Should You Even Throw Yadi a Strike?

Honestly, I don’t think that Matt Albers intended to throw him a strike.

The game was tied at 1 in the seventh inning.  The Cards had the potential lead run on first with one out, and Yadier Molina was at the plate.  Matt threw him that sinker, but down and almost off of his kneecaps.  So, I think Matt’s surprise was understandable as he watched Yadi golf the pitch off the foul-pole in left for the game-deciding home run (in an eventual 6-3 win).

Sometimes it is tempting to think that the best thing to do with Yadi is to throw the ball right down the middle.  His first time up, Adrian Houser’s first pitch to him was a fastball right down the middle, that Molina swung through.  Of course, the pitch that Devin Williams threw him in the ninth was also right down the middle – and Yadi drilled it into the gap in right-center for a double.

Statistically, what you want to do is throw ball one with the first pitch.  Yadi hits .290 (64 for 221) with all 7 of his home runs in at bats that begin with first-pitch strikes.  But when the first pitch is ball one, Molina goes on to hit .217/.277/.283 (20 for 92 with just 6 doubles).

This trend has been more pronounced since Yadier returned from his injury.  He is 2 for 15 (.133) when the first pitch to him misses.  But if you start his at bat throwing strikes – or even pitches close enough that Yadi might consider it a strike – then Molina has hit .378 (14 for 37) with 5 extra-bases, including 3 home runs – a .676 slugging percentage.

Certainly, when Yadi is hot, too many pitches too close to the strike zone is living dangerously.

And Yadi is certainly hot.

Molina is now riding a five-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .500 (10 for 20) with a double and 3 home runs.  He has driven in 7 runs and is slugging an even 1.000 during the streak.  He has also hit safely in 8 of his last 9.  In those games, Yadi is 14 for 31 with 5 extra-base hits and 7 walks – a line of .452/.553/.806.

In 14 games since he came off the injured list, Molina is hitting .308 (16 for 52) and slugging .519.

Harrison Bader

Also heating up is Harrison Bader.  With three hits last night, Bader has 5 over the last two games.  He has hit in 5 straight as well (8 for 19) with 2 doubles and a home run.  He has driven in 5 runs over the 5 games, with a .421 batting average and a .684 slugging percentage.

Harrison is hitting .360 (9 for 25) since his recall from Memphis.

Marcell Ozuna

And speaking of hot, with two more hits last night, Marcell Ozuna extended his hitting streak to 8 games.  In those games, Marcell is 14 for 30, with 2 doubles, a triple, and 2 home runs.  He has 10 runs batted in to go with a .467 average and an .800 slugging percentage.  Marcell has also now hit in 11 of 12, hitting .413 (19 for 46).

The hot streak has pushed Ozuna’s August average up to .321 and his slugging percentage this month up to .556.  In 23 August games, Ozuna is 26 for 81 with 4 home runs and 15 runs batted in.

Kolten Wong

After sitting out a couple of games to nurse a toe injury, Kolten Wong came off the bench late and looked as though he had never been out of the lineup.  With his 2-for-2, Wong is 5 for 16 (.313) over his last 5 games.  Wong leads the team in batting for the month (.338) and in the second half (.350 on 42-for-120 hitting).

Dexter Fowler

Cooling off a little lately is Dexter Fowler.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Dex is 3 for 18 (.167) over his last 5 games – albeit with 4 runs batted in.

NoteBook

Very good last night, Miles Mikolas is still already approaching most of the career highs he set last year.  Up now to 27 starts, Miles is only 5 behind the 32 he made last year.  After allowing 186 hits last year, Miles has given 165 already this year.

His 10 strikeouts last night bring him to 119 for the season – giving him a shot at the 146 he struck out last year.

Along with his two singles, Ozuna also grounded into a double play.  He has now bounced into 15 this season.  His career high is the 18 he hit into in 2017.

In addition to his three extra-base hits, Molina also drew a walk – just his sixteenth of the season.  It was also the 500th walk of his career.  A notably aggressive hitter, it should surprise no one that it took him 1955 games and 7538 plate appearances to reach that milestone.

Molina drove in the game-winning run in both the first two games in Milwaukee.  He now joins Tommy Edman and Jose Martinez for fourth on the team with 5.  Ozuna still leads with 12, followed by Paul Goldschmidt (11) and Paul DeJong (6).

In the game last night, Wong matched the 127 games he played all of last year.  With two more runs batted in, Kolten has reached the 50 mark for just the second time in his career.  He now has a reasonable shot at his career high of 61 set in 2015.  His stolen base brought him to two short of his career high of 20 set in 2014.

Just Not Ready for the Cardinal Bullpen

It was the bottom of the fourth.  St Louis had built a substantial lead, but the dangerous Brewers were making an effort to get back into the game.  After two doubles and a walk, Milwaukee had trimmed the lead to 9-2, and had runners at first and second – albeit with two outs.

And that was the end of the evening for Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright.  Part of the decision was that Adam was at 90 pitches.

Increasingly, though, I think Mike Shildt’s decisions are influenced by the fact that his bullpen might be his greatest weapon.  Once the Cardinal bullpen came into the game, the Brewer offense stopped.  Over the last 5.1 innings, Milwaukee scored no runs, managing just 3 hits and 1 walk.

The Cards tacked on a few more runs for a 12-2 victory (box score).

Last night, Milwaukee – like most major league teams – just wasn’t ready for the Cardinal bullpen.  While some of the Cardinal starters – like Wainwright and tonight’s starter Miles Mikolas – will nibble at you with breaking balls early in the count, the St Louis bullpen just comes at you.

Across all of baseball, major league hitters salivate at the opportunity to hit fastballs early in the count.  According to baseball reference, batters hitting the first pitch thrown to them are slashing .355/.364/.633.  Batters hitting the 0-1 pitch are doing almost as well – they are slashing .330/.340/.541.  With very few exceptions, these are batters looking for hittable fastballs early in the count, and punishing them.

Last night, after Waino left, the good-hitting Brewer lineup hit the first-pitch twice and the 0-1 pitch once.  Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain both grounded out on the first pitch against John Gant, and Keston Hiura grounded an 0-1 pitch from Dominic Leone into a double play.

These were only 3 at bats, but not isolated results.  As St Louis has won 14 of their last 17, opposing batters are just 6 for 41 (.146) against the Cardinal bullpen in 0-0 and 0-1 counts.  The hits are 5 singles and 1 double.  As the bullpen boasts six pitchers averaging at least a strikeout an inning, batters don’t have the luxury of working deep in the count against them.  When they get that early fastball – however hard and sinking it might be – they are mostly obliged to try to take advantage.

These days, there are very few comfortable at bats against the St Louis bullpen.

AdamWainwright

Wainwright’s struggle has been the opposite.  If he can get you deep in the count, he can finish you off with that curve or that sneaky cutter.  But early in the count he remains very vulnerable.  On those same 0-0 and 0-1 pitches that his relief corps have thrived on, Waino has consistently taken damage.

Last night, Mike Moustakas ended the first inning by lining out on the first pitch thrown to him.  Eric Thames tripled on the first pitch he saw in the second.  Two batters hit 0-1 pitches in the third – Hernan Perez singled and Braun just missed a home run to right.

For the month, when in no-ball counts, batters are 17 for 38 (.447) against Waino with 3 doubles, a triple and 2 home runs – a .737 slugging percentage.  For the season, the league is hitting .356 (52 for 146) when they get to him before the first ball is thrown.

TommyEdman

Tommy Edman began August in a bit of a tailspin.  Lately, he has done nothing but hit.  With three more last night, Edman is 25 of 66 (.379) over his last 16 games, and has pushed his average to .318 for the month.

Edman – at this stage of his career, anyway – doesn’t take a lot of pitches or work a lot of counts.  He ends up in three-ball counts only 15.6% of the time.  The count never reached three balls to him last night.  Tommy is hitting .361 (22 of 61) when hitting before ball one is thrown.

DexterFowler

In last night’s second inning, Dexter Fowler won a six-pitch at bat, lining an RBI single.  Dexter has been at his best in three-ball counts (his hit came on a 3-2 pitch).  For the month, he is 5 for 12 (.417) with 2 home runs on three-ball counts.  For the season, Dex is a .292 hitter (19 for 65) once he gets into a three-ball count.

