The Frustration Bowl

It could only end this way.  It was the Chargers and Bears, after all.

Since it was the Los Angeles Chargers, there was the usual amount of self-destruction.  Keenan Allen tripped over his feet on two consecutive third-down passes, and Hunter Henry dropped another third-downer.  The Chargers ended up 2-10 on third down (0-5 in the first half)

Allen and Mike Williams both dropped touchdown passes in the end zone in the second half.  Los Angeles missed a field goal, had an interception, and committed 8 penalties.  With less than a minute to play in the first half, Charger defenders twice committed third-down penalties that extended Chicago’s final drive of the half.  In many ways, the same old Chargers.

And yet, in spite of the self-inflicted wounds, Los Angeles broke their huddle with the ball on their own 15-yard line with just 2:04 left in the game, and holding a precarious 17-16 lead (the Bears had also done some self-destructing).

But things at this point weren’t quite as simple as taking a knee and going home.  Chicago had managed to maintain all three of its timeouts.  They would also get a stoppage after the next play at the two-minute warning.

With no chance to really eat the clock (or force Chicago to use a time out) with a run on first down – and since Los Angeles has suddenly become averse to running the ball – Ken Whisenhunt dialed up another pass play.  To this point, Chicago had not sacked Charger quarterback Philip Rivers.

But, on this play, Khalil Mack spun around left tackle Trenton Scott and spilled Rivers for a six-yard loss.  The Charger fans knew what was coming next.

Two plays later, it was third-and-12, with 1:55 still to go.  The Bears had used only one of their time outs.  With the Bears’ defense dropping deep into zone coverages, Henry found an open patch of grass, took the pass, and turned up field.  True to his Charger DNA, Henry got 11 yards on third and 12.  The ensuing Chicago time out and punt left Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on his own 35-yard line, with 1:33 and one time out left on the clock.

The week before had not been Trubisky’s finest hour.  In a 36-25 home loss to New Orleans, Mitch ended up throwing the ball 54 times with only 251 yards to show for it (4.65 yards per attempted pass).  As he took the field to begin this game, Mitch had fallen to next to last in average yards per pass at 5.24, and dead last in the NFL in yards per completion, averaging just 8.1 yards for every pass completed.

Needless to say, it was not a comfortable week for Mitch.

Additionally, the first 58.5 minutes of this contest had seen its share of frustration for the home town team.  They controlled the clock for 19:22 of the first quarter, but went 0-for-4 in the red zone, kicking 3 field goals and missing another.  They would finish 1-for-5 in the red zone; 1-for-4 in goal-to-go-situations.  But the back breaker seemed to come about midway through the final period.

With 9:39 left in the game, Chicago receiver Taylor Gabriel exploited a blown assignment in the Charger secondary and tore up field with only Thomas Davis trailing far behind.  But Mitch overthrew him.  On the next play, LA defensive end Joey Bosa pushed tackle Charles Leno into Trubisky.  Mitch tried to spin out of trouble.  The ball slid out of his grasp.  And Los Angeles had the ball deep in Chicago territory.

It was the second brutal turnover by Chicago in the half, and the one that set up LA’s lone second half touchdown.  But now the football gods were giving Mitch another chance.

On second down, Mitch floated a perfect pass to Gabriel, who had found a void in the LA zone deep to the offensive left.  No overthrow this time.  Gabriel pulled it in for 22 yards.  On the next play, Trubisky found Allen Robinson over the middle for 9 more yards.

The Bears were now on the LA 34-yard line – about a 51-yard field goal, if they kicked it then.  They needed one more play.

With 53 seconds left in the game, and the Bears on the 32-yard line, they got that play.  And it was Trubisky that delivered it.

As he dropped to pass, his pocket began to implode in front of him.  As before, Mitch spun out of trouble, but this time holding onto the ball.  Stepping out of Melvin Ingram’s diving tackle attempt, Trubisky darted 11 yards down to the 21 to put a dagger into the hearts of the Chargers.

There were still 43 seconds left, and the Bears did still have one time out, so they could potentially have taken a shot at the end zone – or at least tried to move in a little closer.  Coach Matt Nagy would take heat for this, but his team was riding a two-game losing streak, and while the offense had played better this week, they were far from mistake free – having turned the ball over on consecutive possessions earlier in this half.

Not willing to put at risk a game he felt was already won, Nagy had Trubisky kneel down, drain the clock, and call his final time out.

And so it would have to come down to this.  Over the last few seasons, there are probably not two teams anywhere in the NFL that have lost more games on missed kicks in the waning seconds than the Chargers and the Bears.  There were four seconds left on the scoreboard clock as Eddy Pineiro lined up his 41-yard kick.  Trubisky and Rivers watched helplessly from the sidelines.

The snap was good.  The hold was perfect.  For about one second it looked like the kick would slice just inside the left upright.  But then it began to tail, and, well, you can guess the rest.

Both of these teams had made the playoffs in 2018, and were hoping to build off of that success.  Both now have losing records (the Chargers are 3-5, the Bears 3-4) although there is still enough season left to turn things around. But both of these franchises are left with questions.

The victory softens the scrutiny the Chargers will be under – at least for a week.  Los Angeles still delivered an inconsistent performance with too many dropped passes and too many penalties.  Add to the concerns a vanishing running game.

Los Angeles ran the ball only 12 times the entire game.  In the second half, they had 5 rushes for 7 yards.  This is now the third time in the last 4 games that LA has run the ball less than 20 times.  In 2018, they at least had a semblance of balance, ranking nineteenth in rushing attempts (399) and fifteenth in rushing yards (1873).  This year’s team has fallen to twenty-eighth in both categories (160 rushing attempts for just 556 yards) as well as in average yards per attempt (3.5).  With Melvin Gordon back in the fold to go along with leading rusher Austin Ekeler, the Chargers should be able to run the ball at least as well as most.  Gordon had 8 carries on Sunday, and Ekeler 3.  At this point, this is beginning to get pretty glaring.

In Chicago, they will be spending another uncomfortable week.  They will now have to go into Philadelphia to play a dangerous Eagle team.  The questions here are plenteous.

The vultures circled Piniero’s locker after the game.  It was a tough miss.  Eddy is 12 for 15 this year, including a game-winner against Denver in Week Two.  Everybody misses sometimes.

Nagy will be asked about his game management – and about his choice of starting quarterback going forward.  Matt could have been more aggressive at the end, but imagine the hullabaloo if something untoward – like another interception – had deprived them of the opportunity to kick a makeable field goal.

As to Trubisky, yes he has regressed a bit.  In leading the Bears to the playoffs last year, he registered a 95.4 passer rating with a 24-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio.  This year he is at 81.4 with a 5-3 ratio.

Chicago fans – not necessarily noted for patience – would do well to keep a few things in mind.  First of all, the development of a young quarterback isn’t always a straight-line progression.  The Trubisky of 2018 is still in there, but may take a little more time to unfold.

Moreover, Mitch hasn’t been the same – certainly as far as running the ball – since his injury.  In 2018 he ran 68 times for 421 yards (6.2 average) and 3 touchdowns.  With the 2019 season half over, Mitch has just 9 rushes for 31 yards, so health would seem to be a significant factor.

If I were a Bear fan – in spite of the agony of another irritating loss – I would take a couple of clear positives away from this game.

First, in spite of some continued inconsistencies, Mitch Trubisky led the team on what was essentially a game winning drive with just a minute and a half left in the game.  If Piniero hits the field goal, Chicago is celebrating Trubisky as the hero.

Even more important, in Week Eight the Bears re-discovered their commitment to the run.

In the Week 7 loss to New Orleans, the Chicago Bears ran the ball 7 times for the entire game – only twice in the second half.  They ran the ball a total of 24 times in the previous two games.  They entered Week Eight thirtieth in running attempts (125), twenty-eighth in rushing yards per game (70.0), twenty-eighth in yards per carry (3.4), and twenty-seventh in rushing touchdowns (2).

This is no way to support a young quarterback.  Last year, they ranked sixth in rushing attempts (468) and eleventh in yards (1938).  The 16 rushing touchdowns they scored ranked seventh.

On Sunday, though, the Bears finally found the man to replace last year’s leading rusher, Jordan Howard.  In a breakthrough game, rookie David Montgomery bolted through the surprised Charger defense for 135 yards on 27 carries – a 5.0 average.  The team finished with 38 rushing attempts (20 of them in the second half) for 162 yards – their most since battering Minnesota for 169 yards in Week 17 last year.

The averages – Montgomery’s 5.0 and the team’s 4.3 – are slightly deceptive.  The output included one 55-yard burst.  Take that away and David averaged 3.1 yards per on his other 26 carries, and the team average drops to 2.9.  Only 9 of Montgomery’s 27 carries, and 12 of Chicago’s 38 rushes gained more than 3 yards, so this was literally three-yards and a cloud of dust running.

The Bears opened the second half by running on their first six plays – one short of their entire total from the previous week.  If the Bears didn’t exactly gash Los Angeles, they at least showed more run commitment than at any time this year.

That is a building block.  The Eagles are significantly tougher against the run than Los Angeles (they currently rank eighth), so if the running game is back, it will get a stiffer test next week.

But if it is back, it will lead to better afternoons in Chicago.

Ravens’ Defense Finds Answers in Seattle

It is, I think, important to remember that both defenders that had their hands on the ball ended up scoring.

When, with about five minutes left in the second quarter, Marcus Peters intercepted the pass intended for Jaron Brown, he darted the full 67 yards down the sideline for the score.  With just under four minutes left in the game, D.K. Metcalf caught a short pass along the offensive left sideline.  As he tried to switch hands, the wet ball slipped away from him.  Raven defensive back Marlon Humphrey fell on the ball at the Seattle 18, but wasn’t content with possession.  Hustling to his feet, Marlon raced down the invitingly open sideline for the touchdown.

In the aftermath of the game – a 30-16 Baltimore victory over Seattle (gamebook) (summary), the assembled media was quick to shower praise on Lamar Jackson, the second year starter at quarterback who guided the team to this road victory over a top opponent.  But the offense on this day managed a modest 340 total yards and scored 1 touchdown.  The difference in this game – and something for future opponents of both the Ravens and Seahawks to keep in mind – was the Baltimore defense, whose two defensive scores capped off an afternoon of nearly total domination.

Last year saw the rise of what I called Neanderthal football teams – old school style offenses that committed to running the ball and imposing their will on their opponent.  Baltimore is pre-eminent among that club.  Their stated intent, in fact, is to revolutionize offensive football around the talents of Jackson.

That full revolution may or may not come to pass.  To this point, the Baltimore offense is pure Neanderthal – with all the advantages and limitations that come with this style of play.

Primary among the advantages of Neanderthal football is game control.  A brilliant defensive coordinator can design all kinds of exotic blitzes and coverage schemes to inhibit the passing game.  There is no brilliant defensive strategy to stop the run.  If you are getting gashed at the line, the only thing you can do is commit more defenders to the run – and that usually doesn’t work out in the long run.

So, if you can’t stop the Raven running game (and most people haven’t), then it will relentlessly pound your defense into submission, five or six brutal yards at a time.  Your offense will spend agonizing stretches of the afternoon wandering aimlessly along the sideline, while your battered defense will stand, hands on hips, sucking air and waiting for the next hammer blow.

In Seattle on Sunday, Baltimore held the ball for 17:38 of the second half – almost all of that on two devastating drives that decided the contest.

The game was tied at 13 with 6:51 left in the third when Seattle’s Jason Myers missed wide right on a 53-yard field goal attempt.  Now, with 6:46 left in the quarter, the Ravens took over at their own 43.  Five minutes and 26 seconds later, the 11-play, 62-yard Baltimore drive ended when Jackson knifed into the end zone from 8 yards out – Baltimore’s only offensive touchdown of the game.

Now, Seattle was trailing by 7 with just 1:20 left in the quarter. The Seahawk offense was only able to buy its defense a mild breather as their 7-play, 3:33 drive ended with a punt early in the fourth quarter.

