Tag Archives: Pham

Leake and Cardinals Keep Colorado Off Balance

The Colorado Rockies invaded St Louis last night a very hot hitting team.  They had scored in double figures in 5 of their previous 12 games, and were averaging 6.89 runs per game over their first 18 games in July.  For one night, at least, the Cardinals muffled that explosive offense, sending them back to their hotel with an 8-2 loss (box score).

Cardinal starter Mike Leake and his bullpen had great success in making the Rockie hitters work through their at bats.  Of the 35 Colorado hitters who came to the plate, only 11 hit the ball before seeing ball one.  Those 11 at bats averaged just 2.1 pitches per, and worked out well for Colorado.  They collected 6 hits in those at bats (.545), including Pat Valaika’s home run that accounted for all of their scoring.

But the other 24 who saw at least ball one during their plate appearance worked through an average of 4.54 pitches.  They met with much less success.  They went 1 for 23 (.043) with 1 walk and 9 strikeouts.  In general, the more comfortable the Colorado hitters felt, the better they did.

Starters on the Rise

Although Leake, himself, hasn’t been much of a contributor recently, his effort last night did continue a strong string of performances by the starting pitchers.  After Leake finished 7 shutout innings allowing just four hits and no walks, Cardinal starters now have 9 quality starts in their last 13 games.

Over those 13 games, the rotation is 6-2 with a 2.32 ERA and a .235 batting average against.  They have allowed just 8 home runs over their last 81.1 innings, while walking just 13 (1 intentional).

Unfortunately, through spotty offense and an inconsistent bullpen, the Cards have mostly wasted these performances.  They are 7-6 in those games.

Mike Leake

Welcome back Mr. Leake.  His first three starts this month had been anything but encouraging, as Mike managed to stay on the mound for only 10.2 innings through those starts.  He gave 9 earned runs in those innings – a bad enough 7.59 ERA.  But this was compounded by the fact that he allowed almost as many unearned runs (8), as he struggled to pitch around mistakes made behind him.  During those innings, batters hit .474 and slugged .719 against Leake.

All season, the deeper the at bat went, the better it has turned out for Leake.  Thus far, the batters whose at bat is over before they see ball one are hitting .324 against Mike (56 for 173), with a .331 on base percentage.  But, if Mike can get the at bat to at least ball two, the batting average against him drops to .196 (33 for 168).  Even though he would walk a few in the extended counts, his on base percentage is still lower at .310.

During July 63% of the batters that have faced Mike have ended their at bats before making it to ball two.  They have hit .429 (24 for 56).  Last night he did a much better job of staying out of the middle of the plate early in the count.  Only 5 of the 20 batters he faced hit before ball one.  They were 3 for 5 with 2 infield hits.  Everyone else was 1 for 20 last night against Mike.

John Brebbia

For all of the offense and the fine starting pitching, the shaky Cardinal bullpen had a chance to spit this game up as well.  Perhaps the most significant event to come out of this game was the fact that the bullpen didn’t blink when faced with the most pressure-packed moment of the game.

In the eighth inning, after Colorado had trimmed the lead to 6-2, they put two men on with no one out.  One of the runners belonged to John Brebbia (DJ LeMahieu with a fine piece of hitting had looped John’s slider into short right for a hit.

Now John would deal with Nolan Arenado.  After an intense 7-pitch contest, Brebbia recorded the first out of the inning, striking out the major league’s RBI leader.

Brebbia has been awfully good in every opportunity granted him.  His season ERA is down to 1.61 after last night.  It’s been 10 games and 11.2 innings since he’s allowed an earned run.

Kevin Siegrist

After Brebbia retired Arenado, it was Kevin Siegrist’s opportunity to get out of the inning – which he did, striking out Gerardo Parra and getting Mark Reynolds on a fly ball to center.  Since his return from the DL, Kevin has faced 13 batters.  One of them got a hit.  Another drew a walk.  The other 11 went down without reaching base – 8 of them on strikeouts.  Since his return, batters have taken 18 swings against Siegrist, and missed the ball with 10 of those swings.

For one night at least, Brebbia and Siegrist didn’t blink.

Tyler Lyons

The game was pretty well in hand when Tyler Lyons took the mound in the ninth.  He was, nonetheless, as impressive as any pitcher the Cardinals employed last night.  Tyler struck out the side, throwing 10 of his 11 pitches for strikes.

Tyler is unscored on in his last 5 outings, and in 9 July games holds a 2.84 ERA.

Offensive Contribution

The job of the pitching staff was made considerably easier by the offense which scored early and often.  With 8 runs scored last night, the Cardinals are averaging a healthy 4.70 per game this month.

Tommy Pham

The summer of Pham continues.  Tommy Pham added a single, a home run, two walks and two runs scored to his impressive month.  Tommy is now hitting .351 in July with a .662 slugging percentage.  In 20 games this month, Pham has 5 home runs, 16 runs scored, and 18 runs batted in.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong added a couple of hits to the surge last night.  He has 5 hits in his last 10 at bats (2 of them home runs) and is hitting .301 this month (22 for 73) and slugging .658 (8 doubles and 6 home runs).

Twice, Paul found himself in 1-2 counts, singling once and grounding into a double play the other time.  In the month of July, Paul is hitting .341 (13 for 41) and slugging .756 (5 doubles, 4 home runs) when his at bat ends before he’s seen ball two.

YadierMolina

It no longer bothers Yadier Molina to go deep into counts.  Last night was a good example.  He singled in the first inning on a 2-2 pitch.  He flew out on a 2-0 pitch in the third.  He doubled in the eighth on a 3-1 pitch.  He is 8 for 21 this month (.381) and 31 for 102 this year (.304) when hitting in two- or three- ball counts.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong hasn’t returned from the DL as hot as when he entered it, but he has still hit .286 (8 for 28) since his return after his two hit night last night.  Wong doubled for his first extra base hit since his return, and also drove in his first run since his injury.

Kolten’s double came on the first pitch thrown him in the fourth.  That is still Kolten’s strength – find something he likes early in the count.  He is hitting .310 this season (18 for 58) when his at bat ends before he sees ball one.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler walked and scored in the first inning.  Otherwise, he went 0 for 3.  Dexter is now hitless in his last 10 at bats, and hitting .224 (11 for 49) since returning from the disabled list.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko followed his 2 for 4 on Sunday with an 0 for 3 last night.  He is still having difficulty pulling out of his slump, which has now reached 13 games.  He is hitting .149 during those games (7 for 47 with only 2 extra-base hits), and is down to .210 for the month (13 for 62).

