It was all so agonizingly close for Luke Weaver. After A.J. Pollock opened the fourth inning with a double, Weaver fell behind Jake Lamb 3-0. Swinging on 3-0, Lamb fouled off a boarder-line fastball. Weaver then threw two pretty good changes, but Lamb fouled those off as well. Now 3-2, Luke was one pitch away from getting the first out of the inning. But Luke missed with his fastball off the outside corner, and Lamb joined Pollock on base.
Now it was superstar slugger Paul Goldschmidt., with two runners on, no one out, and the game still scoreless. Luke just missed with his first-pitch change, but he got back ahead with two fastballs – one that Goldschmidt watched and the other that he fouled. Again, Luke was in position to get either the strikeout – or even better, a double play that would take the steam out of the inning.
But his 1-2 cutter missed up and away, and his 2-2 changeup bounced. Now it was 3-2 to one of the top sluggers in the game. Luke tried to get him to chase the change-up, but – temptingly close as it was – Paul took it for ball four, loading the bases.
That brought former Tiger J.D. Martinez to the plate. No longer in a mood to mess around, Weaver came after him with three straight fastballs. For his part, Martinez was up there to swing – which he did at all three even though the last two were off the plate (he fouled the last one off to stay alive). At 0-2, Luke was once again in a position to take the steam out of the inning. But Martinez laid off the 0-2 change that dropped low. Gaining one more pitch in the at bat – the twentieth, now, of the inning from Weaver – Martinez lofted Luke’s misplaced 1-2 fastball just fair around the right-field fouls pole.
And that was the game. Before and after that, Luke went pitch for pitch with Zack Godley and his untouchable curve. Luke faced 21 batters in his 5 innings. He pushed 14 of them (66.7%) into two strike counts. Except for the three at bats in the top of the fourth, the other 11 managed one single (Goldschmidt, again, grounded a 3-2 changeup into right field for a single leading off the second) and 5 strikeouts.
It was almost a brilliant performance from the Cardinal rookie who is trying to establish himself as a major-league caliber pitcher.
Cardinal Bullpen Shuts the Door
Continuing a month long pattern, the Cardinal bullpen closed the door once it was sort of too late. After Weaver coughed up the grand slam, the Cardinal relief corps put up zeros for the last four innings. While they have had struggles holding onto narrow leads, the Cardinal bullpen currently holds a 1.97 ERA this month (15 earned runs in 68.2 innings). They have held opponents to a .241 batting average, allowing just 5 home runs and walking only 19 (7 of those intentionally).
One reason why the bullpen does better in non-critical moments, is those are the only times Mike Matheny lets John Brebbia pitch. John threw his twelfth consecutive game without allowing an earned run last night (totaling 13.2 innings). He didn’t walk anyone again. He has allowed no walks in his last six games (7.2 innings) and hasn’t given an unintentional walk in his last 17 games (20.1 innings). His ERA is down to 1.48 on the season.
Kevin Siegrist allowed a couple of singles in an almost-messy eighth innings, but wriggled out of the inning taking no damage. Kevin has now thrown 5.2 scoreless innings in 6 games since his return from the disabled list.
Tyler Lyons tossed a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out two. Tyler has now struck out 5 of the last 6 batters he has faced, and the last 14 batters he’s faced are 0-for-13 with a hit-by-pitch. Over his last six outings, Lyons has allowed no runs and just 1 hit.
Tyler put all three batters he faced last night into two-strike counts. Chris Owings grounded out on a 3-2 pitch, and Ketel Marte and Chris Iannetta both struck out on 2-2 pitches. Lyons has faced 31 batters so far this month. He has pushed 21 of them (67.7%) into two-strike counts. Those batters are just 3 for 18 (.167) with 1 walk, 2 HBPs, and 11 strikeouts.
Feast or Famine Offense
The shutout continues a strange feast or famine offensive trend. Over the last 9 games, St Louis is hitting .269 as a team, and scoring 4.67 runs per game – both very healthy totals. But they have now scored more than three runs in only three of those games. A 9-run eighth inning transformed what might have been a 3-2 loss into an 11-4 victory over Chicago on July 21. Three days later, they handed Colorado an 8-2 loss. And then on Wednesday a five-run fourth pushed them past the Rockies 10-5. In between those eruptions there were 7-3 and 3-2 losses to the Mets; 3-2 and 5-3 losses to the Cubs; a 3-2 win over Colorado; and last night’s 4-0 loss (box score).
In the three “hot” games, the Cards averaged 9.67 runs per game and hit .355/.462/.589. They averaged 2.17 runs per game in the other six, hitting .222/.276/.340.
When the dust had settled, Paul DeJong was the only Cardinal hitter who had some answer for Godley and the Diamondback bullpen. He went 2 for 3 with a walk.
Paul is now riding a 7-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .379 (11 for 29) and slugging .828 (1 double and 4 home runs). His six-game RBI streak did come to an end last night. DeJong had driven in 9 runs through those six games.
After starting the season at Memphis, Paul DeJong has started 21 of the 23 July games St Louis has played. He is hitting .318 this month (27 for 85) and slugging .694 (8 doubles and 8 home runs). Paul has 14 runs scored and 15 runs batted in this month.
One night after Randal Grichuk’s first-ever four-hit night, his six-game hitting streak came to an end in an 0-for-4 performance. During the streak, Randal had 7 singles and 4 home runs in 24 at bats – a .458 batting average and a .958 slugging percentage.
In the fourth inning, Randal chased a 1-0 slider that was in on his hands and fouled out. Later, in the sixth, with runners at first and second and one out, Randal reached for Godley’s low-and-away fastball and bounced into a force play. A lot of Randal’s game has improved noticeably since his return from the minors. Of late, though, he is starting to swing at pitcher’s pitches early in the count. Across all of baseball, batters who hit the first strike thrown them hit .348. Randal, this month, is 3 for 14 (.214) when hitting the first strike thrown him.
It is very, very early in the major league portion of Harrison Bader’s career, but he’s shown an early propensity to get into two strike counts. He’s gotten to two strikes in 10 of his first 13 times to the plate (77%), including all four last night. After his 0-for-4, Harrison in 2 for 9 with a walk in those at bats.
Before last night, St Louis had led at some point in each of their 7 previous games. That hasn’t been a very good predictor of success for the Cards this season. They were only 4-3 in those games.