With three runs in the seventh inning and five more in the eighth, the Cardinals broke open a tight game yesterday afternoon, and finished up with a 10-4 conquest of Arizona (box score). St Louis now finds itself the victor in 4 of its last 5 games. While this might not be front page news, it’s enough to lighten the mood of the team and its followers, and fan the flames a bit. In this recent turnaround, most of the mostly malfunctioning parts of the team have seemed to come together a bit.
Offensively, the team has been much more consistent all month than in April and May. With the 10 runs last night, the Cards have scored 139 in 28 June games (4.96 per). Thirty-five of those have now come during the last five games, in which the team has hit .275 (47 for 171).
It may or may not be coincidental that the Cardinals’ mini-surge coincides with the day that Randal Grichuk returned from Memphis. He did suffer through a short 0-for-9 stretch through the first two games of the Arizona series, but broke out of it decisively with 3 hits – including the game-winning three-run home run in the seventh. He is now hitting .318 (7 for 22) since his return. Even better, the hits haven’t been soft. They include a double and 3 home runs – a .773 slugging percentage. Randal has driven in 9 runs over his last 5 games.
In his first 24 post-Memphis plate appearances (yes a very small sample size), Grichuk has shown some early ability to battle deeper in an at bat. Before his demotion, if his at bat lasted more than three pitches, his average fell to .160 (15 for 94). He slugged just .255 with only 1 home run in those at bats.
Since his return, Randal has already stretched 13 plate appearances past the third pitch. He is 4 for 12 (.333) with a walk. More impressive, three of the four hits were for extra-bases – including 2 home runs. The home run that turned yesterday’s game came on the fourth pitch of that particular at bat.
The Cardinal resurgence also coincides with Jedd Gyorko’s emergence from a slight slump. Jedd had 2 hits and a walk yesterday as his contribution. Jedd has had 20 plate appearances over the last five games, leading to 2 singles, 3 doubles, 1 home run, 8 runs batted in and 4 walks – a batting line of .400/.500/.800. Jedd has pushed his season-long average back up to .298.
Jedd jumped on the first pitch thrown to him twice yesterday, drilling Patrick Corbin’s second-inning fastball down the left-field line for a double, and then bouncing to third on a first-pitch changeup in the sixth. For the season, Gyorko puts the first pitch in play 16.1% of the time (among Cardinals, only Yadier Molina at 16.5% hits the first pitch more frequently), and no one on the team does it better. Gyorko is hitting .405 and slugging .929 on the first pitch this season.
Matt Carpenter was issued an intentional walk in front of Grichuk’s home run. It was the only time he reached base, as he finished another 0-for-4 evening. Matt is now 4 for 36 (.111) over his last 11 games – although those games include 15 walks, so his on base percentage is a healthy .373. Matt’s average for the season is now down to .230, but with a .371 on base percentage and a .457 slugging percentage. Similarly, he is now hitting .247 for the month of June (23 for 93), but with a .391 on base percentage and a .505 slugging percentage. He has hit 5 home runs this month.
Not Just About the Runs
But more than just the offense has gotten healthy lately. The bad base-running decisions have stopped. The defense has been solid and sometimes spectacular. The bullpen hasn’t been as terrible (most of the time), although it’s clearly still a worry.
And the starting pitching – the team’s albatross for most of June – is also starting to turn the corner. Yesterday afternoon marked a full turn through the rotation with everyone throwing a quality start. The rotation has put together a 3.26 ERA over the last five games, allowing just one home run (hit yesterday by Paul Goldschmidt).
Pitchers Surviving the First Pitch
According to baseball reference, across all of baseball batters hitting the first pitch thrown to them are hitting .349 with a .590 slugging percentage. Whether through luck or some element of design, Cardinal pitchers have avoided first-pitch damage recently. The Diamondbacks were only 1 for 4 yesterday when they hit the first pitch (Jake Lamb took the first pitch thrown him by Mike Mayers in the ninth over the wall). The last 28 Cardinal opponents who have hit the first pitch thrown to them have just 4 hits (.143). The other three hits have been singles.
Lance Lynn has been surprisingly good all season when batters hit his first pitch. Arizona was 0 for 3 against his first pitch yesterday (albeit with help from a big defensive play by Stephen Piscotty in right). This month, batters are just 1 for 10 against Lance when they hit his first pitch (Scott Schebler began Cincinnati’s comeback from a 3-0 deficit with a first-pitch home run off Lynn on June 7). Of the now 19 home runs that Lance has given up, that is the only one hit off of his first pitch. For the season, batters are hitting .214 (6 for 28) and slugging .321 against Lynn’s first pitch.
Matthew Bowman added a 1-2-3 seventh that included a strikeout. Bowman – who has pitched better than his ERA all season – is wrapping up a pretty good June. In 13 games and 12.1 innings he holds a 2.19 ERA and a .238 batting average against this month.
Bowman’s seventh was highlighted by the longest at bat against him this year, a ten-pitch struggle against Chris Iannetta. Bowman won the battle when Iannetta took a called strike three. Yes, it was definitely a good couple of inches off the outside corner, and Chris was understandably upset. Of course, the earlier 2-2 fastball that was called ball 3 was also clearly a strike, so the at bat evened out.
Yesterday’s win gave the Cardinal’s only their fifth series win in the 12 they have played on the road. The overall road record is 17-21.
Arizona had six hits yesterday afternoon, but no singles. And the only walk they received was intentional. The Cards opened the fourth inning with four singles and a walk from their first five hitters of the inning.