MarcellOzuna

With a single and a double, Marcell Ozuna stretched his hitting streak to seven games.  Marcell is hitting .462 (12 for 26) during the streak, with 5 of the hits going for extra-base hits – including 2 home runs.  He is slugging .846 with 10 runs batted in during the streak.

Ozuna is now a .312 hitter this month with 4 home runs, 15 runs batted, and a .558 slugging percentage.

YadierMolina

After struggling a bit at the plate in his first games back in the lineup, Yadier Molina is starting to feel it again.  He had two hits last night, including a home run.  Yadi has now hit safely in 7 of his last 8.  Molina is 11 for 28 (.393) in those games.

NoteBook

St Louis has now won the first game of the last three series and of five of the last six.

When the Cards carried a 12-2 lead into the ninth inning, it was their largest ninth inning lead since May 9 – a 17-4 conquest of Pittsburgh (box score).

It Won’t Always Be This Easy

For four days over the extended weekend, the St Louis Cardinals rolled through the Colorado Rockies like they’ve buried no team so far this season.  In a firing-on-all-cylinders series that was almost breathtaking to behold, the Cardinals (who have seemed offensively moribund for long stretches this season) bludgeoned the Colorado pitching staff to the tune of 31 runs (7.75 per game) and a batting line of .321/.424/.565.  The entire team OPSed .989 against Colorado.

But that was only half of the fun.

Two of the starters in the series (the now-famous “Jack and Dak” combo) each threw six scoreless innings, highlighting a pitching effort that held the Rockies to a 2.50 ERA and a batting line of .185/.262/.285.  Colorado scored a total of 12 runs in the 4 games, and struck out 40 times.

If ever a team looked like world-beaters, the Cardinals over the last four games looked all but superhuman.  An article on MLB.com suggests that perhaps the Cardinals (now 2.5 games ahead) are pulling away in their division.  For their part, the team is doing a little chest beating of their own – with overtones of “see, we told you we were a great team.”

So, with full congratulations to a team that has won 13 of 16, and has gone 45-30 since late May, I’m still going to suggest that we tap the breaks here a little.

One of baseball’s immutable laws is that you are never as bad as you look when you’re losing, and you’re never as good as you look when you’re winning.  Although it is now a few months down the road, this is the same team that wheezed through a 6-18 stretch in May.

Even a closer look at their recent success uncovers reasons for concern.

At 27-14, the Cardinals have played .659 baseball since the All-Star break.  That record includes a 13-1 record against Pittsburgh and Colorado – two teams that have absolutely collapsed since the break – they, in fact, have the National League’s two worst second half records – Colorado at 14-28 (.333) and the Pirates at 11-30 (.268).  Both of these teams have earned run averages over 5.00 for the season (Pittsburgh at 5.03 and Colorado at 5.55).  The Rockies, in fact, have baseball’s worst second half ERA of 6.51 (according to baseball reference).

It’s naive to say it doesn’t make a difference.  The Cards couldn’t have picked a better time to play those two teams.

The second half does feature series wins against both the Cubs and the Brewers (they took two out of three from both of those teams).  Both of those were home series, though.  St Louis has struggled mightily on the road against both of those teams – and will be in Milwaukee tonight.

Beside the Cubs and Brewers, St Louis has played 8 second half games against legitimate playoff teams in Houston, Oakland and the LA Dodgers.  They came up decidedly short in those contests, winning just 1.

I am not trying to suggest, here, that this team won’t make the playoffs, and couldn’t be a dangerous team should they get in.  I’m just suggesting that the final 33 games of the season will almost certainly be more challenging than the last 16.  I’m suggesting that this team still has a lot to prove, beginning tonight against the Brewer left-hander.

Almost everyone who played in this last series prospered statistically at the expense of a struggling team – and that’s fine.  That is how winning teams should handle struggling teams.

Now they need to play that same brand of baseball against teams with more going for them.

Jack Flaherty

The “Jack” half of the “Jack and Dak” show, Jack Flaherty is on a roll that challenges comprehension.  He was the Friday starter, limiting Colorado to 3 singles, one walk and one hit batsman over his six innings.  And, of course, no runs.  Flaherty has made 5 starts in August, pitching at least 6 innings in all of them (32 innings total).  He has given 1 run.

His official August line is 4-0 record, 0.28 ERA, and a batting line against of .128/.208/.183.  He has 40 strikeouts in those 32 innings (11.25 per nine innings).

Stretching back to his final start before the All-Star break (a 1-0 loss), Jack is 4-1 with a 0.80 ERA and a .144 batting average against.  He has struck out 70 batters over his last 56.1 innings.

He could be doing about half as well as this, and still be considered dominant.

Dakota Hudson

Not that the “Dak” half of the dynamic duo has anything to apologize for.  Dakota Hudson started on Saturday.  Unlike his previous start against Milwaukee, Hudson did give up hits.  Two of them, to be precise, over six innings – which were two more than the Brewers managed off of him in his 6.2 innings against them.

Hudson has not been scored against in any of his last three starts – totaling 18.2 innings.  He has given only 7 hits (a .119 batting average against) in those innings.

In 5 August starts, Dak holds a 1.71 ERA and an opposing slugging percentage of just .287.  Those are both fabulous numbers, but the ERA is nearly a run-and-a-half higher than Flaherty’s, and the slugging percentage more than 100 points greater than Jack’s.

Together Jack and Dak have made 10 of the team’s 22 starts this month.  They have combined for 7 quality starts (the rest of the rotation has 2), with a 7-1 record and a 0.93 ERA.

Man, I have to tell you it’s fun to watch these guys grow into dominant starters in this league.

Against Colorado, Dak was in top worm-slayer mode.  Of the 16 Rockies to put the ball in play against him, 11 hit the ball on the ground.  During his scoreless streak, Hudson is getting groundballs 67% of the time.

Worth noting is that all three scoreless outings have come on four-days of rest.  Throughout the season, Dakota has performed notably better on four days instead of five.  In his 12 four-day starts, Hudson has 9 quality starts, pitching to a 2.83 ERA and a .244/.333/.368 batting line.  In 70 innings in those games, he has given just 6 home runs, while getting ground balls 60.3% of the time.

He has made 9 starts this year on five-days, achieving only 2 quality starts with a 4.63 ERA, and a batting line of .303/.376/.469.  In 44.2 innings, only 51.7% are hitting the ball on the ground, and 7 home runs have left the park.

Michael Wacha

Since his return to the rotation, Michael Wacha has been less than wonderful.  After 113 pitches on Sunday, Michael was relieved after navigating just 4.2 innings.  Along the way, he had given 3 runs on 6 hits – including 2 home runs.

Returning to the rotation earlier this month, Michael has made 4 starts, pitching as many as 5 innings just once – although, in fairness to Wacha, I should point out that in his 4 inning outing against Milwaukee on August 30, he had allowed no runs on just 3 hits.  He was pinch-hit for early in the interest of offense.

Even with that caveat, Wacha is still just 0-2 with a 5.71 ERA this month, with a .296 batting average against, and 4 home runs served up in 17.1 innings.

John Brebbia

If the Cards do make the postseason, one of their greatest weapons will be a bullpen that comes at you in waves.  John Brebbia is a quiet but significant part of that.  Johnny tossed three hitless innings over two appearances against Colorado, striking out 4.  In 13.2 innings over his last 10 games, Johnny has pitched to a 1.32 ERA with a .167 batting average against.  The last 53 batters to face him have a total of 2 extra-base hits – both doubles.

John is a pretty extreme fly-ball pitcher.  Over the season, about 72% of the batters he faces hit the ball in the air.  This month, John has gotten 21 fly balls against just 3 grounders.

Giovanny Gallegos

Another of the major bullpen weapons is surprising right-hander Giovanny Gallegos.  In more of a cameo role in the Colorado series, Giovanny faced only 5 batters over 2 games – retiring all 5.

Gallegos’ numbers in relief bear a fairly strong resemblance to Flaherty’s as a starter.  In the season’s second half, Gio has given 1 run over 19.1 innings with an .094 batting average allowed.  In fact, the Cards’ rise to prominence mostly coincides with Gallegos blossoming in the pen.  Over the 45-30 spurt that has pushed St Louis into first place, Giovanny has pitched in 31 games with an 0.73 ERA over 37 innings.  He has 43 strikeouts in those innings, and a batting line against of .136/.187/.208.

