Vince Velasquez – the hard-throwing Philadelphia starting pitcher – had fallen behind the leadoff batter in the fifth by a 3-1 count. He and the Phillies were already down 2-0, and a leadoff walk here would not help.
The 3-1 fastball (officially 91.8 mph) hugged the outside corner of the strike zone, but it was up a bit. The batter – Matt Carpenter – flicked his bat and lofted a fly ball just deep enough into center to clear the wall (and the glove of Phillie center-fielder Obudel Herrera). Before the inning would end, St Louis would add three more runs – enough to put the wraps on a 6-0 win (box score).
All season long, the Cardinals have led off innings as well as almost anyone in baseball. Their .357 on base percentage leading off innings is tied with Atlanta for the best in the National League and fourth-best in baseball (according to baseball reference). Consistently putting the leadoff man on base was a big part of the amazing offensive consistency that this team enjoyed in April – when they scored 5.45 runs per game.
The early games of May have been less impressive, with the offense struggling to manage 3.67 runs per game. As far as putting the first batter of an inning on base, St Louis is still doing that at a high level. Three of the 8 leadoff batters reached base last night – and the leadoff on-base percentage for the month is still .340. But what has been lost lately is the ability to build on that momentum. In April, 55% of the Cardinal leadoff hitters who reached base ended up scoring. Thus far in May, leadoff batters who reach are only scoring 28% of the time. Carpenter was the only one who scored last night.
Jose Martinez opened the Cardinal second with a walk, and moved into scoring position when he advanced on a long fly ball off the bat of Yadier Molina. Kolten Wong followed with a hard hit out, and after an intentional walk to Harrison Bader, pitcher Miles Mikolas struck out looking.
Carpenter again led off the next inning and walked. Nothing came of that, either, as the walk was followed by a strikeout and a double-play grounder.
Through St Louis’ first 53 offensive innings of the month, their leadoff hitters have reached 18 times. Only 5 of those have scored – 2 of them on leadoff home runs. They are applying the pressure, but failing – so far this month – to take full advantage.
Last night, two two-run home runs (by Molina and Paul DeJong) kept the offense on schedule, but until they can start to push their leadoff runners around the bases, the Cardinal offense will continue to be a hit-and-miss affair.
In addition to calling a terrific game behind the plate, Yadier Molina was also the offensive engine last night. He finished with three hits, including the home run that put the Cards ahead. Yadi has now hit in all of his last 5 starts, going 7 for 19 (.368). He has also hit safely in 23 of his last 25 starts, hitting .337 over that span (33 for 98).
Marcell Ozuna hit a couple balls hard last night, but results have been hard to come by lately. Over his last 4 games, Marcell is hitting .125 (2 for 16).
Among his contributions to the April offense, Ozuna was one of the most effective Cardinals leading off an inning. In the 26 April innings he led off, he hit .375 (9 for 24) with a .423 on base percentage. He ended up scoring in 8 of the 11 innings that he began by reaching base.
Last night, he led off two innings, going 0-for-2. He is 1-for-7 as a leadoff hitter so far this month.
The struggles continue for Kolten Wong. Hitless in 2 at bats last night (although he also drew a walk and lofted a sacrifice fly), Wong is now hitless in his last 10 at bats, falling to .243 for the season.
Kolten has 2 hits (both singles) this month in 19 at bats (.105).
The opening day starter, Miles Mikolas lasted only 5 innings in each of his first two starts, serving up 8 runs (and 4 home runs) in those efforts.
In his last 6 starts, Mikolas seems to be getting better each time out. He went 7 scoreless against Philadelphia last night, allowing 3 hits. In his two May starts, Miles has given just 1 run over 13 innings. He has both the Cardinal wins this month, with an 0.69 ERA.
Since those first two starts Mikolas is 4-1, with a 3.16 ERA, walking just 6 batters over his last 37 innings. He has thrown 67% of his last 532 pitches for strikes, holding opponents to just a .232 average.
With one out in the ninth, manager Mike Shildt summoned closer Jordan Hicks into the game with a 6-run lead. Hicks hadn’t appeared in a game in any of the last 6 days. The reason for this inactivity was two-fold. First, the Cards haven’t been presented with a save opportunity in quite a while. Secondly, the Cards are monitoring the talented right-hander’s innings. Hick responded by striking out both batters he faced – both on devastating sliders over 90 mph.
Jordan has now retired all of the last ten batters he’s faced – striking out 6 of them. Since an early-season blown save, Jordan has an 0.75 ERA over his last 12 innings, holding batters to an .086 batting average in those innings.