Tag Archives: Wong

Cards Drop Second Consecutive One Run Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dexter Fowler

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

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

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

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

Kolten Wong

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

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

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

Tommy Pham

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

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

Matt Carpenter

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

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

Aledmys Diaz

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

Michael Wacha

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rotation Shines in One Run Games.

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

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

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

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

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

The Bullpen, Not So Much

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

Jonathan Broxton

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

Matthew Bowman

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

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

Kevin Siegrist

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

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

Sam Tuivailala

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

Seung-hwan Oh

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

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

NoteBook

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

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

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

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

Cards Struggle to Prove Themselves Against Winning Teams

With two pretty ugly losses to Boston, the St Louis Cardinals fall to 3-5 during the month of May, and 8-13 for the season in games against teams that currently have winning records.  These winning teams that the Cardinals have played so far are Boston (now 21-18), Chicago (now 20-19), Milwaukee (which currently leads the division at 23-18), the Yankees (currently 24-13), and Washington (now 25-14).

Twenty-one of the season’s first 38 games is a pretty heavy dose of the better teams in baseball, and has exposed some of the early-season weaknesses that this team will need to improve on in order to compete with these better teams going forward.

From an offensive standpoint, the Cardinal team batting line isn’t that far removed from the league averages for those teams.  Against the pitching staffs of the Red Sox, Cubs, Brewers, Yankees and Nationals (these numbers courtesy of baseball reference) all of their opponents have combined to slash .250/.319/.413/.732.  The Cardinal’s slash line against these teams is .251/.328/.408/.736.  But, those teams, combined, allow an average of 4.47 runs per game.  The Cardinals are scoring just 3.95 runs per game against them.

This lingering problem was on full display last night as St Louis put four early runs on the board, but never scored again over the remaining 11 innings of the long and frustrating game that they eventually dropped 5-4 in 13 innings (box score).

From the point where Dexter Fowler walked to load the bases with one out in the second (St Louis ahead 3-0 at that point), the Cards went 7 for 38 (.184) with 10 strikeouts.  After getting three successive hits with runners in scoring position in that second inning, they went hitless in their final six such opportunities.

To this point – against these winning teams – the Cards are just 35 for 170 (.205) with runners in scoring position.  For the most part, this team has found itself overmatched by these pitching staffs in the pivotal moments of these games.  Through 21 games, the Cardinals have come through in crunch-time at bats against this list of teams just three times this season: Randal Grichuk’s opening day walk-off single that beat the Cubs 4-3; Aledmys Diaz’ seventh-inning home run that broke a 1-1 tie and helped the Birds beat Milwaukee 4-1 on April 22; and Kolten Wong’s eighth-inning infield hit that tied the May first game against Milwaukee at 4-all (a game the Birds would lose 7-5 in 10 innings).

One of the strong early impressions this team is making is that they are not mentally tough enough to beat the better teams in baseball.

Kolten Wong

Wong had the double that was in the middle of the three-run second inning.  He finished with three hits for the evening.  It was his sixth multi-hit game of the season and his second three-hit game.  Kolten has pushed his season average to .273 by hitting .291 in May (16 for 55) and .309 (29 of 94) in 25 games since April 17.  Wong has hit safely in 21 of his last 25 games.

While much of the Cardinal club has been found wanting against better competition, that is not the case with Wong.  With his 3 hits yesterday, Wong is now hitting .407 this month (11 for 27) and .317 for the year (19 for 60) when playing against teams that win more than they lose.  He is 8 for 21 (.381) against them with runners in scoring position.

The development of Kolten Wong into the player that we’ve always thought he could be is one of the best things that could happen for the future of this franchise.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko added a couple more hits last night.  Jedd is showing no signs of slowing down much in May.  He is now hitting .328 this month (19 for 58) with a .534 slugging percentage.  He has 3 doubles, 3 home runs and 10 RBIs in 13 starts this month.  He has also now hit in 18 of his last 22 games, hitting .368 in that span (32 for 87) and slugging .644.  His hits include 7 doubles, a triple and 5 home runs.  Jedd has driven in 14 runs in those games.

Gyorko has played in all 8 games this month where the Cards have faced winning teams, and acquitted himself well.  Jedd is 10 for 35 (.286) against them with 3 home runs (.543 slugging percentage).

Over the course of the season so far, Jedd has probably been our most consistent weapon against the better teams that we’ve faced. He has played in 18 of the 21 games – starting in 17 of them – and hit .309 in those contests (21 for 68).  Nine of those 21 hits have gone for extra bases.  Two doubles, one triple, and six of the seven home runs he’s hit this season have come at the expense of winning teams.  He is slugging .632 in those games.

Jedd, however, is 0 for 11 against these guys with runners in scoring position.

Magneuris Sierra

Magneuris Sierra – who has at least one hit in all seven of his major league games – had his fourth two-hit night of the season last night.  It raises his average to .367 in his short exposure to the major leagues (he is 11 for 30).

Sierra’s only exposure to over .500 teams has been this home stand when the Cards have engaged the Cubs and Red Sox.  Magneuris has played in 3 of the 5 games, going 5 for 13 (.385) at the plate (and 3 for 6 with RISP).

He certainly isn’t dazzled by it all.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s halting May continued.  Matt was the only Cardinal starter not to get a hit last night (0 for 5) but he did draw a walk – his sixteenth walk in 14 games this month.  Moreover, although he only has 12 hits this month, 7 of those hits have gone for extra-bases, including five home runs.  Matt’s batting line so far for May is .245/.424/.612.  There are very few players who could hit less than .250 and still be considered legitimate player-of-the-month candidates.  Carpenter, I think could be one of them.

His season batting line (.244/.396/.496) shows that same pattern – although not with the kind of power we’ve seen from him so far in May.  Matt has had that kind of season against winning teams, too – but without quite enough of the production to really say he’s having a good year against them.

In the 8 games he’s played against these teams in May, Matt is just 5 for 28, but with a double, 2 home runs and 7 walks – a .179/.333/.429 batting line (which still equates to a .762 OPS).  For the season, Carpenter has played in all 21 games against teams that currently have winning records (starting 20).  His 70 at bats in those games have produced just 16 hits, but 6 of those hits have been for extra-bases (4 of them home runs) and he’s walked 15 times in those games.  His 2017 batting line – so far – against winning teams is .229/.360/.429 – an OPS of .788.  Like Gyorko, Carpenter is 0 for 13 against all these guys with runners in scoring position.

