Searching for a Stopper

Last night was an evening like so many others so far in the 2019 season.  Entering play, St Louis sat 2.5 games behind the division-leading Cubs, and just 1.5 games behind second-place Milwaukee.  Both of those two worthies extended an opportunity to the Cardinals as they both lost.  Meanwhile, the home-standing birds took a 3-1 lead after two innings.

The last time the Cards had played was the Sunday night game against the Angels.  After falling behind 6-0, they put on a spirited ninth-inning rally that fell just short.  St Louis had won their last 5 games after a loss, and were an OK 20-16 on the season following a loss.

And in the middle of everything was rising superstar Jack Flaherty.  As a rookie last year, Flaherty had gone 8-9 with a 3.34 ERA and 182 strikeouts in 151 innings.  Beyond the numbers, everything about his demeanor suggested a future ace.  He even famously came to the attention of Bob Gibson, the Cardinals’ storied ace of yesteryear.

And yet – as it has so often in this most trying of years – things managed to get away from both Flaherty and the Cards.  When former Cardinal Stephen Piscotty finally knocked him out of the game with an RBI fifth-inning single, Jack’s 92-pitch effort only got him through 4.2 innings at the cost of 7 runs on 9 hits (3 of them home runs).  After absorbing the 7-3 loss (box score) his season record fell to 4-5 while his ERA soared to 4.75.  He is 0-2 with a 7.01 ERA in 5 starts this month.  They have tagged 9 home runs against him in his 25.2 June innings.

Particularly disappointing, Jack seems to have his worst outings in games after a Cardinal loss.  This was the eighth time this season Jack has had the opportunity to play stopper to a Cardinal losing streak.  In those 8 starts, Jack has fashioned 1 quality start.  In the 37.1 innings he’s survived in those games, Flaherty has seen 34 runs scored (33 earned) on 47 hits and 20 walks.  The hits include 9 home runs, 9 doubles and a triple.  His record in the stoppers’ role is 1-4 with a 7.96 ERA.  Those opposing batters succeeded against him to the tune of a .307 batting average and a .556 slugging percentage.

Flaherty, though, isn’t alone struggling in the stopper’s role.  That St Louis is 20-17 after a loss is surprising, considering their starters have been saddled with a 5.03 ERA in those games.  Subtract Dakota Hudson’s efforts (he is 3-0 with a 3.19 ERA in 7 starts after a loss) and the rest of the rotation weighs in at 5.53 when starting after a Cardinal loss.

Jack is just 23 and his future, of course, still very bright.  But the learning curve here seems steeper than it looked last year.  In the meantime, it would be helpful to the cause if some of the other starters could give us a little better response after a loss.

Tyler Webb

Lost in another disappointing loss was another solid inning from lefty Tyler Webb.  He had the ninth, and retired the side in order.  Tyler has been called on 12 times already this month.  He has walked just 2 batters in his 9.2 June innings, contributing to his 2.79 ERA,

Marcell Ozuna

One thing about Marcell Ozuna.  When he starts to heat up, you can’t not notice.  Marcell singled, doubled and walked twice last night to provide opportunities that ultimately were not taken advantage of.  Marcell neither scored nor drove in a run.

However, Ozuna has been to the plate 17 memorable times over the last four games.  He has contributed 3 singles, 1 double, 2 home runs 5 runs batted in 3 walks and a stolen base.  His batting line during this outburst has been .429/.529/.929.  As I said, he tends to draw attention to himself.

While the rest of the offense is scuffling through June, scoring 3.82 runs per game and hitting .228, Marcell is having quite a fine month.  He is now hitting .305 in June with 4 home runs and 12 runs batted in.

Most encouraging is Marcell Ozuna in games after a loss this month.  While the rest of the offense, again, has shown up infrequently (.213 batting average and 3.44 runs per game), Ozuna has come out firing in the nine June games following a loss.  He is hitting .452 (14 for 31) with 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 6 RBIs and a .710 slugging percentage.

Paul Goldschmidt

Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Paul Goldschmidt is 0 for his last 9 and is down to .192 for the month (15 for 78).  He still has just 5 runs batted in for the month.

NoteBook

Jack Flaherty’s season isn’t showing the straight-line improvement that might have been hoped for him.  With the 9 hits surrendered last night, he has now given up 78 in his 85.1 innings this year.  He pitched 151 innings last year, giving up just 108 hits.  His runs allowed are now up to 46 (45 earned).  He allowed just 59 (56 earned) all of last year.

And, of course, the three home runs bring him within two of his total for his stellar 2018 season.

The three home runs also brought the team total to 102 through 77 games for the season.  Last year this team allowed the fewest home runs of any major league team – just 144 for the entire season.

Through his injury-interrupted 2018 season, Paul DeJong finished with just 436 at bats.  His 5 last night bring him to 293 already this year.  Keeping him in the lineup has made a difference.  His 2 hits last night bring him to 78 this year – he had only 105 all last year.  DeJong also popped 25 doubles last year, after driving 26 the year before.  Last night’s double was his twentieth.  He now has 139 total bases, closing quickly on the 189 he finished with last year.

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