Did Carlos Martinez deserve better? Certainly. The Reds tied yesterday’s game with two third-inning runs – neither of which would have scored had Eugenio Suarez’ two-out pop fly to left been caught. But left-fielder Austin Dean lost the ball in the sun, the inning prolonged, and bad things happened.
It was the focal moment in Cincinnati’s come-from-behind, 10-5 victory (boxscore). But, the fly ball notwithstanding, Martinez still did as much scuffling as dominating yesterday, allowing six hit and two walks (one of them intentional) as his 90 pitches pushed him through just 4 innings. He also struck out 8.
Six relievers followed him to the mound. They combined to throw 126 pitches as they labored to complete the last 4 frames.
This has become a recurring theme, and the question that comes to mind is how long can the bullpen hold up under the onslaught of innings.
Five of the last 8 starters, and 8 of the last 13 have failed to last 5 innings. For the entire month, thus far, the relievers have covered 44.6% of the team’s inning load – a number that would be 50% even of the innings, except that 6 of the 14 games have been 7-inning doubleheader games.
Double-headers notwithstanding, the Cardinal bullpen has chucked 125 innings in the one month since the Cardinal season re-started. The most innings they pitched in any calendar month last year was the 107 they threw in April 2019.
So when a game like yesterday happens, and the normally reliable pen serves up 7 runs on 7 hits (including 2 home runs) over 5 innings during which they walked 3, hit another, and uncorked a damaging wild pitch, you wonder. Was it just one of those games? Or has the pen started to reach its limits.
For the first six games of this month, the bullpen was exemplary. In their first 22 innings of the month, they responded with a 2.05 ERA and a .177 batting average against. In the 27.2 innings they’ve been called on to work over the last 8 games, they have been tagged for 7 home runs and a 5.86 ERA.
So now, with the pen already fatigued from last night – and temporarily missing John Gant and Giovanny Gallegos – the Cardinals will embark on their most stressful stretch of the season. Today’s doubleheader in Milwaukee will kick off a scheduled stretch of 37 innings of baseball over the next 3 days. Over the next two weeks, the team is set to play 18 games, including four doubleheaders.
Whatever depth and resolve we have among those members of the bullpen will be fully tested over this strange season’s final two weeks.
Amidst the chaos in the pen, Tyler Webb has returned to 2019 form when he became one of our most consistent and most trusted relievers. After being called on twice against the Reds, Tyler has now made 8 consecutive appearances (8 innings) without allowing a run. He has walked just 2 and given 8 hits – all singles, while striking out 8.
On in the eighth inning trying to hold the deficit at two runs, Jake Woodford served up Suarez’ home run. Jake has now served up a home run in 5 straight appearances. Now with 6 on the year, Jake – in only 17 innings – is tied for the team lead with Adam Wainwright (who has pitched a team-leading 46 innings).
Even with taking the loss in the Friday game (boxscore) Adam Wainwright gave the Cardinals another quality start – his third in a row, and fifth in 7 starts. In his first start of the season re-set, Waino missed a quality start by one inning, allowing the White Sox just 1 run over 5 innings.
One the keys to Adam’s success this season has been quick at bats. On Friday, he dispatched 26 batters using only 99 pitches (3.81 per). For the season, he leads the entire rotation, averaging just 3.59 pitches for every batter he faces.
Dakota Hudson flirted with a no-hitter in the Cardinals’ only victory of the series on Saturday (boxscore). Hudson has come lately to be as reliable as Wainwright. Saturday’s game was his third quality start in his last 4 games. He is 3-0 over those 24 innings with a 2.63 ERA. He has held opposing hitters to just a .159 average, and 63% of the balls put in play against him have been on the ground.
If his pitch count isn’t quite as efficient as Wainwright’s, he has at least been one of the Cardinals’ toughest pitchers to put big innings together against. The Reds sent only 22 batters to the plate in Dakota’s six innings against them. For the season, he is dealing with only 3.86 batters per inning. Among starters, only Kwang Hyun Kim (3.83) faces fewer.
For Carlos, through his abbreviated first three starts of the season, the story line has been the exact opposite – long and complicated innings. After facing 20 batters and throwing 90 pitches to get through four innings, Martinez is now facing 5.21 batters per inning (most among starters) and throwing 21.44 pitches per inning. Among starters only Daniel Ponce de Leon (23.23) is throwing more.
If there was a hitting hero in the series, it would have to be the resurgent Matt Carpenter, who was 4 for 10, including a double and a home run.
Over his last 5 starts, Carp is 7 for 13 (.538) with 3 extra-base hits (.923 slugging), 3 walks and a hit-by-pitch (.647 on base). He has 6 runs batted in in those games.
While the Cards have been losing 5 of their last 8, Carpenter has slashed .412/.524/.706. Matt has suddenly emerged as one of the best hitters of the month. In 37 September plate appearances, Carp has 5 singles, 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 6 walks (1 intentional) and 1 hit-by-pitch – a satisfying .300/.432/.567 batting line.
Always a tough double-play candidate, Matt was up in 3 double-play opportunities in the series without obliging the Reds. For the season, he has hit into 1 double play in 35 such opportunities (2.9%), the lowest percentage of any Cardinal with at least 20 opportunities.
Against the Reds, Harrison Bader only swung the bat 13 times, producing 6 more foul balls. For the season, no Cardinal approaches Harrison’s foul rate of 47.5% of his swings. Consequently, Bader only puts the ball in play with 28.8% of the time.
Still the fouls and the taking of pitches do their part to wear down a pitcher. Harrison this year is seeing 4.31 pitches per plate appearance, the most of any Cardinal with at least 80 plate appearances.
Collecting a lot of big hits when he first returned, Yadier Molina has scuffled this month. After a 1-for-7 series against the Reds, Yadi is a .235 hitter (8 for 34) with just 2 walks in September.
As far as aggressiveness goers, if anything Molina has been getting more aggressive. He swung at 63.6% of all pitches thrown to him by Cincinnati, and at 57.1% of the first pitches he saw – both the highest percentages on the team. He leads in both of those categories over the course of the season as well (57.1% and 46.3% respectively). Of the 15 strikes he saw during the series, only 1 was a called strike.
It’s always tough when the guys in the middle of your lineup are struggling, and cleanup-hitter Brad Miller has been spinning his wheels for a while, now. He was 1-for-9 against Cincinnati, and over his last 10 games, Brad is hitting .129 (4 for 31).
Although not truly slow, Brad is the only Cardinal starter who still doesn’t have an infield hit this year.
On the other hand, Brad is just behind Carpenter in the tough-to-double category. Miller has grounded into just 1 in 26 opportunities (3.8%).
As one of the lineup’s better power threats with little protection behind him, pitchers haven’t been overly eager to challenge Brad this year. In his 13 plate appearances against the Reds, he saw only 7 first pitch strikes. For the season, only 55.8% of the first pitches thrown to him have been strikes – the lowest rate on the team.
Friday’s loss marked the fifth time in the last 7 series that the Cards had lost the first game.
At 3:42, Sunday’s marathon was the longest 9-inning game the Cards had played since they lost a 14-2 blowout to Cleveland on August 28. The game against the Indians the next day ran to 4:06, but that was a 12-inning contest.
Sunday’s five-run loss was also the worst beating the Cards had absorbed since that 14-2 game against the Indians.
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.