Category Archives: Baseball

Pitching Staff or MaSH Unit?

Perhaps the Cardinals should start a practice routine for pitchers replacing an injured pitcher.  It’s trickier business than it sounds.

Technically, a pitcher replacing an injured pitcher has as much time as desired to warm up.  The problem is that the entire game comes to a complete halt, waiting for the new pitcher to proclaim himself ready.  It’s difficult for the replacing pitcher not to feel a little self-conscious in that situation.  More times than not, they’re not completely ready to go when they say they are – and more times than not, the batting team takes full advantage.

As the Cardinals are now making a habit of losing pitchers in action, perhaps this is something that needs to be more thoroughly rehearsed.

When Dakota Hudson walked off the mound last night before throwing his first pitch if the third inning, Austin Gomber became the fourth Cardinal pitcher in the last 10 games to be suddenly summoned to the mound.  Most of those appearances have not worked out well.

The first of the pitchers to fall in the line of duty was then-closer Giovanny Gallegos.  This happened in the seventh inning of the second game of the September 10 doubleheader against Detroit.

Pitching with a 2-run lead, Giovanny walked the first batter.  Then, somewhere during Victor Reyes’ at bat, Gallegos strained a groin muscle.  He didn’t leave immediately, laboring through two more batters (both of whom singled) before he surrendered to medical necessity.  It was still a 3-2 St Louis lead when Ryan Helsley took over.  Whether he was fully loose before he proclaimed himself ready is anyone’s supposition.  But once he decided to get on with things, the Tigers went intentional walk, line drive double play, two-run homer and groundout – all enough to provide the Tigers a 6-3 win (boxscore).

Two games later, the Cards are in Cincinnati on September 12.  After six very strong innings from Hudson, Genesis Cabrera came in to pitch the seventh.  He didn’t throw a pitch.  During his warm-ups he developed issues with a nail on his pitching hand and had to be summarily replaced.  Tyler Webb came in, and navigated the situation as well as could be hoped – tossing 1.1 scoreless innings (boxscore).

The next night, the Cards lost John Gant.

The Cards were clinging to a 5-4 lead over the Reds, as John came in with a runner on first and one out.  Tyler Stephenson – the first batter he faced – bounced a single into right, moving the tying run to second – but keeping the inning-ending double play in play.

But, on his first pitch to Aristides Aquino, Gant’s groin balked, and that was the end of the night for him.

In to manage the situation came Andrew Miller – a veteran who must have done this before.  Again, his readiness for the situation is open to question.  He hit the first batter he faced, walked in a run, wild pitched home a second run.  A third run scored on a ground ball.  Cincinnati would go on to a damaging 10-5 victory (boxscore).

This brings us to last night and Gomber.  Carrying a 0.52 ERA for the season, and inheriting a 1-0 lead, Gomber was knocked around for the first time this season.  He crept back to the dugout after 1.2 innings, after surrendering 4 runs on 4 hits (including the second home run allowed to a left-hander in his career) and 2 walks (boxscore).

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 4 emergency relief appearances totaling 4.2 busy innings that saw the scoring of 7 runs (in addition to the scoring of all 4 inherited runners) on 7 hits, (2 of them home runs) 4 walks (1 of those intentional) a hit batsman and a wild pitch.  The 24 fortunate batters that came to the plate against these relievers slashed an impressive .368/.500/.737 leading to a 13.50 ERA.  The 18% swing-and-miss rate by those batters is another tip off that, perhaps, the pitchers were not sufficiently lose.

All I’m saying is that if this is going to keep happening for the rest of the year, perhaps it’s something that should be practiced.

Offense MIA

Two of those struggling appearances cost the team a late lead, setting up a pair of costly defeats.  Gomber also surrendered a lead, but it’s more than likely the team would have lost that game anyway.  With one run scored and two hits on the board, the offense was done for the day.

In losing their last two games, the Cards have managed 1 run on 4 total hits – all singles.  Even that doesn’t tell the full story.  Of the 4 hits, only Tommy Edman’s RBI single last night was actually well hit.  The others were two dribbling singles that beat the defensive shift, and an infield grounder that was deflected by the pitcher.  The Cards truly have the look of a team that could get no-hit on any given day.

Yesterday’s loss was St Louis’ seventh in its last 10 games.  The pitching has contributed to the woes.  They have a 5.87 ERA over the last 10 games (4.56 from the starters and 8.01 from the pen) – giving up 15 home runs over their last 79.2 innings.

For their part, the bats are hitting just .203 with only 7 home runs in those games.  They have scored all of 28 runs.  Manager Mike Shildt denies that the fatigue of the schedule is responsible for any of this.  Some of the hitters sound (and look) like that might not be the case.

B Miller

Brad Miller spent a good chunk of the summer hitting well over .300.  When you remember that his career average is around .240, you can’t be too surprised to find him regressing to his norm.  Over the last 10 games, Brad is hitting .194 (6 for 31) after his 0-for-3 last night.

Ravelo

After his 0-for-2 last night, Rangel Ravelo is now hitless over his last 16 at bats.

Hudson

To no one’s shock, the Cards have lost another important pitcher.  Gone for the rest of the regular season is Hudson – whose effectiveness and importance was probably second only to Adam Wainwright’s.  Since the season’s re-boot, Dakota was 3-1 in 7 starts with a 2.08 ERA and a .145 opponent’s batting average.

Gomber

While Austin has, indeed, pitched very well this season, in the month of September he has had surprising difficulty keeping the bases clear.  Yesterday was a continuation of that trend.

Of the 10 batters Austin faced last night, 4 of them came up with the bases empty.  Three of them reached – 2 singles and a walk.  Batters are now hitting .462 (6 for 13) against Gomber this month when hitting with the bases empty.  He has also walked 4 others, so their on base percentage against him is .588.

Webb

Tyler Webb was scuffed for the final run of the evening on a sacrifice fly.  The run snaps a streak of 9 straight scoreless appearances by Webb (9 innings).  He gave 8 hits and 3 walks while striking out 9 during the streak.

Although he inherited one runner, Tyler also made some of his own trouble, giving 3 hits over his 1.2 innings.  Of the 7 batters he faced, 5 of them came up with runners on base.  This is Webb’s norm.  Whether they are other people’s runners or people he’s put on base himself, 54.8% of the plate appearances against him have come with at least one runner on base.

A Miller

Andrew Miler’s outing last night was not uncommon.  He walked the first batter he faced, and then hit the next batter.  He then retired the last three without allowing a run.  Of the 17 batters he has faced this month, 10 have come up with at least one runner on base.  Those hitters are 0-for-7, with 1 walk and 2 hit batsmen.

NoteBook

Last night, St Louis dropped the opening game of a series for the third consecutive time.  Seven of their last 9 series have begun with a loss.

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.

Maybe the Cards won’t Need a Closer again

A strange thought went through my mind this morning as I was thumbing through the numbers from yesterday’s doubleheader.  Over the last 13 (or 15) games of the season, what would happen – I idly wondered – if the Cardinals should reach the ninth inning of some game with a lead of less than three runs?  If the opportunity should ever arise that St Louis would actually have a need for a closer, who, now, is next in line for that opportunity.

Will Giovanny Gallegos make it back before the year is over?  At this moment, I kind of doubt it.  His last save came ten days ago.  Over the last ten games, St Louis has had 2 – count ‘em, 2 – save opportunities.  They even managed to hold onto one of those games.

Forty-five games into this bizarre season, the Cardinals have provided just 10 opportunities for a save.  Their varied closers have now managed to claim 8 of those saves, blowing 2, and limping into the final weeks of the season with a combined 7.71 ERA over 9.1 innings of work.  Whoever is anointed, he will be the team’s fourth closing option of the year.

Flame-throwing Jordan Hicks, of course, was supposed to inherit that role as soon as his rehab from Tommy John surgery would permit.  He opted out of the season out of concern for his underlying condition (Jordan is diabetic).

Option number two was Korean import Kwang Hyun Kim.  He scuffled to the opening night save.  It was a messy 2-run, 2-hit inning, but it was enough to clinch the victory.  That was before the virus swept through the team, forcing that now-famous 17-day hiatus in the season.

In the re-vamped season, Kim was reborn as a starter – and to excellent effect.  In one of the team’s best decisions, Kwang Hyun has made 5 post-COVID starts, going 2-0 with a 0.33 ERA.

Up next was Gallegos.  He got all of 5 save opportunities.  Through the first four (lasting all of four innings), he looked like a promising choice.  He recorded all four of the saves (although he did serve up a home run in one of them).  That home run was the only hit and run he allowed in the closer capacity.  He threw 83% of his pitches for strikes (43 of 52), needing an average of just 13 pitches per inning.  He got a 36% swing-and-miss rate (mostly on his wipe-out slider) and recorded 5 strikeouts in those innings.

