Tag Archives: Rosenthal

Cards Struggle to Prove Themselves Against Winning Teams

With two pretty ugly losses to Boston, the St Louis Cardinals fall to 3-5 during the month of May, and 8-13 for the season in games against teams that currently have winning records.  These winning teams that the Cardinals have played so far are Boston (now 21-18), Chicago (now 20-19), Milwaukee (which currently leads the division at 23-18), the Yankees (currently 24-13), and Washington (now 25-14).

Twenty-one of the season’s first 38 games is a pretty heavy dose of the better teams in baseball, and has exposed some of the early-season weaknesses that this team will need to improve on in order to compete with these better teams going forward.

From an offensive standpoint, the Cardinal team batting line isn’t that far removed from the league averages for those teams.  Against the pitching staffs of the Red Sox, Cubs, Brewers, Yankees and Nationals (these numbers courtesy of baseball reference) all of their opponents have combined to slash .250/.319/.413/.732.  The Cardinal’s slash line against these teams is .251/.328/.408/.736.  But, those teams, combined, allow an average of 4.47 runs per game.  The Cardinals are scoring just 3.95 runs per game against them.

This lingering problem was on full display last night as St Louis put four early runs on the board, but never scored again over the remaining 11 innings of the long and frustrating game that they eventually dropped 5-4 in 13 innings (box score).

From the point where Dexter Fowler walked to load the bases with one out in the second (St Louis ahead 3-0 at that point), the Cards went 7 for 38 (.184) with 10 strikeouts.  After getting three successive hits with runners in scoring position in that second inning, they went hitless in their final six such opportunities.

To this point – against these winning teams – the Cards are just 35 for 170 (.205) with runners in scoring position.  For the most part, this team has found itself overmatched by these pitching staffs in the pivotal moments of these games.  Through 21 games, the Cardinals have come through in crunch-time at bats against this list of teams just three times this season: Randal Grichuk’s opening day walk-off single that beat the Cubs 4-3; Aledmys Diaz’ seventh-inning home run that broke a 1-1 tie and helped the Birds beat Milwaukee 4-1 on April 22; and Kolten Wong’s eighth-inning infield hit that tied the May first game against Milwaukee at 4-all (a game the Birds would lose 7-5 in 10 innings).

One of the strong early impressions this team is making is that they are not mentally tough enough to beat the better teams in baseball.

Kolten Wong

Wong had the double that was in the middle of the three-run second inning.  He finished with three hits for the evening.  It was his sixth multi-hit game of the season and his second three-hit game.  Kolten has pushed his season average to .273 by hitting .291 in May (16 for 55) and .309 (29 of 94) in 25 games since April 17.  Wong has hit safely in 21 of his last 25 games.

While much of the Cardinal club has been found wanting against better competition, that is not the case with Wong.  With his 3 hits yesterday, Wong is now hitting .407 this month (11 for 27) and .317 for the year (19 for 60) when playing against teams that win more than they lose.  He is 8 for 21 (.381) against them with runners in scoring position.

The development of Kolten Wong into the player that we’ve always thought he could be is one of the best things that could happen for the future of this franchise.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko added a couple more hits last night.  Jedd is showing no signs of slowing down much in May.  He is now hitting .328 this month (19 for 58) with a .534 slugging percentage.  He has 3 doubles, 3 home runs and 10 RBIs in 13 starts this month.  He has also now hit in 18 of his last 22 games, hitting .368 in that span (32 for 87) and slugging .644.  His hits include 7 doubles, a triple and 5 home runs.  Jedd has driven in 14 runs in those games.

Gyorko has played in all 8 games this month where the Cards have faced winning teams, and acquitted himself well.  Jedd is 10 for 35 (.286) against them with 3 home runs (.543 slugging percentage).

Over the course of the season so far, Jedd has probably been our most consistent weapon against the better teams that we’ve faced. He has played in 18 of the 21 games – starting in 17 of them – and hit .309 in those contests (21 for 68).  Nine of those 21 hits have gone for extra bases.  Two doubles, one triple, and six of the seven home runs he’s hit this season have come at the expense of winning teams.  He is slugging .632 in those games.

Jedd, however, is 0 for 11 against these guys with runners in scoring position.

Magneuris Sierra

Magneuris Sierra – who has at least one hit in all seven of his major league games – had his fourth two-hit night of the season last night.  It raises his average to .367 in his short exposure to the major leagues (he is 11 for 30).

Sierra’s only exposure to over .500 teams has been this home stand when the Cards have engaged the Cubs and Red Sox.  Magneuris has played in 3 of the 5 games, going 5 for 13 (.385) at the plate (and 3 for 6 with RISP).

He certainly isn’t dazzled by it all.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s halting May continued.  Matt was the only Cardinal starter not to get a hit last night (0 for 5) but he did draw a walk – his sixteenth walk in 14 games this month.  Moreover, although he only has 12 hits this month, 7 of those hits have gone for extra-bases, including five home runs.  Matt’s batting line so far for May is .245/.424/.612.  There are very few players who could hit less than .250 and still be considered legitimate player-of-the-month candidates.  Carpenter, I think could be one of them.

His season batting line (.244/.396/.496) shows that same pattern – although not with the kind of power we’ve seen from him so far in May.  Matt has had that kind of season against winning teams, too – but without quite enough of the production to really say he’s having a good year against them.

In the 8 games he’s played against these teams in May, Matt is just 5 for 28, but with a double, 2 home runs and 7 walks – a .179/.333/.429 batting line (which still equates to a .762 OPS).  For the season, Carpenter has played in all 21 games against teams that currently have winning records (starting 20).  His 70 at bats in those games have produced just 16 hits, but 6 of those hits have been for extra-bases (4 of them home runs) and he’s walked 15 times in those games.  His 2017 batting line – so far – against winning teams is .229/.360/.429 – an OPS of .788.  Like Gyorko, Carpenter is 0 for 13 against all these guys with runners in scoring position.

Ultimately, the hope is that his strikeout totals (currently 25 in those 70 at bats) will level out in favor of a few more hits.  And, maybe, even a few with runners in scoring position.

Mike Leake

Nothing but warm fuzzies for erstwhile number four starter Mike Leake. Mike is now 8 for 8 in quality starts this season (this in spite of the fact that he has now served up 4 home runs in his last 3 games).  Mike has – of course – pitched at least six innings in every start so far, with last night being only the third time all season that he’s needed to throw over 98 pitches to achieve that. At 2.03, Mike still leads the NL in ERA.

Last night was already the second time that Mike has entrusted a lead to his bullpen, only to see it slip away.  He allowed only 1 run in 6 innings against Cincinnati on April 30, walking off with a 4-1 lead only to see the Reds take advantage of the bullpen (and Rosenthal, for that matter) for a 5-4 victory.

Making his performance even more impressive is that half of those starts have come against the winning teams that we’ve listed above.  He is 2-1 against those top offenses with a 2.08 ERA and a .200 batting average against.  In the 26 innings that he’s pitched in those 4 games, Mike has walked just 6 batters (none last night).

How Do The Other Starters Fare Against Winning Teams?

The other starters are a mixed bag.  Carlos Martinez has been very good (2-2, 2.84 in 5 starts – 3 of the quality starts), and Lance Lynn has been OK (1-2, 3.63 in 4 starts – 1 quality start).  In 6 starts against these teams, Adam Wainwright has managed 1 quality start (his last time out against the Cubs), going 2-3 with a 4.99 ERA against them.  Michael Wacha (who was skipped for both the Chicago and Boston series’) has only seen these teams twice – the Yankees on April 14 (6 innings, 4 runs, 9 hits, 2 home runs in a 4-3 loss) and May first against Milwaukee (a no decision after 6 more innings and 4 more runs).  Although they have been much better recently (2.08 in the 8 May games) the bullpen holds a 4.55 ERA against these teams so far.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal has been so good for so much of this season.  Going into last night’s eighth inning he hadn’t allowed a hit over his previous 5 games and hadn’t been scored on over his previous 7.  Those streaks came to an end when Xander Bogaerts (he of the .338 batting average so far this season) sliced an 0-2, 100-mile-per-hour fastball into the right-center field gap for the triple that set up the game-tying sequence.

Rosenthal’s season ERA is still a fine 2.93, but (and this is in a very small sample size) in his 7.1 innings against the better teams he’s faced he has been tagged for 4 runs on 7 hits (a 4.91 ERA).  A lot of veteran hitters (like Bogaerts and Joey Votto and Ryan Braun) can handle that 100-mph heat.  Especially if it’s up a bit in the zone.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh pitched multiple innings last night for the fourth time this season.  One of his innings was a little complex, but he came through not allowing a run.  Oh is now unscored on in his last 6 games, and hasn’t allowed an earned run over his last 13 games.

In 11.1 innings against winning teams this season, Seung-hwan has pitched decently well (4 of 5 in save opportunities with a 3.18 ERA).