Gallegos threw 12 of his 17 pitches against Colorado for strikes (71%).  For the month of August, 70% (90 of 128) of his pitches have been strikes.

Tyler Webb

Tyler Webb also worked in a couple of the Colorado games, throwing 1.2 scoreless innings.  As if the relief corps wasn’t deep and dominant enough, Webb has been as good as anyone since his most recent return from the minors.

Over 14.1 innings in 15 games, Tyler has given 1 run – a 0.63 ERA.  He has faced 49 batters in those innings, giving just 4 singles, 1 double, 1 home run and 1 walk while striking out 16 – it’s a .125/.143/.208 batting line against.

Tyler pitched the middle two games on back-to-back days.  It marked the thirteenth time this season that Tyler had pitched on consecutive days.  He holds a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings after pitching the day before.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna terrorized the Rockie pitching staff, going 6 for 13 (.462) with 4 extra-base hits including 2 home runs.  He drove in 7 runs during the 4 games.

Hitting in all four games, Marcell heads to Milwaukee with a six-game hitting streak, and with hits in 9 of his last 10.  He is hitting .405 over the last 10, with a .703 slugging percentage, but has been most torrid during the last six.  During the streak, Ozuna is 10 for 21 (.476).

After the Colorado series, Marcell is slashing .306/.415/.566 for the month.  He has 4 home runs and 12 runs batted in during August.

Tommy Edman

Rookie Tommy Edman keeps making it impossible for Mike Shildt to bench him.  Over his last 9 games, Tommy (who was 7 for 16 against Colorado) has 3 three-hit games and 2 two-hit games.  Tommy is 14 for 38 (.368) in those games.

Edman is now up to .305 (25 for 82) this month.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt also had a big series against the Rockies.  He, too, hit in every game, going 7 for 16 (.438) with a double and a home run – good for a .688 slugging percentage.

Yadier Molina

After going 5 for 15 (.333) over the weekend, Yadier Molina has now hit in 6 of his last 7.  He is hitting .375 (9 for 24) during his streak.

Kolten Wong

Clearly having the worst weekend was Kolten Wong.  He was 2 for 11 (.182) in the series before fouling a pitch off his toe.  He hasn’t played since.

After carrying the team for much of the second half, Kolten is starting to cool a little.  He is 4 for 24 (.167) over his last 8 games.

NoteBook

Ozuna drove in the game-winning run both Friday and Saturday night.  He has now re-taken the team lead from Goldschmidt.  Ozuna now has 12 to Goldy’s 11.

Sunday’s game-winning RBI belonged to Edman.  In the big leagues only since June, Tommy is already tied with Jose Martinez for fourth on the team behind Ozuna, Goldy and Paul DeJong (who has 6).  Edman and Martinez have 5 each.

Dexter Fowler played in his 119th game of 2019 on Sunday afternoon – his most already in any season since he came to St Louis.

Fowler will also probably finish the season with more hits, more doubles, more walks and more at bats than in any previous Cardinal season.  He has 92 hits – including 20 doubles – with 52 walks in 373 at bats already this year after collecting 111 hits and 22 doubles (while drawing 63 walks) in 420 at bats in 2017.

With 3 more runs batted in yesterday, Fowler is suddenly up to 55 this year.  His career high is the 64 he drove in in 2017.

He hasn’t started every game –although that’s almost true – but Goldschmidt enters the last 33 games of the season having played in all of them so far.  He played in 160 back in 2013 – as close as he’s ever come to playing the entire season.  He finished that season with a career high 602 at bats.  He is up to 485 already this year.

Keyed by Flaherty’s six scoreless innings Friday night, the team ERA dipped back under 4.00 to 3.98 for the season.  It now sits at 3.94.

The sweep of the Rockies was St Louis’ third, four-game sweep this season, having previously done this to the Dodgers and Pirates.  The 31 runs they scored in the series were the most they have scored in any series so far this season.  They scored 30 in the four game sweep in Pittsburgh (July 22-25).  This is the fifth time they have swept a series at home in seven opportunities to get a sweep.  They have also swept five series (in 8 opportunities) against teams that had lost its previous series.

The Cards are 4-0 with one split over their last 5 series.

The early fall-like weather continued in St Louis, with Sunday’s game clocking in after the rain delay at 69 degrees – the coolest game-time temperature since the game before the All-Star break when they played in 61 degrees in San Francisco.  The last home game that was cooler was June 21 against the Angels.  That game started at 68 degrees.

At an average of 73 degrees, this was the coolest series in St Louis since Albert-stock weekend (June 21-23).  The average temperature of that series was a balmy 71.0 degrees.  It was the coolest of any series since they went into Oakland for two games (Aug 3-4).  The average temperature there was 72.5 degrees.

Cards Come From Behind for Another One-Run Win

In many ways it was a signature loss in what – at the time – looked like it was a season-defining spiral.  The date was May 28, and the Cards were in Philadelphia.  The birds had just come off a disappointing home stand, in which they had lost 3 of 5 to Kansas City and Atlanta.  Once 20-10, they had now fallen to 26-26, already 4.5 games back in the division.

Against the 31-22 Phillies, the offense got to work early.

Seventeen pitches into his evening, Phillie starter Nick Pivetta had already served up 3 runs on home runs by Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna.  But, as happened all so often in the season’s early days, the offense checked out after they put their early 3 on the board.  For the entire rest of the game, St Louis batsmen bounced two singles and drew two walks – and, of course, scored no runs while striking out 11 times.

Philadelphia began its comeback against Adam Wainwright in the third.  A two-run double from Bryce Harper brought them to within one.  In the fourth inning, a two-run homer by Cesar Hernandez gave Philadelphia the lead.  And concluded the scoring for the evening.  Not yet a legend, Giovanny Gallegos worked a six-up, six down seventh and eighth (striking out three).  But with no more offense coming, the effort availed nothing.  The Cards lost 4-3 (box score).  Philly would push them around the next night, 11-4, to complete St Louis’ 6-18 collapse, and drop them to 26-28, five games in arrears in the division.

The interest in this particular game – other than the fact that it was a general blueprint for most of their losses in May – was that it was their seventh consecutive loss in one-run games.

And that provided a very convenient storyline for 2019.  The team that was almost good.  That competitive little bunch from St Louis that’s almost good enough to win.  One-run games are one measure of a club’s character.  At that moment, the Cards were 5-15 in one run games – almost all you would need to know about a team that was two games under .500.

The season then began to turn ever so quietly.  St Louis managed to claim the finale against Philly, and braced for a visit by their rivals/nemeses from Chicago.

With the confidence of Cardinal Nation somewhat compromised, a first-inning 1-0 Cardinal lead wasn’t overly inspiring.  And sure enough, Cub pitcher Yu Darvish settled in.  St Louis only pushed one more runner into scoring position in Darvish’s six innings.

Luckily, Cardinal pitcher Miles Mikolas was as good – he held the Cubbies to 1 run over his seven innings.

The bullpens took over in the bottom of the seventh, and did so in dominant fashion, combining to retire the next ten batters.

Now, there was one out in the top of the tenth inning, and Daniel Descalso worked a walk from then closer Jordan Hicks.  A wild pitch promptly moved him into scoring position, with Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant coming up.  With the Cardinal offense looking like it would never score again, this seemed to be that moment that this game would slip away.

But Hicks stood up to the moment.  He struck out Schwarber and got Bryant on a routine grounder.

One out into the bottom of the inning, Kolten Wong stung Chicago lefty Mike Montgomery for a double.  After two walks loaded the bases, Matt Carpenter beat the Chicago shift with a looping fly ball into the wide open space down the left field line.  And St Louis had a surprising 2-1, ten-inning win (box score).

As the Cardinals’ route back into the heart of the division race has been more than a little serpentine, it is hard to call this the moment when the season turned.  However, from the moment that Carpenter’s fly ball touched down in left field through last night’s win, St Louis is 40-30.  Including, now, wins in 10 of their last 13 games, this has become the most sustained stretch of solid baseball we have seen from this club this year.

As far as one-run games go, that evening against Chicago did change everything.  Last night’s 6-5 victory (box score) was the twentieth one-run game St Louis has played since the Philadelphia loss.  They have won 13 of the 20, bringing their season record in one-run games to 18-17.  The pace has accelerated in the second half.  Since the All-Star Break, the Cards are 7-3 in one-run games.