The only time he struggled in the role was the night he pulled his groin.  That was the second game of the Detroit doubleheader.  Trying to hold onto a two-run, seventh-inning lead (and, remember, in doubleheaders this year, the seventh inning is the ninth), Giovanny faced 3 batters.  All of them reached – and all of them scored, albeit, after Gallegos had left the game.

Next up seemed then – and might still be, for all we know – Ryan Helsley.  He came on with the lead still at 3-2, but with runners at second and third with no one out.  In quick succession, and after an intentional walk loaded the bases, Helsley was torched for a single, a line-drive double play, and Jorge Bonifacio’s game-icing home run.  The blast put the wraps on a devastating 5-run 7th and a deflating 6-3 loss (boxscore).

I suggest that Ryan may still be the closer, because since that game he received the only other clear closing opportunity.  In the first game of the just-concluded Brewer series (which was also the first game of a doubleheader), the Cards finally eked out a run in the eighth-inning (an extra-inning, as it turns out), and Ryan was given the ball in the bottom of that inning with a 1-0 lead to hold onto.

The hope would have been that he would only face three Brewers.  He did, but with less than expected results – a walk, a strikeout and a double allowed the ghost-runner to score (remember that every extra-inning this year begins with a free-runner at second base), tying the game and leaving runners at second and third with one out for Austin Gomber.  Twelve pitches later, a flyball gave Milwaukee the victory (boxscore).

Ryan has closing-type of stuff, and became one of Mike Shildt’s most trusted relievers in last year’s playoffs.  But, in a multi-interrupted season, Ryan has only been inconsistent.  In his two closing opportunities, Helsley has faced 8 batters.  He’s given a single, a double, a home run and two walks.  Two of the four outs he has recorded came on a line-drive double play.

If I had to guess, though, my guess would be that Shildt will go back to Helsley the next time an opportunity arises.  That’s how Mike is.  Once he anoints you as anything, you have to struggle for a long, long time for him to look elsewhere.  To the question of who is the current Cardinal closer, I would have to hesitantly answer, Ryan Helsley.

Should he be?  Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?  It might be wise to throw him into some low-leveraged situations until he can sharpen his command.

Who would the other candidates be?

Well, the two others who have closed games this year, Andrew Miller (twice) and Tyler Webb (once) have done well in small sample sizes.  They could be candidates.  Shildt believes in Miller, but Andrew has also been erratic.  He has a 4.15 ERA so far.  In 8.2 innings, he has walked 3 and hit 2 others, allowing 2 of 4 inherited runners to score.

Webb has been pitching very well of late, and might be as fine a candidate as any.  Alex Reyes probably has as much pure stuff as anyone on the staff.  He has 21 strikeouts in 15.1 innings.  Alex has also walked 11 in those innings, so he’s a little scary to cast in the closer’s role.

If I had my choice, I think I would give the next opportunity to John Gant.  His command isn’t perfect (he has 7 walks through 14 innings), but he has 18 strikeouts in those innings and a 2.57 ERA. 

Gant, of course, comes with his own complications.  The last time he pitched, he limped off the mound with a groin injury of his own.  Reportedly, though, his malady was very light.  He wasn’t put on the injury list, and he is expected to be available as soon as today.

Gant has been one of baseball’s more compelling middle relievers for a few years now, and there is no reason to believe that he couldn’t dependably close games.  I think most teams would be glad to have a Johnny Gant as a fourth closing option.

Providing, of course, that he can walk to the mound.

Cabrera

Genesis Cabrera pitched the eighth-inning of the second game of the first doubleheader.  It was a complicated inning, as he walked one and hit another, but he struck out the other three he faced.  Genesis could also be a closing candidate.

It was just the second time this season that Cabrera had pitched on back-to-back days.  Both have been scoreless outings (2.1 innings), and Genesis has struck out 7 of the 10 batters he faced.

Reyes

I mentioned Alex Reyes earlier.  He also pitched on consecutive days in the series, walking a batter while striking out 3.  Reyes has, to be fair, been much more consistent lately.  In his last 9 innings – covering his last 6 appearances – he has given just 1 earned run on 6 hits, with 3 walks and 13 strikeouts.

B Miller

After scuffling for a bit, Brad Miller has rebounded recently.  He is 4 for 13 (.308) with a double and a home run (.615 slugging) over the last 4 games.

Edman

Moved into the leadoff spot 3 games ago, Tommy Edman has responded well.  He is 4 of 10 (.400) in his new role, and he is hitting .321 (9 for 28) over his last 8 games.  Toss in 5 walks, and Tommy’s on base percentage has been .424 over that span.

Bader

After a brief uptick, Harrison Bader is fading at the plate again.  Hitless in 5 at bats during the doubleheader, Harrison has faded back down to .231 (9 for 39) during the month.

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s hot streak is also well in the rearview mirror.  After an 0-for-5 doubleheader, Carp is 0 for his last 14, and is hitting .209 (9 for 43) in September.

NoteBook

Both games of the doubleheader took only 2:01 – making them the fastest games by time of the Cardinal season.  A 2-0 loss to Pittsburgh in the second game of the August 27 doubleheader – at 2:02 – had been the fastest game.

Buoyed by Tuesday’s blowout loss, St Louis surrendered 30 runs over the five-game series – the most runs by far that they have given up in any series this year.  Previously, they allowed 19 runs in their first five-game series in Chicago.

The average temperature in the dome during those five games was 70.2 degrees, making it the coolest series by average temperature that St Louis has played so far this year.  Their second five-game trip into Chicago averaged 75.8 degrees.

This series was St Louis’ seventh of the season in which they lost the first game.  They are now 1-5-1 in those series.  They are 8-14 in the games of those series, though, so they are 8-7 after losing the first 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.

Adversity . . . it’s not just for breakfast anymore

Some days ago, I suggested that there might finally be a light at the end of the tunnel.  It turns out – as the old joke goes – the light was the headlights of the oncoming train.

The thought was based on the fact that the toughest teams (by record) had already been faced.  The last 23 games on St Louis’ schedule were against teams that have losing records.

Well, in the first place, they haven’t thrived.  After winning the first game against the Tigers, the Cards have lost 5 of their last 7 by every means imaginable.  Offensively, they have hit just .224 and have scored just 3.29 runs per game.  The pitching, meanwhile, has been pushed around in a way that we wouldn’t have thought we’d see very often at the beginning of the year.

The team’s great strength – the pitching staff – has been saddled with a 6.14 ERA over those games (4.63 from the starters and 8.37 from the bullpen).  Over the last 58.2 innings, Cardinal pitchers have walked 28 batters unintentionally (4.76 per nine innings) and served up 11 home runs (1.69 per nine innings).  A distressing combination.

For the most part, the pitching staff seems to be a mixture of those pitchers who have never re-discovered their feel after the isolation (Jack Flaherty,Carlos Martinez, Ryan Helsley, Andrew Miller) and those relievers who are starting to show signs of overwork (pretty much everyone else).

Another short start pushed the bullpen through the ringer against last night, as three relievers covered 5 innings with 108 pitches.  There are a significant number of weary arms as they face yet another doubleheader today.

Beyond just that, though, now the injuries have set in.  As I write this, we have no idea about whether Kolten Wong  or John Gant will be available to play, or whether they will be joining John Brebbia, Miles Mikolas, Austin Dean, Dexter Fowler and Giovanny Gallegos on the probably-out-for-the –rest –of –the-year list.  As we prepare to start the doubleheader, they are not yet certain whether their scheduled second game starter will be cleared to pitch.  Yadi Molina was hit by a swinging bat last night, but will be starting the first game.

All of this is happening on the heels of an exhausting span in which this team has played 38 games in 32 days, and have another 15 to play over the next 12.

Forget last night’s blowout (boxscore) – which has shortened their lead over their two closest competitors.  This is a ship that is taking on water on many fronts.

It wouldn’t be astonishing – I don’t think – if the Cards would fade from contention coming down the stretch.  The demands of the schedule, the fatigue of the pitching staff, the piling up of injuries.  The Cards are currently trying to settle on their fourth closer of the season, after Jordan Hicks, Kwang Hyun Kim and Giovanny Gallegos, have all been removed from the equation for various reasons.  I don’t know too many teams that could still compete having to turn to their fourth closer.  It is unclear whether the Cardinals can.

Historically, though, this is a team that has overcome adversity that would crush lesser spirits – with the storied 2011 team as the prime example.  That this team has (at 20-21) kept itself relevant through all of this is commendable.  If they are going to go on and cover themselves with glory, though, there’s a lot more adversity ahead for them to swim through.