Ultimately, the hope is that his strikeout totals (currently 25 in those 70 at bats) will level out in favor of a few more hits.  And, maybe, even a few with runners in scoring position.

Mike Leake

Nothing but warm fuzzies for erstwhile number four starter Mike Leake. Mike is now 8 for 8 in quality starts this season (this in spite of the fact that he has now served up 4 home runs in his last 3 games).  Mike has – of course – pitched at least six innings in every start so far, with last night being only the third time all season that he’s needed to throw over 98 pitches to achieve that. At 2.03, Mike still leads the NL in ERA.

Last night was already the second time that Mike has entrusted a lead to his bullpen, only to see it slip away.  He allowed only 1 run in 6 innings against Cincinnati on April 30, walking off with a 4-1 lead only to see the Reds take advantage of the bullpen (and Rosenthal, for that matter) for a 5-4 victory.

Making his performance even more impressive is that half of those starts have come against the winning teams that we’ve listed above.  He is 2-1 against those top offenses with a 2.08 ERA and a .200 batting average against.  In the 26 innings that he’s pitched in those 4 games, Mike has walked just 6 batters (none last night).

How Do The Other Starters Fare Against Winning Teams?

The other starters are a mixed bag.  Carlos Martinez has been very good (2-2, 2.84 in 5 starts – 3 of the quality starts), and Lance Lynn has been OK (1-2, 3.63 in 4 starts – 1 quality start).  In 6 starts against these teams, Adam Wainwright has managed 1 quality start (his last time out against the Cubs), going 2-3 with a 4.99 ERA against them.  Michael Wacha (who was skipped for both the Chicago and Boston series’) has only seen these teams twice – the Yankees on April 14 (6 innings, 4 runs, 9 hits, 2 home runs in a 4-3 loss) and May first against Milwaukee (a no decision after 6 more innings and 4 more runs).  Although they have been much better recently (2.08 in the 8 May games) the bullpen holds a 4.55 ERA against these teams so far.

Trevor Rosenthal

Trevor Rosenthal has been so good for so much of this season.  Going into last night’s eighth inning he hadn’t allowed a hit over his previous 5 games and hadn’t been scored on over his previous 7.  Those streaks came to an end when Xander Bogaerts (he of the .338 batting average so far this season) sliced an 0-2, 100-mile-per-hour fastball into the right-center field gap for the triple that set up the game-tying sequence.

Rosenthal’s season ERA is still a fine 2.93, but (and this is in a very small sample size) in his 7.1 innings against the better teams he’s faced he has been tagged for 4 runs on 7 hits (a 4.91 ERA).  A lot of veteran hitters (like Bogaerts and Joey Votto and Ryan Braun) can handle that 100-mph heat.  Especially if it’s up a bit in the zone.

Seung-hwan Oh

Seung-hwan Oh pitched multiple innings last night for the fourth time this season.  One of his innings was a little complex, but he came through not allowing a run.  Oh is now unscored on in his last 6 games, and hasn’t allowed an earned run over his last 13 games.

In 11.1 innings against winning teams this season, Seung-hwan has pitched decently well (4 of 5 in save opportunities with a 3.18 ERA).

Matthew Bowman

After enduring a little lag at the end of April through the first days of May, Matthew Bowman has righted his ship.  He pitched last night’s eleventh inning in 1-2-3 fashion with 2 strikeouts.  Matthew hasn’t allowed an earned run over his last 5 games, and his ERA for the month is 1.69 with a .176 batting average against.

Of all the relief pitchers who have risen to the occasion against the better teams, Matthew has been, perhaps, the most impressive.  He has worked in 12 of the 21 games played against them so far, pitching 10.2 innings.  In those innings, he has given just 5 hits and 1 run (on the home run that Milwaukee’s Jesus Aguilar managed against him on May 4).  He has walked 2 and fanned 9, leading to an 0.84 ERA and a .143/.184/.229 batting line against some of baseball’s toughest offenses.  He has also stranded 8 of the 10 runners he’s inherited in these games.

Next Up

San Francisco (playing better lately) is just 17-25 so far.  After that series, the Cards go on the road to face the 23-18 Dodgers and the surprising 25-15 Rockies.  That will be followed by a 4-game home series against the Dodgers again before we take our act to Wrigley.  After this upcoming Giant series, the Cards won’t play another team that currently has a losing record until they roll into Cincinnati on June 5 to play the Reds (currently 19-20).  Assuming the Cubs stay above .500, that will mean 34 of the Cardinals first 54 games this year will be against teams with winning records.

NoteBook

After winning two of three against the Dodgers, San Francisco will the first Cardinal opponent to have won its previous series since they played Pirates in mid-April.  The Cards previous 8 opponents had come in with 7 series losses and one split.

The emphasis on aggressive base-running has had mixed results.  The Cards have run into a bunch of bad outs on the base-paths.  On the other hand they are 15-5 this month in stolen base attempts.  On the extremes of this philosophy are Aledmys Diaz, who already has as many steals (4) as he had all of last year, and Tommy Pham, who in just 11 games has already set career highs in steals (3) and steal attempts (5).  Meanwhile, Fowler – who was added in part to provide some stolen base threat after stealing 13 last season – has only attempted 1 stolen base so far (a successful attempt, as it turns out).

As a footnote to this article, remember that Kellogg was the umpire at first base the night before who called a myriad of Cardinal hitters out on the kind of very slight check-swings that you almost never see called.

The Cards, I imagine, will be glad not to see Jeff Kellogg (one of baseball’s least competent umpires) for a good long while.

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 Survive Two Out Scare to Edge Brewers 2-1

After pitching six brilliant innings last night, Carlos Martinez took a 2-0 lead into the seventh.  Once there, he retired the first two batters.