Matthew Bowman

After enduring a little lag at the end of April through the first days of May, Matthew Bowman has righted his ship.  He pitched last night’s eleventh inning in 1-2-3 fashion with 2 strikeouts.  Matthew hasn’t allowed an earned run over his last 5 games, and his ERA for the month is 1.69 with a .176 batting average against.

Of all the relief pitchers who have risen to the occasion against the better teams, Matthew has been, perhaps, the most impressive.  He has worked in 12 of the 21 games played against them so far, pitching 10.2 innings.  In those innings, he has given just 5 hits and 1 run (on the home run that Milwaukee’s Jesus Aguilar managed against him on May 4).  He has walked 2 and fanned 9, leading to an 0.84 ERA and a .143/.184/.229 batting line against some of baseball’s toughest offenses.  He has also stranded 8 of the 10 runners he’s inherited in these games.

Next Up

San Francisco (playing better lately) is just 17-25 so far.  After that series, the Cards go on the road to face the 23-18 Dodgers and the surprising 25-15 Rockies.  That will be followed by a 4-game home series against the Dodgers again before we take our act to Wrigley.  After this upcoming Giant series, the Cards won’t play another team that currently has a losing record until they roll into Cincinnati on June 5 to play the Reds (currently 19-20).  Assuming the Cubs stay above .500, that will mean 34 of the Cardinals first 54 games this year will be against teams with winning records.

NoteBook

After winning two of three against the Dodgers, San Francisco will the first Cardinal opponent to have won its previous series since they played Pirates in mid-April.  The Cards previous 8 opponents had come in with 7 series losses and one split.

The emphasis on aggressive base-running has had mixed results.  The Cards have run into a bunch of bad outs on the base-paths.  On the other hand they are 15-5 this month in stolen base attempts.  On the extremes of this philosophy are Aledmys Diaz, who already has as many steals (4) as he had all of last year, and Tommy Pham, who in just 11 games has already set career highs in steals (3) and steal attempts (5).  Meanwhile, Fowler – who was added in part to provide some stolen base threat after stealing 13 last season – has only attempted 1 stolen base so far (a successful attempt, as it turns out).

As a footnote to this article, remember that Kellogg was the umpire at first base the night before who called a myriad of Cardinal hitters out on the kind of very slight check-swings that you almost never see called.

The Cards, I imagine, will be glad not to see Jeff Kellogg (one of baseball’s least competent umpires) for a good long while.

Offense Becoming Dangerous with Runners On Base

While the final score doesn’t necessarily suggest it (St Louis won the rubber game of their weekend series 5-0) (box score), Chicago’s Jake Arrieta made things difficult enough for the Cardinal hitters.  Of the 37 batters that faced Arrieta and his relief pitcher, Brian Duensing, 23 came up with the bases empty (62.2%)

While this is usually a recipe for defeat, The Cardinal hitters – as they have for most of the month – took advantage of the few opportunities they had with runners on base to go 4 for 13 (.308) with 2 home runs, keeping their momentum going.  The Cards have now won 8 of 9, 9 of 12 played in the month of May, and 18 of the last 24 since they were swept by the Yankees in mid-April.  The wet-powder Cardinals of 2016 never managed more than 7 wins in any 9-game stretch or 15 wins in any 24-games stretch.  However the season ends up, this year’s club has already shown more sustainability than last year’s team ever did.

The foundation of the Cardinal surge continues to be the excellent pitching – especially (these days) the bullpen.  Over the 9-3 May, the Cardinal starters have chipped in with 8 quality starts and a 3.61 ERA – while the bullpen ERA so far this month has been an impressive 1.30.  In the 18-6 run, the starters have thrown 17 quality starts to accompany a 3.24 ERA, while the ‘pen has backed then with a 2.58 ERA.

While the Cards continue to pitch, they will continue to contend.

Finally Hitting With Runners On Base

One of several elements of the Cardinal streak is improved hitting with runners on base.  April saw them hit a disappointing .233/.322/.369 with runners on base.  After yesterday’s exploits, St Louis is hitting .284/.351/.461 this month in those situations.

After a worrisome struggle against Eddie Butler on Friday night, the Cardinal offense has bounced back quite nicely.  They are now hitting .283 and scoring 5.50 runs per game this month.  In the 24 games since the beginning of the Pittsburgh series, they are hitting .285 and scoring 5.13 runs per game.

Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk contributed three hits last night, two of them doubles.  Both doubles came with the bases empty.  Randal’s numbers have shown a mild uptick so far this month, but only when he’s batting with the bases empty.  He is hitting .348 (8 for 23) and slugging .609 (3 doubles and 1 home run) with the bases empty.  He is only 4 for 24 (.167) this month when batting with anyone on base.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina’s two home run day stretched his hitting streak to six games, during which he’s hitting .320 (8 for 25) with more extra-base punch than we’re used to seeing from Yadi.  His 8 hits include 2 doubles and the 2 home runs – a .640 slugging percentage.

His first home run came in his only plate appearance with a runner on base.  Yadi’s month of May has been all about taking advantage of chances to hit with runners on base.  With no one on, Yadi is hitting .231 this month (6 for 26).  He is now at .333 (6 for 18) when he gets to hit with runners on.  He hit .345 last year with runners on base (70 for 203).

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz was thrown out at second on an overly aggressive attempt to stretch a single into a double, but Diaz, nonetheless, finished with two more hits and has two hits in three of his last four games.  Since moving to the sixth slot in the lineup, Aledmys has hit .364 (16 for 44).

His two hits lifted his batting average for the month of May to .340 (18 for 53).  Only Tommy Pham’s .371 is better among Cardinal regulars (and Tommy qualifies as a regular during the month of May).

All of Diaz’ at bats yesterday came with the bases empty.  So far this year, Aledmys has had no one on base for him in 60.7% of his plate appearances.  That is the third highest rate on the team.  Leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler has been up with the bases empty 67.2% of the time.  Even though he has been moved to the third slot in the order, Matt Carpenter still has no one on base for him 61.8% of the time.

Adam Wainwright

In putting together his first quality start of the season, Adam Wainwright still struggled keeping runners off base.  In fact, his game was almost the reverse of Jake Arrieta’s.  Where Arrieta rarely had runners on base, but got taken advantage of when he did, Wainwright was almost always in some flavor of trouble.  He had only one clean inning out of the seven he pitched – although two double plays helped him face the minimum in two other innings.

For the game the 13 batters that faced Adam with the bases empty went 4 for 11 with 2 walks – a .364 batting average and a .462 on base percentage.  For the season, when Adam has pitched with no one on base, opposing hitters have fashioned a .393/.440/.548 slash line.

Here was the difference, though.  In his disappointing April, hitters went on to hit .305/.349/.492 once they did get a runner on.  Yesterday afternoon, the Cubs were 0 for 12 with 2 walks and 2 double plays against Wainwright once they put a runner on base.  For the month of May (in 3 starts), Adam is holding batters that hit with runners on base to a .207/.361/.310 batting line.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal pitched his fifth consecutive hitless innings last night (he’s walked 1 and struck out 7 in those innings), and is now unscored on in his last 7 games – all one-inning appearances.  His season ERA is back down to 1.88.  The 23 batters who have faced Trevor this month are slashing .045/.087/.045 – that’s 1 single, 1 walk and 10 strikeouts.

He pitched on consecutive days for the third time this season yesterday.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist is the other vital part of the Cardinal bullpen that has returned to his former dominance.  Siegrist pitched the ninth and, like Rosenthal, set the Cubs down in order with two strikeouts.  Kevin has now thrown four consecutive perfect innings, and has set down the last 13 batters he’s faced, striking out 6 of them.  Kevin is unscored against in his last 10 games, constituting 9 innings.

Walks were an early issue for Kevin.  He walked no one last night for his seventh consecutive inning.  He walked 10 through his first 6.1 innings.

Over his last 12 games (11 innings), Kevin holds a 1.64 ERA and a .209 opponent’s batting average.

NoteBook

With last night’s win, the Cards become the first team in the division to reach six-games over .500 (they are 21-15).  They were also the division’s first team to fall six-games under .500 when they started 3-9.

Coming off a two-of-three series loss against Tampa Bay, the Boston Red Sox will be the sixth consecutive team the Cards will play that has lost its previous series.

Marlins Grind but Cardinals Conquer

All major league victories are hard won – even if they don’t necessarily seem so.  Last night’s 7-5 conquest of the Miami Marlins (box score) – after a grueling 3 hour and 46 minute struggle which began with the Cards trailing 4-0 in the first inning – was, I think, one of the more difficult of the season, so far.

Nonetheless, with the conquest, the Cards have now won six in a row and 16 out of 21.  Last year’s team never won more than five in a row and never managed more than 13 wins in any 21 game span.

The Marlins are currently trending the opposite way, losing 12 of their last 15.  They need some answers in the bullpen – two of the losses they suffered in this series were due to bullpen meltdowns.  But take the Miami hitters lightly at your own peril.

They finished with 5 runs on 9 hits – 2 of them home runs – and 8 walks.  But just as impressive were the at bats, whether they resulted in hits or not.