The one sustained constant in this turnaround is the sparkling Cardinal bullpen.  Last night – in support, again, of Mikolas – the Cardinal pen closed out the last three innings giving no runs on no hits and two walks.

Over the last 20 one-run games, the bullpen has pitched to a 2.68 ERA, allowing 52 hits over the 74 innings they’ve pitched in those games – a .200 batting average against.  Only 12 of those hits have been for extra-bases (7 doubles and 5 home runs) for a slugging percentage of just .285.

This bullpen has also been central to the recent 10-3 streak.  They have worked 42.2 innings over those games with a 2.32 ERA, a .193 batting average against, and a .247 slugging percentage against.

Over the last 13 games. The Cardinal bullpen has served up just one home run (Pittsburgh’s Pablo Reyes took Andrew Miller deep in the ninth inning of the August 11, 11-9 victory).

The starting rotation has shown occasional flashes, and literally every other game the offense comes through with a handful of runs.  But the constant through it all has been a mostly dominating bullpen.

Giovanny Gallegos

Gallegos’ evening last night was brief.  He took the mound to start the eighth inning, holding a one-run lead, and facing Rockie slugger Nolan Arenado as the tying run.  Giovanny tossed 3 pitches, got a fly out, and turned the ball over to Miller.

Gallegos has now pitched 18 innings over 15 second half games.  He has given just 1 run on 6 hits (4 singles, 2 doubles), while striking out 20.  Gio holds an 0.50 ERA, while holding batters to a .100 batting average and a .133 slugging percentage.

This just in.  Gio is pretty darn good.

Gallegos has also been a big part of the bullpen dominance in one-run games.  He has pitched in 12 of the 35 with a 1.35 ERA in 13.1 innings.

Andrew Miller

Miller finished up the eighth throwing 7 pitches. All of them were strikes – an uncommonly sharp outing for the lefty who has walked 9 batters in the last 10.2 innings.  Andrew now has a 3.00 ERA and a .140 batting average against in his 15 second-half innings.

Andrew has now pitched in 23 of the 35 one-run games this season.  Like last night, these have been some of his better efforts, as he holds a 2.95 ERA across 18.1 innings in these games.  While striking out 25 batters, Miller has allowed just 12 hits – 10 singles and 2 home runs.

Miles Mikolas

After beginning the second half with a series of strong performances, Mikolas has gotten back off track.  Last night’s starter lasted six innings, giving up 5 earned runs for the third game in a row.  Over his last 16 innings, Miles holds an 8.44 ERA, and has allowed 5 home runs.  In 4 August starts, Miles is 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA and a .308/.337/.538 batting line against.

Last year, 11 of Miles’ starts ended up as one-run games.  He was 6-0 with a 2.91 ERA in those games.  He is 1-3 this year in 7 starts that have ended as one-run games, with a 4.71 ERA.

Paul Goldschmidt

Goldschmidt has been one of the key cogs in the Cardinal resurgence.  With his two singles last night, Goldy is hitting an even .300 (15 for 50) over those last 13 games.

Tommy Edman

Tommy Edman has also been hot.  After his two hits last night, Edman is hitting .354 (17 for 48) with 2 doubles, a triple and a home run over the last 13 games.

Edman has been scorching in the one-run games played in the season’s second half.  He is 16 for 37 (.432) with 4 doubles and a home run – a .622 slugging percentage.

NoteBook

Now in his seventh season, Carols Martinez has never pitched an entire big league season without making at least one start.  That seems more and more likely to happen this year.  After posting a total of 7 saves in his first six season, Carlos nailed down his fifteenth of this season last night.  It was his thirty-second game of the season.  Last year, he pitched in 33 games (18 starts, 15 relief games).  That total is the second most games he has pitched in in the majors.  In 2014, he pitched in 57 games (7 starts).

Lost in his miserable 2018 season (when he posted just a .576 OPS) was the fact that during the two previous seasons, Dexter Fowler OPSed .840 and .841.  The slump-dominated season was also the third straight season that his health was compromised.  Both of those issues seem to be behind Dexter this year.

Last night was Fowler’s 116th game of this season, leaving him with 363 at bats.  Since 2015 he hasn’t played in more than 125 games or collected more than 456 at bats.  His home run was his ninety-first hit of the season.  He has never had more than 111 during his time in St Louis.

Meanwhile, that home run was his fifteenth of this season.  His career high is the 18 he hit in 2017.  He also drove in a career high 64 runs that year.  He is up to 52 already this year.

After hovering just under 4 for the past few games, giving up 5 runs to the Rockies has pushed the team ERA back up to 4.00.

The Cards have now won the first game of four of the last five series.

Fall probably isn’t truly on its way yet, as it’s still late August.  But last night’s game temperature of 72 degrees was the second time in the last three games that the official temperature was below 80.  At 72 degrees, last night was the coolest game in St Louis since June 26.  They lost to Oakland 2-0 that evening in 70 degree weather (box score).

Of course, another sign of autumn is the starting of the school year.  Possibly, the combination of it being a school night (Thursday) and the visiting team sporting a losing record contributed to a disappointing attendance total of 36,465.  That constituted the sparsest crowd at Busch since only 35,819 showed up to an April 22 game against Milwaukee.  The folks who stayed away missed a good one – a 13-5 Cardinal win (box score).

Things Get Better Once You Chase the Lefty

July ended on something of an apprehensive note.  Dominated by Chicago right-hander, Kyle Hendricks, the July 31, 2-0 loss marked the third loss in the Cards’ final four games that month.  Their one-game lead in the division had disappeared, and the current home series against the Cubs was now even at one game each.

The good news was that for the rubber game St Louis would give the ball to Jack Flaherty.  The bad news was that he would be opposed by lefty Jon Lester.  Like most left-handers, Mr. Lester had enjoyed consistent success against this organization.  Even though this has now become a lineup dominated by right-handed “impact bats”, their recurring issues with left-handed pitching hadn’t seemed to get any better.

But a funny thing happened on the way to watching the Cubs take over first place.  The Cards drove Lester from the mound.  Jon lasted just 5, giving 5 runs on 9 hits – more than enough offense for Flaherty and the Cards (box score).

Considered an outlier at the time, batting around lefties has become almost a meme this month.  Yes, there was a start against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw that didn’t go so well, but the birds recovered to cuff around the Pirates’ Steven Brault and the Reds’ Alex Wood.

In addition, the Cards had big moments against lefty relievers Derek Holland (Cubs) and Wei-Chung Wang (A’s).

All of this made for interesting context ahead of last night’s game against Milwaukee lefty Gio Gonzalez.  As Dexter Fowler stepped in to face him, St Louis carried a .312/.353/.523 batting line against left-handed pitchers this month.

But Gonzalez didn’t get the memo.  On the seventh pitch of his start, Fowler struck out swinging at that slider that ends up low and out of the zone.

It wouldn’t all be that easy.  Gio faced a number of long grinding at bats – to the point where he left the game after 5 innings having tossed 92 pitches.  He walked 4 during his outing, but struck out 6 (all on that slider), gave only 3 hits and just 1 run.

Belying their earlier success, St Louis finished 4 for 23 (.174) against Gonzalez and left-handed reliever Drew Pomeranz.  Things were actually looking pretty bleak, as Milwaukee held a 2-1 lead when they turned the game over to their bullpen.

But what Milwaukee’s left-handers were able to so easily achieve turned out to be much more difficult for the right-handers.  The Cardinals bruised Jeremy Jeffress, Alex Claudio, Junior Guerra and Matt Albers to the tune of 6 for 10 with 4 walks and a hit batsman.  They scored 4 runs in each of the sixth and seventh innings to secure a 9-4 victory (box score).

While the early innings still leave questions about St Louis’ comfort level against left-handed pitching, the win gives them victories in 9 of their last 11 games, and keeps them a half-game in front of Chicago.

Over the course of this streak, the offensive numbers have certainly perked up.  Over the last 11 games, St Louis is averaging 5.45 runs per game, and hitting .261.  The numbers are a bit deceptive, though, as there has been no consistency whatsoever in the Cardinal attack.