Now it’s the Ravens again.  With 12:47 left in the game and the ball at their own 10, Jackson and the Raven embarked on a brutal 13-play, 96-yard drive that ground the next nine minutes even off of the clock.  When the Baltimore field goal finally allowed the devastated Seattle defense off the field and permitted the Seahawk offense back into the game, quarterback Russell Wilson and company faced a 10-point deficit, with just 3:47 left to play.  Their first play from scrimmage in that next drive was the Metcalf fumble that was returned for the game-icing touchdown.  Whether the long wait on the sideline – and the Seattle offense at that point had run all of 7 plays over the previous 18 minutes of football time – was a factor in Metcalf’s unforced error is hard to say, although that is the sort of thing that happens when your offense spends its afternoon watching from the sideline.

During those two back-breaking drives, Baltimore ran 24 plays, gained 158 yards, averaged 6.58 yards per offensive snap, and drained 14:26 off the clock – nearly a full quarter’s worth of time on those two drives.  True to their Neanderthal DNA, only 7 of the 24 offensive plays ended up being pass plays.  Jackson was sacked once, and actually threw the ball only 6 times completing 3 for 37 yards.  The Raven “passing attack” averaged 5 yards per play.  The 17 running plays in those two drives amassed 123 yards (Seattle managed just 106 rushing yards for the entire game), and averaged 7.23 yards per.

This is all the more impressive (and scary to future Baltimore opponents) when you take into account that Seattle realized that this would be the game plan.  They knew that Baltimore wouldn’t try to beat them through the air.  But even with extra focus on the relentless Raven running game, the Hawks were unable to derail it.  By game’s end, Baltimore had run the ball 35 times for 199 yards (116 from Jackson).

Baltimore gets this week off, as they prepare for a Week Nine showdown against the defending world champions.  Whether the New England brain-trust can generate a blueprint for slowing down the Baltimore running game, or whether Revolution Baltimore will grind the Patriots under their wheels will be one of the more compelling stories of Week Nine.

I will be so bold as to say that a significant part of the Patriot game plan will be to play from ahead.  One of the great limitations of a run-dependent offense is a pronounced difficulty in coming from behind.  In their Week Six matchup against winless Cincinnati, Baltimore surrendered a touchdown on the opening kickoff, falling behind 7-0.  That 7-point deficit is the largest that they have overcome this season to win (and they did squeak by Cincinnati 23-17).  In their two losses (33-28 to Kansas City and 40-25 against Cleveland), the Ravens fell behind early.  They trailed the Chiefs 23-6 at the half, and Cleveland 24-10 after three quarters.  Forced into passing situations, Jackson threw for just 267 yards against KC, and 247 yards (with two interceptions) against the Browns.

Jackson’s passing numbers against Seattle weren’t awe-inspiring.  He finished 9 of 20 for 143 yards, and they were that good because Lamar held the element of surprise when he threw.  Even when he would drop back to pass, Seattle realized that he was at least half looking for a running lane, so Seattle could never comfortably play full out pass defense.  Jackson is so shifty and ungraspable, that you can’t even full-out pass rush him.  Seattle learned this lesson the hard way in the second quarter.  On a third-and-ten, they brought Jamar Taylor on a corner blitz from Jackson’s right.  Flushed from the pocket, Lamar simply (and easily) sprinted around left end for 28 yards and the first down.

To date, the only way to contend with the Baltimore running game is to take it away from them with a sizeable lead.  And that will mean contending with the Baltimore defense.

The Raven defense has had its hiccups this year.  In their consecutive losses, they surrendered over 500 yards of offense in both games.  They played significantly better in their victories over the 2-4 Steelers and the 0-7 Bengals.  Seattle would present a better measuring stick of their improvement.

As Seattle charged onto the field, they carried with them the league’s fifth-ranked offense (by yards) and seventh-ranked by points.  They were ranked ninth in running the football – averaging 130.5 yards a game, and featured in Chris Carson the league’s fifth-leading rusher who was also second in carries.

But the offensive pride and joy was Russell Wilson and the passing game.  Ranked eighth in yards only because Seattle runs the ball so frequently, Wilson came into the matchup as football’s top rated passer (124.7 passer rating).  His 14 touchdown passes were second most in the league, and his touchdown percentage of 7.4% was the league best – even more impressive when weighed against the fact that Wilson had yet to throw an interception in 2019.

It wasn’t a timid passing game, either.  Wilson came into the night averaging 9.02 yards per pass attempt – football’s second highest average – and to that end had discovered in Metcalf one of the league’s bright new stars.  DK entered the game leading the NFL in yards per catch.

This last point was a primary concern for Baltimore’s defensive unit.  Mostly a man-to-man unit, they had surrendered more than their share of big plays – to the point where Baltimore ranked twenty-fifth against the pass, and their 13.1 yards allowed per completion was thirtieth out of the NFL’s thirty-two teams.

In my mind, this would be the game.  If the Ravens couldn’t manage to contain the deep-strike game of Wilson to Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, then they would be faced again with that early deficit and would have to rely on Jackson’s arm.  The game’s final statistics – as much as the defensive scores – spoke to Baltimore’s success.  In what ended up as his worst statistical performance of the season, Wilson completed just 20 of 41 passes for only 241 yards.  He averaged just 5.88 yards per throw, threw his first interception of the year (to Peters) and finished with a stunning 65.2 rating.  For their parts, Lockett finished with just 61 yards and Metcalf with 53.  In the second half, Tyler caught just 2 passes for 8 yards, and Metcalf hauled in just 2 of the 5 thrown his way for just 7 yards.

That was the game – Lamar Jackson and his Neanderthal offense notwithstanding.  Seattle managed just 3 points in the second half.  The defense clearly profited from the time-of-possession advantage provided by the offense.  But when it was their turn on the tundra, they rose to the challenge.  There were three defensive imperatives, and Baltimore succeeded in all three.

Imperative number one was to stop the run.  In its purest form, Seattle’s offense is a bit like Baltimore’s in that everything builds off the running game.  Once the running game gets started, then Wilson can be at his devastating best with his up-field, play-action passing game.

But on Sunday afternoon, the Baltimore defensive line made sure that that wouldn’t happen.  Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce are two members of the Baltimore squad that infrequently get recognized.  Their contributions to the team’s success are rarely flashy.  In fact, they spend a large part of every game on the bottom of large piles of humanity around the line of scrimmage.  But don’t underestimate their importance in this win.

Williams and Pierce are run stuffers.  They are the large bodies in the middle of the line that inhibit opponents’ running attacks, and are a prime reason that the Raven defense currently ranks third in the NFL against the run.  On Sunday, they checked Carson and the Seahawk running attack, holding him to 65 yards on 21 carries – with none of his efforts gaining more than 9 yards.

Imperative two called for finding an answer for Metcalf and Lockett.  Part of that answer had come via trade during the week, in the person of Marcus Peters, who plugged right in to the starting left cornerback role.

Baltimore played a lot of man coverage in this game, with mostly acceptable results.  In Peters, Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore now has three cornerbacks who they can comfortably leave on an island even against very good receivers.  These three were not perfect – and there was more than one Seattle receiver running open deep against them – but for the most part their man coverage was tight and adequate.  Since the Ravens infrequently flipped their corners, Seattle was usually free to select the matchups they wanted – mostly Metcalf against Peters, Lockett in the slot where he would be shadowed by Humphrey, and David Moore or Jaron Brown opposite of Carr.

For some reason throughout the game, Seattle believed they could take advantage of Carr deep.  Almost all of their receivers lined up to the offensive left and tried to get behind him.  By game’s end, 9 passes had been thrown in Brandon’s coverage area, resulting in 4 receptions for just 30 yards.  For the season, 40 throws at Brandon Carr have resulted in 19 completions (47.5%) for just 201 yards and 1 touchdown.  In passer rating points, throws against Brandon score a 70.9.  Future offensive coordinators looking for weak spots in the Baltimore defense should start to realize that Carr isn’t one of them.

But against Seattle, Baltimore wasn’t a man-heavy defense.  Especially as the game wore on and the run threat began to diminish, the Ravens went to a cover 4 concept, with deep drops from the linebackers underneath.  Whether this will become a consistent part of their game plan, or whether this tactic was specific for the Seahawks will be determined over the rest of the season.  But as far as Seattle is concerned, Baltimore understood that they are not a dink-and-dunk passing attack.  Their game is the quick strike – Russell Wilson looping deep passes that drop down the chute into the waiting arms of Lockett.  Throughout most of the last part of the game. Baltimore gave plenty of room under their deep drops, knowing that Wilson wouldn’t exploit them, and couldn’t beat them doing that even if he did.

So, between their press coverage off the line, and their smothering deep zone coverages, Russell Wilson almost never had anywhere to go with the football.  And he almost never had time to make that decision.

Imperative three was the pass rush.

Over and over this season, we have seen high-powered passing attacks (in Kansas City, Los Angeles and everywhere in between) silenced by intense pressure.  It is the oldest of axioms – no quarterback, however great, can beat you when he’s on his back.  And Russell Wilson spent most of Sunday afternoon on his back – or nearly there.  A testament to his greatness is that Baltimore finished the afternoon with only one sack in spite of consistent company in his backfield.

Never afraid of a blitz, Raven defensive coordinator Don Martindale never hesitated to send the house (a few times anyway).  Many other times, he showed the threat of an all-out blitz, with defenders then falling back to clog the passing lanes.  Almost every time that Baltimore showed blitz and backed out, the Seahawks seemed confused.

My favorite of these moments came early in the third quarter.  Carson – in the backfield to Wilson’s right – had his eye on Anthony Levine, who lined up in the A-gap in a blitzing attitude.  At the snap, Levine backpedaled, making Carson think he could release into the pattern.  But the Ravens had a stunt on.  As Patrick Ricard cleared center Justin Britt out of the way, Carson slipped through that opening.  As Chris was escaping the backfield, Matt Judon poured in through that same opening to get immediate pressure and force another errant throw from Wilson.  As they passed each other, Carson couldn’t help but watch Judon race into the backfield.  He even inadvertently pointed at Judon as if to say, “shouldn’t I be blocking you?”

Of all of Baltimore’s star players, Matt Judon probably garners the least attention.  But Matt was one of the primary forces behind the Ravens’ victory.  Stunting or not, Matt was more than any of the Seattle linemen could handle.  The scoresheet only officially credited him with one assisted tackle and one quarterback hit, but this doesn’t begin to reflect the impact Matt had on the game.  He all but lived in the Seattle backfield and was principally responsible for Russell Wilson’s long and frustrating afternoon.

While the Ravens will now prepare for New England, Seattle is left with some apparent vulnerabilities that future opponents may try to exploit.  As the game progressed, it was clear that Seattle missed the intermediate routes run by the retired Doug Baldwin.  The passing attack – as of Sunday, anyway – now rests squarely on the shoulders of Lockett and Metcalf.  Will the cover-4 look that Seattle saw so much of from the Ravens become a trend against them?  Until Seattle can develop or find a receiver that can do what Baldwin did, Metcalf and Lockett will see more than their share of attention.

And then, there is the Seattle offensive line.  The Seahawks haven’t been blessed with much health or consistency here so far this year.  Germain Ifedi has played every snap this year at right tackle, but is playing on an ouchy knee.  Left guard Mike Iupati had an early season foot injury that has cost him some time getting familiar with his new line mates.  And just in the last two or three games, George Fant has reclaimed his left tackle position (in spite of a balky shoulder) and rookie Jamarco Jones has taken over at right guard.  So there is a lot of youth, injury, and unfamiliarity here – and it showed against Baltimore.

Seattle is 5-2 and in no need to panic over one game.  Going forward, more production from the receivers would be helpful.  But the offensive line simply must get better – both for Chris Carson in the running game, and especially to keep Russell Wilson from getting beaten up in the passing game.  How they respond to this beating will ultimately define their season.

