Tag Archives: Wacha

Home Stand Ends at 4-1 as Winning Streak Concludes

All winning streaks eventually come to an end – and always disappointingly.  Yesterday afternoon, the Braves built a 5-0 lead and withstood a late Cardinal rally for a 6-3 win (box score).  Even so, the Cardinals finished off their most recent home stand with a 4-1 record.  They are 9-3 in their home ballpark in the season’s second half, and now 35-27 there for the season.

Doubly disappointing in the loss was another scuffling performance by the pitching staff.  After being a decided strength throughout July, the pitchers started to show a little fraying through the 5-game home stand.  They allowed at least 5 runs in each game, and finished the stand with a 4.60 ERA (4 of the runs scored were unearned), and, after Atlanta banged out 12 more hits yesterday, a .309 batting average against.

Michael Wacha

One of the encouraging pieces in July, Michael Wacha has been less sharp in his 3 August starts.  Lasting just 5 innings yesterday, Wacha was brushed for 4 runs on 8 hits (including a home run).  He now has made it through just 15 innings in his August starts, with just 1 quality start.  He has now allowed 8 runs on 19 hits (including 2 home runs) in those innings – yielding a 4.80 ERA and a .317 batting average against.

John Brebbia

As his excellent rookie season turns the corner into August, John Brebbia has started to take on a little water.  Asked to hold a two-run deficit in the ninth inning yesterday, Brebbia was touched for 2 hits and a run.  He has now been scored on in 3 of his last 5 games, allowing 4 runs on 5 hits (2 of them home runs) over his last 5.2 innings.

It was the first earned run charged to John at Bush in 17.2 inning this season (0.51 ERA).  His other 7 runs allowed – including all 4 of his home runs – have been served up in 14.1 innings on the road (4.40 ERA).

Offense Still Hitting the Ball, But —

For the first time in 8 games, the Cardinal offense couldn’t manage 4 runs to support the pitching staff.  Even at that, though, they finished the day with 11 more hits.  The Cards finished this most recent home stand with a .305 team batting average (50 for 164).  They are also, now, at .290 at home in the second half.

Paul DeJong

Even in defeat, Paul DeJong continues to be a bright spot.  His 3 hits yesterday included another home run that sparked the comeback.  Paul has now hit in 9 of his last 10 games – getting multiple hits in 7 of them.  He is 18 for 45 (.400) in those games with a .733 slugging percentage (3 doubles and 4 home runs).  He has scored 7 runs and driven in 10 in those 10 games, and now has 16 runs batted in in the 19 games since he’s inherited the third slot in the order.

Paul is now hitting .333 in August (18 for 54) and slugging .611 this month.  Since the All-Star Break, DeJong is a .281 hitter (34 for 121), and a .554 slugger (6 doubles and 9 home runs).  Paul has driven in 22 runs in 29 second half games.

While Busch Stadium seems to inhibit many of the Cardinal hitters, Paul DeJong has claimed it as his own.  After a solid 9-for21 home stand that included 2 home runs, DeJong now has a .375 average at home (42 for 112) that includes 9 home runs, 22 runs batted in (in 31 games), and a .714 slugging percentage.  Paul now has to figure out a way to keep that magic going on the road, where he is hitting .234.

Randal Grichuk

Another bright spot was two more hits from Randal Grichuk.  Out of his head, and modeling a new shorter stroke, Randal has been a force during the recent winning streak.  He has hit in 5 of his last 6 games – getting 2 hits in each of those games.  Four of the ten hits have been for extra bases (1 double, 1 triple, and 2 home runs), so Randal has a .435 batting average and a .826 slugging percentage over those games.  He has hit safely in each of his last 7 starts.

He is now up to .302 for the month (13 for 43) with a .581 slugging percentage, and .321 in the season’s second half (26 for 81).  Those hits include 5 doubles, 1 triple, and 6 home runs, for a second half slugging percentage of .630.

With 8 hits in 18 at bats over the home stand, Grichuk is now hitting .356 at Busch (16 for 45) since the All-Star Break.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong’s hot streak continues.  Two-for-four with a triple yesterday, Kolten’s hitting streak reaches 8 games, during which he is hitting .462 (12 for 26) and slugging .769 (3 doubles, 1 triple and 1 home run).  Wong has hit in 13 of his last 14 games, and is now hitting .409 this month (18 for 44).  In 30 games since the All-Star Break, Wong is hitting .319 (29 for 91).

Kolten has also thrived on his home field.  He was 7 for 14 (.500) during the last home stand, and is now hitting .324 (12 for 37) here since the break, and .349 for the season (45 for 129).

Prior to 2017, Kolten was only a .239 career hitter in St Louis (164 for 686).

Kolten has also gone 11 for 30 (.367) in his last 8 road games, and is now hitting .315 (17 for 54) away from home since the break.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter saw a dynamic 7-game hitting streak come to an end with yesterday’s 0-for-5.  In his 33 plate appearances during the streak, Matt amassed 4 singles, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 8 runs scored, 8 runs batted in, 6 walks, and 2 hit-by-pitches.  His batting line over the streak was an impressive .360/.515/.680.

Even with the streak, Carpenter is still hitting just .220 (9 for 41) for the month.

NoteBook

As Atlanta built their 5-0 lead, they became the fourth team in the five-game home stand to score the first run of the game.  The Cardinals have scored first only 3 times in the last 14 games – yet they are 10-4 in those games.

Yesterday was St Louis’ tenth opportunity to sweep a series this year.  The Braves became just the third of those teams to avoid the sweep.  Half of those sweep opportunities have come against teams (like Atlanta) that had lost its previous series.  St Louis has completed that sweep in 3 of their 5 opportunities.

St Louis is now 10-7-3 in their 20 home series.

Doing Battle with Winning Teams

Yes, it could have been much, much better.  When Corey Knebel froze Greg Garcia with a 3-2 curveball, the home standing Brewers had held on to their 2-1 victory, giving them the 2-1 series win.  As with so many other games this season, the Cards fell just short.  As with so many other opportunities recently, the Cards just missed another chance to reach the .500 mark.

In the midst of the frustration, in the longer view all of this has been not so bad.

Yesterday’s game marked the end of a 13-game streak of games against winning teams – many of them among the league’s best.  The streak began on July 21 with 3 games in Chicago (the defending world champs, in case you forgot, who had yet to lose since the All-Star Break when we arrived in town).  It continued with a 7-game home stand against the two teams currently sitting in the two Wildcard spots, Colorado and Arizona (who also happen to be 2 of the 4 NL teams that have won 60 or more games already this season).  It then finished with these three games in Milwaukee – which I admit are the most disappointing of the lot, as the Brewers looked like they were beginning to sink.

Still, out of all of that, the Cards finished this fairly daunting streak of teams whose composite winning percentage is currently .548 with a solid 7-6 record.  Seven of the thirteen games (including all of the last four) were one-run games – with St Louis winning 3 of the 7.  Remember, prior to this, St Louis was 17-27 against winning teams, and are 17-21 overall in one-run games.

No, they couldn’t manage the “run” they keep talking about.  At the same time, it was a definite step forward.  The June version of this team would have gone 4-9 or worse during this stretch.  This finally looks like a team that can compete with the better teams in baseball.

Throughout the run, the heroes were the pitching staff.  Against four highly regarded offenses, the pitchers held the line with a 3.27 ERA and a .230 batting average against.  This continues an impressive streak that runs to the last two games before the All-Star break.  Over the last 22 games, Cardinal pitchers hold a 2.82 ERA.  This is the pitching staff that management believed heavily in at the beginning of the season, and as this impressive run grows, it is easier and easier to see why.

