Diamondbacks Snake-Bitten in One-Run Games

The ball left Eduardo Escobar’s bat at 98.7 miles per hour.  It would be the third hardest hit ball by the Arizona Diamondbacks on the evening, and it would provide the evening’s first turning point.

Everything is so magnified in a one-run game.  In this one, Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez walked the first batter of the game – a bad omen.  Carlos had walked 7 in his previous start, and it was clear that after several shaky appearances, he was fighting here to hold on to his rotation spot.

Escobar came to the plate after Pavin Smith (Arizona’s second batter) had popped out.  He had fallen behind in the count, 1-2, when he turned on Carlos’ change-up and drilled it toward right field – but right at second baseman Edmundo Sosa, who not only gloved the ball for the second out, but quickly tossed the ball to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt when he noticed that Josh Rojas (the runner at first) had strayed too far from the base.  Instead of another complicated inning for Martinez, the first was suddenly over after just 12 pitches.

The Diamondbacks would put a runner in scoring position in three of the first five innings of the game, but would fail to score any of them.  After going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position on Monday, they were just 2-for-10 on Tuesday, with the second of those hits providing another flashpoint for the game.

Eighth inning, Cards up 3-2.  Leading off for the D-Backs, David Peralta reaches when his grounder to second kicks out of Sosa’s glove.  He is replaced by pinch-runner Tim Locastro.  There is still no one out as Cardinal pitcher Alex Reyes promptly balks Locastro to second.  Then Josh VanMeter rolls a little grounder toward the shortstop position. 

But there is no one there.  Everyone except third baseman Nolan Arenado had shifted to the right side of the infield, and Arenado was near the left field line leaving a yawning void where the shortstop would normally play.  But as the ball trickled into left field, for some reason Locastro didn’t score.  He advanced to third, but (with no one out) he proceeded no further.

And now, he never would.  Reyes responded by striking out Christian Walker and turning a daring double-play on a tapper back to the mound off the bat of Stephen Vogt.

These are the things that happen to you when your team is 2-19 in one-run games – and, incredibly, that is Arizona’s record in these contests.

The Cardinals have worn their share of frustration as well this season, but have held their own in one-run games.  Their problems have been staying close enough in games to pull off one-run victories.  They are now 10-8 on the season in these contests.

And they have now won consecutive games for the first time since they swept Miami from June 14-16, twelve games ago.

Is this the start of something?  Time will tell.  After Arizona and Colorado (St Louis’ next opponent) they will play their next 13 games against the Giants and the Cubs.  Cincinnati and Cleveland line up after them.  By this time next month, we should have a better idea of who these Cardinals are.

Arenado

Speaking of magnified moments, Arenado provided two of them.  In the bottom of the fifth inning, his two-run home run off the left field foul pole broke the scoreless tie.  In the top of the sixth, he made a key defensive play.  Josh Rojas began the inning squibbing a grounder up the middle that neither Sosa nor Paul DeJong at shortstop could come up with.  Pavin Smith then threatened to beat the shift with a bounding grounder of his own that was headed for the left field line.  Arenado was able to chase the ball down from behind, and, while falling toward the foul line, managed to deliver a strong and accurate throw to nip the runner at first.  Escobar then dropped a soft fly ball into short right to deliver the runner (Rojas had advanced to second on the previous grounder).  It was the only run scored off of Martinez.  The next batter (Peralta) drove a flyball deep enough into center that it would have driven in the tying run – if Nolan hadn’t made that play on Smith.

So, on the evening, Arenado was a plus-3 in a game his team won by only one run.  This was not a singular occurrence.  Nolan is far and away the team’s most productive bat in one-run games.  Arenado is now hitting .328 this year in one-run games (20 for 61) with half of those hits for extra bases (6 doubles, 4 home runs).  He has 12 runs batted in and a .623 slugging percentage in one-run games this season.

DeJong

Paul continues to search for his swing.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, DeJong is battling through a month that has seen him hit .148 (8 of 54). 

NoteBook

St Louis has now scored the first run in four of the last five games.

With two wins against Arizona, the Cards now have as many wins in two games of this series as they managed in their three previous series combined.

Arenado’s home run proved to be the game-winning RBI.  With 9 on the season, Nolan has tied Yadier Molina for the team lead.  Paul Goldschmidt is just behind with 8.

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.

Little Things

The play didn’t make any of the highlight packages – but that’s not surprising.  Bunts rarely do.  But, in a contest befitting the teams with the two worst June records in the National League, it would be a garden variety bunt that would prove to be the play of the game.

It was the seventh inning of a 1-1 game.  St Louis’ Edmundo Sosa led off the bottom of the inning with a double, and Tommy Edman bunted him to third. 

And here we go again.

It would be Dylan Carlson at the plate with that runner at third and one out.  As the Cardinal offense has down-spiraled over the course of the last month, at bats with runners in scoring position had become increasingly harder to execute (and to watch, for that matter).  At that point in the proceedings, St Louis was 1 for 8 in RISP opportunities (runners in scoring position), and were 8 for their last 51 (.157) overall in this situation.  It had been 8 games since the Cardinals managed two hits with runners in scoring position in the same game.

But now, with the runner at third, the Cards didn’t even need a hit to bring that run home.  In theory, a well-placed ground ball could break the tie and give St Louis a chance to squeeze out a victory.  In recognition of that potential, Arizona’s manager Torey Lovullo pulled his infield in to cut off that potential run at the plate – and promptly watched the game slip away as Carlson’s soft line drive (it left the bat at just 75.7 miles per hour and only travelled 163 feet) just eked over the outstretched glove of the drawn-in second-baseman Eduardo Escobar.  The single brought home Sosa with the lead run, and opened the floodgates behind it.

Working against a tiring Alex Young (who was pitching in his third inning), four of the next five Cardinal hitters tacked on hits – including an RBI single from Paul Goldschmidt, a two-run double off the bat of Yadier Molina, and a rally-capping, two-run home run from Paul DeJong.

The 7-1 final (box score) isn’t representative of the closeness of the game.  But as so often happens in baseball, a huge rally can hinge on small things like a bunt and a manager’s decision.

Whether this changes the team’s trajectory going forward is the salient question.  They have had eruptions before, and have gone right back to their scuffling ways.  It will be instructive to see if any of this carries over to tonight’s contest.

But, for 24 hours at least, there are a few rays of hopeful sunshine poking their way through the gray clouds.  For now, that will have to be enough.

Carlson

It’s been five games, now, since Dylan was moved to the leadoff spot.  The early returns are encouraging.  Carlson – who has now hit safely in 6 of his last 7 – is 6 for 20 (.300) as the leadoff hitter – the hits including a double, a triple and a home run (good for a .600 slugging percentage).  Dylan has scored 5 runs and driven in 4 over those last 5 games.

Carlson drove in St Louis’ first two runs of the game, as he was 2-for-2 with runners in scoring position.  For the month of June, Dylan is hitting .300 (6 for 20) in RISP situations.

Nootbaar

Lars Nootbaar stepped into the starting right-field spot and opened his major league career with 4 hits in his first 12 at bats.  He has now stumbled into the first little slump of his major league career.  After 3 hitless at bats last night, Nootbaar is 0 for his last 10.

