Tag Archives: Rosenthal

How Tough is Lance Lynn?

If the defining moment of the Wednesday game was the soft-fuzzy moment of the rally cat running around just before Yadier Molina’s grand slam, the defining moment of last night’s game was much more hard core.

Lorenzo Cain led off the third inning, with the Royals ahead 1-0.  Cardinal starter Lance Lynn got ahead of Cain 1-2, but a misbehaving cutter slid back across the plate, where Cain was waiting to line it into center field for a single.  After it caromed off Lance’s noggin.  Lance never went down.  He flinched a little, and after the play was over he rubbed the spot (a reddish welt right on his temple) for a second or two.  But Lance Lynn took a line drive to the head and went right on completely unfazed.

As you watch the replay, you keep looking to see if maybe the ball missed, or mostly missed, or maybe clipped off the bill of his cap.  Nope.  It was a glancing blow – meaning that Lance tilted his head enough so that the contact wasn’t full-on.  But it still hit him right in the head hard enough to shoot into medium center field.  But not hard enough to rattle the suddenly tough competitor that Lance Lynn has become.

This is not how I remember Lance from his early years in the rotation.  Back then it seemed that he didn’t quite have the grit for the big games.  He was a phenomenal April pitcher who routinely faded as the season wore on.

But this Lance Lynn has been remarkable in his ability to focus on the task at hand regardless of what is happening all around him.  Even as the rumors swirled around him while the trade deadline approached and passed, Lance responded with one of the best stretches of his career.  After managing just 5 quality starts in his first 15 games, Lance is now riding a streak of 7 straight quality starts, during which he has gone 4-0 (with another potential victory surrendered by the bullpen) and a 1.45 ERA over 43.1 innings.  After once serving up 6 home runs in 10.1 innings over consecutive starts, Lance has been chipped for only two during these last seven games.

Lance’s baseball toughness was also on full display in last night’s 8-6 win (box score).  His final numbers were fairly pedestrian – 6 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs (2 earned).  The line doesn’t do him justice.  On a night when Lance fought his command from the first inning on (he threw only 51 of his 87 pitches for strikes) – and on a night where his defense repeatedly let him down – Lance pitched the entire game on the edge of disaster, making big pitches when needed.  Although they put runners in scoring position against Lance in 4 of his 6 innings, he very nearly held them scoreless.

Kansas City’s first-inning run was set up when Kolton Wong booted Mike Moustakas’ routine grounder.  Attempting to sacrifice Mike into scoring position, Alcides Escobar dropped a bunt in front of the plate.  He reached safely as Molina made a poor throw trying to get the runner at second.  A ground ball single loaded the bases with no one out.  Lynn houdinied his way out of the mess allowing just one run.

The Royals then had Lance on the ropes in the fifth, when Cain’s single and Eric Hosmer’s walk gave Melky Cabrera a two-out opportunity.  Ahead in the count 2-1, Cabrera laced a fastball right off his fists into right field, where Jose Martinez almost made the great play to bail his pitcher out.  The ball hit the heel of Jose’s glove and dropped to the turf.  Both runners scored, and Melky got credit for a triple.

That made the score 3-0 KC – as Lance’s offense didn’t throw their switch until after Lance had thrown his last pitch of the evening.

Through it all – the line drive to the head, the struggles with control, the sloppy defense, the lack of offensive support – the suddenly unflappable Lance Lynn just kept making the next pitch.

Even as he battled his control, Lance continues to dramatically improve his pitch-efficiency.  Of the 27 batters he faced, Lynn had 3 hit the first pitch thrown them, 6 that hit the second pitch, and 5 others that hit the third pitch.  Overall, his 87 pitches to 27 batters works out 3.22 pitches per.  Over his last two starts, Lance is throwing just 3.54 pitches per batter faced (177 pitches to 50 batters).  Previous to last night, Lynn was averaging 4.16 pitches per batter faced.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons earned his first win of the season retiring the two batters he faced.  Pitching in a 3-3 tie in the seventh, Tyler inherited a runner at second and one out.  He concluded the inning getting Hosmer to fly out and striking out Cabrera.  Tyler is now up to 12 consecutive scoreless appearances covering 9.2 innings, during which he has allowed 2 hits with 15 strikeouts.

Of the six swings that those two batters took last night, only Hosmer put the ball in play.  As Lyons’ slider gets sharper, putting the ball in play against him is getting more and more difficult.  The 10 batters he has faced this month have swung at 22 pitches, putting only 3 in play (13.6%).  The 30 batters he has faced since the All-Star Break are only putting the ball in play with 25.5% of their swing – the lowest percentage on the team for anyone pitching to at least ten batters.