No Tears for the Cardinals

In the fifth inning of last night’s game, when Jose Martinez’ long fly into right-center bounced high off the wall and two runs scored, someone somewhere must have invoked the name of Pete Kozma.

Kozma, as you have probably heard, was the Cardinal bench player who drove in the winning runs in Game Five of the 2012 Divisional Series between these two teams.  Washington had held a 6-0 lead in that one at one point.

But 7-4 would be as close as St Louis would come.  They did load the bases with two out in the eighth inning – which is, I suppose, as much as you can hope for when you’ve fallen behind 7-0 in the first inning.  But, instead of letting Harrison Bader – who had drawn a walk and hit a line drive out – swing, Mike Shildt gave the at bat to Matt Carpenter, who ended St Louis’ last viable scoring opportunity of the season with a routine grounder to second.

One inning later, the ghost of Pete Kozma was exercised, and the Washington franchise (which had started out all those years ago in Montreal) was on its way to its first ever World Series.

With their 3 fifth-inning runs, the Cards at least made a game of it.  Those three runs also doubled the totality of the St Louis offense through the first three games.  Throughout, Washington pitching was dominant – holding the Cards to a .130/.195/.179 batting line, posting a 1.25 team ERA, and striking out 48 Cards over 36 innings.

It was a frustrating ending to a surprising season, but let’s not have any tears for the Cardinals.  This is not a veteran team seeking one last whiff of glory.  Far from seeing their window closing, the St Louis window is just opening.  This team counts no fewer than 16 high-ceiling players currently under 26 who got varying degrees of exposure to the pressure of the pennant chase and subsequent playoffs.  By contrast, there are only 9 players over thirty who made notable contributions to this team in 2019.

Watching some of the ups and downs of this team, one might forget how bright their future is – especially on the mound.  Jack Flaherty (who turned 24 yesterday) and Dakota Hudson (25) emerged during the course of the season to provide the foundation for the rotation for years to come.  Ready to join them as soon as next year are elite arms in Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes (still just 25).  Both pitchers have battled injury issues over the last few years, so both will play under that shadow for a while.

Right behind them, though, are several other impressive prospects.  The list of potential starters include Ryan Helsley and Genesis Cabrera – both very successful out of the bullpen during the playoffs, Daniel Ponce de Leon and Austin Gomber (who also missed the season due to injury).

It isn’t at all difficult to imagine the Cardinals dominating some future playoff series (perhaps against Washington) in like fashion.

In spite of how it ended, the 2019 season saw several important steps forward for this franchise.  Most importantly, they re-took the division title, and did it standing up to the Chicago team that had pushed them around fairly regularly over the past three seasons.

If not everything, it is something to build on.  For now, that will have to be enough.

Cardinal Minutia

After Adam Wainwright’s effort on Saturday, St Louis threw no more quality starts.  So the 2019 team finished the season losing 33.8% of the time that they received a quality start (they were 53-27 in those games) including losing 4 of 5 in the playoffs.  Of the 19 previous editions of the Cards this century, only the 2008 team wasted good starting pitching at a higher rate.  At 50-26, they lost 34.2% of those games.

The high-water mark in runs scored was 17 in a 17-4 win against Pittsburgh on May 19.  Including the playoffs, St Louis scored 10 or more runs 18 times.

The most runs they scored in a losing effort was 8 in a 9-8 loss to the Giants on September 4.

They gave up ten or more runs 9 times – topped by the 13 they surrendered to the Cubs on May 5.  They did actually win one of those games – a 12-11 conquest of Cincinnati on July 19.

The Cards finished the season with three six-game winning streaks, and three five-game losing streaks.  Their longest stretch of games without losing two in a row was 30 games.  Beginning on August 9 against Pittsburgh (and just off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers) St Louis went 23-7 until they lost consecutive 2-1 games in Colorado on September 10 – 11.  That was pretty much the end of St Louis’ hot streak.  Beginning with those losses (and counting the playoffs), the Cards finished the rest of the season 13-15.

They also went 24 games without winning consecutive games.  This slump occupied most of May.  From the second until the 29th they were 6-18, finally winning the last game in Philadelphia and then sweeping the Cubs at home.

Their biggest lead in any game this season was 13 runs, achieved twice, on May 9 in the 17-4 win over Pittsburgh and in Game Five against Atlanta (an eventual 13-1 win).  They never lost a game where they led by as many as five runs, but they lost two that they had led by four runs – both to the Cubs in Chicago (6-5 on May 4, and 9-4 on June 8).

The maximum deficit they faced was 11 runs.  That happened twice, during a 12-1 loss to Cincinnati on April 26, and a 13-5 loss to Chicago on May 5.

In the 12-11 win over Cincy referenced earlier, the Cards came back from a 7-run deficit.  They also reversed two four-run deficits – the last of those coming on August 11 against Pittsburgh.  Toward the end of the season, they lost that ability to come back.  The last time they overcame a deficit of three runs came on August 22 against Colorado.  The last 5 times this season they fell behind by three runs (much less by more than three) they lost.

The longest game of the season – both by time and by innings – was the 19-inning marathon in Arizona on September 24, weighing in at 6:53.  The longest regulation game was the 9-8 conquest of Chicago in Chicago on September 21.  That game lasted 4:24.  The longest home nine-inning game lasted 4:05.  That was how long it took San Francisco to win that 9-8 game on September 4.

The fastest game the Cards played this season took just 2:11.  It was the night before the 4:05 game against San Fran, as Flaherty shut out the Giants 1-0.  The fastest road game also involved Flaherty pitching against the Giants.  This was his 1-0 loss on July 7 – the day before the All Star Break.  That game took 8 minutes longer (2:19).

All the Cardinal regular season games combined lasted 30,767 minutes.  If you watched every minute, it would have cost you 512 hours and 47 minutes (more than 21 days) – an average of 3:09.9 each.  The 9 playoff games added an additional 1823 minutes – that’s another 30 hours and 23 minutes.

The largest crowd St Louis played to was 53,070.  That was in Los Angeles against the Dodgers – the Cards lost that game 3-1 on August 6.  The largest attended home game was a Sunday afternoon game against Pittsburgh.  That May 12 game drew 48,555 – and the Cards lost 10-6.

Overall, St Louis played 82 times before crowds in excess of 40,000.  They won only 40 of those games.

The three smallest crowds of the season were the three games played in Miami, June 10-12.  They drew 6,585; 6,308; and 7,001 respectively.  No other game drew less than 13,000.

The smallest home crowd was the 35,819 that showed up on the evening of Monday April 22 to watch St Louis thump Milwaukee 13-5.  Overall they played 39 times to crowds of less than 30,000.  They won 25 of those.

The home attendance finished at 3,480,393 – an average of 42,967.8.  The total road attendance was 2,385,586 – an average of 29,451.7.

The hottest game of the year was Game Two of the Division Series – a 3-0 loss to Mike Foltynewicz in 94 steaming degrees.  The hottest game of the regular season came in Cincinnati on July 20.  St Louis lost that one 3-2 in 94 degrees.  The hottest home game checked in at 92 degrees.  That was a 3-0 win against Milwaukee on August 19.  The Cards were 10-3 when the game time temp sat at 90 degrees or higher.

The coldest game of the year was played in Pittsburgh on April 1.  The Cards outfought the Pirates 6-5 in 11 innings in 37 degree temperature.  The coldest home game of the year was the First Game of the Championship Series.  The Cards were almost no-hit in 45 degree weather.  The coldest regular season home game also came against Pittsburgh on May 11.  The Cards lost that game 2-1 in 49 degrees.

The Cards played four games in temperatures under 50 degrees and lost three of them.

The average temperature of all Cardinal games was 75 degrees – 77 at home and 73 on the road.

In going 50-31 at home, St Louis won 15 series, lost 8 and split 3 others.  They were 41-40 on the road, winning 11 series, losing 13 and splitting 2.  With chances to sweep 15 series, they pulled off the sweep 9 times.  They were 5 of 8 at home, and 4 of 7 on the road.

In danger of being swept 14 times, they wriggled off the hook in 9 of those series.  They were only swept once at home – although they were in danger of being swept five times.  On August 3 and 4, Oakland came into Busch and swept a two game series from St Louis.  We were swept 4 times (in 9 opportunities) on the road.

The Cards finished the season 8-8 in rubber games.  They were 6-4 at home and 2-4 on the road.

Of their 52 series, St Louis won the first game 29 times.  They went on to win 21 of those series, losing 7 and splitting one.  When pushed to a rubber game after having won the first game of the series, St Louis was just 3-6.

Of the 23 series where they lost the first game, they came back to win 5 and split 4, while losing the other 14.  When they lost the first game, but came back to force a rubber game, they were 5-2.

St Louis played 23 series against teams that had won their previous series.  The Cards were 6-16-1 in those series, winning 27 games and losing 41.  They had 23 other series against teams that had lost their previous series.  The Cards were 17-3-3 in those series, going 53-21 in the games.  They also played 5 teams that were coming off a split of their previous series.  The birds were 3-1-1 in those series, winning 10 games and losing 6.

They had the opportunity to sweep 4 teams that had won their previous series.  The only one they actually managed to put the broom to was – surprisingly enough – the Dodgers.  The Cards won four in a row from them April 8-11 after LA had just swept a three-game series in Colorado.

Six series sweeps (in 9 opportunities) came against teams that had lost their previous series, and they closed out both sweep opportunities against teams that had split their previous series.

On the other hand, teams winning their previous series had 9 opportunities to sweep the birds, and managed to do so in 5 of those opportunities.  Teams that had lost their previous series had 5 opportunities to sweep St Louis, but could never manage that last win.

St Louis was 2-8 in rubber games against teams coming off series wins, and 6-0 in rubber games against teams coming off losing series.

Injuries of Note

Every teams suffers through injuries during the course of the season.  In terms of games missed, here are the players who missed the most time and a note about what that impact might have been:

First is Brett Cecil – who missed the entire season with carpal tunnel syndrome.  The impact here is hard to gauge.  Brett has been mostly a disappointment, and it’s likely that Andrew Miller would have gotten his innings anyway.

Alex Reyes also missed most of the season with injuries – even if he spent most of that time on the Memphis injury list.  This could have been very significant.  Had Alex stayed healthy (including not punching out the dugout wall) he might have started to put his game back on track.  When the major league team went through something of a crisis regarding its fifth starter, Reyes might have taken hold of that opportunity.

Jordan Hicks (85 games missed).  If Reyes wasn’t the team’s most significant injury, then that title falls to baseball’s hardest thrower.  Jordan was the team’s closer – and growing well enough into that role – at the time his season ended due to TJ surgery.  Most teams don’t have the pitching depth to lose their closer and still win their division.

Mike Mayers (83 games).  Mike missed a bit more than half the season with a lat strain in his right shoulder.  Mayers is another who can pop the fastball, but has never managed to pitch consistently well at the major league level.  I’m not sure his absence was much noticed.

Jedd Gyorko (51 games).  A right calf strain delayed the start of Jedd’s season.  When he finally joined the team, he was stuck on Shildt’s bench – with all the minimal playing time that implies.  Things imploded for Jedd in early June when a lower back strain sent him back to the injured list.  Before he could make it back, he suffered another calf strain and ended up getting surgery on his right wrist.  Before the trading deadline, he was sent to the Dodgers.  In the 55 games he spent on the active roster, Jedd made it into only 38 games – making just 9 starts. He had only 56 at bats as a Cardinal.

Jedd, of course, had been a thirty home run guy in the past.  For a team that suffered through frequent offensive struggles (including in the playoffs), Jedd’s bat might have made a difference.  It is not clear, though, whether he would have gotten many opportunities – even if he was healthy.

Carlos Martinez (44 games).  The Cards caught a break when Carlos’ right rotator cuff was only strained.  He slotted in at closer for the rest of the season after Hicks went down.  Healthy, though, Carlos might have been part of the rotation – and might be next year.