Helsley

After surviving a rough patch during which he was scored on in 6 of 9 appearances, Ryan Helsley is beginning to re-establish himself in a bullpen that desperately needs a dependable arm or two.  In 8 innings over his last 8 games, Ryan has given just 1 run on 3 hits – holding the last 30 batters he’s faced to a .111 batting average.  As June draws to a close, Ryan holds a 2.61 ERA and a .162 batting average against for his 10.1 innings this month.

Gant

The plan for John Gant’s first relief appearance of the year was for him to carry the team through the sixth inning, setting up the back of the bullpen.  Johnny didn’t quite make it that far, surrendering consecutive one-out singles to Asdrubal Cabrera and Pavin Smith.  But – with the runner now in scoring position at second – Gant dialed it in and retired Nick Ahmed on a flyball before exiting the contest.

Even during the worst of his struggles this season, Gant has always been solid with runners in scoring position (which is a good thing, because he put himself in that position often enough).  For the season, batters are 9 for 67 (.134) against Johnny in damage situations.

Gallegos

More seriously good work from Giovanny Gallegos proved critical to the victory.  Entering with a runner at second in the top of the seventh, Gio retired all three batters he faced, leaving the lead run at third.  Over his last 8 games, Gallegos has thrown 9 innings of 2-hit, no walk, shutout ball, striking out 9 along the way.  After throwing 18 of his 22 pitches for strikes last night, Gio has thrown 70% strikes (85 of 121) over those last 9 innings.  The batting line against him has been .074/.074/.111, and his ERA for the month of June slides down to 1.64 over 11 innings.

All three of the batters who faced Gio were up with a runner in scoring position, and Gallegos’ efforts were part of an 0-for-10 evening for Arizona with ducks on the pond.  Gio has just been tough to hit, whether there is an RBI opportunity or not.  This year, batters are 4 for 26 (.154) in RISP opportunities against Gallegos.

Miller

Andrew Miller is also starting to earn a little trust in a sometimes ragged bullpen.  He threw a spotless eighth last night, and holds an 0.93 ERA in 9.2 innings since his return from the injured list.  He has allowed no home runs in the 8 games he’s pitched in since his return, and has held opposing batters to a .212 average and a .303 slugging percentage.

NoteBook

In the sixth inning (with the game still a 1-1 tie) Genesis Cabrera came out of the bullpen to face left-hander Daulton Varsho with runners at first and third and two outs.  This became a talking point in the game.  With the pitcher’s spot up next, Lovullo had David Peralta kneeling in the on deck circle as a warning that he would be sent to hit for the pitcher if the inning extended that far.  And yet, when Varsho drew the walk that loaded the bases, Torey pulled Peralta back and sent pitcher Alex Young to the plate. The threat promptly ended as Alex watched Cabrera buzz three strikes past him.

Speculation abounds as to why the Arizona manager didn’t roll the dice with Peralta.   Derrick Goold – writing for the Post-Dispatch – suggested either the need for Young to provide innings for an over-taxed bullpen (which was probably a strong consideration, since Lovullo stuck with Young all through the disastrous seventh-inning), or that Torey was taking a chance that Young might draw a walk and drive in the go-ahead run anyway.  This was not a bad gamble, as the Cards lead all of baseball in bases-loaded walks.  Their 18 include three pitchers (Brett Anderson, Will Smith and Max Fried).  It was even Cabrera who had issued the bases-loaded pass to Smith, so it was a better than passing gamble.

To that equation, let me add the fact that Torey had no right-handed batters on his bench, and he may have been reluctant to throw his best lefty bat (Peralta) in against a very tough lefty in Cabrera (and Arizona did rush David into the game as soon as the right-handed Gallegos entered the game in the eighth).

All of these managerial wheels, of course, vanish into thin air if the abominable designated hitter was in place.  Anyone who tells you that the DH doesn’t drain strategy out of the game either has little conception of baseball, or is trying to sell you something.

Which provides a perfect segue into –  

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.

Bad Baseball Mixed with Some Bad Luck

I’m pretty sure I’ve never ever seen this before.

With age, of course, comes occasional struggles with memory.  And, of course, it’s not the kind of thing that gets marked in a scorecard or a database, so it’s not something that can be checked.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that this had never happened before.

It’s Friday night, and the Pirates are in town for the second game of a four-game set.  Pittsburgh had won the first game handily, and the Friday affair started out as more of the same.  The Cards came to bat in the bottom of the third, trailing 4-1.  But there St Louis came up with a heroic (for them) rally, tying the game at four by the bottom of the fourth inning.

But Mike Shildt stuck with starter Kwang Hyun Kim for only one more batter in the fifth – Adam Frazier (who he retired on a grounder back to the mound).  Although at only 70 pitches, and even though abbreviated starts have been a plague to this team so far this season, Mike decided he had pushed Kwang Hyun far enough, and into the game came Jake Woodford.

Things would begin to fall apart immediately.

It would begin with that quintessential feature of the 2021 pitching staff – a walk – this one to Ke’Bryan Hayes, bringing up Bryan Reynolds.

Woodward’s sinker shatters Reynolds’ bat, and he dribbles a grounder (71.3 mph off the bat) up the middle, right to shortstop Edmundo Sosa, who was basically playing right in the baseline, just in front of the base that Hayes was hustling towards.  The ball arrives to Sosa with Hayes still three or four steps away.  On the face of it, it’s a fairly easy tag and throw for the inning ending double-play.

And then, just as Sosa is stretching his glove out to make the tag, his left leg is seized by a massive cramp.  Inexplicably, Edmundo tumbles to the turf, the tag is missed, and everyone is safe.

Really?  A sudden cramp that prevents the double-play?

Well, you know what will happen next.  Three pitches later, Jake hangs a curveball that Pittsburgh’s Jacob Stallings rips into left field for the single that chases Hayes home with the game-winning run.  That run (that pushed the Pirates in front 5-4) would end the evening’s scoring (box score).

Except for the fact that the Cardinals actually scored a few runs, this game was nearly a microcosm of St Louis’ stunning fall from grace.  Pittsburgh was last in town for a quick two-game series on May 18-19.  St. Louis took both games, improving their record at that point to 25-18 and pushing their lead in the division to a nearly-comfortable 3.5 games.  In losing three of four to the Pirates this trip in, the Cardinal record sinks to 37-41, dropping them 8 games behind in the division.

They greet the struggling Arizona Diamondbacks tonight having managed a 12-23 record over their last 35 games, and having dropped 11.5 games in the standings during that span.  Offensively, they are hitting just .210 and scoring just 3.11 runs per game – a rate so penurious that the league’s most dominant pitching staff would be hard pressed to make do with the scanty offense.  Meanwhile, that pitching staff has been bleeding out runs as a rate of 4.89 earned runs per nine innings – in addition to 18 more unearned runs allowed over those games – a generosity excessive enough to challenge even an elite offensive unit.

Caught in this little death-spiral that has – for the moment, anyway – knocked them out of contention, the Cards have been disappointing on both sides of the ball.

And, especially on the pitching side, they’ve been more than a little unlucky as well.

The walks, of course, have been their own principle contribution to their own demise.  In the Sunday afternoon game, starting pitcher Johan Oviedo walked 4 batters – all in the first inning.  For the series, the three starters not named Adam Wainwright would walk 12 batters in the 13.1 innings they managed to stay on the mound.