Then, suddenly, the contest was in doubt.  Domingo Santana ripped a bullet back up the middle that Martinez almost speared for the last out.  But the ball slid out of his glove and Santana had a hit.  One wild pitch later, Carlos thought he was out of the inning when Nick Franklin rolled a grounder toward first-baseman Matt Carpenter – who complicated the inning with an error, sending Santana to third.

He would score one pitch later when Jett Bandy floated a single down the leftfield line.

It was the first two out rally fashioned against Martinez all season (so far).  And it would be the only two out damage Carlos would suffer on this night as he snuffed out the rally, striking out Orlando Arcia on three pitches.

When the Brewers began to stir against Carlos in the eighth, Mike Matheny went to his sometimes scary bullpen.  They would come through in fine style, holding on to the 2-1 Cardinal win (box score).

Carlos Martinez

For the season, now, batters are hitting .222 against Martinez (10 for 45) with two out in the inning.  The only previous two-out RBIs that Carlos had surrendered came on the sixth-inning single by Toronto’s Ryan Goins in his last start.  Even though Carlos hasn’t had the start to the season that he had hoped for, opposing hitters are still just 2 for 15 against him with two-outs and runners in scoring position.

Martinez followed a quality start with a second consecutive quality start for the first time this season.  At times in that previous start against Toronto, he was nearly as dominant as last night, and finished allowing 3 runs in 6 innings.   Last night, of course, even better as he earned his first victory of 2017 allowing no earned runs through 7.1 innings.  With the 2 runs of support last night, Martinez has now been backed by a total of 7 runs in his 6 starts.

Martinez walked just one batter last night.  After walking 8 in his third start against the Yankees, Carlos has walked only 6 total over his last 18.1 innings.  The walk did come with two outs.  Of the 15 batters who have walked against Martinez, 10 have been two-out walks.

Prior to last night’s start, Martinez had induced a total of 37 ground balls (against 42 fly balls) through his first 5 games.  He got 15 ground balls (against 8 fly balls) last night.

Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil made things interesting – allowing an eighth-inning single that sent the tying run to third – but he escaped unscathed and pushed the precarious 2-1 lead into the ninth.  Over his last 11 appearances (covering 7.2 innings) Cecil has allowed just 1 run (unearned) and only 4 hits, walking 3 and striking out 9.  Only 2 of the last 9 runners he’s inherited have scored.

Cecil didn’t walk anyone last night, but has already walked 5 (1 intentionally) in just 10.2 innings.  He walked 8 all of last year in 36.2 innings.

Trevor Rosenthal

In wrapping up his third save of the season, Trevor Rosenthal highlighted his perfect ninth with two more strikeouts.  Trevor has two strikeouts in each of his last six innings, has struck out at least one in every game he’s pitched in, and now has 17 for the year in his first 8.1 innings

It was a very good thing that the pitching staff held things together as the heretofore productive offense was having all flavors of trouble against Wily Peralta.

Matt Carpenter

As well as Brewers’ starter was throwing last night, he wasn’t a match for Matt Carpenter.  Carpenter – who has always hit Peralta well – singled, doubled and scored the first run of the game.  Carpenter is starting to send out a sharp signal that he’s about to go on another tear.  Over the last three games, Matt has 5 hits in 11 at bats (.455) and none of them have been softly hit.  He also has 3 doubles, a home run and 4 RBIs in those games (a 1.000 slugging percentage).

Stephen Piscotty

After incessantly tinkering with his swing, Stephen Piscotty is finally starting to see some results.  His 2-for-4 night included the double (that was almost the home run) that set up the only runs the Cards would score last night.  He is now 5 for his last 11 (.455) with 5 walks – a .625 on base percentage during his last 16 plate appearances.  Of the last 63 pitches thrown to him, Piscotty has swung at just 17 (27%).  He has put the ball in play with 8 of those swings (47.1%).

Piscotty had only one two out at bat last night, coming up in a scoreless game with no one on and two out in the fourth inning.  Stephen finished his six-pitch at bat with a single to center.  For the season, Piscotty is a .222 hitter (12 for 54) before there are two outs in the inning.  He is now 7 for 23 (.304) hitting with two outs.

Kolten Wong

Erasing the memory of the Monday game, Kolten Wong went 2 for 3 with a double, a run batted in, and a huge defensive play.  Kolten’s average has surged, now, to .278 on the season on the strength of a dynamic 8-game hitting streak.

In the 33 plate appearances covered by those 8 games, Kolten has produced 6 singles, 4 doubles, a triple, 5 runs scored, 4 runs batted in (including the game-tying RBI Monday night), 5 walks (2 of them intentional), a hit by pitch, and a sacrifice bunt.  His batting line over his streak is .423/.531/.654.  This is the kind of eruption Cardinal fans have been waiting for.

Dexter Fowler

A couple games ago, Dexter Fowler had one of the best at bats of the season – a 12-pitch duel with Cincinnati’s Bronson Arroyo that he won with a single to right.  He is 0 for 9 with three strikeouts since (including his 0 for 3 last night).

As the leadoff hitter, Dexter is up with nobody out more than anyone else on the team.  He had two more such at bats last night, flying out to leadoff the games and striking out as the first batter in the seventh.  Dexter is now 10 for 54 (.185) when hitting with no one out.  Of players with at least 15 plate appearances with nobody out, only Randal Grichuk’s .133 average (4 for 30) is lower.

Aledmys Diaz

Still struggling to put together consecutive good games, Aledmys Diaz followed his 2-for-5 Monday with another 0-for-4.  Aledmys hit the home run against Zach Davies that began Monday’s 4-run rally, but that has been his only extra base hit (and RBI) since April 23.  He is now just 4 for his last 31, hitting .129/.182/.226 over his last 33 plate appearances.  Diaz has seen just 3.18 pitches per plate appearance during this downturn, although he did make it to 7 pitches his last time up last night.

Diaz was up twice with two out, ending both the third and fifth innings with groundouts to third.  For the season, so far, Diaz is 3 for 32 (.094) with no walks when batting with two out in an inning.

