Brewers Batter Bird’s Bullpen

Holding a four-game lead in the division, the St Louis Cardinal’s penultimate home stand began emphatically last Friday night when Paul Goldschmidt broke a scoreless third-inning tie with a grand slam home run.  Goldschmidt followed up that shot with a three-run homer three innings later as the Cards cruised to a 10-0 win in the opener (box score).

Sunday afternoon, the first series of the home stand ended just as emphatically when Ryan Braun drilled a ninth-inning grand slam of his own to send the Brewers to a 7-6 win (box score) and a 2-1 series victory.  With a chance to put their foot on the throats of a dangerous division rival, the Cards instead saw their division lead sliced in half.  They wake up this morning holding a two-game margin over Chicago, and, now, just a three-game cushion on the Brewers – who they will face no more this season.

The most troubling development from the lost opportunity was the fact that Milwaukee feasted on the St Louis bullpen – heretofore the team’s greatest strength.

In the Sunday afternoon contest, Milwaukee scored all 7 runs (6 of them earned) on 7 hits, 3 walks, a hit batsman and two home runs – all in the last four innings against the bullpen after starter Michael Wacha had shut them out on five hits through the first five innings.

The three Cardinal starters in the series worked 17 innings allowing just 3 runs on 12 hits – including just 1 home run.  They walked only 5 as they fashioned a 1.59 ERA.

In 10 innings during the series, the pen was solved for 9 runs (8 earned) on 7 walks, 2 hit batsmen and 9 hits that included 3 home runs.  Their ERA during the series was a sobering 7.20.

Over the ebb and flow of a baseball season, this kind of thing happens, and as such is nothing to be too concerned about – until a pattern starts to develop.

And sadly, this melt-down wasn’t quite an isolated incident.  Over the last 11 games, the rotation has delivered 60 innings of 1.80 ERA baseball, allowing 21 walks, 5 home runs, and a .201 batting average against.  Over those same 11 games, in just 36 innings, the bullpen has blown 4 leads, allowed 44% of their inherited runners to score, while posting a 5.50 ERA.  They have walked 19 batters (and hit 3 others) in those innings, serving up 6 home runs of their own.

In the sixth inning of the Saturday contest, Milwaukee turned two walks, a single and a ground-out into the run that gave them a 3-2 lead.  In the 10.1 innings that the St Louis starters pitched with the games tied, that was the only run scored against them. – an 0.87 ERA.  The starters did a remarkable job holding the Brewers down until the offense could get a lead.

The problem was holding that lead.  In 12.1 innings pitching with any kind of lead, the St Louis ERA was 5.84.  If that lead was less than four runs, the team ERA during the series was 11.37 in 6.1 innings.

Needless to say, a situation to keep an eye on.

Junior Fernandez

Junior Fernandez had made 7 consecutive scoreless appearances, totaling 7.2 innings, before serving up the hanging slider for Braun.  It was the first home run hit off of Fernandez in his major league career.

John Gant

John Gant set the game-winning rally in motion on Sunday afternoon.  He had pitched a devastatingly good seventh inning on Saturday, striking out all three batters to face him.  On Sunday he couldn’t throw a strike, walking the bases loaded (the Brewers who would score in front of Braun).

It has been a while since Gant was consistently good.  A revelation early in the season, Johnny has now served up earned runs in 10 of his last 26 games.  Over his last 23.1 innings, he has given 20 runs (18 earned) on 28 hits and 21 walks.  He has a 6.94 ERA over that span, with a .308 batting average against and a .438 on base percentage allowed.  His second half ERA is now 6.41 over 19.2 innings.  He finished the first half at 2.22 over 44.2 innings.

Tyler Webb

Tyler Webb is also slipping back after a sustained run of excellent pitching.  Tyler served up the home run that put the Saturday game out of reach (box score).  He has now given runs in 3 of his last 8 games.  In his last 4.1 total innings, Tyler has yielded 7 runs on 4 hits – 2 of them home runs).  He has also walked 6 batters in those innings.

Adam Wainwright

Even as the bullpen has had some recent struggles, the rotation had had an impressive resurgence – none more impressive than Friday’s starter (and winner) Adam Wainwright.  Adam tossed six innings of 2-hit shutout ball, and has now given just 1 run in 20 innings (0.45 ERA) over his last 3 starts.  The last 73 batters to face him hold a .174/.219/.217 batting line.

Jack Flaherty

Jack Flaherty’s start on Saturday wasn’t as dominant as most of his recent performances.  He still delivered a quality start, and struck out 10 in 6 innings.  He is 6-3 over his last 13 starts with a 1.07 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 84.1 innings.  Over those last 13 starts, Jack has gotten more than two runs of support just 3 times.

Flaherty’s ERA is still at 1.23 for the month, and 1.05 in the second half.

Michael Wacha

With his five scoreless on Sunday, Wacha’s September ERA slides to just 1.64 – albeit for just 11 innings over 3 starts.

Kolten Wong

As much as anyone else, Kolten Wong continues to be the offensive catalyst.  He was 5 for 12 against Milwaukee, and is hitting .438 (7 for 16) over his last 4 games.

Kolten is hitting .309 (17 for 55) for the month, and .351 (65 for 185) since the break.

Tommy Edman

With hits in all three games, Tommy Edman extends his current hitting streak to five games, during which he is hitting .333 (6 for 18).  Edman also has hits in 9 of his last 10 games, hitting .308 (12 for 39) but slugging .744, as those hits include 3 doubles, a triple, and 4 home runs.  Tommy has driven in 8 in his last 10 games.

Paul Goldschmidt

Goldschmidt’s two-homer game on Friday extended his hitting streak to five very noisy games – Paul was 6 for 15, with 5 extra-base hits and 3 walks.  He drove in 10 during the five games, with a batting line of .400/.500/1.000.  Goldy had also hit in 8 of 9 at that point, going 11 for 28 with 9 walks in those games.  He would go hitless in the last two games of the series, but after driving in 15 runs over his previous 9 games, while hitting .393/.541/.821.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong hit a clutch home run that gave the Cards the lead in the Sunday game, but it was one of only two hits for DeJong in the series.  Over his last 7 games, Paul is just 4 for 27 (.148).

He has hit, now, 3 home runs this month, but is just 11 for 54 (.204) while drawing just 2 walks against 17 strikeouts.

NoteBook

The Friday grand slam held up as the game-winning hit for Goldschmidt – his thirteenth of the season – tying him with Marcell Ozuna for the team lead.

DeJong’s two-run seventh-inning home run Sunday afternoon briefly gave St Louis a 3-2 lead.  No one on the team has more late-inning, game-changing RBIs than Paulie – who now has 9.  The next closest on the team are Matt Carpenter and Goldschmidt with 5 each.

As mentioned, Flaherty struck out 10 Brewers in 6 innings, bringing his season’s strikeout total to 206.  Jack is just 23 years old and in just his third season.  He struck out 182 last year, and now has 408 for his career in 346.2 career innings.

Friday night’s attendance of 47,075 was the largest crowd to see a Cardinal game since the last game in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.  That August 7 game was attended by 48,994.  Friday was the largest home crowd since 47,117 showed up on June 23 – the last night of Albert-stock when the other LA team was in for a visit.

The Friday game – which St Louis led 10-0 after 6 – was also the first time St Louis had carried a double-digit lead into the seventh inning since May 9, when a five-run sixth gave them a 16-4 lead over Pittsburgh on the way to an eventual 17-4 victory (box score).

The Cards scored first in all three games (for all the good it did them).  They have now scored first in 5 straight games, and 11 of 13.

