Please Tell Memphis that Mr O’Neill Sends his Regrets

No AAA affiliated franchise has things easy.  Almost without fail, as soon as someone starts to really put things together, the parent club decides that they have a need for that individual, and he magically disappears from the AAA team’s roster.

In Memphis, the Cardinals’ AAA affiliate, that situation might be less volatile than in some other cities.  With a mostly static roster, the Cards have found it relatively easy to leave their hot prospects in their minor league abodes, honing their various crafts.

Such has been the situation for one Tyler Alan O’Neill.  Once upon a time, Tyler O’Neill was a third-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners, becoming a Cardinal almost exactly two years ago today as the result of a July 21, 2017 trade.  Since then, he has had 216 at bats in St Louis, and 573 in Memphis.  He came north with the parent club this year, but, with playing time hard to come by, was returned to Memphis when Luke Gregerson was ready to come off the injured list.

And there Tyler stayed.  With his rookie status already exceeded, O’Neill was no longer listed among the Cardinal prospects.  So while Cardinal Nation followed the progress of the Nolan Gorman’s and the Randy Arozarena’s with considerable focus, Tyler O’Neill labored in relative anonymity.

Memphis, however, was more than happy to have him.  In about a year’s worth of at bats (573) Tyler has delivered 49 home runs for Memphis.  Add the 14 he’s now hit in the show, and, in just under two years in the organization, Tyler O’Neill has accounted for 63 home runs.  He has averaged one for every 11.7 at bats in AAA Memphis.

Who knows how long he might have remained there.  But about 14 games ago, Marcell Ozuna fractured some fingers while on the base paths and the big league birds were in need of an outfielder.  The thinking was that – as before – once Ozuna was pronounced fit, Tyler would be returned to his minor league venue.

Those plans may now be on permanent hold.

Yesterday afternoon, Tyler O’Neill drilled his fourth home run of the recent home stand and was a significant contributor to the Cards 6-5 victory over Pittsburgh (box score).  O’Neill was 7 for 12 against Pittsburgh (.583) with three of the hits being home runs.  He drove in 6 runs in the 3 games, and slugged 1.333.  The win was St Louis’ fourth in the last 5 games of the home stand.  Tyler hit .500 over the 5 games (10 for 20) and slugged 1.2000 (2 doubles, 4 home runs), while driving in 11.

O’Neill has now hit safely in 8 straight starts, hitting .438 during the streak (14 for 32), and slugging .875. For the month of July, Tyler O’Neill is carrying a .400 batting average (16 for 40) and a slugging percentage of an even 1.000.

It’s a very small sample size, I grant you.  But if this keeps up, Tyler O’Neill will not be going back to Memphis.  If this keeps up, Tyler O’Neill will not be going back to the bench when Ozuna comes back.  Someone else will lose those at bats.

In baseball, if you hit, you play.  If you hit a lot, you play a lot.

By the numbers, the Tyler O’Neill of July is very unlike the O’Neill we’ve seen here before.  If anything, his aggressiveness has increased.  Last year, he swung at 52.3% of the pitches thrown his way.  In his first 48 plate appearances this year, he swung at 52.4%.  In his 42 July plate appearances, O’Neill has chased after 58.3%.  Over the last 5 games, Tyler has swung at 50 of 79 pitches thrown his way – a super-aggressive 63.3%.

This aggression is even more pronounced on the first pitch.  Last year, Tyler went after the first pitch 36.6% of the time, and 37.5% during the early part of this year – both aggressive numbers.  He has offered at the first pitch 52.4% of the time so far this month.  He went after 8 of 12 (66.7%) against the Pirates.

But, even though he is swinging more often, he is making contact as never before.  As a rookie in 2018, O’Neill missed on 44.3% of his swings.  He was up to an amazing 50.5% of his swings through his first 48 plate appearances of 2019.

In July, Tyler is missing on just 28.6% (team average is 23.8% for the year).  In 31 swings against the Pirates, O’Neill missed the ball just 4 times (12.9%).

Thirty-one swings is far too few to prove anything definitively.  But if, indeed, Tyler O’Neill is making serious progress on connecting when he swings, then he will definitely not be going back to Memphis.

Little Other Offense

In winning two of three from Pittsburgh, the Cardinal offense was led, principally by O’Neill and Paul Goldschmidt.  Together, they drove in 10 of the 14 runs the Cards scored in the series.  After them, there weren’t an awful lot of contributors, as the team finished the series with just 20 hits and a .220 batting average.  There are a handful of Cardinals who are still trying to turn things around.

Kudos to the Rotation

Aside from Tyler O’Neill, the heroes of the Pittsburgh series were the arms of the rotation.  Daniel Ponce de Leon’s short start on Wednesday broke a string of six consecutive quality starts.  Even with that, the rotation contributed 19.2 innings against the Pirates with a 2.29 ERA.  They walked just 5 (2 of those intentionally) and allowed just one home run.

In winning 4 of the last 5, St Louis has done so behind a rotation that has carved out a 1.93 ERA and a .222/.295/.299 batting line against.

Miles Mikolas

Monday’s starter, Miles Mikolas set the tone for the series – not just in effectiveness (he threw a complete game shutout) but also in style.  Of the 32 batters to face him, 29 hit the ball in play, with 20 of the 29 (69%) hitting it on the ground.  Miles threw just 3.13 pitches per batter faced (leading to just 11.11 pitches per inning) while throwing 73% of his pitches for strikes.

For the series, the Cards finished up getting ground balls 57.7% of the time, throwing just 3.58 pitches per batter (14.04 per inning), and throwing strikes 66.5% of the time.

For the season, Miles has thrown 1099 of his 1658 pitches for strikes.  His 66.3% ratio is the highest of any Cardinal pitcher who has thrown at least 700 pitches.

Jack Flaherty

Tuesday’s starter, Jack Flaherty, came fairly close to losing his second consecutive 1-0 game.  He avoided the fate by driving in his own run with a double to earn himself a no decision.

The 0-1 record aside, Jack has been very good his last two times out – allowing 2 runs in 14 innings. Three starts into the month of July, Jack holds a 2.89 ERA and a .182 batting average against.

Carlos Martinez

Ending a fabulous run of performances, during which he gave just 1 run over 12 innings, Carlos Martinez was touched for runs in both of the last two games pitching in the closer’s role.  He gave a total of 3 runs in 2 innings, earning a loss and a scuffling save.

Even though Carlos’ pitches were up more than usual, he still had batters pounding the ball into the turf.  Of the 10 who put the ball in play against him, 7 hit the ball on the ground.  For the season, Carlos’ 65.0% ground ball rate is second on the team only to Jordan Hicks (67.2%).

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s three-run homer on Wednesday proved to be the game-winning RBIs.  Paul now has 5 GWHs on the season, ranking him third on the team behind Marcell Ozuna (9) and Paul DeJong (6).

Before the Goldschmidt home run, St Louis went into the seventh inning trailing 4-3.  It was the first time in seven games that they trailed after six innings.  On July 6, in San Francisco they trailed 5-1 after six on their way to an 8-4 loss (box score).

All of the Cards’ last four series have gone to rubber games – with St Louis winning three of those.  They are now 5-5 in rubber games on the season.

