Aledmys Diaz Takes Round One vs Fernandez as Cards Win

In what is expected to be a long-running contest between former neighborhood competitors, Aledmys Diaz decisively (and aggressively) took round one against Miami’s Jose Fernandez.  Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs to highlight the Cardinals 5-4 win in Miami last night (box score).

Aledmys is finishing July strong.  He has two hits in each of his last two games.  With three games left in the month, Aldemys is hitting .304 (28 for 92) and slugging .522 (he has 4 doubles, 2 triples and 4 home runs so far this month).  He leads the team in walks this month with 12 and is 2 behind Stephen Piscotty for the team RBI lead in July, 18-16.

In the fifth inning last night, Diaz came to the plate with a chance to add to the Cardinal 3-0 lead.  He had Jeremy Hazelbaker at third with no one out.  As he has done almost without fail the whole year, Diaz delivered the run from third with less than two outs.  Last night he did it with an RBI double.  For the season, he leads the team driving in 17 runners from third with less than two outs.  Matt Holliday is second on the club with 13.  Diaz is also the best among regulars in percentage of delivering that runner, as he comes through in that situation 65% of the time (17 of 26).  Jedd Gyorko has delivered 6 of 8 (75%).

For the season, the Cards are delivering that run 56% of the time.

I continue to be impressed by Diaz’ ability to control what is still a powerful swing.  Being extra-aggressive against his boyhood friend, Diaz swung at the first pitch thrown him an uncharacteristic 4 of 5 times and swung at 13 of the 17 pitches he saw overall.  The only one of those swings he missed with was on an 0-1 curveball from Fernandez.  Two pitches later he jumped on another curveball and stroked it for his RBI double.  For the season, he is missing on only 15.4% of his swings.  Among regulars, only Yadier Molina misses on fewer of his swings (14.3%).

Looking very comfortable at the plate, Yadier Molina has stretched his hitting streak to 12 games.  He has two hits in each of the last 3 games, and four of the twelve have been two-hit games.  He’s also doubled in each of the last four.  His batting average over these 12 games sits at .356 (16 for 45) and his slugging percentage up to .600 (on the strength of 5 doubles and 2 home runs).  With the streak, Molina’s July batting average reaches .309.

Although he wasn’t quite as aggressive as Diaz, Yadi offered at 8 of the 16 pitches thrown to him.  Yadi is always aggressive at the plate, and especially so when he’s going well.  For the month of July, Molina is swinging at 53.9% of the pitches that he’s seen (139 of 258).  That is the second highest rate on the team this month behind Stephen Piscotty’s 54.6% (196 swings at 359 pitches).

Piscotty, though, has really looked lost at the plate recently.  He is now 0 for 12 with 8 strikeouts and a double-play grounder to show for the road trip.

All three of his strikeouts last night were swinging.  Stephen is in one of these spells were he’s swinging at pitches out of the zone and taking pitches in the zone.  He had 6 called strikes against him last night.  For the entire month, Stephen has only taken 37 strikes, and only 22.7% of the pitches that he takes are called strikes.  Last night 54.5% of the pitches he watched go by were called strikes (although, in his defense, 3 of those called strikes were inside).

In his first at bat against Jose Fernandez, Piscotty saw 3 fastballs and 2 curves.  His second time up against him, he saw 2 fastballs and 6 curves.  The last time he saw Fernandez he saw four pitches – all curves.  Both times he struck out against Fernandez, he did so chasing a curve out of the zone.

Piscotty is pretty unlikely to be called out on strikes.  Of his 75 strikeouts so far this season, only 13 of them have been the result of a called third strike (17.3%).  This is almost desperately true this month.  Piscotty has now struck out 20 times in July – 19 of them swinging.

Fernandez and company threw first-pitch strikes to 30 of the 40 Cardinal batters last night.  The hitters swung at 18 of them, and 12 of the 22 that took the first pitch, had it called a strike.  Fernandez, especially, had some success throwing his first-pitch curveball for a strike.

The five runs the Cardinals scored in Michael Wacha’s six innings increase his run-support-per-9-innings to a rotation leading 5.56, although for all of that, the runs have been pretty equally divided.  Four of the five starters are averaging at least 5 support runs per game.  Only tonight’s starter, Mike Leake, has had to be content with less – he’s getting a still solid 4.83 runs per nine innings.

July wasn’t Michael’s best or most consistent month.  He finished 2-0 with a 4.23 ERA.  But, he walked no one last night, and only walked 6 in his 27.2 July innings.

Two of them scooted through for hits, but all four batters who put the ball in play against Jonathan Broxton hit the ball on the ground.  For the first three months of the season, Jonathan only got ground balls from 48.9% of the batters who put his pitch in play.  This month, his 67.7% is the team’s highest ground-ball rate.

That’s not the only significant trend shift in Broxton’s season.  Through April and May Broxton faced 4.63 batters per inning and averaged 4.23 pitches per batter.  Through his first 19.2 innings this season, Broxton was throwing strikes with only 58.7% of his pitches and throwing 19.58 pitches per inning.

Since the beginning of June, Jonathan faces only 3.88 batters per inning, throws 14.54 pitches per inning (3.75 per batter), and throws strikes 66.7% of the time.  In his inning last night he faced 5 batters on 12 pitches, 8 of them strikes.  He struck out 20 batters in his first 19.2 innings.  He has 13 in his last 21.2.  His ERA for the first two months was 5.49.  Since the beginning of June his ERA has been 2.49.

With another good inning last night, Kevin Siegrist lowered his ERA to 1.35 over his last 13 appearances covering 13.1 innings.  The hit he allowed was only the seventh in that span.

Seung-hwan Oh closed things up with another very solid inning.  He gave a hit but got a strikeout and a double play.  Over his last 30 appearances covering 28.2 innings Oh has allowed only 4 earned runs (1.26 ERA).

Facing just three batters, Oh is averaging just 3.75 batters per inning he’s pitched this month and 3.90 per inning pitched this year.  The only pitcher on the staff who faces fewer batters per inning is Tyler Lyons at 3.85.

In one of those small baseball ironies, Wacha and Broxton – who feature ground balls – didn’t get a double play turned behind them.  But both Siegrist and Oh – who get far more fly balls than grounders – each had a double play turned for them.

Although the Marlins ended up with four runs, this was a much better pitching performance than the score would indicate.  Whether by design or chance, everyone (beginning with Wacha) threw strikes and got ground balls and, therefore, had short innings.  As a staff, they needed just 112 pitches to dispatch Miami, with no inning requiring more than the 19-pitch second inning.  Of those pitches, 79 were strikes (70.5%), there were no walks surrendered, and 20 of the 30 batters who put the ball in play hit it on the ground.  It was a very tidy performance against an offense that gave us significant trouble at home.

The Cardinals hit multiple homers for the 38th time this season and now have 140 for the year.  The 2012 Cardinals were the last edition of the team to surpass either of those figures.  That team hit 159 home runs with 46 multi-home-run games in 162 games.  The 2016 Cardinals have now played 102.

All of the teams last six wins have been by one run.

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