But if the sight of a Pirate batter trotting to first was the series’ most common sight, the second most common would almost have to be a Pirate batter flaring a short fly ball that falls in front of center-fielder Dylan Carlson.

In his four inning start, Oviedo allowed 6 hits – all singles.  Five of them with an exit velocity lower than 80 miles per hour.  For the series, nearly half of the Pirates’ 40 hits (18) exited the bat below 90 miles per hour.  Toss in the Sosa cramp, and Pittsburgh profited disproportionately from soft contact.

For their part, the Cardinals put 52 balls in play at less than 90 mph off the bat during the series.  Only 6 of those dropped in for hits.  There are times in this game that the random chances fall against you.  There is little one can do while this is going on – and the only thing left to you is to play hard, keep the faith, and wait for things to fall in for your team a bit.

Although, for all of that, it would help a great deal if they would walk fewer batters.

Kim

While Kwang Hyun didn’t take the loss in the Friday game, it did mark another scuffling outing for arguably the team’s best pitcher last year.  He finished allowing 4 runs in 4.1 innings.  Kim has started 6 of the last 35 games, going 0-4 with a 5.14 ERA in 28 innings.

Thus far this season, Kim has shown a decided preference for that extra day off.  After failing to last 5 innings on Friday, Kwang Hyun is 0-3 with a 5.52 ERA in 4 starts on four-day’s rest.  He’s started on five-day’s rest 5 times with a 1-1 record and a 2.88 ERA.

Waino

Once again, almost 40-year-old Adam Wainwright was the sole saving grace of the rotation.  Starting the Saturday game, Adam muffled the un-stoppable Pirates on 6 hits over 6 innings and just 1 run.  He earned the series’ lone victory (box score).  The other three starters in the series managed only a 9.45 aggregate ERA.  Adam is now 3-1 this month with a 2.45 ERA and a .202 batting average against.  He has achieved a quality start in each of his 5 appearances this month.  The 19 starts made by the others starters this month have resulted in an 0-12 record with a 7.88 ERA.  The other starters together have managed 4 quality starts this month.

Oviedo

The loser in the Sunday game (box score), Oviedo’s education at the major league level continues.  His 5 runs allowed in 4 innings leaves him 0-2 with a 5.09 ERA for the month.

Cabrera

Genesis Cabrera is one arm that has been unperturbed by the recent swoon.  Genesis retired all 7 Pirates he faced in 2 appearances over the weekend, and over his last 7 innings (6 games), Cabrera has given just 1 run on 3 hits.  He has walked none, while striking out 7.  Sixty-nine percent of his pitches have been strikes, and batters are missing on 32% of their swings against him.  This little run has dropped his ERA for the month to 2.70 in 10 innings.

Gallegos

The other prominent set-up man in the Cardinal bullpen is also on a roll.  Over his last 8 games, Giovanny Gallegos has thrown 8 innings of 2-hit shutout ball – also with no walks – and 8 strikeouts.  With a performance very similar to Cabrera’s, Gallegos has thrown 67 of his last 99 pitches (68%) for strikes, while opposing batters have missed on 33% of their swings against him.  His June ERA is down to 1.80 in 10 innings.

Woodford

Jake – who gave up runs in both of his games this weekend – was one of the pitchers who might have been in the discussion to take the place of one of the struggling starters.  He has given 5 home runs this month in just 12.1 innings – on his way to a 5.84 June ERA.  Hardly anything to build great confidence.

Edman

Tommy Edman – who has started nearly every game at one position or another – was out of the lineup this evening after a tough series against the Pirates.  Edman went 1 for 16, and was hitless in his last 14 at bats.  Tommy is slashing just .211/.219/.284 this month.

NoteBook

At 3:46, the Friday game was the longest the Cards played since their 8-7 loss to Cincinnati on June 6 lasted 3:50.

The 89 degree heat on Saturday marked the hottest Cardinal game since they beat Miami on June 14 in 90 degree heat.

Yadier Molina provided the game-winning hit in the only Cardinal win this weekend.  Yadi (with 9 on the season) has now pulled ahead of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado (who both have 8) for the team lead.

The 11 runs scored in this series were the most scored by St Louis in a series since they scored 15 runs while being swept by the Reds in four games from June 3 to June 6.

Over their last 11 series, the Cards are just 2-8-1.  They are 4-5-3 in series at home so far this year.

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.

Trying to Solve the Puzzle That Is Martinez

The first three batters that he faced in the game (and four of the first five) all reached base.  Given that as a starting point, the fact that Cardinal starting pitcher Carlos Martinez only allowed two first inning runs was something of a victory.  It could have been much worse.

Now it was the top of the second inning, still 2-0 Pirates, and Carlos begins the inning with a strikeout of Michael Perez, bringing up the opposing pitcher Chad Kuhl.

He walked him on four pitches.  He threw him 4 four-seam fastballs and couldn’t find the strike zone with any of them.  Nothing came of this, as Adam Frazier promptly grounded into the double-play that ended the inning.  But I keep coming back to this moment.

His second pitch to Kuhl was well up and in.  The third pitch was way outside.  Now, you’re behind 3-0 to the pitcher – who would certainly be taking.  If there was ever a moment to trust your stuff and bring the fastball right down the middle, this was that moment.  But Carlos couldn’t do it.  Instead, he tried to make the perfect pitch, trying to hit the inside corner, and missed.

Here’s a fun fact.  If you look at the box score and see that Martinez walked 7 batters (1 intentionally), you would think that Carlos would have spent his busy five innings pitching in deep counts and throwing a lot of pitches to each batter.  In fact, he moved through the 26 batters he faced in only 87 pitches (3.35 per).  Carlos wasn’t inefficient, really, at all.  Of the 25 batters that he actually pitched to (subtracting the intentional walk) only 7 of them worked their way into three-ball counts.

The problem was that he lost the ability to throw a strike once he found himself in a three-ball count.  He threw 10 pitches with the count three-and-something.  Only two of those pitches ended up in the strike zone (he did get the Pirates to chase a few times).  He threw four pitches with the count 3-2.  None of them were close to the plate.

At this point, you have to think that this has gotten into Martinez’ head.  Across the National League, batters that get into three-ball counts walk 44% of the time.  Last night, Carlos walked 6 of the 7 that he faced in those counts, and the only one who didn’t walk could have.  Colin Moran grounded to first in the fourth inning on a 3-1 fastball that was a couple of inches inside.

During the month of June, Martinez has gone to three-ball counts 20 times.  Sixteen of those batters went on to draw walks – nearly double the league average rate.

While the fan in the stands takes strike-throwing for granted, throwing a quality strike in a major league game is not an easy undertaking.  And it becomes almost impossible when you start to think too much about it.  As Crash Davis instructed Nuke LaLoush in Bull Durham, “Don’t think.  You hurt the team.”

Throughout his mostly-excellent career in St Louis, the concern about Carlos has always been more about his head than his arm.  And, yes, about his emotions as well.

In the fourth inning there was a play that could have been made behind him.  The score was 2-1, and the Pirates had runners at first and second with one out.  Martinez gets the double-play grounder off the bat of Ke’Bryan Hayes, but the ball kicks out of the glove of second-baseman Tommy Edman.  He recovers in time to get the out at second, but the opportunity to get two was lost.