On Tuesday night, the Cards eclipsed the two million mark in home attendance.  With 128,928 attending the three-game set against the Pirates, St Louis now sits at 2,053,573 for the season – an average of 42,782.8 per home game.

A Little Quick Follow-up

Briefly picking up some threads of recent conversations.

Yesterday, I pointed out the team’s difficulties in hitting while their games are tied.  Last night against Pittsburgh they had seven offensive innings when the score was tied.  They were 3 for 23 in those innings – with no runs scored.

The last time Jack Flaherty pitched, I noted the frequency with which this team lost games in spite of getting a quality start.  Last night’s effort was the Cardinals’ sixth straight quality start.  They are 3-3 in those games.

Finally, it was at the 93 game mark last year that the Cardinals changed managers.  Mike Matheny‘s team was saddled with, arguably, the worst bullpen in baseball, but was still considered underachieving.

For those of you who love irony, I point out that the Cardinal record at the 93 game mark this year is exactly the same as last year at 47-46.

There’s Your Run, Big Boy

Evidently, Corey Dickerson lost the line drive in the lights.

It was the first inning of a scoreless game against the Pirates.  A two-out walk brought Tyler O’Neill to the plate.  O’Neill would put his stamp on the game later, but this time he should have ended the inning.  Tyler jumped on a 2-0 fastball from Pittsburgh starter Joe Musgrove and drilled a sinking liner to left – basically right at Dickerson.

But Corey couldn’t find the ball.  It eventually fell in between his legs and rolled to the wall.  The run scored, O’Neill ended up at second, and the Cardinals held a 1-0 lead.

Back in the day – as now-broadcaster Mike Shannon tells it – when Bob Gibson would pitch and the offense would push across a run (and frequently it was Gibson himself providing the run), they would say to him, “there’s your run, big boy.”  The expectation was that if Gibson was on the mound, one run was all that he would need.  It’s amazing how often that proved to be true.

(Gibson, of course, has been in all of our thoughts and prayers recently.  One of the greatest competitors of all time is battling pancreatic cancer.)

The current Cardinal rotation hasn’t achieved quite that stature, but recently they have been getting close. Neither of St Louis’ last two starters (Adam Wainwright on Sunday nor Miles Mikolas last night) gave up runs – with Mikolas’ outing being the most impressive.  Miles shut the Pirates out on 100 pitches even.

Luckily for Mikolas it doesn’t matter how he gets the run, so long as he gets it.  It’s hard to tell how the game might have progressed if the Birds hadn’t benefited from Pittsburgh’s defensive generosity.  Another misplay by Dickerson in the third allowed two more soft runs.  When Mikolas took the mound for the fifth inning ahead 3-0, it could be argued that he and Musgrove had pitched similar games, with the primary difference being that while Dexter Fowler raced into deep right-center fielder and – at full extension – stole a certain double and RBI from Starling Marte (in fact, turning a should-have-been double into a double play), Dickerson was dropping to fly balls hit right at him.

Regardless, the Cardinals are grateful, as they have struggled all year to push across that go ahead run.  Officially, they were 0 for 3 last night while the score was tied.  This month they are slashing .222/.260/.394 in 106 plate appearances in tied games.  For the season, 949 Cardinals have come to the plate with the game tied.  They are hitting .225/.304/.398.  Ninety-two games into the season, and the Cardinal pitching staff has pitched with a lead only 35.8% of the time.

Hard to string a lot of wins together under those circumstances.

Compounding the frustration was the pitching staff’s inability to hold onto that lead that the offense worked so hard to get.  Through the end of June, the pitching staff held a 4.23 ERA when they pitched with a lead.  If that lead was one or two runs, that ERA was 4.25.

But, if July is a new page (and St Louis is 6-4 so far this month), the change is the pitching staff.  Their 3.21 ERA ranks them sixth in the entire major leagues this month (according to baseball reference), and one of the most significant improvements has been pitching with a lead.

The month is still early, but to this point, Cardinal pitchers hold a 2.58 ERA and a .234/.308/.319 batting line against when they hold any kind of lead, and a 2.50 ERA with a .224/.303/.299 batting line against if that lead is one or two runs.

From the very beginning of the season, we knew that if this team was going to be special, they would be special first in the pitching staff.  For the past five games – especially the last five starts – they have been very special.  How long they can sustain that will determine how long they can hang in the race.

Mikolas

Miles had lost 7 of his previous 8 decisions.  He spent the break watching film.  He found a very tiny inconsistency.  He was falling to the first base side too much (this according to the story filed at mlb.com).  It sounds simple, but it caused his breaking balls to misbehave.  MLB.com earlier filed a story on the recall of Chasen Shreve.  The flaw he found was that his hands in the set position were slightly different.

Pitching – and hitting, too, for that matter – are such finely honed techniques that even slight variations can have catastrophic results.

Tyler O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill broke the game open late, his two two-run home runs turning the 3-0 lead into the 7-0 final (box score).  Tyler had three hits for the game, and has hit safely in each of his last 6 starts – and it hasn’t been a quiet hitting streak.  He is hitting .417 (10 for 24) in those games, with 2 doubles and 3 home runs.  None of the home runs have been pulled.  The two he hit last night went to straight center field.  The home run on Saturday soared over the right field wall – and all of this happened in spacious Busch Stadium, were there are no cheapies.

Since Tyler has been recalled from AAA, he is hitting .325 (13 for 40) and slugging .625.  He is 12 for 32 so far in the month of July (.375) with half of the hits going for extra-bases.  He has driven in 9 runs in 9 July games, while slugging .750.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong was hit by a pitch, but went 0 for 3 otherwise.  The game snapped Wong’s five-game hitting streak.  Kolten hit .500 (8 for 16) during the streak.

Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters has certainly had some big moments as he has substituted for Yadier Molina.  After his 0 for 4 last night, though, Matt has only 3 hits in his last 17 at bats (.176).  In 8 games since Molina’s injury, Matt has hit 3 home runs and driven in 5 runs, but is hitting just .241 (7 for 29).

Harrison Bader

Manager Mike Shildt has moved Harrison Bader back into the lineup, but nothing yet has turned his bat around.  Harrison was hitless in 3 at bats last night, and is 1 for 14 (.071) over his last 7 games.  Bader has had 24 plate appearances this month.  They have resulted in 3 singles, 1 double, 1 walk, 1 double play and 8 strikeouts.  Harrison has no runs batted in this month, with a .174/.208/.217 batting line.

NoteBook

The seven run victory was the largest margin of victory – and, in fact, the first time the Cards had led by as many as seven runs  – since they beat Kansas City 10-3 back on May 22.

Baby Steps?

The St Louis Cardinals finished their weekend series against Arizona with 25 offensive innings.  They only managed to put their leadoff batter on base in 5 of those innings.  Getting that first batter on base has been a constant struggle since April.  For the month of July, now, Cardinal leadoff batters hold a .266 on base percentage.  For the season, they sit at just .302.

The results in those 20 other innings against Arizona were fairly predictable.  The Cards scored in only 3 of them, totaling 4 runs.   Certainly one of the factors in the slow offensive start is the fact that all too often the power hitters are up with no one on and two outs.  Nobody – it seems – wants to embrace the table-setter’s role.

