Sliding Past the Lefties

Nine games into an oft-interrupted 2021 season, and Cardinal starter Kwang Hyun Kim had yet to throw a quality start.  Start number ten didn’t look – at the outset – like it would break the trend.

Kwan Hyun began the evening laboring through three difficult innings, allowing the Marlins a run on 3 hits and 4 walks.  It took him 59 pitches.  In his first start back from his most recent IL trip, a quality start here seemed a decided long shot.

But, his shaky start behind him, Kim settled in brilliantly.  He breezed through the next three innings on 43 pitches, allowing just one baserunner (on a walk).  It wasn’t enough to get him the victory (as his offense only rewarded him with one run), but it set the stage for more late-game heroics, as the Cards took game two of their three-game series from Miami, 2-1 (box score).

Along the way, Kwang Hyun exploited the left-handers in the Miami lineup.  Always proficient against lefties, Kim was extra sharp against them last night.  The 11 that faced him over his 6 innings of work went 0-for-10 with a walk.  He struck out 5 – including all of the last 4.

And throughout, it was his sliders that overmatched them.  I say sliders, because Kwang Hyun really has two.  He has what I’ll call the common slider.  That’s the one that comes in looking like a fastball and then drops out of the strike zone at the last second.  He threw that one some.  But the difference maker was more of a sweeping slider.  This one starts off looking like it’s going to hit the batter in the shoulder, but then drops in altitude even as it sweeps across the plate, finally ending up just off the low-outside corner of the strike zone.

Seven of the 15 right-handers to face Kwang Hyun reached base.  But Kwang Hyun held the lefties to 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.  And, in a tight game like last night, that would make all the difference.

For the season, lefties are 8 for 47 against Kim (.170), with 15 strikeouts.  Twelve of those have come on the sliders.

Cabrera

One of the great strengths of the back of the Cardinal bullpen is that their three most trusted arms are all highly proficient against opponents who hold a platoon advantage.

In his inning of work – the seventh – Genesis Cabrera faced two right-handed batters, retiring both – one on a strikeout.  Righties are now hitting .169 this season against the lefty Cabrera (11 for 65).  Twenty of them have struck out.

Gallegos and Reyes

Like Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes each pitched hitless innings to wrap up the game.  Cabrera and Gallegos each struck out the only left-handers they faced.  Reyes retired two left-handed hitters, striking out one.  Miami’s left-handed batters finished the evening 0-for-14 with 1 walk and 8 strikeouts.

For the right-handers Gallegos and Reyes, it’s business as usual.  Lefties are now hitting .155 (9 for 58) against Giovanny, and .118 (6 for 51) against Alex.  In his fourth season in St Louis, Giovanny has faced 219 left-handed batters, holding them to a .158/.219/.296 batting line.  Over the course of his career, Alex has faced 204 left-handers.  They are hitting .188/.338/.279 against him.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt was the offensive hero of the evening.  He picked up 2 of St Louis’ 6 hits and drove in both runs – the last one on a dramatic walk-off, ninth-inning home run.  June continues to be a strong rebound month for Goldy, who is now hitting .311 (14 for 45) this month with 1 double, 1 triple and 3 home runs – a .578 slugging percentage.

Arenado

Since lacing a home run off of Chicago’s Kyle Hendricks in the second game of the last Cub series, Nolan Arenado’s bat has fallen silent.  He is 0-for-13 since then, although he has made better contact than that number would suggest.  Nolan has struck out just twice in those 13 at bats, and has produced exit velocities in excess of 95 miles per hour five times – exceeding 100 miles per hour 3 times.

NoteBook

While not approaching totals from the pre-COVID years, the Cardinal home attendance did cross over the half-million mark for the season last night.  The 24,736 who showed up pushed the season’s total to 516,179 (an average of 16,130.6).

Goldschmidt’s walk-off thrust him back into the team lead for game-winning hits.  Goldy now has 8, with Arenado and Yadier Molina sitting just behind him with 7 each.

His home run against Yimi Garcia means that all ten home runs hit by Cardinal batters this month have come off right-handers.  For the season, 61 of the team’s 75 home runs have been hit against righties.

Kim’s first quality start gives St Louis three in a row for only the second time this season, and the first time since they strung together four in a row from April 24-27.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

The Comeback Cards (For One Night, Anyway)

Jazz Chisholm fought off the fastball and drove it straight into the turf.  But the grounder was perfectly placed, just beyond the reach of shortstop Paul DeJong, and just like that, the Cardinals trailed again.

St Louis starter Adam Wainwright began the evening with two scoreless innings (although it took Adam Duvall missing home plate on his slide to keep the Marlins off the scoreboard), allowing him the rare privilege of carrying a lead into the top of the third.  The lead didn’t survive the inning.

With two outs, Jon Berti stuck out his bat and dumped a single into right field.  Wainwright – who rarely suffers with control issues – promptly walked the next two batters, setting the stage for Chisolm’s heroics.

Twelve games in to the month of June and one of the great constants has been the Cardinals trailing in the game.  Cardinal pitchers have faced 456 batters this month, facing 270 of them (59.2%) while trailing in the game.  They have pitched 21.5% of the time in June trailing by at least five runs.

As far as the hitters go, 267 of the 446 to come to the plate this month (fully 59.9%) have hit with their team trailing in the contest.  In 22.6% of those at bats, St Louis was down by five or more runs.

With Chisolm’s hit, the Cards have now trailed at some point in 11 consecutive games, and 13 of the last 14.  In 7 of those games, they’ve found themselves down by at least five runs at some point of the contest.

It’s a lot of constant pressure to be under.

Fortunately, the narrative was different last night.  Waino was able to halt the bleeding at 2-1, and Paul Goldschmidt’s fifth inning single past a drawn-in infield tied the game.  The tie endured until the bottom of the eighth, when a clutch double from Tyler O’Neill keyed a two-run rally.

In the top of the ninth, closer Alex Reyes had the rare luxury of pitching with a lead of more than one run – retiring all three batters faced to earn the save (box score).  Those three brought to 17 the total number of batters that Cardinal pitchers have faced this month while holding a lead of more than one run.  By contrast, 223 Cardinals have hit this month while trailing by more than one run.

Again, pitching issues are at the root of the problem.  Of the 104 innings pitched so far in June, only 19 have come with the score tied.  The team ERA in those innings is 7.11, the kind of figure that makes it difficult for the team to keep its head above water.

But last night was, at least, a step in the right direction.

Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos, at least, is comfortable pitching in a tied ballgame.  He was last night’s winning pitcher after pitching a scoreless eighth inning.  Gio has now pitched 11.1 innings this season with the score tied, allowing no runs on 3 hits while striking out 13.

Reyes

As the closer, Alex is almost always pitching with the lead.  Fully 70.1% of the batters he’s faced this year, he’s faced with some kind of a lead.  Alex has an 0.42 ERA and a .167 batting average against in 21.2 innings this year when pitching with a lead.

O’Neill

Tyler’s game-winning double was almost the second time in last night’s game that he doubled home Dylan Carlson (Dylan also missed home plate earlier in the contest).

With two more doubles last night, O’Neill is now hitting .349 (15 for 43) for the month of June.  It hasn’t been a quiet .349 either, as he’s slugging .651 on the month (4 doubles and 3 home runs).  This, of course, has been part of a very long and very dynamic stretch of slugging for the young Cardinal left-fielder.  Tyler has now hit safely in 18 of his last 20 games, batting .365 (27 of 74) and slugging .797 (8 doubles and 8 home runs) in those games while driving in 17 runs.

