Tag Archives: Tyler O’Neill

All Things are Possible at Coors

Pitchers, as you know, rarely hit home runs.  And when they do, they are rarely 426-foot moon shots.  And if a pitcher should launch one that far, it would almost never be to the opposite field.

Conversely, if one team only scores in one of the nine innings, and the other team only scores in two of those innings, the game’s final score rarely reaches double figures.

And, of course, seven-run leads rarely disappear.  In modern baseball, usually any lead of five or more runs is nearly impossible to overcome.

And yet – in the rarefied air of Coors Field Colorado, all feats are possible.  On a balmy evening last night in the heart of the Rockies, the red-hot Cardinals erupted for 4 second-inning runs – highlighted by pitcher Miles Mikolas’ opposite-field, 426-foot, two-run homer.  They would not score again until adding 3 more runs in the fifth inning – and that would be all they would get.

Still, with a seven-run lead going into the bottom of the fifth, the Cardinals and their fans were probably feeling fairly comfortable.

Until Colorado stormed back with 5 of their own in the bottom of that inning – driving Mikolas (who had been awarded the seven-run lead) from the game before he could qualify for the win.

Now trailing just 7-5, the denizens of Coors Field put the tying run on base in three of the last four innings – even getting that tying run as close as second base once.  But the resilient – and re-born Cardinal bullpen was equal to every challenge as the Cards held on for a hard-fought 7-5 victory (box score).  At Coors Field, it seems like every game ends like this.

The win gives St Louis its fourth straight victory, its eighteenth in 22 August games, 21 wins in 27 games since the bullpen was re-invented, and a 24-11 record since the All-Star Break.  All this good enough to push this team into the WildCard lead.  Where once the Cards trailed the Cubs by 8.5 games, they have now trimmed that lead to just 3 with still 33 games left to play.

Things have suddenly gotten very interesting in St Louis.

The Bullpen’s New Norm

Earlier this year, a “typical” bullpen performance would have featured a heart-breaking late-inning comeback by whoever we happened to be playing.  Since the Great Bullpen Flush of July 26-27, the new “typical” bullpen performance has featured a starter leaving the game way early, only to have a group of electric arms shut the other team down the rest of the way.

In Colorado last night, a quartet of Cardinal relievers quieted the Rockies (in Coors, no less), allowing no runs and just 3 hits over the last 4.1 innings.

Through the month of August, so far, the Cardinal bullpen holds a 1.86 ERA over 77.1 innings.  This features a .181 batting average against, and a .258 slugging percentage against.  Only 5 home runs have been hit against the Cardinal pen in those 77.1 innings. 

These numbers are eerily consistent with the bullpen’s performance overall since the late-July facelift.  Over the last 27 games, Cardinal relievers have thrown 97 innings with a 1.86 ERA, a .190 batting average against, and a .280 slugging percentage against.

Even though – in once sense – these were dominant innings, they weren’t without their drama.  Four walks in those 4.1 innings kept the bullpen one pitch away from disaster.  This, too, I’m afraid has been somewhat typical.  With many very young arms throwing many important innings, the walks continue to allow teams back into games.

Throughout the month of August, Cardinal relievers have walked 40 batters.  Even though 2 of those walks have been intentional, that is still 4.42 un-intentional walks every 9 innings.

In the hitter friendly environment of Coors Field, 4 walks in 4 innings will almost always spell disaster.  But again, in Coors, you never know what will happen.

Second-Half Hicks on Point

Continuing his second-half resurgence, Jordan Hicks kept Colorado off the scoreboard in the eighth.  In 16 appearances since the All-Star break, Hicks has allowed just 3 runs in 17.1 innings (1.56 ERA).  Two walks complicated the inning – and, in fact, provided the Rockies their best opportunity to win the game.  Jordan made the crucial pitch that got Carlos Gonzalez to end the inning on a ground ball, but this is a recurring issue for the hard-throwing right hander.  Jordan has walked 7 batters in his 10.2 innings this month.

It will be interesting to see – as he matures as a pitcher – if he will need to trade any of that velocity for increased command.

Jordan came in to preserve a two-run lead.  He has now pitched 28.2 innings this season with a lead of at least two runs – posting a 1.26 ERA, a .168 batting average against, and a .178 slugging percentage against.  His ERA is only 4.42 in the 36.2 innings in which he has pitched with less than a two-run lead.  This includes allowing 7 runs over the 11 innings he has pitched trying to preserve a one-run lead (5.73 ERA).

