Tag Archives: Pham

Cardinal Hitters Grind Down Reds’ Young Hurlers

These are the names of the Cincinnati pitchers who worked in last night’s game: Rookie Davis, Keury Mella, Luke Farrell, Deck McGuire, and Alejandro Chacin.  I haven’t taken the time to check how many games/innings these pitchers have thrown in the major leagues, but I would guess that it’s pretty negligible – and this is understandable as Cincinnati is trying to evaluate these young pitchers for next year and beyond.

Not always – as I can think of many games this year where young pitchers with minimal experience have tied the Cards in knots – but most of the time the patient, veteran Cardinal hitters have taken advantage of inexperienced (and sometimes veteran) pitchers.  They did this last night.

For background, across all of baseball (according to baseball reference), pitchers generally prosper if they can avoid getting that first pitch swung at.  If the batter takes that first pitch – regardless of whether it’s a ball or a strike – their average drops to .249 with a .417 slugging percentage – and even lower if the first pitch they take is a strike (.223 and .357).

But last night Cardinal hitters – even with the pressure of their uphill push to the playoffs – hit comfortably after taking the first pitch from these young pitchers.

Thirty-three of the forty-four Cardinal batters watched the first pitch go by.  They went on to hit .321/.424/.714.  Even the 17 that took first pitch strikes went on to hit .313/.353/1.250.

This isn’t necessarily an isolated occurrence.  Again (according to baseball reference), the Cards rank fourth in all of baseball in team batting average (.262) after taking the first pitch, trailing only Houston (.272), Colorado (.271), and Washington (.263).  They lead all of baseball in on base percentage in those at bats (.359).  The Cubs are second at .357.  They trail only Houston in slugging percentage after taking the first pitch, .450-.443.

I think all along as we have followed this team, we have appreciated their ability to take pitches and work at bats.  Perhaps we didn’t realize that they are among the best in baseball at this.

On the other hand, last night St Louis was only 2 for 10 when they swung at the first pitch.  For the month of September, this team is only hitting .224 when they swing at that first pitch.  Over all of baseball, batters hit .270 in at bats when they swing at the first pitch thrown.

With 9 more runs, St Louis is still scoring 4.89 runs per game this month, and 5.03 runs per game in the season’s second half.

Tommy Pham

Having a breakthrough season, Tommy Pham looks like he will be finishing strong.  With 3 more hits last night, Tommy has 7 in his last 3 games.  Pham now has 250 plate appearances since the All-Star Break.  These have resulted in 42 singles, 13 doubles, 1 triple, 10 home runs, 36 walks, 5 hit-by-pitches, 1 sacrifice bunt, 1 sacrifice fly, and 10 stolen bases.  It all adds up to a convincing .319/.430/.536 batting line.  Tommy has scored 47 runs in 59 games in the season’s second half.

In both the fifth and sixth innings, Tommy took first pitch fast balls right down the middle for strikes, and came back to get hits on pitches later in the at bat that were not as good as the first one he took.  Tommy is kind of the poster child for the Cardinals proficiency in hitting after taking the first pitch.  Pham is a .328/.447/.569 hitter this season when he takes the first pitch, and only a .259/.292/.402 hitter when he comes out swinging.  He was 0 for 1 last night when he swung at the first pitch.

Kolten Wong

While Tommy Pham is finishing his breakthrough season strong, Kolten Wong is limping toward the finish line.  While it’s impossible to tell how much is his back problem and how much is just a slump, what is known is that Kolten is 0 for 15 over his last 6 games, 3 for 32 (.094) over his last 11 games, and 5 for 36 (.139) this month.

Luke Weaver

Luke Weaver, in winning his sixth straight start and seventh straight decision, only went 5 innings last night, leaving a 6-run lead to the bullpen. Since his return from Memphis on August 17, Luke has pitched in 7 games – 6 as a starter.  He is 6-0 with a 1.41 ERA and 50 strikeouts over 38.1 innings in those games.  In four September starts Luke is 4-0 with a 1.52 ERA and a .209/.227/.291 batting line against.  He has 29 strikeouts in 23.2 September innings.

It is clear that the Cardinals wouldn’t have the slim playoff hope that they have without the notable contribution of Mr. Weaver.

