Tag Archives: Wacha

Rotation Continues to Spiral

After the game, Michael Wacha described it “like a little stitch or a cramp or something in my left side.”  What the long-term effects of this injury will be remain to be seen – both for Wacha and the Cardinal rotation.  As for last night, it prompted an early exit for Wacha after only 75 pitches and 3.2 innings of a not terribly effective start.  He had already allowed 3 runs (1 earned) on 6 hits (including a home run) and two walks.  He wouldn’t figure in the decision in a game the Cards eventually lost 4-3 (box score), their sixth loss in their last eight games.

For Wacha (who is now headed to the disabled list) this is an added concern as this effort came on the heels of what was arguably the worst start of his career.  In 4 innings against the Cubs his previous time out, he was battered for 9 runs (8 earned).  He allowed 7 hits (3 of them home runs) and 4 walks.

Through his first 13 mostly excellent starts, Michael fashioned an 8-1 record and a 2.47 ERA.  Batters were hitting just .201 against him.  In 76.2 innings he had allowed just 5 home runs and 9 doubles – leading to just a .288 slugging percentage.

In the 7.2 innings he’s managed over his last two starts, he has served up 4 home runs while being hit at a .382 clip with a .794 slugging percentage against.  His ERA over these last two starts sits at 10.57 (with three more un-earned runs allowed).

Diagnosed, now, with an oblique strain, it is anyone’s guess what the future holds for the talented Michael Wacha.

This stumble comes in the midst of the rotation’s worst stretch of the season.  They have now gone 7 games without a quality start.  During these contests, Cardinal starters have made it through just 33 innings, allowing 27 runs on 43 hits and 21 walks.  The rotation’s ERA through those games has risen to 6.55 with a .316/.417/.544 batting line against.  For most of the season, the rotation has been the one reliable element in the equation.

Through the first 18 games this month, the Cardinal rotation has cobbled together just 5 quality starts, posting a 4-6 record and a 4.47 ERA.

Given the inexperience of the current rotation – especially given the uncertainty now surrounding Wacha – it is impossible to say how soon – or even if – the rotation will regain its footing.

Mike Mayers

Leading off a decent bullpen performance last night was Mike Mayers.  An impressive arm in spring training, Mayers has been back and forth to AAA several time already.  In many ways, he seems to be getting better every time he returns. 

Last night, he allowed no hits in his 1.1 innings.  Since his latest recall, he is holding batters to a .174 batting average.  He allowed no home runs.  He served up 3 in his first 10.2 innings this season.  He has now allowed none over his last 13 innings.  He struck out only 6 batters through his first 11.2 innings.  With his three strike outs last night, Mayers has 16 over his last 12 innings.  Mike has a live arm.  With each outing, Mayers suggests that he might be one of the answers in what has been a struggling bullpen.

Mike is also one of the Cardinal relievers who is proving that he can work multiple innings.  Last night was the ninth game this season that Mike has finished an inning and gone out to start the next inning.  In the 10.2 additional innings he has worked, he has 12 strikeouts, a .158 batting average against, and a 1.69 ERA.  Mayers – you will remember – did a lot of starting in the minors.

It is also interesting that the Cards tied the game with two runs while Mayers was the pitcher of record.  In the 14 innings he has pitched this month, his offense has now scored him 12 runs (7.71 per nine innings).

Brett Cecil

The good news for struggling left-hander Brett Cecil is that he allowed no runs for the first time in his last four outings.  Even so, a few reminders of his season-long struggle remained.

For one thing, it was another high-effort outing for Brett.  By the time he had finished his inning, he had thrown 19 more pitches.  In his 7 June innings, he has averaged 20.14 pitches per inning.  For the season, his 12.2 major league innings have cost him 231 pitches – an elevated average of 18.24 per.

Additionally, the one hit he surrendered was another double.  Six of the 16 hits he has allowed this year have been for extra-bases – leading to a .531 slugging percentage against him.

One of the factors tilting against Brett, now, is the infrequency of his appearances.  No longer trusted with many important situations, Cecil almost always pitches on three or four days’ rest.  In those games, he averages 20.14 pitches per inning.

Sam Tuivailala

Heading in the opposite direction from Mayers is last night’s losing pitcher, Sam Tuivailala.  It was his hanging slider to Odubel Herrera that accounted for the difference in the game.  Through his first 12.2 innings this season, Sam held a 2.13 ERA.  He has now allowed runs in 5 of his last 9 appearances, totaling 9.1 innings.  During this span, he holds a 5.79 ERA and a .308 opponent’s batting average.

The early returns on Sam’ season seem to suggest that he (unlike Cecil) prospers with more rest.  Last night was the eleventh time this season that Tuivailala has pitched with less than two days’ rest.  In those 11.2 innings, Sam holds a 5.56 ERA, with a .348 batting average against.  With at least two days (over only 7.2 innings I grant), his ERA is just 1.17 with a .258 batting average against.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina was the offensive spark last night.  He hit two home runs and drove in three.  The rest of the team combined for 5 hits and no runs batted in.

Yadi has now played (and started) 14 games since his return from surgery.  He is hitting a respectable .277 in those games (13 for 47), but 6 of those hits have now been for extra-bases (3 doubles and 3 home runs) adding up to a .532 slugging percentage.

Greg Garcia

Greg Garcia has been making a recent bid to earn more playing time – especially as Yairo Munoz’ bat has cooled a bit.  Greg had 2 hits last night and is 6 for 18 (.333) this month, and hitting .304 (14 for 46) over his last 29 games (9 starts). Only one of those hits is for extra-bases, but Greg holds a .377 on base percentage over his last 53 plate appearances.

Tommy Pham

Among the casualties of last night’s loss (along with Wacha) was Tommy Pham’s very quiet 13-game hitting streak.  Tommy went 0-for-5 last night, grounding out to end the game with the tying run at second.

During the streak, Pham had only 3 multi-hit games, and hit a modest .291 (16 for 55).  He only drove in 3 runs during those games – all on solo home runs.

Pham has walked just 3 times this month, during which he holds a .289 on base percentage.

Dexter Fowler

The season’s highlight, so far, came on Sunday night May 6.  Trailing by one run in the bottom of the fourteenth inning, Dexter Fowler served a walk-off, two-run home run that sent St Louis on to a 4-3 conquest of the Chicago Cubs.  That blow gave the Birds a season-long five-game winning streak (a feat they have subsequently matched) and put them a season-high eight games over .500 (20-12), a mark they have also reached since.  It also pushed their lead in the division to 1.5 games – rarified air that they haven’t seen since.

It was also significant because it was Fowler swinging the bat.  Dexter – enduring a miserable start to the season – could well have used that swing as advance notice that things were about to turn around.

That was now 40 games ago.  Last night’s loss was the twenty-second in that 40 game span, dropping the Cards back down to 4.5 games behind the Cubs and Brewers who are in a virtual tie for first.

And, of course, it was virtually the last noise heard off the bat of Fowler.  Since that singular moment, Fowler has 15 hits (12 singles and 3 doubles) with 4 runs batted in in 87 at bats – a .172 batting average, coupled with a .207 slugging percentage.

Amazingly, Fowler’s season seems to be getting even worse.  His 0-for-4 last night drops him to just 1 for his last 23 (.043).

Kolten Wong

The night before Fowler’s home run sent the Cards home victorious, it was Kolten Wong’s two-run tenth-inning home run that gave St Louis the walk-off win.  Wong – also off to a terrible start – had been a notable contributor to the May 6 victory as well.  He had 3 hits (including a triple) and a run batted in.

Kolten also looked like he was about to turn his season around.  He was hitless in four at bats last night, and is only 14 for 88 (.159) over the team’s last 40 games.

