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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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%).
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.
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.