Category Archives: Baseball

On Gibson’s Legacy – a Memorial

Funny.  It’s a moment that I thought I remembered perfectly – one of those incidents that, I thought, was seared into my brain.  But as I review the game account (here), I find that a few important details didn’t play out as I remembered it – causing me to wonder how much else of my memory of this is faulty.

Nonetheless, combining recorded fact with whatever remains of memory, I take you to the top of the third inning of an August 4, 1973 game in Shea Stadium, New York, with the Mets holding a 1-0 lead (the run unearned).

After Cardinal shortstop Mike Tyson lead the inning off with a double off of Met lefty Jerry Koosman, St Louis’ starting pitcher Bob Gibson beat out a bunt for a hit, sending Tyson to third.  (I had remembered that Gibson had singled, but it didn’t seem to me like it was a bunt).

In my memory. It was Lou Brock who hit the line drive.  And it was Wayne Garrett playing at third.  According to the record, Brock hit the sacrifice fly that tied the game (and provided the innings’ first out) and it was second place hitter Ted Sizemore who hit the line drive to third-baseman Ken Boswell.

Anyway, Boswell (if not Garrett) gloved the liner and fired to first to double off Gibson.  As he pivoted to return to the bag Gibson completely tore up his left knee.  In my boyhood imagination (I would have been 14 at the time), I see every ligament and tendon shearing away from the bone – although I’m sure the reality was much less severe.

Regardless, the injury was profound enough.  It would require surgery, and, frankly, Gibson would never really be the same again.  But that was still the future.  It’s at this point that the most vivid part of the memory occurs.

The inning was over, and the Mets trotted off the field.  Bob Gibson, the legendary ace of the staff, was rolling in agony just short of the first-base bag.  A relief pitcher hurried to the mound and began to warm up (it was Al Hrabosky, by the way), and a stretcher came out of the dugout to carry Gibson off the field.

Moments later the stretcher returned empty to the dugout.  In spite of what must have been unimaginable pain, Gibson had somehow managed to pull himself back onto his feet, had chased the stretcher off, and limped his way resolutely to the mound – where he chased Hrabosky from the scene as well.  Improbably, incomprehensibly, Gibson – his knee hanging by a thread – was intending to pitch – not just the upcoming third inning.  In his mind, he had seven more innings to pitch before his evening was done.

Of course, Gibson didn’t throw another pitch that counted that Saturday afternoon.  He collapsed attempting his first warmup pitch – a predictable outcome, considering the structural damage done to the knee – and was really out of the game at that point.

Of the, perhaps, thousands of more-or-less vivid memories I have of the great Bob Gibson, this one almost always bubbles to the top.  This wasn’t a playoff game – or even a terribly vital end of season game.  He wasn’t an up-and-coming kid trying to cement an opportunity to stray in the rotation.  He was already a legend, with all of his achievements and records already in the books.

This was just, if you will, another game – one of 482 that he started in his sterling career.  Nothing about this game against the Mets marked it as any more important than any other game St Louis would play that year.  And, in retrospect, that’s what made this moment so impactful.

If it had been a playoff game, or a must-win, end of September contest, you could almost understand an athlete trying to overcome the physical damage done to him by sheer will power to win a must-have game.  And that was the thing about Gibson.

To Bob Gibson, every game was a must-have game.  More than anyone else, possibly, who ever donned the uniform of any professional team, Bob Gibson lived to win.  On every play of every game, he would find a way to beat you.  He would beat you with his head, he would beat you with his arm, he would beat you with his legs, he would beat you with his glove, he would beat you with his bat (I thank the living God that the obscenity of the designated hitter didn’t deprive his legend of this aspect of his game).

In the end, he would beat you with his heart.

He would beat you by one run or by a dozen.  He would win an artful, dominating 1-0 game, or he would beat you in a messy 7-6 affair.  But at the end of the day, at whatever cost to his body, Gibson would have poured his whole soul and being into expending every effort to come away the victor.

It is, I believe, how he defined himself.  He was Bob Gibson, today’s winning pitcher.

It had been nine years earlier – in the midst of another pennant chase – that a similar incident occurred.  A line drive off the bat of Roberto Clemente had broken Gibson’s leg.  Undeterred, Gibson returned to the mound, collapsing again attempting to make a warm-up pitch.

Bob Gibson’s statistical footprint in the annals of baseball history is huge.  A five-time 20 game winner, a two-time Cy Young award winner, holder of the all-time ERA record (1.12 in 1968) and the very first National League pitcher to strike out 3,000 batters – there is more, of course, but you get the idea.

To me, though, Gibson’s impact far exceeded the statistical evidence of his greatness.  Gibson’s name listed as the starting pitcher brought with it a kind of magic – some anticipation of greatness beyond what might be expected from mere mortals.  There was never a boastful moment, no bat flips after any of his home runs, no swagger or any need for any kind of showmanship.  Gibson beat you stoically – as though no other result should have ever been expected.

Several great players have that one play or one moment that seems to encapsulate everything they are.  Sometimes these moments happen under the glare of the World Series – think of Babe Ruth’s called shot, or Willie Mays’ back-to-the-infield catch.  Gibson had one of those moments, too.  It was the Joe Pepitone play.

In the ninth inning of Game Five of the 1964 World Series (an impossible 56 years ago this coming week).  The Cards held a 2-0 lead in the game, while the series – at that point – was tied at two games each.

Gibson’s two-run lead was threatened almost immediately when Mickey Mantle led off the inning reaching on an error.  Gibson rebounded by striking out Elston Howard.  Then came Yankee first baseman Pepitone.

Joe scorched a line drive right back up the middle, drilling Gibson squarely in the back.  The ball ricocheted off of Gibson and began to hop its way toward the Cardinal dugout, the path of the ball almost perfectly bisecting the third base line.

The hit would obviously be a single.  The question was could anyone get to it before it rolled into the dugout, an occurrence that not only would score Mantle, but might possibly leave Pepitone – the potential tying run – on third with just one out.  With third-baseman Ken Boyer well off the bag (Joe being a left-handed batter), the only likely possibility had catcher Tim McCarver somehow bouncing out of his crouch and managing to get to the ball – which was not moving slowly – before it escaped the field of play.

No one even thought of Gibson.  In the first place, the fury of his delivery always had him tumbling off the mound to the first base side – his considerable momentum was carrying him away from the play.  In the second place, Gibson, you’ll remember, had just been smoked by a line drive.  It was questionable whether he could even continue in the game.  Bob Gibson was the last person you would ever expect to see making this play.

And then, there he was, running the ball down at top speed.  He reached the ball at about the time it reached the chalk of the third base line, deftly grabbed it in his bare hand, swirled and – without looking – fired a dart to first base.  Out by a step.

On display in this moment, of course, was his amazing arm.  But beyond that was the raw athleticism and foot speed that many have forgotten he had.  It is infrequently remembered that Gibson played basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters for a while.  (Can you imagine a more stylistic mismatch than the show-off Globetrotters and the no-nonsense Gibson on the same court?).  Still, as far as ability goes, Gibson may have been as good a pure athlete as anyone who has ever toed the rubber.

But even beyond all of that, that moment revealed Gibson’s undiluted confidence in himself and his unwavering belief that he could make any play.  No other pitcher – even among the great fielding pitchers – even attempts that throw.  If this were, say, Greg Maddux – who was also a multiple gold glove winner at the position – he would have been ecstatic just to catch up with the ball, preventing any damage beyond a single.  He would then have put the ball in his pocket and prepared to face the next hitter.

But not Gibson.  There was no concession in his game.

In the succeeding years, I have often wondered what it must have been like to play on the field with him.  It would seem to me that you couldn’t play the game as you would with someone else starting.  His passion and fierce thirst for victory couldn’t do anything but demand the very best from everyone else on the field with him.  Add that, too, to the legend of the great Bob Gibson.  His presence on your team raised everyone’s game.

With the passing of Bob Gibson (and, of course, Lou Brock just before him), a great chuck of my childhood has succumbed to the mortal inevitability.  It’s a sobering thing to watch your boyhood heroes cross over.  Stan Musial was my father’s hero.  Stan defined baseball to an entire generation of Cardinal fans – as Gibson and Brock did to mine.  For my wife’s son, that generational player was Ozzie Smith.  For his son, it may have been Albert Pujols, or perhaps Yadier Molina.  For all we know, for the next generation of Cardinal fans, perhaps it will be Jack Flaherty and/or Dylan Carlson.

It’s the enduring beauty of the game of baseball – the true game, the old game.  The legendary players connect the generations of Americans.  From Cobb to Trout, from Matthewson to Kershaw, baseball has underpinned the American experience from the opening of the twentieth century up through the heartbreaking COVID year of 2020.

Blessed among the baseball community are those fortunate fans of the Cardinals, who for generations have been provided with a steady stream of those transcendent players that galvanize this otherwise unremarkable mid-Western town into a community – a passionate family that celebrates and sorrows over the fortunes of this singular franchise.

But even among the Cardinal pantheon, Gibson stands out.

If the Great Creator of Baseball Players should ever appear to me and say, “Joe, you’ve been such a great Cardinal for so many years, that – just for you – I’m going to create a pitcher who will be destined to be a Cardinal.  And for you, I will give him any attribute from any of history’s great pitchers that you choose.”

Given the choice of Nolan Ryan’s fastball, or Sandy Koufax’ curve, or Warren Spahn’s longevity – or any other pitch or trait from any other pitcher ever – I would turn to the Great Creator and ask Him for Bob Gibson’s guts.  For Gibson’s indomitable heart.

Any pitcher so endowed would find the pitches – would figure out the process – would work tirelessly in a dogged, single-minded pursuit of victory.  And along the way, he would make all the other players that would cross his path better by association.

