Two nights ago, a frustrated Cardinal team unloaded on the second-place Milwaukee Brewers by a 10-2 score. Was it a statement that this very talented team was through pussyfooting around with the rest of this division? No. That team was nowhere to be seen yesterday afternoon as they managed only five hits and fell to the Brewers.
Three nights before that, this Cardinal team put together an improbable late inning rally, scoring 2 in the eighth and two in the ninth (on a walk-off homer by Tommy Pham) to stun Tampa Bay 6-4. Was that the spark that would light the fuse? No. There was no late inning magic the next day as Tampa Bay took the deciding game of the series, 2-1 in ten innings.
On Saturday, August 12, the Cardinals hung a 6-5 defeat on Atlanta. It was their eighth straight win. After languishing at one point in mid-July as far as 6.5 games back, the aroused Cardinals had fought their way back to a tie for the division lead. That time they even fooled me – and I’ve seen this movie before.
Since the last game of that winning streak, the once-hot Cardinals have lost 10 of their last 15 after last night’s 6-5 loss in Milwaukee (box score). During that same time span, the Cubs have won 12 of 17 to push the Cardinals back to 6 games under. In fact, since the last game of that winning streak, the Cards have lost ground to everyone in their division except the Pirates, who have been 5-12 since then. Even the lowly Reds have gone 7-9 and picked up 1.5 games on the fading Cardinals.
But wait there’s more.
Eleven of these last 15 games have been played against teams with losing records. The Cards lost 7 of those games.
And, of course, with losing 3 of the 4 played against the winning teams they’ve faced, St Louis is now 2-5 this month, 8-9 since the All-Star Break, and 31-40 this season when pitted against teams that currently carry at least a .500 record.
Yesterday saw an all-too familiar pattern repeat. The Cardinal starter, Carlos Martinez, was battered for 10 hits in 5.2 innings. Over the last 15 games, Cardinal starters have been spanked to the tune of a .312 batting average against. With one game left in the month, the batting average against the Cardinal starters this month stands at an even .300.
Game by game, series by series, month by month, this team is sending a very clear message about who they are and who they are not. They are and have been the team that blinks.
The loss interrupts what had been a pretty good steak for Martinez. He hasn’t been the dominant pitcher that they believe he will yet be, but he was coming off four very good outings. Over his previous 24 innings, Carlos had walked just 4 batters, and carried a 3-0 record with a 2.89 ERA.
In the season’s second half, Carlos has faced four teams with winning records. He matched up against Arrieta and the Cubs on July 21 in Chicago. It rained hits against him (10) but he battled through 6 innings that night. Still he would have lost that night, 3-2, had the team not exploded for 9 late runs against the Cub bullpen.
On July 26 he was home to face Jeff Hoffman and the Colorado Rockies. He lasted 6 that night, too, but gave up 5 runs. Again, his offense rescued him in a 10-5 victory.
His next start was August 1 in Milwaukee against Jimmy Nelson. Carlos served up 3 first inning runs, and that was the game. Martinez made it through only 5 innings, throwing 102 pitches in the 3-2 loss.
And then, yesterday, back in Milwaukee he lost again 6-5, lasting just 5.2 innings and allowing 6 runs (3 earned).
It all adds up to a deceptively bad 1-2 record and a 5.16 ERA – but these games ended up as two Cardinal wins and two very competitive one-run losses. He did leave a lot of pitches up, and he was hit harder than you would think – the four teams combined for a .323 batting average against Carlos, including 4 home runs. But Martinez kept us in all of those games against some very talented offenses.
For the whole season, Martinez has been arguably our best starter against winning teams. In 15 such starts against them, Martinez has 9 quality starts, a 6-6 record with a 3.69 ERA, and a .247 batting average against. He has also struck out 110 in just 92.2 innings against them. In his first two years in the rotation, Carlos pitched 28 games (26 starts) against teams that would finish the season with at least a .500 record. He compiled 17 quality starts, a 12-9 record, a 3.35 ERA, and a .231 batting average against.
Yesterday’s loss was the tenth of the season for Martinez – the first time he has ever had double-digit losses in any season. He was 16-9 last season, and is 44-31 for his career.
With the three earned runs allowed, Carlos also set a new career high in that category. After allowing 66 earned runs all of last year in 195.1 innings, he has now surrendered 68 already this year in 174 innings with all of September to go.
Other Starters Facing Winning Teams
Lance Lynn’s second half roll has included 3 games against teams with winning records. He is 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in those games – all quality starts. For the season, he holds the team’s second-best ERA against winning teams (3.87) in 83.2 innings. His record in those games is 4-5.