This was the twenty-sixth series this season when the Cards won the opening game, and only the seventh time in those 26 series that they’ve been forced to play a rubber game.  St Louis has now lost 5 of the 7 rubber games.

After Saturday’s loss, St Louis has lost two of their last three quality starts.  For the season, the Cards are 47-21 when their starter throws a quality start.  At 30.9%, they are losing quality starts at the highest rate since the 2014 team lost 31.9% of their quality starts (62-29).

Nothing Wrong With a Lead-Off Homer . . or Two . . or More

Tim Melville’s first pitch of the game wasn’t terrible (some of his later ones were).  That first slider, perhaps, didn’t have the bite that Tim would have liked, but the location was OK – down and in on lead-off batter Dexter Fowler.

But Dexter was looking for that pitch – probably in just that spot – and he buried it deep into the right-field stands.  Before the afternoon had run its course, Cardinal batters had crushed 5 home runs and 3 doubles as part of a convincing 10-3 victory (box score).  As the Cardinal lineup was constructed for power – and as they were playing in one of baseball’s most offensive ballparks – this result was much less surprising than the pair of 2-1 games that preceded it.  What was surprising – and gratifying – was that 4 of the 5 long balls came from the lead-off hitters in the first four innings – reportedly, the first time in franchise history that has happened.

For the bulk of the season, lack of production from leadoff hitters has been one of the factors that has been stalling the Cardinal offense.  In the 782 offensive innings leading up to the All-Star break, Cardinal lead-off hitters were hitting just .233/.306/.381.  In those 782 innings, those lead-off hitters scored just 112 times.

As the second half began, lead-off production dropped even more.  From mid-July through the beginning of September, St Louis got a batting line of .218/.292/.375 from their first batters over 394 innings.  Only 11 of those 394 innings began with a home run.

September has been quite another story.  Yesterday’s leadoff hitters went 4 for 8 (the 4 home runs) along with Kolten Wong’s walk that initiated the four-run ninth – so all 5 lead-off batters that reached scored.  Through the first 105 offensive innings of September, St Louis’ lead-off hitters are chipping in at a .301/.381/.559 clip.

Classically, the lead-off guy just gets on and waits to be driven in by the guys behind him.  But the lead-off home run is OK, too.

Dexter Fowler

Fowler had a terrific return to Coors Field.  The one-time Rockie ignited what offense St Louis generated through the series, going 5 for 9 with 2 doubles, the lead-off home run, 4 walks and 3 runs scored.  Dex had a .692 on base percentage in the three games.

Dex has lead off 18 of the 105 offensive innings this month, reaching 7 times (.389).

Kolten Wong

Wong added the only Cardinal home run that didn’t come from a lead-off hitter.  He followed Fowler’s lead-off shot with one of his own.  He also added a double, and is leading the team, batting .347 in the second half.

Wong – especially in the second half – has embraced the opportunity to lead off innings.  In 37 such opportunities, Kolten is hitting .323/.432/.484.  During his first three seasons, Kolten carried a .291 on base percentage when leading off innings.  Over the last four years of his career, that has improved dramatically.  Beginning in 2016 and over 385 innings, Kolten has hit .299/.379/.507 when leading off.

Andrew Knizner

Andrew Knizner began his career 0 for 10.  With Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters ahead of him, starts at the major league level have been a little hard for Andrew to come by.  But Knizner started yesterday afternoon and contributed a couple of hits.  He now has at least one hit in each of his last ten starts, hitting .282 (11 for 39) and slugging .487 (2 doubles and 2 home runs) in those starts – during which he has driven in 7 runs.

Bullpen to the Rescue Again

After starter Miles Mikolas battled through 5 innings, he turned the 6-3 lead over to the bullpen.  The St Louis relief corps – who, according to baseball reference – lead the major leagues in ERA (3.38) since the break took it from there.  They walked a few more than normal – 4 over the last 4 innings to go with a hit batsman – but they struck out 8, allowed just 2 hits – and, of course, no runs.

Tyler Webb

Tyler Webb invited a little trouble in the sixth.  He faced only two batters, walking the second.  Still, the runner didn’t score, and Webb’s second half ERA drops to 2.95 with a .141 batting average against over 18.1 innings.

Giovanny Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos lowered his second half ERA to just 1.38, although his performance was more up-and-down than earlier in the season.  He took over in the sixth and struck out both batters he faced.  He came back out for the seventh, but was less in command, walking a batter and allowing a triple – fortunately picking up a double play in between those results – before leaving the fray.

Carlos Martinez

Whatever the tomorrow of Carlos Martinez will be, today he is embracing the closer’s role with the kind of dominance that the Cards have been hoping for.  In the game’s most stressful moment, in the eighth inning, Cards still up 6-3, but with Rockies at second and third and only one out, Carlos was summoned from the pen.  Not blinking for a second, Carlos struck out both batters he faced, preserving the lead.

This is now 9 consecutive scoreless appearances for Martinez, totaling 9 innings.  He has allowed 2 hits (both singles) and 3 walks in those innings, while striking out 14 (of the last 31 batters to face him) and stranding all 4 of his inherited runners.  His batting average against (and slugging average against, too, for that matter) is .071, and those batters are missing on 33% of their swings against him.

That is getting it done.

NoteBook

Fowler not only set the tone for the afternoon by drilling the first pitch of the game over the boards, he also earned the game-winning hit for the blast – his sixth this season.  He is now tied with Paul DeJong for third on the team.  Marcell Ozuna (13) and Paul Goldschmidt (12) are well ahead of the group.  Just behind Fowler and DeJong are Matt Carpenter, Tommy Edman, Jose Martinez and Molina with 5 each.

With his two stolen bases yesterday, Wong – over the 20 mark in steals for just the second time in his career – established a new career high of 22 steals.

On September 4, in a 9-8 loss to San Francisco, the Cardinals played their longest nine-inning game of the season (4:05).  Yesterday afternoon’s 3:56 marathon didn’t eclipse the San Francisco game, but it was the longest nine-inning road game of the season.  Previously, a 10-7 loss in Milwaukee on April 15 had taken 3:51.

The Cards scored first in each of the last two games of the series, and have done so in 8 of their last 10.

Football’s Back in Town

Even as baseball is lining up for its big finish, the one hundredth NFL season kicked off over the weekend.  As always, there were some surprises.

In particular, Week One saw three road teams serve notice – although only one of them won.  That one would be the Green Bay Packers – who went into Soldier Field and upset the reigning division champions (perhaps, a harbinger of future difficulties for Chicago based teams?).  The Cincinnati Bengals (who have been fairly irrelevant for a few seasons now) and the Washington Redskins (equally unimportant recently) gave homestanding playoff teams in Seattle and Philadelphia (respectively) all they could handle.

There were other surprises, too.

Adventures in Kicking

Among the many things the NFC defending champs from Los Angeles do well is special teams – especially the contributions of punter Johnny Hekker and place kicker Greg Zuerlein.  Hekker’s first punt of the day traveled 7 yards.  His last punt was blocked.  With 4:10 left in regulation, Zeurlein missed a 41-yarder (normally a chip shot for him) that would have iced the game.

The Rams would win, anyway, holding off a game Carolina team 30-27, but you could tell it was the first game of the season for both.

One of football’s best running teams last year, Los Angeles struck the Panthers with 166 rushing yards – 130 of them on a whopping 20 carries in the second half.

