It all started much too comfortably for the Cards. The first five pitches out of Cincinnati starter Luis Castillo’s hands were all fastballs (averaging 97.3 mph). Matt Carpenter launched the second one over the centerfield wall. Paul DeJong collected an infield single on the fourth. The fifth was ball one to Paul Goldschmidt.
It was a less than dazzling start from a highly regarded young right-hander who would end up dominating the Cardinals and earning his sixth victory that night.
In fact, the Cardinals would never score again, and Cincinnati would break St Louis’ four game winning streak, 4-1 (box score).
With his sixth pitch, he threw his first slider of the night. On his sixth pitch to Goldschmidt, Paul grounded out on a change.
Through the first batter in the third – Goldschmidt, again, who walked – it was Castillo who seemed uncomfortable. His command of the fastball was inconsistent. The slider and change also eluded him from time to time.
The first 12 Cardinal batters had 2 hits (including the home run) and 4 walks. But only the one run. After that, it was all Castillo. He set down the last 12 batters to face him – six on strikeouts.
The difference was the growing confidence in and command of that slider (and especially that wipeout change) that allowed him to throw any of his pitches – and throw them for strikes – at any time. Five of the last six strikeouts came on the change-up (all swinging). After the first two batters hit the second pitch, only two of the last 22 he faced put either the first or second pitch into play. DeJong grounded out on an 0-1 slider in the second, and Marcell Ozuna flew out on a first pitch slider in the sixth.
The Cardinals would get plenty of fastballs from Luis (mostly on the corners, and some of them as hot as 98 mph), but they could never tell when, and could never sit on it, even when they were ahead in the count.
Of the 24 batters that faced Castillo in his six innings, 13 got first pitch fastballs, and 5 others got the fastball on the second pitch. Luis threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of those Cardinal hitters. Nine of those first pitch strikes were fastballs – and 8 of those were taken for called strikes.
In fact, of the 13 first-pitch fastballs thrown by Castillo, only one was swung at. That’s quite a trick against a team that’s looking to hit the fastball early in the count. And evidence that not too many Cards enjoyed a comfortable evening at the plate.
Offensive Difficulties Extended
It was an impressive display from Cincinnati’s best pitcher, but it nonetheless continues St Louis’ on-going offensive struggles. Since they rang up 14 runs on Atlanta on May 14, St Louis is hitting .215 and scoring 3.76 runs per game over its last 17 games.
Matt Wieters is hitting his first little dry spell after inheriting the catching job from the injured Yadier Molina. In his first 3 games as the starter, Matt went 6 for 11. But he was hitless in 4 at bats last night, and is now 1 for his last 12 (with 5 strikeouts).
Red hot when he was promoted to the leadoff spot ten games ago, Dexter Fowler immediately plunged into an offensive tailspin reminiscent of 2018. Hitless last night in 4 at bats, Dexter is 3 for 31 (.097) over his last 10 games. He finished at .171 in May (12 for 70), and is just 7 for 53 (.132) over the last 17 games.
After being knocked around in his first trip out of the bullpen, Michael Wacha entered in the fifth inning of this one and settled things down, looking much more like the Wacha we expected to see this year. He pitched 2.2 innings, giving no runs of his own (although he did allow an inherited run to score) and showing much improved velocity.
Wacha is still getting an awfully high number of his first pitches hit, and hit hard. Two of the 7 he faced last night hit his first pitch, and both got singles. In May, 24 of the 108 batters he faced hit his first pitch – a 22.2% clip that is about double the league average. Those batters hit .500 (12 for 24) with 3 doubles and 4 home runs.
One of the low profile arms in the Cardinal bullpen, Tyler Webb has been throwing quite well of late. He retired all four batters he faced last night, and over his last 8 innings has allowed just 1 run on 3 hits. In 11.1 innings in May, Webb posted a 3.18 ERA and a .135 batting average against.
Tyler hasn’t allowed a home run since the last time Cincinnati was in town – on April 26. That was 55 batters, 13.2 innings, and 227 pitches ago.
Matt Carpenter’s first inning home run meant that St Louis has scored first in 6 of the last 8 games. They are only 3-3 in those games.
The Cards have now lost the first game of 5 of the last 6 series. They went 0-3-1 in the previous 4.
With last night’s six-hit effort, the team batting average now slips to .249 for the season.