Pitchers, of course, understand that these things happen from time-to-time.  But they can’t happen with Martinez on the mound.

In his previous start in Atlanta, Carlos came unraveled in the second inning when a play wasn’t made.  With the Braves ahead 2-1, and with a runner at second and two out, Freddie Freeman singled to right.  The throw home might have gotten the runner (Ronald Acuna Jr.), but catcher Yadier Molina didn’t even make an attempt to tag Acuna.  Instead, as soon as he caught the ball he fired it to second in an attempt to cut down Freeman trying to advance.  Neither out was recorded.

The camera caught Martinez standing behind home plate looking as though he had been stabbed in the heart.  Two pitches later, Carlos miss-located a fastball to Ozzie Albies, who launched the home run that widened the Braves’ lead to 5-1.

Last night, after the missed double-play, it took exactly three pitches before Carlos hung the change-up that Bryan Reynolds sent over the right-field wall.  And suddenly that game was also 5-1.

These are all pieces of the puzzle that is Carlos Martinez.  A puzzle the Cards keep trying to solve.

More Martinez

In a terrible month for starting pitching (the rotation’s ERA this month is 6.29), Martinez has had the worst time of it.  In 5 June starts, Carlos has survived only 19.2 innings.  During that brief stay on the mound, Martinez has surrendered 30 runs on 31 hits (including 4 home runs) and 17 walks.  His 0-5 June record accompanies his 13.73 ERA and .352/.467/.557 batting line against.

Carlson

Dylan Carlson responded to his promotion to leadoff batter with a couple of hits – he was the only Cardinal with two hits.  Dylan’s bat has found a little life lately.  Carlson has hit safely in five of his last six games, with two multi-hit games included.  He is 6 for his last 18 (.333).

DeJong

Paul DeJong’s struggles continue.  He went 0-for-4 again last night with two more strikeouts.  In 13 games since his return, Paul is 4 for 42 (.095) with 15 strikeouts.

NoteBook

St Louis has now lost the first game in three straight series, in 7 of the last 8, and 9 of the last 11.

When the Pirates opened up a 6-1 lead in the sixth inning, it marked the twentieth time this season (and the thirteenth time in the last 36 games) that the Cards have been saddled with such a deficit.

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.

Cardinals Beaten Up on the Road Trip

The rain out last Saturday night in Atlanta gave Adam Wainwright the opportunity to dominate the first game of the Sunday seven-inning doubleheader (which I’m still on record as disliking).  Waino was brilliant that afternoon against the Braves, tossing a complete game, 9-1 victory.

Not only would that be the only Cardinal win in their just-concluded, two-city, 6-game road trip, it would be almost the only good moments produced by the rotation during what turned out to be (for them) a nightmarish trip.

The numbers evoke more than just a shake of the head.  The other five starters combined to pitch 19 innings (less than 4 per start).  During those 19 innings, opposing batters basically trashed Cardinal starters to the tune of 21 runs (17 earned) on 23 hits (that included 3 doubles, a triple, and 6 home runs) and 14 walks.  Starting pitchers not named Wainwright took all five of the losses on the trip, while fashioning an ERA of 8.05 and a batting line against of .299/.419/.597.  Per nine innings, this group allowed 10.89 hits, 2.84 home runs and 6.63 unintentional walks.

John Gant – the only rotation member to make two starts on the trip – pitched and lost the finale in Detroit.  His efforts yesterday afternoon ended after 70 pitches and before he could record an out in the fourth, leaving the bullpen to shoulder the final 15 outs of the 6-2 loss (box score).  In his two starts away from home, John worked a total of 8.1 innings at the cost of 6 runs on 6 hits (2 singles, a double, a triple and 2 home runs), and 6 walks.

Historically, St Louis has been a very capable road team.  During this century, they have played .512 ball on the road (903-862, including playoffs), and have finished at or better than .500 in 12 of the first 21 seasons.  This includes five of the previous six seasons, a stretch in which they have been 237-209 (.531) on the road.

But, as the 2021 edition continues to fray as it slouches toward the All-Star break, its home/road splits are beginning to diverge.  With this most recent road trip in the books, St Louis has now lost 11 of its last 13 road games.  All aspects of the club have been caught up in this downturn.  The hitters are batting .193 and scoring 2.54 runs per game over these last 13 road games, while the pitchers have been bullied to a 6.53 aggregate ERA – 7.28 from the starters and 5.63 from the pen.

After starting the season 15-12 on the road, the 2021 Cardinals are currently a 17-23 road team.  The difference in team ERA is more than a run – 3.73 at home, 4.74 on the road.

This has all been part of a larger skid, in which the team’s road struggles play a prominent role.  St Louis is now 14-24 over its last 38 games.  Tellingly, 24 of their last 38 games have been road contests.  They are 7-7 at home during that span, and 7-17 on the road.  Over the last month and a half (roughly) the team’s 3.83 home ERA has inflated to 5.42 on the road, while the collective batting average has dwindled from .247 to .204, and the runs per game has faded from an already low 3.57 to a problematic 3.08 away from home.

That last number is especially telling.  Due to the pitcher-friendly dimensions of Busch Stadium (in all of its iterations), the Cards have always been a better offensive team away from home.  This has been especially true over the last 6 seasons, as the Cards averaged 4.74 runs per game away from home, but only 4.34 runs per game at home.

With the pitching staff allowing more runs per game on the road than in any season since 2007 (the only Cardinal team this century to suffer a losing record), this is a bad, bad time to lose the ability to score on the road.

More Gant

Road struggles aside, Johnny’s season has pivoted stunningly around his June 1 start in Los Angeles.  In that game, he shut the Dodgers out on 4 hits for 6 innings.  It was his second straight start allowing no runs, and the third time in four starts he had allowed no earned runs.  At that point, Johnny was 4-3 with a 1.60 ERA.

In his four starts since then, he has only retired a batter in the fifth inning once.  Lasting just 14 innings over his last 4 starts, Gant is 0-3 with an 11.57 ERA.  He has allowed 18 runs in those 14 innings on 14 hits (5 of them home runs) and 14 walks.

Helsley

Ryan Helsley served up the fifth inning home run to Jonathan Schoop that pushed Detroit’s advantage to 4-2. Ryan has contributed his part to the recent bleeding.  He has pitched in 15 of the last 38 games, and has now allowed 3 home runs in those 13.2 innings.  His recent ERA sits at 8.56.

Helsley has now been burned for 9 runs in his last 7.1 road innings, pushing his season road ERA to 9.42 over 14.1 innings.  He has allowed 19 hits and given 11 walks in those innings.  Over his first two seasons, in 31.2 road innings, Ryan accumulated a 1.99 road ERA.

Gallegos

After a slight hiccup in Los Angeles, Giovanny Gallegos has returned to form as a lights-out presence at the end of the bullpen.  Reduced by the Cardinals’ recent losing stretch to pitching middle relief (just to get some work in), Gio gave the Cards 1.2 scoreless innings last night.  Over his last 5 games, Gallegos has pitched 6.1 innings of 1-hit, shutout ball with no walks, hit batsmen, wild pitches or balks.  Seventy percent of his pitches thrown have been strikes, and batters have failed to connect on 35% of the last 43 swings they have taken against him.  While the pitching staff in general has scuffled over these last 38 games, Giovanny has been, arguably, its most solid member.  He has pitched in 14 of the team’s last 38 games, posting a 1.47 ERA in 18.1 innings.