Over the last 40 games, Fowler and Wong have combined to strike out 42 times in 175 at bats.  Their unending struggles continue to hamstring an offense that still believes itself to be among baseball’s best.

Recent Scoring Changes

In the 5-1 loss to Kansas City on May 22, Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna were originally credited with a double steal of home and second respectively.  That has since been reversed.  Martinez has actually now been charged with a caught stealing at home, and safe on an error – with Ozuna advancing on the throw.

In the May 28 loss to Milwaukee, Brewer pitcher Brent Suter was originally credited with a 2-run double when his fourth-inning ground ball eluded Martinez at first.  That was changed to an error for Martinez, and two unearned runs against Luke Weaver.

Early Concerns on the Road

After a fairly tepid start, the Cardinals burst back into contention with an 8-1 run (April 12-22).  At that point, they were, in fact, tied for the division lead.  This was, of course, encouraging – said encouragement tempered by the fact that 7 of the 8 wins had come at the expense of the struggling Cincinnati Reds.  With series against contending teams in New York and Pittsburgh coming up (the Mets series at home and the Pirates on the road), it was anticipated that this stretch would be a better measuring stick than the games against Cincinnati.

For those of us less sold on this team as contenders, the results mostly supported the hypothesis – with St Louis losing 4 of the 6 games.  The most telling of these games were the three losses in Pittsburgh.

In their 16-12 start, the brightest and most consistent aspect of the club has been the pitching staff.  After last night’s 3-2 win (box score), the Cards rank fourth in the NL with a 3.37 team ERA.  As the pitching was an area of primary concern (at least for me) entering the season, this would seem to be good news indeed.  Inside the numbers, though (and especially during the sweep in Pittsburgh) there seems to be cause for continued concern.

With early season temperatures in St Louis averaging less than 60 degrees (59.4 to be exact), this pitching staff has been prospering at home (remembering that under the best of conditions, Busch Stadium plays strongly in the pitcher’s favor).  After last night’s win, the Cards are 8-5 at home with a 2.74 team ERA.  Opponents are hitting .220 against the Cardinal pitching staff at home, with just 7 home runs in 125 innings.  Perhaps most stunning, only 2 of 21 inherited runners at home have come around to score (an amazing 9.5%).

The numbers on the road have been less encouraging.

The Pirate Sweep

During the three games in Pittsburgh (in temperatures that averaged a frosty 50.3 degrees) the Pirates took full advantage of the still-suspect Cardinal pitching staff.  They ended the 3-game series with 17 runs scored (15 earned for a 5.06 ERA) and a .286 batting average against Cardinal pitchers.

Most under the microscope was the piecemeal bullpen.  Their numbers in the sweep are most telling.  In 9.1 innings of work, the Pirates compiled 8 runs (6 of them earned – a 5.79 ERA) on 14 hits (a .333 batting average against).  There were also 8 walks (6 unintentional) in those innings and two batters hit by pitches (a .444 on base percentage).  Of the 13 runners the pen inherited, 6 scored (46.2%).

And, of course, both leads that they inherited were surrendered.

Continuing Trends

Of course, too much can be made of any one series.  Every pitching staff will endure at least one such series during the season.  In the Cardinals case, though, the Pittsburgh series continued a pronounced early season trend.

Now 8-7 on the road (4-7 not counting the games in Cincinnati), the team ERA is almost one and a quarter runs higher there (3.97).  While the innings count is close (125 innings at home and 131.1 innings on the road), the team has served up more than twice as many home runs on the road (15) than they have in the comfy confines of Busch (7).

And the pen?

Soberingly, it has been the arms most depended on.  It has been Matthew Bowman (6.1 innings, 5 runs on 9 hits), Tyler Lyons (4.2 innings, 4 runs on 7 hits), and Greg Holland – who has only managed 3 innings in 5 road appearances.  During those 3 eventful innings, Holland (brought in to be the ninth-inning answer) has faced 21 batters, giving 6 runs (5 earned) on 8 hits and 3 walks.

I highlight the word concern used in the previous paragraphs.  In baseball, it is always early until it isn’t.  All of these troubled pitchers have ample opportunity to reverse the narrative.  But as I wondered openly at the outset of the season whether this team could trust its bullpen, the early results have not allayed my fears.

Tommy Pham

While the Cardinals as a whole have hit only .207 as a team since Cincinnati left town, Tommy Pham headlines a very short list of Cardinals who haven’t missed the pliant Red pitching staff.  With last night’s home run, Pham is hitting .385 (10 for 26) with 5 of the hits for extra bases (3 doubles and 2 home runs) good for a .731 slugging percentage over the last 7 games.  This includes going 7 for 10 against the Mets.  Tommy begins the day leading the National League (narrowly) in batting average.  He is clearly following up strongly after his break-through 2017 season.

If this weren’t encouraging enough, last night’s home run was already his third at home this season.  Last season 17 of his 23 home runs were hit on the road, leading to a concern that Busch may be a bit too spacious for Tommy (as, indeed it seems to be for many hitters).  Last season, Pham hit .340/.431/.611 on the road – superstar numbers.  At home, he was a much more pedestrian .265/.388/.410.  So far this early season, Tommy’s batting splits slightly favor his home field (.333/.441/.611 vs .339/.448/.482).

Kolten Wong

Also heating up in the post-Cincinnati era is second-baseman Kolten Wong.  One of the Cards who started off the season ice cold, Kolten has had some hits start to fall in lately.  With yesterday’s 1-for-2, Wong is hitting .333 over the last 7 games (7 for 21).

Jose Martinez

On the other end of the ledger is 2017’s other break-out star – Jose Martinez.  After a torrid start to the season, Jose is only 5 for 26 (.192) in the wake of the Reds’ series.  In the early going, frosty Busch seems to have gotten the best of Jose.  Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Jose has now had 19 plate appearances at home over the last two series (Mets and White Sox).  He has contributed 2 singles, 1 double, 1 walk and one double play in those appearances (a slash line of .167/.211/.222).  In 13 home games so far in 2018, Jose is hitting .224 (11 for 49) with 1 home run and 7 runs batted in.

Matt Carpenter

Hitting into a bunch of bad luck so far this year (see this story), Matt Carpenter (who went 0 for 8 in the Pirate series) broke out a little last night with a double and a game-tying, ninth-inning home run.  Carpenter is still just 3 for 19 (.158) since Cincinnati left town, and just .170 still for the season.  Perhaps last night was the beginning of a turn-around.

Yadier Molina

To the list of players glad to be back home, you can add the name of Yadier Molina.  His 1-for-12 series in Pittsburgh dropped him to just .246 on the road this season (14 for 57) albeit with 5 home runs.  He had two hits last night – including the game winner, raising him to a .298 average at home this season.

Since the last Cincinnati series (last night notwithstanding) Molina has managed 4 singles and 5 strikeouts in his last 28 plate appearances – a .143/.143/.143 slash line.  His would be another welcome turnaround.

Still Waiting for Dexter

Dexter Fowler hit the big walk-off single that gave the Cards a series win against the Mets (box score).  He hasn’t had a hit since, following an 0-for-9, 4 strikeout Pittsburgh series with an 0-for-3 last night.  Unlike Carpenter, Wong and Molina, Dexter’s recent at bats don’t show much sign of a turnaround.  His season average sits still at .165.

While I’m sure some are anxious over the slow start, I will remind the ready reader that Dexter started slowly last year, too.  But at the end of the year, he was one of the few Cardinal hitters still getting big hits in important games.

UPDATE: While I was writing this, Dexter’s two-run home run in St Louis’ afternoon game against the White Sox proved decisive – so perhaps Fowler is beginning to find the range now, too.