NoteBook

Last night was the first time in six game and just the second time in the last nine that St Louis never trailed at any point of the game.

Quintana’s Acts of Aggression Pay Off

The Cardinals had their moments against new Chicago lefty Jose QuintanaRandal Grichuk and Paul DeJong reached him for home runs.  Tommy Pham almost did as well.  Matt Carpenter was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a double.  Yadier Molina was thrown out stealing one pitch before DeJong’s home run.  Michael Wacha bunted into a double play to blunt another scoring opportunity.  Pham’s was one of three line drives that were caught.

The most notable aspect of Quintana’s game – to my mind – was his aggressiveness.  He only fell behind two batters 2-0 (and he walked both of those).  Everyone else got a strike (and usually a fastball strike) in the first two pitches.

Jose doesn’t have the overpowering fastball.  But that didn’t stop him from firing it in there.  In baseball, aggression always works – except when it doesn’t.  And while the end result for Jose could very easily have been much different, he ended up getting just enough run support and just enough plays made behind him to get the win.

That’s how it goes when you are the hot team.

For the Cardinals, it was their fourth loss in the last five games.

Jedd Gyorko

After getting just 5 hits in his previous 11 games, Jedd Gyorko came through with a couple of hits.  His first-inning double (the hit that resulted in Carpenter getting thrown out at first) was his first extra-base hit in 32 at bats.

Paul DeJong

DeJong’s little slump didn’t last long.  He had two hits – including a home run – and is having as fine a July as anyone.  He is now 20 for 68 (.294) this month with 8 doubles and 6 home runs – a .676 slugging percentage.

Randal Grichuk

Whether or not it will last, Grichuk certainly didn’t struggle to find his rhythm.  He finished the Cub series 5 for 11 (.455) with 3 home runs and 5 RBIs.

Luke Voit

While DeJong has re-discovered his groove, Luke Voit – whose playing time has been less regular – has not.  Luke took over for Matt Carpenter after Carpenter felt tightness in his leg, and went 0 for 3.  Luke is now hitless in his last 10 at bats, and 1 for 12 (.083) in the last 5 games.  For the month of July, his average has fallen to .220 (11 for 50).

In the fifth inning, Luke bounced Quintana’s first pitch changeup to second base.  In his brief major league career, Luke has hit the first pitch thrown to him 9 times.  He has one infield singled to show for them.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham didn’t get a hit, but he ended up in counts of 1-0, 2-2, 3-2, and 3-1.  For the month of July, Pham is hitting ahead in the count 47.5% of the time, and 42.7% of the time for the season.  As his vision seems to have been corrected, Tommy’s strike zone judgment has improved significantly.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler has now played in 13 games since coming back from his latest foot issue.  After his 0 for 3 last night, Fowler is a .239 hitter (11 for 46) and .326 slugger (1 double, 1 home run).  He has driven in 2 runs and scored 2 runs in those games.

Let’s point out, though, that for someone who hasn’t had a lot of hits, Dexter has been putting together a lot of pretty good at bats.  In his 52 plate appearances since coming off the disabled list, Dexter has hit ahead in the count in 26 of those (50%).  This includes 2 of his 4 last night.  That Dexter is only hitting .150 in those plate appearances (3 for 20) is evidence, perhaps, of some bad luck.  He has also walked in 6 of those plate appearances-including 1 last night, so his on base percentage since his return is a not so bad .346 when he gets ahead in the count.

Michael Wacha

Though last night wasn’t all he hoped for, let’s not forget how well Wacha has been pitching of late.  He had won 5 decisions in a row, and was 4-0 with a 1.01 ERA and a .189/.235/.221 batting line against over his previous 26.2 innings.  Before allowing two home runs last night, Michael had gone 141 at bats against him without yielding a home run.

Michael, in fact, pitched better than his final line.  All during the month of July, Wacha has been throwing that plus change off his downward-plane fastball to mostly devastating effect.  Last night he pitched from ahead against 8 of the 24 batters he faced.  They managed one hit and struck out 4 times.  For the month of July, when Wacha pitches ahead in the count, opposing batters are 2 for 36 (.056).

The only real damage done to him last night came when he fell behind hitters.  Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant both drove in third-inning runs on 2-0 fastballs.  Willson Contreras’ game-winning, two-run homer came on a 3-1 fastball.

Buyers or Sellers?

With the 4-6 road trip, the Cards stand at 47-51, 4.5 games behind the division co-leaders.  One could make a very compelling case for the Cards being sellers at the deadline – the most compelling argument being that 98 games into the season, the Cardinals are still a bad baseball team.  They have great, great talent.  Anyone who doubts their talent, just hasn’t been paying attention.  But their heart doesn’t match their skill.

After last night’s loss, manager Mike Matheny said: “We’re putting up some good, good games against some good teams.  It’s just that something is not letting us finish it, one way or another, whether it’s enough offense or enough pitching and defense.”

In other words, they are what I have been calling them for a while – the team that blinks.  The team that isn’t as mentally tough as the team that lines up against them.

That being said – being that they are only 4.5 games out – it is unlikely that they will sell.  And I think I’m OK with that.  Especially as it concerns Grichuk and Lance Lynn.

With Randal, I really want to see him play through this second half.  He’s been more of a tease these last two years, but there is enormous talent there.  Before we give it away for whatever we can get, I would like to see these last couple of months whether he can turn the corner.  He is under team control for a few more years, so we can always flip him next year if he doesn’t pan out.

The case of Lynn is a little more complex, as Lance will be a free agent at season’s end.  The team thinking – I think – is this.  We have a great many promising arms working their way through the system.  Of immediate note, Alex Reyes is expected to be back and in the rotation next year – so one of the current members of the rotation will have to give way.  Lance, of course, will want a long-term deal, and – with the numbers of pitchers on the way – the Cards don’t feel that they can make that kind of commitment to him.  They consider him a very good pitcher, but not as elite as the prospects on the way.

Over his last several starts, though, Lynn – in his first season back from Tommy John surgery – has been pitching like one of the top pitchers in baseball.  Can he sustain that?  Who knows?  But I, for one, am curious.  I would like to see Lance get the rest of the season to make his case.  To show that his future is as promising as many of the arms on the way.

If neither Grichuk nor Lynn prove to be parts of our future, then not moving them will be something of a lost opportunity.  But before we part with these two impressive talents, I would like to be more convinced of what we have or don’t have in them.

NoteBook

Last night the Cards played a rubber game on the road for the sixth time this season.  They have now lost five of them.

St Louis is now also 1-5 in rubber games against teams that won their previous series.