Adventures in Kicking Part Two

Los Angeles’ other playoff football team came this close to losing its home opener to an Indianapolis team that had recently lost superstar quarterback Andrew Luck to retirement.  The Chargers were forced to win in overtime, 30-24, but only because Indianapolis’ sure-fire hall-of-fame kicker Adam Vinatieri missed an extra point, and two of three field goal attempts (from 46 to end the first half and 44 to begin the second).  I haven’t done any research, but I’m pretty sure it was Adam’s worst day ever.

In many ways, I’m sure, the team on the other side of the field could relate.  Prior to last year, the Chargers may have lost a half-dozen games due to missed kicks over the previous couple of seasons.

At any rate, there were enough positives to come out of the defeat that Colts fans – while disappointed – have every reason for high expectations for the rest of the season.  Filling in for Luck, Jacoby Brissett was more than capable – although, to this point he is not the downfield threat that Andrew was.  Jacoby completed 77.8% of his throws (21 for 27) but for only 190 yards (9.05 per completion).

However, given the proficiency of Indianapolis’ running game, that kind of game management should be more than sufficient.  Last year, the Colts built an offensive line to keep Luck comfy in the pocket.  This year, they have learned that they can lean on that line in the run game.

The Colts ran the ball 22 times for 173 yards and a touchdown.  And that was just the second half.  For the game, the Chargers were gashed to the tune of 203 yards and an average of 6.2 yards per rush.

Last year, we made note of several teams that featured the running game over the passing attack – we called them Neanderthal teams.  The Colts look like they are headed in this direction this year.

Exhibit A is the fourth quarter of their opener.  8:30 left in the game.  Indy holds the ball on its own 20, trailing 24-16.  And they run the ball.  Five consecutive times.  They would run the ball a total of ten times on the 80-yard, 16-play drive that led to the game-tying touchdown with 38 seconds left in regulation.

In the end, though, the game belonged to Philip Rivers – especially the second half, when he completed 14 of 17 passes (82.4%) for 216 yards.  Averaging 15.43 yards per completion in the half, Rivers was as dynamic as Brissett was pedestrian – and the Chargers balanced off with 125 rushing yards of their own.

Abandoning the Run

Not at all in the Neanderthal mindset were the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Down 20 to 0 at the half in New England, the Steelers put their running game on the shelf and dialed up passes on 35 of their 37 second half plays – with predictable results.  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did complete some passes (18) for quite a few yards (211 in the second half).  But he also threw an interception and put only 3 points on the board.  Maybe the Steelers should take a closer look at the Colt tape.

When 37 Seconds is Too Many

The New Orleans Saints had everything orchestrated perfectly.  Taking over on their own 7 yard line with 3:29 left in the game, they meticulously pushed their way up the field – along the way, draining the visiting Houston Texans of all of their time outs.  Now it was New Orleans about to take a time out with the clock winding its way inside the last minute.  Finally with 55 ticks left, the Saints called their second time out, and sent Wil Lutz on to the field to kick the game-clinching 47-yard field goal.

Or so they thought.

Lutz kicked the field goal.  It was now New Orleans 27 – Houston 21.  The Texans would get the ball on their own 25 (after the touchback) with 50 seconds and no time outs left, and needing the touchdown to win.  Game in the bag?  You might think so.

Two plays and 13 seconds later, Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson found Kenny Stills up the seam, in behind the defenders.  Kenny pulled in the 37-yard touchdown pass, and all of a sudden it was 28-27, Houston.

Now it was New Orleans in the impossible situation.  Ball on their 25, 37 seconds left, one time out.  But down only by one, all they needed was a field goal.  Even that, though, seemed improbable.  They would need at least three decent completions just to get moderately close to Lutz’ range.

Bingo, bango bongo.  Three quick Drew Brees completions netted 35 yards, with the timeout called with 2 seconds left on the clock.  The rest was Lutz’ longest career field goal (58 yards) and the Saints went home happy (30-28).

The story was the second half.  Trailing 14-3 at intermission, Brees and running back Alvin Kamara took over.  Drew was 16 for 20 for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns in the second half, and Kamara chipped in 140 yards from scrimmage.

Even so, Houston did almost everything they needed to do to beat the Saints on the road.  But, as has happened so often the last few seasons, the Texans came up just short.

One of the things we’ll keep our eyes on as the season progresses is whether this Houston team can actually break through and win some of these marquee games.

Rare Pitching Duels in the Rarefied Air

Losing a 2-1 game in Colorado is difficult.  Losing consecutive 2-1 games in Colorado is – I understand – unprecedented (I read somewhere that the Rockies had never won consecutive games at home scoring less than 3 runs).  This century, previous to this series, the Cardinals have played 65 games in the pitcher terror chamber that is Colorado.  They have averaged 5.49 runs per game in those contests.  In those 65 games, they have been shut out just 3 times (once in a game started by last night’s starter Antonio Senzatela on May 26, 2017), and they have been held to one run (prior to this week) on just 6 other occasions.

Meanwhile, Cardinal pitching in Colorado has come up with 3 shutouts of their own, held them to 1 run just once (on July 26 of 2006), and to two runs just 4 times.  Of these 8 best pitching efforts in Colorado, only one has occurred since 2015 – a 3-0 Cardinal win started by Adam Wainwright on May 27 of 2017 (and yes that was the game after Senzatela’s shutout).  Colorado has averaged 5.98 runs against the Cardinals in their home ballpark this century.

So the likelihood of the back-to-back pitching duels that we’ve just seen is more than just a little unlikely.  The Cards have scored in double figures 9 times in Colorado, and have given up double figures 11 times.

In all 65 previous games, only once have both teams scored in double figures, a 15-12 Cardinal win on April 8, 2003.  There have been 5 of the 65 games in which both teams have scored more than the 6 combined runs that these two teams have managed through the first two games.  In the entire century to this point the Cardinals have lost a total of two, 2-1 games in Colorado.

So, with St Louis somewhat desperate to put some distance between themselves and their pursuers in the division, the surprising lack of offense has been disappointing.  The story of the second half, though, continues to be the pitching.

Even though the losses drop the Cards to just 6-5 for the month, they have done so with a 2.63 team ERA and a staggering .208 batting average against.  Over their last 19 games, St Louis is 13-6, featuring a 2.64 team ERA and a .200 batting average against.

Once the Colorado series is over, the season’s last 16 games will all be against teams scrambling to make the playoffs (7 of the games on the road).  How much contribution they will get from their offense against these teams is anyone’s guess.  St Louis’ playoff hopes will rise and fall on the continued excellence of their pitching.

Dakota Hudson

Even though his five-game winning streak came to a halt, Dakota Hudson added another quality start and threw another very good game in a difficult ballpark.  Dak has quality starts in 5 of his last 6 outings.  He holds a 1.41 ERA over his last 38.1 innings with a .126 batting average against.  He is 8-3 with a 3.21 ERA in the second half.

NoteBook

Losing well pitched games was a kind of early season specialty for this team, but they have done better of late.  St Louis had actually won 7 consecutive quality starts until last night.  The Cards are now 46-20 this year when they get a quality start from their starter.  That is still losing 30.3%, which would be the highest percent since the 2014 team lost 31.9% of the time that they got a quality start (62-29).

Cards Still Can’t Buy That Two-Out Hit

When Nolan Arenado scooped up Paul Goldschmidt’s short-hop smash to his right, his momentum carried him momentarily to the foul side of the third-base bag.  Nolan righted himself and tossed the ball to first, where Goldschmidt gained a hard-earned infield hit by sliding under Daniel Murphy’s attempted tag.

And just like that, St Louis had the tying run on first base.  It was the eighth-inning, with Colorado holding a 2-1 lead.  It was St Louis’ first two-out hit of the game.

It would also be their last.

