Tag Archives: Wainwright

Leadoff Production Improves with Carpenter

Let me begin by saying that I am still disappointed that Matt Carpenter didn’t stick in the third spot in the order (yes, I know, kicking a dead horse).  Even so, I do have to say that since Carpenter returned to the leadoff spot, The Cardinals have done much better at putting their leadoff men on base.

Carpenter, of course, is responsible for a lot of this.  In the month of June, Carpenter has led off 40 different innings.  He has reached base in half of them (11 hits and 9 walks).  He has then come around to score 12 runs.  And this has proved to be more than a little critical, as the Cards have had issues stringing hits together over the last week and a half, or so.  While winning 5 of their last 9 games (and starting to show a little pulse), this team is hitting just .243 in those games.

Last night’s 4-3 nail-biting victory in Arizona (box score), is a sort of microcosm of these trends.  The Cards finished with just six hits, but turned them into four runs – and Carpenter ignited both run-scoring innings.

After Arizona starter Zach Godley set down the first nine batters he faced, Carpenter opened the third drawing a walk, setting the stage for a 3-run inning.  In the eighth, after Arizona had crept back to within 3-2, Carpenter began the inning stroking a ground rule double to right-center.  He would later score on Jedd Gyorko’s double – his second run scored of the evening, and the run that would eventually make the difference.

But it hasn’t been just Carpenter.  Greg Garcia led off the fifth with a walk. That turned into a two-on two-out opportunity, although no runs scored.  Paul DeJong opened the ninth with a single that led to a bases-loaded opportunity to break the game open.  Again, nothing came of the opportunity, but getting the leadoff batter on three or four times a game is becoming more and more common.

Through April and May, the team’s on base percentage leading off an inning was a sluggish .312, with the runner subsequently scoring 45% of the times that he would reach.  In June, the OBP leading off an inning has risen to .360, with that runner scoring 49% of the time.

Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk returned from the minors with a bang – 4 hits (including 2 home runs) in his first 9 at bats.  After his 0-for-4 last night, Grichuk is hitless in his last 9 at bats – including 3 strikeouts and a double play grounded into.  He did hit a couple balls well last night, but also struck out twice.

Greg Garcia

Garcia did draw a walk, but went 0-for-3 for the rest of the evening.  What a difficult June it’s been for Greg, who is now hitting .077 for the month (3 for 39).

Adam Wainwright

Since the end of the Baltimore series (and all the carnage that that included), the Cardinal pitching staff has slowly been feeling its way back to health.  Adam Wainwright tossed his second consecutive quality start last night – a 6.1 inning, 2 run, no home run, 8 strikeout beauty against the torridly hot Diamondback lineup.  Waino still hasn’t seen more than three runs of offensive support since May 21, when they scored 7 for him on the way to an 8-3 conquest of the Giants.  Waino has gone 4-2 over his last 7 starts, in spite of the lack of runs.

The rotation has now tossed together 4 consecutive quality starts – its longest stretch since they cobbled together 6 consecutive QSs from May 17 through May 23.  This also makes 7 quality starts in 9 games since they left Baltimore.  They have managed a very solid 3.57 ERA over those games.

TrevorRosenthal

For one night, at least, Trevor Rosenthal was back in the closer’s role protecting a two-run lead.  Twenty-nine pitches, one single, two walks and two wild pitches later, Trevor walked off the mound with the save in what ended up being a one-run victory.

Trevor still looks broken.  In his first 15 appearances (totaling 14.1 innings), Trevor allowed 3 runs on 10 hits.  He walked 3 and struck out 25.  At that point, his ERA was 1.88 and his batting line against was .189/.232/.245.  In his last 18 appearances (totaling 15.1 innings) Trevor has been charged with 11 runs on 14 hits.  He has walked 11 and struck out 22 – a 6.46 ERA and a .250/.366/.357 batting line.

While Trevor was throwing strikes, he was back in elite form.  Unless he starts throwing strikes again, I predict his days as the closer will come to a quick end.

Brett Cecil

Meanwhile, trending in the other direction is Brett Cecil, who stretched his string of scoreless innings and appearances to 10 with a perfect eighth inning.  The last 32 batters to face Brett have achieved 2 singles, 1 double and 1 walk, with 8 strikeouts – equating to an .097/.125/.129 batting line.  He has also stranded all of his last 3 inherited runners.

For the month of June, Brett’s ERA has dropped to 3.09 with a .175 batting average against.  Brett has walked 2 batters in 11.2 innings this month.

NoteBook

The Cardinals hit 20 home runs in six games in Baltimore and Philadelphia.  In the six games since the end of that road trip, they have hit 6 – none in two games in Arizona.

Bullpen Lets Taillon, Pirates Off the Hook

The bullpen ended up being the talking point – again.  But before the almost expected bullpen failure, the evening belonged to exceptional performances by the two starting pitchers – the Cardinals’ beleaguered Adam Wainwright, and the talented Pirate right-handed Jameson Taillon.  Neither figured in the decision, but both were particularly effective.

In Taillon’s case, that effectiveness took the form of 7 strikeouts in 6 innings.  He gave 4 hits.  Three of them were dribbly ground balls that died in the dirt before the infielder could make a play on them.  The other hit was one of only two well hit balls against Jameson all night – a line drive off the bat of Jose Martinez that just made it over the fence in left for a home run.  Martinez also hit the only other line drive off Jameson last night.  He capped an 11-pitch at bat with a liner to right that Gregory Polanco turned into a double play.

Taillon’s dominance notwithstanding, the game followed a fairly familiar trend for the Cards this month.  Three runs scored on two home runs, but there was no other offense.  St Louis finished the game with just 4 other hits.  For the month of June, the Cards have hit 36 home runs in 22 games, but are only hitting .247.

Jose Martinez

Since the beginning of the last road trip, Martinez has rediscovered a little of the magic that helped him make the roster out of spring training.  Over his last 6 games, Jose is 7 for 18 (.389) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs – an .833 slugging percentage.

All year, Jose has been an excellent fastball hitter in fastball counts.  His home run came on a 95-mph fastball on a 1-0 count.  Later he singled off Juan Nicasio on a 97-mph fastball.  That came on a 3-2 pitch after another long at bat (9 pitches).  Jose has been pretty locked in of late.

For the season, now, he is 5 for 11 (.455) when hitting in 3-2 counts, and 12 for 29 (.414) when hitting ahead in the count.

Matt Carpenter

After a brief but torrid reunion with the leadoff spot in the order, Matt Carpenter has lapsed into a slump as challenging as any he had while batting third.  He has had 1 hit in 19 at bats (.053) over his last six games.

It is thought that Carpenter spends most of his season in 3-2 counts.  That’s not exactly accurate.  He did work his way into a 3-2 count in the fifth inning last night, flying to left.  For the season, now, Carpenter has had 68 full counts in 296 plate appearances (22%) – during which he’s hitting .239/.485/.500.  As far as getting ahead in the count goes, though, Carpenter has ended almost 46% of his plate appearances this season (including 2 of last night’s 5) ahead in the count.

Adam Wainwright

As good as Taillon was, Wainwright was nearly as good.  Ninety-seven pitches pushed him through seven innings and gave him – briefly – a chance for a victory.  He was a little lucky (there were quite a few hard hit balls against him), but at game’s end he had only given up two hits and 1 earned run – and that run almost didn’t happen either.

The only earned run allowed by Adam came on a home run off the bat of Josh Bell.  Bell hit a very good cutter that ran in under his elbows.  Josh managed just enough turn to put just enough barrel on the ball to loft it just far enough to sneak it over the wall in the shortest part of the ballpark – the 335 in the extreme right-field corner.  Not that Josh needs to apologize.  If it goes out of Bush, you’ve earned it.

Still an encouraging performance from Wainwright, who stayed ahead of hitters all night.  Of the 26 batters he pitched to, only 5 finished their at bat ahead on Adam in the count.  Leadoff hitter Adam Frazier bounced to first on a 1-0 pitch. David Freese walked on a 3-0 pitch to start the fourth (that walk began the series of events that led to the unearned run).  Adam Frazier – again – led off the fifth by striking out on a 3-2 pitch.  David Freese (again) would end the sixth grounding out on a 3-2 pitch.  And Andrew McCutcheon would add a little seventh-inning excitement by walking on a 3-2 pitch.

All things considered, an excellent performance by Wainwright, who, had he not been let down by his offense, his defense and his bullpen, would surely have walked off with the victory.

