OK, so what adjectives describe the Cardinal offense?
Recently, I’ve used words like “scuffling” and “struggling.” And with good reason. They recently endured a 1-for-26 stretch with runners in scoring position. “Inconsistent” comes up frequently. This team that has scored 30 runs over their last 3 games had scored a total of 6 over the 4 games that just preceded the outburst.
After careful thought, “patient” might be the most consistently applicable descriptor. Especially recently. They have managed at least 5 walks in 13 of their last 17 games. In the 21 August games they played after coming out of quarantine, they drew 91 walks (4.33 per game) and had 17 other batters hit by pitches (0.81 per game). Even though they only hit .245 through those 21 games, they did so with a .351 on base percentage.
A “patient” team isn’t often regarded as “aggressive.” Those would seem to be mutually exclusive adjectives. As this team invaded the Great American Smallpark for their three-game mid-week series with the Reds, perhaps Cincinnati was anticipating the “patient” Cardinals. What they have gotten is aggression. Whatever their press clipping might indicate, the team in the gray road uniforms has come out of the dugout swinging.
As they ambushed Sonny Gray last night, they didn’t wait for him to work himself into trouble. Four of the first 8 he faced hit either the first or second pitch thrown. These included the first two hits to bring home runs. Brad Miller’s two-run double came on the first pitch thrown him. Four batters later, Dexter Fowler jumped on the second pitch thrown to him for a two-run single that made it 4-0.
The rout was on from there. The swinging Cardinals ended with six in the first, added two more in the second, and kept adding. The final tallies showed 16 runs on 23 hits in a 16-2 conquest (boxscore).
Over the course of the season, Cardinal hitters hit the first pitch thrown them just 9.2% of the time, and jump one of the first two pitches only 23.9% of the time. Last night they hit that first pitch 9 times (more than in any game this season) and 12 others hit the second pitch thrown – a combined 37.5% of plate appearances.
They picked good pitches to hit, too, going 13 for 21 (a .619 average). Nine of the 16 runs scored were driven in on one of the first two pitches of the at bat.
It was certainly a good night – and a lot of batting averages look a lot better in the paper this morning. But I caution against trying to read any deep meaning into this. The main story line is that one of baseball’s best pitchers couldn’t command his breaking pitches – especially a usually devastating curve ball that kept bouncing in the dirt.
Credit the Cardinals, of course, for not doing much chasing – and for jumping on Gray’s mistakes instead of just fouling them off. But this was just one game.
Until further notice, this remains a “patient” offense. At least, that’s what we want the Reds and the other teams set to face the Cards to keep believing.
Leadoff hitter Kolten Wong has certainly flipped the switch. After beginning the road trip with a groundout – extending his hitless streak to 15 at bats – he is 6 for his last 8 with 5 runs scored.
If you make an early mistake with Brad Miller at the plate, you will likely pay for it. He was 3 for 4, including his double and one of his two home runs on the first two pitches of the at bat. So far, when Brad hits one of the first two pitches thrown to him he is 10 for 17 (.588), including 4 doubles and 2 home runs (a 1.176 slugging percentage).
The Cards have only hit 3 first-pitch home runs this season. Miller has 2, with Harrison Bader connecting for the other.
With three more hits last night, Tommy Edman now has multiple hits in three straight games (he is 7 for 16 in those games). He has hits in 5 of his last 6 games – including 4 multi-hit games. Tommy is hitting .385 (10 for 26) during this streak.
Edman is right with Miller in punishing early mistakes. He was 2-for-2 when hitting the first or second pitch last night, and is 13 for 25 (.520) on those pitches during the season.
Yadier Molina contributed 3 hits last night. He is 5 for 14 (.357) during the three-game winning streak. He finished August with a .306 average (15 for 49). Still no hint that age or work-load is slowing Yadi down. He has caught all 14 games since he has rejoined the roster.
Yadi had a characteristically aggressive night. Up six times he hit one of the first two pitches in 4 of those at bats. This year, Molina is hitting the first pitch thrown to him 18.2% of the time – nearly doubling the major league average, and 39% of his plate appearances last two pitches or less.
Into the game late, Andrew Knizner finished with two hits. He had two hits in his very first game of the year, and then went 0-for-11 until the sixth inning last night.
Paul DeJong added two more hits last night – his third straight multi-hit game. He has hit in 7 of his last 9 games – 5 of them multi-hit games. Paul is 15 for his last 38 (.395).
Paul was 1 for 2 on the early pitches – and is now 11 for 21(.524) when hitting one of the first two pitches in his at bat.
While the hitters were feasting, Kwang Hyun Kim was adding yet another strong starting effort. KK has now allowed no earned runs over his last 3 starts – 17 innings after shutting out the Reds on 3 hits over 5 innings. The last 62 batters to face Kim have managed just 7 singles, 2 doubles and 3 walks – a .153/.194/.186 batting line.
The starters finished August with a 2.62 ERA for the month and a .166 batting average against. Kwang Hyun has started them off on the same foot in September.
Seth Elledge finished up the game, giving a ninth inning run, but no more damage. None of the 5 batters he faced hit his first pitch. And in fact, none of the 23 batters he has faced so far in his major league career have hit his first pitch.
Four days after the Cards surrendered their most runs of the season in their most lopsided loss of the season (the 14-2 shellacking administered by the Indians on August 28), the Cards landed on the Reds for their biggest offensive uprising (and most lopsided victory) of the season.
With is 7 runs batted in, Brad Miller is now up to 18 for the season. He drove in just 25 last year and 29 the year before, even though his plate appearances were higher than he’s likely to get this year – 170 in 2019 and 254 in 2018.
Kolten Wong passed the 1000 total base threshold last night. His 5 bring him to 1002 for his career.
The offensive explosion aided the team batting average notably as well. They started the evening hitting an unimpressive .239 for the season. The team batting average now sits at .252 – up 13 points on yesterday’s hitting alone. More than 10% of their hits for the season (23 of 213) came in that game.
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.