Yadier Molina (37 games).  The indispensable Cardinal missed more than a month of games to two turns on the injured list with a problem with the tendon in his right thumb.  Yadi was healthy for the playoffs and hit the last Cardinal home run of the season.

Luke Gregerson (32 games).  A right shoulder impingement cost Luke the first month or so of the season.  He was on the active roster for 12 games before being released.

Tyler O’Neill (32 games) and Lane Thomas (28 games).  Two young outfielders who were starting to carve out roles for themselves before injuries (a right elbow ulnar nerve subluxation for O’Neill, and a broken hand for Thomas) curtailed their seasons.  These are two intriguing bats that figure prominently into the Cardinal future.

Marcell Ozuna (28 games).  Ozuna, of course, missed a chunk of games with fingers that he broke during a base-running mishap.

The last Cardinal to miss significant time with an injury was Matt Carpenter, who went on the shelf for nearly a month (23 games) with a right foot contusion – the result of multiple foul balls off of the same spot on the foot.  I’m not sure that anything could be more representative of Matt’s season than this.

Minor League Breakthroughs

(Players on the Major League roster for at least 100 games who played part of the year in the minors)

Giovanny Gallegos (9 games in the minors, 153 with the Cards).  Gallegos was something of a national sensation out of the St Louis pen for much of the summer.  He faded somewhat at the end of the season as his innings piled up, but Gallegos will go into spring training next year with a prominent spot in the bullpen.

Yairo Munoz (6 games in minors, 150 with the Cards).  Yairo makes this list because he was officially optioned to Memphis for a few games.  But Munoz has played most of two full seasons for the Cards.  Of course, since he sits on Shildt’s bench, it’s OK if you’ve never heard of him.

Tyler Webb (17 games in the minors, 145 with the Cards) Less publicized than Gallegos, Webb followed a similar track.  By season’s end, he had become one of Shildt’s most trusted releivers.

Harrison Bader (18 games in minors, 135 with the Cards) Bader went into the season as the starting centerfielder and spent nearly a month in Memphis trying to re-discover his swing.  An elite defender, Harrison hit notably better when he returned.

Dominic Leone (60 games in minors, 102 with Cards).  Leone was another on the opening day roster who found himself spending a chunk of the season in Memphis.  Leone was actually one of the Cards’ most effective relievers when he returned.  I was surprised that Shildt didn’t carry him on the post-season roster.

Tommy Edman (61 games in the minors, 101 with the Cards).  Edman was perhaps the story of the year.  Not even a highly regarded prospect, Edman forced his way into the lineup, and will figure prominently into the 2020 plans.

Nats Tighten the Noose

The game was still scoreless when Victor Robles opened the bottom of the third with a ground ball single up the middle (just out of the reach of shortstop Paul DeJong).  After pitcher Stephen Strasburg bunted Robles down to second, Cardinal pitcher Jack Flaherty struck out Trea Turner.  The Nationals did have the lead run at second, but now there were two outs.

During his remarkable second half run, batters were only 15 for 109 (.138) when batting with two outs against Jack, with only 6 of the hits being for extra-bases (4 doubles and 2 home runs).  The two home runs were the only two-out runs batted in against Flaherty since the All-Star Break.

But Flaherty and the Cardinals had now run into the scorching hot Washington Nationals – a team that is currently getting every meaningful bounce and exploiting every opponents’ mistake.

Jack’s first-pitch fastball to Adam Eaton tailed back across the plate, and Adam bounced it off the plate and into centerfield for the first run of the game.  There followed in rapid succession Anthony Rendon’s soft flyball down the left-field line that Marcell Ozuna couldn’t keep in his glove, a walk to Juan Soto, and a wild pitch that moved Rendon and Soto into scoring position.

Already ahead 2-0, Howie Kendrick all but iced the contest, as he stroked a fastball the other way – perfectly placed into right-center.  And Washington had four, two-out RBIs.

They wouldn’t stop there.  In the fifth inning, John Brebbia would serve up two more two-out RBIs on doubles by Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman.  In the bottom of the seventh, Zimmerman would single home the final run of the game – again, with two out.  In their 8-1 win (box score), the Nationals would drive in 7 of the runs with two-outs.

For the evening, Washington was 4 for 18 before there were two outs in the inning.  They were 7 for 15 with 5 doubles and 3 walks – a batting line of .467/.556/.800 – before St Louis could get the final out.

This hasn’t really been a problem all season.  Again, according to baseball reference, St Louis tied with the Cubs for third fewest runs allowed after two outs in all of baseball.  But now 9 of Washington’s 13 runs in the series have been driven in with two-out hits, and the Cards are backed up as deeply as they can be.

Fifteen years ago, the Cardinals were slugging it out with the Houston Astros (then part of the National League Central) in the League Championship Series.  The winner (which eventually turned out to be the Cards) seemed like they would be facing the Yankees in the series – New York had jumped out to a 3-0 lead against Boston (with Game Three, by the way, being a historic butt-kicking as the Yankees piled it on to the tune of 19-8).  It was hard to imagine a team more dead in the water than the 2004 Red Sox.

And then it was 3-1, Yankees.  Then 3-2.  Finally of course, Boston – Curt Schilling’s bloody sock and all – overcame the Yankees and their 3-0 lead and, in fact, never lost again as they swept the series that year in four games from St Louis.

To date, that is the only time a team has rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.  All season, this team (the Cards) has claimed that it is special.  Few conceivable achievements could mark it as more than special than to match the Red Sox’ feat.  Should they manage that, it’s interesting that their world series opponent would be either the Astros or the Yankees – the two teams that lost those Championship Series’ back in ’04.

But first, of course, they will actually have to win a game against Washington.  A good first step toward that would be to score their first run sometime before the seventh inning.  We’ll see.

Jose Martinez

Inserted into the lineup to provide a little offensive spark, Jose Martinez did contribute a couple of hits and scored the only Cardinal run last night.  Jose is 4 for 6 now on the series, and actually has a five-game hitting streak built mostly on pinch-hit at bats.  Martinez is 6 for his last 8.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler is the second member of the usual lineup (Matt Carpenter was the first) to lose his spot because of the team’s offensive difficulties.  Dexter was hitless in four at bats last night (with three strikeouts) and is 0 for 15 since the first inning of Game Five against Atlanta.  Fowler is 2 for 33 (.061) during the playoffs.  Harrison Bader will get tonight’s start in center.

Wong and Edman

Spark plugs all season long, Kolten Wong and Tommy Edman are the other two members of the starting lineup who have gone hitless through the first three games of the Championship series – they are both 0 for 10 against Washington.

With a team batting line of .121/.167/.143 over their last 96 plate appearances, there are no shortage of bats that have been missing in action recently.  The Cardinal season has reached the point where there are no more tomorrows.  Some of these guys will hit tonight, or they will be playing golf by the weekend.


The 8-1 final was as badly as St Louis has been beaten in a while.  It was, in fact, their largest margin of defeat since August 5.  They lost to the Dodgers that day 8-0 – the first game of a three-game sweep.

The seven run deficit they took into the sixth inning was also the largest seventh-inning deficit in a Cardinal playoff game since they trailed San Francisco 7-0 after six on their way to a 9-0 loss in Game Seven of the 2012 Championship Series.  The Cards, of course, had led that series three games to one at one point.

Still Tipping the Cap

Throughout the first two games of the Championship Series, I have been unable to stop thinking about Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried.  Folty and Fried, of course, are the two Atlanta pitchers who pitched in the first inning of the last game of the Division Series.  What must be going through their minds as they’ve watched the Washington Nationals snuff out the offense that routed them on Wednesday afternoon?

Folty and Fried allowed the Cards 10 runs in that one inning.  In 18 innings at home against Washington, that same Cardinal lineup has scored 1 run.  St Louis collected 5 hits (3 of them doubles) and 4 walks from the 14 batters that came to the plate in just that one inning in Atlanta.  Sixty-two Cardinal batters have come and gone in the first two games of this series.  They have a total of 4 hits (1 double) and 3 walks – a team-wide batting line of .070/.145/.088.

If nothing else, St Louis is getting proficient at tipping their caps.

If you have been watching, you will know that first Anibal Sanchez (in Game One) and then Max Scherzer (in Game Two) took no-hitters into the seventh inning.  These efforts – with just enough offense – have given Washington a daunting 2-0 lead in the series that shifts back to Washington tonight.

What must Folty and Fried have thought, especially during Game One, as Sanchez blew through 7.2 effortless innings, looking more like he was tossing darts at the pub than pitching in the Championship Series.  His most stressful moment of the evening may well have been finding a seat on the team bus.  Certainly the Cardinals didn’t cause him any concern.

All the while, the repeated formula was simplicity itself.  Strike one on the outside edge, and continuously throw the ball slower or faster than expected.  After the game, I believe it was Kolten Wong that said that Anibal never threw the ball over the middle.  Watching the game, that wasn’t really true.  Sanchez made his share of mistakes in the heart of the zone.  It was the hitters’ inability to time the pitches correctly that was the difference.  Sanchez gave up a series of line drive foul balls when Cardinal batsmen were geared too fast, and about a dozen sky high lazy flyballs when the pitches were coming in just a fraction faster than expected.

I think his fastest pitch of the night was about 93.  It was simply amazing watching this team get jammed with 88-mph fastballs.

On their way to dropping the first two games of the series, St Louis batsmen have gone 0 for 9 when they hit the first strike.  Hitting that first strike is usually a gold mine for the hitter.  According to baseball reference, across all the major leagues, batters slashed .355/.414/.643 – a 1.057 OPS on the first strike of an at bat.  Against the Braves, St Louis was 18 for 34 (.529) with 6 doubles and 2 home runs (.882 slugging percentage) when they hit the first strike.

But they could never get comfortable against Sanchez.  Not even for one at bat.

Jose Martinez

The lone offensive spark in the series, Jose Martinez has worked his way back into the starting lineup – at least for tonight.  He broke up Sanchez’ no-hitter in Game One, and drove in St Louis’ only run of the series with a double in Game Two.  He is 2-for-2 against Washington.  The rest of the team is 2 for 55 (.036).

Jose has actually been swinging the bat better for a little while now, it’s just hard to notice because he never starts anymore.  Jose has started only once since the first game of a September 1 double-header.  He is 8 for his last 14 (.571) with 2 doubles and 2 triples (1.000 slugging percentage) – but that covers his last 10 games.  He currently holds a four-game hitting streak – all in pinch-hitting opportunities.

Needless to say, no one else on the team has been trending up.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong chipped in with two singles in his very first playoff game.  Since then, his slump has taken back over.  One for six in the series so far, DeJong has had 21 plate appearances since that first game, managing 2 singles, 1 double, 1 walk (intentional) and 10 strikeouts – a .150/.190/.200 batting line.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt was 3 for 4 against the Braves with a home run when hitting the first strike.  He has yet to hit the first strike in the first two games against the Nats – evidence of how precisely Sanchez and Scherzer have been locating that first strike.  Goldy will jump on that pitch when it’s where he’s looking for it, but won’t chase it when it’s on the corners.

Yadier Molina

One of the season’s signature moments was Yadier Molina’s game-tying eighth-inning single in Game Four of the Division Series that prolonged St Louis’ season.  Yadi is 0 for 10 since that hit, and is just 3 for 28 (.107, all singles) over his last 8 games.

Against Atlanta, Yadi swung at the first strike in 17 of his 22 plate appearances, going 2 for 5 when he managed to put that pitch in play.  He has only swung at the first strike twice in 6 at bats against Washington, without putting either pitch in play.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s playoffs are following a similar arc.  Matt floated a dramatic game-tying eighth-inning single in Game One.  Like Molina, he is hitless in 10 at bats since.  In Carpenter’s case, this has cost him – at least for today – his place in the lineup.  He is 0-for-6 against Washington, 1 for 11 in the playoffs, and 2 for 19 (.105) over his last 8 games.

