The scene played out as it has frequently during Bill Miller’s first 40 Cardinal plate appearances. It was the third inning of last night’s game, Cards up 1-0, with a struggling Brad Keller on the hill for Kansas City.
Keller did throw a first-pitch slider for a strike, but as Miller patiently waited, Keller missed with the next three pitches. The 3-1 pitch was a sinker, about thigh high, that Miller slapped into center for another hit.
The process reversed itself in the sixth against Chance Adams, but the result was the same. Adam got ahead of Miller 0-2 with three fastballs, before missing with a change and a curve. Now 2-2, Chance went back to the change – actually a good pitch that dropped over the outside corner. But Brad lined it again into center for a single (this one more to right center than the first one).
His fifth inning single was pulled to right, but that’s been the anomaly this year. A .242 lifetime hitter, Brad’s three-hit game last night pushed his 2020 average to .367. Again, it’s only 40 plate appearances, but there are two things notably different about Brad in his early tenure in a Cardinal uniform.
The first has been the middle of the field. A full 58.3% of the balls that Brad has put into play have gone to the middle of the diamond. For his career, Brad pulls the ball 37.1% of the time, as opposed to hitting it up the middle just 35.9%.
He is 8 for 15 (.533) with 2 doubles and a home run (an .867 slugging percentage) this season when he works the middle.
The other big difference with Brad so far in 2020 is more, perhaps, a matter of luck. As with his third inning at bat against Keller, pitchers have struggled to throw strikes when Miller is at the plate. To this point, only 36.5% of the pitches thrown to him have been in the zone.
So, through his first 11 games as a Cardinal, Brad has only ended an at bat trailing in the count 8 times. He has finished 16 others ahead in the count. In those plate appearances, Miller has walked half the time and gone 4-for-8 the other half – a .750 on base percentage.
The weight of his career – all 2715 plate appearances of it – does suggest that by the end of the season, Brad’s numbers will fall more in line with the rest of his career. Creeping up on your thirty-first birthday, it’s usually a little late to re-invent yourself. But even a modest adjustment in approach could make a significant difference. Both for Brad and his team. Stay tuned.
Paul Goldschmidt was another of the productive bats that drove the Cards to a 9-3 win last night (boxscore). He also had three hits and a walk – one of his hits being a home run. Exactly what Goldschmidt did during the quarantine is not known, but he returned to action un-impacted by the layoff. Over the last 13 games, Paul has had 52 plate appearances with the following results: 11 singles, 2 doubles, 2 home runs and 14 walks. Paul has driven in 7 runs and scored 8 while slashing .395/.558/.605 over those 13 games.
Being behind in the count hasn’t been a concern for Goldschmidt, either. His 2 singles came on 0-1 and 1-2 counts. Paul has pushed his season average up to .368 going 7 for his last 15 (.467) when behind in the count.
A revelation last year as a rookie, Tommy Edman has struggled off the mark so far this season. Recently, though, he has shown signs of turning things around. Over his last 6 games, Edman is 7 for 19 – a .368 average.
Before last night’s game ended, the Cards had been gifted 7 walks and 3 other hit batsmen. Matt Carpenter received one of each, but didn’t contribute any of the 12 hits. Over his last 5 games, Matt has walked 6 times, but is just 2 for 14 at the plate (.143). After talking all spring about his re-vamped, opposite field stroke, Matt is, thus far, pulling the ball more than he ever has in his career. He is currently right at 60% pulling the ball. Over his previous four seasons – when he began to be pull-happy – he only pulled the ball 47.6% of the time.
Matt has worked himself ahead in the count 24 times so far this year – eventually drawing 9 walks. But in his 15 at bats, Carp only has 1 hit – the grand slam in Chicago.
Back in the seventh inning of the season opener, Jack Flaherty went to a full count on Pirate slugger Josh Bell before Bell beat out an infield single. That is the only hit Jack has allowed all year when he has been behind in the count. The Royals were 0-for-7 against him when they were ahead in the count, and the league is 1 for 13 (.077) even when they have the count in their favor.
Austin Gomber finished up the fifth inning and then went on to pitch the sixth last night. Austin is now unscored on in 6.1 innings so far this year – but he has made a struggle out of it. He pitched behind to 4 of the 7 he faced. For the season, Austin has finished the at bat behind 13 of the 25 he has faced so far. Four of them have walked, and another has been hit by a pitch. The other 8 are 0-for-7 with a sacrifice fly.
Game time temperature was 95, by 3 degrees the hottest game of the year so far. Back on July 26 (also at home) they played against Pittsburgh in 92 degree heat.
Kolten Wong had started seven consecutive games at second before he was given a breather last night (Tommy Edman started in his place). Paul Goldschmidt, with six consecutive starts at first, now holds the Cards longest current streak for consecutive starts at one position.
My Designated Hitter Rant
As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably). If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH. Here is the link. If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.