Trevor Rosenthal

For the fourth time in his last 7 games, Trevor Rosenthal was asked to pitch more than one inning – and once again, Rosenthal came through.  Over his last 7 games, Trevor has worked 9.2 innings allowing no runs while striking out 16.  Last night, Trevor got strikes with 14 of his 18 pitches.  Over his last 7 games, Rosenthal has been throwing 70% of his pitches for strikes.

Offense Plugs Away

They waited until the sixth before they made any noise, but by game’s end, the Cards had scored 8 runs again – their fifth consecutive game scoring at least 8 runs.  In 10 August games, St Louis has scored 64 runs.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler has been especially torrid since his return from the disabled list.  In the four games since he’s been back, Dexter has come to the plate 19 times, with the following results: 1 single, 3 doubles, 1 triple, last night’s home run, 7 runs scored, 5 runs batted in (all last night), 6 walks, and 1 stolen base.  It all adds up to a .462/.632/1.077 batting line.  Over his last 31 games (which bridges a couple of injury absences), Dexter is hitting .303/.411/.578 with 7 home runs and 21 runs batted in.

Kolten Wong

Kolten booted a ball that led to a run, but otherwise excelled last night.  He singled, doubled, walked, and smote a sacrifice fly. He has now strung together a baby five-game hitting streak, during which he has hit .500 (8 for 16) with 6 runs scored and 6 runs driven in.

He is now hitting .412 (14 for 34) in the early days of August; .309 since the All-Star Break (25 for 81); and .337 (34 for 101) over his last 33 games.  I still think we all underestimate how much Kolten’s absences hurt this team.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong has also been in the middle of all the offense lately.  After having his 5-game hitting streak snapped on Wednesday, Paul began another one last night with 2 hits.  Over his last 7 game, DeJong is hitting .344 (11 for 32).

NoteBook

The two-game series against Kansas City was the nineteenth home series of the season for St Louis.  It was the fifth of those series that the Cardinals took the field for the last game with a chance for a series sweep – and the fourth time that they have achieved that sweep.

We are now also 10-4-2 in series when we win that first game.

Sorting Out the Cardinal Bullpen

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

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

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

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

Matthew Bowman

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

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

Zach Duke

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

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

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

Seung-hwan Oh

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

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

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

Tyler Lyons

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

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

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

Trevor Rosenthal

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

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

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

Mike Leake

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

Jose Martinez

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

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

Randal Grichuk

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

Just Enough Pressure, Just Enough Runs as Cards Top Brewers

Since the All-Star Break, the Cardinal offense has been very hit and miss.  Over these last 19 games, the Cards have scored a modest 74 runs (3.89 per game).  Bad slumps from the three and four hitters have been a big chunk of this, but there have been other missing pieces as well.

One of these is the simple expedient of putting the leadoff batter of the inning on base.  Over the course of the whole season, the Cards have done this notably better than the league average.  Cardinals leading off an inning reach base at a .328 clip. Over all of baseball (according to baseball reference) those batters reach at a .318 clip.  The Cards rank ninth in all of baseball, and fourth in the National League in leadoff on base percentage.  Once that runner reaches, the Cards haven’t been especially proficient at bringing him home (just 49% of the time) due to lots of base running gaffes and many, many strikeouts with runners in scoring position.  But even when this hasn’t translated directly into runs, getting that first batter on adds stress to the pitcher and pressures the rest of the defense.

Coming out of the All-Star Break, though, the Cards found great difficulty in getting that leadoff batter on.  Through the first ten games of the second half, St Louis only put 25 leadoff batters on base in 90 innings (.278).

But, beginning with the Colorado series, St Louis has seen a significant uptick in performance here.  Culminating with putting 5 of their 9 leadoff hitters on base last night, the Cards have seen 28 of their last 77 leadoff hitters reach (.364).  Last night, Yadier Molina ignited a 3-run sixth inning with a leadoff home run.  This was the pivotal inning in the Cardinals 5-4 victory (box score).

Still, this improvement hasn’t translated directly to more runs.  Only 2 of the 5 leadoff hitters who reached last night scored (and one of those was Molina, courtesy of his own home run).  Over the last 9 games, only 46% of leadoff runners have scored, and the team is only averaging 3.67 runs per game in those contests.  Nonetheless, St Louis has won 6 of these last 9, and I feel confident that if this team keeps applying the pressure, eventually you will see the impact on the scoreboard.