Michael Wacha

A quiet hero last night was starting pitcher Michael Wacha.  After five solid innings, he left the game trailing 2-1, the victim of a two-run double off the bat of uber-prospect Yoan Moncada.  An inning shy of a quality start, Wacha is one of the critical pieces to the 2017 puzzle.  There were moments last season (and there have been a few already this season) when Michael looked like he was again becoming the pitching phenom he was in his rookie season.  He also faded notably down the stretch.

Over his last two starts, Wacha has allowed just 3 runs in 11 innings (2.45 ERA) with 11 strikeouts.  Both of these starts were at home.  Of his first 6 starts this season, he has made 4 at home, going 3-0 with a 2.38 ERA allowing no home runs.  He has lasted just 9.2 innings combined in his two road starts.  During these innings, he has allowed 8 runs (7 earned) on 10 hits – 2 of them home runs.

Wacha will be a pitcher to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Luke Weaver

Their offseason actions indicated that management believes that Luke Weaver is ready to take his regular turn in the major league rotation.  Three starts into the season, this was looking like a good decision.  Luke was 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA.  He finished April 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA over his last three starts.  He has walked 9 batters and has given 14 runs on 17 hits over his last 14 innings.  Again, very, very early.  But it will be very damaging if the club is wrong about Luke.

Bud Norris

Bud Norris – an acquisition I was dubious of over the off-season – has been as steady as we could have hoped for.  Earning his first Cardinal win last night, Bud’s ERA is now down to 1.88.  As opposed to many of the Cardinal pitchers, Bud has actually been better on the road (1.17 ERA v 2.70 at home).

Dominic Leone

Another off-season bullpen acquisition – Dominic Leone – is starting to find his footing.  After serving up 3 home runs in his first 4.2 Cardinal innings, Leon has served up none (allowing just 1 run) over his last 8 innings.  He pitched the eighth last night, giving a hit but no runs.

Up Next

Even as I was composing this missive, the Cardinals won their afternoon game against the White Sox (by the same 3-2 score), meaning they will open their series against the Cubs with a little momentum.  Still, the White Sox are now 8-20 on the year. It would do a lot for my confidence if St Louis could do some of this winning against contending ball clubs.

Fixing the Brand

As the 2017 playoffs begin to crank up in earnest, the St Louis Cardinals will be relegated to watching.  A proud franchise who – not too long ago played in four consecutive Championship Series –  will be bristling over their second straight exclusion from the post-season dance.

All over Cardinal Nation, a host of voices will be raised to give guidance and counsel to the St Louis management.  I understand that mine will be a lonely voice, lost – no doubt – amidst the throngs clamoring for truckloads of money to be thrown at some high profile free agent or other.  I am not terribly concerned about these voices, because (usually) Cardinal management has a much clearer grasp on the needs of their team than the common fan.

This year, however, from their early comments I am concerned that John Mozeliak and his councilors may have missed the many loud messages that his team has been sending him.  So, as I acknowledge the fact that my singular plea for reason is liable to vanish into the great void of the blogosphere, I will nonetheless send forth my diagnosis of the club’s current issues and – as far as I am able – to at least hint at some sensible prescriptions.

It is important to note that none of this is as cut and dried as most fans (and bloggers) seem to think.  Contrary to many opinions, giving Miami whatever they want for Giancarlo Stanton is not really a prescription for success, either in 2018 or beyond.

This is, in fact, both a critical and challenging offseason.  St Louis has a handful of gifted players who must be added to the 40-man roster or be lost.  They, therefore, will be challenged with making critical decisions about the futures of the players already on that roster.  In many of these cases, the cases for and against these players is anything but clear.  The organizational challenge is to be right in deciding which young talents to embrace and which to part with.

None of this will be easy at all, as I will attempt to point out.

First Off, This is a Team in Transition

Most followers of the Cardinals are already aware that this team is transitioning from the veterans of the teams that went to all of those championship series.  For years, the organization has been stockpiling talent throughout its minor league system.  Now, that rich resource is beginning to re-shape the major league team.

Twenty-three percent of all plate appearances taken by the 2017 Cardinals belonged to players who opened the season in Memphis.  That percentage rose to 34% in the second half.  The pitching staff was less influenced, but still 16% of the innings pitched came from Memphis arms.  That figure also rose to 25% in the second half.

Make no mistake.  The youth movement is underway.  There had been similar displacement the year before, with the emergences of Aledmys Diaz and Alex Reyes.  St Louis is clearly rebuilding, and trying to remain competitive while doing so.

The answer to getting this team back into the playoffs – for all of the rebuilding – is actually comparatively simple.  They need to guess correctly on a closer.

Get Thyself a Closer

For as uneven as the Cardinals have been the last two years, they would have made the playoffs both years if they could have successfully filled one position – the closer.  With more stability in the ninth inning, this teams could easily have made up the one game they lacked in 2016 and the four they fell short of this year.  Cardinal pitchers appearing as closers finished 2017 with a 3.75 ERA – the worst showing for Cardinal closers since the fourth-place 2008 team finished with a 6.27 ERA from its closers.

It has become axiomatic throughout baseball – probably on all levels.  If you don’t pitch the ninth, you will not succeed.  This organization believed it had the ninth inning covered at the start of both of the last two seasons.  They had no reasons to anticipate the struggles Trevor Rosenthal would have in 2016 or the problems that Seung-hwan Oh would run into this year.

Swing the net out to include the eighth inning, and the story becomes even more compelling.  They lost 6 games this year when leading after 7 innings.  Even more telling, in games the Cards were tied after 7 innings, they were only 3-12 – by percentage the worst performance by a Cardinal team in this century

But the Cardinals already know they have bullpen issues.  And solving the eighth and ninth innings may well get them back into the playoffs, but won’t address the issues that will keep them from advancing once there.

It’s from this point on that I don’t think the organization is seeing clearly.

The Magical Impact Bat?

Among the primary targets this offseason, an “impact bat” seems to be high on the list.  Really?  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I wouldn’t mind seeing an established bat in the middle of the lineup.  But who?  And at what cost.

The least intrusive path would be free agency.  But who would that be?  J.D. Martinez is probably the most established of the free-agents to be.  Would he come to St Louis?  Given the Cardinals’ track record of wooing elite free agents (not to mention the spacious ballpark), I’ll have to remain skeptical on this one.

What concerns me most is that they will go out and trade a whole bunch of promising players for a slightly upgraded version of Brandon Moss.  Is Josh Donaldson, for example, really worth surrendering the future of an Alex Reyes or a Sandy Alcantara?  Are you really sure we don’t already have that impact bat?  Can you say for certainty that the three-four-five spots in the Cardinal order come next July (or perhaps even June) won’t be Paul DeJong, Patrick Wisdom and Tyler O’Neill?  Look at some of the players on the team this year that got less than full-time at bats.

DeJong hit 25 home runs in 417 at bats.  Give him 500 at bats (around the norm for a starter) and Paul would have been a 30 home run man with a .285/.325/.532 batting line.  And he was a rookie this year.  There is a fairly good chance we haven’t seen the best of Paul yet.

Tommy Pham only made 128 starts, but finished with 23 home runs and a .306/.411/.520 batting line.  A .931 OPS sounds pretty “impact” to me.

Jose Martinez got only 272 at bats, but hit 14 home runs.  That would project to 26 home runs in a 500 at bat season to go along with his .309/.379/.518 batting line.  Are we really, truly sure that Jose couldn’t be a fulltime player.

Moreover, I think the “impact bat” is an over-rated concept, unless you’re running a Whitey-ball offense and your lineup is 7 jack-rabbits and one bopper.  Far more important is the depth of the lineup.