The good news is that – at least during the Arizona series – the Cardinals did finally figure out what to do once they did get that runner on.  They scored in 4 of the 5 innings that their first batter reached, totaling 7 runs in those innings.

This had also been a problem.  In the six games preceding the All-Star break, the Cards put their leadoff runner on 16 times, bringing him home just 6 times (38%).  For the season, only 48% of the Cardinal leadoff batters who reach base end up scoring.  When the offense is functioning well, that number will typically be closer to 55%.

It was only three games – and only one of the many offensive issues that this team will try to correct in the second half (and the offense overall hit just .215 and scored 3.67 runs per game in the Arizona series).  In essence, the offensive turnaround so far is more hoped for than evident.

But doing something when the leadoff batter gets on is at least a healthy place to start.  A baby step, if you will.

Matt Wieters

Thrust into the lineup due to the thumb injury to Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters is starting to find a comfort level at the plate.  He caught the first two games of the series, going 3 for 6 with a home run.  Matt has only had 24 plate appearances through the early games of July.  But he has answered those plate appearances with 4 singles, 2 home runs and 4 walks – a .300/.417/.600 batting line.

Kolten Wong

Heating up, finally, is Kolten Wong.  One of the mysteries in the Cardinal lineup, Kolten finished the series with 4 hits, and now has a little five-game hitting streak underway.  He is hitting .500 (8 for 16) during the streak.

Kolten is up to .375 (9 for 24) in early July.

Tyler O’Neill

Flashing a bit of the ability that has made him so successful at AAA, Tyler O’Neill put together a fine series against the Diamondbacks.  Moreover, as he is getting consistent at bats, Tyler is starting to show some encouraging consistency.

He was 3 for 8 against Arizona – with all the hits going for extra bases, and has now hit safely in all of his last 5 starts.  He is 7 for 20 (.350) with a .600 slugging percentage in those games.  For the month of July, Tyler is a .321 hitter (9 for 28) with a .536 slugging percentage and 5 runs batted in in just 7 starts.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt was a big bat in the Sunday game with an important two-run home run.  He was held to an 0-for-4 on Friday, breaking a seven-game hitting streak.  During the streak, Paul had hit .346 (9 for 26) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs.  He drove in 6 runs during the 7 games, with a .654 slugging percentage.

Tommy Edman

Tommy Edman ended the first half hot, hitting in his last 5 games.  He finished with 6 hits in 18 at bats during the streak, including a triple and a home run.  He drove in 6 runs over the 5 games with a .333 batting average and a .611 slugging percentage.

He began the second half going 0-for-5 against Arizona.

In the early games of his career, Tommy hasn’t yet shown a great knack for leading off an inning.  He was 0-for-3 as a leadoff batter against Arizona, he is 1-for-9 leading off innings this month.  So far, Tommy has lead off in 22 innings with 5 hits and 1 hit-by-pitch (a .273 on base percentage).

Edman has only walked once in his first 60 plate appearances.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez’ bat was another important weapon that was limited during the Arizona series.  Jose went hitless in 6 at bats during the series, and is now 0 for his last 11.

Rotation Rises

The primary reason that St Louis managed victories in two of the three over the weekend was the emergence of the starting rotation.  Building off the Jack Flaherty’s sterling seven-inning performance against San Francisco just before the break, all three Cardinal starters (Daniel Ponce de Leon, Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright) followed with quality starts of their own.  The three combined to pitch 19.2 of the 27 innings of the series, allowing a total of 3 runs.  They finished the series with a combined 1.37 ERA and a .149/.240/.239 batting line against.

Daniel Ponce de Leon

Daniel Ponce de Leon turned his latest spot start into the one that has vaulted him into the rotation.  He muffled Arizona for 6.2 innings, limiting them to 1 run on 3 hits with no walks (although he did hit one batter) and 7 strikeouts on Friday.  He lowered his overall ERA to 1.99 for the season, and to 0.79 (with a .114 batting average against) for the month.

He’s been nothing but impressive so far.  He’s forced his way into a starting job.  Now we’ll see if he can stay there.

Dakota Hudson

Dakota Hudson – Saturday’s starter – tossed his ninth quality start in his last 11 games.  Hudson is 6-1 with a 2.84 over his last 11 games.

Adam Wainwright

Outdueling Zach Greinke in the series finale, Adam Wainwright threw seven scoreless innings, and has quality starts in two of his last three outings, recording a 1.93 ERA in those outings.

Carlos Martinez

Inheriting the closer’s rule in the wake of the season-ending injury to Jordan Hicks, Carlos Martinez has been as good as could be hoped.  He saved both wins against Arizona, and has now thrown 6 straight scoreless outings (covering 7.1 innings).  Not only has he allowed no runs of his own, he has also stranded all 5 runners he inherited during those games.  He has 10 strikeouts over those innings, and those that are hitting the ball in play against him are hitting it almost exclusively on the ground (10 of 13).

He hasn’t allowed an extra-base hit since June 9.

NoteBook

Yairo Munoz started at shortstop on Sunday afternoon, breaking Paul DeJong’s streak of 26 consecutive starts at short.  That had been the longest current streak of any Cardinal at the same position.  That mantle now falls to Paul Goldschmidt, who on Sunday made his eighteenth consecutive start at first.

The Saturday game registered an official temperature of 90 degrees – significant evidence that summer is in full force in St Louis.  It was just the third 90+ degree game this season, and the first since May 25 when they beat Atlanta here 6-3.  The hottest game of the year so far was played in Mexico on April 13 when we lost to Cincinnati, 5-2.

That home series against Atlanta had been the hottest by average temperature this season at 86.3 degrees.  The just finished Arizona series averaged 88.7 degrees.  And, no, it was not a dry heat.

When the Cards took their 5-0 lead into the seventh inning on Sunday, it marked the first time they held a five-run lead going into the seventh inning since May 18 when they took a 7-2 lead into the seventh in Texas – on their way to an 8-2 victory (box score).  One of the consequences of the recent offensive struggles is that any late inning lead this team holds is generally precarious.  Laughers have been few and far between lately.

Cards Waste Another Quality Start in San Fran

Oh, come on, now.  You didn’t really think Jack Flaherty would make it through a whole start without getting touched for a home run, did you?

The impressive and encouraging thing about the Cardinals’ last game before the All-Star break was how long it took for that ubiquitous home run to show up.  Seventy-five pitches and 6.1 innings into the contest, Flaherty had not only not allowed a home run.  He had given no hits whatsoever.  His seventy-sixth pitch, of course, was the misbehaving slider that Evan Longoria crushed deep over the left field wall for the only run of the game (box score).

Jack has now allowed at least one home run in seven straight starts.  The total is now 11 in his last 37.2 innings.

Even in defeat, though, it was a welcomed performance from Jack, who had managed only one quality start in his previous six outings.

As far as the Cardinals’ wasting excellent pitching, this was hardly an isolated moment.  Eighty-eight games into the championship season, the Cards have only gotten 38 quality starts from its rotation.  Eight of those 38 starters have been saddled with the loss in these games.  Flaherty has now absorbed the loss in both of his last two quality starts.  Of the 38 quality starts, this is now the third time that the Cardinal pitcher received no support runs at all.  This has now happened to Jack (who has now gone five consecutive starts since the last time he saw at least four runs of support) twice in his last 4 starts.