Trevor Rosenthal

The hits against Trevor Rosenthal weren’t necessarily ear-ringing – a well-placed looping liner and a ground ball that made its way into right field.  But – sandwiched around a very damaging walk – they were enough to erase the 3-2 Cardinal lead and send them – eventually – on their way to a 4-3 defeat (box score).  This is happening to Trevor constantly this month.  For the month of June, Rosenthal has worked 9 innings, incurring 6 runs on 10 hits.  He has also walked 5 batters.  The 40 batters who have faced him this month are hitting .294 against him.

How does a pitcher with Trevor’s stuff have guys hitting almost .300 against him?  One part of that is that Trevor has lost the ability to get ahead of hitters.  Through April and May, Trevor finished an at bat ahead of the hitter (either an 0-1, 0-2 or 1-2 count) 44% of the time (32 of the first 73 batters he faced).  Those batters went 2 for 32 (.063) with 19 strikeouts.  This month, Trevor has only pitched from ahead against 10 of the 40 batters he’s faced (25%).  They are 2 for 10.  But the other 30 batters are hitting .333 against him (8 for 24) with 5 walks (a .433 on base percentage).

Trevor may have also lost a little confidence in his slider.  Of the 15 pitches that he threw to the three batters that hurt him last night (Frazier who singled, Josh Harrison who walked, and Freese who singled) 14 were fastballs (the only slider he threw to any of them became ball 2 to Harrison).

The other day, I pointed out that Trevor has done very well this season until he gets a runner on base.  Perhaps, for a while, Mike Matheny should have Rosenthal on a shorter leash and pull him at the first hint of trouble.  In this game, that would have been after Adam Frazier’s one-out single.

Another key for Trevor could be when he walks a batter.  In 22 of Trevor’s 30 games this season, he hasn’t walked anybody.  In those games, Rosenthal holds a 1.74 ERA, a .189/.187/.284 batting line against, and throws 72% of his pitches for strikes.  In the 8 games where he has walked a batter, his ERA soars to 9.45 with a .269/.474/.346 batting line against.  Only 55% of his pitches are strikes on those days.  Perhaps Matheny should have gotten him after he walked Harrison.

Either way, Rosenthal’s effectiveness this season has been closely tied to the use and effectiveness of his slider.  At this point of the season, Trevor is struggling mightily to work his way out of jams.

Seung-hwan Oh

All that remained, then, was for closer Seung-hwan Oh to serve up the game-winning home run in the ninth.  Oh has now given up runs – 6 of them, in total – in 4 of his last 6 games – covering 6 innings.  He has given up 10 hits (including 2 home runs) in those innings.  The last 28 batters to face Oh are hitting .370 and slugging .593.  Even if the Cardinals had played well in all other aspects of their game this month (and, of course, they haven’t), struggles late in the bullpen would have undermined all their efforts.  A baseball team can survive a lot of adversity and still compete.  No team can survive any sustained inability to pitch the ninth inning.

NoteBook

The Cardinals are now 3-13 this month against any team not named Philadelphia.

Wainwright, Offense, Secures Sweep of Phillies

From the beginning it was a struggle.  With single runs in the first two innings, the Philadelphia Phillies took the early lead.  It was a struggle at the end, as well, as an almost comfortable lead nearly disappeared.  But this time St Louis had just enough.  Just enough grit from Adam Wainwright.  Just enough runs from the offense.  And just enough luck to hold on for the 6-5 win that swept the three game weekend series (box score).

Adam Wainwright

Admittedly without his fine command, Adam Wainwright battled through five innings to earn his seventh victory in his last 8 decisions.  After yielding 7 hits in 3.2 innings in his previous starts, Adam has now given 13 hits over his last 8.2 innings.  For the month of June, Adam is allowing opponent’s to hit .288 against him (although he is 2-1 so far this month).

The Phillies hacked at 39 of the 84 pitches that Adam spun in their direction.  They only missed with 5 of those swings.  Swing-and-miss stuff may be a little over-rated (Mike Leake has the rotation’s lowest swing-and-miss ratio at just 17.6%, with Waino second at 18.4%), but you would think that Adam with that curveball should have a few more misses.  Among rotation members, Carlos Martinez gets the most misses on swings against his pitches.  Batters come up empty 25.1% of the time against Carlos.

With the five inning effort by Adam, the rotation has managed just 3 quality starts through the first 11 games of the month.

Surviving the Bullpen

St Louis finished the sweep of the struggling Philadelphia club, but to do so had to once again overcome shakiness from the bullpen.  A prime contributing factor to the seven-game losing streak that opened this month, the bullpen continues to be a sore spot – allowing more runs yesterday (3) in four innings than the starter gave up (2) in five.

Through the first 11 games in June, the St Louis bullpen carries a 4.85 ERA and a .523 slugging percentage against.  They have now allowed as many home runs in 29.2 innings this month (7) as the starters have served up in 62.1 innings.

Tyler Lyons

Tyler Lyons has been taking advantage of most hitter’s normal inclination to take the first pitch, by throwing first pitch fastballs for strikes.  Since no one will ever confuse Tyler’s fastball for Trevor Rosenthal’s, it’s a risky strategy that so far has worked more than not.  Three of the four batters that Tyler faced in the sixth-inning last night got first pitch fastballs.  The one he bounced to Freddy Galvis was the only one that wasn’t a strike.  Michael Saunders took one right down the middle for a strike – on his way to a strikeout.  Maikel Franco swung at his and singled to right.

Ten of the thirteen batters to face Lyons this month have seen first pitch strikes.  No Cardinal pitcher this month facing at least 10 batters throws a higher percentage of first-pitch strikes (76.9%).  So far, most batters have been taking the pitch.  Franco was just the seventh batter (out of 44 faced) this season to swing at Tyler’s first pitch.

Still, it’s more than a little risky.  Joey Votto was sitting on that first-pitch fastball from Lyons last Thursday in Cincinnati when he scorched it for a game-icing two run home run.

Be careful, Tyler.

Three of the six swings taken against Lyons last night put the ball in play.  This has been a consistent issue for Tyler this year.  To this point of 2017, 47.5% of the swings taken against Lyons have put the ball in play – the highest percentage on the staff.  That percentage has risen to 56.3% this month.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman faced four batters in the seventh-inning yesterday, and threw first-pitch fastballs to all four.  None of the fastballs ended up over the plate, but all ended up as strikes.  Three of the batters (Andres Blanco, Odubel Herrera, and Howie Kendrick) chased after that enticing fastball, and home plate umpire Tom Woodring did Matthew a favor with a generous strike call on an outside pitch against Daniel Nava (who hit the next pitch – a hanging splitter – over the wall in right).  Among the 24 batters that Bowman has faced this month, 10 have chased the first pitch (41.7%).

Trevor Rosenthal

Speaking of Rosenthal. He faced three batters in the eighth inning and struck them all out.  He has now fanned 41 of the 92 batters he’s faced this season, holding them to a .171 batting average.  Trevor has really been better than ever this year.  Except when he hasn’t.

Possibly because Trevor is getting very, very proficient at throwing that slider for strike three (and 2 of his 3 last night took third-strike sliders), batters have begun to be more aggressive on the first pitch – which is still usually a fastball.  In April and May, only 27.4% of the batters he faced chased his first pitch.  So far this month 42.1% have gone for Rosenthal’s first offering (including two of the three last night).  Last year, only 14 of his 56 strikeouts (25%) came on called third strikes.  This year he already has 14 called strikeouts among his first 41 (34.1%), including 5 of the 10 so far in June.

Philadelphia offered at 9 of Trevor’s 15 pitches (60%).  Everybody loves to chase that fastball.  The 19 batters he has faced so far in June have chased 54.4% of Rosenthal’s pitches.  For the season, 50.2% of his offerings have been swung at.  The only higher ratio on the club belonged to the since-departed Jonathan Broxton, who drew swings on 51.7% of his pitches.

Rosenthal finished with almost as many swinging strikes in his one inning (4) as Wainwright had in 5 innings (5).  Trevor leads the pitching staff in swing-and-miss percentage, both for the year (33.0%) and for the month (40.8%).  As a result, batters are putting the ball in play on just 20.6% of their swings this year and 14.3% of their swings this month against Rosenthal.