After going 6 for 12 with runners in scoring position on Friday, St Louis was 0-1 in RISP opportunities in both of the last two games.

Cards’ Big Inning Includes Five Hits with Runners in Scoring Position

As the season resumed following the All-Star break, the Cardinals began a ten-game road trip with swings through Pittsburgh and New York, losing four of the seven games – three in walk off fashion.  Among the many areas they came up short in during those games, the hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP) could definitely have been better.  Seven games into the second half of the season, the Cards had gone 13 for 55 (.236) in those situations.

Through the first seven innings yesterday in Chicago not much seemed to change.  They were just 1 for 5 with runners in scoring position at that point, and just 4 for their last 27.

So, as Tommy Pham came to the plate with Matt Carpenter at second and nobody out in the eighth, you might have thought that the Cardinals were overdue to make a little noise with runners in scoring position.  It is doubtful that anyone could have forseen the correction that followed.  The next ten batters all reached base (5 walks, 3 singles and 2 doubles), and before the inning had ended, St Louis had chalked up 9 runs on their way to an 11-4 victory (box score).  They finished the game 6 for 12 with 3 doubles and 6 walks with “ducks on the pond.”  The mini-explosion pushes the team average to .281 for the month, and .264 for the year with runners in scoring position.

They are now hitting a decent .268 for the month of July, scoring 4.76 runs during the 17 games played so far this month.

Dexter Fowler

It was encouraging to see a few hits from Dexter Fowler yesterday.  He returned from his latest DL stint on July 7, and marked the event with a home run. Since that game, Dexter had no extra base hits, no runs scored, and no runs batted in.  He broke all of those zeros last night, as his 3 for 4 night included an RBI double and a walk that turned into a run in that eighth inning.  The outburst pushed his average to .275 (11 for 40) since his return.

Dexter had been 0 for 14 since his return in RISP opportunities before he drove in Pham with a third-inning double.  Over the course of the season, Dexter has been one of the team’s better performers with runners in scoring position.  His 2 RISP opportunities yesterday bring him to 76 for the year, during which Dexter has contributed 10 singles, 3 doubles, 2 triples, 4 home runs, 26 RBIs, 13 walks (2 intentional) and 2 sacrifice flies.  This adds up to a batting line of .279/.395/.590.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter had no hits yesterday until he came up in the eighth inning as the lead-off hitter.  He finished the inning with two hits to round out a 2 for 5 night.  For the most part, things have been falling into place for Matt in July.  He is now hitting .345 this month (20 for 58) and .389 (7 for 18) since the team left Pittsburgh.

In Carpenter’s second at bat in the inning, he came up with the bases loaded and singled to drive in a run.  Carpenter is now 4 for 10 in July with runners in scoring position.

Tommy Pham

The summer of Pham continued unabated as Tommy Pham added a double and a single to yesterday’s mix. Tommy has now hit in 5 straight games going 8 for 21 (.381) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs (.762 slugging percentage).  He has also now hit in 9 of his last 10 – going 17 for 39 (.436).  He has scored 10 and driven in 10 in those games.  He is hitting .375 for July (24 of 64) and slugging .688 (6 doubles, 1 triple, and 4 home runs).  He has driven in 17 runs in 17 games this month.

Tommy’s 2 RBIs yesterday came on a single in that 9-run eighth.  Tommy is now 7 for 19 (.368) this month in RISP opportunities.

Jedd Gyorko

A revelation in April and May, Jedd Gyorko is scuffling in July.  He drew an important walk in that eighth inning (one of two walks on the day for Jedd), but otherwise went 0 for 3.  Jedd is hitting just .135 (5 for 37) over his last 10 games, and has no extra-base hits in his last 7.  He is now just 11 for 52 (.212) this month.

Jedd lined out in the third inning in his only RISP at bat yesterday.  Jedd is now hitting .133 (2 for 15) this month with runners in scoring position.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong has been back, now, for 8 games – 6 of them starts – and 21 at bats after yesterday’s 0 for 3.  Kolten walked twice yesterday – the first times he’s walked since his return from the DL.  He still has no extra-base hits and no runs batted in since his return.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez wasn’t at his absolute best – and the Cubs have always battled him pretty well – but he did fight his way through six innings allowing only 2 earned runs – this in spite of the fact that they finished with 10 hits in Carlos’ 6 innings.

But one thing Carlos can do – usually, even when he isn’t razor sharp – is pitch with runners in scoring position.  Yesterday Chicago had 11 shots at Martinez with runners in scoring position.  They finished just 2 for 10 with a walk.  For the season, batters with runners in scoring position hit just .173 (17 for 98) against Carlos.

Carlos didn’t get yesterday’s win, due – in part – to the offense’s continued neglect with their ace on the mound.  Yesterday was the twelfth time in Carlos’ 20 starts that the offense scored fewer than 3 runs while he was the pitcher of record.

Matthew Bowman

Here’s a surprise.  I pointed out in yesterday’s post how well Matthew Bowman has been pitching of late, and when he came in during the seventh-inning of a tight game, he didn’t immediately serve up a bunch of critical runs.  Granted, the only batter he faced tried to lay down a bunt, and bunted it right to him.  Still that makes 11 consecutive scoreless games from Bowman during which he has held batters to a .197 average and a .214 slugging percentage.  Of the last 30 batters he has faced, 57% have hit the ball on the ground, and only 1 of the last 41 batters to stand in against him has walked.

Kevin Siegrist

It’s only been three games since Kevin Siegrist has returned to the bullpen, but he has looked razor sharp.  In three nearly perfect innings, Kevin has allowed only 1 single and 1 walk.  Seven of the nine outs he’s recorded have come as strikeouts.  Batters have missed on 56% of the swings they have taken against him since his return.

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.

Cardinals Rake Over Another Left-Handed Pitcher

So, I have to admit that yesterday’s game had me worried.  On the mound for New York was a lefty (Steven Matz) that no one but Dexter Fowler had ever faced before.  Ever since forever, this has been a team that has scuffled against left-handed pitching – even more so when that lefty was fairly unfamiliar.

But that would not be the script Sunday.  Beating a left-hander for the third time on the home stand – and batting one around for the second time on the home-stand – the Cards brushed past Matz and the Mets 6-0 (box score).

Six days earlier they had routed Jeff Locke.  This wasn’t exactly headline worthy stuff.  Locke has struggled all season (and was, in fact, released the day after the Cardinals beat on him).  Matz, however, is a much different story.  Carrying a 2.12 ERA and riding a 17-inning scoreless streak into the contest, Steven Matz is one of the rising stars in the National League.  Even though he wasn’t his sharpest on Sunday, driving him from the mound before he made it through five innings was an impressive feat.