Yadier Molina

Molina has led the way in this little 9-game resurgence.  He contributed three extra-base hits last night (2 of them home runs).  He has played in 8 of the last 9 games, hitting safely in 6 of the 8 games, including multiple hits in 5 of those games.  His 12 hits (including 3 doubles and the 2 home runs) in 31 at bats give him a .387 batting average and a .677 slugging percentage in that span.

Last year, as you recall, Yadi hit .365 from the All-Star Break to the end of the season.  Nineteen games into the second half this year, Yadi is hitting .311 (19 for 61).

Yadi doesn’t walk enough to be a great leadoff hitter.  Over the course of the season, Molina is a .296 hitter leading off an inning, but with only a .315 on base percentage.  But he has been much better in the second half, reaching base 8 times in the last 20 innings he has led off (.400).  He is 4 for 8 as a leadoff hitter over his last 8 games.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong is starting to spin his wheels a bit, now.  He was 0 for 5 with 4 strikeouts last night, and doesn’t seem to be seeing the ball well at all.  He is now hitless in his last 14 at bats with 7 strikeouts.    He has hit 5 home runs in the second half, but is now hitting just .211 (16 for 76) since the break.

Randal Grichuk

It seems that we always end up waiting on Randal Grichuk.  When he “returns” to the team – either from a trip to the minors or back from the disabled list, there is a short burst where we see the kind of hitter that Grichuk could be.  But after a few games, that goes away and he starts disappearing for long stretches.  After his 0-for-3, 3 strikeout evening last night, Randal is just 3 for 21 (.143) over his last 6 games.  It has been 8 games since his last home run and last run batted in, and 6 games since his last run scored.  He has struck out in 7 of his last 10 at bats.

Trevor Rosenthal

I feel that I should be knocking on wood when I type this, but it certainly looks like Trevor Rosenthal has his closer’s mojo back.  He has saved his last three games – all one run leads, and 2 of them requiring more than one inning.  Trevor has struck out 10 of the last 14 batters he’s faced, and since the All-Star Break (8 games, 10 innings), he has 17 strikeouts, a 0.90 ERA, and a .147/.194/.147 batting line against.

For the moment, anyway, there is a great feeling of confidence on the part of both his teammates and the fans when Trevor comes into the game.

NoteBook

Tommy Pham played in his 78th game this season last night.  That ties (with 55 games to go) his career high in games played in a season that he set last year.

This has been a break-through year for Tommy.  He has already set career highs in at bats, hits, doubles, home runs, total bases, runs scored, runs batted in, walks, strikeouts, hit by pitches, sacrifice flies, stolen bases, caught stealings, and grounding into double plays.  In most of these categories, he has either already exceeded his career totals coming into the season, or is about to.

Recent Scoring Change

Speaking of Tommy Pham, a recent scoring change added a hit to his season.  In the second inning of the July 18 game against in New York, Pham reached on a ground ball to third that was originally ruled an error.  That has been changed to a hit for Pham – and an RBI, as Michael Wacha scored on that play.  Met pitcher Rafael Montero gets charged with an additional hit and an additional earned run.

Score One for the Enigmatic Cardinal Bullpen

In the bottom of the sixth inning, the St Louis Cardinals scratched for their third and final run of the game.  After a fatiguing 107 pitches. Lance Lynn – the Cardinal starter – would be through for the day.

After receiving their twelfth quality start in the last 19 games, the fate of the game would once again rest in the hands of the enigma that is the Cardinal bullpen.

After a season of bullpen frustration culminated with Trevor Rosenthal failing to cover first, handing the New York Mets a 3-2 win on July 20, followed almost immediately by a two-run eighth-inning meltdown that granted the Chicago Cubs a 3-2 victory on July 22; the bullpen came back three nights later to serve up another one-run lead.  After another strong six innings from Lynn, Lance went to the mound in the seventh with a 2-0 lead over the Colorado Rockies.  But eleven pitches put his lead in jeopardy as he walked DJ LeMahieu and served up a double to Nolan ArenadoKevin Siegrist relieved and limited the damage to a sacrifice fly.  The heartbreak came an inning later when Trevor Story tied the game with a home run – one of only 4 hit off of Matthew Bowman this season.

The inning then threatened to unravel when Bowman hit Ryan Hanigan with his next pitch.  That brought Rosenthal into the contest for the first time since his gaffe against the Mets.