After almost four hours of baseball, Miami ended the evening having sent 43 batters to the plate and exacting 208 pitches from the Cardinal staff – an impressive 54 of which were fouled off.  The Cardinal pitching staff came into the game averaging 3.83 pitches per batter faced.  They threw 4.84 per batter last night.  Whatever else you may say about Miami, they are a difficult offensive team.

The Streaking Cardinals

In addition to the six-game streak, St Louis is now 7-2 in the month of May – even though the rotation hasn’t been as solid as they were through most of April.  Over the last 9 starts, the rotation has given us 5 quality starts and a 4.10 ERA.  Surprisingly, it has been the bullpen to the rescue to this point of May.  They have a 1.31 ERA in their first 34.1 innings of the month.

Offensively, the Cards enter the home-stand on a significant roll.  As a team, they are hitting .290/.366/.467 scoring 6 runs a game in the early part of May, and over the last 21 games the batting line is .288/.359/.470 while scoring 5.29 runs per game.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko led the offense again with three more hits and two important RBIs that helped the Cards get back in the game.  Jedd extended his current hitting streak to seven games, and now has hits in 10 of his last 11 games.  Over those games, Jedd is hitting .400 (18 for 45) and slugging .689 (4 doubles & 3 home runs) with 10 RBIs.

Jedd is 27 for 69 (.391) with 7 doubles, a triple and 4 home runs (a .696 slugging percentage) since the sweep at the hands of the Yankees.

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz broke out of his hitless skid with two hits last night, and hit a couple of other balls hard.  Although it’s been a very streaky ride, Diaz is still hitting .375 (12 for 32) with 6 runs batted in in 7 games since he was re-settled in the sixth slot in the order.  Aledmys has struck out just once in those games.

Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk hit a couple more long fly balls that stayed in the park and struck out two more times as his 0-for-5 evening extends his hitless streak to 16 at bats and his homerless streak to 51 at bats.  Grichuk’s average is back down to .228 for the season.  Randal has also gone 6 games now without drawing a walk.

Since re-locating to the second slot in the order four games ago, Randal is 2 for 19 (.105).

Lance Lynn

Lance Lynn’s streak of four straight quality starts came to a crashing halt in the first inning last night.  He served up two first-inning home runs.  Lance has had 6 hit off him already – 5 of them in just two games.  He served up 3 to Washington on April 11.  Those are also the only two games this season that Lance has walked more than two batters.

The story here, though, was more than the home runs.  In general, the Miami hitters put Lance through the ringer in all of his four innings.  They exacted 104 pitches from Lynn in those innings as they refused to chase pitches out of the zone (43 of Lance’s 104 were ruled balls) and extended at bats by fouling off his pitches.  They drove 22 of those pitches foul, while only missing on 7 swings.

Lance intermittently has the problem of long at bats.  After averaging 4.95 pitches per batter faced last night, Lynn’s season average sits at 4.16 per batter – the highest on the staff (higher even than Adam Wainwright’s 4.07).

Nine of the 12 batters who put the ball in play against Lance hit the ball in the air.  At times over his quality start streak, Lance looked like a groundball pitcher.  When he beat Milwaukee (4-1) on April 22, his ratio was reversed – 9 grounders and 3 fly balls.

Groundball pitchers do have the virtue of getting the double-play ball.  Lynn had four batters at the plate last night in double-play situations and got double-plays from none of them.  For the season, Lynn has induced 2 double plays in 28 such opportunities.  You would think that his 7.1% would be the lowest percentage of any of the starters, but you would be wrong.  To this point of the season, Mike Leake has faced 20 batters in double-play situations and hasn’t gotten one yet.  He has gotten 8 ground balls, but three have found their way through the infield for hits and the defense has been unable to turn any of the other five into double plays.

Lance has also had intermittent problems throwing first-pitch strikes.  Only 11 of the 21 batters he faced last night saw strike one.  For the season, Lance is throwing first-pitch strikes just 54.8% of the time.

Sam Tuivailala

Sam Tuivailala picked up his second win in the last four games.  He pitched the fifth, giving up no hits but walking a batter.  Sam has appeared in 3 games since his recall.  In 4 total innings, he has allowed just 1 hit, but has now walked 3.

I didn’t see Sam pitch down in Memphis, but one notable difference in his game in the few innings since his recall is the frequency of his first pitch strikes.  In his limited appearances last year, only 57.4% of the batters he faced saw that first pitch strike.  He was better at the beginning of the year, throwing 61.5% first-pitch strikes before being returned to AAA.  He threw first-pitch strikes to 3 of the 4 batters he faced last night, and has thrown 11 first-pitch strikes to the 15 batters he’s faced since his recall (73.3%).

This approach compliments his pitch-to-contact style.  Although Sam can throw with good velocity, he doesn’t generate many swinging strikes.  Last year, only 15.3% of the swings against him missed the ball.  Last night he caused only one swinging strike, and is at 12.8% for the year.

Brett Cecil

After being on quite a good roll, Brett Cecil is scuffling again.  Three of the five batters he faced last night got hits.  He has now surrendered hits in 6 straight games, totaling 10 hits (and 3 runs) in his last 4 innings. He has surrendered 2 leads in those 6 games.

With the hits, the batting average against Brett rises to .333, and his BABIP (a number I almost never reference) is a rather stunning .452.  The people who embrace BABIP will take this as good news, as it suggests that Brett has been mostly unlucky.  But not too many of the hits against him have been softly hit.

Derek Dietrich made it a 6-5 game when his one-out, sixth-inning single against Cecil drove home Dee Gordon from third.  Brett has had runners at third with less than two out 12 times this season – and has given up the run 9 times, including all of the last 5.

Brett’s best moment of the night came on a strikeout of Christian Yelich.  Behind on the count 1-2, Christian had no choice but to try to catch up to that slider that started at his knees and was almost in the dirt when Yadier Molina caught it.  Of Cecil’s 18 strikeouts this year, 16 have been swinging strikeouts.  That 88.9% is the highest percentage on the staff.

Brett would certainly walk more batters than he has, but batters love to swing the bat against him.  Last night, 14 of his 24 pitches were swung at (58.3%).  In 5 games so far this month, batters have offered at 48 of the 80 pitches he’s thrown.  At 60%, Brett leads the staff so far this month.

Since the end of the Yankee series, Brett is also the most missed pitcher on the staff.  His swing and miss rate over his last 12 games is 31.4%.  Last night, 5 of the 14 swings against him came up empty.

Kevin Siegrist

In last night’s seventh inning, Kevin Siegrist may have looked like Kevin Siegrist for the first time this year.  He pitched a 1-2-3 inning, throwing 10 of his 14 pitches for strikes (68.1% of his pitches this month have been strikes) and striking out 2.

The narrative on Siegrist seems to suggest that his Spring Training injury compromised his readiness for the season.  In his first 7 games, Kevin lasted 6 very eventful innings (7 runs, 5 hits – including 2 home runs, and 10 walks with only 4 strikeouts).  His last 8 times out, his numbers have been a lot closer: 7 innings, no runs, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts.  Still 8 hits allowed, but even that is getting better – he’s given none in his last two outings.

It hardly needs to be mentioned how important an effective Siegrist will be to a sometimes shaky bullpen.

First-pitch strikes is another of the principle differences between Siegrist in April and Siegrist, so far, in May.  Of the 21 batters he faced in April, only seven (33.3%) saw strike one.  Of the first 19 he’s faced in May, 12 have been started off with a first-pitch strike (63.2%).  He threw first-pitch strikes to 2 of the 3 he faced last night.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal added a stress-free eighth.  His season ERA is down, now, to 2.19, and he has been very sharp during the team’s 21-game run.  Trevor has pitched in 11 of the 21 games, earning 3 saves and 3 holds with a 1.64 ERA and a .175/.233/.250 batting line against.  Rosenthal has 21 strikeouts in 12.1 innings this year.

Possibly the principal reason that Trevor’s strikeouts are significantly higher than previously is his ability to throw his secondary pitches for strikes.  Last night, after throwing 4 four-seam fastballs that ranged from 100.1 to 100.5 miles-per-hour, Rosenthal paralyzed J.T. Realmuto with an 86.6 mph slider.  Rosenthal now has 8 strikeouts this season on called third strikes (38.1% of all his strikeouts) – all of them, probably, on breaking pitches.

The three Marlin hitters that he faced combined to foul off 7 of Trevor’s pitches.  It took him 16 pitches (5.33 per) to make it through the inning.  This has been a little bit of a recent pattern as well.  Over his last 11 innings, Trevor is throwing 4.51 pitches per batter and seeing 49.5% of his pitches fouled off.

Seung-hwan Oh

Closer Seung-hwan Oh invited some ninth-inning drama as he surrendered a double and 2 walks (1 intentional). But he got out of the inning with no damage and sent the Cards back to St Louis with the winning streak intact.