Truly, Bob Gibson was a remarkable athlete.  But his success, and his legend, were rooted in so much more.

Rest in Peace, Gibby.

A Tale of Two Baseball Cities

In 2019 – the last “regular” regular season – the St Louis Cardinals broke their long playoff drought, won 91 games, and re-captured the division title from the usurpers from the North.  The heroes of the resurgence were a young and dynamic pitching staff that finished the season ranked second in the league in team ERA (3.80), with only the 106 win Dodger team doing better (3.37).

That team fought its way all the way to the league championship series – MLB’s version of the final four.  But once there, an old nemesis caught up to them – their own offense.  They scored only 2 total runs through the first three games – losing all of them – and ended with just 6 total runs scored in a four-game sweep at the hands of the soon-to-be World Champion Washington Nationals.  For the series the team slashed an embarrassing .130/.195/.179 – a humbling .374 OPS.

This had been a frequent problem during the regular season, when they scored just 4.72 runs per game (ranking tenth in the 15 team National League).  Their 210 home runs ranked twelfth in the league, their .245 team batting average ranked them eleventh, their .415 slugging percentage was twelfth, and their .737 OPS finished eleventh.

As the last offseason arrived, team offense was clearly one of the peak areas of concern.

Finishing out of the playoffs that year – and by a considerable amount – were the Cincinnati Reds (possessors of a disappointing 75-87 record.

Apart from the records, though, the two teams were very similar in many respects.  The Cincinnati pitching staff was only a whit behind the Cardinal staff.  They finished fourth in the league in ERA, and their ERA+ (which makes ballpark adjustments) was actually higher than St Louis’ (112-111).

But, like the Cardinals, the Reds struggled to score runs.  At 4.33 runs per game, they ranked twelfth.  They were also bottom third in batting average (.244), OBP (.315), and OPS (.736 – 1 point below the Cardinals).

Over the winter of 2019-20, these two teams approached their common deficiency in very different ways.  The Reds filled their purse with coin (as much as they could) and went to gamble on free-agent roulette.  They eventually (and at the cost of significant treasure) came away with two of the more highly regarded bats on the market – Nicholas Castellanos and Mike Moustakas.  Castellanos was coming off a year in which he had hit .289 and slugged .525 on the strength of 27 home runs and a remarkable 58 doubles.  Moustakas was coming off a 35 homer season.  As both players had ended 2019 playing for division rivals (Castellanos in Chicago and Moustakas in Milwaukee), the moves had the extra benefit of depriving two of the Reds main competitors of important offensive pieces.

The storied Cardinal franchise took a totally opposite approach.  Their situation was this: the great offensive lag came mostly from the outfield, and their farm system was teeming with young promising outfielders.  They could either follow Cincinnati into the marketplace and join in the scrum to sign established – if aging – hitters (to the detriment of developing their young stars).  Or, they could initiate a youth movement and open up opportunities for these young and promising hitters.

They went so far down the youth-movement road that they even declined the opportunity to re-sign Marcell Ozuna (a 29 home run man in 2019) because he was seeking a two-year deal and the Cardinals didn’t want to tie up one of the outfield positions for the next two years.

(Ozuna subsequently signed in Atlanta, where he had a terrific 2020.  Parting ways with him is much more understandable when you remember that his two years in St Louis were less than compelling.  His OPSs were above average [.758 and .800] but not seemingly irreplaceable.)

Into the breach, the Cardinals had high hopes for Tyler O’Neil (a minor league power guy who had shown flashes in limited major league action the previous two years), Harrison Bader (a gifted defender in center field who had hit well in the minors, but had struggled against breaking pitches in St Louis), and Lane Thomas (who exploded onto the scene as a rookie in 2019 with 4 home runs and a .316/.409/.684 slash line in 38 at bats before a broken hand ended his season).

Additionally, the Cards were leveraging a trio of outfield talents who had yet to make their St Louis debuts, but were having their ways in the minors – Austin Dean, Justin Williams, and top prospect Dylan Carlson.  St Louis declined to foray into the market, deciding to play the hand they had been dealt.

So Who Was Right?

For the Cards, things could hardly have panned out worse in this frustrating COVID season.  This team, you of course remember, had the compounding difficulty of overcoming a 17-day, mid-season interruption due to a virus outbreak, and spent the rest of the short-long season trying to catch up – the infamous 53 games in 44 days gauntlet.  During the whole of the extravaganza, they never did hit.

They dropped to twelfth in the league in runs per game (4.14).  They also finished dead last in home runs (51).  Those numbers may be artificially low as more than a third of their schedule was comprised of 7-inning games.  But nothing mitigates the rest of the numbers.

The team batting average slid to .234 (eleventh), the team slugging percentage dipped to .371 (next to last).  The team OPS was also next to last (.694).

And the young outfielders?  Mostly dismal.  O’Neill – in spite of getting regular playing time – slashed .173/.244/.286.  Bader also started regularly and hit .226 – albeit with some on base (.336) and some slugging (.443).  Thomas got a small window of opportunity to make an impression.  He did, but not the kind he or the Cardinals were hoping for as he slashed .111/.200/.250 in about the same number of at bats (36) that he had had the year before.  Dean only had 4 at bats, and Williams just 5 – so they are still unknowns. (Dean and Williams, while in “camp” didn’t have the advantage of having actual minor league games to develop in.)

And Carlson – in 35 games and 110 at bats – hit .200/.252/.364 with 3 home runs.

As a team, the club slipped a bit and hovered around the .500 mark all season.  Considering the challenges they faced, though, that they managed that and still made the playoffs is a noteworthy achievement (I talk about that here).

One game away from advancing to the Divisional Round, though, St Louis lost a 4-0 game to San Diego (boxscore), a game in which nine separate Padre relievers took turns dominating the Cardinal lineup.  The pitching staff slipped a bit in 2020 (they finished fourth) – and they let a potential series win in Game Two slip through their fingers.  But in the season’s final opportunity, it was the offense that let them down one final time.

This team that unofficially led the league in tipping its cap to the opposing hurler, had the uncommon occasion to tip its cap to nine separate pitchers on the same day.  Without misrepresenting in the least, offense remains a question in St Louis.

And Cincinnati?

But if the Cardinal approach didn’t work, then neither, really, did the Reds.’  While neither was a colossal disappointment, both of the big free agent bats regressed in their first seasons in Cincy.  Castellanos hit only .225 and his OPS fell to .784.  Moustakas slipped to .230, with his OPS fading to .799.  He hit inly one more home run (8) than O’Neill (who hit 7).

As for the team, they fell to fourteenth in the league in runs scored (just 4.05 per game), last in team batting average (a surprising .212), and thirteenth in on base (.312).

A pitching staff that rose to second in the league in ERA, along with a minor offensive resurgence during the last week of the season carried the Reds into the playoffs.  But once there . . . .

Well, first of all, let’s point out that being swept in a playoff series is nothing new to Cincinnati.  In this century, the Reds have qualified for the playoffs only four times.  Not only have they lost all four of the series, but they have been swept in three of them – including this year.  But this year’s sweep reached historic proportions.

In 77 at bats over 22 innings against Atlanta, the Reds managed only 13 hits – just one for extra-bases – while striking out 28 times.  And scoring no runs.  That’s right, twenty-two consecutive innings of zero on offense for the Reds. 

And the free-agent bats?

Well, Moustakas was 0-for-8 In the series.  Castellanos was OK.  He hit .300 (3 for 10) with the team’s only extra base hit (a double).  But while he didn’t disappear, he didn’t carry the team, either.

A Tale of Four Cities?

As it turns out, I could actually have titled this piece a tale of four cities.  In a symmetry as perfect as it is improbable, all of the top four teams in the NL Central qualified for the playoffs – exactly half of the NL’s participants came from this division.  Although there was no structure in place to prevent or repress it, none of the four faced each other.  The Cards and Brewers played the two team from the West, while the Cubs and the Reds played the entrants from the East.  All of the Central teams not only lost their series, but all four were shutout in their final game.

In fact, the Cardinals were the only team to so much as win one playoff game this postseason.  Apart from St Louis’ surprising 16-run eruption over the first two games, all of the NL Central’s offenses honked out – as they had all season.  The Cubs scored 1 run over their two playoff games, and Milwaukee scored 2.  The St Louis Cardinals alone accounted for 84.2% of all the runs scored by their division in the playoffs – something I wouldn’t have bet on.

The Central clubs (now tossing Pittsburgh in the mix), occupied 5 of the 6 bottom spots in the league in runs scored, filled all five bottom spots in team batting average, and filled five of the bottom seven spots in slugging percentage.  In this division – among other things – 2020 brought a pandemic of zeros.

So, What Happens Next?

The Cubs – or so it seems – will be tearing down and starting over.  Who knows what to expect from them.  How the Brewers will approach their issues is also an unknown.

The Reds and the Cards, now in year two of their troubling offensive brown-outs, are faced with the intriguing choice of continuing their process from last year, or trying something different.  Does Cincinnati go out and lavish tens of millions of dollars on more hired bats – even knowing that there is no guarantee that these hitters won’t disappoint them as the last group had?  Will the Cardinals continue to stand pat, believing that 2021 will see more delivered from Carlson, Bader Thomas, et al?  Faith and patience isn’t always rewarding – but chasing after hired bats doesn’t always work, either.

Another offseason dawns before these two teams.  Both will have a lot of soul searching to do between now and next April.

If these haven’t exactly been the worst of times, they certainly haven’t been the best of times either.

