Late Cardinal Rallies Keep Pirates Reeling

It’s tempting – in the aftermath of the Lane Thomas grand slam – to look at yesterday’s seventh inning as a microcosm of the series.  Remember, the Pirates opened the inning with a four-run lead, and were one strike away from closing out the inning with the entire lead intact.  This was immediately before Pittsburgh reliever Kyle Crick hit two batters and served up the big fly.  St Louis ended up reversing that deficit and winning 11-9 (box score).

But, of course, there was also the eighth inning of the Friday game.  The score was tied at two when the Cards came up for their at bat.  The Pirates gave one run outright on an error (a dropped fly ball) and left at least one other out on the field (an RBI single from Paul Goldschmidt went through the shortstop’s glove), and a tight game that could have gone either way turned into a decisive 6-2 Cardinal win (box score).

Both worthy candidates, but I am going to go with the sixth inning of the Saturday game.

Adam Frazier’s first-pitch (of the game) home run put Pittsburgh on top early – and the Pirates held leads in all three games.  St Louis tied the game in the bottom of the first, though the opportunity was much greater – they had the bases loaded with no one out.

Now it’s the sixth inning – score still 1-to-1.

Dexter Fowler baptized the inning with a flair to left for a hit – and then ran into the first out of the trying to stretch his single.

Then came Tommy Edman’s little league home run.  It began as a double into center-field.  Edman drove about three steps around second to try to draw a throw.

He did.

Shortstop Kevin Newman took the relay from Starling Marte and fired it into the Pirate dugout.  And Edman was permitted to trot home with the winning run.

But the inning wasn’t over.

Goldschmidt followed with a single, and a Marcell Ozuna double sent him to third – still with just one out (Fowler at second).

Then the ball found Newman again.

Paul DeJong’s moderately hit ground ball deep into the hole was gloved by the Pirate shortstop, who, distracted by Goldy at third, couldn’t find the handle on the ball.  Everyone was safe, Goldschmidt had scored, and the Cardinal lead was 3-1.  That would be the final (box score).

But the inning still wasn’t done.  St Louis still has runners at first and second with just the one out.

So now, perhaps trying to cross up the Pirate shift, Matt Carpenter laid down a bunt.  Catcher Elias Diaz pounced on it and tossed Carpenter (who would get credit for a sacrifice) out at first.  He then noticed that, for some reason, Ozuna was storming around third attempting to score from second on the bunt.  (Was he remembering the Edman hit and thinking that Pittsburgh might throw the ball around again?).

Anyway, he almost did make it, but an excellent swipe tag by Diaz ended the inning.

So, a few things about this sequence.

First of all, you have the less than stellar defensive work from Pittsburgh.  This was a dependable constant throughout the series.

Second, you have the Cards winning the game in an inning that they absolutely ran themselves out of – something you just don’t see that often.

Then, you have the sixth inning rally that finished the game-winning trifecta of sixth inning (on Saturday), seventh-inning (Sunday) and eighth-inning (Friday) that really was the story of the weekend.

In a three game series in which the Cards never came to the plate in the ninth inning, they hit .250, hit 1 home run and scored just 7 times through the games’ first five innings.  From the sixth-inning on (mostly working against the Pirate bullpen), they hit .425 (17 for 40), slugged .725 (3 doubles and 3 home runs), and scored 13 runs.

This (the late offense), by the way, has been something of a recurring theme in the early games of this month.  Through 9 games in August, the Cards are hitting .216 before the sixth inning, and .302 from the sixth-inning on.  In the 9 games they have scored 11 runs through the fifth, and then 24 from the sixth on, hitting 6 late home runs as opposed to just 2 in the early innings.

The cherry on top of this inning, though, was that with two outs recorded on the base-paths, DeJong’s grounder being scored a single, and Carpenter credited with a sacrifice bunt, St Louis officially batted 1.000 for that inning (5 for 5) – a very rare occurrence, indeed, for a non-walk-off situation.

The Fading Pirates

Throughout the series, Pittsburgh didn’t look like much of a team.  Their ragged play over these three games is not, I don’t think, indicative of who they truly are.

Remember that this team hit the tape at the All-Star Break with a 44-45 record, just 2.5 games out of first.  But a baseball season can get away from you, and that’s what has happened to the Pirates.  They have been a stunning 4-24 since the break.

And the Cardinals have been very fortunate to play these guys often right at this particular junction of the season.  Ten of the 28 games the Cards have played since the break have been against the Pirates.  They have won 9 of the 10.  Since the break, they are 8-10 against everyone else.

For the season, they are 12-4 against the Pirates, and 49-51 against the rest of the major leagues.

More than any other opponent, Pittsburgh has been responsible for St Louis creeping back into the division race.

Paul Goldschmidt

Nothing like the site of the Pirates to bring Goldschmidt out of his slump.  In the recent series in Pittsburgh, Paul homered in all four games.  He only hit one out of the park in this series, but was a torrid 7 for 12 (.583).