Oh has been in the middle of the Cardinal resurgence.  He has been called on 12 times in the last 21 games and has responded with 9 saves in 9 opportunities and a 0.69 ERA.  He has allowed no earned runs in his last 12 innings.

The highlight of his inning was the double-play that he got off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton that took the steam out of the inning.  It was the first double-play grounder that Oh has coaxed this year.

Last season, batters missed on 34.6% of the swings they took against Seung-hwan.  Last night, Oh got no swinging strikes from any of the 9 swings they took against him.  This month, so far, Seung-hwan has generated just 8 swinging strikes from the 47 swings against him (17%).  Of the bullpen regulars, Oh has the lowest swing-and-miss ratio this month.

NoteBook

St Louis had scored first in seven straight games.  The Marlins put an emphatic end to that streak with their four-run first inning.

When the Cubs open the home-stand tomorrow evening, they will be the fifth consecutive team that the Cards have played that had lost its previous series.  The Cubs were just beaten 2 of 3 in Colorado.

Bullpen Misfires Continue for Cards and Marlins

For seven innings last night, former Cincinnati pitcher (and current Miami Marlin) Dan Straily silenced what had been a pretty consistently dangerous offense, holding the St Louis Cardinals to 1 run on 3 hits.  For five of those innings, his St Louis counterpart – Adam Wainwright – did much the same to Miami, as he held them to 1 run on 2 hits.  Both starters on this night were failed by their respective bullpens that combined to serve up 5 runs on 7 hits over 5.2 innings (while allowing 5 of 6 inherited runners to score).  At the end it was the Cardinals prevailing on Dexter Fowler’s ninth-inning pinch-hit RBI single – just enough to give the Cards the 6-5 victory (box score).

The win was St Louis’ fifth in a row and makes 15 of the last 20.  This was the kind of run the 2016 team was never able to make.  Over the entire 2016 season, that team never managed more than 13 wins over any 20-game span.

To get this one, the Cards would need a 4-run eighth-inning rally against the Miami bullpen to tie the score and set the stage for the ninth.  And both of those innings were set up by outfielders who started the season in the minors.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham continues to leave his imprint on the road trip.  His two doubles last night were at the heart of two scoring rallies – especially the second one that triggered the 4-run eighth inning.  Since his recall from AAA, Pham has hit in four of his five games – getting multiple hits in three of them – on his way to a .450 batting average (9 for 20), a 1.050 slugging percentage (he has 3 doubles and 3 home runs) and 6 runs batted in over his five games.

Tommy saw 16 pitches over the course of his 4 plate appearances last night.  He swung at only 4 of them, missing none and putting three pitches in play.  Since his recall, Pham has been uncommonly selective – swinging at only 33% (29 of 88) of the pitches thrown to him – but hasn’t missed when he has.  Tommy has 5 swings so far this season that haven’t made contact (17.2%), and 15 swings that have put the ball in play (51.7%).  Last year he swung at 41.6% of the pitches sent his way, missed on 34.8% of those swings, and put the ball in play with just 27.9% of them.

Perhaps just as impressive, 7 of the 12 pitches that Pham didn’t swing at were called strikes (58.3%).  In his five games back, 39% of the pitches Pham has taken have been called strikes (the team average is 30.8%)

All these numbers suggest a hitter who is seeing the ball very well and taking confident at bats.  It could be that Pham is just hot.  This could also be the difference that being able to see can make.  Pham’s recent success, both here and down in Memphis, coincided with his latest set of contact lenses.

As long as Tommy Pham hits, Tommy Pham will play.

Magneuris Sierra

Magneuris Sierra also added two more hits last night, and was also in the middle of the offense.  He scored two runs last night and has scored 5 in his 3 games in the majors, while going 5 for 14 (.357) at the plate.

It is way too early to get overly excited about the 21-year-old rookie, but my question is this.  If he does well in his brief stay in St Louis, can they (or should they) really send him back down to A ball?  Doesn’t Sierra at least have to land in AA ball?

Randal Grichuk

In the middle of last night’s eighth-inning rally, Randal Grichuk almost ended both his hitless streak and his homer-less streak.  Alas, his long fly ball fell just short of the would-be grand slam.  But he did drive home the second run of the inning.  Grichuk is now hitless in his last 11 at bats and without a home run in his last 46.  He hasn’t walked in any of his last five games, either.

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz is all the way back down to .250 on the season after last night’s 0 for 4.  Since getting hits in 7 straight at bats, Aledmys is 0 for his last 15.

Say this for Diaz.  Even when slumping, he has great control with his swing.  He swung at 6 pitches in his 4 plate appearances last night, fouling off 2 pitches and putting the other four in play.  Last year, he missed on only 17.4% of his swings while putting the ball in play 44.7% of the time.  This year, so far, he leads the team missing on just 16.7% of his swings and in putting the ball in play (52.9%).

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright’s final line in the game is becoming all too familiar.  He pitched 5.1 innings (he has made it through six innings just once this season) and allowed 4 earned runs (the fifth time this season he has allowed four or more earned runs).  Seven starts into his 2017 season, Adam is still waiting for his first quality start.

For the season, Adam has been inconsistent.  But last night’s line doesn’t reflect Adam’s night.  Wainwright’s effort last night was the best non-quality start I’ve seen in quite a while.

Five innings into the game, Adam had allowed two hits and one scratch run composed of a “hit by pitch” where Derek Dietrich made not the tiniest effort to avoid the pitch, a walk, a dribbler back to the mound that advanced the runners, and a perfectly executed suicide squeeze.  That was all this excellent Miami offense had to show for their first 18 plate appearances against Adam.

Then came the sixth inning.  J.T. Realmuto and Ichiro Suzuki guided bouncing singles up the middle.  Marcell Ozuna rolled a little grounder to Wainwright’s right that advanced the runners to second and third.  Adam then issued an intentional walk to slugger Giancarlo Stanton and – with lefthanders Dietrich, Justin Bour and J.T. Riddle due up – he exited the game and watched from the bench as Brett Cecil allowed all his runners to score.  For the game, the 15 batters who put the ball in play against Adam hit 11 ground balls.

Baseball isn’t always fair.  Last night, Adam deserved a much better fate than he got.  Of course, so did Straily.  It must be frustrating for Adam.  Over these last 20 games the rest of the rotation has thrown quality starts 14 times in 16 games, registering a 2.63 ERA and a .218/.280/.339 batting line against.  If Adam has more games like last night, though, he will be OK.

One of Wainwright’s enduring problems has been long at bats and long innings as far as number of pitches are concerned.  Last night the 22 batters to face Adam averaged 4.41 pitches per at bat which led, eventually, to 18.2 pitches per inning – with the result that his 97 pitches weren’t enough to get out of the sixth inning.  For the young season, Adam is averaging 4.07 pitches per batter and 19.22 pitches per inning.  Both numbers are the highest of anyone in the rotation.

Brett Cecil

Cecil had been pitching very well until Sunday – allowing no earned runs over his previous 8.1 innings and allowing only 2 of his previous 9 inherited runners to score.  But Brett served up the game-tying home run in the eighth inning Sunday in Atlanta and surrendered all of Wainwright’s baserunners plus one of his own last night.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman needed only 9 pitches in his three-up-three-down seventh.  In his previous 5 games (covering 5 innings), Matthew had been touched for 8 hits and 7 runs (6 earned).  It was relieving to see him back on track.

His inning was classic Bowman.  Three batters faces, three pitches per batter, three ground ball outs.  So far this year he is facing just 3.89 batters per inning (tied with Mike Leake for fewest on the staff), throws just 15.13 pitches per inning, and gets that ground ball 60% of the time –the highest ground ball ratio on the staff after he led all Cardinal pitchers last year with a 63% ground ball ratio.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal walked a batter, but otherwise pitched an uneventful eighth inning.  It was the third time in four games that Rosenthal has pitched.  Over his last 10 games (equaling 10 innings) Trevor has held opposing batters to a .180 average.

NoteBook

It took until the fifth inning, but the Cards finally scored that first run of the game.  That makes seven games in a row that the Cards have scored first.  They have won six of the seven.

Jedd Gyorko continues to close in on his doubles total from last year, when he hit only 9 all year.  He has 8 already in 2017.  Is he faster?  No.  The difference is that this year – so far – Jedd is driving the ball with authority to right and right-center.

Cards Survive Two Out Scare to Edge Brewers 2-1

After pitching six brilliant innings last night, Carlos Martinez took a 2-0 lead into the seventh.  Once there, he retired the first two batters.

Then, suddenly, the contest was in doubt.  Domingo Santana ripped a bullet back up the middle that Martinez almost speared for the last out.  But the ball slid out of his glove and Santana had a hit.  One wild pitch later, Carlos thought he was out of the inning when Nick Franklin rolled a grounder toward first-baseman Matt Carpenter – who complicated the inning with an error, sending Santana to third.

He would score one pitch later when Jett Bandy floated a single down the leftfield line.