Holding the team back, of course, has been the scuffling offense that has been averaging only 3.75 runs per game since the All-Star Break.  Yesterday’s performance – which saw them finish 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, ending with 1 run and just 6 hits – is fairly representative of the recent struggles the hitters are fighting through.

As an exercise, I looked at the four pitching staffs – considering their season stats coming into their series’ against the Cards.  Over the 113 offensive innings we had against these teams, an average offense would have been expected to score 51 runs, hit 15 home runs, and bat .246.  The Cardinal actuals were 50 runs scored, 13 home runs hit, and a .253 batting average.  Over the course of the season – in 57 games against winning teams – St Louis is hitting .240 and scoring 3.89 runs per contest.

The message of this 13-game test is that the pitching staff looks like it can compete with the best offenses out there.  This is great news, because there is even more highly regarded pitching on the way from the pitching-rich farm system.

The questions swirl around the offensive component.  Can they show up as more than an average offense against the better teams in the league.  There are hitters on the way, too, so the lineup – as it stands – should be on notice.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong finished his day with a single in the sixth inning, and a double that was almost a home run in the eighth.  Wong looks like he’s starting to heat up, now, with 6 hits in his last 21 at bats (.286).

While there are questions about other bats in the lineup, Wong is spending this season answering questions about whether he is the second baseman of the future or not.  Yesterday’s hits bring his season average back up to .291.  In 38 games against winning teams, Wong is hitting .289 (35 for 121).  His absences from the lineup have probably been more damaging to this team than we immediately realize.

Matt Carpenter

Yes, Matt Carpenter was pushed back down to the three hole in the lineup, so his 0-for-4 should have been anticipated.

During his first two full seasons, Carpenter was one of the team’s best hitters against winning teams. In 2012-2013, Matt played 154 games against teams that would finish with winning records. He hit .314 against those guys (165 for 525).  Over the most recent seasons, though, he has lost most of that edge.  Since 2014, Carpenter has played 180 games against winning teams, hitting just .238 (156 for 655) with 175 strikeouts.  This year, Matt has played in 54 of the 57 games against winning teams.  He is 43 for 185 (.232).

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty finished the game 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and a walk.  His last three at bats (which were both strikeouts and the walk) were excellent battles that lasted a total of 22 pitches.  Still, Stephen – who is still re-inventing himself – has been back from the DL for 3 games, during which he has one gift single in 8 at bats.  He is 1-for-12 in the season’s second half, and, stretching back 7 games before his injury, Piscotty is hitting .121 (4 for 33) in his last ten. His last extra-base hit was a double on July 2 – 38 at bats ago.

For the season, Stephen hits .216 (25 for 116) against teams with winning records.

Michael Wacha

Coming off a great July – he was 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA – Michael Wacha’s first August start was a bit disappointing.  When they sent up a pinch-hitter to take his at bat in the fifth, Wacha had allowed only 1 run – but had also only pitched 4 innings.  They were grinding innings.  It took him 81 pitches to navigate through those innings, which saw him surrender 5 hits and 3 walks.

Overall, Wacha has been one of those puzzle pieces that has mostly fallen short when facing winning teams.  Yesterday was his tenth start against a winning team.  He has managed only 2 quality starts against them, going 2-4 with a 5.84 ERA.  This number, though, has gotten better lately.  Wacha made 3 of the starts in this 13-game stretch against winning teams.  He was 1-1 with yesterday’s no decision, and a 3.38 ERA.  His batting average against these opponents was a solid .233.

Coming down the stretch, Wacha still looks like he is more answer than issue.

Other Starters facing Winning Teams

Of the members of the rotation, it has been Lance Lynn – whose future is very much in question here in St Louis – who has been the most effective when matched up with the better teams the Cards have faced.  Lance has made 11 starts against teams with winning records.  He has a 4-3 record in those games, with a 3.11 ERA in 63.2 innings, and a .178 batting average against.  Speaking only for myself, I’m not entirely convinced that Lance’s future isn’t as promising as some of the young arms on the way.

Mike Leake has also been very good matched up against winning teams.  In his 11 starts and 73.2 innings against them, Mike has a 5-5 record, a 3.18 ERA, and a .217 batting average against.  This isn’t just a factor of his good early start to the season.  He started twice in this recent 13-game gauntlet.  He pitched 12 innings, throwing quality starts both times, and going 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA.

Adam Wainwright has made 10 starts against winning teams, with better than expected results – 5-3 record and 3.28 ERA.  Carlos Martinez has been more hit-and-miss than hoped for.  In 12 starts against these opponents, Carlos is 4-5, 3.72.

Brett Cecil

Three consecutive two-out singles against Brett Cecil in the fifth inning doomed the team yesterday.  After a long streak of excellence that culminated with his brief enthronement as the team’s closer, Brett is sort of broken again.  In 8 innings since the All-Star Break, Brett has given 4 runs on 14 hits that have included 5 doubles and a home run.  Since the break, opponents are batting .389 and slugging .611 against Cecil.

Seung-hwan Oh

Settling back into the set-up role that he began in last year, Seung-hwan Oh looks like he has found himself.  He has allowed no earned runs in his last 7 games (7 innings), during which he has allowed just 6 singles.  In these games, batters have missed with 31% of their swings against him, 58% of the batters who have put the ball in play against Oh have hit it on the ground, and 72% of the pitches he has thrown have gone for strikes.  He has looked very sharp recently.

While this has been an uneven season for Oh, he has always been good against winning teams.  His ERA against them last year was 2.53 in 32 innings.  This year, his ERA against them is 2.49 in 25.1 innings.

NoteBook

With their series win over Pittsburgh, Cincinnati becomes the sixth of the Cardinals’ last seven opponents to have won their previous series.

The Milwaukee series was the Cardinals sixteenth road series of the season.  In going 22-29 on the road, St Louis is 5-10-1 in their road series thus far.

Quintana’s Acts of Aggression Pay Off

The Cardinals had their moments against new Chicago lefty Jose QuintanaRandal Grichuk and Paul DeJong reached him for home runs.  Tommy Pham almost did as well.  Matt Carpenter was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a double.  Yadier Molina was thrown out stealing one pitch before DeJong’s home run.  Michael Wacha bunted into a double play to blunt another scoring opportunity.  Pham’s was one of three line drives that were caught.

The most notable aspect of Quintana’s game – to my mind – was his aggressiveness.  He only fell behind two batters 2-0 (and he walked both of those).  Everyone else got a strike (and usually a fastball strike) in the first two pitches.

Jose doesn’t have the overpowering fastball.  But that didn’t stop him from firing it in there.  In baseball, aggression always works – except when it doesn’t.  And while the end result for Jose could very easily have been much different, he ended up getting just enough run support and just enough plays made behind him to get the win.

That’s how it goes when you are the hot team.

For the Cardinals, it was their fourth loss in the last five games.

Jedd Gyorko

After getting just 5 hits in his previous 11 games, Jedd Gyorko came through with a couple of hits.  His first-inning double (the hit that resulted in Carpenter getting thrown out at first) was his first extra-base hit in 32 at bats.

Paul DeJong

DeJong’s little slump didn’t last long.  He had two hits – including a home run – and is having as fine a July as anyone.  He is now 20 for 68 (.294) this month with 8 doubles and 6 home runs – a .676 slugging percentage.

Randal Grichuk

Whether or not it will last, Grichuk certainly didn’t struggle to find his rhythm.  He finished the Cub series 5 for 11 (.455) with 3 home runs and 5 RBIs.