Strikeout pitchers, of course, do run the risk of elevated pitch counts.  It cost Trevor 15 pitches to retire his three batters last night.  He averages more pitches per batter faced than anyone else on the staff (4.52). In the month of June, he’s been throwing 4.74 pitches per plate appearance.

Seung-hwan Oh

Closer Seung-hwan Oh had a string of six consecutive scoreless appearances (6.1 innings) snapped as Philadelphia came back to make a game of it with 4 singles and 2 runs in last night’s ninth inning.

The string of singles gave Oh 4 opportunities to get a double play grounder.  He didn’t.  For the season, Oh has faced 35 batters in double play situations.  He has gotten that double play just once (Giancarlo Stanton bounced into a 6-4-3 with runners on first and second and nobody out in the ninth inning on May 10, helping to preserve a 7-5 Cardinal win).

For the game – although 16 batters came to the plate with an opportunity to ground into a double play – the Cards could get only one of them to comply.  Tommy Joseph – the last batter Wainwright faced – ended the fifth by grounding into a double play.

Oh is another pitcher who throws a lot of first-pitch fastballs.  But he puts most of them on the edge of the strike zone, so his first pitch is infrequently swung at.  Only 2 of the 7 he faced last night offered.  Of the 18 batters faced this month, only 4 (22.2%) have wanted Oh’s first pitch.  For the season, just 28.5% offer at Seung-hwan’s first delivery.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler hit the fifth-inning home run that flipped a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead.  Dexter also led off the game with a double.  With 4 hits in his last 9 at bats, Dexter has looked better at the plate, lately.

Fowler is still hitting just .242 for the month (8 for 33), but 5 of those hits have been for extra bases (2 of them home runs) – giving him a .515 slugging percentage this month.

Kolten Wong

Sparkplug Kolten Wong returned to the lineup just in time to face Philadelphia.  He went 5 for 10 in the series, scoring 3 runs.  St Louis won all three, but how much of that was Kolten Wong and how much was the Phillies?  As the Brewers begin a four-game series tomorrow, we will begin to find out.  It is nonetheless true that the sometimes maligned Wong is now hitting .294/.393/.434 for the year, and has been a sparkplug.

Wainwright Done Early in Blowout Loss

I begin this posting with a guarantee – an iron-clad promise.  I promise you, gentle reader, that the Cardinals will win another game before the season ends.  In fact, I am going to be extra bold and predict that sometime in the next 100 games, this bedraggled team will – at some point – win two games in a row.

The details of how that will happen are a little sketchy – as the Cardinals don’t do well in any of the elements that usually contribute to winning baseball games (hitting, pitching, base-running, defense).  Certainly after last night’s 13-1 humbling (box score) at the hands of a Cincinnati team that also has flaws, one might think this entire roster should join Grichuk at A ball.

The truth is that your team is never as good as it looks when it’s winning and never really as bad as it looks when it’s losing.  And losing has been the story here.  Since Boston came to town in mid-May to sweep a two-game series from the then-first-place Cardinals, the Holy Cardinal Franchise has endured losses in 15 of the last 20 games.

The early stages of this downturn was distinguished by excellent starting pitching that was routinely betrayed by, well, all of the other aspects of the team.  As the struggles approach the one month mark, even the starting pitching has started to desert them.  Last night marked (and in spectacular fashion) one complete turn through the rotation since the last quality start.  Over these 20 games, the rotation is still holding at 10 quality starts, with a 5-9 record and a 3.92 ERA.  The bullpen – which accounted for most of Gennett’s big night – served up 4 runs in 4.1 innings, barely moving the needle on the 5.88 ERA they’ve sustained over those same 20 games.

Adam Wainwright

When you’re in one of these streaks, it’s always someone.  Last night it was Adam Wainwright.  Coming off 4 consecutive dominating starts in which he had allowed just 1 run in 26.1 innings and riding a 6-game winning streak, Adam was savaged by the aroused Cincinnati lineup.  In giving up 9 runs, Wainwright surrendered in 3.2 innings as many runs as he had given up over his previous 6 starts and 36.2 innings.  The first of Scooter Gennett’s mind-blowing four home runs was the first surrendered by Wainwright since Milwaukee’s Keon Broxton capped an 8-pitch contest with a game-tying home run in the fifth inning of the May 4 game.  That, for Adam, was 34.2 innings, 141 batters faced, and 591 pitches between home runs.

That Milwaukee game was – until last night – the last time Adam had struggled through really complex innings.  He scuffled through 5 that night facing 27 batters (5.4 per inning) and throwing 101 pitches (20.2 per inning).  Through the five starts prior to last night, Adam faced 125 batters over 31.2 innings (3.95 per inning) and threw 518 pitches (16.36 per inning).  In fighting his way through 3.2 innings last night (and facing 22 batters with 89 pitches), Adam is up to 4.47 batters per inning for the season (the highest average among the starters) – and 18.2 pitches per inning (also the highest in the rotation).  Michael Wacha is second facing 4.20 batters per inning, while Lance Lynn throws the second most pitches per inning (17.17 per).  Mike Leake has been the most efficient, so far.  He has pitched to only 3.91 batters, costing him just 14.39 pitches per inning.

Of those 89 pitches, only 55 were strikes (61.8%).  Adam actually had the lowest percentage of pitches for strikes of any of last year’s starters (63.2%).  This year, only 61.4% of his pitches are strikes.  Lynn (59.7%) is the only starter throwing fewer strikes.

Even though the day ended in disaster, Adam did get ground balls from 10 of the 16 batters who put the ball in play against him.  For the season, now, Adam is getting the second highest percentage of ground balls among the starters.  To this point of the season, Adam has gotten 110 grounders against 98 fly balls (52.9%), after a 2016 season that saw him get grounders only 45% of the time.  Leake, again, is the rotation’s leader in this metric with a ground ball rate of 54.4%.  Lance Lynn – who takes the hill tonight in Cincinnati’s bandbox – is getting ground balls only 45.7% of the time (the lowest percentage among starters).

Offense Still in Neutral

While the pitching staff drew the most attention last night, the offense continued its traditional non-support.  By the time they put their lonely marker on the board, the team was already trailing 11-0. The lone run was the sixty-first the Birds have scored in these 20 games (3.05 per), while the 5 hits they managed lowered their team batting average to .224 since mid-May.

Stephen Piscotty

The 2017 season is barely more than one-third past, and Stephen Piscotty has already had more than his share of drama/tragedy.  Slump bound early in the season, he then tweaked a hammy and landed on the disabled list for a while.  He has had his defense questioned and endured season-long gaffes on the bases that have included numberless bad decisions, several awkward slides, and – more than once – getting hit by the thrown ball.  And then, most recently, Stephen missed a few days to spend with his mother, who has been newly diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.  Throughout it all, Piscotty has been trying to re-reinvent his swing.  And of course, when he comes back, he comes back to a team mired in a losing skid.  This is probably not how he would have drawn up the season.

Nonetheless, as Stephen has returned from his mother’s bedside, he has come back with some long-awaited life in his bat.  With a single, a walk, and the home run that accounted for St Louis’ only marker last night, Piscotty has now drawn at least one walk in 6 straight games, along with getting hits in 6 of the 7 he’s played in since his last absence.  He now has 8 hits (including a double and 2 home runs) in his last 20 at bats to go along with 7 walks in the 7 games – an encouraging batting line of .400/.556/.750.  It’s only seven games, but how this team could use a nice hot streak from Piscotty.

One of the aspects of Piscotty’s disappointing .247 second half batting average last year was his increased aggressiveness.  From the All Star break to the end of the season, Stephen offered at 54.7% of the pitches thrown to him.  That number has been much reduced all year, so far.  After swinging at only 6 of the 15 pitches thrown his last night, Piscotty is down to offering at only 45.0% of the pitches he’s seen so far this season.

Jedd Gyorko

Continuing as the most dependable source of offense during this difficult period, Jedd Gyorko added two more hits last night.  Playing (and starting) 16 of the last 20 games, Jedd now has 18 hits in his last 63 at bats (.286).  It’s not Hall of Fame stuff, but it’s the best we’ve got going right now.

Through mid-May, while Jedd was hitting .333, he was only swinging at 45.4% of the pitches thrown him.  He swung at 8 of the 11 thrown him last night, and through the struggles of these last 20 games has swung at 53.8% of the pitches he’s seen.  It’s hard not to press when things turn difficult.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler’s evening ended after two plate appearances – a tap out and a ground out.  Dexter is now 1 for 12 (.083) over his last 4 games, 17 for 79 (.215) over the last 20 games, 17 for 80 (.205) since returning from his shoulder injury, and .222 at the one-third mark of the season.  Certainly less than anyone expected from him.