It was the first two out rally fashioned against Martinez all season (so far).  And it would be the only two out damage Carlos would suffer on this night as he snuffed out the rally, striking out Orlando Arcia on three pitches.

When the Brewers began to stir against Carlos in the eighth, Mike Matheny went to his sometimes scary bullpen.  They would come through in fine style, holding on to the 2-1 Cardinal win (box score).

Carlos Martinez

For the season, now, batters are hitting .222 against Martinez (10 for 45) with two out in the inning.  The only previous two-out RBIs that Carlos had surrendered came on the sixth-inning single by Toronto’s Ryan Goins in his last start.  Even though Carlos hasn’t had the start to the season that he had hoped for, opposing hitters are still just 2 for 15 against him with two-outs and runners in scoring position.

Martinez followed a quality start with a second consecutive quality start for the first time this season.  At times in that previous start against Toronto, he was nearly as dominant as last night, and finished allowing 3 runs in 6 innings.   Last night, of course, even better as he earned his first victory of 2017 allowing no earned runs through 7.1 innings.  With the 2 runs of support last night, Martinez has now been backed by a total of 7 runs in his 6 starts.

Martinez walked just one batter last night.  After walking 8 in his third start against the Yankees, Carlos has walked only 6 total over his last 18.1 innings.  The walk did come with two outs.  Of the 15 batters who have walked against Martinez, 10 have been two-out walks.

Prior to last night’s start, Martinez had induced a total of 37 ground balls (against 42 fly balls) through his first 5 games.  He got 15 ground balls (against 8 fly balls) last night.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil made things interesting – allowing an eighth-inning single that sent the tying run to third – but he escaped unscathed and pushed the precarious 2-1 lead into the ninth.  Over his last 11 appearances (covering 7.2 innings) Cecil has allowed just 1 run (unearned) and only 4 hits, walking 3 and striking out 9.  Only 2 of the last 9 runners he’s inherited have scored.

Cecil didn’t walk anyone last night, but has already walked 5 (1 intentionally) in just 10.2 innings.  He walked 8 all of last year in 36.2 innings.

Trevor Rosenthal

In wrapping up his third save of the season, Trevor Rosenthal highlighted his perfect ninth with two more strikeouts.  Trevor has two strikeouts in each of his last six innings, has struck out at least one in every game he’s pitched in, and now has 17 for the year in his first 8.1 innings

It was a very good thing that the pitching staff held things together as the heretofore productive offense was having all flavors of trouble against Wily Peralta.

Matt Carpenter

As well as Brewers’ starter was throwing last night, he wasn’t a match for Matt Carpenter.  Carpenter – who has always hit Peralta well – singled, doubled and scored the first run of the game.  Carpenter is starting to send out a sharp signal that he’s about to go on another tear.  Over the last three games, Matt has 5 hits in 11 at bats (.455) and none of them have been softly hit.  He also has 3 doubles, a home run and 4 RBIs in those games (a 1.000 slugging percentage).

Stephen Piscotty

After incessantly tinkering with his swing, Stephen Piscotty is finally starting to see some results.  His 2-for-4 night included the double (that was almost the home run) that set up the only runs the Cards would score last night.  He is now 5 for his last 11 (.455) with 5 walks – a .625 on base percentage during his last 16 plate appearances.  Of the last 63 pitches thrown to him, Piscotty has swung at just 17 (27%).  He has put the ball in play with 8 of those swings (47.1%).

Piscotty had only one two out at bat last night, coming up in a scoreless game with no one on and two out in the fourth inning.  Stephen finished his six-pitch at bat with a single to center.  For the season, Piscotty is a .222 hitter (12 for 54) before there are two outs in the inning.  He is now 7 for 23 (.304) hitting with two outs.

Kolten Wong

Erasing the memory of the Monday game, Kolten Wong went 2 for 3 with a double, a run batted in, and a huge defensive play.  Kolten’s average has surged, now, to .278 on the season on the strength of a dynamic 8-game hitting streak.

In the 33 plate appearances covered by those 8 games, Kolten has produced 6 singles, 4 doubles, a triple, 5 runs scored, 4 runs batted in (including the game-tying RBI Monday night), 5 walks (2 of them intentional), a hit by pitch, and a sacrifice bunt.  His batting line over his streak is .423/.531/.654.  This is the kind of eruption Cardinal fans have been waiting for.

Dexter Fowler

A couple games ago, Dexter Fowler had one of the best at bats of the season – a 12-pitch duel with Cincinnati’s Bronson Arroyo that he won with a single to right.  He is 0 for 9 with three strikeouts since (including his 0 for 3 last night).

As the leadoff hitter, Dexter is up with nobody out more than anyone else on the team.  He had two more such at bats last night, flying out to leadoff the games and striking out as the first batter in the seventh.  Dexter is now 10 for 54 (.185) when hitting with no one out.  Of players with at least 15 plate appearances with nobody out, only Randal Grichuk’s .133 average (4 for 30) is lower.

Aledmys Diaz

Still struggling to put together consecutive good games, Aledmys Diaz followed his 2-for-5 Monday with another 0-for-4.  Aledmys hit the home run against Zach Davies that began Monday’s 4-run rally, but that has been his only extra base hit (and RBI) since April 23.  He is now just 4 for his last 31, hitting .129/.182/.226 over his last 33 plate appearances.  Diaz has seen just 3.18 pitches per plate appearance during this downturn, although he did make it to 7 pitches his last time up last night.

Diaz was up twice with two out, ending both the third and fifth innings with groundouts to third.  For the season, so far, Diaz is 3 for 32 (.094) with no walks when batting with two out in an inning.

Wong, Leake and Rosenthal in Spotlight Against Brewers

The Cardinals wrapped up the Milwaukee series by winning the last three games, 6-3, 4-1, and 6-4.  The victories give the Birds six wins in their last seven games.  The charge in this one was led by three players who entered the season with a lot to prove – Kolten Wong, Mike Leake, and Trevor Rosenthal.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong wrapped up one of his most compelling series in recent memory.  With 2 hits, two walks, a stolen base, a run batted in, and two runs scored, yesterday, Wong finished the series with 16 plate appearances during which he achieved the following:

Two singles, two doubles, a triple, four runs scored, four runs driven in, three walks (two of them intentional), two stolen bases and just one strikeout.  His batting line against Milwaukee was a hearty .385/.500/.692.

He also committed an error and was picked off of second base.  In the good place that Kolten is in right now, mistakes don’t linger.  He puts it behind him and looks forward to the next play, the next at bat.

In the at bat that produced the RBI double, Wong took the first two pitches for strikes – something he was more inclined to do last year.  But after getting ahead of Kolten 0-2, Jimmy Nelson tried to get him to chase two low fastballs – but Kolten laid off both.  The first 2-2 pitch was a fairly nasty slider that broke to the lower inside corner of the plate.  Wong fouled it off, keeping the at bat alive for the sixth pitch – the fastball that Nelson elevated just enough for Wong to get under it and launch it over the center-fielder’s head.

As Wong relaxes into the season, his at bats are becoming – by degrees – more and more professional.  Last year, I think he strikes out in that at bat.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler came to the plate with runners at first and third and two out in the eighth inning.  He jumped on Jared Hughes first-pitch fastball, but drove it to the deepest part of the ballpark, where it died at about the warning track.  After stirring a bit against Pittsburgh, Fowler finished the Milwaukee series just 1 for 11 (.091).  To this point of the season, Dexter is just 2 for 11 when he hits the first pitch thrown to him.  Dexter was a little messed up earlier in the season.  At this point he is pushing through a little bad luck.

Greg Garcia

The recent resurgence has happened with minimal contributions from Greg Garcia, who was 0-for-4 yesterday, and is 3 for 21 (.190) since the beginning of the Pittsburgh series.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake contributed another strong effort – six innings, 2 runs.  In his first three starts of the season, Leake only went to full counts seven times – and five of those were against the Nationals.

The Brewers took him to full counts four times in six innings last night.  He walked two and struck out two.  For the season, the 11 batters who have gone to full counts against Leake are 0 for 9 with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts.

Trevor Rosenthal

Different with Trevor Rosenthal this year is his use of his expanded arsenal.  Each of the four batters that faced him yesterday saw at least a couple of fastballs at 98 mph or hotter.  But only Ryan Braun, who was hitting in a 3-1 count – put one in play (he singled).  The two batters who struck out, struck out on a changeup (Eric Thames) and a slider (Jesus Aguilar).  Travis Shaw flew out on a change.

The more Trevor can command the fastball early in the count, the more devastating his off-speed pitches are late in the count.  In the limited at bats of the early season, batters are 4-for-4 against Trevor when they hit ahead in the count; 2 for 10 against him in even counts; and 1 for 9 when Trevor has the advantage.  I don’t think a whole lot of people are very excited about Trevor Rosenthal so far this season – but maybe they should be.

