I don’t know if there are, in fact, any living things making their microscopic homes in the turf at the cleverly named Marlins Park. But if there are, they must have thought the apocalypse had come.
Gaining in confidence, not to mention momentum, with every start, Cardinal rookie right-hander Dakota Hudson and his very heavy sinker is growing into his worm-slayer role. Last night, in seven mostly dominant innings, Dakota faced 28 Miami batters. He struck out 6 and walked 2. He also hit one. Of the other 19, 13 drilled the ball into the ground (68.4%).
Dakota allowed 1 run on 4 hits in earning the 7-1 win (box score).
In his two June starts, Dakota is getting groundballs from 65% of the batters who have faced him. For the season, he leads the rotation – and probably most of baseball – by getting groundballs on 62.3% of the balls put into play against him. Tonight’s pitcher, Miles Mikolas, is a distant second on the team, getting ground balls 50.4% of the time.
St Louis also has two elite groundball machines working in its bullpen. Jordan Hicks is getting grounders 60.8% of the time, and Carlos Martinez – albeit after facing just 37 batters – has a groundball rate of 62.5%.
As his groundball rate climbs, Hudson’s ERA declines. Dakota has now fired off 6 consecutive quality starts, and 7 in his last 8 games. He is 3-2 in those games, with two more leads lost by the bullpen. He holds a 2.40 ERA over his last 48.2 innings, while getting groundballs at a 65.8% rate.
He carries a 1.35 ERA after his two June starts.
Getting hitters to ground out isn’t pitching-sexy the way that striking out a bunch of hitters is. But what it lacks in glamour, it more than makes up for in efficiency. Dakota needed only 93 pitches to cover 7 innings last night. In his 13.1 innings this month, he is averaging only 13.95 pitches thrown per inning. He throws just 3.32 pitches per plate appearances this month, and 3.53 for the season. Both numbers lead the staff for any pitcher facing more than 40 batters.
Dakota has also profited from significant run support for the most part this year. They scored six for him last night, and have supported him with a team-high 47 runs (5.82 per innings). Michael Wacha is the rotation’s leader, getting 6.91 support runs per game.
For the turfdwellers at Marlins Park, though, last night’s performance was more like a sequel. The night before re-claimed Cardinal starter Wacha threw a very similar game. In shutting out the Marlins during his six innings, Michael induced 14 ground balls and only two fly balls.
With the unlikely duo of Hudson and Wacha leading the way, the Cardinal pitching staff has undergone something of a rebirth as the calendar page flipped to June. This month so far, Cardinal pitchers are getting grounders at a rate of 54.3% – contributing to a 3.12 team ERA that is closer to team expectations. They have allowed just 6 home runs in 9 games this month.
Certainly these last two games against a last place club have helped. And the club psyche is still stinging from the sweep in Chicago. But the numbers are finally starting to trend in a positive direction.
With surprisingly little fanfare, Giovanny Gallegos is on something of a tear. He pitched last night’s eighth inning, giving a hit but no runs while picking up a strikeout. Gallegos now has a scoreless streak of 6 games, covering 8 innings, during which he has given just 3 hits while striking out 9.
Of the last 61 swings against him, 25 have missed the ball (41%). He has now gone 8 appearances and 10 innings since his last walk, and has thrown 75% of his last 146 pitches for strikes. His season ERA is down to 3.14.
For the season, 314 of his 448 pitches have been strikes – a 70.1% ratio that leads the team.
Offense Has a Day
By the end of the game, St Louis finished with 7 runs on 13 hits. Everyone got at least one hit, even those who had been struggling recently (Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez, etc). About the only thing not achieved was getting Tommy Edman his first major league hit.
Most of the damage came late, though, at the expense of the embattled Adam Conley. Before he came in, the game had gone to the sixth, tied 1-1. St Louis scored the go ahead runs on an error and a bases loaded walk. It’s, perhaps, premature to call the hitting woes a thing of the past, but it was nice to see some people get hits who haven’t gotten many recently.
Marcell Ozuna is enjoying his return to South Florida. He has had 2 hits in each game, and has 7 over his last 3 games, including a home run last night. Ozuna is still hitting .412 for the month of June (14 for 34) with a .618 slugging percentage.
Missing for 9 games with a thumb injury, Yadier Molina stepped back into the game like he was never away, collecting 2 hits.
Yadi also hit the line drive that brought in the go ahead run. Although he didn’t get a hit or an RBI, nobody on the team is better at finding a way to get that runner in from third. This was the seventeenth time this season that Molina had a runner at third with less than two outs. This was the thirteenth time he had delivered that runner.
Molina’s night also included a strikeout – his eighteenth this season. All of his strikeouts have been swinging. There is no other Cardinal who has been to the plate at least a dozen times that has not been called out on strikes at least once.
Of course, that’s understandable when you almost never take a pitch. In his first game back, Molina saw 14 pitches and swung at 9 of them. For the season, he has hacked at 56.8% of all pitches thrown his way – the highest percentage of any of the regulars.
He also put the ball in play with 4 of those 9 swings. It’s something else he leads all the regular players in, as he puts the ball in play with 45.8% of his swings.
This all means that Molina’s plate appearances are over quickly. He lasted just 2.8 pitches per last night, and for the season is averaging just 3.34 per plate appearance – also the lowest on the team.
After a damaging month of May, Kolten Wong already looks much better in June. With two more hits last night, Wong is off to a .333 start (10 for 30) in the new month.
One of Kolten’s hits last night was a bunt single. Wong has 7 of the Cardinals’ 11 bunt hits on the season.
When Kolten came to the plate in the fourth, he had Yadier Molina on first and just one out. If Miami had designs on turning the double play, though, they had the wrong guy up there. Kolten is the Cardinals’ toughest player to double up, having grounded into just 1 double play this year in 38 such opportunities. This time, he lined a single to bring up a first-and-third situation.
Miami then got the double play grounder from Dexter Fowler.
Wong is also the hardest Cardinal to throw a first-pitch strike to. For the season, only 52.2% of the first pitches thrown to him are strikes. Last night, he only saw one first-pitch strike.
Kolten swung the bat six times last night. He fouled off three and put three pitches into play. He didn’t miss on any of his swings. He rarely does. For the season, Kolten’s swing-and-miss rate is just 19.7%.
Of the 14 pitches that Wong took, only 1 was called a strike. He doesn’t let many strikes go by. So far this month, of the pitches that he’s taken, only 27.9% are called strikes.
While Fowler did ground into the double play, Dexter also got two hits. The double-play, by the way, was just the first he has grounded into this year.
In the early games in June, Dexter has shown some increased ability to put the bat on the ball. Through April and May, Fowler missed on 26.5% of his swings. So far – for the first 47 times he’s swung the bat in June – Dexter is missing only 21.3% of the time. He missed only 2 of his 13 swings last night.
Dexter may also have the best eye on the team. Last night he took 12 pitches – all called balls. For the season, 42.1% of the pitches thrown to him are balls – the highest percentage on the team.
In the first two games of the Miami series, St. Louis has scored 11 runs. In their two previous series (2 games against Cincinnati and 3 against the Cubs) they totaled 10 runs.
The Marcell Ozuna home run was his eighteenth of the season already. During his first year in St Louis he hit just 23. Ozuna also scored twice in the game. After scoring just 69 runs all of last season, Marcell already has 48 this year.