Dexter did see 9 pitches in his 2 plate appearances, and has now been seeing 4.35 pitches per plate appearance since his shoulder injury.  Prior to that, he was only seeing 3.93 pitches per.

Jose Martinez

The hero of Spring Training, Jose Martinez has been cold upon his return from the disabled list.  Hitless in 2 at bats after entering into the game, Jose is now 2 for 15 (.133) since his return.  His last walk came on April 19 against Pittsburgh, 45 plate appearances and 163 pitches ago.

While the results haven’t been as cheery, his process has remained largely the same.  He swung at only 3 of the 7 pitches he saw last night, and is swinging at only 39.7% for the year.  But he put the ball in play with 2 of his 3 swings, and is putting the ball in play with an impressive 51.0% of his swings.

Including both plate appearances last night, Jose has taken 13 of the 15 first pitches he has seen since his return from the DL.  Ten of the thirteen have been called strikes.  Maybe Jose could profit from a little more willingness to hit that first pitch.

Matt Carpenter

The extended slump of Matt Carpenter continued last night with an 0 for 4.  Moved into the second slot in the batting order 6 games ago, there have still been no encouraging results.  Matt is 2 for 23 (.087) since the adjustment.  Over the last 20 games, Carpenter is hitting .141 (10 of 71), and is now down to .209 for the season.  Matt doesn’t have an extra base hit or a run batted in since his two-run home run off of Matt Cain in the fifth inning of the May 21 game against San Fran.  That was 14 games, 56 plate appearances and 248 pitches ago.

Matt is still grinding through at bats.  Seeing 19 pitches in four PAs last night brings him to 4.42 pitches per PA for the year.  But even so, as with Martinez, pitchers are beginning to take advantage of his passiveness.  He swung at the first pitch once in four at bats last night, and saw 2 of the other 3 first pitches called strikes.  As usual, Matt swung at the first pitch only 18 times in his last 79 turns at bat (22.8%).  But 39 of the 61 first pitches that he hasn’t swung at have been called strikes (64%).

Paul DeJong

After picking up 6 hits in his first 15 at bats, Paul DeJong has cooled off a bit.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, DeJong is now 3 for his last 19 (.158), all singles.

DeJong saw 14 pitches in his 3 at bats, and swung at 9 of them.  Of the 9 swings, 6 of them missed.  Only one of his 9 swings put the ball in play.  During his brief major league career, Paul is swinging at 56.1% of the pitches he sees, and missing with 34.6% of his swings.  He puts the ball in play with only 29.5% of his swings.  Paul has 11 strikeouts and no walks in his first 34 plate appearances.  Of the 11 strikeouts, 10 were swinging.

NoteBook

It didn’t make much difference as the Cards were only 2-5 in those games, but last night’s blowout loss broke a string of seven straight games in which St Louis had a lead at some point.

Game Hinges on Second Inning RISP Chances

The game was still scoreless as San Francisco immediately put Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright in a second-inning bind.  A single by Brandon Belt and a walk to Brandon Crawford gave the Giants the very first RISP (runners in scoring position) opportunity of the day.  The Cards would get the same opportunity in the bottom of that inning when Jhonny Peralta and Tommy Pham led off with singles.  But where the Cards would cash in on the chance – eventually getting a three-run double from Randal Grichuk as the highlight of a four-run inning, the Giants were left with a zero for their efforts as Wainwright defused the threat by striking out Eduardo Nunez, Nick Hundley and Mac Williamson.

With this as the tone setter, St Louis would go on to a 4-for-10 RISP performance while San Francisco would finish the afternoon 0-for-8 in that same category, resulting in an 8-3 Cardinal victory (box score).

The Cardinals have had a reputation is recent years of being one of the better hitting teams with runners in scoring position.  Even though last year was mostly disappointing, they still hit .271/.353/.472 with RISP.  They dug themselves an early season hole in 2017 for many reasons, among them an ice-cold start in these opportunities.  Their April RISP batting line read a disappointing .212/.325/.358.  But they have come out firing on many more cylinders in May.  After their performance yesterday, the May RISP line now stands at .276/.349/.436.

Pitching Staff Thriving with RISP

One of the earmarks of the superlative 2015 staff was their remarkable success when pitching with runners in scoring position (.210/.296/.322).  While they regressed a bit last year (.259/.341/.404), they have bounced back with a vengeance so far in 2017.  After holding the Giants to an 0-for-8 RISP performance, St Louis’ opponents are hitting .204 this month – and .219 for the year – with runners in scoring position.

Hitters Don’t Stay Down for Long

Yesterday also featured another bounce-back by the Cardinal offense.  Dominated the night before (scoring just once in 13 innings), St Louis drove Matt Cain from the mound under a barrage of hits.  For the first 15 games of the season, the Cardinal offense sat in a deep freeze, scoring 3.2 runs a game and being shutout twice.  In the 26 games since then (beginning with the series in Milwaukee that started on April 20), the Cards have hit .287 as a team and scored 5.52 runs per game.  For the 17 games they’ve played so far in May, those numbers are .275 and 5.12 runs per game.  They have scored five runs or more 11 times (in 17 games) this month, and 18 times in the last 26 games.

Jhonny Peralta

Peralta has returned with a little juice in his bat.  With pinch-hit singles in his first two games and a 2-for-3 game yesterday, Jhonny is 4 for 5 with a walk and no strikeouts since his re-instatement.  There is still a question of where he fits, as benching Jedd Gyorko in favor of Peralta is – for the moment, anyway – out of the question.  Peralta is still waiting for his first extra base hit and his first run batted in of the season.

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz – who pushed his season average to .261 with two doubles – now has 14 multiple hit games this season.  He has had only 10 games in which he has had one hit.  Even though he has been pretty hit and miss, Aledmys is still hitting .315 (23 for 73) this month.

Diaz was one of our very best hitters with runners in scoring position last year.  He hit .337/.427/.652 in those situations in 2016.  To this point of 2017, he has struggled to find that RISP magic.  The only time they retired him yesterday was on a soft fly ball to left with runners on first and second and two out in the third.  Aledmys is now just 8 for 35 (.229) with runners in scoring position in 2017.  Of the 8 hits, 6 are singles (including one infield hit and one bunt single), 1 double and 1 home run – a .343 slugging percentage.

Randal Grichuk

Both of Grichuk’s doubles came with runners in scoring position.  Beginning with the Milwaukee series at the end of April, Grichuk’s production with runners in scoring position has been on the upswing.  Randal finished 2016 with one of the team’s better averages with runners in scoring position, when he hit .327 and slugged .579 when hitting with “ducks on the pond.” He began 2017 with just 3 hits in his first 13 RISP at bats (.231).  Since then he is 8 for 29 (.276) with 5 of the hits going for extra-base – a .517 slugging percentage.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler was the only Cardinal player to bat last night who didn’t finish the game with at least one hit.  Since hitting a triple and a late three-run homer in the first San Francisco game, Dexter is 0 for 11, watching his season average tilt back down to .220.

He is hitting just .154 (4 for 26) since returning to the lineup after his shoulder injury.  However, all 4 hits have been for extra bases, and he has sprinkled in 8 walks for a .343 on base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage since then.  His batting line for May (.184/.347/.526) shows a similar trend.  He has only 7 hits in 38 at bats this month, but with 6 extra-base hits (including 2 home runs) and 10 walks.

Adam Wainwright

The resurgent Adam Wainwright was also a big story last night.  Seven starts into his 2017 season, Adam had no quality starts, a 2-3 record, and a 6.37 ERA.  After limiting the Giants to 1 run in 6.1 innings yesterday, Adam has now allowed just that single run on 9 hits in 13.1 innings over his last two starts (wins over the Giants and Cubs) – a 0.68 ERA.  One particular area of improvement has been the bite on Adam’s curveball – making it a swing-and-miss pitch again.  Through the first seven starts, opposing batters only missed on 16% of their swings against him.  Over the last two games, the swing-and-miss percentage has been 26%.

During the month of April, Adam was mostly helpless when working with runners on base.  The 34 batters who faced him that month with RISP opportunities stung him at a .379/.438/.655 clip.  But San Francisco went 0-for-6 against Waino yesterday in RISP situations.  Opposing hitters are now just 3 for 19 (.158) this month in this situation.