Of the 20 batters Luke faced last night, 15 took his first pitch.  Only 3 of those was called a strike.  Getting ahead 1-0, though, against Luke Weaver doesn’t necessarily ease your way.  None of the 12 walked, and only two managed hits (both singles).  For the season, batters who start out 1-0 against Luke are only hitting .230.

Luke will throw that first-pitch fastball temptingly off the corner and invite the hitter to chase it.  If not, Luke’s fastball has enough late life that even when the hitter is looking for it, it’s hard to barrel up.  Luke is increasingly able to throw his curve and changeup for strikes when behind in the count – making that running fastball all the more difficult to get a jump on.

Luke walked no one last night (no Cardinal pitcher issued a walk), and only went to three-balls on 3 batters.  Luke is armed with a fastball that runs up at about 96.  But he also has great poise and knows how to pitch.  He’s quite developed for a kid who just turned 24.

Hopeful News from the Bullpen

Bullpens don’t tend to get too much notice in a 9-2 blowout (box score) – and understandably so.  But Cincinnati can hit a bit, so shutting them out on 1 hit over the last 4 innings was no mean feat.  During the month of September, the evolving Cardinal bullpen has inched its ERA down to 3.16.  Its reason for hope, but let’s wait and see if they can hold it together against Chicago and Milwaukee.

NoteBook

Last night was the first time in seven games that the Cardinals didn’t trail at some point of the contest.

With the victory, the Cards are 10-12-3 in road series this year.  They are now 37-40 on the road this season.

Yadier Molina’s two-run double brings him to 80 runs batted in this season – tying his career high set in 2013.

Over Early

Unfortunately, a couple of the marquee matchups from Week Two of the NFL were over early.  The most surprising of these was the Dallas-Denver game.  After a 13-3 season last year, the Cowboys lost to the Packers by an eyelash in the Divisional round.  At 9-7, Denver had just missed the playoffs.  The Broncos were expected to be greatly challenged by the potent Dallas Cowboys and their elite running game.

Instead, when they looked up at halftime, the Cowboys found themselves trailing 21-10, having been outgained 246-97, out-rushed (surprisingly) 96-12, and losing the time of possession battle 18:36-11:24.  Things didn’t get any better in the second half, and Denver rolled on through to a 42-17 victory (game book).  Trevor Siemian commanded the offense, throwing the ball just 32 times, while Denver battered the Cowboy defense to the tune of 39 rushes for 178 yards.  The Bronco offense operated at peak efficiency.

For the Cowboys, the mystifying numbers were 40 yards rushing – 24 of them from quarterback Dak Prescott – and 1 lone rushing first down.

Yes, Denver stacked the box to take away the run.  Yes, when that happens it is incumbent on the passing game to take advantage of one-on-one matchups in the secondary.  (Of course, with 3 elite cornerbacks who stuck like glue to the Dallas receivers, there weren’t really any matchups to exploit).

But even granting that, the bottom line is that Dallas handed the ball to star running back Ezekiel Elliott just 4 times in the first half, and only 9 times in the entire game.

In what will be a recurring message in this edition of football notes – and may be a recurring theme this season.  You have to at least try.  Dallas conceded their most potent offensive weapon, and played – I think – right into the hands of the Broncos.

Less surprising – perhaps – was the New England Patriots 36-20 conquest of New Orleans (game book).  The Saints are still a bit of a work in progress – especially defensively – and New England was stinging from a beating they had taken in Week One.  This game was 20-3 after one quarter, and 30-13 at the half.  While most of their running came late – after the game was well in hand, New England did finish up very balanced – 39 passes, 31 runs.  Tom Brady finished his afternoon with 447 yards and 3 touchdown passes.

As for New Orleans, yes, I know the score was lopsided pretty quickly.  But still, as far as the running game goes, you have to at least try.  After carrying the ball just 6 times for 18 yards in New Orleans’ first game, former Minnesota star Adrian Peterson carried just 8 times for 26 yards.  I can’t imagine this was the plan when he came to the Saints.

Over Early – Well, Maybe Not

Headed in that same direction were the Green Bay Packers, who looked up to find themselves down 24-7 at the half in Atlanta.  Green Bay, however, didn’t roll over.

With quarterback Aaron Rodgers chucking the ball 32 times in the second half – and throwing for 258 yards and a couple of touchdowns, the Packers threatened to make a game of it, ending up on the downside of a 34-23 score (game book).  The Packers were 3 for 3 on fourth down.