In 94 plate appearances early in the month of July, St Louis is hitting left-handers at a .338/.415/.613 clip.  Something almost unheard of.  Usually, even marginal left-handers are more than enough to bedevil the Cards.

A Time of Coming Together

Early June was highlighted by a seven-game road trip through Chicago and Cincinnati.  The Cards lost all seven games.  They sat, at that moment, six games under (26-32), and were a team in quite a bit of disarray.  Very few of the pieces were fitting together.

In the 30 games since – beginning about a month ago with a June 9 game against Philadelphia – the Cardinals have been gradually coming together.  They are 17-13 – a decent .567 percentage – since that road trip, and have shown in flashes the team they thought they were going to be.

With 3 more home runs yesterday, the Cardinals have 49 over the last 30 games.  They have hit .268/.346/.475 over those games, and scored 170 runs (5.67 per game).

Meanwhile, the once-toxic bullpen has worked 103.1 innings over those last 30 games with a 2.61 ERA and a .238 batting average against.

Still a little spotty has been the starting rotation.  They have provided quality starts for 15 of the 30 games, with a 4.58 ERA and a .268/.329/.470 batting line against.  In their last 167 innings, the starters have served up 27 home runs.

Tommy Pham

Going back to the June 9 game, Tommy Pham is the only player to play in all of the last 30 Cardinal games – he has started 26.  He carries a .306 batting average through those games (33 for 108), and a .519 slugging percentage (3 doubles, 1 triple, and 6 home runs).  He has scored 23 runs and driven in 19 over that span.  He was 3-for-3 yesterday, and finished the Met series with 4 hits in his last 5 at bats.

All of Pham’s hitting yesterday (2 singles and the big home run) came off the left-hander Matz.  Throughout their recent history, St Louis has searched for that bat that could make a difference against lefties.  Pham has now had 58 plate appearances against left-handed hurlers this season.  They have resulted in 10 singles, 1 double, 1 triple, 4 home runs, 11 runs batted in, 10 walks, and 2 sacrifice flies – a .348/.448/.674 batting line.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler goes into the All-Star Break with the momentum of a 2-for-4 game.  He has missed a good part of the last 30 games – he has played in only 16 of them, starting 14 – but over that span has resembled the hitter they remember.  Dexter is hitting .339 (19 for 56) and slugging .714 (3 doubles, 6 home runs) since the beginning of the first Philadelphia series.

Fowler went 1 for 3 while Matz was in there.  He began the season batting .196 against left-handed pitching (11 for 56).  He is now 4 for his last 12 (.333) including a home run off of Baltimore lefty Vidal Nuno on June 20 (the only one of his 14 home runs hit off a lefty this season).

Fowler also singled of the right-hander Seth Lugo in the seventh.  He is now 15 for his last 44 against right-handers (.341), including 3 doubles and 5 home runs (.750 slugging percentage).

Paul DeJong

And then there was rookie Paul DeJong.  After going 7 for 8 in the first two games of the Met series (1 single, 4 doubles and 2 home runs), Paul finished off the series in good form with two more hits including another home run.  The game pushes DeJong’s overall hitting streak to 6 games, during which he has hit .600 (12 for 20) and slugged 1.300 (5 doubles and 3 home runs).

Paul returned to the big league team on June 15.  In 24 games since then (22 of them starts), Paul is a .345 hitter (30 for 87) and a .701 slugger (7 doubles and 8 home runs).  He has scored 15 runs in those games and driven in 16.

He sure looks like he belongs.

Additionally, DeJong looks like he could also be an impact bat against lefties.  He was 2-for-2 against Matz yesterday and is 9 for 26 (.346) against left-handers over the season.  His 2 doubles and 2 home runs against them are good for a .654 slugging percentage.

Stephen Piscotty

With outfield starts becoming a coveted commodity, Stephen Piscotty isn’t really making a compelling case for himself.  Hitless in 3 at bats yesterday, Stephen is 3 for 21 (.143) over his last six games with no extra base hits, no runs scored, and 2 runs batted in.

Piscotty has played in 29 of the last 30 games (starting 25).  He carries a .212 average (21 for 99) with 2 home runs and 14 runs batted in.

During his first two seasons, Stephen hit .301/.390/.536 against lefthanders.  After his 0 for 2 against Matz, Piscotty is down to .195 against lefties (8 for 41) this year.  The hits have been 5 singles (one an infield single) and 3 doubles – a .268 slugging percentage.  Stephen has 3 runs batted in against left-handed pitching all season.

More recently, Stephen has been struggling against right-handers as well.  He is now 17 for his last 86 (.198) against them.

Lance Lynn

After back-to-back starts where he gave up 7 runs to Baltimore and then 7 more to Pittsburgh, Lance Lynn has bounced back a bit.  Over his last three starts, Lynn has tossed 18.1 innings with 2 quality starts and a 2.45 ERA.  The last 68 batters to face him are hitting .203.  Most of Lance’s outings have been very good, but haven’t lasted very long.  In fact, yesterday was only the second time in his last 9 starts that Lance has made it through 6 innings.

Up until this year, Lance had always been good, but not dominant when facing right-handed hitters.  Since he became a member of the rotation back in 2012, righties had hit .241 against him.  This year – after the Met right-handers were held to 1 infield hit in 11 at bats against Lynn yesterday, they are hitting .177 (34 for 192) against him for the year.

Trevor Rosenthal

In his perfect eighth inning, Trevor Rosenthal struck out the side.  He has now struck out the last 5 batters to face him.

Two of last night’s strikeouts were right-handed batters.  When he first arrived in the majors, Trevor dominated right-handers.  In 2012 & 2013, right-handed hitters hit .201/.281/.308 against him.  Through 2014 & 2015, righties found themselves better able to cope with Trevor.  Their batting line those years was .266/.346/.377.  Last year, an injured Rosenthal was taken advantage of by all hitters, including right-handers.  They hit .293/.381/.404 against him.

But this year, Rosenthal has taken a sort-of step back to the dominance of his first two years.  With yesterday’s strikeouts, right-handers are now just 10 for 58 (.172) with just 2 extra-base hits (.259 slugging percentage) and 29 strikeouts against him. The problems, though, are the walks.  None yesterday, but 8 of the 67 right-handers he’s faced have walked (with 3 of them coming around to score).