Luke Voit

While DeJong has re-discovered his groove, Luke Voit – whose playing time has been less regular – has not.  Luke took over for Matt Carpenter after Carpenter felt tightness in his leg, and went 0 for 3.  Luke is now hitless in his last 10 at bats, and 1 for 12 (.083) in the last 5 games.  For the month of July, his average has fallen to .220 (11 for 50).

In the fifth inning, Luke bounced Quintana’s first pitch changeup to second base.  In his brief major league career, Luke has hit the first pitch thrown to him 9 times.  He has one infield singled to show for them.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham didn’t get a hit, but he ended up in counts of 1-0, 2-2, 3-2, and 3-1.  For the month of July, Pham is hitting ahead in the count 47.5% of the time, and 42.7% of the time for the season.  As his vision seems to have been corrected, Tommy’s strike zone judgment has improved significantly.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler has now played in 13 games since coming back from his latest foot issue.  After his 0 for 3 last night, Fowler is a .239 hitter (11 for 46) and .326 slugger (1 double, 1 home run).  He has driven in 2 runs and scored 2 runs in those games.

Let’s point out, though, that for someone who hasn’t had a lot of hits, Dexter has been putting together a lot of pretty good at bats.  In his 52 plate appearances since coming off the disabled list, Dexter has hit ahead in the count in 26 of those (50%).  This includes 2 of his 4 last night.  That Dexter is only hitting .150 in those plate appearances (3 for 20) is evidence, perhaps, of some bad luck.  He has also walked in 6 of those plate appearances-including 1 last night, so his on base percentage since his return is a not so bad .346 when he gets ahead in the count.

Michael Wacha

Though last night wasn’t all he hoped for, let’s not forget how well Wacha has been pitching of late.  He had won 5 decisions in a row, and was 4-0 with a 1.01 ERA and a .189/.235/.221 batting line against over his previous 26.2 innings.  Before allowing two home runs last night, Michael had gone 141 at bats against him without yielding a home run.

Michael, in fact, pitched better than his final line.  All during the month of July, Wacha has been throwing that plus change off his downward-plane fastball to mostly devastating effect.  Last night he pitched from ahead against 8 of the 24 batters he faced.  They managed one hit and struck out 4 times.  For the month of July, when Wacha pitches ahead in the count, opposing batters are 2 for 36 (.056).

The only real damage done to him last night came when he fell behind hitters.  Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant both drove in third-inning runs on 2-0 fastballs.  Willson Contreras’ game-winning, two-run homer came on a 3-1 fastball.

Buyers or Sellers?

With the 4-6 road trip, the Cards stand at 47-51, 4.5 games behind the division co-leaders.  One could make a very compelling case for the Cards being sellers at the deadline – the most compelling argument being that 98 games into the season, the Cardinals are still a bad baseball team.  They have great, great talent.  Anyone who doubts their talent, just hasn’t been paying attention.  But their heart doesn’t match their skill.

After last night’s loss, manager Mike Matheny said: “We’re putting up some good, good games against some good teams.  It’s just that something is not letting us finish it, one way or another, whether it’s enough offense or enough pitching and defense.”

In other words, they are what I have been calling them for a while – the team that blinks.  The team that isn’t as mentally tough as the team that lines up against them.

That being said – being that they are only 4.5 games out – it is unlikely that they will sell.  And I think I’m OK with that.  Especially as it concerns Grichuk and Lance Lynn.

With Randal, I really want to see him play through this second half.  He’s been more of a tease these last two years, but there is enormous talent there.  Before we give it away for whatever we can get, I would like to see these last couple of months whether he can turn the corner.  He is under team control for a few more years, so we can always flip him next year if he doesn’t pan out.

The case of Lynn is a little more complex, as Lance will be a free agent at season’s end.  The team thinking – I think – is this.  We have a great many promising arms working their way through the system.  Of immediate note, Alex Reyes is expected to be back and in the rotation next year – so one of the current members of the rotation will have to give way.  Lance, of course, will want a long-term deal, and – with the numbers of pitchers on the way – the Cards don’t feel that they can make that kind of commitment to him.  They consider him a very good pitcher, but not as elite as the prospects on the way.

Over his last several starts, though, Lynn – in his first season back from Tommy John surgery – has been pitching like one of the top pitchers in baseball.  Can he sustain that?  Who knows?  But I, for one, am curious.  I would like to see Lance get the rest of the season to make his case.  To show that his future is as promising as many of the arms on the way.

If neither Grichuk nor Lynn prove to be parts of our future, then not moving them will be something of a lost opportunity.  But before we part with these two impressive talents, I would like to be more convinced of what we have or don’t have in them.

NoteBook

Last night the Cards played a rubber game on the road for the sixth time this season.  They have now lost five of them.

St Louis is now also 1-5 in rubber games against teams that won their previous series.

After going 6 for 12 with runners in scoring position on Friday, St Louis was 0-1 in RISP opportunities in both of the last two games.

Aggressive Approach Pushes Cards Past Reds

Aggression isn’t always the answer.  Certainly, in terms of international conflict resolution, aggressive mindsets usually lead to tragedies.

On the athletic field, however, aggression is sometimes the cure for the common (and sometimes uncommon slump).  It can be a two-edged sword – any many times this year the Cardinals have let themselves become overly aggressive.  But controlled aggression will frequently pay dividends.

In last night’s 8-2 conquest of the troubled and troubling Cincinnati Reds (box score), St Louis was able to establish from the beginning an aggressive edge, offensively (especially with Tommy Pham setting the tone for the night in the first inning) and on the mound.  And the latter aggression may be more important than the first.

Michael Wacha

Still making starts is Michael Wacha.  Certainly a less patient manager would have moved him out of the rotation after Wacha had struggled through his previous six starts with a 1-2 record, an 8.17 ERA, and a .351 batting average.  And last evening, Michael rewarded Mike Matheny’s faith and patience with six excellent innings (1 run, 5 hits, 1 walk, 88 pitches).

Much of the fix was mechanical.  Michael was throwing “downhill” again.  A lot of the issue, though, was mental.  Wacha nibbled a great deal during his brownout.  Even if he wouldn’t put himself behind in the count, much, he allowed hitters to be the aggressors in the exchange – and they took advantage.  In his first four starts of the month, opposing hitters hit .382 against Wacha (21 for 55) when the at bat ended before Wacha had thrown “ball 2.”  Seven of the 21 hits were for extra-bases (three of them home runs), so these aggressive plate appearances resulted in a .636 slugging percentage against Wacha.

Last night it was a less-timid Wacha on the mound.  He threw first pitch strikes (15 to the 23 batters he faced), but he didn’t groove them.  He threw confidently to the corners of the strike zone.  Only 2 of the batters he faced reached 3-ball counts, and the batters who hit before ball-2 were only 3 for 14 (.214), all singles.

It was an outing to build on.

Early Runs Are a Blessing

And of course, first inning support runs – three of them last night – don’t hurt a pitcher’s confidence any.  While June has been a tumultuous month, the offense has been more good than not.  Two home runs and 8 runs scored last night bring the team totals to 40 home runs for the month (in 25 games), and 120 runs scored (4.8 per game).

Piscotty & Gyorko

While outfield mates Pham and Randal Grichuk will get a lot of attention over the next few games as they jockey for playing time once Dexter Fowler returns, Stephen Piscotty has been quietly going about the business of working his way out of a disappointing start to the season.  Piscotty singled and doubled last night, and is now hitting .275 in June (22 for 80) with 5 doubles and 4 home runs (.488 slugging percentage).