Green Bay has some work to do to narrow the gap between them and the Falcons.  One aspect that doesn’t help is their running game.  With Ty Montgomery enthroned as the “feature” back, the Pack finished the game with 59 rushing yards on 15 carries – 10 of them by Montgomery – while Rodgers threw the ball 50 times.  Again, Green Bay was in comeback mode – I get that.  But my concern is that this is about what Green Bay will always get from their running game.  I just don’t see Ty Montgomery carrying the ball 20 times a game and still being healthy through Week 8.

The Packers seem to be one-dimensional by design.  And even though Rodgers is a truly great quarterback, that puts enormous strain on that passing game – even when fully healthy.  And now with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb banged up a little, the sledding will get even rougher.

Tine to File a Missing Person’s Report?

In the moments following his team’s 27-20 loss in Kansas City (game book), Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson lamented his team’s inability to get their running game going.

Well, hmm.  Let’s see.  Quarterback Carson Wentz handed the ball off all of 8 times in the first half and 13 times all day.  This in a game that Philadelphia never trailed in by more than one score until the last two minutes.

You know what, Doug, you have to at least try to run the ball.  Last week I mentioned that a lack of a running game would eventually catch up to Wentz and the Eagle offense.  So this week, Wentz accounted for 55 of Philadelphia’s 107 running yards and was sacked six times.

During all of this, LeGarrette Blount – he of the 1100 yards for New England last year – has completely vanished.  After getting 14 carries in Week One, he got zero on Sunday.  His only touch of the day was one pass thrown in his direction – which he caught for 0 yards.

If you are missing for two weeks, isn’t that the legal threshold for filing a missing person’s report?

Cards Exposed Again by Winning Teams

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

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

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

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

Offensive Deficiencies

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

Tommy Pham

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

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

Tommy’s breakthrough season withstands all levels of scrutiny.

Dexter Fowler

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

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

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

Kolten Wong

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

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

Pitching Falters

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

Needless to say, the Cardinals were hoping for better.

Starters Against Winning Teams

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

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

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

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

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

John Brebbia

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

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

Tyler Lyons

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

Matthew Bowman

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

Cards to Live or Die on the Road

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

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

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

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

Luke Weaver

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

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

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

Home/Road Splits of Other Starters.

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

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

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

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

Tyler Lyons

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

John Brebbia

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

Tommy Pham

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

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

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

Jose Martinez

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

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

Up Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

Elimination Season Continues

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

Inches Betray Cardinals as Winning Streak Ends

The inches were spectacularly against the St Louis Cardinals through the first five innings of last night’s game, where – unlike the Indians – the Cards winning streak (a modest four games) came to a sour end, 6-0 (box score).  Jesse Winker’s leadoff home run was just barely fair down the right field line.  In the bottom of the first, Yadier Molina had runners at first and third with two out, when he floated a fly ball into short right-center that had just enough carry on it to allow Winker to make an excellent catch that both saved a run and ended the inning.

Then there was the fifth inning.  Jose Peraza just barely safe at first on an infield hit.  The ground ball back to the mound that just oozed out of Jack Flaherty’s grip.  Tyler Mahle just fractionally safe at second on another infield dribbler.  Things unraveled from there.  It’s baseball.

More concerning is the fact that St Louis finished the night with only 5 hits – all singles.  The offense has been pretty consistently good at putting runs on the board (last night excepted) but the hits are becoming more scare.  Twelve games into September, and the Cards have only 94 hits.  They are still scoring 5.00 runs per game, but are hitting just .239.

Jose Martinez

Among the shards of good news from last night was 2 more hits from Jose Martinez.  Jose has now hit in 13 of his last 14 games, hitting .435 (20 for 46) during the streak.  His average is up to .356 in the second half 37 for 104).

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham contributed a walk and a hit by pitch – so he is still getting on base.  But his is one of the batting averages that is starting to fade in September.  Pham is just 1 for 12 over his last 6 games, and is down to .158 (3 for 19) for the month – albeit with a .407 on base percentage.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong has also seen a noticeable dip in September. A stiff back during the early days of the month didn’t help, but Wong hasn’t been really hot since getting back on the field.  He was 0 for 2 last night, and is now just 5 for 23 (.217) this month.  Like Pham, though, Wong has still been getting on base.  He drew his fifth walk of the month last night, pushing his on base percentage to .357.

