It was the bottom of the fourth. St Louis had built a substantial lead, but the dangerous Brewers were making an effort to get back into the game. After two doubles and a walk, Milwaukee had trimmed the lead to 9-2, and had runners at first and second – albeit with two outs.
And that was the end of the evening for Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright. Part of the decision was that Adam was at 90 pitches.
Increasingly, though, I think Mike Shildt’s decisions are influenced by the fact that his bullpen might be his greatest weapon. Once the Cardinal bullpen came into the game, the Brewer offense stopped. Over the last 5.1 innings, Milwaukee scored no runs, managing just 3 hits and 1 walk.
The Cards tacked on a few more runs for a 12-2 victory (box score).
Last night, Milwaukee – like most major league teams – just wasn’t ready for the Cardinal bullpen. While some of the Cardinal starters – like Wainwright and tonight’s starter Miles Mikolas – will nibble at you with breaking balls early in the count, the St Louis bullpen just comes at you.
Across all of baseball, major league hitters salivate at the opportunity to hit fastballs early in the count. According to baseball reference, batters hitting the first pitch thrown to them are slashing .355/.364/.633. Batters hitting the 0-1 pitch are doing almost as well – they are slashing .330/.340/.541. With very few exceptions, these are batters looking for hittable fastballs early in the count, and punishing them.
Last night, after Waino left, the good-hitting Brewer lineup hit the first-pitch twice and the 0-1 pitch once. Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain both grounded out on the first pitch against John Gant, and Keston Hiura grounded an 0-1 pitch from Dominic Leone into a double play.
These were only 3 at bats, but not isolated results. As St Louis has won 14 of their last 17, opposing batters are just 6 for 41 (.146) against the Cardinal bullpen in 0-0 and 0-1 counts. The hits are 5 singles and 1 double. As the bullpen boasts six pitchers averaging at least a strikeout an inning, batters don’t have the luxury of working deep in the count against them. When they get that early fastball – however hard and sinking it might be – they are mostly obliged to try to take advantage.
These days, there are very few comfortable at bats against the St Louis bullpen.
Wainwright’s struggle has been the opposite. If he can get you deep in the count, he can finish you off with that curve or that sneaky cutter. But early in the count he remains very vulnerable. On those same 0-0 and 0-1 pitches that his relief corps have thrived on, Waino has consistently taken damage.
Last night, Mike Moustakas ended the first inning by lining out on the first pitch thrown to him. Eric Thames tripled on the first pitch he saw in the second. Two batters hit 0-1 pitches in the third – Hernan Perez singled and Braun just missed a home run to right.
For the month, when in no-ball counts, batters are 17 for 38 (.447) against Waino with 3 doubles, a triple and 2 home runs – a .737 slugging percentage. For the season, the league is hitting .356 (52 for 146) when they get to him before the first ball is thrown.
Tommy Edman began August in a bit of a tailspin. Lately, he has done nothing but hit. With three more last night, Edman is 25 of 66 (.379) over his last 16 games, and has pushed his average to .318 for the month.
Edman – at this stage of his career, anyway – doesn’t take a lot of pitches or work a lot of counts. He ends up in three-ball counts only 15.6% of the time. The count never reached three balls to him last night. Tommy is hitting .361 (22 of 61) when hitting before ball one is thrown.
In last night’s second inning, Dexter Fowler won a six-pitch at bat, lining an RBI single. Dexter has been at his best in three-ball counts (his hit came on a 3-2 pitch). For the month, he is 5 for 12 (.417) with 2 home runs on three-ball counts. For the season, Dex is a .292 hitter (19 for 65) once he gets into a three-ball count.
With a single and a double, Marcell Ozuna stretched his hitting streak to seven games. Marcell is hitting .462 (12 for 26) during the streak, with 5 of the hits going for extra-base hits – including 2 home runs. He is slugging .846 with 10 runs batted in during the streak.
Ozuna is now a .312 hitter this month with 4 home runs, 15 runs batted, and a .558 slugging percentage.
After struggling a bit at the plate in his first games back in the lineup, Yadier Molina is starting to feel it again. He had two hits last night, including a home run. Yadi has now hit safely in 7 of his last 8. Molina is 11 for 28 (.393) in those games.
St Louis has now won the first game of the last three series and of five of the last six.
When the Cards carried a 12-2 lead into the ninth inning, it was their largest ninth inning lead since May 9 – a 17-4 conquest of Pittsburgh (box score).