In 5 of his 6 plate appearances in this series, and 11 of 15 in the playoffs (73.3%), Matt has ended up in two-strike counts.  During the season’s second half, 61.4% of Matt’s plate appearances ended up in two-strike counts.  He batted .169/.275/.270 in those at bats.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong – as you know – was sidelined for the last ten games of the regular season with a hamstring issue.  He has jumped back into the starting lineup at the start of the playoffs – and while he has had some moments, his performance overall looks like someone who has missed a week and a half of at bats.  He is 0-for-6 against the Nationals and 5 for 26 (.192) in the playoffs overall.

Dexter Fowler

When Dexter Fowler came to the plate for the second time in that big first inning of Game Five, with the bases loaded and one out, he was riding an 0-for-13 streak (he had walked that first time up).  Dex took a ball and then jumped Max’s first strike, pulling it fair over third base for a two-run double that helped bury the Braves.

He is 0-for-11 since then.  Early in the playoffs, Fowler hit into some hard luck, hitting balls hard, but at people.  Lately, he has just been making routine outs.  He is 0-for 7 (with 3 strikeouts) against Washington, and 2 for 29 (.069) for the playoffs.

Over his last 23 games (counting the playoffs) Dexter is 10 for 87 (.115).

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna is another member of the starting lineup that hasn’t managed a hit since that big first inning in Atlanta.  Marcell is 0-for-8 in this series, and hitless in his last 11 at bats.

Pitching Keeps Cards Afloat

However the series against Washington turns out, the Cardinals can be very proud of the way their pitching has shown up.  Going back to the last game of the regular season, the Cards have 6 quality starts in their last 8 games.  The team ERA over these critical games is a sparkling 2.25 – 1.78 by the rotation.  Unfortunately, as often as not they have been running into pitching on the other side that has been equally effective.  St Louis is 4-4 in those 8 games.

Miles Mikolas

As has become a Cardinal tradition this year (see the notes below), St Louis has wasted some pretty good pitching in the first two games of this series.  Miles Mikolas was the starter – and loser – of Game One, in spite of the fact that he went six innings giving just 1 run.  Miles has made 2 starts and 1 relief appearance in the playoffs so far, recording a 1.50 ERA over 12 innings.  Over his last 9 games (8 starts and 1 relief appearance) Mikolas holds a 2.64 ERA over 47.2 innings.

Adam Wainwright

Similarly, Adam Wainwright nearly matched Scherzer in Game Two.  He allowed just 1 run through 7 innings.  Waino has given the Cards quality starts in both of his playoff outings.  Adam has a 1.80 ERA during the playoffs – and an 0-1 record.


On the other end the masterpieces by Sanchez and Scherzer were Cardinal starters Mikolas and Wainwright – who tossed quality starts of their own.  In 7 playoff games, the Cards have gotten 5 quality starts – and have now lost 4 of them.  All of their playoff losses so far have come in spite of a quality performance from their starter.  For the season, they are 53-27 when their pitcher gives them a quality start – meaning they are losing the game 33.8% of the time.  The only Cardinal team this century that has done worse was the 2008 team that lost 34.2% of the time their pitcher threw a quality start.  They were 50-26 in quality start games.

With playoff baseball in St Louis comes the frigid weather.  Friday’s game – played in 45 degree cold – was St Louis’ second coldest game of the year.  On April 1 in Pittsburgh, they beat the Pirates 6-5 in 11 innings in a game time temperature of 37 degrees.  Friday was the coldest game in St Louis since April 8 of last year, when they lost a 4-1 game to Arizona in 43 degree weather.  I wonder if you had chatted with Paul Goldschmidt then about relocating to St Louis what his answer might have been.

Even against the standard of playoff games, 45 is frigid.  St Louis hasn’t played as cold a playoff game since Game Three of the 2006 World Series.  With Chris Carpenter on the mound, they beat Detroit 5-0 in 43 degree weather.

History With the Umpires

Bill Miller will get the plate in Game Three in Washington.  It will be the fifth time that Miller has had the plate during a Cardinal playoff game – with St Louis winning three of the first four: 2-1 in Game Two of the 2002 Division Series against Arizona; 7-1 in Game Five of the 2011 Championship Series against Milwaukee; and 3-1 in Game Three of the 2012 Championship Series against San Francisco.

The lone Cardinal playoff loss with Miller behind the plate came in Game Five of the 2013 World Series – a 3-1 loss to Boston.

All of those games were played in St Louis.

Counting the playoffs, they are now 27-22 lifetime (1-3 this year) with Miller calling the game.

Game Four, on the other hand, will belong to Phil Cuzzi who has seen St Louis lose two of three playoff games from that vantage point.  The only one of the three played on the road was the first one – a 2-1 loss in Houston in Game Four of the 2005 Championship Series.  He was behind the plate for St Louis’ 3-0 loss to Madison Bumgarner in the opening game of the 2014 Championship Series, and for St Louis’ 4-0 win against Chicago in the opening game of the 2015 Division Series.

They are 24-15 lifetime (2-1 this year) in Cuzzi’s games.

If we get to Game Six, Fieldin Culbreth with have the plate for a Cardinal playoff game for just the second time.  He was there for Game Four of the 2006 Championship series when the Mets trounced the Cards 12-5.

St Louis is 24-17 when Fieldin has the plate – including a loss the only time he had the plate for one of our games this year.  He was behind the plate on September 28 when the Cubs hung an 8-6 loss on the birds.

The other umpires in this series have never called a Cardinal playoff game until this year.  Our history (counting the first two games of this series) with them is as follows:

Mike Muchlinski – 10-13 (1-2 this year); Chris Conroy – 11-9 (3-1 in 2019); and Chad Fairchild – 19-12 (2-0 this year).

Seeing the Ball Well – Ozuna and Goldschmidt Having Their Way

It was the second inning of Game One of the Division Series last Thursday, and Marcell Ozuna was leading off.

Through seven major league seasons and 931 regular season games, Marcell had never had a whiff of the playoffs before.  But now, here he was, standing in against Atlanta lefty Dallas Keuchel.  The very first playoff pitch he would see would be Keuchel’s signature sinker.  Ozuna cut loose and took a hack at it – and tapped it easily back to Dallas for the first out of the inning.

Over the five games of the series, Marcell would come to the plate 22 more times.  He would never again swing at the first pitch.  Brave pitchers would tempt him with all manner of sliders and breaking balls, hoping that he would chase.  But Marcell is seeing the ball very well out of the hand these days.

After that initial groundout, Marcell went on to punish Atlanta the rest of the series, going 9 for his last 20, with 3 doubles and 2 home runs.  He drove in 5 runs in the five games – including the winning run twice.

Watching Marcell at the plate, one would guess that he would be one of the team’s more aggressive hitters.  The menacing way that he waves the bat at the plate, resembling a serpent looking for his first opportunity to strike.  And, certainly, when he does jump at a pitch, the swing itself is nothing less that pure aggression unleashed.  But, in spite of the visual evidence to the contrary, Marcell doesn’t chase the first pitch thrown to him any more than an average hitter – and profits significantly when he is taking that first pitch.

During the season’s second half, Marcell took the first pitch thrown him 73.1% of the time (163 of 223).  He hit .252/.380/.481 with 8 of his 9 second half home runs in those plate appearances.  He was just a .140/.183/.246 hitter when he did chase the first pitch.  His season numbers (.256/.361/.503 in 382 PAs when taking the first pitch and .217/.257/.414 in 167 PAs when he swung at the first offering) followed a similar arc.

In watching Marcell over the last two seasons, I’ve come to see this as a barometer of his comfort at the plate.  When Marcell is taking, he is dialed in.

Goldy, too?

I don’t think that, during his uneven regular season, we got to see the real Paul Goldschmidt – the Goldschmidt who was a constant thorn in the side of the Braves.  During 680 regular season plate appearances, Paul only took the first pitch 473 times – a 69.6% that was right about at the team average of 69.9%.  He hit .300 in at bats in which he chased the first pitch, and only .241 when taking.

Atlanta was subjected to a different Goldy.  In 23 playoff plate appearances, Paul watched that first pitch go by 18 times (78.3%).  He went on to go 8 for 16 in those at bats (.500) with all of his extra-base hits (4 doubles and 2 home runs – a 1.125 slugging percentage).  He had one single in 5 at bats when he swung at the first pitch.

As with Ozuna, Paul appears his most comfortable the more selective he is.

But DeJong Not So Much

The other everyday Paul in the lineup – Paul DeJong, on the oter hand, is at his best when he goes up swinging at the first pitch.  In fact, he hit .500 during the series when he swung at the first pitch.  Unfortunately, he only swung at 6 of his 20 first pitches.  For the season, Paul hit .277 when he swung at the first pitch, but did so only 21.7% of the time – about 10% lower than average.

DeJong likes that fastball early in the count, and (as the season has progressed) pitchers have learned that challenging DeJong early in the count doesn’t usually work out for them.

The 14 times DeJong didn’t swing at the first pitch during the series, he managed 1 single in 12 at bats (with 2 intentional walks) and 8 strikeouts.

The Washington pitching staff will present its own challenges – especially when they face Patrick Corbin and that elusive slider.  But several of the hitters in the meat part of the Cardinal order are seeing the ball very well right now.  We are looking forward to an interesting series.

The Trading Deadline Revisited

On Monday April 29 – when these two teams first met in Washington – few would probably have predicted that St Louis and Washington would be the last two teams standing in the National League.  The Cards were in the midst of their hot start, and carried a record of 17-10 into the series.  They currently held a 2.5 game lead over the Cubs.  But even though their record was second best to the Dodgers (LA was 19-11 at that point), St Louis had missed the playoffs during each of the previous three seasons, and the Cubs and Brewers were still expected to be the teams fighting it out for the playoff spots in this division.

Washington, on the other hand, had just seen superstar outfielder Bryce Harper join their division rivals in Philadelphia over the offseason.  Washington entered play that night just 12-14 and 3 early games behind the Phillies.  About 10% of the way through the season, most experts might have predicted that the Dodgers and Cubs would be preparing to do battle this evening.  But the baseball season is always full of surprises, and the Cards and National are two of the more pleasant surprises for 2019.

As St Louis takes its place tonight among the last four teams standing, I think it’s worthwhile to revisit the July 31 trade deadline.  Famously, the Cards stood pat, adding nothing to their roster in spite of the trading fury all around them.  From most corners of the baseball world, their inactivity drew a kind of quiet raspberry.  As with a shrug, the experts more or less concluded that the Cards didn’t really care about making the playoffs.

Clearly, the front office had a high level of belief in the team they had.  More than that, though, during the final moments of the insanity, the office stated publicly that they were unwilling to part with the promising parts of their future for a temporary fix.

In recent years, I haven’t been exceedingly complimentary of the management team in place.  In many ways, they have consistently misunderstood the real issues that faced their team – and all too often have seemed unconcerned about parting with pieces of their future for the immediate gratification of an “impact bat.”  For the rest of their careers, I think I will cringe every time I see Sandy Alcantara or Zac Gallen appear in playoff games or All Star games as I remember that both of these prime prospects (and more) were surrendered for what will probably be just two years of Marcell Ozuna.

So, to hear from them last July that these intriguing players that represent a fairly compelling future for this franchise are at least somewhat off-limits, is greatly relieving.

We’ll see if they can keep their hands off them over the long off season.

Jack and a Ten Run Inning Are More than Enough

On September 22, the Cards fought their way past the Chicago Cubs in Chicago by a 3-2 score.  The victory completed a pivotal sweep in Chicago that all but ended the Cubs’ post-season hopes, and gave the Cards what appeared to be a stranglehold on the division.  They were 3 games up on Milwaukee with 6 to play – a situation that would require an uncommon combination of Milwaukee hot streak and Cardinal losing streak.

A combination that almost came to pass.