NoteBook

Starting every game of the Cardinals’ brief playoff run, Paul Goldschmidt ended up starting the last 13 consecutive games of the season at first base.  At season’s end, he held the longest streak on the team of consecutive starts at one position.  Goldy actually started every game of the season, but served as the designated hitter in a few of them.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Who’s Left?

With their passage to the Divisional Round of the playoffs in sight, Giovanny Gallegos’ wipe-out slider didn’t slide.  It did get wiped out, though.

The three-run homer off the bat of Fernando Tatis Jr. initiated a sequence of 5 San Diego home runs over a span of 15 batters, and flipped the narrative of this round of the WildCard Series.  Instead of flying out to Arlington, St Louis will have to stay one more day in San Diego.

In the aftermath of that 11-9 Padre victory (boxscore) that saw San Diego wring 7 innings and 134 pitches from its bullpen, while the Cards were patching 4.2 innings from their pen at the cost of 113 pitches, the question as both teams face tonight’s decisive Game Three is, “Who’s left?”  Who has innings to give?

The Cardinals, of course, will start with Jack Flaherty.  The erstwhile ace and opening day starter, Jack is a high ceiling hurler whose 2020 has been inconsistent.  Jack will be pitching on six-days’ rest.  A deep start by Flaherty will go a long way to soothe a bullpen that has contributed 10 inning and 193 pitches over the last two days.

If the Padres make short work of Jack – as they have the other two starters in the series – who is left to throw for the Cards?

Both starters threw a lot of pitches – 76 for Kwang Hyun Kim and 72 for Adam Wainwright.  It’s very doubtful that either will be involved tonight.

St Louis has three relievers who have pitched in both games (Genesis Cabrera, Gallegos, and Ryan Helsley).  Cabrera has thrown 25 pitches over 1 innings of work; Gallegos has thrown 2 innings at the cost of 41 pitches; and Helsley has achieved 1.2 innings at the cost of 25 pitches.  I don’t think anyone can be ruled out of this game, but these three – especially Gallegos – would figure to be the most compromised.

Of the pitchers that worked yesterday, but not on Wednesday, the loss exacted a fairly high pitch total from Austin Gomber (28) and Daniel Ponce de Leon (30).  Mike, I believe, would rather not use either of them again tonight.  On the other hand, Tyler Webb and Kodi Whitley both pitched yesterday, but threw relatively few pitches (8 for Webb and 9 for Whitley).  Having not pitched on Wednesday, both of these pitchers should be ready options tonight.

Shildt also held back a couple of high leverage arms from last night’s game, so even though both pitched on Wednesday, both have had a day off.  Andrew Miller threw just 11 pitches on Wednesday, and Alex Reyes threw 16.  I would tab either of those as the top options for tonight.

And then there is Johan Oviedo.  The hard throwing rookie whose promise is , for the moment, greater than his polish, is the only pitcher on the roster not to have worked yet in the series.  He’s been a starter, and could give multiple innings, if needed.

For all of the innings and pitches the bullpen has already provided, St Louis should be well enough equipped to cover innings today – if necessary.

The bigger question lies with San Diego.  Where will they get innings today?

They will, apparently, start with Craig Stammen.  Craig, who was saddled with a 5.63 ERA over 24 innings this season has been selected to be the starter.  He threw a 26-pitch inning in Game One and wasn’t used in Game Two.

After him, the two pitchers who started the first two games – while not throwing as many pitches as the Cardinal starters – have still thrown enough that they probably won’t be asked to shoulder any of the load tonight.  Chris Paddack – Wednesday’s starter – threw 46 pitches, and Zach Davies threw 55 more yesterday.

Beyond them, the Padres have 6 relievers who have worked in both of the first two games.  Of those, the hardest ridden have been closer Trevor Rosenthal, who has fired 45 pitches over the last two days.  He is followed by Emilio Pagan (41), Matt Strahm (38) and Drew Pomeranz (37) as arms that have been heavily leveraged through the first two games.

Given the severity of the situation, all will probably be available, but one would have to wonder if they have reached the point where the workload will start to catch up to them.  Pomeranz and Rosenthal are the big guns at the back of the bullpen.  Their presence on this list could be quite significant.

The other two who have pitched in both games haven’t expended quite as many pitches.  This list includes Pierce Johnson (24) and Garrett Richards (13).  I would think that both of those worthies could be looked to for at least a few batters tonight, if needed.

Two of the relievers that worked last night – Adrian Morejon and Austin Adams – hadn’t pitched on Wednesday.  Adams threw the fewer pitches of the two (he threw 16) and I imagine he should be good to go.  Morejon’s 1.1 innings cost him 23 pitches – a little much for him to come back again tonight, but San Diego has already asked two pitchers in this series (Pagan and Rosenthal) to pitch Game Two after each had thrown at least that many pitches in Game One, so I don’t think they’ll hesitate to put the ball in Adrian’s hands if they like the matchup.

The Padres also have three pitchers who they have yet to use in the series.  What that says about their confidence in these guys may be open to interpretation, but they are, at least, rested.

Tim Hill and Luis Patino are the two most used.  Hill (the lefty of the group) posted a 4.50 ERA over 18 innings, and Patino finished with a 5.19 ERA over 17.1 innings.  Patino is MLB’s twenty-third ranked prospect, and may be the same kind of secret weapon for the Padres that Oviedo could be for St Louis.

Dan Altavilla is also on the roster.  He pitched just 8.2 innings on the season, allowing 3 runs on just 6 hits, but with 5 walks and 10 strikeouts.

Out of all of this, there seems to be enough pitches available for the Padres to make their way through the game.  The question will be how effective can some of these heavily-worked pitchers be – especially the ones who might be asked to pitch for a third game in a row.

For the Cardinals, the optimal scenario has Flaherty going deep into the game.  The mystery here is whether the momentum the Padres seized last night will carry over to today.  Baseball wisdom holds that momentum is only as good as tomorrow’s starting pitcher, so Jack will have a shot tonight to test that axiom.  Team history, however, is somewhat solidly on his side.

Five times this season, the Cardinal pitching staff has been battered for 10 or more runs.  Each time, they allowed exactly 2 runs the following game.  If that pattern holds, the Cards will gladly take it.

Helsley

Whether Shildt would ask Ryan to pitch in a third consecutive game is a question worth asking.  What is assured is that the kid with the 100-mph fastball and nasty slider is back in form.  He has allowed just 1 hit to the last 27 batters he has faced.  He did pitch yesterday, but faced only one batter.

Gallegos

Gio surrendered two huge home runs last night – after allowing just one all season.  He finished the season a little shaky – he allowed 6 runs in 7 September innings – and a groin injury figured into that.  If Mike chooses to go away from the heavily worked Gallegos tonight, I will be OK with that.

Goldschmidt

One of the reasons for the sudden uptick in offense is the heating up of Paul Goldschmidt.  Just as the games became super-critical, Goldy has risen to the need.  He had 2 hits last night – including a homer – and, beginning with the final game against Milwaukee, Paul has 6 hits in his last 14 at bats (.429).  His hits include 2 home runs and a double – a .929 slugging percentage.

Molina

Yadier Molina is peaking right along with Goldschmidt.  Yesterday Yadi put together his sixth multi-hit game in his last 12 – he is hitting .349 over that span (15 for 43).

NoteBook

On the plus side, St Louis scored first for the third game in a row, and the seventh time in the last 10 games.

Congratulations to MLB management.  American League baseball has finally fully come to the National League.  Last night’s slugfest was by far the Cardinals’ longest game of the season – extra-inning games included – at 4:19.  (And this in the year that baseball was trying to shorten its games.)

For sheer length, this game tied for the second longest nine-inning game that St Louis has played in this century.  The longest was a 9-8 win in Wrigley Field against the Cubs on September 21.  That game lasted 4:24.  The other 4:19, nine inning game played by the Cards this century occurred against Colorado on April 16, 2000.  Not surprisingly, that 14-13 Rockie victory took place in the rarified air of Colorado.

At one degree hotter than the Wednesday game (92 degrees) yesterday’s game becomes the warmest Cardinal game since the 95 degree game against Kansas City on August 24 – and the season’s hottest road game.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

In the Playoffs, You ride Your Bullpen

Kwang Hyun wasn’t terribly pleased with his outing.

A revelation during the season, Korean legend Kwang Hyun Kim struggled all afternoon to find that inside corner against the right handers that San Diego slotted in against him.  When, with two out in the fourth inning, Kwang Hyun walked Trent Grisham, bringing up San Diego’s wunderkind Fernando Tatis Jr., Kwang Hyun’s afternoon was over – in spite of the fact that St Louis still had a 3-run lead when Kim left.

Whether it was nerves, the mound, the strike zone, an unfamiliar opponent – or just one of those days that befall all pitchers from time to time, Kim’s inaugural major league playoff appearance yielded a disappointing line of 3.2 innings, 3 runs on 5 hits (including a triple that could have been caught) and 2 walks.  Only 44 of his 76 pitches found the strike zone (57.9%).  Until such a time as he gets another opportunity (whether it’s this year or some other time), Kwang Hyun’s playoff ERA will sit a 7.36.

It certainly could have been worse.  Spacious Petco yielded 2 sacrifice flies, but no big flies – not to the Padres at least.

Had this been an April or May game (of course, no one was playing baseball in April and May), Mike Shildt would almost certainly have given him a longer leash to let him find himself – especially a decorated veteran with a three-run lead.  But now, suddenly, it’s the playoffs.  And in the playoffs, you ride your bullpen.

Of course, we remember (those of us who have been around a while) Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson for Arizona in 2001 – and, for that matter Chris Carpenter in 2011, pitching a complete game shutout against Philadelphia and firing six excellent innings against Texas in Game Seven of that year’s World Series.  But that is, by far, the exception.

