When the breakthrough finally came, it came with more of a whimper than a bang. By the time that Tyler O’Neill made it to the plate with the bases loaded in the fifth inning of yesterday’s second game, the Cards were riding a 2-for-12 streak with runners in scoring position during that long day of baseball in Milwaukee. Inning after inning had presented its opportunities, to be met with untimely strikeouts and ineffectual pop-outs. Along the way, St Louis had dropped the first game 2-1 (boxscore) in “extra-innings.” Now, O’Neill was up with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth – Cards down 2-0 and down to what would have been their last 7 outs.
Salvation – when it came – came in the form of a dribbling ground ball to shortstop that Tyler beat out for an infield hit. A run scored. St Louis still trailed, but now only 2-1.
Later, in the seventh, Brad Miller would tie the game with a bouncing, shift-beating single just to the shortstop side of second base. When Paul DeJong came to the plate in the ninth inning with a runner at third and two out, the Cards were riding another 0-for-8 stretch with runners in scoring position. In the Cards’ twentieth at bat just of the nightcap with runners in scoring position, DeJong jumped on a 2-0 fastball up in the zone, lining the single to left that would give the Cards a 3-2 win (boxscore) and a much needed split.
For the entire 17 innings yesterday, St Louis finished 6 for 25 (.240) with runners in scoring position (RISP).
But the real story yesterday came from the other side. As frustrating as most of the afternoon must have been for the Cardinals, it was even worse for the Brewers. After having 11 RISP opportunities in the first game, they found themselves with 12 more in the second game. From all those opportunities, Milwaukee drew 6 walks (1 intentional), had a batter hit by a pitch, and even looped the sacrifice fly that won the first game.
But, in 15 official such at bats, they managed one lonely hit – in the eighth inning of the first game, Ryan Braun golfed a low fastball from Ryan Helsley off the center field wall to put the winning run at third. Other than that, the Cardinal pitchers were impenetrable.
This has been the general pattern all year, but especially the last month. For the season, opposing hitters are struggling along at .204 in RISP opportunities against St Louis. Over the last two series, the Reds went 3 for 18 before the Brewers experienced their struggles yesterday.
The flame-throwing youngsters of the Cardinals invite all kinds of trouble. Over the last two series, they have walked 10 and hit 2 more of the 46 batters who have faced them with ducks on the pond. But they rarely give that hit – and that has made all the difference.
Starters Leading a Resurgence
After scuffling early in the homestand against Minnesota and Detroit, the starters have re-emerged against the Reds, and now in the beginning of the road-trip against Milwaukee. Over the last 5 games, Cardinal starters have accounted for 4 quality starts, and have thrown 29 innings – posting a 2.79 ERA in those games with a .208 batting average against. In yesterday’s doubleheader, starters Kwang Hyun Kim and Daniel Ponce de Leon combined to throw 13 of the 16.2 innings with a 1.38 ERA and a .152 batting average against.
On August 17, in his first game coming out of quarantine, KK made his first National League start in Chicago against the Cubs. Leading off the fourth inning, Ian Happ jumped on a high 2-1 pitch and lofted it the other way for a home run.
That was the last earned run that Kim has allowed. As he lasted two more batters that inning before hitting his pitch count, Kwang Hyun’s streak of not allowing an earned run (after he delivered 7 scoreless against the Brewers) has now reached 24.2 innings. Kim has delivered 3 quality starts in his last 4 outings, while holding hitters to a .145 average.
The Brewers were 0-for-5 against him with runners in scoring position. For the season, opposing hitters are 2-for-21 (.095) against Kwang Hyun in RISP situations.
Ponce de Leon
With two out in the third inning of the second game, and runners on first and second, Daniel Ponce de Leon – in a terrific bounce-back effort – blew an 0-2 fastball right past Milwaukee’s Keston Hiura to end the inning and the threat. Almost stunningly, during his six-plus innings, Hiura was the only Brewer to face Daniel with runners in scoring position. The huge difference here was that Ponce de Leon – who has been beset with walks the whole season – walked only one batter.
With Hiura’s strikeout, and in spite of all his other struggles, batters are now just 1 for 10 with 5 strikeouts against Ponce de Leon with runners in scoring position this year. Over his first two partial seasons, batters had hit .310 (18 for 58) against him in those situations.
Paul DeJong’s 4-for-7 performance in the doubleheader included going 2-for-4 with runners in scoring position. This has been a point of emphasis for DeJong this year. Through his first three seasons, Paul was only a .241 hitter (82-for-340) in these situations. He is now hitting .385 (5 for 13) in RISP at bats this month, and is up to .391 (9 for 23) on the season – the best RISP batting average of any Cardinal regular.
One of the outfielders the Cards are hoping will come through is Lane Thomas – who at the moment isn’t making the most of his opportunity. He was 0-for-5 yesterday, and now – after hitting his only home run of the season in St Louis’ only win in the recent Cincinnati series – is hitless in his last 10 at bats, including 4 strikeouts. In his 12 games this month, Thomas is hitting .125 (4 for 32).
His struggles included going 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position. He is now 1-for-12 this season in those opportunities. Last year, he was 5-for-10.
The games in the dome in Milwaukee checked in with temperatures of 66 and 63 degrees – the Cardinals’ coolest games of the season, so far. A couple of games in Chicago were played in 72 degrees – the previous low.
The first-game loss means St Louis has lost the first game in 6 of their last 8 series.
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.