Wainwright’s start continues an impressive month by the Cardinal rotation, which now has 12 quality starts, a 2.87 ERA, and a .214 batting average against in 17 games and 106.2 innings this month.  The overall team ERA for May is 2.91.

The Cardinals’ chances of contending over the entire season rest heavily on the pitching staff.  This sustained excellence in May is very encouraging.

RISP and the Rest of the Rotation

Lance Lynn, of course, was part of that productive 2015 staff – and he was one of many to perform very well with runners in scoring position (a .233 batting average against).  This year – so far – no one on the staff has been better.  Opposing batters are just 2 for 16 this month (.125) and 5 for 33 (.152) for the year when facing Lance with runners in scoring position.

Carlos Martinez was the best of the 2015 staff in this situation.  Combining his electric stuff and his native competitiveness, batters in RISP struggled to a .181 average against Carlos in 2015.  He regressed a bit last year, in what seems to have been a “growing” year for him.  In these situations in 2016 he was hit at a .244 clip.  The Carlos Martinez of 2017, so far, resembles much more the 2015 Martinez.  RISP batters are 2 for 12 (.167) this month, and 7 for 40 (.175) for the year against Carlos.

As with many other things in Mike Leake’s world, hitters with runners in scoring position thrived against him last year (.298), but have found the sledding much tougher this year.  They are 2 for 10 (.200) this month, and 6 for 38 (.158) this year against him.

2015 was also Michael Wacha’s last healthy year.  He was plenty tough in RISP situations then (.208), but declined in his injury-marred 2016 year (.297).  As with most of the rest of the staff, Wacha has returned to form so far this year.  With runners in scoring position, opposing batters are just 4 for 28 (.143) against him.

Miguel Socolovich

The trends on Miguel Socolovich are something of a mixed bag.  Through his first 7 games (accounting for 9.2 innings) Miguel served up no home runs.  The two he served up yesterday were the third and fourth in his last 6 games (7.2) innings.  On the other hand, over the 10.1 innings of his first 8 games, Miguel walked 4 batters.  He hasn’t walked anyone since (5 games, 7 innings).

Brett Cecil & Sam Tuivailala

Bonus good news from yesterday: two recently struggling relievers both regained a little balance.  Brett Cecil, who has had more than his share of turmoil recently, retired both batters he faced.

Sam Tuivailala pitched the ninth inning in 1-2-3 fashion, putting an end to a three game streak in which Sam gave up a run in each game.  Since his recall, Tuivailala has pitched 8 pretty good innings (3 runs on 7 hits and no home runs.)

NoteBook

Cardinal starters hove now strung together 4 consecutive quality starts (finally winning one of them), and have quality starts in 7 of the last 8 games.  Lance Lynn – who opens the LA series – is the only Cardinal starter not to throw a quality start in the last nine games.

With his RBI double yesterday, Wainwright is now hitting .294/.294/.529 for the season – an OPS of .824 (yes, I know it’s just 17 at bats).

The strikeout prone Cardinals fanned just once yesterday.  Twice previously they had struck out just twice in a game.  On 13 other occasions in their first 41 games, the Cards have recorded 10 or more strikeouts.

Offense Becoming Dangerous with Runners On Base

While the final score doesn’t necessarily suggest it (St Louis won the rubber game of their weekend series 5-0) (box score), Chicago’s Jake Arrieta made things difficult enough for the Cardinal hitters.  Of the 37 batters that faced Arrieta and his relief pitcher, Brian Duensing, 23 came up with the bases empty (62.2%)

While this is usually a recipe for defeat, The Cardinal hitters – as they have for most of the month – took advantage of the few opportunities they had with runners on base to go 4 for 13 (.308) with 2 home runs, keeping their momentum going.  The Cards have now won 8 of 9, 9 of 12 played in the month of May, and 18 of the last 24 since they were swept by the Yankees in mid-April.  The wet-powder Cardinals of 2016 never managed more than 7 wins in any 9-game stretch or 15 wins in any 24-games stretch.  However the season ends up, this year’s club has already shown more sustainability than last year’s team ever did.

The foundation of the Cardinal surge continues to be the excellent pitching – especially (these days) the bullpen.  Over the 9-3 May, the Cardinal starters have chipped in with 8 quality starts and a 3.61 ERA – while the bullpen ERA so far this month has been an impressive 1.30.  In the 18-6 run, the starters have thrown 17 quality starts to accompany a 3.24 ERA, while the ‘pen has backed then with a 2.58 ERA.

While the Cards continue to pitch, they will continue to contend.

Finally Hitting With Runners On Base

One of several elements of the Cardinal streak is improved hitting with runners on base.  April saw them hit a disappointing .233/.322/.369 with runners on base.  After yesterday’s exploits, St Louis is hitting .284/.351/.461 this month in those situations.

After a worrisome struggle against Eddie Butler on Friday night, the Cardinal offense has bounced back quite nicely.  They are now hitting .283 and scoring 5.50 runs per game this month.  In the 24 games since the beginning of the Pittsburgh series, they are hitting .285 and scoring 5.13 runs per game.

Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk contributed three hits last night, two of them doubles.  Both doubles came with the bases empty.  Randal’s numbers have shown a mild uptick so far this month, but only when he’s batting with the bases empty.  He is hitting .348 (8 for 23) and slugging .609 (3 doubles and 1 home run) with the bases empty.  He is only 4 for 24 (.167) this month when batting with anyone on base.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina’s two home run day stretched his hitting streak to six games, during which he’s hitting .320 (8 for 25) with more extra-base punch than we’re used to seeing from Yadi.  His 8 hits include 2 doubles and the 2 home runs – a .640 slugging percentage.

His first home run came in his only plate appearance with a runner on base.  Yadi’s month of May has been all about taking advantage of chances to hit with runners on base.  With no one on, Yadi is hitting .231 this month (6 for 26).  He is now at .333 (6 for 18) when he gets to hit with runners on.  He hit .345 last year with runners on base (70 for 203).

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz was thrown out at second on an overly aggressive attempt to stretch a single into a double, but Diaz, nonetheless, finished with two more hits and has two hits in three of his last four games.  Since moving to the sixth slot in the lineup, Aledmys has hit .364 (16 for 44).

His two hits lifted his batting average for the month of May to .340 (18 for 53).  Only Tommy Pham’s .371 is better among Cardinal regulars (and Tommy qualifies as a regular during the month of May).

All of Diaz’ at bats yesterday came with the bases empty.  So far this year, Aledmys has had no one on base for him in 60.7% of his plate appearances.  That is the third highest rate on the team.  Leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler has been up with the bases empty 67.2% of the time.  Even though he has been moved to the third slot in the order, Matt Carpenter still has no one on base for him 61.8% of the time.

Adam Wainwright

In putting together his first quality start of the season, Adam Wainwright still struggled keeping runners off base.  In fact, his game was almost the reverse of Jake Arrieta’s.  Where Arrieta rarely had runners on base, but got taken advantage of when he did, Wainwright was almost always in some flavor of trouble.  He had only one clean inning out of the seven he pitched – although two double plays helped him face the minimum in two other innings.

For the game the 13 batters that faced Adam with the bases empty went 4 for 11 with 2 walks – a .364 batting average and a .462 on base percentage.  For the season, when Adam has pitched with no one on base, opposing hitters have fashioned a .393/.440/.548 slash line.

Here was the difference, though.  In his disappointing April, hitters went on to hit .305/.349/.492 once they did get a runner on.  Yesterday afternoon, the Cubs were 0 for 12 with 2 walks and 2 double plays against Wainwright once they put a runner on base.  For the month of May (in 3 starts), Adam is holding batters that hit with runners on base to a .207/.361/.310 batting line.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal pitched his fifth consecutive hitless innings last night (he’s walked 1 and struck out 7 in those innings), and is now unscored on in his last 7 games – all one-inning appearances.  His season ERA is back down to 1.88.  The 23 batters who have faced Trevor this month are slashing .045/.087/.045 – that’s 1 single, 1 walk and 10 strikeouts.

He pitched on consecutive days for the third time this season yesterday.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist is the other vital part of the Cardinal bullpen that has returned to his former dominance.  Siegrist pitched the ninth and, like Rosenthal, set the Cubs down in order with two strikeouts.  Kevin has now thrown four consecutive perfect innings, and has set down the last 13 batters he’s faced, striking out 6 of them.  Kevin is unscored against in his last 10 games, constituting 9 innings.

