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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.