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.

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