In the waning innings of a closely contested game, 7 of the last 14 batters the Cards sent to the plate reached base. When Mike Matheny talks about the team continuing to grind through at bats, this is what he is talking about.
Of those 7 late inning baserunners, only 1 scored – leaving the Cardinals (once again) one run short in another head-shaking loss. This time they fell to the last place Reds, 3-2 (box score).
When Matheny bemoans the lack of that “one” hit, this is what he is talking about.
Of the 39 Cardinals who came to the plate last night, 25 of them batted with the Cards trailing. They went 8 for 22 with 3 walks – a .440 on base percentage. But only 2 of the 11 runners scored.
Since the All-Star break, this has been a palpable trend. When the Cards are even in the game, they don’t hit at all. Last night, they were 1 for 12 (.083) when the score was tied, and over the last 21 games, they are hitting .216 (50 for 232) when the game is even. When they fall behind by one or two runs, though, this team has responded with a .289 batting average and a .383 on base percentage.
The other half of this frustrating trend is the pitching half. Lately, Cardinal pitching has been very good. They carry a 3.07 ERA since the break, and over their last 23 games they have a 2.84 ERA.
They have been very, very good – once they fall behind. Last night, while they trailed in the game, the Cardinal pitchers held Cincinnati to 4 singles in 18 at bats (.222). But, for the few innings that the game was tied (the first when it was 0-0, and the third through the fifth when it was a 1-1 game), Cincinnati was 5 for 12 (.417).
This has also been a palpable trend. Since the All-Star break, in the 41.1 innings the pitchers have trailed by one or two runs, they have a 1.09 ERA and a .199 batting average against. In the 59.2 innings they’ve pitched with the score tied, their ERA is 4.83. Cardinal pitchers have only allowed 19 home runs in 21 second-half games. Ten of them have come in the 34% of the plate appearances when the score was tied.
Marrying these two trends casts an almost earie light on this Cardinal team. On the one hand, you have an offense that doesn’t engage until it trails – but then battles furiously to put itself back into the contest. This offense is paired with a pitching staff that will throw remarkable innings once they are behind to keep the team in the game – but as soon as the offense catches up, they almost immediately re-surrender the lead, and the cycle begins over again.
Again, this isn’t an issue of talent. By every gage available to us, this is an extremely talented Cardinal team. But every statistical measure at our disposal continues to show a lack of toughness. Cincinnati is having a terrible season. But they were tougher than the Cardinals last night, and have been in our matchups all season.
In what has been – so far – a disappointing season, Tommy Pham has been one of the finds. With two more hits last night, Tommy is 6 for his last 14 (.429) and has reached base in 9 of his last 17 plate appearances. Since the break, Tommy leads the team in hits (28), runs scored (14), runs batted in (12 – tied with Paul DeJong), walks (10), stolen bases (4), batting average (.364), on base percentage (.444), slugging percentage (.532) and OPS (.977).
With two out in the third inning, Pham slapped a ball through into left for a single. It would be the only hit the Cards would have all night while the game was tied (it was 1-1 at that point). Tommy has been the one hitter the Cards have had who has been able to produce while the score is tied. Since the break, Tommy is hitting .367 (11 for 30) in tie games, and for the year he hits .302 (26 for 86) in that situation.
Matt Carpenter was back in the leadoff spot last night, but it didn’t help. He was 0 for 4, and is now hitless in his last ten at bats. Matt’s last home run came against Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole on June 24 – 117 at bats ago. It has also been seven games since his last run batted in.
Carpenter is a .232 hitter this year (32 for 138) when the game is tied.
Stephen Piscotty added another 0-for-4 to his growing collection. To say it hasn’t been his season so far would be an understatement. Stephen is now 1 for 12 since his return from the DL; 1 for 16 (.063) in the second half; and 4 for 37 (.108) in his last 11 games. For the season, his average has fallen to .228.
And Randal Grichuk has disappeared again. Hitless in 3 at bats yesterday (with two strikeouts), Randal is now 0 for his last 10 (with 7 strikeouts). In 8 games since his 4-hit game, Grichuk has totaled 3 hits in 25 at bats (.120).
Randal was up twice yesterday with the Cards down by a run. He struck out both times. For the season, Randal is 7 for 38 (.184) with just 4 runs batted in when he hits trailing by one run.
Starting Pitchers in Tie Games
Mike Leake has battled the pitching aspect of this trend all season. In 28.2 innings when trailing, but by less than three runs, Leake holds a 2.83 ERA. This rises to 4.09 if the game is tied.
Among the others, Adam Wainwright has defied the general trend. When he falls behind, things can get ugly in a hurry, but in 48 innings this season with the score tied, Waino has a 2.44 ERA and a .239 batting average against. Over his last three starts, Wainwright has a 0.64 ERA with a .140 average against in 14 innings while his games have been tied. He has walked just 2 batters in those innings. Adam has won a team-high 11 games. One way you do that is by not giving up runs while the game is tied.
The resurgent Michael Wacha has followed a similar pattern. All season, he’s been very strong while the game has been tied (2.72 ERA; .230 average against in 43 tied innings), but has been even better in the second half (11.2 innings; 2.31 ERA; .195 batting average).
Carlos Martinez has struggled more than most at keeping the game even. He has pitched in that situation for 54.1 innings, with a 4.14 ERA and 9 home runs to show for it. His struggles have increased since the break. In his last four starts, Carlos has only been even in the game for 7.2 innings, during which he has served up 3 home runs and 10 earned runs – good for an 11.74 ERA and a .361/.410/.694 batting line against. A lot of that derives from his first-inning issues that we have pointed out before.
Joey Votto’s first-inning RBI double that gave Cincinnati its early 1-0 lead makes five consecutive games where the Cards have not scored first.