Seung-hwan Oh

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

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

Tyler Lyons

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

Trevor Rosenthal

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

Recent Scoring Changes

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

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

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

Cards Rise and Fall with the Rotation

In a 24-game span from May 28 in Colorado through June 21 in Philadelphia, the Cardinal starting rotation managed just 6 quality starts.  Not surprisingly, the Cardinals won only 9 of the 24.

From June 22 until July 1 against Washington, that same rotation provided 9 quality starts in 10 games.  St Louis won 6 of the 10.

They have now failed to provide a quality start in any of the last 4 games – and any suspense as to whether they would interrupt the streak was over early as the Miami Marlins poured on 7 runs in the first 3 innings.  The pesky Cardinal offense kept fighting back, and the semi-refitted Cardinal bullpen helped St Louis creep back into the game (it was an 8-6 game heading into the ninth), but the deficit was too steep, and the Cards fell to Miami, 9-6 (box score).

They have now lost 3 of the last 4.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia started the evening for the bullpen by finally ending the trouble in the fourth.  It marks, now, six consecutive scoreless appearances for John – totaling 6 innings.  His walk yesterday was intentional.  He hasn’t given an unintentional walk in 11 games (covering 12.1 innings).  During his six-game scoreless streak, John is throwing 71% of his pitches for strikes (58 of 82).

Brett Cecil

Like Brebbia, Brett Cecil just keep doing his job.  His perfect eighth inning gives Brett 12 consecutive scoreless games (12 innings).  During these innings, Brett has allowed 3 hits and 1 walk – a .081/.105/.108 batting line.  Since Freddy Galvis grounded a double into left field in the ninth inning of the June 21 game in Philadelphia, batters have gone 0 for 16 with 1 walk against Cecil.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh – who is still one of the trusted late inning relievers – killed a lot of the comeback buzz with a brutal hanging curveball that Justin Bour flicked over the wall in right-center.  I suspect that Mike Matheny and his staff want to believe that Oh is fixed.  He has now been scored on in 6 of his last 11 games.  In the 10.2 innings he has pitched in those games, it has rained hits (14) runs (8) and home runs (4) on Oh, whose ERA since June 11 is 6.75, with a .311/.304/.578 batting line against.

Only 32% of the last 37 batters to hit the ball in play against Seung-hwan have hit the ball on the ground.

Tommy Pham

In spite of his four strikeout day on Tuesday, Tommy Pham is still 6 for his last 13 (.462) after slapping two doubles and driving in three runs last night.  He has driven in 7 runs in his last 4 games.

Jose Martinez

In his four at bats last night, the hardest ball that Jose Martinez hit was a line drive back to the mound that David Phelps gloved to end the seventh inning.  Martinez, nonetheless, finished the night 2 for 4, as he beat out a couple of dribblers to third.  Up as a pinch-hitter the day before, Jose floated a single into short right-center field.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky.

Greg Garcia

With his dismal June behind him, hits are starting to fall in for Greg Garcia.  Greg had two hits last night, and has hit safely in each of the last 5 games that he has had an at bat in.  He is hitting .438 (7 for 16) during this baby hitting streak.

Luke Voit

Going back to his strikeout in the eighth-inning on Tuesday, Luke Voit is now hitless in his last 5 at bats – the first time in his brief major league career that he has gone five at bats without a hit.  The 0-for-5 includes a 5-pitch at bat, a 6-pitch at bat, and the 10-pitch at bat he ended the game on last night.  Luke has also drawn an 8-pitch walk during this streak.  Voit is still taking very good at bats.