Sosa

Edmundo Sosa got the start at second base (with the left-hander pitching) and contributed two hits and a run batted in.  One of those hits came with the Cards trailing 2-1.  In his limited opportunities, Edmundo has been especially productive when the Cards are behind.  When trailing by any amount, Edmundo is hitting .304 (14 for 46).  When trailing by one or two runs, Sosa is hitting .412 (7 for 17).

NoteBook

The 90 degree temperature last night gives strong evidence that summer has arrived in the Midwest.  This was the first time the Cards have played in 90 degree weather at home.  The closest they had previously come was 88 degrees on May 23 against the Cubs.  They played three straight games in Arizona (May 27-29) in temperatures over 95 degrees.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Just Not Tough Enough (So Far)

While Daniel Ponce de Leon mixed in a few change-ups and curves, most of his first 12 pitches to Chicago first-baseman Anthony Rizzo were high fastballs, just above the strike zone.  For his part, Rizzo took a couple of them for balls, and fouled the others off.

Beginning with the thirteenth pitch of the at bat, Ponce de Leon began to bring the fastball down into the strike zone.  That thirteenth pitch was at the top border of the zone, and produced another foul from Rizzo.

Fourteen pitches into the at bat (the second time already a Cardinal pitcher has been taken to 14 pitches in an at bat this season) Rizzo got the pitch he had been waiting for – that fastball at 96.1 mph right down the middle of the plate.  And with a flick of Anthony’s bat, what had been an early 5-1 Cardinal lead was a 5-5 tie.

At one in the same time, it was the most telling at bat of the weekend series between these ancient rivals, and the pivotal moment of the series as it propelled Chicago to an 8-5 win in the opening game (box score) and to a subsequent sweep of the series.

The losses are starting to mount, now, for this Cardinal team.  The sweep annulled any momentum gained from their victory in the final game of the last home stand, and send the Birds back home to face Miami having lost 9 of 10 and 11 of 13.  The team that led this division by 3.5 games on May 19 has gone 7-14 since, and the team that boasted a .611 winning percentage (22-14) on May 11 has gone 10-19 since.  They are now a game below .500 (32-33) and not only 6 games behind the Cubs and Brewers – who are tied at the top of the division, but also a game behind the third place Cincinnati Reds.

It’s been a distressing tumble, but the losing streak inside the losing streak is arguably even more alarming.

In losing 19 of the last 29 games, St Louis has had 6 games against losing teams.  They have won 5 of those games (beating Pittsburgh twice and winning three of four against Arizona).  The other 23 games have been against winning teams – Milwaukee, San Diego, both Chicago teams, the Dodgers, Cincinnati and Cleveland.  They are 5-18 in those games (including 2-9 so far in June).  For the season, now, St Louis is just 16-28 when matched against teams that have won at least as often as they’ve lost.

As one might suspect from the numbers just cited, no aspect of the team is even competitive in this arena.  In the just concluded Cub series, the starting pitchers were pushed around to an ERA of 6.23, with the bullpen being similarly abused to a 4.91 ERA.  For the month so far, the bullpen’s disappointing 4.66 ERA is more than topped by the rotation’s stunning 7.58 ERA.  Over the last 23 games against winning teams, the two ERAs have pretty much met in the middle – 5.25 for the rotation, and 5.26 for the relief corps.

Production from the offensive side has been no better.  Over the last 23 games against winning teams, St Louis is managing just 2.96 runs per game with a .212/.285/.350 batting line.  This month they are hitting .218/.291/.345 and scoring 3.36 runs per game.  They scored 7 runs in the three games against the Cubs, with a .170/.257/.266 batting line.

From the point where Nolan Arenado’s two-run single in the third inning of the Friday game gave the Cards a 5-1 lead, St Louis finished the series just 9 for its last 75, slashing .120/.202/.226.

It is sobering to note that – if things continue at this pace – this team will would finish as easily the worst Cardinal entry this century against winning teams.  Twenty-one seasons into the new century, and only one Cardinal team has finished below .400 against winning teams (all of these numbers include playoffs where applicable).  That team was the 2017 edition.  They played .380 ball against winning teams (27-44) on their way to an 83-79 record and a third-place finish in the division.  The 2021 club is currently playing .364 ball against winning teams.

Only four times this century has a Cardinal team failed to average at least four runs a game against winning teams.  The worst of that lot was the 2014 club that averaged just 3.64 runs per game against winning teams.  They still managed to go 43-38 in those games on their way to a 90 win season, a division championship and a berth in the NLCS that year.  The current edition is managing just 3.45 runs per game in these contests.

Only twice previously this century has a Cardinal team allowed more than five runs a game against these opponents.  The 2000 team was 35-40 against .500 or better teams, allowing the 5.05 runs per game.  That team still won 95 games although they also lost in the Championship series.  The 2007 edition has been – to date – the only Cardinal team this century to finish with a losing record (they were 78-84).  That team was 37-50 against winning teams, serving up 5.16 runs per game to them.  This 2021 team is allowing 5.20 runs per game to winning teams.

In scoring differential, the Cards worst two seasons so far have been the 2007 and 2016 teams, who were both outscored by 0.78 runs per game when they played these better teams.  So far the 2021 team is being outscored by 1.75 runs per game.

This all puts management in a bit of a bind.  It’s not like there is one player they could bring in that would answer all of these issues.  This isn’t to say that this team wouldn’t be better if, say, a Max Scherzer should suddenly find himself in Cardinal red.  The realty of the situation, though, is that a blockbuster trade almost certainly isn’t enough to reverse all of these trends.  Like it or not, management is going to have to hope that the team they already have somehow begins to play more like the team they thought it would be.

Which brings me to the most surprising aspect of these struggles.  Even given the injuries (and the Cards are always dealing with a fistful of injuries) you wouldn’t think that this team would be routinely pushed around by every decent team that crosses its path.  The pitching staff is loaded with several high-octane arms, balanced by a smattering of veteran pitchers well versed on the craft of getting batters out.  Meanwhile the lineup has no shortage of multiple All-Stars and Gold Glove winners, balanced by a smattering of highly regarded young hitters.  How is it that this team is sinking below the levels of all previous teams in this century?

To answer, I turn back to the Anthony Rizzo at bat.  As it has happened almost without exception in big game so far this season, it’s the Cardinals coming up short in the game’s character moments.  It’s Rizzo’s home run to tie the game.  It’s Giovanny Gallegos serving up a two-run, game-tying home run to the Dodger’s Matt Beaty in the seventh inning in Los Angeles one night after Chris Taylor won his 14-pitch duel against Genesis Cabrera with a three-run double that broke a 3-3 tie.

It’s Alex Reyes serving up Jesse Winker’s third home run of the game in the ninth inning after the offense had erased a 7-run deficit to forge a tie.  And then it’s the Cards offense placing the tying run at third and the winning run at second with no one out in the bottom of that inning and not plating either of them.

Watching the Cardinals and Cubs square off in a couple series so far this season, I’m not left with the impression that there is a huge talent gap between the two teams.  In fact, in terms of raw talent, I’m not at all convinced that St Louis doesn’t boast the more talented roster.

