After five excellent innings last night, Jack Flaherty carried a 1-1 tie into the sixth inning against Milwaukee. With the season hanging in the balance, Jack’s command suddenly abandoned him. After he retired Lorenzo Cain on a ground ball, he walked Christian Yelich, hit Jesus Aguilar with a pitch, and then walked Travis Shaw – loading the bases. Big boy hitters Ryan Braun and Mike Moustakas were due up. Flaherty had struggled a bit in this inning, but had still pitched a strong game. He had thrown 93 pitches to this point, and could legitimately been given the chance to work his way out of the mess.
But manager Mike Shildt, who believes fervently in his bullpen – despite the recent results – hustled to get his relievers into the fray.
Eighty pitches and 3.2 innings later, the pen had not only allowed 2 of the 3 runners that Flaherty left, they surrendered 3 more on top of that on 5 hits and 4 more walks. It made things easy enough for Milwaukee as they took the important opener of this three game set, 6-4 (box score).
In relief of Flaherty came fellow rookie Dakota Hudson. Dakota has shown great promise, but control has not been his greatest strength. Hudson walked the first batter he faced – forcing in a run. Hudson has now walked 16 batters in 25.1 innings (5.68 per 9 innings).
After him came yet another rookie – Jordan Hicks. The Brewers added another run off him in the seventh, set up by two more walks. Jordan has walked 42 in 76 innings (already). He is averaging 4.74 walks per 9 innings.
Winning is difficult enough when the pitching staff walks six batters. When 5 of the 6 walks (as well as a hit batter) all happen in the span of two innings, it adds another layer of difficulty to the task. In Flaherty, Hudson and Hicks, the Cards have three dynamic arms that will form part of a great foundation for years to come.
Last night, they were not equal to the moment. The opportunity to eclipse Milwaukee has all but vanished, and St Louis’ grip on the last playoff spot is very tenuous.
The sixth walk was intentional from veteran Bud Norris. That would be the walk that was at the center of the throwing error that sent home Milwaukee’s winning run.
The Cards have been a very scrappy team over the season’s second half. Coming down the stretch, certain aspects of the team are proving to be less than reliable. Especially unreliable has been the bullpen. During the month of September, Cardinal relievers are walking 4.76 batters unintentionally every nine innings, while scuffling to a 4.55 ERA. The batting average against them this month has been a distressing .281.
Truthfully, the starting pitching this month hasn’t been notably better than the ‘pen. After Flaherty’s game, St Louis has gotten just 6 quality starts in the 22 games played so far this month, with the rotation struggling to a 4.45 ERA.
Still, I sometimes find myself wishing that Mike wasn’t quite so eager to get his relievers into the game.
Young Flaherty entered the month on a major roll, having tossed 5 consecutive quality starts. Jack’s regression this month is symptomatic of the entire staff. In his 5 September starts, Flaherty has 1 quality start and a 4.50 ERA. In his 26 September innings, Jack has walked 15 batters and hit 2 others – leading to a .325 on base percentage.
Among the many impressive aspects of Flaherty’s game is his ability to get hitters out when behind in the count. Of the 22 batters he faced last night, he finished behind in the count to 8 of them. A couple walked, but the other six managed just 1 hit (Cain’s single on a 3-2 pitch in the third), with 1 strikeout (Moustakas on a 3-2 pitch in the fifth) and one ground-ball double play (Yelich in the first on a 2-1 pitch).
In the season’s second half, Flaherty has allowed batters just a .194 batting average (12 for 62) when he has been behind in the count.
Hudson walked in a run when he gave a 4-pitch walk to Braun. Until September, Hudson had never issued a 4-pitch walk. He has done so 3 times in 9.2 innings so far this month.
Hudson has also allowed 7 of the 10 runners he’s inherited this month to score.
Jordan Hicks hasn’t had the best September. He has now given up runs in two straight games – blowing saves in both games. In 8.2 innings this month he has given 5 runs on 7 hits and 6 walks.
Back on the mound after seven days, Bud Norris was more unlucky than bad. The triple he allowed could have been better played, and his errant throw was trying to pick off a batter that he had intentionally walked. Even so the downward trend continues for Norris.
The loss was his fifth in a row. Even more concerning, in his 7 appearances since his last save, Bud has lasted just 4 innings while being lit up for 7 runs (6 earned) on 6 hits and 8 walks (albeit 2 were intentional). He has thrown only 54% of his pitches for strikes this month, while the last 27 batters to face him hold a batting line of .333/.538/.944. It has not been a pretty month for Mr Norris.
Seeing that, you might think no pitcher on the staff has had a worse 7-game stretch than Bud Norris. You would only think that, though, because you haven’t considered Mike Mayers’ last 7 games – a stretch during which he has only managed 4.1 innings while serving up 6 runs on 13 hits (including 4 doubles and a home run). The last 28 batters to face Mayers hold a .520/.556/.800 batting line.
Many, many month ago as the team was wrapping up spring training, Mike had generated considerable buzz during an excellent camp. Spring training was a long time ago.
His misplay in right was a pivotal moment in the game, but Jose Martinez continues to swing a hot bat. He had 2 hits last night (including a home run) for the fourth time in the last 6 games. During that stretch, Jose is hitting .391 (9 for 23) with a .652 slugging percentage (he has 3 doubles to go with the home run).
Martinez leads the club in second half batting average at .318 (63 for 198).
Jose’s home run off of Josh Hader came on a 2-0 pitch. Deep behind in the count is a place you do not want to be against Jose Martinez. This season, when Jose is ahead in the count 2-0, 3-0, or 3-1 he is a .410 hitter (16 for 39). In the second half, he has been hitting .563 (9 for 16) on those pitches.
Although St Louis only had 8 hits on the night, they were mostly well distributed. Only Jedd Gyorko and Yadier Molina (among the starters) were held off the hit sheet. The team is now hitting just .243 for the month. Yadi is now hitting .211 (8 for 38) since his return from his elbow injury.