Leake has been very good all season.  Rosenthal has had a few bumps, but has looked much more like the dominant pitcher he has been up till last year.  Wong began the year in a frustrating funk, but has played much better over the last week or so.  There are plenty of other question marks on this team – and much more season before us.  The questions are far from answered for any of them.  But the last seven games have been a good couple of steps in the right direction.

Cards Stop This Losing Streak Before It Starts

As I have pointed out several times – and am likely to point out several more – I keep a close eye on how the team responds after a loss.  I think it reflects the character of a team.  The concept, I think, is simple enough.  Every team loses games, but good teams have the character to avoid the losing streak.  The 100-win team of 2015 was 37-24 (.607) after losing a game.  Last year’s 86-win squad was 44-32 (.579) in those situations.

Preempting the Next Losing Streak

As the 2017 Cardinals have already endured three three-game losing streaks in their first 17 games, you might guess that they haven’t been terribly proficient at this so far – and you would be right.  In fact, all of their first nine losses had been a part of a three-game losing streak.  Last night’s crisp 6-3 win (box score) raised their record to only 4-6 in games after a loss.  They have won their last two, though.

Adam Wainwright

The man of the moment at the plate (with a single, a home run and 4 RBIs) and on the mound was longtime ace Adam Wainwright, who – in his third attempt this season – was finally able to halt a Cardinal losing streak.  Wainwright’s previous two attempts were both fairly disastrous.  He lasted 4 innings, giving up 6 runs on 11 hits in an eventual 14-6 battering at the hands of Washington, and then got pushed around by the Yankees, giving 4 more runs on 10 hits over 4.2 innings of a 9-3 loss.

Adam’s results last night were much better as he continued what has been a mostly excellent run of starting pitching.  With Waino’s solid five innings last night (during which he allowed only two runs), the starting rotation has managed a 3.06 ERA over 53 innings in the last 9 games.  The Cards have won 5 of the 9.

The bullpen continues to improve as well.

Jonathan Broxton

Jonathan Broxton pitched the sixth last night and gave up a single, but no extra-base hits.  He hasn’t given an extra-base hit, now, to any of the last 16 batters he’s faced.  He also walked a batter.  Broxton has walked at least one batter in four of his six appearances, and has totaled 6 walks (1 of them intentional) in his 5.2 innings.  His opponent’s on base percentage has risen to .444.

Brett Cecil

In Brett Cecil’s second game as a Cardinal he melted down, allowing 4 runs without retiring a batter in a brutal loss to the Cubs.  First impressions are hard to overcome, but over the course of his other 8 appearances so far, Brett has allowed only one other run while striking out 7 in 6.2 innings.  He has retired the last ten batters he’s faced, striking out five.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal (who pitched the eighth inning last night) has given up some hits – 6 of them in his 4.1 innings, including a home run last night.  But he has walked none of the 19 batters he’s faced so far this year.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh picked up the save last night.  He has saves in his last three games.  After allowing runs in each of his first three games, Oh has allowed just one in his last four outings.

Also encouraging, the offense is beginning to show its first hints of life this season.

Jedd Gyorko

After going 0 for 3 in the Pittsburgh series, Jedd Gyorko has been the first to take advantage of Jhonny Peralta’s absence from the lineup.  With two more hits last night, Gyorko is 5 for 7 with a home run so far in the series.  Now up to .316 on the season, Jedd has been even better in games after a loss.  He is 9 for his first 27 (.333) with a double and two home runs (a .593 slugging percentage) playing in 8 of the 10 games the Cards have already played after losing the game before.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong has now started five consecutive games for the first time this season.  He doubled, singled and was given an intentional walk last night, making him 5 for 15 (.333) over those five games.  Even better, his hits include a double, triple and home run, leading to a .733 slugging percentage and 4 runs batted in in the five games that he’s been in lineup.

Kolten has yet to strike out in 8 plate appearances in this series, and has fanned just once in his last 17 plate appearances.  He is 3 for 7 so far against Milwaukee.

Wong is now 6 for 23 (.261) when he plays in the game after a Cardinal loss, but four of those hits (3 doubles and a home run) have gone for extra-base hits, and he’s added four walks in those contests.  He is slugging .522 with a .370 on base percentage in games that follow a loss.

Stephen Piscotty

When Stephen Piscotty helped beat Washington on April 12 with three hits and five RBIs, it looked like he had turned a corner.  Since then, Piscotty has just 5 hits (and 7 strikeouts) in 25 at bats (a .200 average).  He entered last night’s game after Dexter Fowler’s foot started acting up, going 0 for 2 with a strikeout.  He is now 1 for 5 with 3 strikeouts in the series.

With 11 runs scored in the first two games of this series, this has already been the second highest scoring series for the Cards this year.  They scored 15 runs in the three games against Washington.  St Louis is 23 for 72 in the first two games of this series, with ten extra base hits – 3 of them home runs.  This equates to a .319 team batting average and a .556 slugging percentage against a Milwaukee pitching staff that began the series with a 4.07 team ERA.

NoteBook

Last night – in the season’s seventeenth game – the Cardinals finally won a game when they didn’t score the first run.  When Kolten Wong drove in three runs with a triple in the second inning the night before (game # 16 of the season) it was the first time all year the Cards had erased a deficit of any size at any time during a game.

Pirates and Cards Put Runners On But Can’t Get Them Home

Usually, pitchers become more vulnerable once they have runners on.  Last year, all major league hitters hit .250 with the bases empty, and .262 with one or more runners on.  In the early days of 2017, both leagues are hitting .238 with the bases empty and .247 with runners on.  Last year’s Cardinal team hit .253 and .258 respectively.

As was true of every game in the recently concluded Pittsburgh series, the Pirates had sufficient opportunities to mount big innings.  If they had managed to do that even once during the series, they would have won at least one of the games.  But the Pirates went 0 for 9 yesterday and were 5 for 34 (.147) for the series with runners on base.  They fell yesterday for the third consecutive time to the Cards by the same 2-1 score (box score).

As the Cardinal pitchers have started to turn the corner over their last seven games, their dominance with runners on base has become an integral part of their success.  Beginning with the last game of the Washington series, and continuing through the sweep of the Pirates, Cardinal pitchers have allowed only 20 hits in 97 at bats (.206 average) with any runner on base.  This has led to an impressive 2.70 team ERA over that span.

This dominance has proved vital.

Hitters Have Struggled With Runners On

This year – for whatever reason – the Cardinals’ offense has been equally unable “keep the line moving.”  They were 1 for 9 yesterday with runners on base (Yadier Molina followed Jose Martinez’ fourth-inning walk with a bouncing single up the middle) and are now hitting .201 (37 for 184) this season once any runner reaches base.  They were 0 for 3 yesterday with two runners on, and are now 11 for 61 (.180) on the season with more than one runner on base.

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha faced 24 batters yesterday afternoon.  Only four of them came to the plate with a runner on base.  This has been one of the most encouraging aspects of Wacha’s return to health and to the rotation.  He simply keeps runners off the bases.  Wacha has faced 73 batters so far this year – 51 of them (69.9%) with the bases empty.  That is the highest ratio of anyone in the rotation (slightly higher than Lance Lynn’s 68.9%).

When he walked John Jaso in the seventh inning with David Freese already on first, it was the only time in his 18.2 innings so far this season that Wacha has walked a batter with a runner already on.

Wacha’s performance (6.2 innings, 1 run allowed) continued an impressive resurgence for the Cardinal rotation.  Over the last seven games – beginning with Mike Leake’s victory in Washington – the starters have strung together 43 innings with a 2.30 ERA.  While the bullpen hasn’t been as effective, they are improving, too.  Over the 17 innings they’ve worked in these last 7 games, they have faced 73 batters without serving up a home run.  Their innings yesterday proved a little adventurous, but not damaging.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman extinguished the seventh-inning threat with a big strikeout of Jordy Mercer.  Bowman has been a significant part of the pitching staff’s recent resurgence.  He has now stranded all of the last 6 runner’s he’s inherited.  Over the last seven games, Cardinal relievers have stranded 11 of 12 inherited runners.

Of the last 16 batters Bowman’s faced only two have reached.  He walked Greg Bird in New York in the sixth inning last Sunday, and gave up a single to Josh Harrison Tuesday night.

With the strikeout of Mercer, Bowman has fanned 3 of the 7 batters who have faced him with more than one runner aboard.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist skirted around danger in the eighth inning.  The Pirates loaded the bases on two errors and a walk.  Siegrist hasn’t given a hit to any of the last 14 batters to face him, but he has walked five of them.

Kevin faced 6 batters yesterday – only the first 2 with the bases empty.  For the season – not counting the runner who reached on an error yesterday – 7 of the 12 batters to face Siegrist with the bases empty have reached (a .583 on base percentage).  Kevin has walked 5, hit one, and served up one home run. Nine of the 30 batters Siegrist has faced so far have batted with multiple runners on base.  That 30% ties Jonathan Broxton (6 of 20) for the highest percentage on the team.  By contrast, only 7.1% of the batters Trevor Rosenthal has faced (1 of 14) and just 4.1% of the batters that Wacha has faced (3 of 73) have batted with more than one runner on base.