Flaherty

In back-to-back starts against Kansas City and Cleveland, it looked like Jack Flaherty was returning to form.  He allowed just one run in ten innings during those two games.  His last three starts have shown a significant regression.

He has pitched a total of 10.2 innings over those three starts, twice failing to get through the fourth inning, while being roughed up for 14 runs on 16 hits, including 3 home runs.  His 11.81 ERA over that span is matched by a .340 batting average against, and a .574 slugging percentage allowed.

Most of that damage came last night, of course, but even dismissing that game, Jack had still given 5 runs over the 7.2 prior innings.

That’s 6 in a row for Woodford

Through his first three appearances of the year, Jake Woodford looked like he might be a promising addition to the bullpen.  Working multiple innings each time, Jake fashioned a 1.29 ERA over his first seven innings.  He still may become that, but Jake is battling through a learning curve at the moment.

Last night, when he served up the three-run home run to Keston Hiura that really broke the game open, it marked Jake’s sixth consecutive appearance allowing a home run.  In just 18.1 innings this year, Woodford has taken over the staff lead in home runs allowed with 7.

Over the six games (11.1 innings) in which he has served up one (and only one) home run, Jake has scuffled to a 9.53 ERA, a .340 batting average allowed, and a .745 slugging percentage allowed.

Through the early part of his career, Jake (a right-hander) has had much more trouble with right-handed batters.  The righties he faced last night went 2 for 5 against him with a double and a home run.  For the season, right-handers are 12 for 37 (.324) against him with 6 home runs against him to go along with the one double – an .838 slugging percentage.  Lefties hold a .206 average against him.

Edman

In a dreary evening, Tommy Edman was the only Cardinal bright spot.  He finished with 2 hits in 4 at bats.  Tommy has hit safely in 4 of his last 6 games – with 3 of them being multi-hit games.  He is 7 for his last 22 (.318) with 5 walks (a .444 on base percentage) during those games.

Apparently one of the switch-hitter’s problems is not facing enough lefthanders.  Tommy was 2 for 3 against the lefties he saw last night, and is 4 for 8 against them this month.  For the season, Edman is a .375 hitter against left handers (9 for 24).  Four of the hits have been for extra-bases (1 double, 1 triple and 2 home runs) – a .750 slugging percentage.

He only hits .240 against right-handers this season (30 for 125).  In September, he is just 10 for 49 (.204) against them, after going 0-for-1 last night.

Ravelo

After his 0-for-4 last night, Cardinal utility guy Rangel Ravelo is now in an 0-for-12 skid.  It has dropped him to just .208 for the month (5 for 24).

Molina

Another of last night’s hitless batters, Yadier Molina (who was 0-for-3 before leaving the game with a hand injury) is now just 1 for his last 13 (.077).  Molina is just 8 for 40 (.200) this month.

All of his at bats last night were against left-handed pitchers.  Always a good hitter against lefties, Yadi is just 3 for 17 (.176) against them so far this year.

Carpenter

After a hot early series against Cincinnati, Matt Carpenter is off again.  He was 0-for-4 last night, and is hitless over his last three games (0-for-8).  His average for the month has slipped to .237.

O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill was one of the many Cardinals to hit home runs in the first game of the September 10 doubleheader against Detroit.  He hasn’t had an extra base hit since.  After his 0-for-3 last night, Tyler is 2 for 15 (.133) over his last 7 games, with 6 strikeouts.  O’Neill has started 12 of the 17 September games, but is only hitting .227 (10 for 44).

NoteBook

The 15 run loss was – of course – the largest beating the Cards have absorbed this year, eclipsing by three runs the 14-2 pounding they took from Cleveland on August 28.

On the Bruhaha

In this column I try to almost exclusively focus on the game and pass by the extra-curricular stuff.  Last night’s game turned a little ugly as the Brewers started taunting from their dugout in the midst of the blowout.  For some reason, I was a little surprised at Ryan Braun’s exaggerated whinging on a called strike with his team ahead by double digits.  In retrospect, I don’t know why I should be surprised.

The Brewers have never had the reputation of being a particularly classy team – as far back as at least the Nyjer Morgan/Zack Greinke days, so stuff like this from them shouldn’t really surprise me.

Well, taunting in a game that you’re far ahead in is easy enough to do, but it does attract the attention of the karma gods.  The 2011 team was a bit like that.  And that season didn’t end well for them.

Right now, it’s a little easy to kick this Cardinal team.  I don’t have any idea if they have anything left in the tank to answer the insults tossed their way.  I do know, though, that it’s frequently a bad idea to kick the team that’s down.

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.

Waiting for that One Big Hit

When the breakthrough finally came, it came with more of a whimper than a bang.  By the time that Tyler O’Neill made it to the plate with the bases loaded in the fifth inning of yesterday’s second game, the Cards were riding a 2-for-12 streak with runners in scoring position during that long day of baseball in Milwaukee.  Inning after inning had presented its opportunities, to be met with untimely strikeouts and ineffectual pop-outs.  Along the way, St Louis had dropped the first game 2-1 (boxscore) in “extra-innings.”  Now, O’Neill was up with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth – Cards down 2-0 and down to what would have been their last 7 outs.

Salvation – when it came – came in the form of a dribbling ground ball to shortstop that Tyler beat out for an infield hit.  A run scored.  St Louis still trailed, but now only 2-1.

Later, in the seventh, Brad Miller would tie the game with a bouncing, shift-beating single just to the shortstop side of second base.  When Paul DeJong came to the plate in the ninth inning with a runner at third and two out, the Cards were riding another 0-for-8 stretch with runners in scoring position.  In the Cards’ twentieth at bat just of the nightcap with runners in scoring position, DeJong jumped on a 2-0 fastball up in the zone, lining the single to left that would give the Cards a 3-2 win (boxscore) and a much needed split.

For the entire 17 innings yesterday, St Louis finished 6 for 25 (.240) with runners in scoring position (RISP).

But the real story yesterday came from the other side.  As frustrating as most of the afternoon must have been for the Cardinals, it was even worse for the Brewers.  After having 11 RISP opportunities in the first game, they found themselves with 12 more in the second game.  From all those opportunities, Milwaukee drew 6 walks (1 intentional), had a batter hit by a pitch, and even looped the sacrifice fly that won the first game.

But, in 15 official such at bats, they managed one lonely hit – in the eighth inning of the first game, Ryan Braun golfed a low fastball from Ryan Helsley off the center field wall to put the winning run at third.  Other than that, the Cardinal pitchers were impenetrable.

This has been the general pattern all year, but especially the last month.  For the season, opposing hitters are struggling along at .204 in RISP opportunities against St Louis.  Over the last two series, the Reds went 3 for 18 before the Brewers experienced their struggles yesterday.

The flame-throwing youngsters of the Cardinals invite all kinds of trouble.  Over the last two series, they have walked 10 and hit 2 more of the 46 batters who have faced them with ducks on the pond.  But they rarely give that hit – and that has made all the difference.

Starters Leading a Resurgence

After scuffling early in the homestand against Minnesota and Detroit, the starters have re-emerged against the Reds, and now in the beginning of the road-trip against Milwaukee.  Over the last 5 games, Cardinal starters have accounted for 4 quality starts, and have thrown 29 innings – posting a 2.79 ERA in those games with a .208 batting average against.  In yesterday’s doubleheader, starters Kwang Hyun Kim and Daniel Ponce de Leon combined to throw 13 of the 16.2 innings with a 1.38 ERA and a .152 batting average against.

Kim

On August 17, in his first game coming out of quarantine, KK made his first National League start in Chicago against the Cubs.  Leading off the fourth inning, Ian Happ jumped on a high 2-1 pitch and lofted it the other way for a home run.

That was the last earned run that Kim has allowed.  As he lasted two more batters that inning before hitting his pitch count, Kwang Hyun’s streak of not allowing an earned run (after he delivered 7 scoreless against the Brewers) has now reached 24.2 innings.  Kim has delivered 3 quality starts in his last 4 outings, while holding hitters to a .145 average.

The Brewers were 0-for-5 against him with runners in scoring position.  For the season, opposing hitters are 2-for-21 (.095) against Kwang Hyun in RISP situations.

Ponce de Leon

With two out in the third inning of the second game, and runners on first and second, Daniel Ponce de Leon – in a terrific bounce-back effort – blew an 0-2 fastball right past Milwaukee’s Keston Hiura to end the inning and the threat.  Almost stunningly, during his six-plus innings, Hiura was the only Brewer to face Daniel with runners in scoring position.  The huge difference here was that Ponce de Leon – who has been beset with walks the whole season – walked only one batter.

