According to the box score from Sunday’s game, Angel left-hander Tyler Skaggs only pitched 5 innings. True as it is, I still find it surprising, as he pitched them so effortlessly. Five innings, 4 singles, no walks, no runs (of course), 2 runners in scoring position (both getting there with two outs), and just 70 pitches. He almost certainly could have gone a couple more. (Not that I’m complaining, mind you.)
When your team is only hitting .226 for the month against everyone, it’s hard to point at left-handers as a particular poison. And yet, as Tyler completely befuddled all the Cardinals sent his way, he was continuing a long-standing tradition.
Yesterday’s batting line against Tyler was a sobering .211/.211/.211. This is only marginally better than what all left-handers have been doing to the Cardinals this month (.214/.266/.393) and this year (.229/.309/.404).
All of the “impact bats” the Cards have imported over the last three years were right-handed (Dexter Fowler being a switch hitter) and were supposed to even the scales a bit against lefties. But whatever the secret is, the Cards haven’t found it yet.
Across all of baseball (according to baseball reference) batters do slightly better against left-handers (.254/.324/.432) than they do against right-handers (.249/.321/.428). Only the Giants (.217) have a lower batting average against lefties.
Even though the Cards were outhit 29-23 over the weekend, they managed to win two of the three against Los Angeles – thanks to outstanding efforts from the starters. Together, Michael Wacha, Dakota Hudson, and Miles Mikolas allowed just 3 runs (1 each) over 18 innings (1.50 ERA). They walked just 4, and gave only 2 extra-base hits. It was mostly enough to make the inconsistent offense they got stand up.
Marcell Ozuna was the big bat obtained last year. He hasn’t been much a factor against lefties so far (hitting .182 against them after going 0-for-2 against Skaggs last night). But he has been most of the team’s offense recently against right-handers. He was 4-for-9 over the weekend against Los Angeles’ righties (with 2 home runs), and is hitting .317 (19 for 60) against them this month.
Yadier Molina picked up two singles on Sunday and is, perhaps, starting to turn things around a bit at the plate. He had hits in all three Angel games, and has a small four-game hitting streak going – during which he is hitting .438 (7 for 16).
In spite of the fact that he was struggling at the plate. Jose Martinez has found himself back in the starting lineup. Jose has started the last 5 games, and, right on cue, has provided some much needed offense. He is hitting .389 (7 for 18) since returning to the lineup.
Kolten Wong was the only left-hander to achieve a hit against the left-handed Skaggs. Increasingly, this is becoming less of a fluke. That single makes Kolten 7 for 23 (.304) against lefties this month (including a home run). Kolten is a .274 hitter against lefties this year (17 for 62) with 3 home runs.
Paul Goldschmidt had another rough series. He finished with 2 singles and no runs batted in in 11 at bats. Paul is hitting .203 (15 for 74) in June.
Goldschmidt hasn’t had a lot of hits against lefties, but has hit three home runs off of them this month. In June, his particular struggle has been against right-handers. In the Angel series, he was 2 for 9 against righties, and he is hitting just .182 against them this month (10 for 55). His 10 hits have been 7 singles and 3 doubles driving in just 1 run (he has just 5 RBIs for the month).
Things are still not turning around for Matt Carpenter. He was 2 for 12 against the Angels, and is hitting .125 (3 for 24) over his last 6 games. June has seen him hit .214 (15 for 70).
Harrison Bader is still in a deep, deep tailspin. He was hitless in 7 at bats over the weekend, and has 1 hit in 29 at bats over his last 10 games. He is now 10 for 63 (.159) in June.
But Bader’s struggles in the Angel series pale in comparison to those of Paul DeJong. Sunday’s almost ninth-inning rally ended on a DeJong ground ball that wrapped up an 0-13 series for Paul, extending his hitless streak to 15 at bats in a row.
Not too long ago, Paul ran up a healthy seven-game hitting streak. In the six games since the last game of that streak, Paul is 2 for 25 (.080). At the very end of May, DeJong and Goldschmidt were flipped in the lineup, with DeJong moving to the second spot and Goldschmidt dropping to third. Since the switch, DeJong is hitting .205 (18 for 88) and Goldschmidt is hitting .220 (18 for 82).
It’s a little hard to guess from start to start what to expect from Michael Wacha. He pitched six mostly dominant innings to win the Friday game (box score). In the start before that he lasted just 4 innings, getting kicked around by the Mets in an 8-7 loss. The start before that – his first start since being returned to the rotation – he threw 6 scoreless innings against Miami in a 4-1 win. Toss in a fine relief appearance at the beginning of the month, and Wacha holds a 2.95 ERA for the month.
