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.

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