With Hiura’s strikeout, and in spite of all his other struggles, batters are now just 1 for 10 with 5 strikeouts against Ponce de Leon with runners in scoring position this year.  Over his first two partial seasons, batters had hit .310 (18 for 58) against him in those situations.

DeJong

Paul DeJong’s 4-for-7 performance in the doubleheader included going 2-for-4 with runners in scoring position.  This has been a point of emphasis for DeJong this year.  Through his first three seasons, Paul was only a .241 hitter (82-for-340) in these situations.  He is now hitting .385 (5 for 13) in RISP at bats this month, and is up to .391 (9 for 23) on the season – the best RISP batting average of any Cardinal regular.

Thomas

One of the outfielders the Cards are hoping will come through is Lane Thomas – who at the moment isn’t making the most of his opportunity.  He was 0-for-5 yesterday, and now – after hitting his only home run of the season in St Louis’ only win in the recent Cincinnati series – is hitless in his last 10 at bats, including 4 strikeouts.  In his 12 games this month, Thomas is hitting .125 (4 for 32).

His struggles included going 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position.  He is now 1-for-12 this season in those opportunities.  Last year, he was 5-for-10.

NoteBook

The games in the dome in Milwaukee checked in with temperatures of 66 and 63 degrees – the Cardinals’ coolest games of the season, so far.  A couple of games in Chicago were played in 72 degrees – the previous low.

The first-game loss means St Louis has lost the first game in 6 of their last 8 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.

Running on Fumes?

Did Carlos Martinez deserve better?  Certainly.  The Reds tied yesterday’s game with two third-inning runs – neither of which would have scored had Eugenio Suarez’ two-out pop fly to left been caught.  But left-fielder Austin Dean lost the ball in the sun, the inning prolonged, and bad things happened.

It was the focal moment in Cincinnati’s come-from-behind, 10-5 victory (boxscore).  But, the fly ball notwithstanding, Martinez still did as much scuffling as dominating yesterday, allowing six hit and two walks (one of them intentional) as his 90 pitches pushed him through just 4 innings.  He also struck out 8.

Six relievers followed him to the mound.  They combined to throw 126 pitches as they labored to complete the last 4 frames.

This has become a recurring theme, and the question that comes to mind is how long can the bullpen hold up under the onslaught of innings.

Five of the last 8 starters, and 8 of the last 13 have failed to last 5 innings.  For the entire month, thus far, the relievers have covered 44.6% of the team’s inning load – a number that would be 50% even of the innings, except that 6 of the 14 games have been 7-inning doubleheader games.

Double-headers notwithstanding, the Cardinal bullpen has chucked 125 innings in the one month since the Cardinal season re-started.  The most innings they pitched in any calendar month last year was the 107 they threw in April 2019.

So when a game like yesterday happens, and the normally reliable pen serves up 7 runs on 7 hits (including 2 home runs) over 5 innings during which they walked 3, hit another, and uncorked a damaging wild pitch, you wonder.  Was it just one of those games?  Or has the pen started to reach its limits.

For the first six games of this month, the bullpen was exemplary.  In their first 22 innings of the month, they responded with a 2.05 ERA and a .177 batting average against.  In the 27.2 innings they’ve been called on to work over the last 8 games, they have been tagged for 7 home runs and a 5.86 ERA.

So now, with the pen already fatigued from last night – and temporarily missing John Gant and Giovanny Gallegos – the Cardinals will embark on their most stressful stretch of the season.  Today’s doubleheader in Milwaukee will kick off a scheduled stretch of 37 innings of baseball over the next 3 days.  Over the next two weeks, the team is set to play 18 games, including four doubleheaders.

Whatever depth and resolve we have among those members of the bullpen will be fully tested over this strange season’s final two weeks.

Webb

Amidst the chaos in the pen, Tyler Webb has returned to 2019 form when he became one of our most consistent and most trusted relievers.  After being called on twice against the Reds, Tyler has now made 8 consecutive appearances (8 innings) without allowing a run.  He has walked just 2 and given 8 hits – all singles, while striking out 8.

Woodford

On in the eighth inning trying to hold the deficit at two runs, Jake Woodford served up Suarez’ home run.  Jake has now served up a home run in 5 straight appearances.  Now with 6 on the year, Jake – in only 17 innings – is tied for the team lead with Adam Wainwright (who has pitched a team-leading 46 innings).

Wainwright

Even with taking the loss in the Friday game (boxscore) Adam Wainwright gave the Cardinals another quality start – his third in a row, and fifth in 7 starts.  In his first start of the season re-set, Waino missed a quality start by one inning, allowing the White Sox just 1 run over 5 innings.

One the keys to Adam’s success this season has been quick at bats.  On Friday, he dispatched 26 batters using only 99 pitches (3.81 per).  For the season, he leads the entire rotation, averaging just 3.59 pitches for every batter he faces.

Hudson

Dakota Hudson flirted with a no-hitter in the Cardinals’ only victory of the series on Saturday (boxscore).  Hudson has come lately to be as reliable as Wainwright.  Saturday’s game was his third quality start in his last 4 games.  He is 3-0 over those 24 innings with a 2.63 ERA.  He has held opposing hitters to just a .159 average, and 63% of the balls put in play against him have been on the ground.

If his pitch count isn’t quite as efficient as Wainwright’s, he has at least been one of the Cardinals’ toughest pitchers to put big innings together against.  The Reds sent only 22 batters to the plate in Dakota’s six innings against them.  For the season, he is dealing with only 3.86 batters per inning.  Among starters, only Kwang Hyun Kim (3.83) faces fewer.

Martinez

For Carlos, through his abbreviated first three starts of the season, the story line has been the exact opposite – long and complicated innings.  After facing 20 batters and throwing 90 pitches to get through four innings, Martinez is now facing 5.21 batters per inning (most among starters) and throwing 21.44 pitches per inning.  Among starters only Daniel Ponce de Leon (23.23) is throwing more.

Carpenter

If there was a hitting hero in the series, it would have to be the resurgent Matt Carpenter, who was 4 for 10, including a double and a home run.

Over his last 5 starts, Carp is 7 for 13 (.538) with 3 extra-base hits (.923 slugging), 3 walks and a hit-by-pitch (.647 on base).  He has 6 runs batted in in those games.

While the Cards have been losing 5 of their last 8, Carpenter has slashed .412/.524/.706.  Matt has suddenly emerged as one of the best hitters of the month.  In 37 September plate appearances, Carp has 5 singles, 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 6 walks (1 intentional) and 1 hit-by-pitch – a satisfying .300/.432/.567 batting line.

Always a tough double-play candidate, Matt was up in 3 double-play opportunities in the series without obliging the Reds.  For the season, he has hit into 1 double play in 35 such opportunities (2.9%), the lowest percentage of any Cardinal with at least 20 opportunities.

Bader

Against the Reds, Harrison Bader only swung the bat 13 times, producing 6 more foul balls.  For the season, no Cardinal approaches Harrison’s foul rate of 47.5% of his swings.  Consequently, Bader only puts the ball in play with 28.8% of the time.

Still the fouls and the taking of pitches do their part to wear down a pitcher.  Harrison this year is seeing 4.31 pitches per plate appearance, the most of any Cardinal with at least 80 plate appearances.

Molina

Collecting a lot of big hits when he first returned, Yadier Molina has scuffled this month.  After a 1-for-7 series against the Reds, Yadi is a .235 hitter (8 for 34) with just 2 walks in September.

As far as aggressiveness goers, if anything Molina has been getting more aggressive.  He swung at 63.6% of all pitches thrown to him by Cincinnati, and at 57.1% of the first pitches he saw – both the highest percentages on the team.  He leads in both of those categories over the course of the season as well (57.1% and 46.3% respectively).  Of the 15 strikes he saw during the series, only 1 was a called strike.

B Miller

It’s always tough when the guys in the middle of your lineup are struggling, and cleanup-hitter Brad Miller has been spinning his wheels for a while, now.  He was 1-for-9 against Cincinnati, and over his last 10 games, Brad is hitting .129 (4 for 31).

Although not truly slow, Brad is the only Cardinal starter who still doesn’t have an infield hit this year.

On the other hand, Brad is just behind Carpenter in the tough-to-double category.  Miller has grounded into just 1 in 26 opportunities (3.8%).

As one of the lineup’s better power threats with little protection behind him, pitchers haven’t been overly eager to challenge Brad this year.  In his 13 plate appearances against the Reds, he saw only 7 first pitch strikes.  For the season, only 55.8% of the first pitches thrown to him have been strikes – the lowest rate on the team.

NoteBook

Friday’s loss marked the fifth time in the last 7 series that the Cards had lost the first game.