In all, St Louis has failed to score more than 3 runs for their starter in 24 of their 38 quality starts.  In all honesty, our rotation hasn’t been as dominant as often as expected.  But, on those rare occasions when they are, it is almost to be expected that they will get minimal run support.

To this point of the season, St Louis is 25-13 (.658) when they get a quality start from their pitcher.  That seems pretty strong, but if that figure holds, it would tie the Cardinals’ lowest winning percentage in quality start games in any year in this century.  The 2008 team (50-26) finished at .658 when they got quality starts.

Last year’s team was 50-18 (.735).  Through all the games this century up to this year, the Cards are 1187-425 (.736) when their starter puts them into position to win.  They have won over 70% of these games in 15 of the first 19 full seasons of this century.

The 2017 team was the one I labeled “the team that blinks.”  They lost 21 quality start games (out of 76 – a .724 winning percentage).  But Sunday’s loss was so reminiscent of one of those games, it’s impossible not to take a look back.

May 20 that year was a Saturday.  The evening in St Louis was a balmy 79 degrees with a few clouds.

The Cardinal pitcher was Carlos Martinez.  That evening, Carlos may have thrown the best game by a Cardinal pitcher since Chris Carpenter in Game 5 against Philadelphia.  In just 93 dominant pitches, Martinez tore through the Giants, walking off the mound after nine complete innings, having allowed no runs on just two hits and 1 walk.

Making the best start of his career, Carlos didn’t walk off the mound with a complete game.  He wasn’t awarded a shutout.  Carlos didn’t even get the win.  That, of course, would be because while Martinez was turning away the Giant batters, San Francisco’s pitcher – yes, it was Jeff Samardzija that evening as well – was similarly frustrating the Cardinal batsmen.

After 12 scoreless innings, San Francisco finally broke through with 3 runs against Kevin Siegrist, and held on from there for a 3-1 victory (box score).

It was a signature loss that year.  Like Sunday’s loss, it was the kind of game that playoff teams rarely lose – especially against losing teams which the Giants are so far this year and were in 2017 when they lost 98 games.  But not that night.

So, just like that the Cards hit the All-Star break with a .500 record.  As the rest of the division has hung around waiting for them, they find themselves just two games out of the division lead.

Dakota Hudson

On the other end of the spectrum – at least this time out – is Dakota Hudson.  Hudson was provided with 6 support runs while he was pitcher of record, as the Cards were on their way to a 9-4 win on Friday (box score) – their only win of the series.

After throwing 8 consecutive quality starts, Hudson missed qualifying for the second consecutive start.  He still navigated through 5 innings, allowing 3 runs, and took the win.  Over his last 10 games, Dakota is 5-1 with two potential wins lost by the bullpen, and a 2.83 ERA.

Miles Mikolas

Saturday’s losing pitcher (box score) was starter Miles Mikolas.  Done in by a grand slam, Miles lasted just 4, giving 5 runs on 6 hits.  In his last 10 starts, Miles is now 1-7 with a 4.99 ERA.

They were only two singles, but San Fran was 2 for 3 with a sacrifice fly against Mikolas when they hit the first pitch.  No pitcher on the staff has had the difficulties with his first pitch that Mikolas has.

Batters are now 25 for 52 (.481) when they hit Miles’ first pitch.  The hits are generally not soft, either.  Opposing hitters have 3 doubles, 2 triples and 6 home runs when jumping Miles’ first pitch – a .962 slugging percentage.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz got another start Sunday afternoon – and responded with two hits.  He was the only Card with multiple hits that afternoon.

Munoz – who hit .345 in sparse duty in June – is starting to work his way more and more frequently into the lineup.  Much of this has been facilitated by injuries to Matt Carpenter and now Kolten Wong.  But production is also in the equation.  Yairo has played 6 of the last 8 games, starting 5.  He is hitting .316 in those opportunities (6 for 19).

Dexter Fowler

After getting 5 hits through the first two games, Dexter Fowler was held hitless on Sunday.  That 0-for-4 broke a nine-game hitting streak (counting only games in which Fowler had an at bat).  He was 12 for 29 during the streak (.414) with a double, a triple and two home runs.  He drove in 6 runs during the streak, with a .724 slugging percentage.

Paul Goldschmidt

Don’t look now, but Paul Goldschmidt has put together a pretty noisy seven-game hitting streak.  After going 5 for 13 against San Fran, Paul is 9 for 26 (.346) during the streak.  He has 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 6 runs batted in, and a .654 slugging percentage over his last 7 games.

Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters finished the Friday blow-out win with 2 hits.  He went 0-for-7 through the last two games.  Matt is now 4 for 19 (.211) in his cameo subbing for Yadier Molina.  It should be pointed out, though, that 2 of those 4 hits have been home runs.

Harrison Bader

So far, July hasn’t been any kinder to Harrison Bader than June.  Hitless in 6 at bats in San Francisco, Bader is now 5 for 52 (.096) over his last 19 games.  He has no extra-base hits, or runs batted in in those games.  He has drawn just 3 walks in that span – none in his last 9 games.

For July, Bader is off to a .200 (3 for 15) start.

NoteBook

With 4 hits in the series, Kolten Wong is now up to 68 for the season.  He finished 2018 with just 88 hits.  He is also up to 105 total bases after amassing just 137 all last year.  Kolten is also about to pass last season’s totals in runs (34 after scoring just 41 times all last year) and runs batted in (35 after driving in 38 all of last year).

Miles Mikolas – whose ERA is up almost two full runs over his 2018 season – continues to gain quickly on all his totals from last year (which were, by the way, his career highs).  The home run he allowed Saturday was his sixteenth – tying his career high.  The 5 runs allowed brought him to 52 for the season, and the 4 earned runs leave him with 50 in 2019.  Last year’s totals were 70 and 63 respectively in 200.2 innings.

Then, on Sunday, Jack Flaherty – whose 2019 ERA is also up precipitously – allowed his twentieth home run of the season – matching his career high from 2018.  As with Mikolas, Jack is quickly reaching several other career highs set last year in hits allowed (108 – he has 87 already), runs (59 last year, 51 already this year) and earned runs (56 last year and 50 already in 2019).

St Louis is now 3-5 in rubber games this season.  All 5 losses in rubber games have come against teams that had won its previous series (we are 1-5 in rubber games against those teams).

Overall, St Louis has played 14 series against teams that won their previous series.  They have won 3 of those series, lost 10, and split the other.  They are 17-25 when pitted against teams coming off a winning series.

The Friday game was the first time in 9 games that St Louis didn’t trail at some point, and their 5 run lead after seven was their biggest lead heading into the eighth since they held a seven-run lead on Kansas City in an eventual 10-3 win on May 22.

Meanwhile, the 1-0 loss on Sunday ended a streak of 8 straight games in which they had held a lead at some point.

At 2:19 the Sunday game was the quickest of the season.  The previous quickest game was the 4-3 loss in Philadelphia on May 28.  That game lasted 2:28.