They have, in fact, spent the last two weeks trading good games with bad.  Beginning with the first game of the Pittsburgh series that began on August 9, the Cards hit the Bucs with 6 runs in a 6-2 win, followed that up with just 3 runs in game two (enough for a 3-1 win), and then finished up the sweep with an 11-9 slugfest.  But in the first game against Kansas City they were held to just 2 runs (again, enough for a 2-0 win), but then bounced back with 6 runs the next night (a 6-0 win).  The four games against Cincinnati held form.  One run in the first game (a 2-1 loss), followed by the 13-run eruption against Luis Castillo, followed by 1 run in a 6-1 loss, followed by 5 runs in the finale (a 5-4 win).

This series began with St Louis scoring just 3 runs on 5 hits in the opener (another shutout win), and now 9 runs last night.

You will forgive the pitching staff if they’ve gotten a little seasick.  It has been 21 games since the Cardinals scored at least 4 runs in consecutive games (July 22 through 26).

One hundred and twenty four games into the championship season, and this team is clinging to first place.  And this, in spite of the fact that the question marks still heavily outweigh the certainties.

MarcellOzuna

Marcell Ozuna paced the offense last night with three hits, his second 3-hit game in his last 5.  Ozuna is 8 for his last 21 (.381), and is 13 for 40 (.325) over the last 11 games.

JohnGant

A revelation early in the season, John Gant has regressed sharply.  In 16.1 innings over his last 18 games, Gant given 12 runs (11 earned) on 22 hits – a 6.06 ERA and a .338 batting average against.  He has allowed runs in 8 of the 18 games.

Throughout the season’s first half, Johnny dominated left-handed hitters.  They were only 7 for 50 against him (.140).  But lefties are clocking him at a .400 clip in the second half (6 for 15), with 4 of the hits going for extra-bases, including a home run – an .800 slugging percentage.  John surrendered an RBI single to Eric Thames that tied the score in the sixth inning.

AndrewMiller

Andrew Miller contributed a scoreless seventh inning last night.  Miller has had a very, very solid second half, with a 3.14 ERA over 14.1 innings.  This is in spite of the fact that – after last night’s walk – he has walked 11 over those innings.

The first two batters that Miller faced last night were right-handers.  He walked one (Lorenzo Cain) and got the other (Yasmani Grandal) to bounce into a double play.  In the season’s second half, right-handed batters are just 3 for 30 (.100) against Andrew.  That being said, 2 of the 3 hits have been home runs, and there have been 4 walks mixed in.

NoteBook

Miller pitched in his fifty-seventh game last night – tying his total from 2017 (he had already surpassed last year’s 37 games).  Miller is on pace to pitch in 70 games for the third time in his 14-year career.

Balmy days in St Louis in August are a rarity.  The 77 degrees that was the official game time temperature made this the coolest game in St Louis since July 15, when the birds pushed past Pittsburgh 8-0 in 74 degree weather.

Cardinal Righty Sends Messages and Zeros to Brewers

The first tense moment of a fairly interesting series between the Cards and the Brewers came in the top of the very first inning.  Cardinal starter Dakota Hudson had retired the first two batters to bring up Christian Yelich.  Mr. Yelich – as you might remember – was quite the trouble-maker when these two teams bumped into each other ten times in the early weeks of the season.

Now, with Hudson falling behind in the count, 2-1, the next four pitches of the game would send a series of clear messages to the visiting Brewers.

Behind in the count, Dakota threw his change-up.  The message sent: even behind in the count, these Milwaukee mashers shouldn’t expect to get fastballs.  The change dropped low, bringing the count on one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters to 3-1.

Three batters into the game, and Hudson had gone to his first three-ball count.  It would not be the last time.  Hudson would face 24 Brewers on the evening.  He would pitch behind in the count to half of them – and 10 of the 24 would work their way into three-ball counts.

Behind, now, 3-1, Dakota still didn’t bring the heat.  Yelich got a perfect 3-1 curve that dropped in for a strike.  That pitch sent two early messages.  First was that Dakota Hudson can throw that curveball for a strike at any point (both strikes in the at bat, so far, had come on curves).  The second message was that Mr. Hudson would not be caving in.  He was clearly more concerned about serving up home runs than he was the occasional walk.

On 3-2, Christian did get that fastball – that very heavy, sinking 96 mph fastball.  Throughout the bulk of the evening, Dakota would pound the low strike zone with this pitch, but this one was elevated and inviting.  Yelich took his best hack, but could only foul it off.

The seventh pitch of the at bat was the only slider that Dakota threw him this time up – and he bounced it in the dirt – ball four.  These would also be trends.  The Milwaukee at bats against Hudson would be long and grinding enough that he would walk four Brewers and expend 111 pitches to work his way through the 24 batters.

On the surface it would seem a near-perfect scenario for the Brewers.  Grinding at bats that would result in a lot of walks and eventually some damaging shots.

But the damage never came.

Stubbornly and relentlessly pounding the low strike zone, mixing his pitches fearlessly, and killing a lot of worms, Dakota Hudson stayed a step ahead of the Brewers all evening.  When he had thrown his last pitch to the last of those 24 batters, Dakota had given 4 walks and struck out 7 others.  Of the other 13, 9 hit the ball on the ground, and only 4 batters got the ball into the air.

And none of them managed a hit.  When manager Mike Shildt came to get Hudson, with a runner at first and two outs in the seventh inning, there were only zeroes showing across the board for Milwaukee.

If there was to be a no-hitter tonight (and no Cardinal pitcher has thrown a no hitter since about a week before 9/11) the bullpen would have to finish it off.  That didn’t happen, although they did come close as St Louis took game one of the series against their division rivals, 3-0 (box score), allowing just one hit.

At one point earlier this season, Dakota Hudson tossed 8 consecutive quality starts.  In those 50.2 innings, Hudson allowed just 1 home run and pitched to a 2.49 ERA while getting 62% of hitters to hit the ball on the ground.

Over his next 8 starts, though, Dakota began to get away from that.  Hitters started taking that sinker, trying to get him to elevate it.  Over his next 35.2 innings, Hudson served 9 home runs and allowed a batting line of .319/.415/.582 to go along with a 5.55 ERA.  Most telling, only 47% of the batters hit the ball on the ground.

Over his last two starts, the ground ball has come back (67%), and with it a 0.00 ERA over his last 12.2 innings.  And last night, a near no-hitter.

Giovanny Gallegos

Right-hander Giovanny Gallegos would eventually give up the hit.  A fairly soft fly ball off the bat of Yasmani Grandal dropped just fair down the right-field line in the eighth.  Gallegos would give nothing else over his inning.  Gio thus continues a remarkable second half that has seen him work 17.2 innings over 14 games allowing just 1 run on 6 hits (4 singles and 2 doubles).  He holds a 0.51 ERA over those innings.

Giovanny had Grandal backed up in the count 1-2.  The hit that ended the no-hit bid was the only hit (in 13 at bats) off Gallegos this month when he has been ahead in the count, and just the second in 27 such at bats in the second half.

Offense Still Off its Feed

Overlooked due to the outstanding pitching was another uninspiring offensive effort.  The Cards finished with 3 runs on 5 hits.  The runs scored on a groundout, a flared single into left, and a towering home run off the bat of Paul DeJong.

Over their last 20 games, the Cards are scoring 3.6 runs per game, with a .241/.301/.380 batting line.

NoteBook

Andrew Miller finished up last night’s game – his fifty-sixth game of the season.  Already appearing in more games than his injury-plagued 2018 season (37), Andrew is one appearance behind the 57 games he pitched for Cleveland in 2017.

His intentional walk of Christian Yelich was Andrew’s twenty-first walk of the season.  That is his most in any season since he became a full-time reliever in 2012.

Dexter Fowler is now up to 113 games played and 353 at bats this season.  In his two previous seasons in St Louis, he played in only 118 and 90 games, getting just 420 and 289 at bats respectively.

His RBI single was his eighty-eighth hit of the season.  His first season in St Louis he finished with 111 hits.

With his two strikeouts last night, Fowler has now gone down on strikes 102 times this season – his most as a Cardinal and the most since his 124 strikeout season with the Cubs in 2016.

When Kolten Wong played 127 games last year, it represented the second highest total of his major league career (he had played 150 in 2015).  Last night was his 121st game of this year.

The run he scored last night was Wong’s forty-fifth of the season.  He scored just 41 times all last season.  The 55 runs he scored in 2017 are the second most of his career – second to the 71 he scored in 2015.