Such a threat as the hit presented was extinguished 5 pitches later when Jairo Diaz struck out Marcell Ozuna.  One inning later, Tommy Edman’s double-play grounder ended the game – a 2-1 Rockies win (box score).

In an offensively ragged first half, the St Louis Cardinals ranked near the bottom of the majors in most offensive categories.  As the calendar has flipped to the second half, the birds have notably improved in most of those categories.  But not when it comes to hitting with two outs.  According to baseball reference, the Cards have the fourth fewest two-out runs batted in (219), the fifth fewest two-out hits (366) and two-out home runs (45), the fifth lowest two-out slugging percentage (.377), the sixth lowest two out OPS (.699), and the seventh lowest two-out batting average (.235) in all of the majors.

These situations are not improving.  Since the break, the Cards with two-outs have just 16 home runs, 89 runs batted in, and a .234/.320/.374 batting line (a .694 OPS).  The league average two-out batting line, by the way, is .244/.324/.421 for an OPS of .746.  In spite of the fact that they are 6-4 so far in September, there is still no two-out offense to speak of – a .208/.300/.321 batting line.

Most days the pitching and the runs put up before the second out is recorded are enough to get the victory.  Every so often, though, this flaw comes back to haunt.  Last night was one of those nights – particularly in the fifth when Dexter Fowler grounded out with the bases loaded, and in the seventh when Jose Martinez struck out with runners on first and third.

For the season, St Louis is hitting .216 with runners in scoring position and two outs (fourth-worst in all of baseball and second only to Miami in the National League).  Their 162 runs batted in in that circumstance is also fourth-worst in baseball and second worst (again to Miami) in the NL.

It’s not hard to see something like this costing this team in the playoffs – should they get there.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong contributed singles in successive at bats against San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner back on September 4.  Since the second of those singles, Wong – who has been the team’s offensive catalyst for most of the second half – has started to cool for the first time in a long time.  He endured his second consecutive hitless game last night, and is just 4 for his last 21.

Paul DeJong

Also in a recent slump is Kolten’s double-play partner, Paul DeJong.  Paul is also hitless over the last two games, and has 1 hit in his last 14 at bats.

Paul has hit 2 of the team’s 8 home runs this month, but among only 7 hits in 34 at bats (.206).  In addition, he has just 2 walks this month – holding him to a .243 on base percentage.

Michael Wacha

It is hard to imagine manager Mike Shildt doing this with either Jack Flaherty or Dakota Hudson, but for the second start in a row, Mike pinch-hit for starting pitcher Michael Wacha very early in the game.  Last Wednesday against San Francisco, Wacha threw 2 scoreless innings and was removed for a hitter.  Last night, he was removed after 4.  These actions suggest that Wacha doesn’t have Shildt’s total trust – and there is little reason that he should.

Since his return to the rotation seven starts ago, Wacha has been decent – but not spectacular.  He has pitched a total of 30.1 innings in those games, with an 0-3 record and a 4.45 ERA.

Getting that third out has been a sticking point for Wacha all year, but especially in the second half.  Colorado hitters were 2 for 6 with a walk with two outs against Michael last night.  Since the break, two-out batters are roughing Wacha up to the tune of .327/.403/.527.

Ryan Helsley

Ryan Helsley remains one of the intriguing arms – not just for the rest of this year, but for 2020 and beyond.  He pitched two innings of relief last night, and has worked more than one inning in 9 consecutive appearances.  Over his last 4 games, Ryan has given 1 run (unearned) on 8 hits over 9 innings, walking 2 and striking out 9.  He has a 1.04 ERA over 17.1 innings since his final recall from AAA.  In 19.1 second-half innings, Ryan has an 0.93 ERA with a .208 batting average against.  None of the last 80 batters that he has faced have managed a home run against the talented right-hander, and are slugging just .278 against him.

Ryan got a double play to end the fifth inning, so the only batter he faced with two outs last night was Sam Hilliard in the sixth.  Of all Cardinal pitchers who have faced at least 30 batters with two out in an inning, only the injured Jordan Hicks (.091) holds a lower batting average against than Helsley’s .139.  After Hilliard grounded out, those batters are 5 for 36 against Ryan.

Giovanny Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos closed out the game with two scoreless, hitless innings.  Giovanny has scuffled a bit recently, but he still holds a 1.46 ERA over 24.2 second half innings.

NoteBook

St Louis never managed a lead in last night’s game.  At some point in each of the previous eleven games they had held at least a one-run lead.

Starting Pitching Continues Strong

The St Louis Cardinals ended their most recent homestand with an improbable four-game series against San Francisco in which the Giants didn’t score a single run off any of the four Cardinal starters.  The encore in the first series of the road trip in Pittsburgh fell short of that exalted standard.  Just barely.

With Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty in “October form,” the Cardinal starters combined for 20 innings in the series.  They gave 14 hits (10 singles, 3 doubles and 1 triple) and all of 2 runs – an 0.90 ERA backed by a .203 batting average against and a .275 opponent’s slugging percentage.

It all continued a remarkable starting pitching renaissance that has contributed principally to St Louis’ recent surges – and the Cards have won 23 of their last 30 and 55 of their last 84.  Nine games into September, and St Louis’ starters (according to baseball reference) lead all rotations in baseball with a 1.36 ERA (Atlanta is a distant second at 2.20).  The combined slugging percentage against the Cardinal starters this month (who have allowed just 2 home runs in 9 games) is just .249 – leading the season-long slugging percentage against St Louis below .400 for the season.  Now at .397, the Cards hold baseball’s third best slugging percentage against (and second to the Dodgers’ .386 in the NL).

It’s rarefied air, and this remarkable pitching effort is one of the strongest reasons for optimism as the playoffs approach.

Miles Mikolas

The only one of the Cardinal starters this weekend not to get credit for a quality start was Mikolas, and that only because he pitched just five innings – five very strong innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits.  After enduring a rocky stretch, this would have been Miles’ third consecutive quality start.

Even at that, Mikolas has still allowed just 5 runs on 11 hits (8 singles, 2 doubles and 1 home run) over his last 17 innings.  If these numbers pale somewhat in comparison to some of the other St Louis starters, his 2.65 ERA, his .180 batting average against, and his .262 slugging percentage against over these starts is still plenty good.

Miles’ two starts this month have been against divisional opponents Cincinnati and Pittsburgh – two teams that have seen him a lot.  Interestingly, of the 44 batters he’s faced in those two games, only 3 have hit his first pitch.  Across all of baseball, about one out of every 9 batters hits the first pitch.  Apparently neither the Reds nor the Pirates were getting what they expected from Miles with that first pitch.

Bullpen Misadventures

After Mikolas left the game with a 4-1 lead, the usually reliable bullpen got knocked around for the second time in 3 games.  After the Giants punched them around on Wednesday, Pittsburgh stung them for 8 runs on 9 hits over the last three innings of the game to walk off with a 9-4 victory (box score).  One of the Cardinal strengths over the course of this season, the bullpen begins September with a 5.33 ERA (ranking twenty-fifth in baseball to this point of the month).

Jack Flaherty

It is getting to the point with Mr. Flaherty that when you look at the line score and see that he allowed 5 hits in 8 innings, you assume he didn’t have his good stuff that night – never mind the zero on the scoreboard.  Jack has now thrown consecutive eight-inning starts, allowing no runs.  He is unscored on in 3 of his last 4 starts, 6 of his last 8, and 7 of his last 10.  Over his last 9 starts, he has allowed more than 4 hits just twice, and he has allowed that many just 3 times over his last 12 starts.  Flaherty has been other-worldly of late – with an 0.80 ERA over his last 12 starts (78.1 innings).

