The game was still scoreless as San Francisco immediately put Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright in a second-inning bind. A single by Brandon Belt and a walk to Brandon Crawford gave the Giants the very first RISP (runners in scoring position) opportunity of the day. The Cards would get the same opportunity in the bottom of that inning when Jhonny Peralta and Tommy Pham led off with singles. But where the Cards would cash in on the chance – eventually getting a three-run double from Randal Grichuk as the highlight of a four-run inning, the Giants were left with a zero for their efforts as Wainwright defused the threat by striking out Eduardo Nunez, Nick Hundley and Mac Williamson.
With this as the tone setter, St Louis would go on to a 4-for-10 RISP performance while San Francisco would finish the afternoon 0-for-8 in that same category, resulting in an 8-3 Cardinal victory (box score).
The Cardinals have had a reputation is recent years of being one of the better hitting teams with runners in scoring position. Even though last year was mostly disappointing, they still hit .271/.353/.472 with RISP. They dug themselves an early season hole in 2017 for many reasons, among them an ice-cold start in these opportunities. Their April RISP batting line read a disappointing .212/.325/.358. But they have come out firing on many more cylinders in May. After their performance yesterday, the May RISP line now stands at .276/.349/.436.
Pitching Staff Thriving with RISP
One of the earmarks of the superlative 2015 staff was their remarkable success when pitching with runners in scoring position (.210/.296/.322). While they regressed a bit last year (.259/.341/.404), they have bounced back with a vengeance so far in 2017. After holding the Giants to an 0-for-8 RISP performance, St Louis’ opponents are hitting .204 this month – and .219 for the year – with runners in scoring position.
Hitters Don’t Stay Down for Long
Yesterday also featured another bounce-back by the Cardinal offense. Dominated the night before (scoring just once in 13 innings), St Louis drove Matt Cain from the mound under a barrage of hits. For the first 15 games of the season, the Cardinal offense sat in a deep freeze, scoring 3.2 runs a game and being shutout twice. In the 26 games since then (beginning with the series in Milwaukee that started on April 20), the Cards have hit .287 as a team and scored 5.52 runs per game. For the 17 games they’ve played so far in May, those numbers are .275 and 5.12 runs per game. They have scored five runs or more 11 times (in 17 games) this month, and 18 times in the last 26 games.
Peralta has returned with a little juice in his bat. With pinch-hit singles in his first two games and a 2-for-3 game yesterday, Jhonny is 4 for 5 with a walk and no strikeouts since his re-instatement. There is still a question of where he fits, as benching Jedd Gyorko in favor of Peralta is – for the moment, anyway – out of the question. Peralta is still waiting for his first extra base hit and his first run batted in of the season.
Aledmys Diaz – who pushed his season average to .261 with two doubles – now has 14 multiple hit games this season. He has had only 10 games in which he has had one hit. Even though he has been pretty hit and miss, Aledmys is still hitting .315 (23 for 73) this month.
Diaz was one of our very best hitters with runners in scoring position last year. He hit .337/.427/.652 in those situations in 2016. To this point of 2017, he has struggled to find that RISP magic. The only time they retired him yesterday was on a soft fly ball to left with runners on first and second and two out in the third. Aledmys is now just 8 for 35 (.229) with runners in scoring position in 2017. Of the 8 hits, 6 are singles (including one infield hit and one bunt single), 1 double and 1 home run – a .343 slugging percentage.
Both of Grichuk’s doubles came with runners in scoring position. Beginning with the Milwaukee series at the end of April, Grichuk’s production with runners in scoring position has been on the upswing. Randal finished 2016 with one of the team’s better averages with runners in scoring position, when he hit .327 and slugged .579 when hitting with “ducks on the pond.” He began 2017 with just 3 hits in his first 13 RISP at bats (.231). Since then he is 8 for 29 (.276) with 5 of the hits going for extra-base – a .517 slugging percentage.
Dexter Fowler was the only Cardinal player to bat last night who didn’t finish the game with at least one hit. Since hitting a triple and a late three-run homer in the first San Francisco game, Dexter is 0 for 11, watching his season average tilt back down to .220.