New/Old Offensive Philosophy Leads to Damage in Seattle

“Our hard-hit contact rate improved [in May] and our results decreased.  And I felt like we said, ‘You know what? We’ve got to do something different because we’re not getting the reward.’  We got away from the damage we were doing coming out of Spring Training.  We did without reward and lost our way a little bit.  We’ve gotten back to doing what we need to do, and that’s putting some damage out there.”

The speaker here was Cardinal manager Mike Shildt, quoted in Anne Rogers game story for MLB.com (full article).

The gist – as I understand it – is that the Cardinal hitters tried to be too selective at the plate.  Earlier in that same article, Dexter Fowler explained it this way: “See the ball in the zone and take that hack at it.  Guys sit there thinking, ‘Oh, he’s going to throw me this, so I want it in this spot.’  If it’s in the zone, hit it.”

June, of course, was a disastrous offensive month for the Holy Cardinal Franchise.  They managed just 3.54 runs per game and finished dead last in the entire major leagues in team batting average (.223), on base percentage (.286) and slugging percentage (.357).

The Seattle series did show a significant uptick.  In three games in the Pacific Northwest, the formerly inept Cardinal batsmen hit .275 (28 for 102), with 12 of the hits going for extra-bases (6 doubles and 6 home runs).  They slugged .510 in Seattle.

So, how much of the expressed philosophical issue and the described resolution are truly responsible for the woes of June?  And how compelling is the evidence that things have turned around?  Let’s play a little fact or fiction.

There actually is a statistical footprint that supports the “too passive” theory.  The usual statistical breakout of the average major league at bat is that slightly more than half of them get to the point where the hitter gets two strikes on him.  At that point, the numbers shift drastically to the pitcher.  Up to that point, major league batters hit over .300.  The other 50% of at bats are generally divided pretty evenly between batters hitting the first and second strike.  According to baseball reference, batters hitting the first strike thrown to them are hitting .354/.414/.636.  Once the batter gets two strikes on him, his numbers drop to .173/.247/.285.

St Louis’ numbers from June show that the first strike was hit only 17.5% of the time (suggesting a reluctance to take an aggressive approach).  Moreover, when that pitch was hits, the results – the “damage” if you will – sat well below the major league average.  Cardinals hitting the first strike in June hit .279/.357/.517.

Meanwhile, they ended up in two-strike counts an uncomfortable 57.3% of the time – with predictable results (.165/.225/.256).

For all of the talk, though, they didn’t hit that first strike any more frequently in this series.  Of the 109 batters who came to the plate in Seattle, 18 hit the first strike (just 16.5% – this number including two batters who walked before seeing strike one).

They did, however, hit that first pitch much better when they did hit it – going 9 for 16 (.562) with 2 doubles and a home run (.875 slugging percentage).

Of the 109 batters sent to the plate, 62 (56.9%) still ended up in two strike counts – higher than average.  These batters, though, also performed better.  The batting average was somewhat higher at .190 (11 for 58).  But 6 of the 11 two-strike hits went for extra-bases (3 doubles and all 3 home runs hit over the last two games).  Tommy Edman’s seventh-inning, game-winning single in the Thursday game (box score) also came on a two-strike pitch, culminating a 9-pitch at bat.

It could be argued from this, that the team isn’t any less selective than they were in June, but that when they do decide to swing, they are doing so with more abandon – that the swings, themselves, are more aggressive.

On the Other Hand

So, if there is some evidence of a new and more productive offensive philosophy in place, here are a couple of caveats to keep in mind.

First of all, the sample size is exceedingly small.  We are looking here at 109 plate appearances in contrast to 964 in June alone, and 3226 for the season.  Three games can suggest a possible turn-around, but proves nothing.

Second, of course, this was Seattle.  The Mariners are having a fairly dreary season, having lost more than fifty games, already.  There have been a lot of teams that have taken similar advantage of the Seattle pitching staff.  This becomes more credible when (if) they can perform similarly against a more established pitching staff.

Finally, this re-discovered damage happened on the road.  The question that hangs over this offense is – aggressive or not – can they do sustained damage in their spacious ballpark, where big flies tend to die on the track?

Don’t get me wrong, it was a relief to see some hits coming off the bats of some struggling hitters.  But there is still much to be proved.

HarrisonBader

Perhaps the change in philosophy affected no one more than Harrison Bader.  He had fallen completely into that pattern throughout the month of June.  Harrison hit that first strike just 19% of the time, and went just 3 for 12 when he did.  He ended with two-strikes on him 61.9% of the time, batting just .087 (4 for 46) when that happened.

Harrison had 7 plate appearances in the last two games of the Seattle series, and he hit the first strike in 3 of them – getting singles all three times.

PaulGoldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt finished the Seattle series with 3 hits over the last two games – a single and two doubles.  Two of the three hits came with two strikes on him – which was encouraging.  But again, Goldschmidt faced two-strike counts in 6 of his last 8 plate appearances.  Paul, who is, perhaps, more selective than he needs to be, has gotten to two strikes in 62.8% of his plate appearances.

JoseMartinez

Jose Martinez finished the Seattle series with a single and a double yesterday afternoon.  Jose has now strung together a nice six-game hitting streak.  He is hitting .333 during the streak (8 for 24), with half the hits going for extra-bases (2 doubles, 2 home runs).  Since being returned to the lineup 13 games ago, Jose is hitting .314 (16 for 51), and slugging .529 with 3 home runs.

DexterFowler

Fowler also has a little hitting streak going, having at least one hit in each of the last 7 games he’s had an official at bat in.  He walked as a pinch-hitter in the last game against San Diego.  Counting that walk, over his last 25 plate appearances, Fowler has contributed 5 singles, 1 double, 1 home run and 5 walks – a .350/.480/.550 batting line.

Fowler – like Goldschmidt – is a taker of pitches.  For all his talk about aggression, he never did hit the first strike thrown him at any point in the series, working with two strikes on him in 9 of the 11 plate appearances he had where they actually pitched to him (he was intentionally walked his last time up).

All three of his hits in the series came with two strikes on him.

YadierMolina

While most of the Cardinals’ struggling hitters found some measure of success in Seattle, things are still not falling in for Yadier Molina.  Yadi is 0-for-10 with a sacrifice fly in his last 11 plate appearances, but three of those outs (including the sac fly) have been line drives.  In 20 games since he’s returned from injury, Yadi is carrying a .239/.257/.282 batting line.

MichaelWacha

After allowing just 3 runs over 13 innings of his previous two starts, inconsistency found Michael Wacha yesterday afternoon, and he was driven from the mound before he could get through the fourth inning.

Wacha has labored to a 5.89 ERA since he returned from the injured list.

CarlosMartinez

Carlos Martinez’ season began on the injured list, and his first several appearances out of the pen were less than sharp.  That has resolved itself over his last 7 appearances (10.1 innings) in which he has given just 1 run on 7 hits (0.87 ERA).  Over that span, Carlos has walked just 2, given no extra-base hits, and struck out 11.

Of the last 24 batters to put the ball in play against him, exactly two-third have hit the ball on the ground.

AndrewMiller

Like Martinez, it took Andrew Miller a little while to get the feel of his slider.  The recent results indicate it is about back to its former level of filthiness.  He has struck out all of the last five batters he’s put into two strike counts, and 9 of the last 11.