The 8 left-handed batters that faced Wacha Friday night went 0-for-8 with 2 strikeouts and a double-play grounder. That extends the right-handed Wacha’s streak to 21 straight left-handed batters who have failed to get a hit against him. They are 0-for-19 with 1 walk, 1 hit by pitch, 7 strikeouts, and 3 double plays.
For the season, left-handed batters are hitting just .206 (20 for 97) against Michael.
Conversely, Wacha has been having an impossible time with right-handed batters. They were 5 for 13 (.385) on Friday, 19 for 51 (.373) against him this month, and 54 for 160 (.338) this season.
Although he gave up the home run heard round the world – the one that Pujols hit on Saturday – Dakota Hudson fired his eighth straight quality start, going 7 innings in the 4-2 win (box score).
Over those last 8 starts, Hudson has given 50.2 innings, going 4-0 with a 2.49 ERA. He also had the lead in 2 other games when he left that the bullpen couldn’t hold. Of the last 157 batters to put the ball in play against Hudson, 97 (62%) hit the ball on the ground. Only one of them has hit a home run.
Dakota’s ERA is down to 2.05 for the month.
Earlier this season, left-handed batters were Hudson’s kryptonite. On Saturday, the lefties he faced went 1 for 11 against him. This month, Dakota has held left-handed batters to 6 hits in 36 at bats (.167).
Miles Mikolas scuffled through five innings on Sunday. Took him 90 pitches, but he only allowed 1 run. He lost the game anyways, and has now lost 6 of his last 7 decisions.
Woodstock – St Louis Style
Of course, these three interesting games were set against the backdrop of Albert Pujols – three days of love and Albert, if you will.
The timing of it all was rather stunning. His first at bat of the weekend was his very first in St Louis since he walked off the field as a World Champion in 2011. His last at bat of the weekend will almost assuredly be his very last in St Louis as an active player. So the entire past and entire future of the complicated but enduring relationship between St Louis and Albert was condensed into 12 plate appearances containing a total of 50 pitches.
Albert acquitted himself well, with 4 hits including a home run in the Saturday game that brought St Louis to its knees. The fans acquitted themselves even better with thunderous standing ovations every time he came to the plate. One might almost have wondered if St Louis was rooting for the Angels that weekend.
Certainly Albert transcended the game this last weekend. For 27 innings in late June, Albert Pujols was bigger than the game that spawned him. It’s not a singular occurrence, but still very rare. As this opportunity will never come again, St Louis made certain that they didn’t leave any gestures of adoration unmade to the man who will always be a hero to this little community where baseball is almost everything.
A couple of thoughts that occurred to me during this love fest.
Albert, of course, walked voluntarily away from this little slice of baseball heaven. For three days he was repeatedly reminded of what he turned his back on – reminded not just by the fans, but by the few Cardinals remaining that were his teammates. Certainly the bond between himself and Molina was palpable. It occurred to me that if an errant pitch during one of Albert’s at bats had come perilously close to the man of the hour, I think it would be very likely that Molina would have charged his own pitcher.
During this outpouring of emotion – none of which Albert enjoys in his new home town – I wondered if Pujols regretted tarnishing all of this by walking away. Certainly, he would never tell anyone if he did.
The other thought concerned the Angels themselves. Now 8 years into the Albert Pujols era, this team has made the playoffs exactly once, and was subsequently swept. That would have been almost impossible to believe when Albert joined the Angels – especially when one considers that Albert’s first season in LA was also Mike Trout’s first season.
But something always happens to the Angels. This year, they leave St Louis a game under .500 and fairly removed from playoff consideration.
Sometimes, there is a karma component to the business side of baseball. It’s way too early to start invoking the “curse” of Pujols, but as the years roll on, I find myself more and more expecting the Angels to be irrelevant until the end of Albert’s playing days.
Karma can be like that.
Ozuna’s finished the series with 20 home runs. He hit just 23 in his entire first season in St Louis. His 3 runs scored in the series bring his total to 52 for the season – he had just 69 all last year. Marcell also now has 62 RBIs on the season. Last year’s total was just 88.
The Friday home run also accounted for his team-leading ninth game-winning-hit this season. Paul DeJong ranks second on the team with 6.
Miles Mikolas allowed just 1 run on Sunday – his forty-third earned run allowed this season. Last year (when he had the 2.83 ERA) he was touched for just 63 earned runs in 200.2 innings for the entire season.
As you might have guessed if you had kept an eye in the series, it was the best attended series of the year. The three games totaled 142,248 – a per-game average of 47,416 per game. The last time the Cubs were in town, they averaged 45,890.3 per game. That had been the highest average attendance for a series this year until Albert came to town.