At 3:42, Sunday’s marathon was the longest 9-inning game the Cards had played since they lost a 14-2 blowout to Cleveland on August 28.  The game against the Indians the next day ran to 4:06, but that was a 12-inning contest.

Sunday’s five-run loss was also the worst beating the Cards had absorbed since that 14-2 game against the Indians.

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.

Hold them Where They’re at

After the disappointment of losing the last game in Chicago (missing an opportunity to pull within 1.5 games of the Cubs), the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader against Minnesota began in dreary enough fashion.  Carlos Martinez was done early, and Twins right-hander Jose Berrios was effortlessly blowing through the Cardinal lineup.  Going into the bottom of the sixth (remember, this would be a seven-inning game) the Cards were looking up at a 5-0 deficit.

Then suddenly the Cards showed a spark of life.  A walk and Tommy Edman’s two-run home run sliced the deficit to three.  Paul Goldschmidt’s single chased the tiring Berrios from the game.  Before the inning would end, Goldschmidt would score on a wild pitch.  The score was now 5-3 with one inning remaining.

Trusted with the seventh inning, Ryan Helsley invited trouble giving up a leadoff single.  After a strikeout and a flyball, he was almost out of danger.  When the count on Miguel Sano went to 0-2, Ryan was one strike away from holding the deficit at two and keeping the team in the game.

Three pitches later, Sano iced the game with a soaring home run over the left field wall.

Fast forward to last night’s second game.  The Cards carried their 3-1 lead in to the bottom of the seventh (again, the game’s final inning).  Giovanny Gallegos was tabbed to start the inning, but at some point in his outing he injured himself.  All three batters he faced, reached, with one of them scooting home.

With the game now 3-2 Cardinals, Mike Shildt turned again to Helsley.  Again, relief was hard to come by.  Even after an intentional walk and a two-run single off the bat of Jeimer Candelario pushed Detroit in front 4-3, the Cards were still – ostensibly – in the game.  As with the Minnesota game, the Cardinals truly needed Ryan to stop the bleeding.  Hold us in the game.

After Willi Castro lined into a double-play, it meant that once again Helsley was one out away from getting out of the mess.  And once again, Ryan was tagged for the game-icing home run (this time off the bat of Jorge Bonifacio.  That put the finishing touches on a deflating 6-3 loss (boxscore).

A promising three-game winning streak against Chicago had momentarily pushed St Louis to the rarified air of two games over .500 at 17-15, with the pitching – especially the bullpen – very much in the front of the charge.

St. Louis is 2-3 since that moment, with the pitching staff – especially the bullpen – taking on water.  Over those last five games, the Cards hold a 5.50 ERA (5.12 from the rotation and 5.94 from the bullpen).  One of the sticking points has been the staff’s inability to control games while they are close and hold deficits at one or two runs.

Here, I’ve picked a little on Helsley, but he hasn’t been the only one.  Six times in four games so far this month, Cardinal pitchers have failed in that position – either early or late – of keeping the opposing team in striking distance.  All four of those games were lost.  Over the last five games, Cardinal pitchers have worked 6 innings with either a 1- or 2-run deficit.  They have a 7.50 ERA in those innings, with batters going 10 for 26 (.385) against them, with half the hits for extra-bases (3 doubles and 2 home runs) contributing to a .731 slugging percentage.

It’s mid-September now, and teams like the Cubs and the Twins are very much fighting for playoff seeding.  The Cardinals – who have been in survival mode for nearly a month – are going to have to find another gear quickly or their season could very well slip away from them like the second game of yesterday’s doubleheader.

Carpenter

One gets the feeling that Matt Carpenter cannot be benched, regardless of how deeply he struggles.  Even when his average slipped below .170, there was no feeling that Shildt would ever remove him from the lineup.  Whether it’s a blip or a for real turnaround, Carpenter has rewarded that confidence over the last 3 games as he has reached base six consecutive times (2 singles, a double, 2 walks and a hit-by-pitch).

Ravelo

Rangel Ravelo was one of several Cards who had big days in the 12-2 first game rout (boxscore).  He went 2-for-2 with his first home run of the season.  For what it’s worth, Rangel has hit in all three games since his recall, hitting .364 (4 for 11) during that span.

Molina

Yadier Molina, another hero of the first game, had been 0-for-11 through his previous three games before his two-hit effort, including a home run.

Bader

After a flurry of hits in Chicago, Harrison Bader is fading at the plate again, chasing high pitches far too often.  He is 1 for 12 over his last 4 games.

NoteBook

His walk in game one was Tyler O’Neill’s tenth of the season.  In his thirty-first game and after just 111 plate appearances, O’Neill has already tied his career high in walks set last year in 60 games and 151 plate appearances.

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.

Position Wars – 2020 Edition

Position wars – for those of you who are reading one for the first time – is a simple comparison of team performance depending on who is starting at any of the defensive positions.

It always comes with a word of warning.  The numbers sometimes seem to make a compelling case for starting or sitting a particular player.  But even in a full season, victory and/or defeat is always dependent on many factors.  With only 35 games in the books, all of these numbers and musings should be taken with an extra-large grain of salt.

Catcher

In St Louis, catcher is synonymous with Yadier Molina.  The future Hall-of-Fame catcher has spent his entire career wearing the Birds-on-the-Bat, and has re-defined the position – at least here in St Louis.

This year – so far – Yadi has only started 25 of the 35 games, due to the COVID situation that disrupted the team.  He has returned without missing a beat.  In the 25 games he’s started, the team ERA sits at 3.45, although the record is just 12-13.

Between his two backups, Matt Wieters has produced the best results.  The team is 5-1 in his six starts, and just 1-3 when Andrew Knizner starts.

First Base

Two years ago, when St Louis traded for Paul Goldschmidt, it was with the intention that he would play first base every day. It worked out that way last year, and has so far this year.  In what is, perhaps, the only normal element of 2020, Goldschmidt has started 31 of the 35 games at first.  The team is 16-15 when he starts, and 2-2 when he doesn’t.

Second Base

In similar fashion, Kolten Wong has essentially owned second base.  He has made 29 of the 35 starts, leaving too few starts for the others to make any observations.  Like Goldy at first, the team is 15-14 when Kolten starts, and 3-3 when he doesn’t.

Shortstop

Paul DeJong is the only Cardinal who has started all 9 games this month at the same position, and his 14 consecutive starts at this position is the longest such streak on the team.

That being said, though, DeJong hasn’t owned shortstop the way that Goldschmidt and Wong have owned their positions.  As one of the Cardinals impacted by the virus, Paul found his position ceded to Tommy Edman for 11 games in August.

The team record with Edman at short (6-5) isn’t materially better that its record with DeJong there (12-11), but the team ERA is nearly a full run better with Edman (2.93) than DeJong (3.92).  The team batting average against was also significantly lower when Edman played short (.168 to .221).

All of this simply confirms what those of us who watch Tommy play already know – he is a top-flight defender, wherever you put him.

Offensively, the team does somewhat better when DeJong starts (4.88 runs per game to 4.71).

Third Base

Third has been a revolving position for this team so far in 2020.  To date, three different players have made at least 8 starts there.  Matt Carpenter’s 16 starts is the most, followed by Edman with 10 and Brad Miller with 8.

Surprisingly (to me, anyway) the best record among the group belongs to Miller, who has led the team to a 6-2 record when he starts at third.  The team is 8-8 with Carpenter, and only 4-6 when Edman starts there.  Given the erratic throwing arms of Miller and Carpenter – and both have made damaging throwing errors in their recent starts at third – it might also be initially surprising to see the team ERA lower with both of those players than with Edman.  With Miller at third, the team ERA sits at 2.81.  It is 3.79 with Carp and just 3.95 when Edman plays at third.

The tip off here, though, is the unearned runs.  In Miller’s 8 starts, the Cards have seen 6 unearned runs scored against them.  There have been 9 unearned runs scored against them with Carpenter playing there.  In Edman’s 10 starts at third, only 1 unearned run has come across.

I don’t mean to suggest that all the unearned runs were the fault of Miller and Carpenter – but they certainly contributed their share.

With Miller having the better offensive year of the three, it should come as no surprise that St Louis scores more with Brad at third (6.19 rpg) than they do with Carpenter (4.66) or Edman (4.06).

Left Field

Welcome to the conundrum that is the 2020 Cardinal outfield.  Rookie Dylan Carlson has started in left 5 times, and Edman has been there for 3 games, but the bulk of the opportunity here has gone (as was the plan) to Tyler O’Neill.  He has made the start here in 27 of the 35 games.