Walks were an early issue for Kevin.  He walked no one last night for his seventh consecutive inning.  He walked 10 through his first 6.1 innings.

Over his last 12 games (11 innings), Kevin holds a 1.64 ERA and a .209 opponent’s batting average.

NoteBook

With last night’s win, the Cards become the first team in the division to reach six-games over .500 (they are 21-15).  They were also the division’s first team to fall six-games under .500 when they started 3-9.

Coming off a two-of-three series loss against Tampa Bay, the Boston Red Sox will be the sixth consecutive team the Cards will play that has lost its previous series.

Bullpen Misfires Continue for Cards and Marlins

For seven innings last night, former Cincinnati pitcher (and current Miami Marlin) Dan Straily silenced what had been a pretty consistently dangerous offense, holding the St Louis Cardinals to 1 run on 3 hits.  For five of those innings, his St Louis counterpart – Adam Wainwright – did much the same to Miami, as he held them to 1 run on 2 hits.  Both starters on this night were failed by their respective bullpens that combined to serve up 5 runs on 7 hits over 5.2 innings (while allowing 5 of 6 inherited runners to score).  At the end it was the Cardinals prevailing on Dexter Fowler’s ninth-inning pinch-hit RBI single – just enough to give the Cards the 6-5 victory (box score).

The win was St Louis’ fifth in a row and makes 15 of the last 20.  This was the kind of run the 2016 team was never able to make.  Over the entire 2016 season, that team never managed more than 13 wins over any 20-game span.

To get this one, the Cards would need a 4-run eighth-inning rally against the Miami bullpen to tie the score and set the stage for the ninth.  And both of those innings were set up by outfielders who started the season in the minors.

Tommy Pham

Tommy Pham continues to leave his imprint on the road trip.  His two doubles last night were at the heart of two scoring rallies – especially the second one that triggered the 4-run eighth inning.  Since his recall from AAA, Pham has hit in four of his five games – getting multiple hits in three of them – on his way to a .450 batting average (9 for 20), a 1.050 slugging percentage (he has 3 doubles and 3 home runs) and 6 runs batted in over his five games.

Tommy saw 16 pitches over the course of his 4 plate appearances last night.  He swung at only 4 of them, missing none and putting three pitches in play.  Since his recall, Pham has been uncommonly selective – swinging at only 33% (29 of 88) of the pitches thrown to him – but hasn’t missed when he has.  Tommy has 5 swings so far this season that haven’t made contact (17.2%), and 15 swings that have put the ball in play (51.7%).  Last year he swung at 41.6% of the pitches sent his way, missed on 34.8% of those swings, and put the ball in play with just 27.9% of them.

Perhaps just as impressive, 7 of the 12 pitches that Pham didn’t swing at were called strikes (58.3%).  In his five games back, 39% of the pitches Pham has taken have been called strikes (the team average is 30.8%)

All these numbers suggest a hitter who is seeing the ball very well and taking confident at bats.  It could be that Pham is just hot.  This could also be the difference that being able to see can make.  Pham’s recent success, both here and down in Memphis, coincided with his latest set of contact lenses.

As long as Tommy Pham hits, Tommy Pham will play.

Magneuris Sierra

Magneuris Sierra also added two more hits last night, and was also in the middle of the offense.  He scored two runs last night and has scored 5 in his 3 games in the majors, while going 5 for 14 (.357) at the plate.

It is way too early to get overly excited about the 21-year-old rookie, but my question is this.  If he does well in his brief stay in St Louis, can they (or should they) really send him back down to A ball?  Doesn’t Sierra at least have to land in AA ball?

Randal Grichuk

In the middle of last night’s eighth-inning rally, Randal Grichuk almost ended both his hitless streak and his homer-less streak.  Alas, his long fly ball fell just short of the would-be grand slam.  But he did drive home the second run of the inning.  Grichuk is now hitless in his last 11 at bats and without a home run in his last 46.  He hasn’t walked in any of his last five games, either.

Aledmys Diaz

Aledmys Diaz is all the way back down to .250 on the season after last night’s 0 for 4.  Since getting hits in 7 straight at bats, Aledmys is 0 for his last 15.

Say this for Diaz.  Even when slumping, he has great control with his swing.  He swung at 6 pitches in his 4 plate appearances last night, fouling off 2 pitches and putting the other four in play.  Last year, he missed on only 17.4% of his swings while putting the ball in play 44.7% of the time.  This year, so far, he leads the team missing on just 16.7% of his swings and in putting the ball in play (52.9%).

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright’s final line in the game is becoming all too familiar.  He pitched 5.1 innings (he has made it through six innings just once this season) and allowed 4 earned runs (the fifth time this season he has allowed four or more earned runs).  Seven starts into his 2017 season, Adam is still waiting for his first quality start.

For the season, Adam has been inconsistent.  But last night’s line doesn’t reflect Adam’s night.  Wainwright’s effort last night was the best non-quality start I’ve seen in quite a while.

Five innings into the game, Adam had allowed two hits and one scratch run composed of a “hit by pitch” where Derek Dietrich made not the tiniest effort to avoid the pitch, a walk, a dribbler back to the mound that advanced the runners, and a perfectly executed suicide squeeze.  That was all this excellent Miami offense had to show for their first 18 plate appearances against Adam.

Then came the sixth inning.  J.T. Realmuto and Ichiro Suzuki guided bouncing singles up the middle.  Marcell Ozuna rolled a little grounder to Wainwright’s right that advanced the runners to second and third.  Adam then issued an intentional walk to slugger Giancarlo Stanton and – with lefthanders Dietrich, Justin Bour and J.T. Riddle due up – he exited the game and watched from the bench as Brett Cecil allowed all his runners to score.  For the game, the 15 batters who put the ball in play against Adam hit 11 ground balls.

Baseball isn’t always fair.  Last night, Adam deserved a much better fate than he got.  Of course, so did Straily.  It must be frustrating for Adam.  Over these last 20 games the rest of the rotation has thrown quality starts 14 times in 16 games, registering a 2.63 ERA and a .218/.280/.339 batting line against.  If Adam has more games like last night, though, he will be OK.

One of Wainwright’s enduring problems has been long at bats and long innings as far as number of pitches are concerned.  Last night the 22 batters to face Adam averaged 4.41 pitches per at bat which led, eventually, to 18.2 pitches per inning – with the result that his 97 pitches weren’t enough to get out of the sixth inning.  For the young season, Adam is averaging 4.07 pitches per batter and 19.22 pitches per inning.  Both numbers are the highest of anyone in the rotation.

Brett Cecil

Cecil had been pitching very well until Sunday – allowing no earned runs over his previous 8.1 innings and allowing only 2 of his previous 9 inherited runners to score.  But Brett served up the game-tying home run in the eighth inning Sunday in Atlanta and surrendered all of Wainwright’s baserunners plus one of his own last night.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman needed only 9 pitches in his three-up-three-down seventh.  In his previous 5 games (covering 5 innings), Matthew had been touched for 8 hits and 7 runs (6 earned).  It was relieving to see him back on track.

His inning was classic Bowman.  Three batters faces, three pitches per batter, three ground ball outs.  So far this year he is facing just 3.89 batters per inning (tied with Mike Leake for fewest on the staff), throws just 15.13 pitches per inning, and gets that ground ball 60% of the time –the highest ground ball ratio on the staff after he led all Cardinal pitchers last year with a 63% ground ball ratio.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal walked a batter, but otherwise pitched an uneventful eighth inning.  It was the third time in four games that Rosenthal has pitched.  Over his last 10 games (equaling 10 innings) Trevor has held opposing batters to a .180 average.

NoteBook

It took until the fifth inning, but the Cards finally scored that first run of the game.  That makes seven games in a row that the Cards have scored first.  They have won six of the seven.

Jedd Gyorko continues to close in on his doubles total from last year, when he hit only 9 all year.  He has 8 already in 2017.  Is he faster?  No.  The difference is that this year – so far – Jedd is driving the ball with authority to right and right-center.

Could Milwaukee be a Winning Team This Year?

With a smartly played 5-4 victory over the Cardinals last night (box score), the Milwaukee Brewers fly on to Pittsburgh sporting a 15-14 record and holding on to second place in the division.  They last finished the regular season with a winning record in 2014 when they finished 82-80.  They haven’t seen the playoffs since the Cards bumped the 96-win Milwaukee team out of the 2011 tournament.