Harrison Bader

Gravity may also be catching up with touted prospect Harrison Bader.  His 0-for-4 yesterday leaves him just 2 for 17 (.118) over his last 5 games.

Sam Tuivailala

At this time of year, relief innings can be a little hard to come by.  With a bullpen crowded with September call-ups, the middle relievers may have to wait for a while before their number comes up.

That is what is happening to Sam Tuivailala.  Sam has made it into only 3 of the first 12 games this month, and has had 5 days in between each of his last two games.  Rather than get rusty, though, Sam has become hyper-efficient.  He retired 3 batters last night on four pitches – all strikes.  Each batter he faced swung the bat once, and got himself out.

It’s an exceedingly small sample size – just the 11 batters he has faced this month – but 7 of those batters never saw a pitch out of the strike zone, and all 11 combined have only cost Tui 31 pitches (2.8 pitches per).  Along the way, Sam has thrown 25 of the pitches for strikes (81%!) with only one of those strikes being a swing and a miss.  On September first in San Francisco, Sam was finishing up the ninth inning of an 11-6 Cardinal win.  With two-out, Brandon Crawford swung through Tuivailala’s 1-1 pitch.  He ended the game by grounding out on the next pitch.

It’s too few batters and too few pitches to mean anything, but this is pitching to contact on steroids.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman is another arm that seems to be profiting from extra rest in September.  Having pitched in 65 games through the end of August, Bowman looked a little frayed.  He has been better of late.  He is unscored on over his last six games (4.2 innings), during which he has allowed just one hit.  He has had at least four days of rest in between 3 of the 6 games.

Six Inning Effort From Wacha Ends August on Up Note

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

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

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

Tyler Lyons

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

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

Also Nettlesome – The Ninth Inning

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

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

John Brebbia

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

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

Offense Finishes Month Strong

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

Fourth-Inning Magic

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

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

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

Tommy Pham

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

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

Tommy Pham is having the time of his life.

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

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

Randal Grichuk

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

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

Dexter Fowler

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

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

Making Their Statement – Such As It Is

Two nights ago, a frustrated Cardinal team unloaded on the second-place Milwaukee Brewers by a 10-2 score.  Was it a statement that this very talented team was through pussyfooting around with the rest of this division? No.  That team was nowhere to be seen yesterday afternoon as they managed only five hits and fell to the Brewers.

Three nights before that, this Cardinal team put together an improbable late inning rally, scoring 2 in the eighth and two in the ninth (on a walk-off homer by Tommy Pham) to stun Tampa Bay 6-4.  Was that the spark that would light the fuse? No.  There was no late inning magic the next day as Tampa Bay took the deciding game of the series, 2-1 in ten innings.

On Saturday, August 12, the Cardinals hung a 6-5 defeat on Atlanta.  It was their eighth straight win.  After languishing at one point in mid-July as far as 6.5 games back, the aroused Cardinals had fought their way back to a tie for the division lead.  That time they even fooled me – and I’ve seen this movie before.

Since the last game of that winning streak, the once-hot Cardinals have lost 10 of their last 15 after last night’s 6-5 loss in Milwaukee (box score).  During that same time span, the Cubs have won 12 of 17 to push the Cardinals back to 6 games under.  In fact, since the last game of that winning streak, the Cards have lost ground to everyone in their division except the Pirates, who have been 5-12 since then.  Even the lowly Reds have gone 7-9 and picked up 1.5 games on the fading Cardinals.

But wait there’s more.

Eleven of these last 15 games have been played against teams with losing records. The Cards lost 7 of those games.

And, of course, with losing 3 of the 4 played against the winning teams they’ve faced, St Louis is now 2-5 this month, 8-9 since the All-Star Break, and 31-40 this season when pitted against teams that currently carry at least a .500 record.

Yesterday saw an all-too familiar pattern repeat.  The Cardinal starter, Carlos Martinez, was battered for 10 hits in 5.2 innings.  Over the last 15 games, Cardinal starters have been spanked to the tune of a .312 batting average against.  With one game left in the month, the batting average against the Cardinal starters this month stands at an even .300.

Game by game, series by series, month by month, this team is sending a very clear message about who they are and who they are not.  They are and have been the team that blinks.