Even in St Louis’ 2011 championship year, the bullpen was the unsung hero.  Eight times in 18 playoff games, the Cardinal starter failed to last 5 innings.  Toss out Carpenter’s starts, and 7 of the other 12 starters left the bulk of the game to the pen.  For the playoffs that year, Cardinal starters accounted for 92 innings.  The bullpen threw 68.  Chris Carpenter notwithstanding, the bullpen covered 42.5% of the playoff innings.

Like it or not, in the playoffs you live or die with your relief corps.

That being the case, the St Louis bullpen took their first step forward yesterday afternoon as they covered the last 5.1 innings of St Louis’ 7-4 Game One victory (boxscore).  They allowed 1 run (unearned) on just 3 hits.  The hard-hitting Padres only hit .176 against the Cardinal bullpen – although that number comes with a few caveats.

First – as has been their pattern – the Cardinal bullpen came out throwing the ball very, very hard, but with varying degrees of control.  In their 5.1 innings they walked 2 and hit 2 others.  Putting runners on base in front of the Padre’s big bats is a concerning trend – which brings me to the other caveat.

The Padres can hit the fastball.  Alex Reyes picked up the save in his very first playoff game, retiring all 4 batters he faced.  But all four jumped on his high octane fastballs and returned them with more exit velocity than they came in with.  They were all hit at someone, but they were all well hit.

As to the bullpen, yesterday’s victory brought the reliever’s ERA down to 1.58 in 40 innings over their last 13 games.  The Cards have won 9 of the 13.

A Bit of Déjà vu

And with that, St Louis begins its latest playoff journey with a 1-0 record.  I am not even beginning to predict that this team will “go all the way.”  But I will acknowledge that this whole scenario has a very familiar feel.

The sneaking into the playoffs on the very last day evokes warm memories of both the 2006 and 2011 teams – champions both who were listed (as this team is listed) as underdogs in every series.  In 2006 St Louis lost its primary closer (Jason Isringhausen) to a hip problem in September.  Into the breach stepped Adam Wainwright (then just a rookie prospect) to stabilize the closer’s role – beginning in San Diego that year.  The 2011 team sifted through several closers before deciding on Jason Motte – a hard-throwing setup guy, who had all of 3 career saves through his first 3 seasons and 136 appearances.  This year, the closer spot has been a revolving door, again.  But – as of the last day of the regular season – it looks like the ninth-inning will belong to Reyes.  Both Reyes and Wainwright earned their first playoff saves in San Diego.

The unique adversity faced by this year’s team is reminiscent of the hardships thrust upon the 2011 team – not just the injuries, slumps, bad luck and a seemingly insurmountable 10-game deficit of the early part of the season, either.  People often forget that 2011 was the year that manager Tony LaRussa suffered through a nearly disabling bout with shingles.  It was also the year that Jeannie Duncan – pitching coach Dave Duncan’s wife – was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  Few teams have overcome so much.  Truly a season of triumph and tragedy.

If the tragedies are fewer for this team, the struggles and hardships have a familiar ring to them.  This franchise has been in this exact position before, eking its way into the playoffs where they will be facing an array of teams that they aren’t supposed to beat.  Not to make any bold predictions, but team history suggests that anything can happen.

Helsley

Taking over for Kim in the fourth, Ryan Helsley got out of trouble in that inning, and then tossed a 1-2-3 fifth.  Sent out again to start the sixth, Ryan surrendered the double to Tommy Pham that led to the unearned run.  It was the first hit off of Helsley in his last 6 innings.

Two of the 5 batters that Ryan faced found themselves in two-strike counts.  Manny Machado popped out on a 2-2 pitch and Wil Myers struck out on a 2-2.  Over his last 6 games, Ryan has backed 15 batters into two-strike counts.  They are 0-for-13 with 2 walks and 7 strikeouts.

During the season, batters are just 2 for 23 (.087) when Helsley puts them in two-strike counts.

Gallegos

It’s quite a small sample size (20 batters faced) but since Giovanny Gallegos has returned to the team after recovering from his groin strain, he has been plenty sharp.  He walked 1 of the 5 batters he faced yesterday, but otherwise had no issues, striking out 2.  Three of the batters found themselves in two-strike counts.  Tatis and Eric Hosmer both fanned, and Pham grounded out.

Batters are always in two-strike counts against Gio.  The two yesterday make 13 of the 20 he’s faced since he’s been back (65%).  Those batters are 0-12 with 1 walk and 9 strikeouts.  For the season, 68.4% of the batters that face Gallegos (39 of 57) find themselves in two-strike counts.

Reyes

Alex gave up some line drives, but finished another fine outing.  He appeared 8 times in September (11.1 innings), picking up a win and a save while posting a 2.38 ERA and a .209 batting average against.  Alex allowed just 1 extra-base hit (a double) to the 49 batters he faced in September.

Kim

Kwang Hyun continues a recent pattern of struggles from the rotation.  Even while St Louis has won 9 of 13, the starters have only a 4.16 ERA in those games.  Kim has made 3 of the starts, lasting just 14 innings with a 5.14 ERA and a .291 batting average against.

Over those games, Kim has suddenly developed difficulty in putting hitters away.  San Diego was 4-for-7 against Kwang Hyun when they had two strikes on them.  Over those last three games, batters in two-strike counts are hitting .343 (12 for 35) against Kim.

Molina

If its playoff time, that must mean that Yadier Molina is heating up.  Yadi had 3 hits yesterday, and is hitting .381 (8 for 21) over his last 6 games.

Yadi helped put the finishing touches on Padre starter Chris Paddack when he slapped a 2-2 pitch down the left-field line for a double.  When Yadi is hot he is just as dangerous with two-strikes on him as he is with none.  Over his last 11 games, Molina is 6 for 20 (.300) with a home run to go along with that double (.500 slugging percentage) in two-strike counts.

For the season, Yadi is a .221 hitter with two strikes on him – well above the major league average of .167.

Carlson

Rookie outfielder Dylan Carlson has been a vital part of the turn-around.  After his 2-for-3 with a double and 2 walk performance yesterday, Carlson is hitting .308 over the last 13 games.  He is slugging .641 in those games with 8 extra-base hit (5 doubles, a triple, and 2 home runs), and has driven in 11 runs.

Dylan saw 24 pitches during his 5 plate appearances yesterday – more than anyone else on the team – and ended the day in two-strike counts in every at bat.  With his two hits, Carlson is 6 for 23 (.261) with two strikes on him over the last 13 games.

DeJong

After a seemingly endless slump, Paul DeJong is turning the corner.  With his 2 hits last night, DeJong has now hit safely in 5 of his last 6, hitting .333 (6 for 18) over that span.  He also walked twice and was hit by a pitch yesterday, bringing his on base percentage to .455 over those games.

Fowler

With his fifth-inning single, Dexter Fowler snapped an 0-for-15 skid.  He went on to add another single that drove in a run in the ninth.

Dexter’s two hits came on a 0-0 pitch from Pierce Johnson and a 2-1 pitch from Trevor Rosenthal.  Fowler hit .406 (13 for 32) during the regular season when hitting before strike two.

NoteBook

Paul Goldschmidt’s two-run first inning home run marked the sixth time in the last 9 games that the Cardinals had scored the first run of the game.

Partially as a result, they have not trailed in 5 of their last 8 games.

At 3:53, the first playoff game was the longest game played by the Cardinals since their 12-inning loss to Cleveland on August 29.  It was the longest 9-inning game since August 18 when they lost a 4:09 game in Chicago.

At 91 degrees, this was also the warmest game played by the Cardinals since August 24, when they beat Kansas City 9-3 in 95 degree heat.  The hottest road game played by the Cards this season was against the White Sox on August 15.  The first game of that doubleheader was played in 86 degree heat.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Random but Illuminating Numbers from the Cards 2020 Season

Whatever other inconsistencies the Cardinals waded through this year, weekends were always good to them.  In September, the Cards were 4-1 on Saturday and 3-1 on Sunday.  They were 10-13 during the regular week.

For the season, St Louis finished 8-2 on Saturday and 5-3 on Sunday (13-5 combined).  They were 17-23 the rest of the week.

The up-and-down motion of September is visible in the records for the individual games of the series.  After going just 2-6 in the first games, they rebounded to 7-2 in second games, then 3-4 in third games, 3-1 in fourth games, and finally 2-2 in the fifth games.  They were 5-1 this year in game four of their series.

While they had their moments this year against left-handed starters, at the end of the year, St Louis still finished 4-7 when lefties started.  They were 26-21 (.553) when they got a right-handed starter.

In 32 September games, they scored at least 4 runs in just half of them.  They were 15-1 in those games.  They were 2-14 when they couldn’t manage that fourth run.  During September, they were shutout 3 times and held to 1 run 6 other times.  That represents 28% of the schedule this month.

The magic number during the season was 5 runs.  If they could score at least 5, they went 23-1.  Alas, they could manage the 5 run mark only 41.4% of the time.  In 58 games, they were shutout 5 times and held to 1 run 8 other times.

During September, the pitchers’ margin for error was very narrow.  When they held to opponents to fewer than 3 runs, they were 13-1.  But once they allowed that third run, they were only 4-14.

For the season, the St Louis pitching staff held their opponents to fewer than 3 runs 22 times – an impressive 37.9% of the time.  They were 19-3 in those games.  When they allowed at least 3 runs, the record tumbles to 11-25.

When the season started, neither Daniel Ponce de Leon, Austin Gomber, nor Kwang Hyun Kim were in the rotation.  By September, they were the heart of the rotation.  The Cards were a combined 10-2 in their September starts (4-0 behind Ponce, and 3-1 when the other two started).  In September starts made by Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez, they were a combined 5-9.