But so far this season there is no question which team is tougher.  Without notable exception, that is always the better advantage to have.  

In fairness, I should point out that this same critique could be made of both the 2006 and 2011 teams that eventually won World Championships.  Both of those clubs went through extended stretches of their seasons coming up short in the crucial moments of their games.  So the fact that they are consistently falling short now doesn’t mean it will be that way for the entire season.

But if you are trying to put your finger on exactly what’s missing through the first 65 games of the season, this is it.  It’s the toughness.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt slashed a single into left field in the third inning of the first game to extend his hitting streak to six games.  It was his last hit of the series, as he comes home hitless in his last 9 at bats, and just 2 for his last 15.  One of the best pure hitters of his generation, Goldschmidt will carry a .244 average for the season to the plate when he comes up for the first time tonight.

It’s been that kind of year so far for Goldy and the Cards.  Every time it looks like he (or they) are building a bit of momentum, things immediately go into reverse.

Oviedo

Johan Oviedo was the starter in game one.  Staked to a 5-1 lead, he failed to last the five innings to even qualify for his first major league win.  It was his sixth start of the season, and his one relief appearance was (at 4.2 innings) longer than all but one of his starts.

The kid with great stuff and a terrific attitude seems like he’s been dumped in a bit over his head.  Over his last 4 starts he has managed just 14.2 innings with a 6.75 ERA.

Three of those four starts have come against winning teams, with Johan lasting just 10.1 innings total in those starts with a 7.84 ERA.

Martinez

On a weekend when there were very few positives, the best news was the performance of Sunday’s starter (and, unfortunately, loser) Carlos Martinez.  Coming off two very bad starts, facing a team that has had more than its share of success against him, in a venue where he has struggled before, and under the glare of the network telecast, Carlos stood toe-to-toe with the Cubs for his full 7 innings.

Martinez has a history of letting his emotions run away with him.  On Sunday evening, he pitched with great passion but with just as much control of those passions.  Even when an error on a ground ball that would have ended the third inning allowed the only two runs of the game to score (box score), Carlos never blew up.

It was funny.  You could almost hear the surprise in the announcers’ voices that Carlos was actually pitching a great game.  Carlos’ final line showed 7 innings, 2 runs (both unearned) 4 hits, just 1 walk, and 6 strikeouts – and no hit batsmen, wild pitches or balks.  Well, done, Mr. Martinez.

Woodford

Jake Woodford might be one of the pitchers paying the price for the many short starts from the rotation.  Jake usually throws 30-40 pitches when he comes in and frequently doesn’t get that many rest days in between.  Woodford pitched in both of the first two games, allowing a run each time.  He has now allowed one run in three straight games, and four out of five.

Over those last 5 games, Jake has toiled for 7.1 innings, giving only 4 hits.  But 3 of those hits have been home runs, which combine with 4 walks and 4 hit batsmen to achieve a .160/.353/.520 batting line.  He has also allowed 5 of his last 6 inherited runners to score.

NoteBook

With all the COVID restrictions lifted, the Cards played in front of 30,000 plus crowds for the first time this season.  The highest attended game was the Saturday contest – which drew 39,095.  The three games averaged 36,477.3.  Both figures were easily the highest of the season so far.  The previous highs had both been established when Chicago visited St Louis from May 21-23.  That Saturday game drew 26,027, and the series attracted an average of 24,797.

With Paul DeJong returned to the starting lineup, Edmundo Sosa’s streak of 22 consecutive starts at shortstop came to an end with the Friday game.  That had been the most consecutive games started by a Cardinal at the same position.  The new longest streak now belongs to Dylan Carlson, who tonight made his nineteenth consecutive start in centerfield.

On Friday, St Louis lost the first game of a series for the fourth straight series and for the sixth time in the last seven.

This was the third straight series that the Cards faced a sweep in the last game.  This was also the fifth time this season that the Birds went into the final game of a series needing a win to avoid a sweep.  They were unable to salvage that win in two of the last three, and three of the five so far this season.

At 2:34, the Sunday game was the Cards quickest game since the first game of the May 5 double-header game against the Mets.  That game took just 2:28.  Of course, that was a seven-inning contest.  The last time they played a faster nine-inning game was the 2:22, 2-1 loss to Philadelphia on April 26.  That game was at home.  On Sunday April 18 they played a 2:34 road game in Philadelphia (which they also lost, 2-0).

The average time for the three games came in at 2:59 – making this the quickest series since that Met series.  The four game set (which featured two seven-inning games) averaged 2:56.8.  This was the season’s fastest road series of the year.  The mid-April series in Philadelphia (which averaged 3:00.7) had been the quickest road series.

The 7 runs scored in the series were the fewest scored by the Cards since their first series against the Cubs.  They scored only 6 runs in those three games, losing two.

These seven runs were the fewest St Louis has scored in a road series this year.  They had previously scored just 8 runs in three games against the White Sox from May 24-26.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Cards Overcome Continued First-Inning Issues

When Harold Ramirez’ long fly ball fell in to the glove of centerfielder Dylan Carlson, Amed Rosario tagged up and trotted home from third.  And just like that, it was 2-0 in the first inning.  Again.

At one point this season, the St Louis Cardinals’ pitching staff ranked near the top in first inning efficiency.  Fifty-five games into the season, and opposing teams had managed just 17 first-inning earned runs – an ERA of 2.78 for that inning.

But that brought us to Dodger Stadium on June second, where Los Angeles completely re-wrote that narrative with an 11-run first.

If it had ended there, that would have been bad enough.  But all of a sudden, the first inning has become alarmingly problematical.  In the six games since the blowout loss in LA, the Cards have given first-inning runs four times – including, now, three straight games that the opposing team has scored twice in that opening inning.  Eight games into the month of June, St Louis is saddled with a 20.25 ERA and a .432/.542/.757 opponents’ batting line in the first inning.  Even removing the 11-run debacle in LA, the team’s first-inning ERA for the rest of June is 9.00 after allowing 7 runs in the last six first innings.

Riding a six-game losing streak and four straight games with no starting pitcher recording an out in the fifth inning, the last thing this team needed was another early deficit.  Wednesday night, at least, the early deficit didn’t doom the Cards.  The pitching staff – lead by Adam Wainwright – shut off the Cleveland attack thereafter to the point where the Indians didn’t manage another hit.

Meanwhile, the Cardinal bats awoke from an extended slumber.  They erupted with four runs of their own in the bottom of the first, and then went on to hit three home runs leading to an 8-2 Cardinal win (box score), reversing – for the moment – all of the negative trends that had beset the club for nearly a month.

All, that is, except for falling behind in the first inning.

O’Neill

Along with seven outstanding innings from Waino, left-fielder Tyler O’Neill was the star of the evening.  Tyler contributed three hits – featuring two home runs – drove in 3 runs, scored 3 runs and made a diving catch in left field. 

Without any debate, this has been the single most productive stretch of Tyler’s career.  Through the first 8 games of June, O’Neill is hitting .379 (11 for 29) and slugging .759 (his hits include 2 doubles and 3 home runs).  Moreover, Tyler has hit safely in 15 of his last 16 games, hitting .383 over that span (23-for-60).  In those last 16 games, Tyler has 6 doubles, 8 home runs, 14 runs scored and 16 runs batted in to go with a .883 slugging percentage.