After St Louis won their next game in Arizona (eliminating the D-Backs), the wheels came off.  Four consecutive loses dropped them to 90-71, one slender game ahead of the Brewers.

Now there is one game to play with all the marbles on the table.  Standing on the mound in the streaming sunlight of the last Sunday of the season (facing a Chicago team that was one game away from returning the favor to their ancient rivals), the man wearing the weight of the season on his shoulders was a 23-year old right-hander who had never before (in the majors, anyway) pitched in a game of this magnitude.

Seven innings and 69 pitches later that young monster – Jack Flaherty – walked off the mound in St Louis to a standing ovation.  On the scoreboard, the seven-inning totals for the hated Cubs read 0 runs and only 2 hits.  With 9 runs sitting securely in the Cardinal ledger, the result was no longer in doubt.  Two innings later, St Louis had secured a 9-0 victory and their first division title (and playoff berth) since 2015.

That division title earned the 2019 Cardinals a match-up with the Atlanta Braves.  Pushed to the brink of elimination on their home field, the Cardinals rose up on the bat of their storied leader Yadier Molina to send the series back to Atlanta tied at two wins a piece.  Once again, the Cardinal season would hang on one game.  But unlike the previous moment when a playoff berth had already been assured and the game was in from of a friendly crowd, this game would be pure elimination and played before a raucous crowd at Sun Trust Park in Atlanta.

Six innings and 104 pitches later that same young rising star walked off the mound having allowed just 1 run on 4 hits.  Again the game (a 13-1 Cardinal lead) was no longer in doubt.  St Louis would advance.  Atlanta’s season would end (box score).

In the aftermath, there was much discussion of St Louis’ remarkable ten-run first inning that set playoff records and mostly put the game out of reach before Jack even took the mound.  But the deeper and more important story going forward is a resurgent pitching staff – led by Flaherty – that will be at the forefront of any upcoming series.

Beginning with the last game against Chicago, St Louis has won 4 of its last 6 games, mostly on the strength of a 2.17 team ERA.  The last six Cardinal starters (three of whom have been Flaherty) have contributed a 1.45 ERA and a .195 batting average against.

With lots of elite offenses left in the playoff picture, this will be the great equalizer – if they can continue this pace.


The series clinching performance continues a stunning run of dominant pitching from young Mr. Flaherty.  Dating to the last game before the All-Star Break, Jack has made 18 starts (including the playoffs).  Sixteen of the 18 have been “quality starts,” but that only begins to describe the consistency of his excellence.  In 9 of the 18 starts, Jack has been unscored on.  In 13 of the 18, the opposing team failed to manage 5 hits of Flaherty.

Over the 119.1 innings that cover Jack’s last 18 starts, opposing offense have been left with just 16 runs scored (15 earned) on only 62 hits (8 home runs and 11 doubles are the only extra-base hits he has allowed since early July).  Against his 146 strikeouts in those innings, Flaherty has walked just 26, as he has thrown 66% of his pitches for strikes.  The ERA for this span works out to 1.13, and the last 443 batters to face him are hitting just .151 with a miniscule slugging percentage of .237.

Mr. Flaherty has been a tower when St Louis has needed him most.  This ability to rise to the most stressful occasions gives him a level that statistics cannot quantify.  Jack Flaherty has arrived.

Giovanny Gallegos

With Flaherty’s work done, Giovanny Gallegos took the mound for the seventh, delivering a perfect inning.  Whether it’s the innings load or some adjustments by the batters, Gallegos hasn’t been the dominant force that he was through most of the first half of the season.  Nonetheless, his recent outings have been encouraging.  Giovanny has given 1 run on 4 hits through his last 6 innings (over 7 games).  The last 24 batters he has faced are hitting .190.

Gallegos threw first-pitch strikes to two of the three batters he faced, eventually retiring both.  Brian McCann popped out on the first pitch thrown him, and, after swinging through the first pitch thrown to him, Matt Joyce ended up grounding out on a 2-2 pitch.

In the season’s second half, Gallegos tied Tyler Webb for the lowest batting average against after throwing a first pitch strike.  Batters were 9 for 69 against Giovanny when he threw strike one, and 7 for 54 in that same circumstance against Webb (a .130 average).

Paul Goldschmidt

Certainly one of the offensive heroes of the series was first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt.  If the regular season wasn’t really up to Paul’s usual standards, his post-season, so far, has been all that anyone could have hoped for.  Hitting in all five games, Paul was 9 for 21 (.429) – and it wasn’t a particularly quiet .429.  He slugged .905 during the series, with 6 of his 9 hits going for extra-bases (including 2 home runs).

Going back to the end of the regular season, Paul has a seven-game hitting streak intact as the Cards await the arrival of the Nationals on Friday.  Four of the seven have been multi-hit games, and two have been three hit affairs.  Paul is hitting .433 (13 for 30) and slugging .867 (4 doubles and 3 home runs) during the streak.

Paul is pretty hot at the moment.

Tommy Edman

With a double and a triple in Game Five, Tommy Edman ended his first playoff series with a .316 batting average (6 for 19) and a .579 slugging percentage (3 doubles and a triple).

Tommy was thrown a first-pitch strike every time up on Wednesday and in 14 of his 21 plate appearances during the series.  Tommy doesn’t really mind if pitchers go aggressively after him.  Edman finished 5 for 13 (.385) with 2 doubles, a triple and a walk in those plate appearances.

Yadier Molina

With his 0-for-5 on Wednesday, Molina officially finished the series with a .143/.174/.143 batting line – he had 3 singles in 21 at bats.  Of course, one of those singles saved the season.

It is, admittedly, difficult to throw a first-pitch ball to Yadi – who is one of baseball’s more aggressive hitters.  But when pitchers can get Molina to take that first pitch for a ball, the at bat seems to go better for them.  That only happened once on Wednesday.  As the last batter in that historic first-inning, Molina took Max Fried’s first pitch for a ball and eventually grounded out on a 2-2 pitch.  Only 5 times during the series did a Molina at bat begin with ball one.  Yadi was 0-for-5 in those at bats.

In the season’s second half, Yadi hit .325 (37 for 114) when his first pitch was a strike, but only .182 (8 for 44) when the first pitch to him was ball one.


The 12-run victory was the Cardinals largest since they slashed Pittsburgh 17-4 back on May 9.  The only other double-digit playoff win by this team in this century was a 12-2 victory over Arizona (in a game started by Randy Johnson) in Game One of the 2002 Division Series.

In playoff games, the 13 runs were the most scored by the Cards since Game Three of the 2011 World Series, when they dumped Texas by a 16-7 score.

The Cards had trailed at some point in seven straight playoff games, dating back to Game One of the 2015 Division Series – their only win against the Cubs in that series, 4-0.

Cards Answer Braves – Eventually

On Thursday evening, as the divisional series between the Atlanta Braves and St Louis Cardinals began, the visiting Cardinals routed a questionable Atlanta bullpen, escaping with a 7-6 win that momentarily gave the Cards the home field advantage in the series.

On Friday afternoon, the Braves did what good teams do after suffering a loss.  They answered with a 3-0 victory.

One of the enduring traits of championship caliber teams is that they are difficult to conquer on consecutive nights.  You rarely see them tagged with a string of defeats.

As the series shifted back to St Louis, it was now incumbent on the Cards to do the same thing.  They had to respond after a defeat.  Finally, after a brilliant stand by a courageous bullpen and the clutch bat of Yadier Molina, they did – fighting their way to a 5-4, 10-inning victory on Monday (box score).  However, that didn’t happen until after St Louis had suffered that second consecutive loss, 3-1 on Sunday afternoon, pushing them to the edge of extinction (box score).

For most of the season, staying out of losing streaks was a significant problem.  The back to back losses to the Braves were the thirty-sixth time the Cardinals were involved in losing streaks of at least two games this year.  Twenty-seven of those streaks graduated to at least three games; four of them went as far as four games, and they finished with two five-game losing streaks.

For the season (including the playoffs) the Cards are an uninspiring 40-33 (.548) after losing the previous game.  Of the 20 versions of this team that have played this century, the 2019 team would rank twelfth in this category.  For the decade (playoffs included) the St Louis Cardinals are 849-629 (.574) after a loss.

The story of the 2019 number, though, parallels the story of the 2019 Cardinal season.  Through the first half, they were a very dreary 22-21 (.512) after losing a game, but they opened the second half doing much better.  From mid-July through September 18, they were an impressive 16-7 (.696) answering a previous loss.

But, beginning with their last road series in Arizona up until Monday afternoon, they had lost 4 of 5 after losing the previous game.  For the most part, it was a pitching staff that allowed 5.6 runs per game through that span that short-circuited St Louis’ attempts to break the losing cycles.

Through seven innings on Monday, it looked for all the world like the Cardinal season would end with the team failing in five of their final six games after a loss.

But the bullpen that I have been expecting to collapse at any moment threw 5.1 stellar innings of relief, stranding 5 inherited runners along the way.  John Brebbia came in with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth and struck out Adam Duvall.  Then, after Brebbia was victimized by a ball lost in the sun (a gift triple for Ronald Acuna Jr.), Andrew Miller came on to strand him.

Pitching in the ninth, Carlos Martinez served up a lead-off double (Acuna, again), but Acuna was stranded as well.  For the game, Atlanta was 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position – most of that the work of the bullpen.

The rest was two clutch at bats by Molina, who drove in the last two runs of the game, and the Cardinals will live to play another day.

Now, the Braves will have to answer again, or their season will be over.

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright scuffled a little bit over his last two regular season starts, but on Sunday afternoon he was vintage Waino, tossing 7.2 innings of 4-hit, 2-walk shutout ball, striking out 8.

In so doing, he was more reminiscent of the Adam Wainwright of most of September, who threw 4 quality starts, and went 5-1 with a 2.97 ERA.

Adam has always been elite in a stoppers’ role – pitching in games after a loss.  In the season’s second half, Waino was 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 7 after-loss starts.

Over his storied career, Sunday was the fifth time he has started in the playoffs after a Cardinal loss.  Of the five, the only Cardinal win was the only one he didn’t pitch well in.  In Game Five of the 2012 Division Series against Washington, Waino didn’t make it out of the third inning, being battered for 6 runs on 7 hits and 3 home runs.  That was the evening of the historic 9-7 comeback that sent the Cards on to the Championship Series.  Over the other 4 games, Waino has a 1.82 ERA over 29.2 innings, but St Louis ended up losing all three.

Adam himself only took the loss in Game Five of the 2013 World Series, in spite of the fact that he gave just 3 runs over 7 innings to the Red Sox.  In the other three games, Waino left with a lead that was then squandered by the bullpen – a 3-2 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers in Game Two of the 2009 Division Series (Adam had given just 1 run over 8 innings); 6-3 to Madison Bumgarner in Game Five of the 2014 Championship Series (In spite of 7 innings of 2-run ball from Waino); and Monday against the Braves.

Dakota Hudson

Dakota Hudson wobbled a bit in the fifth inning of the Monday game, but overall pitched very well, under the duress of the situation.  Hudson was very steady down the stretch.  Including his playoff start, Hudson threw quality starts in 6 of his last 10 outings, putting together a 6-1 record and a 1.86 ERA.  The last 230 batters to face him are hitting .159, and 57% of every ball put in play against him has been a ground ball.

The next step for Dakota will be tighter command.  Hudson has walked 31 batters in his last 58 innings, and only 59% of his pitches in those innings have been strikes.  Only 44 of his 74 Monday pitches were in the zone.

Dakota was 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in 5 September starts.  Four of those five starts followed a Cardinal loss.  Hudson responded with 3 quality starts and a 1.50 ERA that featured a .146 batting average against.