I wish there were a number here to prop up Tyler’s contributions, but there really isn’t anything.  St Louis is 12-15 in Tyler’s starts, scoring 3.63 runs per game with a team ERA of 3.78.  With anyone else in left, the team is 6-2, scoring 6.88 runs per game with a 3.22 team ERA.

What to do about O’Neill must certainly be a question that gnaws at Mike Shildt, but truthfully there are few options.  Tyler is struggling, but, in the absence of Dexter Fowler the team doesn’t have a wealth of alternatives, unless they are willing to absolutely give up on Tyler and bring up Austin Dean and/or Justin Williams.  I get the feeling that they will go the rest of the year with O’Neill in the lineup and sink or swim with him.

Center Field

Harrison Bader, with a couple of recent hits, has kind of re-established himself in center.  The team is 3-2 this month in his 5 starts there, but is still just 10-11 for the season when Bader starts in center.  The supporting numbers are about what you might expect: less offense (4.00 runs per game), and better defense (3.19 ERA).

In his abbreviated introduction to the majors, Carlson started here more than the other two outfield spots.  And the team was 6-4 when he was the center fielder.

Right Field

This was Fowler’s position, before his eroding health removed him from the lineup.  Going into the season, I would not have predicted that Dexter would be the most indispensable bat in the outfield, but replacing him is one of the bigger question marks facing the team.  In the 8 games he’s missed, the team has turned to Edman (5 games) more than Lane Thomas (3 games), but neither has yet to put a stamp on the position.

To date, Fowler has started 20 of the 35 games.  St Louis is 10-10 when he starts, scoring 4.80 runs per game with a 3.61 team ERA.  When he doesn’t start, they are 8-7, scoring 3.80 runs per game with a 3.71 team ERA

The Takeaway

It’s always about the outfield.  The infield, more or less, has played out pretty much the way it was expected to out of Spring Training.  The outfield – especially now that they may play the rest of the season minus Fowler – is the area of the lineup that seems to be holding the team back.

This is not a surprise.  I wish I had a nickel for every discussion – in print or otherwise – that has concerned the Cardinal outfield.

The clarity of the situation, though, is this.  There isn’t anything material that anyone can do about it.  As I’ve stated elsewhere, all of these players are the pride of the farm system, and all have impressive minor league resumes.  This organization (and its fan base) is just going to have to have faith that these guys will hit.  Eventually.  Even if the numbers at present aren’t particularly faith promoting.

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.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

It was 25 days ago that the Cardinals came out of isolation to resume their abbreviated season.  With 23 (or so) games left in the season – and after playing 30 games over the previous 25 days – the COVID hangover still lingers over this team.  In the last two games St Louis played before the outburst, they started Carlos Martinez and Daniel Ponce de Leon against the Twins.  Both lost their games.

On July 28, Martinez served 2 home runs, giving 6 runs on 7 hits through 3.2 innings of a 6-3 Minnesota win.  The next day, Ponce de Leon took the ball.  He also managed just 3.2 innings, although with less damage (1 home run, 3 runs on 2 hits).  That game ended a 3-0 victory for the Twins.

Fast-forward about a month and a half to yesterday.  Minnesota paid a visit to St Louis to conclude their season series with a double-header.  Again, the Cardinal pitchers would be Martinez and Ponce de Leon.  Again the results would be similar.  Martinez’ day would end after 3.2 innings, 4 runs, 7 hits and another home run.  Ponce de Leon would only make it through 3 innings (2 runs, 5 hits, another home run).  Carlos lost again, 7-3 (boxscore).  St Louis managed a fortuitous comeback to take Daniel off the hook with a 6-4 second game victory (boxscore).  Both pitchers rode different paths to their Twin-City rematches.

Ponce de Leon

Given his long sought after chance at the rotation, Daniel Ponce de Leon has had only struggles to show for his efforts.  His 3 walks in his 3.2 inning first stint against Minnesota initiated a season-long (so far) struggle with command for young Daniel.  Between his appearances against the Twins, he made three other starts, totaling just 8.2 busy innings.  The damage done included 8 runs on 8 hits – 3 of them home runs, 11 walks, and a hit batsman.  His first turn at the rotation ended unceremoniously on August 28 when he lasted less than an inning of a 14-2 loss to Cleveland.

He was on his way to Springfield the next day.  So yesterday’s appearance is a kind of re-emergence for Daniel.  Although he certainly would have hoped for better, it seems – with many, many doubleheaders still to play – that Ponce de Leon will get more opportunities.

Carlos

For Martinez, the interlude between his starts against Minnesota was more in keeping with the 2020 COVID meme.  Carlos was one of the very first to come down with the virus and seems to have suffered most from it.  It took him about three weeks before he felt healthy again.

After building up arm strength as rapidly as possible, Carlos returned to the mound yesterday for the first time since the first time he faced Minnesota.  The Twins are, of course, one of baseball’s more dangerous hitting teams – and not to take any credit away from them – but his first time back, Carlos wasn’t Carlos.  There were flashes of running mid-90s fastballs and sharp sliders.  But Martinez was over the plate way too frequently.

In a related note, Ryan Helsley pitched the seventh – serving up a two-run homer to wrap up the scoring.  Helsley is another COVID returnee who still hasn’t solidified his grip on the slider.

Here it is, nearly a month and a half after the season was interrupted, and the Cardinals are still trying to get all of their pieces a) back on the field, and b) capable of competing against teams whose seasons haven’t been disrupted.

These two short starts left more doubleheader innings for the bullpen (7.1) than the starters covered (6.2).  A solid week after the team thought the rotation was back on its feet, the starters have stumbled through the early part of the month.  Five of the 9 games so far this month have seen St Louis get fewer than 5 innings from its starter – and in four of those the starter didn’t make it through 4.  In 9 September games, St Louis has needed nearly as many innings from its bullpen (32.2) as its received from its rotation (37.2)  Carrying a 4.78 ERA through the early part of the month, the rotation has also recently left significant deficits for the still scuffling offense to make up.

The virus thing has been a stumbling block that keeps on stumbling.  Still, showing perhaps more grit and more resilience than some may have believed they possessed, this Cardinal team keeps picking itself back up and battling on.  Their record (18-17) isn’t gaudy.  But it’s kept them competitive.  And now – with the Twins in the rear-view mirror – one can almost see a light at the end of the tunnel.

No More Winning Teams?

For good or for ill, the rest of the Cardinal schedule has no more teams on it that currently have a winning record.  Detroit came into the day just two games shy of .500 (19-21) but as I write this they are being pummeled by Milwaukee 15-0, so it will take a bit longer – at best – for them to reach that mark.  Speaking of the Brewers, the rest of our season will be very involved with Milwaukee – a division rival that we still haven’t played.  We have ten games to play against them – six of which will come in three doubleheaders.

The Brewers (and the Reds, for that matter) were expected to compete for the division crown.  Things haven’t materialized for either team – Milwaukee is 18-22, while Cincy is 18-24.  Even so, the feeling is that both clubs are better than they have shown.  So the second half (basically) of the Cardinal season may not play out as softly as it might seem.  But it looks right now like the most difficult part of the journey is behind us – although the onslaught of games (at least 23 more in the next 18 days with no more days off) will continue.

And That’s a Good Thing

Usually, performance against winning teams is a very revealing barometer.  This year, I’m not sure how much stock to put into it.  St Louis is 9-11 in 20 games against team that have won more than they’ve lost.  They were 4-3 over the last two series against the Cubs and the Twins.  Eighteen of those 20 games came in the first 30-game span after the Cards came out of quarantine – including their first 8 games back on the field, with no preparatory workouts, on the road, against the two division leaders in Chicago, with all of their starters on very limited pitch counts.

The numbers are what they are, but they were forged under as much adversity as imaginable.  Considered under the circumstances, a 9-11 mark may be more encouraging than it might appear.

Hard on the Rotation

One pattern playing through these games is the consistent struggle the rotation has had in containing these lineups.  The Twins combined to hit .375 against Martinez and Ponce de Leon, with a .656 slugging percentage against them.  Over the last two series (7 games), the starters hold a 5.46 ERA while allowing a batting average of .300 and a .517 slugging percentage.  The starters have surrendered 6 home runs in their last 28 innings.

In the 20 games against winning teams, the rotation has covered only 76.2 innings (leaving 80.1 for the pen).  They have served up 16 home runs in those innings (1.88 per 9 innings), leading to a 4.93 ERA against the higher caliber clubs.  Still, these games were the starters at their worst.  If this team somehow manages to stagger home with a playoff spot, it will be interesting to see if this number can improve in October.

