As if the mental toughness gap that separates the Cardinals and the Cubs needed any more emphasis, Chicago applied another demonstration last night, scoring 10 two-out runs in a 10-2 victory (box score). For the game, Chicago was 8 for 17 with 2 doubles, 2 home runs and 3 walks with two-outs, a .471/.550/.941 batting line.
Starting Pitching Leads the Great Collapse
Twelve games ago, everything was on the table for the Cardinals. Coming off a 13-4 battering of Cincinnati in the first game of that series, St Louis stood 76-68, and just two games behind Chicago. In front of them, they had two more games with Cincinnati, and then seven shots at the Cubs over their final 12 games – with six games against bottom dwellers Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in between.
They couldn’t possibly have been anymore “in it.”
But, beginning with a 6-0 loss to Cincinnati that next day, they have skidded to a 5-7 record over the first 12 games of that crucial stretch – including 4 losses in 4 games against Chicago. And at the forefront of the tailspin is the starting rotation that we had pinned our hopes on, both for the season and for this crucial stretch. After last night’s 3-inning, 8-run battering of Luke Weaver, St Louis has just 1 quality start in its last 12 games. During this stretch, the rotation has pitched fewer innings than the bullpen (50.1 to 53.2), with a 7.69 ERA and a .292 batting average against.
Even after all of this, the Cards still have an outside shot at the second Wild Card. But at some point their starting pitching will have to give them a chance.
They are much less “in it,” now
While he is the latest contributor, Weaver is probably the least responsible for the collapse in the rotation. He owns the only quality start over the last 12 games, and could have had a second as he led 8-2 after five innings when he was relieved after his last start. His worst game of the season interrupted a 7-game winning streak, during which he held a 1.61 ERA in 44.2 innings.
Eight of the nine batters who reached against Luke scored yesterday.
Since the All-Star Break, Sam Tuivailala has been experiencing more difficulties with the first out than the last. In his seventh inning last night, he gave a leadoff single, but got a double play and a strikeout to avoid any scoring. Over his last 19.1 innings, batters hitting with no one out are now hitting .333 (9 for 27). They are now 4 for 23 (.174) with two outs.
The damage, of course, could have been worse. Already ahead 10-2, the Cubs had the bases loaded with – again – two out, with Anthony Rizzo at the plate in the eighth inning. Zach Duke was summoned to put out the fire – which he did by getting a ground out. It was one of the few times last night that Chicago didn’t get the two-out hit, but rather par for the course for Duke.
Zach has now held batters to a .211 batting average with two outs (4 for 19) this season. He has stranded his last 11 inherited runners – including twice with the bases loaded.
Hits Still Scarce
While the starters have been creating early deficits, the offense can’t shake its general hitting slump. With only 6 hits last night, the Cards carry a .243 team batting average for the month – including .240 over the last 12 games.
With Jose Martinez still battling an injury and Matt Carpenter still slumping, the three hits from Jedd Gyorko last night were a welcomed sight. Back in the starting lineup, Gyorko is beginning to get his timing back. Over his last 6 games (5 of them starts), Jedd is hitting .313 (5 for 16).
Jedd’s hits included a two out single in the sixth inning. All season, Jedd has been one of our better two-out hitters. He is now hitting .286 this year (36 for 126) with two outs. Twenty-six of his 66 runs batted in have come with two outs. He ranks second on the club in two-out batting average (behind only Dexter Fowler) and in two-out runs batted in (behind Yadier Molina’s 29).
As for Fowler, he added two more hits last night, and continues to be the most consistent offensive force on the team. He has only played in 9 of the last 12 games, but with spectacular effect, hitting .417 (15 for 36) and slugging .750 (3 doubles and 3 home runs). He has scored 7 runs and driven in 11 in those 9 games. Since the All-Star break, Dexter has been a .304/.414/.506 hitter.
All of Dexter’s at bats came with two out last night. He is now 6 for his last 13 two-out at bats – accounting for 5 two-out runs batted in. As mentioned, Dexter has been the team’s best two-out hitter this year. He is 38 for 114 with 7 doubles, one triple, 7 home runs and 23 walks – a .333/.449/.596 batting line. He now has 25 two-out RBIs this season.
After hitting .286 with a .429 on base percentage in the first half when batting with two outs, Tommy Pham has struggled to extend innings in the second half – and especially this month. With his 0-for-2 in last night’s two-out at bats, Tommy is 4 for 21 (.190) this month, and 12 for 51 (.235) in the second half with two outs. He did, however, draw a two-out walk, his eleventh since the break, keeping his on base percentage at .391 in this situation in the second half.
In the middle of the sagging offense is rookie Paul DeJong. Heroic for much of the season, Paul is fading at the finish. After his 0-for-3 last night, he is hitting .163 (7 for 43) over these last 12 games. He is down to .229 (19 for 83) for the month.
During his compelling first half, Paul was uncanny when hitting with no one out – he hit .408 with a .735 slugging percentage. After popping out to lead off the sixth, DeJong is 1 for his last 17 (an infield hit, at that) when batting with no one out.
The Cardinals had none of their leadoff hitters reach base last night.
Yadi is another of the hitters who has struggled during the 12-game downturn. Molina has played in 11 of the games, hitting .162 (6 for 37) after his 0-for-3 last night. Molina is now down to .233 for the month (17 for 73).
Given the lion’s share of the playing time in right field, Stephen Piscotty hasn’t really taken advantage. With the team struggling for hits and runs, Piscotty has now gone 13 games without driving in a run. He is hitting .209 (9 for 43) in those games.
Piscotty struck out to end the sixth. With two outs, now, Stephen is 0 for his last 6, and 1 for 17 (.059) this month. Since the All-Star Break, Stephen is hitting .156 when hitting with two outs.
And, of course, no listing of slumping Cardinal hitters would be complete without including Kolten Wong. He was also 0 for 3 last night. Over the last 12 games, Kolten is scuffling along at .125 (4 for 32). In September, Wong is hitting just .170 (9 for 53).
Wong’s struggles with two outs are very similar to Piscotty’s. After ending the second inning with a strikeout, Wong is 0 for his last 7, 1 for 13 (.077) this month, and 12 for 61 (.197) since the All-Star Break when hitting with two outs. He is only a .212 two-out hitter for the season.
Elimination Season Draws to Its Conclusion
As the Cardinals were officially closed out of the NL Central chase, the playoff picture has begun to take definite shape. The Cardinal’s division is one of only two left unsettled, and that by the slimmest of margins. Milwaukee will need St Louis to win all of the remaining games in this series to have a chance. Boston is holding off the Yankees by 4 games in the AL East. All other division winners have been crowned (Cleveland, Houston, Washington and the Dodgers).
Minnesota will likely be the second Wild Card in the AL – after the Yankees. A handful of teams trail them, but none closer than 5 games. Arizona is the top Wild card in the NL.
That second NL Wild Card is the lone remaining playoff spot that will be hotly contested over the season’s last 6 days. Currently, Colorado holds the spot, with the Brewers 1.5 games behind and, yes, the Cardinals one game behind that.