Carlos Martinez

The loss interrupts what had been a pretty good steak for Martinez.  He hasn’t been the dominant pitcher that they believe he will yet be, but he was coming off four very good outings.  Over his previous 24 innings, Carlos had walked just 4 batters, and carried a 3-0 record with a 2.89 ERA.

In the season’s second half, Carlos has faced four teams with winning records.  He matched up against Arrieta and the Cubs on July 21 in Chicago.  It rained hits against him (10) but he battled through 6 innings that night.  Still he would have lost that night, 3-2, had the team not exploded for 9 late runs against the Cub bullpen.

On July 26 he was home to face Jeff Hoffman and the Colorado Rockies.  He lasted 6 that night, too, but gave up 5 runs.  Again, his offense rescued him in a 10-5 victory.

His next start was August 1 in Milwaukee against Jimmy Nelson.  Carlos served up 3 first inning runs, and that was the game.  Martinez made it through only 5 innings, throwing 102 pitches in the 3-2 loss.

And then, yesterday, back in Milwaukee he lost again 6-5, lasting just 5.2 innings and allowing 6 runs (3 earned).

It all adds up to a deceptively bad 1-2 record and a 5.16 ERA – but these games ended up as two Cardinal wins and two very competitive one-run losses.  He did leave a lot of pitches up, and he was hit harder than you would think – the four teams combined for a .323 batting average against Carlos, including 4 home runs.  But Martinez kept us in all of those games against some very talented offenses.

For the whole season, Martinez has been arguably our best starter against winning teams.  In 15 such starts against them, Martinez has 9 quality starts, a 6-6 record with a 3.69 ERA, and a .247 batting average against.  He has also struck out 110 in just 92.2 innings against them.  In his first two years in the rotation, Carlos pitched 28 games (26 starts) against teams that would finish the season with at least a .500 record.  He compiled 17 quality starts, a 12-9 record, a 3.35 ERA, and a .231 batting average against.

Yesterday’s loss was the tenth of the season for Martinez – the first time he has ever had double-digit losses in any season.  He was 16-9 last season, and is 44-31 for his career.

With the three earned runs allowed, Carlos also set a new career high in that category.  After allowing 66 earned runs all of last year in 195.1 innings, he has now surrendered 68 already this year in 174 innings with all of September to go.

Other Starters Facing Winning Teams

Lance Lynn’s second half roll has included 3 games against teams with winning records.  He is 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in those games – all quality starts.  For the season, he holds the team’s second-best ERA against winning teams (3.87) in 83.2 innings.  His record in those games is 4-5.

Adam Wainwright’s record is 6-4 in 13 games against winning opponents, but only 5 of those games have been quality starts, and his ERA sits at 5.17 for 69.2 innings.  Over his first 10 seasons, Adam pitched 151 times – with 119 starts – against winning teams.  Eighty-one of those starts were quality starts.  Waino held a 56-42 record in those games, with 7 more potential wins lost by the bullpen.  His ERA was 3.16 over 828 innings.  Over the last two years, Adam has only 9 quality starts out of 23 against quality opponents.  He is 8-9 with a 5.29 ERA and a .302 batting average against in those 127.2 innings.

Michael Wacha has struggled the most when faced with stiffer competition.  In 11 starts against teams currently at .500 or better, Wacha has managed just 2 quality starts, a 3-4 record and a 5.56 ERA while serving up 10 home runs in 55 innings.  Wacha’s trend is similar to Wanwright’s.  Through his first three years in the league, he was 15-9 with a 3.08 ERA against winning teams.  Through the last two, just 5-8, 5.51.

Bullpen Quietly Coming Around

The bullpen gave the team a shot at the comeback yesterday as they retired all 7 Brewers they faced.  For the season, their ERA is still a spotty 3.85 against winning teams, but that number has only been 2.94 in 49 innings since the All-Star Break.

Offense Still Scoring Enough to Win

They don’t score 10 runs every night anymore, but most of the time the offense puts up enough runs to win.  They scored 5 yesterday, and are averaging 5.27 runs per game through the 5-10 slump.  For the month, they average 5.81 runs per game, and 5.09 since the break.

Much of that, though, has come at the expense of poorer teams.  With only 5 total hits yesterday, the Cards are at just .245 this month, and .248 for the year against teams that are at least at .500.