Trevor would finish the night throwing 34 pitches to 8 batters over two innings.  He would bend a little – allowing a sacrifice hit in the eighth, and two singles that threatened disaster in the ninth.  But Trevor would not walk a batter and did not break, walking off the mound at the end of nine innings with a 2-2 tie.  He would get the win in this one, courtesy of Jedd Gyorko’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth – 3-2 Cardinals.

Was it a turning point for Rosenthal and the Cardinal bullpen?  The Colorado series ended with a comfortable 10-5 win, and the subsequent Arizona series began with a 4-0 loss, in which the bullpen threw four scoreless innings.

Now it’s Friday July 28.  After five-and-a-half scoreless innings, Tommy Pham leads off the second reaching on an error.  He promptly steals second, moves to third on a grounder, and scores on a single from Gyorko.  1-0 Cardinals.  But could it last?  Michael Wacha had been dominant through six.  As it would turn out, the offense would score no more.  So the bullpen would have nine outs to get from a very formidable Arizona lineup with no margin for error.

Seung-hwan Oh flirted with disaster in the seventh, allowing a couple of singles, but he worked his way out of trouble.  But Brett Cecil ran into immediate peril in the eighth, allowing a single and a double that put runners on second and third with no one out with the toughest part of the lineup coming up.

Summoned to do a Houdini act, Rosenthal struck out A.J. PollockDavid Peralta rolled a groundball to drawn-in second-baseman Kolten Wong, who teamed with catcher Yadier Molina to make the play of the series when he threw out the runner trying to score from third.  Five pitches later, Paul Goldschmidt struck out, and the lead was preserved.  Trevor made his second consecutive two-inning relief appearance, setting the Diamondbacks down in order (with two more strikeouts) on 9 pitches in the ninth.

The pen did let Saturday’s game get away – turning a 3-1 deficit into a 7-1 loss.

But now, here they were again.  Nine outs to get with no margin of error.  Arizona threatened a little in the seventh, but Tyler Lyons and Bowman combined to keep them off the board.  Oh and Rosenthal were money in the eighth and ninth, retiring all six Diamondback batters – striking out 5 of them – and the Cards were in with a 3-2 win (box score).

And suddenly this grey cloud that has hung over the Cardinal bullpen since opening night is starting to dissipate.  They have now become a main part of the encouraging turnaround of the Cardinal pitching staff.  Going back to a 4-1 win over the Mets on July 8, St Louis has maintained a 2.75 team ERA over the last 19 games.  With 57 games left in the season, those who counted this team out may have spoken too soon.

Lance Lynn

As I type this. Lance Lynn is still a Cardinal – for which fact we should all be grateful.  I mentioned here that I would like to see Lance make his case for being an important part of the Cardinal future.  He has certainly led the way in this little pitching renaissance.  Over his last five games (all quality starts), Lance has given us 31.1 innings, allowing just 4 runs on 21 hits (just one home run) – walking just 9.  He is 3-0 (and could be 4-0) during the streak, with a 1.15 ERA and a .194 batting average against.  Of the 21 hits, only 6 have been for extra-bases, so the slugging percentage against Lynn since July 9 is .269.

If Lance remains a Cardinal, and if he pitches like this down the stretch – I grant you, two big ifs – then the management may have to re-asses the Lance Lynn situation.

During this streak, all four runners who have scored against Lynn have reached base with no one out.  Over his last five games, Lance has been most vulnerable before the first out of an inning is recorded.  Those batters are hitting .244/.289/.415 against Lance.  After he has gotten that first out, the remaining batters in the inning hit .164/.233/.179.  Last night, batters were 2 for 6 against Lynn with no one out, and 2 for 14 thereafter.

Tyler Lyons

Lyons has pitched his way into some high-leveraged situations.  He started the seventh last night, retiring 2 of the 3 he faced.  Tyler is unscored on in his last 8 games (6.1 innings), during which he has given only 2 hits and no walks (although he did hit a couple).  Tyler has struck out 9 batters over those 6.1 innings, and 25 of his last 91 pitches have been taken for strikes.

Trevor Rosenthal

As for Trevor, He has pitched 5 innings facing 17 batters in his last 3 outings.  He has given up exactly two singles to those batters.  While 73% of the pitches he has thrown (48 of 66) have gone for strikes.  Over his last 10 games, Trevor has given us 11.2 innings allowing 1 run on 4 singles, 1 walk, and 19 strikeouts.  The last 41 batters to face Rosenthal are missing with 38% of their swings – and that’s not all fastballs, either.