Consider:  in the offensively unimpressive first half, four of the eight Cardinal batsmen with the most plate appearances hit below .250.  Dexter Fowler finished at .248, Stephen Piscotty hit .240, Matt Carpenter scuffled in at .237, and Randal Grichuk hit the break at .215.  That’s a lot of outs sprinkled regularly through the lineup.  A “bopper” in the middle would certainly help, but with that many struggling bats, one “impact bat” won’t cure the problem.

Now consider: for the 44 games from August 6 through September 23, St Louis averaged 5.77 runs per game – an adequate offensive production, by anyone’s standard.  During that span – of the eight players getting the most plate appearances – only Carpenter (.244) was under .250 – and that just barely.  Nobody hit more than the 9 home runs that came off the bat of DeJong, but almost everybody hit some.  Most importantly, they weren’t making outs.  In almost all cases, a deep lineup is better for your offense than a concentrated one.

There is considerable pressure in the team to do something dramatic to push the team back into the playoffs.  Again, I am just one voice.  But if I had one of the best farm systems in baseball, I would trust it more.  I would give this system every opportunity to prove to me that the pieces I need are already at my disposal.  I’m not saying never trade from any of this surplus.  But I am saying don’t trade the future for a mess of pottage (no offense, Josh).

Wither Lance Lynn

In this post, I made most of my case for keeping Lance Lynn.  Since one of the comments made by the brain trust had something to do with shoring up the rotation (a goal I approve of), I have to wonder where they think they will get better value than Lance?  Remembering that he was in his first year coming off elbow reconstruction (the infamous Tommy John surgery), Lance’s 33 starts, 17 quality starts, 186.1 innings pitched and 3.43 ERA are quite impressive.

More than the numbers, though, Lance was a bulldog.  He even got hit in the head with a line drive and kept on pitching.  As the next generation of pitchers graduate to the majors, Lance would be a terrific mentor.

Yes, he faded at the end – which was disappointing.  Still, I am not at all convinced that, for the money and the years it would take to sign Lynn, they will find a better bargain out there.

Here’s a final note.  In a down year for free-agent pitchers, Lance will be a likely target for a certain division rival who is always scrambling for pitching.  He would be just what the doctor ordered for them.

My prediction here is that if they let Lance walk, they will regret it.

These are all important considerations, but the single most important failing of the 2017 team is one that I don’t think they are even aware of.

A Matter of Character

Throughout the course of the entire season, manager Mike Matheny would intone sentiments similar to this: time and time again, this team has shown me its character and its toughness; one thing I will never ever doubt is the toughness and character of this team.

The character of the team and its much-envied clubhouse was the foundation upon which the belief in the Cardinals’ eventual triumph was forged.  It is organizational bedrock.  The foundational doctrine upon which all decisions are based.

And it’s complete mythology.

In every way possible, the 2017 Cardinals tried to send this message to their manager’s office – and to their front office, too for that matter.  Character wins were almost non-existent in 2017.

They were 4-7 in walk-off victories, 5-9 in extra-innings, 24-29 in one-run games.  And two measures that I am fond of as revealers of character: they were 39-39 after losing their previous game, and 27-44 against teams with winning records – including losing 6 of their last 7 must-win games against Chicago.

As a point of reference, the 39-39 in games after a loss is the worst record for a Cardinal team in this century.  The 2007 team that finished 78-84 was 43-41 after a loss.  The 2006 team that snuck into the playoffs and won the whole thing after an 83-78 regular season was 43-40 after a loss (counting the playoffs).

By contrast, the 100-win 2005 team went 50-15 after a loss (counting the playoffs).  In fact, the three 100-win versions in this century (2004, 2005, 2015) combined to go 128-65 (.663) after losing their previous game.  There have been seven 90-win teams in this century so far.  After losing their previous game, those teams have combined to go 301-209 (.591).  There have also been seven 80-win teams in St Louis in this century.  Even they have managed to go 294-251 (.539) in games after a loss.

The utility of this metric is that it reveals precisely one of the principle failings of this year’s club – a frustrating inability to break out of losing streaks.  In my season wrap-up post, I documented several extended losing spells.  In most of them, St Louis needed to wait for a series against a pretty bad team (like Philadelphia) before they could pull themselves out of their tailspin.

As to the record against winning teams, think about 27-44.  That is a .380 winning percentage.  If you took a fairly good AAA team and had them play 71 games against average major league teams, this is about the record you would expect them to compile.  In fact, this winning percentage is also the lowest of any Cardinal team in this century, breaking the one-year-old record of the 2016 team that floundered along at 24-35 (.407) against teams that won at least as many as they lost.

I promise you that the talent gap isn’t that great between the Cardinals and the other winning teams in the league.  This points strictly to toughness.

Over the course of the entire century, St Louis is 766-566 (.575) after a loss, and 713-688 (.509) against winning teams.

So, who are the players who have routinely fallen short in these character games?  It’s time, I suppose, to name names.

Stephen Piscotty

Enduring the worst season of his career, Piscotty also routinely came up short in tough situations.  He hit .213 against winning teams (29 for 136) with 3 home runs.  This included a .179 average (5 for 28 – all singles) after the All-Star Break.  During the season’s second half he was also 10 for 57 (.175) in games after a loss, and just 3 for 24 with runners in scoring position.  Renowned for his prowess with runners in scoring position through the first two seasons of his career, Piscotty hit just .125 in the second half this year with ducks on the pond.

I don’t think anyone in the organization believes that 2017 will be a representative year in the career of Stephen Piscotty.  A combination of things conspired to derail his season early, and he never found his way back.  But, with talented outfielders rising through the system, the organization will now be forced to re-evaluate their commitment to Piscotty.  Further complicating the issue is that, should they decide to trade Stephen, they are unlikely to get full trade value.

Piscotty is a very cerebral player, and very likely to figure things out.  Whatever his future with the organization, Stephen is one player who could profit greatly by hitting the ground running next season.

Luke Weaver

This, I suppose, should be expected.  Rookie right-hander Luke Weaver was mostly a revelation during the last part of the second half.  But the young man still has some lessons to learn that the league’s better clubs are all too willing to teach.

Luke made 5 starts against winning teams, culling just 1 quality start.  He served up 6 home runs in 24.2 innings, compiling a 2-2 record with an 8.03 ERA and a .321/.381/.547 batting line against.  It will be interesting to see how quickly he learns and adapts.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman was a bit exposed – especially late in the season – by the better teams.  In 35 games (26.2 innings) against higher quality opponents, Matthew was pushed around a bit to the tune of a 5.06 ERA and a .284 batting average against.

Not So Cut and Dried

A few of the players on the team, though, defy an easy label.  In this difficult off-season, these will be the hardest decisions the organization will have to make, as guessing wrong will come with consequences.

Randal Grichuk

For the last two seasons, Randal has been the almost-emergent superstar.  In each of the last two seasons, his final numbers have disappointed.  But in both seasons he has shown enough hint of promise to earn another chance.

Grichuk finished 2017 with much the same totals as 2016.  The batting average fell a couple of notches to .238 (from .240) and the home runs dipped from 24 to 22.  He ended 2017 slugging .473 after slugging .480 the year before.  Overall, less than compelling.

But, he did hit .265/.303/.550 with 13 of his home runs in 189 at bats after the break.  So now, the organization has to decide if that was just a tease?  Or is it real progress?

He ended the year at just .218 (43 of 197) against winning teams, but hit 11 of his 22 home runs against them.  In the second half, he was 20 of 83 (.241) when playing winning teams, but with a .542 slugging percentage as half of those 20 hits went for extra bases – including 7 home runs.

In games after a loss, Randal checked in with a disappointing .201 average (36 of 179), including just .188 (15 for 80) in the second half – but again, with a .438 slugging percentage.