Tommy Pham

Pham was a sort of one-man offense again.  He accounted for 4 of the runs with 2 two-run home runs.  Tommy has now hit in five straight games.  In the 21 plate appearances accounted for in those games, Tommy has 3 singles, a double, 3 home runs, 6 runs scored, 6 runs batted in, and 4 walks – adding up to a .412/.524/1.000 batting line.  He is hitting .288/.413/.635 with 5 home runs and 10 runs batted in over the last 15 games; .292/.419/.500 for the month; and .316/.423/.525 since the All-Star Break.

People keep talking about getting a “middle of the order” bat for the lineup.  Projected out to the 625 plate appearances a regular player would normally get in a year (remembering that Tommy spent the first 27 games of the season in Memphis) and Pham’s season would read 28 home runs, 110 runs scored, 84 runs batted in (from the second spot in the order) to go with a .307/.402/.517 batting line.  That sounds pretty “middle of the order” to me.

Tommy is also a player who hasn’t been intimidated by the good teams.  In the season’s second half, he’s hitting .344 (21 for 61) against winning teams.  For the season, that average is .294 (55 for 187) with 7 home runs.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter did walk twice and score a run, but was also 0 for 2.  His has been one of the missing bats in the recent 15-game tumble.  Matt is hitting .163 (8 for 49) with 15 strikeouts – a slump moderated somewhat by his 8 walks and a hit-by-pitch.  For the month of August, Matt’s on base percentage still sits at .376 while his average fades to .200.

Paul DeJong

Among the day’s disappointments was the snapping of Paul DeJong’s six game hitting streak.  He had hit .346 (9 for 26) before yesterday’s 0-for-4.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong came into Milwaukee riding a ten-game hitting streak.  He was 0-for-9 over the two games.  In the season’s first half, Kolten hit .300 (27 for 90) with a .385 on base percentage in games against winning teams.  Since the break, though, Wong has been scuffling at .220 (13 for 59) when playing against higher caliber opponents.

Luke Voit

Luke Voit finished the day 0 for 4 with 3 strikeouts.  Overall, the second half of the season hasn’t been as kind to the rookie as the first half.  He is now hitting .203 (12 for 59) since the break.  Of course, yesterday was only his ninth start of the second half.

St Louis’ final 30 games will only include 10 against teams with winning records.  They have 7 more with the Cubs and the final 3 at home against Milwaukee.  On paper that sounds promising, but the Cardinals have done quite a lot of losing to teams below .500.  Most of the recent 5-10 slide has been against losing teams.

Left on the schedule other than the Cubs (against whom the Cards are 4-8 this season) and the Brewers (7-9) are San Francisco (1-2), San Diego (1-2), Pittsburgh (7-6) and Cincinnati (5-8).

If the organization’s recent moves are an indication, they will be coming down the stretch with a significantly younger team.

NoteBook

The Milwaukee series was the Cardinal’s twenty-first road series of the year, and yesterday’s game provided them their fifth opportunity to sweep a road series.  The Brewers became only the second of those teams to avoid the sweep.  Philadelphia was the other team, when they salvaged the last game of their season series against St Louis on June 22.  Martinez was the losing pitcher that afternoon as well.

It doesn’t make any difference – and is really only an observation – but the powerful Milwaukee team hit three home runs during the two days we spent there.  I’m pretty sure none of the three get out of Busch.

Re-Assessing Milwaukee

Earlier this year, I speculated as to whether Milwaukee could be a winning team in 2017.  There is still September to go, but 132 games into their season, they are holding on to a 68-64 record – even after they got pushed around a little bit last night by the Cards (box score of the 10-2 win).

As I have watched them this year – and even conceding that they have played well against the Cardinals – I am less impressed with them than I was earlier this year.  Granted, that last night was not their sharpest game.  Even so, my late season perception of them is a team that plays mediocre on defense and all their hitters are sort of the same kind.  They will hit their home runs – especially in their band-box home park – but don’t do much else offensively.  It seems they all hit in the .240 – .270 range and don’t walk a whole lot.  Their team batting line isn’t astonishing at .249/.320/.434 (the major league average is .255/.325/.427). Meanwhile, no team in baseball strikes out like the Brewers.  At 1299 whiffs already this season, they are 16 ahead of second place Tampa Bay, and 75 ahead of third-place Oakland.

