The Cardinals’ post season chances were not completely extinguished during their disappointing 2-1 loss to Milwaukee last night (box score). But if, in fact, St Louis does miss the post season for a third straight year – and that is more likely than not – this game (and, in fact, this series) will linger in the memory.
In particular, history will remember the stumble. Headed around third with the potential tying run with two outs in the eighth inning, pinch runner Adolis Garcia fell and was easily out at home. The throw was off line enough that it is fairly certain that Garcia would have scored.
Most of the post-game conversation centered on the stumble, but the bigger story was right on the scoreboard, under the “Hits” column, where the Cardinals totaled two for the night.
St Louis finished the Brewer series with just 9 runs on 18 hits, hitting just .189 for the series. This continues a month-long trend that has seen the Cards fade in the batting average category. They have now hit .237 in 24 games this month. After working so hard all season to climb back up to the .250 mark in team batting average, after last night’s game the team has slipped back down to .249 on the season.
But the result is even more microcosmic – if you will – as it ended the home season (at least the regular season portion of it). Cardinal hitters weren’t really as dominated as it seemed. I counted 9 line drives hit by Cardinal batters, only one of which turned into a hit (Paul DeJong’s fourth-inning double). There are days you hit 9 line drives and only one of them ends as an out. Factor in the stumble and the fact that Milwaukee’s game-winning hit was a flare over third, and, well, it was one of those games.
Nonetheless, the one run on two hits is the kind of result that is becoming increasingly common at Busch.
Home Not So Sweet Home
Old Cardinal fans – and I now qualify as one of those – will speak reverently about the mid-80’s and the Whitey Ball era. The Whitey Herzog Cardinals had great success as a team perfectly tailored to its ballpark. The spacious dimensions bothered them not at all, as few of them were truly long-ball threats. These were the Cardinals of Vince Coleman, Willie McGee and Ozzie Smith that raced across the steaming mid-summer AstroTurf stealing hits of all varieties, while slashing line drives into the spacious gaps (which were even more spacious at old Busch) and flying around the bases with reckless abandon.
In recent years, as the Cardinals have assembled a collection of talented hitters – almost all of whom are home run threats – Busch Stadium is starting to work against them.
Finishing September 6-9 at home, the Cards hit just .231 at Busch. They hit 11 home runs in those 15 home games. With three road games left (this weekend in Wrigley) St Louis has hit 19 road home runs this month in just 9 games. They have averaged 6.00 runs per game on the road this month and just 4.67 at home.
Since the All-Star Break, the Cards have played 32 road games and 33 home games. They have hit 54 home runs in those 32 road games, hit .268 as a team, and scored 5.59 runs per game. In the 33 games at Busch they have hit 33 home runs, hit .244, and scored 4.73 runs per game.
The full season totals reveal that these trends have lasted for the full 159 games so far. With the home season over, the 81 game totals read 351 runs scored (4.33 per game) 83 home runs hit, and a .245 team batting average. With three games left in the road season, St Louis has already scored 397 runs (5.09 per game and 46 more than they’ve scored at home), hit 122 home runs (39 more than at Busch) and carry a .254 team batting average.
They finished the season with a 43-38 record at home. They already have 44 road wins with three games left. Even though last year’s team had a better record at home than on the road, they still scored more runs away from home (402) than at home (359). The home run differential was smaller, but still indicative – they hit 106 on the road and 90 at home. In 2016 the numbers were 424 runs and 121 home runs on the road to 355 runs and 104 home runs at home. You have to go back to 2014 to find the last time the Cards scored more runs (332-287) and hit more home runs (57-48) at Busch than they did on the road. That was a very different team, featuring only two players with 20 or more homers. Jhonny Peralta hit 21 and Matt Holliday hit 20 that year.
While I know this reads like a call to move the fences in, that is not my intent. What these numbers truly portend is the Cardinal’s increasing reliance on the home run for offense. All I’m really saying is that a team that plays in a spacious home park needs to diversify. Situational hitting. Better base running. Maybe more contact and less strikeouts. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
Otherwise the Busch will continue to be a disadvantage to the Cards.
Matt Carpenter drew two walks and came around to score the only Cardinal run of the evening. He was otherwise 0-for-2 on the night including a strikeout. In 23 September games, Carpenter has drawn 18 walks. But in 82 at bats now has only 14 hits – 10 singles, 3 doubles and 1 home run. His September average fades to .171, with a .244 slugging percentage.
Carpenter is one of those Cardinals who has struggled most notably at his home ballpark. During what has generally been a break-out second half for Carp, he has managed just 4 home runs at Busch, while hitting 13 on the road.