And he’s made a couple of highlight reel defensive plays as well.

There have been a lot of things that haven’t panned out exactly as hoped for the Cards so far this year.  One of the things that has panned out spectacularly so far has been the emergence of Tyler O’Neill.

Tyler’s second home run was hit in the seventh inning.  One of the most encouraging parts of O’Neill’s emergence has been his proficiency late in the game – at the point in the proceedings when teams generally bring in their toughest bullpen arms.  On the season, from the sixth inning on, Tyler is hitting .359 (23 for 64) and slugging .703 on the strength of 4 doubles and 6 late game home runs.

Edman

As good as Tommy Edman has been offensively and defensively, he has consistently been his best as the leadoff batter in the game.  Edman ignited Wednesday’s four-run first with a double, and is now hitting .333/.410/.537 as the first batter in the game.

Carlson

Teams are starting to pound Dylan inside, and the rookie will have to adjust to this.  Carlson was 0-for-5 on Wednesday with 3 strikeouts, and is 1 for 17 (.059) with 7 strikeouts over his last 4 games.  It has been six games since Dylan has either scored or driven in a run, and his average for June has slipped to .242.

Molina

Yadier Molina ended a 10-pitch first inning at bat with a bases-loaded walk that put the Cardinals on the board.  It was an important moment, but Yadi has also been scuffling of late.  He is also 1 for his last 17 over his last six games – starting his month of June just 1 for 13 (.077).

NoteBook

As a result of the first-inning issues previously discussed, the Cardinals have now surrendered the game’s first run five times in the last six games.

In relative terms, a six-run lead shouldn’t be that remarkable.  Even so, the six-run victory was St Louis’ largest margin of victory since a 12-5 win in Pittsburgh 35 games ago.  When they took that six-run lead into the ninth inning, it was their largest lead after 8 innings since they took a seven-run lead into the ninth inning of a 12-5 victory in Washington back on April 19 – 46 games ago.

The two games against the Indians averaged “just” 3:04.5.  The Cards haven’t played a briefer series since Colorado came to town from May 7-9.  Those three games averaged 3:03.0.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Fighting for That First Out

The 3-2 fastball to Cesar Hernandez looked like it had nailed the inside corner at the knees.  It seemed to hit the mark on the strike zone graphic that most television broadcasts conveniently display, and by pitcher Carlos Martinez’ reaction, it was apparent that he believed that it was a strike.  But umpire Chris Segal (who has done the Cardinals few favors in the past) gave Hernandez first base.

Looking back on the game, that may have been the turning point.  Amed Rosario promptly looped a triple over center-fielder Dylan Carlson’s head to drive Hernandez home.  On the next pitch, he scored on a groundout off the bat of Jose Ramirez, and the Cleveland Indians had the first two runs of their 10-1 waltz over the St Louis Cardinals (box score).  With the loss, the Cards fall to 0-5 on their current home-stand (which has only one more game left).  The loss also stretches the overall losing streak to six in a row, 8 of the last 9, 12 of the last 18, and 16 of the last 25.

The Cardinals, now 1-6 in the month of June, have seen the team ERA for the month soar to 6.97, with the starters (managing just 28.2 of the 62 innings required of the staff this month) saddled with an alarming 9.42 ERA and a .311/.401/.563 batting line against.

And nowhere is this struggle more pronounced than in their inability to get that first out of the inning.

The Indians added to their early lead with another no-out ambush in the third, when singles by Hernandez and Rosario preceded a long home run from Ramirez – and just like that, it was a 5-0 lead.

The final tally for the evening found 19 Cleveland batsmen coming to the plate before the first out of the inning was recorded.  Eight of them produced hits (5 singles, a double, a triple and a home run), with two others drawing walks and another reaching base when hit by a pitch.  Of these 11 baserunners, 9 eventually scored.  Their batting line was .500/.579/.875.

Seven games into the new month, and the 104 opposing batsmen who have hit with no one out are slashing .330/.413/.538.  Forty-three of them have reached, and 27 of those (62.8%) have come home to roost.  Fifty-five percent of the runners that have scored against this team so far this month have reached base before the first out of the inning was achieved.

The last 25 games have seen an almost even amount of damage done to both the rotation (holders of a 5.19 ERA) and the continuously overworked bullpen (holders of a 5.13 ERA).  And it’s seen both of those under-supported by a thready offense that has managed just 3.52 runs per game during that span.

St Louis has scored fewer than four runs 15 times over its last 25 games, while also allowing five or more runs 15 times – including 4 games allowing ten or more runs.

The remainder of the season, of course, isn’t defined by the struggles of the past.  But it’s getting to be a longtime, now, since this was a good team, in any sense of the word.

By contrast, Cardinal batters at the plate with no one out against Shane Bieber and the Cleveland bullpen were 0 for 9 with a walk.

Martinez

Hard to believe watching his last two starts that prior to that Carlos was arguably our most dependable starter – having delivered 5 quality starts in 6 games.  But his two June starts have taken on a nightmarish quality.  He’s lasted a total of 4.2 innings, allowing 15 runs on 13 hits and 5 walks.  He begins June with an 0-2 record, an unsightly 28.93 ERA, and an opposing batting line of .481/.563/.704.  Yikes.

That first out has been impossibly illusive for Carlos over those starts.  He has faced 18 batters with no one out over those last two games.  Thirteen of them have reached (9 hits and 4 walks) and all 13 have come around to score.  Their batting line is a hard-to-imagine .643/.722/1.071.

Miller

Jose Ramirez greeted reliever Andrew Miller with a single.  He would be one of the few Indians who reached with no one out not to score as he was cut down trying to steal – a fortunate occurrence as there was more drama before Andrew finally concluded a scoreless fifth.  For the season so far, batters who face Miller with no one out in the inning are 10 for 20 with 2 doubles and a home run (a .750 slugging percentage to go along with the .500 batting average).

Ponce de Leon

Daniel Ponce de Leon’s one inning (he pitched the sixth) continued a bizarre pattern that defies proper explanation.  He retired the first batter (Ramirez, again) on a ground ball, but surrendered a single to Eddie Rosario before he could get the second out.  Once the second out was secured, he retired Josh Naylor on a fly ball.

For the season, Daniel has faced 32 batters with no one out.  He has walked a few of them (4), but has mostly dominated in this situation.  Those batters have a .179/.281/.214 batting line against him.  Once he gets that second out, he is also dominant.  The 29 batters to face him with two out are slashing .167/.310/.250 (again, a few too many free baserunners – 3 walks and 2 hit batsmen).

But in between those two points of the inning has been consistent trouble for Ponce de Leon.  The 43 batters to come up against him with one out in the inning are slashing .412/.512/.824.

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter has earned himself a few extra starts as a few hits have fallen in for him lately.  Over his last 12 games (6 of them starts), Matt is hitting .346 (9 for 26).

Knizner

Andrew Knizner is one of several Cardinals who has failed to take advantage of proffered playing time.  He was 0-for-3 last night, and is just 2-for-14 (.143) so far this month.  Andrew has found his way into 11 of St Louis’ last 25 games, starting 6.  He is hitting just .192 in those games (5 for 26) with just 1 extra-base hit and 1 run batted in.

NoteBook

St Louis has now lost the first game of each of their last three series, and the first game in five of the last six.