Randal mostly split right field with Piscotty in the season’s second half.  In Grichuk’s 34 starts the team was 22-12.  They were 13-18 in Piscotty’s 31 starts.

There is no question that Randal was productive in the second half.  His 13 home runs were only 3 behind team-leader Paul DeJong in 100 fewer at bats.  If the Grichuk of the second half had had a 500 at bat season he would have hit 34 home runs with his .265 batting average and .550 slugging percentage.

With Randal’s potential, you would hope for more than that.  But, if the Randal they saw in the second half is the Randal that they can count on seeing all of next year, I think they could accept that.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s entire season is tough to get a handle on.  On the one hand, he drew a career high 109 walks, leading to the second-highest on-base percentage of his career (.384).  On the other hand, his batting average continued to sink – down to .241 (30 points lower than his previous worst average).  On the other hand, he was apparently battling shoulder issues all season – perhaps accounting for much of that loss of production.  On the other hand, after playing in at least 154 games a year from 2013 through 2015, Matt has followed with two injury plagued seasons.  He also hit 23 home runs (his third consecutive 20-homer season) and slugged a solid .451.  His final OPS of .835 is still well above league average, but below either of his previous two seasons.

In his games against winning teams, Matt hit just .221 (49 of 222), but drew 38 walks, helping him to a .341 on base percentage.  He made 141 starts this year, with the team going 70-71 (.496) when he was in the lineup, and 13-8 (.619) when he wasn’t.

So did Matt have a good year or not? With the home runs and the on base, I suppose that I would have to call it good, but troubling.  By degrees, Matt is becoming more valuable for his ability to walk than for his ability to hit the ball.  And, by degrees, the team is starting to feel the loss of that big hit.

Carpenter is one of the team’s core members, and he will be on the field somewhere on opening day (barring another injury).  But a lot of elements in his career trajectory concern me.

Michael Wacha

While this was – in many ways – a triumphal season for Michael Wacha, he is still coming up short in these character games.  After suffering through three injury plagued seasons, an offseason workout regimen kept Michael on the field for 30 starts and 165.2 innings.  The anticipation is that his 12-9 record and 4.13 ERA will be marks to build on going forward.

It may, indeed, play out that way.  It is, nonetheless, true, that Wacha (who excelled against good teams and in stopper situations early in his career) continues to trend down in these games.

From 2013 through 2015, Wacha pitched in 40 games (35 starts) against teams that boasted winning records for the season.  He was 15-9 in those games with a 3.08 ERA and a .217 batting average against.

In 2013 and 2014, Wacha pitched in 12 games (10 starts) after a Cardinal loss.  He was 5-3 with a 2.88 ERA in those situations, holding batters to a .195 batting average.

In 2017, Wacha was only 2-6 in 12 starts against winning teams.  His 5.90 ERA was accompanied by a .296/.365/.502 batting line against.  He was 5-4 in 13 starts following a Cardinal loss, but with a 4.76 ERA.  Since 2015, Wacha is 4-10 against winning teams with a 5.70 ERA, and since 2014 he is 15-9, but with a 4.64 ERA in games after a loss.

Wacha is yet another enigma on this team.  Beyond the physical issues, there has been a palpable loss of mojo.  The spectacular hero of the 2013 playoffs has lost that big game feel.  Wacha is one of the players who could make a huge difference next year if he can channel his earlier self.

Carlos Martinez

In spite of the fact that he tossed his first two complete-game shutouts and crossed over both the 200-inning and 200-strikeout plateaus for the first time in his career, Carlos Martinez regressed noticeably in 2017.  After going 14-7 with a 3.01 ERA in 2015 (his first year in the rotation), and 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last year, Carlos saw those numbers sink to 12-11 with a 3.64 ERA.  And the core difficulty that he had was with winning teams.

In his first two seasons in the rotation, Martinez had gone 12-9 with a 3.35 ERA against winning teams.  He had put together quality starts in 17 of his 26 starts against them.

He made 15 starts against winning teams this year.  Only 7 of those fulfilled the standards for a quality start.  Even though he has “stuff” the equal of any pitcher in the game, he was only 4-7 with a 4.28 ERA in those games.  He was just 1-3 with a 6.12 ERA with a .301 batting average against them in the second half of the season.  After allowing just 12 home runs in 166.2 innings against winning teams his first two years in the rotation, he served up 11 in 90.1 innings against them last year.

In all likelihood, this is just a bump in the road for Carlos.  But there were a couple of concerning developments that I noticed that need to be solved somehow, or Martinez will never realize his potential.

For one thing, Martinez continually tries to do too much.  His anointing as the ace of the staff this year may have fed into this tendency.  Especially in big games, he tries too much to give extra effort.  In a game that rewards players that learn to play within themselves, this will usually be counterproductive.

It was noted that Carlos complicated three consecutive late-season starts by throwing away routine double-play balls.  More than this, though, Martinez’ need to do too much affected his fielding for much of the season.  He dove, scrambled, and lunged for every near-by ground ball.  He probably caused nearly a dozen infield hits by deflecting grounders that would have been right to his infielders.

On several occasions, he even kicked at ground balls to his right, like a hockey goalie trying to make a skate save.  Now, I ask you, what good could come of that?  Who in the world could make a play on a ball that Carlos has deflected with his foot?

It’s all part and parcel of a young pitcher losing control of himself.

The other issue is even more concerning.  There sometimes – especially in big games – seems to be an emotional fragility to Martinez.  Something in his confidence seems to drain if the opposing team has early success against him.  He hasn’t fully mastered the ability to gather himself after bad things happen and continue to pitch within himself.

There is no better example of this than the game that sent the Cardinal season spinning toward its final destination (box score).

For ten batters on a beautiful Friday afternoon in Wrigley, Carlos Martinez was untouchable.  His 100-mph fast ball jumped and ran like a thing alive, and his slider was about eleven different flavors of filthy.  The defending champion Cubs – possessors of one of the most potent lineups in baseball – couldn’t touch him.  Five of the ten batters struck out, and four of the others hit groundouts.  Of his first 43 pitches, 30 were strikes.

Then Kris Bryant – the eleventh batter to face him – looped a fly ball to right on a 2-0 pitch.  It wasn’t hit terribly well or terribly far.  If this incident had happened at Busch, Piscotty would have probably been about a step on the track as he made the catch.  But in Wrigley it was just far enough to creep over that overhanging basket for a game-tying home run.

And with that, the air went out of Carlos Martinez.

The first 10 batters he faced got no hits.  Six of the last 16 he faced got hits.  After striking out 5 of the first 10, he didn’t strike out another batter.  While 30 of his first 43 pitches were strikes, only 31 of his final 57 made it to the strike zone.  None of the first 10 batters walked.  Carlos walked 3 of the last 16 and hit another as his once dominating slider flew wildly all over the place.

Carlos ended the affair lasting just 5.1 innings.  On a day that he started with devastating stuff, he ended serving up 7 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks.

Being “the man” requires uncommon mental and emotional discipline.  The next level for Martinez lies just beyond that barrier.

Let it be noted that in three years in the rotation, Carlos is 17-8 with a 2.96 ERA in games after a loss.  That includes his 4-3, 2.61 mark this year in those situations.

Better Than the Numbers Suggest

One player deserves mention in a better category.  His contribution was greater than his numbers might suggest.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler was the big free agent acquisition after being one of the drivers of Chicago’s championship the year before.  His final numbers were sort of ordinary (.264 batting average with 18 home runs).  He also hit just .225 (42 for 187) against winning teams, and .237 (52 of 219) in games following a loss.  Not overly impressive.