Their big improvement this year has been the pitching.  If the pitching stays strong, they have a chance to break .500.

As to the Cardinals, with the way the offense has surged in the second half, they don’t need a whole lot of help.  If your defense is going to give them a handful of outs plus 9 walks from the pitching staff, then St Louis is likely to put up double-figure runs on your team.  With last night’s runs, the Cards are scoring 5.85 runs per game this month, and 5.09 runs since the All-Star Break.

Tommy Pham

The Summer of Pham is still lingering.  Tommy Pham was in the middle of much of the offense last night, with a single, a double and two walks.  His August batting average rises to .283 (26 for 92), while his on base percentage rises to .416 (19 walks and two hit-by-pitches).  Since the break, Tommy is hitting .312 (45 for 154) with a .422 on base percentage (28 walks).

Paul DeJong

Rookie shortstop Paul DeJong continues his flirtation with the .300 mark.  He sits at .299 after his 2-for-5 game.  He now has a six-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .346 (9 for 26). He is up to .321 for the month of August (35 for 109) and .290 for the second half (51 for 176) with 11 home runs.

Luke Voit

Welcome back Luke Voit, who chipped in with 2 hits and 4 runs batted in.  He has been back and forth to Memphis, and when he’s been up, playing time has been scarce.  Luke has played just 17 major league games this month, making only 3 starts.  Still, he’s contributed a .310 average (9 for 29) and 8 runs batted in.

Kolten Wong

Amidst all of the offensive fireworks from last night, one down note was the ending of Kolten Wong’s 10-game hitting streak.  He had hit .390 (16 for 41) and slugged .610 (3 doubles and 2 home runs) during the streak.  He scored 7 runs and drove in 8.

Randal Grichuk

Not too long ago, Randal Grichuk was riding the wave of three-straight, two-hit games.  In the 7 games since the last of those, Randal is just 2 for 22 (.091).  He is back down to .247 for the month (21 for 85), and .237 for the year.  Right field is open for whoever wants to hit his way into the position.

Luke Weaver

In the frequently pitching-challenged month of August, Luke Weaver has been a breath of life.  He has now made 4 appearances in August (3 starts) with a 3-0 record, a 1.71 ERA, and a .218 batting average against.  Apparently management is convinced.  One would suppose that Luke’s success gave them the confidence to send Mike Leake to Seattle.

Cardinals “Almost” Get Past San Diego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Dejong

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

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

Dexter Fowler

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

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

Kolten Wong

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

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

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

Tommy Pham

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

Carlos Martinez

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

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

Tyler Lyons

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

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

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

First-Pitch Command Eludes Lynn, Cardinals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lance Lynn

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

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

Matthew Bowman

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

Zach Duke

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

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

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

Yadier Molina

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

Stephen Piscotty

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

Matt Carpenter

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

Tommy Pham

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

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

When Carlos Trusts His Stuff

Carlos Martinez has these days where he looks every inch the elite pitcher that St Louis believes he is and will be.  He has those other days, too.  But last night he played hard ball with one of baseball’s more dangerous lineups and came away the victor in an 11-3 conquest (box score).  Carlos went 8 of those innings, striking out 7 and allowing just 2 runs on 7 hits (that would have been only 4 hits had Carlos simply gotten out of the way of a few infield grounders).

What was different last night from his previous start when he gave three first-inning runs to Milwaukee?  The easy answer would be command.  In Milwaukee he threw strikes with only 55 of his 102 pitches.  Last night he also threw 102 pitches, but with 70 of them being strikes.  He gave no walks last night.

But the deeper answer is that last night Carlos trusted his stuff – and it worked out for him.  It’s a fine line.  There are games when he doesn’t trust his stuff.  There are games when he trusts his stuff and gets beaten up a bit.  But when the fastball runs – and it was darting a lot last night – Carlos Martinez can be a handful.  Last night, 23 of the 31 batters he faced saw some flavor of fastball on the first pitch.  Overall, 58 of his 102 pitches were either the four-seam (47) or two-seam (11).  According to Brooks Baseball who tracks such things (here), Carlos never quite reached 100 mph, although he came exceedingly close (his top speed weighed in at 99.9), but he threw with great confidence and great movement at 96-98.