Jose Martinez

The game’s offensive hero was Jose Martinez – who drove in all three Cardinal runs.  Fourth outfielder is always a tough situation to play under, but lately Jose has been cashing in on his chances.  Including his two-hit, one-home-run night last night, Martinez has hit safely in 6 of last 10 games (only 4 of them starts), hitting .421 (8 for 19), and slugging .737 (with 2 home runs).  He ended July hitting .333 for the month.

NoteBook

In splitting the four-game series with Arizona, the Cardinals scored 5 runs.  That is the fewest runs the team has scored in any series this year of any length.  Earlier this season, St Louis swept a three-game series from Pittsburgh during which they only scored six runs – winning each game by a 2-1 score.

Coming off a series loss to the Cubs, Milwaukee breaks a string of 5 straight Cardinal opponents who had won its previous series.  The Brewers have lost 9 of their last 12 and 11 of 16 since the break.  They look as vulnerable now as they have at any time during the season.

First Pitch Fastball Watchers?

As former Cardinal Mark Reynolds stood in to lead off the fifth inning, Cardinal starter Lance Lynn fired him a four-seam fastball that Reynolds fouled off.  In six-plus innings last night, Lynn faced 21 batters.  Reynolds was the only one all night to swing at his first pitch.  Even Matt Carpenter doesn’t take that many first pitches.

Lance faced only 13 batters as he sailed through the first four innings.  Twelve of those batters saw first-pitch fastballs.  None of them swung at them.  Five of the twelve were out of the strike zone.  Three of the other seven were very inviting.  Beginning in the third inning, five consecutive batters – including Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado – took first-pitch fastballs for strikes.  Thirteen of the 21 batters took the first two pitches from Lynn.

If this was strategy, it didn’t work very well. Lance didn’t get the win, but he stopped Colorado on one run on three hits over his six-plus innings and set the Cards up for a 3-2 walk-off win (box score).

In so doing, Lance added another strong starting effort to the team’s latest streak.  Over the last 14 games, Cardinal starting pitchers have thrown 10 quality starts.  In the 87.1 innings they’ve pitched during those games, they have surrendered just 77 hits, including only 8 home runs and 15 walks (1 intentional).  It works out to a 2.27 ERA, a .231 batting average against, and a .266 opponent’s on base percentage.

The best hope that Cardinals have of being significant before the season ends is a continued string of strong starts.  And, hopefully, at some point a bullpen that can hold a late-inning lead.  St Louis is only 8-6 in its last 14 games, in spite of the excellence of its starting pitching.

Lance Lynn

Lance – who I am hoping will survive the trade deadline and remain with the team for the rest of the season – has been a pillar of the great recent run of starting pitching.  He has started 4 of the last 14, all of them quality starts.  He is 2-0 with an 0.71 ERA and a .193/.228/.273 batting line against.  After previously allowing 8 home runs over a 4 game span, Lance has allowed just 1 in his last 4.

Last night was the fourth time this season that Lynn left a game with a lead, only to watch his bullpen give it up.

For the game, Lance didn’t throw a lot of first-pitch strikes.  He threw ball one to four of the first five batters he faced, and ended his evening missing with the first pitch to each of the last six batters he faced.  At the end of the evening, only 9 of the 21 batters he faced saw strike one.  But when he did throw that first pitch strike, those batters finished 0-for-8 with 4 strikeouts and 1 walk.

Throughout this month, Lance has only thrown first-pitch strikes to 61 of the 114 batters he’s faced (54%).  But when he does get that first pitch in, he has held batters to a .138 average (8 for 58).

Over the last 14 games, batters getting a first-pitch strike from a Cardinal pitcher have gone on to hit just .199 (56 for 281).

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist pitched for the second consecutive day for the first time since he came off the disabled list.  That might be a reason he wasn’t quite as dominant as he had been in his first four games (he walked a batter and got no strikeouts).

He was plenty good enough though, considering the situation.  Kevin came on in the seventh, with Rockies at second and third and no one out while clinging to a precarious 2-0 lead.  One run scored on a fly ball, but Kevin successfully de-fused what could have been a damaging inning.  Siegrist has thrown 4.2 innings since his return and has allowed only one hit.

Matthew Bowman

It wouldn’t be a Cardinal game without a blown save.  The honors, last night, fell to Matthew Bowman.  Recently, Matthew had pitched 11 straight games without allowing a run.  After serving up the game tying home run to Trevor Story in the eighth inning (lately the blown save has come in the eighth inning, instead of the ninth), Bowman has now allowed runs in both of his last two games, getting blown saves in both of them.

For the month of July, batters facing Bowman are 6 for 20 (.300) in the at bat if Matthew throws them a first-pitch strike.  Story’s home run came on such an at bat.