Frankly, the Pitching Will Have to be Better

Offense has been a struggle in general for this team, and these struggles have been magnified against the better pitching staffs.  In 13 innings yesterday, St Louis managed just 9 hits (a .184 average) with only one extra-base hit.  Over the last two series, they’ve hit just .211.  Over the whole 20 games, the team batting average of .218 is almost 30 points lower than their season-long .246 average.  Truthfully, if the Birds hadn’t been handed 5 gift runs in the second game, they almost certainly would have lost that game as well.

The shadow of an unreliable offense still hangs over this team.

Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt continues as the team’s most consistent offensive force.  Goldy went 3 for 7 during the doubleheader.  With hits in both games, Paul has now tied his season-long hitting streak at 5 games.  He is 7 for 18 (.389) over these last 5 games.

Paul is also one of the few Cardinals who hasn’t disappeared when facing winning teams.  He is 7 for 23 (.304) over the last two series, and in all 20 of the games against winning teams, Goldy has come through at a .308 clip (20 for 65).

B Miller

Brad Miller is one who has struggled to contribute over the last two series.  He was 1 for 6 in the double-header and is 2 for his last 19 (.105), both singles.  His last extra-base hit came in the 16-2 rout of Cincinnati on September 1.

Still Waiting for Tyler

Tyler O’Neill beat out a dribbler up the third base line in the first game yesterday.  He played both games, and that was his only hit (he finished 1 for 6).  Over his last 4 games, he is 2 for 14 (.143), both singles with no walks.  After a good start to the month, O’Neill is hitting .231 (6 for 26) in September, with a .259 on base percentage.  While Dexter Fowler is absent, Tyler will get every opportunity to show he can be a major-league regular.  It can’t happen fast enough for both Tyler and the Cards.

DeJong

Paul DeJong also played both games of the doubleheader.  He walked twice, but went 0-for-5 with 2 strikeouts and a walk.  Paul has faded a bit in September, his average dropping to .241 (7 for 29) this month.

Over the last two series, Paul is just 5 for 21 (.238), but with 4 walks his on base percentage for the last 7 games is .360.

NoteBook

As the Cards returned home, they found the heat waiting for them.  The first game of the doubleheader checked in at 88 degrees.  Four of the previous five games had been played in sub-80 degree weather.  This was the Cards highest game-time temperature since the first game here against Kansas City on August 24.  The temperature at game time for that one was a smoky 95 degrees.

The first-game loss marks the fourth time in the last five series that the Cards have lost the opening game.

When Paul Goldschmidt moved to DH for the second game, it snapped his streak of 13 consecutive starts at first base – at the time tied for the longest Cardinal streak.  The longest such streak now belongs to Paul DeJong alone, who has now made 14 consecutive starts at shortstop.

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.

Same Old Story

Through the first two swings of his at bat, you could see that Matt Wieters was just trying to take Kyle Hendricks up the middle or to the opposite field.  On the fourth pitch of the at bat, Matt accomplished his goal, floating a soft single into short center.  It was Matt’s first hit of the season and it drove in the only Cardinal run against the untouchable Mr. Hendricks in a 5-1 loss (boxscore) to the Cubs yesterday that left the two teams tied at 5 wins each at the conclusion of their season series.

As usual, there was the post-game hat tipping to a pitcher that the Cardinals – genetically incapable of hitting a changeup – have rarely had anything approaching success against.  The comment that made me chuckle most came from manager Mike Shildt, who noted that Hendricks never gives into the hitter.  No, Mike, of course he won’t.  Not until the hitter makes him. But Kyle never has that issue against St Louis.  A particular batter may take that changeup out of the strike zone once.  Or maybe even twice.  But eventually he will have to hack at it.  They just can’t help themselves.

It is up in the zone.  It is slow (comparatively).  It’s about six inches outside.  And it must be destroyed.  Adding to Kyles’s ease of conquest, when the Cards do chase that change, they put their best fastball swing on it.  They refuse to do what Wieters did.  They will not go with the pitch.  The result is an endless string of easy groundballs to the infield.

After Wieter’s hit made it a 5-1 game, the Cards did have an opportunity for more.  They had runners at first and second with only one out.  But the next batter (Matt Carpenter) came out of his shoes to attack that changeup over the outside part of the plate and stroked in nicely to the second baseman for the easy inning-ending double play – one of three Hendricks got from Cardinal hitters.

It’s the same story everytime we face him.  This was, I believe, his twentieth start against this franchise and we haven’t figured anything out yet.

What really kills me about Kyle, though, is his demeanor on the mound.  He is absolutely expressionless as he mows the team down.  Don’t get me wrong.  I 100% prefer this to the showboat style.  Give me Hendricks and his stoicism any day over Carlos Zambrano and his ego-stroking.  But Kyle displays all the enthusiasm of a day clerk putting away files.  Watching him and trying to guess what’s going through his mind, I came up with two possibilities – either of which would be appropriate.

1 – Boredom.  The Cardinals are just so easy and willing to play into his hands that it’s all that Kyle can do to stay awake while he’s on the mound.  Perhaps it’s of mild interest to him to find out just how far off the plate – inside and outside – he can throw his magical changeup and still get the batters to hammer at it.  But mild interest at best.

2 – Embarrassment.  Also possible is that Kyle maybe feels a little bad about how easy this team is for him to dominate.  Possibly he’s a little embarrassed by the ease with which we submit.  In fact, in that seventh inning when St Louis did score its lone run – and this is probably my imagination – but I almost thought I saw a hint of a smile, as if to say, “Oh, that’s nice, at least they’ll have something positive to remember.”  Again, I’m sure that’s my imagination.  But I can see how Kyle might feel a bit awkward in a situation where any effort on his part – no matter how minimal – is met with overwhelming success.

Are there college lineups that would give Kyle more trouble than we do?  Probably.

Still, I maintain hope that one day we will piece this together.  Maybe Matt Wieters should do a clinic?

The Bullpen Rises

While the Sunday finale was disappointing, the Cards did, nonetheless, take three of the five games and head home just 2.5 games out.  Rising to the occasion during this series and for the early games of the month is the hard-ridden Cardinal bullpen.

During the 21 August games, it was the rotation that held things together on the pitching side.  They pulled together a 2.62 ERA, with principle contributions from Kwang Hyun Kim (0.57), Jack Flaherty (1.54), Dakota Hudson (1.66) and Adam Wainwright (2.89).

For the bullpen, August was an immense struggle.  Coming out of quarantine with the same lack of repetitions that the rotation had, the bullpen was tasked, additionally, with picking up all of the innings left by a rotation not yet able to extend deep into games.  Coming into the season, the bullpen was regarded as one of the team’s strengths.  But under the considerable abuse of the first 21 games as they averaged nearly 4 innings a game, they staggered home with a bloated 4.78 ERA.

With those days behind them, now, it’s the bullpen that has come to the fore while the rotation has taken a step backwards.  Three of the 5 starts during the series against the Cubs lasted less than 5 innings.  In their last trip into Chicago, Cardinal starters managed just 21.1 innings over the 5 games, and were pushed around a bit to the tune of a 4.64 ERA.  The Cubs hit them at a surprising .273 clip, drew 11 walks in those 21.1 innings, and hit 4 home runs against them.

To the rescue came the pen.  Over the 17.2 innings they worked this long weekend in Wrigley, they stymied the Cubs to a 1.02 ERA, a .161 batting average, and a .226 slugging percentage.  Until the first game of today’s double-header, it had been 10 games since St Louis had allowed a run in the seventh inning (when they gave up the last couple of runs in the 14-2 beating they absorbed from Cleveland on August 28).  The last earned run they surrendered in the eighth inning came two games before that on August 27 in the double header against Pittsburgh when the eighth inning was an extra-inning.  They’ve played fewer eighth innings than sevenths due to all the doubleheaders.  Still, this makes 9 straight clean eighth innings.

Assuming that the workload against the Cubs and through today’s doubleheader against Minnesota doesn’t compromise them again, the bullpen looks like it’s primed to be the weapon the team envisioned.  Now, if we can just get the rotation back on its feet.

Cabrera

As with most of the relievers, Genesis Cabrera had some difficulty with his command the first few times out, but he is among the relievers who have really started to find his groove.  He threw two scoreless innings against the Cubs – striking out 5.  Over his last 8 games, Genesis has struck out 14 batters, has an 0.90 ERA and a .091 batting average against.

Getting Them On is One Thing

During the early part of the season – including the mid-August reboot – the Cardinal offense was repeatedly hamstrung by their inability to get their leadoff batter in an inning on.  Going into September, Cardinal leadoff hitters were limping along at a .200/.293/.337 clip.  To make matters worse, St Louis was only able to chase 49% of the ones who did get on home.