Offense Breaks Out as Cards Sweep Double Header

The strange dynamics of baseball were on full display in yesterday’s double header sweep (box score 1) (box score 2).  The Toronto Blue Jays scored the first four runs of the long day of baseball.  They also scored the last four runs of the day.  In between, the St Louis Cardinals scored all of their runs (all 14 of them) between the seventh inning of the first game and the fourth inning of the second game.  During that span of 9 innings (the first game went 11), the Birds scored their 14 runs on 22 hits and 9 walks (3 of them intentional.  The hits included 4 doubles, a triple, and 3 home runs – a .400/.477/.673 batting line.

This is a long, long way from the team that struggled to put together six runs over three full games against the Pirates.

The sweep also gives them wins in 8 of their last 10 games – a feat they managed only once all last year (from July 9 to July 22).  After the dismal start, the club has fought its way back to the .500 mark.

Yesterday, almost the entire lineup contributed something at some point.

Greg Garcia

Back in spring training, Greg Garcia was quoted as saying words to the effect that he wanted more than just a bench role.  He believed he could produce well enough to start somewhere.  Whether or not that is true, time will tell.  But Greg had a very nice double header (4 for 4 in the 2 games, with a walk, a sacrifice bunt, a stolen base and a run scored) and has been one of the forces behind the recent surge.

Over the last ten games, Garcia is hitting .308 (8 for 26), and is now hitting .316 for the season.

Curiously, the run he scored in the nightcap was his first of the season.

Matt Adams

Matt Adams started the second game having had exactly five total bases and two RBIs for the season.  He collected five total bases and two RBIs in that game alone as he slapped his first two extra base hits of the season.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler was another one of the double header heroes, going 5 for 9.  The signs that Fowler is starting to come out of his early season funk are growing louder.

Dexter now has 7 hits in his last three games.  His double and home run mean that six of his last 12 hits have gone for extra-bases.

After driving in no runs during his first 14 games, Fowler now has 5 RBIs in his last 7.

A notorious on-base guy, Fowler walked in both games of the DH.  This was only the second time all season that Fowler had walked in consecutive games, and brings him to just 8 walks on the year (but 3 in his last five games).

Dexter is now hitting .333 with a .694 slugging percentage over the Cards last ten games.

In his three-hit night-cap, Fowler laid off the first pitch thrown him all five times.  This was after he had swung at the first pitch in each of his last four plate appearances in the first game.

Randal Grichuk

Matt Carpenter’s first-game, walk-off, extra-inning grand slam made the news reels, but Randal Grichuk’s last-out, game-tying home run in the ninth-inning of that game was arguably the most important hit of the day.

Grichuk finished the double header 3 for 6, scoring 3 times and driving in 3 runs.  He also walked twice, once intentionally, and didn’t strike out.  It was only the second time this season that Randal has gone consecutive games without striking out.

Grichuk begins the evening, now, having hit safely in six consecutive games (9 for 22 in those six) with 4 doubles to go with that home run – a .727 slugging percentage to go with his .409 batting average.  Randal has also scored at least one run in seven straight games.

While he hasn’t gotten himself out much lately by chasing pitches out of the zone, throwing strikes – or even pitches close to the strike zone is a dangerous proposition with Grichuk at the plate.  In the seventh inning of the first game, Joe Biagini probably put his first pitch to Randal exactly where he wanted to – a low, 96-mph fastball just fractionally off the plate inside.  But not inside enough – Grichuk drilled it into left for the hit that drove in St Louis’ first run of the day.

For the season – even though he is only hitting .250 overall – Randal is hitting .319 and slugging .617 in at bats that begin with a first-pitch strike.  All three of his home runs and 10 of his 11 runs batted in have come in those plate appearances.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina only played in the first game, but continued his hitting streak with two doubles.  Yadi’s streak is now up to six games, during which he’s hitting .385 (10 for 26).  His intentional walk in that game broke a string of 12 straight games without a walk for Molina.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong chipped in with a 3 for 8 double header – a single, a double, and the triple that set the stage for the game one win.

Whether it is coincidence or not, the Cardinals’ recent run of success coincides with the point where Wong started to play every day.  Kolten has made ten consecutive starts and is hitting .333 (11 for 33) with a .636 slugging percentage (3 doubles, 2 triples and a home run) in those games.

Wong is another hitter that you throw strikes to at your own peril.  In the eleventh inning of game one, Ryan Tepera challenged him twice with a fastball and a cutter over the middle of the plate.  Kolten took the first one, but laced the second pitch into the right-field corner for the triple.

Stephen Piscotty

The trends seem to be positive for almost everyone in the Cardinal line-up except for sometimes clean-up man Stephen Piscotty.  Hitless in five at bats during the double header (although he did walk twice and drive in two runs), Stephen is now 0 for his last 7 at bats and is down to .215 for the season.  He has gone 11 games without a home run.

If you are looking for positives, one might be that Stephen didn’t strikeout in either game, and has fanned only once in his last five games.  While the team has been winning 8 of 10, Piscotty has contributed only a .176 average (6 for 34).

The Pitching Staff

The performance much better for Carlos Martinez.  Nineteen of the 27 batters he faced saw strike one.  Only 13 of the 24 he faced in Milwaukee saw first-pitch strikes.  Adam Wainwright battled, but continues to give up too many hits.  The 9 he gave up in 6.1 innings yesterday brings him to 39 in 25 innings for the season.  Opposing batters are hitting .361 so far this season against Adam.

The bullpen allowed just 1 run in 7.2 innings yesterday (given up by Tyler Lyons as he shook off a little rust).  Over the last 10 games the bullpen carries a 2.48 ERA.

One of the exciting pieces in the pen is the healthy version of Trevor Rosenthal.  With two more strikeouts in the second game, Rosenthal has 13 strikeouts in his 6.1 innings – an average of 18.47 strikeouts per nine innings.  Rosenthal is starting to get strikeouts on his breaking pitches now.  After a lost season in 2016, Trevor may now be better than he’s ever been.

NoteBook

With his intentional walk in the first game, Kolten Wong moved into a tie for the league lead at 4.  It also establishes a career high already.  In three full previous seasons and part of a fourth, Wong had never been given more than 3 intentional walks.