Trevor Rosenthal

Yes, I admit it.  When Colorado blooped two hits with two out in the ninth inning against Trevor Rosenthal – working his second inning – I pretty much assumed that all was lost.  That’s just the way it’s gone lately.  But this time, Rosenthal wrote a happier ending by striking out Story to end the inning.

Trevor was in a little trouble there, but again, no walks from Rosenthal.  That seems to be the key.  As long as he is forcing them to hit the ball to beat him, Trevor does all right.

And, his lapse against Chicago aside, Trevor has been throwing the ball much better.  His July shows 9.1 innings with a 1.93 ERA and 13 strikeouts.

Don’t Fall Behind the Cardinal Hitters

Colorado pitchers did a better job of throwing first-pitch strikes to the Cardinal hitters.  Twenty-two of the thirty-six Cardinal batsmen saw strike one.  It didn’t bother them too much – those 22 went on to go 7 for 20 (.350) with 2 sacrifice hits.  But the 14 batters who saw ball one had an even better time.  They went 5 for 13 (.385).  For the month of July, the Cards are hitting .307/.418/.582 when the opposing pitcher starts them off with ball one.

Paul DeJong

The runs didn’t hold up, but Paul DeJong got the offense started with a two-run, first-inning homer – his thirteenth in just 178 big league at bats.  Paul added a single later.  DeJong has now put together a five-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .381 (8 for 21) and slugging .857 (1 double & 3 home runs).  Paul has driven in at least one run in all five games, and has 7 for the streak.  Paul also has two hits in each of the last 3 games.

For the month of July, DeJong’s average has risen to .312 (24 or 77) and his slugging percentage to .688 (8 doubles and 7 home runs).

His home run came on the first pitch thrown him by Rockie starter Jon Gray.  His single cam in an at bat that began with Paul fouling off the first pitch.  The two times that he took the first pitch for a ball, he struck out and flied out.

I suspect that pretty soon pitchers will stop challenging him with first-pitch strikes.  For the season, Paul is a .311 hitter (33 for 106) and a .613 slugger (5 doubles and 9 of his 13 home runs) when pitchers throw him first-pitch strikes.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina added two hits for the second straight game.  He is now up to .275 (19 for 69) for the month.

Kolten Wong

Although neither hit made it through the infield, Kolten Wong pushed his season average back up to .303 with a 2 for 4 night.  With his second consecutive two-hit game, Kolten is now up to .313 (10 for 32) since returning from the disabled list.

The only time Wong saw a first-pitch strike last night, he fell behind Gray 0-2 in the fourth.  He ended up with an infield hit.  For the season, Kolten hits .324 (36 for 111) when he is thrown a first-pitch strike.

Ninth Inning Disasters Continue

Beginning with two nearly perfect innings on June 13, Brett Cecil ripped off a string of 15 consecutive scoreless performances.  Over those games, Brett handled 15.2 innings giving just 7 hit and 1 walk.

As Cecil was putting together this impressive streak of scoreless innings, Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal took turns serving up games in the eighth and ninth innings.

After Oh served up the game-winning walk-off home run in the ninth inning of Friday’s game, manager Mike Matheny finally turned to Cecil in a closing situation yesterday afternoon.  Brett took the mound for the bottom of the ninth, holding a 3-2 lead.

Eleven pitched later, Brett had given up two runs on three hits and was walking off the field as the losing pitcher (box score).  He hadn’t allowed a run in more than a month, but when he did, it cost the team a game.

The Cardinals are snake-bitten in the ninth inning.

Cardinal pitchers have pitched 11.1 innings in the ninth inning this year when the team trailed in the game by one or two runs.  When it comes to keeping the team in the game so they have a chance in the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinal bullpen has been excellent.  They hold a 1.59 ERA in those innings, with a .211 batting average against.

For 11 innings Cardinal pitchers have worked the ninth inning with the game tied.  Here, they have been less proficient.  In those 11 innings, their ERA jumps to 4.91 (giving up 7 runs, 6 of them earned), including 3 home runs.

Cardinal pitchers have carried a one-run ninth-inning lead for 9 innings so far this year.  They have given up 5 runs on 13 hits and 3 walks while trying to protect that one-run ninth-inning lead – a 5.00 ERA and a .325 batting average against.

Cardinal pitchers have worked 34 innings this year in the ninth inning where they have been no worse off than tied, but not ahead by more than three runs.  They have responded to these closer-like situations with a 5.29 ERA, a .306 batting average against, and 5 home runs.  I’m sure these are not historic numbers, but they are black enough.