NoteBook

Jose Martinez grounded into two double plays last night.  He has already bounced into 11 this season.  His career high are the 15 he hit into last year in 152 games and 534 at bats.

Last night’s victory gave St Louis a series win on the road.  This was their fourteenth road series of the season, and only the fifth of them that they have won, losing 8 and splitting 1.  Even with the win, they are 19-24 on the road this season.

Even though they eventually won the game, St Louis trailed after six innings for the ninth game in a row.

Two Fastballs

The second inning had been a mess.  Cardinal starter Jack Flaherty labored for 39 pitches to the eight batters who made their way to the plate in that inning.  After a single by Dee Gordon had tied the game at one each, Flaherty gave an infield hit and two consecutive walks to plate a second run.

But, that inning behind him, Jack needed just 29 more pitches to work his way through the next two innings, picking up four strikeouts along the way.

Now it’s the fifth inning, still 2-1 Seattle.  A four-pitch walk to the first batter, Daniel Vogelbach, brought Omar Narvaez to the plate.  Probably, few pitches are as predictable as the first-pitch fastball right after a four-pitch walk.  It didn’t help that the fastball was right down the middle at just 92 miles per hour.

Regardless, Narvaez was ready for it, and suddenly it was a 4-1 Mariner lead.

But the game wouldn’t end there.  After home runs from Jose Martinez and Yairo Munoz tied the game, St Louis gave the ball to Giovanny Gallegos to get them through the eighth.  Seattle answered with pinch-hitter Tim Beckham.

Gallegos has been much praised in these pages recently – and with good reason.  Giovanny has really been very good over the last several weeks.

Last night, however, Beckham gave him a worthy battle.  After Tim fouled off four of the first six pitches, Giovanny threw his fifth fastball of the at bat.  It was inside, but not inside enough.

And just like that, what could have been an outstanding pitching effort in a satisfying victory ends as a 5-4 loss.

While the rest of the National League Central has been marching in place waiting for the Cards to join the party (and both the Brewers and the Cubs lost again last night), the Cards have been dutifully losing six of the last seven.  This loss, so reminiscent of many of the other six (the Cards have served up 15 home runs over the last seven games), and, in fact like many of the 42 lost already this year.  Last year’s team allowed 144 home runs over the entire season – the fewest total in all of baseball.  Through 83 games of 2019, St Louis has now surrendered 114 already.  An otherwise quality outing reversed by one or two mistakes not gotten away with.

During the current 1-6 streak, Cardinal starters have contributed just 35.2 innings (Jack only gave them 4.2 last night), during which they have been pelted for 26 runs (20 earned) on 49 hits that have included 11 home runs.  It all sums up to a combined 0-5 record, a 5.05 ERA, a .325 batting average against, and a .589 slugging percentage allowed (courtesy of 2.78 home runs allowed per every nine innings).

This kind of struggling from your rotation is enough – usually – to cause a losing streak regardless.  But when this is the staff saddled with one of baseball’s least potent offenses – well.

At 41-42, the Cards would be 13 games out if they were in the American League East.  They would be 11.5 games behind the Twins in the AL Central or the Astros in the AL West.

Anywhere in the AL, and they would be 4.5 games out of the last wildcard spot and behind four other teams.

Elsewhere in the National League, they would be 15 games behind the Dodgers in the West, and 7.5 behind Atlanta in the East (although anywhere in the NL, they wouldn’t be farther than 2.5 out of the last wildcard spot).

Some of those other situations might convince the proud Cardinal franchise to be sellers – and maybe they should be sellers.  But with the Central Division waiting patiently for someone to lay in a claim, there is little (read zero) chance that St Louis will sell.

Instead this organization that is profoundly puzzled at why their hitters don’t hit and their pitchers don’t pitch will patiently wait and hope things will turn around.

Truthfully, it wouldn’t really take much.  Most nights, just a couple of pitches here and there.

Jack Flaherty

One of the prized young hurlers in the system, Jack Flaherty is in a troubled spot right now.  The home run he served up last night means that Jack has been touched for at least one home run in each of his last 6 starts.  He has given 10 of them in 30.1 innings, and 17 of the last 35 hits against him have been for extra-bases.  He has an 0-2 record, and a 7.12 ERA over those starts.

Tyler Webb

Among the relievers, Tyler Webb is now starting to string some impressive appearances together.  Coming in in the sixth, Tyler kept Seattle off the board for 1.1 innings.  It was his sixth straight scoreless outing, during which he has given just 3 hits (singles) over 5 innings.  Over his last 15 appearances, Webb has a 2.03 ERA.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina just can’t get anything sustained.  With three hits in the first San Diego game coming close on the heels of a five-game hitting streak, it was hoped that that would be the beginning of a hot streak for Yadi.  He hasn’t had a hit since, going 0-for-7 with 3 strikeouts and a double-play in the last 3 games.

Harrison Bader

Hitless in 2 at bats last night, Harrison Bader is now 2 for 39 (.051) over his last 14 games.  The hits are both singles, and he has no runs batted in over that span.  By all rights, of course, Harrison should have had a double last night, but a truly superior defensive play by Kyle Seager at third kept the zeros coming for Bader.  That, sadly, is how things play against you when you are in that slump.

Tommy Edman

This is how quickly things can turn in baseball.  In the Saturday game against San Diego, Tommy Edman led off with a home run – his second.  At that point, he had 9 hits in his first 25 major league at bats – a .360 average.

That was his last hit, as Tommy is currently riding an 0-for-10.

Winning Teams Still a Stumbling Block

Last night in San Diego, the San Francisco Giants did – and did rather handily – something that has been a challenge for the Cardinals all season.  They beat the Padres – beating them pretty badly, by the way, 13-2.  By contrast, St Louis scored just 19 runs against them in six games – four of which they lost.

The loss dropped the Padres back down to – but not below – the .500 mark at 42-42.  As such, the Cardinals’ performance against San Diego last weekend (losing two of three) holds with the pattern established throughout the season: a noted inability to beat the better teams.

Going back to the previous road trip, the Cards got themselves swept by the Cubs (currently in second place in the division).  They responded by winning 9 of their next 14 games – a streak that gave the team and its followers a shot of confidence.  But all 14 of those games were against losing teams (Miami, the Mets, Miami again, and the Angels).  When the schedule brought in two teams with at least as many wins as losses (the Athletics and Padres), the Cards resumed their losing ways – losing four of the five.

The arc of the season so far has followed precisely the trajectory of their success against the better teams.  The March/April version of this team raced out to a 19-10 record.  At the heart of that record was a 12-7 mark against these better teams.  May saw them spin out to a 9-18 record.  Underpinning that mark was a 7-14 record against winning teams (and, by the way, a 2-4 record against losing teams).

They closed June 13-13 overall, but only 3-7 against teams that currently are at least at .500.

Of all my statistical subsets that reveal a team’s character, wins against winning teams is my favorite.  I’m not sure that any other measure will paint you as clear a picture of who your team is.  That the Cards enter July having been matched against winning teams in 50 of their first 82 games speaks to how frequently this team has been tested.  The fact that this team that expected to contend is only 22-28 in those contests is evidence that – at least to this point of the season – this team doesn’t match up to that competition.