Carlos’ Big Inning

With the Monday game tied at four in the ninth inning and the Cards facing elimination, they turned again to Carlos Martinez.  The afternoon before, Martinez’ brutal ninth inning had given control of the series back to the Braves.  It was a crucial inning on many levels.  With the weight of the season resting on his shoulders, Carlos was tasked with mentally and emotionally turning the page on the Sunday disaster.  I will admit some concern when Acuna opened up with a ringing double, putting what might have been the winning run in scoring position with nobody out.

But Carlos pitched around it.  More than that, in fact.  You could see him visibly clear his mind of all that noise and focusing completely on the pitch to be made.  That was a very big proving step for Carlos Martinez.

Paul Goldschmidt

In case there was any question about it, Paul Goldschmidt has turned it on.  It’s kind of the eruption the team has been waiting for all year. With his three hits on Monday (all for extra-bases) Goldy has hit in every game of the series – and, in fact, has a six game hitting streak going.  He has multiple hits in three of the six, including a pair of three-hit games.  For the streak, Goldschmidt is hitting .440 (11 for 25) and slugging .960 (4 doubles and 3 home runs).

Marcell Ozuna

Right there with Goldy is the man behind him in the order – Marcell Ozuna.  Marcell hit his first two playoff home runs on Monday, and has two hits in all four of the games.  Ozuna now actually has a five game hitting streak, in which he has two hits exactly in all five games.  Marcell is hitting .455 during his streak (10 for 22) and slugging .864 (he has 3 doubles to go along with yesterday’s homers) and has driven in 5 runs over his last 5 games.

Tommy Edman

Tommy Edman doesn’t stay quiet for very long.  After a couple of hitless games, Edman singled, doubled and walked in Monday’s game.  Tommy was the team’s leading hitter (.350 on 36 of 103 hitting) and slugger (.660 on 6 doubles, 4 triples and 6 home runs) for the month of September.  Starting in 65 of the 74 second half games, Edman hit .308 with 8 home runs.

Tommy hit .328 this season (43 for 131) in 36 games after a loss.

Yadier Molina

Molina hasn’t honestly looked very comfortable at the plate during this post-season.  As he came to the plate with the tying run on second in Monday’s eighth inning, Yadi was just 2 for 15 in the series.

But never count him out.  Molina, of course, tied the contest with an RBI single and then tied the series with a sacrifice fly in the tenth.

Over his storied career, Molina has played in 40 playoff games after a Cardinal loss.  He is now hitting .322 in those games (46 for 143) with 3 game-winning hits.  Yadi may not always come through in those situations (nobody “always’ comes through in those situations).  But with Molina you can always be assured that the moment will never be too big for him.

Matt Carpenter

A recent hot streak brought Matt Carpenter briefly back into the lineup (at Harrison Bader’s expense).  Matt has since cooled off a bit, throwing his presence in the lineup back in doubt.  Matt was 0-for-3 on Monday, and is just 2 for 13 (.154) over his last 5 games.

Hitless in four at bats over the last two games, Matt has played in 20 career playoff games after a Cardinal loss.  He is 14 for 68 (.206) in those games.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong’s bat has been trending downward lately.  He was 0-for-4 yesterday.  He had singles in two of his first three at bats in the series, but is 0 for 11 since then with 6 strikeouts.

Paul ended September hitting just .175 (17 for 97).

In the last two games, DeJong sits 0-for-7.  Since the All-Star break, Paul is just 19 for 98 (.194) in games after a loss.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler started off his playoffs pretty well, with a walk and a single in Game One.  He is hitless in 13 at bats since then.

Fowler hit .183 (17 for 93) in the month of September.

Game Five and Beyond

In pushing the Braves – who were significant favorites – to a deciding game, St Louis has progressed as far as most experts would believe.  Everything that they achieve from this point on will be above and beyond expectations.  Should they survive the Braves, other excellent teams – both National and American – will be waiting.  From this point on, they will be even steeper under-dogs than they already are.  Going forward, expect to see the odds and expectations stacked strongly against them.

Given their playoff history, I can’t think of any team more comfortable in that setting than your St Louis Cardinals.


After winning the first game of the series, the Cardinals got consecutive quality starts from Jack Flaherty and Wainwright.  They lost both games.  This has been one of the strong memes of the Cardinal season – wasting excellent quality pitching.

They are now 52-25 this season when their starter gives them a quality start, losing 32.5% of those efforts.  If that number holds, this will be the second-worst Cardinal record this century when they get a quality start.  The 2008 team lost 34.2% of the time they got a quality start (50-26).

One day after they played in 94 degree heat (tying the season high to that point) the Cards played their hottest game of the year on October 4 in Atlanta – the game time temperature read 95 degrees.  It was the hottest game St Louis had played in since they lost to Cincinnati 8-2 in 97 degree last July 14 (Flaherty started that game, too).

It was the hottest road game played since a 2-1, 10-inning loss in San Francisco on September 2 of 2017.  That game was also 95 degrees at first pitch.

When the series came back to St Louis on Sunday, the temperature was 32 degrees cooler.  At 63 degrees, the Sunday game was the coolest the Cards have played since the last game before the All-Star break in San Francisco (July 7).  Although early July, the temperature in San Francisco that afternoon was a chilly 61 degrees.  They haven’t played in weather this cold at home since May 12.  They lost to Pittsburgh that day 10-6 in 51 degree weather.

Before the Friday shutout, St Louis had led at some point in 7 consecutive playoff games, going back to a 5-4, 10-inning loss to San Francisco in Game Three of the 2014 Championship Series.

The Sunday crowd of just 42,203 was the smallest for a Cardinal home playoff game in this century.  The previous low for a home playoff game was the 43,584 that came to see St Louis win Game Three of the 2011 Championship Series against Milwaukee.  The final in that was 4-3 Cards. 

Wednesday’s game will have umpire Tom Hallion behind the plate.  Tom has never called a Cardinal playoff game, but we were 2-2 with him behind the plate during this regular season.  Lifetime we are 15-14 with Tom behind the plate.

Cards Open Playoffs with One-Run Victory

What if Ronald Acuna Jr. hadn’t tried to steal second in the first inning?  What if first-base umpire Alan Porter didn’t ring up Francisco Cervelli on his check-swing with the bases loaded in the sixth?  What if Josh Donaldson’s bullet line drive with two on in the seventh wasn’t right at Paul DeJong with Acuna far enough off of second to make for an easy double play?  What if either two-run double from Marcell Ozuna or Kolten Wong had gone just barely foul instead of just barely fair?

And, of course, what if Chris Martin didn’t have to be replaced in the eighth?

This is the mystery and magic of one run games (this one ended up 7-6 Cards) amplified by the bright lights of the playoffs.  Just one play – one swing, one pitch, perhaps one call from an umpire.  This time of year, it can be the difference between going on or going home.

For their part, the Cards had their share of what-ifs as well.  What if Nick Markakis’ ground ball doesn’t bounce over Paul Goldschmidt’s head?  What if Acuna doesn’t make the catch on Wong’s sinking liner.  Ditto Dansby Swanson on Goldschmidt’s sinker.

One-run games have been an area of steady improvement in St Louis this summer.  At one point during their disastrous May, they lost 7 one-run games in a row as they got off to a 5-10 start in this category.

As their game started to come together, though, the Cards began to consistently pull out these squeakers.  Beginning with a ten-inning, 2-1 conquest of the Cubs on the last day of May, the birds have won 21 of their last 33 one-run games (including yesterday).

They have now pulled out 5 of their last 6.  They finished the second half of the season 14-8 in these games, finishing 25-22 for the season.

They are also, now 17-15 this century in the playoffs in one-run games (including wins in 8 of the last 10).

However, in the 11 one-run games played in September, the Cards were only 6-5.  The starting pitching in those 11 games was splendid, pitching to a 1.93 ERA.  But the team was barely able to survive a bullpen that checked in with a 4.40 ERA, serving up 9 home runs in their 47 innings in those games.

Yesterday followed the same troubling pattern.  After five great innings from starter Miles Mikolas, the Braves pushed the Cardinal bullpen around for 5 runs (4 earned) on 6 hits (including 2 home runs) and 2 walks over the last 4 innings.

With almost all of the main bullpen arms having thrown many more innings than they ever have previously, most of them look like they’ve been hitting a wall – a concern for the rest of the playoffs.

But once again, it was the bats that came to the rescue – scoring 7 runs on 14 hits and 6 walks.  Earlier this month, they lost consecutive 2-1 games (talk about one-run games!) in Colorado – of all places.

The bats responded with 10 runs in each of the next two games, and have been very difficult to muffle ever since.  Over the last 18 games, they have averaged 5.56 runs per game, and even though they carry a team batting average over that streak of just .242, they are OPSing (it’s sort of become a verb) .804 over those games, drawing 85 walks and hitting 34 home runs.

But asking the offense to continually atone for the bullpen is a very big ask.  After slumping to a 4.81 ERA in September, a bullpen rebound will be necessary for any hope of a deep October run.

Tommy Edman

After Tommy Edman’s ten-game hitting streak snapped on the last day of the season, the relentless rookie began another one yesterday – he had two more hits.  Edman has now hit safely in 11 of his last 12 (getting multiple hits in 10 of them).  Over this span, Tommy is hitting .431 (22 for 51).  His double was his eighth extra-base hit in those games (3 doubles, 3 triples and 2 home runs) – a .725 slugging percentage.

“Every day” Edman has also now hit in 17 of his last 19, and 21 of his last 24.  He finished September with a .350 batting average and a .660 slugging percentage for the month, and hit .308 (84 for 273) with 8 home runs over the second half.

Tommy almost always came through in one-run games.  He played in 28 (starting 24) since his recall.  He hit .388 (40 for 103) with 6 doubles, 3 triples and 3 home runs (.592 slugging percentage) in those contests.

Paul Goldschmidt

Goldschmidt turned the game around with his eighth-inning homer.  Paul may be about to go off.  He collected 3 hits in the season’s last game, and had 2 more in the first playoff game – with a home run in each game.  A Goldy revival would be good news.

Kolten Wong

In his first action since straining his hamstring on September 16, Kolten Wong began the game with a big early error that allowed the first run of the game.  He atoned, though, finishing the game with two hits, including a game-icing, two-run, ninth-inning double.  Kolten, you’ll remember, hit .342 in the season’s second half.

Miles Mikolas

Thursday’s starter, Miles Mikolas looked for a bit like he wouldn’t make it out of the first inning.  He walked a couple and gave up a hit, but limited the damage, and ended up giving the Cardinals a solid outing.

Miles has been something of a disappointment this season – coming off his 18-win 2018 – and I had hoped that the end of this season would give some insight into who the real Miles Mikolas was.  And, in general, I would say that that has happened.  Over his last 7 starts, Miles had given the team more good pitching than bad, establishing a 2.88 ERA over his last 7 starts (40.2 innings).

Giovanny Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos is one of several members of the Cardinal bullpen to finish the season in unchartered territory as far as innings go.  Giovanny pitched 74 innings this season.  His previous major league high was the 20.1 he pitched for the Yankees in 2017, although he did pitch 78 minor league innings in 2016.  Gallegos did finish the second half with a 1.89 ERA, but did fade a bit down the stretch.

Yesterday, he allowed no runs of his own, but gave up a hard-hit infield single that led to the scoring of 2 inherited runs.  After allowing just 3 of his first 38 inherited runners to score, Giovanny has seen 6 of the last 9 come home to roost.

Overall, Giovanny did quite well in one-run games.  He pitched 20 innings in his 18 appearances with a 2.25 ERA.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia faced two batters, allowing a single that should have been a double and getting a ground-out.  He survived unscathed when Andrew Miller left the runner stranded.

More than a little shaky, lately, John has usually done very well in one-run games.  He pitched in 12 of them during the regular season, lasting 12.2 innings with a 2.13 ERA.

Andrew Miller

Miller, of course, was also lucky to leave unscathed, as Josh Donaldson swatted an errant slider about as hard as one can be hit – lining into an inning ending double play.