They have also surrendered the first run in four of the last five games.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

The Worst Loss of the Year?

The rally came absolutely out of nowhere – like one of those sports miracles whose stories get told for decades after.

Surely you will rarely find an offense as dead in the water as the Cardinals were going into that sixth inning.  To re-cap, St Louis rode a four-game losing streak into Sunday afternoon’s finale against the Cincinnati Reds – a four-game spread during which they had scored a total of 11 runs (an average of 2.75 runs per game).  Now, three innings into the Sunday affair, the Cards already found themselves behind 7-0 as Cincinnati starter Wade Miley cruised through his five scoreless innings, yielding 4 hits and 2 walks, striking out 8 along the way.  In such chances as they had against Wiley, St Louis had gone 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

But a funny thing happened on the way to yet another quiet loss.  Out of nowhere, the Cardinals stung Cincinnati’s bullpen for seven immediate runs, and for a while it looked like it could have been much, much more as they dispatched two Cincy relievers who didn’t manage an out.

Michael Feliz was greeted with a single off the bat of Nolan Arenado and a booming two-run home run from Tyler O’Neill.  Then, after he walked Edmundo Sosa, Jose Rondon and Andrew Knizner followed with singles – sending Feliz to the showers.  They still trailed 7-2 at this point, but had the bases loaded.

Next out of the Reds’ bullpen was Brad Brach, who fared little better.  The three batters he faced produced a double (Matt Carpenter), a single (Tommy Edman), and a walk (Dylan Carlson).  Now it was 7-5, bases still loaded, nobody out, and the heart of the order coming up for new pitcher Tejay Antone.

Arenado – up for the second time in the inning – would eventually tie the game with a two-run single.  But one pitch before that Paul Goldschmidt’s soft liner back to the mound turned into a double play – taking much of the starch out of the inning.

Nonetheless, a seven-run miracle had occurred just in time to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat and salvage one game of the weekend series.

But the Cardinals were done, and when Jesse Winker eased his third home run of the game into the right-field stands (and Jesse hit more home runs himself in that game than St Louis did in the entire four-game series) the Cardinals went home with – in my opinion – the season’s most deflating loss (box score).

All losses count the same in the standings, as the math of wins and losses doesn’t recognize the effort or the details or the context that compose the individual game results.  But that doesn’t mean that all losses are created equally.  Every year there are losses that sting more than others.

Given the strain of the losing streak and the size of the early deficit they faced.  Given the shocking and energizing nature of the comeback.  Given the fact that even after Winker’s last home run, the Cardinals put the tying and winning runs on second and third with no one out in the ninth and couldn’t get either home – this game gets my vote as the worst loss of the year.  So far.

The Adversity of the Moment

On May 11, the Cardinals scored 5 runs in the eleventh inning to polish off the Milwaukee Brewers 6-1.  At that point, St Louis was 22-14 and three games ahead in their division.  They are 9-15 since then, picking up seven new injuries along the way (as well as having starting pitcher Miles Mikolas come off the injured list for one game before heading right back onto it).  They have also seen all facets of their game – except their defense – deteriorate over the course of not quite a month.  Over the course of the last 24 games, the offense has dribbled home runs at a pace of just 3.63 per game (and in spite of the 7 runs they scored Sunday, they averaged only 3.75 for the series against the Reds), while the bullpen has scuffled to a 4.93 ERA while walking 5.68 batters unintentionally per nine innings to go along with 9 other batters hit by pitches (in just 95 innings).  The pen has allowed 34 of their last 60 inherited runners to score (56.7%).

But no aspect of the club has struggled like the starting pitching.  Saddled with a 4.97 ERA over the last 24 games, the starters have begun June with an 0-3 record, a 9.12 ERA, and a .300/.402/.550 batting line.  The team has lost 5 of their first 6 games this month.

This organization – especially over its recent history – has been no stranger to adversity.  Every year brings injuries in waves, and I don’t actually remember the last year that one of our key starting pitchers hasn’t been lost for the entire year.  (This year, it’s Dakota Hudson, last year it was Mikolas) in addition to other valued starters missing large chunks of the regular season.  All of this, frankly, is par for the course.

But in years past this franchise has always had the depth to weather these crises.  Players like Jose Martinez and Edman himself a couple of years ago were more than ready to step in and – eventually – force their way into the starting lineup.  That’s the part of this that has caught the fan base by surprise.  It’s unusual for secondary players (like Justin Williams and Lane Thomas) not to take advantage of the opportunities presented them.  The same could be said for almost the entire bullpen – a collection of very talented arms who largely can’t find home plate with a GPS.

With the Cubs on the schedule after the Indians, things aren’t going to get any easier terribly soon.  Manager Mike Shildt has glowing praise for the clubhouse.  With their backs up against the wall a little bit at this junction of the season, the next week or so will tell us more than a little bit about the makeup of this team.

Kim

Friday’s starter, Kwang Hyun Kim’s game has been a bit of a microcosm of the team’s season, so far.  Arguably the team’s best starter last year, Kim struggled through three very messy innings against the Reds (he gave 3 runs on 2 hits – both home runs – and a hit batsman), and then landed on the injured list.

Even though his absence is thought to be for only a start or so, Friday marked Kwang Hyun’s fourth consecutive loss.  He has a 5.82 ERA over those losses, having allowed 4 home runs over his last 17 innings.  Batters are slugging .493 against him over those games.

Helsley

Ryan Helsley was the losing pitcher in Saturday’s game (box score).  He came into a tie game in the fifth inning and pitched around a lead-off double.  He went back out for the sixth, though, and walked a batter in front of Eugenio Suarez’ game-winning home run.

Helsey has now allowed runs in 6 of his last 9 games, giving a total of 12 runs on 13 hits (that include 6 doubles and 2 home runs) over a span of 7.1 innings.  The last 42 batters to face Ryan are hitting .371 and slugging .714.

Welcome Back Nolan

Hitless in the first two games of the series, and riding a 1-for-22 slump, Nolan Arenado had a mini-breakthrough, going 7-for-8 over the last two games.  Granted, all of them weren’t rocket shots off the bat, still it’s a relief to see things turn a bit for Nolan.

That little outburst pushes Nolan’s average to .364 (8 for 22) through the first six games of June.  And (his recent slump notwithstanding) Arenado has been one of the team’s most consistent offensive forces during their recent downturn.  Nolan has played in 23 of the last 24 games, hitting .300 (27-for-90) and slugging .544 (7 doubles, 5 home runs and 17 runs batted in) during those games.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt finished the Cincinnati series with a flourish, with three hits on Sunday.  He has now hit safely in all five of his starts this month, hitting .368 (7 for 19) and slugging .684 (1 double, 1 triple and 1 home run) in the early part of June.

Recent Scoring Change (for those of you scoring at home):

In the sixth inning of the May 24 game in Chicago against the White Sox, Goldschmidt came to the plate against Lance Lynn with Tommy Edman on third.  The game was scoreless, so Tony LaRussa pulled his infield in – a gamble that didn’t pay off when Goldy whistled a shot past the pulled in Tim Anderson at short.  Originally scored a hit and a run batted in, some reviewing official scorer has changed this to a pretty tough error charged to Anderson.

So, Goldschmidt loses a hit and an RBI – and the Cards lose the only earned run they managed against their ex-teammate that night.