Over the sixth-through-eighth innings of this series, Goldy was 4 for 5.  He is 6 for 16 (.375) for the month in those innings.

Tommy Edman

Tommy Edman is another hitter who jolted back to life against the Pirates – hitting .538 (7 for 13) in the series, including a double and a triple.

While Tommy has had some heroic moments late in games, he has been best early on.  Against Pittsburgh, he was 2 for 3 in both the first and third innings.  For the season, Edman hits .357 (10 for 28) in the first inning, and .318 (7 for 22) in the third.

Dexter Fowler

Don’t look now, but Dexter Fowler is starting to heat up.  With his important late home run on Sunday, Fowler now has a six-game hitting streak going.  He is 8 for 21 (.381) during the streak, with 3 doubles and the home run – a .667 slugging percentage.

Dexter has been a late-inning guy all year.  He was 2-for-3 in the eighth innings in this series, with a double to go with his home run.  For the season, Dex is a .204 hitter (37 for 81) before the sixth.  From the sixth inning on, Fowler hits .302 (45 for 149) with 8 of his 13 home runs and a .530 slugging percentage.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter is one of the curiosities of the final two months of the baseball season.  Returning from an injury after a slump-ridden season, Matty is one of the hitters under the microscope.  Carpenter was 1 for 6 against the Pirates, and is hitting .229/.293/.257 with no home runs in 42 second half plate appearances.

Matt Wieters

With Yadier Molina set to return on Tuesday, Matt Wieters’ run as the primary catcher has come to an end.  Matt did very well during Molina’s absence – although he did fade a bit at the plate at the end.  Wieters went 1 for 6 against Pittsburgh, and is just 2 for his last 13 (.154).  He is hitting .238 (5 for 21) this month.

Paul DeJong

Shortstop Paul DeJong began the month with 5 hits in the first two games.  But every time this year he looks like he is starting to come out of what has essentially been a season long slump, he tilts right back.  DeJong was 1 for 11 against the Pirates, and 3 for his last 21 (.143).  DeJong is hitting .222 (22 for 99) since the break.

NoteBook

In the Friday game, Goldschmidt drove in the go ahead run just before Ozuna hit his two-run home run.  That allowed Goldy to tie Ozuna for the team lead in game-winning RBIs.  They both, now, have 9.  DeJong is a distant third with 6, followed by Jose Martinez with 5.

The single was also Goldy’s fifth late, game-changing RBI.  DeJong still leads the team in this category.  He has 7.

Paul, by the way, still has a chance to play in all 162 (whether that’s a good thing or not is worth discussing).  One hundred and sixteen games in to the season, and Paul has played in them all.  After amassing 593 at bats last year (when he played in 158 games), Paul is at 435 so far this year.  He has been over 600 at bats only once in his career (602 in 2013).

Saturday night, Adam Wainwright made his twenty-second start of the season.  He made only 8 last year, and just 23 the year before.  Waino hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since he made 33 in 2016.

After those six inning, Adam is up to 120 for the season.  Already surpassing the 40.1 he threw last year, Adam is just 3.1 innings shy of his total for 2017.  These have been better innings, too.  He has allowed 59 runs (58 earned) on just 120 hits so far this year.  He gave 73 runs (70 earned) on 140 hits in 2017.

The home run he surrendered was the fifteenth he has allowed this year.  Adam is one of the few Cardinal pitchers not on pace to set a career high in home runs allowed – although he could come close.  Waino is on pace to allow 21 home runs this year.  His career high is the 22 hit off of him in 2016.  He has already allowed more than in either of the seasons since then.

Sunday’s winner, John Gant, pitched in his forty-ninth game of the season.  For his entire three-year career before this year, Johnny had pitched in a total of 53 games.

The victory was his eighth of the season – a new career high.  He won 7 last year, and had a total of 8 career wins before this season.

Ozuna’s stolen base on Sunday was his tenth of the season.  It is the first time in his seven-year career that he has double-digit steals.  He had never stolen more than 5 bases in any previous season, and only had 14 for his career at the start of the season.  He is on pace to steal 14 this season alone.

With the three home runs allowed on Sunday, that Cards have eclipsed the 144 they surrendered all of last year (they are up to 146).  Next up is the 183 hit against this team in 2017.  St Louis is on pace to serve up 204 home runs, their first time over 200 dingers allowed since the 2003 staff saw 210 of their pitches taken over the boards.

On the other hand, the staff is striking out 8.79 batters per nine innings.  If that pace holds, (according to baseball reference) it will be the highest average in team history.  The current high is the 8.38 per nine innings they struck out in 2017.  Over the long and storied history of this franchise, they have averaged over 8 strikeouts a game in just 4 seasons – each of the last 4.

Their .989 fielding percentage – if it holds – would also be a franchise best.  The 2013 team fielded at a .988 rate.

The Pirate series was the Cards’ nineteenth home series of the year.  They have now won 10 of those series, losing 6 and splitting 3 – on their way to a 34-23 home record.  Four of those home series victories have been sweeps (in 5 opportunities to get a sweep at home).

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