Jedd Gyorko also had two hits last night – his a single and a home run.  He is now also hitting .275 this month (also 22 for 80), and also, now, with 4 home runs.

NoteBook

Last night was the first time the Cardinals had won consecutive games without Philadelphia being at least one of the teams involved since May 31 – June 1 when they won consecutive games against the Dodgers 2-1 and 2-0.

Winning Teams – Like the Brewers – Still Own the Cards

After a comfortable win in the first game of the Milwaukee series, the Cardinals engaged the Brewers in three very tightly contested games – games that weren’t decided until the seventh inning or later.  All three games were eventually won by Milwaukee – the last one by a 6-4 score last night (box score).  You could say that the results of these games were less important than the fact that the Cards were “in” every game (even a game they trailed 6-0 at one point).  But the truth is that this recent series fits neatly into the predominant pattern of the Cardinal season.  They are still the team that blinks.  Now just 10-19 against teams that currently have a winning record (a list that does not at the moment include the defending champion Cubs), the statistical message they are loudly sending is that they are simply are not good enough.  That, at least, is the testimony of the season’s first 65 games.

What is curious about this (so far) disappointing team, is the difficulty we have determining its strengths and weaknesses.  Of all the question marks coming into the season, one area of assumed strength was the bullpen – which has been mostly disastrous this season.  Not that there haven’t been other issues, but I think it’s accurate to say that if the Cardinal bullpen had managed to be just average, this team could very well be in first place.  They certainly would be over .500.

Meanwhile, for the season’s first two months the starting rotations ranked among the elite rotations in baseball while the offense did all it could to undermine their efforts.  As May has faded into June, the offense is beginning to find itself while the rotation has been dutifully melting down.

Michael Wacha’s abbreviated four-inning start last night leaves the rotation with only 3 quality starts and a 5.36 ERA through the first 15 games of June – 10 of which have been losses.

Michael Wacha

On May 19, Wacha walked off the mound having thrown 6 innings of 4-hit shutout ball against the San Francisco Giants.  Even though the bullpen turned his 2-0 lead into an eventual 6-5 loss, optimism was high that the Cardinals had revived the career of the talented but oft-injured right-hander.  At that point, Wacha had pitched 42.2 innings over 7 starts (5 of them quality starts).  He held a 2-1 record (with two other potential wins lost by the bullpen), a 2.74 ERA and a .242 batting average against.

Since that moment, Wacha has mostly unraveled.  In the 5 starts he has made since then, Wacha has lasted at least five innings only once.  He has lasted only 21.1 innings total – during which it has rained hits (30 including 4 home runs) and runs (22 – 21 of them earned).  He is 1-2 with an 8.86 ERA, a .333 batting average against, and a .567 slugging percentage against since May 19.  It’s starting to be quite a while since Michael has been good.

Wacha is one of the pitchers that winning teams have taken advantage of all season.  This was his fifth start against teams that have won more than they’ve lost.  He has no quality starts against them, going 0-3 with a 7.83 ERA, lasting just 23 innings in those starts.  Serving up 35 hits – including 5 home runs – in those games, Michael is seeing the league’s better teams hit .361 and slug .588 against him.

Needless to say, the early season enthusiasm over Michael has cooled considerably.

Winning Teams v the Other Cardinal Starters

While the rotation has hit on some collective rough times this month, over the whole season, when faced with winning teams, most of the Cardinals starters have been appreciably competitive.

Carlos Martinez has been the best, his 2-3 record notwithstanding.  He has produced quality starts in 3 of his 5 games with a 3.00 ERA and a .203 batting average against.  From 2015 when Carlos became a member of the rotation, he has made 31 starts and 2 relief appearances against winning teams, providing a 14-12 record, a 3.29 ERA, and a .226 batting average against.  Twenty of those 31 starts have been quality starts.

Lance Lynn (2-3, 3.09 ERA) and Mike Leake (3-2, 3.29 ERA) have also pitched very well against the better teams they’ve faced.  Lynn has held these clubs to a .176 average.  Leake (who was only 1-8, 4.84 ERA against winning teams last year) has held these teams to a .223 batting average.  He has also walked just 6 in 41 innings over 6 starts.

Adam Wainwright has made 6 such starts so far this year, managing a 3-2 record in spite of a 4.26 ERA and a .328 batting average against.

Seung-hwan Oh

The previous night, it was Kevin Siegrist who surrendered the seventh inning run that would give Milwaukee just enough margin to hold onto the 7-6 victory.  Kevin pitched a flawless seventh last night.  The night before it had been Trevor Rosenthal surrendering 3 eighth-inning runs that served up the second game of the doubleheader to the Brewers by an 8-5 score.  Trevor pitched the eighth again last night, allowing a hit but no damage.

So last night it was Seung-hwan Oh’s turn.  Again.  Entering in the ninth inning of a 4-4 game, Oh served up a single and the two run home run that sealed the three-game losing streak.

Before he came into last Sunday’s ninth inning against Philadelphia, Oh seemed to be the one member of the Cardinal bullpen who looked like he was starting to figure things out.  He had a modest six-game streak of not giving up a run, holding batters to a .174/.208/.217 batting line.  In addition, he had struck out 11 batters in those 6.1 innings.

He picked up that save on Sunday, although not before he allowed 4 hits and turned a 6-3 lead into a 6-5 nail-biter.  Summoned in the eighth-inning in game two of the Brewer series with the bases loaded and facing a 1-run deficit, Seung-hwan gave a hit and a sacrifice fly to let 2 of the 3 runners score.  After last night, the last 16 batters to face him have 7 hits (including a home run) and a sacrifice fly – a .467 batting average and a .667 slugging percentage.  Seung-hwan doesn’t look so fixed anymore.

John Brebbia

If the name John Brebbia meant nothing to you before the season started, you were not alone.  His promotion from Memphis in late May didn’t occasion hordes of media types descending to witness his major league debut.  But there has been little not to like about Brebbia as he continues to get outs in an otherwise out-challenged bullpen.  Brought in yesterday in perhaps his most crucial situation yet (tie game, bases loaded, fifth inning, no one out), John did a very capable job defusing the situation while allowing just one of the runners to score.  He then added a scoreless sixth.

It’s only a total of 8.2 innings over 8 games, but John’s numbers are encouraging – two runs allowed on three hits – a 2.08 ERA and a .103 batting average against.  Serving up one of the Scooter Gennett home runs in Cincinnati on June 6 has been the only blemish on his record so far.

Five of Brebbia’s first eight games have come against winning teams.  They haven’t been terribly high leveraged situations, but he has, nonetheless, thrown 5.2 innings of one-hit scoreless ball in those games.

Matt Carpenter

If you are looking for positives to take away from this game – and in fact this series – you pretty much have the top of the batting order: Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler.

Famously re-inserted into the top of the order nine games ago, Carpenter has responded with a 9 game hitting streak during which he has hit .429 (15 of 35) and slugged .886 (7 doubles and 3 home runs).  All 7 of the doubles have come in the last six games after Matt had hit only 5 doubles through his first 55 games.  Carpenter has also gone 5 games without striking out.

After beginning the month just 2 for his first 19 (.105), Carpenter may have put himself in the player of the month conversation.  He is now hitting .315 and slugging .611 this month.  His June OPS is currently .994.