Johan Oviedo showed great promise as he was forced into the rotation, but St Louis lost all 5 of his starts.

Showing some September resilience, the Cards fought back to go 7-8 in games where they didn’t score first.  Over the whole season, they were just 12-19 (.387) when that happened.

In fact, they trailed at some point in 10 of their 17 September victories.  For the season, they trailed at some point in 15 of their 30 victories – a number a little surprising considering the constant offensive struggles.

On the other hand, they only lost 11 games in which they led at some point.

Like the players, the umpires all stayed in a localized area, with the result that the teams saw the same umpires more often in the 60 game schedule than they would see them over the regular 162.

For the Cardinals, that familiarity was welcomed when it brought Ed Hickox behind the plate.  St Louis was 4-0 when Ed called the games.  With others the familiarity was less profitable.  They saw Jerry Meals 5 times in 58 games – still going 3-2 in those games.  They were 1-3 when Jeremie Rehal called balls and strikes, and 0-3 when Paul Clemons as back there.

Scoring Changes – for those scoring at home.

In the 18-3 blowout loss against Milwaukee on September 15, Jace Peterson drove in Daniel Vogelbach with a sacrifice fly.  That run – for some bizarre reason – was originally counted as earned, although, due to Lane Thomas’ error on the play before, the inning should have ended when Thomas caught Peterson’s fly.  Originally charged with 2 earned runs, Rob Kaminsky’s line has been corrected to just 1 earned run allowed.

I don’t believe, however, that that is why you will see the Cardinal team ERA variously reported as 3.92 and 3.90.  The correct ERA is 3.90.  I believe that those reporting 3.92 aren’t accounting for the unearned run credited to the team on August 21.

Cincinnati scored all four of their runs in the sixth inning of that game.  Genesis Cabrera started the inning, and retired the first two batters, before a third reached on an error.  Under normal circumstances, all subsequent runs that score should be counted as unearned, as the inning should be over.  Cabrera followed the error by walking the next batter and hitting the one after to load the bases.  When the Cards brought in Tyler Webb to face Josh Van Meter, Cincinnati countered with Matt Davidson, who promptly delivered the grand slam home run.

The runs charged to Cabrera, of course, were unearned.  But the scoring rules don’t allow Webb to profit from an error committed before he entered the inning, so even though the inning should have been over, the run charged to Tyler was still earned.

For him.  For the team ERA, that run is still unearned.  Thus the correct Cardinal ERA is 3.90.  Those who report 3.92 are simply adding up all the earned runs of the individual pitchers.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Lessons from the Cardinals

I don’t believe that any of us can fathom what they went through.  Nothing in our common baseball experience will help us connect with the enormity of the situation.  The baseball game on TV often serves as background to dinner, or you listen on the radio as you pick up your kids from soccer.  Sometimes, after the first game on TV is done, you’ll flip the channel to find another.

At softball games, you show up a few minutes before the game starts, toss the ball around for a bit, and you’re ready to go.  The game will run about an hour, and then you’re on your way home (probably listening to the end of the Cardinal game on the radio).  It’s all a far cry from the 10 hour days exacted from this team as it fought to reclaim its season.

Nothing in our experience communicates the magnitude of 53 games in 44 days.  It was a 440-inning gauntlet – an average of 10 innings of baseball every day – even with the two scant off days tossed in.  When he first looked at the altered schedule, manager Mike Shildt said that his had nearly blew up.

The early roster juggling – done out of desperation to find any available arm that could give them an inning that night – became a survival technique later on as the team was challenged to replace the injured players that seemed to be going down one a day.

At the conclusion of the 58 game schedule, the Cardinals had accrued 532 player-games lost to injuries (9.2 injured players for every game played) – a total that doesn’t even include Jordan Hicks, who opted out of the entire season.  In John Brebbia, John Gant, Dakota Hudson, Carlos Martinez and Miles Mikolas, the Cardinals approach their improbable playoff competition with nearly an entire pitching staff unavailable due to injuries.

Look at it how you will, this was a very significant achievement.  I’m not at all sure if there is another team out there that could have fought its way into the playoffs under these circumstances.

In the aftermath, in this moment of glory – for however it lasts, it is, I believe, instructive to make a note of how this team managed.  Especially during the year of turmoil that 2020 has been.  Lessons, if you will, from the 2020 Cardinals.

Before I start this, though, a little context.  Yes, I am fully aware that nothing in the artificial sports universe can truly compare with the heart-rending realities that the rest of the world is dealing with.  With over 200,000 Americans perishing with the virus, with many thousands more facing pronounced financial distress, with fires ravaging the one coast and floods inundating the other, I acknowledge freely that the world’s accumulated tragedies far out strip the trials of one collection of professional sportsmen.

I categorically do not equate the Cardinals trials with everyone else’s.  How many thousands of people would love to trade their nightmares for the challenge of playing 53 baseball games in 44 days?

Even beyond the large global challenges, there are the personal sorrows that beset us all.  Whether in the eye of a global pandemic or the relative silence of your own personal tragedy, the world certainly has heartbreaks and challenges far beyond the simple cares of a beleaguered baseball team trying to make the playoffs.

I really don’t want to make too much of this.

So what I present to you here is a metaphor.  Lessons wrought under the most adverse conditions imaginable in a controlled arena that are broadly applicable to others in the crucible of life’s larger arena.  They are mindsets – perhaps, at best, footholds in the cliff of the mountain.

Let me present four valuable takeaways from a most improbable season, for whatever comfort and inspiration that it might provide.

Live and Die as a Team

Even in the ugliest of times – and this season had some particularly ugly moments – the team was always there for each other.  They played for each other, even when they were too weary to play for themselves.  There were several points where catastrophe loomed, but the team would never let the season spiral out of control. 

The first lesson is find your team.  In any extremity – especially in hours of serious difficulty – we are less likely to pull through on our own.  Even an oppressive burden – distributed on the shoulders of a team – becomes endurable. 

Most people, I think, don’t realize how desperately we need each other – even in times of ease.  Find your team.  Find them somewhere.  Trust your team, and make sure that they can trust you.

Eye on the Prize

For the Cardinals, at the end of the gauntlet was a playoff berth for the taking.  They had a great advantage in that they knew going in how long the trial would last.  They would succeed or fail, but by the end of September it would be over.

Real life seldom comes so nicely packaged, with expiration dates on all our trials.  But even at that, we know that they will not – cannot – last forever.  There is a post-COVID day coming.  A day when damaged cities will be rebuilt.  Even if you don’t know exactly when that day is, hold on to that eventuality with both hands.  Even as gritty as the Cardinals are, they could not have continued in this fashion indefinitely.  But they knew that they didn’t have to.

You know that, too.

Face the Challenge

One of the important aspects of the Cardinal playoff push was that no member of the team offered the faintest complaint or shied away at all from the challenge ahead.  In the COVID year, any player could opt out of the season at any time.  None of them did.  To a man they embraced the unique challenge before them.

I remind you that when their season re-started, they didn’t even have so much as the luxury of a workout before they were dumped into the cauldron of games.  Throughout, this team offered no excuses and sought no mercy.  The schedule was what it was, and theirs was only to fight their way through it.

From our experience, we know that trials won’t just go away.  No amount of pulling the covers over our head will make things better.  The bitterest trials can’t really be embraced.  But they can be faced.

Surviving is Thriving

At no point during this process did the Cardinals ever thrive.  They never hit their stride as a team.  Things never came together for them.  They spent the entire mini-season hovering around the .500 mark.  In their last 8 games, in fact, they evenly alternated losses and wins.  They won as many as four in a row only once (in their final series against the lowly Pirates) and were absolutely pummeled more times than I can remember ever happening in the same season.

Every hitter sustained at least one major slump. And several never had anything but struggles at the plate.  It seems there were about 25 times (in 58 games) that they were dominated by the opposing pitcher.

Nearly every pitcher on the staff experienced at least one very humbling outing – and many experienced several.

Daniel Ponce de Leon – one of the heroes at the end of the season – was dropped from the roster and returned to camp when his persistent early season struggles reached rock bottom in a 14-2 loss against Cleveland (a game in which he lasted just 2/3 of an inning.

But no matter how humbling the loss or how thorough the beating, they kept coming back to win the next game.

I will be honest with you.  There were moments when this team (especially the offense) was so unwatchable that I almost hoped that they wouldn’t make the playoffs, simply because I didn’t think I could take watching this offense get dominated any more.

But they always rose up to take the next game.  That simple act – the mere act of keeping their heads above water – is the thing that saved them in the end.

Thriving is all well and good.  Everyone wants to thrive.  But when life capsizes your boat, then just keeping your head above water is enough.  Stay alive long enough to fight again tomorrow.  Keep your head above water until the rescue boats arrive.  Don’t overthink things.  Don’t pressure yourself into doing more that you can.

In the worst of circumstances, all you really need to do is just stay afloat.

NoteBook

Summer made a quick pit stop on its way out of town over the weekend, as the first game of the Milwaukee doubleheader was played in 80 degree temperatures.  Over the previous 16 games, the Cards had played in an average temperature of 69.8 degrees.  Their last 80 degree game came against Cincinnati on September 11.

Then the Saturday game weighed in at 81 degrees.  The games of the doubleheader against Detroit the day before (September 10) were the last games that were that warm at the beginning.  The first game was 81 degrees, and the second was 82.  In all, three of the five Milwaukee games topped the 80 degree mark.

The 8-run margin of victory in the second game of the doubleheader was the Cardinals’ largest win since they battered Detroit 12-2 in the first game of that September 10 doubleheader.

A problem earlier in the season, St Louis finished out the regular season scoring first in 5 of its last 8 games.