Miller has also taken some lumps recently, but during the second half he has been solid in the one-run games.  Andrew pitched 10.2 innings in 13 second-half one-run games with a 2.53 ERA and a .158 batting average against.

Ryan Helsley

Ryan Helsley is another flame-throwing rookie who almost gave up a run yesterday.  He faced two batters, giving a single and a groundball that advanced the runner to second.

There have been times recently when Ryan has seemed a bit overmatched (one of the reasons I was surprised to see him on the playoff roster), but still finished the second half with a 2.73 ERA.

Ryan actually had the team’s best ERA in one-run games – it was 1.69 over 16.2 innings, but he wasn’t as dominant as that number suggests.  While he did only allow 3 runs of his own (on 3 home runs), Ryan also allowed 3 of 4 inherited runners to score, while carrying a batting line against of .262/.284/.462.

Carlos Martinez

The game turned quickly from a four-run Cardinal lead into a one-run Cardinal lead in the ninth, as Atlanta launched two home runs off of St Louis’ closer Carlos Martinez.

In the second half of the season, Carlos pitched in 12 of the Cards’ 22 one-run games, lasting 10.2 innings.  He pitched to an 8.44 ERA and a .347/.429/.469 batting line against.


No October chill in the air in Georgia.  At first pitch Thursday evening, the thermometer read 94 degrees.  That ties for the hottest game the Cards played this year.  In Cincinnati on July 20 they lost to the Reds 3-2 in 94 degree heat.

At 4:07, yesterday’s game was the longest nine-inning playoff game the Cards have played this century.  The previous long was Game 3 of the 2011 World Series against Texas.  That 16-7 Cardinal win took 4:04.

Umpire Sam Holbrook will have the plate for Game Three in St Louis.  Sam has called two Cardinal playoff games this century – both Cardinal wins: 4-3 over Milwaukee in Game Three of the 2011 Championship Series, and 2-1 over Pittsburgh in Game Four of the 2013 Division Series.

None of the other umpires on this crew have ever had the plate during a Cardinal playoff game.

On Home Run Dependency and the Mossification of Major League Baseball

Brandon Moss was a utility firstbaseman/outfielder who played one season and a part of another (2015-16) for the Cardinals.  I remember in an interview he gave he recalled a conversation with a minor league hitting coach, who asked him to identify the best part of his game.  Brandon identified himself as a power hitter, and began tailoring his game to that specific.  Abandoned were all attempts to hit to the other field, or to reduce his swing with two strikes on him.  Brandon Moss played 1016 major league games, all as an unapologetic flyball hitter.  He hit some home runs (160 over the course of his career) and struck out a lot (968 times), and ended his career as a .237 lifetime hitter.

At the time of the interview, I wondered how different Brandon’s career might have been if he had taken a more balanced approach – a concept in which he may have hit fewer home runs, but might have hit .275 or .280.  He may have had more opportunities to start, and might have had a longer and fuller career.

As the 2019 season has come to a close, I started rifling through some end-of-season stats and matching up some trends.  In so doing, I learned that Brandon was not short-sighted.  He was prophetic.  Over the years – and changing rapidly over the last handful of seasons – the entire league is becoming Brandon Moss.

The sharpest and most profound trends over the last four years or so are dramatic increases in home runs (the majors set a record this year) and strikeouts.  And almost a free fall decline in hits and batting average.  Where once most hitters were a bit embarrassed if their average sunk below .250, now the entire major leagues is hitting just .252.

The Cardinals hit just .245 as a team this year, and had 5 of their 8 regulars hit below .250 – four of them below .240.

But in an OPS world, batting average is a kind of relic.  You can, baseball has found out, score a lot easier with a walk and a homer than you can by putting three singles together.  Commonly, St Louis would end a game this year with 6 or 7 hits.  Whether they would score anything on those hits would depend on how many of them would leave the park.

In the notebook section (below) I have detailed the extent of some of the more prominent trends and given them a historical context.  But with the Mossification of major league baseball in general – and the Cardinals in particular – the question of home run dependency returns.

Going back just as far as 2012, one can see how St Louis’ offense has rapidly become home run dependent.  In 2012, 33.5% of the Cardinal offense came from home runs.  That percentage dropped to 26.2% in 2013, and rose only slightly to 27.9% in 2014.  But beginning in 2015 (the year Moss came to St Louis from Cleveland) the percentage of offense from the home run has been 34.9%, 44.9%, 39.3% and 41.4% in 2018.

During the just concluded 2019 season, 335 of St Louis’ 764 runs came from the home run – 43.8%.

The thing is, this is not an abnormal number.  In fact, in the new MLB, St Louis is one of the more diversified offenses.  All of baseball (numbers cobbled from baseball reference) depended on the home run for 45.2% of every run scored this season.  The New York Yankees led all of baseball with 943 runs.  Their home run dependency was 45.8% (432 of their runs).

The purist in me is nettled a bit by this development, but the convergence of these trends is fairly serendipitous for the marketing wing of America’s National Pastime.  Everyone likes offense (and run scoring is way up).  Everyone likes home runs.  And, in between home runs, everyone likes strikeouts.  So, in general, all these trends sit well with the populace.

In the interim, the Cardinals will journey to Atlanta to begin their playoff series on Thursday – hoping they will be the team reaching the fences more often than the Braves.

Tommy Edman

Ironically, in the only game St Louis won over the weekend – the 9-0 blowout – Tommy Edman went 0-for-4 and saw his 10-game hitting streak come to a close.  Edman was 20 for 42 (.476) during the streak, getting multiple hits in 9 of the 10, including the last seven in a row.  Seven of the 20 hits were for extra-bases – 2 of them home runs – as Tommy slugged .810 during his streak.

Tommy thus wrapped up a sensational September that saw him hit .350 (36 for 103) with 6 doubles, 4 triples and 6 home runs – a .660 slugging percentage.  Edman hit .308 (84 for 273) with 8 home runs in the season’s second half.

Jack Flaherty

Jack Flaherty wrapped up his second half the way he pitched throughout most of it, as he dominated the Cubs.  Jack gave no runs and 2 hits over 7 innings.  Jack earned his second consecutive pitcher of the month award with six September starts – all quality starts – that led to a 3-1 record and a 0.82 ERA.  He struck out 53 in 44 innings.  Over 15 second half starts, Jack was 7-2 with a 0.91 ERA and a .142 batting average against.  He fanned 124 batters over his 99.1 second half innings – 11.23 per nine innings.

Dakota Hudson

Dakota Hudson began the Chicago series with 5 scoreless innings of his own, although they cost him 97 pitches as he walked 5 and struck out 10.  Hudson also enters the playoffs on a roll.  Over his last 10 starts, Dak is 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA.

Andrew Miller

At the time of the year when they have most needed his magic, Andrew Miller has sprung a leak.  Again.  After serving up a ninth-inning home run in Arizona to cause the 19-inning marathon, Andrew was batted around by the Cubs.  He gave 4 runs on 3 hits, a walk and a hit batsman in his only inning.  He also allowed both inherited runners to score.

Over his last 14 games, Andrew has managed 10.1 innings while being savaged for 11 runs (10 earned) on 13 hits (2 of them home runs) and 4 walks.  He holds an 8.71 ERA and a .302 batting average against in those games.  He has also seen 6 of his last 11 inherited runners come home to roost.

Andrew finished the second half with a 5.13 ERA over 26.1 innings – during which he walked 15 batters and hit 3 others.

This is a considerable concern, as manager Mike Shildt has pretty much decided that Miller is his guy to pitch high leverage innings late in games.  At this moment, I consider it very likely that Andrew will be on the mound if the Thursday game is tight in the eighth inning.

Miller almost single-handedly pushed us out of the division lead.  He could easily single-handedly cost this team the series in Atlanta.

Recent Scoring Changes

Sadly – and surprisingly – Randy Arozarena’s steal of home against Arizona on September 25 has been taken away by a scoring change.  Randy is now officially safe at home on an error by the first baseman on the pickoff play.

Also in that game, a run charged to Genesis Cabrera has been changed from earned to un-earned.  Originally, the run that Nick Ahmed scored from third base on Tim Locastro’s fielder’s choice to second was earned.  On re-consideration, the scorer decided that if the error that had opened the inning hadn’t been made, there would have been two outs when Locastro bounced to second, and the throw would not have come home.  Also, the additional run scored by Domingo Leyba when the throw home got away has been credited as a team un-earned run.


St Louis finished the regular season with 1337 hits – the fewest hits they’ve amassed since the strike-shortened 1995 season (1182).  The only Cardinal team to finish with fewer hits in a full season since baseball went to the 162-game schedule was the 1986 team.  They finished with 1270.

That 1986 team finished with a .236 team batting average (which was the last time this franchise hit lower than the .245 that they hit this season).

Similarly, the 246 doubles hit this year were the fewest full season total since 1991 (239).

On the other hand, the 116 bases stolen by the 2019 Cards are the most this franchise has swiped since 1999 (134).

Cardinal batters averaged 28.8 years of age – the oldest collection of hitters since the 2012 team checked in at 29.2 years.

For the fourth straight season, the Cardinals broke their franchise record for strikeouts in a season – that mark is now 1420.

In a happier franchise mark, this year’s team committed just 66 errors while posting a .989 fielding percentage – both figures breaking the franchise marks set in 2013.

The pitching staff was asked for just 1444 innings this year, the fewest pitched since the 2009 team threw just 1440.2.

There were only 1284 hits logged against the Cardinal pitching staff this year.  Since baseball went to the 162-game schedule only one Cardinal team has allowed fewer hits – the 1968 team allowed 1282.

The 2019 Cardinals ended up surrendering 191 home runs.  Only 144 were hit against them last year.  The 191 were the most this franchise has given up since the 2006 team saw 193 hit against them.

The pitching staff also re-set the franchise record for strikeouts, their 1399 this year surpassing the 1351 amassed by the 2017 team.  After never achieving this in their history, St Louis has now averaged over 8 strikeouts per nine innings for the fourth consecutive year.

After allowing both of his inherited runners to score in the Friday game, Ryan Helsley allowed 8 of the 13 he inherited on the season to trot home – 61.5%.

The Saturday start from Adam Wainwright was his thirty-first of the year.  He had made 31 starts the previous two years combined.

For almost the entire season, Waino was the one Cardinal starter not on pace to match or exceed his career-high home run total.  Then he served up 4 in his last start, to end the year with 22 – tying his career high from 2016.

Paul Goldschmidt’s RBI single began the Sunday onslaught.  The game-winning RBI was his fifteenth of the season as he broke a tie with Marcell Ozuna on the season’s final day.

When the Cards swept the Cubs in Chicago, the pitchers allowed the Cubs just 15 runs through that whole four-game series.  Chicago scored 16 in the first two games in St Louis.

On Sunday, the Cards faced a series sweep for just the fifth time at home in 2019.  In avoiding the broom, St Louis finished the season being swept at home just once.  The Oakland Athletics did the honors, sweeping a two-game series here on June 25-26.

The Cubs were also just the fifth team this season that had lost its previous series to almost sweep the Cards.  St Louis salvaged all five of those series by winning the final game.

After St Louis fell behind 8-1 on Friday, their seven-run deficit was the largest they have faced since they lost to the Dodgers in Los Angeles 8-0 on August 5.

St Louis had lead at some point in 9 straight games before the Saturday loss.  The last time they had not held a lead was a 6-2 loss to Washington on September 17.

The final day’s attendance of 47,212 was the largest crowd the Cards played to since August 7 – the last game in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.  48,994 attended that game.  The last home game that drew a larger crowd was Albert Pujols’ homecoming on June 19, with 48,423 making the trek out to Busch.

Summer, itself, made a comeback for the Sunday afternoon game, as the regular season finale at home reached 91 degrees at first pitch.  It was the warmest Cardinal game since August 19, when St Louis took down the Brewers 3-0 in 92 degree heat.  St Louis was 9-2 when game time temperature was 90 degrees or higher – including 3-2 on the road.