Trevor Rosenthal

Speaking of Rosenthal, he wrapped up the ninth inning last night allowing one seeing-eye single (after an excellent at bat by Jaso) and struck out two.  He has faced 14 batters this season.  Seven have struck out, four have singles – none of them really hard hit, and none have walked.  The early returns on Mr. Rosenthal are very encouraging.

Dexter Fowler

The offense – or rather, Dexter Fowler – provided just enough.

With Fowler’s two home runs yesterday following close on the heels of his lead-off triple the day before, Fowler now has three of his four extra-base hits in his last 8 plate appearances.  All four of his extra-base hits have come with the bases empty.  He has just 2 singles in his first 15 at bats with at least one runner on base.

Of course, as the leadoff hitter, Fowler rarely gets at bats with runners on base.  Forty-eight of his first sixty-six plate appearances (a team-leading 72.7%) have come with the bases empty.  All Cardinal batters are hitting with the bases empty 59.3% of the time so far this year.

Fowler’s home runs lift the team total to 14 through 15 games this season.  Ten of the 14 have been hit with the bases empty.

Half of the Cardinals’ first six game-winning hits have now been solo home runs, as Fowler’s fifth-inning drive joins Aledmys Diaz’ first-inning home run against Bronson Arroyo that began St. Louis’ 10-4 rout of Cincinnati on April 8, and Kolten Wong’s third-inning home run against Ivan Nova that sent the Birds off to their 2-1 win against the Pirates on Monday.

Greg Garcia

Greg Garcia, getting some at bats in place of some of the slumping hitters in the line-up, could be doing more with these opportunities.  His average faded to .227 after his 0-for-4 last night.  Three of those at bats came with no one on.  One of the team’s “table-setters,” Garcia is hitting just .214 (3 for 14) with the bases empty so far this year.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko came to the plate in the fourth inning with runners at first and second.  In his first 35 plate appearances this month, Jedd has been up with two runners on 7 times – 20%.  Of batters with at least 30 plate appearances, only Kolten Wong has found himself in this situation with more frequency.  Kolten has been at 25% so far this year (10 of his 40 plate appearances).  Jedd was promptly called out on strikes on a pitch that was several inches outside.  Gyorko has now struck out 5 times in those 7 opportunities, drawing a walk and popping out the other two times.

Gyorko did have one at bat with the bases loaded earlier this year, driving in two runs with a single against the Reds and Robert Stephenson.  Yesterday, Jedd went 0 for 2, watching his season average fall to .226.

Kolten Wong

Speaking of Wong, Kolten is down to .171 after going 0 for 3.  Two of those at bats also came with two runners on base.  His strike out came in his lone at bat with the bases empty.  Kolten is a .200 hitter so far this season (4 for 20) with no walks with the bases empty.

Final Notes from Spring Training 2017

A couple final thoughts as Spring Training 2017 comes to a close.

Matt Adams

Matt Adams has been a tease his entire Cardinal career.  A big guy, capable of generating substantial power, Matt has shown all this talent and ability only in short bursts.  After an uninspiring April, Adams was one of baseball’s best hitters in May.  He hit .364 that month (24 for 66) and slugged .652.  This was part of an even longer stretch that began with 2 hits – including a home run – against Stephen Strasburg on April 29 and ran through a pinch-single against Cincinnati on June 9.  He was 37 for 95 (.389) with 7 home runs, 28 runs-batted-in (this was only 31 games of which he’d started just 25) and a .684 slugging percentage.

And then, abruptly, it all went away and never came back.  Over the last 164 at bats of his season, Adams hit .177 (29 of 164) – albeit with 8 more home runs.  This is not the first time that Adams had done this.

Matt Adams 2017 has come to camp 30 pounds lighter, significantly more athletic, and hitting with the relaxed confidence that characterized his May spree.  Understandably, many Cardinal fans are hesitant to buy into it – and I confess that I have reservations, too.  A lot of them are hoping that Matt’s strong spring catches the eye of some other team leading to a trade of Adams elsewhere – and that may well happen.

But before that happens, pause and consider.  The Cards are opening the season with Jhonny Peralta at third base.  Jhonny will turn 35 at the end of May.  Like Adams, Peralta looks more athletic and seems stronger than last year.  But Peralta is still turning 35.  He may have a strong season left in him, but he is not the future.  The Birds do have a couple of promising third-basemen working their way through the minors – but neither are quite major-league ready yet.

Because Peralta is playing third, Matt Carpenter is pushed to first base.  It may become necessary – either this year or next – to move Carpenter back to third (depending on what Peralta has left in the tank).

What all this means is that Matt Adams may be a more important part of the team’s future than otherwise thought.  I don’t preach endless patience with Adams, but I think there have been enough flashes of potential in the past to warrant another long look.  Between now and the time that Patrick Wisdom and Paul DeJong arrive, the Cards will need to know what they have (or don’t have) in Adams.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal burst on the scene in 2014 and took over as the Cardinal closer.  Featuring his 100-mph signature fastball, Trevor proceeded to save 93 games over the next two seasons with a 2.65 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 139 innings.  In addition, Trevor has 7 postseason saves and a 0.69 ERA in post-season play over 4 different seasons.

Rosenthal staggered to a disappointing 4.46 ERA in an injury marred 2016 and lost his closer’s responsibility.  It has now been announced that Trevor will begin this season on the disabled list – courtesy of the lat strain that interrupted his spring.

So things seem to be low-ebbing for the talented Mr. Rosenthal.  Again, though, pause and consider.  Trevor won’t turn 27 until the end of May.  Assuming his injury is no more serious than it seems, there are a lot of fastballs still left in that arm.  The talent that made him an elite closer is still there.

Seung-hwan Oh, on the other hand, turns 35 in July.  I don’t question Oh’s designation as closer.  He more than earned that with a great season last year.  But, again, he is not the future.

Rosenthal – once he’s healthy – is.  It would behoove the Cardinal organization to keep Trevor very invested in the season.  If not the closer, they should at least carve him out a prominent bullpen role.  Trevor is arbitration eligible next year and free-agent eligible the year after that.  If the Cards allow Trevor to become disaffected and filter his way out of the organization, they will come to regret it.

Michael Wacha

There are a lot of good things that came out of the Cardinal spring training.  I believe that the best thing that could happen for the organization is the return of Michael Wacha.

It’s been so long since Wacha was really good that it’s almost impossible to remember the kid who – 16 starts into his 2015 season – stood at 10-3 with a 2.66 ERA.  Through his first 101.1 innings, he had allowed just 7 home runs and was holding batters to a .228 average.  When healthy, Wacha is a special pitcher.

Factor the Wacha of old into a long-term rotation that could include Carlos Martinez, Alex Reyes and Sandy Alcantrara, and the very-near future could be very bright.

Now, spring training is not September, and, as the song says, it’s a long long time from May to December.  Michael has a long way to go and many innings for his strengthened shoulder to bear – so this is all far from a done deal.  But this becomes one of the most important storylines of the season.

Spring Training in Review

So, Spring training ends with 20 wins and a lot of enthusiasm.  It’s a little hard not to get carried away.  Again, pause and remember.  Spring Training is just Spring Training.  The tortuous 162-game marathon lies before us.

That being said, the hot spring was – in an important sense – just what the doctor ordered.  After a disappointing season, an uncertain off-season, and the early loss of wunderkind Alex Reyes for the season, this is a team that kind of needed to feel good about itself.  Especially as the teams spring strengths (starting pitching and defense) were areas of weakness last year.

I don’t usually put a lot of stock in hot Aprils.  Too often I have seen teams bolt out of the gate only to fade in the heat of August.  But this is one year that a fast start could go a long way toward healing the angst of 2016 – which began with three straight losses and never really got on track after that.

A good April – especially if it includes a couple of wins against the Cubs in the season opening season.  The psyche of the team and the fans took a significant hit last year when they were never a factor in the division race and ended up out of the playoffs.  A good start will go a long way toward washing the bad taste of one of the worst years in recent US history out of our collective mouths.

What’s Next?

With the regular season now on deck, we will be dark in this space for a couple of weeks.  That sounds a little counter-intuitive, I know, but since the concept here is the numbers and the stories they tell we have to let a few games pass to get enough numbers collected to mean anything.

So, while I will be watching intently these next few weeks, it’ll be about mid-April before we sit back and start sifting through the early numbers.

We will see you back here then.

Position Wars – Through 34 Games

With wins in the first two games of the road trip – and the team back to two games over .500, let’s look at the position wars for the first time this season. This is something we’ll do every month or so.

Position wars looks at the players starting at each of the defensive positions and develops the team trends associated with that player in that position.

Position: First Base

First base has been the most contested position on the team through the first 34 games.  As the season started, it was thought that erstwhile left fielder Matt Holliday might edge out the other contenders to take the majority of the starts here.  Tommy Pham’s opening day injury re-wrote that plan, sent Holliday back to left field, and opened up a straight-up competition between Matt Adams and Brandon Moss for playing time there.