John Brebbia

John Brebbia was touched for a damaging unearned run in the first game of the Met series, but – after his 1-2-3 ninth yesterday – John has gone 8 games (8.1 innings) without giving up an earned run.  The last 35 batters to face him are hitting .194 (6 for 31) and slugging .258 (4 singles, 2 doubles).  John has given earned runs in only 1 of his last 13 games (15 innings).  He has a 1.20 ERA and a .182 batting average against in those games.

All three batters he faced (and retired) yesterday were left-handed batters.  Lefties are now hitting .214 (6 for 28) against Brebbia.

Two Paragraph First Half Summary

The season began with 9 losses in the first 12 games.  At the moment they had overcome that start and moved into first place on May 14, they immediately lost 22 of their next 32 games.  Over the first 88 games, both the everyday lineup and the bullpen have undergone multiple shakeups.  While the starting rotation has remained intact, they have been wildly inconsistent.

And through all that, the St Louis Cardinals hit the All-Star Break just 2 games under .500, and – and this is huge – tied with the defending World Champs.  Last year, we entered the break 4 games over (46-42) but already 7 games behind the Cubs.  If anyone had offered us a deal at the beginning of the year that we would hit the break tied with the Cubs, I think most of us would have been happy to accept it.

NoteBook

The Cardinals’ first opponent after the break will be the Pittsburgh Pirates – who are coming off winning two of three from the Cubs, and finished the first half winning five of six.  In an April 24 game, the Pirate pitching staff surrendered the most runs it has all season when they were savaged by a 14-3 score.  The opponent that day was the Chicago Cubs.  Yesterday afternoon – playing the Cubs again – the Pirates scored their most runs of the season so far, beating Chicago 14-3.

Yesterday’s win puts St Louis at 5-6 this season in rubber games.

Of the 17 series where the Cardinals have lost the first game, this is now the fifth time they have come back to win one of those series.  (They have also come back to tie one.)  After losing the first game of these series, St Louis is 20-16 in the remaining games.

Jedd Gyorko suffered through an 0-for-4 afternoon, but his first-inning RBI on a ground-out did stand up as the game winner.  Jedd has tied Yadier Molina for second on the club with 5 game-winning-RBIs.  Fowler still leads the team with 7.

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.

Another Game, Another Lead Surrendered

In a scenario oft-repeated this year, the Cardinals spit up a late lead (this time, a two-run lead in the sixth inning) on their way to a 5-2 loss (box score).  All year, the Cardinal pitching staff has treated a lead as though they were allergic to them.  Throughout the month of June, the staff pitched 27.2 innings with a 2-run lead.  In those innings, Cardinal pitching gave up 22 runs (a 7.16 ERA) with a .262/.331/.477 batting line.  If the offense should provide them a three-run lead, the response was even worse – a 10.95 ERA (15 runs in 12.1 innings) with a .370/.407/.593 batting line.

Those numbers are staggering enough, but they are just an extension of the pattern that has held all year long.  In 70 innings this year with a two run lead, Cardinal pitching has been battered for 47 earned runs (6.04 ERA) and a .256/.320/.419 batting line.  They have had a three-run lead to protect for 39.1 innings so far this year – promptly serving up 29 runs (6.64 ERA) and a .307/.350/.464 batting line against.

St Louis has now lost 18 games this season which they led by at least two runs at some point of the contest.

John Brebbia

What good news came from the game pertains mostly to the late bullpen, starting with John Brebbia’s seventh inning.  He did give up a couple of hits (after good at bats by Dee Gordon and Giancarlo Stanton, who poked opposite field singles), but he worked out of trouble with no more runs scoring.  John (who finished June with a 2.92 ERA in 12.1 innings, with a .159 batting average against), is now unscored upon in his last 5 games (totaling 5.2 innings).  He has thrown strikes with 70% of his pitches (56 of 80) in those games.

For the season, the only runs he has given up have come when St Louis was already trailing by 5 or more runs.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham had his roughest afternoon since his return from Memphis – an 0 for 4, 4 strikeout night. His strikeouts included one in the third inning with runners at first and second and one out, with the game still scoreless; and in the seventh, with one out and runners on first and third and the Cards down by three.

After a splashy start, Tommy returned to earth a bit in June – when he hit .265.  Disappointingly, he struggled most when a big hit might have done the most good.  With the game tied, or with St Louis trailing by no more than two runs, Tommy hit just .174 (8 for 46) with 1 double and 1 home run.  He drove in 2 runs, struck out 15 times, and slugged .261 in those situations.  Once the Cards took a lead he was very good (.342/.419/.500), and once the Cards fell behind by three or more he was even better (.357/.471/.643).  But that big hit with the Cards trying to hang in the game has been hard to come by for him lately.

Stephen Piscotty

Hitting right behind Pham, Stephen Piscotty’s afternoon was nearly as sour.  He went 0 for 4 with 3 strikeouts and left the same runners in scoring position that Tommy did.

As part of what has been a struggling year so far (Piscotty is hitting .245 with a .394 slugging percentage), Stephen has been particularly absent when the Cards have been narrowly trailing in a game.  With a deficit of between two and four runs, Piscotty is just 4 for 34 (.118) this year.

Randal Grichuk

Since the beginning of the Washington series, Randal Grichuk (who was 0 for 3 with a walk yesterday) is now 2 for 21 (.095).  He has neither scored nor driven in a run, but has struck out 9 times in his last 5 games.  He has played 10 games since his recall from Memphis, during which he is hitting .209 (9 for 43).

While the game was still scoreless, Randall walked in the second and struck out in the fourth.  He is now 7 for 45 for the season (.156) when batting while the game is tied.  While the game is within one run either way, Randal is 18 for 101 (.178).

Nationals Come After Martinez Early

One of baseball’s axioms about dealing with elite pitchers is that if you don’t get to them early, you might not get to them at all.  There are several variables that the starting pitcher will have to adjust for as he begins the game.  Mounds are apparently all different.  The strike zone of each individual umpire is quite different.  Usually, the hitters will come to the plate with some kind of approach or game plan which may not be anticipated and may lead to early success.  So, there are some adjustments to be made in that first inning or so – which opens a window of opportunity for the hitters.

The spectrum of this axiom was on full display last night in the finale of the season series between the Cardinals and the Washington Nationals.  The Cardinal offense didn’t come close to getting Washington ace Max Scherzer early.  He struck out the first four batters he faced and five in the first two innings.   And as it turned out, they never did get him – Scherzer finished his evening after 7 innings and 100 pitches, giving St Louis no runs on only 2 hits, while striking out 12.

Washington, on the other hand, jumped Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez for 2 first inning runs, and kept him out of kilter for the rest of an uncommonly short five inning outing, on its way to a relatively easy 7-2 victory (box score).