When Matt Wieters started the second game of the doubleheader, it broke a streak of seven consecutive starts at catcher by Yadier Molina.  He had been tied with Paul Goldschmidt for most consecutive starts at one position on the team.  Goldschmidt finished the regular season with 10 consecutive starts at first base.

Series’ Wrapup

St Louis ended the season playing 17 separate series, winning 8, losing 7 and splitting 2.  They had 4 separate opportunities to sweep series, but never managed to claim that final game.  In 4 opportunities to be swept, they succumbed twice.  Six of the series went to rubber games, with the Cards losing 4 of those.  They, in fact, had lost 3 straight rubber games before Sunday’s win.  Average time of all Cardinal games – 2:52.4.  Average temperature of all Cardinal games – 78.5 degrees.

They played 9 series at home, going 4-3-2 in those series (14-13 record).  Two of their opportunities for sweeps came at home, and three times at home they faced being swept, avoiding that fate twice.  They were 2-1 in rubber games at home.  Average time of the home games – 2:56.4.  Average temperature at Busch – 82.7 degrees.

They split their 8 road series (4-4 with a 16-15 record), losing all three rubber games played on the road.  Most of their 7-inning doubleheaders came on the road, so the average time of the road games was only 2:49.0.  The average temperature on the road was 74.9 degrees.

Eight times they won the first game of a series, going on to win 6 of those series, with one loss and one split.  They were 2-6-1 when they lost the first game.  Three times they lost the first game of a series and fought back to force a rubber game.  They lost all three of those rubber games.

They played 5 series against teams that had won their previous series, and held their own.  They went 2-2-1 in those series (7-8 record).  In three of the five they entered the last game facing a possible sweep, but avoided that fate in two of the three.

Eight of the 17 series were played against teams coming off losing series.  We lost 5 of the 8 (15-16 record).  All 6 of the rubber games the Cardinals played came against these teams.

There were three series played against teams that had split their previous series.  We could have used more of these games.  We were 6-3 against these teams (2-0-1 in the series).  Two of our four sweep opportunities came in these series.

The longest series played by average time was the Cleveland series (Aug 28-30).  That series (which averaged 3:27.0 per game) featured a 12-inning game and the 14-2 loss that took almost 4 hours.  The shortest series (by average time) was the quick doubleheader just before the Cleveland series against Pittsburgh (Aug 27).  The Pirates won both of those games in an average of 2:25.0.

The longest road series was played in Cincinnati right after that Cleveland series (Aug 31 – Sept 2).  That series averaged 3:10.3.  The shortest road series averaged 2:33.7.  It was the three games played at the White Sox just after the Cards came out of quarantine, and featured the first of the doubleheaders.

The warmest series by average temperature was the first one.  The late July matchup against Pittsburgh (July 24-26) averaged 90.7 degrees for the 3 games.  The hottest road series of the year was also that White Sox series, which averaged 83.0 degrees.  The coolest series of the season was also against Pittsburgh – the last 5 game series that we played there (Sept 17-20).  St Louis won 4 of 5 in 65.6 degree weather.  The coolest series they played at home this year still averaged 76.3 degrees.  Cincinnati was in town from September 11-13.

The longest game of the year was a 4:09 marathon in Chicago.  In a 6-3 loss to the Cubs, Ponce de Leon and Yu Darvish (and their respective relievers) combined to walk 13 batters.

The longest home game of the year was the 12-inning loss to Cleveland on August 29.  The longest nine-inning home game this year was the 14-2 blowout loss to the Indians the night before (August 28).  That one checked in at 3:51.

The shortest games of the year were the September 16 doubleheader in Milwaukee.  Both games, oddly enough, clocked in at exactly 2:01.  Of course, they were 7-inning games.

The shortest nine-inning came of the year was a 3-0 victory at home against the Reds on August 22.  It took 2:15.

At 2:25, the shortest road came was a 5-1 loss in Pittsburgh on September 17.

The highest game-time temperature of the year was 95 degrees on August 24.  The Cards took care of the visiting Royals that day, 9-3.  The hottest road game of the year was, again, that first game back.  The first game of the August 15 White Sox doubleheader was played in 86 degrees.

The second game of the September 18 doubleheader in Pittsburgh was – at 61 degrees – the coolest game of the year.  The coolest home game was still 71 degrees.  That was the Thursday game of the just concluded Milwaukee series (September 24).

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Carlson Finding His Calm

The first 3-2 pitch that Dylan Carlson saw in the big leagues was a fastball from the White Sox’ Lucas Giolito.  There were two out in the fifth inning, and Giolito brought it at 94 miles an hour.  The pitch was up, but a bit away, and Carlson skied it to fairly deep right-center field, where it was easily caught.

The most recent 3-2 pitch that Dylan saw came in last night’s sixth inning, with Dexter Fowler on first base and the Cards up 3-1.  This, too, was a fastball (delivered this time by Milwaukee’s Cory Knebel).  It was virtually in the same spot as Giolito’s fastball – and a little faster at 96-mph.  But this time Carlson wasn’t of the disposition to pull the ball.

With the relaxed, confident swing that Cards have been waiting all summer to see, Dylan sent a scorching line drive off the left-center field wall for an RBI double.

I’m not sure that there are any two swings that more dramatically show the difference between Dylan Carlson before he went back to camp and after.

The difference is clear in the numbers.  Dylan limped back to camp carrying a .162/.215/.243 batting line.  Since his return – and after driving in 3 runs last night with a home run and that double – Dylan is succeeding to the tune of .320/.333/.760.  Not coincidentally, the Cards have won 6 of the 8 games since Carlson has been back.

But the difference has been in more than the numbers.

The Dylan of summer quickly became pull-conscious, and shortly thereafter became prone to chasing pitches.  His swings became increasingly tentative and off-balanced.

The Dylan of fall has found his calm.  He is much less given to chasing breaking balls (he seems to be seeing them very well right now) and is comfortable in driving outside pitches the other way – and doing so with authority.

Even hitting late in the count doesn’t ripple his calm.  All of his at bats last night lasted at least 4 pitches, and he saw at least 2 balls each time up.

In his 27 plate appearances since returning, Dylan has hit in two- or three-ball counts 59.3% of the time (16 of the 27).  He is 6 for 15 (.400) with a walk in those at bats, with 4 extra-base hits (including both of his home runs since his return).  He is slugging .933 in deep counts since his resurrection.  He is 2 for his last 4 in full count at bats.  The major leagues as a whole hit .223/.391/.391 after ball two is thrown, and .188/.448/.326 once the count goes full.

It’s a small sample size, but the prospect who returned looks so decidedly different from the one who went down that it is almost difficult to believe that they are the same individual.

St Louis has waited through about 50 of their scheduled 60 games to find one of their young outfielders who would lay claim to a job.  They have been, effectively, waiting for a hero.

Even though the season has dwindled to the final few games, it is not too late.  Improbably – given the adversity set before them – the playoffs are still within grasp.  If Dylan Carlson has an extended hot streak in him, now is not a bad time.  He just needs to keep his calm.

Edman

Tommy Edman contributed a couple of singles to the attack, hitting a 1-0 pitch from Corbin Burnes in the third, and a 1-1 pitch from Ray Black in the eighth.  The Tommy Edman from 2019 is still very much alive and well – but only when he hits early in the count.  Before the count reaches ball two, Tommy is hitting .357 with all 4 of his home runs (and 10 of his 12 extra-base hits).  He is a .108 hitter with a .135 slugging percentage once the count reaches ball two.

Yadi

Yadier Molina rode his recent hot streak to his 2000th career hit, a clean, line-drive single off a 98-mph fastball from Justin Topa.  Yadi has 4 multi-hit games over his last 7, and is hitting .375 (9 for 24) in those games.

The landmark single came after an uncharacteristically long at bat for Yadi – a 7-pitch duel.  The fastball came on a 2-2 pitch.  Of Molina’s four plate appearances, that was the only one that reached a two-ball count.  For the season, 38.4% of Yadi’s at bats are over before the pitcher throws ball one – the highest percentage of anyone on the team with more than 40 plate appearances; and 69.2% of his at bats don’t make it until ball two.  That is also the highest percentage on the team for anyone with at least 20 plate appearances.

Fowler

Just back off the DL, Dexter Fowler looks OK at the plate, but things haven’t quite fallen in place yet for him.  He is 2 for 11 (.182) in his early at bats back.  He has, however, drawn 3 walks.

Dexter extended three of his four at bats to a ball three count.  For the season, Dex ends up in three-ball counts 31.5% of the time – tied with Brad Miller for most on the team.

Kim

Kwang Hyun Kim was the starter and winner with another solid start.  After allowing 1 run over 5 innings, Kim finishes September with a 2-0 record and a 2.01 ERA.

Cabrera

Genesis Cabrera is starting to string together fine outings.  He retired 4 of the 5 to face him last night, and over his last 6 consecutive scoreless innings, Genesis has allowed just 3 hits – all singles.  He has struck out 9.  He has a 1.42 ERA in 12.2 innings this month.

A Miller

When Eric Sogard poked his opposite field single against Andrew Miller, he interrupted quite a hitless streak against him.  The previous 26 batters to face Miller had gone 0-for-21 – albeit with 3 hit batters and 2 walks.  Miller has a 1.35 ERA for the month of September in 6.2 innings.

NoteBook

At 3:43, last night’s game was the longest contest the Cardinals have participated in since August 29, when it took them 4:06 to lose a 2-1 game to Cleveland.  That, of course, was a 12-inning game.  The previous longest 9-inning game came the night before – a 14-2 pounding they received at the hands of those Indians that took 3:51.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Is This the End of the Road?