Molina

Yadier Molina’s slump continues to deepen.  Hitless in 3 at bats yesterday, Yadi is 3 for 31 (.097) over his last 10 games.  Molina’s June average has faded to .146.  Yadi’s last extra-base hit was an RBI double against Madison Bumgarner in the first inning of a May 28 game in Arizona.  That was 16 games, 69 plate appearances, 61 at bats, and 251 pitches ago.

DeJong

Paul DeJong has now been back with the team (after an injury spell) for 12 games.  After last night’s 0-for-4, Paul is hitting .105 (4 for 38) since his return.  Manager Mike Shildt has suggested that Paul will continue to start while he searches for his swing.

After going 2 for 19 on the road trip, DeJong is hitting .170 away from home (and .149 at home) this season.  But 7 of his 8 home runs have been hit on the road.  I have long suspected that Bush Stadium is just too large to accommodate DeJong.  Over the course of his career, 58 of his 85 home runs have been hit on the road.

NoteBook

The two games in Detroit averaged 13,377.5 per game, the poorest attended Cardinal series since they played in Milwaukee on May 11-13.  That series averaged just 10,458.3 per game.

Immediately after that Milwaukee series, St Louis travelled to San Diego, where they played three games in average temperatures of 63.3 degrees.  The two games in Detroit were almost that cool – averaging 65.0 degrees.

The sweep in Detroit was the third time in six series that St Louis has been swept.  They have kind of been swept for the cycle in those series, losing all four to Cincinnati, all three to Chicago, and now both to the Tigers.

St Louis has lost the first game of 12 different series so far this year.  They are 0-10-2 in those series, with a 9-28 record in the actual games of those 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.

The Tigers Didn’t Get the Memo

From the moment the last out was recorded on June 13, and the Cub’s sweep of the Cards was secured, much has been written about the upcoming schedule.  After being pushed around by many of baseball’s better teams, St Louis was to embark on a 20-game tour of some of baseball’s struggling teams.   It was looked upon as an opportunity for the team to right its listing ship.

The Detroit Tigers didn’t get the memo.

On the heels of last night’s 8-2 drubbing at the hands of the Motor City Kitty’s (box score), St Louis sits at 4-4 through the first 8 games of this scheduling oasis.  They have lost four of five after managing a sweep of Miami that was a lot harder than anticipated.  They have dropped 1.5 games in the standings since they finished with Miami.

And, yes, the offense is still stuck in neutral.  They managed just 6 hits (all singles) while scuffling to dent the scoreboard twice.  They have now scored a total of 21 runs over the last ten games, with 9 of those runs coming in the one game they won in Atlanta.  They have scored more than two runs just one other time since they lost the opener in Chicago 8-5 on June 11.

Over those last 10 games, this team is hitting .188 with just 55 hits in those games.  Only 14 of those hits have counted for extra-bases (9 doubles and 5 home runs) – adding up to a .270 slugging percentage.

Nineteen games into June, and the team is hitting .214 and scoring 2.95 runs per game this month.  They are down to 3.96 runs per game for the year.

Additionally – as is common with bad teams in any sport – one loss tends to lead to the next.  Last night’s loss was their second consecutive, marking their twelfth losing streak of the season – five of which have lasted at least three games.

This afternoon, St Louis is playing their thirty-seventh game this season after a loss.  They are 16-20 in those games (4-9 this month).

While the struggling offense has gotten all the analysis, the pitching staff has added their piece to the troubles.  The team ERA – which sits at 4.27 for the year – ranks 18 out of 30 major league teams.  Their 5.04 June ERA ranks twenty-third, with their starters languishing at twenty-sixth with a 6.06 aggregate ERA.

Last night was the nineteenth time this season this team has trailed by at least five runs in a game – the seventh time that’s happened in the first 19 games of this month.

While not joining the chorus of voices proclaiming that the sky is falling (and I stand behind my call for patience), the fact is that this – right now – is a bad team.  All of these are things that bad teams do.  Over the course of the long season, things can and do change dramatically.  A return to health by some front line players could certainly help in that regard.

But right now, this is a poor team that does very few things well enough to win even against lesser teams.  While this stretch of the schedule looks plenty inviting, the fact is that none of these teams are going to be afraid to play the Cardinals.

There’s no reason they should be.

Edman

After scuffling for awhile, Tommy Edman may be emerging from a little bit of a funk.  He had two singles last night, two games after picking up 3 hits in Sunday’s first game in Atlanta.  Edman is now 5 for his last 12.

Molina

One of the middle-of-the-order bats that is infrequently heard from lately is Yadier Molina.  Hitless in three at bats last night, Yadi is 3 for 28 (.107) over the team’s last 10 games.  He is hitting .156 (7 for 45) this month with no extra base hits.  It’s been 17 games since his last extra base hit.

Molina has played in 11 of the 13 games after a loss this month.  He is 3 for 31 (.097) in those games.

Sosa

Edmundo Sosa was hit by a pitch last night.  He only has 115 at bats this year, but is nonetheless tied for the league lead in being hit by pitches.  He has now been plunked 10 times.

Unfortunately, when he isn’t getting hit, he isn’t doing much hitting of his own.  Hitless in three at bats with two more strikeouts last night, Edmundo is now 0 for his last 11 with 5 strikeouts.  He is down to .193 for the month.

Ponce de Leon

A struggling, problematic season for Daniel Ponce de Leon will hit the pause button for a while as he heads to the injured list with right shoulder discomfort.  Last night, Daniel threw no pitch as fast as 90 miles per hour, and it was pretty obvious that he wasn’t right.

How much his arm miseries have contributed to his on-field struggles is a subject for speculation, but his performance has suffered from something.  Last night he surrendered a run for the third straight game, and for the seventh time in his last 10 appearances.  Ponce de Leon’s last 11.1 busy innings have seen 10 runs on 15 hits and 5 walks, with a couple of home runs tossed in.  The last 55 batters that he faced slashed .326/.407/.609.

Daniel has saved some of his worst performances for games after losses.  He has worked in 11 of the 36 so far this season, including both of his starts.  He has been reached for 17 runs (16 earned) on 21 hits (including 3 home runs), 12 walks and 4 hit batters – an 8.15 ERA with a .292/.416/.528 batting line over 17.2 innings.

NoteBook

St Louis has now lost the opening game in 6 of their last 7 series, and 8 of the last 10.

The announced crowd of 13,492 hearkened back to the early days of the season when COVID restrictions were universally in place.  It was the smallest crowd to see a Cardinal game since May 28 when only 11,581 showed up in Arizona.

It was also refreshingly cool in Detroit, with the 62 degree game-time temperature being the coolest the Cards have played in since May 9 when the Cards battled Colorado at home in 48 degree weather.  They haven’t played a cooler road game since April 30 in Pittsburgh.  That game was played in 51 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.