Wong, Leake and Rosenthal in Spotlight Against Brewers

The Cardinals wrapped up the Milwaukee series by winning the last three games, 6-3, 4-1, and 6-4.  The victories give the Birds six wins in their last seven games.  The charge in this one was led by three players who entered the season with a lot to prove – Kolten Wong, Mike Leake, and Trevor Rosenthal.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong wrapped up one of his most compelling series in recent memory.  With 2 hits, two walks, a stolen base, a run batted in, and two runs scored, yesterday, Wong finished the series with 16 plate appearances during which he achieved the following:

Two singles, two doubles, a triple, four runs scored, four runs driven in, three walks (two of them intentional), two stolen bases and just one strikeout.  His batting line against Milwaukee was a hearty .385/.500/.692.

He also committed an error and was picked off of second base.  In the good place that Kolten is in right now, mistakes don’t linger.  He puts it behind him and looks forward to the next play, the next at bat.

In the at bat that produced the RBI double, Wong took the first two pitches for strikes – something he was more inclined to do last year.  But after getting ahead of Kolten 0-2, Jimmy Nelson tried to get him to chase two low fastballs – but Kolten laid off both.  The first 2-2 pitch was a fairly nasty slider that broke to the lower inside corner of the plate.  Wong fouled it off, keeping the at bat alive for the sixth pitch – the fastball that Nelson elevated just enough for Wong to get under it and launch it over the center-fielder’s head.

As Wong relaxes into the season, his at bats are becoming – by degrees – more and more professional.  Last year, I think he strikes out in that at bat.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler came to the plate with runners at first and third and two out in the eighth inning.  He jumped on Jared Hughes first-pitch fastball, but drove it to the deepest part of the ballpark, where it died at about the warning track.  After stirring a bit against Pittsburgh, Fowler finished the Milwaukee series just 1 for 11 (.091).  To this point of the season, Dexter is just 2 for 11 when he hits the first pitch thrown to him.  Dexter was a little messed up earlier in the season.  At this point he is pushing through a little bad luck.

Greg Garcia

The recent resurgence has happened with minimal contributions from Greg Garcia, who was 0-for-4 yesterday, and is 3 for 21 (.190) since the beginning of the Pittsburgh series.

Mike Leake

Mike Leake contributed another strong effort – six innings, 2 runs.  In his first three starts of the season, Leake only went to full counts seven times – and five of those were against the Nationals.

The Brewers took him to full counts four times in six innings last night.  He walked two and struck out two.  For the season, the 11 batters who have gone to full counts against Leake are 0 for 9 with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts.

Trevor Rosenthal

Different with Trevor Rosenthal this year is his use of his expanded arsenal.  Each of the four batters that faced him yesterday saw at least a couple of fastballs at 98 mph or hotter.  But only Ryan Braun, who was hitting in a 3-1 count – put one in play (he singled).  The two batters who struck out, struck out on a changeup (Eric Thames) and a slider (Jesus Aguilar).  Travis Shaw flew out on a change.

The more Trevor can command the fastball early in the count, the more devastating his off-speed pitches are late in the count.  In the limited at bats of the early season, batters are 4-for-4 against Trevor when they hit ahead in the count; 2 for 10 against him in even counts; and 1 for 9 when Trevor has the advantage.  I don’t think a whole lot of people are very excited about Trevor Rosenthal so far this season – but maybe they should be.

Leake has been very good all season.  Rosenthal has had a few bumps, but has looked much more like the dominant pitcher he has been up till last year.  Wong began the year in a frustrating funk, but has played much better over the last week or so.  There are plenty of other question marks on this team – and much more season before us.  The questions are far from answered for any of them.  But the last seven games have been a good couple of steps in the right direction.

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.

Pirates and Cards Put Runners On But Can’t Get Them Home

Usually, pitchers become more vulnerable once they have runners on.  Last year, all major league hitters hit .250 with the bases empty, and .262 with one or more runners on.  In the early days of 2017, both leagues are hitting .238 with the bases empty and .247 with runners on.  Last year’s Cardinal team hit .253 and .258 respectively.

As was true of every game in the recently concluded Pittsburgh series, the Pirates had sufficient opportunities to mount big innings.  If they had managed to do that even once during the series, they would have won at least one of the games.  But the Pirates went 0 for 9 yesterday and were 5 for 34 (.147) for the series with runners on base.  They fell yesterday for the third consecutive time to the Cards by the same 2-1 score (box score).

As the Cardinal pitchers have started to turn the corner over their last seven games, their dominance with runners on base has become an integral part of their success.  Beginning with the last game of the Washington series, and continuing through the sweep of the Pirates, Cardinal pitchers have allowed only 20 hits in 97 at bats (.206 average) with any runner on base.  This has led to an impressive 2.70 team ERA over that span.

This dominance has proved vital.

Hitters Have Struggled With Runners On

This year – for whatever reason – the Cardinals’ offense has been equally unable “keep the line moving.”  They were 1 for 9 yesterday with runners on base (Yadier Molina followed Jose Martinez’ fourth-inning walk with a bouncing single up the middle) and are now hitting .201 (37 for 184) this season once any runner reaches base.  They were 0 for 3 yesterday with two runners on, and are now 11 for 61 (.180) on the season with more than one runner on base.

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha faced 24 batters yesterday afternoon.  Only four of them came to the plate with a runner on base.  This has been one of the most encouraging aspects of Wacha’s return to health and to the rotation.  He simply keeps runners off the bases.  Wacha has faced 73 batters so far this year – 51 of them (69.9%) with the bases empty.  That is the highest ratio of anyone in the rotation (slightly higher than Lance Lynn’s 68.9%).

When he walked John Jaso in the seventh inning with David Freese already on first, it was the only time in his 18.2 innings so far this season that Wacha has walked a batter with a runner already on.

Wacha’s performance (6.2 innings, 1 run allowed) continued an impressive resurgence for the Cardinal rotation.  Over the last seven games – beginning with Mike Leake’s victory in Washington – the starters have strung together 43 innings with a 2.30 ERA.  While the bullpen hasn’t been as effective, they are improving, too.  Over the 17 innings they’ve worked in these last 7 games, they have faced 73 batters without serving up a home run.  Their innings yesterday proved a little adventurous, but not damaging.

Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman extinguished the seventh-inning threat with a big strikeout of Jordy Mercer.  Bowman has been a significant part of the pitching staff’s recent resurgence.  He has now stranded all of the last 6 runner’s he’s inherited.  Over the last seven games, Cardinal relievers have stranded 11 of 12 inherited runners.

Of the last 16 batters Bowman’s faced only two have reached.  He walked Greg Bird in New York in the sixth inning last Sunday, and gave up a single to Josh Harrison Tuesday night.

With the strikeout of Mercer, Bowman has fanned 3 of the 7 batters who have faced him with more than one runner aboard.

Kevin Siegrist

Kevin Siegrist skirted around danger in the eighth inning.  The Pirates loaded the bases on two errors and a walk.  Siegrist hasn’t given a hit to any of the last 14 batters to face him, but he has walked five of them.

Kevin faced 6 batters yesterday – only the first 2 with the bases empty.  For the season – not counting the runner who reached on an error yesterday – 7 of the 12 batters to face Siegrist with the bases empty have reached (a .583 on base percentage).  Kevin has walked 5, hit one, and served up one home run. Nine of the 30 batters Siegrist has faced so far have batted with multiple runners on base.  That 30% ties Jonathan Broxton (6 of 20) for the highest percentage on the team.  By contrast, only 7.1% of the batters Trevor Rosenthal has faced (1 of 14) and just 4.1% of the batters that Wacha has faced (3 of 73) have batted with more than one runner on base.

Trevor Rosenthal

Speaking of Rosenthal, he wrapped up the ninth inning last night allowing one seeing-eye single (after an excellent at bat by Jaso) and struck out two.  He has faced 14 batters this season.  Seven have struck out, four have singles – none of them really hard hit, and none have walked.  The early returns on Mr. Rosenthal are very encouraging.

Dexter Fowler

The offense – or rather, Dexter Fowler – provided just enough.

With Fowler’s two home runs yesterday following close on the heels of his lead-off triple the day before, Fowler now has three of his four extra-base hits in his last 8 plate appearances.  All four of his extra-base hits have come with the bases empty.  He has just 2 singles in his first 15 at bats with at least one runner on base.

Of course, as the leadoff hitter, Fowler rarely gets at bats with runners on base.  Forty-eight of his first sixty-six plate appearances (a team-leading 72.7%) have come with the bases empty.  All Cardinal batters are hitting with the bases empty 59.3% of the time so far this year.

Fowler’s home runs lift the team total to 14 through 15 games this season.  Ten of the 14 have been hit with the bases empty.

Half of the Cardinals’ first six game-winning hits have now been solo home runs, as Fowler’s fifth-inning drive joins Aledmys Diaz’ first-inning home run against Bronson Arroyo that began St. Louis’ 10-4 rout of Cincinnati on April 8, and Kolten Wong’s third-inning home run against Ivan Nova that sent the Birds off to their 2-1 win against the Pirates on Monday.

Greg Garcia

Greg Garcia, getting some at bats in place of some of the slumping hitters in the line-up, could be doing more with these opportunities.  His average faded to .227 after his 0-for-4 last night.  Three of those at bats came with no one on.  One of the team’s “table-setters,” Garcia is hitting just .214 (3 for 14) with the bases empty so far this year.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko came to the plate in the fourth inning with runners at first and second.  In his first 35 plate appearances this month, Jedd has been up with two runners on 7 times – 20%.  Of batters with at least 30 plate appearances, only Kolten Wong has found himself in this situation with more frequency.  Kolten has been at 25% so far this year (10 of his 40 plate appearances).  Jedd was promptly called out on strikes on a pitch that was several inches outside.  Gyorko has now struck out 5 times in those 7 opportunities, drawing a walk and popping out the other two times.

Gyorko did have one at bat with the bases loaded earlier this year, driving in two runs with a single against the Reds and Robert Stephenson.  Yesterday, Jedd went 0 for 2, watching his season average fall to .226.

Kolten Wong

Speaking of Wong, Kolten is down to .171 after going 0 for 3.  Two of those at bats also came with two runners on base.  His strike out came in his lone at bat with the bases empty.  Kolten is a .200 hitter so far this season (4 for 20) with no walks with the bases empty.

Garcia Dominates Milwaukee

In the best game of his career (a 7-0 domination of Milwaukee), Jaime Garcia pitched the Cardinals to their fifth win in the last six games.  A look at some of the numbers from the hot streak.

Matt Carpenter

While much credit for the recent surge in offense has deservedly gone to Hazelbaker and Diaz, let’s not overlook the turnaround from Matt Carpenter in the leadoff spot.  Billed in the offseason as baseball’s most dynamic leadoff man, Carpenter has been among the many to thrive since the team left Pittsburgh.  With two more doubles yesterday (and another hit by pitch), Matt is 8 for 23 (.348) in his last 6 games.  5 of the hits have been for extra-bases (3 doubles, a triple, and one home run).  Add in 3 walks and 3 HPB, and Carpenter’s slash line for his last 29 plate appearances is .348/.483/.696 with 8 runs batted in.

With his RBI double, Carp is now 5 for his last 7 with runners in scoring position.  Four of the five hits are for extra-bases.

Jeremy Hazelbaker

The league hasn’t quite caught up with Jeremy Hazelbaker yet.  With two more hits yesterday (including a home run), Jeremy now has hits in 11 of his last 22 at bats (.500), with 5 of them being extra-base hits (including 2 home runs).  He now has 6 RBIs in his last six games and a .955 slugging percentage since the team left Pittsburgh.  After going 7 for 12 with 4 extra-base hits and 3 RBIs in his first home series, the Brewers, for one, will be glad to be rid of him for a while.

Jeremy’s home run came on a 1-0 pitch.  Over the last six games, Jeremy is 9 for 12 (.750) when he hits one of the first three pitches thrown to him.  He is just 2 for his last 10 when the at bat stretches beyond 3 pitches.  The home run also came in the seventh inning.  Jeremy is 4 for his last 7 (including 2 home runs) in the seventh or eighth innings.