To be a “glass half full” guy, you could say that – all things considered – it wasn’t that bad.  Over the course of the just concluded, season-long, ten-day, 13-game, three-city road trip, the Cardinals were outscored 63-41 and were outhit .230/.318/.414 to .201/.279/.293.  Yes, on the road trip, the Cards couldn’t even keep their slugging percentage over the .300 mark.

They hit 7 home runs over the last week-and-a-half.  There were 16 hit against them.

So, with those numbers as a back drop, you could convince yourself that you are grateful to return home having gone 7-6 on that trip.

The reality, though, is that the Cardinals missed a serious opportunity.

Ten days ago, St Louis held a 20-20 record.  They were 4 games behind the 28-20 Cubs, 2 games ahead of the 20-24 Brewers, and 2.5 games up on the 21-26 Reds.  The trip would take them through Milwaukee, Pittsburgh (14-30) and Kansas City (20-28).

At the start of the series, the Brewers ranked fourteenth in the 15-team National League in runs scored (180) and were thirteenth in OPS (.698).  Their pitching was sixth with a 4.54 ERA.  The Pirates were last in runs scored in the league (173) and in team OPS (.625).  At 5.10, their team ERA was twelfth.  When they arrived in Kansas City, St Louis found a Royals team that was fourteenth in the American League in runs scored (215), and twelfth in OPS (.702).  Their team ERA sat at 4.46, ranking ninth in the AL.

All these teams had lost their previous series.  The Brewers had lost 5 of their previous 7 games (including being no hit by the Cubs); the Pirates came into the series riding an eight-game losing streak; and the Royals had lost their previous three games and four out of five.

Slice it however you like, these were vulnerable teams.  In the thick of the playoff chase, these were teams that the Cards needed to find some way to push past if they were going to write their own ticket.  Meaning no disrespect to the Brewers, Pirates or Royals – all of whom, I believe, are better teams than their records showed – this final stretch of the season was a gift to the Cardinals.  A waiting opportunity for them to move the needle on their season.

While the Cards were going 7-6 on the road trip, the Cubs were scuffling to a 4-4 mark, the Brewers went 7-4 (including winning three of five from the Cards), and the Reds managed an 8-2 mark.

Even a 9-4 trip would have kept them marginally ahead of the Reds (2 games) and would have them 1.5 games behind the Cubs for the division lead.  As it is, catching the Cubs is now very unlikely, and the Cards are locked into a scrum for that second wildcard spot.

The question at the top of the column, though, is more literal than figurative.  A wildly successful trip could have positioned the team to claim a playoff spot without having to play one or two more games in Detroit after the season is ostensibly over.  Now – even if they win four or five from Milwaukee (which will be challenging enough) – they will still need some help from Minnesota to avoid a final roadtrip and a final doubleheader.

So, among the many questions to be answered over the next four days is, is this, in fact, the end of the road?  Stay tuned.

Martinez

To be very clear about this, there have been many thousands of people who have had a worse 2020 than Carlos Martinez.  Yes, he did contract the virus, and got pretty sick over it.  But he did recover and hasn’t lost his job or felt any significant financial impact from any of the disasters that have swirled around this year.  Lots of people are much, much worse off than Carlos.

That being said, Martinez’ season is a kind of sports metaphor for the way things have been going on a world-wide basis.  In spite of his very best efforts – and Carlos has worked extremely hard to position himself to return to the rotation – nothing has worked out for him at all.

The talented Martinez made 5 starts this season – all of them bad.  The back twinge that ended his night, probably ended his season.  Even if he is deemed healthy enough to start, I can’t imagine the Cardinals giving him another opportunity, either in what’s left of the regular season or in the playoffs.

Barring an improbable further opportunity, Carlos’ final 2020 line will read 0-3 with a 9.90 ERA.  Batters hit .348 against him this year, with a .609 slugging percentage against him.

It’s difficult to imagine someone with Martinez’ stuff ever getting batted around like that – but 2020 has been like that.  Even beyond the strangeness of the schedule, the vile rule changes, the visiting team batting as the home team, and the playing of 11 doubleheaders in about a month’s time, we have seen stuff happen in games that almost never happen.  For example:

Elledge

It is actually a fairly rare thing for a pitcher to be replaced due to injury in the middle of an inning.  In a normal season, I would estimate that this kind of thing happens about twice every three years.

When Seth Elledge came out of the pen to replace the injured Martinez, he became the fifth Cardinal reliever tasked with that challenge in about a week and a half.  As with most of the others, perhaps – in spite of being given all the time he needed to loosen up – he didn’t quite take long enough.

Over his first 11 appearances of the season, Seth registered a 2.53 ERA with a .194 batting average against.  In short order, after relieving Carlos, Seth was tagged for a homer, a walk and three doubles (not necessarily in that order).  By the time he left, an already daunting 6-1 deficit had turned into an 11-1 deficit.

When I wrote about this earlier (here, I think is the post) I detailed the previous instances of this rarity and suggested that if this is going to keep happening to us, then the Cards are going to have to start preparing somehow for this eventuality.

Molina

Yadier Molina has only hit safely in 4 of his last 6 games, but 3 of the 4 have been multi-hit efforts after he went 2-for-3 last night.  Yadi is hitting .350 (7 for 20) over his last 6 games – hits that include a home run and last night’s double – bringing his slugging percentage to .550 over that span.  His run scored last night was his fifth over the six games.

DeJong

After getting what I thought was a much needed day off (he had made 30 consecutive starts at shortstop), Paul DeJong returned to the lineup with another 0-for-4.  Paul is now 0 for his last 15, and 2 for his last 30 (.067), both singles.

During the month of September, Paul is hitting .205 (17 for 83) with just 2 extra-base hits.

DeJong finished the road trip hitting .171 (7 for 41) with no extra-base hits.  For the season, he hit .208 away from Busch (16 for 77) with 2 home runs – a .286 slugging percentage.

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill still lists among the strugglers.  Hitless in 2 at bats last night, Tyler is now 2 for his last 22 (.091).  He is 13 for 68 (.191) this month.

NoteBook

When the Cardinals renew acquaintances with Milwaukee this evening, the Brewers will be St Louis’ fifth consecutive opponent to have lost its previous series.  The Cards have not fared well in these matchups, losing 3 of the 4 previous series.

In fact, if you are on a bit of a losing stretch, St Louis is a team you would be relieved to see on your schedule.  To date, St Louis has matched up against 7 teams that had lost the series before.  Five of those teams reversed their slide with series wins against the Cardinals.  St Louis is 12-14 in the games of those series.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Pulling a ‘Waino’

If the frustrating thing about being “tethered to the .500 mark” (as the Cardinals have been all year) is that they have consistently failed to sustain any kind of momentum and take charge of their season; then the comforting aspect of being tethered to the .500 mark is that the season has never spun out of control on them.

If it’s true that they have never won more than four in a row, then it’s also true that they have never lost more than four in a row.  While the inconsistent offense has cost this team many opportunities to turn the corner (if you will), the frequently brilliant pitching staff keeps creating more opportunities.

For so many years an anchor on the pitching side, Adam Wainwright may have never been more valuable to his team than he has this year.  Whether it’s leading his team out of quarantine, or coming up with complete games when the bullpen really needed the break, or allowing early runs in the game, but then shutting the door while the offense makes a comeback – Wainwright has been the guts of this team in all of those situations.

This has especially been true – this year and throughout his career – when pitching the game after a Cardinal loss.  Six of his 9 starts this season have followed a loss the game before.  He is 4-1 in those games, with a 2.68 ERA.

Last night, the Cardinals could have used a Wainwright start.  Coming off the 4-1 loss that broke their longest winning streak of the year, with the final games of the season slipping past them, with their final flurry of six games in five days looming just ahead, and with Dakota Hudson (and all the innings that he might have given them) now sidelined for the rest of the season, the time was ripe for a hero to step up.

The previous loss had allowed Cincinnati to tie them for the final assured playoff spot in the division, and St Louis was, perhaps, a loss away from squandering a 13-game road trip against losing teams (they were 6-5 on the trip at the time).  October was in the air, and with it came a whiff of “must-win” to the remaining games of the Kansas City series.

Yes, they certainly could have used a Wainwright game.  The problem was that Adam had just pitched the night before.  Someone from the bullpen would have to step into Hudson’s shoes and pull a “Waino.”

In spite of the fact that he hadn’t lasted more than 3 innings or thrown more than 63 pitches in any game this season, that pitcher was Austin Gomber.

Looking at times a little like a left-handed Wainwright, Gomber aggressively attacked the corners of the zone with a running 92-mph fastball, and then buckled a few knees with a looping 75-mph curve.  When his evening finally came to a close, Austin had given the Cards 6 innings of 4-hit, walk-less, shutout ball (on 76 economic pitches).  He delivered a 5-0 lead to the suddenly resurgent bullpen, and watched them carry home the much needed victory (boxscore).

The Cards are now 14-11 this year after a loss (.560), including 7-5 this month (.583).  An achievement that – in its own way – bears effective testimony to the resilience of a team that will not allow themselves to be tipped over by the currents of adversity.

It should be further pointed out that they have achieved this will minimal support from the offense.  In the 25 games after a loss, St Louis is scoring just 3.56 runs per game (hitting just .213).  In the 12 such September games, they are averaging just 3.50 runs per game, while hitting .193.  But the pitching staff – anticipated as a strength all season – has fought back admirably after most of their loses this year, to the tune of a 3.45 ERA and a .211 batting average allowed.

They have been especially effective in the games pitched this month after a loss.  Gomber’s quality start was the seventh among the 12 games in support of a 3.04 ERA.

