By the time the first game of the Saturday double-header rolled around, the Cardinals and Reds had split the first two games of the five-game series. The first game had been an annoying 3-2 loss (box score). Against Chase Anderson – who hadn’t won a game this season to that point – the Cardinal offensive juggernaut was limited to 3 hits. Friday night, for five more innings against a tag-team relay of lightly regarded pitchers, the feared Cardinal lineup was stymied again. They went into the bottom of the sixth, trailing 4-1.
At that point, the sleeping giant erupted. They scored 5 runs over the next two innings (highlighted by Albert Pujols’ 698th career home run) to rally for a 6-5 win (box score). Now, it was the Saturday double-header, and in the first game the Cardinal batters were absolutely making Cincy lefty Mike Minor pay for their earlier indignities.
In just the third inning – after Yadier Molina scorched a two-run homer into the seats in the left-field corner – the Birds were already up 5-0. And everyone could exhale. The offense was back. The brownout was over.
At least, that was what we thought then.
The Talk of the Town
The Molina home run turned out to be the last gasp of offense for the weekend. In an offensive dry spell that everyone in St Louis (including me, apparently) is discussing, the Cards followed Yadi’s home run with a 25-inning stretch in which they managed one run – unearned. It didn’t matter too much in that first game – the Cards sailed on to a 5-1 win (box score). It became something of a sore spot when the second game of the twin bill went scoreless into the bottom of the eleventh. They won that game, 1-0, in the bottom of the eleventh as the gift runner that begins each extra inning on second base (Andrew Knizner, in this instance) scored when the throw from center-fielder Nick Senzel – now playing third base in a five-man infield – hit him in the back as he came home on a ground ball off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt (box score).
For the series, the Cards hit .178 (27 for 152) with only 8 extra-base hits. They slugged but .257 and scored only 14 runs in five games – with 10 of those runs coming in a six-inning span from the end of game two to the beginning of game three. From the moment that Molina’s foot touched home plate until the end of the series, Cardinal hitters were a combined 11 for 81 (.136). All of the hits were singles, including 2 infield hits and 2 other bunt singles.
Forgive the Padres if they aren’t necessarily shaking in their boots.
For his part, manager Oliver Marmol isn’t over-reacting. Over the course of the long season, teams will have their moments when they all hit at the same time, and other times when they’ll all go cold at the same time. It’s part of the randomness of baseball.
Where Are the Two-Out Hits?
Let’s look, for example, at two-out hits. The major league average with two-out in an inning is .237. In August, St Louis hit .287 with two-out – much of the reason they scored 5.97 runs per game that month. Fully 40.5% of their RBIs that month came with two outs.
But, like the six-runs-a-game average, it’s not a pace that’s sustainable. At some point, you regress – at least a little bit – to the mean.
September has seen the run scoring drop to 4.06 per game, and the average with two out is down to .205. Now, the two-out RBIs account for just 29.9% of the team RBIs this month. In the just concluded Cincinnati series, Cardinal hitters hit .152 (7 for 46) with two outs. For the season – even with the recent downturn – the Cards rank third in all of major league baseball in two-out RBIs. They have 266. They had 3 in 5 games against the Reds.
A couple points have gotten lost in the worrying over the missing offense. First, more credit should go to the Cincinnati pitching staff. The fact that these guys aren’t household names doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of tossing a gem every now and then. They were part of the equation, too.
Even more, everyone has been so concerned over offensive worries that most have neglected to notice the spectacular turn-around by the pitching staff in general, and the beleaguered bullpen in particular.
Last Wednesday (September 14), Adam Wainwright and Molina set the much-anticipated record for starts between battery-mates. With Waino leading the way, a pitching staff that had yielded 40 runs over its previous 6 games (a devilish 6.66 runs per game), suddenly became nearly airtight.
Over the last 6 games, Cardinal pitchers hold a 1.93 ERA. An excellent 2.65 from the starters, and a tremendous 0.48 from the pen that has allowed just 1 run over its last 18.2 innings.
Upcoming, now, is a defining 8-game road trip into San Diego, Los Angeles and Milwaukee. If the up-and-down bullpen has finally figured itself out, then this would be an optimal time to show it. If the offensive downturn is just a temporary pause, this trip would be a great time for them to show up again.
One of my immutable axioms in baseball is that it’s always early until its not. It’s late now. Time to see what these guys are made of.
After the end of his 14-game hitting streak, Tommy Edman fell into a bit of a tailspin. He went 0-for-11 over his next three games, but resurfaced with a vengeance, getting three hits in each of the last two Cincinnati games that he played in. Tommy is hitting .390 (23 for 59) this month.