His attacking mindset – and the Kansas City Royals’ willingness to chase that fastball – allowed Carlos to keep his pitch count low enough to finish 8.  For the game, 18 of the 31 batters he faced lasted 3 pitches or less – including 3 of the 4 he faced in the eighth.

As you watch Martinez walk 5 batters in 5 innings, as he did in Milwaukee, you might get the feeling that Carlos’ is less pitch-efficient than the other starters in the rotation.  In actuality, for the season, Carlos is dealing with batters at just 3.66 pitches per.  Only Mike Leake (3.57) expends fewer pitches per batter.  When you throw a lot of fastballs and don’t nibble, the at bats cycle through pretty quickly.  Last night, Carlos’ 31 batters in 102 pitches worked out to 3.29 pitches per.  That will usually get you deep into a game.

And Oh Yes, There Was Some Offense Last Night, Too

On July 26, your St Louis Cardinals took their baseball wood to the Colorado Rockies by a 10-5 score.  In the nine games that followed, those same Cardinals totaled 19 runs.  Now they have scored 24 over the last two games, featuring big innings of 4, 6 and 9 runs.

With the outburst comes hope of a more sustainable offensive situation over the season’s last 50 games.  There are certainly a number of Cardinal players who are overdue for an extended hot streak.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter capped off the 6-run fourth inning with the 3-run home run that opened up the game.  Matt is one of those who have suffered through a less-than-expected season.  Even with his two hits last night, his season average still sits at .249.  However, he is now hitting .295 (23 for 78) with a .396 on base percentage (12 walks) since the All-Star Break.

As per usual, Matt Carpenter saw more pitches than anyone else on the team.  In his 4 plate appearances, he cost Kansas City pitchers 21 pitches – 5.25 per appearance.  For the season, he leads the team with 4.37 pitches per PA.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez did less damage last night than the night before.  Still, he contributed two more hits and is now at .333 in the second half.  Mike Matheny really can’t bench him while he’s getting two hits a night, can he?

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina pushed his second half batting average to .320 with two more hits (24 for 75). He has now hit safely in 6 of his last 8 games, during which he is 11 for 26, including 2 doubles and 2 home runs – a .423 batting average and a .731 slugging percentage.  With two runs scored last night, Molina has scored 8 runs in his last 8 games.

Ever aggressive, Yadi swung at half of the 12 pitches thrown him last night.  Molina is swinging at 53.6% of the pitches thrown his way this season.  Of the regulars and semi-regulars, the only higher percentage belongs to rookie Paul DeJong, who swings at 54.7% of the pitches thrown to him.

When Yadi came up in the second, he did so with Jose Martinez at first and no one out.  It is likely that Kansas City viewed this as a double play opportunity – as Molina has grounded into many double plays over the years.  Things have been very different in that regard for Molina so far this year.  Yadi hit the ground ball – but it shot down the left-field line for the double that set up the big inning.

Molina still hasn’t grounded into a double play in the second half, and has bounced into only 6 in 74 opportunities this year (8.1%).

Tommy Pham

Not much disappointing news from last night, but one down note was the end of Tommy Pham’s most recent hitting streak – a six-gamer during which he hit .333 (8 for 24).

One of the biggest differences in the new Tommy Pham is swing and miss percentage.  Last year, Tommy missed 34.8% of the pitches he swung at.  That was the highest rate of any non-pitcher on the team (higher even than Brandon Moss’ 33.7%).  He is down to just 20.6% this season, and in the season’s second half Tommy has only missed on 28 of the 179 swings he’s taken.  Of all players with at least 25 plate appearances in the second half, only Matt Carpenter (15.3%) misses with fewer swings than Pham’s 15.6%.  He swung the bat 8 times last night, and only missed with one of the swings.

However, Tommy also seems to feel that just because he can finally see, that means that everyone else (like the umpires) can as well.  Pham was called out twice last night on close pitches – the first of which was clearly inside (and probably high, as well), but ultimately too close to take.  Tommy frequently seems mystified by the fact that the same umpires that miss calls on everyone else also miss calls on him.  Of the 84 times he has struck out so far this season, 34 (40.5%) have been on called strike threes.

NoteBook

Kolten Wong’s second-inning sacrifice fly gave the Cards a brief 1-0 lead.  It was the first time in 8 games that St Louis had scored first.

Before last night, the Cards had trailed at some point in eight straight games, and 10 of their last 11.