He is hitting just .154 (4 for 26) since returning to the lineup after his shoulder injury. However, all 4 hits have been for extra bases, and he has sprinkled in 8 walks for a .343 on base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage since then. His batting line for May (.184/.347/.526) shows a similar trend. He has only 7 hits in 38 at bats this month, but with 6 extra-base hits (including 2 home runs) and 10 walks.
The resurgent Adam Wainwright was also a big story last night. Seven starts into his 2017 season, Adam had no quality starts, a 2-3 record, and a 6.37 ERA. After limiting the Giants to 1 run in 6.1 innings yesterday, Adam has now allowed just that single run on 9 hits in 13.1 innings over his last two starts (wins over the Giants and Cubs) – a 0.68 ERA. One particular area of improvement has been the bite on Adam’s curveball – making it a swing-and-miss pitch again. Through the first seven starts, opposing batters only missed on 16% of their swings against him. Over the last two games, the swing-and-miss percentage has been 26%.
During the month of April, Adam was mostly helpless when working with runners on base. The 34 batters who faced him that month with RISP opportunities stung him at a .379/.438/.655 clip. But San Francisco went 0-for-6 against Waino yesterday in RISP situations. Opposing hitters are now just 3 for 19 (.158) this month in this situation.
Wainwright’s start continues an impressive month by the Cardinal rotation, which now has 12 quality starts, a 2.87 ERA, and a .214 batting average against in 17 games and 106.2 innings this month. The overall team ERA for May is 2.91.
The Cardinals’ chances of contending over the entire season rest heavily on the pitching staff. This sustained excellence in May is very encouraging.
RISP and the Rest of the Rotation
Lance Lynn, of course, was part of that productive 2015 staff – and he was one of many to perform very well with runners in scoring position (a .233 batting average against). This year – so far – no one on the staff has been better. Opposing batters are just 2 for 16 this month (.125) and 5 for 33 (.152) for the year when facing Lance with runners in scoring position.
Carlos Martinez was the best of the 2015 staff in this situation. Combining his electric stuff and his native competitiveness, batters in RISP struggled to a .181 average against Carlos in 2015. He regressed a bit last year, in what seems to have been a “growing” year for him. In these situations in 2016 he was hit at a .244 clip. The Carlos Martinez of 2017, so far, resembles much more the 2015 Martinez. RISP batters are 2 for 12 (.167) this month, and 7 for 40 (.175) for the year against Carlos.
As with many other things in Mike Leake’s world, hitters with runners in scoring position thrived against him last year (.298), but have found the sledding much tougher this year. They are 2 for 10 (.200) this month, and 6 for 38 (.158) this year against him.
2015 was also Michael Wacha’s last healthy year. He was plenty tough in RISP situations then (.208), but declined in his injury-marred 2016 year (.297). As with most of the rest of the staff, Wacha has returned to form so far this year. With runners in scoring position, opposing batters are just 4 for 28 (.143) against him.
The trends on Miguel Socolovich are something of a mixed bag. Through his first 7 games (accounting for 9.2 innings) Miguel served up no home runs. The two he served up yesterday were the third and fourth in his last 6 games (7.2) innings. On the other hand, over the 10.1 innings of his first 8 games, Miguel walked 4 batters. He hasn’t walked anyone since (5 games, 7 innings).
Brett Cecil & Sam Tuivailala
Bonus good news from yesterday: two recently struggling relievers both regained a little balance. Brett Cecil, who has had more than his share of turmoil recently, retired both batters he faced.
Sam Tuivailala pitched the ninth inning in 1-2-3 fashion, putting an end to a three game streak in which Sam gave up a run in each game. Since his recall, Tuivailala has pitched 8 pretty good innings (3 runs on 7 hits and no home runs.)
Cardinal starters hove now strung together 4 consecutive quality starts (finally winning one of them), and have quality starts in 7 of the last 8 games. Lance Lynn – who opens the LA series – is the only Cardinal starter not to throw a quality start in the last nine games.
With his RBI double yesterday, Wainwright is now hitting .294/.294/.529 for the season – an OPS of .824 (yes, I know it’s just 17 at bats).
The strikeout prone Cardinals fanned just once yesterday. Twice previously they had struck out just twice in a game. On 13 other occasions in their first 41 games, the Cards have recorded 10 or more strikeouts.