It’s a long way till the finish line, but I suggested here that both Milwaukee and Cincinnati looked like they would be better this year.  Whether they will be a winning team at the end of the year or not, the Brewers do look like a team that can hit.

Struggling Against Winning Teams, Again

Of more interest to me is the fact that the Cards are now 6-10 this year against teams that currently sport a winning record.  I grant you that the Brewers are maybe below the level of the rest of the over .500 teams we’ve played already in the early season (the Cubs, the Nationals and the Yankees).  But they are 15-14, so . . .

Through these first 16 games, the offense has been by-and-large competitive.  They have scored at least four runs in 10 of those contests, scoring first in 8 of them and leading at some point in 13 of the 16.  They have hit 17 home runs in the 16 games, with a team batting line of .252/.327/.409 – averaging an OK 4 runs per game.

Where they have come up short are the areas they expected to be strengths this year – pitching (especially the bullpen) and defense.  Led by a bullpen ERA of 5.14, the Cardinal pitching staff has managed only a 4.40 ERA against these teams, while the defense has provoked the matter by contributing to 10 unearned runs.

Aledmys Diaz

Yes, one of the hits was a dribbler to third and another was a bunt on which he would have been easily retired with a decent throw.  Still, it’s great to see a three-hit night from Aledmys Diaz – who has struggled to a .236 average in the early going.  His double was lined and he flew out to pretty deep right on another pitch that was well struck.  He now has multiple hits in two of his last three games, so maybe this is the beginning for him.

While Diaz’ season so far hasn’t been what he hoped, he has been one of the better competitors against the winning teams the Cards have faced.  He is now 18 for 65 (.277) against the better opponents, with the hits including 5 doubles and 3 home runs – good for a .492 slugging percentage.

Kolten Wong

No, that is not a misprint.  If you are scanning the Cardinal batting averages and you see the .303/.398/.500 line next to Kolten Wong’s name, you are likely to do a double-take.  But those are, indeed, his numbers on the heels of his three-hit night last night.  His hitting streak has now reached nine games, during which he is 14 for 30 with 5 doubles and a triple.  He has scored 6 runs and driven in 5 while batting .467 with a .700 slugging percentage.

Even though the bulk of this damage has come at the expense of the Brewers in the two series they’ve played against Milwaukee, Wong’s batting average against winning teams has climbed to .326.

Yadier Molina

Although he’s lost a little steam since the last game of his seven-game hitting streak, Yadier Molina is still hitting .326 (14 for 43) over his last 11 games.  He had a couple of hits and an RBI last night.

In his 14 games against the Cubs, Nationals, Yankees and Brewers, Yadi is batting a more than respectable .280 (14 for 50).

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez had one of the nicest moments of the home stand, hitting his first career home run in the seventh-inning of the first Toronto game – tying the game.  He has gone 1 for 11 since – seeming to succumb at last to the difficulties of irregular playing time.  He was 0 for 3 with 2 strikeouts after replacing Stephen Piscotty in the lineup.  (Piscotty tweaked a hamstring and has landed himself on the disabled list).

Randal Grichuk

After flourishing briefly during a seven-game hitting streak, Randal Grichuk has run into another little dry spell.  Over his last 4 games, Randal has two singles in 14 at bats (.143).  His batting average – which had been flirting with the .250 mark – has regressed to .234.

Hitless in three at bats last night, Grichuk is one of those players who has been mostly taken advantage of by the league’s better teams.  In the 16 games St Louis has played against the winning teams, Randal has 2 home runs and 8 RBIs, but is hitting just .224 (13 for 58) with 20 strikeouts.

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright continues to raise more concerns than he answers.  In what has become a standard performance for him, he lasted just five innings while struggling to contain the Milwaukee offense to just 4 runs on 10 hits and 3 walks.  He has made 6 starts this season, none of which have met the minimums to be considered a quality start.  He has been battered for 49 hits in his 30 innings.  The batting line against him is a troubling .371/.415/.568.

His numbers are possibly exaggerated by the fact that 5 of his 6 starts have come against the Cubs (one of his better performances in a 2-1 loss), Nationals (a 14-6 battering that came mostly at the expense of the bullpen), Yankees (a 9-3 pounding), and Milwaukee twice (a 6-3 win and last night’s no decision).  Perhaps had he been able to pitch one of the Pittsburgh games his numbers would be better, but the story is pretty clearly told.  To this point of the season Adam has been largely overmatched by the league’s better teams.  He’s had some bad luck, true.  And he’s run into some very hot hitting teams – that is also true.  But there have been a lot of hanging pitches worked into the mix.

The Other Starters

Of the other starters, Mike Leake has been the best, although only 2 of his first 5 starts have been against these A-list teams.  Leake beat Washington and Max Scherzer, 6-1 on April 12.  The Nationals were a hot hitting team when they lined up against Leake, but Mike silenced them on 4 hits through 7 shutout innings.  He also beat the Brewers on April 23 going six innings, giving 2 runs on 3 hits.

Four of Carlos Martinez’ six starts have been against the winning teams.  He’s thrown 2 quality starts in those four games (against the Cubs on opening night and his last time out against the Brewers) and 2 not-so-good efforts (his 8-walk start against the Yankees and his 7-5 beating at the hands of the Brewers on April 20).  Taken as a whole, the numbers are more positive than negative.  In 25 innings against some of baseball’s best hitting teams, Carlos is 1-2 with a 2.52 ERA with a .214/.294/.296 batting line against.

Lance Lynn hasn’t been as good against these guys as he’s been against everyone else.  He’s had three starts in these 16 games, throwing one quality start (6 innings, 1 run, 3 hits on April 22 in Milwaukee), but his starts against Chicago and Washington were rougher.  Overall, his mark is OK.  He’s 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA and a .213/.294/.393 batting line.

Michael Wacha – at one time a playoff and World Series hero – has been flourishing against the lesser competition.  His first two starts against over-.500 teams haven’t been terrible, but they haven’t been memorable either.  On April 14 he scuffled through 6 innings in a 4-3 loss to the Yankees, giving up all 4 runs on 9 hits – including 2 home runs.  Last Monday, Milwaukee pushed across 4 runs on 7 hits – including a home run – in 6 innings against Michael.

Matthew Bowman

After beginning the season with 9.2 scoreless innings, Matthew Bowman has allowed runs in 3 of his last 4 games – a total of 6 runs – all over the course of this last home stand.  His batting line against for his last 4 games is .389/.450/.722.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist gave up two more hits last night – pop flies that dropped in.  He has now given up 12 hits in his 10.1 innings.  But he walked nobody, again – and, consequently, allowed no runs.  After walking 10 batters through his first 6.1 innings, Kevin has walked 1 over his last 4 innings.  In his first 2.1 innings of the season, it rained 5 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks on Kevin.  In the 8 innings he’s pitched since then, just 2 runs on 8 hits and 7 strikeouts.

Siegrist worked in 5 of the 8 games on the home-stand, giving 7 hits in 4 innings, but just 1 walk and no runs.

It’s still too early in the season to make too much of this, but the Cardinal struggles against the teams that they will eventually have to beat highlights the deficiencies they’ve had on defense and in the bullpen.  It also casts questions on the depth of the starting pitching.

In Atlanta and Miami they have teams coming up who have struggled in the early going as well.  They won’t play another team that currently has a winning record until their next home stand on May 12, when they will welcome the Cubs (3 games) and Red Sox (2 games) to town.  If this team has the makeup that it thinks it has, those five games would be a pretty good time to show it.

Cards Stop This Losing Streak Before It Starts

As I have pointed out several times – and am likely to point out several more – I keep a close eye on how the team responds after a loss.  I think it reflects the character of a team.  The concept, I think, is simple enough.  Every team loses games, but good teams have the character to avoid the losing streak.  The 100-win team of 2015 was 37-24 (.607) after losing a game.  Last year’s 86-win squad was 44-32 (.579) in those situations.

Preempting the Next Losing Streak

As the 2017 Cardinals have already endured three three-game losing streaks in their first 17 games, you might guess that they haven’t been terribly proficient at this so far – and you would be right.  In fact, all of their first nine losses had been a part of a three-game losing streak.  Last night’s crisp 6-3 win (box score) raised their record to only 4-6 in games after a loss.  They have won their last two, though.

