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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.