Adam Wainwright’s record is 6-4 in 13 games against winning opponents, but only 5 of those games have been quality starts, and his ERA sits at 5.17 for 69.2 innings. Over his first 10 seasons, Adam pitched 151 times – with 119 starts – against winning teams. Eighty-one of those starts were quality starts. Waino held a 56-42 record in those games, with 7 more potential wins lost by the bullpen. His ERA was 3.16 over 828 innings. Over the last two years, Adam has only 9 quality starts out of 23 against quality opponents. He is 8-9 with a 5.29 ERA and a .302 batting average against in those 127.2 innings.
Michael Wacha has struggled the most when faced with stiffer competition. In 11 starts against teams currently at .500 or better, Wacha has managed just 2 quality starts, a 3-4 record and a 5.56 ERA while serving up 10 home runs in 55 innings. Wacha’s trend is similar to Wanwright’s. Through his first three years in the league, he was 15-9 with a 3.08 ERA against winning teams. Through the last two, just 5-8, 5.51.
Bullpen Quietly Coming Around
The bullpen gave the team a shot at the comeback yesterday as they retired all 7 Brewers they faced. For the season, their ERA is still a spotty 3.85 against winning teams, but that number has only been 2.94 in 49 innings since the All-Star Break.
Offense Still Scoring Enough to Win
They don’t score 10 runs every night anymore, but most of the time the offense puts up enough runs to win. They scored 5 yesterday, and are averaging 5.27 runs per game through the 5-10 slump. For the month, they average 5.81 runs per game, and 5.09 since the break.
Much of that, though, has come at the expense of poorer teams. With only 5 total hits yesterday, the Cards are at just .245 this month, and .248 for the year against teams that are at least at .500.
Pham was a sort of one-man offense again. He accounted for 4 of the runs with 2 two-run home runs. Tommy has now hit in five straight games. In the 21 plate appearances accounted for in those games, Tommy has 3 singles, a double, 3 home runs, 6 runs scored, 6 runs batted in, and 4 walks – adding up to a .412/.524/1.000 batting line. He is hitting .288/.413/.635 with 5 home runs and 10 runs batted in over the last 15 games; .292/.419/.500 for the month; and .316/.423/.525 since the All-Star Break.
People keep talking about getting a “middle of the order” bat for the lineup. Projected out to the 625 plate appearances a regular player would normally get in a year (remembering that Tommy spent the first 27 games of the season in Memphis) and Pham’s season would read 28 home runs, 110 runs scored, 84 runs batted in (from the second spot in the order) to go with a .307/.402/.517 batting line. That sounds pretty “middle of the order” to me.
Tommy is also a player who hasn’t been intimidated by the good teams. In the season’s second half, he’s hitting .344 (21 for 61) against winning teams. For the season, that average is .294 (55 for 187) with 7 home runs.
Matt Carpenter did walk twice and score a run, but was also 0 for 2. His has been one of the missing bats in the recent 15-game tumble. Matt is hitting .163 (8 for 49) with 15 strikeouts – a slump moderated somewhat by his 8 walks and a hit-by-pitch. For the month of August, Matt’s on base percentage still sits at .376 while his average fades to .200.
Among the day’s disappointments was the snapping of Paul DeJong’s six game hitting streak. He had hit .346 (9 for 26) before yesterday’s 0-for-4.
Kolten Wong came into Milwaukee riding a ten-game hitting streak. He was 0-for-9 over the two games. In the season’s first half, Kolten hit .300 (27 for 90) with a .385 on base percentage in games against winning teams. Since the break, though, Wong has been scuffling at .220 (13 for 59) when playing against higher caliber opponents.
Luke Voit finished the day 0 for 4 with 3 strikeouts. Overall, the second half of the season hasn’t been as kind to the rookie as the first half. He is now hitting .203 (12 for 59) since the break. Of course, yesterday was only his ninth start of the second half.
St Louis’ final 30 games will only include 10 against teams with winning records. They have 7 more with the Cubs and the final 3 at home against Milwaukee. On paper that sounds promising, but the Cardinals have done quite a lot of losing to teams below .500. Most of the recent 5-10 slide has been against losing teams.
Left on the schedule other than the Cubs (against whom the Cards are 4-8 this season) and the Brewers (7-9) are San Francisco (1-2), San Diego (1-2), Pittsburgh (7-6) and Cincinnati (5-8).
If the organization’s recent moves are an indication, they will be coming down the stretch with a significantly younger team.
The Milwaukee series was the Cardinal’s twenty-first road series of the year, and yesterday’s game provided them their fifth opportunity to sweep a road series. The Brewers became only the second of those teams to avoid the sweep. Philadelphia was the other team, when they salvaged the last game of their season series against St Louis on June 22. Martinez was the losing pitcher that afternoon as well.
It doesn’t make any difference – and is really only an observation – but the powerful Milwaukee team hit three home runs during the two days we spent there. I’m pretty sure none of the three get out of Busch.