Dexter Fowler

As Carpenter is starting to make things happen in the leadoff spot, Fowler has been heating up in the second position as well.  In the nine games since Carpenter was switched, Fowler has hit .357 (10 for 28) and slugged .679 (3 doubles and 2 home runs).  He added a home run and a single last night.  After a rough start, Fowler’s June batting line is starting to look very healthy.  In 54 plate appearances this month, Dexter has 7 singles, 3 doubles, 3 home runs, 7 runs scored, 9 runs batted in, and 8 walks – a .283/.389/.543 line that adds up to a not-so-shabby .932 OPS.

Jose Martinez

The Brewers series (in which he started all four games) started on a very high note for Jose Martinez.  He hit two home runs in the first game, drove in another run with a ground ball in the second game, and then added two more RBIs with a triple in the third game.  It finished on a much lower note, as he went hitless in his last seven at bats – including the deflating double play that ended the eighth.

The three extra-base hits from the Milwaukee series notwithstanding, Martinez is just 5 for 26 (.192) this month.

NoteBook

Tonight’s opponent – the Baltimore Orioles – come into the series having lost three of four to the White Sox.  Earlier this season, St Louis played a streak of six straight opponents that had lost their previous series (Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago & Boston).  This was immediately followed by a streak of four straight opponents that had won their previous series (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Colorado & Los Angeles again).  The Orioles will now be St Louis’ fifth straight opponent since LA not to have won its previous series (Chicago, Cincinnati, Philadelphia – which split a four game series, Milwaukee and Baltimore).

Dodgers Win on Barrage of 1-2 Hits

The impressive run of starting pitching had to end at some point – and that some point was the fourth inning of last night’s 7-3 loss to the Dodgers (box score).  After Chase Utley got the Dodgers started with a second inning home run on a 1-2 pitch, three of his teammates followed suit with devastating hits on 1-2 pitches.

With a runner at first and two out and the Cardinals leading 3-1, Enrique Hernandez, Yasiel Puig, and starting pitcher Kenta Maeda hit successive ground balls that found holes, putting Los Angeles ahead to stay.  The at bats by Hernandez and Maeda were most impressive as they lasted 7 pitches each.

With the loss, the Cardinals have now dropped 6 of their last 8.

Michael Wacha

Mostly impressive in his return this season, Michael Wacha endured his worst start of 2017, lasting 4 innings and allowing 6 runs on 7 hits.  After an solid April, Wacha’s May has been a little ordinary.  In four starts (with one more, possibly, remaining), Wacha is 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA and a .288 batting average against.

Wacha gave up a total of 5 hits on 1-2 pitches last night (including Utley’s home run).  None of those hits came off the fastball.  Perhaps batters are starting to look for that breaking pitch when they get behind in the count?

Brett Cecil

Say this for the Cardinals prize offseason acquisition, Brett Cecil.  He finds a way.  In last night’s contest, with runners at first and second and no one out, Brett uncorks two wild pitches and then serves up a double allowing all of the runs.  The game had been a one-run affair up until that point.  For the season, 11 of 23 runners Cecil has inherited have come home to roost (47.8%).  This is now three times he’s come on with two runners on and allowed all of them to score.  He has also inherited a bases-loaded jam and allowed all of those runners to score.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist turned in a good inning – albeit after the event was already decided.  In 9.2 innings this month, Kevin has a 2.79 ERA and 10 strikeouts.  He is starting to look like Kevin again.

Earlier this season, Kevin had lost the ability to get swinging strikes.  Last night, the Dodger hitters missed on 4 of the 7 swings they took against Siegrist.  All three at bats, by the way, went to 1-2 (and one of those resulted in a hit).  So far this month, 26 of the 37 batters Kevin’s faced (70.3%) have seen their at bat end before Siegrist has thrown ball two.

Anxious Offense Struggles Again

Again, last night, the offense endured another long silent stretch.  After a loud 3-run first, they didn’t score again over the last eight innings of the game.  During the 8-game slide, St Louis has hit 4 home runs and averaged just 3.88 runs per game.

When guys like Kenta Maeda shut down the Cardinal offense, they make it look so amazingly easy.  Neither Maeda nor Hyun-Jin Ryu threw with amazing velocity.  They nibbled with breaking balls on the corners of the strike zone and waited for the aggressive Cardinal hitters to get themselves out.  Throughout all of baseball (courtesy of baseball reference) only 28.4% of all at bats end before the pitcher throws ball one – and hitters usually prosper when that happens.  They slash .278/.287/.454 on those pitches.

Last night, 35.1% of the Cardinal plate appearances were over before the hitter saw ball one (this in spite of the fact that neither Dodger pitcher was really “coming after” the hitters.  St Louis slashed .182/.308/.364 in those at bats.  Over the last eight games, Cardinal batsmen are done before ball one 34.6% of the time, slashing just .257/.263/.367 when that happens.

It’s a symptom of a loss of confidence at the plate.  Hopefully, it will be temporary.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko continues to hit, even as the team fades around him.  He drove in the game’s first two runs with a double and had a later single.  Jedd has now hit safely in 22 of his last 27 games (25 of them starts).  He is 40 for 109 in those games, including 8 doubles, 2 triples and 5 home runs – a .367 batting average accompanied by a .615 slugging percentage.  He is now hitting .338 this month (27 for 80) with 3 home runs and 12 runs batted in.  He is 11 for 32 (.344) over these last 8 games.

On the double, Gyorko jumped on a first-pitch hanging curveball and drilled it just fair down the leftfield line.  Gyorko is now 11 for 23 when hitting the first pitch thrown him (.478).  He later singled on a 1-0 pitch.  Jedd is 20 for 53 (.377) this month when his at bat doesn’t make it to ball two.

That first-inning double was Jedd’s ninth of the season, tying – in 137 at bats – the total amount of doubles he hit in 400 at bats last year.  He has never hit more than 26 in any season.  He also has hit as many triples already this year (2) as he had hit in his entire career previously.

Jedd – after bouncing into 46 double plays over his first 4 seasons, has grounded into just 1 so far in 2017.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina extended his hitting streak to 14 games with two singles last night.  It hasn’t been the most torrid hitting streak on record.  This was only the third multi-hit game in the streak, and his average has been .279 (17 for 61).  He has not drawn a walk through the entire streak.

In fact, over his last 37 plate appearances, he has gone to three-ball counts only 3 times (8.1%).  For the season, only Randal Grichuk (among starters) makes it to three-balls in an at bat less frequently than Yadi (11.8% v 11.9%).  This is significantly below Molina’s 16.0% of last year.

Matt Carpenter

After getting two singles on Wednesday night, Matt Carpenter was 0-for-3 with a hit-by-pitch last night.  Matt is now 7 for his last 48 (.146).  His batting average for the season has fallen to .229 – and for the month of May he is down to .216 (16 for 74).  During the last 8 games, Carpenter is 5 for 33 (.152).

In three of his four plate appearances, Carpenter was challenged with first-pitch strikes.  He has seen strike one in 15 of his last 21 PAs (71%) and is only 4 for 19 (.211) in those resulting at bats.

The thrust of this is, I think, to keep from getting into three-ball counts against Matt.  This year, so far, Carpenter gets into three-ball counts a team-leading 36.3% of the time, and hits .333/.667/.788 once he gets there.  But if his at bat is over before ball two, he slides to just a .167 average (12 for 72).

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty’s 0-for-4 wrapped up a 1 for 13 series.  He is now hitting .158 (3 for 19) since his return from the DL, .214 (6 for 28) this month, and .224 for the year.