Randal Grichuk

It’s good to see the ball jumping off Grichuk’s bat.  Lucky two ways on his home run yesterday (lucky it wasn’t caught and lucky he wasn’t called out for passing Brandon Moss on the bases) Randall was nonetheless 2 for 3 and hit the ball hard.  He is now 3 for his last 4 with runners on base, and is 5 for 10 with a home run and 5 RBIs on the home stand so far.

Randal’s hits came in the second and third innings.  So far this year, Grichuk is 4 for 8 before the fourth inning and 2 for 16 thereafter.

With another walk yesterday, Randal Grichuk is now second on the team with 6, behind only Steven Piscotty, who has 7.  Randal hits mid-April with a .387 on base percentage and an .827 OPS.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina stayed hot with another 2 for 4 yesterday.  He is now 9 for 26 (.346) since the end of the Pirate series.  Molina was also 7 for 12 in the Milwaukee series.

Both of hits came with a runner on base.  Over the last 6 games, Yadi is 2 for 11 with the bases empty and 7 for 15 with at least one runner on.

Yadi’s seventh-inning single came on the first pitch thrown to him.  He is now 4 for his last 5 when hitting the first pitch.  That hit, coming with 2 outs, left Yadi 1 for 2 with 2-outs yesterday, and 5 for his last 10 when hitting with 2 outs.

Matt Holliday & Kolten Wong

Combining to go 0 for 6 yesterday, Matt Holliday and Kolten Wong haven’t prospered as much as the rest of the team has in these post-Pittsburgh days.  Holliday is now 5 for his last 22 (.227) with a .261 on base percentage, and Wong is 4 for 21 (.190) with a .190 on base percentage.  Kolten went 0 for 7 against Milwaukee.

Especially glaring for Holliday has been his recent struggles with runners in scoring position.  After ending the fourth inning by popping out with runners at first and third, Matt is now just 1 for his last 10 in RISP situations.

Kolten Wong did drive in a run with a sacrifice fly, but also flew out to end the seventh with runners on the corners.  He is now 0 for 11 this season with RISP and 0 for 16 with any runner on base.  He was 0 for 2 with 2-outs yesterday and just 1 for his last nine while trying to extend an inning.

Jaime Garcia

Twenty-four of the 29 batters that Garcia faced yesterday hit right-handed.  They went one for 23.  For the season, so far, righties (who hit only .218 against him last year) are just 5 for 39 (.128) – all singles – against Jaime.

Only 6 of Jaime’s starts last year came after a Cardinal loss.  He gave us 5 quality starts, a 3-0 record, and a 1.11 ERA in those games.  He is 1-0, 2.40 so far this year, as both of his starts so far this year have come after losses.

Only 3 of the 29 batters that Jaime faced extended the at bat for more than 5 pitches (they all struck out).  Through his first two starts, batters hitting his first pitch are 3 for 13 (.231).  Anyone who hasn’t hit Jaime’s first pitch is just 3 for 38 resulting in a slash line of .079/.163/.079 with 19 strikeouts.

Garcia, of course, had that rugged third inning in Atlanta when he gave up 4 runs on 5 hits and a walk.  In the 14 other innings that he’s pitched so far this year, he has allowed 1 single in 44 at bats (.023).  He has struck out 18 for the 47 batters he faced in those innings.

Overall

During their series’ against Atlanta and Milwaukee, the Cardinals have combined to hit .327, slug .576, reach base at a .404 clip, and score 8.67 runs per game.  After a 3 for 8 day with runners in scoring position, St Louis has punctuated its 5-1 run by hitting .375 (27/72) and slugging .639 with RISP.

Nine of the 11 Cardinal hits came in the 15 at bats that lasted 3 pitches or fewer (.600).  This included 5 of the 6 extra-base hits.

The late inning hitting continued yesterday as well.  With 3 hits in the seventh inning and another in the ninth, the Cards have a team slash line of .378/.459/.757 after the sixth inning of their last six games, scoring 20 runs in those innings.

With two more home runs yesterday, St Louis now has 11 for the season in 318 team at bats.  Their eleventh home run last season didn’t happen until game #15 (April 24), a sixth inning shot by Peralta against Garza in the team’s 501st at bat.  The Cards also added 4 more doubles (they now have 24 for the season), to push their team slugging percentage to .481.

Who Are Jeremy Hazelbaker and Aledmys Diaz

Less than two months ago, as the defending NL Central champs opened camp, the spotlight shone intensely on handful of critical body parts.  Yadi Molina’s thumb, Carlos Martinez’ shoulder, Jedd Gyorko’s glove and Jaime Garcia’s head dominated the news stories as Cardinal nation searched for reasons to be hopeful after an offseason that was regarded – by those outside the organization and clubhouse – as disappointing.  Out of the spotlight and under the radar, rookies Jeremy Hazelbaker and Aledmys Diaz labored in relative obscurity, hoping for just an opportunity to make the club.

Yesterday, as the Cardinal’s opened their home season, these two mostly unheralded rookies combined to go 7 for 9, with 3 doubles and a triple (12 total bases), 3 runs scored and 2 runs batted in to lead the charge in a 10-1 victory over Milwaukee.  The outburst gives the team three straight games in double figures for runs and 41 runs over the last four games that have been mostly dominated by Hazelbaker and Diaz.

OK, so let’s breathe here for a minute.  Diaz won’t hit .533 with a 1.067 slugging percentage for the season – just as Hazelbaker won’t finish at .526 and 1.053.  The league will make adjustments on them, and their futures as contributing big league players will depend on their ability to adjust – just as with every other player who manages to endure as a productive major league player.  That being said, there is no reason to assume that these players are merely April mirages.  Both have pedigree enough to suggest that this early success is more than just coincident hot streaks.  Diaz, of course, was a highly regarded veteran of the Cuban professional league when the Cards signed him two years ago, and Hazelbaker is a former fourth round draft pick who has always shown good power and great ability to steal bases in the minors, who hit .333 with a .594 slugging percentage in 200 AAA at bats last year.

There’s no reason to believe that these guys are not players.

Four games is an exceedingly small sample size.  As the season develops, the story will become more complete.  But, since the recent onslaught has been as unexpected as it’s been enjoyable, let’s take a peek inside these numbers and see what’s inside.