Kolten was also plunked by a pitch for the twelfth time this season – the third consecutive season he has been hit by at least 12 pitches.  He was plunked 14 times last year.

With the shutout, the team ERA dips back below 4.00 (to 3.98).

This Rookie Can Play

If you were to glance over the Cardinal’s top 30 prospect list from last year, I wonder if the same omission would jump out to you that jumps out to me.

For nostalgia purposes, the 2018 list read Alex Reyes (1); Nolan Gorman (2); Dakota Hudson (3); Ryan Helsley (4); Andrew Knizner (5); Randy Arozarena (6).

Of the first six, only Gorman hasn’t appeared in the majors – and shown significant promise.  Continuing, we come to:

Elehuris Montero (7); Justin Williams (8); Conner Capel (9); Griffin Roberts (10); Max Schrock (11); Dylan Carlson (12) – yes Carlson, the current number 2 prospect was twelfth behind Max Schrock just a year ago.  Then we had some lower prospects who vaulted past higher rated guys:

Genesis Cabrera (13); Junior Fernandez (14); Edmundo Sosa (15).  After these guys, the rest were mostly lower level guys, but still legitimate prospects:

Luken Baker (16); Jonatan Machado (17); Jake Woodford (18); Steven Gingery (19); Ramon Urias (20); Lane Thomas – yes, that Lane Thomas was #21 last year; Seth Elledge (22); Giovanny Gallegos, believe it or not, was just our number 23 prospect last year; Wadye Ynfante (24); Johan Oviedo (25); Alvaro Seijas (26); Evan Mendoza (27); Delvin Perez (28) – remember what a big deal his selection in the first round a couple of years ago was?; Daniel Poncedeleon (now spelled Ponce de Leon) (29); and Connor Jones (30).

There are a couple of pitchers that I would have thought would have been on that list.  Austin Gomber would be one, and glaringly Jordan Hicks didn’t make the list, although he certainly would have qualified.

Also not making that list is a player who has been in the bigs slightly more than two months, and even though the positions he plays are usually manned by established major-league stars, he has so ingrained himself that manager Mike Shildt can’t keep him out of the lineup.

Yesterday afternoon, Tommy Edman (nowhere to be found on the 2018 prospect list) singled twice, drove the fifth home run of his big league career, and scored twice – every bit of that production critical as the Cards held on for a 5-4 win over Cincinnati (box score).

Fifty-four games and 185 plate appearances into his major league career, Tommy’s numbers are decidedly average.  He is hitting .271/.303/.429 for a modest .732 OPS (the major league average according to baseball reference is .761).  Nothing here – you would think – to entrench him in the lineup.

And, truthfully the numbers – at least some of the numbers – don’t suggest that Tommy is anything special.  But you don’t have to watch Mr. Edman go about his business for very long before your eyeballs tell you something the numbers don’t quite, yet.

Tommy Edman is a ballplayer.  Defensively, Edman plays everywhere.  He has started games at third, second and right field, and could play anywhere else on the diamond (not sure about catcher, but I wouldn’t be surprised).  He never seems out of place anywhere he plays.  He is a smooth, effortless fielder with a strong and accurate arm.

And he plays with a very even demeanor.  Already he has been through some slumps, but you could never tell by watching him whether he was 10 for his last 20 or 0 for his last 20.

A switch-hitter, Edman’s swing is very polished from both sides of the plate.  Already he appears very comfortable fouling off the more difficult pitches to wait for one he can put into play.

In his 16 plate appearances in Cincinnati over the long weekend, Tommy swung at 31 pitches.  He fouled off 14 of those pitches (45.2%), put 13 other pitches into play (41.9%), and missed on just 4 swings (12.9%). These numbers are mostly consistent with Edman’s performance across his brief major league stay – especially recently.

For the month of August – a month in which his 60 plate appearances ranks second to only Paul Goldschmidt’s 61 – Edman leads the team by putting the ball in play with 46.2% of his swings (the team average is just 33.7%).  He has missed on just 15.1% of his swings – which also leads the team (the average is 26.7%).

While the split in Cincinnati was a bit disappointing, those wins give St Louis victories in 7 of its last 9 games.  In those games, Tommy is 14 for 36 (.389).

For a 24-year-old rookie, Edman is very advanced.  Even if his primary numbers don’t suggest it clearly yet, everything else about Tommy suggests that he is going to be a very good player for a very long time.  For now, he is someone that Shildt will continue to find at bats for.

KoltenWong

Kolten Wong didn’t start on Sunday (possibly because Cincy was starting a lefty?) one day after his 0-for-3 interrupted a six game hitting streak (in games that he started).  There are few hitters hotter than Kolten right now.  During the streak, he hit .500 (10 for 20) and slugged .750 (2 doubles and 1 home run).

Kolten is a .381 hitter this month (16 for 42), and a .371 hitter in the second half.

DexterFowler

In game two of the series, the Cards rapped out 18 hits on their way to a 13-4 victory (box score).  For the other three games, they totaled 17 hits.  So more than one Cardinal finished the series with big numbers that were mostly the product of that one game.  Dexter Fowler is one of those.  He finished the series hitting .357 (5 for 14), with 3 of those hits coming on Friday night.

Still, Dexter has been one of the driving forces of the offense over the last 9 games.  He is slashing .310/.417/.586 over his last 36 plate appearances.

MarcellOzuna

Like Fowler, Marcell Ozuna also had 3 hits on Friday and finished the series 5 for 14 (.357).  Marcell is 10 for 31 (.323) over the last 9 games.

There has been a very subtle change in Marcell’s at bats since he returned from his injury.  Before the injury, Ozuna swung at 47.3% of the pitches thrown to him, and his at bats averaged only 4.05 pitches per.  In 16 plate appearances against Cincy, Marcell saw 72 pitches (4.50 per) and only swung at 32 (44.4%).  Since his return, the percentage of pitched that he is offering at has decreased to 40.7%, and his pitches per at bat has risen to 4.52 – the most on the team this month.

PaulGoldschmidt

Goldschmidt was 5 for 15 (.333) against the Reds, with 4 of the 5 hits going for extra-bases – including 2 home runs.  Paul is 12 for 34 (.353) over these last 9 games, with 3 home runs, 10 runs batted in, and a .676 slugging percentage.

MichaelWacha

Michael Wacha started the Thursday game and was almost on the wrong side of history (box score).  Although saddled with the close loss, Wacha did throw five encouraging innings.  Relegated to fifth starter status, Wacha has only pitched 8.2 innings this month, but in those innings Michael has induced 21 ground balls to 11 fly balls – a 65.6% ratio.  A very good sign for Wacha.

AdamWainwright

Adam Wainwright got the Friday start and the benefit of all of the runs.  Waino has had some starts where offensive support was hard to come by, but has also now had three starts since the All-Star break where the team has scored in double-digits when he’s pitched – a 12-11 win over Cincinnati on July 19, and a 14-8 conquest of Pittsburgh on July 24.

MilesMikolas

Miles Mikolas had a second consecutive rough outing on Saturday (box score).  He is 0-2 with a 6.61 ERA for the month of August, and over his last 17 starts, Miles is just 3-11 with a 4.44 ERA.

JackFlaherty

Jack Flaherty finally gave up a run this month (in the first inning of the Sunday game), but that was all the damage done against him.  In 4 August starts, Jack is 3-0 with a 0.35 ERA.  In 7 starts since the break, he holds an 0.83 ERA over 43.1 innings.

NoteBook

After making 29 consecutive starts at shortstop, Paul DeJong began Saturday’s game on the bench.  It had been the team’s longest consecutive starting streak at the same position.  That mantle reverts back to Goldschmidt, who has now made 24 consecutive starts at first base.

Ozuna drove in the first run of Friday night’s avalanche – bringing him to 10 game-winning RBIs this season, and temporarily tying him with Goldschmidt for the team lead.  Paul regained the lead with his eleventh GWRBI on Sunday.

Friday’s start was Wainwright’s twenty-third of the season.  After making just 8 starts last year and 23 in 2017, Waino is on pace to make 30 starts for the first time since he made 33 in 2016.  His 126.2 innings pitched are already his most since throwing 198.2 innings in 2016.  With 127 hits and 85 runs allowed already, Adam will also probably end up with more hits and runs given up in any season since 2016 as well.

The home run he served up on Friday night was the sixteenth hit off Adam this season – already the third highest total in his 14-year career.  His career high came in 2016 when he served up 22.