Carlos Martinez

Coming off of an excellent June, when he posted a 2.43 ERA in 5 starts – and riding an even longer streak of 11 quality starts in 12 games, Martinez gave 5 runs in 5 innings.  His evening, though, really fell on two pitches to National’s superstar outfielder Bryce Harper that most hitters would had turned into easy fly outs.  Harper got a little more of them than might be expected, sailing both into the right-field seats for two-run home runs.

Last night’s game marks the seventh time in Carlos’ 17 starts that the Cards were shutout while Martinez was on the mound.  Carlos has gotten fewer than 3 support runs 11 times in his 17 games.

Over the course of what has looked at times like a break-out season, Carlos has shown a tendency to wilt in the sixth (6.75 ERA) and seventh (7.71 ERA).  But he has been mostly terrific before those innings – if he can make it through the first inning unscathed.  From the second through the fifth innings (even after giving up three runs in last night’s third inning), Carlos has a 1.99 ERA and a .192 batting average against in those innings.  Harper’s second home run was the first Carlos has surrendered in the third inning all season.

On the other hand, Bryce’s first inning home run was the third first-inning home run off of Carlos (in 17 first innings).  His first-inning ERA now sits at 3.71.

John Brebbia

If you waited until the ninth inning, you would have seen John Brebbia out there mopping up.  He gave a hit and a walk (intentional), but got through the inning – his first appearance in five days – unscathed.  Over his last 4 games, batters are 2 for 16 (.125) against him.  For the season, John has a 2.35 ERA over 15.1 innings, during which batters are hitting .148 against him.

As the back of the bullpen was shuffled over the last two series – and while Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal are still struggling – and their role reversals haven’t resolved their struggles – I was hoping that Brebbia might get higher leveraged opportunities.  Instead, he seems to have been buried deeper in the depth chart.

Yadier Molina

So, Max Scherzer probably isn’t the pitcher you want to see on the mound when you are riding a 16-game hitting streak.  Yadier Molina finished his evening – as did many of the Cardinals – 0 for 4, bringing an end to his streak.  Over the course of the 16 games, Yadi hit .333 (21 for 63) with 3 home runs and 12 runs batted in.

Randal Grichuk

Hot off his three-hit, five RBI game in the finale of the Arizona series, Randal Grichuk finished up his 1 for 13 (.077) series against Washington with an 0-for-4 night.  He struck out 3 times last night, and 6 times during the series.  Since his hot start after his recall, Grichuk is now hitting .229 (8 for 35) in his post-Memphis appearances.

NoteBook

All season, the Cardinals have been less than dynamic in the first inning.  While last night’s three-up, three struck out was an extreme example, those strikeouts did leave the Cards with a .217 team batting average in the first inning.  Dexter Fowler (11 for 55) and Matt Carpenter (12 for 60) are both batting .200 for the season in the first inning – although with 13 walks, Carpenter’s on base percentage is .342 in that inning.

In the eighth inning, Tommy Pham completed the scoring by flicking Enny Romero’s up-and-away fastball over the right-field wall.  The home run was Pham’s tenth of the season – a career high.  It was also (after 26 games and 101 plate appearances) his first home run at Busch this season.  He carries a .218/.307/.264 batting line at home.  He is at .344/.435/.688 in 108 plate appearances on the road.  For his career, in 257 plate appearances at home, Tommy has 5 home runs and a .219/.307/.335 batting line.  He has been to the plate 310 times on the road, where he has hit 19 home runs with a .293/.382/.574 batting line.

Pham’s home run leaves Stephen Piscotty (121 PA) and Greg Garcia (74 PA) as the only Cardinals with 50 or more plate appearances at home who have yet to reach the fences at Busch.  Piscotty has 6 road home runs and Garcia 1.

Beware the Birds of Ambush

In claiming their third consecutive victory, the Cardinals are making a bit of a habit of “the ambush inning.”

Wednesday night, it was the fourth inning.  After Arizona’s Zack Godley set down the first 9 Cardinals to face him that night, St Louis ambushed him in the fourth.  The first five batters to face him that inning reached – three of them scoring.  The Cards would play from ahead all day, winning finally by a 4-3 score as Arizona’s ninth-inning rally came up short.

Thursday, it was the fourth, again.  Diamondback starter Patrick Corbin faced one over the minimum through the first three innings, but the Cardinals jumped him in the fourth.  Again, the first five batters reached, although this time only two managed to score.  That game ended up a 10-4 Cardinal victory, although it was much more back and forth than that score would indicate.

Then, last night, after missing a big opportunity in the first, the Cardinals ambushed struggling National’s right-hander Tanner Roark in the third.  This time, only the first four batters reached, but three of them scored.  The Cards never looked back on their way to a comfortable 8-1 victory (box score).

From time to time this season, the Cardinals have been a good on-base team.  Getting runners on base puts pressure on everybody.  Getting runners on with nobody out is even better, as it gives the offense many more options in getting that runner home.

I don’t have numbers league-wide for this, but charting the Cardinals and their opponents, runners that reach base with no one out end up scoring between 45-50% of the time.  Over the recent little surge, where St Louis has won 5 of the last 6, they have excelled at this aspect of the game.  Cardinals batting with nobody out are reaching base at a .443 clip, and after they reach, they are scoring 56% of the time.

Last night, 7 of the 15 Cardinals who came to the plate with no one out reached base, and 4 of them scored.

This has certainly helped open up the offense, which – thanks to the late surge – finished June scoring 147 runs in 29 games (5.07 runs per game).  They have scored 7.17 runs per game over the last 6 games (43 runs) during which time they have hit .282 as a team, with a .380 on base percentage.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina has been very much in the middle of the offensive turnaround.  He has played in 5 of the last 6 games, hitting .400 (8 for 20) with 7 runs batted in.  This, of course, is part of a longer stretch of success for Molina, who pushed his hitting streak to 15 games with his two hits last night.  During the streak, Molina is hitting .328 (20 for 61), with 3 home runs and 12 runs batted in.  He finished June with a .296 batting average.

His third-inning two-run single that started the scoring held up as the game-winning hit.  It is Yadi’s fifth game-winning hit this season.  Among Cardinals, only Dexter Fowler has more – Dexter has 7.