But Fowler’s season was a story of two halves.  Hobbled by a variety of injuries in the first half (mostly his feet), Dexter limped to a .248 average (albeit with 14 home runs).  He had hit .199 (27 of 136) against winning teams, and .201 (28 of 139) in games after a loss.

As his health improved, Fowler became a decided force for good throughout the second half.  He hit .288/.400/.488 after the break, including .294 with a .400 on base percentage against winning teams, and .300 with a .402 on base percentage in games after a loss.

The guy I saw at the end of the season is the guy I’m excited to see all year next year.

Setting the Bar

The Cardinals did have a few players who consistently rose to the challenge of the games against the better teams.  They should get a notice as well.

Tommy Pham

Tommy’s break-through season wasn’t limited to beating up on lesser teams.  Tommy hit .287 against over .500 teams with a .391 on base percentage.  He also hit .330/.451/.558 in games after a loss.  He also hit .305/.420/.514 with runners in scoring position.  Tommy had himself a year.

Lance Lynn

It’s probably fitting that I spend the last few paragraphs that I am likely to devote to the 2017 baseball season to Lance Lynn.  While the Cardinals repeatedly fell short against winning teams, Lance was 4-3 against them, with 4 other potential wins lost in the bullpen.  He posted a 3.09 ERA against these teams in 78.2 innings, with a .196 batting average against him.

Are we really, really sure we want to cut ties with him?

Final Word

Again, I am just one voice.  But the message clearly sent from the 2017 season is that this team’s greatest need is not some aging slugger to bat fourth.  The greatest gap between the Cards and the Cubs – and the other good teams in the majors – is the character gap.  If this were my team, this is the area that I would focus on first.

Cards Can’t Add to One Run Lead, Lose Again

In many ways, last night’s games was eerily similar to the first John Lackey game about a week and a half ago.  In that game – on Friday, September 15 – Lackey served up an early run (a first inning home run off the bat of Tommy Pham).  And there it sat.  One lonely run, sitting on the scoreboard through the fourth inning.  One run, just waiting for the Cubs to bounce back.

After the Cubs did tie the game in the fourth, St Louis came back with another run in the fifth.  And there it sat.  A one run lead, just waiting.  This time it waited a shorter period of time, till the bottom of the sixth when Chicago erupted for 7 runs that decided the contest 8-2 (box score).

Fast forward to last night.  Again, Lackey serves up the early run (this time in the second inning).  And there it sat.  One lonely run.  It sat there, un-added upon, through the third, the fourth, the fifth and the sixth.  Finally, one more big inning from the Cubs (a five-run seventh) sent the Cards to defeat 5-1 (box score).

St Louis has now scored the first run in 7 of their last 8 games, but have lost 3 of the last 4.  One reason has been a consistent inability to add to a one run lead.

Last night, from the moment they pushed ahead 1-0 until they came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh trailing 5-1, St Louis was 0 for 14.  For the month of September, St Louis is hitting just .155 when clinging to a one run lead.  Since the All-Star Break the sometimes dynamic Cardinal offense (that is averaging 4.96 runs per game over its last 70 games) is scuffling along at a .209 batting average when holding a lead of one lonely run.

Delivering that knockout blow is another of the many elements lacking in the Cardinals game as they come down the stretch.

With only 5 hits on the night, the Cardinal batting average for the month of September fades to .242.

Paul DeJong

The only Cardinal hitter that showed much of a pulse last night was rookie Paul DeJong.  He was the only Cardinal with two hits, accounting for the only Cardinal extra-base hit and the only Cardinal run batted in.  Paul has two hits in each of the last two games.

DeJong’s RBI came in the second inning, breaking a 0-0 tie.  Many of Paul’s best moments have come while the game is tied.  This month, Paul is 7 for 23 (.304) and 23 for 73 (.315) in the second half when batting in tie games.  For the season, Paul is a .311 hitter (32 for 103) and a .534 slugger (5 doubles and 6 home runs) when batting in a tie game.

Dexter Fowler

After being one of the driving forces of the offense in the second half, Dexter Fowler has run into a dry stretch.  As the Cards have suffered four damaging losses in their last five games, Fowler has been 3 for 19 (.158).  He has drawn 1 walk, scored 1 run, and driven in no runs in that span.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko was another of the Cardinal bats quieted last night – he went 0 for 3.  Jedd has been hitting quite a bit better lately – and in fact, had 5 hits in the two previous games.  But his average in a disappointing second half has faded to .224.

Gyorko led off the fourth with the Cards clinging to the one run lead.  He flew out to left.  Since the All-Star Break, Jedd is now 2 for 19 (.105) when batting with that one run lead.

Another Pitching Streak Reaches Record Levels

On Thursday, August 23, 2012 Jake Westbrook went to the mound for the Cards, facing Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros.  It would not be his best start.  He lasted 5 innings, giving 5 runs on 7 hits.  It was all enough, though, to get him a 13-5 win.

More importantly, it broke a streak of 3 straight quality starts (Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse).  And it initiated the longest stretch of games in this century without a quality start from a Cardinal pitcher.  Until last night, that is.  The 2012 streak reached 11 games in a row, until Monday September 3, when Joe Kelly pitched St Louis to a 5-4 victory against the Mets.  He gave just 2 runs over 6.2 innings.

Although Michael Wacha tossed six brilliant innings last night, the 5-run seventh denied the team not just the victory, but the streak stopping quality start.  Over the last 12 games, Cardinal starters have been saddled with a crushing 8.40 ERA.  For the month of September, the rotation has chipped in just 7 quality starts in 25 games, while registering a 4.63 ERA.  For the 70 games of the second half, the team ERA has risen to 4.03.

You will, no doubt, remember that earlier this season the Cards allowed at least five runs in 12 consecutive games.  Here, now, is a companion streak.

Michael Wacha

Of all of the Cardinal starters during this long dry spell, Wacha has been statistically the best – and that by quite a bit.  However, he still carries a 5.40 ERA and an 0-2 record over his last 3 starts.  This in spite of the fact that the batting average against has only been .246.  Over the 16.2 innings of those starts, Michael has struck out 19 and allowed just one home run (in last night’s seventh inning).

In a sense, these last three starts have been a kind of microcosm of Michael’s season.  Lots of terrific, impressive moments that somehow haven’t worked out as hoped.

All season Wacha has struggled to hold onto small leads.  In the season’s second half, Wacha has pitched 24.2 innings with a lead of less than four runs.  His ERA in those innings is 6.57 with a .300/.355/.510 batting line against.  This includes a 7.50 ERA when holding a one run lead.  For the season, in 55 innings when leading by no more than 3 runs, Wacha’s ERA is 6.38 with a .298/.355/.505 batting line against.  This includes an 8.62 ERA when pitching with a two-run lead, and a 8.10 ERA (with a .366 batting average against) when holding a three-run lead.

Matthew Bowman

For most of the season, Matthew Bowman’s specialty has been stranding runners.  Of the first 31 runners he inherited, only 5 crossed the plate.  With the one he let in last night, 10 of the last 20 have scored, including 6 of the last 11.  Bowman has been one of several Cardinals who have been given opportunities to impact these critical September games who have too often been found wanting.

Zach Duke

On the other hand, there is Zach Duke.  Off to a kind of brutal start to the season after missing spring training, Duke has been locked in of late.  Inheriting a bases-loaded jam from Bowman, Duke ended the seventh by getting Anthony Rizzo to bounce into a double play.  Duke has now stranded the last 15 base-runners that he has inherited – including three times with the bases loaded.

If the Cards are not interested in pursuing him for next year, they should be.