With the walk allowed, Waino has 50 for the season.  He has reached 60 walks only twice so far in his career.

Adam’s 6 strikeouts Friday bring him to 124 for the season – already more than either of the last two years.  At this pace Adam may end up with more strikeouts than in any season since he fanned 179 in 2014.

Fowler’s last healthy, full season was 2015.  He played 156 games and had 596 at bats that year, and hasn’t played in more than 125 games or had more than 456 at bats since.  Sunday was his 112th game, providing his 349th at bat of 2019.

In his three seasons in St Louis, Dexter has never had more than 111 hits.  With 5 against the Reds, Fowler already has 87 this year.  Last year he had a four-year streak of twenty or more doubles broken.  His double Friday night was his eighteenth on this season.  With his home run that night, Fowler is within 4 of his career high – 18 set in 2017.

Goldschmidt has still played in every game this year – all 122 so far.  He played 158 last year.  The closest he has come to playing all the games was 2013, when he played in 160.  He is now, also, up to 457 at bats after finishing with 593 last year.  He has been over 600 at bats in a season just once in his career.

Up, now, to 28 home runs this year, Paul is just 5 behind the 33 he hit last year.

Mikolas – Saturday’s starter – continues to gain on many of the career highs he set last year.  The start was his twenty-fifth of this year, leaving him just 7 starts away from the 32 he made last year.  The 7 hits allowed bring him to 153 already this year, after allowing 186 last year.  With 2 walks given up. Miles has walked just 25 batters this year – but walked just 29 last year.

The 5 runs scored off of him last night bring him to 72 for the season – a career high.  He allowed 70 all last year.  He also allowed 2 home runs.  Having already set a career high in that category, Mikolas reaches the 20-mark in home runs allowed for the first time in his career (he has now allowed 21).

When St Louis opened up a 12-0 lead on Cincinnati during Friday’s game, it was their biggest lead in a game since May 9, when they beat Pittsburgh by 13 runs – 17-4.

Friday’s win brought the team earned run average under 4 (3.99) for the first time all season.  The stay was brief.  After the Reds dropped 6 runs on the Cards the next night, the team ERA popped back up to 4.01.

Reds Have Just Enough to Subdue Cards

The slider was high (at the very top of the strike zone), and Eugenio Suarez – Cincinnati’s slugging third-baseman – didn’t quite square up on it.  The pitch wasn’t stung – but it was enough.  As his looping liner dropped safely into center field, Nick Senzel raced around third to score the second run of the inning.  And of the game.  And, as it turned out, the last Cincy run of the night.

Again, it would be enough as the Reds held on for a 2-1 victory (box score).

With 7 hits, 2 walks and a hit batter, the Reds had sufficient opportunities.  Of the 34 Reds that came to the plate in their 8 innings, 15 hit with at least 1 runner on base, and 6 had opportunities with multiple runners on base.  But Suarez’ flare was the only hit they managed.  Cincy hit .333 with the bases empty, and .083 with anyone on.

Most of the time, walking off the field having allowed just two runs should be good enough for a victory.  But these days, the only certainty for the Cardinal pitching staff is to throw shutouts.

For the eighth time in 12 August games, the Cardinals were unable to score as many as four runs.  They are hitting .231 this month as a team.  Stretching back to the end of July, St Louis has been held to fewer than four runs 12 times in their last 16 games.  It’s a stretch that has them scoring just 3.13 runs per game with a team OPS of .646.

One game after being nearly no hit in Kansas City, the birds added four more hitless innings in this one, ending up with just two hits for the evening.  Offensive innings have been awfully quiet lately.

To their credit, the pitching staff has held their own under this adversity.  In 12 August games, they are holding forth with a 3.24 team ERA and a .231 batting average against.  It’s been enough to keep the team afloat (6-6) this month.

And they have done it largely the way that last night’s starter Michael Wacha did.  By toughening up once runners reach base.

Since the All-Star break, Cardinal opponents are hitting .259/.332/.382 with the bases empty, but just .227/.317/.371 once they put a runner on.  Over the month of August, these numbers have tightened up even more.  While batters are slashing .248/.335/.360 with no one on base, Cardinal pitchers are allowing just .209/.283/.331 once a runner does reach.

Wacha has had some difficulties recently.  Even though they couldn’t prevent his sixth loss in his last nine decisions, his five strong innings were nice to see.  But as we slog through the mid part of August, this club is still waiting for its offense to show up.

Matt Carpenter

Starting at third base last night, Matt Carpenter played his tenth game since coming off the injured list.  He was hit on his shoe-top with a pitch and struck out twice in his three at bats.

Of all the bats in the lineup that the Cards are holding their breath for, Carpenter’s is one of the most critical.  Mike Shildt is convinced that Matt is still the Matt Carpenter of old, and one of the most dynamic bats in baseball, so Carpenter is going to play.  Let’s hope Mike is right.

Since his return, Matt is hitting .233 (7 for 30) and is slugging .300.  He has 2 doubles in those games.  Matt is hitting .222 (10 for 45) since the break, with only those 2 doubles – a .267 slugging percentage.

Stretching back to before his injury, it has been 23 games since Carpenter’s last home run.

NoteBook

The second run surrendered by Michael Wacha last night was the 400th off of him during his career, and the sixty-first this season.  Michael’s career most are the 86 runs he allowed in 2016, one of two seasons in his career in which he has allowed 80 runs or more.

His 2 walks bring him to 44 for the season.  He has never before walked more than 58 in a season.  That happened over 181.1 innings back in 2015.

Kolten Wong played in game number 117 last night.  He played in only 127 all last year.  His 3 at bats in the game bring him to 368 this year – already more than in any season since 2015 – the only year so far in his career in which Kolten received 500 at bats.

Moreover, his double was his 100th hit of the season.  Since he racked up 146 hits in 2015, Kolten has crossed the 100-hit mark only once in the last three years – he finished 2017 with 101.

The 2 total bases from last night bring Kolten to 146 for the season.  Already with more than in all of 2018 (137), Wong now ties his total from 2017.  His next total base will give him more than in any season since the 215 he fashioned in 2015.

His run batted in – his forty-third of the season – is also his most since 2015 when he drove in a career high 61.

With the walk he drew, Wong is now up to 39 this season.  His career high is only the 41 he drew in 2017.  Yesterday’s strikeout brings him to 62 this season – again, already more than in any season since 2015 when he fanned 95 times.

Kolten’s stolen base career high is 20 – achieved in 2014.  Last night he swiped his sixteenth of this season.

The Cardinals had held a lead at some point in seven consecutive games before last night – every game since their August 5, 8-0 loss in Los Angeles (which was also the last time that Wacha started).

When in Doubt, Shut Them Out

Dakota Hudson has been with the team the entire year, so he’s seen everything that’s gone on.  He’s watched as the team has lost 34.6% of their quality starts (which would be the highest percentage this century if it holds).  He had seen the team score fewer than 4 runs in 7 of the month’s first 10 games (including the night before).  He watched them lose to last night’s starter, Brad Keller, 8-2 back in May.  And he knew that in his last three starts his offense backed him with a total of two runs.

So, as he watched from the dugout last night, I don’t think he could truly be shocked to watch Keller baffle his offense for six hitless innings.  But through a season of offensive adversity, Dakota Hudson arrived at a game plan.

When in doubt, shut them out.

It’s certainly simplistic logic.  If you don’t give up a run, you can’t lose the game.  And, of course, it’s a difficult standard to maintain.  But it’s an approach that’s become something of an imperative among Cardinal starters, as the offense is frequently slow to get untracked.

Across the entire season, St Louis is batting just .225 with a .693 OPS while the score of their game is tied.  Since the All-Star break that number is even worse – a .220 batting average and a .652 OPS.  In August, while the games are tied, Cardinal hitters are flexing their muscles to the tune of a .218 batting average and a .624 OPS.

And then, last night, six innings of zeros until they finally broke through (box score).

Meanwhile, while the no-hit spotlight settled on the Kansas City starter, Mr. Hudson quietly went about his business of shutting out Kansas City and waiting.

While simplistic, this was an element of Hudson’s game that was distinctly missing coming into the second half of the season.  In his first four second half starts, while pitching in tied ballgames, Dakota was slapped around a good bit – the 19 batters that faced him in that situation stung Dakota to the tune of a .389/.421/.944.  In those 4 starts, Dakota was able to hold the game even for only a total of 3.2 innings.  He just never gave his slow starting offense a chance to get into the game.