Bud Norris

On, again, in the ninth, Bud Norris seems to be getting better as the season winds down.  He is now unscored on over his last 5 games, and holds a 1.42 ERA over his last 12.2 innings.  During those innings, opponents are managing just a .178 batting average and a .200 slugging percentage against him.

Offense Still On Track

Although they only scored in two innings, the offense enjoyed its first look at the hitter’s palace that is Coors Field.  Finishing with 7 runs on 11 hits, the Cards are now averaging 5.14 runs per game this month, and 5.03 runs per game since the All-Star Break.  They have hit 49 home runs since the break, and 32 in 22 games this month.

Kolten Wong

Among the offensive heroes was Kolten Wong – who finished with 3 singles and drove in a run with a fly ball.  Since his return from the DL, Kolten has played in 18 games – making 16 starts.  He has hits in 13 of those 16 starts- getting multiple hits in 5 of them.  He has contributed a .368 batting average (21 for 57) during those games.

Kolten was 2-for-2 while the Cardinal lead was less than three runs, and 3-for-3 while the lead was less than five runs.  Since the All-Star Break, Wong is 11-for-21 (.524) when the Cards are ahead by one or two runs, and 17-for-36 (.427) if the lead is between one and four runs.

Jose Martinez and Tyler ONeill

When things are going well for your team, sometimes even injuries work out for you.  While Mike Matheny held the reigns, all of the injury luck was bad – Carlos Martinez, Yadier Molina, Paul DeJong, Michael Wacha, Wong, almost his entire bullpen, etc.

As Mike Shildt has taken over, not only have many of these missing pieces returned, but he has also benefited from a timely injury or two.  Just days after publicly committing to Dexter Fowler as an everyday presence in right field, Fowler goes down with a broken foot.  This injury opened a lineup spot for Jose Martinez.

Jose had two hits last night, and has now hit safely in 11 of his last 12 starts, and 12 of his last 14 games – 6 of those being multi-hit games.  During that stretch, Martinez is hitting .404 (21 of 52), raising his average for the month of August to .370 (27 for 73).

Similarly, a recent injury to Marcell Ozuna – who, in fairness was starting to come around with the bat – has opened playing time for another very promising youngster.  Tyler O’Neill added two hits to the Cardinal attack last night – including the second-inning home run that got things off and running.

Since his last call-up, O’Neill has been hitting .375 (12 for 32) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs (.625 slugging percentage).

That second-inning home run (in his first plate appearance at Coors) makes Tyler 8 for 16 (.500) in the second half with the Cards either even in the game or trailing by a run.  For the season, Tyler is 13 for 35 (.371) either even in the game or trailing by one.  Three of those hits are now home runs – giving him a .629 slugging percentage in that situation.

Matt Carpenter

So torrid for most of the summer, gravity has caught up with Matt Carpenter a bit this month.  His 0-for-5 last night makes him 0-for-10 with 6 strikeouts over the last 3 games.  He has hit 8 home runs this month, but is hitting just .217 (18 for 83) while doing so

Paul DeJong

Although he has teased at times, Paul DeJong has never managed to shake his post injury slump.  His power has come back somewhat.  He has hit 6 home runs in 34 second-half games.  But after his 0-for-4 last night, Paul is hitting just .198 (26 for 131) since the break.

Heavy Pitches Humble Cardinal Hitters

On the fourth pitch of the bottom of the first inning, Jon Gray’s slider stayed a little up and just inside enough for Matt Carpenter to get around on it.  Matty got just enough lift on the pitch to pull it over the wall in right.  One batter into the game, and the Cardinals had a quick 1-0 lead.

At the time, you wouldn’t have guessed that this would be a singular event.  Gray’s ERA coming into the event (5.16) wasn’t dazzling (take into account, of course, that he pitches his home games in Colorado), and the Cardinals – of late – have shown a little pulse at the plate (including the 5-4 comeback win from the night before).

Nonetheless, when Gray finally ran out of gas after 92 pitches with one out in the eighth, he walked off the mound with a 6-1 lead – on his way to a 6-3 victory (box score).

Not only was the Carpenter home run an anomaly in that it accounted for the only Cardinal run to that point, it also turned out to be rare because he was actually able to pull the ball in the air – something the Cards managed only 3 times all night.  Yadier Molina stroked a couple of fly ball outs to left during the game.

Velocity and location are not the only pitching factors.  Some pitchers throw what batters refer to as a “heavy” ball.  Even when left in locations and at velocities that batters can normally handle, these pitches don’t really jump off the bat.  It creates the illusion that this particular ball is made out of granite or some other weighty material.