Jack has been especially devastating over his last 8 starts.  He has thrown 7 quality starts, going 6-1 in those games, with one other lead lost by the bullpen.  Over his last 54 innings, Jack has been brushed for just 4 runs – 3 earned (an 0.50 ERA).  He has struck out 65 in those innings while allowing just 25 hits (16 singles, 7 doubles and 2 home runs).  That ERA combines with a .137 batting average and a .208 slugging percentage against.  This is a nasty, nasty stretch of pitching.

August’s pitcher of the month, Jack has begun September with 16 innings of zero.  In 11 second half starts (71.1 innings) Flaherty holds an 0.76 ERA.

Offensive Contributions

Although they only scored twice in the series finale (enough for a 2-0 win), it was another productive offensive series, as St Louis finished with 16 runs across the three games.  They are now scoring 5 runs even per game in September, and 5.02 runs in 55 games since the All-Star Break.

Matt Carpenter

After fighting through an endless slump through most of the year, Matt Carpenter is finally showing signs of fighting his way out of it.  He was the only Cardinal with two hits yesterday afternoon, and, after going 3 for 4 in the series he is now 6 for his last 8.  This recent offense has pushed Carp up to the .400 level of the month.

Paul DeJong

With his 0-for-4 on Sunday, Paul DeJong had a six-game hitting streak snapped.  DeJong was 7 for 23 (.304) during the streak, with a double, two home runs and 6 runs batted in to go with a .609 slugging percentage.

Yadier Molina

Also having his hitting streak snapped on Sunday was catcher Yadier Molina.  Molina had hit in 7 consecutive games overall, and 14 consecutive games in which he had had an official at bat.  During the 14 games, Yadi hit a very loud .379 (22 for 58) with 5 doubles, 4 home runs and a .672 slugging percentage.

Dexter Fowler

Starting to struggle of late is lead-off hitter Dexter Fowler.  After a 1-for-10 series against the Pirates, Dex is just 4 for 26 over his last six games, with all the hits being singles.  He has walked just once in those games, so his batting line for September is just .154/.185/.154.

NoteBook

Fowler initiated Saturday’s rout with an RBI single in the third inning – his only hit of the series.  It held up as his fifth game-winning hit of the season.  He is now tied for fourth on the team with four other players (Carpenter, Tommy Edman, Jose Martinez and Molina) with 5.  Just ahead of them is DeJong, who has 6.  Marcell Ozuna (13) and Paul Goldschmidt (12) are vying for the team lead.

With ten strikeouts on Sunday, Flaherty now sits at 196 for his 168.1 innings this season.  With probably 4 starts left, Jack is in great position to reach the 200 mark for the first time in just his third season.

St Louis has now won six consecutive series. In their last nine series, they have won eight and split one.  After struggling on the road for much of the season, St Louis is now 35-36 away from home.  They have won 10 series, lost 11 and split 2 others on the road.  This Pittsburgh series was also just the seventh time in the 21 times they have lost the opening game of a series that they came back to force a rubber game.  They are now 5-2 in those rubber games.

St Louis continues to be the team you don’t want to try to turn things around against.  Pittsburgh was the nineteenth team to play the Cards after having lost its previous series (Colorado will be the twentieth).  St Louis has won 15 of those series, splitting 3 others.  Only the Padres – who won 2 of 3 to open our season at home – have bounced back against the Cards.  St Louis is now 45-16 (including 5-0 in rubber games) against teams that have lost their previous series.

St Louis scored first in all 3 games against the Pirates, and have scored first in their last 4 consecutive games and 6 of their last 7.

A victory tomorrow night in Colorado will give them 24 in their last 31 games.  It has been almost exactly a decade since they have managed that (August 8 through September 11, 2009).  Their 55 wins in their last 89 games is the first time they’ve managed that since June 19 through September 26 of 2015.  This has been one of this franchise’s more impressive hot streaks in quite a while.

Only Two Home Stands Left – Alas

The number, I admit at the outset, is flawed.  Nonetheless, when Dakota Hudson walked off the mound Thursday afternoon after the sixth inning and holding a 1-0 lead, it marked the only time this century, so far, that none of the Cardinal starters in a four-game series allowed a run to score.

The caveat, of course, is the Wednesday game.  The starter for that game – Michael Wacha – in fact did not allow a run, but pitched only two innings.  All three of the other starters, though, pitched at least 6 dominant innings.  For the series, in 23 innings against St Louis starters, the Giants managed 8 hits, 4 walks and a batting line of .104/.148/.117.

There have been three other three-game series this century during which the starters were unscored on.  It happened twice in 2013.  That 97-win team made it all the way to the World Series.  Those Cards sent early notice when they hosted Milwaukee from April 12-14.  The birds won the first two, 2-0 and 8-0 behind 7 scoreless from Shelby Miller in the first game, and 9 complete innings from Adam Wainwright in the second.  Jaime Garcia gave 7 innings of zeroes in the third game, but the Brewers came back against the Cardinal bullpen to salvage a 4-3 win.  The second time the starters were unscored on that year was the final series of the season – 3 mostly meaningless games against a Chicago team on its way to 96 losses.

The best of these series occurred from September 3-5 of 2001.  In that three game sweep in San Diego, the Cards got bookend complete game shutouts from Bryn Smith and Woody WilliamsMatt Morris threw 7 scoreless in the middle game – a total of 25 scoreless innings.

Even though the usually outstanding bullpen was uncharacteristically batted around, the Giant series and its 1.75 ERA is the most current highlight in a pitching surge that has brought the second-half ERA down to 3.35 – the best in all of baseball.  For the season, the team ERA has dropped to 3.85 – fifth best in baseball and second best (to the Dodgers) in the National League.

Of course, it happened at home.  The most consistently Jekyll and Hyde aspect of this team is the gap in the rotation’s numbers at home and on the road.

After the San Francisco series, they hold baseball’s best ERA in September at 2.33 (1.64 from the starters) – all of those game have been at home.  They, in fact, wrapped up the 6-2 home-stand with a 2.75 ERA (2.27 from the starters).

In the season’s second half they are a remarkable 22-8 at home, where their starters have kicked in with a 2.84 ERA.  They are only 13-9 since the break on the road, getting a 4.21 ERA from their starters.  For the entire season the spread is even sharper.  This team that is now 46-26 at home is getting a 3.08 ERA from their starters.  In the 68 road games played, that same rotation has been batted around to the tune of a 5.06 ERA – a primary cause of their 33-35 road record.

They will only have 9 more home games this season.  If this team is actually going to earn a playoff berth – not to mention play deep into October – they will have to figure things out away from home.  Starting tonight in Pittsburgh.

Adam Wainwright

Waino kicked off the series with seven scoreless, allowing 4 hits.  I’m not sure the home/road splits run any deeper than with Adam Wainwright.  The Monday game was his fifth start at home since the break.  He has also started five time on the road in the second half.  He is now 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA in those home games, but 2-1 with a 7.13 ERA on the road.  For the season, Adam has 8 quality starts in 13 home games, going 7-3 with a 2.43 ERA.  His 13 road starts have resulted in 2 quality starts, a 3-6 record, and a 6.54 ERA.  For his career, Adam is 90-48 with a 2.80 ERA in the various incarnations of Busch Stadium.

Jack Flaherty

Jack Flaherty – who started Tuesday’s game – is on the kind of roll most pitchers never see in their careers.  Over his last 11 starts, Jack has allowed no runs in 6 of them, and allowed just 1 run in 3 others.  Over his last 70.1 innings, his numbers read 0.90 ERA and a .141/.209/.224 batting line against.  He has 85 strikeouts in those 70.1 innings.  This is Bob Gibson-esque.

