For eight and a half grueling innings last night, the Cardinals hung with the Pirates. Continually on the verge of having the game blown open, they managed escape after escape. When Josh Bell hit the inevitable home run that provided Pittsburgh with its 5-2 walk-off victory (box score), he became the eighteenth Pirate to reach base that night (12 hits and 6 walks). By contrast – although they hit a lot of line drives – the Cardinals finished their evening having put just 6 runners on base (6 hits and no walks).
The Cards went down in order five times in their nine innings. The Pirates went down in order only twice. Eventually, the sheer weight of the Pirates relentless pressure (and the Cardinals’ inability to sustain anything like offense) was enough to do the Cardinals in. St Louis jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, but never scored again. It was yet another first game of a series lost, and yet another loss in which St Louis held a lead at some point. These were items from yesterday’s installment.
And, of course, another late miss-step from the bullpen.
With outfielders dropping around him like flies, Tommy Pham continues prove himself as an everyday contributor. Tommy finished the night with two hits, and hit another ball hard. He is now hitting .371 (13 for 35) and slugging .657 (2 doubles, 1 triple, 2 home runs) for the month of July. In the ten games played so far, Tommy has scored 8 runs and driven in 9. Pham has also hit in 12 of his last 15 games (although he has started only 13 of them), hitting .392 (20 for 51). He has scored 15 runs over those 15 games, and driven in 12.
A statistical oddity: Pham came to the plate in the eighth inning with runners at first and second and one out. He lined out to right. For the season, Pham is a .295/.397/.420 hitter when up with the bases empty. Four of his eleven home runs have been solo shots. With one runner on base, Pham is a terror. He is 27 for 65 (.415) with 5 doubles, a triple, and his other 7 home runs (.846 slugging percentage). He has been up 3 times with the bases loaded, getting a single and a double and driving in 5.
But he is now 1 for 28 on the season when batting with two runners on base.
Before leaving the game with an injury in the ninth inning, Stephen Piscotty suffered through another 0 for 4 with two more strikeouts. It’s been that kind of season for Piscotty. He is now 0 for his last 8, and hitting .120 (3 for 25) over his last 7 games. He hasn’t scored a run in any of those 7 games, and hasn’t had an extra base hit in his last 8 games. For the month of July, Piscotty has had 37 plate appearances, with the following results: 5 singles, 1 double, 2 runs scored, 3 runs batted in, 1 walk, 11 strikeouts, once hit by a pitch, and 1 double play grounded into. It works out to a batting line of .171/.216/.200. Hitless in three at bats last night, Stephen is now 1 for 15 this month (.067) when batting with the bases empty.
What could happen now? Well, Stephen’s injury has sent him back to the DL. After a period of recovery, he could spend some time with Diaz (and maybe Grichuk) in Memphis, re-working his swing. Being optioned to the AAA club after his injury clears might be a good thing for him.
In the meantime, Magneuris Sierra has made his way back to the big club, and should see some regular playing time. That might be a good thing, too.
Kolten Wong returned to the lineup with an 0-for-3 night that snapped his 6-game hitting streak. During the streak, Wong hit .450 (9 for 20), and slugged .650 (4 doubles). He scored 5 runs in the 6 games.
Mike Leake has now made two starts in July – last night and July 5 against Miami. In those two starts, Mike has fought his way through 8.2 innings, allowing 23 baserunners (17 hits and 6 walks). “Only” 10 of them have scored – and “just” 5 of those runs were earned. It has cost Mike 156 pitches to clear those 8.2 innings.
Last night was the better of the two games, as Leake gutted his way through five innings, allowing just 2 runs although he dealt with 12 baserunners. Of the 25 batters he faced, only 8 came to the plate with the bases empty (and 5 of those reached).
His evening was a study in frustration. The third inning run he allowed resulted when he attempted to snare Gerrit Cole’s grounder and deflected it into an infield hit. His fifth was even more frustrating. After getting a double play to mostly ease him out of the inning, Leake walked the next three hitters and gave up the game tying single.
Over those last two games, 29 of the 47 batters he has faced have come to the plate with at least one runner on base. He has pitched to only 18 batters with the bases empty, and 9 of those have reached.
While some pieces of the bullpen are still lagging, others are starting to achieve sustained effectiveness. Matthew Bowman pitched the sixth and gave a couple of hits, but got a double play and ended the inning with no damage taken. Matthew is unscored on over his last 7 games (5 innings), and over his last 19 games (16.1 innings), Matthew holds a 1.65 ERA and a .246 batting average against. He has also stranded all 11 inherited runners.
Matthew has always pitched very well with runners on base – this season he has held batters to a .221/.267/.324 batting line when they hit against him with runners on base.
Brett Cecil turned in his fifteenth consecutive scoreless appearance (15.2 innings) with his scoreless seventh inning. He gave up a two-out double, but no damage. In his 15.2 scoreless innings, Brett has given just 7 hits and 1 walk. The batting line against him in those innings has been .137/.154/.176.
Add Trevor Rosenthal to the list of relief pitchers who seem to be turning things around. He had the Pirates three-up-and-three down with two strikeouts in the eighth. He has now strung together 4 consecutive perfect outings of one inning each, striking out 7 of the 12 he’s faced. Sixty-eight percent of his pitches (36 of 53) have been strikes – usually the defining issue for Trevor, and batters have missed on 41% of their swings (9 of 22).
This year Trevor has been absolutely golden until a runner gets on. Hitting against him with the bases empty, batters are .167/.244/.218. Once a runner reaches, though, batters improve to .277/.373/.383 against him. Half of the 16 walks he’s allowed this year have come with at least one runner already on base.
Still, most of the bullpen has been coming around. Through the first 10 games (and 30 innings) of July, everyone other than the closer has combined for an 0.90 ERA, no home runs allowed, and a .236/.306/.291 batting line against. Now if they could only fix that ninth inning.
So, it’s a pretty bad thing when your closer comes into a tie game in the ninth inning, and you get that sinking feeling in your stomach. Such is the season for Seung-hwan Oh. A double, a fly ball, an intentional walk, a three-run walk-off home run. I tried to be surprised, but . . .
Heroic last year, Seung-hwan has now allowed runs in 7 of his last 14 games. Over his last 13 innings, he has given 11 runs on 20 hits – 5 of them home runs. He carries a 7.62 ERA over those games, while opponents are hitting .351 and slugging .632 against him.
With the home run, Oh has now allowed 22 runs (19 earned) this year in 41 innings. He surrendered 20 runs (17 earned) all of last year in 79.2 innings.
The home run was the eighth against him in 2017 (only 5 were hit off of him all last year). He is now on pace to serve up 15 home runs for the season. In 2001, Dave Veres saved 15 games. He served up 12 home runs in 66.2 innings. That is the most home runs allowed by any Cardinal reliever in this century who saved at least 10 games that season. At 20 or more saves, the record goes to Jason Motte, who saved 45 games in 2012 while serving up 10 home runs in 80.1 innings. Oh is already in that neighborhood.
Sixty-one batters have now reached base against Oh in just 41 innings. The only batter he faced last night with the bases empty doubled to left. In the 6 games he’s pitched in July, batters up with the bases empty are 6 for 11 (.545) with a double and a home run (.909 slugging percentage). For the season, Seung-hwan (who, by the way, turned 35 today) has a .333/.349/.536 batting line against with the bases empty.