Then came the 16-run game against Cincy.  In that game, Cardinal leadoff hitters were 5 for 8 with a walk and 4 runs scored.  Since then, we have done notably better getting that leadoff runner on.  In the 40 offensive innings they had against the Cubs, 15 of their leadoff hitters reached (a .375 percentage).  But only 7 scored (47%).  A case in point is Harrison Bader – who had a nice bounce-back series against the Cubs.  He led off 4 innings during the series, reaching base 3 times, a single a double and a hit-by-pitch.  He didn’t score on any of those opportunities.

Wong

One of the bright spots in an inconsistent offense (that supplied the pitching with just 18 runs during the series) was leadoff hitter Kolten Wong – a .333 hitter during the series (6 for 18).  Wong has caught fire a little bit, lately.  He has hits in 6 of his last 8 games, getting multiple hits in 5 of them.  Since the calendar turned Kolten is hitting .423 (11 for 26).

DeJong

Several days ago, I mentioned something about Paul DeJong trying to work his way into a leadoff spot.  It was tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the numbers suggest that this wouldn’t be a terrible plan – at least as far as getting on base is concerned.  Paul reached in 3 of the 6 innings he led off in Chicago, and for the season, Paul has a .391 on base percentage when he leads off an inning.

A significant indictment of the lower middle part of the order is that after DeJong reaches to lead off an inning, he only scores 22% of the time.

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter’s struggles continue.  He did hit a home run in the first game (a fly ball that just found its way into the over-hanging basket), but that was his only hit of the series.  He struck out in 5 of his 8 at bats, and grounded into a double play.  And, he made a damaging throwing error in the last game.  Over his last 16 games, Carp is hitting all of .109 (5 for 46).

B Miller

Brad Miller came in hot off the end of the Cincinnati series – he was 6 for his last 9 – but was immediately cooled down by the Cubs.  He was 1-for-13 during the 5 games.

NoteBook

At 75 degrees, the Friday game broke a 14-game streak of game temperatures above 80 for the Cards.  One of the, perhaps, under-mentioned aspects of the onslaught of games the Cardinals have played since coming out of quarantine (and Thursday’s day off ended a streak of 23 games played in 19 days) is that they played them right through the blazing heat of the summer. Now that September has arrived, perhaps at least the weather will be a little kinder to them.

Saturday’s second game was even cooler.  In fact, at 72 degrees, it was the coolest game-time temperature the Cards have played in this season.  The previous coolest game temperature for the Cards occurred the last time they faced Yu Darvish.  He beat them 6-3 in 73 degree temperatures (also in Chicago) back on August 18. 

With the Sunday game also checking in at 72 degrees, the entire series averaged 75.8 degrees, nearly 2 degrees lower than their first visit into Chicago (77.6) which had been the previous coolest series by average temperature.

Yadier Molina had started at catcher for the first 17 games after he returned from COVID isolation. It was the longest current streak of starts by a Cardinal at one position until Matt Wieters started the second game of Saturday’s double-header. The new current leaders for consecutive starts at the same position are Paul Goldschmidt at first and Paul DeJong at short, both with twelve consecutive starts.

To be clear, Goldschmidt has started every game, but not all at first base.  He has served as the DH three times.

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.

Best in the Long Run?

Honestly, Mike didn’t have a whole lot of choice.

On the day that his most productive outfielder (Dexter Fowler) landed on the IL for an indeterminate amount of time, the game came down to two of the youngsters vying for that lineup spot.

The game against the Reds is tied at three in the ninth inning.  A single off the bat of Brad Miller and a walk to Paul DeJong set things in motion.  Yadier Molina then bunted the runners to second and third. 

If there were any moment in this chain of events that I would like to have back, it would be this one.  Yadi has carried one of the team’s hottest bats recently.  He had already contributed a home run earlier in the game, and was hitting .303 on the season.  Given this as a do-over, I might want to let Molina swing away.  It is, however, also true that Yadi is a profound double-play threat.  In just 76 at bats, Yadi has already bounced into 7 (nearly one third of the teams’ total for the year). So, the thinking is that rather than risk the double play taking all the starch out of the inning, a bunt could push the lead run to a position where he could score on a fly ball.  Cincinnati answered the bunt by intentionally walking Matt Carpenter, leaving the game squarely on the shoulders Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas.

At this point, there was some chatter about a pinch-hitter or two.  To his credit, manager Mike Shildt left his young prospects to face Cincy closer Raisel Iglesias and his high-ninties fastball.  It wasn’t, though, like he had a whole lot of choice.  Left on his bench was Harrison Bader (.196), Dylan Carlson (.176), the just-re-activated Rangel Ravelo (0-for-2 on the season) and backup catcher Andrew Knizner (4-for-16 on the season).

O’Neill has put up big home run numbers in the minor leagues, but has yet to overcome his strikeout problem in the majors.  When he went down on three pitches, it marked his twentieth strikeout on the season in just 73 at bats.

Then it was Thomas’ turn.  Lane burst brightly onto the scene late in 2019.  Before he broke his hand on August 27, Thomas hit .316 with 4 home runs in just 38 at bats.  He was especially good (in a short sample, of course) with two outs.  He was 6-for-16 (.375) with 2 home runs and 7 runs batted in in that circumstance.

But 2019 was a long time ago. 

Five pitches later, Thomas struck out as well, ending the threat.  He is now 1-for-12 in 2020.  Cincinnati then won the game, 4-3 (boxscore) on closer Giovanny Gallegos’ first slip up of the season.

Fowler takes a .279 batting average, 4 home runs, and a .485 slugging percentage with him to the IL.  If he plays again this season, it’s anyone’s guess whether he can pick up where he left off.  In the bigger picture, Dexter is 34 (and will be 35 next year in the last year of his contract).  For good or ill, Dexter is not the future.

And so it will be the stripling outfield – Bader, Carlson, O’Neill, Thomas, and eventually Austin Dean and Justin Williams.  There could be some struggles in the short term.  But in the long term this may be the best thing to happen for the Cards.  While none of these gentlemen is especially established in the show, all have excellent minor league pedigrees.  Save for the depth of pitching, these outfielders represent the pride of the organization.  Three of the six need to show that they can hit big-league pitching, and this opportunity coming sooner rather than later may be a blessing in disguise.

Last night, it didn’t work out that way.  But somebody will grab this opportunity.

B Miller

St Louis has now lost 5 of its last 8 games, and this in spite of Brad Miller’s best efforts to keep the team afloat.  Brad had two hits (one a home run) and a walk last night.  He now has had 35 plate appearances over the last 8 games with the following production: 3 singles, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 3 home runs, and 8 walks (1 intentional) – a batting line of .333/.486/.815.  He has scored 6 times and driven in 8 during the 8 games.

Miller has been batting fourth, but might be eyeing a leadoff spot.  Both of his hits came with no one out, and over the last 8 games, he is a .455 hitter (5 for 11) and a 1.364 slugger (3 home runs and a double) batting with no one out.  For the season, Brad has a .385/.543/.885 batting line with no one out.  He is 10 for 26 with 4 of his 5 home runs.

DeJong

Another hot hitter, recently, Paul DeJong was saddled with an 0-for-2 last night, but he did draw walks in both of his plate appearances with no one out.  For the season, Paul has a .393 on base percentage when batting with no one out.

Carpenter

His ninth-inning intentional walk was the highlight of Matt Carpenter’s 0-for-3 evening.  Carpenter has played in 7 of the last 8 games, collecting 2 singles in 23 at bats (.087).  He is still walking.  Yesterday’s was his sixth in his last 7 games, and his thirteenth in his last 13 games.  Toss in 3 hit-by-pitches, and Matt carries a .370 on-base percentage over those 13 games – albeit with a .105 batting average (4 for 38).

Cabrera

Genesis Cabrera walked two more batters in what, otherwise, was a spotless two innings in relief last night.  In 10.1 innings so far this year, he has walked 7 and hit 2 others.  But control notwithstanding, Genesis has started to settle in.  Over his last 6 appearances (8 innings) Cabrera has been touched for 1 earned run on 4 hits.  The last 32 hitters he’s faced are hitting just .077 against him.  And 9 have struck out.

Gomber

Austin Gomber is one of the reason why (at .173) the Cardinal pitching staff has the lowest batting average against them with two outs.  Batters are now 1 for 15 (.067) against Austin with two outs after he struck out Matt Davidson to end the eighth inning last night.

NoteBook

Aided by the blowout win in the second game, the Cards scored their most runs in any series so far this year with 26.  The previous high had been the 21 they scored in the first series against the Cubs.  That – of course – was a five-game series.  The previous high in a three-game series was the 19 they scored against Kansas City.

Brad Miller connected on his third home run in two games last night.  He also drew a walk – his sixteenth of the season.  All of last year, in 79 games and 170 plate appearances, Brad only walked 15 times.

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.