Michael Wacha

Wacha’s splits are very similar – especially in the season’s second half where he carries a 2.42 ERA in 22.1 innings at home and a 6.08 ERA in 13.1 innings on the road.

Dakota Hudson

Giving Flaherty a run for his money is the other half of the “Jack and Dak” show – Dakota Hudson.  With his six scoreless, Hudson has now not been scored on in 4 of his last 5 starts.  Over his last 5, Hudson holds a 5-0 record, a 1.11 ERA, a 60% ground-ball ratio, and a batting line against of .114/.218/.190.

Both Jack and Dak allowed just one hit in their starts.

Hudson is another starter noticeably better at home (8-2, 2.92 ERA) than on the road (7-4, 4.01).

Rangel Ravelo

After a decade in the minor leagues, Rangel Ravelo has finally gotten his small chance in the majors.  He had two at bats in the Giant series, finishing with a single and his first major league home run.  After struggling through his initial call-up, Ravelo has been doing his best to leave an impression.  He is hitting .313 (5 for 16) in the season’s second half with 3 extra-base hits and a .625 slugging percentage.

Although very early in his major league career, Rangel is 6 for his first 16 (.375) at home, and 0 for 8 on the road.

Matt Carpenter

It is, perhaps, not the eruption we were looking for, but there is little question Matt Carpenter has been looking better at the plate in recent days.  Scrambling a bit for playing time these days, Carp was 3 for 4 against San Fran with 3 walks.  Over his last 11 games, Matt is 9 for 27 (.333) with 6 walks (.455 on base percentage).

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt hit no home runs against San Francisco in the four games, but had a significant impact at the plate, nonetheless.  Paul finished 5 for 12 with 3 extra-base hits and 4 walks –a line of .417/.563/.750.  He drove in 6 runs in the 4 games.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna singled and homered in the Tuesday game.  Those are his only hits over his last 8 contests.  Ozuna is just 2 for his last 31 (.065) with 10 strikeouts.

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader is finding himself struggling again.  He was hitless in 10 at bats against San Fran, and is 0 for his last 12.  Harrison is off to a .176 start (3 for 17) for September, and back down to .213 (16 for 75) in the second half.

Harrison is one Cardinal who might welcome the road trip.  Especially in the second half, he has hit notably better on the road (.273) than at home (.189).

NoteBook

The only run of the Monday game came courtesy of Ozuna’s home run – his team-leading thirteenth game-winning hit.  Goldschmidt, who drove in the game-winner on Thursday, is still second with 12.

Few numbers describe the difference between the 1-0 game on Tuesday and the 9-8 slugfest one night later than the times of the games.  At 2:11, Tuesday night’s contest was the shortest of the season, coming in 8 minutes quicker than the 1-0 game that Flaherty lost to the Giants on the last day of the first half.  At 4:05, the Wednesday game was not only the longest nine-inning game of the season, but the fifth-longest nine-inning game of the century, and the longest in slightly more than a year.  Last September 4, the Cards outslugged Washington 11-8 in a nine-inning game that occupied 4:10.

Randy Arozarena got the start in center on Thursday afternoon.  Bader had made six consecutive starts in center, which was the longest streak of consecutive starts at one position on the team.

That mantle is now shared between middle infielders Paul DeJong (at shortstop) and Kolten Wong (at second).  Each has started the last five consecutive games.

DeJong, with his twenty-sixth home run on Thursday, is on pace for 30 home runs in his third major league season.  After the San Francisco series, Paul is now up to 1508 plate appearances without laying down one sacrifice hit in his career.

The four games against the Giants drew 157,736, pushing home attendance over three-million again (now at 3,074,676 – an average of 42,703.8 per game).

The series win gives St Louis victories in five consecutive series.  Over their last eight, they have won 7 and split 1.

Waino Still Playing Stopper

A strange thing happened in the seventh inning of the Sunday night game.  The Cardinals didn’t score.  That same strange thing happened in both the eighth and ninth innings.  Inexplicably, the Cards didn’t come from behind to win their fourth straight game – and the third in a row on a walk-off.

Of course, in baseball you don’t win them all – even if sometimes you start to feel invincible.  Certainly losses have been few and far between for this franchise lately.  The loss on Sunday night was only their fifth in the previous 23 games – a great roll that has carried this team to a three-game lead in its division.

But while the occasional loss will happen, I am always very interested to see how the team responds to the loss.  How difficult is it to saddle this team with consecutive losses?  How well can they stay out of losing streaks?

In fact, the record after a loss this year tells the Cardinal story in microcosm.  They hit the All-Star Break just 22-21 after having lost the game before.  They began the second half 5-2 after a loss.  That carried them to the California trip in early August – a troubling swing through Oakland and Los Angeles which saw our heroes lose all five games – the last four after having lost the previous game.

And then they flipped the switch.  With yesterday’s 3-1 victory (box score), St Louis has won their last 6 games in a row after a previous loss – and are now 11-6 in the second half in those games.

As has been the case 150 times since 2007, it was Adam Wainwright playing stopper.  He was in vintage form, muffling the Giants on 4 hits over 7 shutout innings.  Over his career, Waino is 76-42 with a 3.55 ERA when pitching after a loss.  Those wins are 26 more than the second place pitcher this century – that would be Chris Carpenter, who was 50-26 as a Cardinal after a loss.

Of the 150 Wainwright starts, St Louis has wins in 98 of them – a .653 winning percentage.  Carpenter (again, second on this list) made 131 starts after a Cardinal loss, with the team going 71-40 (.640) in those games.  For the century, St Louis is a .575 team (842-623) after enduring a loss the game before.

Regarding the season as a whole, 2019 hasn’t been Adam’s most consistent season, but it is trending upward as October looms.  Over his last 5 starts, Adam is 3-1 with a 3.49 ERA.  In the second half, Waino has pitched 4 games after a St Louis loss.  He is 2-1 in those games with a 2.55.

AndrewMiller

It is just almost never easy for Andrew Miller.  After being the only pitcher in the pen not used at all in the double, double-headers, Miller entered with one out in the eighth inning against San Fran, holding a 3-1 lead.  He faced two batters, walking the first and striking out the second.

In 16.2 innings since the All-Star Break, Andrew has walked 13 batters and served up 4 home runs.  In spite of ranking eleventh on the team in innings pitched in the second half, his walks are the third most on the staff, and his home runs allowed are fifth.  By comparison, Jack Flaherty has pitched 55.1 second half innings, allowing just 15 walks and 3 home runs.

Nonetheless, Andrew has given just 9 total hits in those 16.2 innings while striking out 17 with a 3.24 ERA.

CarlosMartinez

In spite of pitching for a third day in a row, Carlos Martinez continues to solidify into the closer’s role.  Yesterday afternoon was Carlos’ sixth consecutive scoreless outing, covering 6.1 innings.  He has allowed one hit in those innings.  His swing-and-miss percentage is 39% during this run in which he has struck out 10 and gotten 78% groundballs from those batters who have put the ball in play.

Martinez has been a big part of the winning streak.  He has pitched in 10 of the 24 games, saving 6 (in 6 opportunities) and winning two others.  Over his last 10 innings, Carlos has pitched to a 1.80 ERA.

HarrisonBader

Harrison Bader had moments in the Cincinnati series, but overall his bat seems to be slowing a bit.  Harrison is 4 for 17 (all singles) for a .235 batting average over his last 6 games.