Sam Tuivailala

Coming into the eighth inning trailing by four runs, Sam Tuivailala delivered a clean eighth inning.  This season, Sam has pitched 25.2 innings with the Cards trailing.  His ERA is 1.05, and his batting line against is an efficient .149/.213/.184. In his 14.2 innings either tied or with his team in the lead, Sam holds a 5.52 ERA with a .344/.400/.594 batting line against.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil also delivered a clean inning – the ninth, in a low impact setting with a four-run deficit.  Cecil has had a forgettable season, but is doing better this month.  In 8 September games – comprising 11 innings – Cecil carries a 2.45 ERA and a .171 batting line against.  He has walked just 1 batter in those innings.

Brett has now pitched 18.1 innings this season with the Cardinals trailing by at least three runs.  In those innings, Brett has a 0.49 ERA with a .119/.143/.153 batting line against.  Cecil also has pitched 6.1 innings with the Cards leading by at least six runs.  He has given no runs and only 4 hits in those innings.

In between, with St Louis either leading by up to five runs, tied, or trailing but by no more than two runs, Cecil has a 6.25 ERA and a .333/.378/.548 batting line against in 40.1 innings.

It is possible that there is no statistic more descriptive of Brett’s season than that.

Michael Wacha – Throwing Strikes and Taking Names

Quick quiz: How do you make it through 8 innings on only 95 pitches?  You throw strikes.

For eight marvelous innings yesterday afternoon, sometimes superstar Michael Wacha was a strike-throwing machine.  Of the 95 pitches he tossed, 68 were strikes (71.6%), while 19 of the 28 batters he faced (67.9%) saw first pitch strikes.  Of the 9 batters that saw Wacha miss with his first pitch, all 9 got a strike on the next pitch.  Only David Freese, batting in the fourth inning, saw balls on consecutive pitches.  He ended that at bat as the only full count that Michael faced on the afternoon.  He struck out.

Meanwhile, 9 other batters never saw even one pitch out of the zone during their at bat, and only 7 saw more than one.  Other than Freese, only 4 other Pirate hitters ended their at bat ahead in the count – all of them hitting the second pitch in 1-0 counts.

Michael’s commanding performance and a re-engaged offense sent the Cardinals on to a 7-0 win (box score), and a three-game sweep of the Pirates that pushed the Cards to within 2 games of the division lead.  Along the way, they continued the run of strong pitching that has defined the 8-2 start to September.  The Cards now have a team ERA of 2.22 with a .219 batting average against this month.  The starters this month have done even better, at 1.95 and .207.  In Wacha’s two September starts, he has faced 54 batters.  Only 11 have ended their plate appearance ahead in the count.

With the sweep, St Louis has now gone 49-36 since their seven-game losing streak in early June left them 26-32.  It hasn’t been without its hiccups, but the Cards have played .577 baseball over their last 85 games.  Michael Wacha has 10 of those 49 wins – the most on the staff.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong has been a significant part of the improvement in the team over the last 85 games.  Paul has played in 77 of the 85, starting 75 of them.  With his two hits yesterday, Paul has hit .292 (90 for 308), with 18 doubles, a triple, and 20 home runs – remember, this is in just 77 games.  DeJong has slugged .552 since early June.

Paul helped set up the three-run third with a single on a first-pitch fastball from Pirate starter Ivan Nova that didn’t get quite inside enough.  Like all good hitters in this league, Paul can hit that first pitch if it’s to his liking.  He is now hitting .400 (14 for 35) this year when hitting that first pitch.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina is beginning to feel the playoff chase energy.  He had two hits including a home run in both of the last two games of the series.  After seeing his second half batting average dip below .300, Yadi now has pushed it back up to .296 (53 for 179) with a .497 slugging percentage.  He has 8 home runs and 32 runs batted in in 49 games since the All-Star Break.

Molina’s home run came on a 1-1 pitch.  If you get Yadi backed up in the count, he will chase for you.  But since the All-Star Break, you better be careful with Yadi when he’s even in the count.  Yadi is hitting .394 (26 for 66) and slugging .606 (5 doubles and 3 home runs) when the count is either 0-0, 1-1 or 2-2.

Yadi’s first-inning RBI stood up as the game winner.  He now leads the team with 10 game-winning RBIs.

Matt Carpenter

The cortisone shot that Matt Carpenter took for his ailing shoulder hasn’t shown many benefits just yet.  Matt was 0 for 3 yesterday, and is now 1 for 14 this month.

Even though the hits aren’t falling, Matt is still grinding at bats.  He ended up in two more 3-2 counts yesterday, and has now been at 3-2 in 120 plate appearances this year – 21.4% of his plate appearances.

NoteBook

In sweeping the series, St Louis allowed only 4 runs to be scored against them.  It’s the fewest runs scored against this team in a series since April 17-19, when the Cards won three consecutive 2-1 games – also against Pittsburgh.

Yesterday was also the seventh chance the Cards had to sweep a series at home, and the fifth of those potential sweeps that they have finished off.  The Cards have only won 11 series at home – almost half of them with sweeps.

The Pirates – fresh off a split of their previous series with the Cubs – were only the sixth team St Louis has played this year that had split its previous series.  The Cards have now won 5 of those 6 series, going 13-4 against those teams.

With last night’s crowd of 44,683, the Cardinals home attendance swelled past 3 million for the fourteenth consecutive season, and the nineteenth time in the last twenty seasons.  With 10 home games left, the Cards home attendance sits at 3,023,530 (by my count – baseball-reference places it at 3,026,081).

Six Inning Effort From Wacha Ends August on Up Note

On the last day of August, Cardinal right-hander Michael Wacha put an end to an unsettling month with six excellent innings, leading St Louis to a 5-2 conquest of the San Francisco Giants (box score).  Both for Michael personally, and for the entire pitching staff, last month could not have ended fast enough.  Wacha hadn’t made it past the fourth inning in any of his previous three starts – a span that featured 24 hits in 12.1 innings, including 4 home runs. He was 0-3 with a 10.22 ERA and a .414/.453/.690 batting line against.  The team finished the month with just 13 quality starts and a 4.62 ERA.

For Wacha it was a needed boost, as he was in complete control.  He threw more than 11 pitches in only two of his six innings, and more than 20 only in the nettlesome fifth inning when the Giants scratched across their only run against him.

Even when he has struggled in the game as a whole, Wacha’s first innings have been excellent all year.  In his 9 starts in the second half, he has given no runs and only 5 hits in his first innings.  Through his 25 starts for the season, Michael carries a 1.08 ERA with a .187/.253/.231 batting line against him in the first.  Of the 15 home runs he’s allowed this season, only one has been hit in the first inning – and that came back on April 14 in New York.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons needed only 10 pitches to dispatch San Francisco in the eighth – securing his nineteenth consecutive scoreless appearance covering 17.2 innings, during which he has allowed just 3 hits.  He finished August allowing just 1 hit in 11.1 innings with 14 strikeouts.

Moreover, Tyler has flourished late in games.  This season in 11.1 innings before the seventh, Tyler’s ERA is an uninspiring 7.15 with a .292/.382/.500 batting line against.  In 31.2 innings from the seventh inning on, Lyons’ ERA is a microscopic 0.85 with a dominating batting line against of .147/.244/.186.

Also Nettlesome – The Ninth Inning

It didn’t cost them the game, but the ninth inning continues to be a concern.  San Fran plated a run on back-to-back doubles – the second of which would have been a two-run home run but for a curious replay overturn.  The Cardinals thus finished August with a 6.53 ninth-inning ERA.  Since the All-Star Break, St Louis has scuffled along with a 5.67 ninth-inning ERA – pushing the ERA in that inning for the season to 4.05.

Late-game effectiveness out of the pen continues to be a concern.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia allowed the doubles and the run (and almost two runs) last night.  After what has really been an excellent rookie season, John hit a little speed bump in August.  He finished the month with a 3.95 ERA in 13.2 innings.  Batters hit only .176 against him, but 8 of the 9 hits he gave up were for extra bases – including 3 home runs.

