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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.