With yesterday’s 0-for-3, Harrison has played in 8 games after a loss in the second half.  He is 0 for 17 in those games, and is now down to .189 (21 for 111) after a Cardinal loss this year.

NoteBook

Kolten Wong’s RBI triple brings him to 55 RBIs this season.  He is 6 behind his career high set in 2015.

St Louis has won the first game of its last five series, and 7 of the last 8.

In the win, the Cards snapped a six-game streak in which they trailed at some point of the game.

It Takes a Village

For three off-seasons, now, the organizational mantra has been “find an impact bat, find an impact bat, find an impact bat.”  Impact bat, here, means slugger.  Two off-seasons ago they landed Marcell Ozuna.  Last winter they reeled in Paul Goldschmidt.

Now, I have nothing against impact bats, and was not displeased to see Ozuna and Goldschmidt added to the Cardinal lineup.  But there are some aspects of baseball that are so common-sensical that they shouldn’t need mentioning.  And among the immutable truths of baseball is that offense is a function of the depth of your lineup.  How many of your batters take quality at bat after quality at bat is much more significant than the number of 30 home run guys that sit in the middle of it.

They were just four games, but the back-to-back doubleheader set against Cincinnati graphically illustrates this truth.

In winning three of the four games, St Louis averaged 5 runs per contest.  This is in spite of the fact that the 30-home-run men who inhabit the heart of the lineup (Goldschmidt, Ozuna, Paul DeJong and Matt Carpenter contributed almost nothing to the attack.

Those four worthies combined to go 5 for 46 over the four games, the 5 hits being 3 singles and 2 doubles.  They also walked just twice and combined to drive in just 5 runs while compiling a batting line of .109/.143/.152.

Then there were the “other guys.”  I don’t know whether we should call them the “non-impact bats” or not.  These are your table-setter types: Dexter Fowler, Kolten Wong, Tommy Edman, Yadier Molina and Harrison Bader.  These guys all carried the show against the Reds, combining to go 24 for 54 (.444) with 8 extra base hits (4 doubles, 2 triples, and 2 home runs).  They combined to score 15 runs during the series, drive in 10, and slug .704.

None of this is to suggest that the sluggers haven’t been important and haven’t had their “impact.”  This is simply to suggest to the front office that there is more to baseball than guys who hit 30 home runs and bat .250.

Kolten Wong

The story against Cincinnati and for the whole second half of the season has been Kolten Wong.  He hit in all four games against the Reds – getting multiple hits in three of them.  He was 6 for 10 in the series – with half of the hits going for extra-bases, and is now riding a six-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .632 (12 for 19) and slugging 1.158 (3 doubles, 2 triples and 1 home run).

Wong was the team’s leading hitter in August (.373) and has been so the entire second half (.381).

With runners in scoring position, Kolten went 8 for 20 (.400) last month, including 1 for 3 in the series against the Reds.

Yadier Molina

Also scorching hot is Yadier Molina.  After his 4-for-8 against Cincy, Yadi is carrying an eight-game hitting streak (in games in which he has had at least one at bat).  He is 16 for 32 (.500) during those games, with 7 extra-base hits (4 of them home runs) – a .969 slugging percentage.  Yadi has also hit safely in 11 of his last 12, going 20 for 43 (.465).

Yadi is now hitting .344 (22 for 64) since the All-Star Break.

Molina doubled and drove in a run in his only at bat this weekend with runners in scoring position.  This has always been his trademark.  He is 7 for 18 (.389) since returning from the injured list, and 27 for 83 (.325) for the season in those situations.

Dexter Fowler

Fowler finished the Cincinnati series 5 for 12 (.417), including 1 for 2 with runners in scoring position.  Dexter drove in 21 August runs in 27 games, mostly because he went 8 for 14 (.571) with the ducks on the pond.

Tommy Edman

They were all singles, but Edman enjoyed himself at the expense of the Reds.  His 5 for 13 (.385) brought his final August batting average to .308 (32 for 104).

Harrison Bader

After mostly sitting out the first game, Harrison Bader slapped 4 hits over the last three games.  Bader has hit safely in 8 of his last 9 starts, going 12 for 33 (.364).  He finished August with a .313 mark (10 for 32).

Harrison was 3 for 6 during the series with runners in scoring position, and is 6 for 16 (.375) in that situation since the break.

Matt Carpenter

Carpenter did deliver the walk-off hit Saturday night, but that was one of just 2 hits for Carp in 11 at bats over the weekend.  In the season’s second half, Matt’s .212 batting average sits very close to the .215 he has for the season.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell ran his hitless streak to 15 straight at bats with his 0-for-11 in Cincinnati.

Ozuna also went 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position over the weekend.  In the season’s second half, Ozuna is just 3 for 23 (.130) in those situations.

NoteBook

Carpenter, as noted, provided the walk-off single in the Saturday night game.  It was his fifth late-game-changing hit of the season, tying him with Paul Goldschmidt for second on the team behind Paul DeJong’s 7.  DeJong would pick up his team-leading eighth late-game-changing RBI on Saturday afternoon when his eighth-inning sacrifice fly tied the game at 3.

That single by Carp also turned out to be Matty’s fifth game-winning hit of the season.  He thus becomes one of 7 Cardinals with at least five GWRBI in 2019.  With Marcel Ozuna (12) and Goldschmidt (11) battling it out for the team lead, they are followed by DeJong, who has 6.  Along with Carp, there are three others at 5 – Molina, Jose Martinez and Edman.

When Rangel Ravelo started the Sunday night game at first base, it interrupted Goldschmidt’s consecutive start streak at 37 – the longest currently for a Cardinal at one position.  After everyone got at least one day off during the back-to-back double-headers, the current longest streak now belongs to Bader, who has started the last three games in center field.

Prior to this series, Giovanny Gallegos had allowed only 3 inherited runners to score all season (out of 38 inherited runners).  He allowed that many in one swing (Tucker Barnhart’s 3-run double) in the Saturday afternoon game.

The series win was St Louis’ fourth in a row.  Of their last seven series, they have won six and split one.

Should You Even Throw Yadi a Strike?

Honestly, I don’t think that Matt Albers intended to throw him a strike.

The game was tied at 1 in the seventh inning.  The Cards had the potential lead run on first with one out, and Yadier Molina was at the plate.  Matt threw him that sinker, but down and almost off of his kneecaps.  So, I think Matt’s surprise was understandable as he watched Yadi golf the pitch off the foul-pole in left for the game-deciding home run (in an eventual 6-3 win).

Sometimes it is tempting to think that the best thing to do with Yadi is to throw the ball right down the middle.  His first time up, Adrian Houser’s first pitch to him was a fastball right down the middle, that Molina swung through.  Of course, the pitch that Devin Williams threw him in the ninth was also right down the middle – and Yadi drilled it into the gap in right-center for a double.

Statistically, what you want to do is throw ball one with the first pitch.  Yadi hits .290 (64 for 221) with all 7 of his home runs in at bats that begin with first-pitch strikes.  But when the first pitch is ball one, Molina goes on to hit .217/.277/.283 (20 for 92 with just 6 doubles).

This trend has been more pronounced since Yadier returned from his injury.  He is 2 for 15 (.133) when the first pitch to him misses.  But if you start his at bat throwing strikes – or even pitches close enough that Yadi might consider it a strike – then Molina has hit .378 (14 for 37) with 5 extra-bases, including 3 home runs – a .676 slugging percentage.

Certainly, when Yadi is hot, too many pitches too close to the strike zone is living dangerously.

And Yadi is certainly hot.