Molina was 1-for-1 batting with no one out, and 1 for 2 batting with one out.  The only time he hit with two out last night, he lined out to center to end the first.  Over the course of the season, Yadi is hitting .320 (56 for 176) when batting with less than two outs.  He is now 12 for 76 (.158) when hitting with two outs.  Of his 35 runs batted in this season, only 6 have come with two out.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko had what is starting to become a typical night for him.  He singled, doubled, walked, drove in a run and scored twice.  Jedd has now hit safely in 6 of his last 7 games (getting 2 hits in 3 of them).  During this stretch, Jedd has come to the plate 28 times, collecting 4 singles, 4 doubles, 1 home run, 9 runs batted in, six walks, 1 sacrifice fly, and only 1 strikeout.  That is a .429/.536/.762 batting line.  Gyorko’s season average is back over .300 (.302) as he finished June with a .290 average (27 for 93) with 4 home runs and a team-leading 18 runs batted in.

While striking out only once over his last 7 games, Jedd has now drawn a walk in 5 straight contests, and in 9 of his last 10 games.  All of this – the hitting the ball with authority to right field, the patience at the plate – this is a different Jedd Gyorko than we saw last year.

Gyorko singled off of Roark’s hand as part of that ambush third inning – it was his only at bat of the game with nobody out.  He is now hitting .318 this year with no one out (35 for 110).  That is the best average among season-long regulars.  Kolten Wong is hitting .407 with no one out, but he has missed a good chunk of the season with injuries.  Paul DeJong also doesn’t have a starter’s quantity of at bats, but he is hitting .342 with nobody out.

Tommy Pham

Another one of the igniters of the offense recently is Tommy Pham.  He brought the crowd to its feet with a stellar defensive play on the first hitter of the game, and followed going 2 for 4 with a walk and a run scored.  Tommy has a .350 batting average and a .480 on base percentage over the last six games.  Moreover, Pham has hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games, hitting .326 in that span (14 for 43) with 3 home runs, 7 runs batted in, 3 stolen bases, 11 runs scored and a .535 slugging percentage.

I would hate to be the one filling out the lineup card that doesn’t include Tommy Pham’s name.

It took a review to confirm it, but Pham beat out a two-out, seventh-inning infield hit that loaded the bases.  Pham now has a .414 on base percentage this year when batting with two outs.

Another Quality Start

Mike Leake’s excellent 8 innings (1 run 5 hits), gave the Cardinals six consecutive quality starts for the first time since mid-May, and 8 in the last 9 games.  Entering tonight, St Louis has yet to string together seven consecutive quality starts.

In winning 5 of the last 6, the starting rotation has contributed a 4-0 record, a 2.82 ERA, and a .235 batting average against.  As much fun as it’s been watching the offense of late, St Louis’ long-term success is tied to the effectiveness of its starters.

Mike Leake

After a four-start dry spell, Mike Leake has put together three excellent starts in a row.  At the point where you might have begun to wonder if the early season Leake was a mirage, he has given the team 20 innings over these three starts, allowing 5 earned runs on 14 hits – a 2.25 ERA with a .215/.284/.292 batting line against.  Of the 20 batters who put the ball in play against Mike last night, 17 hit it on the ground (4 of them into double plays).

The double plays proved to be quite important, as Mike is still showing a tendency to walk batters with no one out.  Last night, two of his three walks came with no one out.  Over his shaky month of June, 8 of his 12 walks came with no one out.   Five of the 8 ended up scoring.  For the season, Mike has only issued 13 no-out walks – with 8 of those coming home to roost.

As Aledmys Diaz Plays in Memphis

I suppose that it is possible that many Cardinal fans aren’t sure what to make of the demotion of Aledmys Diaz.  Several columnists and bloggers attending on the Cardinals have treated this event as some kind of watershed moment in Diaz’ career as it relates his future as a Cardinal.

And I can understand the reaction.  Most times in most organizations the demotion of a player who had been an All Star the year before would be a fairly catastrophic event.  But not in St Louis.  What Cardinal management has done over the last couple of years – and what they are seemingly becoming more comfortable doing – is a kind of re-definition of how the minor leagues have been traditionally used in the past.

In the past, the minor leagues have been a kind of finishing school.  A raw talent comes out of high school or college that is not quite ready to succeed against major league competition.  So he is sent to one of the myriad of minor league teams to get regular playing time and learn his craft.

And then, at some point, he “graduates,” if you will, from the minors.  It may take him a few trips back and forth as he makes the adjustment, but at the point where he becomes a regular on the big league team, he has become a “major league” ballplayer and ceases to be known as a “minor league” player.

At this point, it is assumed that the minors have no more to teach him, and that he has nothing left to prove there.  So, at this point, for this player to be sent back to the minors for anything other than a rehab assignment would commonly be viewed as a humiliating moment, signaling an absolute loss of confidence in that player and a permanent change of direction by the organization.

Last year, when the Cardinals did this to both Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk at the same time, that’s how it read to me.  The Cardinals had finally given up on two talented by frustratingly inconsistent players, and were moving forward with other options at second base and center field.  As it turned out, nothing could be further from the truth.  Both players were – and are – very much a part of the Cardinals’ future plans.

The change in philosophy was even more evident earlier this spring when Grichuk was sent down again.  He wasn’t being removed from the scene and dumped in the minors in the hopes that maybe he would figure things out.  He worked with a specialist – a strategist, I think they called him – a bat whisperer, if you will – to try to unlock the star player that was encumbered by the collection of bad habits and overthinking that Randal Grichuk had become.

I don’t know if there are other organizations out there that are doing this, but what the Cardinals have figured out is that the minor league system is good for more than just teaching prospects on the way up.  It can also serve as a kind of clinic for major league players.  It’s a place where they can get specialized, individualized attention.  Where areas of weakness can be addressed and where performance can be enhanced away from the glare of the major leagues.  A demotion like this isn’t something I think you’d see in response to a little slump (0 for 12 or something).  But if a player becomes lost, it becomes a viable option.

And lost is an apt description of Diaz.  In all facets of his game, he was not himself.  I expect that, like Wong and Grichuk, Aledmys is still very much a part of the Cardinal future.  But not the way he was playing now.  My expectation is that people will now work with Aledmys – rebuild him, even – and that sometime before August he will be back at shortstop, and looking more like the Diaz we remembered from 2016.

The broader message to the rest of the Cardinal roster is that if you start to struggle and you still have options left, you won’t necessarily continue to struggle at the major league level.  This management is becoming more and more comfortable with writing you a prescription for the Memphis Clinic.

This kind of attention and work can’t possibly be given by the major league team.  The season won’t stop and wait for this.  But the minor league setup is structured to do this very thing.  Kolten Wong came back a better player.  The sample size on Randal Grichuk is still pretty small, but it looks like he may have made a breakthrough as well.