In the ten June games, the offense struggled to 2.6 runs per game on the strength of a .215 batting average.  For the season, there has been very little offensive success against these teams – a .239 batting average, leading to 4.18 runs per game.

The pitching hasn’t been any more capable.  Their June ERA against winning teams was an unspectacular 4.34, which included serving up 18 home runs in the ten games.  The season ERA against these teams is an identical 4.34 (4.48 by the starters and 4.13 from the pen).

While they haven’t always been effective against losing teams either, the schedule will at least award them that opportunity until the end of the month.  Next up, they have Seattle (37-51), San Francisco (37-47), Arizona (43-43), Pittsburgh (40-43), Cincinnati (38-44), and Pittsburgh again, until the Houston Astros (53-32) finally make a visit to Busch on July 26. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are division foes.  The Cardinals’ combined record against them is 7-6.  Any expectation that this team will roll through those games is little more than wishful thinking.

Given the schedule, it is entirely possible (although not a certainty) that their fortunes could improve somewhat over the next few weeks.  Until this team shows me, though, that they can stand toe-to-toe with some of the good teams, we’ll kind of have to take any success they experience with a grain of salt.

Marcell Ozuna

The loss of Marcell Ozuna, of course, hurts on many levels.  Not the least of which was his ability to get hits against the better teams – especially in the month of June.  In his last 8 games against teams with at least as many wins as losses, Marcell had gone 10 for 27 (.370).  Of his 20 home runs this season, 13 came at the expense of these better teams.

Yairo Munoz

Yairo Munoz’ 4-for-7 series against San Diego wasn’t really an anomaly.  Munoz has been one of our better (if rarely used) bats against winning teams.  Munoz is 13 for 37 (.351) in his opportunities against better teams.

Paul Goldschmidt

With his combined 2 for 20 against Oakland and San Diego as the lowlight, Paul Goldschmidt finished June 7 for 37 (.189) against teams that are .500 or better.  For the season, Goldschmidt has faded to .249 (46 for 185) against these guys.

Paul DeJong

June was also trying all the way around for Paul DeJong.  In the ten games last month against winning teams, Paul hit a struggling .184 (7 for 38).  He walked just once while striking out 10 times in those games.

Jose Martinez

June saw Jose Martinez work his way back into the starting lineup.  Like most of the rest of the team, though, he was of little help against the better teams.  Jose hit .179 against them last month (5 for 28).  His 5 hits were 4 singles and 1 double – a .214 slugging percentage.  He drove in no runs against the better teams he played in June.

Harrison Bader

The June struggles of Harrison Bader also reached to his ability to get hits against winning teams.  Bader played in 8 of the 10 games (starting 7), hitting .148 (4 for 27).  He had no walks in those games, against 7 strikeouts.  Of his 4 hits, though, Harrison did come through with 3 extra-base hits – including 2 home runs.  He was the only one on the team to hit multiple home runs against winning teams in June.

Bader is just a .214 hitter (25 for 117) against winning teams for the year.

Adam Wainwright

Some of Adam Wainwright’s best moments of the month came in his three starts against the tough guys.  He was impressive in a 2-0 loss against Oakland, and made two earlier June starts against Chicago – one here (a 2-1 win) and one there (a 5-1 loss).

Overall, Adam finished with two quality starts, and a 2.37 ERA in those games.

Tyler Webb

One of the surprising names that has bubbled to the top of the list against winning teams is Tyler Webb.  Tyler is not noticed as often as some others, but he has been as effective as anyone on the staff against the best competition the Cards have played.

Webb has pitched in 20 of the 50 games, working 19 innings.  He has given just 4 runs on only 7 hits – which include just 1 home run.  It adds to a 1.89 ERA, a .115 batting average against, and a .197 slugging average against.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia has had some rough moments lately, but few of them have come against the good teams the Cards have faced.  In his 24.2 innings against the higher competition, John has fashioned a 2.19 ERA, with a .187 batting average.  He has allowed only 5 extra-base hits in these games (just 2 of them home runs), while striking out 30.  He averages 10.95 strikeouts every nine innings, while allowing a slugging percentage of just .286.

John Gant

John Gant – a revelation overall in the bullpen this year – has also acquitted himself well against this level of competition.  Over his 20 games and 23.2 innings, Gant holds a 2.28 ERA and a .173 batting average against.

Giovanny Gallegos

With little fanfare, Giovanny Gallegos finds himself throwing the most innings of anyone in the bullpen against the stiffer opponents.  With 25 innings against them, Giovanny has pitched to 95 of these hitters.  He has struck out 37 of them.  His 2.88 ERA and .191 batting average against in these games is highlighted by 13.32 strikeouts per nine innings.

Jack Flaherty

More than any other Cardinal starter, Jack Flaherty has been taken advantage of by the best teams.  Like Wainwright, Jack pitched twice against the Cubs and once against Oakland in June.  He didn’t get out of the fifth in two of the three, finishing with no quality starts, giving 13 runs in 13.1 innings on 18 hits including 6 home runs.  It all added up to an 8.78 ERA, a .310 batting average allowed and a .707 slugging percentage against.

For the season, Jack has made more starts (13) against .500+ teams than anyone else on the staff.  Only 4 of them have been quality starts.  He is 3-4 with a 5.18 ERA in those games.  In his 66 innings against these guys, Jack has struck out 74 (10.09 per nine) and served up 15 home runs (2.05 per nine innings).

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha pitched a very solid game against Oakland last week, but in general his games against the better opponents haven’t gone well.  In 8 starts and 1 relief appearance, Michael has totaled 44.1 innings against teams who are at or over .500.  In those innings, Wacha has unintentionally walked 27 batters (5.48 per nine innings) and served up 12 home runs (2.44 per nine innings).  These are usually bad combinations.  Not surprisingly, Wacha’s ERA against these guys sits at 5.48.

Jordan Hicks

Also learning some tough lessons at the hands of the league’s better teams is first year closer and flame-thrower Jordan Hicks.  With relatively few save opportunities, Hicks only appeared in 13.2 innings against these guys.  Not a lot of hits given up, of course – just 11 in those innings.  But these teams combined those hits with 9 walks they were able to draw to make Jordan’s innings stressful.  Hicks has allowed 9 runs in those innings – leading to a 5.93 ERA.

The Cardinals’ injured closer will get no more opportunities this year, but there are certainly plenty of experiences that are worthy of review.

Most of our issues against the quality teams fall in one of two buckets.  We have the veterans who are surprisingly under-performing.  And we have the young players – and this team’s chances are strongly linked to quite a few key performers who have relatively little experience – working through their learning curve.

Both of these are issues that can improve.  Actually, they are issues that should improve as the season wears on.  The question is: will they?

Cards Miss Too Many RISP Opportunities in San Diego

When Yairo Munoz stepped to the plate in the top of the sixth inning yesterday, the Cardinal position was a bit precarious, as they tilted on the verge of being swept in San Diego.

