Since Yadier Molina capped the three-run first inning in the last game of the Dodger series, the St Louis Cardinals have labored through 17.2 innings, 60 plate appearances, and 221 pitches without scoring a run. They are 11 for 57 (.193) – including 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position – since their last RBI.
Last night’s offensive production was 0 walks, 4 singles – which were immediately erased in double plays, and Randal Grichuk’s lead-off sixth-inning double that led to the only runner the Cards would put in scoring position on the night, the only runner the Cards would strand that night, and the only batter over the minimum that rookie right-hander Antonio Senzatela and relief pitcher Jordan Lyles would face as they coasted to a 10-0 laugher (box score).
The once impressive Cardinal offense was dominated. Senzatela wouldn’t have had a much easier time if he were pitching to little leaguers. He breezed through 8 innings on just 98 pitches. Of the 25 batters he faced, only 9 managed to extend his at bat past 4 pitches.
Since the Boston Red Sox came into town as the middle set of an eight-game home stand, the Cardinals have lost 7 of 9 games – and the disappearing offense has been one of the reasons. With this 5-hit shutout, the Cards are hitting .229/.291/.331 over their last 9 games with only 4 home runs and just 31 total runs scored (3.44 per game). The 4 double plays from last night means that they have now hit into 13 in the course of this losing streak.
Throwing First-Pitch Strikes
For his part, Senzatela was just throwing strikes and taking his chances. Combined with Lyles, 18 of the 28 Cardinal batters who came to the plate saw first-pitch strikes. The 10 batters who saw ball one went 3 for 10 (including Grichuk’s double). Only two of the other 18 put that first-pitch strike into play (Tommy Pham and Molina both had first-pitch groundouts). The rest went 2 for 16 (both singles). It was easy.
And it continues a fairly strong trend that has played through the Cards last 9 games. Of the last 360 Cardinal batters, 239 (66.4%) have seen first-pitch strikes. Those batters have gone on to hit .201/.224/.290. The 33.6% who get ball one have responded with a .293/.421/.424 batting line.
One of the very useful bench pieces so far this year, Greg Garcia was one of several Cardinal hitters handcuffed by Senzatela. He went 0 for 3 and grounded into the very first of the 4 double plays the Cards would hit into. The evening continues a disappointing month for Greg, who is now 5 for 23 (.217) for May. His 4 hits include 1 double, giving him a .261 slugging percentage this month and no runs batted in. Garcia hasn’t had an RBI since the fifth inning of the April 18 game against Pittsburgh – 45 at bats ago. Since then, he has gone 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
Garcia was one of the few batters that Sanzatela didn’t routinely get ahead of. Greg took first-pitch balls in two of his three at bats. For the season, only 56% of the first pitches thrown to Greg are strikes. Last year, when his at bat started off with ball one, Greg went on to slash .363/.536/.463. This year he is only 6 for 26 (.231) with 2 doubles and a .308 slugging percentage after he gets ahead 1-0 in an at bat.
Even though he finished the night 0 for 3, Kolten Wong is still looking good at the plate and probably put together the best at bats on the team. Taking the first pitch all three times, Kolten twice got ahead in the count 1-0. Both of these became long at bats (9 pitches and 7 pitches, respectively), and both ended with Wong lining out to center.
For the season, Wong starts off an at bat 1-0 more frequently than anyone on the team at 47.1%. So far in May, he is getting ball one 48.1% of the time (the ML average is 39.9%). But, like Garcia, Kolten has been unable to take advantage of these recent opportunities. He is now hitting .241 in May (7 for 29) when his at bat begins with ball one.
Not to make this sound like the Cardinals aren’t being dominated at the plate, but some of this is bad luck, too. I boldly predict that the Cardinals will score at least one run before they leave Colorado.
Bullpen to the Rescue?
Almost daily in this space, I try to assure the sometimes-fainthearted reader that the bullpen is getting better. And almost every time I do, something like this happens. This was a 3-0 game with one out in the eighth inning when the relievers went to work. One of the most bizarre stats attached to the 2-7 streak the Cards have fallen into is the fact that through all of this the starting pitching has thrown 7 quality starts with a 2.34 ERA. Somehow, in 29 innings over those same 9 games, the bullpen has managed to heave up 25 runs (23 earned) on 36 hits. The resulting 7.14 ERA is punctuated by a .310/.366/.491 batting line against. Answers here have been hard to come by.
The humiliating 10-0 score had little, actually, to do with starting pitcher Carlos Martinez. For the second straight season, Carlos has started the year a little hit and miss, only to find his stride as the weather heats up.
Martinez has now started twice over these last 9 games and has pitched fairly heroically in both, shutting out San Francisco on two hits over 9 innings and taking a 2-0 game into the eighth-inning against the torrid Colorado lineup in baseball’s most pitcher-unfriendly park. In 16.1 inning in the two games, Carlos holds a 1.65 ERA and a .148 batting average against. He has walked just three against 14 strikeouts in those efforts. St Louis has, of course, lost both games as they didn’t score once in either game while Martinez was the pitcher of record.
For the month of May (with one start probably remaining), Carlos is 3-1 with a 2.23 ERA and a .173 batting average against in 36.1 innings over 5 starts (all quality starts). In all, this marks six consecutive quality starts for Martinez.
Martinez threw his share of first-pitch strikes, and, through the first part of this season he has been extra-effective when he does. Last night he threw a first-pitch strike to 20 of the 28 batters he faced, allowing only 3 hits (.167). For the season, opposing batters carry a .197 batting average against Carlos when he throws his first pitch for a strike. During the month of May, they are hitting .185 in those at bats.
The game got seriously out of reach during Matthew Bowman’s brief tenure on the mound. He faced four batters and struck out one. The other three got hits and scored runs. Bowman hadn’t allowed an earned run over his previous 8 games (7.1 innings). The home run that Mark Reynolds hit was only the second all season off of Bowman.
When Grichuk made a nice diving spear of DJ LeMahieu’s sinking liner to end the eighth inning, it may also have ended the Cardinal career of Miguel Socolovich – who was designated for assignment this afternoon after serving up 4 pile-on runs on 5 hits before he could get his only out of the night. Comparatively effective in limited use over the last two years (and staying on the roster because he was out of options), Socolovich was little more than a batting practice pitcher by the end. It took him 119 pitches to navigate through his last 7 innings (during which he allowed 8 runs). He finishes with a 15.75 ERA in four innings since the beginning of the Boston series, an 8.64 ERA in 8.1 innings during the month of May, 8.68 ERA in 18.2 innings for the season, and 3.80 in 66.1 innings during his Cardinal career.
Behind in the Count is Bad in Colorado
After Martinez spent the first part of the evening throwing strike one, Bowman and Socolovich spent the rest of the eighth inning throwing ball one and paying for it. The Rockies were 6-6 against the two relievers when they missed with the first pitch.
The Cards have lost the first game of their last five consecutive series. For the season so far, they are 5-11 in first games.
No Post on Monday
With the Cards playing an afternoon contest on Memorial Day – and with all the other stuff going on that day – I will not attempt to get a post done that day. I intend to be back in the saddle on Tuesday.