This is who Jon Gray was for most of the evening last night.  He didn’t shy away from the strike zone with a fastball that held at about 94-mph and a slider about 10-mph slower.  But both pitches ran heavy, resulting in many groundballs – especially in key situations.

About the only time that Gray was ever in trouble during the first seven innings was the fifth, when an infield hit and a walk put two on with just one out.  But that heavy slider got the double play grounder (after a review) off the bat of Greg Garcia.

When he wasn’t getting ground balls, he was getting fly balls hit to the opposite field.  Between Gray and the two relievers – ex-Cardinal Seunghwan Oh and Wade Davis – the power-hitting Cardinals were left with 7 opposite field fly balls – several of them quite well hit – that they couldn’t get around on enough to get them over the fence.

As the Rockies walked off the field congratulating each other after the last of these opposite field fly outs (a soft fly to right by Jedd Gyorko) with a win that was more dominating than the final score suggested, the scoreboard showed 3 runs for St Louis on only 4 hits.  Other than the home run, the Cards had two infield hits, and one ground ball that snuck its way through the infield.

Gray – and the pitchers that followed – didn’t complicate things.  They threw strikes and kept their heavy pitches low and away.  They made it look easy.

Tyler O’Neill

The first opportunity to occupy the spot of the departed Tommy Pham fell to rookie Tyler O’Neill.  He finished his first game back in the majors with two infield hits.

In his 3 plate appearances, Tyler ended up in two strike counts twice, striking out once.  Power hitters in general – and rookie power hitters in particular – find themselves in this situation frequently.  O’Neill’s rookie season is now just 50 plate appearances deep, but he has ended up in two-strike situations in 64% of them – and of the 32 times that he has seen strike two, he has subsequently seen strike three 21 times (65.6%).

Yadier Molina

Molina finished a very strong July (.315/.357/.472) with a disappointing 0-for-4.  Twice during the game, Yadi put pretty good swings on the first strike he saw, but neither resulted in base hits.  Over all of baseball, batters are hitting .338/.402/.585 when they hit the first strike.  Yadi’s July ran quite contrary to that.  With his 0-for-2 last night, Molina finished July 4-for-20 (.200) when hitting the first strike.

In his first at bat of the game in the first, he fell quickly behind in the count 1-2.  But Yadi fouled off one pitch and took a ball before hitting the sixth pitch in play.  Molina continues to be difficult to strike out.  Strike two only leads to strike three 27.9% of the time with Molina at the plate.

Paul DeJong

Still feeling his way back from his injury, Paul DeJong took another 0-for-4 last night.  Paul is now hitless in his last 14 at bats, and finished July just 18 for 83 (.217) with only 6 walks (.264 on base).  Since being moved by new manager Mike Shildt into the third spot in the order, DeJong is hitting .182 (10 for 55) with only 4 walks (.230 on base).

Paul hit a couple of those “heavy” fly balls to right.  His first time up, he jumped a first pitch fastball, but the drive ran out of steam and came down well short of the fence.  Since his return from the DL, Paul is another who has had poor luck when hitting the first strike.  He is now just 2 for 18 (.111) on those pitches.

Marcell Ozuna

Among the casualties of last night’s loss was Marcell Ozuna’s six-game hitting streak.  He hit .346 (9-for-26) during the streak, with a double and 3 home runs.  He drove in 7 runs during that streak, while slugging .731.  The recent revival from Ozuna’s bat has been one of the most encouraging recent developments.

Jedd Gyorko

In general, the Cards struck out slightly less often in July than in the months leading up it – one of the reasons why the offense up ticked.  Through the season’s first three months, the Cards averaged 8.77 strikeouts per game, striking out 43.4% of the time that they found themselves in two-strike counts.  Over the last month, those numbers declined to just 7.46 strikeouts per game, and strikeouts in just 38.0% of their two-strike plate appearances.

Jedd Gyorko, in particular, is getting more and more difficult to fan.  Jedd – who didn’t strike out at all last night – struck out only 8 times in July, and on just 21.1% of his two-strike plate appearances.

Greg Garcia

Struggling lately off the bench, Garcia got a start last night to try to help his timing.  For one night, at least, the results were not quite there – Greg was 0-for-2 with that important double play.  Garcia finished July in a 2-for-20 slump.