Since the All-Star Break, John has pitched 20 innings before the eighth inning and 20 innings in the eighth and ninth.  Before the eighth inning, Brebbia has allowed no runs and only 3 hits.  His second-half ERA in the eighth and ninth innings is 5.40.

Offense Finishes Month Strong

As they did for the most part over the entire month, the Cards finished August scoring 5 more runs.  In 28 August games, St Louis scored 162 runs (5.79 per game).  Since the All-Star Break they have scored 229 runs in 45 games (5.09 per game).

Fourth-Inning Magic

Leading 2-0, the Cardinals almost opened the game up in the “magic” fourth inning.  A leadoff single from Yadier Molina and a one-out double from Kolten Wong put runners at second and third.  Giant starter Matt Cain wriggled out of trouble by striking out Randal Grichuk and getting Wacha to bounce out.

Even so, the events continued the team’s strange affinity for the fourth inning.  Throughout the month of August, St Louis hit .358/.432/.650 in the fourth inning, while scoring 35 runs.  All of those totals were the highest of any inning last month.  Since the All-Star Break, those figures are .346/.397/.602 with 46 runs scored. Of those only the on base percentage isn’t the highest of any inning (St Louis has been reaching base at a .443 clip in the eighth inning since the break).

For the season, St Louis has scored 101 runs in the fourth inning – 21 more than in any other inning.  The team is hitting .306/.370/.516 in that inning.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham continues to be front and center as an offensive force for the Cards.  He added 3 more hits last night including an opposite-field double high off the right-field wall that would have been a home run in most other parks.  Tommy’s hitting streak now stretches to six games, during which he is hitting .476 (10 for 21), slugging 1.000 (2 doubles and 3 home runs), getting on base at a .577 clip (4 walks and a hit by pitch), scoring 6 runs and driving in 8.

In 123 plate appearances in 28 games last month, Tommy finished August with 20 singles, 6 doubles, 5 home runs, 21 runs scored, 19 walks, 3 hit-by-pitches, and 1 sacrifice bunt.  This added up to a batting line of .310/.434/.520.  Tommy’s line is now .327/.433/.537 with 8 home runs since the All-Star Break.

Tommy Pham is having the time of his life.

After grounding out in the first, Tommy reached base in his last four plate appearances.  He singled in the third, doubled in the fifth, drove in a run with a seventh-inning single, and drove in another with a hit-by-pitch in the eighth inning.  Since the All-Star Break, Tommy is hitting .300 in the first four innings (24 for 80) with 2 home runs.  From the fifth inning on, Tommy has had 103 plate appearances that have led to 19 singles, 4 doubles, 6 home runs, 18 runs batted in, 18 walks, and 2 hit-by-pitches – a batting line of .349/.476/.614.

For the season, Tommy is a .282 hitter through the first four innings with 5 home runs.  From the fifth inning on, Pham’s line is .335/.435/.594 with 14 home runs.

Randal Grichuk

Grichuk added two hits including a home run.  He homered in the last game in Milwaukee and almost tied the game with a ninth inning home run.  Since the All-Star Break, Grichuk is carrying a .282 batting average (37 for 131) and a .580 slugging percentage (8 doubles, 2 triples, and 9 home runs).  That will play.

Four of those home runs have now been hit in the second inning, and 7 of the 9 have come before the sixth.  Since the break, Grichuk is a .358 hitter before the sixth inning (24 for 67) with a .791 slugging percentage.  Thereafter, he hits .203 (13 for 64).

Dexter Fowler

After coming smoking-hot off the disabled list, Dexter Fowler is starting to cool off.  With his 0 for 5 last night, Fowler is now hitless in his last ten at bats, and 2 for 19 (.105) over his last 5 games.  He has 8 strikeouts in those games.

Dexter struck out with Matt Carpenter at second base to end the first inning.  Dexter just has never bonded with the first inning this year.  Since the break, Fowler is now 4 for 17 (.235), and 15 for 74 (.203) for the year in the first inning.

Battling Rays Too Much for Wacha

The runs – when they came against Michael Wacha – came in the third (4) and fourth (1) innings.  But the game may have turned with the first batter to face Wacha in the second inning.  Wacha allowed a single and a walk in the first – so he wasn’t dialed in even from the beginning of the game.  But he got out of that inning making just 17 pitches – not so bad.  When St Louis scored in the bottom of the first, Wacha took a 1-0 lead to the mound in the second.

There to meet him was Corey Dickerson with his .286 batting average and 24 home runs.  Not a hitter to be taken lightly.  Through the 11-pitch battle that ensued, Wacha threw everything but the kitchen sink at Dickerson.  Corey fouled off six of the eleven pitches, finally drilling the last one into right field for a single.  A subsequent single by Adeiny Hechavarria turned it into an early scoring chance.  Wacha escaped without damage, but the inning cost him 25 pitches, and, perhaps, softened him up for the four-run third inning that would follow.

The last five batters he would face last night – the last 3 of the third and the first two of the fourth – would extend their at bats to 6,5,6,7 and 10 pitches respectively.  For the game, 10 of the 21 batters to face Wacha lasted at least 5 pitches, with 8 of them making it to 6 pitches and 4 of those lasting 7 or more.  By the time Wacha’s night ended, the Tampa Bay hitters had fouled off 25 of his 94 pitches.

After falling behind early, the Cards made faint attempts at a comeback.  These all fell short as the Cardinals lost again, 7-3 (box score), their eighth loss in 11 games since their 8-game winning streak.

The 7-run, 16-hit battering at the hands of the Rays pushes the reeling Cardinal pitching staff’s ERA to a disastrous 6.08 over their last 15 games (6.03 from the starters and 6.17 from the bullpen), and the team batting average against to .313 (.330 against the starters).  For the 23 games in August, the team ERA sits at a disheartening 5.02.

Michael Wacha

After being an inspirational figure for much of the season, Wacha has hit the skids recently.  He has totaled 7.1 innings over his last 2 starts, and has managed just 12.1 innings while serving up 14 runs (and 4 home runs) over his last three starts.  Wacha is 0-3 with a 10.22 ERA, a .414 batting average against, and a .690 slugging average against in those games.  His ERA for the month has soared to 7.25.

Throughout his last three starts, Wacha has been hanging pitches early in the at bat.  The batters last night who jumped on his first or second pitch went 3 for 5 including Steven Souza’s moon-shot home run, and Hechavarria’s two-run double.  Over the three starts, batters hitting the first or second pitch are 11 for 19 (.579) with 2 doubles and 3 home runs (a 1.158 slugging percentage) against Michael.

Brett Cecil

The bottom of the ninth inning was robbed of much of its potential drama when Tampa Bay punched across two runs against Brett Cecil in the top of that inning.  To this point, what has been a frustrating season for Cecil just keeps getting worse.

Brett has now pitched in 9 of the last 15 games, serving up 9 runs in his last 7 innings.  His ERA for the month of August sits at 7.50, and since the All-Star Break, Brett has pitched 18 innings in 19 games with a 6.50 ERA.

Yadier Molina

As the Cardinal offense went quietly away for one of the few nights this month, Yadier Molina’s 7-game hitting streak went with it.  Before his 0-for-3 last night, Molina had hit .393 (11 for 28) with a .643 slugging percentage (4 doubles and a home run) during his streak.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko finished the evening 0 for 4.  His average falls to .217 for the month and .202 for the second half.  In fairness, Jedd has been hitting better of late – he had hit safely in the four previous games – as his knee improves.  A strong finish from Gyorko is not out of the question.

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.