As of right now, both have made 14 starts at first.  St Louis is 8-6 when Adams starts and 6-8 with Moss.  Defensively, the team has been better with Adams – posting a 2.90 ERA in his games there vs the 4.52 ERA when Moss starts.  However, the offense has been as noticeably better with Moss (5.93 runs per game) as opposed to Adams (4.29 runs per game).

Holliday has started four games at first, with a 2-2 record.  Matt Carpenter and Yadi Molina have each started once at first, with the Cards winning both of those games.

First base was a messy position for the team last year, too.  Mark Reynolds ended up leading the team is starts there with just 72 – leading the team to a 47-25 record in those starts.  Adams – the presumptive starter there last year – saw his starts limited to 42 games by an injury, but also saw the team win 27 of those starts (.643 percentage).  Moss, coming off his own injury, only made 24 starts at first last year – St Louis winning only 11 of those.

At the moment, Adams seems to have the upper hand.  He’s started 5 of the last 9 games, with Moss starting 3 of the other 4.  The Cards have won 4 of Adams’ 5, but just 1 of Moss’ 3.  This is a back and forth that looks like it will last the whole season (unless some circumstance pushes Holliday back into the picture).

Position Second Base

Second base is the only other position that is at all contested.  Kolten Wong has started 20 of the 34. But only 5 of the last 9 as both he and Jedd Gyorko are struggling to find any consistency at the plate.  At this point, St Louis is 11-9 when Kolten starts, scoring 5.4 runs per game with a 3.31 team ERA.  With Gyorko at second, the record is 7-7.  The scoring is a bit higher (5.71) but the team ERA significantly higher (4.31).  The momentum, however, may be turning in Jedd’s direction. They have won 3 of Gyorko’s last 4 starts scoring 21 runs.  They are 3-2 in Wong’s last 5 starts, scoring 24 runs in those games.

Wong made 140 starts at second last year, with St Louis winning 91 of those games.

Position: Shortstop

Jhonny Peralta held this position for 147 games last year, leading the Cards to a 93-54 record in those games.  His backups were Pete Kozma (4-4) and Greg Garcia (3-4).  Of all of those players, only Garcia has seen starts at shortstop this year.  He has two (both Cardinal wins).  Kozma is elsewhere and Peralta has missed the entire year so far with an injury.  Reuben Tejada was acquired as a stop-gap, but his season has been curtailed by an injury of his own.  Jedd Gyorko was supposed to make some starts there as a back-up.  Those two players have combined to make 7 starts at short. St Louis is 2-5 in those games.

In spite of all these injuries, Aledmys Diaz began the season at AAA.  For one day.  Tommy Pham’s opening day injury not only shuffled the plan at first base, but opened the roster spot that finally went to Diaz.  The injury to Bobby Bonilla that opened the door for a rookie named Albert Pujols is one of the great injury-opportunity stories in Cardinal lore.  For Diaz to get his chance, three other players had to go down.

Now Diaz is here, hitting .382 at this moment, and has taken over at short.  In his 25 starts there, the team is 14-11, scores 6.24 runs per game with a 3.77 ERA.

Position: Third Base

Third base is the only current position (other than catcher, which we discussed yesterday) on the team where last year’s uncontested starter is also this year’s uncontested starter.  A 141-game starter there last year (91-50), Matt Carpenter has made 31 of the first 34 starts there this year.  Reynolds was the primary backup there last year.  In his absence, Carpenter may play 150 games there.  Gyorko was thought to be a useable backup at third – and he may turn out to be.  So far, he has only started there once.  Tejada has made the other 2 starts there.

St Louis is in an unusual position at third, as none of their first base candidates (Adams, Moss, Holliday) can double as a third baseman.  All most every other team has at least one “corner infielder” on their roster.

Position: Left Field

Matt Holliday – his injury notwithstanding – still made the most starts of anyone in left field last year.  That number was just 64 starts (41-23).  Seven different players made starts there (Piscotty – 40, Grichuk – 37, Moss – 9, Pham – 5, Reynolds – 4, and Jon Jay – 3).  Thirty-four games into this season, and already four different players have started in left.  But mostly (for 23 games, anyway) it has been Holliday.

The results, however, with the season now more than a fifth over, are a cause for some concern.  St Louis is 9-14 (.391) with Holliday starting in left, scoring 4.78 runs per game with a 4.32 ERA.  The numbers for the others: Jeremy Hazelbaker – 6 starts, 5-1 record, 8.67 rpg, 2.67 ERA; Brandon Moss – 4 starts, 4-0 record, 6.25 rpg, 1.75 ERA (although 5 unearned runs have scored against the team in those four games); and Tommy Pham, who started the season-opening 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh.  In the 23 games that Holliday has started in left, the pitching staff fashioned just 9 quality starts.  They have 8 in the 11 games that someone else has started in left.

Is it too early to draw conclusions from these numbers?  I think so.  But it is a little jarring to note that we have as many wins without Matt in left as we do with him (in less than half the games).  This is a trend we will keep an eye on.

Position: Center Field

Randal Grichuk has made 25 of the first 34 starts in center field.  He would probably have five or six more starts there, but his early-season offensive struggles have bought him a few more days off than he would have liked.  Standing in for him have been Hazelbaker (7 games) and Piscotty (2 games).  Even though Randal has yet to find his hitting groove, the numbers still show that he is the best option in CF.  The Cards are 14-11 with him and 4-5 without.  They score 5.72 runs per game with Grichuk in center and 5.00 with someone else.  The team ERA is 3.51 with Grichuk in center.  When the other two are out there, it rises to 4.33.  Randal – though off to a slow start – is a big-time talent.  The plan is for him to be in center field in St Louis for a long time to come.

Position: Right Field

Stephen Piscotty started the second most games in right field last year.  He started 11 there.  Over the off-season, his name was floated as an option at first base (where he started 9 times last year).  But with the defection of last year’s starting right fielder, it was clear that the talented Mr. Piscotty would be ticketed for the right field position.  Stephen has started 29 there already this year, with the Cards winning 16 of them.  Other right fielders have been Moss (1-2) and Hazelbaker (1-1).  Stephen has some versatility.  He can play first as well as all the outfield positions.  But for the foreseeable future, expect to see him in right field pretty much every day.

Last Night

Meanwhile, last night’s victory added more credibility to the recent Cardinal turn around.  Yes, yes, it’s mostly against Philadelphia and the Angels (although I remind you that the Phillies are 19-15), but encouraging nonetheless.  In winning, now, six of their last nine, St Louis has fashioned a 2.89 ERA and pitching-wise is starting to resemble a little the staff we saw last year.

Stephen Piscotty

With two more hits and an RBI last night, Piscotty is now hitting .421 (16-for-38) over his last nine games, with seven RBIs.

Stephen was also 1-for-2 with runners in scoring position.  He now has 6 hits in his last 10 RISP opportunities.

Moreover, Piscotty added a couple more two-strike hits.  Over the last 9 games, Piscotty is now 6-for15 (.400) with two strikes on him.

Piscotty’s hits last night came in the fifth and seventh innings.  Through his last nine games, Piscotty is only hitting .167 (3-for-18) through the first four innings.  From the fifth inning on, Piscotty has 13 hits in his last 20 at bats (.650)

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina shows little signs of slowing down, in spite of his heavy early season work load.  Two more hits last night raise his season average back up to .325.  He has hits in 10 of his last 32 at bats (.313).

Molina also added a 2-strike hit.  He is now 6 for his last 14 (.429) with 2-strikes on him.

Yadi’s third-inning double was his only 2-out at bat of the game.  Molina is 4 for his last 10 (.400) with two-outs.

Randal Grichuk

Grichuk’s bat continues to heal.  His two hits last night raises his average to .308 (8-for-26) over the last 9 games (including 2 home runs and 6 RBIs).

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter is 5 for his last 8 first-inning at bats.  Thereafter, he is 5 for his last 24 (.208).

Matt Holliday

Holliday still can’t seem to put together any kind of streak.  After a 3-hit game yesterday, Matt went 0-for-4 last night.  He has just 7 hits in his last 33 at bats (.212) and is now down to .243 for the season.

Jaime Garcia

Jaime Garcia was in charge again last night.  Over his last two starts (both wins), Jaime has allowed 6 hits and no earned runs in 14 innings.

Mike Scioscia loaded his lineup with right handed batters against the lefty Garcia.  Thank you Mike.  All his righties went 3-for-22 against Jaime (.136).  Garcia – who always has dominant reverse splits – has now held right handed batters to a .173 average this season (22-for-127).

Jaime is also a nasty pitcher to hit when you have to protect the plate.  Last night, batters with 2 strikes on them were 1-for-14 (.071) against Garcia.  Over the two starts, batters are just 2 for 25 (.080) when hitting against Jaime with two strikes on them.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal needed 22 pitches to get out of the ninth inning.  He has now thrown 76 pitches in his last three innings.