NoteBook

Friday’s 6-4 loss (box score) broke a streak of nine straight games in which the Cards held a lead at some point.

Saturday’s crowd of 23,365 was the most since the Cubs visited from May 21-23 – the first series after the relaxing of the COVID protocols.

St Louis has now lost four of their last five series.

At 3:50, Sunday’s game was the longest played by the Cards since a May 14 game in San Diego churned through 4:08 of playing time.  The entire series averaged 3:22.3 – the longest series played since that San Diego series averaged 3:43.7.

Cleveland will be the fourth team in the last five to face St Louis after losing their previous series.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Bats Stay Quiet in Loss to Reds

Tyler O’Neill’s reaction said it all.  As soon as the ball left his bat, his head drooped, he let the bat slide out of his hand, and he jogged dejectedly toward first.  This had been the moment.  Making his second career start, Cincinnati right-hander Vladimir Gutierrez was nearing the end of his run.  He had carried a 3-2 Reds lead into the bottom of the fifth, but now had runners on the corners with two outs as he fell behind in the count 2-0 to O’Neill.

Tyler was sitting on that fast ball, and the rookie obliged him.  On his 77th and final pitch of the night, Vladimir fired a fastball at 93.3 miles-per-hour right down the middle.  And Tyler popped it up.  He popped it way, way up.  Fully ten seconds later, Tyler Stephenson – playing first base that evening – finally cradled it, and the inning had come to an end.  If nothing else, it was a huge momentum shift in what became an eventual 4-2 Cincinnati win (box score).

It was also the second time in the game that an almost identical scenario played out.  After scoring their only two runs of the night in the first inning, the Cards had taken a 2-1 lead, with the opportunity to tack on a few more.  Edmundo Sosa came to the plate with runners at first and second and two out.  Behind in the count, 1-0, Gutierrez similarly obliged Sosa with a 92.6 mph fastball right through the heart of the plate.  Sosa popped it into short center for the final out of the inning.

Eight innings later, the Cardinals would lose for the fourth time in their last five games.

That First Strike

Throughout baseball, the most dangerous strike is that first one.  It’s the strike that the batter can be most selective with.  It’s the pitch that he can sit on that fastball down the middle.  Across the National League, batters are slashing .330/.403/.559 (a .962 ops) when they hit that first strike (or walk or get hit by a pitch before that first strike comes).

In a bit of a team batting slump, St Louis isn’t profiting when they get first-pitch strikes to swing at.  They were 0-for-6 against Gutierrez and the Reds last night, and are just 6 for 30 (.200) over the last five games when they put the first strike into play.

Mostly, in these situations, it’s been the fastball that has conquered them.  A few days ago, I wrote about the team-wide struggle to hit the fastball.  That hasn’t gotten better in recent days.

In particular, over the last five games, 23 Cardinal batters got first-strike fastballs (four-seamers or two-seamers) right down the heart of the plate (as defined by Statcast), with these results:

Ten times that pitch was taken for strike one.  In most of those cases, that would be the best pitch the hitter would get in that at bat.  Those ten batters went on to go 1-for-10 in those plate appearances.

Seven others fouled that pitch off.  Even though the outward result of these at bats was the same – an 0-1 count on the batter – these at bats (perhaps because the batter was more ready to engage in the at bat) went much, much better.  Those batters went 3 for 7 with 2 home runs (both by Dylan Carlson).

One batter swung and missed the pitch.  Yadier Molina swung through a 93.7 mph pitch from Los Angeles’ Alex Vesia in the ninth inning on Wednesday.  He would go on to draw a walk.

And only five of the hitters would put that fastball in play.  They would go 0-for-5 (a ground-out, a line-out, a fly out and the pop-ups from Sosa and O’Neill).

Over the course of the long season, players and teams will intermittently experience slumps like this (and the Cards have scored just 14 runs over their last 5 games).  It is, however, a lingering concern that these hitters are unable to manage the fastball.  I wrote about this a few days ago.  Fifty-seven games into the season and these guys are hitting .194/.279/.329 (a .609 ops) against the fastball (just the four-seam fastball, by the way.  Against the sinker they are doing just fine).

Few things in sports look as hopeless as a team in a batting slump.  Lately, these guys have been making a lot of pitchers look very good.  First strike fastballs down the middle isn’t really a sustainable pitching strategy.  Eventually, they will be made to pay.

Eventually.

Arenado

In the last game in Los Angeles, Nolan Arenado dropped a soft flare into right field for a gift double.  Sometimes that’s the kind of break that a hitter needs to deliver himself from the bands of a slump.  The gift hit made me hopeful.  So far, though, the slump prevails.  Arenado was hitless in four at bats last night, and is 1 for 18 (.056) over his last five games.

Ponce de Leon

Entering a one-run game in the eighth, Daniel Ponce de Leon allowed the game’s final run on two walks and a double.  With the Cardinals apparently losing another starter tonight, Daniel may find his way back into the rotation.  If that happens, he will ride there on a string of difficult relief outings.  Daniel has allowed runs in three straight games and four of his last five.  He has labored through 30 batters over his last 5.2 innings, allowing 3 singles, 4 doubles, a home run, 4 walks and 2 hit batsmen – a .333/.467/.625 batting line.

NoteBook

St Louis has now lost the first game in four of their last five series.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

It Could Have Been Worse

You could, I suppose, say that it could have been worse.  Not last night’s game, of course.  St Louis’ 14-3 manhandling at the hands of the Dodgers – a game that the Cards trailed 11-1 after 1 inning – could hardly have gone worse (box score).

But, when considering the just concluded 10-game road trip, you could legitimately say that it could have been worse.

While Wednesday’s was their worst beating on the trip (and, in fact, tied for their worst beating of the year), it wasn’t the only time this team was mostly non-competitive on the trip.  St Louis lost 4 games on this 10-game trip by at least 5 runs.  They never won by more than 4.  For the trip, they were outscored 61-40 (it was a 47-37 differential even without the final blowout).

So, in consideration of all of that, this team could well feel fortunate to have finished up a 5-5 trip.  Things certainly could have been worse.  They also lost first place in their division, and four more players to the injured list (Harrison Bader, Max Moroff, Kodi Whitley, and Jack Flaherty).

Still, it could have been worse.

The battering that starter Carlos Martinez took (10 earned runs allowed over two-thirds of an inning) continues a very troubling trend.  All season, Cardinal starters – who have pitched very well at home – have been routinely knocked around on the road.

In the ten starts on the just-completed trip, the Cardinal rotation managed to stay on the mound for just 46.1 of the 86 innings.  They finished with an aggregate 6.02 ERA.  Set aside two excellent efforts from John Gant, and the rest of the starters went 1-4 with a 7.90 ERA.

For the season, St Louis is 16-15 on the road, in spite of the fact that the rotation has pitched to a 4.68 ERA.  In 150 road innings, Cardinal pitchers have walked 78 batters un-intentionally (4.56 walks per nine innings) and hit 16 other batters.  Opponents are reaching base against them at a .351 clip on the road.

By contrast, the same rotation carries a 3.24 ERA in 25 home games.  This same team is only walking 2.72 batters (unintentionally) at home, where its opponent’s on base percentage is an enviable .291.

It’s just another mystery that this team needs to figure out.  The Cardinals will play 50 more road games this year, and at some point their starters will need to make some kind of stand.