Piscotty hit the first pitch thrown to him twice last night.  In the first inning he flied to center on a tailing slider from Maeda.  In the sixth, he grounded to first on a changeup away from Ryu.  Over all of baseball, hitters who hit the first pitch are slashing .338/.346/.582.  Piscotty is just 3 for 13 (.231) – all singles as he is mostly disinclined to wait for a hitter’s pitch.  So far this month, 13 of his 32 plate appearances (40.6%) end before he sees ball one.  Of the regulars, the next highest is Gyorko at 36.9%.  As I noted earlier, across all of baseball, only 28.4% of PAs end before the pitcher has thrown ball one.

This number aligns with what I’ve seen from Stephen – especially since his return from the DL.  A lot of anxiety at the plate.

Cards Drop Second Consecutive One Run Game

A once promising home stand has turned sour in the wake of three very ugly losses – the last two by one run.  Last night offered some bonus regret as the bullpen blew two late leads on its way to a 6-5 loss (box score).

I have always looked to the record in one run games as an effective barometer of a team’s grit – and I have held in high esteem those players who perform well in the tight environment of these games.

With these last two losses, the Cards fall to 6-9 on the season in one run contests.  They have played six already in the first 14 games in May – and have now lost 4 of those.  In many ways, these last two have been representative of the group.

There has been good news, too, though – although, admittedly, you have to look a little harder to find it these days.

One constant this month continues to be excellent starting pitching.  Michael Wacha’s 6 innings of scoreless ball pushed the rotation’s ERA down to 3.25 in May with 10 quality starts in the 15 games.

If you are looking for other hopeful signs, note that even though the offense only finished with 8 hits for the game, four were extra base hits and – at the end of the day – they had still thrown 5 runs on the board.  In 24 games since the beginning of the Milwaukee series on April 20, St Louis has scored at least 5 runs 17 times, averaging 5.38 runs per game in those games.

Even so, 8 of the last 24 games have also come down to one run.  The Cards have lost 6 of them.

Dexter Fowler

In one of last night’s most encouraging signs, Dexter Fowler tripled and homered for his first multi-hit night since he went 2-for-4 against Cincinnati on April 28.  He has home runs in consecutive games for the second time this year – bringing his season total to 6 already.  His other two home runs both came in the same game (a 2-1 win against Pittsburgh on April 19) – so his home runs have come in pairs.

Since recovering enough from a shoulder sprain to return to the starting lineup, Dexter has started 5 of the last 6 games.  He has only 4 hits in those games (in 16 at bats) for an unremarkable .250 average, but all 4 hits have been for extra bases and he has walked 8 times for a .250/.500/.813 batting line.

Six of his seven hits this month have been extra-base hits (Dexter has 3 triples so far in May), raising his slugging percentage for the month to .714 (albeit in just 28 at bats).  And even though he’s missed a few of the games with his injury, Dexter Fowler has nonetheless been one of the central figures in the Cardinals’ offensive revival.  Playing in 20 of the last 24 games (and starting 16) You-Go-We-Go has had 77 plate appearances, during which he has produced 8 singles, 3 doubles, 3 triples, 4 home runs, 12 runs scored, 15 runs batted in, and 14 walks.  His batting line since April 20 is .290/.416/.629.

Dexter has also been the team’s most potent offensive force in their recent one run games.  In the six they’ve played this month, Dexter has been to the plate 22 times, having 1 single, 2 triples, 2 home runs, 7 runs batted in, and 6 walks to show for them – a batting line of .313/.500/.938.

Kolten Wong

The bat of Kolten Wong – who finished last night with two more hits and two more walks – has been another of the constants of the Cardinals’ recent offensive surge.  Kolten has now hit .330 (29 for 88) over his last 23 games and 104 plate appearances.

It is little surprise that Fowler and Wong would be the offensive highlights of the night.  All season long, they have been the only two providing offensive sparks in the Cardinals’ one run games.  For his part, Wong is now 15 for 47 (.319) in St Louis’ 15 one run games.  For the six played so far in May. He is 10 for 22 (.455).

After hitting just 7 doubles in 313 at bats last year, Wong already has 11 in 123 at bats this year.  He has never hit more than the 28 he hit in 2015.  His 5 intentional walks this year are already a career high.  In his four previous seasons he had been intentionally walked a total of 7 times.

Tommy Pham

With Stephen Piscotty poised to return from the disabled list, Tommy Pham has picked an unfortunate time to fall into his first noteworthy slump of the season.  Over the last four games – ever since he inherited the second spot in the order – Pham has gone 2 for 15 (.133) with 1 walk, no extra-base hits and 6 strikeouts.  This includes going 1 for his last 12.  His last extra-base hit was an RBI double off of Chicago’s Pedro Strop in the sixth-inning of last Saturday’s game – a span of 16 at bats.

Last night’s game was the fourth one run game the Cards have played in the 12 games since Pham’s return.  He is 3 for 16 (.188) with 1 walk and 7 strikeouts in those games.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter did work his way on base with another walk – his seventeenth in 15 games this month.  But his subsequent 0 for 3 pushed his batting average for May down to .231 and his season average down to .238.  Since his first-inning home run in the last game in Atlanta, Matt is 5 for 35 (.143).

Carpenter is 3 for 20 (.150) in one run games in May.  He has played in 12 of the 15 this season, hitting .214 (9 for 42).

Aledmys Diaz

In 2016, Aledmys Diaz was among the teams’ better hitters in one run games.  He played 32 of them and hit .256/.336/.402 – which is quite good, considering that most one run games are pitchers’ duels.  This year, he and Randal Grichuk (.174) have been the only regulars on the team hitting below .200 in the 15 one run games played so far.  After last night’s 0-for-4, Diaz has had 62 plate appearances in one run contests, with the following results: 8 singles, 3 doubles, 0 runs batted in, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts and 2 ground-ball double plays.  His batting line in those games is .183/.210/.233.

Michael Wacha

For the second straight start, Michael Wacha turned a lead over to his bullpen only to watch it dissolve.  The last time, in the last game of the Atlanta series, Wacha finished six innings with a 4-2 lead that lasted until Freddie Freeman’s eighth-inning home run forged a 4-4 tie (in a game St Louis won in 14 innings, 6-4).  Even though neither Wacha nor the team managed a win this time, Wacha’s outings are staring to take on an encouraging consistency.

Through seven starts, Michael has now pitched at least 6 innings in all of them, allowing fewer hits than innings pitched in 5, allowing fewer than 3 runs in 5 of them, and has yet to issue more than 2 unintentional walks in any game.  All this has led to a sparkling 2.74 ERA.

Wacha has exceeded 88 pitches only twice this season, so they are being quite cautious with Michael.

In Wacha’s first start, the offense erupted for 10 runs to help him coast to victory.  Over his last 6 games, he has been granted a total of 15 support runs, getting as many as 4 only once (in the Atlanta game).

As a result, 4 of Wacha’s last 6 starts have been decided by one run.  Michael has actually been at his best in these games.  He has pitched 24.2 innings in these starts, going 1-1 with a 2.19 ERA and a .244 batting average against, walking 8 and striking out 22.

Wacha has been as good as we could have hoped for.  It’s understandable that they want to keep him healthy.

Rotation Shines in One Run Games.

Surprisingly – or perhaps not – Wacha’s 2.19 ERA in one run games is only the fourth best of the five members of the starting rotation.  Lance Lynn has only had one of his starts end up as a one-run game.  He threw 7 innings of 3-hit shutout baseball against Pittsburgh on April 17 – ending up the winning pitcher in a 2-1 contest.

Carlos Martinez has seen three of his starts determined by one run.  The Cards have won two of the three, with Martinez contributing an 0.90 ERA in 20 innings of those starts.

Mike Leake has also started 4 one run games.  He has pitched to a 2.13 ERA in those games, but St Louis has lost 3 of the 4.