Over his last three starts, while the batting line against him with the score tied has only marginally improved (.306/.381/.417), he has managed to keep the games tied for 9.2 innings – highlighted, of course, by the six zeros that he matched Keller with last night.

Over his last two starts, Dakota has faced 40 batters – only two of them with a lead.  A one-run lead.

Jack Flaherty has gotten the memo.  He threw 7 shutout innings the night before to get his win.  Hopefully the rest of the rotation has figured this out as well.

When in doubt, shut them out.

Pitching Resurgence

With the back-to-back shutouts, the Cards pitching staff has started looking like the staff they thought they would be.  Over the last 7 games (or since the last time they used a fifth starter), the Cards hold a 2.34 team ERA with a .220 batting average against.

Tyler Webb

As if surprises like John Gant, John Brebbia and Giovanny Gallegos weren’t enough for one bullpen, Tyler Webb has been nearly untouchable since his most recent recall.  Over his last 10.2 innings, Webb has allowed 1 run on 3 hits, walking 1 while striking out 12.  The batting line against him from the last 35 batters he has faced is an impressive .088/.114/.176.

For all of this, Mike Shildt still isn’t anxious to use Tyler in critical situations.  Since his return, 48.6% of the batters he’s faced have come in games that were more than three runs either way.

Tommy Edman

After a little tailspin, Tommy Edman’s bat has revived.  Hitless in five at bats last night, Tommy saw a five-game hitting streak end.  He was 9 for 21 (.429) during the streak.

NoteBook

After playing in only 118 and 90 games his first two seasons in St Louis, Dexter Fowler played in his 108th game of the year last night.  Dexter hasn’t crossed the 140-game threshold in any season since he played in 156 games with the Cubs in 2015.

Dexter is also up to 335 at bats on the season after finishing with 420 and 289 his first two years here.

Of course, with the increase in games and at bats comes an increase in strikeouts.  He whiffed for the ninety-fifth time this season.  He had 101 and 75 strikeouts his first two seasons.

Just four series ago, the Cardinal pitchers held the Cubs to just 3 runs over 3 games.  That had been the fewest runs St Louis had allowed in any series so far this year.

Now, of course, they have given up 0 in the just concluded series.  Yes, it was just the Royals, and yes, it was just two games, but they still leave KC allowing no runs during the series.  The only other time this has happened for the Cards in this century was July 21-22, 2004.  In two home games against Milwaukee, they won 1-0 and 4-0.  The starting pitchers in those games were Woody Williams and Jason Marquis.

When no one is hitting or scoring, the games do tend to fly by faster.  With last night’s game taking just 2:38 on the clock, the two games against the Royals averaged just 2:46 per game – the fastest series of the year by average time (yes, I know it was just two games).  The previous fastest series (and still the fastest three-game series) occurred April 26-28 at home against Cincinnati.  Those games averaged 2:46.7.

The Cards have now swept the last two series.  Of their 39 series so far this season, the Cards have gone into the last game 10 times in a position to sweep.  They have now finished off that sweep 7 times.  They have had 5 sweep opportunities both at home and on the road.  They have finished off 4 of the 5 at home, and now 3 of the 5 on the road.

Flaherty Overcomes Limping Offense to Down Royals

With 23-year-old Jack Flaherty in command, the Cards kicked off their road trip and kept their winning streak clicking up to four games.

Kansas City finished with no runs on 4 hits in the 2-0 Cardinal victory (box score).

The great pitching performance and the win makes things more palatable.  Truth be told, though, the Cards were as nearly dominated on 5 hits.  Only one of their runs was earned.

The storyline continues the same.  For the seventh time in 10 August games, the Cardinals were held to fewer than four runs.  They have scored just 37 runs this month, and are scoring just 3.07 runs per game over their last 14 games.

There are lots of pieces of the St Louis offense that aren’t exactly perking right now.  One fundamental thing that would make a significant difference – if they can do it – would be to put the leadoff man on base.

Last night, Dexter Fowler began the game by reaching on an error.  He eventually scored.  Paul DeJong began the second inning with a walk.  He was later erased trying to steal second.  Kolten Wong then led off the third with a double.  Even though he managed to run himself into as out as well, his hit set in motion the Cards second run.

Thereafter, the Cards put none of their last six leadoff batters on base.  Consequently, they never scored again, and only pushed two runners into scoring position – both with two outs.

This was not an isolated occurrence.  The Cards’ .301 on base percentage from their leadoff hitters (according to baseball reference) ranks twenty-second out of thirty teams.  Over the last 14 games, that on base percentage has faded to .289.  In the season’s second half, St Louis has put its leadoff batter on base just 72 times in 251 innings (.287).  Those hitters are batting just .222.

The April team that jumped out to a 20-10 record, profited from a .291/.361/.498 batting line from its leadoff hitters.  And once that batter reached base, he scored 55% of the time.

Since April, Cardinal leadoff hitters have limped along with a .211/.282/.347 batting line – with only 45% of those batters who reached eventually scoring.

It’s a number that supports one of the feelings that I’ve had about the team and lineup in general.  Lots of guys in the lineup are thumpers.  But too few of them seem to embrace the set-up roll.  If this one aspect of the offense could improve even marginally, the impact would be noteworthy.

KoltenWong

One of the players who has embraced the table-setting aspect of offense is Kolton Wong.  Kolten is pretty torrid right now.  He had 2 of the 5 Cardinal hits last night – including their only hit out of the leadoff spot.

Wong now has hit safely in 18 of his last 23 games, hitting .377 (26 for 69) as he has pushed his season average back up to .271.  The team’s leading hitter in July, Kolten holds that position early in August as well.  Ten games into the month, Kolten is 10 for 28 (.357).  He is also hitting .361 (30 for 83) in the second half.  That average also leads the team.

DexterFowler

Finishing 0-for-3, Dexter Fowler saw his six-game hitting streak come to an end.  Fowler hit .381 (8 for 21) and slugged .667 (3 doubles and 1 home run) in those games.

PaulDeJong

Every so often this season, Paul DeJong joins in the offense with a flurry of hits.  The last time was the beginning of this month when he popped 5 hits over the first two games.  He only has four hits in the 8 games since.  Over those last 8 games, Paul is 4 for 28 (.143) and hasn’t had an extra base hit over his last five games.  Over his last 15 games, DeJong has 3 runs batted in (just 1 in his last 7).  Over the last 14 games, DeJong has struggled to a .196 average (10 for 51).

My question, I guess, is that if Paul is going to start every game even if he doesn’t hit, perhaps he shouldn’t hit fifth?  Maybe he should bat lower in the order?

JackFlaherty

But who wants to dwell on shaky offense when you can talk about Jack Flaherty.

Of the myriad of high-ceiling arms in the Cardinal’s system, Flaherty becomes the first to really settle in and start growing into an elite pitcher.  Yes, one day Jack will allow another run, but it hasn’t happened to him yet this month.

His first 21 innings in August could hardly be better.  The 75 batters that have faced him have created no runs on just 8 hits (5 singles and 3 doubles).  He has struck out 26 of them while walking just 4.  It’s an opposing batting line of .114/.173/.157.  But this is just the very prominent tip of the iceberg.

Going back to the last game before the break, Flaherty has made seven starts with an 0.79 ERA over 45.1 innings.  Six of the seven starts have been quality.  In five of those starts, Jack has pitched 7 innings allowing 4 or fewer hits and never more than 1 run.  The batting line against him – from the last 168 batters he has faced – is a compelling .142/.208/.219.

The emergence of Jack Flaherty is one of the most important developments of the 2019 season.  He has become “must-watch” TV every time he takes the mound.

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s first-inning sacrifice fly stood up as the game-winning hit.  Goldy is the first Cardinal this season with 10 GWRBIs.

DeJong’s second inning walk was his forty-third of the season – a career high for the third year player.  More than that, it was the 100th walk of his career.  It took him 338 games and 1420 plate appearances, so Paul isn’t exactly a walk machine.  But he has been getting better.  Every year his walk total increases – as does the margin between his on base percentage and his batting average.

The shutout victory breaks a string of 8 consecutive games during which the Cards had trailed at some point.