Jack Flaherty

Last night’s starter, Jack Flaherty, didn’t make it out of the sixth inning again.  He finished July tossing just 28.2 innings over 6 starts, with a middling 1-3 record and a 4.71 ERA.  Since tossing seven innings of one-hit ball against Milwaukee on June 22, Jack has a 1-4 record and a 5.23 ERA over 7 starts.  His loss was his second in a row and fifth in his last seven decisions – although in fairness to Jack, he was twice betrayed by his bullpen, and has had more than two runs scored for him only once in his last 9 starts.

Flaherty is still not giving up a lot of his – only 5 in his 5.1 innings last night (albeit they included a home run and a double).  With that performance, the Cardinal starters finished the month of July with an opponent’s batting average of just .225.

Jack also struck out 7 batters in those innings, and is now averaging 11.06 strikeouts per nine innings.  Flaherty throws a lot of strikes, and almost always gets hitters in two-strike counts.  Last night, 14 of the 23 batters he faced ended up in two-strike counts.  For the month of July, he put 65.6% of the batters to face him (80 of 122) in two-strike counts.

Following Jack’s lead, the Cardinal pitching staff in general constantly kept Colorado in two-strike counts.  Of the 39 batters the Rockies sent to the plate, 26 (66.7%) ended their appearance with two strikes on them.  Only 4 of them got hits, although those hits included the two-run home run by Charlie Blackmon in the fifth (on a 1-2 pitch) and the very damaging double struck by Gerardo Parra (also on a 1-2 pitch) in the sixth.  That blow – from the first man faced by newly acquired Chasen Shreve – drove in a run to make it a 4-1 lead.

Speaking of the Bullpen

After an impressive series against the Cubs and a good first game against Colorado, the Cardinal bullpen ended July pretty much as they pitched through most of the month.  With Flaherty out of the game, the Rockies padded their advantage with 2 more runs on 4 more hits – including a home run – over the last 3.2 innings.  St Louis thus finished the month of July with a 5.98 ERA and a .306 batting average against from the bullpen.

John Brebbia

At one time, perhaps, the best pitcher in the Cardinal bullpen, John Brebbia finished a rough July by serving up a two-run homer in two-thirds of an inning.  He pitched 7 innings in July, allowing 6 runs on 10 hits – 2 of them home runs.  Opposing batters hit .323 against him in those innings, with a .581 slugging percentage.

With two-outs in the seventh, Brebbia started Parra off with an inviting fastball – perhaps just a little lower than Gerardo might ideally like it.  Parra jumped it, but only flew out to left.  John has had some ups and downs, but this is one thing he has managed to do pretty well – throw that first strike just slightly better than the batter expects.  For the season, batters are hitting just .160 (4 for 25) when hitting John’s first strike.  Not only are all four of the hits singles, but two of them are infield hits.

Mike Mayers

Throwing a quiet eighth inning, Mike Mayers faced three batters and got two strikes on all of them, but was unable to get a strikeout.  Mike throws the ball hard enough that one might expect more strikeouts.  Of the 19 July batters that he got two strikes on, only 4 ended up striking out (21.1%).  For the season, that percentage is a modest 35.8.

More Chances Elude Cards

Suddenly trailing 3-2 in the eighth inning, and now facing the electric stuff of Milwaukee left-hander Josh Hader, Jose Martinez fanned the Cardinal hopes with a leadoff walk.  He thus became the fifth Cardinal to reach base in yesterday’s 3-2 loss (box score) with no one out.

Last year, Cardinal runners who reached base with no one out scored 51.5% of the time.  So far this year, that number has been similar – 50.8%.  But during the general offensive brown-out that has characterized this month, even though St Louis hitters are reaching base at a .369 clip with no one out, only 45.8% are scoring.  And true to form, while Martinez made it to second in that inning, he watched from there as Yairo Munoz struck out to end the inning.  Seven of the Cardinals’ nine offensive innings ended with a strikeout.

With one game left in May, the Cards are managing a halting 3.88 runs per game this month with a disappointing .244 team batting average.  They have been one of baseball’s best teams with no one out.  They are hitting .287/.369/.489 this month before the first out.  But after the first out, the succeeding hitters are hitting just .219/.280/.338.  Over the last eight games, as the offense has ground to 3.13 rpg halt while managing just a .298 team on base percentage, this team has still hit .317/.361/.525 with no one out, but only .211/.261/.283 once that first out has been recorded.

While Wednesday’s game was notable for the return of top prospect Alex Reyes (who did well in his four innings), by the end of the day, this game looked like so many others the Cards have lost this season – late inning bullpen collapses and unrealized offensive opportunities.  St Louis went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position, and left 10 runners on base – 6 of them in scoring position.  Of the last 90 Cardinals to bat with two outs, 31 have struck out.