In 15 one run games through May 19, St Louis’ starters have produced 10 quality starts and a 2.34 ERA.

The only starter who has really struggled in this category is Adam Wainwright.  Three of his starts this year have ended as one run games: the season’s second game (a 2-1 loss to Chicago); the May 4 game against Milwaukee (a 5-4 loss); and the 6-5 win in Miami on May 9.  Adam has no quality starts and a 5.87 ERA in those games.

The Bullpen, Not So Much

The bullpen has been a different story.  In fact, the one run games this team has played so far have fairly consistently exposed the Cardinal bullpen – which has all too often turned comfortable wins into one run games, and one run victories into one run defeats.  In that sense, these last two games have been very much indicative of the season.

Jonathan Broxton

Over the last two games, the breakdowns have come at the expense of pitchers who seemed, finally, to be doing well.  Wednesday night it was Trevor Rosenthal.  Last night – among others – it was Jonathan Broxton, who gave hits to both batters he faced and watched them both score.  He had not allowed a run in his previous 7 games (6.1 innings).

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman – who was greatly undone by an untimely error – has now still not allowed an earned run in his last 6 games (4.2 innings) – although he has now allowed 2 unearned runs in that span.  Bowman, who had walked only 3 batters the entire season walked 2 in an inning for the first time this year.  He had stranded his previous 9 inherited runners.

Matthew only had a 4.50 ERA in the 21 one run games he worked last year.  He has participated in 11 of the 15 so far this year, holding batters to a .216 average.  He, nonetheless, has a 5.59 ERA in those games.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist, who finally got the Cards out of the seventh only one run down, has now not allowed a hit in 5 straight games (4.1 innings), nor a run in 11 straight games (9.1 innings), nor a walk in 8 straight games (7.1 innings).  Kevin has set down the last 14 consecutive batters to face him – 6 on strikeouts.

Siegrist carried an 0.96 ERA in 30 one run games last year.  He has pitched in 7 of them so far this year, allowing no runs in 6.1 innings.

Sam Tuivailala

After throwing 4 scoreless innings after his call-up, Sam Tuivailala has now allowed a run in each of his last 3 games (3 innings).

Seung-hwan Oh

The runs off Seung-hwan Oh last night were the first runs he’d allowed in seven innings, and the first earned runs he’d allowed in 15 innings.  He had converted his previous 10 saves since faltering on opening night.

Oh has pitched in 6 of the one run games so far this year, with less than optimal results.  In the 7.2 innings he covered in those games, He has given 6 runs on 11 hits – a 7.04 ERA, paired with a .324 batting average.  It’s far too few innings to be overly concerned, but it is certainly a disappointing start from the designated closer.

NoteBook

The Cardinal bullpen served up as many runs (6) in three innings last night as the entire pitching staff surrendered in the three games against the Cubs that opened this home stand.

In home game #24 tonight, the Cards will surpass the one million mark in home attendance.  If St Louis wins today, they will be 12-12 at home this year.

Last year, Yadier Molina set a career high in strikeouts with 63.  He also grounded into 22 double plays – his highest total since he bounced into 27 back in 2009.  With 2017 not quite at the quarter pole, Molina has already struck out 21 times – but has only grounded into 2 double plays.

While he should have been thrown out at second, Randal Grichuk managed to get in with his fifth stolen base of the year – tying already his career high, set last year.

Productive Offense Bright Spot in Disappointing Loss

As the Cards finished their April sweep of the Pirates, they were an offense in trouble, with almost their entire roster in a deep and frosty slump.  In terms of at bats, Cardinal batsmen hit .328 with a .557 slugging percentage if they hit the first pitch thrown to them.  From the second pitch onward, they hit .192/.273/.302.  From pitches two through five this highly thought of offensive unit was hitting a “robust” .185/.243/.299.

Milwaukee was the cure then, and – as they face Milwaukee again – the bats show little signs of wearing down.  They have scored 56 runs over their last ten games – scoring at least 4 times in all of them.  For all their home run hitting exploits, the 2016 Cards (which averaged 4.81 runs per game), never put together a string of more than 9 consecutive games scoring at least 4 runs in all of them.

After drilling out 13 hits (including 4 home runs) last night, the Cards – as a team – are hitting .312/.384/.522 over these 10 games.  Predictably, the Cardinals have gotten much more productive deeper into the at bats, as well.  They are still hitting .327 with a .519 slugging percentage on the first pitch.  Over the last ten games, though, the Cards have hit .341/.401/.554 on pitches 2 through 5.  Last night, 9 of the 13 hits – including all four home runs – came after the first pitch of the at bat, but before the sixth.

Unfortunately, the Milwaukee cure has only applied to the hitters.  Another thready pitching effort (along with a few other lapses) pushed the Cardinals back below the .500 mark after a 10-inning, 7-5 loss to Milwaukee (box score).

Jedd Gyorko

Nobody has led the Cardinals out of their offensive malaise more than the surprising Jedd Gyorko.  Hitting .226 with 2 home runs and 4 runs batted in when the team opened their four-game road trip in Milwaukee, Gyorko has been lighting things up ever since.  Jedd has pushed his season average to .369 with a 17 for 34 spree (.500) that includes 4 doubles, a triple, and 4 home runs – a 1.029 slugging percentage over his last 9 games.  Jedd was 4 for 5 last night with two of those homers.  He is hard to keep out of the lineup right now.

Jedd jumped on the first pitch thrown to him his first two times to the plate last night, singling to right and grounding to third.  Over his last 9 games, Jedd has jumped on the first pitch 8 times (a team-leading 21.6% of his at bats), and is 5 for 8 with 2 doubles and a home run in those at bats.  For the season, so far, Gyorko is a .583 hitter (7 for 12) and a 1.250 slugger (2 doubles, 2 home runs) when he hits the first pitch.

For the season, Gyorko is a .440 hitter (22 for 50) and a .940 slugger (all 12 of his extra-base hits) when his at bat last five pitches or less.  Once the at bat stretches to six pitches, Gyorko drops to a .133 hitter (2 singles in 15 at bats).

It will be interesting to see how long Jedd can sustain this hot streak.

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz bounced back last night with a couple of hits – including a home run.  Aldemys, who’s been a pretty impatient hitter this year, saw a season-high 24 pitches thrown to him.

In fact – in a stark departure from his early season form – Diaz saw at least three pitches in all five at bats, and made it to six pitches in the at bat twice.  For the season, almost half of Aledmys’ plate appearances (45 of 99) are over by the second pitch.  So this – maybe – is a start.

Diaz also leads the team in stolen bases.  He has 3.  He stole 4 bases all last year (in 8 attempts).

Randal Grichuk

Having had his 7-game hitting streak snapped Sunday afternoon, Randal Grichuk began another with two hits last night.  Over his last 9 games, Randal is 12 for 34 (.353) with four doubles and a home run – good for a .559 slugging percentage.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler’s 5-game hitting streak came to an end yesterday in an 0 for 4 effort.  Dexter hit .435 during the streak (10 for 23) and slugged .783 (2 doubles & 2 home runs).  He scored 7 runs over the five games.

Michael Wacha

In Michael Wacha’s first two starts of the season he struck out 14 batters in 12 innings.  Of the swings taken against him, 28.1% (25 of 89) came up with only air.  Over his last three starts, Wacha’s swing-and-miss ratio has fallen to 16.8%.  He has 14 strikeouts in his last 18.2 innings.