The playoff chase boils down to one more game against Kansas City and then five against Milwaukee.  But, if this team has to bounce back after many more losses this season, how well they bounce back will hardly matter.

Sizzling Bullpen

The games have all been against Pittsburgh and Kansas City, but St Louis has, nonetheless, won 5 of their last 6, led by a nearly bulletproof bullpen.  In his first game off the injury list the night before last, Giovanny Gallegos was touched for a run – the only run allowed by the bullpen over its last 6 games and 17.1 innings (0.52 ERA).  They have given just 6 hits in those innings, only 1 of them (the double allowed by Gallegos) for extra-bases.

They couldn’t have picked a better time to catch their second wind.

Cabrera

Out to handle the eighth, Genesis Cabrera turned in yet another strong outing.  In 11 September games (11.1 innings) Genesis holds a 1.59 ERA.

Cabrera has also been among the very effective pitchers after a loss.  He has now thrown 6 innings in those 25 games, allowing just 1 run on 4 hits.

Woodford

His streak of six consecutive games allowing a home run now broken, Jake Woodford has made significant contributions this month – especially in games after a loss.  He pitched the ninth last night, but is usually asked for multiple innings.  He has pitched in 3 of the 12 September games after a loss, allowing just 2 runs in 6.1 total innings.

Carlson

With the first 3-hit game of his career, Dylan Carlson flipped his narrative, a bit, from struggling prospect to a kid starting to put some things together.  He now has multiple hits in 2 of his last 5 games, going 6 for 17 (.353) in those games.  Four of the six hits have been for extra-bases (2 doubles, a triple and a home run).

Wong

With two hits last night, Kolten Wong pushed his average up to .300 for the month of September (24 for 80).  He’s hitting .297 (11 for 37) this month in games after a loss.

Edman

With last night’s 0-for-3, Tommy Edman’s nine-game hitting streak came to an end.  It was a fairly quiet streak, as he managed multiple hits only once.  Still, he hit .313 (10 for 32) during the 9 games.

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter did end his 22-at-bat hitless streak with a single in the last game against Pittsburgh – and followed that up with a home run in the next game.  But Matt still hasn’t really turned the corner.  Hitless in 3 at bats last night, Matt is just 2 for his last 29 (.069), and is back down to .186 (11 for 59) for the month.

Carpenter is just 11 for 62 (.177) in games after a loss this year.

NoteBook

Dating back to the first game of the September 10 doubleheader against Detroit (a 12-2 victory), the Cardinals had trailed at some point in 15 consecutive games until last night.

After making 30 consecutive starts at shortstop, Paul DeJong sat out last night’s game.  His streak had been (by far) the longest of any Cardinal at the same position.  The new longest streak is just 4 games, shared by Yadier Molina at catcher and Paul Goldschmidt at first.  To be clear about this, Goldy has, indeed, started every game this season, but has been the DH for a couple of them.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.

Where Has All the “Slug” Gone?

Of course, the 1-0 fastball is not assured.  1-0 is still early enough in the count that most pitchers aren’t afraid to come back with a breaking pitch.  That being said, if you’re a pitcher who has a mid-nineties fast ball and you’re behind in the count 1-0, you’re probably a little more likely to come back with that fastball.  If you opt for the curve or the change, then it’s possible that you might try to be a little too perfect with it, trying not to go behind 2-0.

Whatever the approach, the 1-0 pitch is one of those that major league hitters generally look forward to.  Across all of baseball (numbers found in baseball reference), batters are hitting .352/.357/.641/.998 on that 1-0 pitch.

Would it surprise you to learn that of all major league teams, your St Louis Cardinals have baseball’s worst OPS on this particular pitch?  If you’ve been watching this team, I suspect that this wouldn’t surprise you at all.  At .731, they are more than 200 points below the league average on this count, and 30 points behind the next-worst team (Arizona at .761).  They are also last in slugging percentage (.434) on that pitch.  Anytime a hitter is ahead in the count, the major league average slugging percentage sits at .508.  Cardinals ahead in the count slug .426 (fourth worst in the majors).

What does this mean?  Let me answer that with two pitches from last night’s game.

Leading off in the first inning, Kolten Wong took the first pitch of the game for a ball.  Kansas City starter Carlos Hernandez came back with the 1-0 fastball, up a little and over the outside part of the strike zone.  Wong took it the other way, but didn’t really drive it, hitting a looping little fly to left.

Now, it’s the eighth inning.  Paul DeJong is up with two outs.  This time the count is 2-1, but the concept is the same.  A fastball count, and looking – one might assume – for something to drive.  Jesse Hahn – now on the mound for the Royals – gives Paul the fastball at about 94 mph on the upper, outside corner of the zone.  DeJong also goes the other way, but with no authority, his lazy fly ball to right closing out the inning.

It’s a trend you almost can’t help but notice.  As a team, these guys can turn reasonably well on the inside fastball.  But that outside fastball – especially in a fastball count – has been repeatedly frustrating.

Addressing the media after last night’s 4-1 loss (boxscore), manager Mike Shildt talked about the offense and it’s missing “slug.”  As of this morning, St Louis’ season-long slugging percentage sits at .374, the fourth worst in baseball.  Only Pittsburgh’s 46 home runs are fewer than St Louis’ 48.

As far as approach goes, there’s nothing wrong with the opposite field strategy.  Baseball’s elite sluggers can effectively pull the outside fastball, but even they will – more often than not – take it the other way – and to good effect.

Across all of baseball, batters hitting the ball to the opposite field are slashing .318/.314/.501/.815.  When the Cardinals hit the ball the other way, they slash .253/.243/.398/.640.  They have 4 opposite field home runs all year.

I hope you are understanding that I don’t present this as “the answer.”  The season-long hitting issues that have plagued this team are a complex question involving a lot of moving parts.

But if you’re wondering where the “slug” has gone, this is one place that it is definitely missing.

Fading Offense

After finishing with just 6 hits last night, the Cardinal team batting average sinks to .229 for the month of September.

Molina

Yadier Molina was the only Cardinal with multiple hits last night – he had 2.  Things may be starting to turn a bit for Yadi, who has two hits in two of his last 4 games – a span in which he is 5 for 13 (.385) with a home run.

Yadi got his hits in spite of being behind in the count both times.  As the most aggressive swinger on the team, Yadi as almost always behind in the count (as he was in 3 of his 4 at bats last night).  For the season, Molina ends an at bat behind In the count 40.3% of the time – the highest of any Cardinal regular.

Wong

Kolten Wong has recently been playing through a muscle issue in his side.  How much that injury is affecting his game is difficult to divine with any accuracy, but his production at the plate has fallen off.  He is 1 for 12 (.083) over his last 4 games.

DeJong

Hitless in 4 at bats last night, Paul DeJong is now riding an 0-for-11 streak, part of a larger .077 streak (2 for 26) over his last 8 games.  Both hits were singles.  Back in the second inning of the September 11 game against Cincinnati, DeJong lined a double against Luis Castillo.  That was his last extra-base hit – 44 at bats ago.

Paul is now at .215 for the month (17 for 79).  He has 2 extra-base hits this month, that double and a home run (off the Cubs Colin Rea), that was 64 at bats ago.

Paul made his thirtieth consecutive start at shortstop last night – thirty games that have accrued over the last 26 days.  When you see a guy whose bat is starting to look slow, and you notice that he plays every day, it’s hard not to wonder if fatigue is part of the issue.

O’Neill

The struggles continued for left-fielder Tyler O’Neill.  Hitless in 2 at bats before being lifted for a pinch-hitter, Tyler is hitting .135 (5 for 37) over his last 15 games.  He is down to .197 (13 for 66) for the month.

Carlson

Recently returned to the big-league scene, top prospect Dylan Carlson has had some encouraging moments.  But mostly, the struggles have continued.  Dylan was 0-for-3 last night, and is 1-for-10 over the last 3 games (with 5 strikeouts).  He is 3 for 14 (.214) since his recall, and 3 for 20 (.150) this month.

Webb

Last night’s contest did feature another excellent performance from Tyler Webb, who came in with the bases loaded and extinguished that threat in the sixth.  He then added a perfect seventh.

Over his last 12 games (13 innings) Tyler has surrendered 1 run on only 11 hits (10 singles and 1 double), while walking 3 and striking out 12.  He has an 0.69 ERA over those games, with a .229/.269/.250 batting line against.  His ERA for September is down to 0.84 (10.2 innings).  He has stranded all of the last 9 runners he has inherited.

During his outing, Webb struck out Bubba Starling on an 0-2 pitch, and then retired Nicky Lopez on an 0-1 pitch.  Tyler may not seem imposing on the mound, but he is nasty to deal with if you fall behind in the count.  Twenty-four batters have now hit against him from behind.  They have two singles to show for their efforts.

Gallegos

Erstwhile closer Giovanny Gallegos came off the injured list and got roughed up for a run in his two-thirds of an inning.  It’s been a tough September for Gallegos, who has allowed, now, 6 runs in 4 innings.  The 23 batters he’s faced in September are celebrating to a .316/.435/.526 batting line.

Even though he’s been away for awhile, true to form, Giovanny did not pitch from behind.  Only one of the five batters he faced worked his way ahead in the count (Maikel Franco managed a 7-pitch walk).  For the season, Gallegos has faced 47 batters.  Only 9 have hit ahead in the count against him.

Elledge

Seth Elledge came in to retire the last batter.  Seth is up to 6.2 innings this month, with a 1.35 ERA.  Batters only have 4 hits against Seth, and are hitting .182 against him this month.

NoteBook

With another opening game loss, the Cards have lost the first game of four straight series, six of the last seven, and eight of the last ten.

My Designated Hitter Rant

As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably).  If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH.  Here is the link.  If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.