Jeremy Hazelbaker

Jeremy Hazelbaker certainly had an opening day to remember, going 4-4 in the midst of a 19-hit attack.  Jeremy has only started 3 of the last 4 games, but now has hits in 8 of his last 14 at bats (.571) with 4 runs batted in.

Jeremy’s early numbers speak of an aggressive hitter.  In his last 18 plate appearances he has swung at the first pitch 10 times (56%).  This includes 3 of his 5 plate appearances yesterday.  He is 4 for 5 when putting that first pitch in play.  The team as a whole only swung at the first pitch 29.5% yesterday ((13/44), and just 33% (61/185) over the last four games.  While the rest of the team has swung at slightly less than half the pitches thrown them, Jeremy has offered at 60.3% (38/63), an even higher percentage than Matt Holiday’s 56.3%.

Aledmys Diaz

After his 3 for 5 day, Aledmys Diaz – who the baseball gods demanded would get a shot this April – is on a 7 for 12 streak (.583) that began with his pivotal pinch homer in Atlanta and now includes 3 doubles and a triple.  Even though he has only started 2 of these last 4 games, he is still second on the team in RBI’s during the winning streak with 5.

In the early moments of his career, Diaz has also showed a surprising capability at hitting with two strikes.  He was 2 for 4 yesterday with 2-strikes on him.  Over his last 13 plate appearances, Diaz has hit with two strikes in seven of them, responding with 2 singles, 2 doubles and 2 runs batted in.  All of Diaz’ five plate appearances yesterday lasted at least three pitches, with three of them lasting five or more.  Beginning in Atlanta, Aledmys has seen at least three pitches in 10 of 13 plate appearances and at least 5 pitches 7 times.  When the announcers talk about Diaz’ veteran presence at the plate, this is the kind of this they are referring to.

Aledmys in the very early going also seems to have a very controlled swing.  In his five plate appearances, he swung the bat 11 times, putting the ball in play with five of those swings, fouling the pitch off five other times, and only missing entirely once.  This has been about what he’s done since he’s started playing regularly.  In his last 13 plate appearances, Diaz has swung at 24 pitches, resulting in 11 fouls, 11 balls in play, and only two swings and misses.  A couple thoughts on this.  1) Five of his seven hits have been for extra bases.  For a high-contact guy, he puts a charge into the ball.  2) This combination of taking pitches and putting the bat on the ball – if he can sustain it – would make Aledmys an ideal one or two hitter in the lineup.

In general, Milwaukee struggled to put the Cardinals away once they got two strikes on them.  The Cards responded with 9 hits (6 for extra bases) in 22 at bats with two strikes on them (.409).

Matt Carpenter

Behind the slugging rookies, the rest of the team is starting to put Pittsburgh behind them and join in the fun.  One of the most prominent is the resurgence of Matt Carpenter.  Leaving Pittsburgh 1 for 11, Matt has feasted on Atlanta and Milwaukee.  With his 2 for 4 yesterday, Carpenter is now 6 for his last 16 (.375), with half of his hits going for extra-bases and 6 RBIs during the winning streak.  He’s also walked twice and been hit by two pitches, so Matt’s on base percentage is .500 over his last 20 plate appearances.

Carpenter’s hits yesterday came in his only opportunities with runners in scoring position.  Since leaving Pittsburgh, Matt is 4 for 6 with RISP – a single, a double, a triple and a home run.

Steven Piscotty

Steven Piscotty has also left his season-opening 2 for 11 series at Pittsburgh behind.  He had two hits in the opener (both doubles), and has gone 7 for 18 (.389) with a home run, 4 RBIs, a .667 slugging percentage and a .500 on base percentage (courtesy of 4 walks) over these last four games.

Yadier Molina

Also having some fun yesterday was Yadier Molina, who went 3 for 4 with a double, a stolen base, a run scored and 2 RBI during the onslaught.  Yadi’s night featured going 2 for 3 with runners in scoring position.  He is now 3 for his last 6 in those situations.

Randall Grichuk

Randall Grichuk, who’s early season struggles have cost his some at bats to Hazelbaker, looked more confident at the plate, contributing a single, double, 2 more walks, 2 runs scored and his first RBI of the young season.

About those walks.  Grichuk had 5 plate appearances yesterday.  Once he hit the first pitch (for a single).  His other plate appearances lasted 5 pitches, 6 pitches (twice) and 9 pitches.  He now has 5 walks, none of them intentional, in his last 13 times up

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong did add a sacrifice fly for his first RBI of the season, but his is the only bat that hasn’t joined in the fun of late.  Zero for 4 yesterday, Kolten is hitting just .222 during the streak (4 for 18) with 3 of those hits coming in one game.  Kolten is still looking for his first extra-base hit of the season.  Zero for 3 yesterday with runners in scoring position, he is also looking for his first hit in that situation.  He is 0 for 10 with RISP for the early part of the season.  Wong, in fact, is hitless in 15 at bats with any runner on base this year.  He is 6 for 12 with the bases empty.

The Team

With 19 hits yesterday, the team is now hitting .351 since leaving Pittsburgh.  A team whose offense was very much in question has responded with 23 extra base hits (6 of them home runs) and a .597 team slugging percentage over the last four games.  The run has been fueled by team-wide success with runners in scoring position.  They were 8 for 20 in those situations yesterday (with five of the hits being for extra bases), and 22 for 58 (.379) during the winning streak.  (9 of the hits have been for extra-bases and the Cards are slugging .621 during that span in RISP situations.

Six of St. Louis’ hits yesterday came in 13 at bats with two outs (.462).  During the winning streak, the Cardinals are hitting .370 (20/54) with two outs in the inning.  With 3 more yesterday, the team has 15 2-out RBIs over the last four games.  St Louis has also excelled in opening up innings.  Yesterday, they put the leadoff man on 5 times in the eight innings.  Two of them scored.  St Louis has successfully reached 17 of their last 35 leadoff hitters (.486) and scored 13 of them (76%).

A final efficiency note.  St Louis was 5 for 6 delivering the runner from third with less than two outs (and very efficient moving the runner to third with less than two outs).  This was frequently an area of difficulty when the offense struggled last year.  Since leaving Pittsburgh, they are 11 for 18 in bringing in that run with less than two outs.