Seung-hwan Oh

Travis Shaw’s game-winning home run came on the fourth pitch from Cardinal closer Seung-hwan Oh.  Usually, batters prosper early in the count and pitchers prosper late.  As with much else in the early season for Oh, things have gotten themselves a little backwards.  Batters who don’t wait around to see the fourth pitch from Oh are hitting .240 this year (6 for 25).  From the fourth pitch on, they are hitting .313 (10 for 32) with 2 home runs and a .594 slugging percentage.  Willson Contreras’ three-run home run off Oh on opening night also came on the fourth pitch of the at bat – and also on a 1-2 count.

NoteBook

The Cards did rally to erase a 4-0 deficit, but never took the lead.  This ended a streak of 13 straight games in which St Louis had held a lead at some point of the game.  The last game they had played in which they never lead was the 3-2 loss to the Yankees on April 15.

At 50 degrees at first pitch, last night was the coldest game of the year so far (the first game of the Toronto doubleheader was 52 degrees at first pitch) and (probably for that reason) the poorest attended home game to this point in the season at 36,339.  This was only the second home game this season that drew under 40,000.  The Tuesday April 18 game against Pittsburgh drew only 38,806.

After collecting just 7 doubles in 313 at bats last year, Kolten Wong has 6 in his first 69 at bats in 2017.  He also grounded into his second double-play of the season last night.  He grounded into three all of 2016.

Lots of Early One Run Games

Last year, through the course of their 162-game season, the Cardinals played in 47 one run games – 29% of their contests were decided by one run.  They were 24-23 in those contests.

Although last night’s 6-5 loss to Toronto (box score) was their first extra-inning game of the season, it was their eighth one run game of the season already (they are 4-4).  Should they continue at this pace, they will end the season having played in 65 such contests.

One run games are the predictable result when a team combines mostly excellent pitching with a sluggish offense (as the three 2-1 games we played against the Pirates earlier this month attest).  They are also a barometer of the team’s character.  Once in a while throughout the season, I glance at the numbers from these games.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko remains the hottest of the Cardinal hitters.  Since the beginning of the Pirate series, the Cards have been averaging 5.2 runs per game and hitting .303 as a team.  Gyorko, who has played in four of the five games, has been at the forefront of the offensive surge.

Jedd now has multiple hits in three of the last four games, including two three-hit games.  He is now 9 for 16 against Milwaukee and Toronto (a .563 average) with five of the hits for extra-bases (3 doubles, a triple, and a home run).  He has 3 RBIs and a 1.063 slugging percentage during this recent action.

Gyorko clearly needs to be in the lineup (even though he is clearly not the best defensive choice at any of the positions he plays).

Jedd is also just one of two Cardinal hitters to be hitting above .250 in one run games so far.  He has only played in 5 of the 8 (starting just 4), but is off to a 4-for-13 start (.308) that includes a double and a home run – a .615 slugging percentage.  The only player hitting better in these games is Jose Martinez (who hit his first major league home run last night).  Playing in all 8 one run games so far (starting 4), Jose is 7 for 16 with 2 doubles and the home run – a .438 batting average and a .750 slugging percentage.

Dexter Fowler

Of the regulars, Dexter Fowler has the highest batting average so far this season in one run games – although at just .242.  After last night’s 2-for-5 game that included the hit that drove in the tying run in the ninth, Dexter is now 8 for 33 in one run games.  Half of his hits are for extra-bases (including the two home runs he hit in one game in Pittsburgh).  Dexter is slugging .515 through the Cards’ first 8 one run games.

The team is averaging .216 (56 for 259) and is scoring 2.63 runs per one-run game.

Stephen Piscotty

With his two hits last night, Stephen Piscotty is the early leader among the regulars in on-base percentage during the eight one run games.  He is still hitting just .231 in these contests (6 for 26), but has drawn three walks and been hit by two pitches – a healthy .355 percentage.

Yadier Molina

After an indifferent start, Yadier Molina is starting to have the ball fall in for him.  With two more hits last night, Yadi has 5 in the last 2 games, and a baby hitting streak of five games – during which he’s hit a very soft .364 (8 for 22, but with only one double).  We talked a little about Yadi’s patience (or lack thereof) yesterday.  Yadi hasn’t drawn a walk since April 8 against Cincinnati’s Robert Stevenson.  That was 48 plate appearances ago.

Like Piscotty, Molina is 6 for 26 so far in one run games (a .231 average) with all of those hits being singles.

Aledmys Diaz

Last night was not Aledmys Diaz’ best performance of the season.  He capped his 0-for-5 night with the throwing error that brought home the winning run (albeit a more experienced first baseman would have probably saved Diaz the error).

Nonetheless, Diaz has hit better in recent days.  His hitless game last night broke his little five-game streak, during which he had hit .375 (6 for 16) and slugged .625 (his hits included a double and a home run).  He walked only once during the streak, but also struck out just once.

Aledmys was a solid bat in the 32 one run games he played in last year.  He hit .256 with 4 home runs and 19 runs batted in in those games, including 2 game winning hits.

This year, though, Diaz’ bat has been the most absent during one run games.  After last night, Aledmys is just 5 for 30, with 2 doubles, no walks and no RBIs in the eight one run games he’s played so far – a batting line of .167/.167/.233.  His batting average and on base percentage are the lowest on the team among starters in one run games.

Matt Adams

With Matt Carpenter serving a one-game suspension, Matt Adams got the opportunity to earn himself more playing time.  But his frustrating start continued.  He started and went 0 for 2 with two strikeouts.  Matt is hitting .172 on the young season (5 for 29) with no extra-base hits and 13 strikeouts.

Michael Wacha

After being blessed with an abundance of run support in his first start (a 10-4 win over Cincinnati), each of Michael Wacha’s last three starts have been decided by one run – a 4-3 loss in New York to the Yankees; a 2-1 win over Pittsburgh and Gerrit Cole; and last night’s loss.  Only Carlos Martinez (who has had two of his four starts decided by one run) has started more than one one-run game.

The Starting Pitching Counts in One Run Games

The eight starting pitchers in these one run games have an aggregate ERA of 1.99 and a batting line against of .219/.291/.310.  Last year, the starters in the one run games scuffled to a 3.75 ERA with a .269/.321/.396 batting line against.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist threw an eventful, but scoreless inning last night.  He gave up two hits, but didn’t walk a batter for the first time in seven appearances.  The only other game he’s pitched in this season in which he didn’t walk a batter was game #2 against the Cubs – and he hit a batter in that inning.  He also struck out two batters for the second straight time.  After managing just 2 strikeouts over his first 5.1 innings, he has 4 in his last 2.  Kevin’s ERA still hovers at 8.59, but by degrees he’s starting to resemble the Kevin Siegrist we are used to seeing around here.

Kevin has now tossed 4 scoreless innings in the 4 one run games he’s participated in – even though he’s walked three and hit one in those games.  The 21 batters who have faced Siegrist in one run games hit .176/.333/.176.

The first eight one run games of the season have been – more or less – a microcosm of the Cardinal season.  The offense has provided opportunities that have not been capitalized on.  With runners in scoring position, St Louis is 8 for 48 (.167) in its one run games.  With RISP and 2 outs, they are 4 for 22 (.182) in those contests.  Three of the four one-run losses the Cards have incurred have seen the winning runs scored on an error.  We’ve also lost four runners on the bases in those eight games.

But the pitching in general – and the starting pitching in particular – has held us in the contests.  Yes, it is still early, but the pitching is starting to look like it will be a consistent force for good for the whole season.  If this club wants to stop hovering around the .500 mark, it will need to clean up the mistakes and hit when the opportunities present themselves.

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.