Trailing 3-0, St Louis had the bases loaded with two out.  They were riding a streak of 0 for their last 12 with runners in scoring position.  For the series, at that point, St Louis had scored all of 3 runs in 23.2 innings.  With runners in scoring position (RISP), for the series to this point, St Louis had managed two infield singles in 18 previous at bats.  One of those dribblers (by Michael Wacha on Friday) had accounted for the only run batted in in a RISP situation to this point of the series.  Reaching back to the last game of the Oakland series – from Paul DeJong’s ground-rule double that gave the Cards a temporary 3-1 lead in the second inning – St Louis had just those two infield hits to show for their last 29 at bats with runners in scoring position.

Batting with runners in scoring position is one of those numbers that almost cannot be over-emphasized.  In that Friday game, for example, the Cards finished the game with 9 hits – a solid total that included 2 doubles.  But the Cards ended on the losing end of a 3-1 contest (box score) because, of the 15 total runners they had in scoring position across 11 such plate appearances, they only managed to get one of them home.

Munoz, by the way, would come through with a two-run single that was instrumental in the St Louis comeback that salvaged the finale of the series, 5-3 in 11 innings (box score).

Before the game would end, Tyler O’Neill would loop a single to right with a runner at second that would lead to the tying run.

Even with the strongish finish, St Louis would lose two of the three games – in no small part because they finished 4 for 22 (.182) with runners in scoring position.  All the hits were singles, and accounted for just 3 runs batted in – while setting up a fourth run to score on an error after O’Neill’s hit.

After the All-Star Break last year, the Cards hit .274 with RISP, with a .444 slugging percentage.  They added a .272 RISP batting average in April.

They faded to .253 (albeit with a .438 slugging percentage) in May opportunities with runners in scoring position.  The struggling series in San Diego ended a month in which St Louis hit just .240 with “ducks on the pond,” slugging just .353 in those opportunities.  In 198 such plate appearances in June, St Louis finished with 10 extra-base hits.

This futility contributed materially to a month that saw the Cards score 3.54 runs per game, while they hit .223 and slugged .357.  According to baseball reference, they finished worst in all of baseball in those categories last month – along with on base percentage (.286), and of course, OPS (.643).  It’s rather sobering to think that for the entire month this team was baseball’s worst in each of the batting line categories.

For the season, now, they hold the National League’s fourth lowest batting average (.241), fifth lowest on base percentage (.318), third lowest slugging percentage (.395 – they are one of only 4 teams in all of baseball whose slugging percentage is below .400), and third lowest in OPS (.713).

Against the background of all of that, one almost feels lucky that this team managed to split their 26 June games, entering July with a humble 41-41 record.

Barring any real explanation, all that is left for us to do is the same thing that manager Mike Shildt is doing.  Waiting for some of these guys to start hitting.

YairoMunoz

Munoz was a welcomed spark in an offense that otherwise hit just .209 and slugged .291 in the three games in San Diego – games in which they scored a total of 8 runs.

Munoz played in all three, and started one.  Yairo left San Diego with 4 hits in 7 at bats.  In those 7 at bats, he led the entire team in runs batted in for the weekend.  He drove in 3.

Munoz is now 7 for his last 14 (.500) over 8 games.  He finished June hitting .345 (10 for 29).

YadierMolina

Yadier Molina was the man who collected the other RISP hit of the weekend – joining the august company of Munoz, O’Neill and Wacha.  With a runner at second and no one out in the second inning of the Friday game, Yadi beat out an infield hit.  This moment actually set the tone for the series.

After Harrison Bader reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases – still with no one out – Eric Lauer escaped with no damage done getting a ground-out, strikeout, ground-out.

Still, with the hit Yadi remains one of the team’s top performers in RISP situations- he is hitting .317 (20 for 63) in those opportunities.

PaulDeJong

The long list of Cardinals who are still struggling begins with St Louis’ lone All-Star.  Riding a stellar April, DeJong has been giving ground ever since.  Paul was only 2 for 11 against San Diego (both singles) and is hitting .133 (6 for 45) over his last 11 games.  Paul has only 2 extra-base hits, and 2 runs batted in over those games.  He hasn’t hit a home run in 12 games.

Paul finished June with a .218 batting average (22 for 101).

HarrisonBader

Clearly Shildt would love to stick Bader in center and let him play.  It’s hard to watch his elite defense and not crave his presence there on a daily basis.  But a devastating slump has made this mostly impossible.  An offense that looks mostly helpless on most evenings can’t afford to carry a pure defender.

At the plate, Harrison finished the San Diego series 1 for 8.  Over his last 13 games (10 starts) Bader has managed just two hits (singles) in 37 at bats (.054).  Harrison carried the lowest June batting average of any Cardinal regular.  He hit .155 (11 for 71).

Bader was 0-for-3 during the series in RISP opportunities.  He finished June 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.  For the season, he is a .118 hitter (4 for 34) in this situation.

PaulGoldschmidt

You must have guessed that Paul Goldschmidt would end up on this list.  He might never in his career be happier to see a month pass than this June.  Paul finished the Padre series just 1 for 12 – exactly is numbers for the Oakland series before.  His 2 for 24 (.083) includes 9 strikeouts, but no runs batted in.  Paul hasn’t had an extra-base hit, or a run batted in in 8 games, and it’s been 9 games since his last home run.

For June, Paul finished at .181 (17 for 94) with 3 home runs and just 5 runs batted in.

Goldschmidt has also struggled all season in RISP situations.  Hitless in 2 opportunities against San Diego, Paul finished June 1 for 12 in RISP at bats.  For the season, he is just 10 for 49 (.204).  Nine of the 10 hits are singles – and two of those are infield hits.

TommyEdman

The hero of the Oakland series, Tommy Edman opened the Saturday game with a home run. Leading off in all three games, that would be his only hit of the series (he finished 1 for 14).

MichaelWacha

Friday’s loser, Michael Wacha nonetheless performed admirably – pitching 7 innings, giving just 2 runs on 6 hits and a walk.  With that effort, Michael completes a fairly impressive bounce back month.

Wacha made 5 appearances in June – 4 as a starter.  He gave us 3 quality starts, posting a 2.84 ERA over 25.1 innings.

MilesMikolas

Although he labored through six very creditable innings on Sunday, the one big hit served up by Miles Mikolas (that would be the Manny Machado home run) came with a runner in scoring position.  This is a recurring issue for Mikolas.  Batters were 7 for 18 (.389) against Miles with runners in scoring position during June – with 3 of the hits being home runs.

For the season, batters are 21 for 71 (.296) against Mikolas with runners in scoring position.  Seven of the hits have been home runs – leading to a .620 slugging percentage against him in that circumstance.

GiovannyGallegos

One of the reasons that Giovanny Gallegos is the Cards best reliever at stranding runners (he has stranded 21 of 24) is that no one hits him with runners in scoring position.

The Padres were 0-for-2 against him over the weekend in those chances.  Batters went 0-for-9 against Giovanny in RISP situations during June, dropping them to just 3 for 27 (.111) for the season.

NoteBook

The home runs given up by Michael Wacha on Friday night were the fifteenth and sixteenth hit off of him this year in 73 innings.  Last year, in 84.1 innings, he allowed just 9.  His career high in home runs allowed are the 19 that he gave up in 181.1 innings back in 2015.