Tommy has been one of the team’s best two-out hitters all season (he’s hitting .347 with two out). He was 3 for 6 against the Reds, and is 8 for 16 this month. Since the Break, Edman is 17 for 46 (.370) with 10 RBIs with two outs.
Betting on Yadi
Before the month started, Marmol expressed his confidence in Molina, saying that he would bet on Yadi in September. To this point, it looks like a good bet. Playing in 3 of the Cincinnati games, Molina was the only other Cardinal hitter to have a productive series. He was 3 for 10 with that home run. Yadi is a .326 hitter in September (14 for 43) with 6 extra-base hits. Three of the 5 home runs he’s hit this season have come in September. Yadi has 10 RBIs in 12 September games, and a .605 slugging percentage.
It has now been quite a while since Lars Nootbaar was one of the team’s hottest hitters. Lars was 1 for 10 against the Reds, and is 7 for 60 (.117) over his last 22 games. In September, Lars is just 4 for 42 (.095).
Nootbaar was 0-for-4 with two-outs over the long weekend, and is now 0-for-13 with two outs this month.
Corey Dickerson’s second-half rebound hit a stumbling block against Cincy. He had 1 hit (a single ) in 13 at bats – an .077 average.
Add Albert to the list of suddenly cold hitters. The dramatic home run referred to earlier was his only hit in 14 at bats against the Reds (.071).
It seemed that Albert was always coming up with two outs during the series. He was 0-for-5 with 1 walk and 1 hit-by-pitch in 7 two-out plate appearances.
Rookie Nolan Gorman hasn’t seen the field a whole lot lately, and hasn’t helped his cause with his bat when he has cracked the lineup. Nolan played in 2 of the Cincinnati games, going 0-for-5. He’s played in just 6 of the last 12, starting just 5 – but has responded to the opportunity by going 1 for 17 (.059) with 8 strikeouts.
Gorman has played in just 10 of the 17 September games (starting just 9). He is a .138 hitter (4 for 29) in September.
Since the Break, Nolan is a .158 hitter (6 for 38) with two outs. He was 0-for-3 in those opportunities against Cincy.
Jose Quintana came up with his best start as a Cardinal in the second Saturday game, as he shut Cincinnati out on 2 hits over 8 innings. In 3 September starts, Jose is 1-0 with a 0.96 ERA over 18.2 innings.
While Ryan Helsley has gotten most of the attention, Giovanny Gallegos has been (arguably) the team’s best reliever in the second half. He made two appearances against the Reds, throwing a perfect inning each time. He has set down 12 consecutive batters, and now has a 1.86 ERA over 19.1 innings since the Break, with hitters managing just a .136/.171/.227 line against him.
Andre Pallante also made two appearances in the series, tossing 2.1 scoreless innings. Andre is finishing strong in his rookie season. He has a 2.70 ERA in 33.1 innings since the Break.
Chris Stratton gave up some hits and some runs during his first few Cardinal outings. In recent weeks, though, he has established himself as one of the bullpen stalwarts. Over his last 12 games (covering 13.2 innings), Chris holds a 1.32 ERA, giving just 2 runs on 5 hits. His Cardinal ERA is now down to 2.95 in 18.1 innings.
Jake Woodford ate up 4.1 of the 14.2 innings the bullpen worked in the series. He gave no runs, and holds a 2.05 ERA in 22 innings since the Break.
Recent Scoring Changes – For Those of You Scoring at Home
Leading off in the bottom of the second inning in the September 4 contest against Chicago, Dickerson chopped a ball off the plate that hopped over the mound. Third baseman Christopher Morel (playing more-or-less where the shortstop would normally play) swooped in, only to see the ball roll under his glove. He was originally charged with an error. On reconsideration, the scorer has decided that Dickerson would have been safe, even if the ball had been cleanly handled. Credit Dickerson with an additional hit, and remove an error for Morel.
When St Louis opened up a five-run lead in the first game of the Saturday double-header, it was the first time they had managed a lead of more than three runs since September 3, when they beat the Cubs 8-4.
The first game of that double-header also interrupted a streak of 7 straight games in which they had allowed the first run of the game to score against them.
Until that first game, the Cards had trailed at some point in 11 straight games.
When Brendan Donovan made the start in left for the Thursday game, it ended Dickerson’s streak of ten consecutive starts in left field. It was, at the time, the team’s longest streak of consecutive games at the same position.