The Sky is Falling

For seven innings on Saturday afternoon, all of the vultures circling above the down-trodden Cardinals vanished.  For seven innings they swung the bats lustily.  While long-time ace Adam Wainwright was dominating the Atlanta lineup, the beleaguered St Louis offense bashed out 12 hits (including 3 doubles and 2 home runs) while parading 9 runners across the plate.  The first game of a double-header necessitated by the rainout of the Saturday game felt like a watershed moment as the everywhere-slumping lineup was able to exhale, relax, and just hit the ball.  That 9-1 win (box score) was – it seemed – just what the doctor ordered.

And then they played the night-cap.

With two out in the top of the sixth in that second game, Cardinal first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt cued a grounder off the end of his bat that dribbled past the second-base bag just slightly to the right-field side of the base.  Second baseman Ozzie Albies (who had lined up to the shortstop side of second base) came scurrying around the base to scoop up the dribbler.

Not anticipating the play, though, was second base umpire John Libka, who didn’t back away from the grounder and found himself directly between Albies and first base when the Atlanta fielder picked up the ball.  Libka quickly ducked, trying not to affect the play – but to no avail.  The combination of the slowly hit ball, Goldschmidt running at top speed, and Albies having to adjust his throw over the umpire allowed Paul to beat the play at first.

It was the first Cardinal hit of the game.  There would be only one more.

Starter Drew Smyly thus became the fourth pitcher this season (and the second in the series) to take a no-hitter against the Cards into at least the sixth inning (Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff and the White Sox’ Lance Lynn preceded Charlie Morton earlier in this season).

Smyly also helped author the third shutout of the Cardinal offense in the last 8 games.  For the second time in the double-header, Cardinal pitching held Atlanta to just one run.  This time, though, that run spelled defeat (box score).

The St Louis Cardinals spent a long weekend (four games) in Atlanta, and their manager (Mike Shildt) and President of Baseball Operations (John Mozeliak) spent the entire time answering questions about the missing offense.  The cascade of numbers that are starting to attach themselves to this struggling unit invite the worst in the alarmists that follow (or cover) the team.  Here are just a few.

Even with the outburst in game three, the Cards still finished the series hitting .179, slugging just .268 and scoring 2.5 runs per game.  Toss out that anomalous third game, and St Louis managed to score just one run over the other 25 innings of the series.  They were held to 3 hits, 3 hits and 2 hits, going 8 for 80 (.100) over the course of the rest of the series, with only one extra-base hit.

A tepid June has left them last in the league in runs scored this month with 54 (3.00 per game) which places them 13 runs behind the next worst team – the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates.  Their .283 team on base percentage this month pulls their season on base percentage (after 72 games) to .299 while their season-long scoring average has dropped below 4 per game (3.99).

Over the last nine games (from the second game of the most recent Cub series) St Louis has scored a total of 19 runs (9 of those coming in Sunday’s first game), with a .188/.255/.280 batting line.  Again, subtracting the outlier, and over the other 8 games they have managed a total of 10 runs (no more than four in any one game) while they have been “hitting” .162/.232/.227.

I could probably go on, but you get the gist.

Anyway, the upshot is that the sky is officially falling in Cardinal Nation, which turns its lonely eyes to Shildt and Mozeliak to ask in unison, “What are you doing about this?”

In times like this, “patience” is a tough mantra to sell.  But the fact of the matter is that few real options present themselves.  Help could certainly come from the outside, but the market is still probably a month away from defining itself.  And even if Mo can find some useful parts in the market, he won’t be able to re-make the team.  For better or for worse, the improvement will come – if it comes – from the team that we already have.  The team that the organization liked (when it was healthy) coming out of camp.

One of the immutable baseball laws is that your team is never as good as it looks when it’s winning, or as bad as it looks when it’s losing.  Put simply, this team isn’t this bad.  I grant that this can be hard to believe.  In losing 18 of their last 29 games, the Cards have been behind by at least 5 runs in 10 of the 18 losses.  For the better part of a month, this team has basically been bending over, grabbing its collective ankles and repeating “Thank you sir, may I have another,” as the rest of the league has been pretty much abusing them.

Nonetheless, the question about this team really isn’t “Are they this bad.”  The answer to that question is clearly “no.”  Less clear is the answer to the question “How bad are they?”

While the offense has a few corner pieces that are established major league hitters, much of the fortunes of this club are dependent on the bats less established – or not established at all.  Tommy Edman, Paul DeJong, Dylan Carlson, Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill – the season comes down to these guys.  They will either hit and we’ll win, or they won’t, and we won’t.  It just isn’t more complex than that.  And there is a measure of relief in that.

One way or another, management is going to have to know what we have in these guys.  Are they pieces to build around?  Or will we need to look in other directions?  The next 90 games will tell.

Goldschmidt

One of the positives to come out of the series is more progress from Paul Goldschmidt.  Paul was 5 for 13 (.385) in the series with a home run and 5 runs batted in (and two no hitters broken up).  Goldy is hitting .306 (19-for-62) in June with a double, a triple and a team leading 4 home runs.  Paul is slugging .548 for the month.

Three times in the series, Goldschmidt came to the plate with a runner at third and less than two outs.  He delivered the run every time.  Throughout the season, Paul has been the team’s best at getting this done, plating 12 of the 20 such opportunities presented him (60%).

O’Neill

Tyler hit a bit of a speed bump in Atlanta.  Coming into the series, O’Neill had hit safely in 22 of his previous 27 games.  But he left Atlanta just 1 for 10 with 6 strikeouts.

Twenty-nine Cardinals struck out during the four games in Atlanta, but only 3 of those were called third strikes – all of those belonging to O’Neill, who has the annoying habit of trusting umpires to call close pitches as balls regardless of how erratic their strike zones have been.  Tyler leads the team in being called out on strikes with 18.  At some point, he’s going to have to realize how inconsistent these umpires are, right?

The irony underneath this, is that any time other than with two strikes on him, Tyler is one of the team’s most consistently aggressive hitters.  He swung at 53.2% of the pitches thrown to him in Atlanta (33 of 62), and has chased after 53% of the pitches sent his way this season (the team average is 47.9% swung at).

While his swing looks more compact to me this year, Tyler is still missing with the highest percent of swings of anyone on the team.  He missed on 12 of his 33 swings in Atlanta (36.4%), and for the season he leads the team, missing on 37% of his swings.

Sosa

His extended stay in the starting lineup may be starting to catch up with Edmundo Sosa.  He is 2 for 15 (.133) over his last 5 games.  It has been 5 games since his last run batted in, 11 games since his last walk and run scored, and 13 games since his last extra-base hit.  Edmundo’s batting line for the month of June now sits at .204/.246/.259.

Sosa is one of the hitters who seems to be pressing most at the plate.  In Atlanta, he swung at 25 of the 36 pitches thrown to him – an overly aggressive 69.4%.  This month, Edmundo is hacking at 56.9% of the pitches thrown to him – the highest percentage on the team.

Sosa’s 3.48 pitches seen per plate appearance is the lowest on the team.

DeJong

Paul DeJong laced a home run in his second game back from the injured list.  He has now been back for ten games, and that was pretty much the highlight.  Paul is 3 for 32 (.094) since his return – including 1 for 13 against the Braves.