For the season, the National League’s leading home run hitter has hit 13 home runs in his home ballpark – while hitting .240. Away from Busch, Matt Carpenter has had 329 plate appearances, resulting in 27 singles, 26 doubles, 23 home runs, 57 runs, 50 runs batted in, 52 walks (10 intentional), and a .278/.395/.626 batting line.
St Louis is also still waiting for Yadier Molina to lock in again. Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Yadi is hitting just .200 (9 for 45) since returning from his elbow injury 13 games ago. Yadi has now gone 6 games without drawing a walk, and has only 1 walk in his last 12 games.
Add Yadi’s name to the list of hitters who might very well be glad to be done with Busch. Molina finished his home season with 239 plate appearances in his home ballpark. They achieved just 36 singles, 12 doubles, 3 home runs, 23 runs batted in, 12 walks, 35 strikeouts, 1 hit-by-pitch, 2 sacrifice flies, and 7 double plays grounded into – a .228/.268/.321 batting line.
Yadi has been a different hitter on the road. He is 69 for 228 in his road games (.303), his hits including 8 doubles and 17 home runs. He has 51 runs batted in in 59 road games, where he slugs .561.
Kolten Wong was also 0-for-3 in last night’s game. He is now 4 for 17 (.235) over his last 6 games with no extra-base hits.
Harrison Bader’s September average has also fallen to .227 (17 for 75) after his 0-for-3 last night. Bader hasn’t drawn a walk, now, in 5 games, and hasn’t stolen a base in 13 games.
Bader finished his first full season at home hitting .250 (49 for 196) with 2 home runs. Away from home, Harrison is 49 for 172 (.285) with 7 doubles, a triple, and 10 home runs – a .512 slugging percentage.
Ever eager to get his bullpen in the game, Mike Shildt ran out to get John Gant after he had secured the first out in the fifth. Although he walked 3 – a recurring issue – he finished (possibly) his season on a pretty strong note, allowing only 1 run. In the most significant start of his young career, Johnny did well enough.
His previous two starts could have gone better. He was blown out in a damaging loss to Los Angeles in mid-September, and lasted less than three innings his last time out against San Francisco – a game the Cards came back to win.
These struggles in September have weakened his position in the Cardinals’ long-range plans, but his year has – overall – been a success. Since his last return from Memphis, John pitched in 19 games – 16 as a starter – going 6-4 with a 3.12 ERA. He did walk 48 batters in those 89.1 innings.
Walks From the Bullpen
The walks from the bullpen are starting to pile up, now. Cardinal relievers walked 5 more in 4.2 innings last night. Amazingly, only one of those walks scored – but it was the run that beat them.
The Cardinal bullpen has now issued 62 walks in 95 innings this month. Even allowing for the fact that 10 of those were intentional, that is still 4.93 un-intentional walks every 9 innings. In the season’s second half, the bullpen has walked more batters (138) than the rotation (122), even though they have pitched more than 100 fewer innings. They have averaged 4.72 un-intentional walks every nine innings.
Chasen Shreve’s entire evening focused on facing one left-handed batter – Christian Yelich. Shreve threw 5 pitches, 4 of them balls, and then watched from the dugout as Yelich scored the winning run. Shreve has now walked 9 batters in his 13.1 Cardinal innings – 6.08 per game. His on-base percentage against is now risen to .367.
Dakota Hudson pitched through 1.2 innings without allowing a run of his own. He did, however, surrender the Texas Leaguer that plated Shreve’s run. With that, 8 of the last 11 runners that Hudson has inherited have come home to score.
Dakota also walked a batter in the next inning. In his first 27 major league innings, Hudson has a 2.67 ERA and a .191 batting average against. But Dakota has now walked 17 batters in those innings (5.67 per nine innings).
Hudson’s style does seem to adapt well to Busch. In his rookie season, Dakota finished allowing no runs in his 14.1 home innings with a .149 batting average against.
Carlos Martinez also walked two batters in his two innings at the end of the game. Martinez has pitched 17.1 innings in 14 relief appearances. He has now walked 11 in those innings, but is also 4-4 in save opportunities with a 1.56 ERA, a .186 batting average against, and 19 strikeouts.
At 3:16, last night’s game was the fifteenth consecutive Cardinal game to last at least three hours. The streak includes one game that checked in at exactly three hours (a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh on September 12). The longest of the streak was the 3:49 that it took the Cards to lose the first game of this series to Milwaukee on Monday night. The 15 games have averaged 3:20:12.