The Cincinnati Reds aren’t usually a major draw, but with the Cards charging towards the playoffs, and a certain slugger approaching a historically interesting home run number, even the Reds are drawing the crowds. The Saturday night audience of 48,299 for the second game was the largest house since 48,581 turned out for the Saturday night game when the Yankees were in town (August 6).
The five games drew average crowds of 46,981. This was also the most since that Yankee series, which drew average crowds of 47,331. The total attendance of the series (234,905) lifted the season’s home attendance over three million (3,180,474), and their total attendance to 5,050,238. The average home attendance is up to 40,775.3. There will only be three more home dates in the regular season.
Cardinal road games draw an average of 27,098 per date.
Instead of creeping down as summer is on the verge of surrendering to fall, the temperatures have, instead, started to inch their way back up – as if to let St Louis know that the summer has some unfinished business. The Sunday afternoon game was played in 87-degree temps – the highest for a Cardinal game since August 27. They beat Atlanta that night, 6-5, in 90-degree heat.
The three games averaged 83.4 degrees, making it the hottest series the Cards have played since they visited Colorado (August 9-11). Those three games averaged 92 degrees. The last home series played in these kinds of temperatures was the series just before that Colorado set – the three games against the Yankees (August 5-9). That series also averaged 92 degrees.
Even though it feels like a loss, since the expectation was higher, St Louis did win the series 3-2. They are 15-4-6 in their 25 home series, sporting a 51-27 record on their home field.
The Cincinnati series was the twenty-third time this season the Cards have lost the first game of a series. They have gone on to lose only 10 of the 23, as they have now come back to win 5 times, while splitting the other 8.
Cincinnati was also the eighteenth team to play St Louis after having lost its previous series. The Cards have won 10 of those series, losing 6 and splitting the other two. Their record against teams that had lost the series before is now 35-23.
Nolan Arenado’s game-winning double on Friday night was his thirteenth GWRBI of the season. He re-takes the team lead from Tyler O’Neill, who has 12. Goldschmidt is third with 11. Behind them are Pujols and Dylan Carlson with 6 each, and then Gorman, Paul DeJong and Edman with 5 each. Tommy had the GWRBI in the first game of the Saturday double-header.
Both Goldschmidt and Arenado were credited with late-game-changing hits in the Friday night comeback. Paul tied the game in that seventh inning before Nolan drove home the winner. For both, it was their fifth RBI in the seventh inning or later that either tied the game or gave the Cardinals the lead. They are both tied for third on the club behind Pujols (7) and O’Neill (6).
After the fine series by the pitching staff, the team ERA has finally dropped below 4.00 since the Break. In the series against the Reds, the team’s second-half ERA dropped from 4.03 to 3.84.
Players Gaining on Career Highs (and Lows) 14 Games Left
The start by Miles Mikolas on Friday was his thirtieth of the season. He made 32 starts in both 2019 and 2018. With the 6 innings pitched, Miles is up to 187.1. He is just 13.1 away from his career high in that category.
Miles struck out just 3 batters, and has only fanned 138 on the season. His career high, however, is only the 146 he got in 2018.
Jordan Montgomery’s Sunday start was his thirtieth of the year – tying the career high he set last year. The 7 hits he gave up bring him to 148 allowed this year, just two short of his career high.
Jordan struck out 9 batters, leaving him 12 behind the 162 that he whiffed last year.
Montgomery has a solid shot at finishing the season with the best ERA (currently 3.26) of his young career. In 2018 he finished at 3.62. In addition, his opponents’ batting average (.233), on base percentage (.280) and OPS (.649) are all on pace to be his career bests. Currently his career bests in these measures were set in his rookie year (2017) when opponents hit .236 against him, with a .297 on base percentage and a .684 OPS.
With 4 hits in the series, Goldschmidt is up to 168 on the season. He needs 14 more to tie his career high. He is up to 312 total bases for the season – now just 20 away from the 332 he accounted for in 2013.
Arenado stole his fifth base of the season on Friday. He had never stolen more than 3 in any previous season.
Nolan also tagged his fortieth double of the season. He needs 3 more to tie a career high.
Playing in his twenty-second season, Albert Pujols on Friday night achieved a milestone he has reached only one other time in his career. He was hit by a pitch for the tenth time this season, tying the career high he set in 2003.
Even after his single and home run in the first Saturday game, Yadier Molina is still below his career lows in on base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. In 2006 he finished with a .274 on base, a .321 slugging percentage and a .595 OPS. With 14 games left in this season – not all of which he will play in – Yadi’s on base percentage sits at .243, his slugging percentage at .315, and his OPS at .558.
He is still walking a career-worst 2.0% of the time, and is still looking for that first sacrifice fly. He has hit at least one in every year of his career so far.