Martinez

In his start before his Friday start in Atlanta, Carlos Martinez delivered seven impressive innings in a tough-luck loss.  To say he couldn’t build on that in Atlanta would be an understatement.  Carlos lasted three innings, allowing 8 runs on 8 hits including 2 home runs.  It was the third time in four June starts that Carlos was pushed around.

For the month, now, Martinez has lasted just 14.2 innings over 4 starts, being mauled for 25 runs on 26 hits and 10 walks.  His June ERA sits at 15.34, with an accompanying .377 batting average against.

I mentioned above some hitters who will determine the Cardinal fate this year.  There are a few pitchers in that category as well, with Carlos prominent among them.  For a lot of teams, Martinez would have just pitched his way out of the rotation.  But in St Louis this year, the Cards don’t really have any healthy options ready to take his place.  So Martinez will get opportunities.

This is good news for Carlos, because starting is very important to him.  Hopefully, he can also make that good news for the Cardinals.

Waino

Trending in the other direction is Wainwright.  With Sunday’s complete game (albeit of only seven innings), Adam has thrown quality starts in all four of his June games.  He is 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA and a .189 batting average against this month.

Recent Scoring Changes (for those of you scoring at home)

More bad news for Martinez.  I referenced his strong start against the Cubs on June 13.  In the third inning of that game, he had Eric Sogard at third with two outs, and looked like he had retired Joc Pederson on a dribbler to shortstop Paul DeJong – who had shifted over to the first base side of second.  It appeared to me to be a routine play that DeJong booted for an error.  That, at least, is how it was ruled at the time.  Surprisingly, that has been reversed, and Pederson has been awarded a hit on that play.  It also makes both runs scored that inning earned on Martinez’ ledger.

NoteBook

Friday’s crowd of 40,377 was the first time the Cards have played in front of 40,000 since the playoffs of 2019.

When they trailed by eight runs going into the seventh inning of the Friday game, it was their largest deficit after six innings since June 2.  Then, on Sunday, they won the first game by 8 runs – their largest margin of victory since April 13.

Nolan Arenado’s two-run home run in the first Sunday game proved to be the game-winning hit.  Arenado, Goldschmidt and Yadier Molina are all tied for the team lead with 8.

The Sunday games (both being seven inning) were the two fastest played by the Cards so far this year, at 2:16 and 1:58 respectively.  The average time of the four games (2:29.8) was also the quickest for a series so far this season.

The Cards are now 3-5-2 in ten series against teams that had lost 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.

Morton Just Doesn’t Give In

Perhaps the game’s most telling pitch came in the top of the fourth inning.  The game at that point was still scoreless, and, in fact neither team had a hit to that point.

With two outs, Nolan Arenado came to the plate, and quickly found himself ahead in the count 3-0.  Atlanta’s pitcher that evening was Charlie Morton, who would work through three complete turns of the Cardinal lineup in mostly dominant fashion (he would, in fact, carry a no-hitter into the seventh inning).  But he would be no stranger on this night to long counts.  He would go to three-ball counts to 7 of the 27 batters he would face.  Here in the fourth inning, Morton had already fallen behind 3-0 on two batters.  Three other batters would start their at bat ahead 2-0 before getting their first strike from Morton.

But while advantageous counts against Charlie weren’t all that uncommon, success against the two-time All Star who finished third in the Cy Young Award voting in 2019 continued elusive.  Of the five who started their at bat getting ahead in the count by at least 2-0, only 1 managed a hit.

The principle reason that the St Louis hitters experienced continued frustration in what were prime opportunities against Morton was that Charlie never gave in to them.  All across baseball, that is the one universal trait exhibited by all of the game’s elite pitchers.  Whatever the count, they don’t cave to the hitter.  In his outing against St Louis, Morton confidently flung curves, cutters and changeups at the Cardinal hitters – even when behind in the count.  But he threw even more fastballs in those situations, but always throwing them to the corners of the strike zone.  He just never gave in to the hitter in those situations.

Except this one time – on the 3-0 pitch to Arenado.  Perhaps he assumed that Nolan wouldn’t be swinging on 3-0?  Whether anticipated or not, Arenado got that “hit-me-if-you-can” fastball at 94.8 miles-per-hour right down the heart of the plate.  Arenado took his Sunday swing – and came up empty.

That would be the lone moment of grace for Nolan and for the Cardinals.  Arenado would foul off the next two pitches before striking out on another fastball – this one a 95.6 mph missile at the upper outside edge of the zone.

It was a helplessness felt all through the lineup.

Leading off the game, Tommy Edman watched Morton miss with three straight fastballs.  His fourth was a called strike, and then he retired Tommy on a 96 mph fastball at the bottom of the zone that Edman looped easily to center-fielder Guillermo Heredia.

After falling behind Tyler O’Neill in the fifth inning, Charlie threw a cutter for a strike and a curve in the dirt that Tyler chased to quickly even the count.  Two pitches later, Tyler lined the third straight curve thrown to him right at Heredia.

All of the long counts did take a toll on Morton.  He threw first-pitch balls to three of the four hitters he faced in the seventh.  After falling behind Dylan Carlson 2-0, he fired a nasty fastball (at 95.4) down and in on the border of the zone that Dylan fouled off.  He then evened the count with 96 mph heat just in under Carlson’s hands – setting him up for a final, 3-2 fastball just outside that Dylan skied easily in the direction of left-fielder Abraham Almonte.

It wasn’t until the eighth inning, after falling behind Matt Carpenter 2-0, that Charlie – on his 105th pitch of the evening – strayed upstairs with a 2-1 fastball that Matt knuckled into right for a single.

Charlie would hang in there for 7 more pitches, facing two more batters before a bloop single to left off the bat of Jose Rondon chased him from the game.  He left two runners on base with a 4-0 lead and two outs in the eighth.

That would be the final (box score), as St Louis had no better luck against the Atlanta bullpen than they did against Morton.

It was a welcomed breakthrough for an under-achieving Atlanta team that is still looking up at the .500 mark (they are 31-35) in mid-June.

For the Cardinals, it is a continuation of a troubling team slump.  Shut out, now, for the second time in 5 games, St Louis has managed just 9 runs over its last 6 games.  It’s a tumble that has seen them hit just .180 (32 for 178) and slug just .258.  They have just 8 extra base hits over those 6 games.  Their runs per game for the month of June has fallen to a humbling 2.93.

Among the head-shaking numbers that accompany this offensive brown-out is a sudden inability to hit when ahead in the count.  Across all of the National League, batters that are ahead in the count are slashing .276/.476/.499/.975.  Over their last six games, St Louis is an amazing 5 for 47 (all singles) when hitting ahead in the count – a .106 batting average.

As it was last night, it’s been a combination of pitchers executing excellent pitches when behind in the count, and Cardinal batters coming up just late when they don’t.

Carlson

Carlson – who flew out on that 3-2 pitch in the seventh – is one of several Cardinals who have struggled lately when ahead in the count.  In the month of June, Dylan is 4 for 21 (.190) when hitting ahead in the count.

Arenado

Sustaining offense is much more difficult when your clean-up hitter struggles – and Nolan Arenado is scuffling as much as you are ever likely to see him.  In his first at bat of the second Cub game, he hit a home run off of Kyle Hendricks.  He is 0-for-17 since then.  After a hot start to the month, Nolan is hitting just .231 (12 for 52) in June.