For now, though, it’s just nice to be home.

Webb

Tyler Webb has possibly run out baseball of tomorrows.  After yet another struggling appearance, the Cards have designated Tyler for assignment.  After serving up three more runs last night, Webb has been scored on in 10 of his final 13 appearances, giving 20 runs (18 earned) over his final 10 Cardinal innings.  The last 62 batters that faced him slashed .362/.516/.426 – Webb walked 15 batters in those ten innings – nearly every fourth batter he faced.

A veteran hurler with no options, there is no mechanism in place to send him to AAA where he can figure out the things that are going wrong.  This was really St Louis’ only option.  The hope is that he will pass through waivers so that he can then be sent to the minors – a scenario which could come to pass, as any team claiming Webb would have to retain him on their major league roster (in addition to clearing space for him on their 40-man roster).  It would be quite the leap of faith for any organization to make that kind of commitment to a reliever with a current ERA of 13.22.

And, in case you have forgotten, Tyler was a substantial asset over the last three seasons.

Carlson

There were few bright spots in last night’s loss, but the continued emergence of Dylan Carlson was one of them.  With a single and a home run, Dylan has now hit in four straight – getting two hits in three of the four games.  He is 7 for his last 16 (.438), including 3 home runs.  He has driven in 5 runs while slugging an even 1.000 over those last 4 games.

Thomas

Coming off a May that saw him get just 2 hits in 26 at bats (.077), Lane Thomas began June in the same funk, going 0-for-2 with a strikeout last night.  Lane is down to .108 for the season.

Thomas was 1-for-20 (.050) on the road trip, and is 1 for 22 (.045) on the road this season (with 10 strikeouts).

Williams

Justin Williams is another Cardinal whose season just will not get untracked.  He was 0-for-3 last night, and is 2 for his last 21 (.095).

NoteBook

The 12-run deficit in last night’s game was the furthest the Cards have been behind all season.

Moreover, the 25 runs that they allowed were the most given up in a series since the season-opening set in Cincinnati.  The Reds pinned 27 runs on the Cards in the season’s first three games.

With last night’s battering, the team ERA shoots back over 4.00 runs per game to 4.11.

Lost in the onslaught was the fact that the Cards scored first for the seventh time in the last 8 games.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Dodgers Drop Another One-Run Contest

It wasn’t – by any stretch of the imagination – a thing of beauty.  In a frequently laborious effort, Cardinal starter John Gant employed guile and 95 pitches to navigate his way through six innings against the defending world champions in Los Angeles.  The Dodgers put at least one man on base in five of the six innings, and caught a bad break when Will Smith’s sixth-inning double into the left field corner bounced into the stands, forcing Mookie Betts to stop at third.

Nonetheless, when Dylan Carlson made a full-speed, sliding catch in short center of Gavin Lux’s flare to end that sixth, Johnny Gant walked off the mound with six innings of zeroes on the board, and a 2-0 lead.

As it turns out, the lead wouldn’t hold – and Gant wouldn’t get his well-earned victory – but the Cardinals would manage to prevail, nonetheless, evening the series with a 3-2 win (box score).

For opponents of the defending champs, games like the Cardinals suffered through on Monday (a 9-4 loss to open the series) are all too common.  Fifty-five games into the season, and the Dodgers are already 12-4 in games decided by five or more runs.

But for the Dodgers – currently trailing both the Giants and Padres in their division – games like last night are far too common as well.  With the loss, this supposed juggernaut is just 7-13 in one-run games.

An indicator of some kind of post-championship hangover?  Perhaps.  It’s certainly an unexpected result from a team that is supposed to have everything.

For the Cardinals, the one-run trend is more encouraging.  That they are 7-5 on the season is less than spectacular, but after a 1-3 start in one-run games, the Cards have now won 6 of their last 8.

Over the course of the early year, I have sometimes questioned the character of this team.  In these last one-run games, though, the Cards have done whatever they’ve needed to. 

They’ve done some scoring – putting up at least 4 runs in five of those games – and averaging 4.25 runs for the eight games.  Although they only managed three runs last night.

The bullpen has also mostly answered the bell, holding a 3.06 ERA in the last eight one-run games – although the bullpen slipped last night.

Although I don’t have a number for it, this team can certainly make defensive plays that can determine the outcome of games like this.  Last night, there were about a half-dozen excellent defensive plays that certainly changed the narrative of this contest.

If there has been one area of the club that has been a little disappointing in these recent one-run games, it has been the starting pitching, which has managed a pedestrian 3.89 ERA in the kind of games that are usually quite low scoring.

But last night John Gant reversed that trend, and it set the tone for the rest of the club.  When they needed to be gutsy, they were gutsy.  It’s a welcomed sign.

Gant

Although just the second time in ten starts that Johnny has lasted six innings, last night was the second consecutive game – and the fourth time already this season – that Gant (whose season ERA sits at 1.60) has pitched at least 5 innings without allowing an earned run.  With St Louis going frequently to a six-man rotation in May, John made only 4 starts for the month, going 2-1 with a 1.37 ERA.

Gallegos

Giovanny Gallegos continued the recent skid that the bullpen has been fighting through when he served up the two-run homer to Matt Beaty that tied the game in the seventh.  These one-run games – to this point – have brought out the worst in Gallegos.  Appearing in 7 of the last 8, Gio has surrendered 11 hits over 9 innings, giving 5 runs and blowing 3 saves.  For the season, Gallegos has pitched in 9 of the team’s 12 one-run games, blowing four leads and registering a 6.10 ERA over 10.1 innings.

Reyes

Alex Reyes brought a little unwanted excitement to the end of the game, but (with a giant assist to the glove of Tyler O’Neill) he kept his closing ledger perfect at 16 for 16.  Alex is coming off a 9-for-9 May with a 1.15 ERA across 15.2 innings.

Edman

Tommy Edman continues to ignite from the leadoff role.  After singling and doubling last night, Edman has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 starts.  He would be riding a seven-game hitting streak if not for a failed pinch-hitting appearance at the end of the Arizona series.

Even so, Tommy is hitting .327 (18 for 55) over his last 13 starts, and slugging .545 during those contests – his hits including 6 doubles and 2 home runs.

Carlson

After hitting into more than a little tough luck toward the end of May, Dylan Carlson has turned it on a bit over the last three games.  He had two hits last night, and has had two, two-hit games over his last three contests.  Carlson is 5 for his last 12, including 2 home runs – a .417 batting average with a .917 slugging percentage.  He has driven in 4 runs over the last 3 games.

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill added two more hits last night, set up the winning rally in the ninth with a single and a stolen base, and then preserved the victory with a highlight reel, running, leaping catch into the left-field corner.  Tyler thus extends his hitting streak to nine games, with 4 of the 9 being multi-hit efforts.  He is hitting .400 during the streak (14 for 35) and slugging .943 (his hits including 4 doubles and 5 home runs).  He has 10 runs batted in over the length of that hitting streak.

Arenado

After ending May in a tailspin, Nolan Arenado began June with another 0-for-4.  Since his third-inning home run off of Madison Bumgarner in the second Arizona game, Nolan is now 0 for his last 14 (with a sacrifice fly and a hit-by-pitch).

NoteBook

At 66 degrees, last night’s game was the lowest game time temperature for a Cardinal game since they played in San Diego in 64 degree weather on May 16.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

A Tale of Two Bullpens

Not too surprisingly, the implosion happened quickly.

