One of the beautiful things about the 162-game marathon that is the major league baseball season, is that by the time it has run its course it will answer all questions. Heading into the big series in Wrigley, I asked some questions about the mental edge the Cubs have had over the Cards for the last couple of years. In three sunny afternoons in Chicago’s Northside, those questions were resoundingly answered.
While the Cardinals will continue to fight for a playoff spot – as they should – the three-game sweep by the Cubs that culminated with yesterday’s 4-3 loss (box score) has left their playoff hopes mostly untenable. Left for the Cardinals is to sift through the pieces and begin to plan for next season.
One of the glaring realities of the Cardinal season is that they are decidedly lacking when faced with teams that win more than they lose. They are now 25-39 for the season, and 8-12 since the All-Star Break, against winning teams.
Since the point where a 10-2 run positioned them just 2 games behind (with 18 to play at that time) they have lost 4 of 5 games. The Cards have scored just 11 runs in their last 5 games.
One of the constants in the Cardinals’ matchups with winning teams has been scarcity of runs. They scored all of 6 in the 3 games in Wrigley. They have averaged 3.95 runs per game in the 20 second half games they’ve played against winning teams, and are averaging 3.92 against them for the season. They average 5.31 runs per game against sub-.500 teams.
Tommy Pham certainly had opportunities to do more damage, but you couldn’t have realistically asked much more from him. With 3 hits yesterday, Tommy kept giving the Cards opportunities to fight their way back into the game. During the 5 games during which the Cardinal season has mostly faded away, Pham has been one of the few beacons. Over his last 22 plate appearances, Tommy has 3 singles, a double, 2 home runs, 3 walks, and a hit-by-pitch – a .333/.455/.722 batting line. In 57 games in the season’s second half, Pham is hitting .315/.431/.533 with 10 home runs, 10 stolen bases, and 44 runs scored.
Tommy has also been one of the few driving forces against winning teams, as well. After finishing the Cub series 4 for 12, Tommy is up to .295 on the season (46 for 156) against winning teams, with 7 home runs. Since the All-Star Break, he is 25 for 73 (.342) with a .548 slugging percentage.
Tommy’s breakthrough season withstands all levels of scrutiny.
It’s good to have Dexter Fowler back. Only activated before the Saturday game, Dexter was 4 for 8 in his two games, tying yesterday’s game once with a three-run homer and almost hitting another game-tying home run in the ninth. Dex has only played in 7 games this month, but he’s hitting .304 (7 for 23) and slugging .609 (2 triples to go with yesterday’s home run).
In 27 games since his most recent return from the disabled list, Fowler is hitting .322/.438/.567. He has only been healthy enough to play in 38 of St Louis’ 61 second half game, but he is hitting .285 (37 for 130) with a .403 on base percentage.
With the home run, Fowler set a new career high in runs batted in. He now has 55 for the year, even though he has only been healthy enough to play in 108 of the 149 games so far. His previous high was the 53 he drove in with Colorado in 143 games in 2012.
Kolten Wong did draw a walk and was hit by a pitch. But hits have been few and far between for Kolten. Having the best season of his career, Wong’s last 16 games have seen him go 9 for 50 (.180). Recurring back issues may very well be part of the cause.
In the season’s second half, Wong has played in 19 of the 20 games St Louis has played against winning teams. He is hitting .206 in those games (13 for 63).
With 11 more hits – including 5 against starter Lance Lynn in just 4 innings – The Cubs wrapped up the series hitting .296 against what had been a sturdy Cardinal staff coming into the series. Especially vulnerable were Cardinal starters, who managed to survive only 15 innings through the 3 games, being stung for 13 runs (a 7.80 ERA). They also walked 12 Cubs during the 15 innings – leading to a .411 on base percentage.
Needless to say, the Cardinals were hoping for better.
Starters Against Winning Teams
Even though his afternoon was disappointing, Lynn continues to be the best of the Cardinal starters facing winning teams. He is 4-3 with a 3.18 ERA for the season, including 1-0 with a 2.86 ERA against these teams in the second half.
Michael Wacha is only 2-5 with a 5.73 ERA in 11 starts against winning teams for the year. However, in 4 such second half games, Wacha has been much better (1-2, 3.74).
Luke Weaver’s closing starts against the Cubs and Brewers will be instructive. To this point he has started against only 3 winning teams. He is 2-1 in those games, but with a 4.24 ERA.
Carlos Martinez is 4-7 in 14 starts against winning teams with 4.29 ERA. He is 1-3 with a 6.43 ERA since the All-Star Break
Before going down with an injury, long-time ace Adam Wainwright had made 10 starts against winning teams, throwing 5 quality starts against them. He is 5-3 with a 3.28 ERA in those games.
John Brebbia is still getting pretty highly-leveraged opportunities, and is doing mostly well with them. He was given the sixth inning yesterday in a tied game – giving a hit, but no runs. John’s season long ERA still sits at 2.35, including 2.67 in 27 second-half innings. He has 13 strikeouts in 7 innings this month.
Intriguing with Brebbia is that he is one of the few Cardinals who has been much better against winning teams. He pitched 2 scoreless innings in the Cub series – stranding all 3 runners he inherited. Since the All-Star Break, he has allowed just 2 runs over 8.2 innings, and holds a 1.20 ERA in 16 innings against winning teams for the season. He has done this with a .196/.237/.339 batting line against.
After being so good for so much of the season, Tyler Lyons is starting to return to earth a bit. He allowed runs in both games against the Cubs, and has allowed runs in 3 of his last 7 games (5.2 innings). He was lucky not to give up a run against Cincinnati in the game before that. The last 25 batters he has faced are hitting .409 with a .636 slugging percentage.
Matthew Bowman allowed only 9 of the first 40 runners he inherited this season to score. Four of the five that he inherited in the Cub series came home to roost.
Bowman may be one of those bullpen links that is being exposed against the better competition. Matthew carries a 4.97 ERA in 25.1 innings against winning teams.
The Cardinals took the field Sunday needing a win to avoid a sweep. This was the sixth different road series this year where the Cards needed a last game win to avoid a sweep. They have now managed to dodge the sweep only once. That lone exception occurred in the Cardinals’ very first road series of the year (April 10-12). After losing their first two games in Washington, they won the series finale 6-1 behind the arm of Mike Leake and the bat of Stephen Piscotty (how long ago April must seem to those two).
The Cubs were also the nineteenth team St Louis has faced this year that won its previous series (Cincinnati will be the twentieth). With the loss, St Louis is 5-10-4 in those series, going 27-32 against teams coming off series victories.