What to make of Tanner Roark?
The St Louis Cardinals took the field in Oakland Sunday afternoon needing a win to split the series. On the mound was Roark, making his first start for the Athletics.
While new, perhaps, to the American League, Roark is no stranger to the Cardinals. He has pitched most of his career in Washington, and became a member of the Cincinnati team in the offseason. Lifetime against the Cards – even after last night’s game – Tanner is 3-3 with a 5.01 ERA.
But, as a member of the Reds he pitched two very solid games against the birds. On April 13 he threw 5.1 innings, allowing 1 run on 6 scattered hits. On July 18, he gave the Reds 5 more solid innings, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits. In both of those games, there was a common element. For some reason, the Cards couldn’t put his first strike into play.
Hitting the first strike thrown to you is one of the most productive activities that hitters can engage in. Across all the major leagues this season (according to baseball reference), batters who put that first strike in play are hitting .353 with a .639 slugging percentage.
But you have to put the pitch in play.
In his two starts against them with the Reds, the 44 Cardinal batsmen offered at Tanner’s first strike 23 times (a healthy 52.3% of the time). They put the pitch in play twice. Both by pitchers.
Yesterday afternoon’s contest followed the general same pattern. Thirteen of the 22 batters that Tanner faced offered at that first strike. Two put the pitch into play. Andrew Knizner slapped a single up the middle in the fourth on the first pitch of his at bat, and Marcell Ozuna grounded a 1-0 pitch to short to end the fifth (Tanner’s final frame).
Roark finished with five more innings completed against the Cards allowing 1 run on 4 hits and the 4-2 win (box score).
Whether it’s Tanner or whether the Cards are just off kilter is a question worth asking. For the series, only 8 of 74 Cardinal batsmen managed to put the first strike in play. Of the 8, Knizner’s single was the only safe hit, and only one other first strike was hit notably well. Tommy Edman ended the fourth inning of the Saturday game by lining into a double play.
Whether the Oakland pitching or a general slump among the Cardinals – or some combination of both – the Oakland series was not St Louis’ finest hour. They hit .194 in the two games (13 for 67). Over the last 7 games (5 of them Cardinal losses), St Louis is hitting .246 and scoring 2.71 runs per game.
And, meanwhile, they have tumbled to a game-and-a-half behind the Cubs in the division.
While there was not much good news in Oakland, the best could be the revival of Paul DeJong. Contributing very little since mid-April, DeJong was 3 for 8 against the A’s, including a home run. Over his last 3 games, Paul is 6 for 12. His return to form can’t happen fast enough.
Unable to build on his recent seven-game hitting streak, Jose Martinez finished the Oakland series 1 for 8. His has been one of the missing bats over the last seven games. Martinez is 6 for 27 (.222) in those games, with only one extra-base hit – a double that raises his slugging percentage to .259 over those games. Traditionally a second-half hitter, Jose is hitting just .217 (13 for 60) since the break.
Promoted early in June, Tommy Edman quickly became a fan favorite (and apparently a favorite with management as well).
But after his quick start, Tommy has been tail-spinning lately. After a 1 for 9 series, Edman is only 2 for 18 over his last 4 games. Since the All-Star break, Tommy has had 84 plate appearances. He has 13 singles, 4 doubles, 1 home run and 4 walks to show for them. His batting line for the second half so far is .225/.262/.313.
Tommy hit the first strike thrown to him twice in Oakland – going 0 for 2. He is 0 for his last 8 when he hits that first strike
Yairo Munuz was the other player (along with Edman) that made Jedd Gyorko expendable. And, of course, like Edman, he also immediately fell into a slump. Hitless in 3 at bats on Saturday, Yairo is 2 for his last 17 (.118), and hitting .226 (12 for 53) with just 3 walks since the break.
Playing in both games, Dexter Fowler was hitless in the series (0-for-5) and now hitless in his last 10 at bats. His average is now down to .239 for the season, as he is just 1 for 17 (.059) over his last 5 games. Dex is hitting .188 (13 for 69) since the break.
Hitting with two strikes on you is always a challenge, but Fowler – after going 0-for-3 with two strikes on him in the Oakland series – is just 2 for 40 (.050) with 23 strikeouts when he has fallen into two strike counts since the break.
It is getting increasingly difficult to remember the Dakota Hudson that pitched 8 consecutive quality starts at one point in the season. Dakota was the Saturday starter (an 8-3 loss) and lasted just 3.2 innings. Since the last of those quality starts, Dakota has made 7 starts, with only 2 quality starts and a 5.68 ERA over 31.2 innings.
He has faced 155 batters in those games, allowing 23 singles, 7 doubles, 9 home runs, 1 sacrifice bunt, 2 sacrifice flies, walking 20 and hitting 5 others. It adds up to a 307/.416/.575 batting line. Once an elite groundball pitcher, Dakota has gotten only 46% ground balls his last seven times out.
Hudson and Wainwright both had trouble finishing when they had batters in two-strike counts. Dakota got to strike two on 14 of the 21 he faced, but walked 4 of those. Three of the four runs that scored against him reached base after they had two strikes on them.
Since the All-Star break, Hudson has gone to two strikes on 55 batters. They have 8 hits and 9 walks – a .315 on base percentage. Across all of baseball, batters with two strikes on them reach base at a .248 clip.
For his part, Wainwright went two strikes on 15 batters. Only one hit safely, but two others walked and there were those two critical two-strike hit-by-pitches that set up most of the damage. Two of the three runs he gave up reached base after they had two strikes on them.
The home run allowed by Adam Wainwright was his fourteenth of the season. He only served up 5 in his injury shortened 2018 season, but also allowed only 14 in 123.1 innings the year before. The next home run he allows will give him the most home runs against since he allowed a career high 22 in 2016.
Along with the 2 hit batsmen, Adam also walked 3. He has now walked 47 this year, more than the 18 from last year and the 45 from 2017. Adam hasn’t walked as many as 60 batters in a season since he walked 66 in 2009.
On the other hand, with his 7 strikeouts, Waino is up to 110 for the season, already his most since striking out 161 in 2016. He collected 40 last year, and 96 the year before.
The Jurickson Profar home run, by the way, was the 140th hit against the Cards this year. They allowed 144 all of last season.
The sweep was the first suffered by the Cards since the last time they faced Oakland. They scored just 5 runs in this two game series. They scored only 3 runs in the two games they played against Oakland in St Louis (June 25-26).
Facing a sweep 11 times already this season, this was the fifth time in 2019 the Cardinals have submitted.
Now 27-29 away from home, St Louis is 7-10-1 in road series.