Molina

His big hit Wednesday night against Miami notwithstanding, June has been a struggling month for Yadier Molina.  Hitless in three at bats last night, Yadi is just 2 for 20 (.100) over the last 6 games, and hitting .146 (6 for 41) over his last 13 games.  Molina hasn’t had an extra-base hit in 14 games, and is hitting .162 (6 for 37) in 12 games in June.

Molina grounded to third on a 2-1 pitch in the eighth inning.  Having a fine year overall, Molina has struggled throughout when ahead in the count.  He is 0 for 12 this month when he has the pitcher at a disadvantage.  For the season, in at bats when he is ahead in the count, Yadi is 6 for 38 (.158) with no extra-base hits.

Ponce de Leon

In a season where his team desperately needs him to step up, Daniel Ponce de Leon continues to scuffle.  Remembering that Daniel began the year in the rotation, Ponce de Leon may be deep in the running for the most disappointing of all the 2021 Cardinals so far.  Last night, Daniel allowed an inherited runner to score, and allowed another run of his own – all in just 7 batters faced.  Daniel has now allowed runs in 6 of his last 9 appearances, yielding a total of 9 runs (8 earned) in just 11 innings (a 6.55 ERA).  Of the 14 hits he’s given up in those innings, 8 have gone for extra-bases (6 doubles and 2 home runs).  The last 53 batters to face him are hitting a lusty .318 with a .519 slugging percentage.

NoteBook

In just three inning on Thursday evening, Atlanta scored more runs (4) than Miami scored (3) in their entire three game series against the Cards.

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 Pull Off Sweep in Spite of Sputtering Offense

Miami manager Don Mattingly passed on the opportunity to hit for starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara in the top of the seventh inning.  Well, there was no one on base, two outs and Sandy was throwing an excellent ballgame (the game was actually still scoreless there in the seventh).  So there was little urgency in hitting for him there.

When Alcantara walked off the mound at the conclusion of the eighth inning, the score was still 0-0.  Perhaps Mattingly intended the eighth to be his final inning.  But it took Alcantara just 10 pitches to dispatch the Cards in the eighth, and he sat at just 93 pitches for the game.  Perhaps that convinced Don to send him back out for the ninth?

At any rate, still working a scoreless tie, there was ex-Cardinal farmhand Sandy Alcantara taking the mound for the bottom of the ninth.  Through the first 28 batters he had faced that afternoon, only six had reached base legitimately (5 singles – 3 of the infield variety – and one hit batsman).  Another had reached on a botched rundown, in which the Marlins didn’t get anyone out.  Sandy used a couple of double-play balls and a caught stealing to keep St Louis off the scoreboard.

The 21 Cardinals that had actually put the ball in play were doing so with an average exit velocity of just 78.01 mph.  Sandy had been decidedly dominant so far this afternoon.

The ninth, however, would prove his undoing.  An error – Miami’s third of the game – and Sandy’s only walk of the afternoon provided Yadier Molina St Louis’ thirteenth at bat of the game with a runner on base – it’s fifth with at least one runner in scoring position.  To that point, St Louis was 0-for-12 and 0-for-4 respectively in those circumstances.  On Sandy’s 108th pitch, Yadi got a high slider that he cuffed down the third-base line for the hit that brought home the game’s only run, and sent the Cards home with their second straight walk-off win against Miami (box score).

They have been a couple of exciting games, but even as the Cards squeezed their way past the Marlins, you can’t watch this team without feeling that their offense is dying on the vine.  When Yadi’s grounder found its way past Deven Marrero at third, it drove home just the ninth run for the Cards over their last 5 games.  They are hitting just .195 over those contests, with just 8 extra base hits.  For the month of June (in which they have lost 9 of the 14 games) they are hitting .224 as a team, scoring 3.14 runs per game.

As with yesterday, the recent hang-up is getting anything done once a runner reaches base.

In approaching this subject, I don’t want to give the impression that St Louis has been at all proficient in getting runners on base.  Their team on base percentage with the bases empty this month is but .286 – the second worst figure in the league.  But once they do manage to put a runner on, the offense has come to an almost full stop.

They are now just 9 for their last 57 (.158) with a runner on base, the 9 hits being 7 singles (one a bunt hit) and 2 doubles – a .193 slugging percentage.

It must be a little disheartening to be a Cardinal starter at the moment.  St Louis’ own starter – Johan Oviedo – pitched seven very effective innings of his own.  But lately seven shutout innings is only good for a no-decision.

Carlson

After struggling through a bit of a funk, Dylan Carlson looks like he’s beginning to emerge again.  He had two hits last night, and generally hit the ball harder than he has recently.  Dylan has now hit safely in four straight games, hitting .400 (6 for 15) over that span.

Both of Dylan’s hits came in his three at bats with no one on base.  Over these last handful of games, Carlson is hitting .462 (6 for 13) with the bases empty.

DeJong

His injury healed, Paul DeJong is back in the starting lineup.  Now if he would only start to hit a little, it would be a great relief.  Picking up where he left off before his injury, DeJong is 2 for 19 (.105) since his return.

Oviedo

In tossing the first quality start of his young career, Johan Oviedo had ample opportunity to collapse.  Before his seven innings would end, Johan would face 6 batters with two runners on base.  He would retire all 6 – getting one to hit into a double-play.

Even in games that he has struggled in, Johan has been very tough when pitching with multiple runners on base.  Thus far he has pitched to 28 batters in this situation.  Those batters are just 3 for 25 (.120), all singles, with 2 walks (1 intentional), 1 sacrifice fly, 5 strikeouts and 4 ground-ball double-plays.

Johan still has some development to do, but there is an innate toughness to this kid that you have to truly appreciate.

Miller

Another encouraging sign from the bullpen has been the re-emergence of Andrew Miller.  Miller – who retired two of the three he faced yesterday hasn’t been scored on yet in 6.1 innings since his return from the injured list.

NoteBook

Before yesterday, the Cards had trailed at some point in 12 straight games.

Cardinal pitching allowed just 3 runs to Miami over the three games.  It’s the second time they’ve done that this season.  The other time was the first Miami series.  The Marlins have scored 6 runs in 6 games against the Cards this season.

Another former Cardinal – Magneuris Sierra – slapped a double over center-fielder Carlson’s head in the second inning of the first game of the series.  It would be Miami’s only extra-base hit in the three games.

The three games averaged just 2:52, making this the quickest series of the season by average time.  The previous quickest were three games against Cincinnati April 23-25.  Those games averaged 2:52.3.

With the 24,682 that showed up last night, St Louis’ total attendance (home and road) finally climbed over the one million mark.  Total attendance now stands at 1,005,809.

Oviedo’s effort gives the Cards four consecutive quality starts for the second time this year.  They previously achieved this from April 24-27.

Ryan Helsley earned credit for the win with 1.1 scoreless inning at the end, stranding Miller’s baserunner along the way.  Ryan has now stranded 14 of 15 inherited baserunners.

One day after Paul Goldschmidt took over the team lead in game-winning hits, Molina tied him.  Both now have 8 for the season, one more than Nolan Arenado, who is third.

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.

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.