The team with the shaky bullpen can’t afford to miss too many scoring chances.

Jose Martinez

The game ended with Martinez striking out with runners at first and third.  It was Jose’s only opportunity to hit with runners in scoring position all day.  His has been one of the most important missing bats (along with Tommy Pham’s) as the offensive troubles have lately returned.  Martinez is 0 for 9 over the last three games, and is hitting just .222 (6 for 27) over the last 8 games.  He has one extra-base hit (a double) over his last 30 plate appearances.

Tyler O’Neill

The Cardinal’s other top prospect in the lineup – Tyler O’Neill – was their other 0 for 4. Batting right behind Martinez, it gave the Cards an 0-for-8 day from their three and four hitters.  Tyler provided an offensive jolt upon returning from Memphis – hitting home runs in three consecutive games at one point.  Over his last four games, Tyler is 0-for-11 with 8 strikeouts.  He has 2 singles in his last 19 at bats (.105) with 13 strikeouts.

Yairo Munoz

If there is no shortage of bad Cardinal offensive news, there have also been a few bright spots.  One of these is Yairo Munoz.  The star of spring training, Munoz began the season on the roster but was returned to Memphis as he struggled out of the gate.  Returning about the same time O’Neill did, Yairo has returned to his spring form.  With 2 hits yesterday, Munoz now has a five-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .412 (7-for-17).  He has also hit safely in all of his last 7 starts, hitting an impressive .480 (12-for-25) in those games.

This production has entrenched him at shortstop for the moment.  When Paul DeJong returns, this could set up another difficult lineup decision.  The athletic Munoz can also play second, so if Kolten Wong’s production doesn’t pick up, Yairo could see some time there.

Alex Reyes

For all of this, the headline yesterday was the removal of starting pitcher Alex Reyes after four innings and 73 pitches.  There was a momentary loss of velocity, which sent a ripple of concern through the Cardinal dugout.  Alex certainly didn’t breeze through the Brewers the way he did through the minor leagues, but some of this was to be expected.  After the long absence and the unusual hype connected to his return, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alex didn’t quite feel like himself on the mound.

I’m pretty sure he will be OK.

The larger story is that his solid four innings (no runs on 3 hits) continues the excellent month of May this team has received from its starters.  With one game left in the month, St Louis’ rotation holds a 2.72 ERA and has surrendered only 10 home runs in 149 innings (0.6 per 9 innings) while holding opposing batters to just a .220 batting average and a .308 slugging percentage.  Of the now eight pitchers who have started games for the Cards this month, five of them have ERAs below 2.25.  These pitchers (who seem to be the front-runners in the rotation discussion once everyone is back and healthy) are Reyes (0.00), Jack Flaherty (1.40), Miles Mikolas (1.89), Michael Wacha (2.02) and Carlos Martinez (2.19).

All of this gives one a sense of why the Cardinals are so excited about the prospects of their rotation – now and for a long time to come.

The Bullpen

The worst part of Alex’ early exit was it left five full innings to be covered by the Cardinal bullpen.  This is not usually a formula for success.  After Reyes left, the bullpen combined to allow 3 runs on 7 hits and 4 walks in what only proved to be four total innings (since Milwaukee wasn’t required to bat in the ninth).  Cardinal relievers have now pitched 90 innings this month with a 5.10 ERA.  They have now served up 12 home runs in those innings – a 1.20 per nine-inning pace that is exactly double the rate of the starters this month.

Fifty-three games into the season, and the bullpen mess is no closer to being solved.

Tyler Lyons

Last year, Tyler Lyons gained increasingly more important roles in the Cardinal bullpen as he finally seemed to have moved past his early career tendency of serving up home runs.  After getting dinged for 12 in just 60 innings in 2015, and 9 more in 48 innings the next year, Tyler worked through 54 innings last year, serving up just 3 home runs.

When Christian Yelich unloaded on the only pitch that Lyons threw yesterday – the long home run to center that tied the game at 2 – it marked the third home run that Tyler has allowed already this year (in just 12 innings).

In the tribute to Murphy’s Law that has been the Cardinal bullpen this year, Tyler Lyons has been as snake-bit as any of them.  Management clings to the fact that all of these pitchers have much better track records than they’ve shown so far.  They believe that there is a top-notch bullpen in there somewhere.

But as the division starts to tilt away from them, the urgency to find answers increases.