Molina is now riding a five-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .500 (10 for 20) with a double and 3 home runs.  He has driven in 7 runs and is slugging an even 1.000 during the streak.  He has also hit safely in 8 of his last 9.  In those games, Yadi is 14 for 31 with 5 extra-base hits and 7 walks – a line of .452/.553/.806.

In 14 games since he came off the injured list, Molina is hitting .308 (16 for 52) and slugging .519.

Harrison Bader

Also heating up is Harrison Bader.  With three hits last night, Bader has 5 over the last two games.  He has hit in 5 straight as well (8 for 19) with 2 doubles and a home run.  He has driven in 5 runs over the 5 games, with a .421 batting average and a .684 slugging percentage.

Harrison is hitting .360 (9 for 25) since his recall from Memphis.

Marcell Ozuna

And speaking of hot, with two more hits last night, Marcell Ozuna extended his hitting streak to 8 games.  In those games, Marcell is 14 for 30, with 2 doubles, a triple, and 2 home runs.  He has 10 runs batted in to go with a .467 average and an .800 slugging percentage.  Marcell has also now hit in 11 of 12, hitting .413 (19 for 46).

The hot streak has pushed Ozuna’s August average up to .321 and his slugging percentage this month up to .556.  In 23 August games, Ozuna is 26 for 81 with 4 home runs and 15 runs batted in.

Kolten Wong

After sitting out a couple of games to nurse a toe injury, Kolten Wong came off the bench late and looked as though he had never been out of the lineup.  With his 2-for-2, Wong is 5 for 16 (.313) over his last 5 games.  Wong leads the team in batting for the month (.338) and in the second half (.350 on 42-for-120 hitting).

Dexter Fowler

Cooling off a little lately is Dexter Fowler.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Dex is 3 for 18 (.167) over his last 5 games – albeit with 4 runs batted in.

NoteBook

Very good last night, Miles Mikolas is still already approaching most of the career highs he set last year.  Up now to 27 starts, Miles is only 5 behind the 32 he made last year.  After allowing 186 hits last year, Miles has given 165 already this year.

His 10 strikeouts last night bring him to 119 for the season – giving him a shot at the 146 he struck out last year.

Along with his two singles, Ozuna also grounded into a double play.  He has now bounced into 15 this season.  His career high is the 18 he hit into in 2017.

In addition to his three extra-base hits, Molina also drew a walk – just his sixteenth of the season.  It was also the 500th walk of his career.  A notably aggressive hitter, it should surprise no one that it took him 1955 games and 7538 plate appearances to reach that milestone.

Molina drove in the game-winning run in both the first two games in Milwaukee.  He now joins Tommy Edman and Jose Martinez for fourth on the team with 5.  Ozuna still leads with 12, followed by Paul Goldschmidt (11) and Paul DeJong (6).

In the game last night, Wong matched the 127 games he played all of last year.  With two more runs batted in, Kolten has reached the 50 mark for just the second time in his career.  He now has a reasonable shot at his career high of 61 set in 2015.  His stolen base brought him to two short of his career high of 20 set in 2014.

Just Not Ready for the Cardinal Bullpen

It was the bottom of the fourth.  St Louis had built a substantial lead, but the dangerous Brewers were making an effort to get back into the game.  After two doubles and a walk, Milwaukee had trimmed the lead to 9-2, and had runners at first and second – albeit with two outs.

And that was the end of the evening for Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright.  Part of the decision was that Adam was at 90 pitches.

Increasingly, though, I think Mike Shildt’s decisions are influenced by the fact that his bullpen might be his greatest weapon.  Once the Cardinal bullpen came into the game, the Brewer offense stopped.  Over the last 5.1 innings, Milwaukee scored no runs, managing just 3 hits and 1 walk.

The Cards tacked on a few more runs for a 12-2 victory (box score).

Last night, Milwaukee – like most major league teams – just wasn’t ready for the Cardinal bullpen.  While some of the Cardinal starters – like Wainwright and tonight’s starter Miles Mikolas – will nibble at you with breaking balls early in the count, the St Louis bullpen just comes at you.

Across all of baseball, major league hitters salivate at the opportunity to hit fastballs early in the count.  According to baseball reference, batters hitting the first pitch thrown to them are slashing .355/.364/.633.  Batters hitting the 0-1 pitch are doing almost as well – they are slashing .330/.340/.541.  With very few exceptions, these are batters looking for hittable fastballs early in the count, and punishing them.

Last night, after Waino left, the good-hitting Brewer lineup hit the first-pitch twice and the 0-1 pitch once.  Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain both grounded out on the first pitch against John Gant, and Keston Hiura grounded an 0-1 pitch from Dominic Leone into a double play.

These were only 3 at bats, but not isolated results.  As St Louis has won 14 of their last 17, opposing batters are just 6 for 41 (.146) against the Cardinal bullpen in 0-0 and 0-1 counts.  The hits are 5 singles and 1 double.  As the bullpen boasts six pitchers averaging at least a strikeout an inning, batters don’t have the luxury of working deep in the count against them.  When they get that early fastball – however hard and sinking it might be – they are mostly obliged to try to take advantage.

These days, there are very few comfortable at bats against the St Louis bullpen.

AdamWainwright

Wainwright’s struggle has been the opposite.  If he can get you deep in the count, he can finish you off with that curve or that sneaky cutter.  But early in the count he remains very vulnerable.  On those same 0-0 and 0-1 pitches that his relief corps have thrived on, Waino has consistently taken damage.

Last night, Mike Moustakas ended the first inning by lining out on the first pitch thrown to him.  Eric Thames tripled on the first pitch he saw in the second.  Two batters hit 0-1 pitches in the third – Hernan Perez singled and Braun just missed a home run to right.

For the month, when in no-ball counts, batters are 17 for 38 (.447) against Waino with 3 doubles, a triple and 2 home runs – a .737 slugging percentage.  For the season, the league is hitting .356 (52 for 146) when they get to him before the first ball is thrown.

TommyEdman

Tommy Edman began August in a bit of a tailspin.  Lately, he has done nothing but hit.  With three more last night, Edman is 25 of 66 (.379) over his last 16 games, and has pushed his average to .318 for the month.

Edman – at this stage of his career, anyway – doesn’t take a lot of pitches or work a lot of counts.  He ends up in three-ball counts only 15.6% of the time.  The count never reached three balls to him last night.  Tommy is hitting .361 (22 of 61) when hitting before ball one is thrown.

DexterFowler

In last night’s second inning, Dexter Fowler won a six-pitch at bat, lining an RBI single.  Dexter has been at his best in three-ball counts (his hit came on a 3-2 pitch).  For the month, he is 5 for 12 (.417) with 2 home runs on three-ball counts.  For the season, Dex is a .292 hitter (19 for 65) once he gets into a three-ball count.

MarcellOzuna

With a single and a double, Marcell Ozuna stretched his hitting streak to seven games.  Marcell is hitting .462 (12 for 26) during the streak, with 5 of the hits going for extra-base hits – including 2 home runs.  He is slugging .846 with 10 runs batted in during the streak.

Ozuna is now a .312 hitter this month with 4 home runs, 15 runs batted, and a .558 slugging percentage.

YadierMolina

After struggling a bit at the plate in his first games back in the lineup, Yadier Molina is starting to feel it again.  He had two hits last night, including a home run.  Yadi has now hit safely in 7 of his last 8.  Molina is 11 for 28 (.393) in those games.

NoteBook

St Louis has now won the first game of the last three series and of five of the last six.

When the Cards carried a 12-2 lead into the ninth inning, it was their largest ninth inning lead since May 9 – a 17-4 conquest of Pittsburgh (box score).