There are many things that the Cardinals have not done well.  Hemorrhaging ninth-inning leads is arguably the worst of their sins.

Which Leads to Another One-Run Loss

Yesterday’s games was a textbook example of how a team comes to be 13-17 in one-run games.  Offensively they passed up several opportunities to add runs – along with hitting into three double plays, and running into a fourth.  Mix in more ninth-inning trouble and just enough bad luck (Andrew McCutchen’s first-inning RBI single hit the second base bag, and Max Moroff’s home run hit the foul pole) and you have a developing pattern.

The bullpen has now thrown 94.2 innings of relief in the 30 one-run games the Cardinals have been involved in.  They have managed a 3-11 record with 12 saves, 26 holds, and 9 blown saves.  The bullpen ERA in one-run games this year is 3.80.  It has been a season-long issue.

Carlos Martinez

Speaking of developing patterns, Carlos Martinez pitched seven excellent innings yesterday, holding the resurgent Pirates to 2 runs on 5 hits.  But, it was the twelfth time in Carlos’ 19 starts that the offense failed to score four runs for him, and it was the third time already this season that Martinez had a lead squandered by his bullpen.

If one-run games are an indication of character, Carlos Martinez has been answering the bell.  Seven of his 19 starts have now been decided by one-run.  He has thrown quality starts in 5 of those games, fighting his way to a 2-2 record, a 2.35 ERA, and a .198 batting average against.  In 46 innings, Martinez has given 34 hits – 23 singles, 8 doubles, and 3 home runs – good for a .297 slugging percentage against.

Carlos has deserved a better fate so far this season.

In his three years in the rotation, Carlos has made 28 starts in games that have been decided by one run.  He is 9-3 in those games with a 2.99 ERA

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal hit a batter (Adam Frazier) in the eighth inning yesterday.  Frazier thus becomes the only batter to reach base against Rosenthal over his last 6 innings.  Yes, we just said this about Cecil, but Rosenthal has also pitched very well of late.  Over those last six innings, Trevor has struck out 11 and thrown 67% of his pitches for strikes (57 of 85).  Batters have missed on 42% of their swings against Rosenthal.

Magneuris Sierra

As you are probably aware, Magneuris Sierra set a Cardinal rookie record by hitting safely in each of his first 9 games.  Yesterday’s 4-for-4 performance included three infield hits, but they all count.  He is now hitting .444 on the season (16 for 36).  All 16 hits have been singles, although he has had multiple hits in 5 of the 9 games.

Sierra has now played in 4 one-run games.  He is 9 for 15 (.600) in those games.  He has also struck out 5 times in those games, so, in the first four one-run games of his career, Magneuris Sierra has only been retired once when putting the ball in play.

Matt Carpenter

As the second half of the season begins, Matt Carpenter’s bat has begun a bit of a revival.  With 2 hits last night, Carpenter has now hit in 6 games in a row (9 for 23) for a .391 average.  Through the first 12 games of July, Matt is hitting .325 (13 of 40).

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong added two hits yesterday.  Due to injuries, Wong has only played in 20 of the 30 one-run games the Cardinals have played, but he is now hitting .350 in those games (21 for 60).  Up until this season, Kolten was only a .244 hitter in 140 career one-run games.

Jedd Gyorko

As the season’s first half has melded into the second, Jedd Gyorko has hit a bit of a dry spell.  He is just 2 for 19 (.105) over his last 5 games after an 0-for-5 afternoon yesterday that included two ground-ball double plays.  This drops him to just .235 for the month.

After hitting .287/.341/.590 in one-run games last year, Jedd is only hitting .239/.301/.402 in them this year.

NoteBook

Of the now 18 times that St Louis has lost the first game of a series, they have come back to force a rubber game 9 times.  They are 4-5 in those rubber games.

Relentless Pirates Finally Prevail

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

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

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

Tommy Pham

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

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

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

Stephen Piscotty

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

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

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

Kolten Wong

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

Mike Leake

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

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

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

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

Matthew Bowman

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

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

Brett Cecil

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

Trevor Rosenthal

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

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

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

Seung-hwan Oh

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

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

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

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

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

Living and Dying With the Fastball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Brebbia

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

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

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

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

Seung-hwan Oh

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

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

Tyler Lyons

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

Trevor Rosenthal

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

Recent Scoring Changes

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

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

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

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.

