As would befit a game featuring two struggling teams, the St Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies combined to go 3 for 15 with runners in scoring position last night – a telling number in an eleven-inning game where any offensive pulse might have won the game for either team.
Throughout the evening, the Cardinals had had the better of the opportunities. They had runners at first and third with one out in the second – nothing came of that. They followed that up with runners at second and third with nobody out in the third, but they ran themselves out of that inning. Paul DeJong led off the fifth inning with a double, but that opportunity also fell victim to bad base-running.
So, by the time Stephen Piscotty came to the plate with runners at first and second with no one out, the Cards were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Piscotty broke the spell with the two-run double that would prove to be the winning hit, and the Cards tacked on 5 more runs after that, ending up with an 8-1 victory (box score). In so doing they continued one very good streak and – temporarily at least – paused a couple of pretty bad streaks.
The principle bad streak halted was a lot of recent losing. Before last night, the Cards had lost 5 out of 6, 12 out of 17, and 22 out of 32.
The other bad streak that was temporarily halted was a run of awful pitching for the month of June. The team began yesterday with a 5.53 ERA for the month – 6.29 from the starters. It was only for one night – and only against the offensively struggling Phillies – but for one night anyway, the pitching staff (starters and relievers) looked like they were expected to look this season.
Throughout his four previous starts, Mike Leake’s season – which had started out brilliantly – had been starting to unravel. In starts against Los Angeles (May 29), Chicago (June 3), Cincinnati (June 8), and Milwaukee (June 14), Leake had been little more than a batting practice pitcher. He lost all four of those games with a 6.20 ERA and a batting line against of .316/.370/.500. Opposing batters missed on only 14% of their swings against him during that span.
But last night saw the return of the Mike Leake that began the season with 9 consecutive quality starts and a 1.91 ERA. For 6 innings he silenced Philadelphia on 3 hits allowing 1 run.
The only real shot Philly had at Leake came in the fifth inning – an inning that began with St Louis holding a 1-0 lead. Walks to Howie Kendrick and Aaron Altherr led to the only two at bats with runners in scoring position the Phillies would get against Leake. Tommy Joseph took much of the steam out of the inning by bouncing into a double play. But – in what has been a recurring theme for the Leake and the starting rotation – Mike couldn’t get out of the inning unscathed. In spite of the fact that Leake jammed the hitter, Maikel Franco managed to dribble the ball up the middle – just out of the reach of shortstop Aledmys Diaz – for the RBI single that forged the tie that would stand for the next six innings.
For the month of June, Mike has faced 22 batters with runners in scoring position. They have achieved 4 singles, 2 doubles, one home run, 10 runs batted in, 2 walks (one intentional) and 2 batters hit by pitches. That all adds up to a batting line of .389/.500/.667. A little distressing.
Some of the other starters have had rough Junes when faced with runners in scoring position. Michael Wacha is at .417/.533/.667 for the month. Adam Wainwright has been hit at a .308/.400/.731 clip in RISP at bats in June. Lance Lynn has been better, but still troubling at .250/.300/.625 (although that’s only facing ten batters so far this month with runners in scoring position).
Carlos Martinez, of course, has been the rock of the rotation. In his three starts so far in June, Carlos has only faced 12 batters in RISP situations. They are 1 for 9 with 2 walks and a sacrifice fly.
Brett Cecil continues to give out strong hints that he is starting to lock things in. In 6 innings over his last 5 games, Brett has faced 19 batters and allowed 2 singles (a .105/.105/.105 batting line). Over that span, he’s thrown 71% of his pitches for strikes, while 11 of the 14 batters that have made contact against him have hit the ball on the ground. Brett threw a crisp 1-2-3 seventh last night.
This, honestly, is the kind of game that Kevin Siegrist has toppled in many times this season. This time, however, there would be no blinking. With his 1-2-3 tenth inning, Kevin’s ERA for the month lowers to 2.70, while his batting average against and on base percentage both fall to .240. Siegrist is another of the important bullpen arms that just may be rounding into form.
The Continuing Good Trend
The one positive trend that continued – although it took them awhile – was the offensive production. With 8 runs scored, 4 doubles and 3 home runs in last night’s game, the Cards are on a 10-game tear where they have scored 65 runs, while hitting 20 doubles and 21 home runs. They are slugging .528 as a team over those games. Even though they are only hitting a modest .256 for the month of June, they have now hit 29 home runs in the 19 games played this month, and are scoring 4.74 runs per game.
And while last night’s production with runners on base was comparatively poor (they are hitting .351 in those situations over the course of their little hitting streak) they are continuing to get extra base hits in those situations (Piscotty the double, Yadier Molina a home run). Through the last ten games, St Louis is slugging .662 when batting with runners in scoring position.
Getting his first extended taste of playing time, Tommy Pham is already about to pass his career highs in numerous categories, including hits (41 – he already has 38), doubles (7 – he has 6 already), home runs (9 – he hit his seventh last night), total bases (73 – he already has 65), runs scored (28 – he already has 25), walks (20 – he already has 18), and runs batted in – he set a new career high last night with 20. He had never driven in more than 18 previously. He also has more stolen bases already this year (6) than he had in his entire previous career (4). If he can sustain his batting line of .281/.373/.481 with an OPS of .855 throughout the season, those would also all be career highs.
Filling Kolten Wong’s shoes is a tall task these days, but in his second look at the major leagues, Paul DeJong is making an even better impression than he did his first time around. After a 2 for 5 night that included a double, DeJong is now hitting .350 (7 for 20) in the 5 games since his recall, and slugging .700. In addition to yesterday’s double, Paul also has two home runs.
After losing the first game of 8 consecutive series, the Cards have now won four consecutive opening games. So far, it hasn’t helped turn the tables. St Louis has gone on to lose two of the previous series.