Billed as a battle of high-profile starters, the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty and the Dodgers’ Trevor Bauer did all they could to live up to the expectations.  Flaherty served up two solo home runs in the second, but gave no other hits.   Bauer shut the Cardinals out for five innings, yielding just one hit to that point.

But Trevor blinked a bit in the sixth – allowing two home runs of his own – and suddenly St Louis was in front, 3-2.  Flaherty, though, didn’t get to enjoy the lead.  The Cardinals removed their talented right-hander for precautionary reasons after he felt a pull in his side – trusting their precarious one-run lead into the hands of a bullpen that has been more than a little precarious itself lately.

When Trevor re-took the mound for the seventh inning, his 3-2 deficit had magically evolved into a 6-3 lead.  More about the struggles of the Cardinal bullpen in a moment.

Los Angeles’ own bullpen came into play before Bauer could get out of the seventh.  With one out, he served up a third home run, and surrendered a single with two outs that brought up the tying run, occasioning his departure from the game.

In stark contrast to the Cardinal bullpen, the three Dodgers called upon to close out the game came in throwing strikes.  While the LA batters continued to pad their lead (and they mounted a total of seven runs over the three innings that St Louis’ relievers worked), Victor Gonzalez, Nate Jones and Phil Bickford had the Cardinals seven up, and seven retired.  Along the way they threw 20 of their 25 pitches for strikes (80%), including first-pitch strikes to all seven hitters.

They were the mostly overlooked heroes of Los Angeles’ convincing 9-4 win over the Cards (box score).  Including Bauer, the Dodger pitching staff combined to throw first-pitch strikes to 24 of the 33 Cardinals who came to the plate last night.  St Louis was 3 for 23 (.130) with a walk in those at bats.

With the loss, St Louis officially surrenders first place in its division.  Following a two-game sweep of Pittsburgh on May 18-19, the Cards sat 3.5 games ahead in the NL Central.  But over the last 11 games, the caliber of the opponents faced has risen sharply, and the Cards to this point have not risen to the challenge.  Their recent 5-6 skid includes losing two-of-three to the Cubs, two-of-three to the White Sox, and now the first game of their current series to the Dodgers.

At the heart of the stumbled has been a collapsing bullpen.  But their exploits have been heightened by fading contributions from an offense that has scored just 3.64 runs per game over their last 11 games – a streak in which they have seen some aggressive pitching, with 63.5% of the batters seeing first-pitch strikes.

Goldschmidt

One of the hitting stalwarts for most of the month, Paul Goldschmidt faded toward the end.  Hitless in three at bats last night, Goldy finished May in a 1-for-13 skid.  Over the last 11 games, Paul is just 8 for 39 (.205).  He is hitting .182 (4-for-22) in those games with one extra-base hit when thrown a first-pitch strike.

Arenado

Nolan Arenado – who was terrific overall in May – also faded during the Cardinals’ recent downturn.  Nolan (0-for-4 last night) has played in 10 of the last 11 games, hitting .175 (7-for-40) with a .205 on base percentage (1 intentional walk and 1 hbp).

Throughout the season, Arenado is one Cardinal you don’t want to fall behind.  In 87 at bats this year when the pitcher starts off with ball one, Nolan is a .356 hitter with 8 home runs.  Lately, though, that dynamic is changing.  He was 0 for 2 last night after the pitcher missed with the first pitch, and is now just 1 for his last 14 after getting ahead 1-0 in the count.

Molina

Yadier Molina also went hitless in four at bats (the 3-4-5 spots in the Cardinal order combined to go 0-for11), bringing to an end his five-game hitting streak.  Yadi hit .391 (9 for 23) and drove in 5 runs (including 2 game-winners) during the streak.

The Bullpen Goes Boom Again

When Flaherty was deemed unable to pitch the sixth, Mike Shildt sent Ryan Helsley to the mound.  I’ll admit that my heart sank a bit.  Helsley – whose struggles I’ll document below – hasn’t pitched well enough lately to merit a high leverage opportunity.  But, in Shildt’s defense, who else could he send out there?  Excellent for much of this early season, one by one all of the talented set-up arms in the bullpen have hit on hard times.  If this team can get to the eighth, Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes are still performing at high levels.  Everyone else has just been spreading line drives around the stadium (and walks, of course).

After Flaherty faced 18 batters over five innings (leaving with that 3-2 lead) four relievers faced 20 batters over the last three innings, serving up 7 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks.  The Los Angeles batting line after Jack left the game was .471/.550/.882.

Over the last 11 games, Cardinal relievers have sunk to a 5.26 ERA – while unintentionally walking 5.26 per nine innings.  They ended the month of May with a 4.55 ERA and 5.75 unintentional walks per nine innings.  During the just concluded month, Cardinal relievers allowed 39 of 72 inherited runners to score – a distressing 54.2% that includes all 3 of last night’s inherited runners.

Helsley

Ryan Helsley faced 68 batters over his first 17 appearances this season without allowing an extra-base hit.  He’s given 6 to the last 31 to face him.  In the fateful sixth inning last night, Ryan faced 3 batters, allowing a double and a single after getting the first batter to ground out.  Both of those runners came home to score.

Helsley has now allowed runs in 5 of his last 7 games, giving 10 total runs on 10 hits and 5 walks in his last 5 innings.  The last 31 batters to face him have prospered to the tune of a .400/.500/.720 batting line.

The only batter that Ryan didn’t throw a first-pitch strike to was the last batter he faced – Justin Turner – who stroked a 3-1 pitch into left for a single.  When Ryan misses with his first pitch this season, batters are 10 for 30 (.333) with 13 walks – a .535 on base percentage.

Ponce de Leon

The Dodgers salted the game away against Daniel Ponce de Leon in the eighth.  Just a two-run game at that point, LA chased Daniel with a home run, a double and a single – with that runner eventually coming around to score after Ponce de Leon left the game.  Daniel has now given runs in 3 of his last 4 games, giving 6 total (5 earned) on 7 hits over his last 4.2 innings.  The last 24 batters to face him have prospered to the tune of a .350/.458/.650 batting line.

Of the 9 batters he faced last night (he had taken over in the seventh), 5 saw ball one on the first pitch to them.  For the season, Daniel has thrown ball one to 43 batters and strike one to 43 others.  The league-wide average shows pitchers getting that first pitch in as a strike about 60% of the time.

Of the 20 batters the pen faced last night, 11 saw ball one on the first pitch to them.

Elledge

Seth Elledge came in to get the final out – which he did, but not until he had given the double that drove in the final run.  Seth has now let all 7 runners that he’s inherited cross the plate.

Seth got ahead of both batter to face him 0-1 before allowing the double and getting the final groundout.  For the season, batters are 7 for 14 against Elledge when he throws a first-pitch strike.

NoteBook

St Louis had a string of five straight games in which they scored the first run of the game snapped last night.

The sixth-inning comeback means that the Cards have now led at some point in 6 straight games.

The game-time temperature of 70 degrees was the coolest temperature the Cards have played in since May 18 when they also played in 70 degree temperature at home against Pittsburgh.  The last road game they played that was cooler came two days before that when they played in 64 degrees in San Diego.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter.  Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH.  While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it.  So, I have re-written it here.  The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks.  I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.