Leadoff Production Improves with Carpenter

Let me begin by saying that I am still disappointed that Matt Carpenter didn’t stick in the third spot in the order (yes, I know, kicking a dead horse).  Even so, I do have to say that since Carpenter returned to the leadoff spot, The Cardinals have done much better at putting their leadoff men on base.

Carpenter, of course, is responsible for a lot of this.  In the month of June, Carpenter has led off 40 different innings.  He has reached base in half of them (11 hits and 9 walks).  He has then come around to score 12 runs.  And this has proved to be more than a little critical, as the Cards have had issues stringing hits together over the last week and a half, or so.  While winning 5 of their last 9 games (and starting to show a little pulse), this team is hitting just .243 in those games.

Last night’s 4-3 nail-biting victory in Arizona (box score), is a sort of microcosm of these trends.  The Cards finished with just six hits, but turned them into four runs – and Carpenter ignited both run-scoring innings.

After Arizona starter Zach Godley set down the first nine batters he faced, Carpenter opened the third drawing a walk, setting the stage for a 3-run inning.  In the eighth, after Arizona had crept back to within 3-2, Carpenter began the inning stroking a ground rule double to right-center.  He would later score on Jedd Gyorko’s double – his second run scored of the evening, and the run that would eventually make the difference.

But it hasn’t been just Carpenter.  Greg Garcia led off the fifth with a walk. That turned into a two-on two-out opportunity, although no runs scored.  Paul DeJong opened the ninth with a single that led to a bases-loaded opportunity to break the game open.  Again, nothing came of the opportunity, but getting the leadoff batter on three or four times a game is becoming more and more common.

Through April and May, the team’s on base percentage leading off an inning was a sluggish .312, with the runner subsequently scoring 45% of the times that he would reach.  In June, the OBP leading off an inning has risen to .360, with that runner scoring 49% of the time.

Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk returned from the minors with a bang – 4 hits (including 2 home runs) in his first 9 at bats.  After his 0-for-4 last night, Grichuk is hitless in his last 9 at bats – including 3 strikeouts and a double play grounded into.  He did hit a couple balls well last night, but also struck out twice.

Greg Garcia

Garcia did draw a walk, but went 0-for-3 for the rest of the evening.  What a difficult June it’s been for Greg, who is now hitting .077 for the month (3 for 39).

Adam Wainwright

Since the end of the Baltimore series (and all the carnage that that included), the Cardinal pitching staff has slowly been feeling its way back to health.  Adam Wainwright tossed his second consecutive quality start last night – a 6.1 inning, 2 run, no home run, 8 strikeout beauty against the torridly hot Diamondback lineup.  Waino still hasn’t seen more than three runs of offensive support since May 21, when they scored 7 for him on the way to an 8-3 conquest of the Giants.  Waino has gone 4-2 over his last 7 starts, in spite of the lack of runs.

The rotation has now tossed together 4 consecutive quality starts – its longest stretch since they cobbled together 6 consecutive QSs from May 17 through May 23.  This also makes 7 quality starts in 9 games since they left Baltimore.  They have managed a very solid 3.57 ERA over those games.

TrevorRosenthal

For one night, at least, Trevor Rosenthal was back in the closer’s role protecting a two-run lead.  Twenty-nine pitches, one single, two walks and two wild pitches later, Trevor walked off the mound with the save in what ended up being a one-run victory.

Trevor still looks broken.  In his first 15 appearances (totaling 14.1 innings), Trevor allowed 3 runs on 10 hits.  He walked 3 and struck out 25.  At that point, his ERA was 1.88 and his batting line against was .189/.232/.245.  In his last 18 appearances (totaling 15.1 innings) Trevor has been charged with 11 runs on 14 hits.  He has walked 11 and struck out 22 – a 6.46 ERA and a .250/.366/.357 batting line.

While Trevor was throwing strikes, he was back in elite form.  Unless he starts throwing strikes again, I predict his days as the closer will come to a quick end.

Brett Cecil

Meanwhile, trending in the other direction is Brett Cecil, who stretched his string of scoreless innings and appearances to 10 with a perfect eighth inning.  The last 32 batters to face Brett have achieved 2 singles, 1 double and 1 walk, with 8 strikeouts – equating to an .097/.125/.129 batting line.  He has also stranded all of his last 3 inherited runners.

For the month of June, Brett’s ERA has dropped to 3.09 with a .175 batting average against.  Brett has walked 2 batters in 11.2 innings this month.

NoteBook

The Cardinals hit 20 home runs in six games in Baltimore and Philadelphia.  In the six games since the end of that road trip, they have hit 6 – none in two games in Arizona.