There is no reason not to expect similar improvement from Diaz.

Cards and Pirates Try a Little Role Reversal

Sitting on a three-game losing streak – and losers of 8 of their previous 11 – a somewhat desperate Cardinal management juggled the roster, rolled the dice a little, and saw starter Mike Leake struggle out of the gate.  Five innings into the game, St Louis found itself trailing again, 4-2.

This time, though, the end game would look a little different.  With the Pirates looking a lot like the Cardinals (with defensive issues and bullpen problems), and the Cardinals doing their best Pittsburgh impression with patient, persistent late at bats, St Louis finally broke through with two runs to tie the game in the sixth and 4 more to break it open in the seventh – on their way to an 8-4 victory (box score).

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina was riding a ten-game hitting streak when a bothersome knee forced him to the bench for a few days.  He was back yesterday, and without missing a beat.  He went 3-for-4 with a double, and all the hits were line drives – including one to right field in the seventh-inning that brought in the game-winning run.  Over his now 11-game hitting streak, Molina is batting .333 (15 for 45) and slugging .556 (his hits include 3 home runs).  After a sluggish start, Yadi enters the last week of June hitting .292 (19 for 65) for the month with some unexpected power.  His hits include 2 doubles and 4 home runs.  Molina is slugging .508 this month.

Yadi has been noticeably less aggressive this year.  Last year, Yadi came to the plate swinging – especially after the All-Star break, when he offered at 45.6% of the first pitches thrown him.  Whether he hit that pitch or not, Yadi went on to hit .410 and slug .615 in those at bats.  This season, Yadi is swinging at the first pitch thrown him much less frequently (38.2%) – and with lesser results (.258 avg).

Last night, Yadi took the first pitch in all four at bats (I don’t remember if that has ever happened before) – including two very hittable first-pitch strikes.  During July, Yadi has taken the first pitch 70.1% of the time (47 of 67 plate appearances) – and has prospered surprisingly while doing do.  Including the 3 hits last night, Yadi is hitting .326 this month (15 for 46) and slugging .609 when he takes the first pitch of an at bat.  All 4 of his home runs this month, and 1 of the 2 doubles have come in at bats where Molina has taken the first pitch.

Whether this is intentional or not, I don’t know.  But it has looked very deliberate.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham’s baby 5-game hitting streak came to an end with an 0-for-4.  Pham hit .304 (7 for 23) during the streak, including 3 home runs.

The streak notwithstanding, Pham hasn’t had the best of June’s.  He is now hitting .232 (19 for 82) this month.

After Matt Carpenter opened the game with a single, Pham jumped all over a first-pitch fastball right down the middle and drilled it right at third-baseman David Freese for a relatively easy double play.  It’s kind of been that way all year for Tommy.  Across all of baseball, batters who swing at the first pitch of an at bat – whether they hit it or not – end up hitting .273 in those at bats (as opposed to .247 when they take that pitch).  Tommy Pham, this year, is hitting .188 in at bats when he swings at the first pitch, as opposed to .312 when he takes that pitch.

Pham entered the season having grounded into a total of 4 double plays through his first 358 major league plate appearances.  Last night he grounded into his tenth already this season in just 181 plate appearances.

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty also had a small hitting streak end on him last night.  Piscotty had hit .333 (7 for 21) over his six previous games.  He hit two home runs during the streak and slugged .714.

Mike Leake

Leake elevated a couple of cutters in the three-run third inning – one a 1-2 pitch that Elias Diaz drove for a double, and the other a brutal 0-2 middle of the plate cutter that Adam Frazier stung for a 2-run triple.  Other than that, it was a very productive outing for the Cardinal right-hander.

Of the 25 batters he faced, only 7 swung at his first pitch.  This has been his MO throughout the season.  He throws that first-pitch sinker at the corners of the strike zone, and steals a little of the momentum from the at bat.  For the season, batters are taking Mike’s first pitch 71.1% of the time – and once they do, they go on to hit .213/.270/.332.

The 114 batters who have swung at Mike’s first pitch this season are hitting .300.  For the month of June, batters swinging at his first pitch are hitting .410.  Mike has had a lot of misplaced cutters early in the count this month.  Last night, the 7 batters who hacked at Mike’s first pitch were 4 for 7 with a double and Frazier’s triple.

Bullpen Pulls Together

While the 4-run seventh was the highlight, behind that was another solid outing from the beleaguered bullpen.  They went the last three, giving no runs, no walks and just one hit.  While starting pitching has been a hot button issue this month, the bullpen may be quietly coming together.  In 23 games and 81.1 June innings, the Cardinal relief corps has allowed just 72 hits and 19 walks.  The batting line against them has been a much better .238/.290/.399, and the bullpen ERA 3.54.  Their failures have still come at very critical junctures of the game – and much of the 9-15 record so far this month is on them.  But there is reason to hope that things are turning around out there.

Brett Cecil

With little fanfare, Brett Cecil is becoming, perhaps, the most dependable arm in the bullpen.  In 8 games since his heart-breaking tumble against Cincinnati, Brett has tossed 8 scoreless innings (including the eighth-inning last night) allowing only 3 hits and no walks.  Fifteen of the last 20 batters to put the ball in play against Brett have hit it on the ground.  During 10.2 innings this month, Brett has given 7 hits (.189 batting average against) and walked just 1.

Moreover, I get the feeling that most batters aren’t very comfortable stepping in against Brett.  None of the three he faced last night swung at his first pitch, and over the course of the month, 32 of the 38 batters he’s faced (84.2%) have chosen to take that first pitch.  Those 32 batters are 3 for 31 (.097) with one walk.  The six who have hacked at his first pitch have gone on to be 4 for 6 in those at bats.

Scoring Changes

If you keep statistics at home and you notice that Aledmys Diaz’ official batting average is something higher than you have calculated, then you may have missed a couple of recent scoring changes that have awarded Aledmys infield hits on plays that had originally been ruled as errors.

The first change is from the June 16 game in Baltimore.  In the seventh inning, Diaz hit that ground ball with the funny backspin.  It started well foul, but then hopped back into fair territory.  It spun off pitcher Gabriel Ynoa’s fingers and he couldn’t make a play on it.  Change that from an E1 to an infield single (and add 2 earned runs to Ynoa’s line as the change makes the runs scored on Pham’s subsequent home run – with two outs – now earned runs.

Then, four days later (June 20) in Philadelphia, during that 7-run eleventh-inning, Diaz was safe at first on what was originally ruled an E6.  That is now also an infield hit (and another earned run charged to pitcher Casey Fein as Pham again followed with a home run).