Adam Wainwright

The man of the moment at the plate (with a single, a home run and 4 RBIs) and on the mound was longtime ace Adam Wainwright, who – in his third attempt this season – was finally able to halt a Cardinal losing streak.  Wainwright’s previous two attempts were both fairly disastrous.  He lasted 4 innings, giving up 6 runs on 11 hits in an eventual 14-6 battering at the hands of Washington, and then got pushed around by the Yankees, giving 4 more runs on 10 hits over 4.2 innings of a 9-3 loss.

Adam’s results last night were much better as he continued what has been a mostly excellent run of starting pitching.  With Waino’s solid five innings last night (during which he allowed only two runs), the starting rotation has managed a 3.06 ERA over 53 innings in the last 9 games.  The Cards have won 5 of the 9.

The bullpen continues to improve as well.

Jonathan Broxton

Jonathan Broxton pitched the sixth last night and gave up a single, but no extra-base hits.  He hasn’t given an extra-base hit, now, to any of the last 16 batters he’s faced.  He also walked a batter.  Broxton has walked at least one batter in four of his six appearances, and has totaled 6 walks (1 of them intentional) in his 5.2 innings.  His opponent’s on base percentage has risen to .444.

Brett Cecil

In Brett Cecil’s second game as a Cardinal he melted down, allowing 4 runs without retiring a batter in a brutal loss to the Cubs.  First impressions are hard to overcome, but over the course of his other 8 appearances so far, Brett has allowed only one other run while striking out 7 in 6.2 innings.  He has retired the last ten batters he’s faced, striking out five.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal (who pitched the eighth inning last night) has given up some hits – 6 of them in his 4.1 innings, including a home run last night.  But he has walked none of the 19 batters he’s faced so far this year.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh picked up the save last night.  He has saves in his last three games.  After allowing runs in each of his first three games, Oh has allowed just one in his last four outings.

Also encouraging, the offense is beginning to show its first hints of life this season.

Jedd Gyorko

After going 0 for 3 in the Pittsburgh series, Jedd Gyorko has been the first to take advantage of Jhonny Peralta’s absence from the lineup.  With two more hits last night, Gyorko is 5 for 7 with a home run so far in the series.  Now up to .316 on the season, Jedd has been even better in games after a loss.  He is 9 for his first 27 (.333) with a double and two home runs (a .593 slugging percentage) playing in 8 of the 10 games the Cards have already played after losing the game before.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong has now started five consecutive games for the first time this season.  He doubled, singled and was given an intentional walk last night, making him 5 for 15 (.333) over those five games.  Even better, his hits include a double, triple and home run, leading to a .733 slugging percentage and 4 runs batted in in the five games that he’s been in lineup.

Kolten has yet to strike out in 8 plate appearances in this series, and has fanned just once in his last 17 plate appearances.  He is 3 for 7 so far against Milwaukee.

Wong is now 6 for 23 (.261) when he plays in the game after a Cardinal loss, but four of those hits (3 doubles and a home run) have gone for extra-base hits, and he’s added four walks in those contests.  He is slugging .522 with a .370 on base percentage in games that follow a loss.

Stephen Piscotty

When Stephen Piscotty helped beat Washington on April 12 with three hits and five RBIs, it looked like he had turned a corner.  Since then, Piscotty has just 5 hits (and 7 strikeouts) in 25 at bats (a .200 average).  He entered last night’s game after Dexter Fowler’s foot started acting up, going 0 for 2 with a strikeout.  He is now 1 for 5 with 3 strikeouts in the series.

With 11 runs scored in the first two games of this series, this has already been the second highest scoring series for the Cards this year.  They scored 15 runs in the three games against Washington.  St Louis is 23 for 72 in the first two games of this series, with ten extra base hits – 3 of them home runs.  This equates to a .319 team batting average and a .556 slugging percentage against a Milwaukee pitching staff that began the series with a 4.07 team ERA.

NoteBook

Last night – in the season’s seventeenth game – the Cardinals finally won a game when they didn’t score the first run.  When Kolten Wong drove in three runs with a triple in the second inning the night before (game # 16 of the season) it was the first time all year the Cards had erased a deficit of any size at any time during a game.

Adam Wainwright Looks for Better in 2017

We’re back.

Looking back on the 2016 season has forced me to relive some of the more galling moments of that season.

Most of those moments are associated with losses (Kolten Wong standing at third with nobody out and never scoring the tying run, for example).

Curiously enough – or maybe not, considering how strange the 2016 season was – one of the moments that most haunts me set up one of the signature wins of that campaign.  I’ve written about it several times before.  This is, I promise you, the last time I will bring up July 27.

Adam Wainwright, back in the rotation after missing almost all of 2015, was unsteady from the very beginning.  Eight starts into his season, Adam is 3-3, but only four of the eight starts are quality starts – and all of those met the bare minimum to be called quality starts (6 innings, 3 earned runs) – well, in his seventh start he actually made it to 6.1 innings, but you get the point.  His ERA sat at 6.80 – the highest on the team – and he had been hit at a .330 rate – allowing 59 hits in 45 innings.  During those 45 innings, Adam only pitched with a lead in 10.1 of them – mostly because he couldn’t hold the leads he was given.

This would be a season-long problem for Wainwright.  For the season, batters hit .344/.379/.595 when Adam was trying to hold a lead.  Thirteen of the 22 home runs he served up came among the 78 hits he allowed in the 53.1 innings last season when he pitched with a lead.  His ERA in those innings was 6.92.

In his first 8 games, it was a stunning 11.32.  He faced 53 batters while holding a lead in those games.  Those batters hit .408/.442/.735 against him.  This eighth start came on May 12 in Los Angeles.  Adam lasted five innings in that game, giving 7 runs on 11 hits, but got credit for the 12-10 victory that swept their series against the Angels.

His season began to turn the next time he went to the mound.  On May 18 he threw 6.2 scoreless innings in a 2-0 victory over Colorado.  That began a string of 10 quality starts over his next 12 appearances.  Over his next 80.1 innings, Adam went 6-2 with a 2.58 ERA that was backed by a .232/.283/.317 batting line against.

This streak should have run to 11 quality starts in 13 games with Adam’s July 27 appearance against the Mets in New York.  After 6 crisply pitched innings, Wainwright had thrown 86 pitches – 54 for strikes.  He had scattered 8 hits (2 of them infield hits) and held a 3-1 lead.  He got into immediate trouble in the seventh, allowing singles to the first two batters.  With his pitch count now at 96, Matheny probably could have gone to his bullpen.  But he didn’t.

Pitching on fumes, Wainwright struck out both Curtis Granderson and Asdrubal Cabrera.  He now had two outs, but at the cost of 12 more pitches.  With the count now at 108 pitches, and no relief in sight, Adam dueled Met slugger Yoenis Cespedes for nine grueling pitches.  Adam wild pitched one run home on the fifth pitch of that at bat.  On the ninth pitch, Adam’s 117th and final pitch of the night, Cespedes drove in that other runner (and himself, too) with a big fly over the left-center field wall.

The 4-3 Met lead wouldn’t last.  RBI doubles by Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong brought the Cardinals one of their highlight-reel wins of the season.  But Wainwright was never the same thereafter.  Wainwright would make 12 more starts in 2016, but only 4 would be quality starts.  Over the course of his last 66.2 innings, Adam was tagged for 46 runs (41 of them earned) and 82 hits.  He limped home with a 4-4 record and a 5.54 ERA over those games, while opposing hitters profited against him to the tune of a .308/.370/.534 batting line.

Adam Wainwright will turn 36 at the end of August of this year.  There are a lot of things that could account for Adam’s disappointing finish that have nothing to do with age.  He had missed most of the previous season with a serious ankle injury.  Perhaps fatigue set in as his legs weren’t prepared for the long season ahead.  Perhaps, favoring his injured ankle, Adam subconsciously altered his delivery, subtly affecting his command.  Adam – a contact pitcher – certainly suffered from the Cardinals’ frequently shaky defense.  Perhaps with a stronger defense around him?

And, of course, sometimes when you are 35 years old, age begins to catch up to you.

Whatever the reason, Adam hits Spring Training with more to prove than at any time in his career.  When you are an older player and coming off a bad year, fair or not, there are going to be whispers.  Adam’s challenge this season – and probably for the rest of his career – will be to silence those whispers.