If it’s possible to hang a fastball, that’s what Austin Brice did in last night’s eighth inning. It seemed to start at Dexter Fowler’s ankles, but then it rose and just spun in the middle of the zone. For his part, Fowler launched it over the wall in right for the three-run homer that put Miami out of its misery and sent St Louis on its way to a 5-0 victory (box score).
Breakthrough opportunities were fairly rare – as has mostly been the case recently. Two first-inning singles had given Dexter a first-and-second opportunity with two outs, but he struck out.
From that point, the Cardinals didn’t see a runner in scoring position till the fifth, when Matt Carpenter – who had made the score 1-0 with a third-inning home run – gave St Louis a two-out opportunity when he laid down a bunt-double. The Fish gave away that run – in the first place by playing their entire infield on the right side to allow the bunt-double, and then Starlin Castro dropped Paul DeJong’s pop fly to short center to allow the run.
With DeJong advancing to second on the error, Paul Goldschmidt had the chance to deliver the key hit – but he grounded out.
The Cards followed by going down in order over the next two innings, so this final opportunity in the eighth was welcomed.
For the game, the Cards managed a .238 on base percentage with the bases empty, resulting in 21 of St Louis’ 33 batters coming to the plate with no one on. This has been a recurring pattern.
Over the last 17 games, the Cardinals hold a .281 on base percentage when the bases are empty. The results have been 62% of all Cardinal hitters batting with no one on, only 5 bases-loaded plate appearances all month, and 16 of the last 23 Cardinal home runs (69.6%) being solo shots.
Here’s the thing though. St Louis has won 11 of those last 17 games.
Slowly, but consistently, the pitching is settling into the decisive factor the Cardinals have been counting on all season. Sometimes it’s been two steps forward, one step back. But, while it hasn’t always been pretty, the Cardinal pitching staff has put together a 3.42 ERA over these last 17 games. That would be good enough for second in the league if they had been able to maintain that all year.
I’m not really sure that I believe in this team yet. I would like to see them keep the streak going a little longer and, perhaps, see more wins against quality opponents. But this is exactly the kind of thing that those who do believe in this team point to. The fact that – even when the offense struggles to get out of its own way – the pitching can be dominant enough to keep them competitive.
A week ago they had just been swept by Chicago and sat one game under .500 and 5.5 games behind in the division. Today they have trimmed that margin to 2.5 games, and have pushed their way to 3 over .500. The opportunity is before them.
Matt Carpenter continues to hint that he is about to turn the corner. He had a big game on Monday with 3 hits, including a home run. Carpenter has hits in 4 of his last 5 games.
Carpenter never batted last night with a runner on base. That’s normal for him. As he has spent most of the year as the leadoff hitter, 69% of his at bats have come with the bases empty. Of his 10 home runs this season, 9 have been solo shots.
DeJong didn’t leave his hot streak in New York. With 2 hits last night, Paul has pushed his hitting streak to seven games, getting multiple hits in three of them. Over the 7 games, he is hitting .367 (11 for 30) with a double and 3 home runs. He has driven in 6 runs during the streak, while slugging .700. He has also hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games.
Marcell Ozuna rebounded from a tough series in New York to collect a couple of singles last night. Marcell is up to .340 (18 for 53) for the month of June.
One of Marcell’s hits came in his 2 at bats with no one on base. Throughout the last 17 games, Ozuna has been one of the few hitters to get hits with bases empty. He is, in fact, hitting .378 on 14 hits in his last 37 such opportunities.
Paul Goldschmidt’s season stays stuck in neutral. He was hitless in 4 at bats last night, and has just 1 hit (that two-run home run in New York) over his last 5 games (16 at bats). Paul is down to .192 (10 for 52) on the month.
Yadier Molina picked up two hits in his first game back from the injured list. In the 6 games since then, hits have been harder to come by. After his 0-for-4 last night, Yadi is 4 for 23 (.174) with 1 double (.217 slugging percentage) since that first game back.
Harrison Bader had the big first game in New York with 3 hits, a couple stolen bases, and the big defensive play. He’s had no hits since. With his 0-for-3 yesterday, Harrison is hitless in his last 13 at bats, with 7 strikeouts.
In his three June starts, Miles Mikolas has had consistent issues keeping the bases clean. Even though he shut the Marlins out through 6 innings last night, Miami batters were still 5 for 15 (.333) when hitting against him with the bases empty. For the month, batters are hitting .355 (11 for 31) against him with the bases empty.
Last night he was very good once a runner reached. The Fish were only 1 for 8 when they hit against Miles with a runner on base. In his other starts this month, he hasn’t been so efficient.
First out of the bullpen in support of Mikolas was Giovanny Gallegos, who recorded a scoreless seventh. At some point someone other than me is going to have to start taking this kid seriously. Gallegos has now thrown 12 scoreless innings over his last 9 games, giving just 4 hits and no walks – he has been throwing his pitches for strikes 75% of the time during this streak. The last 38 batters he’s faced have a batting line of .108/.105/.162.
John Gant had a couple rough games early in the road trip, as he gave runs in consecutive appearances. Still, John has been more than just solid recently. He pitched a scoreless eighth last night. He has pitched in 8 of the last 17 games, throwing 10.1 innings with a 2.61 ERA.
Jordan Hicks has held the back end of the bullpen very solid over the Cards recent rise. He earned last night’s save with a 1-2-3 ninth. He has now pitched in 7 of the last 17 games, with a 1.23 ERA and an .083 batting average against in 7.1 innings.
The victory was the Cardinals’ ninth this month – tying their total for the entire month of May.
Nonetheless, St Louis had trailed at some point in five consecutive games until last night.
The Cards scored first for the third straight game and the fourteenth time in their last 20 games.
Last night was game number 64 for Dexter Fowler this year. Between his injuries and unending slumps, Dex played in only 90 games all last year. He also now has 193 at bats, after finishing last year with just 289. His strikeout was also his fifty-second of the season after striking out just 75 times last year.